The fight's climax, here it is. I think this will be the last chapter of part 1, I can't think of anything else to add to it. I think this may be the longest fight I have written since Sakura and Sasuke vs Sasori in The Fox's Will. In any case, for those of you who wish to continue reading this story, but haven't alerted, check out my profile around... the tenth of March. I should have the first chapter of Part 2 up by then. I know a lot of you were growing bored, but hopefully this battle has rekindled your faith in my abilities. Now that I no longer have to consider canon timeline, I can work freely and no longer need to use pointless fillers. Everything in Part 2 will be plot relevent.

Disclaimer: I officially hate the Utakata filler arc. No way am I gonna accept them bringing in natural energy like this, it's unforgiveable.

The eyes that see

Sasuke landed on the shoulder of the unnamed statue, water from the falls lightly spraying him as he gripped his injured knee. He pressed the heel of his foot against the memorial's neck, ready to bound off again at a moments notice. The black markings of fire that spread across his cheek seemed to accent the glare in his crimson eyes, more like a boy possessed by an evil spirit than anything else. He locked eyes with the vicious looking Gaara, who clung to the wall with his massive hand, saliva dripping down the bestial side of his face.

"Is this all?" Gaara demanded, his voice sounding both accusing and pained. He swung his head around as if her were in a stupor, his tail swishing through the air menacingly, "Is this all the power you can muster under the Uchiha name?!"

Sasuke growled under his breath, his feelings of rage increasing by the accusations made to him by this monster. He was filled with a strong desire to defeat this opponent in a way that would show him the true meaning of his strength. Though that was what he wished, he was forced to acknowledge Gaara's strength. Though he himself was bruised and exhausted, Gaara seemed almost untouched and grew more deranged with every passing blow.

"I can see it!" Gaara yelled, hugging the wall like an enraged gecko. He seemed to be in the verge of a fit of laughter, but that feeling was overcome by an intense desire to tear Sasuke apart, "Show me your will to survive!"

The killing intent that could be felt from this person was like none other Sasuke had experienced. Most Shinobi he had encountered had given off that aura in a manner that suggested they simply wanted to get him out of the way. However in this case Sasuke couldn't help but feel that this enemy's sole purpose, the only thing he desired in the world right now, was to completely and totally tear him apart. It was that adrenaline fuelled hunger for killing that actually left Sasuke feeling quite worried. Once more he was reminded of just how weak he was, and once more anger filled his eyes as he decided he would not hold back a single ounce of effort.

He lifted his hand from his scraped knee, and raised his other one as he formed three seals; the ox, the rabbit and the monkey. He then dropped his left hand so that it hovered just above the ground, his fingers gripping the empty air tight. With his other hand he gripped his arm tight, and focused his chakra carefully.

Gaara watched with a look of excitement as chakra took on a physical form in Sasuke's hand, electricity coursing across his skin and up his arm. Blue light shone on the boy's contorted features, and the sound of chirping filled the air around him as if a flock of birds were singing. Making no effort to stop this charging attack, Gaara pressed himself further into the wall, his tail flailing madly as he gave a look of longing.

"Yes, do it!" he cried, the jawed side of his mouth looking hungry, "Let me feel it!"

Sasuke kicked off the statue's neck, bounding from the shoulder onto the rock face as he ran straight at Gaara. The ex-sand-nin raised his transformed arm and pulled it aside, ready to intercept the oncoming attack.

"CHIDORI!" Sasuke yelled, stabbing his arm forward.

Naruto raised his arms defensively, blocking Neji's leg as it descended upon him. Neji then fell back onto the water's surface, planting his hands on top of it. He began to whip around, bringing his other leg around to strike Naruto in the ribs. But Naruto was too fast for that, he dropped down and performed a sweep kick which quickly toppled Neji over. Naruto then added to his attack by dropping his elbow onto Neji's stomach, yet hit only water as the Hyuga rolled away.

"His speed has increased exponentially." Neji thought, as he moved to a crouching position with one hand pressed on the river's surface. Naruto charged at him full throttle, bringing his left arm around to his right side as he prepared a very obvious backhand, "His reactions are much faster too."

