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AN: 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 26 of Naruto: Shadows of the Mind.


'THOUGHTS'

LINEBREAKS=CHANGE OF SCENE/POV


Chapter Twenty-Six

"Naruto, wake up." A voice pushed through Naruto's skull as he jerked awake at a pressure gripping his ankle. Sitting halfway up with a kunai in either hand, Naruto paused as he saw Kakashi staring at him from a crouched position near his feet. Relaxing, Naruto started to flop back down on his back before freezing at Kakashi's uncharacteristically serious expression.

"What's going on?" Naruto asked quietly as he tightened his grip on the kunai. Naruto was supposed to have this morning off, so the fact that a serious Kakashi was waking him up anyway was a bad sign. Were they about to be attacked? It didn't seem likely since Gato wasn't around anymore, but Naruto supposed it could have been one of the midget's lackeys trying to show some initiative. Or the businessman might have hired more ninja before Naruto killed him, in which case, they wouldn't have any way of knowing their contracts were null and void. 'Or maybe the Old Man is finally making his move? Would Kakashi warn me? He does seem to care about us in his own, irritating way…but would that be enough? Would Kakashi turn against the Old Man for my sake? What if this is an elaborate scheme to lure me into a trap-'

"I think Zabuza is going to strike today." Kakashi unknowingly interrupted Naruto's increasingly paranoid thoughts. "There's a small cave about two miles north of here, on the west side of the river near a clearing filled with wildflowers. Pakkun will show you the way. I want you to take Tsunami and Inari and hide them there. Go quickly before anyone else wakes up. Then make your way to the bridge as stealthily as you can. If you don't find us there, then work your way back towards the house until you find us."

Naruto blinked in confusion as Kakashi's instructions sunk in, before frowning. "Who the hell is Pakkun? And what makes you think Zabuza –if he's even still alive- would attack today?"

"Today is the earliest Zabuza could have feasibly recovered from that deathlike state, and he's not the type to give up. You learn to trust your instincts if you live to be my age, and my instincts are telling me that he'll show up today. Oh, and Pakkun is one of my Summons. Now get going, I left Tsunami and Inari on the couch in the living room, and I want you three gone before Tazuna wakes up."

"…you have a summoning scroll?" Naruto asked with no small amount of genuine respect in his tone. Summoning was a relatively simple skill; pretty much anyone could learn the C rank technique. Getting a Summoning Scroll was quite a bit harder, but again, not all that rare. Getting the Summons to accept you however, was a far more difficult task. Most stories say that a wannabe Summoner was tested by whatever Summons he had acquired, and while the stories varied on just what the tests involved, they all pretty much agreed that the tests were literally a do or die occasion.

That Kakashi managed to pull it off caused Naruto's respect for the Jounin to soar. "Wait a minute, what do you mean you 'left them on the couch'?" Naruto asked when the strange way Kakashi had worded that sank in.

"I drugged them." Kakashi answered blithely. "That way they'll stay in the cave once you put them there, and it will be easier for you to carry them if they aren't squirming."

"…You…you drugged the client's family?" Naruto asked with some mixed feelings. On the one hand, Tazuna was an asshole, and the man's reaction when he found out was sure to be entertaining. And the thought of drugging that little shit Inari was more than a little amusing to Naruto. On the other hand, he was rather fond of Tsunami, and she didn't really deserve to be treated that way.

"Yup," Kakashi said with one of those "eye smiles" of his. "Now, do you think you can do this, or do I need to wake up Sasuke instead?"

Grunting slightly, Naruto pulled himself up and began gathering his equipment, silently deciding to just do as Kakashi directed and worry about any moral qualms later. And, if worse came to worst, he'd just blame the whole thing on Kakashi.

Which was how he found himself staring blankly down at a cape and hitae-ate wearing pug in the living room.

"What's up?" The dog asked in a surprisingly deep, gruff voice as he raised a paw in greeting. The similarity between Pakkun and Kakashi's greetings were a little disconcerting to be honest. So was the simple fact that "You're a talking puppy." Naruto deadpanned.

"I'm not a puppy." Pakkun retorted with a slight growl. "And you'd better be more respectful or I won't let you feel my soft paws."

"Is that…supposed to be a threat?" Naruto asked, trying and failing to keep the incredulousness out of his voice.

"Do you see these paws?" Pakkun asked as he raised his paw in the air once again. "Just look at how soft they look. I bet you've never seen a paw this good looking before."

"So…" Naruto gave an uncomfortable cough. "You're going to lead me to this cave right? Are you going to need me to carry you as well?"

Pakkun just snorted dryly. "You wish kid. If anything, I'll have to remember to keep my speed down so you can keep up!"

Naruto opened his mouth, but then thought better of it and just shook his head with sigh. "Alright, just let me grab these two and we can get going." That being said, Naruto turned to stare at his two charges. 'How exactly should I do this?' he asked himself as he stared at Tsunami and Inari, both grateful that they were both dressed, and somewhat perturbed as to just how Kakashi managed to arrange that. As a shinobi, Naruto was certainly capable of carrying the two at the same time, but for the life of him, he couldn't think of a…well…proper and decent way of carrying Tsunami as well as Inari.

He could carry them both one over each shoulder, but that would either put Tsunami's head by his crotch, or her butt next to his head. Similarly, if he carried her in a fireman's carry, that would require him to put his arm between her legs –which her long skirt would make difficult- and dangerously near her crotch. In fact, the only way he could think of to carry her without feeling like he was molesting the unconscious woman would be to carry her bridal style, which would keep him from being able to carry Inari as well.

"Say, Pakkun," Naruto began slowly. "How strong are you exactly? Could you carry someone Inari's size and weight if I strapped him to your back?"

Pakkun turned to stare up at him with unreadable, droopy eyes. "Not happening." He said shortly, shooting Naruto's idea down before he could really formulate it.

'Damn…' Naruto mentally growled. 'This would be so much easier if she was as annoying as Inari.' At least then he wouldn't feel bad about what he was about to do. Carefully picking her up off the couch, Naruto slung her over his right shoulder. He tried to make her as comfortable as possible, and to keep his hand as far from Tsunami's butt as possible while still being able to hold her securely. He also made sure not to look to his right at all, not wanting to ogle the poor woman while she was unconscious.

