Team 7 was now looking at what amounted to an oversized canoe with an outboard motor and staring incredulously at the bridge-builder.

"You're saying that we have to ride in that across open water?" This was Sakura, stating or restating the obvious in a way that left no doubt as to her feelings regarding whatever statement she was making at the time. Privately Naruto was beginning to wonder if maybe this whole mission was some elaborate conspiracy to get him killed. He threw that aside though as it would look bad for the Uchiha's teammate to die while he was around and Naruto felt marginally safe in assuming that the council wouldn't accept tarnishing the reputation of the last loyal Uchiha.

Today marked the morning of their third day on the mission. At the pace they were forced to slow down to the trip had turned from a short two day span to what was beginning to look like a four day span. Naruto just hoped that the canoe was much faster than it looked; he was impatient to be somewhere he could train again.

In addition to it taking so long, the trip was tense because of the lack of new attacks or view of opponents at all. When they had heard that Gatou was trying to kill Tazuna and seemed prepared to hire chunin-level missing-nins the genin and jonin had expected another attack soon, either by a higher ranking nin or by more chunin backed by genin or non-ninja mercenaries. So far though there hadn't been any sign of new opposition.

Naruto focused back on Tazuna and Kakashi when they motioned for the genin to get in the boat.

"We have to be very quiet while out on the water. Sound carries very well and we do not want to be caught by Gatou's blockade." Tazuna whispered to the collective shinobi. Once he'd gotten nods of affirmation in return he climbed into the boat and motioned for all of them to do the same.

When the man who had brought the boat pulled out oars Naruto resisted the urge to groan. This is going to take forever. If we have to row all the way across something that needs ferries we'll be lucky if we make shore by tonight. As if responding to Naruto's prayer the fisherman started rowing at a fairly brisk pace.

"The crossing isn't as long as it seems. Wave is unlucky enough to be far enough from the mainland to need a very advanced bridge to span it but not so far away to need full seagoing ships," whispered Tazuna. "We subsist mostly as a cheap port on the way to the more isolated towns and villages that make up the land of Water. With Gatou stationed in Wave he has a near monopoly on the shipping industry to those countries the only other viable route is through Flower country and that is still out of the way for caravans."

For all the talk of being quiet Tazuna continued to babble on in a very quiet whisper unable to stop due to his nervousness. Naruto actually began paying attention once Tazuna started in on the political and economical reasons for why the situation was the way it was. Indeed if the major Kages were to pay attention to anything outside of their own lands that didn't directly pertain to themselves they could have consolidated a lot of political power by helping wave and securing it as an outpost of their own land. The only question was how to deal with Gatou without bringing forth the ire of all the countries in which he did business. It occurred to Naruto that being as much of a bastard as he was reputed to be that someone should have offed Gatou long ago. So it stood to reason that the slimy businessman either had friends in high places, with undoubtedly higher priced tastes, or he had entrenched himself so far into enough people's businesses that everyone thought him necessary.

That was foolish of course, nobody was absolutely necessary. In his experience every bastard that died was replaced by another one so it should follow that once someone crossed the line their ass was grass. The only question in Naruto's mind was how to minimize Gatou as a necessity in the eyes of the people who relied on him to provide a certain service.

These thoughts entertained the blonde all the way through the crossing as he contemplated how he could throw his own personal brand of monkey wrench into Gatou's machine and get away with it.

Naruto abandoned his activist-like thoughts as the boat slid silently into an intense fog. He noted that Tazuna had stopped whispering and Kakashi seemed more alert. This was another one of those times that Naruto wished he were more in tune with his chakra and could sense the faint signature that foreign chakra gave off from spent jutsu or hiding enemy nin. As it was he was pretty sure that this fog was unnatural. Regardless that would mean that they were either close to shore or a much larger boat had found them. While it was possible for ninja to walk on water, it would be the height of idiocy to station ninja on top of water as sentries. The phenomenal drain on their chakra would make them useless in a fight so the most logical place to put them would be just on shore where they held all the cards. They wouldn't have to worry about mobility and they would have the necessary elements to fight a nearly totally one-sided battle.

