Something to keep in mind before you begin this chapter, the scene where young Minato was calling out to Naruto right before Ino woke up from her dream was just that: a dream. It hasn't happened yet.

This chapter came at a hard time for me right now and I've been trying to keep writing, but I have to focus on so many other things that it's almost impossible for me to find any more time to write. I will not stop, but my updates will take much longer as you have probably noticed. I'm very sorry for all of you who are waiting for me to update it, and thank you for being patient with me.

Chapter 25

"Thank you so much for the food! It's ssso-o-o g-oo-oo-ood!"

Ino nearly moaned at the warm sensation she felt from sipping the stew that Chojuro gave her. It was a tomato-rich mixture with sautéed onions, peppers and salted eggplant, all of which were grown locally in Hi no Kuni. They were thrown into the pot altogether with spices and even a touch of vinegar, a culinary insight that only well-travelled ninja would bother with. She knew as much, she had gotten so used to eating rations and taking Akimichi pills that helped curb hunger while on long missions that she often times forgot how nice it was to enjoy a well-prepared meal. She loved the stew, but she did refuse the rabbit meat that Zabuza was persuaded to offer her, her refusal in turn increasing his general aversion directed at the initially mysterious girl.

They talked for a few minutes while they ate, mostly about what she was running from. What she was doing in Kumamoto in the first place was the first thing that they asked after she spoke about the incident leading up to her father's apparent demise. Zabuza was the one most interested in this, knowing well the wiles of cunning kunoichi and how they often caught foolish or desperate shinobi in their trap, like a spider spinning its web to catch a fly. He also knew that a kunoichi's age was hardly ever a factor; whether it is a young girl who seduces a man into thinking that she's harmless or of no consequence, or a bodily woman who uses her experience, cunning and willingness to do what it takes to catch the meal.

Ino gave them her full name. She talked about her father who she lost in a battle against an assassin. She talked about his bravery, how he held back the assassin, too powerful to kill, so that she could get away from the battle. She didn't tell them that her father believed that her Kage had been betrayed, or that her boyfriend may have been the cause of her last and only living parent's death. She had to talk. She had to say something to someone. She didn't quite understand it, but it made the whole ordeal easier to deal with.

Ino tried to remember her father as best she could, lest she forget him like she did her mother. She didn't cry, though she couldn't quite understand why. She knew he had no chance. He did what he did to ensure that she could get away, and not risk it all including her well-being on an attempt to save his own life.

They sat by the campfire for a while, but once Ino was strong enough to move about again, she set her bowl down, thanked Haku, and stood up and began to walk away.

Zabuza smirked, quite happy with the decision she made. He leaned back in his traveler's cot and closed his eyes, his hands swooping back behind his head to prop it up as he relaxed.

Haku smiled softly, his brow knitting close together to form a troubled look. Chojuro just looked at Haku briefly before shaking his head and standing up. To his companions' collective surprise, he chased after the girl and grabbed her by her arm, asking her to stop. When he did, however, he was unexpectedly met with a cold gaze and an even colder blade that looked as if it were made out of ink or tar. Not sure what it was, Chojuro eyed the wrist blade that shot out of her bracer with the simple flick of her wrist. It was dangerously sharp, he was sure, and although he had never seen anything like it, it wasn't the sword that struck fear within him; it was the way her eyes looked at him like he was already dead.

The breath he didn't know he was holding escaped his lungs as her killing intent subsided. As a sword enthusiast and wielder, he undoubtedly was interested in the blade's make. He had the nagging suspicion that the blade was carved by some of the tribesmen who lived at the far northern borders between the shinobi enforced countries of Rice, Fire and Waterfall, but he shelved away that question for a better time.

"Uh… listen to me for a sec. I just wanted to know if you were still going to Krakatoa… cause if you are, we're not going there, but I can go with you… just in case that assassin comes back to finish…" he trailed off, biting his lip as her look became progressively colder and colder. "I mean… I just want to help. I can always come back to Kumamoto after I've escorted you there."

"So can I! Please allow me to accompany you, my friend!" Haku offered with his eyes steely and his lips curved upwards in a pleasant smile.

Zabuza groaned, muttering why me as he lay on his back, not even bothering to open his eyes. He knew he was going; once Haku had some sort of honorable intention set in his heart it was like he chiseled it on there and the impression could never be removed. He was going to have to tag along to make sure the kid didn't get hurt skirt-chasing.

