It had been two weeks since Team One got back from their first C-Rank mission. With everything that happened, one might think that they deserved the whole week off, but no. Hayato gave them the day immediately after they got back for rest and recuperation, and then as he promised the very next day they were back to their usual schedule of team training at 7 AM until 8, twice as many D-Rank missions until noon, more training and then even more D-Rank missions until five in the evening where they trained on their own. Or went to Kasumi's place to hang out and relax.

Unfortunately, Naruto brooded as he stretched just outside the gates of Konoha, they hadn't done much of the latter since... well since his teammates had found out about him. Him and the Kyuubi...

It was very confusing for the young boy. Yeah, they had comforted him and told him and even shown him that they only cared about him and what he did. That he was the demon fox's jailor and prison, rather than the next incarnation or whatever, proving that they saw him first and the Fox almost never.

But still...

The whole thing was very uncomfortable for Naruto to talk about. He'd only known about the Kyuubi being sealed inside him for not even two months now, and the thing he did when he lost his temper... He didn't even know what that was, despite Hayato and Kasumi both explaining it to him, the former out of experience with such things, the latter just from what she observed of him alone.

In the few days it took them to get back to Konoha, after they'd figured out his secret just by putting together the few clues they had, he'd answered what questions he could, and Hayato fielded the rest, usually by reminding them that his status as the Kyuubi's jailor was an S-Class secret. The rest of the time they just asked how he felt about it and if he was really aware of the demon at all, but he wasn't and said as much.

When he thought of the Kyuubi, he couldn't help being filled with the same frustrated rage that almost everyone had about it. Yet here he was, keeping it held back, and while it was the sole reason for why he was so alone for so many years, he couldn't do anything to it except keep it held back!

Since they'd gotten back, Hayato had done his best to make it so they didn't have the energy to risk letting anyone know that they knew let alone talk about it, but it kind of backfired. Yes, they kept their mouths shut, but rather than be exhausted from double the missions and more intense training, they just got more motivated and actually completed the training missions in less than half the time it was originally taking them, and they were surpassing whatever plans Hayato had in regards to their training level. Despite those facts, Naruto couldn't forget what he'd been reminded of by his friends discovering his secret.

He was the jinchuriki of the Kyuubi no Kitsune.

It kept him awake some nights, the thoughts and raw emotions of what it all meant.

He just needed some time to sort things out. So, he'd started running more, practicing the sprints that Hayato-sensei had shown him, working on building up his 'wind' as it was called. Especially early in the morning, just before the sun rose over the Hokage monument. It was just him and the quiet of nature. He usually worked himself up to a sweat and was fully warmed up by the time he had to meet his team for morning training. That's what he was doing now, stretching right outside the gate to prepare for his morning run.

Just as he finished working on his legs, he caught sight of a familiar face and called out. He may enjoy the quiet time to himself, but Naruto never missed a chance to speak to those he called friends, even if only for a minute or two.

"Hinata! Hey!" he called.

The white-eyed girl froze and turned around at the familiar voice. "N-Naruto-kun!" she stuttered, surprised at seeing him so early in the morning.

"Hi!" he said again as he reached her. "What are you doing?"

"Uh, I, um, I, well I, uhm..." she twiddled her fingers nervously, looking back and forth between him and the ground. After about ten seconds of this, Naruto nearly sweat-dropped and finally had enough.

Putting his hand on her shoulder in a friendly way, he said to her, "Y'know, that wasn't meant to be a brain-buster. I just meant that I was surprised to see you, because I've been running out here for the past week or so, but I've never seen you around at this time. Not many people are awake at this hour is all."

"Oh," she blushed, looking solidly at the ground now. Naruto finally removed his hand.

"So... what are you doing? Training, or running an errand of some kind? If you need to get to it, I'm sorry for holding you up," he apologized.

"Ano, no, it's nothing like that," she quietly replied, still looking at the ground.

Naruto frowned. The day after Kasumi and Ryu had figured out about the Kyuubi, despite their reassurances, he'd tried to avoid talking to them and basically pull an 'Uchiha-teme' as he and Ryu jokingly called it. They caught him before he could even try and told him point blank that they'd sooner kick his ass than see him acting like master of brooding, Uchiha Sasuke. What had finally convinced him was Kasumi sharing something with him.

She'd told him that when people are hurt, or sometimes think that they've hurt others, they'll try to stay away from everyone and get real depressed and not talk to anyone until they've got no one left. Well, actually she'd used bigger and different words at first, but he'd gotten the message. People that 'hid' had no friends, and he'd been there too often to believe that, no matter the reason, it was never a good thing.

"Hinata," he spoke firmly. She froze. "Look at me, Hinata," he said.

Slowly, she raised her head and he was pleased to see that she met his eyes, even if only for a second. Her face was a vivid red color, but that wasn't bothering him at the moment.

"There," he said, "That's better. I don't know what's so interesting about the ground around me, but I like it much better when I can look you in the face. You're pretty... uh..." Naruto trailed off, now matching Hinata's blush suddenly, which had deepened several degrees already. "Uh, you're pretty... cool, Hinata. Yeah. And, you're my friend. And I want all my friends to be able to look me in the eye. All right?"

Still blushing like a tomato, Hinata hesitantly nodded and replied, "A-alright."

"Now, uh, what are you doing up this early, Hinata-chan?" he asked, grinning sheepishly at her.

"Oh!" she startled, and started twiddling her fingers again. "I, uh, was going to meet Kurenai-sensei for breakfast, but, uh, she's still training, so I was going to go pick some flowers."

"Huh," Naruto scratched his head. What was it with girls and picking flowers anyway?

"Well, if you've got some time," he shrugged, "want to train with me some? It gets kind of boring running by myself, and I've heard rumors that there's some kind of monster that shows up around this time every morning. I was going to ask Ryu, but, well, his family has him training from an hour before dawn and I'm not going anywhere near that!"

Hinata was just staring wide-eyed at him, though her color was less red at least.

"Uh, Hinata-chan?" Naruto waved his hand in front of her lavender eyes.

"Ano, is it, I mean, if it's all right with Naruto-kun, I... I would like to..." she started getting quieter and quieter, but Naruto had heard enough.

"Great! Just keep a look out for that 'green beast' the gate-guys talked about. I'm going to finish stretching. Let me know if you need any help with that, OK?" he then walked right back over to his starting spot and resumed his stretching exercises. After about a minute, Hinata came closer, removed her jacket and began doing her own stretches.

Naruto himself was in his 'training outfit', the red gi that Ryu had given him back during that first week of training. He wore it any time he was training outside of team training sessions. Particularly when meeting with Gouken-sensei in the late afternoon. For one thing it was less restricting than his jumpsuit, but it also kept him cool and let him keep going for quite a while.

Once he was a loose as he could get, he patiently waited for Hinata to be ready, and then without a word both of them shot off around the outer wall in a full speed dash. Naruto was working on using the dashing/running sprint that he'd been working on, while Hinata ran with the same basic sprint that most ninja used to run with. At certain points, she pulled ahead, but at other times he pulled rapidly ahead before he changed his pace and then back again.

They kept this up for about ten minutes, Hinata going at a constant pace, Naruto constantly adjusting his from the dash sprint, to the lopping marathon run, to the standard ninja run and then back to the sprint. Then the blue haired girl, already sweating and breathing deeply, began to slow down some, and Naruto was right there the moment after he noticed.

"Hey," he said, only beginning to breath heavier, "how you doing?"

"..." she could only gasp for a while, and then finally answered, "I'm... not very good... with... stamina. I've been... working on... it though."

"I can tell," he nodded. "But I think you can do better. C'mon Hinata-chan, you've been keeping up with me so far. I know you can keep going. If me, the Dead Last of our class can keep running like I've been doing all morning," he demonstrated by changing his pace to move around to her other side before changing it back, "then you can definitely keep going!"

Hinata stared open-mouthed at him, and he just kept grinning.

"Come on Hinata, you can do it," Naruto said.

Hinata smiled back at him, almost shyly, before setting her jaw determinedly and resuming her original, steady pace, even though her muscles were beginning to cramp up on her.

"Great!" he grinned at her. "Tell you what, I've been trying something different with my own training, and you don't have to do it if you don't want to. You do know the tree-climbing exercise, right?"

Hinata nodded, sweat beginning to drip from her forehead. "Kurenai...sensei showed us how, the week before we... did the joint-mission, with your team."

