Chapter 53

Konohamaru was annoying.

Naruto had always known that. He had lived with the boy for most of the young Sarutobi's life, watching as the then baby grew his first teeth, spoke his first word, walked his first steps, and made Naruto's life hell for the first time. He could even recall the little brats stupid, smug smirk as he stood in the kitchen, an arm outstretched and a bowl of freshly-chopped vegetables atop of Naruto's head. Ever since that moment, he knew that Konohamaru would be a bane in Naruto's life.

He hadn't been wrong.

"C'mon, Naruto!" Konohamaru whined. "Give us a good mission!"

Naruto was gritting his teeth, gripping the stapler in his right hand and resisting the urge to throw it. He had brained the younger Sarutobi earlier, breaking another stapler in the process, and now this was the only one left. If this one were to break, it would be a giant pain to categorise and collate the backlog of documents practically flowing out of the storage room. It would add hours onto an already annoying job.

"C'mon….!" Konohamaru whined again.

It just might be worth it, though. The stapler would fly through the air, wind whistling around it. Konohamaru would try to raise a meagre defence, but the force behind the projectile would be too great. It would break through Konohamaru's guard and strike him in his exposed, vulnerable big fat forehead. The enemy would be defeated, curling up in a little ball and crying like a baby, while Naruto would stand victorious, lording his win over his pathetic underling- until he had to do all of the paperwork by hand.

Naruto glanced at the stapler in his hand and reluctantly put it down.

"You've been given your mission," he said tiredly, and waved his hand at the door where Kakashi and Sakura was waiting, the former looking amused and the latter looking annoyed. "Now scram."

"This mission is garbage!" Konohamaru bellowed.

"All missions, including D-ranks, are vital to the village…" Naruto began.

"It's actually garbage!" Konohamaru stamped his foot down. "We're picking up all of the rubbish by the pond! You're giving me actual garbage!"

Naruto sighed again. "Konohamaru," he said tightly, "I am the Jonin running the Mission Desk and you are the little Genin who should be doing what he's told!" His voice rose into a yell at the end as he jumped to his feet.

"Well, maybe you shouldn't be running it!" Konohamaru hissed between clenched teeth.

"Oh?" Naruto smiled darkly. "It's treason, then." His hands blurred and a puff of wind smacked into Konohamaru's chest, launching him off his feet and sending him soaring backwards. He slammed into the wall with a loud thud and slumped down to the ground.

Kakashi merely whistled as he grabbed the end of Konohamaru's scarf and began to drag him away. "Thanks for the mission, Naruto!" he called, the glee obvious in his voice. "I'm sure my cute, little genin will have so much fun!"

"One of the sewerage grates near the northern bridge is clogged with rubbish," Naruto called out at the lanky Jonin's back. "It needs little fingers!"

Kakashi responded with a backhanded wave and disappeared from view, still dragging the dazed Konohamaru with him. Naruto returned to his desk, sniggering, while Yuuka came bounding out of the backroom.

"Did I sense a wind technique?" she asked curiously.

Naruto's eyebrows rose. "You did," he agreed, sounding impressed. "I didn't know your sensor techniques could track elemental composition."

"Aw, shucks, boss," Yuuka said with a grin, placing one hand on her cheek. "I have been training, you know."

Naruto did know. All of his team, barring Daichi and Sasuke, had been hitting the Training Fields heavily the past week ever since they had returned from Operation Hurricane. The sights they had seen and the enemies they had fought had ignited a passion within them, and in between light duties they trained to the point of exhaustion, pushing body and chakra to the limit and beyond.

Even Naruto had been hitting it up, using the Hokage's private training field to practise wielding his chakra chains in between team training and administrative duties. Despite how hard it was to control them, they would have enormous potential in any future fights, and Naruto didn't want to let such a valuable weapon go to waste.

"Anyway, boss," Yuuka said, looking at a scroll with the air of somebody confused. "We have a…er…mission request here. I think you need to have a look at it."

Naruto took the scroll, opened it up and began to read it. Yuuka stood next to him, peering over his shoulder, and the blond ANBU was suddenly aware of her hair brushing against his cheek. He ignored it as best he could as he scanned the contents with raised eyebrows.

"An assassination mission," he mused. "That's interesting."

"Yeah, well, have you seen the target?" Yuuka asked, pointing to that part of the scroll. "It's a…"

"Cactus," Naruto finished in surprise. He cocked his head. "Wait. We have to assassinate a cactus? Who's the sender- oh, it's him."

The requester was a minor noble from the Land of Wind who was not as anonymous as he tried to be. Previous mission requests had been sent in code where no cypher had been available. Even when decoded, they often resulted in stupidly ludicrous missions. To date, Konoha teams had kidnapped a shrew, assaulted a lake with water techniques and arrested an apple. It was almost insulting to be given such ridiculous missions except that this noble paid very well.

Naruto sighed as he stamped the mission for approval before Yuuka's disbelieving eyes.

"Wait, are we really going to do this?" she asked.

"Yep," Naruto answered flippantly. "Don't worry, the sender is known to us. We actually thought his previous missions were traps at first, so stupid that they were cunning, but the Department of Intelligence looked into it and it turned out that they were just stupid."

Naruto tossed the scroll over to Yuuka, who caught it, still looking bewildered.

"Send that down to Intel. We'll need a reconnaissance team to scout out the target."

"It's a cactus," Yuuka replied blankly.

"Indeed," Naruto confirmed seriously. "I want the Department of Records to run a background check on it. I want its history, from seed to plant, and the names of all of its former associates and any family members. I want a Jonin Team briefed by this afternoon and I want that cactus dead by the end of the week."