Images of the man who undoubtedly took her father's life flashed before her. It took all of her power not to follow-through with the poised blade and thrust it directly through the boy's skull. She had no doubts that it could after seeing the way it sliced through the wooden clones as if they were made out of paper instead.

Ino's heart was pounding, causing her to shudder as it ran rampantly inside of her chest. She was shaking like a leaf… everywhere except the arm that held the blade pointed directly in between the blue-haired man's eyes. That arm held the blade so still that Chojuro knew that one wrong move or haggard breath would mean some permanent damage. What neither of them knew was that the blade was more than it seemed; a soft humming sound resounded from the shadowy blade as if it were vibrating with anticipation at the kill.

Ino pulled the blade back and flicked her wrist again to sheathe it. She sighed right before a deep roll of air entered her stressed lungs.

"I see," she said. "Well, I would really appreciate the company, but I don't know if I even want to get you all involved… you're such nice people… and the problems I have are bigger than assassins coming after me," Ino spoke with an air of introspection, as if she were not even talking to anyone other than reconfirming something with herself. Her eyes wouldn't even rise to meet Chojuro's or anyone else's.

Haku stepped forward, speaking, "From time to time, we also have hunter-nin chasing us from our home village. We fight them off every time but honestly it is much safer in numbers. Had I been on my own all of this time, I would have never survived some of the more dastardly attempts on my life… Zabuza-san has saved me countless times."

They heard a grunt of annoyance coming from the fireplace where Zabuza sat. "Don't sell yourself short, Haku. You know damn well that you've covered my neck just as many times as I've watched out for yours."

Haku smiled, "Thank you, Zabuza-san," he said, feeling a little warmer even though his friend's tone of voice made him seem flippant and uncaring. He knew how important he had become to his friend; their time together had showed him just that: that he was no longer a tool, but a friend. "It really makes me happy to hear you say that."

Zabuza just grunted again, still reclining back on his thin camping bed. "Shut up with all that." He muttered, but his eyes opened and he peered into the fire for a moment before closing them again.

"So," Haku began, turning back to Ino who eyed him carefully in the waning light of the sun. "What are the problems you have other than contracted assassins?"

Ino turned back to look at them and searched both Haku and Chojuro for any hint of malice, she looked carefully for that inner reflection she thought and hoped she was trained well to see as a kunoichi. She bit her lip, mauling over the jumbled set of words in her brain as she tried to come out with a clear and precise explanation for what she believed was going on.

"I guess… I should tell you a little bit about it so that you can understand my predicament." Ino said, a little too quietly. She felt every fiber of her being shuddering, almost begging for her to not place her trust in these people regardless of how nice they were. She had already sized up all three of them, and knew that each of them was a skilled shinobi and would be of great help to her if she were to run into Tenzo again.

The odd thing was that it seemed like they were all from Mizu; the clothing was a similar style to the set that she saw Naruto wearing once, and although Haku wasn't wearing a shinobi headband, he had needles set in his long, pretty hair to tie the bulk of it back behind his head; needles were often thought of as a very Mizu-esque style or even tradition, as they were hard to detect within the obscuring mist that they had become famous for. Zabuza wore his headband, but it was tied onto his head at an off angle and with the headband against the side of his head instead of his front. As she reassessed the two shinobi, she realized something about their story didn't quite add up.

"You said you have to fend off hunter-nin? So you three are missing nin?"

Chojuro grinned, "I'm not. These two are pretty famous though, actually."

Zabuza smirked, "So we're celebrities then?"

"Hah, you have some renown alright… the Demon of the Bloody Mist."

Haku shook his head, chuckling. "That one will never, ever leave you. It is so striking… also quite scary."

"I plan on keeping it that way," he remarked.

Ino frowned. "So… ok, with the exception of Cho-kun because he's not one and Haku because he isn't wearing his, why is it that your forehead protector doesn't have a scratch through them like most missing nin?"

One of Zabuza's eyes opened as he looked up at the blonde with an iris made of smoky ice. Haku, looking conflicted and somewhat ashamed, bowed his head and tried to avoid the young girl's gaze.

"You know that the line carved through the hitai'ate has nothing to do with a person leaving a village; it is simply a statement against that village, and what the person who left believes in."

"Ok. Sorry for saying this, but you strike me as the type of person to hold a grudge… yet you don't have the line through it… so you're saying you believe in what Mist stands for?"