"Great! Well, I'm going to be changing my pace on the wall, and then running back to the ground for the dash-sprint Hayato-sensei taught me how to do, then back on the wall for the next change of pace. See if you can keep up!" he grinned and the next time it came close, he ran up the side of the wall and continued running.

Hinata stared with wide-eyes and almost couldn't believe that he could maintain his speed while exercising his chakra control like that! After another five minutes, Naruto had run up to the top of the wall, then back down to the ground and dashed around one of the gates they were passing before running back up the wall, and had done this twice now. Hinata was pouring with sweat by now, and her black shirt was completely soaked, but she made sure she was maintaining her same pace.

The next time Naruto dashed around a gate, Hinata fell in just behind him, and when he ran up the wall, she was right behind him the whole way. He looked back and grinned widely at her.

"Way to go Hinata-chan!" he cheered, and sped up. She soon matched him on the way down, and then overtook him on the next time up.

After another five minutes of this new venue, Hinata was about ready to drop, and Naruto himself was feeling fully warmed up by now. It was around this time that they were passing by the training grounds gate that they met the fabled 'Green Beasts' that Naruto had been warned against.

"That's the way Lee!" a very loud voice echoed through the forest. "Now tell me, my cute pupil, can you feel the Flames of Youth exploding within your body?"

"Hai Gai-sensei!" a younger, but just as loud voice screamed.

It wasn't long before the pair of rookie genin came across the source of the voices they'd been hearing. And they almost immediately wished they hadn't.

A tall, muscular man with black hair fashioned into a glossy bowl cut and huge, hairy black eyebrows wearing a green spandex jumpsuit and jounin vest and umber leg-warmers up to his knees was jogging at a grueling pace, smiling brightly the whole way. The only impressive thing was that the man was not the slightest bit out of breath as he went along, if anything he looked full of energy.

Beside him, keeping the exact same pace, though sweating and more out of breath, was the man's clone. At least that's what Naruto assumed, as sometimes his own clones looked like shorter and/or distorted versions of himself. Hinata thought the boy their age was the older man's son. Nevertheless, the boy had his black hair cut into the same glossy bowl style, the same bushy eyebrows, though his eyes were certainly larger and wider, they were the same dark color as the jounin's. He was also wearing the same green spandex jumpsuit and umber legwarmers, but instead of a jounin vest, only had a simple belt with his hitai-ate attached at the front.

"LEE!" the older one suddenly screamed, grinning brightly.

"GAI-SENSEI!" the smaller one screamed back, grinning just as brightly.

"LEE!" the old one was no in tears and running right at the smaller one.

"GAI-SENSEI!" he was in tears as well and running in slow motion towards the big one.

It could have been the sunrise, Hinata figured it was the sunrise in their eyes or something, but suddenly the sun was directly behind the two of them and waves were crashing and wind was blowing and weird stuff was happening that should not happen! For some reason, Hinata and Naruto both felt like ripping their eyes out and scrubbing their brains raw.

"What the hell?!" Naruto exclaimed and rubbed his eyes, hoping that would wake him up from whatever hallucination was affecting him. Just to be thorough though, in case this was a genjutsu attack, he used the method of dispelling genjutsu that Kasumi and Ryu had helped him develop with instruction from Hayato-sensei. "KAI!" he screamed and a pulse of pure chakra exploded from Naruto in all directions for about half a mile. Every genjutsu for that distance was immediately dispelled, forcing some ANBU to reapply their stealth-jutsu, and some other people to be very embarrassed when their cosmetic jutsu stopped working in front of witnesses. The two in front of Naruto and Hinata remained unaffected.

Well, mostly unaffected, since Naruto's action drew their attention, before they'd been ignoring the two genin and now all their focus was on them. Thankfully, it managed to get rid of the weird sun-image-genjutsu at the same time, so there was that at least.

"Ah hah!" the big one, Gai-sensei by all accounts, exclaimed, no longer in tears and pointing at both Naruto and Hinata. "Fellow Konoha-nin, it is wondrous to greet you this fine morning and seeing you fanning the Flames of Youth!"

Naruto couldn't help shivering as both he and his companion heard the capital letters in that.

"Yosh!" Lee, the small one, suddenly shouted, fire practically exploding out of his big round eyes.

"Lee!" Gai exclaimed, grinning brightly.

"Uh... let's get out of here Hinata," Naruto quickly grabbed the girl and they both started running as fast as they possibly could. Naruto didn't even shift from his dash-sprint, and he hadn't let go of Hinata yet either, so she had to keep up or get dragged along behind.

Hokage Tower

Later That Morning

"Hey Naruto," Ryu called as they entered the Mission Room, "What's up with you? You're looking kind of ragged this morning. I didn't think Hayato-sensei's training had gotten to you that bad already."

"Huh? Oh, it's nothing," Naruto replied. "Just a really weird morning."

"Finally ran into the 'Green Beasts' then, huh?" Ryu chuckled, but not too loudly.

Naruto glared at his friend, but did not reply.

"Well that, and he and Hinata-chan stopped by this morning and my brother ran them through some drills," Kasumi added her two cents.

"Whoa, wait a minute, Hyuuga Hinata?! The Hyuuga Hinata of the Hyuuga Clan? That Hinata-chan?"

"Yeah, you know any others?" Naruto shot back at him.

"Damn," the black-clad ninja scratched the back of his head while in shocked amazement, "And I thought your luck at having us as teammates was pretty awesome. Having the Hyuuga heir as a girlfriend? What's next, were your parents a Kage and a Princess too?"

"Huh?" the blond's eyes filled with confusion.

"Stop it Ryu," Kasumi chastised her teammate, "Don't tease him. I still insist we're the lucky ones."

"Are you kidding? Luck is contagious you know. If I hang around Mr. Golden long enough, maybe I'll get some awesome luck by proxy or something. Ha ha ha hahahaha!" Ryu burst out into good-natured laughter.

"If you are quite finished," a deep voice asked from directly behind them.

"AAAAHHHHH!" all three screamed and jumped at least four feet off the ground.

Turning, they glared and clutched at their chests while trying to get their breathing back under control. Their Jounin Sensei, Kanzaki Hayato stood there with his arms crossed and his eyes shadowed by his headband. Despite their strides in increasing their awareness and perfecting the chakra sensor technique, they had no more luck with detecting their sensei's approach than they did the first day they met him. The worst part of it was though, he didn't even bother hiding his presence, he was just that stealthy by nature.

"DON'T DO THAT!" they shouted at him for the millionth time it seemed like.

He just continued to glare at them with his arms crossed until they quieted down and turned around to face the Hokage and Iruka-sensei to receive their latest pile of missions. Since their first successful C-Rank mission, they'd been averaging no less than 100 D-Rank missions a week, and then had Team training and personal training on top of all that. Nevertheless, between all of them using multiple clones, primarily Shadow Clones, a day they managed to pull it off, and the Team training sessions had turned mostly into strategy and tactic exercises and chances to work on their Buntai jutsu than the hellish physical conditioning that they had started out with. The rest of their time, except for the two or three hours in the late evening before they collapsed into bed, they spent at either the Mugen Tenshin Clan compound, or the Hayabusa Clan compound.

Sure, they didn't have a lot of free time, and they were exhausted pretty much all the time and fell asleep dead to the world every night, but they were getting stronger and they knew it. If it weren't for their rather diverse training, it could be argued that they were the strongest team of the rookie generation. But because Hayato kept shifting their training, from combat, to defense, to tracking, to support, to teamwork, and then to more generic skills such as repair work, mapping, tactical and strategic support, and even bureaucratic paperwork, their overall skills could be shown to be relatively comparable to the other teams of their generation.

It was for the fact that their overall skills were so equally balanced that the Hokage and their sensei had chosen today to give them a treat of sorts.

"Ah, Team One, excellent timing as always," the Hokage grinned as he smoked his pipe and sorted the mission scrolls before them. "My oh my, I see that you've actually cleared out the non-recurring D-Rank missions for the rest of the week. And today I actually have Team 7 coming in today as well. Hm, this does make things rather difficult, given what you're asking for."

"Just give us as many missions as you can, Old Man," Naruto scoffed, cleaning his left ear with his pinky finger. "Hayato-sensei put in the request for this like a week ago, didn't he? We're supposed to be getting missions that teach us how to be the best Support Team in Konoha. And that's what we want!"

Kasumi and Ryu didn't verbalize it, but they both nodded along in complete agreement with their teammate. Hayato, just behind them, gave the Hokage a look and tilted his head minutely to the side, as though asking a question. He then emphasized it, for Hayato it was anyway, by raising one eyebrow expectantly.