Yuuka stared at him. "Seriously?" she deadpanned.

"Look, the man has some problems," Naruto explained with a grin. "If we can come up with some relatively complex-looking documents to give to the client as well as a cut-in-half cactus, we'll get paid a fair bit. We're happy because we have money. He's happy because the enemy cactus encroaching on his land is dead. Everybody wins." He paused. "Except the cactus, obviously."

"This is crazy," Yuuka muttered, but she was smiling.

She summoned a messenger and relayed the instructions as Naruto continued to sort out the mission requests. A particular scroll stood out from the rest, the seal of Research and Development catching his eye. He frowned and picked it up. Internal missions from Konoha's Departments weren't meant to be filed with external requests. With a shrug, he opened up the misfiled report and began to read it. As he did so, his mouth dropped open.

"Everything alright, boss?" Yuuka called out.

Naruto didn't answer her as his eyes scanned the scroll carefully.

"Hey, boss?" Yuuka nudged his shoulder. "What is it?"

"This is it," Naruto breathed. He looked at her with wide, excited eyes. "This is the mission I've been looking for." He slammed the scroll down on his table. "Summon this team. I need them for a matter of national security."

Sadly, it took a while for the requested team to arrive. When they finally did arrive, Naruto was busy briefing two serious-looking Jonin and they had to stand to the side as they waited for him to finish.

"…upon arrival at the mission location, you are to locate the target and terminate with prejudice." Naruto steeped his fingers together and rested his elbows on the table. "There can be no survivors. Kill the target and his family."

The first Jonin looked at the second, and then back at Naruto.

"Ah, the target?" He asked carefully. "As in, the…cactus?"

Naruto nodded seriously. "Indeed. Team Akashi, you are dismissed." As the two Jonin gave each other strange looks and began to walk away, Naruto called out after them. "Remember- no survivors!"

Akashi paused midstep and then sighed, shaking his head and walking away with his partner.

"…seriously though," he was saying as he left the room. "It's like a younger version of Hokage-sama…"

Naruto was smiling broadly at their backs, chuckling, but then his eyes came upon the team leaning against the wall and if possible it got even broader.

"Team Kakashi!" He called out, sounding pleased. "You're looking well. How was your morning?"

"I'm literally covered in crap," Konohamaru snapped.

His clothes were muddied and soiled, water dripping from his clothes and leaving a muddy puddle on the floor, and there was this smell about him. Sakura was standing a fair distance away from him, and even Kakashi seemed to lean away. The sight raised Naruto's spirits, but there was work to be done and he smoothed his face over.

"Konohamaru," he began seriously. "Were you serious earlier?"

"Serious…?" Konohamaru trailed off, his angry expression melting as he looked puzzled.

"About wanting an important mission," Naruto clarified. He picked up a scroll, watching Konohamaru intently. "Because I have one right here, and I need a capable genin to lead a retrieval team."



Sakura and Konohamaru both let out their startled exclamation at the same time. Sakura's sounded disbelieving, but Konohamaru's was sceptical and he looked at Naruto suspiciously.

"Really?" the young boy demanded. "A real mission?"

Naruto nodded and picked up the scroll. "Please follow me to the briefing room. This matter is too sensitive to be discussed here."

He led the suspicious Konohamaru, the bewildered Sakura and the amused Kakashi to one of the side rooms, where he sat them, all down at a small table. Clearing his throat, he began.

"Yesterday afternoon, a dangerous asset of Konoha escaped from one of our secret Departments," Naruto began seriously. "He has evaded all pursuit and is currently on the loose. Three of our shinobi are in the hospital being treated for their wounds."

"Really?" Konohamaru had begun to sound hopeful. Next to him, Sakura was making a complicated expression.

"Really," Naruto confirmed with a sharp nod. "No Jonin Teams are available at the moment- you saw me send off the last two on a vitally important mission to the Village, so I am forced to hand out this B-ranked mission to a powerful Genin squad. I need a team leader, so naturally, I thought of you."

"Really?" Sakura scoffed.

"Really," Naruto confirmed again. He stared down at Konohamaru with narrowed eyes. "Make no mistake- the asset is armed and extremely dangerous. He is a capable shinobi, with excellent hand-to-hand combat skills. There is a high chance of injury if you accept this mission."

"B-rank?" Konohamaru whispered, a light shining in his eyes. "For me?"

"For you," Naruto said gravely. "I need you to form a team of Genin. You may recruit any of your classmates. Locate the asset. Subdue him without causing any permanent harm, and return him back to the Village. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir!" Konohamaru barked eagerly.

"Good." Naruto handed over the scroll to Sakura, but kept his eyes on Konohamaru as Kakashi lounged in the background. "The asset's movements are detailed in the report. He will be on the outskirts of Konoha, around Training Ground 63. I suggest you move fast- we cannot allow him to defect!"

"We will catch this traitor and return him to the Village!" Konohamaru exclaimed and slammed his fist on the table. "I promise you, Naruto!"

"Good, Konohamaru!" Naruto's stern voice rose. "Now go, Team Konohamaru, and retrieve our missing elite shinobi ostrich!"

"Yes, sir!" Konohamaru roared and practically ran from the room. It was only a few moments later when it must had finally registered with him because he ducked his head back into the room, looking confused. "Wait, shinobi what?"

Kakashi laughed.

A few minutes later, Kakashi joined Naruto in the Mission Assignment Office as Naruto finished up the last of the paper work. The silver-haired Jonin was reading his book as he leant against a wall, watching Naruto tidy up his desk and dismiss Yuuka.

"That wasn't very nice, you know," Kakashi drawled lazily. He paused for a beat. "Naturally, I approve."