Naruto swiped his hand for Neji's head, his claws almost slicing through the air as the wind whipped around them. Neji however quickly grabbed the arm just before it could hit, gripping it tight. It then came to his great shock as Naruto whipped around, throwing his leg to strike Neji's now open head. But Neji just reached up with his other arm and grabbed that too, before falling back and pulling Naruto with him.

Then, with a quick twist Neji pinned Naruto's arms behind him and wrapped both of his legs around the blonde's unrestricted one. They both landed on the water, Naruto face first. Neji pressed his arm between Naruto's shoulder blades and forced Naruto's head to be submerged, the raging boy writhing and struggling madly.

However, Naruto wasn't as physically stressed as he was before. He forced all of the air out of his lungs in a single exhale, the sheer force of the chakra pouring from his mouth causing the water below to explode and throw both him and Neji into the air. Once they were both airborne, Naruto managed to grip Neji's wrists and pull his own out from their trapped position with his own strength, twisting Neji's in the process so that his left was on his right side and vice versa. In response he loosened his legs from their position and pressed them against Naruto's back. With a sharp push he flipped off and separated from his opponent, Naruto unable to keep a strong enough grip. He was however able to turn around now, his hands clasping together before pushing forward. Neji defended himself as best he could, curling into a ball as he was struck by the rushing wind.

He flew through the air, twisting and turning like a leaf caught in the breeze. He broke his position just moments before landing back on the river, ripples coursing out from beneath him. He stood perfectly straight, his hand rising into a single seal. With a quick word, he activated his Byakugan. As his range of vision expanded, he confirmed what he already suspected. In that moment where he was barrelling through the air, Naruto had taken the opportunity to summon an incredible amount of Kage Bunshin. He was completely surrounded by at least fifty clones, the sheer concept of which gave him newfound respect for the Kyubi's power.

"To summon so many Kage Bunshin…" he muttered, as he raised his other hand and formed the bird seal, "It looks like enough time has passed."

As all of the clones around him, and probably the original, began to charge, his eyes shone with the ethereal light of the Genwaku Byakugan. Though he watched the clones with complete infallible fortitude, he ignored their rising cries as they drew nearer. His bird seal then changed again, slipping into the ram as he bent his knees and channelled a great amount of chakra through his body. Once he had finally accumulated enough, he released the seal and reached out to either side in preparation. All of the clones either continued their charge regardless, or leapt into the air for an attack from above.

"Eight trigrams: Millennium Palms." he called. In an incredible burst, chakra flew from all of the tenketsu in his body, an array of needle like darts flying out in every direction. In a mere moment, all of the Kage Bunshin were struck simultaneously, and all of them disappeared in a large cloud of smoke. It was from this cloud that the real Naruto appeared, dropping down from the sky and lashing out.

"HAAAA!!!" he yelled, slashing out with the Ekokaeten.

* * * * *

The force of the Futon Reppusho struck Neji hard, sending him flying through the air in a ball. Naruto watched as he dropped through the air, taking this opportunity to bring his hands together again in the crossed seal.

"Tajuu Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" he cried, funnelling his chakra into the Jutsu. All around, in every position, at least fifty clones were summoned around Neji as he landed on the ground. He raised his hand into a seal, it was clear he was going to use his Byakugan. Not wanting to give him the opportunity, Naruto and the clones all charge straight for Neji, yelling at the top of their voices.

"This is something only people like you and I can do."

Naruto recalled Kisame's words perfectly as he ran behind one of his Kage Bunshin. Up ahead, Neji slipped his hands into the bird seal, clearly preparing to activate his Genwaku Byakugan. That wasn't good, he didn't need him using those eyes again to hinder his movements.

"A swordsman is nothing without his sword."

Naruto and the Kage Bunshin in front of him both leapt into the air at the same time, the original gripping the copy's collar to make sure they stayed on the same level. Neji successfully activated the next stage of his Byakugan, and once more changed seals to the ram. Naruto looked over his shoulder, searching desperately for the faintest clue.