In sharp contrast to his careful handling of Tsunami, Naruto just yanked Inari off the couch and tucked him under his other arm like a sack of potatoes.

"All right, let's get going." Naruto ordered gruffly to Pakkun as he struggled not to blush at Tsunami's close proximity.

Something which he failed at miserably when Pakkun stated conversationally, "She's got a nice ass for a human. She should wear a skirt that complements her figure better."

That just proved that this dog was definitely Kakashi's summon. The only reason Naruto was able to resist the temptation to check out Pakkun's statement for himself was the fact that the pug was staring him right in the face as he said it.


Kakashi eyed the mist enshrouded bridge warily as he, his students, and their client stepped onto it. Mist wasn't uncommon in a country like Nami, especially in the early morning like right now, but today the mist seemed far more sinister than just a simple occurrence of nature. And given Zabuza's specialty, added in to the uneasiness in his gut, and Kakashi was understandably tense. He glanced at his students, taking comfort in the way the both of them were scanning their surroundings carefully.

They had both been shaken by their previous encounter with Zabuza, but the Kinobori no Waza seemed to have done exactly as Kakashi had intended and restored their confidence. He was especially proud of Sakura, as she had been a broken down wreck for the first couple of days after he first woke up.

"Wh-what the hell is this!?" Tazuna cried, catching Kakashi's attention as the mist simultaneously seemed to withdraw just enough for the group to seem at least half a dozen still forms lying in pools of blood scattered across the bridge. "Wh-what kind of monster could do something like this?" Tazuna asked fearfully as he examined one of his fallen workers. "Who would attack Nami no Kuni's hope like this?"

Kakashi casually scanned the bridge taking in the bodies and the scattered equipment in the same glance. A couple of the bodies had senbon needles sticking out of them, but most of them looked as if someone had taken a giant butcher knife to them. 'Sometimes, I hate being right…' he sighed to himself before noticing the mist closing in once again.

"Here they come!" he cried out in warning to his students, smiling slightly as they both instantly spun to face as many directions as possible, kunai and shuriken gripped in their hands as they gazed outwards. They were tense, but there was no sign of the terror that had gripped them in the previous battle.

Hopefully, that would be enough.


Pausing on a tree branch, Naruto blinked down at the unusually think mist hugging the coastline. Could Kakashi have been right? Had Zabuza survived, and was he waiting down there watching for their arrival? On the one hand, Kakashi had been constantly showing that he was a talented shinobi almost since they met, from the Genin Test to spotting the Demon Brothers, to duking it out with and then defeating Zabuza, to the latest revelation involving his Dog Summons. On the other hand, Kakashi read porn pretty much everywhere he went, which -among other things- made it far harder to take him seriously.

Shame that Pakkun stayed with Tsunami and Inari, apparently as ordered by Kakashi in case anything went wrong today. That was actually rather prudent of Kakashi, but a talking dog was as likely to terrify Tsunami and her brat as anything else. The scroll Naruto had quickly written up explaining what was going on, as well as pointing out that he had nothing to do with Kakashi drugging them, and that he'd acted the perfect gentleman while carrying Tsunami and Inari to their current hiding place -barring a branch breaking under him, leaving Naruto with the choice of either grabbing Tsunami in a rather inappropriate manner or letting her fall ten feet to the ground- as quickly and smoothly as possible. And if he was lucky, she wouldn't ask about how she got that bruise.

Hopping to the ground, Naruto cautiously made his way into the mist, which quickly thickened to the point that all he could see was maybe six inches in front of his face, followed by impenetrably thick gray mist wherever he looked. Those six inches and the color of the mist was about the only noticeable difference to Naruto between the mist and his Kokuangyou no Jutsu.

Blinking, Naruto pondered that for a second. If they truly were so similar, then the techniques that allowed one to fight while inside the Genjutsu should work in the mist as w-

"Shit!" Naruto hissed as he stumbled to a halt as the familiar scent washed over him. It was covered up somewhat by the smell of the sea and all of the water in the mist surrounding him, but it was still recognizable. After all, he'd only ever smelt such an overwhelming concentration of blood once before. Damn, Zabuza being alive really was a kick in the balls. He could already see Kakashi's smug face…eye…whatever.

Breathing deeply, Naruto cautiously began to creep through the mist, trying to catch the scent of Kakashi and the others, or at least enough to get a decent warning that Zabuza was about to chop his head off- only to cringe when he accidentally stepped in a puddle somewhere on the bridge. Heart pounding, Naruto dropped to his back just in time for a familiar sword to cut through the air above him. Right about where his kidneys would have been, Naruto figured, already drawing his chakra knife and slashing towards where he thought Zabuza's ankle would be. To his surprise, Naruto actually felt his blade hit home, tearing through Zabuza's flesh with astounding ease, drenching him in…cold…blood.

Blinking, Naruto brought his knife up to where he could actually see it, only to curse as he saw the water dripping from the blade where blood should be. 'What did Kakashi call those things? Mizu Bunshin?' Naruto absentmindedly reminded himself as he jumped back to his feet and moved quickly away from where he had been, expecting Zabuza or another Mizu Bunshin to hone in on the sound and planning to ambush-

"Yeowch!" Naruto suddenly yelped as he felt an electric shock run through him. The shock, while painful, didn't really cause any physical harm. What it did do, was alert everyone on the bridge as to his location, something Zabuza was quick to take advantage of.

The missing-ninja appeared in front of him, giant sword already drawn to cut him in half granting Naruto his first glimpse at the apparently alive Kiri Jounin. In that final instant, Naruto took note of the man's clothes of all things, noticing how Zabuza was actually wearing a shirt, as well as a different color scheme. That was about all Naruto had a chance to see before Zabuza drew back his sword and-

"Yeowch!" Naruto and "Zabuza" both yelped as a second shock ran through them, though whereas Naruto jumped from the shock, "Zabuza" exploded into water again, drenching Naruto a second time in as many seconds.

Just barely resisting the urge to splutter, Naruto cautiously tried to copy Kakashi's trick from their first battle with Zabuza. He'd never really tried to surge his chakra in this manner before, yet he was still able to clear a couple of feet around him of fog, which allowed him to see Tazuna of all people squatting down as much as possible to hide behind…

"Sakura?" Naruto asked with a mixture of surprise and anger in his voice. He was about to say something along the lines of "how are you still alive" when Zabuza's sword came hurling towards them, only for Naruto to actually see a burst of electricity which shocked everything within a few feet. "Son of a bitch!" Naruto howled as he got shocked and drenched again as Zabuza's sword exploded into water at the same time.