The Hokage coughed to clear his throat while he pulled one very specific scroll from one very specific pile amongst those on the desk. Iruka noticed exactly which that was, and was surprised. "Hokage-sama?" he started to ask, but a look from the old leader quickly silenced the young teacher.

"Ah, well then, here we are," the Hokage said with a bit of flourish. "I had told him that he would have to wait a while, but I suppose that Team 7 can pick up the sudden slack of D-Rank mission clearance we'll be expecting for a while. You can come in now!"

Surprised, the three genin perked up and turned around to look as the door to the mission room opened up and admitted an older man with a beer belly and the outfit of a common craftsman. Judging from his appearance, as well as the nearly full jug he was lugging over his shoulder, he was well on his way to getting drunk. The genin turned expectantly towards the Hokage, and then their Jounin Sensei.

"You've earned another C-Rank mission," was Hayato's lone reply.

"And you've been clearing out the D-Rank missions quite regularly," the Hokage added. "The other teams—" the Hokage was interrupted by Iruka coughing rather loudly, "*cough* Kakashi *cough*!", who he gave a stern look to before continuing, "— have been showing up and we have nothing but the most demeaning and easiest jobs there are to do for them. They've been getting quite impatient and are wanting more difficult and task-demanding missions. So I'm sending you lot on a long-term C-Rank Protection Mission."

"Heh, so long as we don't have to deal with more bandits that have ninja skills, should be no sweat Hokage-jiji!" Naruto grinned and nodded confidently.

The Hokage and Hayato shared a look, which was more 'Ninja skilled bandits? You have some explaining to do!' on the Hokage's part and 'Don't worry, there's nothing TO explain.' on Hayato's.

"So who do we have to protect this time? Not another princess I hope," Naruto whined.

"Yeah," Ryu agreed with a laugh.

"Oh come on guys, Azula-hime was not that bad," Kasumi argued.

"At the end of the mission, no," Ryu argued back, "but at the beginning? And the way she just showed up as we were leaving? With a full battalion? Demanding to come along? And the whining and the complaining and the..."

"All right, I get your point," Kasumi huffed and crossed her arms.

The Hokage raised an eyebrow and gave another look towards Hayato, who was studiously ignoring the Hokage and staring patiently at his genin as though their argument was the most important thing going on in the room at that moment.

"Are you serious?" the old drunk finally spoke. "These are the ninja that are going to protect me? Me? The master bridge builder of Nami no kuni, the famous craftsman of Wave Country, the great Tazuna?!"

"An old drunk?" Ryu observed out loud. "Easy. Well, easier than out last mission, that's for sure."

"Hey!" Tazuna protested.

"Ah, one more thing," the Hokage said with no small amount of relish. "Given the goal of your team is to become the strongest Support Team in Konoha, it was decided that this C-Rank mission, at no further cost to the client, would be another joint-mission for your team. Thus, not only will you have to protect Tazuna and his work, but you will have to get along with and support this second team. And to make things more... heh, lively, it will be a genin team that you have not yet had the chance to work with."

He gestured to Iruka and whispered, "Send them in."

"DYNAMMIC ENTRY!" a sudden shout went out before Iruka could even get out of his chair.

The doors slammed opened, actually bouncing off the walls only to be knocked back even harder as two green blurs kicked them open. Team One, more from experience at being surprised by their sensei popping up out of the blue than any kind of ninja instinct, scattered and drew their weapons while making sure they covered the Hokage from any kind of attack. Hayato merely side-stepped the green blurs and clothes-lined the two of them before they got even halfway across the room.

"Ah, Gai-san, so glad of you to join us, I was just about to call for you," the Hokage said, puffing on his pipe for a moment.

"Gkh-hai, Hokage-sama," Gai choked out, Hayato's arm still dug into his center mass. When Hayato finally let them go, Gai immediately straightened, took a deep breath and was all grins and proud poses. The young genin that had also been victim to Hayato's counter-attack on the other hand was still on the floor and struggling to get up.

Realizing that whatever threat there had been was neutralized, Team One relaxed and took in the new arrivals. Then Naruto recognized the two that had ran into his sensei's arms. They were the ones he and Hinata had run away from this morning. He was about to point and shout at them, but he felt a pair of hands on both his shoulders.

"Huh?" he looked back and saw that Ryu and Kasumi each had a hand on him, holding him back a bit.

"Let's just say that Team Eleven's sensei has a bit of a... reputation," Ryu whispered to him.

"And you and Hinata did kind of run straight into our clan compound in trying to get away from Gai and his apprentice," Kasumi added.

"And you really don't want to see what happens when Gai-san realizes he's been recognized," Ryu added with a shudder. "You really don't."

Naruto wisely just nodded his head and kept his mouth shut.

"YOSH! Gai-sensei, you are the epitome of cool with your most excellent style of entrance!" a voice screamed from the still open doorway. Everyone turned to look and saw as weird a team of genin as any.

At the head was a miniature, genin version of Gai, right down to the thick black eyebrows, glossy bowl-shaped haircut, and green spandex attire. On one side of him was the most straight-laced Hyuuga Team One had ever seen, his hair reaching past his shoulders and still having enough left over for a small ponytail at the bottom, probably to keep his hair from falling out of place. On the other side, standing as tall as her male compatriots, with her hair done up in two buns on either side of her hair, and dressed simply in a bright pink vest, and forest green kuzi pants, was the most blatant tomboy any of the young genin had ever encountered.

"LEE!" Gai suddenly exclaimed upon seeing his team walk in.

"GAI-SENSEI!" 'Lee' in turn exclaimed.

"LEE!" Gai had tears running down his face now.

"GAI-SENSEI!" Lee too had tears in his eyes.

"Erhrm," Hayato stood between the two, arms crossed and a dark look in his eyes. The genin all noticed that the pouch he kept his weapons in was unlatched and half-open.

"Yes, well," the Hokage spoke up. "Gai, as I am sure you must be aware, Hayato here is training his genin to be a Support Team. He's already teamed them up with every other team from their graduating class, so now I've decided to branch them out to the other genin teams available. Yours just happens to be first up."

"YOSH! That is a most YOUTHFUL goal, my fellow jounin!" Gai shot Hayato a thumbs-up, his smile actually sparkling. "I would be most honored to assist you in attaining that goal!"

"Uh, yeah, OK, thanks," Hayato mumbled, trying very hard not to look at Gai at all.

"Why don't you introduce yourselves to each other," the Hokage 'suggested' to the genin.

"YOSH!" Lee saluted, his perfectly straight form almost vibrating from the motion. "I am Rock Lee, genin and apprentice to the wonderful Gai-sensei! It is my dream to prove that one can be a powerful ninja on taijutsu alone, even without ninjutsu and genjutsu!"

After that rather abrupt introduction, not many were willing to next, so Naruto decided to anyway.

"Alright! I am Uzumaki Naruto! Team One's heavy-hitter and I'm going to be the greatest Hokage ever! Believe it!" he exclaimed, just as loud as Lee.

"Oh god, there are more of them," the girl with buns in her hair mumbled. Everyone looked to her expectantly. She sighed and shrugged. "My name is Tenten, I'm a weapons specialist and I hit the bulls-eye one hundred out of one hundred times, and my dream is to be a powerful kunoichi like Tsunade-sama of the Sannin."

Kasumi quietly cleared her throat after Tenten was done and introduced herself. "My name is Tenshin Kasumi of the Mugen Tenshin Clan. My goal is to become a powerful and respected kunoichi, and to never become the Head of my Clan... because that would mean I've got lots of nieces and nephews to play with!" she squealed the last part.

"Uh... do you know something I don't about her brother?" Ryu whispered to Naruto.

"Tch," the Hyuuga boy scoffed and crossed his arms. "My name is Hyuuga Neji. I have no intention of revealing to you my aspirations, nor what fate has decreed for me."

"Great, another 'genius'," Ryu grumbled. "Hayabusa Ryu, of the Hayabusa Clan. Yes, that Hayabusa Clan. I'm teammates with Naruto and Kasumi, and I'm one day going to be the right-hand man of the Hokage," he then not-too-subtly jerked his thumb at Naruto.

"Well, now that we're all familiar with each other, let's get down to business as the saying goes. Since you're going to be working together for the next little while," He pulled out a mission scroll from the pile in front of him, pointedly ignoring the glares the genin were sending back and forth to one another.