A minute or so later their boat ran aground on a short beach that led up to a road. Further down the way Naruto could just make out a huge structure that shot out over the water and was held aloft by huge pillars that went straight down into the water. He would have expressed his appreciation to Tazuna over such an impressive engineering feat but he figured that his opinion wasn't wanted right now and that any loud noises after so long in quiet might give the old man a heart attack.

With a wave to the fisherman who'd taken them across the group of five set off down the road towards the town Tazuna lived in which was also the town at the end of the bridge. This cheered Naruto immensely as it meant that they would be at their destination tonight or even this afternoon and he could resume his training and experimenting.

-- break –

The group had been walking for about ten minutes before Naruto's head snapped left and he launched a kunai into the bushes. Sakura tensed up and readied herself for a fight as soon as she saw Naruto bring out a weapon. She just as quickly relaxed seeing a white rabbit race away from the bush bleeding slightly from a gash in its ear.

"Damn Naruto! Don't scare us like that." Her outburst was met with an unusually serious glare from the blonde and she knew that the rabbit wasn't what had caused his throw.

"Rabbits shouldn't be white this time of year, that was a kawarimi," muttered Kakashi almost to himself. He seemed to stiffen slightly and then threw out his hand in a sweeping gesture. "GET DOWN!"

Sasuke obeyed without a second's hesitation, throwing himself to the dirt path.

Sakura dove on top of Tazuna bringing them both crashing down onto the gravel and sliding partially off the road.

Kakashi leapt to the side putting more distance between himself and his team anticipating a larger scale battle but remaining on his feet.

Naruto did the exact opposite. He leapt straight up probably two and a half or three meters vertical twisting and curling his body to reorient himself to a tree on the opposite side of the path he'd been facing before. Totally upside-down he crossed his arms, reaching into his equipment pouches, and flung his arms out sending out a hodgepodge spray of flying weaponry. The weaponry all converged at the tree that had just intercepted the 7 foot sword that had been thrown through the space his team had just previously occupied.

The man who appeared crouching on the handle of the enormous sword calmly snatched one of the thrown senbon out of the air and proceeded to use the long metal needle to deflect the rest of Naruto's barrage. Sakura gaped openmouthed at the sword and its wielder as Naruto twisted almost gracefully and landed in a deep crouch. The man, obviously a ninja, calmly dropped off of his sword before standing tall and snapping the senbon between his fingers. He reached behind him and with an almost negligent tug freed his enormous weapon from the tree it had found itself in.

--

Sakura looked carefully at the newcomer trying to get some insight into where they stood against him. He was tall probably a little taller than Kakashi-sensei which would put him firmly in the six and a half foot range. He was wiry and though he was incredibly strong, he would have to be to tote that sword around, he wasn't bulging in muscle which suggested countless hours of fine-tuning his swordsmanship as opposed to just using brute force. He was wearing a scratched hitai-ite of Kiri meaning he was a missing-nin, but he was wearing it sideways and slanted on his head. He covered his face in bandages formed into a mask similar to Kakashi's. He wore no shirt but as if to make up for it he had large leather straps crossing his chest in a 'y' shape with a metal buckle where they connected. If she hadn't been so scared of what he could do to her she might have laughed at the sight of a ninja in pinstripe trousers with legwarmers but it just didn't seem that funny when she had seen him snap metal in his fingers. His arms were covered in camouflaged arm warmers much like her friend Ino wore, but the blue and white splotching probably served more of a purpose than her friend's plain white ones.

The sword he carried was what worried her the most and consequently was what she couldn't seem to tear her eyes from. It was a monster. At least two meters long but probably closer to 240cm with the handle but what's another forty centimeters in the handle when you're swinging something that's got a two meter blade? The blade was probably thirty to forty-five centimeters wide and had a single straight edge with a semicircle in the edge near the base. The edge looked razor sharp as it continued up and smoothly swooped back at the tip before continuing across the top and continuing slightly past the spine of the sword to create a nasty prong on the end. There was also a circle cut into the fuller near the tip of the sword just slightly less in diameter than the width of the blade and was the only thing she could see that took any consideration of the apparent weight of the sword as it was probably cut for the sole purpose of lightening the blade.

All in all he made a very intimidating sight… and that was before he used any ki.