"Naruto?" Sakura asked cautiously as Naruto stomped closer. Then she tossed a shuriken on the ground at her feet.

Not that he saw that, as shortly after the weapon left her hand, Naruto was too busy jumping up and down as another surge of electricity hit him. "God damn it! What did you do?!" he growled irritably. "Why does that keep happening!?"

"Er…sorry about that Naruto." Sakura began somewhat sheepishly. When his glare narrowed on her, she hurriedly continued. "B-but, you see, Zabuza ambushed us at the beginning with his Mizu Bunshin, and with Kakashi and Sasuke fighting Zabuza and that fake Oinin…well, I was kind of on my own…and I needed to protect Tazuna, but I couldn't fight Zabuza's clones by myself, so I kind of…improvised those seals you used to make this trap…"

Naruto didn't really hear the rest of what she said, too busy noticing for the first time the small square of seals –each seal forming a corner of a "box" which acted as a sort of grounding element- that surrounded Sakura and Tazuna. Looking around himself, he couldn't spot the seals responsible for the shock, though that didn't concern him too much. He was actually more interested in how Sakura had utilized the rather harmless seals to protect herself.

The seals were relatively simple, something he'd literally doodled out while on a D rank involving a broken fence and some livestock that kept trying to escape through it. The concept was to create a line by the broken fence that the animals would be unwilling to cross, allowing him and his team to work on repairing the fence without having to fend off the livestock as well. It took Naruto all of a minute of thought to create the seal tags capable of sending out the shock, and only a couple of seconds of additional thought to make it so the shock traveled in only one direction. The need for the buffer seals became evident after the first testing of the "shock" seals, when the shock kept going for several hundred feet, damn near causing the animals to stampede before Naruto got the seals back under control.

So while the seal did what Naruto had intended it to do, it was more or less just a waste of ink and paper to make the things. He'd only brought them out when trapping Tazuna's house on the first night, and even then, it was just as a fancy version of empty cans or bells on a string, designed to give warning if there were any intruders.

That Sakura had taken those seals and figured out a way to use them to nullify Zabuza's Mizu Bunshin was surprising, and if Naruto was honest, rather ingenious. Tuning back in, Naruto caught the trail end of Sakura's explanation.

"-so while the shock can't really do any harm, the conductivity of the water in Zabuza's clones mixed with the Raiton shock from the tags is enough to cause them to destabilize and…well…explode isn't really the right word, but-"

"Sakura," Naruto interrupted, drawing a cringe from the girl. "…good job. That was pretty clever of you." Oddly enough, the girl beamed rather proudly at his compliment, even as another Zabuza appeared behind her, only to be destroyed by the resulting shock.

Frowning, Naruto turned his attention back to the surrounding mist. Judging by the fact that Zabuza or his accomplice hadn't shown up to deal with Sakura personally, they must either be too occupied with Kakashi and Sasuke, or they didn't know what was happening to the clones to begin with. Either way, Naruto needed to decide what to do now. Staying here would be marginally safer than going out into the mist, but that would also mean leaving Kakashi and Sasuke to deal with their enemies by themselves. And while Kakashi could probably hold his own against Zabuza, there was no telling how strong the Oinin was.

Naruto thought about it for a few more seconds, and then resolutely tightened his grip on his chakra knife. He'd never been one to sit back and let others fight on his behalf. Still, that was no reason to be careless about it. A few hand signs later, and Naruto was wrapped in his Konohagakure no Jutsu, stalking out into the mist –which quickly thickened once again- to the sounds of Tazuna's whimpered, "Where did he go? You ninja are supposed to be protecting me! Without me, Gato will destroy my bridge and Nami no Kuni will never be free! Think about my family!"

"Tazuna-san, please shut up." Sakura murmured absentmindedly as she returned to scanning the mists around her, drawing a smirk from Naruto. Maybe Kakashi had been right. Sakura might have potential after all.

Careful to avoid stepping in any more puddles or bumping into any debris, Naruto cautiously made his way through the mist, pausing from time to time to Listen. He was able to hear Sasuke and the fake Oinin somewhere off to his right, but finding Kakashi and Zabuza was proving to be a bigger challenge.

It wasn't like he could just call out to Kakashi after all. That would just draw Zabuza down on him…assuming they'd even notice through his Genjutsu. Naruto frowned and made a mental note to test that when he wasn't in the middle of a life or death battle.

When another attempt to find either Kakashi or Zabuza failed, Naruto decided to just go help Sasuke with his fight instead. Not that he was really anxious to fight Zabuza again, but he would have liked to at least know where the eyebrow-less freak was.

Crouching down slightly, Naruto began to move as swiftly and as stealthily as he could…only to have to throw himself into a roll to avoid being cut in half when he ran smack dab into the middle of Zabuza and Kakashi's fight.

'Figures…' Naruto thought incredulously as he came back to his feet, his chakra knife held out in front of him while he hurled a brace of shuriken with his free hand. The deadly stars arched in at Zabuza from several angles, but the man dodged them effortlessly, almost absentmindedly thrusting his sword at Naruto's chest as he hacked at Kakashi with a kunai the size of a meat cleaver.

Naruto tried to parry the blow aside with his knife, but just like when they fought on the lake, the knife might have been able to stand up to the great sword, but Naruto himself was unable to stand up to the power behind the blow, skidding back several feet and only just able to keep himself from falling on his ass.

"You again…" Zabuza growled angrily. "That's twice now that you've interfered in my fights boy…" The pressure of the Kiri Jounin's killing intent was almost enough to send Naruto to his knees even in spite of his own experience with the feeling. As it was, Naruto let his Genjutsu drop and did his best to steady his shaky legs, careful to keep an ear out for any sign of Zabuza's clones. When Zabuza didn't make any move to hack him into tiny pieces, Naruto cautiously made his way in a quarter-circle around the man to stand near Kakashi, who aside from breathing harder than normal, looked his usual nonchalantly lackadaisical self. Zabuza didn't try to stop him, yet even with the bandages wrapping around his face, Naruto could swear the Kiri Jounin was grinning sadistically.