"Trust me, this is going to be hilarious," Naruto responded with obvious relish. "That particular project has been a giant pain the arse for years. Konohamaru's going to have to work hard. He'll come back with bruises for sure!"

Kakashi snickered. Then, he put down his book and made a thoughtful noise in the back of his throat.

"Hey, Naruto," he called. Naruto turned to look at him. "Remember when I asked if you would be up for a bit of a match against each other?"

"Yeah…" Naruto said slowly.

"Well," Kakashi smiled from beneath his mask. "I happen to have the afternoon off now, so the real question is," he exhaled noisily. "What are you doing?"

Naruto bit his lip and narrowed his eyes. A smile tugged at the corner of his lips.

Sparring between shinobi in Konoha was quite common. It was one the best ways to train, allowing friendly shinobi to practise techniques and tactics in a non-hostile environment with their peers. There were vast numbers of training grounds featuring different terrain allowing teams and individuals to match their styles against the various landscapes of the world. Many training sessions even drew in an audience, and it wasn't uncommon for teams of genin to watch Chunin practise their skills, or even Chunin and Special Jonin to take notes at the application of techniques and tactics used by the Jonin.

However, sparring could end up being dangerous for both the participants and the watchers, especially when high-level shinobi pitted their skills against each other. High-level techniques couldn't necessarily tell the difference between an enemy, an ally, or a spectator. To minimise damage, regulations had been brought in decades ago to avoid the worst consequences of a spar-gone-wrong.

When Naruto arrived in a flurry of leaves, he flinched as a piece of paper was immediately shoved into his face.

"Sign the release form, please," the man grunted. He wore a white hat and long white robes, the symbol of Konoha's Sealing Squad imprinted on the back.

"Um…" Naruto trailed off, his eyes going briefly cross-eyed as he tried to read the paper. He shook his head, took a step back and snatched the paper away. "Right," he replied and quickly scrawled his name.

The Sealing Squad member took the paper and disappeared into the milling crowd, leaving Naruto alone and unnoticed as of yet by the dozens of milling, chatting shinobi. The young blond merely stood back, watching with widened eyes at how many people were there. He could spot many shinobi that he knew, mostly high ranking Jonin.

Was he in the wrong place?

Then he noticed a large, hastily constructed whiteboard with both his and Kakashi's faces plastered over it and sighed. Obviously not. Clearly, word had gotten out that one of Konoha's premier shinobi was about to test his strength and others had come flocking over to watch. He shook his head, feeling a bit annoyed.

It wasn't like he wasn't oblivious to the situation. Hatake Kakashi was one of Konoha's top Jonin, world renowned as a highly-skilled prodigy who had survived many difficult missions. He was one of the A-ranked shinobi formerly recognised with S-rank potential. He could one day ascend to the realm of legends as one of the select few able to wield skills that could be pitted against entire armies. He wasn't there yet, but shinobi- and the world in general – tended to keep an eye on those with potential. Of course there would be those who would want to see such a shinobi in action, especially as Kakashi was known to be reclusive and very rarely deigned to accept challenges and offers for a spar.

Naruto would be his first opponent in seven years, the first sanctioned spar since the time Kakashi had pitted his skills against Maito Gai. The two Jonin had fought each other for close to an hour before conceding the match as a draw.

Now the Copy-Cat was fighting again, and this time he had been the challenger.

Besides, Naruto was quite aware of his reputation around the village now, and although he did take pride in knowing that he was becoming a strong asset for the village, it did leave him feeling quite uncomfortable. That said, he acknowledged that he too was becoming regarded as one of Konoha's premier Jonin. After all, he just had come off a battle that had pitted him against one of the Five Kage- and not even Kakashi could match that particular feat.

But was he really up at Kakashi's level? Kakashi's skill was infamous, and even though Naruto felt like he had come a long way, surely he wasn't ready to stand beside such a man. The doubt niggled at him as he walked forward, deliberately ignore the exclamations and whispers as the crowd noticed his appearance. From the corner of his eye, he could spot a purple-haired woman- Anko- enthusiastically taking bets from a small crowd that had formed around her. The blackboards suggested that Kakashi was slated to win, but the odds were far closer than Naruto would have suspected, and his eyes widened in surprise.

He turned away, walking up to the training ground. It was a relatively flat plain of rolling green grass. A small stream trickled down the middle of it, and large chunks of rock stuck out of the ground, black and pitted from previous battles. On one side of the field was a small forest, large soaring trees reaching up into the sky. Naruto took it all in, his mind whirring with possible tactics, even as he took note of the lone figure standing in the middle of it all.

Hatake Kakashi didn't look like he was bothered by the crowd, head down and stuck in a small, orange book. As if feeling Naruto's eyes, his raised a hand and lazily waved without looking up, and Naruto gave a short wave back. Around them, more members of the Sealing Corp were working on a four-pointed barrier to keep the spectators out of the way of stray techniques. Most of them looked to be Jonin themselves and could probably avoid the worst of them, but regulations were regulations.

"Hey, Captain," Somebody called out from behind him.

Naruto turned his head, watching Towa and Komachi approach. Towa was sporting a wide grin and even the more reserved Komachi looked interested. Behind them, Kage gave him a small nod and Yuuka waved excitedly, practically bouncing on her feet. Only Sasuke and Daichi were missing, although both were due to leave the hospital in the next day or so.

"So, how much trouble am I in?" Naruto asked them wryly.

"On a scale of one to completely fucked, you're probably about fucked and a half," Towa answered, then winced as Komachi casually slapped him across the back of the head. "Always with the head…" he moaned to himself.

