I do not own Naruto or Venom/Carnage
AN: Sorry for this chapter taking so long, I've been busier than I expected. Hope you enjoy it! As always any feedback or criticism is welcome. So please review.
"Ayeka?" Kurenai shrugged nonchalantly as she pretended to consider the question. Inside her mind was racing as she considered all the implications the question might have. Shaking out her sleeves while pretending to think she discreetly checked the weapons hidden inside them.
"I saw her not too long ago when the council hauled me in for some complaint they had about Naruto. Actually Otou-san I've been meaning to talk to you about that?" Shifting tactics she pressed forward her point.
"We'll discuss that in a moment Kurenai." Sarutobi cut her off speaking with all the quiet authority he possessed. "So the last time you saw her was at that meeting?"
"Yes Otou-sama. What's going on?" Kurenai let concern show on her face.
"Councilwoman Ayeka is missing Kurenai." Sarutobi fixed his gaze on the raven haired woman. "And it seems that you and she had quite a disagreement hours before she went missing."
"Yes we did. There's actually a recording I..."
"This recording?" Sarutobi slid a small recorder across the table between them. "The Civilian Council Head came to me personally to let me know about the incident. He also informed me about the recording. Kurenai why didn't you come to me about this incident sooner?"
"Things got kind of busy right after the genin exams. It simply slipped my mind and by then this whole mission to Taki came up. Oto-san I simply decided to drop the matter." Reaching across the table she took back her tape player first ejecting the tape and placing it on the table. Catching a familiar scent she held the player closer to her nose, inhaling deeply. "Tsume." She whispered smiling a bit.
"That's right. I know how you feel about strangers in your home so I sent her to get the tape. I felt it was in necessary to get an investigation started as soon as possible. Councilwoman Ayeka was well liked by the populace, our family doesn't need any trouble from misguided allegations."
"And that's why you had one of my best friends break into my home?" She replied archly.
"To be fair Tayuya let her in. And followed her around the entire time from what Tsume told me." Sarutobi smirked as her remembered the absolutely furious girl who had grudgingly served him at Teuchi's restaurant.
"That's my girl." Kurenai murmured proudly to herself. "Is there anything else Otou-san? Unless you want to discuss the whole council meeting incident I'd like to get home to my family." Sarutobi shook his head. Straightening her clothes she stood up and gave her adopted father a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek before leaving.
Once Kurenai had left Sarutobi leaned back heavily in his chair. "Ibiki." He called.
A section of wall slid away revealing Ibiki's standing in a small observation nook. "Yes my lord." He said stepping forward into the Hokage's office.
Hiding his face behind one hand Sarutobi massaged his forehead. "Ibiki was she lying?" He asked softly.
Ibiki cleared his throat before speaking. "Yes." He replied equally softly. "Shall I invite her to my office for a follow up interview my lord?" He asked after a long moment.
Sarutobi stared at his desk for a long moment thinking. "No."
"My Lord?" Ibiki's voice was respectful but layered with confusion. "Are you sure?"
"Yes Ibiki. Inform the council that it was the same rogue ninja that killed Mizuki that abducted and killed the councilwoman. Prepare a body if they require physical proof."
"Yes my Lord. Mizuki's betrayal does allow us to tie this matter up neatly."
"Yes. It does." Sarutobi replied sighing softly.
"My lord if I may?" Ibiki cleared his throat. " Cover story aside if Kurenai does know something why are we not pursuing it? Were responsible for the safety of the village. If she knows something we need to know what it is, if for no other reason than to ensure that the councilwoman's death was not caused by someone outside the village. "
"Ibiki for the moment Kurenai is not in a position to be accused or interrogated. She just brought us an alliance with Takigakure, and the hero water. Something the village as a whole will learn of within hours at most. And should we bring her in which is tantamount to accusing her... At minimum the Aburame will defend her, especially since their heir is a member of her team. And there is no telling how Takigakure will react."
"Very well my Lord. I'll begin my preparations. Shall I leak this cover story to the village after the council is informed."
"Yes. Start at Ichiraku's. Teuchi knows the routine."
"At once my lord." Nodding once Ibiki turned and left.