"So you brought all of your brats after all, eh Kakashi?" Zabuza asked with a light growl. "Too bad, guess that means they'll all die with you after all."

"I wouldn't underestimate them if I were you, Zabuza." Kakashi replied with one of those creepy eye smiles of his. "After all, my other students were holding their own against your student and your Mizu Bunshin, and Naruto here has already helped me defeat you once before."

"Bah! Little Naruto here just got lucky that time!" Zabuza growled dismissively. "I guarantee you, he won't get lucky again."

Despite his dismissive tone, Naruto caught the angry look in the Kiri Jounin's eyes. Generally speaking, provoking a psychotic Jounin didn't strike Naruto as a good idea, but seeing as how Kakashi seemed to have some kind of plan, Naruto was willing to go along with it for now. "Luck? Is that what it's called these days? Cause where I come from, when a Genin half your age blocks your giant ass sword with a fucking knife, that's called incompetence." Naruto drawled lazily, only the slight beads of sweat on his forehead betraying his nervousness. "Is that the real reason you had to leave Kirigakure? Because you kept getting shown up by Genin?"

Zabuza didn't even look at him, yet Naruto suddenly found himself dodging four shuriken by a hairsbreadth, and even then only because Kakashi had grabbed his arm and pulled him aside. "Maa, hit a nerve did we?" Kakashi asked smugly. "Still, maybe my student has a point. For one of Kirigakure no Sato's legendary Swords, yours' doesn't seem to live up to all of the hype."

Strangely enough, Zabuza didn't seem to react to that much, instead tilting his head over his shoulder in the direction where Naruto could still hear Sasuke's fight. "Do you hear that, Kakashi? Sounds like that student of yours' is getting tired. I think I'll make you listen to him die, just to drive home the point that you were all dead the moment you set foot on this bridge."

"That won't happen, Zabuza." Kakashi said lowly. "I won't allow it."

"You say that as if I'm giving you a choice." Zabuza chuckled as he held one hand up in a half seal.

"Oh shit…" Naruto muttered as the mist darted in even further than before, to the point where Naruto could barely make out Kakashi standing right next to him.

"Naruto," Kakashi ordered softly as he tugged his hitae-ate up. "I can handle Zabuza. I want you to go help Sasuke with his fight. I'll keep Zabuza occupied over here."

"Are you sure?" Naruto asked in an equally low voice. "What about his Mizu Bunshin? Wouldn't it be better for us to work together so we can defeat Zabuza quicker?"

"You're no real match for Zabuza in a straight fight, Naruto." Kakashi admonished him lightly. "Added to that, Zabuza is a master of the Silent Killing technique, so fighting him in the mist like this isn't something you're really capable of." Kakashi paused to send him a pointed look with his normal eye. "And quite frankly, I can't afford to protect you from Zabuza while trying to fight him at the same time."

"Really not hearing anything that makes me want to go out there alone, Kakashi." Naruto deadpanned as he moved to stand with his back against Kakashi's.

"Don't worry," Kakashi said cheerfully as he grabbed Naruto's arm. "Zabuza's Mizu Bunshin only possess about a tenth of his strengths and abilities. Just don't let them sneak up on you and you'll be fine." And with that, Kakashi suddenly spun around in a tight circle at a startling pace, dragging Naruto off his feet for a moment and allowing Kakashi to hurl him through the air towards Sasuke's general direction.

"Kakashi, you diiiiiiiccccckkkk!" Naruto cried out as he flew through the air, hoping he wouldn't land right next to Zabuza or anything absurd like that. As fate would have it, he actually crashed into a Zabuza, but thankfully the Mizu Bunshin exploded when the force of their impact pushed Naruto right through him. Hitting the ground amidst a miniature tsunami of water, Naruto turned his fall into a roll, quickly moving away from where he'd hit the ground just as a Zabuza with his eyes tightly shut appeared out of the mist, an odd looking kunai leading the way.

Planting his feet, Naruto blocked the strange kunai and kicked at the clone's chest only for the construct to leap away into the mist. 'I can't believe it…how did he not knock me back again…' Naruto thought bewilderedly as he slowly backed away from his position. So far, every time Naruto tried to match Zabuza, he'd found himself all but pushed over by the man's superior strength, regardless of whether the Kiri Jounin used his sword or a kunai. Yet this time, even when expecting the man's strength, Naruto actually found himself able to stand his ground with only moderate effort.

Come to think of it, didn't Kakashi say something about Mizu Bunshin being weaker than the creator? That certainly evened the odds a bit in Naruto's opinion as he oriented himself.

Naruto was never more thankful for his odd "sixth sense" then in the few moments after he realized Zabuza's clone was right on top of him. As it was, that split second warning, coupled with his recent training with fighting blind, was all that let him spin about in time to meet the clone's attack head on instead of just being decapitated. Ducking down, Naruto allowed the giant blade to pass by harmlessly overhead, closing the distance between them in the process. As "Mizu Zabuza" tried to check his momentum and bring the sword back across, Naruto lashed out with his chakra knife, almost effortlessly halting and then reversing Mizu Zabuza's blade, knocking it aside again as Naruto brought a kunai across the clone's throat.

Still feeling his "sixth sense" going off even as the Mizu Bunshin collapsed, Naruto hopped to the side and ran through the mist in Sasuke's general direction, utilizing his bastardized training in blind fighting to give him a split second warning to spin around, throwing the kunai in his hand as he did so. The Mizu Bunshin that had been about to sneak up on him knocked the kunai away with an echoing clang that seemed as loud as an explosion in the silent mist. Unfortunately for the Bunshin, the clang of the kunai striking its sword covered up the sound of Naruto closing in slashing the chakra construct's stomach open and leaping back immediately after.

Feeling something cold and unyielding against his back, Naruto felt a foreboding chill as he whirled around and instinctively buried his knife in the back of a masked shinobi…mirror? Blinking, Naruto jumped back with a startled curse when the figure –seemingly unnoticing or uncaring of the knife sticking out of it- turned to stare down at him. Strangely, the knife remained right where it was, clueing Naruto in to the fact that he'd just stabbed some kind of mirrored slab of ice. Had he arrived a minute or so earlier, he'd know that that was in fact an incredibly impressive accomplishment.