"Smart girl. I am all for the village; what I wasn't for was its government... hell; a few years ago I thought I could do better, but now I know that politics just isn't for me. That doesn't take away from the fact that I worked hard for that village for most of my life, even as a kid before I entered their shinobi academy. There's more to it than my own personal issues though. You see… Haku here was never a shinobi of the Mist… he was born a villager with a problem that you don't hear about back in Konoha."

Ino narrowed her eyes. "I never said I was from Konoha." She certainly wasn't wearing her hitai'ate. It was hidden away in her kunai pouch. She reflexively reached for her pouch, but realized she had the blade at her wrist and was all too happy to prepare to use that on him if it turned out their kindness had all been an illusion.

Zabuza closed his eye and eased back into his cot, the intense feeling that radiated off of him went away and he shrugged. "You're a Yamanaka. You told us your last name, remember? All Yamanaka shinobi are from Konoha. Any Yamanaka shinobi not living in Konoha are marked as missing nin, traitors, or are retired and have to report periodically back to the village… I am not too sure, but I think that they also must only establish residency within particular regions throughout the country. It's the same for the Inuzuka. Otherwise, they must not enter a shinobi academy or be caught learning ninjutsu. It's a part of both of their family's politics, and so they adhere to it, even though the agreement made between the Daimyo of the time and the village during its founding is no longer binding. To their families though, if you aren't living in Konoha, then you cannot become a shinobi. Has to do with their old ancestry in the village… and their relationship to the Uchiha living… well… they used to live there anyways. Lately I have heard many rumors about the two remaining boys and what has become of them. It's both sad and scary, depending on which of the two Uchiha brothers you're talking about."

Ino looked at the older man, shocked at the knowledge he possessed. She thought briefly about Sasuke, seeing him sitting in his wheelchair at a table, working on sealing scrolls, and wondered in her mind what he was up to while she was out here in all of this craziness. "I heard a few things about that… But the political aspect of our clan was the reason why only my father and a few of my other family members stayed. Everyone else moved on… I swear it's weird… anyways, how do you know so much?" she asked, watching the other two carefully as if they had just sprouted heads like snakes.

"I had some intensive training as an ANBU operative in Mizu… Even with all of the super-powered jutsu nowadays, information is still and will always be the deadliest tool a shinobi carries with him, and the information that was drilled into my head was exhaustive: most of what I know now was far more surprising and significant back then, but there are still a few choice bits of info that I have on Konoha, Suna and a few of the others that they'd likely prefer to keep under wraps, so to speak."

Surprised but now more confident this wasn't a façade, Ino smiled and said, "That's impressive! Ok… could you please continue from where you left off? I am really very sorry that I interrupted you!" Ino walked back over to the pit and knelt down by the fire while Chojuro and Haku sat on either side of her.

"Huh… well, the problem Haku faced was that he was born with a kekkei genkai."

Ino gasped, "Oh wow! Like the Sharingan or some kind of affinity to water or something? That's pretty amazing! You're really lucky."

Haku smiled, albeit awkwardly.

"It's actually the opposite… he was one of the most unlucky boys on the planet; to be born in Mizu, at that time, with an enhanced bloodline? It was a death sentence. Even for a talented boy like him."

Ino turned back to look at Haku who softly returned her shameful gaze with a reassuring smile. "Don't worry about it… it is quite different in Konoha, as Zabuza-san was saying."

"Right. See, Mizu doesn't have an excuse for what it did to its own people. The village of Konoha and Hi no Kuni as a whole used people with kekkei genkai for a long time before and after both of the shinobi wars, and they didn't participate in the near extermination on their own people over fear. The strength of some of these bloodlines was so powerful though that the government was scared that they would be overturned. The second Mizukage mainly used these people as contract killers to eliminate his enemies or any political obstacles that stood in his way, and when the war was nearly over he was killed by accident in battle by one of his own shinobi. It was conveniently one with a bloodline. The third kage made an announcement calling in all of his unique and important soldiers who won "their war", as they called it. He lined up each of the dedicated shinobi, who stood proudly to receive their reward, and told them that he would thank them one by one."

Haku heard this story before. Zabuza seemed to be going into more detail than the one that he heard a few years ago.

