A/N: I'm really surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response this story has generated. I've gotten a lot of reviews and someone even put my story on the Fanfiction Recommendation page at TvTropes, which I consider a huge achievement. I love you all.

Hey, here's an idea! Make a chapter that encompasses practically all of part one of the series and make it right around the end stretch of your freshman year at college. That won't take forever to get finished. If you all have grown impatient with the wait, then I apologize. Get comfortable, this is the longest chapter yet.

EDIT: I cleaned up some typos in this chapter and changed the scene where Sarutobi promotes Team 7 slightly. I didn't like the original scene and thought by justification for the promotion law was rather weak. Kurisutina-san suggested a much better way to explain the law and I've used their version with their permission.


Kakashi strolled into Training ground 3 over two hours late. He figured he had made his potential new students sweat enough before showing up for the bell test. He expected to find them lounging around the training ground, but instead they were all seated on the ground overlooking a scroll.

Naruto was pointing to something on the scroll and shaking his head while Sakura angrily pointed to another part and whispering heatedly at him. Sasuke had his hands on both their shoulders and appeared to be playing the mediator between the two.

The entire display utterly baffled Kakashi. Not only was Naruto arguing with Sakura, his supposed crush, but Sasuke the loner was trying to calm them both down.

Sasuke spotted Kakashi standing there and quickly informed the other two. Naruto rolled up the scroll before Kakashi could get a good look at it and stowed it away. Sakura got to her feet and shot Naruto a look that clearly said their argument wasn't over before the three turned their attention to Kakashi.

Kakashi stared down at the three graduates. He was certain they were going to fail, especially considering how agitated they seemed with one another. Kakashi didn't know what they were arguing about, but it certainly wouldn't do them any favors in the test. Kakashi began to explain the bell test, but was cut off by Sakura.

"Can we get on with this? I've been itching to try out some new techniques on a Jonin level opponent and I want to get started." Naruto and Sasuke nodded in agreement.

Kakashi was nonplussed by this statement. The girl seemed to be implying that she had techniques that were on a Jonin's level, but that was ridiculous, right? She had only just left the academy.

"Yeah, I've got a new trick I've been working on." Naruto said, patting the pouch where he had stashed the scroll from earlier. Sakura turned and glared at him, but she said nothing.

Kakashi slowly placed the alarm clock down on a log post, careful not to take his eyes off the three before him. The way they acted not only completely went against their records, but Kakashi couldn't help but feel a sense of dread as he prepared to test them.

Kakashi had instincts honed through years as a Jonin elite, and every single one of them was yelling at Kakashi to get the hell away from the three individuals in front of him. The Jonin shook his head. These were just children, he would be fine.

"Alright, go."

A fist connected with Kakashi's face the moment he finished his statement. Sakura's blow sent Kakashi skidding across the ground and into the lake, where he skipped across the surface twice before submerging.

Team 7 wasn't in the best of spirits. In their last loop, after tracking the kidnapped Gaara to one of Akatsuki's caves used for demon extraction, they managed to kill Sasori, but Deidara escaped. The three time travelers decided to lay a trap for Akatsuki. They left the puppet master's body in the rubble caused by a cave in from one of Sakura's jutsu and waited for Zetsu to arrive to take back the ring. To their surprise and excitement, Zetsu arrived with Tobi in tow.

It was a perfect set up; Tobi had no idea they were there, he wasn't expecting them to be as strong as they were, and a thunderstorm was even rolling in, which along with the rubble and open space of the area, meant all three of them had ideal conditions to use their elemental Jutsu. So they waited for the perfect moment and sprung their trap.

They still couldn't lay a goddamned finger on the guy!

It was truly incredible; Sasuke had started the show by nailing Tobi with a blast of Amaterasu's black flames. Not only had he somehow walked off the attack without a scratch, but no matter what they tried after that, their attacks just phased right through Tobi like he wasn't even there.

It was infuriating, like trying to fight smoke. Nothing they did seemed to even phase the guy, he just calmly stood there while Team 7 tried everything they could to wound him. He would even mock their attempts to hurt him in that aggravating high pitched voice, which they knew wasn't real. He seemed to finally grow bored of watching them struggle and went on the offensive.

Sakura thought her own physical strength was incredible, but Tobi's defied description. Tobi caught a full power punch thrown by Sakura with his right hand. Not only did he completely halt the blow, he then proceeded to grind her fist into power as well. Sasuke and Naruto had moved to intervene, but he easily smacked the two of them away. The same right hand latched onto Sakura's throat and slowly began to crush her windpipe.

Sakura's vision had gone dark as she slowly suffocated under Tobi's iron grip. She tried lashing out with her feet, but they only passed through the man's body. The last thing she saw before dying had been the green jaw of Zetsu rising from the ground to devour her as Tobi unceremoniously dropped her limp body to the ground.

This was why the three time-travelers were so agitated. Naruto was frustrated with how little progress they were making on defeating Tobi, Sasuke was upset at himself for letting Sakura die, and Sakura was pissed that she had died first, which she always found humiliating. At the moment, they all needed stress relief and unfortunately for Kakashi, he was the current target of their misplaced aggression.

Kakashi's head popped out of the water, clearly bewildered by the strength and speed Sakura had displayed. His attention was quickly redirected as Sasuke launched a Lightning attack into the lake, electrifying the whole thing. Being a Lightning elemental himself, Kakashi was able to ward off the worst of it, but he was still painfully shocked by the attack.

Deciding it would be in his best interest to get out of the water, Kakashi sprung from the lake onto the dry land. Dry land that suddenly came to life as fists and spikes made of stone began shooting out of it. Kakashi furiously backpedaled to avoid the attack, only to be dragged into a literal tornado.

The howling winds tore at Kakashi and the violent swirling motion was beginning to make the Jonin nauseous. Kakashi quickly launched a jutsu, though it wasn't easy to focus inside a tornado. The jutsu Kakashi used was fairly basic, simply emitting a blast of wind in all directions, but it managed to disrupt the tornado enough to allow the Jonin to escape.

Kakashi immediately Body-Flickered away from the clearing and hid among the trees to catch his breath. The Jonin wished he had followed his own advice about skipping breakfast, as he felt close to vomiting. Kakashi managed to swallow his nausea and glanced out towards the clearing.

Naruto was staring at the destroyed patch of grass where his tornado had been with a frown on his face. Sasuke walked up next to him and spoke, though Kakashi was too far away to hear and at the wrong angle to read their lips. Naruto replied to Sasuke while shaking his head and gesturing towards the area his jutsu destroyed, apparently commenting on it.

Kakashi began to calm down as his breath returned and tried to figure out what was going on. Three children had just shown a disturbing amount of deadly skill and force while attacking him. The white-haired ninja wasn't sure what to make of this situation. Were the three somehow holding back throughout the academy? Were they spy's who were simply impersonating the students? Were they from the future and had traveled back in time to avoid some great tragedy? Kakashi quickly dismissed that possibility as being ridiculous.

As Kakashi ran different scenarios through his head, he watched Naruto and Sasuke both run off into the woods. 'Okay.' Kakashi thought. 'Those two are heading in the wrong direction, so that should buy me some time. The only question is, where's Sakura? I can't find her. Where could she-?'

"Uncover your Sharingan."

Kakashi whipped around to find the girl he had been searching for not five feet behind him. Sakura had her arms crossed in from of her and was glaring at him. It took a moment for Sakura's word to register to the shocked Jonin. "Uncover my what?" He asked.

Sakura's arms unfolded and her hand clenched into fists at her side. "I want a real fight, so uncover your Sharingan." The pink haired girl spoke slowly, as if speaking to a child.

Kakashi decided to play innocent to buy some time. "I'm sorry, but I don't know what you're talking about." The tree behind Kakashi suddenly exploded into splinters as Sakura's fist connected with the trunk. She glared up at Kakashi.

"Do you think I'm stupid? Uncover your damn Sharingan. I won't ask again." The pink haired girl's voice was cold and demanding.

Kakashi began furiously backpedaling in an effort to get away from Sakura. He didn't know how she had such incredible strength, only that it was very real and very dangerous. Kakashi's foot suddenly exploded in pain as thin stone spikes erupted out of the ground. The Jonin realized that the entire surrounding area was covered in similar spikes, cutting off a ground escape.

"Fine, if you won't take that headband off, I'll rip it off you." Sakura closed in on Kakashi with her fists raised. The silver-haired Jonin threw up a smoke bomb and leapt up into the trees to avoid the super powered girl.

With her vision cut off, Sakura simply attacked everywhere at once. "Earth style: Furious Edge!" Large, jagged slabs of stone shot out of the ground in all directions. The viciously sharp edges piercing the air. Even up in the trees, Kakashi couldn't completely avoid the attack. One of the slabs managed to clip the side of his torso, leaving a nasty gash. The Jonin decided he couldn't afford to let Sakura pinpoint his location and he quickly leapt off into the trees.

Kakashi could hear the girl's furious shouts as she realized he had escaped. The one eyed Jonin found it somewhat difficult to jump through the trees with an injured foot and a large cut along his ribs, but he managed. So focused on ignoring the pain of his injuries, Kakashi accidently ignored the approaching threat

"Boo." Kakashi nearly leapt out of his skin at the sound of Sasuke's voice. The Uchiha was keeping pace with him as he leapt through the trees. Sasuke's hand lashed out at Kakashi's face and smacked the Jonin's forehead protector off his head. Once both of Kakashi's eyes were exposed, Sasuke activated his own Sharingan and attacked.

Kakashi was once again stunned by the skill displayed by someone fresh out of the academy. Sasuke engaged Kakashi in close combat while still leaping through the trees. The Uchiha struck with precision and force as he pushed Kakashi onto his heels.

"Thunder Style: Spitting Hydra!" Sasuke threw his hands forward, launching eight bolts of lightning in different directions. Kakashi was momentarily confused by the attack, since none of the bolts were heading in his direction. The silver haired Jonin swore when he saw the the bolts literally change direction in mid-air and home in on him from all sides.

Kakashi landed on a branch and prepared to leap off to avoid Sasuke's attack, only for a ninja wire to wrap around his feet and pinned him to the branch. Kakashi didn't have time to cut himself free and now understood that he couldn't afford to hold back.

"Lightning Blade!" Kakashi's signature jutsu encased his right hand. With speed and precision honed through years of training with Gai, Kakashi lashed out and spit all eight bolts of lightning with a single swing before slicing the wires around his feet.

Dispelling the jutsu, Kakashi crouched low and flung himself off the branch towards Sasuke. The Uchiha had been surprised to see his jutsu countered, so was unprepared for Kakashi's sudden switch to offense. The Jonin's foot slammed into Sasuke's gut, flinging the Uchiha backwards.

Sasuke flung out his arm, shooting a cluster of ninja wire towards a tree. The metallic wires wrapped around the trunk and allowed Sasuke to fling himself around the tree and slingshot himself back at Kakashi.

"Fire Style: Grand Fireball Jutsu!"

