Chapter 5: Shiro Mori (White Forest)

A/N: Just in case you don't pay attention to Author Notes at the end of the chapter...

Someone please adopt this fic!

Breakfast was a quiet affair, and somewhat painful from Kakashi's viewpoint. Still, it had been good to see everyone fine, gods know how many assassinations happened while the victims were asleep in the safety of their own homes. Kakashi had done several of them himself. Tsunami was a very capable housewife however, apparent by the fact that despite their meager food supplies, she was able to whip up a hearty, fulfilling breakfast.

There was of course a boy a kid named Inari, who kind of made things depressing more than quiet, but Kakashi could deal with it. Same thing couldn't be said about Naruto, who reacted somewhat weird.

"Why are you trying anyway? You're all gonna die. Gatou's already won." Spat the little boy while glaring at Naruto and Sasuke, the two discussing various jutsu and how to combine their arsenal.

"Well, Iruka-sensei said that you only loose when you give up.'Sides, I haven't survived so far in Konoha by being easy to kill, neither's Sasuke or Kakashi-sensei. Sakura-chan has a bit of work ahead of her, but I don't think she's just going to lay down and die."

"Oh yeah, and who's that Iruka-sensei guy huh? I bet he's just another looser!"

Oooh... shitpiss... Kakashi and the rest of the team thought while Naruto seemed to simply... loose emotion.

For an emotionless glare, there were few things that could rival it in hostility or creepiness.

"Listen here, brat." Naruto spat venomously, making Sakura shiver, remembering the last time he spoke like that. "If you ever disrespect Iruka-sensei in front of me, I'm going to rip out your guts, tie them around your throat and hang you from the ceiling, got it? And if you ever even imply anything bad about my friends, I'll make death seem like the sweetest release possible. Go die in a ditch, looser, death's already better than life, isn't that why you're thinking? So why don't you do us all a favour and slit your wrists you damn crybaby."

Ignoring the shocked look from his team, though Kakashi also had an underline of sadness and Sasuke one of vindication, Naruto stormed out of the house. He only stopped at the door to look back and tell them he was going to look for a good place to train. Then he was gone.

"W-Whatever! He just made it up! Doesn't like that someone's actually suffered while he had his family coddling hi-" Further talk from the boy was halted violently when Sasuke leapt at him, brought him to the ground and stopped his kunai less than an inch from the boy's right eye.

"Made up? Coddled?" Sasuke spat out venomously. One thing he shared in common with the blonde was that they had both suffered, they had both known loss. "You pathetic little weakling, what do you think you know of pain? Of suffering? Of sorrow? Of LONELINESS?" Sasuke was shaking now, his eyes red with fury. Suddenly he pulled back. "You are not even worth killing. At least you have your mother and your grandfather. I lost my entire clan in one night to my own brother and Naruto… He never had anyone to begin with, instead he had to shoulder glares and insults from the entire village. I'm following the dobe, I'll make sure he's alright."

"Wait, Sasuke-kun!" Sakura made to follow her crush, but Kakashi quickly held her back. "Kakashi-sensei! I have to go to Sasuke-kun!"

"And do what? He needs time to calm down now. We'll get to them soon enough. Both of these boys... they have suffered far more than they should have, only war victims can say they have felt more pain. To handle all that pain as well as they have until now, they are much stronger than any of you here may think." Kakashi finished calmly, giving a very sharp look at both the boy and his female student. "Anyway, Sakura, go fetch my med-kit from my bag. I'm going to show you a few tricks for field medics. Most of that stuff isn't in books, its things you learn by experience, might as well get you as much as we can."

Sasuke found Naruto only a few minutes walk away from Tazuna's home. The blonde was furiously punching a tree. Impressively enough, he had already made a dent into the wood.

"Life's not fair you know." Sasuke began, nonchalantly though internally he was just as angry as his team mate. He could just control it better.

"I know. I've known since I was little. Why did other children have parents? Why did they laugh? Why did they have toys? Why did they have food and clothes?" Naruto stopped punching the tree, instead preferring to lie back against it. "I've known it but that doesn't mean I like it. Instead, I get that damn brat thinking he's got it the worst... hell, I'm sure someone has had it worse than the both of us combined! How could that damn brat just give up so easily?"

"He just reminds you of yourself right?" Sasuke smirked against the glare then his eyes softened as he took a seat next to Naruto on the same tree. "Same with me. Sometimes, you just can't help but wonder, 'why did I get up this morning', 'why am I even alive', 'why don't I just give up'... Giving up seems so easy some times, doesn't it? Just lay down and stop breathing, no more pain, no more worries, just silence, darkness and peace..."

"But we're not meant for peace, is that what you say? Some part of us just likes going up against all that, what are we, masochists?"

"That, or we've already gone off the deep end, trapped inside a dream within a dream. Or maybe, just maybe, we are simply stronger. What do you think?"

"I'll take answer number two with a little bit of number one. Then again, can you imagine any sane gennin fight a jounin like we have? Pshh, we could make psychologists need psychiatrists. That's how messed up we are."

"It's not us, it's the world that's messed up!" Cried out Sasuke suddenly, throwing his arms in the air comically.

Both gennin broke down laughing hysterically after that. Yeah, neither of them was exactly 'sane' or even near it.

An hour later, enough time for the both to calm down by Kakashi's reasoning, the two were found deep in a taijutsu match. Naruto was the first to speak, though Sasuke's eyes held the exact same words his team mate spoke, "Oi, what the hell took you so long? Don't tell me there's something secret going between you two?" The slight wiggling of his eyebrows made the 'secret' quite clear and both male gennin enjoyed Kakashi's gagging reactions (he wasn't a pedophile, for crying out loud) and Sakura's screeches of denial.

"Alright, if you feel well enough to joke, then you're good enough to train. It's a good thing we have a forest here too. You see, Zabuza is probably still alive; Hunter-nin dispose of their target's body where it falls and senbon are weapons that rarely kill, even if it had been poisoned it would have taken time to affect someone like Zabuza no matter how potent the toxin. If that's the case, next time, we stand against not only Zabuza, but his accomplice as well. I can handle Zabuza himself, but you'd have to take care of that fake ninja. And knowing that Zabuza wouldn't cooperate with a weakling, he's bound to be good. Even together you probably wouldn't be enough. Or at least not without one of you dieing." He amended, remembering how good their teamwork really was. "So, the only way to win is by me power-training you into a few tricks that may save your lives long enough for me to win and come to you."

"I'm sure that the other ninja is probably strong, but he can't be that good, can he Kakashi-sensei?" Asked Sasuke, quite upset that his skill was being called into question.

"I didn't even sense his presence, Sasuke. That makes him an expert in assassination. If he's Zabuza's accomplice, that also means he's good at striking from cover, so even Naruto's Konohagakure wouldn't be as useful. Your only chance is for me to eliminate his concealment and hope his direct combat skills are not better than his silent killing method. Now, here's the first real piece of training you're going to receive. I'd be surprised if you finish it in less than a week, but even if you do, you will continue training it, it's very important and useful. Now watch carefully." And with that, Kakashi walked, or limped, towards a nearby tree and... began walking straight up!

"H-H-How? That's impossible!" Cried out Sakura, rather loudly. Stealth wasn't her forte.

"With chakra, duh." Deadpanned Naruto. "I mean, we can throw fireballs and stuff, Kakashi-sensei and Zabuza fought on water, is walking vertically so hard to grasp?"

"Obviously, he seems to be channeling a small amount of chakra to the soles of his feet. I saw the grass move a bit but not too much. Am I correct, sensei?" Sasuke kept up the observations; he was good with that.

"But, but the books and the teachers hadn't said anything about walking on trees!" She kept on her denials.