--

Kakashi was actually a little worried now. He immediately recognized the sword wielding shinobi as Momochi Zabuza the Demon of Hidden Mist. This mission was now possibly the most under-ranked mission he'd ever been on, sure he'd been on harder missions but this was setting a whole new standard of ridiculous. This had started as a low-range C-rank escort mission and was now at least high-range A-rank. Having one of the seven legendary swordsmen of the mist, all of whom were high A-ranked in the Konoha bingo book, immediately boosted this mission up to a corresponding rank with the highest ranked shinobi opponent.

If any more enemy shinobi crawled out of the woodwork they would have to send for reinforcements at least on the level of a chunin squad. He was confident in his ability to match the famous Kiri nuke-nin but if he were outnumbered they would be forced to retreat and hole up until reinforcements could arrive, providing that the Hokage thought this mission important enough to salvage and didn't just order them home.

"Momochi Zabuza, the Demon of the Hidden Mist, what are you doing here?" Kakashi needed to direct Zabuza's attention away from his team and Tazuna so that any fight they engaged in wouldn't spill over into the genin who he was sure weren't ready for the level of combat a powerful jonin could represent.

"Sharingan Kakashi, the Copy-Cat Ninja, well it seems that we have a problem. If you'll be so kind as to move out of the way I can just finish off the bridge-builder and be on my way. There is no need to get those brats killed."

--

Naruto honestly never thought that he would be grateful for Sasuke-teme's stoicism. He actually half expected a disbelieving 'nice shot dobe' or similar degrading comment, but since there was no comment from Sakura apparently the Uchiha didn't need to comment either. Indeed, Naruto was beginning to think he was starting to reap vast dividends from letting Sakura into his life even a little. Already the bet he'd made with her had galvanized her into training seriously even if it was for the wrong reasons (securing a date with the teme), but it had also introduced trust in his abilities as opposed to the past knee-jerk criticisms of every action.

The overall effect was that once he'd thrown the kunai nobody had bothered to mess up his hearing with loud exclamations condemning his 'obvious' failure as a shinobi. With his hearing unimpaired, he'd actually heard the incoming projectile long before Kakashi had said anything.

With his forewarning of incoming danger Naruto had decided on a different course of action. If he could get above the battlefield then he would have a decent return shot at whoever had the audacity to throw a sword at him. When Kakashi yelled for them to get down Naruto had dropped his backpack and jumped as high as he could to escape the projectile path and had prepared himself to launch a wide variety of his own projectiles at this new enemy.

It would have worked on any chunin and though the higher-level ones might not have taken a fatal hit it would have been a marked disadvantage to start the fight injured. When he saw the strange new ninja pluck one of the senbon out of the air and use it to deflect the rest of the weapons Naruto nearly salivated at the prospect of a good fight. Even as he landed in a crouch he could hear his own heart pounding in his ears and his blood was singing in anticipation of an opponent who could push him to his limits and beyond.

Naruto only dimly noted the ninja's name was Zabuza and that he had been hired to kill Tazuna. All Naruto cared about was the upcoming fight. He was barely holding onto his henge as it was and he knew that he would be forced to drop it and some of his limiters if he wanted to do more than annoy this swordsman.

Naruto was just about to deactivate the seal that was responsible for his resistance training when Kakashi decided to take charge and get serious.

--

"Naruto! This guy is way out of your league. Get back to Tazuna and guard him!" Kakashi said as he lifted his hitai-ite exposing his Sharingan eye. Naruto was about to charge in anyway but common sense put the brakes on that idea and the memory of Zabuza's skill at deflecting his original barrage was like a bucket of ice water that allowed him to wake up to reality.

Grumbling slightly Naruto backed up to take position to the right of Sakura placing him closer to Zabuza than she was while making sure that the missing-nin didn't have a clean shot at the bridge builder. Sasuke, following his teammates' example, took up the final point of the defensive triangle behind and slightly to the right of Naruto. Sakura and Sasuke quickly stripped themselves of their backpacks and threw them off to the side of the trail so they could move more freely. Zabuza seemed to take this as Kakashi's answer to his polite request that the Konoha nins move aside.