Sasuke cursed his decision to throw himself back at Kakashi as he was now heading straight for the Jonin's attack. Sasuke knew that Kakashi could use the Grand Fireball Jutsu better than most Uchiha, and any jutsu Sasuke had capable of deflecting or piercing the fireball would take too long to use. Sasuke was left with only one choice.


The Black Flames of Hell impacted with Kakashi's jutsu. Kakashi's Fireball Jutsu may have been powerful, but Amaterasu was the greatest of all flames. The unnatural fire could incinerate and consume anything, even lesser flames. Once Kakashi's Fireball had been consumed by Amaterasu, Sasuke quickly suppressed the flames, lest they spread and destroy the entire forest.

Sasuke cleared the area where the two jutsu had met, expecting to see Kakashi waiting for him. Instead, Sasuke found himself heading straight towards a tree covered in smoldering explosive tags.

"That son of a bitch." Sasuke murmured in admiration as the tags detonated, creating a blast zone almost twenty feet wide.

Scene Break

Kakashi sped through the forest as fast as he could. His injuries and exposed Sharingan were beginning to take a toll on his body, but he had to report to the Hokage. Kakashi needed to inform the Hokage that the three people who were supposed to be academy students clearly weren't.

Sakura had displayed disturbing levels of strength and efficiency with her Earth Jutsu, Naruto had trapped him in a powerful wind jutsu that Kakashi had never seen before, and Sasuke was even worse.

The Jonin had once held the 'pleasure' of serving in Anbu with Itachi Uchiha. The small bits of information about the Sharingan he had managed to draw from Itachi, coupled with Kakashi's own research meant Kakashi knew quite a bit about the Copy Wheel Eye. As such, the Jonin had immediately recognized the technique Sasuke had used and what it implied.

Kakashi couldn't help the involuntary shudder that passed through him. The thought of someone who wasn't even a genin wielding the powers of the Mangekyou terrified him. There was already enough worry that Sasuke would defect the village or, even worse, go insane and slaughter as many people as he can. With the power of the Mangekyou, Sasuke could wreak untold amounts of destruction. Kakashi needed to report the Hokage.

Kakashi landed on the ground, trying to catch his breath. The use of the Sharingan was draining, and he was injured, but he shouldn't be so thoroughly wiped out so quickly. 'Have I been neglecting my own training?' Kakashi thought to himself. 'My body shouldn't be this weak. Once this is over, I need to start training with Gai again'

"Found you."

Kakashi was getting tired of people sneaking up on him and mentally promised to practice his situational awareness as well. The Jonin got to his feet and turned to see Naruto standing nearby, an eager expression on his face.

"Looks like you're a little beat up." Naruto commented casually. "Seems Sasuke and Sakura got to you first. Oh well." Naruto shrugged before reaching into his weapon pouch and pulling out the scroll Kakashi saw the three pouring over earlier. "I have something I've been interested in testing lately. Would you kindly activate your Mangekyou Sharingan for me?"

Kakashi stared at the blonde in horror, wondering how Naruto knew about the Mangekyou. Kakashi had indeed discovered it, but any attempt to use it knocked him out for extended periods. After the last attempt put Kakashi in a coma for over a month, the Jonin had decided the Mangekyou was impossible for anyone other than an Uchiha to use.

Naruto frowned slightly at Kakashi's lack of action. He sighed. "If you won't do it willingly, maybe I can force it out of you." Naruto unraveled the scroll. "This is an experiment I've been working on. It is basically the opposite of a sealing jutsu."

Kakashi tensed as Naruto approached. Seals were never his specialty, but even at a glance he could tell that the seals on the scroll were highly advanced. Naruto continued on with his explanation.

"You see, when an object is sealed into a scroll, a large amount of matter is condensed into a very small space, where it is kept in stasis. You could almost consider it to be a small pocket dimension. When the seal is activated, the object is recalled to this dimension and returns to its original mass." Naruto held the scroll out in front of him. "So that got me wondering, what if, instead of condensing matter into a smaller space, the seal expanded it? Essentially, this Seal is designed to create space, where this is no space. You could almost consider it Anti-matter. Matter and Anti-matter can't exist simultaneously and the result is rather…violent. I dare say this could even hurt someone capable of traveling between dimensions."

Naruto sighed. "Sorry Kakashi, I wanted to test this on Tobi, but you'll have to do. Activate your Mangekyou so I can test this properly." The seals began to glow. "Distortion Wave!"

Scene Break

Sakura idly looked over the burned out area of the forest. The trees and dirt were charred and it looked like a bomb had gone off, most likely because one had.

"Hey!" Sakura called out. "I know you're still alive, so where are you?"

Sakura received a pained groan as a reply as Sasuke pulled himself out of a pile of rubble. He shook himself to remove some of the ash clinging to his body as he got to his feet. He glanced around the devastated area and whistled slightly. "Man that was close."

Sakura grunted slightly. "How'd you survive that, anyway?"

Sasuke shrugged. "Multiple Shadow Clones to dampen the blast while simultaneously launching a lightning jutsu at the ground to propel myself away." Sakura gave Sasuke a disbelieving look. "Swear to God." He said.

Sakura shook her head and groaned. "I just don't understand how you manage to get out of a deadly situation like that." She muttered.

Sasuke grinned. "Is this about my Great Snake Escape?"

"There is no way you had time to summon Manda, hypnotize him, jump in his mouth, and teleport away to avoid that blast. You were standing right next to starting point! It just isn't physically possible!" Sakura accused.

"Sakura, we've been over this before. What you simply fail to understand is that I am beyond amazing." Sasuke laughed.

Sakura was about to respond when a terrible sound filled the air. It was an indescribable sound, like a cross between a demonic roar and a terrible ripping sound. They both recognized it instantly.

"Naruto used his new toy." Sasuke observed.

"Damn him!" Sakura growled. "I told him not to use it! It's too unstable, he can't control it yet!" The two time-travelers quickly took off towards the source of the sound. They arrived to find Naruto sitting back on the ground, his face ashen. His eyes were switching back and forth between the scroll on the ground and Kakashi.

Kakashi looked terrible. His body was covered in deep gashes, his breath was ragged, and his arms hung uselessly at his sides. The Jonin was hunched over, blood pouring from his wounds onto the jagged and torn up ground beneath him. At the sound of Sasuke and Sakura's arrival, Kakashi tiled his head just enough to see them. The two managed to get a clear look the Mangekyou Sharingan spinning in Kakashi's eye, before the Jonin collapsed to the ground.

Sakura immediately ran towards Kakashi's downed form and desperately began trying to heal him. Sasuke stormed over to Naruto and grabbed the scroll off the ground. He shoved it into the blonde's face and began shouting.

"What the hell were you thinking? This thing is way too dangerous to use properly! Why would you use this on Kakashi?"

Naruto slowly got to his feet, his voice shaky. "I… I needed someone who could use dimensional jutsu and Kakashi is the closest person. I know he doesn't have full control of his Mangekyou, but I was hoping the attack would force it out of him and it did!" Naruto's voice became excited. "You should have seen it! Kakashi's Kamui ripped straight the Distortion Wave! Besides, now he has the Mangekyou early and once he wakes up we can-"

Sakura's voice cut Naruto off. "He's not going to wake up." Sasuke and Naruto whipped their heads around to face Sakura. She was kneeling beside Kakashi and shaking her head slowly. "His body couldn't handle the strain of the Mangekyou. His heart exploded. There's nothing I can do."

Naruto and Sasuke rushed over towards Sakura. They didn't refute Sakura's claim. If she said someone was beyond help, then there was no hope for them. Instead they knelt down next to Sakura and stared down at Kakashi.

"I don't understand." Naruto said slowly. "We've seen Kakashi use the Mangekyou multiple times. Sure it takes a hard strain on his body, but it never killed him."

"Think about it." Sasuke said. "Kakashi never used the Mangekyou until at least a few years after the Sand-Sound Invasion. Up until that point, the Leaf has had many years of peace and prosperity, without any real battles or dangers."

Understanding dawned on Naruto. "Hubris. The village has been at peace for so long; even our best ninja have let their skills deteriorate. Kakashi didn't use the Mangekyou because he was physically incapable of doing it, not because he hadn't attained it."

Naruto's body slumped to the ground. "Oh… Oh god. I-I killed him. I let my damned curiosity get the better of me and I just killed Kakashi!"

Sakura wrapped her arms around Naruto. The blonde was becoming hysterical and getting mad at him wouldn't help matters. "It's alright, Naruto. You made a mistake. A big one, yes, but don't forget our situation. Thanks to the loops, Kakashi will be right as rain after the reset."

Naruto nodded slowly. "Yeah, it's not permanent. He'll be back to life after the reset." Naruto paused for a moment. "I'm going to have to do something to make up for this or I'll never be able to look at Kakashi again."

Sakura tightened her hug. "Tell you what, next loop we'll get deluxe author signed copies of Make-Out Paradise from Jiraiya and spend the rest of time bonding with Kakashi. No serious missions like the Land of Waves, just us, Kakashi, and maybe a few D-ranks on the side."

Naruto turned and gave Sakura a smile, thankful for her support. "That sounds really nice. I'd like that."

"I hate to interrupt," Sasuke said. "But we've got a dead Jonin on our hands. Do you want to call this loop a bust, or see where this takes us?"

Naruto thought for a moment before responding. "Might as well see where this goes. The worst they can do is have us executed." After Sasuke and Sakura both nodded in agreement, Naruto created a Shadow Clone and sent it to report to the Hokage.

With that done, Team 7 bowed their heads to mourn their teacher until the Hokage arrived.

Scene Break

Hiruzen Sarutobi took careful measure to ensure his face remained passive as Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura were led into his office. The news that the three had killed their instructor had caused an uproar among the council. Sarutobi was forced to confine them to a holding cell for three days while he and the council deliberated on what to do.

Once the three were seated in front of him, Sarutobi began. "You three have caused quite a stir."

The three children all bowed at once. "Lord Hokage, we swear we didn't mean for this to happen." Naruto said solemnly.

Sarutobi's face remained neutral. "Be that as it may, there are some serious issues that must be addressed." The Hokage reached forward and pulled out a document emblazoned with the Uchiha clan symbol. "First and foremost is the matter of Kakashi's Sharingan. When Kakashi was your age, he had a teammate named Obito Uchiha. While on a mission, Kakashi lost his left eye and Obito was fatally wounded. Obito's dying wish was to have his Sharingan implanted into Kakashi, so he would have two functional eyes."

Sarutobi sighed slightly. "The Uchiha clan was furious that their bloodline had been attained by someone outside their clan. They demanded that Kakashi be executed and his eye returned to them." Sarutobi noticed that Sasuke fists were clenched and he appeared to be shaking in rage. Sarutobi feared he was angered over Kakashi's Sharingan just like his kin were. "Due to Kakashi excellent track record, an execution was overruled. However, the Uchiha clan took out what was essentially a Life Insurance Policy on Kakashi. Should he die, then the Uchiha clan has the right to decide what happens to the eye."