"Kakashi is formidable," Kage warned stoically. "Although, I believe there are far worse opponents you could face- Gai, for example."

Naruto winced at that. He strongly believed that Gai would be the absolute worst person to have to fight against. An immensely tough, strong, fast close-combat fighter who could evade his ninjutsu and get right in his face, Gai was the kind of specialist shinobi that long-ranged fighters despised. Naruto was well aware of his limits- as a long range ninjutsu specialist, his close-combat skills were lacking. They weren't bad, just average- and average for a Jonin wasn't quite good enough. He had been polishing this area of weakness and had some ideas on how to counter Kakashi if he tried such a strategy, but it was fairly shaky at the moment.

A loud gong reverberated around the clearing as the Sealing Squad finished their preparations. Yuuka gave him a squeeze on the shoulder as the crowd began to disperse back to the boundary area.

"Hey, boss?" she said cheerfully, leaning in. She gave him a wink and jerked her thumb at Kakashi. "Go and kick his arse, will ya?"

Naruto smiled at her enthusiasm. "I'll try," he promised, and he felt a wave of determination as Yuuka squeezed his shoulder again. He felt better as she left him alone to face Kakashi, who had lowered his book.

"Ah." The grey-haired shinobi scratched the back of his head as he gazed around. "We seem to have drawn a crowd." He sounded nonchalant.

"We have," Naruto agreed, eying them almost warily. He wasn't quite sure if he liked them there, especially when there was a good chance that he wasn't going to win this one.

"Well, we could do this another time," Kakashi offered with an expression on his face that suggested he was smiling beneath his face mask. Somebody in the crowd must have heard him because a round of boos and jeers washed over the field.

"Kick his butt, Naruto!" Yuuka screamed out.

Kakashi chuckled as Naruto flushed. "Oh, are they all on your side?" He snapped his book shut and placed it in his vest. "Now how is that meant to make me feel? It's not very fair." He actually sounded like he was pouting.

"Go, Kakashi!" Somebody screamed. "Kick the scrawny, 13-year-old boy's butt!"

"Ah," Kakashi appeared sheepish. "That doesn't make me feel any better. Will I look like a bully if I beat up a kid, I wonder?"

Encouraged by the crowd, Naruto felt his lips twitch. "I'd probably look worse beating up a senior citizen," he remarked.

"Ooh!" Towa jeered from behind them.

Kakashi clapped a hand over his heart. "So mean, Naruto," he grouched. "I'm not old. I'm in the prime of my youth. Ask Gai, he'll agree!"

"You do have grey hair," Naruto pointed out helpfully.

"Hmm," Kakashi hummed. "Well, I've decided. I think I am going to beat you up now."

"We'll see," Naruto responded, his voice suddenly feeling thick in his throat.

He stared up at the older shinobi, narrowing his eyes in challenge as Kakashi stared back, merely looking amused. After a few moments though, a loud curse erupted from behind them as Anko, a Special Jonin that Naruto hadn't had much to do with, burst to the front of the crowd.

"Stop flirting and start fighting, you wimps!" She hollered amidst laughter.

"Shut up, Anko," Kakashi drawled lazily, cocking his head to stare her down. But then he turned back to Naruto, shrugging slightly. "We should start. Before we do, though…" He reached up and lifted his headband away from his covered eye.

There was an instant hush behind them as Kakashi's famous sharingan was revealed to the world. Kakashi was renowned for his skills and tactical thinking- and that was before he used the weapon he hid away under his headband. The fact that he was using it from the beginning suggested that despite every appearance, he was taking this fight seriously.

Somebody behind them started hollering down a countdown from ten. As they did so, Naruto let his chakra empower his body, his tenketsu opening as coils of power wrapped around his limbs. From his experience with Sasuke, Naruto knew that his best bet was to avoid eye contact and attack from angles outside of Kakashi's field of vision. It wouldn't be a bad idea to obstruct the other shinobi's vision, although Sasuke had recounted the Copy-Nin's fight with Zabuza of the Seven Swordsmen and it appeared that Kakashi was prepared for such countermeasures.

The countdown had reached seven.

Kakashi was a generalist. He specialised in all areas of the shinobi arts, great at many but an expert of none. He was taller, stronger and possibly faster than Naruto, with excellent hand-to-hand and ninjutsu skills. His reach would be longer and just the size and weight difference alone would be an immediate advantage.

Naruto, on the other hand, was a long range ninjutsu specialist, an expert at dozens of different techniques of varying elemental compositions and possessing a chakra capacity to use them without rest. But his genjutsu was lacking and his close combat was adequate at best. He had speed, but used it to parry and deflect to create distance and bring his ninjutsu down upon the enemy. Any close-range fighting would not end well for him.

The countdown had reached four.

Ideally, Naruto needed to keep Kakashi out at a distance with the use of ninjutsu. He would need to force Kakashi to use his chakra to either counter, deflect or dodge techniques while staying far enough away that Kakashi couldn't use his superior hand-to-hand skills against him. Sasuke had mentioned that Kakashi had been exhausted after having the sharingan exposed for some time, so if Naruto could drag the fight on while retaining a superior position, Kakashi would either have to lower his headband, thereby weakening himself, or attack when possibly in a disadvantaged position. Kakashi would exhaust himself much faster than Naruto would, but then, the Copy-Cat would know this and move to end things quickly if he wanted a win.

The countdown timer had reached one.

Naruto took a deep breath. Kakashi stirred in front of him.


Both shinobi moved at the same time, Kakashi hurling a handful of shuriken in a blink of an eye while Naruto making a single hand-seal.

Earth Release: Ground Bedrock!

