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AN: So much for an updating schedule. Still waiting for this chapter and the next to be proof read, but I've got a bit of writer's block, so I'm hoping any new reviews will help me get over it. An edited version of this chapter will be uploaded as soon as I get it. Finally got another chapter of Reckoning out as well, so please remember to check it out. Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed. I should have responded to everyone, but if I missed you, I apologize. All reviews/criticism is welcomed. So, without further ado, I give you chapter 25 of Naruto: Shadows of the Mind.



Chapter Twenty-Five

The next morning passed rather nicely for Naruto, who was able to spend much of it asleep. With Sasuke having finished the tree walking exercise the day before, the Uchiha was tasked with escorting Tazuna while Sakura was to stay at the house with Tsunami. So, having nothing else to do, Naruto naturally decided to catch up on his sleep, before Kakashi kicked him out of the house for "lazing about". Damn hypocrite.

Heading out into the forest once again, Naruto couldn't help but wonder if he'd run into Haku once again. Between all of the free time he seemed to be getting lately, and with Gato and Zabuza dead, spending his days hanging out with a pretty girl seemed like an excellent way to pass the time. And he really enjoyed hanging out with Haku! That kiss on the cheek had confused him, but after that, he had to admit he rather liked the sensation of the civilian girl's lips pressed against his flesh.

So it made his day when he found her once again in what Naruto was beginning to think of as their clearing. She was kneeling down over something that Naruto couldn't see, but he was easily able to hear her cooing ecstatically over something that was apparently "so adorable!"

Curious, Naruto made his way over to her, being careful to make enough noise so as not to panic her. When she looked up, Haku's face brightened happily as she saw him. "Naruto-sama, come quick!" Smiling slightly at the girl's enthusiasm, Naruto moved to peer over her shoulder at whatever had captured her attention. He was surprised to see a couple of young rabbits, barely more than kittens really. More specifically, he was surprised by the fact that the generally skittish creatures were quite happily crawling around on her lap, though they were quick to cower away from him.

"What's wrong? Haku cooed to the little things as she tried to coax them back out into the open. "Don't be afraid, Naruto-sama wouldn't hurt you. Right?"

Blinking when he realized she was actually looking at him for confirmation, Naruto shrugged and answered honestly. "Well, they might be a little on the scrawny side, but they probably have enough meat on them to make a half-decent lunch." After all, he had promised himself that he'd try to bring back some game to the house to ease the burden on Tsunami. Unfortunately, while Naruto had thought he was answering a hypothetical question about whether or not he'd ever harm the creatures, Haku apparently meant here and now, judging by how teary eyed she got as she rushed to scoop the rabbits into her arms and twisted to put herself between him and the creatures.

"Naruto-sama, how could you?" Haku demanded, obviously upset though Naruto didn't have the faintest clue as to why. "They're just babies!"

Naruto blinked, completely blindsided by the glare Haku was giving him over the animals cowering in her arms. You'd think he'd just suggested they go out and steal a baby to eat or something!

Even stranger, when Naruto remained silent, Haku's glare began to lose some of its potency, and she began to fidget slightly. What did she expect him to say? Granted, Naruto understood that she liked baby rabbits and thought they were cute, but come on! Nami no Kuni was practically in the middle of a famine!

Her fidgeting grew worse, and then she was suddenly babbling, "Please don't hurt them, Naruto-sama! They're just babies and they haven't even had a chance to live yet, and if it's food you want, you can have some of mine, and how could you even think of hurting such cute little things and-"

"Alright, alright!" Naruto hurriedly interrupted before things could get any weirder. "I won't eat the rabbits, I promise! Just calm down already!" To his great relief, Haku seemed to relax, and that unidentifiable, yet terrifyingly hollow look in her eyes faded away as soon as he made his promise. There was a story there, Naruto was sure, and he was also sure that he didn't want to hear it. At least, not at this stage.

This was not to say that Haku instantly trusted him, as she still stared at him suspiciously as she set the rabbits down and shooed them away, all the while keeping herself between him and the fleeing creatures as if to physically prevent him from going after them. How she thought that would work, Naruto didn't know. Only when they had disappeared into the underbrush did she finally seem to relax back into the mannerisms Naruto was used to seeing from her. Although she still did give him a scolding look as she handed him a small container filled with a few rice balls and several slices of fish.

Of course, Naruto wasn't really hungry, but at this point he couldn't really refuse either, not after all the craziness before. So instead, Naruto looked back up at Haku. "Aren't you going to join me?" He asked, drawing a start from the girl.

"Join you?" Haku asked, her head tilted to the side in confusion. "But, it's for Naruto-sama…"

"But it's your lunch, and you should be allowed to eat it. It's only fair after all." Naruto countered with more confidence, shuffling over so he was sitting on the ground next to her and taking a single rice ball before handing the rest back to her. Haku appeared conflicted for a moment, but then she smiled at him and leaned over to help herself.

Letting out a silent sigh as Haku began chattering on about some rare herb she found that day, Naruto relaxed and nibbled on the surprisingly tasty rice ball. He preferred her like this, when she was a mixture of gentle innocence and genuine helpfulness. That said, Naruto kept a careful eye on her for any signs of that frightening hollowed eyed look she'd displayed earlier. It made him wonder if she hadn't recovered from her parents' deaths as much as he had thought.

Still, it was almost impossible not to smile when she was like this, all cheerful and happily talking about everything and nothing. Her good mood was simply infectious, and Naruto was very happy she'd stumbled across him earlier that week. He imagined he wouldn't be handling his close call with Gato nearly as well otherwise without her calming presence.

Still, all good things must come to an end, and shortly after they'd finished their meal –Naruto making sure to complement her cooking and grinning happily when he got her to blush cutely as a result- Haku began gathering her things. Naruto searched his mind for something he could say that would prolong their meeting –and with it, his relaxed mood- but was unsurprised when he came up with a blank. After all, he didn't interact with all that many people –and if he was honest with himself, only had one actual friend around his age- so he sort of expected this kind of social awkwardness he felt around Haku.

Catching movement out of the corner of his eye, Naruto turned and was met with Haku kissing him on the corner of his mouth.

And in all honesty, it felt great! Greater than any kind of pleasure he'd ever felt before, and considering his sneaking suspicions that Teuchi spiked his ramen with some kind of super addictive drug, that was saying something. Turning to face Haku fully, Naruto stared at her fiercely blushing face for a moment, before leaning in and giving her a light kiss in return.