To Naruto, he'd just stabbed a chunk of ice, an odd occurrence, but hardly something that was capable of holding his attention. He was more concerned with the fact that there was around sixteen or so six foot tall mirrors hovering in a dome like formation. Particularly since he could see Sasuke struggling to push himself off the ground from mere feet away.

Naruto would later recount with some amount of shame that he may have…panicked somewhat in that moment. The sight of his teammate, someone that he had a small amount of respect for and…well…he didn't hate him…laying on the ground with over a dozen six inch long spikes sticking out of him, was enough for Naruto to forget himself and do something incredibly stupid. Like trying to reach between two of the mirrors with his left arm to try and drag Sasuke out of said domelike structure.

Naruto came within inches of his fallen teammate when he noticed the reflections in the mirrors –oddly all of just the one person- seemed to move in sync, acting as if they were about to launch from their respective mirrors before Naruto had to bite down a scream of agony as a senbon needle pierced the palm of his hand. Reflexively withdrawing and clutching his wounded hand, Naruto almost missed Sasuke's death.

Staring up in surprised horror, Naruto watched helplessly as Sasuke gave out a death rattle and went unnaturally still. It was only in that moment that Naruto realized that the number of senbon sticking out of the Uchiha's corpse had increased by another seven, apparently around the time Naruto had gained his own piercing. But how? Naruto might not have had the best eyes in the shinobi world, but he should have at least been able to see something. And yet, Sasuke was dead. Naruto was honestly having a bit of a hard time believing it, which was odd considering he'd just watched Sasuke's death spasm. It just happened so god damned fast. And there was almost no blood-

"Shit!" Even as he was tugging the senbon from his hand, Naruto yelped in disbelief as the dome of mirrors suddenly shifted, the far side raising up like a flower in the midst of blooming, before the mirrors reached the peak of their ascent. Then they came flying back down, reforming the dome around Naruto this time. Leaping forward, Naruto immediately tried to get out between the mirrors in front of him, desperate to avoid whatever the hell had happened to Sasuke, only to once again witness the mirrors' reflections move as if about to leap. Then Naruto was hit by something that made Zabuza's punches feel like light taps, at the very same instant the reflections began to return to a relaxed position.

Groaning, Naruto pulled himself to his feet, tenderly probing his chest where the blows hit, wincing at the feel of several bruised ribs. 'How is he doing that? Are the mirrors keeping me trapped in here somehow? Some kind of jutsu that lashes out at anything that tries to pass between the mirrors? No, that doesn't make sense…it has to have something to do with the reflections…there has to be a reason why the Oinin is the only one being reflected…there doesn't seem to be any correlation between the various reflections either-'

Naruto's thoughts came to a screeching halt as his mind finally placed the scent that had been hanging in the air ever since that senbon hit his hand. It all made sense now…a twisted, fucked up kind of sense, but sense nonetheless. He was actually surprised he hadn't figured it out sooner, considering how much time they'd been spending together.

"Haku…" he growled near silently, all the time they had spent together rushing through his mind, everything they'd done and only now did he finally realize just how expertly he'd been played.

She must have been able to hear him, because Haku paused in her mirrors, slowly, almost fearfully raising one hand to remove her mask, leaving Naruto to stare at over a dozen different pieces of undeniable proof standing in front of and around him.


Haku froze fearfully as she heard her name said in such a disbelieving, angry tone from the mouth that before had only spoken her name with affection or kindness. At first, she had dared to hope that maybe he was sad that they'd never meet again –after all, Naruto had no way of knowing that Haku planned to spare him and his teammate- or maybe anger that he was being prevented from meeting with someone he genuinely cared about. Because surely, Naruto would never speak her name with such hatred? Surely he'd ever say her name the way her father had in those final moments before everything she'd ever known and loved in her short life had been brutally cut down.

Almost of its own accord, Haku's hand slowly rose to her mask, hesitating for only a second, before shakily revealing her face to the boy she had only now come to see as a genuine friend. A part of her hoped that maybe seeing her face would help calm Naruto, perhaps let him know that she didn't want to fight him.

Instead, Naruto's fierce eyes narrowed even further, his fists clenched so tightly that drops of blood were beginning to fall onto the bridge.

"I-I'm sorry, Naruto." Haku said thickly, before the words began to pour from her mouth uncontrollably. "I never meant to-never wanted to hurt you Naruto. Honestly! I don't want to fight you…" Haku flinched slightly when Naruto growled lowly at her, not with any recognizable words, but to Haku they might as well have been sledgehammers. "We don't need to fight, Naruto! Your teammate is still alive! I just put him in a death like state-like what I did with Zabuza-sama the last time!"

"All Zabuza-sama wants is the bridge builder." Haku continued with a slight amount more of control compared to her earlier babbling. "You…you could even come with us, Naruto!" Haku offered frantically, suddenly terrified of having her first real friend –even if that friendship was based on a deception- look at her with such hateful eyes. "Please, Naruto-" Haku trailed off with a gasp as the air around them suddenly seemed to grow warmer, her eyes widening is shock as visible wisps of red chakra began to peel off from Naruto's body. Her mild horror transformed into curiosity as the hole she'd left in his palm seemed to let off a trail of steam or smoke, even as it healed shut right before her eyes.

"You bitch…" Naruto muttered the volume and emotion behind those two words growing with each repetition. "You bitch…you bitch you bitch youbitchYOUBITCH!"

"Naruto!" Haku's entreaty suddenly transformed into a startled scream as his eyes turned from a stunning blue to blood red. Combined with Naruto's naturally slit pupils, his eyes now appeared genuinely demonic! Though perhaps more terrifying in how fascinating it was, Haku watched as Naruto's shadow shifted and shrank and grew again, until it finally contorted and stretched into the form of some kind of beast stretched out on the ground behind him, nine tails swaying chaotically. The shadow itself actually seemed to resonate with rage and cruelty, sending trembles down Haku's spine just by acknowledging its presence.

And then Naruto was on her, somehow picking out which mirror she was in, seemingly without any real effort on his part. Something that even Zabuza-sama had proven unable to do. "Naruto, stop!" Haku cried out as she threw herself out of the mirror, on the verge of a complete breakdown as the mirror shattered easily before Naruto's rage. "Please, we don't have to fight! I-I don't want to fight you!"