Leaning back in his chair Sarutobi opened up a desk drawer and pulled out a framed photograph, a younger version of himself stood next to his wife, in front of them were two teens. A boy and a girl with raven hair and red eyes. "Biwako am I doing the right thing?" He asked the picture.
Returning home Kurenai opened her front door and was greeted by the sound of arguing.
"Hey that's mine Bitch!" Tayuya's familiar screech rang through the house, followed by the sound of thundering footsteps as people ran down the stairs of the house.
Anko's face was split into a huge grin as she rounded the corner, and jumped down the stairs. It got even bigger when she spotted Kurenai standing in the doorway "Kurenai your back!" Almost squealing in joy she jumped into the arms of her sister, one hand holding a small box of chocolate.
Laughing a bit Kurenai hugged her back for the moment acting as much the schoolgirl as her sister. A muffled footstep behind them caused her to loosen her hold for a second. Tayuya's face had an odd expression on her face as she was reunited with her 'Guardian'.
It cleared quickly however. "Oh your back." She began in a dismissive tone. "I was wondering when you-Eeep!"
Tayuya let out startled sound as a white and red blur swept her off her feet and into a tight hug. A situation that was becoming alarmingly familiar. Sighing she flexed her arms to keep from being crushed and rode out the storm. She spared a withering glare at Anko who was watching, smirking while she ate Tayuya's chocolate.
On the other side of Konoha a different type of reunion was taking place. Deep underneath the Aburame compound Shino sat cross legged in front of his grandmother. The soft buzzing of her Kikaichu filled the air around them. The sound brought pain, a deep throbbing in his heart. More than ever he felt the pain of being alone within his own skin. For as long as he could remember he had been bonded to his Kikaichu.
The loneliness he felt was simply indescribable. It had nearly driven him to steal back the gift he had given Ino. If she hadn't shown up when she did he would have simply taken them. But they weren't his, not anymore.
"Shino. Are you ready?" His grandmother's soft voice interrupted his musings.
His grandmother looked at him a sad smile tugging her lips. "Very well. Shino why are you here?" She asked her voice warm and soothing.
"I need a new hive, I I lost my old one." Lost such a small word to describe such enormous pain. "Father thinks I should become a host to the des-" He paused as his voice failed him momentarily.
"The destroyer hive." His grandmother finished. "Our clans answer to traitors. Three times has one of our own broken faith with us and three times the destroyers have flown. Three times they have hunted and three times they have delivered justice."
"And never has one of our own been strong enough to be host to them grandmother." Shino replied speaking quietly as he stared at his hands. "They're too wild to be controlled. You can only unleash them. "
"So why me? What makes me worthy? I lost my Hive, my queens! I broke the compact!" His voice shook with barely contained emotion. An emotional display unusual for an Aburame.
"Because you did it to protect others. To save lives not of our own village. Because you put aside logic to do what is right. Because in our entire clan no one has a bigger heart than you, or better friends." Waving her hand, her kikaichu flew into the air between them forming the shape of a girl with long hair. "Shes been waiting outside the gates for you."
"Ino." He whispered.
"And two more." Two more shapes appeared between them, a girl with short hair and a boy with shaggy hair. "You have lost much Shino but you have more than you realize. Even the strength of heart to be host to the Destroyer hive. To bend their unstoppable might to your will."
"Thank you Grandmother." Shino spoke up his voice stronger now, sitting up straight. "I'm ready. I will host the Destroyers."
Nodding once Shino's grandmother sent out a mental command.
Dark shapes began to flicker around the two of them, moving swiftly. The buzzing in the room increased deepening into a low throbbing roar.
"Will you look at that." Tazuna chuckled as once again a mass of Naruto's worked together to build the bridge.
"Its like watching ants isn't it." One of the villagers commented. Now the mass of blue shirted boys swarmed over the construction materials with a purpose. Not to say there weren't accidents and mistakes but with the real Naruto standing off to one side in a semi-directorial capacity, the actual danger was quite low.
"Yup." Good thing I spent all that time yesterday teaching all those clones what to do. Kid must have spent the equivalent of a couple weeks practicing yesterday. Took a lot out of him though, He passed out right after that. We probably shouldn't that do that again for a good long while.Massaging his leg he stood up. "Oi Naruto." He called the real Naruto over, who he had given a hat to wear. Damn kid scaring the life out of me yesterday. If he takes that hat off I'm tying a bell to that kid.