Naruto would like to say something about how he was just returning the favor, or how he instinctively knew what he was doing. It would certainly sooth his ego if he did. But the truth was, Naruto kissed her simply because he wanted to feel that pleasure once again, even if it was all a misunderstanding and she didn't want to kiss him or vice versa. In fact, in a distant part of his mind, Naruto realized that it probably was a misunderstanding. If he hadn't turned his head at the last second, Haku would have ended up kissing his cheek, which while odd to him, probably wasn't anything special to Haku.

Leaning back, Naruto waited for Haku's reaction as her blush grew if that was possible, her fingers reaching up to feel her lips. Naruto didn't try to look away as Haku stared into his eyes, searching for something though Naruto didn't have the slightest clue what that something was. As the moment stretched on, Naruto began to feel like he'd crossed a line, only to blink in surprise when Haku hesitantly grabbed his jacket with one hand and lightly tugged his face back to hers so she could give him a light kiss of her own.

Naruto couldn't believe his luck –he'd been certain he'd overstepped some boundaries there- as he happily returned the kiss. Then the kissing suddenly became more heated, and things got a little fuzzy for him after that. Oh, there were parts that Naruto was sure he'd remember until the day he died to be sure, what with this being his first kiss/make out session and all. Things like Haku's scent, some kind of berry and the crisp rain, or the way she moaned when he held her close. Though for some odd reason, he was sure he'd remember how she liked to run her fingers through his hair, or the oddly strong grip she kept on his jacket. Other things like time however, seemed absurdly unimportant.

Eventually, Naruto was forcefully drawn back to his senses by something pushing against his chest and a breathy gasp of, "N-Naruto-sama…wait…stop."

It took a second for all that to register, but quickly enough Naruto realized the pressure on his chest was Haku's hand pushing him away lightly, followed by the meaning of her words. Pulling back slightly, Naruto blinked as he discovered that he was lying on top of Haku, resting on his elbows with one arm wrapped around her waist while the other was still cupping her head. Haku's own hands remained tangled up in his hair and coat respectively, and her face had a slight sheen to it, which Naruto figured out after a moment was saliva. Saliva that he realized he could feel on his own face as he panted slightly, just inches from Haku's face. Then, for some reason he couldn't quite explain he found the knowledge of how the saliva got there made him blush. It was obvious from their position that their simple kiss had gotten very much out of hand, but it was equally as obvious that neither of them was experienced in the apparent art form of making out. He had no other explanation for how…sloppy…they had gotten.

"Naruto-sama," Haku repeated, bringing Naruto out of his –admittedly ecstatic- thoughts. "I…I really like you Naruto-sama."

Naruto couldn't resist grinning widely at that, inadvertently causing Haku's breath to hitch slightly.

"B-but still…I…I think we need to slow down a little…please? I'm really not ready for…you know…" Haku trailed off bashfully.

Naruto stared blankly at her for a moment, wondering just what she was talking about, before his eyes dropped slightly down to where the top of her kimono had loosened sometime during their kissing. Then his eyes widened as Haku's rosy blush and bashful eyes took on an entirely new meaning. Swallowing nervously, Naruto nodded in –somewhat reluctant- agreement as he carefully got off of her and helped her to sit up. Whatever he'd intended to say however, evaporated as her loosened kimono revealed a fair amount of skin –not that that was saying much, considering how modestly the kimono had covered her, but in that moment, she might as well have been wearing one of Anko's mesh shirts as far as Naruto was concerned.

He managed to force himself to look away, but his mind was still blank on what he should say or do now. Did he act like nothing had happened? Because, it seemed pretty obvious that something did in fact happen. But what was he supposed to do then? He should probably say something, right? But what was he supposed to say? Wow, that was fun, let's do it again? Granted, a part of him wanted to say just that, but even in his frazzled state, Naruto was pretty sure that wouldn't end well. Then again, Naruto had also been sure Haku wasn't going to kiss him just the other day and look where they were now.

Glancing at her out of the corner of his eye, Naruto saw Haku looking just as flustered, sending furtive glances his way. The moment their eyes met, they both simultaneously opened their mouths to say something, only to stop, and quickly look away. 'What do I do? What should I say?' Naruto wondered with a hint of panic. He didn't have a clue just what it was Haku and he had between them -hell, he didn't even really understand what drove him to kiss her- but damn it, he liked it! He wanted it to work!

Just as he opened his mouth once again –what he intended to say, even he had no idea- he was interrupted by a loud peal of thunder, which might as well have been a starting signal as the storm clouds that had snuck up on them began to let loose. Naruto could tell that the rain would be picking up in intensity shortly, but he could probably make it back before he got too wet. Haku on the other hand, in that sleeveless kimono of hers… "Here, take this." Naruto offered as he pulled his coat off after a cursory check to make sure he'd left nothing in the pockets. "You'll be completely soaked by the time you get home otherwise."

Smiling shyly, Haku nodded and pulled the slightly too large jacket on, snuggling into it in a strange way as she glanced up at him bashfully. "Naruto-sama…I'm going to be pretty busy for the next few days." She told him, causing his stomach to drop unexpectedly -something he had no explanation for- before she continued. "If…if you're still around after that…do you think we could see each other again?"

Seeing the hopeful look on her face, Naruto couldn't resist grinning as he agreed.

Haku couldn't stop thinking about Naruto as she effortlessly darted through the trees on her way back to the compound. To say that the day's events had been a surprise would have been like saying the Yondaime Mizukage was slightly off.

At first, Haku nearly inadvertently threw everything away with her uncontrolled reaction to Naruto's comment about those baby rabbits. A horrible risk, and over something so tiny and so insignificant…she really had no idea what she'd been thinking. Her desperation just seemed to come out of nowhere. Thankfully, Naruto seemed as equally confused as to how to handle her outburst, and Haku had managed to salvage her act before it was too late. Sharing her lunch with the boy didn't really mean anything to her, simply just another part of her act. She'd offered him the food to get his promise not to harm the rabbits and to cover her own slip up, so she'd had no choice but to follow through.

Kissing him... kissing him had been a calculated risk. Haku hadn't seen anything in Naruto's actions one way or the other about what he thought about her kissing his cheek the day before, but Haku felt she only had two choices. She could not repeat the previous day's actions, and thus give the impression that the kiss had meant something more than Naruto might have thought at the time, or she could kiss him on the cheek as a goodbye today, and hopefully convince him that she was just an affectionate person as a result. A perfectly calculated gamble, one which failed to consider a rather important possibility -namely, that Naruto might move.

