Aljan Moonfire Does Not Own Naruto or Bleach.


Chapter 5 – To Nami no Kuni


A Month and a Half Later…

Naruto woke to the dark of the morning before the sun rose at the bidding of his newest alarm clock. It shrieked loudly into the silence, only to be immediately silenced by the kunai that pinned it the wall only moments later. The many similar puncture wounds in the wall around it showed that this was far from the first time he had killed an alarm clock in such a way.

The now irreversibly awake boy glanced at the time frozen on the now broken clock's face and groaned, "Dammit. I'm going to be late if I don't hurry…" he sighed and quickly got out of bed, heading towards his closet with a resigned slouch.

The sun was just beginning to rise from behind the Hokage monument when Naruto finished running up it. He slowed down and settled into a jog towards the outcropping that marked the beginning of the first Hokage's face, waving his hand over his head to the figure standing there.

"I'm here, I'm here!" he called, quickly attracting their attention.

They smiled, amused, at him before turning back to look down at the village. "You're late, Naruto-kun."

"Nope, I said I'd be here at sunrise, and here I am!" He replied, grinning, as he reached her. The person he was talking to was an elderly woman, with long, grey-streaked maroon hair and dark eyes, pupil-less and deep with earned wisdom. She was wearing an old fashioned kimono, elaborate and with long sleeves, and had the majority of her hair pinned up in two buns on either side of her head. Though old, it was clearly apparent that once she had been very beautiful, and some of it still showed in her eyes and bone structure.

She was still taller than him though, and she smiled softly down at him as she agreed, "Well, I suppose that's true."

"Of course it is, Baa-chan."

She snorted softly in amusement. "You always manage to make me laugh somehow, Naruto-kun."

"It's a gift." He replied smugly, grinning again.

They continued to talk as the sun rose further over the mountain - at one point Naruto sat, feet hanging over the Shodai's brow and she soon followed to kneel in seiza beside him - until finally Naruto asked, "So, why did you call me out here so early, Baa-chan? You know you can come and talk to me any time, right."

"…Yes." She agreed, "…but I didn't want anyone to overhear you talking to me about this. I know you've been caught talking to some of the others at times." She smiled at him again, dark eyes tilting up slightly at the corners before smoothing down again as her voice grew more serious. "I've been watching over you for a long time, Naruto-kun, since before you were even born…I was even there when the Kyuubi was sealed into you…but slowly, I've felt his aura growing ever smaller within you."

Here the woman seemed to reach on the subject she had been so concerned about. "It was always smaller than when he had been sealed inside your mother, since your father split him in half before he sealed the remainder into you, but…Naruto-kun, I haven't been able to figure it out… what is going on?"

"…Ah." Naruto was quiet for a long moment, before, after determining that there was really no one nearby, he replied. "…When the Kyuubi was…well, if you were there, and already…well, then you likely know what was really odd about it." He said reluctantly.

"That…strange being the Shinigami put in you?" She asked slowly.

"Yes." He was quiet for a moment as he struggled to find the right words. After a long moment he picked up his sword from where he had settled it beside himself earlier, held it before himself, and drew it. Displaying the strange blade for the first time to the woman, he continued, "This is the physical form of that spirit, the one who placed himself within me that night. His name is Mugetsu. He is what is called a zanpakuto – a slayer of souls. He has the power to slay, purify, and absorb souls."

The old woman's mouth opened in a small 'o' of understanding. "Then, it – he – has been absorbing the Kyuubi's spirit?"

"Yes. It's power too, because he says that the Bijuu are basically just physically manifested souls. It's why normal humans, even shinobi, aren't able to permanently hurt them, even if they can see them." Naruto elaborated, "And since he's been doing that since I was a toddler, the Kyuubi's almost completely gone at this point. A few more months, and I'll have nothing but an empty seal painted on my stomach."

"…I see." She was quiet for a long moment before leaning back to look out of the village once more. The sun had risen almost completely by this point, and it finally became obvious that the woman Naruto was seated beside wasn't normal – in fact, she was vaguely translucent. At times he could almost see through her, and his eyes were once again caught by the short silver chain emerging from her chest as it clinked slightly when she shifted.

He quickly looked up again at her face when she spoke up once more. "Naruto-kun, when I died, I decided to stay in order to watch over the one thing I left behind to threaten this village. I watched over your mother, and when she died I watched over you." She was quiet for a long moment before continuing. "But it seems that that threat no longer exists now. I am…unsure of what I should do now." She kept her eyes on the village as she spoke, wistful and almost sad as she confided this trouble to him. "My duty seems to be nearly complete now, and I… I think I have forgotten how to go about moving on to whatever comes next. It has been so long…" She trailed off.

Naruto watched her for a time before his thoughts were interrupted by the familiar voice inside his head. His eyes unfocused for a moment before he nodded and returned his attention to the ghost he had been talking to for the last hour and nodded. "Baa-chan," he said, catching her attention, "Mugetsu doesn't just hurt souls, he can also send them on to the next life if they need a guide."

She jerked in surprise and swiftly turned to look at him directly. "Really?"

"Yeah." He blinked back at her and asked, "Do you want to go?"

She exhaled softly, eyes closing. "Yes, very much. Almost my whole family is there, nearly all of the Uzumaki and Senju clans; my husband, my children…only you and my granddaughter are left in this world," she said, before quickly amending, "Well, that I know of at least."

He nodded. "Then I'll send you there. If it'll make you happy…"

"Yes, it would." Then she hesitated, "But you said that he's not gone yet, didn't you?" she asked reluctantly.

"Yeah," Naruto said obliviously, before, "Oh…do you want to wait until he's fully gone then?" he asked.

"I should, no, I will," she said calmly. "I won't leave this world until my duty is complete." She declared, rising to her feet. "But, thank you, Naruto-kun. When it is done, I'll definitely take you up on that offer." She smiled down at him as he got to his feet as well.

"You got it," Naruto swore, "It's a promise, Mito-baa-chan."