"Because, if the had, all of us would have tried and gotten injured. Also, can't have ninja training techniques just lieing around pointlessly, even the basics can be used by the enemy, did you already forget what Hunter-nin are all about, Sakura?" Naruto sighed deeply. He had liked her for a long, long time, even now he felt something for her. However, the more he got to know her, the less he liked her, or at least that way. She was far too unbending, adhered to the rules far too much. Her imagination was about as interesting as a salted slug and, for all her smarts, she really didn't think that fast, only complicated. In short; they were too different for him to continue to go after her. Not to mention she insulted his plants!

The fact that Naruto might have sneaked into the women's onsen a few days before being sorted into teams and saw the other girls, might have also helped his decision. Big might.

"Well, my dear cute genin, what are you waiting for? Try it out for yourselves!" Kakashi urged his students. It would be fun to see them fall and realize that it really wasn't as easy as it looked when you don't know how it works.

That did not happen. While Sakura held back, likely expecting instructions from her teacher, the boys didn't wait. They each took out a kunai and glanced at each other, the message in their eyes clear; 'First up wins-challenge accepted!' Then they gathered their chakra to their feet and charged. Each took several steps up the tree when the bark under Naruto exploded outwards while Sasuke's foot slipped. Both of them, in a creepily identical way, leapt back and away, tumbled through the air and landed on their feet.

Kakashi was impressed. They hadn't managed to go up, nobody did it the first time, but they had gone up further than he had expected. "Yes, it's that simple. Channel a small amount of chakra to your feet and maintain it. As you saw, too little and you slip, too much and it blows up. Sakura, how about you try it?"

The pinkette looked somewhat indecisive but believing that a perceived shrug by her crush meant 'Go Sakura! Conquer this and prove your love to me!' she nodded determinedly and walked forward. Having a rough idea of how much chakra was needed, having seen her entire team succeed and fail at the endeavour, she gathered what she thought should be about enough and placed one foot on the tree. After making sure it was stuck well, she lifted the other and placed it on the bark. She adjusted the levels a bit, getting a feel for when she had too little or too much and soon she had it down pat. It was tiring her, of course, it had to be a high-level training after all, but she managed to climb up the tree on her first try.

'Well, I'll be, she actually managed it on her first try. Doesn't surprise me really,her chakra levels are so low she has control to rival me. Compared to the boys however, she's not even a drop in an ocean.' Then he noticed the way Naruto looked at Sakura. 'That look, why don't I like that look? That's a bad, bad look!'

"It sticks." Naruto said, next to Sasuke. "Her legs stick like glue."

"Well, duh, idiot, that's what we're doing. Kakashi did it too, remember?" The Uchiha snarked. Internally he was curious though. It was that look Naruto had every time he came up with a new, insane, idea. "Why, what's on your mind?"

"Chakra is adhesive? But... what if..." And Naruto kneeled in front of Sasuke to a large pile of leaves. He made a single half-ram seal and stuck the same hand's pointer and middle finger inside. When he pulled it out, a leaf had been stuck. There was another leaf stuck to the first one, and a third, a fourth and several more, making a chain.

"No. Way." Muttered Sasuke. The dobe, the freaking dead-last!, had managed to make something brand new out of an exercise he hasn't even completed! "What's this, Konoha Ninpou: Konoha Muchi (Leaf Ninja Art: Leaf Whip)?"

"No, I think I have to work it a bit more to make them go rigid, I was thinking a sword." Naruto nonchalantly responded, likely not really understanding just how abnormally rare it is to make a new technique on the drop of a hat.

Kakashi however was shocked for another reason. Naruto had enhanced a series of items by only focusing on a single of them, an 'aura enhancement' of sorts. 'How can he have the control to chakra-enhance a dozen leaves at once and still not be able to perform tree-walking?' He raged internally. Then, he realized it; Naruto had learned how to enhance multiple leaves due to his tampering with his skills and tricks all the time, nobody taught him how. He was self-taught. That meant that the boy had simply skipped several lessons. Naruto probably hadn't realized it when he did something other gennin his hadn't imagined of yet.

Damn, now he was feeling left behind, he could do that at his age too! Icha-Icha, wherefore art thou, Icha Icha? Take this lonely teacher into your generous bosom!

"Alright, Naruto, make a clone or a dozen to look into your leaf-sword-whatever idea, but get back to work yourself. You too, Sasuke. Neither of you boys want Sakura to leave you behind? After all, if you master Tree Walking, it makes it possible to learn any type of jutsu." Hook, line, sinker and pretty damn near the entire bay the fisherman was in. Both boys shook themselves, one made a dozen clones, and as one they charged their trees. Ignoring them, Kakashi effortlessly leapt to where Sakura was, scaring her as she hadn't thought it possible to leap that far in such a condition. Heh, poor girl, he had taken on samurai squads in worse condition. "As for you Sakura-chan, you are way too tired from just a simple hike. Do it a couple more times, it will help develop endurance."

The pinkette only mumbled something about how 'Sasuke-kun wouldn't like a butch woman' and grumbled all the way down and up before and sitting down next to the tree to watch 'her Sasuke-kun'.

It made Kakashi sigh, really. The girl was so smart, theoretically, but she was incapable of applying her knowledge and brains in practice. She just couldn't. She froze in danger, spoke loudly when silence was needed and she never really made an effort. At least Rin had been...

The jounin shook his head reminiscing about those times was forbidden. So, he instead leaned back on the tree and watched over his students. His barb about them being left behind by Sakura had quickly urged them to work harder than before to make up.

It was noon and the boys still hadn't gotten the hang of it, but Kakashi wasn't surprised. Even if Naruto had managed to do things with chakra he hadn't even realized he could, chakra reserves the size of Naruto's were always hard to control. The blonde would probably never manage a high-control jutsu in his life, but it wouldn't really matter, or so Kakashi hoped. Sasuke was doing better, but the rate of his development was slower than Naruto's and that made no sense. Could it be that the Uchiha was limiting himself until Naruto could surpass him, only to have a rival? No, it was different; these two, if Kakashi wasn't sure they were heterosexual, he would have worried about them. But even so he was worried; their troubled lives had made them connect with each other, form a bond much stronger than the one they had to their own home. If one of them deserted the village... the other would follow.

Sakura on the other hand cared little for Naruto except for the fact that the blonde baka got way too much attention from 'her Sasuke-kun'. How dare he! He was just a no-name looser, the 'dead-last'! Even if he had gotten better, she couldn't deny that, he was still inferior to her! She was sure of it. After all, she was smarter and she had a family, she was better than him! But Sasuke-kun talked to that baka so much more than her that Sakura was worried; how did that useless dobe manage to get her Sasuke-kun's attention so completely? It was impossible! Sasuke-kun loved her after all! Not once did the pinkette wonder that maybe, just maybe, the raven-haired gennin simply didn't care about her or that maybe everything that she knew of him wasn't close to the truth. Ignorance is bliss as they say, obviously portrayed by fangirls.

Sasuke on the other hand was far more accepting of the blonde. He had learned early on in his life that 'power equals respect'. No power means no respect, so he had had nothing of the sort for Naruto. Now however, the blonde improved faster and faster. He was no genius, he was a prodigy. Sasuke knew himself to be a genius in all ninja arts; be they genjutsu, ninjutsu or taijutsu, anything that was taught he swallowed it up. But not Naruto. The blonde didn't bother with 'traditional' methods, he made his own. Sasuke knew he was stronger than the blonde, even if they both developed fully, they would be equals and different only by their tactics. That's why he respected and accepted Naruto so much. Not only as someone who had suffered greatly yet only became stronger for it (if also a bit less sane), but also as someone who worked his ass off and actually became strong. What use is a weak rival after all? What use is a friend that does not relate to you? To Sasuke, the feeling of friendly competition and unreserved camaraderie was reminiscent of his family, in the best way possible. It healed his soul.