Partially kissing Naruto had surprised and shocked her, and if Haku was being completely honest with herself, she had panicked. That her civilian persona was giggling excitedly hadn't helped matters in the slightest. And while she had been struggling to find a way to salvage her deception, Naruto took the matter out of her hands by kissing her back.

Haku had been shocked to find that she liked the kiss. That it was her first kiss wasn't lost on her either. Still, as enjoyable as it had been, Haku didn't really have any intention of repeating the act. It was just, as she searched Naruto's eyes for any sign of…well; Haku wasn't really sure what she had been looking for. Deception maybe? What she had found however, was a yearning that she recognized. A yearning to be accepted that she had seen reflected in her own eyes when she was younger, before Zabuza-sama had taken her in. Oh, there had been other things in his eyes, like nervousness, or optimistic hope. But Haku's mind had already been made up. Besides, what was one more light kiss before she took her leave?

Except, that one light kiss had quickly turned into two, and then three, and then the light kisses were replaced by hungrier, deeper kisses. After that, well, Haku wasn't too sure about after that. She'd gotten a little lightheaded at some point, though some things stuck out in her mind. For one thing, kissing had been…messier, then she had expected. Although, the enthusiasm in learning what pleased the other had been obvious in both Naruto's actions and her own. And for the life of her, Haku couldn't remember if Naruto had pushed her down to the ground, or if she had pulled him down to it. She did remember the hilt of his knife digging into her chest uncomfortably however. Haku might have ignored that slight discomfort in favor of the feel of his hair in her hand, or the way his arms wrapped around her, were it not for the fact that the feel of metal on skin had let her in on the fact that her kimono had come loose at some point, and that things were well on their way to going too far.

Stopping Naruto had been strangely easier and yet harder than she had feared. The former because all she had to do was push him away and ask him to stop. The latter because a shockingly large part of Haku didn't want him to stop kissing her.

Haku couldn't help but giggle to herself as she remembered the look on Naruto's face, both when he'd grinned at her and the sheer embarrassment when he noticed the state of her clothes. Tugging Naruto's jacket closer around her, Haku breathed deeply, still able to feel his body warmth and smell his scent. It was almost as if Naruto were still holding her tightly, which Haku found to be kind of an addicting feeling, having to restrain her odd urge to chase the boy down so she could have the real thing. 'I'll just have to see if I can get him to do it again next time.' Haku smiled fondly to herself. 'Although, I'm not sure how to get him to hold me without being too forward-'

Haku came to a sudden halt, arms dropping to her sides as she bowed her head in horrified shock. "What are you doing?" Haku whispered harshly, her fists clenched so tightly that her palms were bleeding. "What the hell do you think you're doing!?" Haku repeated angrily before suddenly slapping herself with all her strength, nearly knocking herself over. "He's a threat to Zabuza-sama! An enemy! Someone you might already have to kill! So why are you actively trying to make it harder than it needs to be!?" Haku breathed harshly for several minutes, before finally calming down enough to continue on her rant. "You're not that girl…" she reminded herself pointedly. "You can never be that girl. So stop trying."

Not wanting to waste any more time, Haku formed one of her ice mirrors and stepped through it, into her room back at the compound. Once there, she quickly removed Naruto's coat and threw it on her bed, as if by discarding the article she could discard the false emotions she'd accidentally inflicted on herself, before leaving to check on Zabuza-sama.

She found him forcing himself through various exercises in an attempt to speed up his recovery. Haku wanted to scold him, but knew from past experience that he wouldn't listen to her, being far too stubborn and driven to just lie down and allow his body to recover on its own. Not because he didn't trust her diagnosis, but because he'd never been able to accept any kind of weakness or limitation, least of all in himself.

Not that she had a chance to scold him anyway, as the moment she walked in; Zabuza-sama glanced up at her and immediately confronted her. "God damn it…" he sighed resignedly though with a hint of anger. "Please tell me it's not the Uzumaki boy."

Haku froze in confusion, wondering just what he meant by that. Surely he didn't know how her latest meeting with him had ended? "Tell you what's not Naruto, Zabuza-sama?"

"That he's not the one you're infatuated with." Zabuza growled irritably as he sat down and rubbed at his temples. "I was so sure I'd nipped this in the bud too…though I suppose it's to be expected. You are about that age after all."

To say Haku was caught off-guard would be an understatement. "I-I don't know what you mean, Zabuza-sama! I'm not infatuated with Naruto!"

"Of course you are." Zabuza spat back. "You think I can't see your puffy lips or the dirt on the back of your kimono?" Haku could only splutter as Zabuza continued. "I told you, I need a tool, not a friend or a companion. I was certain you'd taken that to heart, especially since you never tried any of that lovesick crap with me. But it turns out; you are still a girl, despite my efforts to prevent this very thing from happening."

"Zabuza-sama! You've got it all wrong!" Haku shouted as she finally found her voice, too distraught to notice her clenched hands or the way Zabuza arched an eyebrow at her as she continued. "It's not like that with Naruto at all! It's just a part of my deception, a way for me to extract more information from him!"

"And I'm sure you learned something quite interesting." Zabuza snorted. "Look Haku, I'm not angry with you. Everyone discovers the pleasures of the flesh eventually. It's just that you picked the worst person to be your first." Shaking his head again, Zabuza stood up and resumed his training. "Listen close Haku, I don't want you distracted when we make our move on the bridge builder, and this is the kind of thing that could end up haunting you for the rest of your life, which would make you useless to me. So I want you to go ahead and have your way with the Uzumaki brat."

Haku felt like she'd just been punched in the gut. "Zabuza-sama…do you really think of me that way? Like some…some Terumi hussy!?"

"Stop worrying so much about what is "proper". I don't care if you spend the next two days fucking the boy, just make sure you get this out of your system, and be ready to be a true shinobi when the time comes. Once I've killed the bridge builder, we'll be leaving this shithole of a country, and you can't take the boy with you for obvious reasons." Zabuza ordered gruffly, not even turning to look at Haku as her body shook as if he was striking her with each word.

Nor did he turn when Haku struggled in vain to keep the bitter, shaken, and above all, confused tears that began to drip down her face. Unable to take it anymore, Haku fled back to her room, Zabuza's words ringing in her ears as she threw herself onto her bed, feeling as if her very being was being crushed by a wave of self-loathing. Barely even able to see through her tears, Haku grabbed Naruto's coat and pulled it around herself and buried her face in it, desperate for the comforting illusion of Naruto's arms around her.