"So," the Hokage continued, "since it's not exactly fair to make your team, Gai, which is due for it's next C-Rank mission anyway, go back to doing D-Rank missions, you will be performing a joint C-Rank mission, with Gai's as the lead team. Each of you will still be Jounin Sensei for your respective teams, so you may not give orders to the others genin, but as Hayato's team is training to be the Support Team, they are to actually support the others. Figuring out the dynamics from there should be good training for all of you."

"YOSH!" Gai and Lee exclaimed, flames actually burning in their eyes.

"You can come in now," the Hokage called out to a side door, which soon was slowly opened to reveal a middle-aged man in a fisherman's hat, and old brown workman clothes. He had well-weathered skin, gray whiskers and wore glasses on the brim of his nose. He was also drunk, as evidenced by the half-empty bottle in his hand.

"Your mission is to protect Tazuna here during his journey home and to provide security for a bridge-building project that he is responsible for," the Hokage explained, reading from the request form the bridge builder had filled out.

"Hah hah hah!" Tazuna laughed drunkenly and said, "That's right! I am the super awesome bridge builder from Name no kuni, the Land of Waves! And I expect all you ninja to protect me while I finish my super awesome bridge! That's right!"

"Ah, it fills my heart with joy to see so many people filled with the Flames of Youth!" Gai screamed out through tears.

"GAI-SENSEI!" Lee screamed through his own tears.

"LEE!" Gai faced his pupil, tears running down his cheeks.

"GAI-SENSEI!" Lee was now blubbering.

"LEE!" the two green beasts embraced in a manly hug of youthfulness, so much Youth bursting from them that it shone like the sunset on the waves of a beach that was nowhere near the Hokage's office in Konoha.

"I think I'm hallucinating," Kasumi rubbed her eyes.

"I think I've gone blind," Ryu dully responded.

"I think they're weird... but I like them," Naruto grinned.

"Yeah, just don't act like them and we'll all get along just fine," Ryu advised.

"Gai," the Hokage interrupted with a subtle cough.

"HAI HOKAGE-SAMA!" the larger green beast belted out, tears running down his face.

"You leave tomorrow. That is all, dismissed."

"Hai," Hayato suddenly had Gai in a headlock while Neji had temporarily paralyzed Lee and both of them were dragging their respective burdens out the door while the rest of the genin trailed along behind.

Konoha Gate (Eastern Exit)

Next Morning

"Yattai! Let's get going guys!" Naruto exclaimed, leaping ahead out the gate as the combined team plus client started to move out for Wave Country.

"Don't worry," Kasumi remarked to Tenten beside her, "He's always like this when going on C-Ranks."

"At least this time we don't have a royal caravan showing up at the last minute this time," Ryu commented gratefully.

"Oh come on guys," Naruto laughed once they'd all caught up with him, "Azula-chan wasn't that bad."

"Azula?" Tenten asked, curious.

"Ozai Azula-hime," Kasumi replied without missing a beat.

Gai, Neji, Tenten, and Tazuna all froze mid-step, tripping the client and making the ninja all skip a step.

"Yes, that Ozai Azula," Ryu dryly commented. "She tagged along on our last C-Rank mission."

"That is impossible," Neji rebutted Ryu's comment. "People of such importance do not... tag along on such simple assignments. They either hire us to protect them, or exercise their rights as nobles. Such is the way of fate."

"Tell that to her grandfather, who we were hired to protect," the dark-clad Hayabusa replied.

"You actually met a member of the Ozai royal family?!" Tazuna sputtered, once he was back on his feet.

"Yes," Kasumi kept her answer simple.

"Hmph!" Neji grunted, turning his head away.

"Ne, Ryu," Naruto 'whispered', still loud enough for everyone in the group to hear him, "Are we sure this guy is related to Hinata-chan? He could be an imposter!"

Ryu chuckled and clapped his friend on the back. "No, unfortunately Naruto, Neji-teme here is actually what all Hyuuga are typically like. Hinata-chan is the atypical Hyuuga. Which I think makes her that much more unique. Special, if you know what I mean."

"Yeah," Naruto nodded after some thought, "I do know what you mean." His grin widened a bit.

They traveled East for a good solid three hours, the companionable silence only occasionally broken by either Gai, Lee, or Naruto, the former two with exclamations of Youth, Training, or comments on the weather, the latter with queries and observations towards his temporary teammates, which sometimes Kasumi and Ryu supported with their own questions and comments.

Late afternoon, after they'd traveled more than half the distance between Konoha and Wave Country, they came across a couple of puddles at the side of the road. Normally this wouldn't need comment or even warrant anything more than a passing notice, save for the fact that Neji, Hayato, and Gai all immediately shifted their stances from completely casual to ready-to-fight casual.

Ryu noticed them all getting more tense and it took him a moment longer to figure out what it was. He signaled Kasumi and Naruto, but she didn't even react and he didn't even notice. Tenten and Lee were both up flanking the client and either hadn't noticed, or were distracted by other things, but as far as Ryu could tell they did not know what was about to happen.

"Oh, uh, hey," Naruto suddenly blurted out, "I'll be right back, I've just to, uh, go over here for a bit.

"Huh?" Ryu wondered what his teammate was talking about, raced over to the puddle and faced the bushes. Did he know? Had he figured it out on his own? What was he going to do about it?

Kasumi giggled and turned her head away, covering her mouth to hold back even more giggles. She likewise turned Tenten around to face the other direction from Naruto.

Naruto unzipped his pants and then let out a sigh of relief as a trickling sound of liquid hitting liquid came from his general direction.

Ryu's eyes nearly bugged out of his head as he slapped his hands over his own mouth to hold back the undoubtedly loud laughter that would be coming from his throat if he hadn't. Neji had a ticked vein throbbing along his head that everyone was sure had nothing to do with his bloodline limit. Hayato and Gai each shared a look with the other, smirked (each in their own way) and then shrugged. Lee and Tazuna did the typical guy thing and half-turned away to give another guy some privacy.

After about half to three quarters of a minute, the sound finally ceased, Naruto gave another sigh of relief, zipped his pants up and hurried to catch up to them as they'd all kept walking and had gone past him by that point. He gratefully accepted the bio-degradable non-alcoholic wipes from Kasumi and thoroughly cleaned his hands before tossing it all the way back to his 'rest stop' where it soaked in the 'water' left behind.

Those that had been tense before kept their senses wide alert, the more experienced ninja expecting something to happen any moment now, but as they came around the bend with nothing but open road, and the sight of a couple other travelers further up ahead, they all relaxed a notch as nothing happened.

"Quite a distraction, eh Gai?" Hayato casually commented as they continued along.

If he hadn't been already, Gai was entirely red-faced, and his mouth was trembling in wavy lines, half between a frown, a grimace, a smile, and open-faced laughter. He just grunted and nodded his head.

"Eh? Did I miss something Hayato-sensei?" Naruto turned back to look at the two jounin conversing.

Neji, still at the lead, growled and slapped a hand over his white eyes. Kasumi suppressed another giggle, while Ryu just grinned openly at the whole world.

"Gai-sensei? Are you well?" Lee asked, concerned at the unfamiliar face his teacher was making.

Gai nodded again. "H-hai... Lee," he spoke solemnly, that most were definitely impressed with, "I must express something very important to you. There are times, and there will be times where something occurs or that happens where you will feel an overwhelming desire to express your Youth openly to the world. Those times may not be proper, based upon circumstance or location or company. In such eventualities, it is therefore prudent to then excuse yourself from the circumstances or what-have-you as soon as is prudent and polite, and once you ensure that such expressions will not inconvenience your comrades or that you are in private to safely express these overwhelming feelings of Youth!"

"Hai Gai-sensei!" Lee saluted the man.

"Excuse me, I shall now to an out-laying patrol," Gai announced to the group before vanishing without so much as a green blur. Moments later, very loud sounds of raucous laughter could be heard echoing throughout the forest around them.

Meanwhile...

Back at the bend in the road, two chuunin Kiri Assassins canceled their concealing technique, which had disguised them as a puddle of water on the road. Despite the cancellation however, they were both dripping wet. And they smelled a bit too.

"That brat DIES!" the first and oldest one growled, his bladed gauntlet clenched lethally.

"Slowly and painfully," the second agreed, his own weapon at the ready.

"... But, uh, first we need to clean up before we report in to Zabuza-sama," the oldest of the Demon Brothers, Gozu remarked to his partner and twin brother.

"... Um, yeah," Meizu, the younger and twin-horned Demon Brother agreed.

They silently walked off into the bushed to a nearby stream they had scouted earlier that day.