What's up Tazuna." Naruto asked cheerfully as he came over. He started taking off the hat but stopped when Tazuna glared at him.
"I got some things to take care of so my friend Lee here is going to watch over you for a bit." He waved over the wiry old man next to him, who waved to Naruto cheerfully.
"OK so I should just keep working then?"
"Yup." Nodding to Lee Tazuna gave Naruto a strangely serious handshake before walking off. As he walked down the dusty road from the bridge to the center of town, he was joined by the other citizens of the land of waves.
In ones and twos they gathered behind him. Men, women even a few older teens. Clutched tightly in the hands of each were pitchforks and shovels, rusty spears even a bow or two. Clad in the simplest of armors of boiled leather and thick cloth they formed up behind the older man. Silently the group of villagers marched down the road.
After a few minutes of walking Tazuna arrived at what had once been the the town hall. Now it had fallen into disrepair. It had never been a grand building, more of a big barn than anything else but it had been a strong comforting building. He had helped build it. And now he was going to destroy it.
The town hall that had once been their symbol of independence had been turned into nothing more than a warehouse for the wealth stolen from them by Gato. And now with Gato gone the last remnants of his organization had gathered at the town hall.
"Tazuna?" One of the men in the group spoke up. "Why can't we just have the ninja you hired take of this for us?" Behind them there were murmurs of agreement from the gathered crowd.
"Because this is our land, our homes." Tazuna murmured in a quiet voice that grew steadily louder until it rang across the air. "If were not willing to defend it ourselves how can we ask others to?"
Back at Tsunami's Sakura sighed as she and Inari prepared some medicine in the kitchen. It had taken her a long time to settle her nerves after coming back and finding Zabuza sitting at the table eating lunch across from Kakashi. Looking down her hands she saw they were still shaking a bit.
Late last night on the pretext of taking down some of her traps she had dashed off to see the bridge and find some answers. Everyone had clammed up when she asked for details about what exactly had happened on the bridge.
The smell had been the first thing to hit her, an overpowering coppery tang that hung in the air. When she finally got close enough to see the ruined remnants of what had once been people she had been violently, horribly sick. Now every time she closed her eyes she saw that same vision of death and slaughter.
What had horrified her the most, at least at first was the thought that Sasuke or Kakashi had done all this. The one simple idea had threatened to shatter the perfect vision of Sasuke that she carried in her heart. She couldn't comprehend the idea of Sasuke butchering people like so many sides of meat.
She had been staring dumbly at the bridge for who knows how long when the water in the ocean had risen violently and covered the bridge. Jumping to her feet with a startled gasp she almost jumped out of her skin when she noticed Kakashi standing next to her, his hands moving in slow deliberate seals. When he finally lowered his hands the water covering the bridge receded as well taking all the blood and bodies with it.
"Kakashi-Sensei did you and Sasuke do this?" She had asked nervously.
For a long moment he hadn't answered before finally turning his head down to look at her. His one visible eye serious and perhaps a little sad. "No. It wasn't me or Sasuke. Gato brought this doom upon himself." Ruffling her hair he turned her around gently and together the two had walked back to Tsunami's.
"What's wrong Sakura?" Inari asked as he handed her a pitcher of water.
"Nothing." Looking down at Inari's doubting face she sighed again. "I guess I'm just feeling kind of down, Everyone's hurt and I can't really do a lot to help."
Inari shrugged and picked up his tray. "I'll take these to Kakashi-san and Zabuza-san OK?" He said smiling.
Thanking Inari she gathered up the medicine and food and walked upstairs with her tray. Pushing open the door to the boy's room she found it empty. She knew Kakashi and Zabuza were sitting outside playing shogi but Sasuke should have been in his room.
"Sasuke?" She called out loud.
"Here." A muffled call came from next door. That's me and Haku's room. Picking up her pace a little she hurried over to the room. Pushing open the door a little more quickly than necessary she stepped inside.
"What?" Sasuke asked neutrally. He was sitting across from Haku holding a bunch of the metal senbon she had used against him.
"I brought you your medicine."