Eventually, Haku managed to fall asleep, still wrapped in Naruto's coat, though with a slightly happy smile on her face. Although, as her dreams progressed, a blush quickly joined said smile.

Naruto couldn't help but grin as he struggled to remain standing on the chaotic waves sometime after Haku had left. Something that was far harder than he was used to for that very reason. Back in Konoha, he'd done this exercise on ponds and streams, which were nowhere near as choppy as the rivers here in Nami no Kuni. Which made it a far better chakra control exercise, making Naruto struggle just to stay upright let alone walk. Something Naruto was determined to accomplish before he left Nami.

'Of course,' Naruto thought to himself as he just managed to prevent falling on his face by channeling chakra to his hands. 'it would have been nice to know that before I fell in.' Indeed, he had long since stripped down to just his pants as he struggled through the exercise, hoping the rest of his clothing would dry out sufficiently by the time he finished.

Although, he'd probably have more luck if he didn't keep thinking back on what happened with Haku earlier. Like how good her lips felt on his, or the feel of her hands running through his hair –which was somehow a far different sensation then when Kurenai did it- or the way her scent –berries and crisp rain- flooded his senses as he held her close, or how just being in her presence calmed him in such a way that he might have thought she was using Genjutsu if he didn't know better…or just Haku in general really. He'd gone for more than one swim when his mind concentrated more on the Nami girl than on the task at hand.

"Naruto?" 'Well speak of the devil.' Naruto thought to himself as he spun to face Haku-and nearly falling in again at her sudden appearance.

"Naruto, come here please. I would like to talk to you about something." Haku called from the shore, a small towel in her hands in place of the basket she usually carried.

Curious and struggling to keep his mind focused on the exercise now that Haku was there, Naruto was quick to comply. Although once he was back on land and Haku stepped closer, scolding him lightly about his health as she began drying off his upper body, Naruto became nervous. For one, the girl he'd just had a very heated kissing session with earlier was now just inches away. Naruto was having a hard time concentrating with her scent filling his nose or the way her hands were rubbing his chest –albeit, through a small towel. In fact, Naruto was sure he hadn't heard more than a word or two of her lecture.

Then she tilted her head up, blushing in a way that Naruto found irresistible. "About earlier…I…I've thought a lot about it." Haku informed him as she stared through her lashes at him. "And…and I was a little scared by how sudden it all was, but…but I really liked it. Liked being with you and…" Haku trailed off as she nibbled at her lip in a way that made Naruto…excited. "I wouldn't mind doing it again…with you that is…if you'll have me?"

Naruto wasn't sure when, but at some point, the towel had disappeared and Haku had taken to gently running her hands over his bare chest in its place. Swallowing, Naruto took a hesitant step forward, able to feel her breath on his lips as he slowly tilted his head down. "I'd like that. Being with you that is. I…well; I've never felt this way before…" Trailing off, Naruto struggled for words for a moment and then threw all caution to the wind as he leaned in to capture Haku's lips with her own. His heart –and libido- soared as she eagerly returned the kiss, wrapping her arms around his neck to pull him closer. Feeling more confident, Naruto wrapped his arms around her waist, and then, unable to resist, let one of his hands slide down to rest on her ass, squeezing it experimentally.

Haku let out a half squeak half moan as she broke the kiss and leaned back to look up at him with an unreadable look. Fearing that he'd crossed a line –and kicking himself for being so stupid- Naruto tried to defend himself. Unfortunately, between kissing Haku again and…well, it was pretty much the kissing really, Naruto said the first thing that came to his mind. "What? You got to see me without a shirt on, so it's only fair." No sooner had the words escaped his mouth than Naruto was kicking himself over them. 'Only fair? Way to go jackass, you've had a…girlfriend?…lover?...whatever, for all of a minute and you've already fucked up.'

Naruto opened his mouth to try to salvage something, only for Haku to slowly, sensually release her hold around his neck to drag her hands over his shoulders, down his chest to rest on her chest with a sexy smirk. "Well, we can't have that, can we?" Haku asked huskily as she fiddled with the top of her kimono. "Relationships are all about equality after all…"

Naruto's eyes went wide as Haku slowly began to pull the top of her kimono apart, baring inch after inch of bare flesh torturously slow. And it didn't escape his notice that she'd done nothing about the hand still resting on her ass. Unable to resist, Naruto gave another squeeze as his eyes were helplessly drawn to her chest, waiting for the prize she had promised him.

Haku let out another moan at his actions, and then said in a shockingly deeper voice. "Naruto! Wake up already!"

Naruto jolted awake and immediately felt like crying as he spotted Sasuke standing over him, just retracting his foot from where he had been nudging Naruto to awaken him. The bastard.

"Finally." Sasuke muttered irritably. "I was starting to think you'd never wake up. What kind of a ninja is a heavy sleeper anyway?"

Naruto normally would have returned the semi-friendly banter with some semi-good natured insults of his own, but considering the fact that Sasuke had just awoken him from one of the best dreams he'd ever had, Naruto was quite understandably a little upset. So in his opinion, Naruto was perfectly justified when he dropped Sasuke with a well-placed punch to the groin, causing the "Last Uchiha" to collapse into a curled up ball as he let out a pitiful groan of pain. "I was having a good dream you asshole." Naruto growled as he desperately tried to drop back to sleep in hopes of returning to the pleasant dream.

The sudden kick to his already sensitive crotch brought a stop to that plan. "Sasuke, you bastard!" he wheezed in agony as he clutched himself. "I'm gonna fucking kill you!"

"Not if I kill you first you sonnuva bitch!" Sasuke wheezed back, also clutching himself.

Unseen by either, Kakashi had entered the room and was watching with a blank look on his face as they clutched themselves and wheezed various death threats at each other.

He debated the issue to himself for a few moments before shaking his head and heading down to breakfast. 'I'm not even going to ask.'

Naruto sighed tiredly as he crawled into bed that night. He'd just spent the day watching over Tazuna and his precious bridge, and had spent the entire time bored out of his mind. With Gato and Zabuza dead, and no one else around to give the order to come after the old drunk, Naruto had been forced to stand around doing nothing but watch Tazuna's crew work –as well as several more quitting. Just another sign that Tazuna's efforts were pointless. In fact, if it wasn't for the fact that Naruto had already killed Gato, he'd have some serious doubts about whether or not the bridge would ever get finished.