"So, they waited in a large room big enough for their small army, anxious for their final payment as they talked, shared their war tales and tried to return to being humans and not just killing tools. It was called the Grand Hall, and it was obviously newly renovated with paint and other things, including statues of all of the Kage at the peak of their reign. They were all given alcohol to drink and food to eat, and so they drank their booze and ate all they could take… after all, who would suspect one's very own village would try to kill so many of them at one time? No, none of them believed the village they bled and died for capable of such a drastic decision… I'm sure they couldn't fathom it. In fact, I'm sure they thought that the village needed them even more now that the war was over to fend off any violent after effects and help take better control of the country…"

Zabuza shook his head. "None of them were ever called to meet with the Mizukage. Each and every one of them that night died in that room. Only a pair of them was left at the end. Neither had anything to eat or drink. The room was locked from the outside. The shinobi present that night weren't aware of Mizu's renovations to the grand hall. It was restructured with an extra layer of basalt to reinforce it and stolen Uzushiogakure seals were used to suppress their chakra so that they couldn't use their abilities to escape."

Chojuro shifted in his seat while Ino covered her mouth, staring on in shock as he told the story of his village.

"One of them died from starvation... the other…" he said with a bitter tone to his voice, "… opted out."

He paused for a few seconds and Ino noticed his eyes were opened as they were staring into the fire. He sat up and pushed another piece of firewood into the hungry flame and turned to look at the pretty blonde.

"He… ate the poisoned food?"

Zabuza's silence spoke for him. After a few seconds, he began again, looking up to the blonde as he spoke.

"There are several reasons why they were once called the Bloody Mist… not just because of the exit exam to their academy. And there are several more reasons why I can't go back, for now."

"I see… that's a… terrifying story. To think that a village… any village could be capable of…" she closed her eyes, whispering a silent hope that they received their payment due to them in the afterlife.

Zabuza looked at the girl and a snarky grin formed behind his white facemask. It wasn't that he was laughing at the girl or thought she was stupid… even Haku knew that he didn't really have a "happy" face. It was the best anyone could ever ask for: a grin that was more like a sneer than anything else.

"So, they clear the bodies and a few of the ones who didn't show up to that large meeting or were still fighting through the end of the war found out that many of their friends, family, comrades and even sometimes lovers had disappeared without a trace; the ANBU made sure of that. The third Kage then used the general public's fear of the powerful shinobi with enhanced bloodlines and, using their fear for his propaganda, made them out to be traitors of the village… like they were going to overthrow everything they knew and love and replace it with a true dictatorship. How they were going to use their superior strength and kill everyone just for the fun of it… how the war had changed the people that they once knew and turned them all into monsters. How their bloodlines made them into these savage, uncontrollable killers; this is what the Kage administration used as propaganda to convince the populace to despise their very own. And so, they were hunted down like the monsters they were. Like dogs; vermin. The superior numbers of the shinobi without kekkei genkai outmatched the superior quality of most of their prey. Only a select few survived and most of those were people who hid as normal villagers in remote parts of the country. Or those that left the country altogether and defected."

Wrapped up in the story, the three young shinobi listened to the often intense and doubly-so tragic history of the Village Hidden in the Mist. Ino had only known a few choice things about Mizu, so all of this information was very enlightening. She began to realize just how unlucky Haku was to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time, and her: the complete opposite.

"Haku's mother hid within the Land of Water. She probably didn't have the resources to get out of the village at the time and so decided to settle down in a peaceful location. I do not know if she was a shinobi, but she hid the fact that she was a carrier of an enhanced bloodline for quite some time. In a small, peaceful town, far away from Mizu, she married and gave her husband a son. Haku soon found out that he had this power to manipulate water… easily, and without having to use any seals or jutsu to gather the chakra necessary for it…" Zabuza stopped abruptly and turned to look at Haku. "Do you want to tell the rest?" he asked.

Haku shook his head, "No, I'm fine if you do it. I know you memorized it even though I only told you once."

"It's an important trait for a shinobi to have a good memory. Remembering not to overlook even the slightest detail can mean life or death in our world… so," he says, continuing, "Haku showed off his ability to his mother, who slapped him out of the frustration that she felt over the curse of what once was considered an "ability" and not a smear on the face of society… She reached for him and held him, hoping they would be able to hide it away and that the love she shared with her husband would overcome this obstacle… Haku's father, however, saw the entire exchange and met the two of them at home with a small militia accompanying him. He killed Haku's mother… but it wasn't so easy to kill Haku."