"Thanks." Getting up stiffly Sasuke dropped the senbon on a nearby table. Shuffling past Sakura he picked up his portion and walked out of the room without another word.
"Umm Hi." Sakura turned her attention back to Haku. Even with her hair in a bun and dark circles under her eyes, Sakura had to admit that the raven haired girl was beautiful.
"So what were the two of you talking about." Sakura managed to ask as innocently as she could manage with one of her cheeks twitching.
"Hmm. He just wanted to know what kind of senbons I used on him." Haku replied in her soft musical voice. "I coat them in a paralytic poison." She continued twiddling her fingers in a way that would have made Hinata proud. "I don't like hurting people."
"Oh." Letting out a huge sigh of relief Sakura sank down onto the chair Sasuke had just vacated.
"Is something wrong Sakura?" Haku's question drew Sakura out of her semi stupor.
"Huh? Oh no. Just thinking." Sakura shrugged before looking away. The two girls lapsed into a not too uncomfortable silence.
"So Haku, you and Zabuza are kind of like a team right?" Sakura finally asked.
"Yes, We're partners." Haku answered perking up at the question.
"So you two fight side by side?"
"Not exactly. My abilities compliment Zabuza's so I act as support for his assaults. We're more effective that way. Who's support on your team?"
"I think I am." Sakura answered with a small laugh. "Sasuke and Kakashi are both super strong and Naruto is too excitable. Can you imagine him standing in the back helping?" Both girls burst into a fit of giggles as the tension drained out of them.
Speaking between fits of giggles Sakura went on. "But I'm not very good support I guess. All I know is a few attack jutsu's. And some first aid but so do Naruto and Sasuke."
"I'm sure your sensei could teach you anything you needed."
"But what?" Sakura shrugged spreading her hands.
"Tracking and medical jutsu would probably help the most." Haku suggested after a moments thought.
"That makes sense." Sakura perked up a bit as she mulled it over.
The two girls heard Inari's voice calling from downstairs. "I'll talk to you later Haku?" Sakura waved over her shoulder and left the room.
Walking downstairs Sakura found Inari still holding his tray. "Sakura, I couldn't find Kakashi or Zabuza."
"Oh geez." Rubbing her eyebrows Sakura suppressed another groan. "Come on lets go look for them.
"Kakashi-Sensei! Zabuza!" The shout came from dozen of throats at just the right pitch to bring headaches to the recovering ninja. The two had just arrived at the bridge nodding to the older man who seemed to be supervising.
"We hear you Naruto." Kakashi sighed sharing a resigned look with Zabuza who shrugged once before planting his sword in the ground and leaning against it.
"How's the bridge work coming along Naruto?" Kakashi pitched his voice so all the clones could hear him. "I'd like to get an estimate so I can let your mother know when we might be back."
"Well ser them little fellas work like their pant's ara filled with ants, but still be a spell fore we finish. We lost a whole messa boats to that fella Gato." The old man sitting nearby finally spoke up grinning with a mouthful of yellowed teeth. "We need em to set them there pylons. Don't suppose you ninja boys know a way to to get us some boats." Taking out a long stemmed pipe the old man lit it and looked expectantly at Zabuza and Kakashi.
"Uh no." Kakashi's usual unflappable attitude was a bit strained as he stared down at the old man.
"Do you need boats or simply a way to travel across the water?" Zabuza asked abruptly.
"Just travel Ser." The old man took a long drag of his pipe. "Once them pylons are set, we'll be able to finish lickety split."
"Teach the brat water walking." Zabuza barked to Kakashi before picking up his sword and moving closer to the old man. "Old man where's the bridge builder, I need to talk to him."
"Err." Scratching his chin the man looked around a bit nervously. "He had some business..."
"I'll find him myself then." Zabuza nodded to Kakashi before stalking off following a set of faint of tracks.
"Your going to teach us!"
That's so Cool!"
"Wait till Sasuke!"
Holding his hands up did his best to calm the mass of Naruto's that had stampeded over in the aftermath of Zabuza's words. "Hey calm down!" He was finally forced to yell. When the noise finally settled down to a dull roar he finally started to speak.
"Listen up you guys. It's time you learned Water Walking. It starts like this..."