They locked eyes for a long moment before Mito finally registered how high the sun had gotten. "Naruto-kun, don't you usually go to meet your team around this time?"

He followed her gaze to rest on the sun's height and cursed, "Dammit! If I don't go now, then I'll be even later than Kakashi-sensei!" In moments he was over half way to the beginning of the stairs that he had climbed only a couple of hours ago, sword slung once more over his shoulder. "Bye, Baa-chan! I'll see you next time!" He shot back over his shoulder as he disappeared down the stairs, vanishing from sight less than a second after he finished speaking.

"That boy…" the ghost sighed, laughter in her tone.

.-.

Later That Day…

If Naruto were to sum up D-ranks in a few words, it would probably be something like this: Boring - mind-numbingly boring. And unbelievably messy, and infuriating, and embarrassing, and just, all around the worst thing he could conceive of being forced to do.

Honestly, Naruto had simply come to a decision. He refused to do any more D-ranks. Especially, if he had to chase that damn cat even one more time…

"…shopping in the neighboring village, helping with the potato digging…"

A cat yowling in torment, followed by a loud crash and a shrieking cry of, "Oh no, Tora-chan!" interrupted the Third Hokage's droning.

"…or once again catching the Daimyo's wife's cat." Sarutobi continued, concluding his listing of the currently uncompleted D-ranks.

Naruto's eyes widened in horror, and he quickly glanced at his sensei as he heard the last item on the list. His evil sensei, that had specifically chosen the Tora mission for the last two weeks in a row. No. There was no way he was dealing with that little monster again.

"Old man," Naruto said, interrupting his sensei before he could even begin, "Can't you give us a real mission, and not these pathetic chores?"

His team had varied reactions to his impatient words. Sasuke glanced at him when he said it, and thought, '…I agree,' Sakura grumbled silently about showing respect to the Hokage, and Kakashi just sighed inwardly, thinking, 'I was wondering which of them would snap first.'

Sarutobi arched an eyebrow at the boy in slight surprise, if only at how long it had taken the boy to complain, while beside him, further down the long desk, Iruka – who had been assisting at the mission assignment desk in between semesters at the academy - raised his voice in protest. "But you're just rookies! Everyone starts off with simple duties and then has to work their way up!"

"We've been doing this for over a month though, we're ready for a higher level mission," Naruto retorted calmly. "I swear!"

Kakashi sighed audibly this time, thinking, 'I'm going to get yelled at later for this…'

The Hokage kept his silence as Iruka and Naruto spoke, and then said, "…Ok then," with a slight smirk.

"What! Hokage-sama…" Iruka spoke up again in shock, but soon calmed when Sarutobi gave him a quieting look. Team 7 was also surprised – Kakashi quickly hid it, as did Sasuke, but Naruto pumped his fist in celebration as Sakura gaped unattractively at the Hokage.

"If you want it that much," the Third continued after quieting Iruka, "Then I'll give you a C-rank mission. It's for the protection of a certain individual…"

"Who?" Sakura asked, finally recovering her composure.

"I'll call him in right now," the Hokage said, and gestured for a chunin to do so.

Soon enough, the door to the mission room opened again to reveal a middle aged man with spiky grey hair being held back by a length of knotted rope, sloppy dark clothing, a beard, moustache, and small glasses. As he leaned on the door frame with one hand, he took a gulp from the sake bottle in his other and said, "What's this? They're all a bunch of super brats." He took another swig from the bottle and asked incredulously, "Are they really ninja? They all look way too super young to do a good job of protecting me."

Naruto felt his eyebrow twitch with annoyance, and had to stop himself from going for his sword.

"Bah!" the old man said. "Well, whatever then; I'm the super expert bridge builder, Tazuna-sama. I expect you super brats to provide me with super protection until I get back to my country and complete my bridge."

Naruto stared at the old drunk man incredulously, and caught sight of the slight smirk on Sarutobi's face out of the corner of his eye. The old man had given him the worst client possible on purpose, hadn't he! Damn it. Maybe it would have been better to stick to the D-ranks after all…

Then he heard the Daimyo's wife sobbing after her cat again in the background and shivered slightly. Never mind – anything was better than another D-rank – especially that one. Even guarding this old drunkard.

.-.

The Next Day, On the Road…

"Um, Tazuna-san," Sakura asked, "you're from Nami no Kuni (the Land of Waves), right?"

Tazuna just gave her a slightly contemptuous look and said, "What about it?" with a grunt in reply.

She hesitated at his attitude, and turned instead to Kakashi, "Kakashi-sensei, are there any ninja in Nami?"

Kakashi glanced at her and said, "No," before going on to explain why that was, and giving a short explanation of the five great ninja countries as a bonus.

While Kakashi was giving Sakura a lesson on the basic ninja politics she should have learned years ago in the academy, especially if she was really top in the class in book work, Naruto had taken the lead, and was keeping a wary eye on the road ahead.

One of the first things that he had learned from Mugetsu was not only how to utilize his own spiritual pressure in bursts and to boost his speed and strength, but also how to sense it in others. This was particularly easy in this world, the sword had told him, because the people here had no idea what spiritual power – or reiryoku - was, let alone how to hide it from his senses once they were trained enough. Learning how to sense others through reiryoku was something he had worked steadily at over the past few years after learning how useful it could be. As long as his senses were keen enough, no one would be able to hide from him.

And this was important now because he had felt two people following and watching them from relatively nearby since they'd left Konoha. Though he still wasn't as skilled as Mugetsu, who could precisely pinpoint them, he could detect them easily enough. And they seemed to be lying in wait up ahead. As they got closer to them, he began to wonder who they were after.

If they knew who they were, both himself and Sasuke were viable targets – he being who, and what, he was, and Sasuke being the 'Last Uchiha'. Kakashi was even an option, though whoever it was seemed much too weak to his senses to even think about taking him on. Sakura…probably wasn't even a possibility though.