The same went for Naruto. In the utter darkness of his loneliness, he had found friends, more than friends; anchors to his sanity. Iruka-sensei and Jiji believed in him. Kakashi-sensei taught him. Sakura-chan was there to bring him back to earth when he went overboard. And Sasuke was just... there. He was there to remind Naruto that he was not alone in suffering, loneliness or even drive. What more could he ask for than a friend, rival and comrade all in one? So long as Sasuke was there, so would Naruto be there as well. And gods help any poor fool who tried to get between them. Now, if he could only take care of his pretties like they deserved to... How they must be sufering in the hands of a foreign cultivator, how could he ever conceive to know how to hug them and caress them and feed them properly, how to talk to them and listen to them?

The next few days went on like that, much to the anger and angst of Inari and annoyance of just about everybody else. The brat just didn't seem to realize that when life gives you lemons, you should make lemon-'n'-vodka and share a drink with her. Naruto and Sasuke were making good on their mutual challenge of who would master tree-walking first, often spending their downtime sparring to let their chakra recover. It wasn't such a problem for Naruto but Sasuke still ran out occasionally and just couldn't stand doing nothing while his blonde rival still trained. At least their sensei was always there to break up their fights if they got too serious and provide them both with excellent advice.

Unsurprisingly, Sakura did the absolute least of work, she preferred to oggle Sasuke, berate Naruto and occasionally (and under direct command) go up a tree or two. She had Sasuke-kun and Kakashi-sensei after all. It didn't matter how much Naruto or Kakashi tried to urge the girl to work harder, she only did so under Sasuke's 'Hn'-agreements and ever since she saw the desolate place that Wave Country had become. Something about the hopeless atmosphere urged the girl to try a little bit harder, it was a shock to her to see children beg for dregs of food.

In the end it sort of became a habit for the team to let Naruto and Sasuke practice until they came back. Both of them were so stubborn and hardheaded that they just couldn't handle defeat. They simply did not accept it unless they couldn't lift their tired and beaten bodies from the floor. Tsunami, Inari's mother, was at least kind enough to leave them a few plates of food for them to come eat whenever they were done with training. Naruto even told Sasuke he could use his fire-jutsu to heat up the plates, not as a combat technique but more to get a feel for free-form chakra manipulation, much like the blonde often did himself via lifting leaves and other items. Sasuke hadn't believed it to be very usefull, but he reneged on that belief when he suddenly belched out a small gout of fire during a heated taijutsu match, straight into his right hand. He had managed to burn off all the hair on his hand, but Kakashi had been fast enough with his water canteen that no further damage was dealt.

This was going to be one of their last night in peace, Kakashi had told his team. Near-death-states were hard to recover from, especially considering the beating the rogue had suffered (Kakashi didn't take too kindly to his team being threatened), but if the second ninja had such knowledge of accupuncture then he probably also knew how to treat wounds. Overall, it would take the man a week to recover, thankfully a little more than what Kakashi had needded. Though the legendary shinobi could have fought even with a single day of recovery, he would definitely not be able to face a ninja at Zabuza's level.

Sasuke and Naruto decided that enough was enough; they needed that training completed darn it! How dare it oppose them, Future Hokage and Uchiha Elite? Usually bother were quite humble, but this time they just had to do it. They couldn't let their teacher down, nor each other. Annoyance that Sakura had gotten it down at her first try was also a factor. So, as they were wont to do... they trained and trained and trained until they got it right. Only to fall uncoscious approximately ten seconds after their victory as their adrenaline rush died out.

They awoke the next day to an unfamiliar presence, a girl dressed in a flowery kimono with a small wicker basket in hand, several herbs sticking out.

While Naruto didn't much react to a foreign presence so near to him, despite his harsh life he hadn't really developed the shinobi instinct of Constant Vigilance, Sasuke did react by rolling away and palming a few kunai.

One would argue that tormenting someone about the death of their family made for a good training tool. That person would get violently dismembered by a certain Uchiha.

The girl seemed to reel back and away from the two gennin surprised and frightful. Understandable really. "O-Oh, I'm sorry, I was just... just worried you had caught a cold or something." She spoke hesitantly. Inwards she was also wondering about why the two were sleeping side-by-side. To her understanding, which granted did not amount to much, such closeness pointed to specific kinds of relationships.

Unfortunately for yaoi-fangirls, nothing of the sort went on between Naruto and Sasuke. However, the night was chilling and warmth was precious. Not to mention the fact that alone they could easily speak with each other without having to show anything but who they truly were; traumatized children struggling to maintain what little sanity they had left in a world so cold to them. Talking with someone who can understand you under a starlit sky can be very cathartic. Unfortunately, the over-active imaginations of people who never had the chance to go though something like this simply makes doing so 'forbidden'.

"Nah, we're fine! Thanks for waking us up though, we must really get back to training!" Naruto rambled in his characteristic manner. Sasuke just stretched out letting a 'Hn' escape him.

"Train? Whatever for?" The girl asked.

"Well, we're ninja, shinobi, you know? So we have to train to become stronger and stronger, right Sasuke?"

"Hnn."

"He said 'yeah', don't worry, after a few months you could decode his words too. He's just shy." Naruto's barb obviously managed to draw attention from the raven-haired boy and he returned a violent 'I'm not shy, dobe!', making the girl giggle.

"You two are funny." She giggled some more. "But... do you have a special reason to get stronger? People become truly strong when they defend their precious people. Do you have someone like that?" She asked, head tilted to the side, innocence rolling off her in waves.

"Hn. No." Sasuke replied, looking away. His 'dear' brother had seen to that.

"Aww, don't be like that teme. You do have precious people, you have me and Kakashi-sensei, and Sakura if she ever got serious too! A team's like a family you know?"

"Then what are you, the idiot uncle?" The snark wasn't at all hostile really.

"Nah, I'd prefer 'that-crazy-old-bat-of-a-gardener-with-killer-ninja-moves-that-far-surpass-everyone-else-and-is-worshipped-by-women'!" Naruto hyphenated his own name.

Of course, Sasuke couldn't let that chance at some banter pass him by. "How about the-idiot-that-everybody-is-ashamed-of? Much closer to reality, dobe."

Further disagreement was interrupted by further giggling from the girl. "You two seem to be getting along pretty well. Are you... each other's precious person?" She asked, looking at them strangely.

"Each other's precious per-OH GOD NO!" Naruto screamed and went to the side, dry heaving. "No, just no, NO!" Similar sounds were copied by the other boy. "Where did you get that idea from? Gods above, I need brain bleach!"

Sasuke could have made many pointy remarks about Naruto at that moment, but he was much more preoccupied with trying to with-hold his own rebelling stomach. Brain bleach indeed.

"Oh!" The girl realized she had misread their circumstances. The place was rather chilly at night, well for most people anyway. "I'm so sorry! I just... you were... really close and..."

"Yeah" Naruto spat some bile off his tongue. "but it gets rather cold at night, couldn't walk back home, we had ran out of fumes to run on. But, sheesh nee-chan, next time keep those dreams to yourself, please!"

The girl got up, still giggling demurely, hand before her mouth. "Oh my, look at the time, I must have been out for longer than I thought. I really have to get back now, I have to treat my uncle."

"Why, he's hurt? Did Gatou and his scum threaten you?" Naruto fixed her with a concerned look. "You can come with us you know, we could probably provide with some extra medication too."

"No, no, it's alright!" The girl hastily denied the offer. "I-it's nothing important, just a cold from fishing after hours, these herbs should have him back on his feet in no time." Then the girl turned to leave and, just as Sasuke was getting ready to ask her something, she turned back and winked at them. "By the way, my name is Haku and I'm a boy."

"B-boy?" Naruto whispered disbelievingly. "No way I'm buying that, that person's cuter than Sakura, almost on par with Ino!"

"Ino isn't cute; she's an early bloomer, baka." Sasuke disagreed. "In fact she's just a pushy know-it-all that doesn't know all that much really. And the screeches... gods, she has probably damaged my ears, I know Kiba has had to go to the hospital thanks to her."