The ground rumbled underneath him as chakra surged from the tenketsu in his feet, enveloping the earth around him and hardening it. Then, it rose into the air with a loud groan, a mountain rising up from the flat terrain with Naruto on top. The shuriken bounced harmlessly off its rising walls with a clatter as dust rose in the air. When it settled, Naruto looked down at Kakashi from his new perch twenty metres off of the ground.

Fire Release: Flame Whirlwind!

Fire Release: Phoenix Sage Fire Technique!

Fire Release: Phoenix Sage Fire Technique!

Fire Release: Phoenix Sage Fire Technique!

Naruto folded the chakra within him four times, his whole body feeling the strain. His tenketsu burned, the air around him shuddered and the rock beneath his feet cracked. Four combined fire techniques formed around him. The first exploded from his hands in a spiralling wave of flame, weaving around his outstretched palms like a shield, and it caught a hail of kunai and exploding tags with ease. The tags detonated but the shield held strong, then Naruto concentrated and sent it hurtling down at Kakashi.

The rest formed around him and dozens- no, hundreds- of small streaks of fire lanced down at the enemy. The ground was bombarded again and again, large divots of earth exploding from the ground as the once-tranquil clearing became a cratered warzone. Plumes of smoke rose up into the air and Kakashi disappeared as the many small streaks of fire became one large wildfire which swept across the grass and towards the small forest behind them, surging wildly.

Naruto watched with careful eyes, his hands still held in a seal, and then released the techniques. Without the chakra powering it, the fire disappeared almost instantly, revealing a battered, cratered ground and little else. Kakashi, for all intents and purposes, had disappeared.

Earth Release: Rising Stone Spears!

Naruto knelt down and slammed his hand on the hastily-constructed tower of rock and dozens of thick, sharpened spikes of earth erupted from all around the small hill. There was a glint of movement on his left, and Naruto saw Kakashi leaping away, his quick ascent aborted by the technique. Naruto made another series of hand-seals, his hands blurring, and focussed on the Jonin flying through the air.

Earth Release: Rock Shuriken!

Great shurikens of rock rocketed down and struck Kakashi in three different places. His vest crumpled beneath the force of the blow, his headband screeched his leg snapped back in an awkard position as the earth technique pounded into him. Then, after a split second, he exploded in a spray of rain as the water clone dispelled.

"Hello!" Kakashi's cheerful voice came from behind him.

Naruto whirled around, fire blossoming in his hands, but nobody was there- and then he was struck heavily from the way he had been facing as Kakashi jumped up from the ledge of the tower and delivered a powerful kick to the back of Naruto's head. Naruto's face froze in pain- but then he exploded in a puff of smoke and a broken, shattered stone shuriken took his place. Kakashi whipped back to where his clone had dispelled to see Naruto falling through the air after his replacement technique, his hands twisted in a seal.


The explosive tags hidden under where Naruto had just been standing exploded with a deafening roar, sending shockwaves of dirt and smoke through the air. The plateau became a whirlwind of dust and billowing clouds of fire as Naruto continued his fall to the ground with his hands twisted in another seal. He landed neatly in a crouch, hands slamming down on the earth as he stared up at the rocky hill intently.

Lightning Release: Electromagnetic Murder!

Lightning Release: Electromagnetic Murder!

Lightning Release: Electromagnetic Murder!

The triple-folded technique sent arcs of crackling electricity ripping through the ground, rushing towards the base of the mountain. When it arrived, it travelled upwards, ripping apart rock and stone in a violent wave of bright blue light, tearing the entire construct to pieces. Hisses and pops filled the air as the lightning began to dissipate as the ruined remnants of Naruto's earth technique came crashing to the ground with loud boom.

"Ouch," Kakashi deadpanned from the other side of the field, somehow escaping Naruto's trap with ease. He was patting down his dirty vest, his sharingan eye spinning, sporting a nonchalant look. "That hurt, Naruto."


Naruto had already felt the creeping effects of the genjutsu encroach on his vision and Kakashi disappeared in a hazy swirl of smoke. Meanwhile, the real Kakashi, as dusty as his illusion had been, darted towards him from behind, closing the distance quickly. As Naruto had suspected, Kakashi was going to try to keep him within reach to stop his ninjutsu. He didn't have any more time to speculate as Kakashi arrived and the two engaged in furious hand-to-hand combat.

Kakashi was much taller than Naruto and he had reach that meant he could attack Naruto from a distance without leaving himself open for a counter. He wasn't as fast as Naruto, but his blows rocked Naruto back as the young Jinchuuriki desperately tried to parry and deflect the punches and kicks. He spun back, throwing a handful of shuriken that popped into his hand, but Kakashi had already moved and Naruto grunted as he got a boot in the gut. The force propelled him up off of the ground, but as Kakashi went to deliver another lightning-fast strike, Naruto's cheeks bulged and Kakashi's eyes widened.

The silver-haired shinobi darted backwards just as a searing globe of rolling flames struck the ground where he had been. It kept surging forward, forcing Kakashi to weave around it, and by then Naruto had created some distance, panting. He grimaced. He had been right- there was no point trying to beat the older shinobi in hand-to-hand combat. It would have to come down to ninjutsu.

Earth Release: Great Crevice Technique!

The ground in front of him splintered and cracked, rocking him from side to side as the area around them shuddered. The ground cracked before him, spanning from one end of the field to the other, metres wide. A blue light shimmered in the air around them as the barrier prevented it from travelling further. Naruto was ignoring the audience, but could hear muted shouts and yells behind him as they cheered both he and Kakashi on.