"I guess that were doing this the hard way," stated Zabuza as he flashed through several handseals. "I'm honored to see the Sharingan so soon. Perhaps you can provide me some entertainment; it's been such a long time since anyone gave me a challenge." Sasuke gasped as he caught a glimpse of Kakashi's red Sharingan eye. Could he be an Uchiha? No, but then how does he have the Sharingan thought Sasuke. Soon the air seemed much more humid and a thick mist gathered over the battlefield. As the mist thickened enough that the genin couldn't see more than a meter around them Zabuza spoke out in a voice that seemed to come from all around them, "Eight fatal points, the heart, lungs, liver, jugular, spine, femoral artery, larynx, and kidney which point am I going to strike?"

Even as he stated which points he might use to kill the Konoha ninjas his ki rose until it was nearly suffocating.

--

Sasuke could hardly breathe. I'm going to die! He's going to kill me and I'll never have killed Itachi. I'm going to die here. Oh Kami, make it stop please make it stop! Sasuke reached for a kunai, he was going to stab himself just to make the feeling of helplessness stop.

--

Sakura was trembling. Zabuza's ki settled heavily on her and she was scared. She could easily admit that the murderous intent in the air frightened her. But… there was the time that Naruto had released his seals; that had been even more overwhelming than this. What did Naruto say about ki? Something like ki is just ambient chakra that a person releases which corresponds to the emotions that the ninja wishes to express. Yeah, that's right. He said that we had to flare our chakra so that we weren't overwhelmed by his. Maybe we should try that. Ya, that's what we'll do, and then we can prove that we've gotten stronger. Yes, to BOTH of them!

Sakura started forcing her chakra to flow more rapidly and with more volume through her body, much like keying up for a fight. Her tenketsu began leaking more of her chakra into the air around her and immediately she felt the horrible pressure and rage lessen. Then she took stock of her teammates' reactions to the immense ki.

--

Naruto paused…

…he glanced at Sakura and watched as she mastered her fear and herself, going so far as to release an almost respectable amount of her own chakra into the air to lessen the effects of Zabuza's ki… he glanced at Sasuke and watched as he started to go for a kunai… he stared in disbelief, totally ignoring the two jonin about to fight, as Sasuke lifted the knife to his own throat.

Naruto repressed his own chakra as much as he could just to get the full effect of Zabuza's ki.

Then… Naruto laughed.

"You call this ki?! *laughter* That is nothing. This is KI!!" Naruto roared as he dropped all pretences of restraint on his own chakra and filled it with all of his suppressed anger, the villagers' cold hate, and his bestial side's primal rage.

Naruto continued to chuckle even as all movement stopped and Sasuke, Sakura, and Tazuna fell to their knees under Naruto's ki.

--

The two jonin ceased their fight even before they'd done more than begin to set up for it. Zabuza's ten Mizu Bunshin stopped their advances into their positions. Kakashi paused where he was underground having left a Kage Bunshin in his place. Kakashi began sweating where he was as he tried desperately to figure out if the Kyuubi was breaking out of the seal or if Naruto really had that much anger. Zabuza's eyes widened dramatically. The little blonde brat can produce this much ki? I've got to end this quickly. Sorry Kakashi, but I can't play with you if you've brought a chunin-level psychopath as backup.

Zabuza directed on of his clones to get behind the bridge-builder and cut him down so he could leave mission accomplished. That wasn't quite how it worked out.

--

Naruto waited for the inevitable strike at Tazuna. He knew that by drawing so much attention to himself with his outrageous ki and his flaring chakra that Zabuza would assume Naruto to be better than he actually was. If Zabuza thought Naruto was an actual threat then he would immediately try to complete his main objective in the most straightforward way possible. What that meant to Naruto was that Zabuza would concentrate just enough force against Kakashi to allow him to make a strike against the old man in the quickest way possible.

It was a fairly sure bet that Zabuza knew a solid clone technique; every major hidden village had at least one available. So Naruto was betting that the real Zabuza would strike hard and relentlessly against Kakashi and send a clone in behind the genin. Naruto kept up his ki so that Tazuna would stay down allowing Naruto unrestricted movement to block whatever attack the clone used.