"Yeah, but still... such cuteness..."

"Whatever, you noticed it, right?" Sasuke focused back on the track the girl had been on, she had disappeared in mere seconds.

"Yeah, she lied. I know how lightly you sleep and she got so close. She didn't freak out as much when she saw your knives or when we told her we're ninja. And also, these plants, they're not for diseases. They treat blood-pressure and chemical imbalances."

"Don't forget she refused our offer of help; in a place like this, no one would refuse extra help or medication. But, the question is, why did she stay and talk? Why didn't she use a long-range techique? Why didn't she try to attack us? Something's wrong here." Sasuke had been groomed to become a member of the Police Force from a young age. His mind was already working overtime to figure out these clues. "It's like she wanted to... tell us something? About precious people... maybe she's being pressured to work for someone? But who... Blood pressure treatment and chemical imbalances..." He hummed. "Being put to a near-death state would definitely mess up the body, at least for a time. She wasn't treating her uncle... she's helping Zabuza!"

"Are you telling me we just let Zabuza's accomplice walk away? Oh man..." Naruto whined, clearly not liking it. With good reason too; if they had taken her out, Zabuza would be much easier to deal with.

"No, she probably let us go... If she's Zabuza's accomplice, she definitely know how to take us down, both from stealth and out of it. But why, it makes no sense! Unless... could Zabuza have some sort of leverage over her, some loved one, a 'precious person'? That would explain what she told us... but still, I think something's missing, like she wants us to win, but not... not in just any way, but a very specific one. I can't make heads or tails of it..."

"Well, if you can't figure it out, I'm not even going to bother about it. I just think it's a bit simpler than that. I think we should go back though, we did manage our chakra control test, so we should be clear. Maybe he'll get us a new training or something."

"Riiight" Sasuke drawled. "And you want fries with that? That guy probably only taught us because he was too tired to turn pages on his Icha Icha."

"I wouldn't say no to fries, but I would most definitely prefer ramen." A gurgling, almost roaring, sound from Naruto punctuated that sentence, soon followed by a similar from Sasuke.

The two boys ended up walking back hungry and discussing about food. Or, well, Naruto did anyway.

After a fulfilling breakfast, courtesy of Tsunami, and a rather long rant about staying outside after hours, again courtesy of Tsunami, Naruto and Sasuke were rather glad to be away from the gentle courtesies of the woman; she may be a civilian, but she was a civilian mama and that made her bloody scary. Not even Kakashi managed to escape her ranting, especially his irresponcible nature and laid-back attitude, letting two innocent little boys wander off into the wilderness...

Ahem, back to what's important;

"So you're saying you met someone who could be an accomplice of Zabuza, had a friendly talk and he-she-it went on their merry way, is that what you're telling me?"

"A-yup." Naruto nodded. "Though, keep in mind, that person also had herbs that could help with Zabuza being healed. That means he-she is also a medic, so he could be ready to fight again soon. The various herbal teas I made you should have helped a bit, but I'm no medic, I just mixed-and-matched." Yes, yes he had. Taking random herbs he had made various teas for his teacher... Said teacher didn't drink one of them. He trusted the boy, but sometimes Naruto wasn't exactly the most predictable person.

Case in point now; "She said something about precious people though... wonder if she'd like my pretties. My pretties would like her, they're very cuddly sort of plants. Would you like to be adopted by one of my pretties, Kakashi-sensei? You'd have to take good care of her though, or she'd have to scold you! They are very sensitive, my precious pretties!"

"Errr..." Now what could he say to this? The hopeful look in the blonde's eyes was heart-wrenching! How he could manage to pout like that while being thirteen years old, Kakashi would never know. "I... I'd rather not. I don't know how to best take care of... of your pretties. Wouldn't want them hurt now, would we?"

"No, no, we wouldn't. She would throw a tantrum and that just won't do." Naruto shivered.

"Either way, today you should stay here. Don't think I can't tell when a student's worn his chakra raw. Sasuke may have less endurance but he isn't nearly as wiped as you."

"Are you telling me I'm confined to bed rest?" Naruto was near apoplexic. Had he not proven that he was equal to everyone?

"Today only. It's just a problem with people that have naturally high chakra. Until you mature, there is a limit at how much chakra you can use in a day. It's not about how much you have, rather how much you wear out your circulation system. Think of it like friction burns; you use it more than everybody else, so you get burned. Sasuke doesn't, since he doesn't have anywhere near your amount of chakra, so he doesn't get burned, he gets a little raw though. When you mature, in a few more years, you won't have that problem. It's nothing bad, trust me, but if you channel too much chakra today, it's going to hurt like hell." Kakashi rubbed the back of his head with his hand. He was talking from experience. "Besides, someone has to watch Tsunami and Inari, you know. Starting tomorrow we'll have normal shifts of two, alright? I'm not telling you to stay in your bed, just to let your body recover."

"Aww man..." Naruto whined. "Alright, I get it. But I better have something exciting tomorrow!"

"Well, we'll see. Tomorrow you can help around the house if you want. The garden needs some looking after and I think your clones would be a great help. But today, just stay here and rest."

In mere moments Team 7 had left the building, off to the bridge, leaving only their blonde teammate behind with their secondary wards.

Sitting in the garden, hands idly stroking the sole rose plant in there, Naruto looked out. Something was off about the he-she they had met today. For just a moment, he thought he had seen an endless loneliness and sorrow in those dark brown eyes.

Almost like what he had, a long time ago, before his pretties.

There was also the herbs. They were not the strongest-acting variety, but they were rather fast acting. Why go for greater recovery rate at the cost of less total recovery? Like poisons; one could use a fast acting one that caused nothing worse than dizziness, or they could go for a slower acting one that could do much worse, be it blindness or even death. So, why use the weaker effect? Unless...

'Oh...shit...' He thought. Using the weakest herb meant very little if you had already mostly recovered!

Before he could leave the house however, there was a crash and a scream, a woman's scream. Letting go of the plant, Naruto dashed back home, worried that maybe Tsunami had slipped or something.

He wasn't that lucky; two sword-bearing men, covered in ugly tattoos to disguise their even uglier scars, held her at sword point, sneering and leering, obviously threatening her.

If there was a list of things that Naruto could not forgive, rape and murder were within the top-five, easily. And he knew that look in their eyes. They were going for it; both of the sins.

When one of them grabbed Tsunami's chest roughly, Naruto broke free of his hate-induced daze and acted. Chakra gathered at his feet, and cursing himself for the pain he was about to feel, he dashed forward, almost too fast for a human eye to see. The punch that followed was very satisfying for the gennin, the sound of broken bone was gross but also kind of nice. But maybe that was his hate talking, because his enemy certainly would be unable to speak for a long time, his lower jaw had been shattered.

'Note to self; attack strength is proportionate to the speed of the blow as well as the size of impact. Must research further, especially with Kawarimi.'

He didn't have much time to think though as he quickly lashed out with another blow at the other swordsman, this one at an even worse state than his comrade as he was caught with sword still sheathed. It would remain so if Naruto had a choice. The blonde quickly bobbed and weaved closer to the enemy, copying another gennin that fought only with his fists, and quickly sent out a five-hit combo that ended with a vicious uppercut. Then, before the guy had time to recover, Naruto spun on his heel and gave him a vicious mule kick at the gut.

Sure, it wasn't as coordinated or effective as Sasuke's style, but it got the job done.

With both men down, Naruto quickly turned to the distraught woman he had just saved, damn he was gooood!, comforting her son, who had been seconds from charging to his certain death to protect her.

Deciding that the boy's attention would be much better for the woman, Naruto turned to his defeated opponents. A quick search and a length of rope later and the place was safe.

"Tsunami-san, I have to go. These guys are accomplices of Zabuza and Gatou. My team will need all the help it can get. You should go to a friend's house and barricade yourself. If... if we fail, be ready to run." Then he dashed up to his room, he needed to get some extra weaponry. Zabuza would not underestimate them this time, and there was that second ninja to contend with as well.