Following the faint tracks Zabuza marched along Tazuna's trail silently ignoring the sharp stabs of pain that wracked his body with every step. Soon the tracks were joined by others. Pulling down the bandages covering his face he bent down and stirred the packed sand with one hand. Inhaling deeply he focused his chakra to enhance his senses. Steel, Iron, Wood, Cloth, Leather and fear. It looks like there's going to be a fight. Good.
Picking up his pace he ran towards the faint sounds of battle that he was now starting to pick up from ahead.
Crashing to the ground Tazuna looked up into the grinning face of one of Gato's enforcers. They had managed to knock down the door to the town hall with an improvised ram. As soon as the door fell Gato's men came boiling out in a rush, smashing into the line of villagers. The two forces came together in a wild melee, both sides heaving against each other in an attempt to overwhelm the other. Gato's men were more heavily armed and armored but were massively outnumbered by the villagers armed with farming tools.
For the moment the villager's numbers were holding and they were pushing Gato's few remaining men back. But too many of them were being hurt and small gaps were starting to appear in the line. As Tazuna struggled to get up, the gap was filled by Tsunami who stabbed a pitchfork through his attacker. Her long hair flying behind her she led the bulk of the village women in a wild counterattack. Reinvigorated the villagers pressed their attack even further.
The battle's tipping point came when Zabuza covered in bandages and wielding two kunai in each hand joined their line and began to butcher his way through the remaining guards. Mouth split in a savage grin that showed off his pointed teeth, he projected an aura of fear that had men screaming on both sides. With awful strength and casual cruelty he broke the back of the last remaining thug dropping the senseless corpse to the ground.
Covered in blood and dust the villagers cheered their victory and the huge bandaged man who had come to their aid. Tazuna and Tsunami shared a relieved smile before going back to cheering. At long last the land of waves was finally free.
The following days settled into a comfortable routine, Naruto and Tazuna continued to build the bridge. Kakashi and Zabuza alternated in teaching Naruto the finer points of water walking. During this time Zabuza was gradually introduced to the land of waves as a mercenary who shared a rather unfortunate resemblance to the missing nin Momochi Zabuza.
Sasuke spent his time speaking with Haku about the use of poison in battle, and generally getting to know the girl better. His forced convalescence let Sakura dote on him to her hearts content, which Sasuke accepted with surprising patience. During this time Kakashi finally wrote letters to Sarutobi and Kurenai omitting any mention of the Kyubi and Naruto's injuries respectively.
Sometimes in the evening one would see Naruto and Haku and walking along the edge of water or along the half finished bridge. An outside observer would be forgiven for thinking the two were dating. And perhaps they were but it was a thing of nervous smiles, shaking hands and reddened cheeks. But for all the false starts and stumbles the two were content with the status quo and perhaps that was enough for them.
But soon enough Tazuna announced the completion of the bridge. With the bridge finished Team 7 made preparations to go home, packing things that had gotten spread out during their extended stay.
Yawning Naruto stretched his arms above his head as he and his Team walked from Tazuna's house down the road towards the now completed bridge and eventually Konoha. Zabuza Haku, Inari and Tazuna accompanied them. Haku walked next to him her hand occasionally brushing against his.
"This is far enough." Zabuza suddenly spoke up. Stopping the group looked towards the big man. "Kakashi I have your word that the Hokage will accept your recommendations?"
"Yeah sure." The silver haired Jounin nodded casually not looking up from his book.
"All of them?" Zabuza asked placing heavy emphasis on the last words.
At this Kakashi looked up and gave him a very quick and serious nod but didn't say a word.
"And your team. Will they keep quiet too?" Zabuza pressed his point. The three Genin nodded vigorously.
"If we have to convince the world you're dead we'll need proof. You still agree to my terms?" Kakashi continued.
"Yeah. Here's your proof that I died." Taking his sword off his back he thrust it into Naruto's hands. As he let go of the sword's hilt his fingers lingered for a second or two on the red pearl that hung there. Shaking himself he stepped back. At Kakashi's strange look he simply grinned. "Like I'd give it to you."