There. Naruto's eyes sharpened once he felt Zabuza's chakra flare in front of them signaling a mid-level attack jutsu. He had already used his first burst of unrestrained chakra to cancel his movement resistance seal and he used a little of the tree-climbing exercise to make sure he had good traction. He felt movement from behind, heard the wind shift as it displaced from something large, and he smelled a more concentrated source of water behind them.

Naruto flexed his knees and leapt backwards spinning around as he grabbed a kunai in his left hand and a set of shuriken in his right. He raised his left hand into a high guard position to block the overhead chop that the Zabuza clone was using. Even as his left arm raised his right shot out towards the torso of the clone and released the shuriken straight into its stomach. The clone exploded in a shower of water and Naruto reigned in his chakra totally ceasing his ki output.

He heard Sakura yell something and spun to see another Zabuza swinging down at Tazuna from the position Naruto had just left.

--

Sakura had already been working on struggling to her feet from the force of Naruto's ki and was standing back on her feet crouching bent over gasping for breath while she mustered her will to stand the rest of the way up. She looked up at Naruto and saw him suddenly tense and he seemed to blur as he moved backwards twisting to intercept Zabuza who had just appeared behind them. Her eyes widened as she saw him raise a kunai to block the massive sword even as he flung a handful of shuriken.

She spun her gaze forward even as Zabuza exploded into water. She too had deduced that he would attack them with a water clone first. Her relief at Naruto's masterful destruction of the water clone dissolved even faster than the destroyed clone itself when she saw yet another Zabuza appear in Naruto's previous position.

"Naruto!" she screamed desperately even as she moved forward with a kunai of her own. She realized that she was able to move freely now which meant that Naruto had stopped projecting ki, but even now she knew she wouldn't make it in time. Just as she was bringing up her kunai in a similar guard position as Naruto had used, a kunai seemed to appear through Zabuza's chest.

Sakura involuntarily jerked her head back as the spray from the wound hit her in the face and even went into her open mouth. She didn't even have time to register the taste of the fluid as water when a third Zabuza appeared behind Kakashi, who had been the one to stab the second water clone. As the clone exploded into more water, the Zabuza behind Kakashi swung his massive sword through the silver-haired jonin's waist.

Again Sakura didn't even have time to register how traumatizing it was to have your sensei killed in front of you when Kakashi exploded into smoke. Shocked Sakura's eyes widened to the extreme as another Kakashi burst from the ground behind Zabuza and was promptly kicked in the chest even as he managed to plant a kunai into Zabuza's thigh. Zabuza again exploded in a shower of water as Kakashi flew through the air to land in a pond off to the side of the road they'd been walking on.

--

Sasuke watched in awe as the exchange of clones went on between A-rank ninjas. The moves were executed so fast that he hadn't seen any handseals and he could barely keep up with their short taijutsu exchanges and movements around each other. He'd been equally surprised by Naruto's speed in dispatching the clone that had tried to get behind them. He'd been downright astonished when he'd seen Sakura able to move at all when he himself had been held down like being chained at the bottom of the ocean. All of this was just footnotes however to the total devastation the ki that all the combatants were flinging around was causing to his mind. Even Sakura was outputting a surprisingly strong feeling of desperation and determination when she moved to put herself between the Zabuza clone and Tazuna.

Why couldn't he seem to move when even the dobe and the weakling were able to get to their feet and defend their client?

He struggled to his feet as he saw Kakashi kicked into the pond after destroying the third water clone. He looked at where Kakashi had flown to and saw him struggle to the surface even as he scanned for the real Zabuza.

--

Kakashi's head broke the surface as he gasped a breath. He's much better than I expected, that kick really knocked the air out of me. I've got to end this quickly. Where is he? This water feels strangely heavy… SHIT move! Kakashi tried to move but the water around him gathered him up and rose into a super dense sphere of water trapping him. He looked up to see Zabuza to his left and slightly behind him as he rested a hand on the Suirou no jutsu feeding it chakra to retain its form.

Kakashi then noticed the seven other clones of Zabuza that began closing in on the genin and Tazuna. Even at just a tenth of the creator's strength, seven Mizu Bunshin would be plenty to take care of the genin.

"Take Tazuna and run! The clones can't get too far away from their creator. Get somewhere safe and send a message to Konoha, the mission is more important!"