Sarutobi fixed his gaze at Sasuke. "This is a decision that would normally fall to the clan head; however you are the only Uchiha left in the village. As such, the decision is yours to make. Do you want Kakashi's Sharingan extracted?"

Sasuke violently shook his head back and forth. "The Uchiha lost the right to the eye once it was willingly passed on. The eye belongs to Kakashi and he deserves to be buried with it."

Sarutobi nodded, extremely pleased with Sasuke's decision, and quickly filled out the necessary information on the form. Once that was settled, Sarutobi pushed the form aside and grabbed a new one. "Now then, I've received Kakashi's autopsy. According to our mortician, Kakashi passed away due to extreme stress on his body that his heart simply couldn't handle. It's been decided that his death was simply an unfortunate case of overexertion as a result of training and use of his transplanted Sharingan. You three have broken no laws and will not be punished for it."

The three children relaxed slightly, prompting Sarutobi to continue. "That being said, there are still some consequences for your actions. I'll admit that this is an older law and one that hasn't been used in quite some time, but it still applies to your situation." Sarutobi opened a drawer on his desk and pulled out three Chunin vests. He placed them on the edge of his desk in front of Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura. "Congratulations, you three are officially promoted to Chunin."

The three in front of him stared at the vests in confusion for a moment before Sakura spoke. "Lord Hokage, I don't understand. We killed an ally, or at least our actions caused the death of one; shouldn't we be on probation or something of the like?"

Sarutobi leaned back and took a deep draw from his pipe before answering. "There are naturally dangers that come from training with ninja techniques. There are laws in place to ensure that injuring or even killing an ally during training won't be a crime, so long as it's confirmed that it wasn't done with malicious intent. Since Kakashi technically died of Heart Failure, it's been decided that you three didn't really kill him, so you won't be punished."

The Hokage gestured towards the vests. "As for the promotion, that relates to the law I was speaking of. It was used primarily during the wars, where improving and expanding our ranks was a top priority. Teams of Genin were often forced to battle against enemies of superior rank during war, so this law was made. In essence, it states that any team of genin that manages to kill an enemy Jonin are determined to be strong enough to become Chunin. It is essentially a loophole to promote ninja, since it so rarely happens."

Sarutobi took a deep puff of his pipe. "The exact wording of the Law is, 'any ninja of rank superior to Chunin' it doesn't actually specify the ninja being an enemy. A situation similar to yours occurred once during the war, a Genin team accidently killed their instructor. Losing a Jonin level ninja is a very serious problem during wartime. Rather than punish the team, and lose three extra ninja, we used this law to promote them to Chunin. As you said, Kakashi technically died as a result of your actions so we referred to this case as a precedent." Sarutobi left out the fact that the alternative would have the three stuck as Genin permanently. Without a teacher to recommend them, and no one would be willing to take them after killing Kakashi, they were ineligible to apply for the Chunin exams. Field promotion was still a possibility, but that required at least five years of experience as a Genin before it could happen. It was only Sarutobi arguing that keeping both last Uchiha and the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki as Genin was too heavy a loss that swayed the council.

The three slowly reached forward and took the Chunin vests. They got to their feet and bowed. "Thank you for this honor, Lord Hokage."

Sarutobi nodded. "As Chunin, you three can run C and B-rank missions alone. If you prove yourselves worthy, then you will be also allowed to run A-rank missions alone. You may also be called to participate in group missions, either as support for a Genin team or part of a Chunin team. Do you three understand?" He received three nods. "Very good. You three are dismissed."

Scene Break

"That was…unexpected." Sasuke said as the three newly minted Chunin sat in the training ground. Kakashi's body had been removed, the funeral having taken place while they were in captivity, and the damage caused by their test had been fixed as well. The three time-travelers had donned their Chunin vests and were contemplating what to do next.

"Tell me about it." Naruto said. "This is the fastest we've ever become Chunin." He paused slightly. "I still feel terrible about killing Kakashi. Even if he will be back, he was our first mentor."

Sakura nodded sadly. "He taught us to believe in ourselves. Even on the Wave mission, he believed in us and respected our opinions enough to carry on with the mission, even though it was a potentially fatal mission."

Sasuke wore a sad smile. "He taught us that clans, heritage, and bloodlines don't matter. He taught us that it's through hard work and effort that someone can become strong."

Naruto spoke. "Most of all, he taught us to work together with each other. Kakashi taught us that teamwork and friendship, more than anything, are what makes us strong."

The three remained silent for a moment before Naruto spoke, a small smile forming on his lips. "You know, for all the times Jiraiya badgered me about his books, Kakashi was the one who actually convinced me to sit down and read them. I was complaining about him reading such a stupid book in public when he suddenly asked if I had ever actually read Make-Out Paradise. When I said no, he pulled out the first volume, tossed it to me, and said 'If you haven't read it, then you have no right to complain about it. Read that and I'd love to discuss it with you, until then; keep quiet, I'm trying to read.'"

Sasuke and Sakura laughed slightly at Naruto's rather accurate impression of Kakashi. Naruto smirked. "I had to admit, I was surprised how well written the book was. Say what you want about Jiraiya's research methods, but those books are famous for a reason. I actually had a really nice couple of conversations with Kakashi about the book."

Sakura suddenly giggled. "Remember that time we all dyed our hair silver, got face masks, wore our headbands over our eyes and started acting like him? Kakashi couldn't tell if he was supposed to be insulted or flattered. I think the best part was when Gai felt upstaged by Kakashi having three clones, so he tried to get Tenten and Neji to dress up like him and Lee. Kakashi promised to never speak to us again if we created more clones of Gai by accident."

Sasuke wore a soft smile as he nodded in remembrance. "I'll still never forget the time we broke into Kakashi's house and stole every copy of Make-Out Paradise."

Naruto groaned. "Oh man, he was furious. He chased us all the way to Wind Country! I've never been so scared in all my life!"

Sasuke stared at Naruto incredulously. "You were scared? Imagine how I felt after you jammed one of the books down my shirt and fucking tripped me before taking off and leaving me for dead." Naruto and Sakura couldn't help, laugh at the memory. The three continued to reminisce about their silver-haired teacher, sharing laughs and memories.

Scene Break

Naruto held open the door to the Hokage's office, allowing Sakura and Sasuke to enter ahead of him. Once all three were inside, they began their report on their latest mission. "Lord Hokage, the mission was a success. The Daimyo's advisor was returned to the palace safe and sound. There was an ambush along the way, but we were able to counter it with little difficulty."

The Hokage nodded while signing off on their paychecks for the mission. "Very good. Now, I'm afraid I have some bad news. Team 10 was sent on a C-rank mission to Wave country. It was supposed to be a simple escort mission; however the client omitted the fact that a very dangerous man wants him dead. Team 10 was attacked and one of their teammates was injured. They've requested back-up on their mission. I know your three just returned to the village, but I want you to leave immediately and support Team 10 until the mission is complete."

Team 7 traded quick glances with one another. They were well aware of what dangers awaited whatever team was chosen for the mission to the Land of Waves. They also knew that Team 10 wouldn't do well on their own. Naruto stepped forward. "Understood. We'll leave at once."

The three turned and quickly left the office. Once they were out of the tower, Team 7 took to the rooftops and sped towards the gate. A few quick words with Kotetsu and Izumo had them through the village gate and speeding towards The Land of Waves. On the way, they quickly discussed their plans.

"Gato is sure to hire Zabuza and Haku again, along with the Demon Brothers. Given that Asuma only called for minimal support, they must not have encountered Zabuza yet." Naruto said.

Sakura nodded in agreement. "I wonder who got injured. I doubt it was Asuma, so it must have been Ino, Shikamaru, or Choji. It's a good thing we got this mission. I doubt many other Chunin have the medical experience to counteract the Demon Brother's poisons."

Sasuke spoke up. "Let's assume the Demon Brothers are out of the picture for now. Asuma wouldn't let any enemy who injured his students get away. That still leaves Zabuza and Haku, who aren't to be underestimated, along with Gato and his thugs."

"What if we just killed Gato and stole his money?" Sakura asked. "We could pay Zabuza and Haku for their mission and they wouldn't have any reason to pursue Tazuna anymore."

Naruto thought for a moment, before shaking his head. "Zabuza may be a missing ninja, but he's a professional. He still has his standards and will complete a mission given to him, even if the client is dead. If Zabuza was that interested in money then he would just kill Gato himself."

Sasuke sighed. "Then Haku and Zabuza are our primary targets. Gato and his mercenaries aren't worth our time of day." He received two nods of agreement.

The three quickly came across the river where the bridge was being constructed. They barely broke stride, simply walking across the surface of the water. Once the river was crossed, they were able to make out the sounds of combat nearby.

"Sounds like the party's already started." Naruto grinned. "Let's go!"

As soon as they arrived on the battlefield, Team 7 could tell that the fight wasn't going well for Team 10. Shikamaru was passed out on the ground, his face unnaturally pale. Ino was standing guard over Tazuna, but the young girl was shaking like a leaf and looked ready to collapse at a moment's notice. Choji was attempting to fend off half a dozen water clones of Zabuza, but wasn't having much success. The overweight Genin's attacks were too slow to hit the clones and he was covered in gashes from Zabuza's blade.

Asuma was out on top of the lake and fighting with the real Zabuza. He wasn't doing well. Asuma's focus was on his team and he kept trying to reach the shore, but Zabuza wasn't letting him. The Jonin's Wind jutsu were a good match for Zabuza's Water jutsu, but Asuma was primarily a close range fighter with his trench knives. While Asuma was highly proficient at close range, Zabuza was one of the Seven Swordsman of the Mist, close combat was his specialty.

It was clear that if the fight continued on as is, then Team 10 would be killed.

Team 7 had been fighting together for a long time, they didn't need to verbally communicate in battle, and they already knew what to do. Sasuke immediately charged past the clones and out on the lake, his lightning jutsu were best suited to counter Zabuza's Water attacks. Naruto landed in front of Choji and began dispatching the water clones. Even after all these years, Naruto was the best at using clones and fighting multiple opponents at once. Sakura headed for Shikamaru and Choji, they were the most heavily damaged and would require healing.

Sakura landed next to Ino and Tazuna while shooting the two of them a quick smile. "Leaf Backup Squad reporting for duty." Tazuna was clearly relieved to have more ninja to help, though was slightly put off by Sakura's age. Ino said nothing, which confused Sakura. The pink-haired medic realized Ino was in shock, most likely from Zabuza's intimidation tactics. It always impressed Sakura how Zabuza could cause people to freeze with sheer presence. It was like... the desire or intent of a killer. There really should be a name for it.

Sakura pushed Ino and Zabuza out of her mind for the moment as she focused on Shikamaru. Like she had thought, Shikamaru was the one who had been injured by the Demon Brothers. Only a small amount of poison must have gotten into his bloodstream for the genin to stay upright for so long, but now it had spread. Sakura didn't have time to sanitize a kunai, so she used her chakra to form a medical scalpel and made a series of small cuts all across Shikamaru's body.