Zabuza sighed. "Afterwards, Haku was homeless and I ran into him. I saw potential, but what was most important at the time was that he was alone, lost in more ways than one and desperate to find some purpose in his life. His youth and impressionability made it easy for me to make a weapon out of him. We went through so many tough obstacles together, and sometime in between we became real comrades."

Ino wiped the edge of her eye with her wrist, sniffling. "I'm so sorry you lost your parents that way." She reached for Haku, surprising him as she brought him in close for a hug.

Chojuro smirked and leaned forward on his palm as he planted his elbow down on his knee.

"Hey, where's my hug? I never even had parents."

Ino's eyebrows rose high above her eyes. "Wow, now that you mention it, there must be so many orphans in Mizu after all of that." She then reached over and pulled Chojuro in for a hug, which he gladly returned.

"Yep," Zabuza said, chuckling. "That's what we are, the land of bastards."

Chojuro chuckled and Haku just smiled at the cruelly truthful joke.

Ino turned to look at Chojuro, once again rubbing a tear out of her eye. "So, Cho-kun. What about you? What's your story?"

"Mine's not so heart-wrenching, unfortunately. I grew up in Mizu an orphan, went into the shinobi academy thankfully after Zabuza had left… he changed the entire system by killing all of the graduating kids in his class."

Ino reeled back in shock, looking at the beady-eyed man who just gazed back at her. Nodding slowly she turned to look back at Chojuro, giving him all of her attention.

"I grew up wanting to be one of the seven swordsmen of the Mist, just like him. It was hard, but I finally got my own sword." He grinned over at Zabuza and Haku, while either nodded or smiled, acknowledging him. "I worked hard for my village and now I'm trying to find a friend of mine who got caught up in some bad stuff. I only have another week or so before I'm considered a missing nin… so I have to get a hold of him quickly and try and bring him back home."

Ino laughed. "I was trying to do something similar… funny how my boyfriend just left Mizu recently."

Zabuza tried not to snicker when he saw Chojuro's heart fall down into his stomach. He looked over at Haku who didn't show any indication that it bothered him, other than his ears were starting to blush red.

"Oh, you have a boyfriend?" Chojuro said, not even able to conceal the disappointment he felt at hearing that.

"Yeah. Well… in all honesty, we are together, but I don't think we've officially said… oh, that's so silly."

Zabuza arched a brow, "What does it matter if he's your boyfriend or just a guy you're sleeping with?"

Ino flinched, "Whoa, buddy!" She put her knuckles on her hips and glared at him, "Don't think that just because I suddenly have respect for you that you can just go and talk like that about me. You don't know if I've slept with him or not, so why don't you watch what you say before you say it!"

Chojuro's eyes widened and his heart fluttered back up from his stomach to his chest. If they're not official, then…!

Zabuza rolled his eyes, more so at the revitalized look in both of the boys sitting around the fire. "Well, you didn't answer my question."

Ino gave him a sideways look like she was glaring, but there was a hint of playfulness in her eyes that made Chojuro sigh. "Alright… what makes it important to me is his feelings for me. If he clearly says that he wants to be my boyfriend then that means he wants to be exclusive."

"What about cheating? Just because he's you're boyfriend doesn't mean he's not going to sleep with other girls or you might do the same with other guys."

Ino frowned. "I like to think there's more to him than that… more to me than that; Naruto is a man not like any other man."

A thought died on the blue haired young man as he looked at the girl, and Chojuro reeled back, his body racking up as if he were plummeting straight down into the ground from high up in the air.

"That's a hell of a statement to make." Zabuza said, chuckling. "But I guess there are better men than me though and Haku is a shining example of that."

Haku would have smiled, but the steeled look in Chojuro's eyes caught his attention. "Chojuro," he started, slowly trying to peer into his eyes as if he was scared of ensnaring his attention even though he needed to talk to him, "Is everything ok?"

Chojuro didn't even look at Haku. His eyes were fixated on Ino's. "You said… Naruto? Namikaze Naruto? Uzumaki Naruto?" He stood upright, his eyes peering down into hers as they had somehow found themselves seated at one point throughout the story.

"Yeah…" Ino said, quietly, her eyes looking up into his before she stood up herself. "Uzumaki Naruto, that's who I meant."

Chojuro nodded. "Naruto is the friend that I'm looking for… I've been searching for him for the past two weeks. I have to bring him back to Mizu or at least get a hold of him before my time is up. May I please go with you?"