Kakashi gave the crevice in front of him with a single look before he was moving, running up to the ledge and attempting to jump the gap. It would have been easy for even a genin, but Naruto had expected it.

Wind Release: Great Wind Breakthrough!

A violent gale of wind erupted up from the crack with the force akin to an eruption and Kakashi's eyes widened as he was propelled in the air, his legs and arms flopping around him uselessly. A second later, three streaks of fire slammed into his face and he exploded, revealing himself to be a clone of some sort. Naruto wasn't deterred and, panting, slapped his hands together.

Earth Release: Bedrock Coffin!

Large parts of the crevice slammed against each with tremendous thuds, squashing those foolish enough to attempt to scale them. In this case, Kakashi was caught in between the two giant slabs of rock as they closed in on him and Naruto held the seal as he forced chakra into the technique, creating a prison of rock that entombed Kakashi and hopefully sealed him in tight. It was for naught, as a few seconds later lightning shattered the rock around him and Kakashi emerged, holding a blade of pure lightning in one hand.

Kakashi's famous technique, the Raikiri.

Then Kakashi had closed the distance, the blade still held out in front of him. Instead of the piercing motion that Naruto was used to seeing Sasuke use, Kakashi angled his hand and brought the blade down on Naruto from its side, slashing at him. Naruto jumped back, cheeks bulging as he spat out streaks of fire, but Kakashi deflected them with the humming, blinding blade of lightning he held as the smell of burnt ozone filled the air.

The next bout of hand-to-hand combat was much more intense. Kakashi's weapon was far superior to any of the equipment that Naruto had, and the Jinchuuriki knew that the lightning would cut through his kunai with ease. He ducked and dodged as best he could, occasionally taking a small hit to avoid the blade scraping out a large chunk of his flesh. Kakashi avoided using it as a piercing weapon- such an attack if connected could kill even Naruto despite his relative sturdiness. Instead, he used it as a sword, making each swipe of his arm dangerous but not necessarily lethal.

Naruto was being whittled down, one blow at a time.

Finally, after receiving a kick that he blocked with both arms, Naruto took a quick breath and focussed. Something squirmed within him, an unpleasant, oily sensation tingling his skin, and metal clanged and rattled in his ears. Kakashi looked visibly surprised as something exploded forth from Naruto's shoulder blades, six coils of what looked like rusted, corroded metal chains waving wildly in the air. Naruto waved his hand in Kakashi's directions and the chains came down on the older shinobi, writhing in the air like snakes.

Kakashi batted one away with wrist guard and used the Raikiri for another. When the lightning technique met the edge of the chain, though, a loud, ear-splitting screech filled the air. Naruto winced and Kakashi grimaced as his lightning blade attempted to cut through the chain- but failed. A second later, three of the chains had wrapped around the technique and the light surrounding it began to dim as they greedily suckled away at the power within it.

Naruto had only recently learned his chains could do that- or perhaps they had taught themselves. He knew that they would devour the chakra of the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox, and they had weakened Yagura for a time, but they seemed to have gotten stronger since the incident in the Land of Water. It worried him, that the darkest part of his psyche seemed to be gaining strength, but he shelved that thought for later as Kakashi was forced to retreat as the chains buzzed around him defensively.

Naruto kept them materialised as Kakashi probed his defences, peppering him with kunai. The chains blocked them all with ease, lashing out at Kakashi but always stopping short. It was like they were on a leash, unable to move more than a few metres away from Naruto. They buzzed with agitation, rattling angrily as Kakashi kept his distance.

They were at an impasse.

Naruto could not use another technique with the chains materialised. Just as they had sucked away the chakra of Kakashi's Raikiri, so too would they suck away the chakra of any technique Naruto tried to perform. He had been working on 'taming' them for lack of a better word, but progress was slow.

Still, even this was working towards his strategy. Kakashi was observing him with his sharingan, a faint expression of something Naruto couldn't quite place on his face. Naruto could keep this chains maintained for a while, although the constant rattling sound within his ears and the deep hum within the pit of his stomach became more and more unsettling the longer the chains were manifested.

"I didn't think I would see something like this," Kakashi remarked quietly, his usual lackadaisical humour gone. "How nostalgic."

Naruto let the comment wash past him. He could barely hear it as the chains continued to squirm against his control, demanding to be let free to feed on whatever was around. Kakashi was happy to oblige, however, and a blast of shrieking blue light- some form of lightning technique- came hurtling at him. Two of the chains latched onto it instantly and the light was somehow grabbed and held in place as the chains began to suck it dry. Two more blasts of light came his way and the rest of his chains lashed out at them.

Naruto gritted his teeth as he tried to force one of his chains free. He managed to wrest it under control just in time to bat away a kunai and forced it to hover behind his back protectively as Kakashi began to pepper him with projectiles. With six chains, it would have been easy, but only one made it hard, especially once Kakashi began to dart around him, looking for an opening. In the end, Naruto knew what he had to do.

He forced the chains to recede and they broke apart in a thousand shards of tiny chakra shards, metallic sparks sizzling into nothingness. Kakashi had been waiting and another shrieking burst of light came howling at him. Naruto dodged by the hair on his chin and felt it sear into his cheek as it rocketed past. He dropped a smoke bomb and let it explode around him, and then he was running towards the forest. A second later, Kakashi burst out of the smoke and followed him.

They had been fighting for around 10 minutes now. The match was to end at the 20 minute mark. Naruto needed to either score a victory, or at least hold Kakashi off for five more minutes. He was halfway there already.

As Kakashi entered the forest, it became apparent what Naruto was trying to do. Large trees loomed all around him, the giant branches twisting up into the sky, and the canopy blocked out a lot of the light. The burbling stream ran through, twisting around tree trunks as it spiralled through the forest. Naruto was in there somewhere, and Kakashi sighed.