With that done, Sakura's hands became covered in green chakra and she began extracting the poison through the cuts. The toxin had spread too far in the Nara's body to remove from one place. Instead, Sakura needed multiple entry points to extract the deadly chemicals.

Choji plopped down on the ground next to her, causing Sakura to look up. The medic saw that Naruto had finished off the Water Clones and was heading out across the lake to help Sasuke and Asuma. Thinking about clones made Sakura realize she wasn't being efficient and created two shadow clones. One Shadow clone worked on closing Choji's various wounds and the other tried to get Ino out of her comatose state.

Ino quickly came around, only to be shocked again at seeing Sakura in a Chunin vest. "Sakura? What are you doing here?"

Sakura grinned. "You called for a support team. We're it."

Ino shook her head. "Asuma called for a team of Chunin. What are you doing here?"

Sakura could understand Ino's confusion. The fact that the three time-travelers had killed Kakashi had been mostly covered up. It would reflect badly on the Leaf if it got out that one of their best Jonin had been killed by children, no matter how skilled. While most of the Jonin knew the truth, the Chunin, Genin, and Civilians had been left out.

Sakura gestured to her vest. "Isn't it obvious, Ino? Naruto, Sasuke, and I are already Chunin."

"What?" Ino shouted in outrage.

Scene Break

Asuma cursed as he dodged another dragon made of water. This fight wasn't going well and if he didn't get back to his team, they could end up dying. What could he do?

"Thunder Style: Storm Slash!"

A giant claw made of electricity suddenly appeared over Zabuza's head. The Swordsman knew better then to retreat underwater from such a powerful electrical attack and dove to the side, narrowly avoiding the claws. The attack sank into the water and discharged a massive amount of electricity, which Asuma barely managed to dodge.

"Someone call for back up?" Sasuke asked as he walked up to Asuma. The Jonin gave Sasuke a look of disbelief. All the Chunin in the Leaf and this was the team the Hokage sent? Asuma would be having words with his father when he got back to the village.

As the waves caused by Sasuke's attack began to die down, a sigh could be heard. "More brats? The Leaf village must be in even worse shape than I thought if this is really the best they can offer." Zabuza came into view, completely unharmed with his large sword resting on his shoulder.

Sasuke frowned. "Zabuza Momoichi, A.K.A. The Demon of Mist. Former member of the Seven Swordsman of the Mist, now an A-rank Missing Ninja. He isn't someone I'd want to fight alone. I'm impressed you managed to last so long against him, Asuma."

Zabuza's hairless brow rose slightly. "Well, well, at least this brat has some respect for his elders." The shirtless missing ninja suddenly rushed forward, his oversized sword poised to strike. Sasuke knew better than to let Zabuza get in close.

"Thunder Style: Blast Wave!" A low wall of lightning rushed along the surface of the water towards Zabuza. The missing ninja easily leapt over the attack, which was exactly what Sasuke was hoping for. Asuma easily picked up on Sasuke's plan and launched a blade of wind at their opponent.

Zabuza, still in mid-air, formed a one-handed seal. "Water style: Geyser Escape!" A column of water erupted upwards beneath Zabuza. The skyward blast of water carried the swordsman out of harm's way and up into the air. Instead of dropping back into the lake, the water from the geyser formed into large orbs around the airborne missing ninja.

"Oh, Hell." Sasuke groaned.

"Water Style: Calamity Drop!" The giant spheres of liquid crashed down into the lake, causing massive waves to spread from the impact zone. Sasuke and Asuma desperately flipped and dived over the various waves and deluges of water. It was difficult to continue water walking when the lake surface was so tumulus, but retreating under water against some like Zabuza was suicide.

The lake surface began to calm, but Sasuke and Asuma realized that Zabuza was nowhere to be found. "Way to go, Sasuke. You took your eyes off of a master assassin while fighting on his home turf. Smooth." Sasuke groused at himself.

Zabuza's deep voice floated over the surface of the lake, coming from all directions. "Poor little child, lost in a fight against a foe he has no chance against. Still, I think I'll do you a favor. I'll show you what the real world is like. I'll teach you what it truly means to be a ninja. It's going to be painful, but I consider it my duty to teach naïve little fools, such as you."

Sasuke and Asuma stood back to back, their eyes scanning the surrounding mist. "Can you get a lock on him?" Sasuke asked.

Asuma shook his head. "Stealth and assassination are Zabuza's specialty. If he wants to be hidden, we're not likely to find him. Can you guess where he's going to attack from?" Asuma wasn't going to let any personal hang-ups get in the way of working with a fellow Leaf ninja in the middle of a fight.

Sasuke growled. "There are so many places he could come from. Without being able to get behind us, he'll most likely try to get as close as possible before revealing himself to attack."

Naruto's voice suddenly rang out. "You're fighting a Mist ninja on top of a lake! Where do you think he's going to attack from?"

Asuma and Sasuke's eyes widened. "Below!" They shouted at the same time. The two quickly leapt into the air, only just dodging Zabuza's sword, The Decapitator, as it erupted out of the water. The blade quickly retreated back beneath the surface as Zabuza realized the attack had failed.

Asuma and Sasuke landed back on the lake with Naruto joining them. "Sakura is watching over Tazuna and Team 10. Let's end this quickly."

Zabuza's voice once again came from all directions. "Do you think you can defeat me, brat? Do you know why they call me the Demon of the Mist?" To Zabuza's surprise, they did.

"You wandered into a graduating class and slaughtered all 100 students, proving your strength and that you deserved to be a ninja." Sasuke said.

Naruto laughed. "Funny story, we kind of had a similar situation. My teammates and I bypassed Genin and were immediately promoted to Chunin after we killed our Jonin instructor."

There was silence for a moment before the deep rumble of Zabuza's laughter reached their ears. "Well now, isn't that interesting? I didn't think Leaf had ninja like you. I don't suppose I could convince you and your teammate to join with me, could I? I could use people like you."

Naruto and Sasuke both stared at each other, surprised by the offer. The two of them legitimately considered the offer, curious about what it would be like to join Zabuza. The two decided against it. The time-travelers had a long standing rule that once they devoted their allegiance to a faction at the start of the loop, then they remained loyal until the reset. Naruto spoke. "Sorry, but we're ninja of the Leaf." A small smirk pulled at Naruto's lips. "But perhaps in another life we can join you."

Zabuza heaved a sigh. "Pity. Water Style: Aqua Vortex!" A liquid drill suddenly formed and flew towards the three Leaf ninja.

Asuma and Sasuke both jumped out of the way, but Naruto had a different plan. "Wind Style: Sea Splitter!" Wind Chakra enveloped the blonde's hands as he slammed them together. Naruto flipped himself forward and plunged his hand into the lake.

The result was incredible. Not only was Zabuza's drill attack split in half, but a gash nearly thirty feet wide split the entire surface of the lake all the way to the bottom. Zabuza found himself standing on a patch of wet earth with twin walls of water on either side of him. The missing ninja had seen many things in his life, but even he was stunned by this feat.

Asuma was likewise frozen in shock as he witnessed Naruto pull off a technique he would be hard pressed to match. Sasuke gave Asuma a light tap on the arm to gain the Jonin's attention. "Come on! Zabuza's out in the open and Naruto can only hold this for thirty seconds! We're not going to get a better shot!"

Professionalism quickly took over as pulled himself out of his shock and agreed. The two sped towards the gap while flashing through hand seals. They leapt out over the gap and launched their attacks.

"Wind Style: Cyclone Blitz!"

"Thunder Style: Thunder Cannon."

Zabuza saw the incoming attacks and quickly responded. The former Mist ninja leapt over Asuma's wind attack, which put him on a collision course with Sasuke's approaching orb of electricity. Zabuza whipped himself around and hurled his sword at the jutsu. The three Leaf ninja watched in shock as The Decapitator split Sasuke's jutsu in two, dissipating the attack.

"Ha! The blades of the Seven Swordsman are specifically crafted to resist Lighting Jutsu!" Zabuza crowed.

The spinning blade headed straight for Sasuke. At the speed it was moving, it would cleave him in half. Asuma reached out and yanked Sasuke's arm, hauling the Uchiha out of harm's way. Once Naruto was sure Sasuke was safe, he released his hold on the wind jutsu.

Zabuza was a powerful and resilient ninja and he was well versed in water techniques. All of that did nothing to help him when thousands upon thousands gallons of water smashed into him from both sides. Without Naruto's wind holding back the flow, the water crashed back down into the lakebed.

Sasuke and Asuma landed on the still choppy waters of the lake as Naruto quickly rushed over. Sasuke look up at Asuma. "Thanks for the save."

Asuma said nothing; his eyes were scanning the surface of the lake for Zabuza. The Jonin relaxed slightly when Zabuza's face-down form floated to the surface. Naruto and Sasuke followed his gaze and saw the prone body as well.

"Is he dead?" Naruto asked.

"Unlikely. He's probably just knocked out." Asuma said. The Jonin began walking forward. "We should finish him while he's-"

Asuma was cut off by a pair of senbon needles impacting with Zabuza's neck. All three turned to see a masked figure standing on the edge of the lake. The person bowed to them. "Thank you. I have been pursuing Zabuza for quite some time and you gave me the opportunity to finish him."

The person quickly Body Flickered to Zabuza's body. Now that the individual was close, they were able to get a good look at the Mist Hunter Nin mask covering the person's face. As the Hunter ninja bent down to pick up Zabuza, Sasuke suddenly spoke.

"Are you sure you killed him? Senbon in the neck usually aren't fatal." The ninja seemed surprised for a moment before replying.

"Very observant." The Hunter praised. Sasuke got the distinct impression she was smiling at him. "You're correct, senbon aren't usually deadly. However, my weapons are all coated in poison to ensure a fatality. I use senbon since they are hard to detect." The Hunter placed Zabuza's arm around her shoulder and hauled the body out of the water.

"Don't you only need the head?" Naruto asked.

The Hunter once more had an answer ready. "Ordinarily yes, but Zabuza Momoichi is a high priority target. In such cases, we're encouraged to recover the full body, if possible."

Naruto and Sasuke glanced at one another, uncertain of what to do. Haku played her part extremely well and they really didn't have any reason not to believe her story. The two time-travelers knew that there was no poison on Haku's weapons and that Zabuza was still alive, but didn't really have any solid evidence to act on it. With Asuma watching over them, they couldn't just act without proper evidence to justify it; otherwise Asuma would question how they had such information. The Jonin had enough reason to distrust them as it was.

So, Sasuke and Naruto could only watch as Haku vanished with Zabuza, knowing the two would soon return.

With the threat of Zabuza removed, Asuma turned to regard the two Chunin next to him. The two very powerful Chunin who had killed a comrade. Asuma had never been terribly close to Kakashi, but considered him a friend none the less. Honestly, Asuma didn't want them here. Leaving aside his own personal feeling towards them, they could very easily upset his team's dynamic.