Ino nodded. "Ok. But, if you turn out to be anything but a friend," her eyes gripped his and pulled them in close as she whispered, "I won't hesitate to cut out your throat."

"Understood." His eyes danced with hers like two warriors stabbing at each other with spears.

"Let's go." Zabuza said suddenly, brushing past Chojuro and Ino, shocking both of them. Haku's smile widened and a glint of mischievousness reached his eyes. They turned to look at the chiseled man, carved like a monument out of pale stone.

"Did you see that?"

"The aura? It was like… solid. I swore I could see his chakra." Chojuro said, looking on incredulously.

"Uh oh. Zabuza-san is all fired up; it might be hard to stop him now that he's gotten all like this." Haku explained to the two younger shinobi who were frozen in place, their arms up in a protective manner as the man kept walking.

"Did you expect him to do that all of a sudden?" whispered Chojuro, looking cautiously at the blonde in front of him.

"No way… It was like standing next to a… leopard or something equally bloodthirsty." Ino whispered back, her eyes widened.

Haku laughed. "Oh yeah, killing strong opponents and money are Zabuza-san's two biggest motivations… well, there are three actually; revenge is pretty high up there as well…" The boy shrugged, having already cleared up the campsite, he put out the fire and walked past the frozen duo.

Ino made the first move, chasing after the pretty boy to hide behind him as they walked. Chojuro shook it off and followed after them, but soon after had to run back to grab his pack and his sword before he turned back to catch up with them.

Naruto smiled. Tayuya and Anko were playing with the sticks used in dango treats, fighting each other with them like they were sparring with swords as they sat in the carriage. Naruto wasn't going to arrange for them to go by carriage to the volcano, but young Minato showed up near the outskirts of the village with several bodyguards and a messenger that invited them to join him. He said that his vision placed him there at the volcano, so to not go could possibly warrant his own death, as he had never seen himself in any other vision.

Naruto was sitting across from young Minato who was playing with a doll.

"That's a cute thing. What it's name?" Naruto asked Minato, who grinned up at him.

"His name is Naruto! I just named him!"

The blond laughed, shaking his head. "And you couldn't think of any better name?"

When the young boy shook his head fervently, Naruto suddenly felt touched. He smiled as the young boy played with the young "Naruto" doll which had small whisker marks on its cheeks and had a tuft of blond hair sort of like his.

"So, Minato… your uncle is by Krakatoa, isn't he? What kind of person is he?"

Young Minato nodded but shrugged, saying, "I've never met him."

Surprised, Naruto asked, "What?"

"He always sent servants to take care of me. He gave me a tutor and a place to stay nearby the palace, but he was never really around. Neither was my daddy. The only person I've ever had was my mommy, and a servant or two. I'm pretty lucky though! I heard that there are people without mommies or daddies. Even if I didn't have my mommy, my uncle took care of me by sending those servants to care for me."

"Huh… does your uncle have any kids?"

"They are all grown up."

"Did you ever get to play with any kids your age? Do you have any friends?"

"I had a friend a long time ago. She moved far away though… Her name was Nanao."

"I see. I'm sorry to hear that. I had a really good friend for a long time and we just met up again recently; so maybe you and Nanao will see each other pretty soon… actually, I'm sure of it! I may not have prophetic dreams, but I'm sure you'll meet her again, and you'll become good friends again just like you were before!" Naruto spoke with Ino in his heart, so when he heard the chuckling coming from the young boy across from him in the carriage, he frowned. "What's so funny?"

"Nothing… it's just that, I don't think you and Ino-chan are "good friends"… or maybe, you two are really good friends." He smiled mischievously, "I think you two are boyfriend and girlfriend!"

Anko started laughing while Tayuya just frowned. Naruto blushed. Was it that obvious?

"You're a bright kid!" Anko called out from the other side of the large, mule drawn carriage.

"No kidding." Naruto muttered.

Naruto reached into his kunai pouch and pulled out a small wallet shaped like a frog. He introduced Gama-chan to the small Naruto-doll and began playing with the young boy, drawing awe's from the two women riding with them. Naruto and Minato spent the next hour in the slow-moving carriage just playing with their two "dolls" as Naruto tried his best to give the boy some semblance of a normal childhood while he still could.