"Ah, this is going to be too much work," he muttered to himself.

A second later, a thunderous boom echoed around as an explosive tag detonated. Kakashi's eyes widened and he jumped away as one of the giant tree branches above him exploded in a shower of bark, its ruined, twisted remains coming to fall where he had been standing with a bang. The clamorous thud that echoed through the forest resounded loudly as the silence began to fall once more.

The next few minutes saw repeats of that kind of attack. Naruto kept to the shadows, hiding away somewhere in the foliage and pressed Kakashi from all angles. Explosive tags hidden away in trees and branches kept Kakashi on his toes and streaks of fire and blasts of wind attacked him from all angles. Kakashi swept through a dozen shadow clones in under a minute and there were undoubtedly more of them lying in wait.

Summoning Technique!

Kakashi slammed his hands down on the ground and a small puff of smoke appeared with a pop. When he faded away, a small pug sat there, a headband wrapped around his head.

"Yo, Pakkun," Kakashi said. He scratched the back of his head. "I'm having a bit of a game with a friend of mine, and he's hiding somewhere in here. Think you can sniff him out?"

Pakkun arched an eyebrow, a surprisingly human gesture. "Of course I can." He sounded faintly offended.

"Then I leave it in your paws," Kakashi said gravely.

Pakkun sniffed a couple of times and pointed a paw in a direction. "There's something really strong down that way, but Kakashi- I don't think you want to fight it."

"Oh?" Kakashi looked interested. "Is something wrong?"

"It's powerful," Pakkun said gravely. "But there's something wrong with it. It reeks of despair and hatred. It might be too much, even for you."

Kakashi's eyebrows rose as he took that in. "Thanks, Pakkun. It'll be fine, though. You can lead the way, and I'll do the hard work."

"If you say so. " Pakkun sounded doubtful but began to lead Kakashi deeper into the forest.

A sudden rumble from behind him forced Kakashi to stop. He knew what was happening even before he turned to see a giant wave of water rising from the stream. Pakkun let out a yelp as Kakashi abruptly picked him up and darted up the nearest tree as the waters surged beneath them, ripping up small bushes and plants and washing them away. Kakashi's sharingan gleamed as he spotted a flicker of movement a couple of trees further down the new raging river below them.

"Got him," Kakashi said.

"I'll leave it to you then, Kakashi," Pakkun said. He raised a paw in farewell. "Good luck." Then he disappeared in a puff of smoke, leaving Kakashi alone to close in on Naruto.

It hadn't taken long for Kakashi to find him, despite his stalling tactics, and now Naruto was locked in hand-to-hand combat for the third time. This time, Kakashi was faster and stronger than before, ruthlessly and meticulously breaking through Naruto's guard and delivering powerful blows to his body. Naruto was able to shrug a lot of them off, but the bruises were forming and his arms were aching from blocking and parrying all of the blows. They darted around branches and trees, one furiously chasing and the other desperately defending.

A Rasengan whirled in his palm in a lull of the fighting, and Naruto held it defensively in front of him. Kakashi reared back and then a crackling blade of lightning formed in his own hand. With a faint look of amusement, Kakashi raised his lightning-encased forearm and thrust it forward with a shout of challenge. Naruto met the challenge his own shout and countered with the Rasengan, and the two techniques collided.

Kakashi's piercing Raikiri slammed into Naruto's whirling Rasengan. Piercing met grinding in a collision of light. Sparks of electric-blue light and wisps of azure mist rose up into the air as both shinobi strained against each other. Kakashi had more force behind his thrust, but the further he forced the Raikiri the more the Rasengan ate away at it. In the end, both techniques began to wobble and then they destabilised. The backlash caused a small explosion and an invisible wave of force hurled both Naruto and Kakashi out of tree and towards the ground. Both landed with a thump, Kakashi rolling awkwardly into a crouch and Naruto stumbling into a tree trunk.

"Taste my strongest technique, Naruto!"

The Jinchuuriki whirled around as Kakashi charged at him again, Raikiri raised high. His eyes widened as he backed up, desperately trying to form a technique in a split second. All he could manage was a hastily-formed earth technique that rocked the ground in front of him. To his surprise, it worked and Kakashi stumbled. The Raikiri winked out of existence and then Kakashi disappeared in a flash of bright light as the lightning clone dispersed.

Naruto grunted as the searing light caused him to reflexively close his eyes. Then, he heard a scraping noise behind him and he twisted his head. Kakashi was there, his hands held together in a familiar and terrifying seal, and Naruto's eyes widened in shock.

There was no way in hell he was going to let him use that technique!

Kakashi's thrusting attack met a sudden obstacle as a long coil of blackened chain wrapped around his arm, stopping his attack in its tracks.

"To think you'd use the Thousand Years of Death technique," Naruto scoffed, gritting his teeth. "How low can you get, Kakashi?"

Kakashi responded by yanking on the chain, using it as leverage to bring a foot up and clipping Naruto right under the chin. Naruto's head snapped back, but he managed to swing the chain around and Kakashi was whipped off of the ground and slammed into a tree. He let out a loud grunt and shattered the chain with his free arm. He stood, facing Naruto with a glint on both eyes.

Both shinobi were panting, Kakashi looked amused, and Naruto felt a smile on his face.

Before anything else could be done though, a loud harsh buzzing noise went off. Naruto looked up as the barrier around them flashed a deep red and then began to fade away, sparks of light dissipating in the deep blue sky.

"Our times up," Kakashi noted. He reached up to lower his headband back over his sharingan. "We better head back."