Across the bridge, Kakashi recognized the horrifying taint of the Kyuubi. Even after all these years, the memory was as fresh and raw in his mind as if the Bijuu's assault was just yesterday. 'Is the seal breaking?' he wondered frantically as he fired up his signature technique, the Chidori. 'I have to get to Naruto…now!' No longer willing to lecture Zabuza or request his surrender, Kakashi turned back to face the Kiri Jounin where he was being held down by Kakashi's dog summons. "This ends now, Zabuza," the Copy Nin growled. "A much bigger problem has suddenly come up."

With those final words, Kakashi blitzed forward with the skittering sound of a thousand birds scratching at the pavement. When he was within striking distance Kakashi lashed out in a flash of light mixed with the stomach-churning stench of burning flesh.


Naruto was no stranger to anger. He'd been angry more times than he could be bothered to count, for reasons as trivial as Konohamaru bugging him for tales of his "adventures" to as deadly serious as when Mizuki had spoken ill of Kurenai. On certain, bad days, Naruto had felt he was angry at the world as a whole, and wouldn't feel the slightest pang of regret if it all burned to the ground. So yes, Naruto knew anger.

This was something so much more. This was a rage that demanded violence, a fury that left his ears pounding with blood that blocked out everything else. He wasn't blind to it by any means. Naruto could see the fear in Haku's eyes; he saw the panicky jerk of her reaction as she tried to stay out of his reach. She was terrified of him and his anger. And that was the way he wanted it. He wanted the bitch utterly terrified of him; he wanted to see her huddled up in a quivering ball, shrieking for his mercy.

Because mixed in with his old friend anger, were far more painful, unsettling emotions. He felt betrayed, which was familiar if not as much as anger. But he also felt used, something he'd never truly felt before.

He was such a fool. How could he have let her get so close, get her claws into him so deeply? For the love of God, he'd been thinking of taking her home with him! He'd been making half-assed plans on how to introduce her to Kurenai and get her to agree to allow Haku to move in with them. They might have been little more than daydreams, but the fact remained; he'd actually been considering it! He'd thought of what life with Haku around on a more permanent basis could be like, and decided that he liked the idea.

And the whole thing had been a lie. Of course it was a lie. Naruto knew full well that Kunoichi were expert seductresses, and Haku had played him as easily as a stripper playing a virgin. How much information had Haku pulled from him without Naruto even being aware of it? What secrets was she about to give away when she distracted him with "accidental" kisses? How the hell could he let himself be played so easily!?

He'd allowed himself to be convinced that Haku was just a simple village girl, and thus couldn't possibly be a threat to him. Where had all of his cautiousness and calculations gone? 'My God, I was so naïve!' Naruto berated himself disgustedly as his emotions roiled uncontrollably. He wanted to hurt Haku. He wanted her to feel some semblance of the pain he was feeling right then. He closed the distance between them effortlessly, never noticing the strange feel of his chakra, or the fluctuations of his chakra control. He didn't even realize how fast he was moving, so focused was he on hurting her the way he was hurting now.

She threw up an arm as if to plead with him –which the bitch should be, though that wouldn't be enough by a long shot- and Naruto effortlessly batted it aside and punched her in the chest. It wasn't an elegant move, it wasn't even a smart attack really as there were far more vulnerable areas of the body he could have struck, yet he still punched out at her chest, just trying to hurt her the way she had hurt him.

So he was shocked and then horrified when his hand first connected, and then effortlessly punched through her chest and out her back, unknowingly copying Kakashi on the other side of the bridge at that moment.

He stared at Haku in surprise and quickly increasing horror as she convulsed on his arm, coughing up blood as she slowly, painfully lifted her head so her eyes –her tear filled, wild eyes he noticed for the first time- met his own. Then she gently reached up to stroke his cheek, whispering "I'm sorry…" before planting a bloody, passionate kiss on his mouth. By the time Naruto could even think about kissing back or pulling away, it was too late. She slumped on/in his arms, dull eyes staring blankly at somewhere just above and to the right of his nose.

Confused and horrified, Naruto struggled to remove his arm from Haku's chest as gently as he could, laying her down on the cold wet concrete. And for the first time in so long, Naruto was truly at a loss as to what to do. Should he try to save her? Was that even possible at this point? He just didn't know. The only thing he knew for sure was the one thing he was trying desperately not to think about. Because if he thought about it, if he confronted the knowledge that he hadn't intended to kill her, yet had done so anyway…Naruto didn't know how he'd hold on to his sanity.

His life had been about control for as long as he could remember. Outmaneuvering the Old Man's attempts to control him, controlling his emotions, controlling his chakra, controlling his abilities, making decisions and acting on them. He'd never faced this kind of situation before. Even when he'd lost temper with that mercenary, he'd never really lost control. He'd decided the man was going to die, and the man died. Just like he'd decided that anyone who hurt Kurenai, anyone who even threatened Kurenai had to die, and even though Anko had survived his attempt to murder her –at least until Kurenai convinced him otherwise- Mizuki had not.

Because that's what Naruto had decided. Just like he'd decided that anyone who tried to bully Hinata needed an ass-kicking. He decided and he followed through with it. He decided Tazuna wasn't worth saving and went looking to join up with Gato. Then he decided that Gato was a fucking lunatic and he killed him.

But this…this was unprecedented. Never before, not since them had Naruto killed by accident. And this wasn't just some random stranger or bandit either. This was Haku. This was the girl he shared his first kiss with. This was the girl he'd day dreamed about taking home to meet Kurenai. Even if most of it was a lie, he'd liked her. And it said something about what she felt for him that the last thing she'd done in this life was to apologize and kiss him, didn't it?

It was then that he caught movement out of the corner of his eye, distracting him from his racing thoughts and frantic breathing. Glancing over his shoulder, Naruto saw it was just his shadow and started to turn back to Haku before jerking back to stare at his shadow. It wasn't his normal shadow. It was in fact, unlike just about any shadow he'd ever seen. The shape was vague, but one thing definitely stood out, especially since they were the parts that were moving the most. Tails. Nine tails swaying back and forth across the bridge. 'What the hell? KAI!' When his shadow didn't return to normal, Naruto was at a loss. He'd been so sure that it had been a Genjutsu –a rather obvious one at that- that he didn't have the slightest clue what the hell was-

"You are the Kyuubi no Kitsune!"