The last option was their client; a man who seemed intent on getting himself as drunk as possible, and also seemed unnecessarily nervous about their guarding abilities. Everyone knew that ninja started young, but even then they were known to be stronger than any small band of unorganized bandits. So, he must be worried about them facing something they should be unable to handle as new genin; something like…

"…don't worry," Kakashi's voice intruded on his thinking, seeming to be coming to a conclusion, "There won't be any ninja combat on a C-rank mission."

Naruto's eyes narrowed in on Tazuna as Kakashi said this, and he nodded to himself as the man flinched at the jounin's words. So, he was right then.

"Then we won't come into contact with foreign ninja?" Sakura confirmed.

"Of course not!" Kakashi laughed, ruffling her hair.

Tazuna flinched again, and looked away, almost guiltily.

Out of the corner of his eye, Naruto watched as Sasuke caught Tazuna's reaction as well. He knew there was no way Kakashi hadn't either, despite his seeming distraction. The only oblivious one was Sakura, who seemed comforted by Kakashi's reassurances.

As he walked past a small puddle on the ground, he tensed slightly in preparation. When nothing happened, he kept walking with barely a hitch in his step, confused. When nothing happened to his genin teammates or the client either, he frowned, and turned around just in time to see a pair of masked men rise from the puddle behind his sensei.

Before he could do more than shout out, "Kakashi-sensei!" they had him wrapped in a long spiked chain, arms pressed to his sides, entirely immobile.

"What…?" was all Kakashi seemed able to get out before another voice interrupted him.

"One down…!" one of them growled, before both pulled on the chain, hard.

As Kakashi seemed to be ripped to pieces, Naruto stretched out his senses, and was relieved to feel the spiritual signature of the Hatake appear in the branches of a nearby tree.

"Kyaa!" Sakura screamed girlishly, "Kakashi-sensei!"

Then the two men burst into motion, almost vanishing from sight with their speed, before reappearing behind Naruto. "Two down," they growled, thrusting forward with spiked claws into his gut.

"Naruto!" Sakura screamed again, but before she could even get the word fully out, Naruto's body shivered out of existence. The gauntleted men only had a moment to blink in shock, before a sandaled foot impacted with one of their cheeks. One attacker slammed into the other, and the force of the kick swiftly sent them flying towards the other side of the road as Naruto landed calmly where they had been only a moment before.

As they flew, Sasuke spun two kunai out of his pouch and threw them at the loose chain, pinning it to a nearby tree. Within seconds though, they had recovered their footing and detached the chain from their gauntlets. A mere moment later, they were rushing around Naruto, disregarding Sasuke entirely, aiming for Sakura, and Tazuna, who was standing, shocked, behind her.

Naruto quickly pushed himself forward again, landing on the shoulders on the closest one, slamming his body forward with the force of it. Seconds later, the man's skull was driven into the dirt by a hand with enough force to crater it around the impact area, knocking him unconscious instantly.

The other though, continued to move forward, and just as he got within arm's reach of the pink-haired girl, she snapped out of her shock enough to yell, "Tazuna-san, get back," before pushing him back herself, A second later, Sasuke landed in front of her himself, kunai ready to defend. Before he could though, the second man collapsed like a puppet with cut strings as Kakashi appeared just in time to clothesline him into unconsciousness.

Naruto skidded to a halt in front of his sensei, pulling up just in time to avoid crashing into him. He had immediately rushed to defend Tazuna with the others once he had confirmed that the first one he had taken out was completely unconscious. Behind the tall man, Sakura gaped with relief and joy, thinking 'Kakashi-sensei, you're not dead after all!'

Tazuna sighed in relief too, thinking. 'Whew…I'm saved…'

Sasuke gaped as well for a moment, before reigning in the expression and thinking, 'What a show-off…!'

Naruto, once he came to a standstill, just muttered, "It's about time," to himself quietly.

"Good job, Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura. Sorry I didn't intervene sooner." Kakashi said, walking over to where Naruto had left the unconscious attacker in the small crater. As he lifted the man easily with his free hand, Kakashi looked at Tazuna out of the corner of his eye and said, "And Tazuna-san, I think I need to talk to you…"

About five minutes later found all five of them standing around the now securely tied up figures of their attackers. One of them slowly came back into consciousness as Kakashi spoke. "These guys are chunin level missing-nin of Kirigakure (the Village Hidden in the Mist). They are known to keep fighting no matter what; The Demon Brothers."

"How did you read our movements?" The conscious one managed to growl through his breathing mask as he glared at Kakashi. The one Naruto had taken out still seemed to be completely out of it.

"…On a sunny day like this," Kakashi commented mildly, "when it hasn't rained in over a week, there shouldn't be any puddles."

"If you knew that, then why did you let the brats fight?" Tazuna interjected. When Naruto glared at him, he gulped slightly, remembering how unbelievably fast the boy had moved – he hadn't even seen most of it happen, but he knew the kid had taken one of them down all by himself - and quickly amended his words somewhat, "Not that they didn't do a decent job or anything, but…"

Kakashi was quiet for a moment, but soon replied, "If I had wanted to, I could have killed them instantly, but…there was something I need to know: who they were after."

"What do you mean?" Tazuna said nervously.

"Meaning…" Kakashi said leadingly, "Were they after us…or you." He stared steadily at the increasingly nervous Tazuna as he continued, "Clashes between ninja aren't uncommon, even when their mission don't conflict, but we haven't heard anything about there being ninja after you. Our mission was a C-rank one to simply protect you from bandits or thieves. But they were, indeed, after you. That makes this a least a B-rank mission. While I'm sure you had a reason to lie about the mission ranking, it causes problems when you do something like that. We were only supposed to protect you from minor thugs until you completed your bridge," Kakashi repeated. "By just taking even these guys out, we are now operating beyond our duties."

Sakura gulped nervously as he said that, and immediately said, "We're not ready for a mission like this. Let's just go back…" Even Inner Sakura was nervous, and said, 'If something like this happens again, we'll definitely die…' though of course, only Sakura could hear her.