Yet, without the imminent threat of Gato sending another assassin after Tazuna, Naruto found himself incredibly bored the entire time. He couldn't even continue his new variation of the Suimen Hokou no Waza as Kakashi would not only not approve of him training when he was supposed to be guarding the old drunk, he'd also asked some very pointed questions if Naruto tried to defend himself. So he'd been forced to entertain himself, mostly by thinking about Haku or adding on to his dream from the previous night.

Speaking of Haku…what exactly was he doing with her? Aside from fantasizing and dreaming about her that is. Naruto didn't really know what Haku meant to him, but he did know that he enjoyed her company -though he couldn't really explain why- and their…activities the other day. She was…fun. Haku had a way of relaxing him just by being Haku. Her kindness and desire to be helpful, even her naivety made Naruto's day brighter. And even if yesterday had been a fluke, Naruto knew he would miss her calming presence when he inevitably returned to Konoha.

'Although…there's no reason why she has to stay here.' Naruto mused sleepily. 'Maybe I could convince her to come back to Konoha with me? Even without Gato, this country is still going to be a shithole for some years to come –assuming Tazuna ever finishes his bridge- and it's no place for someone like Haku. She deserves better than that.' Of course, there was still the problem with her strange loyalty to her "master". She'd probably want to remain for his sake if nothing else. But was that really the kind of life Haku wanted to have? Serving an ungrateful bastard who was as likely to abuse her trust as he was anything else? No, Haku deserved far better than that in Naruto's opinion.

'Maybe I could "buy" her from the asshole. Nobles tend to be a greedy lot, and with the condition of this country, Haku's master would probably be doubly so.' That had some merit Naruto thought. He could probably get her for cheap too with the economy as shitty as it was here. He'd just have to think of a way to convince Haku to agree to it.

Naruto frowned as he realized the absurdity of his thoughts. Taking Haku back to Konoha would just be painting a target on her back for the Old Man. Not to mention giving Naruto yet another person to try to protect while simultaneously struggling with the Old Man. 'What the hell am I even thinking? I can't just drag someone I've known for a week into my problems.' And yet, despite knowing that, Naruto still felt the oddest urge to hang on to Haku with a death grip.

Naruto's last thought as he drifted off to sleep was, 'Kurenai's probably going to be pissed if I bring home my own servant…though she might not mind if Haku were my…'

Teguse shrank in his seat and did his best to remain unnoticed as two separate groups of mercenaries in the bar with him began to rise from their seats. Teguse cursed his luck, wishing he'd chosen one of the other bars to look for marks- preferably one that wasn't patronized by mercenaries from rival bands. It would have been far better for his continued health if he had.

"What did you just say!?" a balding mercenary shouted drunkenly as he drew a sword that resemble an oversized machete more than anything else. "I dare you to say that to my face!"

"Fine!" another mercenary, this one with a hooded mask over his own face, shouted back as he used his spear to pull himself to his feet. "I said that piece of shit Daichi probably got what he deserved! Everyone knows how he treats his women after all, so someone probably decided to get even for their sister or wife!"

"That's rich coming from a Black Dragon bastard!" the balding mercenary shot back. "Your captain is a God damned pedophile! So where do you get off preaching about how Captain Daichi handles his women?"

Teguse winced and began looking for an exit, already knowing what was about to happen. He'd seen this basic scenario more than once since Gato took over. And to make matters worse, the mercenaries were between him and the door.

"You're fucking dead!" one of the Black Dragon mercenaries roared as he charged forward swinging a club bigger than Teguse's torso. That was all anyone else needed as a dozen men launched themselves at each other, hacking and stabbing anything in reach.

"Oh fuck this!" Teguse yelped as he hurriedly scurried to the door, knocking aside other non-mercenary patrons when necessary and even shoving a few onto mercenary blades whenever the fight got too close to him for comfort. Shit, he'd only come to this bar to try and pick a few pockets, not get caught up in a bloodbath! If someone were to ask why he was there in the first place, he could make some bold declarations about only stealing back what belonged to the people of Nami no Kuni or some such drivel, but the truth was, the mercenaries and the workers of the bars they frequented were pretty much the only ones in the city with a decent amount of money anymore.

Well, them or the "working girls" but Teguse wasn't about to try his luck with them. Not with the inherent risk that they might rat him out to the mercenaries. The bastards might work for Gato, but they didn't tolerate anyone screwing with their sources of booze and sex.

Finally breaking free into the street, Teguse tugged his hat lower over his eyes and quickly made his way down the street, trying his best to avoid notice. The fight would draw the attention of the other mercenaries soon enough, both members of the two groups involved and the other bands Gato had in the city. The latter would put a stop to it quickly, more to protect one of their precious bars than because of any order from Gato.

Although, now that the danger of being skewered by some random thug had passed, Teguse couldn't help but notice that it was taking an awfully long time for other mercenaries to arrive compared to usual. Normally a fight like the one he'd just left would have mercenaries descending on the street by the dozens, looking to punish anyone they thought might have been involved. Yet other than the usual dregs, there wasn't a soul in sight.

"Not my problem…" Teguse muttered with a shrug as he put the thought out of his mind, before heading for the market. If he was lucky, he'd be able to catch one of the few actual shoppers, instead of the beggars and addicts he usually found. If he was extremely lucky, he'd even find one that had more than mere pocket change on them.

Sadly, after several minutes of searching, it seemed his shitty day had just gotten worse as all he could see around him were beggars and his fellow thieves. 'At this rate, I'll never scrap enough money together to escape this place.' He mused angrily as he scanned the crowds, watchful for any signs of anything worth stealing. It didn't take a genius to see that Nami no Kuni was doomed, and like the panicked crew of a sinking ship, the people of Nami had two choices. Find a way out, or stay and die with the rest of the rabble. Unfortunately, escape cost money something that was in short supply in the now isolated nation. Enough so that Teguse had to consider the possibility that he'd have to turn to more…distasteful methods of obtaining funds.

"It's true! I heard it from Akaji down at the wharf that he heard from a man that his daughter was saved from some of Gato's goons by a Wind Spirit. Just appeared in a tornado of wind and disappeared with the girl, who reappeared safely in her bed." Teguse overheard a man babbling excitedly to another beggar as he walked by.