"Wow cool!" Naruto held the sword in both arms, grinning like a kid at Christmas. "But I don't think I'm big enough to use it." He said as he tried to swing the sword and fell to the side, narrowly missing carving Sakura and Haku in two, they were pulled out of the way by a goggle eyed Sasuke.
Zabuza reached out with one hand and steadied Naruto. "Listen brat." He hissed angrily. "As long as you hold that sword you're one of the Seven Mist Swordsmen. Act like ONE!"
"Wait." Sakura spoke up her voice filled with confusion. "I thought the Mist swordsmen were the mist village's elite ninja. How can Naruto be one of the seven?"
"The village hidden in the mist is named after the seven mist blades, not the other way around." Zabuza explained his voice hard and controlled. "This sword Kubikiribocho, Headtaker is the eldest of the mist blades. Whomsoever wields this sword IS one of the Seven Swordsmen. The blade confers the title, and you hold the blade now."
"But what if Naruto doesn't want to be one of the seven swordsmen?" Tazuna asked shifting the box he was carrying from one hand to the other.
"He can pass on the blade to a successor of his choosing, or it can be taken from him by force." Zabuza let a savage grin cross his face. "Boy either learn to use that sword, or give it to someone who can."
"OK." Naruto squeaked out, cowed by the sheer amount of killing intent Zabuza was directing his way.
"See that you do boy. Or I will come back for that sword." Zabuza's voice deepened until it was practically a growl.
"Got it." Naruto nodded back hiding behind the sword blade. "Kakashi see that he keeps his word and I'll keep mine."
"All right. Naruto you heard him, you be a good little mist swordsman." Kakashi drawled, he suddenly looked up looking a little alarmed. "Don't tell your mom."
"Uh-huh." Naruto nodded emphatically.
"Haku, I've talked to Zabuza." Kakashi turned to Haku now. "If you want you can come with us. To Konoha. You were never listed as a missing nin so you can join us there. You'll have the protection of our house. And there's no reason you won't be able to come down here to visit as much as you want."
Bringing her hands to her mouth Haku looked at Zabuza nervously. He gave her an encouraging nod, well as encouraging as a shark toothed homicidal missing nin could nod. "I'm not going anywhere Haku, and it will be safer for the both of us."
"Umm." Haku began nervously.
"What are you doing!" Zabuza suddenly shouted as he looked over at Naruto who was doing something with the sword.
"I'm sealing the sword." Naruto looked up in confusion from the scroll he was preparing.
"Its one of the seven Mist blades! Not a bloody souvenir!" Zabuza roared at the blond haired boy.
"Well I'm not carrying the damn thing all the way back to Konoha!" Naruto shouted back at Zabuza.
"Its an honor you brat!"
"It weighs a ton!"
"Suck it up!"
"That doesn't mean I have to carry it everywhere I go!"
"YES IT DOES!"
Smiling slightly at the spectacle Sasuke moved closer to Haku and nudged her with one hand.
"Yes?" The dark haired girl turned an inquisitive look towards Sasuke.
"You should come with us." Sasuke began haltingly. Over the last few day's he had spent a lot of time with the ice wielding girl. He had also spent a lot of time thinking about the Hokage's words to him. I can't fight Itachi alone. No I won't fight him alone. He didn't just betray my family he betrayed Konoha. As long as I see him die with my own eyes I don't care how he dies.
But it would be years before he was ready to fight Itachi. Right now he had other things to work on. Like finding a wife. Sasuke knew that if he didn't find a wife by the time he turned 16, the village council would find one for him. He wasn't against the idea exactly, Sarutobi had explained it to him a long time ago, he'd grown up knowing about it. The hokage had also promised Sasuke that he would do his best to protect him from a loveless marriage. At the time he hadn't cared enough about his future to care one way or another.
Now he did at least a little more. And he didn't know why but the thought of being separated from the dark haired girl bothered him more than he cared to admit.
"If you don't want to stay with Kakashi you can stay with me. I have a lot of room." He continued a bit nervously. "And if you do come to Konoha one day you could you know get married into a ninja clan. You'd be kinda like a princess." He finished a bit more nervously than he had started and there were bright spots of color on his cheeks.
"Marriage?" Haku's cheeks suddenly turned a bright red. Her eyes flickered over to Naruto and amazingly managed a blush even brighter than her last.