Asuma was having a somewhat difficult time getting his team to work together, given Shikamaru's laziness and Ino's superior attitude. Throwing in a loudmouth blonde, a girl Ino often had shouting matches with, and the Uchiha heir who Ino had a crush on; could very easily see this mission fall apart.

Still, Asuma was a professional and he trusted his father's judgment, even if he didn't agree with it. There was little he could do at this point anyway, he had called for backup and it had arrived. Not to mention that Naruto and Sasuke had helped turn the tide of a battle Asuma wasn't sure he could win, so he decided to be civil. For now.

Naruto stepped forward. "Asuma, we should get back to your team and the client."

The bearded Jonin nodded in agreement and the three quickly made their way across the lake. Asuma's fears were confirmed when he saw Ino was already in an argument with Sakura. At least, Ino was talking at Sakura; the pink-haired girl was more focused on Shikamaru. The genin was lying on his back and staring up at the sky, his expression blank.

Once Sakura saw her teammates and Asuma approach she got to her feet and made her report. "Sir, Ino and the client are uninjured, though they were a bit shaken. Choji suffered a series of deep lacerations, but I managed to close them with little difficulty. The worst case was Shikamaru. Choji explained that Shikamaru was wounded when you were attacked and he suddenly collapsed. I believe that the enemies who attacked you had their weapons coated in poison. Due to only suffering a small scratch, Shikamaru remained outwardly unaffected, but the venom spread through his body, causing his collapse. I've managed to remove the toxin from his body and he should make a full recovery, but he'll be immobile for a day or two."

Asuma had to admit, he was impressed by the quick and thorough report on his team's health and at Sakura's apparent skills as a Medical Ninja. He was thankful to learn that his team was okay, Asuma had nearly had a heart attack when Shikamaru suddenly collapsed. "Thank you, Sakura."

Ino stepped forward, tired of being ignored. "Asuma, why is Sakura here? I thought we called for a team of Chunin as backup?"

Asuma sighed; this wasn't going to be pretty. "We did, Ino. Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke were promoted to Chunin shortly after graduating."

Ino's jaw dropped. She hadn't believed Sakura when she said she was a Chunin, now she couldn't refute it. "Who is there instructor? Why isn't he here?" Ino demanded.

"There instructor was Kakashi Hatake. He isn't here because he's dead."

Now Ino just felt confused. "I don't understand, how did they get promoted if their instructor is dead?"

Sakura decided to answer. "We got promoted because our teacher is dead. We killed him during our examination."

Ino was now staring wide-eyed at Asuma, who confirmed Sakura's word with a nod. The young Yamanaka looked rather pale and was staring at Sakura as if she didn't recognize her. Sakura grimaced slightly. "It was an accident, Ino. We didn't mean for it to happen."

Choji, desperate to break the growing tension, turned to Asuma. "Wait a minute. Are you saying I don't have to participate in the Chunin exams? All I need to do to get promoted is kill you?"

Naruto laughed at that. "Yeah, good luck with that, Choji. We caught our instructor by surprise and his death was an accident, we didn't mean to kill him. That's the only reason we got promoted instead of put in prison. If it was as easy as slipping poison into a superior's food, everyone would do it. Besides, what has poor Asuma ever done to you?"

Despite himself, Asuma chuckled slightly. It seemed Naruto hadn't lost the bright personality he was known for. Even Ino was calming down slightly, so maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all.

Sasuke shook his head. "Not to get back on track, but we are on a mission here."

Asuma nodded in agreement and quickly composed himself. He explained to Team 7 the situation in Wave country and Gato's involvement in it. Naruto stroked his chin as he took it all in.

"Interesting. I've heard of Gato before. The man must have some deep pockets his he can afford to hire someone like Zabuza Momoichi." He mused.

Ino looked nervous. "Do you think we're going to encounter someone even stronger than him next?"

Asuma considered the question before shaking his head. "It's unlikely. Missing ninja, especially ones as powerful as Zabuza, aren't easy to come across. It's more than likely that Gato just stumbled across Zabuza by luck and hired him. We aren't likely to encounter anyone stronger than or even as strong as him again."

Ino relaxed while Sakura turned to Tazuna. "How far away is your home from here?"

The old man spluttered slightly as he was still trying to process everything he'd seen before being drawn into the conversation. "Uh, j-just a few hours from here."

Naruto turned to Asuma. "Asuma, you're the highest ranked ninja here and this is your mission, so my team and I will defer to you."

Asuma nodded in relief. He had been worried about how Team 7 would handle taking commands from him, but they appeared ready and willing to follow him. "Right, if we hurry, we can hopefully reach Tazuna's house by tonight. We'll need someone to carry Shikamaru."

Sakura pulled out a scroll marked as 'Medical Supplies'. She unraveled it and unsealed a stretcher. Two clones of Naruto popped into existence and gently place Shikamaru on the stretcher, before lifting the entire thing.

Asuma continued. "Very good. Now let's get moving."

As Asuma turned and began walking, Naruto's eyes widened in surprise. "Score!" The blonde shouted before suddenly taking off across the edge of the lake. Everyone watched in bemusement for a moment before they saw what Naruto was running towards.

Embedded into a tree was Zabuza's giant cleaver, The Decapitator. Naruto gleefully leapt into the air and grabbed the handle, easily tearing the weapon out of the bark. The grinning blonde ran back towards the group with the overly large sword slung over his shoulder.

"Finders keepers." He claimed.

Scene Break

Tsunami nearly dropped the plate she had been washing when she heard the front door open. Inari was already up in bed and she wasn't expecting anyone else. She felt fear creep up her spine, was it some of Gato goons?

"Tsunami! I'm home!" A voice called.

Tsunami nearly fainted with relief as she recognized her father's voice. She quickly entered the living room to greet him, only to stop at the sight of several strangely dressed children, including three blonde boys who appeared to be triplets.

Two of the triplets stepped forward and gave a shot bow before gesturing to another child on the stretcher they were holding. "We apologize for the intrusion, but our friend here was hurt and needs rest. Do you have a spare bedroom we could place him in?" Tsunami, not quite understanding what was going on, absently pointed up the stairs. "Thank you."

As the identical blondes headed up the stairs, Tsunami turned towards her father for an explanation. Tazuna rubbed the back of his head in embarrassment as he explained. "Ah, these are ninja from the Leaf Village who I hired to protect me. They've already saved my life twice. They're going to be staying here until the bridge is complete."

The raven-haired mother gasped upon hearing her father had almost been killed. She quickly bowed to the assembled ninja. "Thank you for protecting my father. We don't have much room here, but you all are welcome to stay."

Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura stepped forward. "We appreciate your hospitality, but my team and I won't impose on you by staying here."

This surprised everyone. "Where are you intending to stay then?" Asuma asked.

Naruto shrugged. "This isn't our first mission outside the village. We have a tent and camping supplies with us, so we'll set up shop out in the woods."

"Isn't that dangerous?" Tazuna asked. Naruto gave him a withering look. "Right, sorry. Stupid question."

Naruto's wording suddenly registered with Ino. "Wait a minute. A tent? As in, singular?"

Sakura spoke. "Yes, Ino. We sleep in the same tent. I promise you that there is nothing-"

Sasuke suddenly wrapped his arms around and pressed his body against hers, a devious smirk on his face. His voice came out in a low, seductive drawl that made Ino blush. "Oh Sakura, don't you think it's time we let them know about our relationship? Tell them about all the wonderfully naughty things we do to each other?" Sasuke leaned in and began kissing Sakura's neck.

Everyone was staring at the two, only to be distracted by a puff of smoke. A very pretty blonde girl with her hair in two long pig-tails stood in the place where Naruto was a moment before. The woman clutched both her hands over her heart, her face a grimace of pain. "Sasuke, you tramp! How could you? I thought what we had was special!" The girl burst into tears and ran out the front door.

Sasuke unwrapped himself from Sakura and began chasing after her. "Naruko, wait! Baby, I can change!" The Uchiha quickly vanished into the night after his blonde teammate, leaving several confused onlookers and Sakura with her face in her hands.

Sakura waved her hand in front of Ino's face to gain her attention. "As I was saying, there is nothing inappropriate going on between my teammates and I. We only have one tent simply because it's easier to carry. Disregard those two morons; they have no sense of timing. Speaking of which, I had better go find them before Naruko throws herself in a river or something." Sakura turned to Asuma. "We'll report back here in the morning for orders. If you need us for any reason, whistle loudly three times and we'll report back. Later."

Sakura turned and ran out the front door, leaving Tsunami to question Tazuna. "Dad, just what kind of ninja did you hire?"

Scene Break

Sakura found Naruto and Sasuke sitting around a small fire as clones finished setting up the camp. She sat down by the flames while shooting her teammates a dirty look. "Way to go, guys. We're probably going to get put on some kind of watch list the moment we get back."

Sasuke snickered. "Come on, it was just a joke."

"We're barely thirteen. We can't go around implying that we're all secretly boning each other. People take that kind of thing seriously!" Sakura insisted.

Sasuke's expression hardened. "We are not thirteen." Sasuke gestured to himself. "We're older than any person has a right to be. Who cares if I look like this, or this?" In a puff of smoke, Sasuke aged ten years. The now twenty-three year old continued. "My appearance doesn't matter. It's just another mask we wear. Even this form isn't close to my real age."

Sakura quickly mimicked Sasuke, transforming herself into an adult. "Sasuke, I'm just asking that you control yourself a bit more. Asuma is already wary of us and we don't need to give him fuel for his report to the Hokage. Also, would you please stop picking on Ino? You know she's sensitive at this age."

Sasuke snorted. "She's a brat." He said simply.

"She's a child." Sakura stressed.

"Even for her age, she's immature."

Sakura sighed "Was I any better, back in the beginning?" She asked.

Sasuke winced slightly. "Come on, Sakura. It's different with you. You're my friend and-"

"Answer the question, Sasuke." Sakura interrupted.

Sasuke grimaced. "No. No you weren't any better. In fact I would say you were a fair bit worse."

Sakura nodded in satisfaction. "You see? Ino is just a love-struck teenager. I know we like to mess with others outside of the loops, but getting your heart broken at that age can really affect a girl, especially on a dangerous mission like this. It may have been a joke, but people can take a joke too far. Remember what happened when we told everyone all three of us were getting married to each other and eloping at fourteen?"

Sasuke winced, his anger diminishing. "I didn't until you just reminded me. Dammit, I worked hard to repress that! I don't care if Anko has had training in psychology as the second in command of Torture and Interrogation, she should never be allowed to give the Talk to anyone! I've never felt so violated!"

Sasuke was suddenly smacked on the head with a stick. Sakura and Sasuke turned to see Naruto, age 98. His face was wrinkled, his head was bald, and he had a white beard down past his waist. Naruto waved a stick in front of him like it was cane. "You young whippersnappers! Running off and having sex while you're still children! Think you know better than everyone else. Back in my daypeople waited until they were thirty-five to have sex and wouldn't even hold hands until twenty!"