Ferry To Wave Country

It had been a tight fit, but they all managed to get onto the skiff together and were now rowing through a dense fog bank towards the island of waves. Hayato and Gai sat near the middle, Tazuna right behind them with only the ferryman being behind him, while all the genin sat quietly at the front of the boat.

Soon, the ferryman quietly announced, "We're coming up on the bridge. You'll be able to see it soon. We just go alongside it and soon we'll be at the port to Wave Country."

Shortly after he said it, through the blinding mist, they saw a massive shadow up ahead, which soon revealed itself to be a massive structure, nearly a hundred feet above them, rising up out of the water like a monolith. It wasn't until they were right along beside it that they could see any of the detail that was going into the building of such a structure and that it really was as awesome as it's builder claimed it to be.

"WOW! That is awesome!" Naruto exclaimed. "You really built that Old Man?"

"Silence!" Neji snapped in a hiss.

"Hey! Be quiet up there! We're all in a whole lot of trouble if we get caught as it is. Why do you think it is that we're coming in under the cover of fog, or that I'm rowing in instead of using the engine, huh?"

Naruto hung his head, sufficiently chastised.

"Sorry about this, I know you're taking a huge risk," Tazuna spoke with the ferryman.

The man just shrugged and kept rowing, but also keeping a sharper eye out for trouble on the water.

"Tazuna-san," Hayato spoke up after a minute of silence, "There is something Gai and I need to know if we are to go any further with you after dropping you off at your home."

Tazuna gulped, starting to sweat a little.

"Despite Naruto's... effective measure in preventing their ambush," Gai added, "we're all aware that there were ninja lying in wait along the road to the coast earlier today."

"We have no proof," Hayato pointed out, "but we strongly suspect that their target was you. Which immediately escalates this mission from a standard C-Rank into at least a B-Rank, if not an A-Rank if there is a jounin involved. The point is, however, that you lied about the threat level of this mission, and we are well within our rights to drop you off the moment you are at your home and leave you be."

"Wait! No! You... you can't do that..." Tazuna moaned pitifully.

"Actually Tazuna-san," Gai folded his arms, his expression gravely serious, "for your un-youthful actions, we may very well do that indeed. However, Hayato-san and I are reasonable people and Konoha does not turn its back on those needing its protection. If you properly explain the situation, then we will gladly bring forth our most youthful efforts in order to aid you in your time of need."

"Now why did you lie?" Hayato demanded.

After a heavy silence, the bridge builder looked up and quietly said, "It looks like I have to tell you the real story. I mean, I would like for you to hear my story..." he trailed off an looked at each of the ninja that had come with him. "As you said," he began, "This job is outside of your job description. An extremely terrible man is after my life."

"An extremely terrible man?" Gai repeated.

"An extremely terrible man?!" Lee copied.

"Hai," Tazuna nodded.

"Who is it?" Hayato questioned.

"You should all have at least heard the name," the old man trailed off, sweat beading his brow before he answered, "Ship-Building Billionaire Gato."

"Gato? The one from Gato Shipping Company?" Tenten exclaimed. "He's one of the richest men in the world! Also one of the shortest and ugliest according to all the magazines."

"Who's that? What is all that?" Naruto asked quietly.

"Yes," Tazuna said, "He is nothing more than the president of a shipping company to the public eye, but... In the Underground world, he uses gangs and ninja to smuggle drugs and contraband goods. He also does nasty jobs like take over other companies and small countries. A year ago, he set his sights on my home, Wave Country. He entered this country using violence and wealth as his shield, and he quickly took over this entire country's sea traffic and shipping. On an island like Wave, controlling the sea and waterways means ruling over the wealth, politics, and people of this island. And the one thing Gato is afraid of... is the completion of the bridge that has been under construction for quite some time."

"I see," Kasumi said, "So you, as the one building the bridge became an obstacle to him."

"Then that ambush we avoided was set up by ninja that were sent by Gato," Ryu remarked, glancing at Kasumi and Naruto.

"But I do not understand," Neji spoke up, "He's a dangerous man that is known for using ninjas. Why did you hide this fact when you came to Konoha?"

"Wave Country is a really poor country," Tazuna answered the genin, "Even the Daimyo does not have much money. And we citizens don't have much either. We don't have the funds to request an expensive B-Rank or above mission. If you quit your mission after I land, I'll be killed for sure on my way home. But there's no need to blame yourselves. Only my cute eight-year-old grandson will cry and cry and cry some more. And my daughter will just hold a grudge against Konoha ninja and live a lonely life, forever cursing the name of Konoha and all it's ninja. But it's not your fault."

The two teams shared various looks between each other, Team One looking the most guilt-ridden, while Neji actually appeared to be affronted at being manipulated by such a man. Finally it came to the Jounin, who both shrugged at each other. Then Gai turned around and gave the bridge builder a thumbs up and grinned broadly at him, his teeth practically shining in the mist.

"Not to worry Tazuna-san!" Gai told him. "Konoha shinobi do not abandon their comrades, and your story has touched my soul! With my Flames of Youth, I and my lovely genin will protect you and your bridge with our very lives! Have no fear!"

"Shh!" the ferryman warned him.

Hayato sighed and added to Gai's rather colorful statement, "I guess it can't be helped, we will continue escorting you."

"Oh! That's good to hear!" Tazuna grinned happily, while containing a smug look behind his hat.

"We're almost there," the ferryman announced. "Looks like we haven't been found out yet, Tazuna."

"Thanks again," the bridge builder thanked him.

Soon they reached the aqueduct that the bridge was built over and floating down one of the tunnels, the red emergency lights overhead the only illumination. At the end of the tunnel, light shone indicating that the mist had vacated the other side. It wasn't until they were through that they caught sight of the fishing port and their first glimpse of Wave Country.

It was quaint and simple, but that gave it a charm that people just couldn't help smiling about. Trees grew up out of the water, completing the picturesque image. They weren't Konoha trees, but they made the beauty of the scenery complete.

They came up to the docks and quickly got out of the boat. Tazuna turned back to the ferryman and thanked him again for helping them before the man turned on his engine and sped off back to his fishing spot.

"Now, you'd best escort me back to my home!" Tazuna called out as he marched down the docks.

"Can I please just clock him one?" Naruto half-begged his teammates.

"Only after me, and I only go after Kasumi," Ryu regretfully replied.

Tazuna lead them out of the port through the forest along the coastal path that would take them to his home. Hayato immediately had his team deploy in formation around the client and kept an eye out for trouble himself. Given that the ambush they'd noticed earlier on hadn't been sprung, he suspected that the would-be ambushers were chuunin level, at most a very inexperienced jounin. Which meant that they would have had time to report in by now and now they would most likely face an experienced jounin level ninja. And considering that there currently were two jounin on site already, that jounin would either have to be S-Rank, or have some extra A-Rank backup on hand.

They soon discovered how right he was.

It started with the fog.

They were walking along, through the forest outside of the port village on the road to Tazuna's home when it rolled in and covered the entire area in less than a minute. Naruto, Ryu and Kasumi's chakra senses were blanked out, everything around them was just one solid wall of chakra.

"Byakugan!" Neji called, activating his kekkai genkai.

"What is it, Neji?" Gai asked his genin student.

"We are surrounded," Neji stated with a finality in his tone.

"Naruto, Ryu," Hayato gestured. The two genin immediately knelt and slapped their hands to the ground before running off into the fog from a three point stance. "Kasumi, stay by Tenten, support her with your needles. Gai?"

The Green Beast just nodded and stood at the ready, his expression oddly grim.

"Gai-sensei?" Lee whispered, also at the ready.

"Stay with the client, Lee-kun," Gai ordered. Lee acknowledged this and with Tenten and Kasumi filling in the other points, assumed the Swastika Formation.

Suddenly, Naruto reappeared out of the fog and approached Hayato. "I don't know what Neji-teme's been smoking, but there's no one out there. Tazuna told us himself that fog often rolls in without any warning around these parts. It's probably nothing," he said loudly, sneering at Neji.

"Gai?" Hayato asked.

"Neji-kun, are you sure?" Gai asked for confirmation.

Neji, who hadn't dropped his Byakugan the entire time, merely frowned and reported, "I count over fifteen individuals, twelve with chuunin level chakra, two with jounin, and another that... what?!"

"What is it? What happened?" Lee and Tenten both cried out.

"The last chakra signature just vanished. And there are two additional warriors there now, both jounin level chakra," Neji said. "They are all around us."

"Where?" Naruto prompted.

Neji reported the precise locations of all the chuunin signatures. Naruto then poofed into a cloud of white smoke. Neji looked up, surprised. "Kagebunshin?"