"Use this, should the two of you ever be separated."

Biting through the skin on his thumb, Naruto hastily painted a carmine seal on the cloak of the Kage Bunshin, the kanji for "reunite". He then flew through a series of seals, the dog, the monkey, the boar, the serpent and the horse. He then planted both of his hands onto the Kage Bunshin's back, looking over his shoulder with gritted teeth and a creased brow.

At first, nothing seemed to happen. The moment came where the ascension of their jump disappeared and they began to descend back towards the ground. As this happened, they drew closer and closer to Neji, who had finished preparing his Jutsu and was now reaching out to either side.

"Come on!" Naruto thought, before locking his eyes on a single point. The water burst apart as something seemingly small flew out of the river, flying straight for the seal on the Kage Bunshin's back. Naruto immediately recognised it as Eko's hilt and reached out, grabbing the flying blade just before it struck the clone's back.

"Took you're damn time!"

Naruto had no time to respond, however glad he was to hear the blade's voice once more. He immediately turned around just as Neji activated his Jutsu. Acting as a shield, the Kage Bunshin was struck by whatever Jutsu the Hyuga performed in Naruto's place, disappearing like all the others. As was his habit, Naruto silently thanked the clone for his help, before bringing Eko back in preparation for his attack. He channelled both his Futon and the Kyubi's chakra into the blade, who quickly grew excited from the same rush Naruto had when he had recovered from nearly drowning.


Naruto slashed with all his might, and Eko released chakra as he was swung around. Even Naruto was surprised by the outcome. Where his previous efforts with that attack had emitted only thin lines of near invisible wind, coupled with the Kyubi's chakra there was now a wide and very much visible arc of glowing red chakra. It ripped the air around it apart as it fired at Neji, who barely had time to react.

"Hakkesho Kaiten!" he called, forming the whirling mass of chakra as he spun at an incredible speed. The arc of chakra struck the gyrating barrier hard, clashing with it and causing several angry sparks of burning chakra. But in the end, Naruto's Jutsu was cast while Neji's was constant. The blistering arc corroded away, faint amounts of red chakra dying the blue colour of the Kaiten for a short moment as it dissipated.

"Damn, if only Eko still had some Katon chakra!" Naruto thought, as he landed on the river. His impact with the ground was followed with a smooth swish as he brought Eko around again, "Though maybe this'll do."

Once more he swung around, channelling both types of chakra into the blade. However, rather than casting it in an arc, he smashed Eko into the Kaiten, pumping his chakra out as hard as he could. The result was that Eko's blade gained a crimson glow as it sparked off the Kaiten, neither cutting nor being tossed aside. Naruto pressed as hard as he could though, and eventually managed a full swing.

"HAAAA!!!" he cried out in effort, somehow managing to break through the Kaiten. Neji's Jutsu immediately disappeared as an arc flew out of Eko and smashed into his body, striking his chest full on.

Neji wasn't thrown off his feet however, the blade of wind seemed to pass straight through him. Instead, a long cut appeared in his shirt, along with a massive gash. He wore a look of stunned surprise as blood sprayed out from his wound, and he fell back towards the water. Naruto watched as the Hyuga slowly descended, wearing a look that showed no pity. In an instant he was back in the air, slashing down at the water below, "LIKE I'D FALL FOR THAT AGAIN!"

The red blade collided with the river, sending water spraying high into the air. Neji burst from beneath the surface, landing atop with a broad grin. Naruto landed back on the surface too, Eko held at the ready. The wall of water between them steadily descended, until both were looking at each other, seeing only each other.

"You say that, yet wasn't that the same technique you used against me in out last match?" Neji asked, with an accusing look, "Repeating the same old tricks does get stale, doesn't it?"

Naruto wasn't listening however. He had already sheathed Eko in place and ran towards Neji, his hands rising once again into the crossed seal. And like before, he summoned several copies of himself, six Narutos converging on Neji's position. As the Hyuga watched him do this, all he could do is sigh, "As I said."