"Oh." Sasuke almost flinched when he saw the direction of her gaze. In that moment a tiny seed of resentment towards Naruto began to grow inside his chest.
Behind the group Naruto and Zabuza were still screaming into each others faces. A nervous looking Kakashi looked on a little worriedly.
Sakura on the other hand looked like she had been punched as she watched Sasuke. Inari watched her and did the only thing he could think of.
"Sakura." He said tugging on her arm.
"Huh. Yes Inari?" Sakura looked down at the boy.
"Don't be sad. When I grow up I'll marry you." He declared proudly, if a bit nervously.
Smiling a bit Sakura bent down and kissed the boy on the cheek. "Thanks Inari. You grow up to be a good man."
The quiet moment was broken up as Naruto, Zabuza and Kakashi crashed through the middle of their little group in a wild melee. The four horrified kids stared and then jumped in. Tazuna and Inari watched in goggle eyed fascination.
Eventually the fight ended and a slightly battered Naruto had Head Taker slung over his shoulder instead of sealed in a scroll. Dusting themselves off the group continued their journey towards the bridge.
When they got to the bridge they found the entirety of the land of Waves people waiting for them. As soon as they saw team 7 they began to cheer and clap their hands. Many of them still bore the marks of healing wounds and fresh ones but one and all they were all smiling.
"Wow." Sakura breathed in to herself. She had never been cheered before and it was a heady feeling.
Laughing a bit as he looked around Tazuna handed Kakashi the box he had been carrying. "Here you go. Your fee."
When Kakashi opened the box his one visible eyebrow rose higher and higher until it disappeared under his Hiate. The inside of the box was packed with gold coins and bundles of money. "Tazuna this is too much." He began to protest but Tazuna cut him off.
"No its not. After we took back our town hall we took back all the money and gold Gato had stolen from us. We took a vote, and we realized that we needed to pay our debts. That's the fee for an A rank protection mission. And on top of that Naruto's salary for when he built that bridge for us."
Straightening up Kakashi looked gravely at Tazuna. Speaking in formal tones he began. "Tazuna of the Wave we acknowledge payment for services rendered. Konohagakure thanks you for your patronage. Live well, and may the will of fire extend its blessing to you and your people."
Tazuna shook himself and responded in the same formal tones. "Sharingan no Kakashi. I thank you for your service. I thank you for my people. I thank you for my land. Go in peace and may the Land of Waves ever be a safe harbor for you and yours."
The two men shook hands and together Team 7 left the land of waves behind them.
As they walked away Naruto looked back at Haku who gave him a small wave. She had decided to stay here with Zabuza but promised to come visit soon. Sniffling back tears he waved goodbye before hurrying to catch up with his team.
Inari felt tears flowing down his face as he watched Sakura walk away but didn't know what else he could do. Wanting to distract himself he tugged on Tazuna's sleeve. "Grandpa what are we going to call the bridge?"
Tazuna looked down at his grandson a bittersweet smile on his face. "Isn't it obvious? Were naming it after the man who built it, the man who bled for it and the man who gave me the heart to stand up for the ones I love."
He took a deep breath and shouted to the assembled people. "Hear me citizens of the Land of Waves! I Tazuna hereby declare this to be the Great Naruto Bridge!"
Sitting in his office Sarutobi smiled as he read the report in front of him. It seems Team 7 had completed their mission with flying colors. And once again his family had made friends and allies. Zabuza was a powerful ninja, and a new bloodline had been found. In time perhaps he could find a way to bring both fully into the village. Handing the report to his secretary he pulled a different folder out of his pile.
Dipping a quill into his inkpot he signed the papers in the folder. As he read them over one last time a smile came across his face. "Send out the declaration's." His smile grew even broader. "The village hidden in the leaves will be hosting the chunin exams this year." He stood up every inch the powerful leader. "The date is set. In four month's the exams will begin. Tell the genin teams to begin their preparations."
AN: Thanks to my Beta's Whitedragon17 and Psudocode Samurai, without whose help and inspiration this story would never have gotten off the ground. Both are amazing authors and I highly recommend all of their fics. And thanks to all my reviewers.
AAN: If you think I made a mistake or have a suggestion or an idea, Please PM me or leave it in a review.