The image of an aged Naruto impudently shaking a cane while complaining about youth was far too funny an image for Sakura and Sasuke to continue being angry at each other. Once Naruto was sure a fight wasn't going to break out, he shifted his age down to the mid-twenties.

Naruto cleared his throat. "Now then, we know Zabuza is still alive and he's going to be pissed when he finds out I have his sword. So we need to plan." Naruto idly patted his weapon pouch which contained the scroll he had sealed the Decapitator in.

Sakura spoke up first. "I think we should continue with our plan to deal with Zabuza and Haku. They're the real threats here."

Sasuke nodded his head. "I agree. Gato is an idiot with some cheap expendable labor. We can take him out whenever we want. Zabuza is heavily wounded right now. We should strike now while we only have to deal with Haku."

"The main issue is getting in close." Naruto mused. "Haku's a shrewd one. If she even gets a hint of danger, she'll have Zabuza out of there in a flash. No, we need a way to remove Zabuza from the picture without her interference." A smile formed on Naruto's face. "I have an idea. Here's my plan."

Scene Break

It would take several days until Team 7 could properly implement Naruto's plan, so they decided to lay low and support Team 10 until then. By the time the sun started rising for the day the campsite had been packed up and the three time-travelers were on their way towards Tazuna's house.

The three decided to let themselves in and simply sat against a wall while they waited for the others to awaken, enjoying the silence of the house. Tsunami was the first one downstairs, closely followed by Asuma. The two seemed slightly surprised by Team 7's presence, but said nothing. While Tsunami began preparing breakfast, Asuma headed outside to smoke a cigarette.

The rest of Team 10 slowly trickled downstairs. Shikamaru seemed a tad unsteady on his feet, but was otherwise fine. By the time Tazuna came downstairs, Tsunami had finished breakfast and everyone sat around the table to begin eating.

Sasuke decided to get the awkwardness over with quickly. "Listen Ino, I apologize for my behavior the other night. I was just messing around."

Naruto quickly nodded. "Yeah, same here."

Ino glanced back and forth between Sasuke and Sakura for a moment. "So, you two aren't dating?"

Sasuke shook his head. "No, we're not." Sasuke suddenly turned towards Sakura. "Unless you want to?"

Sakura laughed and patted Sasuke on the head. "Sorry, but I'm more woman than you can handle."

Ino's jaw had dropped at Sakura's casual dismissal of Sasuke asking her out. She couldn't believe it. Sasuke turned his attention back to Ino. "In all seriousness, I'm just not interested in dating, especially not while we're away from the village and being targeted by some short businessman with a chip on his shoulder." There. That should keep Ino from pestering him for a date, at least until the mission ended.

Naruto set down his bowl and turned to Asuma. "On that note, what is our game plan for the rest of the mission?"

Asuma leaned back and considered the question. "I'll have my team following and protecting Tazuna. I want you three to alternate between watching the house and monitoring the bridge in case it gets attacked."

Sasuke arched a brow. "What about training? Don't you think you and your team should take the time to prepare for another attack? Gato could have more ninja available, even if they aren't at Zabuza's level." The three had realized that by pointing out the flaws in Haku's take down of Zabuza, they had given her a chance to explain them away. Meaning Asuma now had no reason to assume that Zabuza was alive.

Asuma shook his head. "We're fine the way we are. My team is strong enough."

Sakura glanced at her friends. "Um, with all due respect sir, if we hadn't intervened then you would have lost that fight with Zabuza."

"Excuse me, Forehead?" Ino asked, returning to her regular demeanor as she argued with her rival. "Are you saying I'm weak?"

Sakura sighed. "Ino, I'm trying to be realistic here. Shikamaru was down, you were nearly catatonic, and Choji was trying his best, but was clearly out of his league. Zabuza was one of the Seven-Swordsman of the Mist and had the home field advantage out on the lake. Asuma wasn't likely to win that fight. I'm saying that if the fight had continued the way it was going, then Tazuna would be dead."

Ino was about to retort when Asuma cut her off. "Enough, Ino. Sakura is right. Zabuza got the drop on us and the fight wasn't going well." The bearded Jonin fixed his gaze on Team 7. "So you think Gato has other forces?"

Naruto spoke next. "I can guarantee a guy like Gato has some mercenaries working form him, probably a lot of them. If he can keep pretty much all of Wave country under his thumb, he must have some impressive man power backing him up." Tazuna quickly confirmed that Gato had a small army's worth of mercenaries working for him. They occasionally wandered around and caused mischief to remind everyone that Gato was in charge.

Asuma fiddled with his chopsticks before replying. "Mercenaries are hardly a match for trained ninja. Are you saying that my team can't even hand some thugs for hire?"

Naruto heaved a sigh. "A normal genin can handle a mercenary, but not if their grossly outnumbered. Besides, Ino and Shikamaru aren't well suited for fighting multiple opponents at once, assuming you're training them in the same style as their fathers. I don't mean to insult you or your teaching style, but until they reach the higher level techniques, the Ino-Shika-Cho style is detrimental to large scale combat."

"What does it matter? You're all going to die anyway."

Everyone at the table turned to see a young boy in a bucket hat, staring at them with slight scowl. Tsunami got to her feet. "Inari! Don't talk to our guests like that!"

The boy glanced at his mother for a moment, before pointing at the assembled ninja. "Mom, they're all gonna get killed." Ino was about to get to her feet, but Asuma placed a firm hand on her shoulder, keeping her in place.

Naruto leaned his elbow on the table as he regarded Inari. "What makes you think we're going to get killed? I have no intention of dying anytime soon."

Inari's scowl deepened. "You don't stand a chance against Gato. He's too powerful."

Naruto feigned confusion. "Powerful? Last I heard Gato is just a business man. I doubt he would be much in a fight. In fact I doubt he could hold his own in a thumb wrestle."

Inari's expression continued to get darker. "Gato has an entire army of mercenaries working for him and enough money that he can get away with anything he wants."

Sasuke pulled out a scroll and rolled it across the table. Everyone stared at him in confusion before Sasuke activated the seal on the scroll and a pile of money bigger than Inari appeared on the table. Everyone stared at the pile in amazement. Sasuke smirked. "If you want money, I've got money. My clan is very well off. I could probably buy and sell Gato's ass."

There was a sudden knock at the door. Sakura got to her feet and opened the door, revealing a shadow clone of Naruto. "Did someone order and army?" The clone asked before stepping aside, allowing everyone to gaze out at the hundreds upon hundreds of blonde clones.

Inari's jaw was on the floor, much to the amusement of the time-travelers. Naruto spoke. "So that's money and an army. I guess that makes us invincible." Naruto shook his head. "Gato is just a man. He may have a large amount of disposable income and labor, but we're ninja. We're trained to face impossible odds and come out on top. Worry about the bridge getting finished and we'll deal with Gato and his thugs."

Inari glared at Naruto. "You don't know anything! You think you're some kind of hero? Heroes don't exist!" He shouted before storming up the stairs. Tsunami made to go after him, but decided against it. She instead turned to regard her guests.

"I'm sorry about Inari. He…he lost someone very important to him when Gato took over." Tsunami proceeded to explain how Inari met Kaiza and how Gato had the man executed in front of the entire town. "No child should have to see that. Inari has never been the same since." Tsunami finished sadly. Naruto suddenly got to his feet and began walking up the stairs. "Where are you going?"

"I'm going to talk to Inari." Tsunami moved to stop the blonde, only for Sakura to lightly grip her arm.

"Let him go." Sakura said. "Naruto lost his parents at a young age as well. If anyone can reach Inari, he can."

Naruto slowly walked down the hall way. He couldn't actually remember which room was Inari's, so he carefully listened for the sound of crying. Sure enough, the sound of muffled sobs emanated from one of the doors. Naruto cracked the door open and silently eased himself in. Inari was sitting on the windowsill, looking out over the ocean. A framed picture was clutched in his hands as tears fell on it.

Naruto silently crept forward until he could see the picture properly. It depicted a man with short hair, a cross shaped scar on his chin, and a broad smile. "So, is that Kaiza?"

Inari whipped around to face Naruto, his tear stained face quickly contorting into rage. Before the boy could yell, however, he found himself wrapped in a hug. "Tsunami told us what happened to Kaiza. I'm really sorry you had to experience that, but bottling things up isn't going to help. Want to talk about it?"

Inari pulled himself out of Naruto's embrace. The boy sniffed and wiped his nose. "What do you know?"

Naruto sighed and gazed out the window over the ocean. "I know that my parents died when I was just a baby." Naruto didn't see Inari's eyes widen. "I know that they, like Kaiza, gave their lives to defend their homes and their loved ones. I know that they are proof that heroes still exist in this world." Naruto turned and gave the boy a warm smile. "A hero is someone who is willing to give everything they have to protect what is precious to them. If a hero can die with a smile on their face, then they become something greater."

Inari's mind flashed to the smile Kaiza gave him before his execution. "What do they become?"

Naruto's smile widened slightly. "They become legends. Heroes get remembered kid, but legends never die. There isn't a single person in my village who doesn't know my father's name and I'm willing to bet the same could be said of Kaiza. He died to protect his family. He died to protect you. Don't you think you owe it to him to live on in his place, instead of wallowing in your own self misery?"

Inari felt new tears well in his eyes. Thoughts of how angry his father must be at him flashed through the young boys mind. Naruto's arm wrapped around Inari's shoulder. "Hey now, none of that." Naruto whispered. "You shouldn't think of your father with sorrow, instead you should remember him for the great man he was and the good times you spent together."

Inari turned to look at Naruto. "I don't understand. You say you lost your parents just like I did. How are you so strong?"

Naruto's eyes once again shifted to view the horizon, where the sun still rising over the ocean. "Frankly, being strong was the only option I had." Inari looked at Naruto in confusion, but the blonde didn't turn to look at him. "I'll tell you what, Inari. If you're willing to tell me your story, I'm willing to tell you mine. Why don't you tell me about how you met Kaiza."

"I…I don't know."

"Bottling your emotions up inside isn't good for you." Naruto gently chided. "Talk to me Inari. I'm always here for outcasts and strays."

Inari stared at the blonde for a moment before setting down the picture of Kaiza and wiping his eyes. Inari turned to look out over the ocean with the strange ninja next to him. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly before beginning. "It all started when some bullies tried to take my dog from me."

Scene Break

Tazuna watched in amazement at the back up ninja from the Leaf continued construction on the bridge almost single handedly. There were several dozen versions of the blonde boy running around, mixing and pouring cement along with setting up the metal structure frames in their proper places. Tazuna had nearly fainted at the sight of the little pink-haired girl casually lifting a two-ton slab of stone and hauling it over her shoulder. She didn't even look like she was straining with it. The looks of shock on Team 10 told Tazuna that this wasn't normal, even by ninja standards. Sasuke was overlooking the entire project. His eyes could figure out distance and height at a glance without actually measuring, so he was guiding Sakura and Naruto in their work.