He closed both of his eyes as his numerous opponents laid their hands on their blades. Though he was unaware of the fact that only one possessed the power of the Ekokaeten, he acted as though all of them could. He listened to the sound of blades sliding out of their sheaths, the long, steady screech of the metal letting him know just as much as his Byakugan did. Slowly, he opened his left eye, the normally white light of the Genwaku Byakugan now flowing black.

"Uzume." he called.

Naruto froze, his eyes wide with shock and Eko partially unsheathed. All around him his Kage Bunshin stopped too, each of them staring at Neji incredulously. The Hyuga slowly closed his eye again, and opened it to reveal the iris with white light once more. Naruto shook lightly as a feeling of terror rose in his gut. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't move.

"What the- Naruto?"

"I'm stuck!" Naruto said, just able to let his voice slip past his gritted teeth. For some reason his body was outside of his control, as if his mind had suddenly become disconnected from it. He did his best to pull Eko all the way out of his sheath, but he couldn't manage a single centimetre. He watched in horror as Neji slowly walked towards him, his malevolent grin and creased brow suggesting other thoughts than his leisurely pace.

"How does it feel?" he asked, raising his hand to touch the still visible seal on his forehead, "To feel trapped in your own body, like a cage of your own bones?"

As a sense of fear rose inside of him, reason steadily slipped away from Naruto as he let out a low growl at the nearing Neji. The Hyuga saw the burning chakra within him and his grin grew even larger, almost giving a look of approval.

"Yes, I know what it is to feel that way." he said, his eyes twitching in discomfort. It seemed despite how smoothly he moved, and how confident he acted, he had indeed used quite a bit of chakra. As it was, he was beginning to really feel the strain, "The desire to strike back at the ones keeping you trapped inside. You know what that's like, don't you dear Kyubi?"

His brow cocked as he noticed a spike in Naruto's chakra. The red aura exuding from the feral boy had increased quite surprisingly. It gave him a faint chuckle, it seemed the Kyubi really could identify with him. His laughter was short lived however, as he suddenly noticed Naruto doing the same.

"Heh heh heh, you feel that?" Naruto asked, his red eyes and slit pupils shining with bestial glee, "I don't really know what it is myself, but I'm getting the feeling the Kyubi is angry."

Neji's expression turned to alarm as Naruto's body suddenly began to twitch. All around him the clones were feeling the same, each making jerking movements as they pulled their blades from their sheaths. He quickly closed his eyes, opening his left again to add more power to the Uzume. But the effect was hardly noticed, all it did was drain more chakra. He continued to walk towards Naruto, his hunched shoulders and limp arms telling the boy that this was all he could manage while doing this Jutsu. Naruto's laughter turned back into a growl, which progressively rose in pitch and volume as his face contorted into a glare.

"HE DOESN'T LIKE BEING COMPARED TO PIECES OF SHIT LIKE YOU!!!" he screamed, whipping Eko from his sheath and charging at his opponent. Neji, seeing that his Jutsu had failed, hastily deactivated it and ran forward as he regained his movement. Behind him, the five Kage Bunshin were all running towards him with ready blades. But all he needed was to strike the original, and he was fairly certain the rest would disappear.

Naruto slashed out a large arc of chakra at the Neji, the massive blade of energy zooming towards the Hyuga at a speed too great for him to activate the Hakkesho Kaiten in time. Instead, he reached back with his arms, his open palms held at either side of him. He quickly focused his chakra into both of them as the arc came upon him.

"Eight Trigrams Twin Palms!" he yelled, thrusting his hands straight into the blade. A large clash of energy burst from the collision as the arc exploded, causing the water to rise in angry steam. Naruto burst through the thin veil, not leaving anything to chance. He sliced down with a vertical cut, just barely missing Neji, who leapt back.

The boiling water rose in a vapour, filling the air with its damp mist. Naruto stood in the midst of this, the thin air and degrading stamina causing him to breathe heavier than usual. It was in this heat that he became more away of his injuries, healing though they were they still stung like hell. Across from him, Neji was experiencing much the same, blood dripping from his hands as a result from blocking that last attack.