"I've been training my genin to be a Support Team, and one of them just so happens to be able to create an army of such support at will," Hayato briefly allowed himself to brag. "Naruto only uses his clones when necessary now, but necessity has lots of variations. Including letting us know where the enemy truly is."

Dark laughter suddenly echoed throughout the fog. None of them could tell where it came from, but it sounded close. Naruto and Ryu came running out from the fog.

"We've got a problem," Ryu told them. "None of those positions were real. There was no one there, at any of the locations Neji told us."

"What? That's impossible. I can see the chakra. There are now twenty people all around us," Neji defended himself.

"Can you see me?" Naruto waved at him.

"He's a clone, by the way," Ryu started to speak, but a tingle up his spine and a feeling in the back of his neck stopped him and had him tackling the girls and the client to the ground. "DOWN!"

The rest all hit the dirt and not a moment too soon as a giant blade, no less than seven feet across, probably more, flew through the space they had just occupied before arching up and slamming into the trunk of a tree some ten feet above their heads.

"HEY! What's the big idea!" Naruto screamed at the shirtless man that had appeared on the handle of the giant sword now embedded into the tree.

Gai and Hayato both silently cursed their luck, while Ryu, who also recognized their opponent, gulped and knew they were in trouble. Another tingle shot up his spine. "Shit! Are you KIDDING ME? MOVE!" Ryu grabbed the closest person and shoved them up off the ground, and not a moment too soon as a bolt of some kind of lightning jutsu flew right where Tazuna had been laying down, blasting a groove in the soil before dissipating. Tracking the trajectory of the attack, Ryu looked up and sitting in the tree opposite from where the first ninja stood, a man in a dark cloak with a bundle on his back appeared, holding twin hook swords in either hand and standing on a branch.

Looking closely, the first ninja was tall, muscular and wore gray camouflage pants and had bandages wrapped over his mouth while his hitai-ate was lopsided and displayed the symbol for Mizugakure, the Village Hidden in the Mist. He had sun-weathered skin, a black strap around his torso for holding the sword no doubt, and short scraggy black hair He also had no eyebrows. The second ninja was a virtual opposite of the first. His head was uncovered, and his dark green locks fell straight around his head, two bangs hanging low over either side of his nose and around his eyes. He wore bandages over most of his body and covered that with his black vest cloak over his billowy maroon pants. He also had a strap on his back, but it was for the basket bundle that was even now still there. Naruto couldn't help noticing that there were two red glowing dots, like eyes, shining from inside that bundle.

Neji suddenly flinched and deactivated his Byakugan. "I can no longer use my Byakugan, Gai-sensei. There's too much chakra in the air, I can't see anything," he whispered to his Jounin Sensei.

"That's not possible!" Tenten exclaimed.

The shirtless stranger chuckled darkly, silencing the Konoha ninja.

"Well, well, well," he said, his voice gravely and deep, "Looks like my men were right on the money. Two squads. Two jounin, six genin, and one of them more dangerous than the others. Looks like I'm one up on you Raiga."

The cloaked ninja, Raiga, scoffed and retorted, "I'm going to look forward to your funeral, Zabuza. We had such good times together. Ah, I wonder if I should have a funeral for those Demon Brothers of yours?"

Zabuza growled, the sound echoed around in the mist. "Remind me why I decided to work with you?"

Raiga just grinned at him and shrugged.

"Hand over the bridge builder and we won't have a problem," Zabuza growled, addressing the Konoha ninja.

"Momochi Zabuza and Kurosuki Raiga," Hayato identified them. "Since when do Mizu-nin of your caliber work for crime boss thugs like Gato?"

"Ah, the good old days..." Raiga sighed mournfully.

"SHUT UP!" Zabuza shouted at him. "I sincerely doubt Konoha's bingo book is that much behind the times. And planning a coup takes money. Maito Gai and Kanzaki Hayato. The Green Beast of Konoha and Star Gladiator. It's an honor."

"Hayato-sensei?" Kasumi asked for direction.

"Protect the client," he ordered. "Gai? Not that I need the help, but I don't want to be greedy. I'm best matched against Raiga, Kirigakure no Raijin. Would you care to take care of Zabuza, Kirigakure no Akuma, over here?"

"Ah, good times," Raiga sighed. "I remember when you earned that name, Zabuza-san. So much blood that day."

"Heh," Zabuza chuckled, reminiscing a bit himself. "Be sure not to underestimate your opponent, Raiga. I don't want to have to bail you out like the last few times."

"Shut up. I told you I only want to remember the good times, teme," Raiga growled right back at him. The hook swords began to spark a bit.

"Lee! Tenten! Neji! My wonderful students!" Gai shouted loud enough that the leaves on the trees shook, and then suddenly continued in a deadly serious voice, "Stay with the client and protect him no matter the costs. Use Team One as support. We will handle the enemy."

Team Gai gulped, they very rarely heard their sensei speak in such a tone, and always knew it was trouble when he did. "Hai, Gai-sensei!" they acknowledged and Neji switched out with Kasumi in the Swastika formation.

"Nova formation. Time to practice your new move. Go!" Hayato ordered his own genin.

"Hai!"

Suddenly there were half a dozen each of Team One spread out in a loose circle around the client. "Chakra Gattai!" three of them called out and then tossed a hand full of shuriken, kunai and senbon needles into the air, which exploded in a cloud of white smoke before becoming nearly a hundred weapons scattered throughout the air. And they remained there in the air, with only a slight wobble or dipping to them.

"What is this?" Neji muttered.

"Our new technique," all the Kasumi's, Naruto's, and Ryu's answered in unison.

"Cute," Raiga commented, while Zabuza laughed openly.

"Now!" Hayato cried out and shot a couple kunai at both enemies. Raiga dropped down to the ground from the tree, while Zabuza pulled his giant sword free and leapt further up the path. Both of them then stood beside each other and formed identical hand seals and called out, "Mizugakure no jutsu (Hidden in the Mist technique)!" The mist all around them got considerably thicker so they could barely even see each other, let alone the two enemy ninja.

"Bykaugan!" Neji activated his kekkai genkai once more. "What?! Impossible!"

"Still can't see anything?" Tenten asked, concerned.

"That's kind of the point," Raiga's voice echoed out from the mist.

"Be careful!" Gai warned the genin, "Momochi Zabuza is known for his silent killing techniques!"

"And Raiga is better known for seeing through to a target, no matter how well it's concealed," Hayato added.

"Quite a lot of clones you genin have scattered around this place," Raiga proved the information correct.

"Liver, lungs, spine, clavicle, neck, brain, kidneys, heart," Zabuza's voice echoed from every direction. "Eight points. Instant death from striking just one of them. Hm, and there are just enough of you to make it a variety and do one each. What do you think Raiga?"

"Hm, I'm just looking forward to Tazuna-san's funeral," Raiga's laughter chilled the air even more than the mist had.

The atmosphere was tense and getting more so. The oppressive feeling of four jounin level ninja, all preparing to kill the other was enough to nearly overwhelm the genin, and it definitely had Tazuna cowering in a fetal position after only a few seconds.

Neji, Tenten and Lee were all sweating and their eyes were flitting back and forth. Even Neji, who was usually the coolest customer around, was sweating in his sandals and contemplating succumbing to his fate to die today. Just as it was getting to be too much, Naruto, Ryu and Kasumi, all of them, screamed out, "THERE!" and suddenly a quarter of the shuriken and kunai converged on some point in the fog, while the senbon needles clustered and seemed to be tracking something through the mist. The shuriken and kunai retracted back to their original positions and then homed in on another pointed, ahead of or around the senbon cluster. Gai came from another direction, as evidenced by him punching through Zabuza's water clone. The weapons all retracted back to their original positions around the genin and client.

"Yosh! That is a most youthful jutsu!" he gave Team One a thumbs up and flashed a grin at them that sparkled even in the blinding mist.

"Brats are resourceful, but they're still just brats," Zabuza said, appearing behind Gai, who immediately kicked through him, dispelling the water clone.

"You missed," Raiga whispered, already standing over Tazuna, right behind Neji, Tenten and Lee.

"What makes you say that?" Team One all asked as one.

"Huh?" the Swordsman of the Mist looked down and saw a chakra energy blade sticking through his chest. Hayato hadn't moved, but he had drawn his blade and positioned it appropriately. The blade had actually gone through a couple of the clones and Lee as well, but it did no damage, until the genin got out of the way and an electric shock dispelled the Raiga clone.