Asuma had questioned them using their abilities to speed up construction, but they had defended their actions by maintaining that their mission was to support Team 10. Since Team 10 was required to protect Tazuna until the bridge was finished, then the mission would end quicker if they helped with the bridge. Tazuna certainly wasn't complaining about the copious amounts of free labor. He had been worried about finishing the bridge as more and more workers left the project out of fear. Now he was certain the bridge would be finished in a matter of days.

It seemed Asuma decided against taking Team 7's advice about training to heart, as he and his team were currently lounging around the bridge with nothing to do, which Shikamaru thoroughly enjoyed. The time-travelers suspected Asuma's desire to hang around had more to do with keeping an eye on them rather than avoiding training.

The time travelers continued their work, while making sure to keep Asuma in the corner of their eyes. The plan to deal with Haku, Zabuza, and Gato would begin tomorrow and they needed to make sure that Asuma had no reason to suspect they had anything to do with it. That meant they had to stay with Team 10 for the next few days, to create an alibi.

Good thing they all were proficient with the Shadow Clone Jutsu.

Scene Break

Haku hummed to herself as she entered the clearing where she hoped to find the medical herbs she was looking for. The dark haired girl took the opportunity to wear something a bit more feminine then her usual attire, so was dressed in a loose pink kimono. Zabuza's apprentice was surprised when she found not only the herbs she was looking for, but a person asleep in the middle of the clearing.

Haku quickly recognized the figure as one of the Leaf ninja that showed up during her master's battle. The ice user silently made her towards the prone form until she was standing over it. Haku felt a moment of inner turmoil as she knew that an enemy in a vulnerable position should be eliminated, but she hated killing so very much. Deciding that the ninja wouldn't recognize her, there was no reason to fight, so she shook the person awake.

A pair of green eyes slowly opened. "You know you'll catch a cold from sleeping in the woods like this." Haku gently chided the pink-haired girl with a smile. Sakura slowly sat up, wiping the sleep from her eyes.

"Hmm, I was out training and I guess I lost track of time. Thank you for waking me, Ms…?" Sakura held out her hand, indicating Haku should finish.

"Haku. My name is Haku." She saw no reason to lie to Sakura about her gender, so let it slide.

Sakura smiled. "Nice to meet you, Haku. My name is Sakura Haruno."

"Charmed." Haku's eyes flickered up towards Sakura's headband. "Are you a ninja?"

The time-traveler nodded. "I am. A Chunin of the Leaf village. I was out here training when I fell asleep. What about you? What brings you to this neck of the woods?"

Haku gestured to her basket. "Someone close to me was recently injured. I am collecting medical herbs to help with the healing process."

"Would you like some help?" Sakura asked.

Haku smiled. "I'd love it."

The two females slowly set about, picking the necessary medical herbs around the clearing. They didn't talk much beyond Sakura offering to go with Haku and heal whoever was injured. Haku, naturally, respectfully declined, telling Sakura it wasn't serious and she couldn't impose on the ninja's time.

Eventually, the herbs were gathered and Haku broached the topic Sakura knew would inevitably come up. "Sakura, can I ask you something?"


"You're out here training to become stronger, correct?" Sakura nodded. "Why do you want to be strong?"

Sakura took a deep breath and tilted her head back, stareing up at the rays of sunlight peeking through the foliage. "I suppose… I want to be strong because I need to be." Haku seemed confused by Sakura's answer, so the Chunin continued. "I have two teammates, named Naruto and Sasuke. Those two are the most important people in the world to me, and I need to be strong for them."

Haku felt she understood. "They are precious to you and you wish to protect them?"

Sakura chewed on her lip before replying. "Yes and no. It's not so much a matter of protecting them, per se. They are very strong and are more than capable of holding their own in combat." Haku silently agreed, having watched Sakura's teammates turn the tide against Zabuza. "Really, I want to make sure I'm not a burden to them. I don't want to become a source of sorrow for them."

Haku tilted her head slightly. "I'm afraid I don't understand. If they are precious to you, how could you be burden or a 'source of sorrow?'"

Sakura sighed. "Drawing strength from someone precious is a two way street. You give support to them and give support to you in return." A grim smile appeared on Sakura's face. "But here's the rub, Haku. What happens when a person you care about is taken from you? What happens when that foundation you draw strength from is cruelly ripped away?"

Haku's eyes widened as she began to comprehend Sakura's words. The Leaf ninja continued on. "The joy you once felt from you relationship with that person turns to anger and bitterness. The love and light that person brought into your life gets replaced with hatred and darkness. I've seen it happen before, more times than I care to count, really. It's bad enough if the person simply dies, but if they are killed, or even worse, betray you in some way? Then what happens? The hatred and rage will consume you and you'll start looking for revenge."

Sakura's still wore the grim smile on her face as her eyes connected with Haku. "The only verdict is vengeance, a vendetta of valorous vice to vindicate the voracious violence." Sakura shook her head. "You asked why I want to be strong? I want to be strong, so my friends never have to mourn me. So my friends will never have to cry over my body while swearing revenge. One of the most painful things in the world is to lose someone you care about and I don't want my friends to experience that because of me."

Haku stared at the pink-haired girl in shock. The ice user was attempting to formulate a response when Sakura suddenly got to her feet. "Call it cynical if you will, but the world of ninja is cynical by definition. You should get these herbs back to your friend. Who knows what could happen if you lost him?"

Haku, shaken by Sakura's words, quickly got to her feet and left with the herbs, barely saying goodbye as she headed back towards Zabuza's. Sakura watched the raven-haired girl leave with a feeling of melancholy. "I'm sorry to turn your beliefs around on you like that, Haku, but you needed to hear it before you find Zabuza." She whispered.

There was a slight rustling of leaves and two soft thumps as Naruto and Sasuke dropped from trees next to Sakura. She glanced at them before returning her gaze to the retreating Haku. "Is it done?" She asked.

The two nodded. "It's done." Naruto sighed.

"Good. Let's get back to Tazuna's and replace our clones. We've got an alibi to establish."

Scene Break

Haku slowly approached Zabuza's shelter, still reeling from Sakura's words. Having her own personal philosophy turned on its head in such a dark way affected Haku more than it should have. She stood in front of door and took a moment to compose herself. It wouldn't do to show weakness right in front of Zabuza, especially when he needed her.

"Master Zabuza, I have returned and-" Haku froze in the doorway as a very familiar scent reached her nose; the scent of blood. Dropping her basket filled with herbs, Haku rushed through the fort towards Zabuza's room. She threw the door open, only to freeze in horror.

The room was mess, a battle having clearly taken place there. Blood covered the walls and most of the furniture was smashed. Haku barely noticed any of it. What drew her attention was the body of Zabuza lying on the ground with his head lying five feet away.

Haku's legs gave out and she collapsed to her knees. "No. Please, no." The ice maiden whispered. She slowly crawled towards her master, uncaring of the blood soaking her clothes. She reached out towards Zabuza's head, her hand hovering over his hair. "M-Master Zabuza."

Haku slowly picked up the head and held it against her chest. A scream of pain tore its way from Haku's throat. "Father!" She screamed, soon followed by sobs as the ice maiden clutched the head of the man she respected most. The man who had taken her in when no one else would. The man who gave her a purpose in life when she had none. The only family she had left.

Tears streamed down Haku's pale face as she sobbed into Zabuza's hair. "Why? Why did this happen? Who did this?" Haku's pitifully scanned the room, looking for an answer. Her eyes latched onto a piece of paper pinned to the wall by a knife.

'This is what happens to lowlife ninja who can't get the job done. –Gato'

Haku stared up at the note in disbelief. Slowly, the sorrow Haku felt drained away, to be replaced by rage. Rage against this short little man who dared to take Haku's father away from her. The words from Sakura echoed in Haku's head as she slowly placed Zabuza's head on the ground. "Sakura, I think I understand now." She whispered.

First she needed to bury Zabuza. She owed him too much to simply leave him lying there like a piece of trash. Once that was completed, she would don her Shinobi attire and her mask then she would be paying a visit to a certain business man.

"Gato, there will be blood for this!"

Scene Break

Team 7 made sure to spend the next few days within plain sight of Asuma and his team. They're patience paid off while working on the bridge. A man came running up to Tazuna, shouting about big news. When the man finally caught his breath, he explained the news.

"Nagi was afraid he wouldn't have enough money to pay for Gato's taxes this month, so he headed to Gato's headquarters to plead for and extension so he could feed his family."

"What?" Tazuna roared. "Is he stupid? Gato has had men killed for less!"

The Wave resident nodded in agreement. "I know. We all tried to convince him not to go, but he went anyway. Less than an hour later, he comes charging back into town, screaming his head off. We thought he had pissed off Gato, but when he finally calmed down, he told us what he saw. You're not going to believe this, but someone attacked Gato's headquarters!"

This quickly drew the ninja into the conversation. "What do you mean attacked?" Asuma asked.

The man shook his head. "I didn't actually see it, but Nagi said the door was blown open and there were bodies of Gato's men everywhere."

Asuma turned to his team. "Shikamaru, Choji, Ino; you're to take Tazuna back to his house and stay there until I return. Naruto, I want you to use your Shadow Clones to spread out and monitor the rest of the town, the real you, along with Sasuke and Sakura; are coming with me to investigate. Tazuna, which way to Gato's?"

Once Tazuna pointed them in the right direction, the Jonin and three Chunin took off. As they sped through the tree branches, Sasuke spoke. "Asuma, what's our game plan here?"

"Strictly observation. We're to find out as much about this supposed attack as we can." The four fell into silence as they approached Gato's headquarters. They landed in front of the main entrance. Just as the man had said, the large doors were blown open and there were bodies everywhere.

Sakura bent down to examine a few of the corpses. "They were all killed pretty quickly, and all with senbon." Sakura stated. "This one took two through the eyes and into the brain, that one was stabbed in the heart, and that guy looks like his kidneys were used as a pincushion. I would estimate time of death being over 72 hours ago."

Asuma grimaced. "Definitely a professional assassin then. From the looks of the scuffle, along with there only being one form of weapon used, it looks like there was only one person." The four each looked into the large gaping entrance. The lights were all off and with the sun beginning to go down, they couldn't see very far inside.

"Orders, sir?" Naruto asked.

Asuma was quiet for a moment. "Let's proceed inside. Stay close and don't wander off by yourself. These people were killed a few days ago, but who knows who or what could still be inside. I'll take point and I want Sasuke watching our backs with his Sharingan."

"Yes sir."

The Leaf ninja began slowly moving through the compound. They found more and more bodies inside as they went. Occasionally one or two of them had been killed by a different weapon, but for the most part they were expertly killed with senbon.

"You would think this person would run out of needles after a while." Naruto mused.

Sasuke blinked as he started noticing something about the bodies. "Asuma." He called out. "These senbon are different form before. These are made of ice, not metal."

Asuma quickly bent down over a corpse and confirmed what Sasuke had seen. "Ice Senbon. Interesting. Not many ninja outside of Snow Country can use Ice Jutsu."

"A bloodline?" Sakura asked.

"Most likely. Let's keep moving."