Kakashi glanced at her, before turning to look at his other two students. "She's technically right, there may be even stronger enemies…we probably should return…"

"No way," Naruto said, interrupting him. 'This is exactly what I've been looking for..,' he thought, 'A way to test myself against someone strong…' "The old man needs protection. If we hadn't have been here, he'd already be dead. I'm not going to just abandon him like this."

Kakashi raised a brow at him, but just turned to Sasuke and asked, "What about you?"

"Hn," the brunette grunted. "I agree…" Sakura looked up hopefully, but her spirits sunk as he continued, "…with Naruto. I want to continue the mission."

"Hmmm…unfortunately, it's not really up to you, so…" Kakashi hummed thoughtfully, but before he could finish, Tazuna interrupted him.

"Wait, sensei," the man interjected, "I need to talk to you about this mission." When Kakashi turned to him, he continued, "You are right when you say that this mission is probably completely outside your duties. You see, a super dangerous man is after my life. "

"A 'super dangerous man'?" Kakashi replied, "Who?"

"You've probably at least heard his name before. He's a wealthy shipping magnate named Gato."

"Gato? You mean from that Gato company? He's said to be one of the richest men in the world…"

"Yes, that Gato. Officially, he runs a large shipping company, but in reality he secretly sells drugs and smuggles illegal items into countries by taking over other business and small, unprotected lands… Lands like Nami no Kuni. He's a super nasty man." Taking a deep breath, the old man continued, "He set his eyes on Nami about a year ago, and through bribes and violence, he quickly took control of my country's shipping industry and now has a monopoly over all the business traffic in and out of the country. The only thing he has to fear now is the completion of my bridge."

"And so, since you are the one building it, he wants to eliminate you…" Sakura said, her nervousness slowly disappearing as she focused on something else.

"And those ninja were hired by Gato…?" Sasuke murmured.

"What I still don't understand," Kakashi interrupted, "is why, if you knew all this, you didn't apply for a higher level mission…"

"…Nami no Kuni is super poor now, because of Gato. Even the Daimyo doesn't have much money. Of course, we common people have even less. There's no way we could afford it…" Tazuna said. Kakashi nodded slowly in understanding as the man continued dramatically, "And, if you quit the mission now, I'll definitely be killed. But… there's no need to worry!" He smiled widely, and very fakely. "If I die my cute ten-year-old grandson will just cry for a few days…and my daughter will live a sad life, hating Konoha forever…but it won't be your fault…not at all…" He turned away then, as if to regain his composure.

Kakashi flinched slightly, as he felt the accusing glares of his cute genin piercing his back. "All right, then…"He finally said, "We'll at least guard you until you get back to your country…"

Out of sight of the ninja, Tazuna's sad face immediately disappeared.

'I win.'

.-.

Two Days Later…

"What a thick mist," Sakura murmured quietly, straining to see something beyond the small boat they were currently floating in.

The boat man, standing in the back of the boat and steering it with a long pole said, "We should see the bridge soon," in reply, just as quietly. "Nami no Kuni will be at its base."

It had been around two days since their encounter with the Demon Brothers, and they were just reaching Nami no Kuni now. There hadn't been any attacks since then, but the entire party was tense, just waiting for something to happen.

"That…is a huge bridge…" Naruto said quietly a moment later, gaping up at the monolithic structure in the distance.

Silently, the rest of the boat agreed, but didn't say anything in reply, wary of alerting anyone to their presence.

Soon enough, just as the boatman had said, the shore slowly swam into sight between the layers of mist. It was guarded by not only the half built bridge, but also a series of levees that likely protected the settlement on the shore during bad storms. As the boat made its way under one of them, the boatman leaned closer to Tazuna to say, "It seems like we've avoided detection so far, but, just in case, I'll take a route that has a lot of vegetation. It'll make it harder for any enemies to spot us."

"Thanks," the bridge builder said in reply, sure to keep his voice low as well.

It didn't take long for the man to weave the craft through the weeds and water bound trees to reach a small, out of the way dock. As the small group unloaded themselves from the boat, he said, "This is as far as I go," he gulped slightly, looking around warily, before giving Tazuna a respectful nod. "Goodbye, and good luck."

"Yeah," Tazuna gave him a small smile back, "And thanks a lot."

Moments later, the man had once again pushed the boat away from the dock and into the concealing mist. He quickly disappeared from sight, and they all turned to begin walking further inland. "Okay then," Tazuna said, "Get me home safely."

"Yes, yes…" Kakashi replied absently as the genin moved forward ahead of him. His face was mostly blank, but he was thinking hard on what obstacles may be ahead. 'It won't be more chunin when we're next attacked. After the first failed, it will most likely be a jounin, like me…'

.-.

A couple of hours later, they were nearing Tazuna's house, and they were all getting very tense. They knew that if they were going to be attacked it would be very soon. Naruto kept all of his senses open, and immediately felt it when a source of reiryoku appeared in a nearby crowding of shrubbery. He immediately snatched a pair of shuriken from his pouch and flung them into the bushes with a deft flick of his wrist.

His companions jumped at the sudden attack and turned to watch as he spread the branches around where he had chucked the weapons. But he just frowned as all he saw was a terrified rabbit the place where had sensed a person. Picking the animal up by the scruff of its neck, he withdrew from the bush as he spread his senses out once again.

"A bunny!" Sakura exclaimed, seeing what he was holding. "Naruto! What did you do to it!" she yelled, snatching the animal from him in order to comfort it.

Naruto just sighed at her reaction and said, "That's a snow rabbit. It's the middle of summer right now though, it shouldn't be brown."

Kakashi looked at it himself, before warily glancing around as he finished Naruto thought for him, "The only way it could be that color at this time of year is if it were raised in captivity, likely for a sophisticated kawarimi technique."

They had the simultaneous thought as they exchanged a glance, 'They're already here.'