"Damn it." Naruto thought, slipping Eko back into his sheath, "I'm finishing this now!"

The Kage Bunshin behind Neji each did the same as the original. Their katana were returned to their sheaths before they all dashed at Neji in a great burst of speed, clasping their hands together. Neji grunted in annoyance, foreseeing their attack and rotating on the spot to defend. Chakra whirled around him, beginning to create the barrier around him.

"No!" Neji thought, his eyes widening in shock. Though his hands were steadily healing through the power of his seal, at this time he couldn't accumulate enough power to create a strong enough barrier. All that transpired was a weak gust whipping around him, not even removing the Narutos from direct visibility, "I need more time!"

But unfortunately for him, time didn't seem to care. Naruto burst through the pathetic Kaiten, sliding down as he forced his Futon: Reppusho up towards Neji. Hit by the full blast, coupled with his already spinning form, Neji whirled through the air like a top. He was then thrown higher into the air as a Kage Bunshin struck him with the same Jutsu from below. Then, kicking off the back of that first clone, a second did the same, forcing Neji even higher as his back bent with each coming strike. This went on through the third and fourth clones, until he even surpassed the valley in height. But it was here that things changed. Up above him, the final Kage Bunshin appeared, planting his hands straight onto Neji's chest.

"FUTON: UZUMAKI DRIVER!!!" the clone yelled, forcing so much chakra into his attack that immediately after, like all the others, he burst into smoke. The cry that came from Neji's throat was blocked out by the sheer pressure of the attack, he was fired down to the river below as if gravity had increased to an immeasurable level. He turned around in the air as he saw the looming water. He knew that from this height, hitting the river at this speed would be virtually the same as hitting concrete. Impact would almost certainly mean death, and even if he managed to survive, he would be completely at Naruto's mercy. Or lack thereof.

"Come on… come on!" he thought, desperation defeating his normal composure. He held both of his hands to the same side, willing his chakra to the very spot between them. It was a painfully slow task, considering the rate he was descending. But after what seemed like an eternity of effort, he felt the correct amounts presence in his palms. With a sudden, sharp movement he turned in the air and threw both of his hands out suddenly, "Hakke Kusho!"

Chakra and air blasted from his palms, and incredible force on par with Naruto's Futon: Reppusho. It greatly altered his own trajectory and threw him back, sending him rolling across the water's surface. He was barely able to maintain his place atop the water, only his Byakugan keeping him from becoming disoriented. But eventually he ran out of water, and rolled on a small outcrop of land by the rock face. It was there that he came to rest, stopping face down in the dirt.

Naruto watched him for several long moments, his brow twitching and his jaw clenched as he waited for any further signs of movement. But several seconds passed with nothing, and finally he sank to his knees, dragging air in and out of his lungs.

"Haa… haa…haa." he gasped, pressing his hands on top of the river for support. Never had he felt such agony in his lungs, they felt like they were going to burst under the weight of his inhales. He bowed his head onto his arm, slouching down as he did what he could to stop his pounding heart. The red colour of his eyes faded away, leaving cerulean blue in its place. His pupils reduced back to their regular shape, and his canines shrunk back to their normal size. With barely enough energy to blink, he stirred his head in small circles.

"You Have GOT to be kidding me."

Naruto looked up as he heard Eko's words, panting and wheezing as his strained lungs began to slow. Neji was unsteadily getting to his feet, his sodden form hanging as limp as a corpse. He looked over at Naruto, the light of his eyes fading through the curtain of his own hair. His breaths came as heavily as Naruto's, his dirt covered clothes and darkened skin making him appear as if he'd been crawling in the mud. Naruto pressed his hand against his knee as he pushed himself up, what did it take to defeat this guy?!