The wind wheezed past Naruto's ears as he ran. He had to move fast to get to the bridge in time. Sasuke was strong and so was Kakashi, but the enemy was stronger still; Zabuza was on Kakashi's level and his aide may be beyond even that. At least his chakra hadn't hurt him yet; seems that the damn demon's presence helped in more than reserves. It still felt weird and 'raw', as if scratching on a bruise, when going over a small amount, but he could take it. He has taken far more pain before, after all.

On the target location however, none were as calm. Zabuza knew that Kakashi was on a level above that affected by fortunate circumstances; he had been underestimated before, it would not happen again. Sakura and Tazuna were scared out of their wits, knowing (or assuming) the strength of the other fighters in the area. The Hunter in the mask was hesitating, there were people like him, lonely like him, strong like him, in this place, could he bring himself to kill them? Could he become a true shinobi, a person that tails after Death?

Surrounded by icy mirrors that held his enemy no matter where he looked, Sasuke was just as troubled, only more worried. This was bad. This was really bad. He had fallen right into his enemy's trap, right into a jutsu he could not break out of. The 'demonic ice mirrors' as the fake-hunter had called them were immune to his weapons, his katon jutsu and his own kicks. What was he to do?

A memory came to his mind:

~Flashback~

"So, you noticed how overloading your chakra levels at the feet makes the tree blow up, right?" Said Naruto in one of their downtimes.

"Yeah, it's why it's called 'training' when you learn to not do that. Why? Thought of a new jutsu?"

"Of course, impacting leaves or something to that extent. But no, I was thinking... Tsunade of the Sannin is considered to be extremely strong right? But you never hear about her grappling, only her striking. So I was thinking..."

"She took that chakra control excercise and turned it into a fighting style? That's... that's crazy, but using leaves to chop people is even worse... what are you thinking?" Sasuke was now interested. If he could mimic such a technique...

"Well... I was thinking of building a charge, a lump of chakra, right at the edge of your impact area and then exploding it. More charge time is more chakra is more of an impact."

"Yeah, but doing so would require extreme chakra control to get the proper timing."

"Unless... well, your Sharingan gives you a visual on where you will strike, and when. And it also gives you a visual indication on where the chakra 'lump' is. If you were to combine knowing how long it takes to channel the lump and knowing when you will strike..."

"You turn it from an excercise in chakra control to a matter of reflexes!"

"Exactly. Of course, it's not that simple. You get kicked away from the tree too, so there is some backlash. You must never channel more chakra than you can handle, which makes this technique dependant on your own strength. Tsunade-sama probably has worked a way around this but... for now, I guess it'd do to get a good hit in. Probably doesn't work with ninja tools though."

"And I'd have to wait for my Sharingan to awaken before using it. Damn, Naruto, never thought that you of all people would figure that trick out!"

"What can I say? I live to impress!" Naruto laughed.

~End Flashback~

Well, he didn't have his Sharingan yet, but he wasn't about to drop dead either, not until he had exhausted himself doing his darndest.

In a desperate run, he dashed to the closest mirror to him, left hand raised above his head for a straight punch. Gods above, he hoped he was doing this right.

The thump-like sound told him his punch had landed just about when he felt the pain of smashing full-stregth on an unyielding surface. He had missed the timing, too late. Hopefully, it wouldn't be too log no-

A loud crashing noise made Haku double-take. Haku's mirrors had never been broken before, even Zabuza-sama didn't break them (that's how he'd train her, breaking them, and her, until she made them strong enough)! How?

For his part Sasuke cried out in pain as he felt the wave of pain run all the way up and down his entire arm, even his shoulder. He got now why Naruto had said to not overload the technique; he was just glad it wasn't his right hand that he'd broken!

But he was free! So, with narry a thought, he dashed forward, hopefully somewhere away from all that water, somewhere he would get the advantage.

He didn't get very far; Haku recovered quickly and fired several senbon at his legs, causing him to fall over. Despite her tired state, she had been taught under Zabuza; she had won harder fights in worse conditions.

Then again, she was lucky that punch hadn't struck the mirror she was in.

Sasuke growled at his pursuer. Dammit, he couldn't even see her! He, an Uchiha! It wasn't just about being an elite, it was about him being an Uchiha. His clan had the best eyesight possible (the Hyuga were just imitators), how could he not see? It was insulting! And besides, these 'weapons', what the hell, wasn't he being underestimated here? Sure the guy, gal, whoever it was behind that mask (too thin a frame to be male, too masculine movements to be a female), was dead accurate with them, but why wasn't there a more dangerous weapon, like a kunai. Hell, shuriken were more lethal.

It felt like his enemy was sparing him, and that was something that Sasuke could not accept. His pride couldn't. In one way, he was glad Naruto was Naruto; he'd gotten used to being irritated to near-explosion levels, or he'd have just charged at his enemy frothing at the mouth otherwise.

And speaking of a certain knuckle-headed blonde, there he was, charging at the mirror dome.

Wait, what?

"Tajuu Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" And then it was raining Narutos.

The fake-hunter replied by sending out salvos upon salvos of senbon. That most definitely destroyed the clones (Sasuke didn't even want to know how much chakra Naruto wasted right there), which in turn created enough smoke to blind everything. It was hopeless of course, getting away from the ninja, he was trained to fight in such conditions, but it was their best bet. Quickly, Sasuke removed the senbon in his feet, biting back the pain and using it to strengthen his resolve.

Kunai flew from all around Sasuke like a hail, apparently the 'dobe' could really back up his claims of thousand-clone armies, impacting the mirrors without effect. Behind the glacial wall, Haku was worried however. Haku was quite well aware that he possessed very little chakra compared to other shinobi, it was only by virtue of exceptional control that he was able to do so much. However, the Ice Mirrors were heavily draining, most enemies simply didn't live long enough while trapped within. But this time? This time, Haku's enemies were the worst possible match if the the blonde's clones were to be taken into account.

"Naruto, gimme some cover!" Sasuke yelled and leapt back under the cover of a clone-smokebomb. He didn't have much time and only so much ninja wire. Thankfully, Naruto had taken some of the extra supplies he had back at Tazuna's home. Tieing as much as he could on as many kunai, real, not cloned, he gave them to Naruto's clones. They would serve as 'tracers', maybe he could get some form of hint on how to beat Haku's technique.

Then, the raven-haired boy squatted down and squinted as he paid as much attention as he could, going over all the facts he had acquired. Firstly, his enemy didn't stay inside the mirrors for long. Apparently, whatever skill he had for creating ice did not extent to weathering such cold for too long. Secondly, every time his enemy attacked, he removed himself completely from the mirrors, that meant that his movement was rather limited while inside the safety area. The two combined told Sasuke that the hunter-nin didn't use a straight-forward jutsu, but rather one that affected dimensions as well, by affecting space he could affect time, so that's why he became so fast. Also, the masked ninja could only move from one mirror to another, presumably, if he were to not enter a mirror, his speed boost would break, if he even was capable of doing so. Last but not least; the ninjutsu also increased reaction time, they could not hope to land a blow as it would be detected and diverted, unless they could predict what would happen.

All in all, despite the weaknesses of that jutsu, it was still one major pain in the ass, and they were quite probably screwed if he didn't get the guy's pattern figured out soon.

Which was exactly what the 'tracers' had been for. If he could hold the taut strings of the kunai in his hands, he could maybe find some weakpoint, some way to predict it.

It only took him a few seconds to realize that was futile; the hunter-nin could choose to move to any mirror he had visual to. He was not restricted, he had no discernable pattern.

But, as he strained, both mind and body, he also strained his chakra. He had heard from Kiba that his kekkei-genkai (if it was one truly) depended on channeling chakra to specific points and controlling it. Sasuke's kekkei-genkai, the revered sharingan, resided in the eyes, coincidentally in the same body part he needed to work as best as he could.