Naruto narrowed his eyes as two signatures appeared in the area nearby. A moment later, Kakashi's eye widened as heard something approaching rapidly, spinning swiftly through the air towards them. "Get down!" he shouted, dragging Tazuna to the ground with him his he rapidly ducked. The genin hit the dirt only seconds behind him, just in time to avoid the giant spinning sword that cut through the air above their heads.

They raised their eyes just in time to see the immense sword cut half way into a tree above them, as well as the man who landed on it. He perched on the handle, and then stood to stare menacingly down at Team 7 and their client as they rose to their feet.

He was tall, even from where they stood below him they could tell that. He wasn't wearing a shirt, just a pair of camouflage shinobi pants and leg and arm warmers. He also had bandages wrapped around his lower face like some kind of mask, a slashed Kirigakure hitai-ate tied lopsidedly around his head, and strangely enough, nearly no eyebrows what so ever.

'This guy is…' Kakashi thought in slight shock as he stared up at him.

Behind the jounin, Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura rose to their feet as well, the later also helping their client to stand. The former two just examined their newest opponent as well, though lacking the recognition that Kakashi felt when he saw him. Naruto was honestly more focused on the sword the man was standing on – which he did recognize - and Sasuke just saw another opponent to measure himself against.

"Maa…" Kakashi sighed, leaning back to stare more casually up at their attacker, "If it isn't the Hidden Mist's Momochi Zabuza-kun…" Then he glanced briefly back at his genin and their client before refocusing on the opponent, "You all get back. This isn't an ordinary opponent." He raised his hand to his headband and moved to raise it from his, until now, hidden eye. "In fact, it might be difficult unless I do this…"

"…Sharingan Kakashi…" Momochi finally spoke up, "Sorry, but that old man is mine."

'Sharingan!?" Sasuke thought in shock, eyes pulled almost magnetically to their sensei, while Tazuna and Sakura blinked confusion and fright. Naruto and Kakashi managed to keep their attention on the enemy.

"…Protect Tazuna, manji formation." Kakashi said as he finally raised his hitai-ate completely. "That's all the teamwork you'll need here."

"Zabuza, first, you'll have to fight me," Kakashi declared, but everyone's attention was on the eye he had just revealed. Three coma-like marks spun steadily in the red iris of the eye, orbiting the dark pupil hypnotically as the jounin stared with half-lidded eyes up at the missing-nin.

"Ah," the rouge ninja said as he glared down at them, "So, I get to see the famous sharingan already…" He huffed in amusement, "I'm honored."

"Sharingan..?" Sakura asked quietly, confused.

"The sharingan…" Sasuke murmured, "The eye that is said to give one the ability to defeat any type of nin, gen, or taijutsu. It is one of the most powerful doujutsu (Eye techniques) in the world, but that's not the limit of its power," the boy finished, loudly enough that they could all hear him.

"Exactly," Momochi finished for him, "What's even scarier is that that eye allows you to copy an enemy's techniques once you see them use them with it. When I was a member of Kirigakure, we kept bingo books that had your name in them, Hatake Kakashi. Sharingan Kakashi: the man who is said to have copied over a thousand jutsu – the Copy Nin."

While Sakura was being surprised by how famous Kakashi apparently was, Sasuke was just confused and incredulous. '…What's going on here…?' he thought, 'The sharingan is a kekkai genkai (bloodline limit) that only appears in elite members of the Uchiha clan… How is it possible, that he has it…?' Naruto himself was completely silent, and seemed distracted by something.

Kakashi just remained still, choosing not give a response. The others' attention was also once more focused on the situation as Momochi crouched down on his sword and said, "Now, let's put an end to all this talking," he declared. "It's time for me to kill that old man." As the three genin fell back into a protection formation and Kakashi stepped forward, he continued, "But it seems that I'll have to defeat you first, Kakashi."

.-.

While the others in his group hand focused on the enemy before their eyes, more than likely unable to sense the other person that had shown up at the same time as Zabuza, Naruto had focused completely on trying to precisely locate them. Eventually he pinpointed the individual; he or she was crouched in a tree about fifty meters from the one Zabuza had chosen to land in. When they still didn't do anything but watch even when Zabuza flung himself from his perch atop his sword and appeared on the nearby pond with the immense blade on his back, and then proceeded to use the Kirigakure no jutsu (Hidden in the Mist technique) to envelop their senses in a thick mist, Naruto made the decision to focus on the immediate threat instead, though he tried to keep a small portion of his attention on where the other person was in case of a sneak attack.

"He's gone!" Sakura cried in surprise, when less than a second after initiating his technique, Zabuza completely disappeared into the mist he had created.

"He'll come after me first," Kakashi briefly attempted to reassure them, before beginning to relate everything he could about Zabuza while he still could. "As a member of the Hidden Mist, he was known as an expert in silent assassination. You won't even notice im before you're already dead. Be careful; it's not like I can use this sharingan perfectly, after all." It wasn't very heartening, honestly, and likely had the opposite of the intended effect.

While Sakura and Sasuke tensed in agitation at his words, Naruto kept as calm as he could, and focused on tracking Zabuza's spiritual presence as he moved silently through the mist around them. When he was unable to locate his presence precisely, he finally turned to the consciousness of his blade, which had been on high alert in his mind since they had first sensed the brief presence in the bushes only minutes earlier.

'Can you find him?' he asked, still making his own attempts as he did.

'Yes.' The zanpakuto responded. 'Do you want my assistance this time? He asked, unruffled, but curious.

'Yeah; this isn't an opponent that I can fight while holding back as much as I have been…' He trailed off.

'Very well then.' Mugetsu said, 'I will be here if you need to call upon me…' then Mugetsu himself trailed off as well, and carefully linked his senses with those of his wielder.

Naruto hummed inwardly with satisfaction as his eyes narrowed on his immediate surroundings in a mixture of anticipation and nerves. His senses expanded further and clearer with the addition of those of the sword and the main focus of his attention immediately narrowed in on Zabuza as he finally placed his position in the mist. Speaking of which…"It's getting thicker," Naruto murmured quietly aloud, as said fog curled tighter around them in thick, opaque wisps.