Slowly at first, denying his aching muscles the relief they pleaded for, he began to walk limply towards Neji. The Hyuga did much the same, dropping back down to the water as he took on a very light and limp jog. But soon, both of them picked up speed, glaring at the other as they ran at each other, crying out at the top of their voices. Naruto clasped his hands together, pulling out any and all chakra he had left. Neji did much the same, taking his hands to either side of him and dragging out whatever remained in his beaten body. The gap between the two closed at a quickening rate, their yells raising in pitch each and every step.

"HaaaaaaAAAAAAAHHHH!!!" Naruto screamed, throwing his hands forward to meet Neji.

"HyoooooOOOOOOHHH!!!" Neji responded, thrusting his palms out to intercept Naruto.

The two attacks met, blasting wind meeting smashing air. They both smashed into each other, creating an explosive vacuum that hit both Naruto and Neji in a concussive blast so great, they were thrown back into the air. Naruto experienced the same as Neji as he reeled around and around, instantly disoriented by the changes from the blue water of the river, to the grey clouds of the sky and finally, the brown rocks of the valley wall.

* * * * *

Sasuke stood over Gaara's unconscious body, looking down at the missing-nin with cold contempt. Both of them looked like monsters, Gaara with the sand covering all but his feet in a grotesque shape of some animal, he had managed to get pretty far into his transformation before being defeated. Sasuke on the other hand, had skin much the same as Neji's, but that was the closest similarity they shared. A black star spread across his nose, and his once crimson eyes were now golden. His lips had turned a dark shade of blue, and his hair had grown into a large and spiked mass, though it had paled a very grey shade of blue. Perhaps the most bizarre though, where the two, giant webbed hands sprouting from his back. He looked like some sort of bat demon, while Gaara resembled a squirrel of some kind.

The rain began to slowly pour from the sky, dripping down onto Gaara's unmoving form. The sand covering him darkened with every falling droplet, leaving him a sodden mass of brown. The hands on Sasuke's back slowly shrank back down, as did his hair. His skin lightened too, and his golden eyes returned to black. In moments, he was the same as he was at the start, albeit covered in sweat and stains of dirt.

"It looks like you won, Sasuke." came a voice from behind him. Sasuke looked back, before glancing at a small red mound lying amongst the boulders on the other side of the valley.

"You too." he said, smirking at Neji, who was back in his normal form, "Didn't expect you to get so beat up though."

"I'll admit I got a little over excited." Neji sighed. He held onto his broken arm with his badly injured one, and stood off balance with more weight on the right leg than the left. He looked quite relaxed for someone so torn apart, "It was certainly a troublesome battle."

Sasuke laughed inwardly, looking down at Gaara once more. The sand on his body was beginning to crumble, small pieces of the flesh on his face revealing themselves. Sasuke began to reach back for a kunai, wondering whether or not to finish the job, when he heard a loud thud up ahead. Looking up, his brow creased in shock as he spotted a giant of a man, covered in a heavy black cloak. Red clouds adorned the material, made even darker by the grey atmosphere. His tall collar covered the lower half of his face, while a sedge hat obscured the rest in shadow. The giant man jerked his head off to the right, signalling for the two of them to leave. Though that annoyed Sasuke to no end, a brief tap on the shoulder from Neji and nod convinced him now was not the time for more conflict. Begrudgingly, he and Neji left, running up the wall of the valley. Once they were out of sight, the giant man look down at Gaara, his expression hidden in black.

"Not bad, Uchiha Sasuke." Kisame muttered, crouching down. He took Gaara in his arms and lifted the boy off the ground, the drenched sand cracking and falling off of him like an old cocoon. He then glanced over to the place where Naruto lay, watching as Zetsu rose from the earth and took the unconscious boy over his shoulder. With a quick nod to his comrade, which was politely returned, the two of them disappeared into the rain.

* * * * *

Naruto felt something soft and wet touch his cheek. This was soon followed by more of the same, as a loud sound like sharp inhales surrounded him. It wasn't until he felt something slightly sharp hit his ear that he slowly opened his eyes, yet for some reason doing so seemed almost redundant. Wherever he was, it was quite dark, and very cold.