Teguse didn't even bother to consider the man's wild tale before discarding it out of hand. After all, between the rampant drug use and the general condition of Nami no Kuni, people were losing their minds every day. Hell, there was even a story going around about a village on one of the smaller islands that had come to the conclusion that Nami no Kuni had angered some kind of god or other and could only appease said deity by human sacrifice. According to the stories, the villagers had thrown themselves off a cliff overlooking the sea one by one, until there were none left. At least, that's what the Daimyo's people had claimed, lending at least a little credence to what would otherwise be a story told by junkies and doomsayers. Although, now that Teguse thought about it, he hadn't heard from anyone claiming to have been from that particular island since shortly before the stories began…

"Father please, you're being ridiculous!" a young girl sighed in exasperation as she and an older man left a nearby store and started walking in the same direction as him. "I'm perfectly safe working the night shift at the bar. Captain Kento and his men are always polite, and they never bother any girl who doesn't want their attentions. They even keep the other mercenaries in line, so there's never any trouble."

"I'm not worried about a few drunks, Inoue!" her father retorted harshly, actually catching Teguse's attention at the unusual display of fiery passion. "There's a monster on the loose, some kind of Wind Demon killing people!"

"A Wind Demon?" Inoue asked skeptically. "Father, have you been listening to that old drunk down the block again? The man was mad before Gato showed up, and he's only gotten worse since. Why do you let him rile you up?"

Teguse didn't get the chance to hear the man's response, as he spotted several mercenaries shoving through the crowd ahead of them, and he quickly darted to the side of the street, hoping to blend in with the beggars and such there. Not that he had any reason to believe the mercenaries would do anything to him, but it paid to be cautious. As a result, he got to listen in on another conversation that was eerily similar to the others he'd been hearing lately. "Did you hear about what happened down near the outskirts of the city? A dozen of Gato's thugs were suddenly struck blind, as if they'd been shoved into a pitch-black room." A ragged beggar was saying to the man next to him.

His neighbor, an equally ragged man shivered and stared ahead with a haunted look. "It was more than simply going blind, Akane. I was there. They were…engulfed by utter darkness, even as I watched from by my fire…I could hear their cries, the utter terror as they stumbled around in that…that black abyss that came from nowhere." The man's eyes grew wide as if he was witnessing the end of the world before his eyes, an Armageddon that only he could see. "And then…the…the darkness just disappeared. I don't know what those men saw within that blackness, but whatever it was, it terrified them. One of them even committed suicide almost immediately after…that's when I heard it…an evil laugh on the wind. The last thing I saw before fleeing was these glowing, demonic eyes staring back at me from the shadows..."

Teguse scoffed derisively at the obviously drugged out old man as he moved back into the crowd in search of a mark. Really, these wild tales were getting increasingly outlandish these days. A sure sign that people were starting to crack, and that Teguse needed to get the hell out of the country before it happened to him.

'Although…' Teguse thought with a frown. 'Things have been a little strange lately…dead mercenaries with no one being punished…not even a scapegoat! Mercs complaining about not getting paid the other day…' Teguse stopped and glanced around at the crowd, really looking this time. People looked…well, not optimistic or upbeat, but less…downtrodden. There was a new current in the air that was slightly familiar somehow, though he couldn't quite place it. What was it? 'I've seen something like this befo-' Teguse's eyes widened in shock as he glanced over a man that he recognized as one of Tazuna's work crew, finally placing the feeling. Hope. It was faint –hell, it was even fainter than that faint hope people had right after Tazuna started building his bridge- but it was there.

'Shit. Shitshitshitshit!' Teguse started frantically chanting to himself as he moved with renewed purpose. Hope and despair was a very, very dangerous combination, especially when you add starvation, poverty, and rampant drug use to it. Sooner or later, someone was going to do something stupid, and Teguse wasn't going to stick around to get caught up it. He'd barely survived the refugee purges following the end of the last Great War –and he hadn't even been a refugee! - he sure as hell wasn't going to take his chances with whatever cluster fuck was on its way.

The stillness of the mist was broken only by the rasp of the stone Zabuza was methodically running down the Kubikiribocho. Not that the great sword needed sharpening –and even if it did, it would be faster and easier to just go out and kill something- but it was a habit from his days as an Anbu before he'd joined the Seven Swordsmen. Besides, he enjoyed listening to the sound, and it helped to while away the hours until tomorrow.

Any planning or preparation needed for the final confrontation was long since done, so there really wasn't anything else to do but wait. Besides, the plan was fairly simple anyway. Go to the bridge in the early morning and shroud it in mist, then kill everyone who shows up. Wait until the bridge builder and any Konoha nin arrive, and then ambush them with Mizu Bunshin. If that doesn't work, draw Kakashi away from his team again, and then send Haku in to kill the bridge builder. Once the old man was dead, the fight would be over, and Zabuza could collect his money and move on before Kiri's Oinin found him. Not the most elaborate of plans perhaps, but it would get the job done.

No, his main concerns boiled down to the Uzumaki. The brat had already thrown Zabuza off once before, and he was understandably leery about it happening again. Especially since he'd learned the brat's surname. Uzushiogakure might have been destroyed before he was born, but the Uzumaki clan's notoriety was still strong enough when Zabuza became a Genin that stories were still told. Fuuinjutsu was never something to be taken lightly, even more so when the name Uzumaki was affiliated with it.

The brat only displayed Genjutsu in their previous encounter, yet Haku's reports showed that the Uzumaki knew at least something of Fuuinjutsu. In essence, the brat was possibly a dangerous liability, one that he would ordinarily order Haku to dispose of immediately.

Unfortunately, that was unlikely to happen this time around. 'She would pick now of all times to remember she's a young woman.' Zabuza thought resignedly. Granted, he'd always known it was going to happen sooner or later, but he'd hoped it would be when they were laying low in a village somewhere, with some farm boy as the target of her infatuation. At worst, Zabuza figured he'd be the target, despite his best efforts to avoid that very situation.

As it turns out, Zabuza got a little of both. Haku hadn't targeted him, which was great. But she had instead picked a shinobi, one who wasn't one of Zabuza's followers. Even worse, she'd picked an enemy shinobi, on the most lucrative, most important mission they'd taken ever since fleeing Kiri. The one mission that would finally put him in reach of his return to Mizu to liberate Kiri, and his second greatest tool, the subordinate that might actually surpass him in the near future, decides she wants to be a hormonal love-struck girl.

'I'd almost rather Haku decided to chase after me.' Zabuza thought ruefully. 'At least then I could just shut her down and be done with it.' It would have been a headache, but at least it would have been simple. Even as stubborn as the girl could be, she would follow his orders, regardless of how little she liked them. If a girl as soft as Haku could bring herself to kill on command, then surely she would listen if Zabuza told her to stop pining after him…right?