Naruto nodded, absently rubbing his chest. Despite the ferocity of the fight, neither of them had done much damage to the other. Kakashi had landed a few blows that might leave some bruises, but they would have healed by that night. Naruto had singed Kakashi a couple of times, and there was still dirt and clods of earth in his hair, but the older shinobi had emerged unscathed for the most part.

It had been good, if relatively tame, fight. Both Jonin had kept the more dangerous of their techniques at bay, recognising that this fight wasn't necessarily the time or place to use deadly Raikiri variants and Tailed Beast Chakra.

Still though, the skills they had shown would have decimated more than a few of the shinobi watching them with ease, and when the two reappeared before their impromptu audience they were met with thunderous cheering. Naruto rubbed the back of his head sheepishly as Anko approached the two of them, a wide manic smile on her face.

"Great job, guys!" she intoned with an enthusiasm that could only be sarcastic. "Not only did you end it in a tie and completely fuck over my books, but none of you are bleeding. Did either of you even try?"

Naruto looked over at the burned, broken ground around them. "A little," he deadpanned.

Kakashi chuckled. "Mah, mah," he uttered lazily. "It's not my fault. He's hard to pin down."

"Don't blame me," Naruto scoffed. As his chakra settled and his heart slowed, the post-combat weariness began to wash over him. "Kakashi just wouldn't stop moving."

"Ah, Naruto." Kakashi clapped him on the back, sounding cheerful. "Your techniques look like they hurt. It was all I could do not to get hurt. I've never seen anybody chain together such wildly different elemental techniques so easily."

"You've never seen the Hokage fight then," Naruto noted.

"I suppose not," Kakashi agreed. He rubbed the back of his head. "Well, maybe not our current Hokage. I might have just seen our future Hokage fight."

Naruto reared back as if slapped. "Hokage? Me?" he snorted.

"Well, we'll see, won't we?" Kakashi chuckled. He began to walk away, waving a backwards hand at him as the crowds began to approach. "That was a good fight, Naruto. You're certainly a powerful shinobi. We'll have to do this again."

Naruto watched him go, barely hearing him as his team surrounded him. As Yuuka squealed and hugged him and Towa clapped him on the shoulder, his mind repeated what Kakashi had just said. The future Hokage? Surely not! He tried hard to disperse those thoughts as Komachi and Kage approached, Komachi looking proud and even Kage looking faintly approving, but it stayed with him.

It stayed with him for the rest of the day, and even as Naruto finished the last of the paperwork, it resounded in his head. He could certainly see why Kakashi would think such a thing, but he wasn't quite sure how to think about. The only thing that drove the thought out of his mind was when an exhausted team of genin led by Sarutobi Konohamaru entered the room, dirtied, bloodied and exhausted.

"Mission… accomplished," Konohamaru gasped as dropped a scroll onto the desk with trembling fingers.

"Good work, elite genin," Naruto replied with a twitch of his lip. "Did you enjoy your B-ranked mission?"

"Fuck…you…so…much," Konohamaru panted and with a furious glare beneath a blackened eye, he turned and staggered out the door.

Naruto did him the courtesy of letting him leaving before he burst into laughter.

A/N: This fight was kind of hard to write. I usually have a fair idea of where things are going to go, but this time I just knew that I wanted to show that Kakashi and Naruto are kind of on the same relative level in terms of skill. I just wrote and went with the flow. Hopefully it turned out alright. I've got nothing more written, but we're about to start the last arc of the story. Probably one more filler chapter to set it up and then- BAM! We get into the arc that's been planned right from the start. We'll see if I get there!

Thanks to those at DLP for their recommendations and help with the story.

Now, apparently has a PM function that I completely forgot about. I never really check the email linked to this account, so quite a few people have been sending in messages and questions and I've been ignoring you for two years. I shall answer some now.


1) No, I'm not dead.

2) Life in Konoha's ANBU is not abandoned.

3) Everything else is though.

4) Still not dead.

5) Probably not going to ever accept a Challenge in the history of ever.

6) Yes. EVERYTHING is abandoned, including the Denarian series.

7) I don't have any great advice for you on how to write better, nor do I have time to beta read. I'm a teacher for a living, so I get enough of that sort of stuff for work.

8) I'm aware some people have been posting my ancient abandoned stories up somewhere. I'm slightly annoyed in the kind of way where I know I could do something about it but I can't be bothered. Thank you for your concern, though.

9) STOP TELLING ME TO UPDATE! YOU'RE NOT EVEN MY REAL DAD! YOU DON'T GET TO TELL ME WHAT TO DO. Seriously though, swearing at me in a PM and demanding an update probably won't work since, you know, it's taken me two years to realise that you sent that message. Here's to you, PMs from 2014!

10) Yes, everything else is abandoned. Including Denarian, my Wheel of Time fics, and the ancient relics. For those looking for them, feel free to check out PatronusCharm under the author 'Shezza', where you'll find most of aged narratives. (WARNING: they haven't actually aged well)

11) Lastly, thank you very much for those who have PMed and pointed out grammar and spelling mistakes. I appreciate the time you take to do this and I will fix them up as soon as I can. Thanks, pucflek, who spotted a few errors in the last chapter where Tsunade is touching his 'hose'. No, that's not smut, that's a typo (although Naruto/Tsunade OTP 4ever!)

12) I'm a member of DLP- DarkLordPotter, a primarily Harry Potter but-pretty-much-everything-else fanfiction forum. I post everything there first for feedback and edits, and then post it here. Feel free to check them out, provided you read the rules. Don't be surprised if they come down on you like a ton of bricks if you annoy somebody, though.