"Oh, so we get to see one of the two famous chakra blades Konoha is famous for," Zabuza chuckled. "I'm honored. How about you Raiga?"

"I'm thinking I might need to upgrade after we get rid of these trash. I'm truly looking forward to Tazuna's funeral now."

"Enough talk. Gai? Would you mind?"

"KONOHA DAISENPUU!" Gai was suddenly a green whirlwind, dashing along the ground, blowing the mist away as he made his way towards Zabuza.

Hayato drew Setsumaru and was on Raiga before anyone else knew what was happening. Raiga brought up his hook swords, charged with his lightning chakra, and caught the energy blade between them.

"Hoho, not such an invincible blade after all, hm?" Raiga teased.

"He's holding back and is only attacking with ten percent of his power," the bundle on Raiga's back whispered, but Hayato was now close enough to hear it.

"Thought so," Hayato grunted and jumped back, the blade of his weapon turning intangible, allowing him to withdraw, where if he had a regular sword, Raiga's hook swords would have had him trapped.

"Teme," Raiga muttered.

Gai had Zabuza on the defensive from the start, slamming blow after blow into the swordsman's giant blade and not letting him get enough room or momentum to even start a swing from it. And then the Green Beast got past the Demon's defenses and finally managed to land a solid hit against his body rather than just his sword. Unfortunately, that's when things changed for Gai. Zabusa dissolved in a big splash of water, drenching Gai's leg.

"Mizubunshin!" he exclaimed.

"RRARGH!" Zabuza appeared behind Gai, already swinging his massive blade.

"Gai-sensei!" Lee cried out.

"Lee!" Neji snapped. "Stay in formation."

"Here's where a Support Team comes in handy," Naruto said and then called out, "Go!"

From the ground between them, an extra Naruto and Ryu emerged and stopped the blade cold. The reason why became pretty clear as chips for earth fell from the grooves where the blade had embedded into the two Iwabunshin. "WHAT?!" Zabuza screamed and immediately destroyed the clones by finishing his strike, but the delay was enough. Gai's foot went through his head, making his feet equally wet as the other Mizubunshin was dispelled.

"Yosh! Excellent support!" he shot the genin another flashing grin thumbs up. He then ducked low as Zabuza's sword nearly cleaved his head.

"Are you stupid or something?" Zabuza growled at the Green Beast.

Gai stood tall, maybe posing a bit, and proudly proclaimed, "Stupid is as stupid does!"

Everyone sweat-dropped at that and took some moments to recover, especially the two Mizu Nukenin. Well, everyone except for Lee and Gai, the former of which was nodding sagely in agreement.

"I'm doing the world a service," Zabuza sighed and picked his sword back up and formed a one-handed seal. From the mist and nearby river, half a dozen mizubunshin formed and charged the taijutsu freak.

Back with Raiga and Hayato, the two were dancing around each other, striking and retreating, testing the others defense and reactions. Raiga was channeling lightning chakra to both his hook swords in order to combat Hayato's chakra sword. Some of the time he didn't even bother using his sword, just swinging the electric energy around to further injure or paralyze his opponent. Hayato, however, was doing something with Setsumaru that reversed the polarities at precisely the right moments, allowing him to absorb and successfully block all of the lightning strikes.

"He's modulating the polarity of his own lightning nature chakra with that sword of his, Raiga," the bundle on Raiga's back informed him.

"Tell me something I don't know Ranmaru!" Raiga retorted, his frustration beginning to get the better of him.

"He's going to use his own Raiton jutsu soon," the bundle, Ranmaru answered. "He's been building up to it for several minutes. He's most likely going to use it as soon as he sees an opening. From the distance he keeps trying to maintain from you, I believe it's going to be a mid-range attack."

"Heh, that's more like it!" Raiga suddenly surged forward, closing the distance between him and his opponent within seconds and keeping it close range.

"So," Hayato said as though they weren't in the middle of trying to kill one another, "that must be your apprentice there. Useful ability he has. I see now where you get your reputation for seeing right through your opponents. I trust you are as protective of him as he is of you?"

"You Konoha wimps don't play by those rules," Raiga grinned suddenly, "But I do! Now!"

Two red dots, what could have been the eyes of the person there, lit up from within the bundle on Raiga's back. At the same time, a dozen figures in robes matching Raiga's leapt out of the mist and angled in on the genin and the Bridge Builder.

"I trust my team," was all Hayato said before pushing the attack.

Back with Tazuna and the genin, Team One was still maintaining their Buntai no jutsu: Mamori Arashi and taking out the last of the mizubunshin. Team Gai maintained vigil over the client, not moving from his side. Neji had, at first, tried to offer advice on where to send retaliating attacks, but something was sending out false chakra patterns and was simultaneously blocking what was actually there. Tenten, on the other hand, proved to be most helpful as she kept throwing out weapons for them to grab onto when their shadow cloned weapons either popped or were destroyed by the bunshin.

Just before they got the last of them though, a whole group of cloaked ninja sprang up, and it was quite clear that they were not bunshin, despite wearing the same outfit that Raiga wore.

"Who are these guys?" Naruto asked.

"No clue," answered Ryu, "but safe bet that they're with the bad guys here. Guys, think we can put out a few more layers?"

"I'm at my limit!" Kasumi said, "Unless you guys want to start taking on some more then by all means!"

"Then in that case," Ryu adjusted his stance and flow of chakra through their combined chakra strings, the others adapted accordingly, before he'd even had to say anything, "Pick your targets!"

Team One briefly re-fused their chakra, to get another quick boost for their new technique, one that would be the offensive version of the jutsu they'd been using in the fight so far. Once it was ready, they cried out, "Buntai no jutsu: Inmetsu Nadare! (Team Combo: Destructive Avalanche)"

Immediately, all of the weapons that had been hovering around them like a porcupine's quills, shot out in all directions and homed in on all of the attacking ninja. If all it was going to be was a fancy way of launching weapons at the enemy, the wouldn't have bothered with the big production. All around, hidden in the ground, the trees, and in some even the water, Team One's clones that they had been peppering the area with since the start of the fight, lay in wait for just this. All of those clones were linked into the connect the same as the three genin, and were ready for it when the weapons came past them.

If one of the attacking ninja successfully dodged or deflected a weapon, they were stunned to find it flying right back at them from a completely unexpected direction! It wasn't too much longer before all of them were kept to one spot as projectiles hovered around them, sometimes attacking, sometimes blocking for other weapons, and some just hanging there against their throats or wrists or whatever.

Thankfully there were only about a dozen or so of these enemy ninja, because if it had been more, there was a good chance that Team One wouldn't have been able to keep up. With just twelve or so, they had all the enemy ninja surrounded on all sides by weapons that just kept coming at them, or restricted their movements, keeping them on the defensive and no longer able to attack.

Unfortunately, given that this was the first time they had ever used this particular jutsu, Team One found themselves rooted to where the stood, having to concentrate solely on maintaining the jutsu and little else. So when another Zabuza bunshin popped up, they were left completely vulnerable.

Fortunately, the Support Team had a little support of their own.

"Jyuken!" Neji's open palm slammed into the base of the water clone's spine, dispelling it. "Keep it up!" he shouted at the younger genin, "We'll cover you!"

They nodded as one and the weapons flying about actually became more aggressive towards their targets. Before it could be declared victory, however, one of the enemy ninja pulled out an explosive and tossed it towards the group.

"I have it!" Lee shouted and there was a green blur through the air and then the explosive was suddenly tossed back to where it came from. The guy that threw it suddenly regretted doing so as it exploded in his face.

"Who are these guys anyway?" Tenten asked aloud.

"The Kurosuki Family," Kasumi and Neji answer together.

"Who are they?" Naruto, Ryu and Lee all asked.

"Rogue ninja clan, basically," Kasumi answered. Neji just scoffed, which was the same as agreeing, Lee and Tenten knew. "Not an actual family, but I recognize Raiga and heard about the gang he'd started, calling themselves the Kurosuki Family."

"I heard about it from Hiashi-sama," was all Neji would say about it.

"YOSH!" Gai screamed out as he rapid-punched the flat side of Zabuza's blade, the only way the swordsman could block the Green Beast's attacks.

"What does that even mean?!" Zabuza roared as he pushed back against the taijutsu freak and swung the cleaver like it was made out of balsa wood rather than chakra-reinforced steel.

"Yosh means YOSH!" Gai helpfully replied, sweeping in with a fast combination of kicks that had Zabuza on the defensive again. He was then caught off-guard all of a sudden when Zabuza met his next kick with the back edge of the cleaver with more than enough force to break the man's leg, had the man in question not immediately turned his kick into a back-flip, using the force of Zabuza's swing to gain further distance.