Ino stopped in her tracks as they walked. What she saw in front of her she couldn't comprehend. Afterwards, she couldn't believe what she saw. When she knew it was true, she broke out into tears and ran up to the blond man standing in the center of the clearing, waiting with open arms.

Zabuza and Haku exchanged looks while Chojuro eyed the older man suspiciously. Ino, still crying after a few minutes of holding the tall man, turned to introduce her companions with a red nose and cheeks as she gasped for breaths in between sobs.

How? How was he still alive? Ino gripped onto his sleeves and whimpered into his chest, begging her daddy not to leave her ever again. He spoke very tenderly in her ear begging her for her forgiveness. Ino looked at his chest and realized he was covered in blood. And now she was as well. Her fingertips all of the way up until her throat she was dyed crimson. He was bleeding profusely. Wondering how there was so much blood Ino touched his chest and gasped when he began to fall backwards.

She grasped his shoulders and eased him down gently onto his back, leaning over him as she dug her knees into the soil beside him as he bled out. He looked into her eyes and whispered quietly, totally out of breath.

She couldn't hear him. She leaned in close and tried to catch his last few breaths against her ear, her eyes widening in shock.

"Daddy, what are you talking about? Why would he…?"

She watched him shudder as his eyes began to weave back and forth, his eyelids hanging low.

"Naruto… has betrayed the village… he intends… to join Orochimaru… to kill all of us. Tenzo was one of his. I killed him. Bit his throat."

Ino reeled back, about to let go of her father's head. His face was covered in a darker shade of blood that splashed around it and dripped down his jaw and neck. How could he be saying such things about the man she loved? Did he really send Tenzo to interrupt their date and make it look like the village wanted her dead? How could he have the resources to get a hold of a jonin from Konoha?

"Pumpkin… please… I know you love him… but he was only toying with you. He intended to join Orochimaru from the start. He said and did what he had to do to trick you into "protecting" him and staging his getaway with the Sannin back when you were children. He wants revenge for something that happened to his parents a long time ago that he found out about. He wasn't supposed to find out what we did to his parents. But he did… Ino. I need you to pay attention to me."

Tears were streaming down Ino's face as she tried to listen to him and make out what her father was saying. What was he saying? That Naruto wanted Orochimaru to take him away from the village? That he was the one who called him? What did her father or the village have anything to do with Naruto's parents?

"You have to kill him. If you don't, the village is in danger… he's not strong yet… not strong enough. You and your friends have to finish him before he goes back home and kills everyone."

"Daddy! What are you asking me to do?! I can't… he wouldn't kill anyone!"

Chojuro winced slightly, remembering the ugly way that Naruto often killed anyone who threatened his life… in particular he remembered the gruesome way that Naruto shoved a man into a group of people with a detonated roll of explosive tags in his mouth.

"Sweety… please… Don't trust him. Don't…" Yamanaka Inoichi died there.

Ino looked away from the dull, lifeless eyes of her father as she gripped his coat fiercely.

Haku knelt down beside her, but did not speak. He only searched her eyes and reached out with one hand for Ino's. She looked up when he touched her, and her eyes searched his for a moment before she crashed into him, wrapping her arms around his neck as she sobbed, tears running down freely as she smothered the young man in her father's drying blood.

Chojuro looked on towards Krakatoa, which was so magnificently tall that it was visible in the distance. He gripped one of the handles to his sword behind his back as he gazed on with a hint of anger in his eyes. Just what were Naruto's intentions from the very beginning? He wondered now if maybe this entire time, he was Orochimaru's pupil and was using the Mist as a place to train and grow strong. He certainly played his own part in Naruto's development, and to think that his best friend could have used him in such a way made his blood boil.

Zabuza sighed. He looked up to the stars above their heads and hoped that he wasn't making the biggest mistake of his life, following and protecting this girl.

After burying the body, they went on their way, leaving a small monument of stones and a compilation of sticks in the shapes of both the Yamanaka and Konoha symbols. Ino took her time; she wasn't in a hurry to meet up with Naruto anymore. As they left, however, the stones shifted and from the grave rose a dead man. He smiled a smile unlike any of his own, even as the skin on his face began to peel away.

I hope it was worth the wait. Unfortunately, I had to extend this part of the story. There will be a few more things tying up at the end, and I will start part two of the story after the meeting at Mount Krakatoa. Like I said, I'm really busy lately, so it may take another while for me to update. I appreciate any reviews and messages you all send me. And thank you very much for reading!