So, between the flurry of senbons, the smoke of dispelled clones, the reflections of ninja wires and the blue haze of chakra, Sasuke began to see something. It was indistinct and so damn fast, no more than a large shadow leaping around.

But the shadow's movements were soon followed by tugs in the wires he held in his hands.

'Left, right, no left again, up and left, to the side, below up-'

The shadow went and Sasuke followed it as fast as he could, his eyes jumping from mirror to mirror.

'-down, right, right, left, up left, down right, right, up, I can see, I can see it!'

He quickly retrieve his best kunai, a longer-than-normal pair, a birthday gift from him. Then he was off, remembering to push all the chakra he could into his legs, moving faster than he ever had.

Sasuke never noticed he left a small crater at his starting point.

Naruto might have been surprised by Sasuke's sudden charge, but he didn't let it stop him, he showered the area with more shuriken than ever, hoping to pin the rogue ninja in a mirror.

Haku might not have been pinned, he was too fast for that, but he sure as hell was surprised when he suddenly found himself nose-to-mask with Sasuke, his hands straining to hold the knives back with just his senbon.

"W-What? How?" He could not resist asking, not even Zabuza-sama could do this!

Sasuke only raised his head to pin the eyes behind the faceless mask, smirking. "I can seeee youuuu~" He mocked in the semi-childish tone he knew would infuriate his enemy.

Haku cursed, just his luck. Leaping back, he melted into a mirror. "An Uchiha, a survivor of that tragic clan... I see, no wonder I couldn't defeat you. Is your friend from another so famous a clan?" When it all fails... parley.

A scoff was his return. "Naruto? The dobe wouldn't have such luck. No, he's just your average ninja, no clan backing him. But, you see, Naruto has earned my respect. If you know of Uchiha, you do realize how rare it is to give our respect to a clanless, right?" He allowed his smirk to widen. Oh yeah, feel the burn, bitch! Feel the fear! Sasuke was quite pleased to note the minute widening of the eyes, the ninja was now realizing that he was horribly outmatched. That would lead to mistakes which he could then use to bring this fight to a victorious end.

Unfortunately, Sasuke forgot that when people are pushed to the wall, they retaliate, often in an unpredictable way.

He was quite surprised to find a clone try to smother him from behind while the masked ninja fled right past him. Belatedly, he also realized that to move so fast meant that there was a mirror on his rear too.

Sasuke's knives flased quickly and disposed of the clone, turning around to block the incoming attack.

Only, there was no attack heading towards Sasuke. There was only an enemy heading towards Naruto. And the blonde couldn't even see him.

Mirrors appeared in front of Haku, made to last only for a second as he practically flew towards the blonde. He had to be removed if he wanted to have a chance to beat the other one. Interference, even for a second, would be lethal against an Uchiha. Then a mirror materialized to Naruto's side and he threw his senbon as he pirrouetted over the boy.

Naruto turned to the side, only having barely caught the forming mirror's reflection, to realize had just been had. No clones to defend him and he was going down.

Time seemed to still for him, almost mocking him by finally letting him see the sleek thrown weapons.

Then his field turned black and he realized it was hair. Familiar hair.

A body seemed to shudder once, twice, as the senbon impacted and then fall back on him.

"S-Sasuke?"

"H-hey dobe." Sasuke's voice was weak, almost sleepy. "Fancy that, me saving your skin... How pathetic is that?" He seemed to exhale softly and then just looked at the sky. "Don't die, live for me too... Naru...to..."

Then he wasn't moving anymore.

He wasn't moving any more!

"Sasuke?" Naruto shook his friend once, twice and repeated the call. "C-come on man, this... this is nothing, just a pair of needles, you've had worse before, right? You can't die from that, you can't... Sasuke... You... you can't die... you can't leave me alone..."

"Was he your friend? Was he a dear friend? Was this the first time you watched someone die?" Haku taunted. At least the greatest obstacle had been removed. Now, if he could infuriate the blonde into loosing control of his technique... "It's a cruel world, people die all the time. He died... because he wasn't strong enough. Because of his weakness-"

"Shut. Up." It was only whispered, but it resounded in Haku's ears as if someone had shouted it. "Shut... the fuck... up..." A weird chakra was now escaping the blonde. If Haku had to put it to words, if he had blue before, now he had blood-red. The aliteration did not escape the now-gulping ninja. "He was my friend... He understood me... You took him from me... I... I'M GOING TO FUCKING KILL YOU!" It felt like an explosion, only without the concussive force.

But with all the heat, the scorching heat that seemed to melt the ice and evaporate the water.

Haku fliched once more as he realized that the heat was merely a side-effect of the blonde's sheer, unearthly, rage.

Then, with no warning, Haku felt his eyes widen in terror and surprise alike as Sasuke was not supported by hands any more.

And there was a glowing fist heading towards his head, that too.

Poor Haku found himself akin to an out-of-body experience as he was sent flying back by a punch that broke his mirror, his hands and quite possibly his sternum. He felt almost detached from his body as the world flipped around him several times over.

Then the pain hit and it was only thanks to Zabuza's and the Hunter-nin Corps training that allowed him to not scream in pain.

The subsequent blows, all delivered as if the blonde was slashing, however, sent Haku far beyond his admirable pain tolerance level.

It was almost a relief when Naruto had pounced onto his broken body, much like a predator would, and pinned him down. And yet,a there was not nearly as much animalistic fury behind those red, slit eyes, as there was an endless pain, an abysmal loneliness, a look that Haku knew all too well.

"Go ahead. Kill me. You have won. I am of no more use to my master." It was not only that he had failed Zabuza. It was the realization of what he had done to someone who had been so similar to himself.

He had just taken someone else's precious person. Haku didn't want to live if he were to subject someone else to the same pain he had been drowning in. It would make him no better than his father.

Haku closed his eyes as he saw the blonde's raised fist, glowing with so much power he was glad he was no sensor; it would have probably blinded him. Then it came down.

"Why?" Haku was quite surprised to find himself alive. "Why kill him? What gave you the right?" Then there was the welcome feeling of breathing as the boy's knee was taken off his lungs. Still hurt like hell though.

"You... aren't killing me?"

"He is... dead..." The vile, crimson chakra was retreating now. "There is... there is just no point... You can't hurt us any more..."

It was true; the blows had jarred Haku, he could barely raise his arms to defend himself or even draw breath, his chakra was also dangerously low. Even his Hunter-nin mask had been destroyed sometime into the short altecration. It didn't surprse Haku nearly as much as it should, considering they had been made to be tougher than steel. So, the defeated ninja sat down and awaited his judgement. Regardless of who of the two warring jounin won, his life as a tool, a bad life but the only one he had, would be over.

The mists cleared.

Off to the side, Sakura was shaking, kunai in hand and terror in her eyes, in front of a just-as-terrified Tazuna.

Beyond them, another pair facing each other, one kneeling and the other slouching forward. The shadowy shape of the legendary cleaver sword lay in their middle.

Kakashi sighed as he pulled his headband back up. It was finally over. He'd probably get a few nightmares, but it would be worth it to protect his brats.

Zabuza had been defeated from the moment he threatened to dismember his three gennin apart after beating him. It had just taken the missing-nin a little bit to realize his folly.

"It's over Zabuza. No hands, no weapon and barely a bit of chakra. You've lost." He stated. "I'd let you go, really, but I can't. Your actions, bringing ruin to a whole country just for your desire for money, threatening my client, and worse, threatening my gennin, I have to stop you."

The bloodied shinobi barked out a laugh. "Then do it, Copy-nin! Don't bore me with your morality speeches. If that trash, Haku, had at least been a little bit worth my time, I'd have killed you, but it seems I chose the wrong tool to follow me out of Mizugakure." He spat, glaring at the heartbroken Haku. "You pathetic brat, you can't even do one thing right. I bet you didn't even kill that blue-haired bastard over there, did you?" He spat out. "You're just a weak, worthless little shit."