Then Zabuza's voice growled out of the air around them, seeming to come from everywhere at once, "Eight points:…"

"Huh? What?!" Sakura uttered sharply, confused and scared as the voice continued.

"…the liver, lungs, spine, clavicle vein, jugular vein, brain, kidneys, and heart…" Zabuza's voice drawled menacingly out of the fog. "I wonder…which vital point should I go after…?" He almost sounded like he was about to break into cruel laughter; very much like he was enjoying toying with their fear immensely.

He punctuated his last words with a strong burst of killing intent, startling Kakashi, and paralyzing most of the genin, as well as the client, with fear. Naruto scoffed slightly inwardly, having felt worse from the Kyuubi the few times he had encountered him before most of his power was stripped away; and Mugetsu himself was much scarier when he got even slightly serious. He then watched out the corner of his eyes as Sasuke and Sakura were frozen in place just as firmly as Tazuna was.

Even as he tracked Zabuza through the fog, the blond watched nervously as Sasuke slowly raised his kunai in the direction of his own throat. He was actually about to say something, when Kakashi beat him to it, "Sasuke." Just by saying his name in such an uncharacteristically stern voice, the jounin immediately caught not just the brunet's attention, but the rest of theirs as well. "Don't worry," the man said strongly, "I'll protect all of you, even at the cost of my life." He tilted his head around far enough that they could see most of his face and eye-smiled at them, clearly grinning even though the bottom half of his face was completely covered by his mask. "I don't let my comrades die." He declared.

"We'll see about that..!" Zabuza's voice echoed through the air again in response.

'Fast..!' was all Naruto could think. Before Kakashi has spoken, Zabuza had been slowly circling them in the mist. His sensei's words must provoked him though – and he only had a split second to wonder if that was Kakashi's intention in the first place, before he felt a spike of energy from the man before a small portion of it split off and appeared with a swirl of mist right in the middle of the three genin's formation. 'A clone…but what kind..?'

As he'd felt the clone shunshin-ing towards them, Naruto's hand immediately went for his sword. By the time it had arrived, dramatically crouched between them with its copy of the missing-nin's blade held ready, Naruto's blade was fully out of its sheath and, in less than a second, buried in the clone's gut before it even had a chance to move or speak. Water dripped from the wound.

Kakashi must have seen or detected Zabuza's actions as well, because he was already moving, and before the water clone could dispel it also had a kunai buried in its chest as well. Then another Zabuza was behind Kakashi, even as the clone collapsed into a puddle of water, oversized sword ready to slice through the Konoha jounin. Sasuke, who had quickly come back to himself in the sudden rush of action, only had time to call out a useless warning – "Behind you!" – before the blade swung and sliced his sensei in half.

There was a brief moment of shock, and Sakura screamed, before 'Kakashi' also collapsed into a stream of water.

'No way…' was all Zabuza could think, stunned, 'Mizu Bunshin (Water Clone)? He copied it, even in this mist..?'

Then the same kunai that had stabbed into his first clone, still dripping water, met his throat. "Don't move!" The command came from behind him, where Kakashi now stood. "It's over."

"Wow…" Sakura murmured, awed.

Sasuke remained silent, still shocked at how fast everything had happened, and Naruto lowered his blade from where it had thrust into the stomach of the clone, eyes keenly locked on the confrontation before him as his enhanced senses stretched through the area around him.

Zabuza's eyes lost their shock and grew serious at the threat, though his eyes quickly flicked over the young boy that had just got a killing blow in on his previous clone before Kakashi had even got there. "Heheh…" he chuckled harshly, sarcasm coating his voice, "It's over…? You don't get it, Kakashi. There's no way you could defeat me with those monkey-like imitations."

Kakashi's eyes narrowed in on him as he spoke, his instincts telling him that something wasn't right with this. He was speaking far too calmly for having a knife to his throat. Naruto, as he watched on, ground his teeth in frustration, 'They're just far enough away that I won't be able to do anything quickly enough! Can't you see it yourself, Kakashi-sensei? That's just another –'

But before he could even finish the thought, Zabuza spoke again, "Heh, but that was rather impressive of you," He commented almost idly, as Kakashi allowed him to stand straight instead of keeping in a crouch. "When you spoke then, you had already copied my Mizu Bunshin no Jutsu (Water Clone Technique)."

- I don't let my comrades die. –

"You had your clone say those words," the rogue nin continued, "To attract my attention, to provoke me, while the real you stayed hidden in the mist and watched. Nice," he mockingly complimented, "But…

Naruto's eyes widened as he said that. 'I didn't even notice when Kakashi did that…' he thought.

'You need to work more on evenly splitting your attention. You have to pay as much attention to your allies as you do to your opponents, Naruto.' Mugetsu reprimanded lightly.

'Yeah…' Naruto murmured back silently, most of his attention preoccupied with locating the real Zabuza again. He'd lost him in the confusion, but he could tell that the one before him was merely another clone. It had no soul. 'There..!' he finally thought triumphantly, 'But wait, he's…' Zabuza's real body was rapidly closing in on Kakashi, and before Naruto could get out a word of warning, the missing-nin was behind the jounin again – and this time, the Kakashi before him wasn't a clone.

"…I'm also not that easy." Zabuza growled lowly.

Kakashi cut into the neck of the clone before him, immediately dispersing it into water, and ducked, crouching low to the ground as the cleaver-like sword flew dangerously close to his head above him. The blade passed over him in a swift rush of force, its motion carrying it past its target and around to dig into the ground behind its wielder. Zabuza gripped the but of the long handle of his weapon with a free hand, and utilized the momentum of his own swing to increase the force of the harsh kick he landed a moment later on Kakashi's side.