--

Sasuke was flabbergasted when he saw Zabuza appear behind Kakashi already flashing through handseals while Kakashi concentrated on something between them and the genin. He watched the water surge up around Kakashi and condense into a sphere around him trapping him as Zabuza held the jutsu stable.

"Take Tazuna and run! The clones can't get too far away from their creator. Get somewhere safe and send a message to Konoha, the mission is more important!" yelled Kakashi. Sasuke prepared to follow orders even as the seven remaining water clones stepped out onto the road and faced the genin.

He turned to his teammates and saw the determined look on Sakura's face and heard a low growl from Naruto.

--

Naruto was severely pissed off.

He already knew that Kakashi was a shitty sensei but he had assumed that he was a top-notch shinobi, after all the council wouldn't let just anyone teach the last Uchiha. This display that he'd just watched had been pathetic. Granted Kakashi had been able to move much faster than Naruto in an effort to stop the second water clone from killing Tazuna but that was expected of any jonin. So far Kakashi had been caught after killing two water clones which as far as the blonde was concerned was something that he could have done.

The Sharingan was supposed to be an ultra powerful doujutsu that even had some predictive abilities so there should have been no way that Kakashi couldn't have dodged that last kick that had put him in the water. Letting himself get caught on the water while fighting a Kiri-nin? Even Konohamaru, the Sandaime's bratty grandson, was smarter than that.

Still, Kakashi was a part of Team 7, which unfortunately meant that they had to try to rescue him. We better get something really good for this. Three genin against an A-rank missing-nin is suicide. With these thoughts running through his head, Naruto allowed his aggression to rise and he started growling softly as he ignored his sensei's orders.

"Sasuke-teme, you're going to need to grow a pair and try to distract those seven clones. I've got a plan I'm gonna need Sakura for," Naruto growled out. He turned slightly to Sakura. "I'm going to transform a couple Kage Bunshin into kunai and you're going to throw them at Zabuza to see if we can get him to release the water jutsu he's holding. Got it?" When Sakura nodded he formed a series of handseals and in a poof of smoke he handed two kunai to Sakura before charging towards the clones Sasuke was attacking.

This was the first time Naruto had released the movement resistance seal since he put it on and his newfound speed felt amazing to him. It was like the rest of the world stood still and waited for him to move. He noticed Sasuke blasting multiple bowling ball-sized fireballs from his mouth at a group of three clones. Fire against water? Dumbass. Four clones for me then. Excellent. He raced towards the first of his opponents.

Forward, fast. Grab kunai.

Duck, step forward. Inside his guard, slash! Miss.

Jump back. Overhead block.

Forward and right. Twist and…

Stab!

Next clone

Jump over blade. Block backswing. Lost left kunai. Twist, get feet to tree.

Grab shuriken. Kick off tree. There.

Throw shuriken… hit!

Next clone

Incoming! Back handspring! Block. Back up! Back up!

Now! Forward! Slide under legs, throw kunai upwards. Grab two more kunai.

Next clone

Dodge left!

--

Sakura nodded to Naruto's plan. There wasn't much they could do without Kakashi to equal Zabuza, if they could free him then they would only need to deal with the clones. She caught the two kunai that Naruto had tossed her. She didn't quite know why he didn't ask Sasuke to throw the kunai as he was a much better marksman. Remember that he doesn't want to tell people that he has a true transformation technique. With our new strength if someone asks about it he can say that he used a normal henge just to confuse Zabuza. Right, I forgot. That actually makes lots of sense. She drew her arms back and hurled the knives to pass right by Zabuza's head, not to hit but close enough to be thought of as a decent attempt to make him move.

She watched as the kunai flew past Zabuza's head without drawing so much as a flinch, at least until they transformed back into two clones of Naruto not long after passing him. She saw the clones wind up and hurl a brace of shuriken at Zabuza's back concentrating on his right arm. She smiled a little when Zabuza was forced to release the water prison to dodge left and away from Kakashi. Now that Kakashi was free to deal with the real thing she thought it might be good for her to help get rid of the water clones.