He would have said more had Naruto not dashed and punched him in the face, sending the missing ninja rolling on the floor. "HOW DARE YOU!" He screamed at him, crimson chakra once again awakening. "Haku is stronger than you ever thought! Haku gave everything he has to you, and that's how you repay his loyalty, his kindness? If you are what is a true shinobi, then I'd rather be a civilian, rather than a coward like you, who hides from his own emotions." He took a deep breath. "I'd rather be a weakling rather than a pathetic fool who doesn't realize when he hurts his precious people."

"Shut up brat..." There was something different about Zabuza this time, something in the way he stood. He seemed startled for a second as if he heard something, then sighed. "Well, seems like you wanted to double-cross me from the begining, eh, Gatou?"

The mist finally cleared to reveal a midged in front of several hundred merceneries. The suit easily identified him as their boss. "Well, at least you have enough brains to realize that, don't you, Zabuza-chan?" He mocked, striking the ground with his cane. "It's more cost-efficient to hire a ninja, have him kill my enemies and then hire a thousand merceneries to kill him. It's even better in your case, I'll get your bounty too!" He laughed. "No had feelings, eh Zabuza? It's just business."

But the Demon of the Mist wasn't so easily defeated.

No, he was defeated, just not physically. That boy's words had cut into him deeper than any blade.

Since when had he been with Haku? When had he not been with Haku?

So long, so long they had been together, fighting, surviving, eeking a miserable existence made bearable only by their mutual companionship.

His rage simmered.

"So, I was thinking, that brat of yours, he'll make a good example, won't he? Breaking my arm, the bastard, I'll break him!"

Now his rage boiled over.

"Hehehehe..." Zabuza chuckled, it was so funny! So exhilarating! He knew he shouldn't be feeling it, but his rage, his fury, it made his adrenaline come short, it made endorphins explode within him, mix in an addictive, heady drug that brought a blood-red haze to his eyes. Tossing his head back, he laughed. "HAHAHAHAHAHA!"

Then came his KI, his killing intent, the absolute, complete desire to maim-kill-destroy-dismember-drinktheirblood-batheintheirentrails.

It settled on their shoulders like a boulder, making them almost kneel in abject terror.

Kakashi's eye widened. Zabuza was like him. He, too, had another self, locked away, the true 'Kishin', the true 'Demon'.

And now, that pudgy little midget had just awakened it. The only think he could think was 'fuck'.

Then, Zabuza was off, charging head first, no chakra or weapons or even his hands to help him. Just that insane, consuming bloodlust that froze almost a thousand men.

It did not stop a jinchuuriki, nor that man's defeated accomplice. It took Haku's remaining chakra, but she threw her master a weapon, a nice, solid, ice katana, just so he could grab it with his teeth. Then, Haku knew no more, having lost consciousness.

Unconsciousness was the farthest thing to Naruto's mind. The Kyuubi's power surged within him. He could feel its hate, he could feel its wrath, and he felt the same. Unable to contain himself, he knew he would explode unless he were to burn that chakra off.

"TAJUU KAGE BUNSHIN NO JUTSU! (Mass Shadow Clone Technique)" The Kyubi-powered technique burst outwards like a wave of smoke, obscuring everything, expanding and expanding until it covered half the bridge.

Then a gust of wind cleared the smoke and Kakashi had to thank his mask for not letting his jaw hit the floor.

There were clones. Everywhere. On the floor, on the rails, on the side of supporting beams, on the side of the bridge, he was sure that some were hanging from under it too!

When they took their kunai out, Kakashi knew it would be a massacre. But he also knew it would traumatize his student. So, with a weary sigh, he let out him.

It felt so familiar, as if they hadn't been separated for a day. His nostrils flared and the metallic scent of blood made him grin. He breathed it deeply and the world seemed to spin into focus, finally he could see! He could feel! The world itself had finally, finally come alive!

Hatake Kakashi, former ANBU captain, jounin and laid-back pervert took the back seat as he allowed his alter ego, 'Shi, ANBU captain, assassin and general bloodthirsty badass take control.

Then he vanished in a blur, appearing in front of Zabuza, his hands already snapping two necks. When someone tried to stab him, he seemed to flow without bones or even purpose, as if he had stumbled. It would have been funny if not for the two kunai that slit four throats each.

Then came the rain of steel and Kakashi began dancing. Kicking and punching and parrying the thrown weapons, he redirected them to the many mercenaries almost as easily as a one could breathe.

The Hatake Kakashi inside him was just happy that his student had avoided lethal spots completely, he would have almost mistook it for bad aim if it were not for the sheer amount of thrown weapons. It seemed Naruto wouldn't become a killer this day.

Zabuza on the other hand? Oh, the nuke-nin rejoiced in the bloodbath. His maniacal laughter would haunt the dreams of many, his pure-white blade now stained with so much blood that it must have seeped deep inside the crystal.

Then the man was in front of Gatou. His form, bared nacked from the waist and up, towered over the other one. There were few constrasts as sharp as this one. In one hand, a murderer, a born killer, a demon, tall and strong and proud. In the other hand, a murderer, a weak, pathetic life-form, coward amongst cowards, whose only power wasn't even his own.

Zabuza's foot caught Gatou on the chin and lifted him in the air. Then, a sword pierced him through the kidneys and another one through the lungs. One by one, Zabuza struck all the most painful spots of the body before letting the screaming businessman fall to the ground, bleeding and pleading. Finally, a kick and he had shoved him off the bridge they had both worked to destroy.

Most of the onlooking thugs, those not screaming in pain or trying to evade Kakashi as best as their limited skill allowed, stared at the blood-spattered demon. Zabuza only smirked at them, and that was just as scary as if he was attacking them. "Well? COME GET ME!" He screamed at them.

Of course, no one would take his invitation, they were definitely not that suicidal or stupid. So, their shoes filled with 'liquid fear', screaming like the women they so liked to torture, they ran off the bridge, leaping onto the waiting boat transport, or into the water when they couldn't fit.

But even those that got on the boat wouldn't go to far, the people of Wave had finally found their courage and had assembled on their own boatcraft and already surrounding the miscreants. It would seem Wave's prisons would be full for a long time.

It was about that time that, released from the paralyzing fear of Zabuza's aura, Sakura realized she hadn't seen Sasuke anywhere. Of course, she could care less about Naruto, who, despite his rapid growth lately she still considered inferior to her as he was a parentless nobody, but her heart was fanatically, even obsessively, devoted to the sole Uchiha heir of Konoha. "Oi, Naruto-baka, where is Sasuke-kun?" She screamed at him, after all, Sasuke-kun would be far more useful in the fight against Zabuza, why would he have stayed back to guard the masked ninja prisoner?

It was only the despair she saw in Naruto's eyes that hinted to her that something might be wrong. It was only the sight of the prone body laying further away towards the shore, surrounded by many of the people of way, most of them with bowed heads, that told her what was going on. Ignoring all protocol, and most sanity, Sakura ran off to her downed crush and fell to the ground sobbing. She couldn't believe it, he was dead, dead, deadeadeadeadeadeadead, and there was nothing she could do about it. So, sobbing, she fell onto his chest.

Or would have anyway, as the missing-nin, who had managed to come around a few moments ago, grabbed her hands and pushed her off the boy.

"You!" Sakura screamed at her enemy. "You killed him! You!" She was never that good with insults or banter, Ino always beat her at that, but she made up with more than enough zealotry. Only, zealotry didn't really help her free her hands from the vice-like grip the prisoner had.

"Stop it. You'll aggravate the wounds." There was an infuriating smile on his, her?, face, closed eyes and all. "I don't think Uchiha-kun would appreciate my senbon going any deeper than they already are."

"WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT YOU BASTARD! YOU KILLED HIM!" She shouted, or more liked screeched.