As Kakashi was flung towards the pond, Zabuza thought, 'Now!' and turned towards his now mostly undefended target. He was halted in his motion by the twisted scraps of metal that now littered the ground around him. 'Makibishi (Caltrops)?' he thought incredulously. But in the brief moment he was delayed, Tazuna was once again blocked from him by the blonde genin that had wounded his clone earlier. He growled inwardly, and thought, turning his attention towards the jounin that was now surfacing in the water, 'I have to deal with him first.' As he disappeared in a swift shunshin, he muttered to himself, "Foolish." It was impossible to tell if he were reprimanding himself, or the man he had just flung into the water.

As Kakashi surfaced in the water, he was struggling far more than he should have been. 'What…' he thought, 'is this? The water is…heavy…'

"Idiot." The condemnation came from behind him, where Zabuza was now standing on the water, as he flipped through a short series of hand seals. As Kakashi's eyes widened in shock, the missing-nin thought to himself, 'Suirou no Jutsu (Water Prison Technique.'

"Trying escape to the water…" he said, as Kakashi was enveloped in a spherical, layered cage of water, controlled by his right hand. "Big mistake; now I have you in an inescapable prison!" As Zabuza looked at him, his eyes narrowed dangerously, confident now of his victory. "It makes things so much easier for me if you can't move, you know. But we'll finish this later, Kakashi," He raised his free hand into a one handed ram sign, and continued, "But first, I'll take care of them."

As he spoke two water clones erupted from the water in between the two men and the shoreline, and quickly took the only step needed to have their feet on solid ground. "Heh," one of them scoffed, his voice exactly like the original's, "Wearing those headbands, prancing around, acting like ninja…A real ninja is someone who has survived countless brushes with death." It said scornfully. "You kiddies can't be considered 'shinobi'."

Naruto blinked at them blankly for a short moment, as all the things had done with Mugetsu over the past few years – the memories of the day of his birth (case in point: The Shinigami was there), the ghosts he has met, the times that he nearly died trying to learn how to utilize Mugetsu's power properly – flew through his mind. 'Really,' he thought. 'I have the weapon of a Shinigami - a messenger of death - in my hand right now…and he thinks he can talk to me about brushes with it? Really?'

When the other clone continued, going on about bingo books, and being a real ninja, Naruto finally couldn't help himself. He laughed. He laughed loud and long, as his teammates stared at him like he was completely out of his mind, his sensei like he desperately wished he could get out of his prison in order to shut him up before he really pissed off his opponent, and Zabuza, in a bewildered, angered kind of shock.

As his mirth finally subsided, the boy took a deep breath, as seriousness swept over his face. "You," he said then, as calmly as if they'd just met on a street, "you really…" he chuckled again, "well, even if I did explain it to you, you probably wouldn't get it, and if you did, you probably wouldn't believe me…" he trailed off, shaking his head again. His sword, already drawn, settled into a ready position before him. "Regardless though, it's going to take more than a couple of clones for you to get rid of me."

"That's some arrogance," one of the clones smirked, "But do you really stand a chance?"

"Naruto!" Kakashi called from his prison, "What do you think you're doing?! You guys need to get out of here! Run! As long as he's keeping me trapped here, he won't be able to move! The clones won't be able to follow you too far – they can't go too far from his real body! You need to focus on the mission! Your duty is to protect the client!"

Naruto paused at that. As much as he wanted to fight right now, everything Kakashi had just said was true. He turned to where Tazuna and his teammates now stood, having long since regained their feet after having been blown all over the place by Kakashi and Zabuza's brief skirmish. His eyes glanced over Sasuke and Sakura before landing on Tazuna, where he stood behind them, "Old man…" he said, an unspoken question in his voice.

"Well," The bridge builder said, a strange smile spreading across his face, half hidden by his mustache, "I planted this seed myself; I'm not going to say that I want to live so much now that I'd stop you. I'm sorry. Fight as much as you want."

"Pft," Sasuke smirked, turning to glance at Naruto, "You hear that?"

"Yeah," Naruto grinned back, and turning to face Zabuza's clones again, continued, "You ready for this?"

"Hah…" the closest clone let out a short, dark burst of laughter, "Hahaha…you kids will never grow up, huh? You going to keep playing ninja like that?

"What was that?" Naruto burst out angrily.

"When was about your age," the real man finally growled, free hand outstretched, eyes wide with bloodlust as his killing intent dropped down on the genin again, "These hands were already dyed red with blood."

Eyes wide, the genin stared as Kakashi finally spoke up again, his words reaching them too despite the distance and his quiet tone, "The devil…Zabuza…"

"Ah," the missing-nin said with edged lightness, "So you've heard a little about it then."

"Long ago," Kakashi said louder, hair waving in the water around him as he spoke, "In Kirigakure (The Village Hidden in the Mist), also called the Bloody Mist, there was a final obstacle to becoming a ninja."

"Hmm…" Zabuza hummed thoughtfully, looking down at the trapped man, "You already know about that graduation exam." He stated.

"Graduation exam?" Naruto repeated, "What graduation exam?"

As Zabuza just laughed, all three genin and their client just got more nervous. Then he looked up at them and said calmly, "Fights to the death between the students." As their eyes widened in shock and horror, the man continued relentlessly. "Friends who had trained and eaten at the same table, friends who had helped each other and shared dreams with each other, pitted against each other to go at it until one of them loses their life." He elaborated cruelly.

"…Terrible," Sakura murmured.

"Ten years ago, Kirigakure's graduation exam was forced to change." Kakashi interrupted, "This change came when the previous year, a devil appeared."

"Change?" Sakura asked, eyes wide, as Zabuza remained silent, "What change? What did this 'devil' do?"

"Without pause…or hesitation…" Kakashi reluctantly continued, "A young boy – not even a ninja – killed over a hundred of the students." He looked at Zabuza as he finished, and it was obvious that the 'young boy', was Zabuza himself.

"That…" Zabuza finally spoke, "sure was…" His eyes curled up in recalled pleasure, a vicious grin visibly stretching his mouth behind the bandages that covered it. He drawled it out slowly, reveling in the renewed fear of the genin before him, "…fun."