Zabuza paused for a moment of thought, before resuming his methodical sliding of the rock along his sword with a sigh. Who was he kidding? Haku spent the first decade of her life living in the Mizu culture, not the Kiri one. There was a difference after all. Unlike Zabuza, who was born and raised in Kirigakure, Haku was raised on things like love and family, and all of those other weak beliefs that could never survive in the Yondaime's Kiri. What few civilians were willing to live in Kiri were terrorized by the shinobi, and even among the shinobi ranks there was no room for weakness. That is, unless you were willing to be little more than a slave in peacetime, or a human shield in the time of war.

While Mizu no Kuni's relative isolation had helped to keep them from suffering the brunt of the three Great Shinobi Wars, it also reduced the deterrent against civil war, something that was only made worse by the near-constant civil strife in Kirigakure itself, as each individual clan sought to seize ultimate control for themselves. Yagura didn't cause that, but he had certainly made things much, much worse during the last three decades of his reign. Yagura's Academy Graduation "ceremony" and his insidious anti-bloodline policies were only the two worst of his many atrocities.

And yet, after somehow surviving on the streets of Kirigakure by herself for months before Zabuza found her, and five years as his apprentice, both within Kirigakure and while on the run from Kiri's Oinin, after being put through the harshest training imaginable by one of the most ruthless of the Seven Swordsmen, Haku was still such an unbelievably soft and kindhearted girl. And that was why she was weak. Even with all of her nigh prodigious talent and the amazing potential of her bloodline, Haku just wasn't meant to be a shinobi. Which was a shame, because that's what he needed her to be. Even if he had to crush her spirit and beat the shinobi arts into her.

Some might call him cruel, but that wasn't quite accurate. Oh, he was cruel Zabuza didn't deny that, but one didn't survive in a place as cruel and bloodthirsty as Chigiri no Sato without being one ruthless son of a bitch. And Zabuza hadn't just survived in Yagura's village, he had thrived. Before he was five, Zabuza realized that Kiri would be destroyed by Yagura's policies –even then the village was rife with traitors and the number of shinobi who became missing-nin was greater than any two of the other Great Villages combined, a number that was only growing- and by the time he was six he had already planned and was actively pursuing a coup against Yagura. By the time he was eight, Zabuza was completing the first stage of his plan by gaining notoriety and power. That he was able to do so by derailing Yagura's precious graduation policy was just icing on the cake. Taking the lives of one hundred wannabe Genin might have seemed like a terrible atrocity to outsiders, but the truth was, those students had been far from innocent by that point.

When Zabuza actually attended and graduated from the Academy the following year, there was no shortage of powerful Kiri Jounin who desired to be his teacher. After all, a boy who wiped out one hundred Genin –in strength if not in title- before he had even attended the Academy, surely he was destined for greatness. He'd even been observed by two members of the previous generation of the Seven Swordsmen.

Over the years, he'd grown stronger, gathered loyal subordinates, was chosen to be an apprentice to the Kubikiribocho's previous wielder, joined the Kiri Anbu, and finally, was inducted into the Seven Swordsmen after killing his master and claiming the Kubikiribocho for himself.

Finally, after fifteen years of blood, sweat, plotting, and training, Zabuza had been ready.

The fact that he came so close, only to have his plans disrupted by a secretary of all things was absolutely humiliating. Why that bastard had to choose that exact moment to deliver a stack of papers to Yagura, mere moments before his sneak attack, Zabuza would never know. And while the fool paid for it with his life, Zabuza's plans were already ruined. He'd known since the beginning that he couldn't take Yagura in a straight up fight, which was why he focused so much on perfecting his Silent Killing technique. Nor was he ever going to gain enough followers to aid him in such a fight without dragging other shinobi–many who would side with Yagura solely because he was the Mizukage- into the fight, which would leave him in the same situation. Hell, Zabuza's few followers at the time were busy targeting Yagura's most influential supporters and causing chaos in other parts of the village.

All so he would have the best chance of killing Yagura before the Jinchuuriki ever knew Zabuza had betrayed him. His followers would still have been all but wiped out regardless of whether or not Yagura survived, but seizing power wasn't Zabuza's goal to begin with. Killing Yagura was. Even if it cost his own life, if Zabuza could kill Yagura then the operation would have been a success. But when it failed, Zabuza had to move on to his secondary plans, had to rush to gather as many of his followers as he could and flee the village. That stage worked about as well as he had expected, with most of his followers dying during the escape.

Still, that was enough for Zabuza to move onto the second stage, inciting the bloodthirsty Kaguya clan –which was really the only clan that could be so easily be manipulated due to the bloodlust induced by their bloodline- into coming back out of hiding to launch a suicidal attack on Kirigakure themselves. Few truly understood the Secondary Effects of a Bloodline Limit -which was a large part of the reason Bloodline users were so feared. The Kaguya were a prime example of this. Everyone knew how bloodthirsty and barbaric the Kaguya was, yet few outside of Kiri knew why. The answer, was the Shikotsumakyu.

The Shikotsumyaku allowed the user to manipulate the speed of their bones' growth as well as the location of calcium deposits. This allowed them to create weapons of bones that could protrude from any part of the body, or be pulled out and used like hand held weapons. The user was also able to create armour of dense bone underneath their skin, which was damn near impenetrable. Immediately after the bone was pulled out, the broken skin healed, although it took a bit longer for the actual limb to become usable again or unless the user regrows the bones consciously.

What it also did, was project an...aura wasn't quite the right word for it, but whatever it was, it effected those non Shikotsumyaku users, particularly those who spent a great deal of time around them. Zabuza wasn't certain on the medical jargon used to describe the effect, but the results were clear. The Kaguya were adrenaline junkies, and nothing would set off the adrenaline like battle. Even outsiders would be effected, though to a lesser degree.

About the only ones guaranteed to be immune to this effect, were those who actually manifested the Shikotsumyaku itself. Those select few were more often than not the epitome of calm. They were also the ones who kept the rest of the Kaguya in line and under control. Something the rest of the clan chafed at. Which was probably why so few Shikotsumyaku users made it to adulthood in the last decade or so, often murdered by their own clansmen.

This was the Kaguya clan's downfall of course. Without the calm and restraint of the white haired Shikotsumyaku users, the Kaguya were easily manipulated into attacking Kirigakure, grinning and laughing maniacally all the way. Even as they died they couldn't stop laughing. They charged headlong into their doom with nary a thought.

And Zabuza was the instigator of that doom, all so Yagura and his followers would crack down on the Bloodline clans even more, forcing said clans to finally fight back. This would weaken and distract Yagura's forces, and give Zabuza a local powerbase for his eventual return at the head of a mercenary force.