Unfortunately, it also marked the turning point in their battle as now the Demon of the Mist had Gai on the defensive and no further opportunities were being presented for him to change it back his way. It was all the Green Beast could do to keep dodging and blocking the swings from the Demon's massive cleaver, especially when said Demon liked to get a few mizubunshin to help him out, each with their own copy of the cleaver and one quarter the strength of the original. Of course when you have four clones and the original coming at you from five different directions, it sort of makes up for the difference in strength.

"Gai-sensei!" Lee shouted, worried.

Suddenly, Naruto, Ryu and Kasumi were there, each tackling a clone to the ground and away from the jounin, leaving him to deal with the original and one clone. "Konoha Senpuu!" Gai suddenly cried out and became a virtual whirlwind of kicking feet, striking both high, low and everywhere in between in both directions. The mizubunshin was near instantly dispelled, while Zabuza found himself restrained in further blocking after the first high kick. Thus, the low kicks landed and did significant damage before he could properly defend against them, or the follow up attacks.

"Damnit!" Zabuza cursed as he was knocked back to the ground by Gai's attack.

"HAA!" the genin clones all screamed and then exploded, Ryu and Kasumi with far weaker yields than Naruto's, but still effective as Zabuza's remaining bunshin were easily destroyed.

Hayato and Raiga continued trading blows with their respective Lightning Element weapons. Sparks flew, the occasional bolt misfired and scorched the ground or the trees around them, and their arms started to go numb. Not that it bothered either of them as it merely allowed them to ignore the pain from the energy from their opponent's weapon when some blows inevitably got through.

"Persistent... bastard... eh?" Raiga grunted.

"..." Hayato didn't have much to say, choosing to instead focus most of his energy on attack and defense.

"Fine... Be... that way!" Raiga exclaimed as he jumped back and charged even more chakra into his swords. From his back, Ranmaru whispered, "I've been watching. He drops his guard just before countering from a lock. He patterns his strikes in time with his heartbeat. His sword also can transition between solid, elemental and intangible. His footwork is solid and rapid, but he puts his weight on the left when he strikes."

"Heh, gotcha now, persistent bastard," he said, smiling savagely.

The genin were being swamped by the assailants of the Kurosaki Family. Skill wise, there wasn't much difference between the more experienced genin and the ninja-trained thugs, but even with all the clones from Team One backing them up, the rogue clan still had the numbers superiority. Especially since the defenders numbers mostly came in the form of Shadow and Water clones, which were notoriously easy to disperse.

"We need to find some way to turn the tide of battle," Tenten said to her companions. "Otherwise..."

"Otherwise they can just whittle away at us until we're too exhausted to fight anymore," Neji agreed.

"I'm open for suggestions," the real Ryu said from where he was maintaining their defensive jutsu with the other two at his side.

All of a sudden, shouting across the battlefield, Hayato called, "Gai! I need some room! Set me up!"

"YOSH!" Gai screamed, getting into a Horse stance before bringing both hands, palms open and outward and fingers bent into claws, up to his face.

"KAIMON! KYUMON! SEIMON! SHOMON! TOMON! KAIHOU!" At each word the jounin screamed out, and he was definitely screaming, an explosion of chakra came from him and pressed on everybody on the field. Around Gai himself, the fog surrounding them actually was repelled by the sheer force of chakra he was giving off. By the time he said the fifth word, his skin had turned an ugly red and his eyes had gone white. His hair flew up and somehow stayed there despite him not moving and the amount of wind flowing not logically able to account for the phenomenon.

Zabuza sought to take full advantage of the situation, moving silently in behind Gai, he swung his sword at full strength through the Green Beast's neck. Only to discover half a second too late that it was only an after-image. Gai slammed a kick into the masked man's torso, so hard that he was actually sent airborne. Then, in a blaze of movement that not even the ninja could keep track of, Gai began going from enemy to enemy, kicking them all up into the air.

Ranmaru gasped, drawing Raiga's attention away from where Hayato was charging an attack with his energy blade. "He's coming!" was all the bundled boy had time to whisper before Gai arrived and kicked them both into the air. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your point of view, the force from Gai's kick was also sufficient to dislodge Ranmaru from Raiga's back.

"Plasma Field: Rasetsu Zan!" came from Hayato before an electrical blue chakra glow covered his entire body and he disappeared, only to briefly reappear in the air, energy sword fully penetrating Zabuza's falling body. He disappeared in the next instant, only to reappear at the next falling body, and then the next, and the next and the next, until he'd fully stunned every last one... except for Ranmaru.

When the bodies all fell to the ground, they were unconscious and it was unlikely that they'd be moving anytime soon. Except that as the dust settled from all the limp bodies striking the earth like falling pigeons, one of them did get back up; Raiga.

"Th-thanks for the... charge up!" he said, "Rairyu no Tatsu—ARGH!"

Everyone then watched as the former Mizunin collapsed where he stood, a single senbon needle sticking out of the base of his neck. Likewise, other needles flew out and landed in vital spots in all of the downed criminals, some in the necks, others in the temples or other head shots, a few in areas along the spine or chest where the heart was. Though the Konoha-nin stayed on guard, they worried about some of those coming their way. Thankfully, none did.

Once the barrage of needles had stopped, there was silence all around. Gai and Hayato, both exhausted, physically and with chakra depletion, nevertheless prepared themselves for the worst.

In the middle of the battlefield, a team of Mizu ANBU suddenly appeared. There were five of them in total, and most surprisingly was the one in the middle, the smallest of the group, seemed to be in charge. It was also clear who had thrown the Senbon, given that he held a full brace of them in one hand.

"I thank you for you assistance, but we will take it from here." He spoke softly. A sharp gesture had the other four moving about and 'collecting' the various Kurosuki clan members. They were all sealed in scrolls at a speed that had the genin heads spinning, although part of that may also have been chakra exhaustion. The leader, however, went and 'collected' Raiga and Zabuza personally, though all he did was pick them up and toss them across his shoulders.

"Our mission has no conflict with yours," the leader spoke one final time, "Your mission is to protect that old man over there. Ours is to collect traitors to our village and protect village secrets. Farewell."

With that said, the Mizu ANBU vanished just as quickly as they appeared. Enemy defeated... sort of, Team One canceled their jutsu and retrieved their weapons. Though each of them had something to protest, none of them said a word, merely looking to their Jounin Sensei for instructions.

Hayato put his weapon away and resumed walking to their original destination.

"Hayato-kun..." Gai started to say, but silenced himself at the look on his fellow jounin's face.

"I know," he growled.

"What do you think we should do?" Gai asked quietly, actually quiet as he didn't want the genin hearing.

"Five could be all they held in reserve, or this could be a Mizu operation, looking to input foreign operatives into our forces. They've done it before. Or they could all be missing ninja and they managed to get undamaged ANBU masks from a whole ANBU squad. Either way, we're exhausted, I can't use another technique like that for at least another day, and you actually used the Gates. Let's retreat to safe ground and deal with them another time. Besides, the Byakugan, for whatever reason, doesn't work against them."

"Hm," Gai nodded. Turning to the client and genin, he told them, "Yosh! That was incredibly bracing, would you not agree my Youthful companions?"

"HAI GAI-SENSEI!" Lee actually snapped to attention.

The others all just shot incredulous looks between the two Green Beasts.

"Tazuna-san! We shall be continuing our journey to your lovely home!" Gai shouted for the whole island to hear.

"Uh, r-right," the old bridge builder agreed and started walking.

The two teams stayed in formation around their client, tense and ready for just about anything after their last encounter. It took them another half an hour at their slower pace, but soon they came to Tazuna's home and were greeted with the smiles of his daughter, and the scowls of her son. Both default expressions turned to surprise when they saw exactly how many ninja their father/grandfather had brought back home with him.

"Uh, I'm home!" Tazuna called sheepishly.

TBC!

(*Explanation: No real excuse here, but I seemed to have lost the head of steam I had for this fanfic. Anyway, people have been waiting long enough for this, so seeing as I couldn't seem to get past this one fight scene and into what I really wanted to write—the Element Training Scenes—I wrapped up the fight scene real quick the last few days before Halloween and have posted it on the sacred holiday. And so concludes "Part 1" of the Wave Arc chapters. Depending on how long it takes me to build my head of steam back up will determine if there are only two parts... or more. Anyway, enjoy what you've got, no telling when more will be coming!)