...

...

An inhuman shadow with nine tails. The ramblings of a dead man. The accusations of once beloved family. A dead girl who should not be dead lying at his feet.

There was no sudden epiphany or realization, no thoughts of "of course" or "it all finally makes sense". There was just a horrible, sinking suspicion, and the sensation of his world and everything he thought he knew crashing down into fiery ashes around him.

Hearing tired, yet cautious footsteps, Naruto looked up in time to see a slightly bloodied Kakashi approaching him through the fading mists. Naruto watched as Kakashi observed him with a cautious detachment. The Jounin glanced over Haku, and Naruto's shadow, the gears obviously turning as he set his gaze back on Naruto himself. Not a single shred of surprise anywhere in the man's body language.

For a moment, the two just stared at each other in silence, until Naruto couldn't take the silence any more, nor the growing suspicion and the horror that went with it building inside him.

"I…I'm the Kyuubi…" Naruto all but gasped to Kakashi, who just maintained his silent observation of him. The lack of a denial was all the confirmation Naruto needed at that point. In the next instant, Naruto was sprinting across the bridge at a speed that would be impossible for him ordinarily; fast enough that even Kakashi was caught off guard for several crucial seconds.

By the time the Jounin recovered enough to shout out "Naruto, wait!" he was all but drowned out by Sakura's wailing cries of "Sasuke-kun!" Not that it mattered, as nothing short of Haku being miraculously resurrected could get Naruto to stop at this point. It was just too much, all piled up on top of each other.

Instead, he kept running until he reached the end of the incomplete bridge and hurled himself off the edge, clearing an impossible amount of space thanks to the subconscious use of the Kyuubi's chakra running through his body.

When he hit the water, Naruto actually skidded across it for several dozen meters before he regained control of him momentum. He attempted to run across the water at first, only to quickly realize that his control was no longer where it had been. Not that this stopped him, as he had enough potent chakra surging through him that he easily settled into a skating motion that sent him flying across the last mile or so before hitting the Hi no Kuni coast.

After that, he was just running blindly through the forests, desperate to get away from something that he couldn't even describe, much less give a name to. He would keep running for a very long time.


"Damn it!" Kakashi hissed to himself as Naruto quickly disappeared into the distance. He'd had no idea that Naruto could move that fast while using the Kyuubi's chakra. If he had, he would have made sure to position himself in a way that he could catch the boy before he ran off. But the fact was, Kakashi had had no idea that it was still Naruto until it was too late, and even then, he had no idea what a Kyuubi Jinchuuriki was capable of. It's not like he'd ever met one before. As a result, he'd still been too distracted by the fear that Kyuubi was about to make its return to notice the warning signs that Naruto was about to do a runner.

Though now that he thought about it, Kakashi couldn't help but wonder. How exactly had Naruto killed Haku? The cause of death was rather obvious, but to the best of Kakashi's knowledge, Naruto didn't have any weapons or techniques capable of inflicting a fist sized hole through someone. The blood that covered Naruto's arm in an eerie similarity to Kakashi's own didn't escape Kakashi's notice either. Though he was more concerned with the blood smeared on both Naruto's and the Kiri nin's lips. Had his student actually been kissing the…girl? Pulling Haku's kimono apart slightly to examine wound more closely, Kakashi inadvertently confirmed that no, Naruto wasn't gay, though that wasn't really the issue here. Naruto had seemingly kissed or at least somehow came in close contact with Haku's lips. Why? And how did the boy know about the Kyuubi, something that was supposed to be a closely guarded secret even from Naruto himself?

'Damn it, I really wish I didn't agree to continue this mission…' Kakashi mused as he felt a headache building from a combination of his heavy use of the Sharingan and the sheer catastrophe this mission was turning out to be. Sighing, Kakashi straightened up from his slouch.

None of that mattered right now. What was important right now was getting Naruto back. His student was obviously unstable right now, and while he hadn't lashed out violently yet, there was no guarantee that he wouldn't still attack anyone or anything he came across. Kakashi had to accept that the worst case scenario of Naruto running loose while drawing on the Kyuubi's chakra, consciously or otherwise, could result in the Yondaime's seal breaking.

Even if that didn't happen and Naruto eventually calmed down, the fact remained that Naruto was incredibly important to Konoha –one of the most important individuals in fact- both as the Yondaime's son, even if few were aware of it, and as the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki. Konoha couldn't afford to let him go rogue, or to be captured by another Hidden Village. So as a Jounin of Konoha, Kakashi knew he had a responsibility to do whatever it took to retrieve Naruto.

But at the same time, Kakashi was conflicted by his duties to his students. Sasuke was down, possibly even dead, and Sakura was far too inexperienced to handle a mission like this on her own if Kakashi went after Naruto, and was far too distraught to make the return trip to Konoha with Sasuke's body should they abandon the mission.

Gato was still out there somewhere, and was unlikely to give up just because Zabuza had failed once again. If he left his students behind, Gato would likely be able to kill them just by throwing enough mercenaries at them. Sakura alone could probably take dozens of mercenaries by herself, but she'd likely be up against hundreds and was unlikely to be clearheaded enough to use that brilliant mind of hers to even the odds. No, Kakashi couldn't leave his students here by themselves. And if Sasuke was dead, then Kakashi needed to secure his body for return to the village for proper disposal.

There was really only one option here. They would have to abandon the mission. Tazuna's life, his family and bridge simply didn't rate the sacrifices Konoha would have to make to continue to protect them. Not if it meant a loose Jinchuuriki wandering the country side.

All of this ran through his head in a few seconds as Naruto disappeared on the far coast, even as Kakashi turned and hurried over to where Tazuna was standing, looking distinctly uncomfortable as he watched Sakura wailing over Sasuke's unmoving form. The sight brought a growl of rage and despair to Kakashi as he looked at the proof of his failure, having once again failed to save a teammate. The fact that it was once again the female of Team Seven weeping over a fallen Uchiha was not lost on him either. Any doubts he'd had about abandoning the mission evaporated as he roughly grabbed Tazuna's shoulder and yanked him around so he was staring right at Kakashi's bloodied face. "I need a boat, one capable of carrying me and my students back to Hi no Kuni." Kakashi ordered in a harsh undertone. "Now."