Zabuza had already been a legend before his first attempt on Yagura's life, and the fact that he survived said attempt, evaded the elite Oinin, and returned for a second attempt with more followers would make him even more of a hero to the embattled clans. Add in the fact that he was the last, loyal member of the Seven Swordsman –having arranged this by betraying and killing Mangetsu- and he'd easily be able to claim leadership of the rebels, and eventually the title of Godaime Mizukage…assuming he succeeded in killing Yagura.

Granted, his actions caused the deaths of many shinobi –bloodline wielders and otherwise- and even entire clans who might not have died had he not incited the Kaguya, but to Zabuza, those were acceptable sacrifices. Especially since most of the clans were part of the problem anyway.

And once he succeeded -assuming he survived- Zabuza could rebuild the Seven Swordsmen –he was the only one who knew that four of the legendary swords were in a scroll hidden inside Mangetsu's corpse after all- and turn Kirigakure into a powerful, influential Hidden Village that Mizu no Kuni could be proud of. And if he died killing Yagura? Then Haku would take his place and become the Godaime. She already had a scroll that was only to be opened in the event of his death, a scroll that would give her the edge needed to rule Kirigakure in his place.

Because in the end, Zabuza's tool would follow his commands no matter what. Even if Zabuza was no longer alive to give them.

Yes, Zabuza was a cruel, ruthless man, but by God, he would save his homeland. No matter the cost.

Haku couldn't help but toss and turn fitfully that night, worried as she was about the next morning. Not out of any worry for Zabuza, though she did worry for him as a matter of course. Years of training and fighting under Zabuza had taught Haku that she was naturally a worrier, and she had long since learned to sleep through it.

Nor was her reluctance to kill –something she knew was very likely to come in the morning- the cause for her tossing and turning. As she had learned to put aside her worrying, so had Haku learned to harden her heart and kill without any more than the slightest pang of guilt-ridden self-loathing until long after the deed was done. So the thought of killing the bridge builder and his workers, or even the Konoha nin, while certainly sickening, wasn't enough to leave her so restless. And although the thought of fighting Naruto did leave her feeling like an uncomfortable weight was pressing down on her chest, Haku was relatively certain that even if she had to fight him, she'd be able to leave Naruto relatively unharmed. Waking up from a deathlike state was an uncomfortable experience, but at least he'd survive. Given the fact that the Konoha ninja appeared to be guarding the bridge builder and his crew in shifts, Haku was desperately hoping that Naruto wasn't even there in the morning.

Considering the stories Zabuza-sama had been telling her lately about the Uzumaki clan, her master was very unlikely to let Naruto live just because they had become friends of a sort. So waking up with a handful of senbon sticking out of him was definitely preferable.

No, what was causing her restlessness –and had in fact been doing so since yesterday- was Zabuza's absurd claims of her being "infatuated" with Naruto. Yes, he was a nice enough boy –in another life they might have even been true friends- and yes, she had shared her first…well, several kisses with him, but that was just an unintentional consequence of her deception. 'Well, the first kiss or two were unintentional…' Haku mentally corrected herself, before quickly shaking her head. 'But the rest were just to keep up the act! That's all!' Haku wasn't so dense as to deny that she had enjoyed the kisses, but there was a huge difference between enjoying a kiss with a boy and being infatuated with said boy. Even if she couldn't explain how things had gotten so out of hand.

Part of her was upset –and if she were to be completely honest, quite hurt- at Zabuza's assumption that she would betray him in such a manner, that he truly seemed to believe she'd go and do something like that without his approval. After all, she was his loyal tool, and tools did only what their wielders wished them to do. They certainly didn't go around acting independently of their wielder.

Another part of her was appalled that Zabuza thought she'd allow her Tainted blood to contaminate someone that she was actually fond of. Did he truly believe she would take the risk of contaminating Naruto's family with her dirty blood? No matter how much pleasure Haku was sure Naruto could give her that was in no way enough justification to spread her taint.

Rolling over once again, Haku found herself staring at Naruto's jacket where she had left on her small table –after she'd picked it up off the floor where she had thrown it in a panic after awaking with it wrapped around her, only to snatch it back up in an equally panicked shame upon realizing what she'd done.

Staring at the jacket, Haku couldn't help but think of the times she'd spent with the Uzumaki boy. Granted, all of their interactions had been based on a deception on her part, but Haku truly did enjoy the time they spent talking about nothing –or stealing kisses she didn't really deserve from the boy- and she found herself hoping they could meet again, preferably without Haku having to fight him or possibly killing his teammates.


Shikotsumyaku=Dead Bone Pulse

Kokuangyou no Jutsu=Journey into Black Darkness Technique

Did I miss any?


Only one more chapter for the Wave Arc.

We see the slow beginnings of after effects from Gato's disappearence and Naruto's activities.

I always felt Zabuza could have been gone into with some more detail. Most writers either make him a damn psycho or a doting father figure to Haku. Can't say I've seen too many that portray him as a ruthless son of a bitch who's doing the things he does for a reason. Only one comes to mind in fact.

I'm playing with a new idea that gets mentioned slightly in this chapter, though I'll have to go back and work on it some more later on. The idea being something that came about through a conversation I had with Kagaseo about bloodlines. Long story short, what if bloodlines –either some or all- affected not only their users, but their surrounding environment as well? I've actually been tossing around the idea of bloodlines affecting the environment around them to a degree, which for now will be referred to as Secondary Effect -at least until I or someone else comes up with a better name. Like the Kaguya bloodline instilling an increased reaction to adrenaline or something, leading to the Kaguya clan as a whole being adrenaline junkies, hence their bloodthirsty and war like ways. In the anime, even when they're surrounded and all but dead/going out in a blaze of glory, with the exception of Kimmimaru, they can't seem to stop grinning and laughing. I meant to make some kind of reference or explanation towards this in this chapter, but since I came up with the idea after the chapter was already written, and only mentioned the Kaguya once, I'm having trouble getting it in there. Likewise, given how random animals -which are usually quite skittish- have no problem being around Haku -the rabbit and the random bird that perches on her shoulder- maybe her bloodline gives off a calming aura or something. Something that I'm trying to have affect Naruto as well, though I don't know how well I've done it.

Anyway, let me know what you think, particularly if you have any ideas for improvement, or any questions on my version of what happened in Nami. Remember, all reviews, criticisms, etc. are welcome, especially if it can help improve this story.

Peace, Vaan.