And that was when his clones attacked, taking the opening caused by his words as an opportunity. They both charged forward, heading towards the one who had challenged them first – Naruto. Splitting to come at him from two sides, they reached him in only a few seconds, barely giving him time to react, swords raised to get rid of the second biggest threat after Kakashi quickly – or so they thought. Because of Mugetsu, Naruto's specialty was speed, and those seconds were long enough.

Even if they were on his position in seconds, by the time they got there he had already disappeared, and as they went to strike at his already empty spot and stopped, confused, he reappeared behind them. Then Naruto moved, swinging his blade into a lethal arc too quickly for them to respond effectively. In the blink of an eye, both clones were bisected at the waist. A moment later, they collapsed into a pair of useless puddles before him.

"Hey, you eyebrow-less freak," the blond boy said into the stunned silence that came in the aftermath of his slaughter of the two clones, "I don't care what you have to say about being a ninja, or the blood that's on your hands, and not on mine – I don't care about any of it." He turned to face the stunned, angered face of the Demon of the Mist and said, "Put this in your damn bingo book," He raised his sword and pointed it at the rogue ninja, "I'm Uzumaki Naruto, future Hokage of Konohagakure, and I won't die here."

As they all looked at him in surprise and slight awe, he turned slightly back to bring his teammates into his line of sight and said, "Sasuke, listen up. I've got a plan."

Said boy looked at him and thought, 'A plan, in this situation…well, whatever,' and smirked, "Teamwork, from you?" he snarked.

Naruto just smirked back and threw his pack to him. Sasuke caught it instinctively and looked up at him again when the blond said, "Be ready, this is going to go fast."

"Don't get ahead of yourself, you damn brat," Zabuza said, twisting his free hand into another one handed seal. Four clones erupted from the water simultaneously, and once more stepped onto land.

"I'm not," the boy grinned, and charged forward, sword held out to his side.

Behind him, Sasuke quickly dug through the pack and found what Naruto had wanted him to find. 'I see, so that's the plan…' He quickly with drew a large, folded fuma shuriken and dropped the pack to the ground. 'Good thinking, Naruto.'

As Sasuke discovered the shuriken, Naruto had met the clones. Ducking and weaving through the rapid swings of the four swords, he thought, 'I see…He can only swing it in a few different ways, since it's so big – it's probably the speed he does it at that gets most of his opponents…' He leaned out of the way of a downward slash, and deflected another that tried slashing at his side from another clone. 'His strength is no joke either, even if these are just clones, but…' He took another step forward, and sped up once again, reiatsu pulsing around him, though only he could feel it, 'It's not enough, even if there are four of them.'

He finally swung his own sword, and a clone shattered into water around his blade. Then another fell, then another, until there was only one clone between him and the water.

Behind him, Sasuke spun the giant shuriken before him, the four dark blades of the weapon gleaming as he held it out. He leapt into the air then, and flipped in midair to give it more momentum before hurling it forward, and over the last clone – a clone that burst into water as Naruto sliced the arm off of the water construct as he blew past it.

The water was right in front of him, but Naruto didn't even hesitate, and just kept running, not on the water, the way Zabuza was, but on the air just over it, hidden in the shadow of the shuriken as it spun straight towards the real Zabuza, who was still holding Kakashi imprisoned in the Suirou (Water Prison) on the water.

"A shuriken won't do anything, even if you're aiming at the real me!" Zabuza exclaimed, and snatched the weapon out the air before it could do anything to him. For a split second it seemed as if the attack had failed, but Naruto was already there. Skidding on the air above the water, he didn't cause even a ripple of disturbance on the water's surface as his blade swung at the man that controlled the water prison, and met flesh.

Blood spurted into the air, and the water prison shattered as Zabuza just barely moved his limb in time to stop it from being completely removed from his body.

Naruto continued his skid across the air, out of reach of the missing-nin even as he finally lost his balance from the awkward swing, and fell to one knee on the seemingly solid layer of thin air between himself and the water. His bloody sword helped keep him steady as he slid to a halt.

Blood dripping from his now severely injured arm, Zabuza snarled with maddened anger as he turned towards the child that had just injured him, spinning the shuriken in his other hand. 'This…damn brat,' he snarled to himself, and he swung his arm forward, ready to release the shuriken on the unprepared blond kneeling on the air above the water less than ten yards from him. 'And how is he doing that, the little – '

But before he could even release it though, blood once more spurted into the air as a gloved fist stopped the windmill shuriken in its tracks.

"Nice job, Naruto, and Sasuke too." Kakashi complimented, staring into the angry eyes of the man he was blocking. "You guys have really begun to grow up."

Naruto looked up, and seeing Kakashi blocking Zabuza from attacking him, grinned sheepishly. "Thanks."

"Heh," Zabuza grunted, relenting on the pressure he had been putting on the now halted shuriken in his anger as his forcibly suppressed it. "I guess I got distracted and released the jutsu," he attempted to brush it off.

"No," Kakashi wasn't about to let him to that, and let his eyes flicker down to the gushing wound in the other man's dangling arm. "You were forced to release it."

Zabuza finally pulled away and discarded the shuriken as a vein of anger pulsed in his temple. "Bah." He quickly put some distance between them, as Kakashi's sharingan eye began to spin.

"I'll tell you now…" Kakashi continued, lowering his fist.

"…I won't fall for the same technique twice."


Author's Note


And…I think I'll leave it off there.

A lot went on this chapter, and I really hope you like it. I've been working on it for a while – and then I finally realized that I was well past nine thousand words (In fact, this is my longest chapter in this story to date) on it, and should probably leave the rest of the fight for the next chapter. Now, as I finally have the rest of the Wave Arc fully planned out, hopefully the next chapter will be out much sooner than this one was.

But, I also have my semester finals in college, as well as a lot of holiday stuff going on in the next month or so, so it might not happen 'till December. If so, I can only hope that you guys will continue to be patient.

~ Aljan Moonfire