She knew that she couldn't leave her position in front of Tazuna. She dug into her kunai pouch for a couple shuriken which she proceeded to hurl with all her considerable strength at two of the clones that her Sasuke-kun was engaging. She smiled when the four shuriken appeared to disintegrate the heads of two clones. The other clone Sasuke was fighting was soon dispatched by a clever throwing trick that allowed Sasuke to curve the flight of several of the throwing stars around like mini boomerangs.

She turned to see how Naruto was doing with his clones and nearly had to pick up her jaw off the road. She watched as Naruto slid feet first on his back between the legs of one clone even as its sword impacted the road where he'd been standing. She was amazed as he launched the single kunai he had in his right had straight up into the clone's crotch causing it to burst into water. He curled into a ball and came to his feet even as he was reaching for two more kunai. He twisted left sharply almost as soon as his hands drew the knives from his thigh pouches and not a moment too soon as another Zabuza clone swung its sword up through the space Naruto had just occupied.

Sakura had never seen anything with such deadly precision. It was easily as good as watching the short exchange between Kakashi-sensei and Zabuza earlier. No movement was wasted by either fighter and yet it also seemed that neither fighter was comfortable fighting the way they were. She knew that Naruto preferred to take a solid stance and let all attacks glance off him as he blocked or shifted minimally to reduce damage. That was how he sparred with her and that was how he seemed to like it. But now he couldn't block the clones' swords, not with kunai at any rate, so he was forced to change his fighting style mid-fight. He was still moving minimally and using short devastating attacks but he was forced to avoid blocking in favor of cleanly dodging the huge cleaver. The water clones on the other hand didn't seem used to such close quarters fighting. Naruto was keeping too close to his opponent for the clones to effectively use their swords and it was showing in their awkward swings and counters. Every time the clone would back up to give itself more space to swing Naruto would follow or strike at a newly created opening.

Sakura was transfixed and found herself supremely disappointed when Naruto ducked the last clone's horizontal slash while sweeping its legs out from under it. As soon as the clone hit the ground on its back Naruto twisted violently bringing his left hand with his kunai gripped in a stabbing position down hard into the clone's chest. Naruto rose to his feet breathing heavily and looked to both his teammates to check on them before turning his intense gaze to his jonin-sensei and his opponent.

Now it was time for Sakura to be horrified. As soon as Naruto's eyes swept over her she could swear that she could feel them on her skin heating it and burning her like the midsummer noon sun. She noticed her breath was shallow and fast. But far worse, and yet better too, was the way her nipples tightened almost painfully under her shirt when he looked into her eyes with blazing azure slit-pupiled eyes. All the heat from battle seemed to gather itself into her and rush to the junction between her thighs and she shuddered delightfully as the intense heat exploded into delicious pleasure. She blushed furiously as his eyes drifted away apparently convinced of her wellbeing.

Sakura wanted to somehow sink into the earth and never come back. Holy shit girl! You just had an orgasm when Naruto looked at you. Kami, your soaking wet! Thank god you aren't wearing black panties or you might have some seriously difficult to explain stains when you go to wash them next time. Sakura bit her lower lip, closed her eyes, and prayed to Kami-sama that he would shut inner-Sakura up. Thankfully she was shaken from the comments of her traitorous inner personality by twin roars.

--

Naruto planted his left-hand kunai in his last opponent's chest and stood to check on his other teammates. He looked at Sasuke first as he wasn't sure if the arrogant prick could handle three clones on his own. Well you see miracles every day I guess, he thought as he noticed Sasuke staring back at him with a look of superiority and barely suppressed jealousy towards Naruto's taijutsu skills.

His gaze swept over Sakura next. She seemed fine if a little flushed. He scanned her for obvious injuries and satisfied that there were none brought his eyes back to her eyes. She seemed to shudder strangely before biting her lip and Naruto had to turn away quickly lest she see the smirk on his face.

He knew exactly what had happened with that shudder. In fact he supposed that he should have expected it from her. A heavy adrenalin rush coupled with a near-death experience and intense physical strain would produce a potent cocktail of various endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin; he'd read a lot about it when he'd hit puberty and couldn't seem to end a good fight without a raging hard-on. The same thing had just happened to her but as this was so much more extreme than anything she'd already experienced she wasn't prepared for it and it had turned into a full orgasm with just a minor catalyst. He couldn't wait to explore this further when they started sparring again.