Then she stopped struggling as an 'unf' sound came from below her hands and a familiar voice complained. "God, why doesn't the screeching stop... last time I go drinking with that dobe..."

"See? I only knocked him unconscious."

"SASUKE-KUUUN!" Now she was crying again, but 'happy-tears' as she would say.

"Oof! Sakura! Get off me, dammit!"

"T-Teme?" Naruto's voice reached the Uchiha. "You're... alive?"

"Hn, rumours of my demise were grossly exaggerated... ouch, Sakura! Watch your hands dammit!" He scowled at the pinkette that hurt him more than helped him. "Haku, could you please get these needles off me?"

But Haku didn't have time to do that as a large shadow fell over her, cast by the equally large shadow of Zabuza being carried fireman-style by Kakashi. The missing ninja simply sloughed to the ground next to his former apprentice. "Oi, Haku, before tending to the enemy, make sure your own team's covered."

Haku's own eyes were glacial as they bore into Zabuza's own, belying the rage the former tool felt. "That's what I'm doing, Zabuza-sama." And Haku's hands pulled out a needle from Sasuke's body, ignoring his indignant cries of pain and surprise.

"Yeah... about that... I'm... I'm sorry, Haku." He seemed mightily uncomfortable with his admission.

Frankly, he seemed even more uncomfortable when he looked at Haku's face who seemed to have changed to better project the teary, large, doe-like eyes his apprentice had. "Zabuza-samaaa!" And then, he experienced his maybe third hug in his life.

A dozen things passed through his mind to say at that moment, but in the end he settled for an indignant "Ouch! Easier on the ribs, Haku! I always knew you were more of a demon than me!"

Of course that only produced much laughter from the three males of Team 7, leaving Sakura outside of their private world of insanity.

The battle was over and they had survived. All was good.

A/N: Yet another chapter by yours truly, though it was my hardest one yet. Hope you enjoyed it and want to adopt it.

I'm getting irritating with the whole adoption thing, I know, but having so many fics can be... hard on me. Especially since I haven't completed a single one of them (one-shots and such not taken into account).

Also, here's a question, of sorts. I'm trying to find a taijutsu style for Naruto, I came up with a Wuxia/Wu Shu combination focused on kicks and acrobatics to allow for quick movement and free the hands for hadseals (he's a ninjutsu specialist after all). Sasuke could go for Goken, Uchiha Interceptor (or whatever his family's style is called), Naruto's style and use twin knives to get up close and personal (melee combat using a large amount of ninjutsu and genjutsu to supplement, his sharingan-based reflexes make him an excellent close quarters combatant). Sakura will still be... well, Sakura, totally pointless. So; Yay or Nay? Go for it? Ideas on it?

Finally, Haku; Male or Female? Kind of thinking a fem!HakuxSasuke fling... maybe meeting up again later on...

Then there's Naruto's pairing(s)... Anyone but Sakura could play a part (she's already insulted his pretties)... Suggestions? Though, for the foreseeable future none of them will be more serious than a romantic flick, not like people usually marry their teen boyfriends/girlfriends.

OMAKE CORNER

Visiting Naruto's Greenhouses, Scene One:

Naruto's greenhouse collection stands at the edge of Konoha, but not outside the Wall. It is a large place, belonging to Naruto mostly because nobody else lays claim on it.

Today, we visit the Warehouse. Named so because... that's exactly what it is; pre-Kyuubi, it was used as a storage warehouse, but during the beast, and the following fall-out of various economic businesses, it was abandoned. Truth be told, its owner gave it away with a smile, even if it was Naruto; when it was bought it was almost at the point of falling apart.

Nothing of the sort now, however. Now, the Warehouse stands rebuilt and robust, perfect for the cultivation of fungi and plants that require less sunlight.

"So... why exactly are we here instead of, I don't know, the Gates, waiting for our client?" Asked Sasuke, annoyed.

"Aww, but I have to take care of my pretties!" Replied Naruto, happily. "Since I'll be gone for so long, I have to leave them some food, ya know? What if something happens? I couldn't leave them to starve!"

"And why can't your clones do it?"

"Because my clones break apart after a single blow. Thought you knew that."

Meanwhile Naruto wasn't standing still; he opened a large refrigerator and walked into it. Several grunts of exertion punctuated his speech.

When he came out, he had a whole skinned deer on his shoulders.

"N-N-Naruto? W-What the hell are you doing with that deer?" Asked Kakashi with trepidation.

The blonde just looked back at him in the weird way possible. "Getting some food for my pretties. It's only a bit though, they seem to have been getting weight lately. Need to get them on a diet..." And with a happy whistling tune he was off to feed his 'pretties'.

Growling, wet splattering sounds and crunching of something hard.

Kakashi, Sasuke and Sakura would never set foot in that warehouse for the rest of their lives.

BACON!

Haku watched transfixed as the red, malicious chakra raged around Naruto like a maelstrom. It lashed out violently, tendrils of youki cutting gashes through the frozen mirrors.

Then something wrong happened.

What leaf the tendrils would touch became red and rectangle, the smell of smoked meat heavy in the air.

Then came Naruto's voice... "FOR THE BACOOON!"

The following beatdown is removed from the fic for the benefit of underage readers, weak stomachs and people who still have a shred of humanity in them.

"So...how did all that bacon show up in the bridge?" Asked Kakashi. Apparently the lump of meat had been appreciated by the hungry folk of Wave. So much so that most of them didn't care about hygiene and just ate the delicious morsels off the ground.

Ew.

"Hm, oh, Kyuubi made them out of my leaves when I used its power." Naruto replied nonchalantly. At least it was just Kakashi and Naruto in the room or the jounin would have to practice his memory seals on his own students. He hadn't done so in fourteen years, mostly because last time he did... things didn't go well.

"Kyuubi? And... how exactly did he manage that?"

"It's simple really. Thanks to the Law of Flora-Fauna Equality, in tandem with the Energy-To-Heat Theory and compounded by the Otani Heat Theorem, the leaves, as organic matter, could be considered meat, therefore when Kyubi's energy scorched them, they became cooked meat and the quality of such great amounts of raw energy turned them to high quality bacon. Of course one could counter that raw energy in fact is non-existent as it depends on its medium to be expressed, but Kyubi's power surpasses the Circular Numerical Infinity Theorem, turning it in fact into heat." Naruto explained somehow summoning several visual aids in the form of papers with rather analytical equasions and presentations. He even had glasses on his face and wore a white doctor's trechcoat.

"R-Really?"

In an instant, everything had vanished and Naruto went back to staring at the potted plant on the window. "Well no. Kyuubi just made it happen. He likes his bacon you know."

"B-But how?"

"He's Kyuubi. He makes earthquakes, infernoes, volcanos, tornadoes, tsunamis and generally all kinds of disasters. Does the fact he makes bacon seem all that far-fetched?"

"W-Well no but-"

"Besides! It gave me an idea!" Naruto leap up, eyes glowing with barely-repressed intellect and madness. Kakashi wasn't sure the madness was repressed all that much. "A new line of jutsu!"

'No. No, he can't be thinking-'

"BACONJUTSU! Bekonton: Bekonyose no jutsu! (Bacon Style: Bacon Summoning)"

Kakashi would later be found in a catatonic state. Psychologists couldn't get him to respond at all.

Except one day that a warden came to work with a strip of smoked meat...

"BACOOOOON!" Kakashi's scream of terror would in fact avert the invading force of Oto and Suna ninja; whatever could produce such a horrified scream was definitely out of their league.

Meanwhile, in Naruto's stomach, an old demon looking like a fox grinned happily. He had bacon and all was good.

Yumm...Bacon.


Today, on this 9/6/2012, I, Soulblazer87, do hereby leave this site, possibly forever.

I shall not update this, or any other story.

I shall leave them on, however. Should you desire to follow my stories, do so in my new site of residence: www dot yourfanfiction dot com.