Tazuna looked startled for a moment, and then became angry. "But what about my bridge…" his objections suddenly trailed off as he glanced back at the wailing Sakura.

"We've stopped Zabuza and his accomplice, so Gato is unlikely to have any more shinobi to send after you for now." Kakashi almost spat, feeling a great surge of anger and torment both for Tazuna and for himself for agreeing to continue the mission after the Demon Brothers' attack. "One of my students has already died for you and your bridge. Another might well be dead before I can catch up to him again. This mission is over."

Tazuna blanched, but gave a resigned nod as his shoulders slumped tiredly. "All right, I understand-"

Tazuna and Kakashi both froze as they heard a pained moan followed by Sakura's excited cry of "Sasuke-kun! You're alive!"

"…Sakura…you're…heavy…" Sasuke groaned as he weakly pushed his teammate away from him.

Kakashi blinked in surprise, and then felt a surge of joy. 'Of course…senbon…Haku must have put him into a deathlike state as well…' Kakashi hadn't cried in a very long time, but in that moment, he truly thought he was about to start weeping with joy. Sasuke was alive –the question of why would have to wait for later- Kakashi hadn't failed a teammate again, hadn't failed Obito again… Even Tazuna was smiling happily and brushing a tear from his eye at the sight of Sasuke being fussed over by Sakura.

Then Kakashi froze in realization. Naruto was still out there. Nothing had changed about how critical their situation was. In fact, despite his joy at Sasuke's survival, Kakashi knew that they were in an even worse position than before. Carrying the body of one student in a scroll and the living one on his back would have been simple enough. Carrying a weakened and wounded one, in addition to having another student who was unable to keep up the pace they'd need to catch Naruto was an entirely different animal altogether.

Kakashi turned to study the horizon, trying to calculate his options as best as he could and not liking the conclusions he was coming to. He'd never catch up to his sensei's son while dragging a wounded student with him. Adding in Sakura would only slow them down even more. The only way he was going to catch up to Naruto would be if he left by himself, immediately. But that would require leaving his other students behind to fend for themselves. And Sasuke would make a lovely target of opportunity to any shinobi knowledgeable enough to know just what that fan crest on his back signified.

Objectively speaking, Kakashi knew that Naruto was more important to the Village than Sasuke or Sakura. Not to say that the Village didn't place some value on Sasuke, but the fact of the matter was, Konoha had many Bloodlines, and could always acquire more if need be. There were only a maximum of nine Jinchuuriki in the world, and acquiring one from one of the other Hidden Villages to replace Naruto and the Kyuubi could trigger the next Great Shinobi War in one way or another. Any one of Konoha's leadership would undoubtedly say that retrieving Naruto was worth the possible loss of two Genin. Most would even say that Kakashi had a duty to do so. And in that moment, Kakashi felt like he could truly understand what was going through his father's mind when he made that fateful decision that had eventually cost him his life. And in the end, Kakashi could understand his decision as well.

Carefully lifting Sasuke off the ground, Kakashi turned back to Tazuna. "We need to get back to your house. Once there, I'll send Sakura to retrieve your family."

Tazuna jolted at that, staring at Kakashi first in confusion, then in angry disbelief, followed by a brief burst of rage, before slumping down once again and nodding. At any other time, Kakashi would have taken note at how easily Tazuna submitted to his demands rather than his usual balking and blustering, but right then he was too busy planning his next moves. He'd need to get Sasuke medical attention, try to track down Gato and deal with him permanently so he could leave his students alone for a couple of days while he tried to find Naruto, and then arrange for that boat back to the mainland. He'd also need to send a message to the Hokage to inform him of the situation, something he knew would definitely anger the Sandaime. Having once seen the result of the aged Kage's anger, Kakashi couldn't help but shiver at the thought of being on the receiving end.

Feeling a chill run down his spine, Kakashi glanced back to the west and spotted storm clouds on the horizon, moving quickly to the east and the ocean separating Nami no Kuni from the mainland.

Turning back, Kakashi increased his pace as much as a rookie Genin and an old civilian could match. 'God damn it, I don't have time for this!' he snarled to himself before whipping around in wide-eyed disbelief as he placed the true cause of his discomfort.

Zabuza was gone.


Translations:

Kokuangyou no Jutsu=Journey into Black Darkness Technique

Mizu Bunshin=Water Clone

Did I miss any?


AN: And there's the final chapter of the Wave Arc. Not to say that everything in Wave itself is all nicely wrapped up or anything, just that the story will be moving into new territory now.

The idea with Naruto bolting isn't that unintentionally killing Haku led to Naruto going AWOL. The idea is that, combined with his feeling of betrayal by Haku –with all of the confusion of her being someone he'd been in lust with on top of the subtle effects of her bloodline- the rather messy way he'd killed her, and his sudden realization that Mizuki might have been telling the truth, as well as the fact that Kakashi didn't look the slightest bit surprised, all within the span of maybe a minute at most, with the Kyuubi's chakra still going through him –screwing with his mind and emotions even more- simply overwhelmed him and he panicked. That his panic took him towards the edge of the bridge instead of back into Nami was mere chance.

In all honestly, I never thought I could write Naruto's semi romance with Haku in the time frame I had available. I actually thought the best I could do with their relationship was friendship. That I actually not only pulled it off, but most people seemed to like it, surprised me to no end. Which made it all the more bitter sweet to finally reach the bridge scene, as the confrontation between Naruto and Haku was always something I wanted to happen no matter what, as it was crucial for setting up the long awaited confrontation between Sarutobi and Naruto. Of course, now I really want to write a story where the two do get together, and I can't help but wonder if I could pull off having Haku survive...

The shadow thing isn't canon –as far as I know- but I always thought the image was incredibly powerful and not utilized to its fullest.

As for Zabuza's disappearing act, there are two things to keep in mind. One, Zabuza is almost a full foot taller than Haku, yet when Haku jumped between them, the Chidori hit her chest –which would only be about the same height as Zabuza's upper stomach. A serious blow, but not as serious as the chest. Second…whatever happened to Zabuza's other three followers in Canon? Does this mean Zabuza or Haku is going to be making another appearance? No. Does it mean he isn't dead? Nope. Does their disappearance mean he's alive? Nope. All that can be confirmed right now is that Zabuza is unaccounted for.

Peace, Vaan.