He refocused on the fight that Kakashi-baka and Zabuza were having. They were both standing on the water making handseals wildly. They both finished at the same time and the water underneath both of them exploded upwards as both shinobi in a nearly mirror image of each other jumped back to avoid the simultaneous attacks. As they landed they began making handseals again, this time Kakashi finished first. Naruto thought that they could have done without all the talking during the sealing though. This time the water to the left of Kakashi boiled up and a serpent like dragon made entirely of water burst from the lake before circling around Kakashi and charging at the still furiously sealing Zabuza. Finally Zabuza finished his string of handseals and his own dragon rose from the lake in front of his feet. Both dragons let out a screeching roar as they clashed.

--

Zabuza's only partially formed dragon didn't stand a chance against the greater momentum of Kakashi's dragon and was destroyed. Kakashi's dragon plowed into Zabuza lifting him up off the water he was standing on and charged a further six or nine meters before slamming into a very robust tree on the other shore. As the dragon dissipated it revealed a beaten and bruised exiled-nin.

Before anyone could react two senbon needles shot out from the tree line and struck Zabuza in the neck. A new shinobi revealed herself from the woods on Zabuza's side. She was dressed in a light blue battle kimono and had an ANBU mask secured over her face.

"I must thank you for wearing him out for me. We've been on the trail of the Demon of the Hidden Mist for some time. I'll take care of the body elsewhere, I wouldn't be much of a hunter-nin if I let the secrets of the mist get out now would I?" The hunter-nin's voice was very soft and Kakashi nodded as the ninja knelt and lifted Zabuza's body. A second later the Kiri hunter-nin vanished.

Naruto and Sakura frowned at the irregular procedure but with the scent of Sakura's arousal still heavy in the air Naruto couldn't get a reliably recognizable scent to put to the hunter-nin. Kakashi turned around and walked back to where the genin were sliding his hitai-ite back down to cover his Sharingan eye.

"Well Tazuna-san I think that the sooner we get to your house the better off we'll be," said Kakashi with his patented eye-smile. The effect was somewhat ruined when his eye rolled up under his eyelid and he passed out. The three genin were totally nonplussed at this anticlimactic ending to the fight.

"Well fuck, what's wrong with him?" asked Naruto already turning to Sakura. She looked over Kakashi for a couple seconds before nodding.

"It's just chakra exhaustion. He'll be fine once he's had a couple days rest. We should get to Tazuna-san's house as quickly as possible." Now there was a new problem that had all the genin looking at each other. Finally Naruto shrugged and held out a fist.

"1, 2, 3, shoot," said Naruto towards Sakura. Naruto had rock but lost to Sakura's paper. "Damn. 1, 2, 3, shoot," was now directed at Sasuke. Naruto won this one with his rock against Sasuke's scissors. "He's all yours Sasuke-teme," he said with a smile as he walked away to retrieve both his own and Sasuke's backpacks.

Sasuke grunted as he hefted Kakashi across his back. Naruto picked up Kakashi's pack as well and motioned for Tazuna to point the way.

-- break --

When Team 7 finally arrived at Tazuna's home they were very much ready for a break and a meal. They had high hopes for both when the front door slammed open and an early-thirties aged woman raced out towards Tazuna.

"Tousan! You made it! Are you okay? Are these the ninja you hired? What…" The questions seemed to have no end as the black-haired woman finally gave vent to what must have been a solid week of worries.

"Yes Tsunami, I'm fine thanks to these wonderful shinobi. You should have seen the way they dealt with the other ninja we ran into. I was worried about the blonde one and the girl but they did an amazing job. Come, let's move this inside. Their instructor was injured during the last fight."

"Oh no Tazuna-san, Kakashi-sensei isn't injured. He's just got a mild case of chakra exhaustion. I suppose you might think of it as working too hard and then passing out. It's a normal thing that only in severe cases ever harms a ninja," supplied Sakura.

"Will he need anything? Come in and lay him down in the bedroom upstairs and down the hall."

"No, he just needs rest. Tsunami-san was it?"

"Yes, please come in I'll have dinner done in another hour or so."

"Arigato, Tsunami-san."