From a quick flicker in the side of his vision, Naruto realised that he was surrounded by each of the pups, who were sniffing around him curiously. That was the first thing that caught him by surprise, the last thing he remembered was running at Neji, and then-

"Huh?!" he cried out, snapping to a sitting position. He looked around hastily, searching for any signs of his overconfident opponent. But there wasn't even the slightest trace. In fact, Naruto soon realised that he wasn't even in the valley anymore.

Once he had adapted to his surroundings, he found out that while it was true that he was no longer inside the valley, he wasn't away from it either. To be precise, he was shaded under a tree on the opposite side than where he and Gaara had been earlier. Not far off to his right was the Shodai Hokage's statue, drizzled in the falling rain.

Naruto winced in pain, sitting back and pressing his hand on the ground. He had intended to do so with both, but to his surprise his left arm had resisted. Looking down, he found out that his arm was in fact wrapped in a sling. Giving himself the once over, he realised he also had gauze wrapped around his other arm and a large dressing on his right cheek. He was more confused than ever now, looking around for any signs of the person who could have done this.

"Finally awake then." came a voice from behind the tree he was taking shelter under. Naruto recognised the voice, but just watched blankly as Zetsu stepped out from the wooden obstacle and into Naruto's line of vision. The sight of him made Naruto grin broadly, and action which he soon regretted. It looked like the injury on his cheek involved quite a bit of missing skin, "That was certainly a fun fight to watch."

"Eh?" Naruto exhaled with a confused look. He then realised that Zetsu was referring to his fight with Neji, to which he gave an even more surprised look, "You were watching that?"

"We'd be bad spies if we weren't." Zetsu replied, stepping around to Naruto's side. He looked down at the beat up Naruto with a small smile, either nostalgia or mild amusement, "Pity about the end though."

"What do you-" Naruto began, before his eyes widened. He stared up at Zetsu in shock, a look suggesting he couldn't comprehend his own thoughts. He gaped slightly as one of the pups licked his hand, a comfort that went unnoticed, "I lost?!"

"Gaara-san too." the dark side replied, as sullen sounding as ever. The white side gave him a grin though, showing a little more kindness even if he had the look of a person who had just been enjoying himself, "Hyuga Neji and Uchiha Sasuke left of their own accord."

Naruto slumped back, a dazed look on his face. Gaara was beaten too? That came as a shock, without the advantages of Pein's help and his knowledge of Gaara's weakness, Naruto would never have stood a chance against him. It was a surprise that he could be beaten by anyone else their age.

"Then again, that was Uchiha Sasuke." he thought. He bowed his head, his forehead protector and fringe obscuring his eyes in shadow, "Bastard."

Zetsu seemed to recognise his brooding mood, or at least the white side did. He crouched down on the ground and made sure Naruto could see his face. He gave an encouraging look, attracting the younger boy's attention.

"You're only a Genin after all." he said, calmly. Naruto looked at Zetsu in a way that suggested he wasn't glad to be told such things, "If you never lose, you can never know what it means to grow stronger."

Naruto blinked at Zetsu in surprise, he hadn't expected such words of wisdom from him. He lowered his head, letting out a faint laugh as he relaxed. He reached out and pet Kunimei on the head, the little dog's tail wagging happily.

"Hey runt, come on." called Kisame's voice. Naruto looked up through the trees, spotting Kisame's hulking frame. He stood with Gaara's unconscious form over his shoulder, whose cloak was shredded and his gourd gone.

"Right!" Naruto replied, pushing himself unsteadily to his feet. The pups all barked up at him from his sudden movement, following him as he took a few steps away. But then he hesitated, looking over his shoulder, "Are you coming with us, Zetsu-san?"

"We have work to do elsewhere." Zetsu's black half bluntly replied. Naruto wore a slight look of disappointment, but when the white said gave him a small wave, he grinned before running off. He reached Kisame rather quickly for someone so injured, his healing capabilities already setting to work. Zetsu returned Kisame's nod of farewell, before he, Naruto and the pups disappeared amongst the trees, "Grow strong, Uzumaki Naruto."