As the moved deeper into the building, it became apparent that the attacker didn't much care the random henchmen and mercenaries. They were all killed quickly and cleanly, meaning the assassin had goal in mind as they moved through the compound.

They soon came across two large oak doors with a golden plaque that had Gato's name engraved on it. "Man, nothing but subtlety from this guy." Naruto murmured. Asuma told him to be quiet.

The four pressed themselves against the wall as Asuma leaned his arm forward to push the door open. When nothing happened, the Leaf ninja poked their head around to see into Gato's office. It became quickly apparent that this was what the assassin was after.

Gato, along with his two samurai body guards, were dead. Unlike the rest of mercenaries in the building, however, these were not quick deaths. The one eyed, shirtless body guard was missing an arm and his feet were completely frozen. His sword had been rammed straight through his mouth and into the wall behind him, pinning his body in an upright position. The smaller, hat wearing body guard had his stomach slashed open, his organ trailing out of his body and pinned to the floor with ice senbon.

They were lucky compared to Gato. The short business man had been crucified, upside down, to the wall behind his desk. Large knives made of ice, each over a foot long, were stabbed through his hands and feet. He had long slashes all over his body, which were pried open with smaller ice knives. It was very apparent by the pool of blood beneath him that he had been bled to death. Gato's head was nowhere to be seen.

"Good God." Asuma whispered. Even Team 7 was taken aback. They had expected Haku to be enraged by her Zabuza's death, but they hadn't expected her to be so vindictive, or creative. The girl had truly out done herself with this bloody display. Zabuza would be proud.

"Who could have done this?" Asuma questioned.

"Someone with a grudge against Gato?" Sasuke theorized. "Gato isn't exactly popular with people. It's possible he managed to piss off the wrong person. This had too much of a… personal touch to be a simple assassination. Maybe he killed a ninja's relative or something of the like?"

Asuma shook his head and quickly ushered the younger ninja out of the office. "It doesn't matter now. Gato is dead and it looks like his killer is long gone. We might as well let Wave know that their tyrant has been… taken care of." The three Chunin nodded in agreement and all four quickly left.

Scene Break

The party that had overtaken the town upon learning of Gato's death was still going strong. The entire town was jubilant to learn that the shadow hanging over their country was gone. It was with particular relish that they used the numerous funds found in Gato's compound that he had bled from Wave to fund this party.

Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura were currently high up in a tree, sitting against the trunk on some branches as they watched the town celebrate. They had some drinks pilfered from the party, non-alcoholic ones; none of them drank, and were enjoying the cool night breeze. "What do you think Haku will do?" Naruto asked.

Sasuke shrugged. "She might head to a major village like Mist, the rebellion would definitely accept her, or maybe Cloud village. I very much doubt she'll head to Leaf, Sand or Stone though. On the other hand, she might avoid villages all together. She's a smart girl and knows how to take care of herself. Besides, don't forget that Gato's personal safe had been emptied out. She'll have money to spare for quite some time."

Naruto sighed. "I wish we could do something for her. Especially since we're the ones who killed Zabuza."

"It would look too suspicious, Naruto." Sakura said. "We're not supposed to know anything about her, so if we seek her out and offer her a place in the Leaf, she might figure out we had something to do with Zabuza."

Naruto sighed again and raised his cup. "To Haku, may fortune find you in your travels." Sasuke and Sakura raised their cups in salute and drank.

Scene Break

With Gato gone, the workers returned en masse and the bridge was quickly finished. Team 7 decided to hang around to see the completion, since technically their mission didn't end until Team 10's did. The entire town showed up to congratulate Tazuna on completing the bridge.

"Thank you, everyone." Tazuna said as he addressed the crowd. "With this bridge completed and Gato gone, Wave can finally prosper. A lot of work and dedication has gone into this bridge, but it wouldn't have been possible without the ninja from the Leaf defending me from Gato's assassins." The two teams gave a slight wave as the crowd applauded them. "There is only one thing left. We need a name for this bridge."

Naruto raised his hand. "If I might make a suggestion?" Tazuna held out his hand, allowing Naruto to speak. "I would recommend calling it The Great Kaiza Bridge." Murmurs of approval emanated from the crowd at Naruto's suggestion.

Tazuna, a wide grin on his face, turned back to the crowd. "Well? What do you all think?" The crowd cheered in approval. "Then it's settled. Welcome to The Great Kaiza Bridge!" Everyone applauded.

With the ceremony done, the crowd was slowly dispersing and the Leaf ninja prepared to head home. Tazuna and his family managed to catch up with them before they all left. Tazuna spoke to Asuma. "I wanted to thank you again for staying with me even when you learned I lied about the mission. This entire project wouldn't have been possible without you. How can I ever repay you?"

Sasuke spoke before Asuma could. "You can pay for A-rank mission this actually turned out to be, for starters."

Tazuna chuckled. "That I'll do. Promise."

Inari suddenly stepped forward and looked up at Naruto. "You're really leaving?"

Naruto crouched down patted Inari on the head. "Afraid so, kiddo. We're ninja and there are always new missions waiting, so we've got to get home."

Inari hesitated for a moment. "I wanted to say thank you. For the bridge, for helping my grandfather, and for… well, everything. I'm not going to cry anymore. I'm going to learn to be a bridge builder like my grandpa and become a hero, just like him and my dad."

Naruto grinned. "That a boy. Just remember, this bridge is a sign that your father is something even more than a hero. Heroes get remembered,"

"But legends never die." Inari finished.

Naruto ruffled up Inari's hair. "You're going to be alright, Inari." Naruto got to his feet and turned to his friends. "Come on, guys. Let's go home.

Scene Break

With the Wave mission behind them, Team 7 spent the majority of their time within the village. They took an occasional mission out of the Leaf, but they stayed in house for the most part. Naruto wanted time to practice with The Decapitator. He had kept the famous sword sealed in a scroll for the entirety of the Wave mission; mainly because he was afraid that Haku would find out he had it. The ice maiden would have killed him on sight if she knew he had her Master's sword. Now that they were back within Leaf's walls, Naruto was eagerly spending his time learning the ins and outs of using such a large blade.

The main event on the horizon was the upcoming Chunin exams and, of course, the Invasion. Team 7, already having acquired Chunin rank, wasn't participating. This was far from the first time they hadn't attended the Chunin exams. The three had spent multiple loops deciding to bow out and focus on other tasks. Therefore, it was a bit of a surprise they got pulled into being three of Ibiki's watchdogs during the first exam.

Years and years of reliving experiences had taught Team 7 to appreciate small and simple differences. Even though you've lived through the same thing multiple times, didn't mean that you couldn't look at it with a different perspective or position. The three time-travelers had taken Ibiki's written exam so many times they could recite the questions and answers word for word. So it was an oddly refreshing experience to be sitting against the wall under the sunlight from the window instead of stuck at one of the desks.

Sakura's eyes roamed over the nervous Genin as they attempted to cheat. It was nice being able to see the entire room without having to turn around and risk being interpreted as cheating. Sakura's gaze met with Ino's for the third time since the test began. The blonde looked back at her test in embarrassment at having been caught again. The young mind walker was severely distracted by Sakura and Sasuke's presence as proctors. Sakura suppressed a sigh. The added pressure of having someone Ino considered a rival staring down at her from a position of authority was doing a better job of weighing on the young girl's mind than the actual test.

Sakura had a sinking suspicion that Ino wouldn't have the nerve to go through with the Tenth Question.

Sakura resumed monitoring the class of cheaters before her. She marked off a point from a Genin from Waterfall. He was manipulating moisture in the air to refract the light over his teammate's heads so the light would spell out the answers on their desk. An interesting technique, but a bit too obvious. Sakura had already caught him with it three times.

The pink-haired medic had contemplated whether or not to use her knowledge from the loops to mark applicants down. By now she knew pretty much every trick the applicants had, so even if she couldn't see it, she could mark it down. Sakura had decided against it, seeing as a few of the tricks were quite clever and subtle, she just had an unfair advantage.

Sakura glanced over towards where Sasuke and Naruto were sitting and resisted the urge to smack her forehead. The two of them were writing furiously, detracting points like crazy. Judging from the way they were barely looking up, they were clearly using knowledge from the loops to knock applicants out. Sakura was confused about why they were being so harsh, until she saw the two of them glare at each other and speed up their writing.

'Good Lord, they're competing to see who could disqualify the most Genin.' Sakura thought. She rubbed the bridge of her nose. 'God help me. There aren't going to be any teams left for Anko at this rate.'

Sure enough, by the time Ibiki rolled out the tenth question, the room was practically empty. Naruto and Sasuke were personally responsible for knocking out at least three quarters of the disqualified teams. Oddly enough, surviving the gauntlet of Naruto and Sasuke's combined assault seemed to embolden everyone who remained. Only one team bowed out once Ibiki had explained the Tenth Question. The remaining teams had decided they'd seen too many team fail to back down now.

Ibiki clearly noticed this and decided that dragging the tension out would be pointless. "Congratulations, you've passed the first exam." While The Head of Torture and Interrogation explained the actual rules of the exam, Sakura turned to look out the window.

Sure enough, Sakura saw Anko sitting on the roof of a nearby building. She was sitting atop her black introduction tarp like a blanket and was happily devouring some Dango, not a care in the world. The purple haired ninja finished off her snack and carelessly tossed the stick away. She got to her feet, did a few quick stretches, wrapped her tarp around herself, and took a running leap straight for the testing center.

Anko crashed in through the window, the resilient fabric of the tarp protecting her form getting cut by the glass shards. In an impressive display of athletics, she managed to flip herself around completely, launch two kunai attached to the tarp into the ceiling, and still land on her feet while striking a pose. "Hello, children! I'm your new proctor, Anko Mitarashi!"

The room was silent, save for the enthusiastic applause from Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura. Anko, never one to feel ashamed of herself, gave a large theatric bow towards each member of Team 7. Once she straightened up and surveyed the room, her eyes widened.

"God damn Ibiki, you've still got it. There's barely more than a quarter of them left." Anko pouted. "Now there's hardly anyone left for me to play with. Oh well, I'll take what I can get. Come along children, it's time you see what new horrors await you." Anko turned and strode out of the room, laughing maniacally the whole way.

The students nervously followed the strange woman, leaving the room empty save for Ibiki and the rest of the Chunin. The examiners each unclipped their sheets and piled them on the front desk. Sakura confirmed with a quick glance that Naruto managed to come out ahead in his little competition with Sasuke. Ibiki said he would gather up the actual tests and the Chunin were all dismissed.

Scene Break

"Okay, so once chakra is used on all four of these points at once, the explosives with detonate." Naruto said as he gestured to the four points they had rigged to explode. The three were on the roof of the Kage box in the Chunin Stadium.

"Do you think this will work? These bombs aren't very big." Sakura asked.

Naruto shrugged. "Best we can do, I'm afraid. Any bigger and they're sure to be found. It won't be enough to kill any of the Sound Four once they use the Violent Flame Battle Encampment, but the blasts should distract and wound them enough for at least a few ANBU to get in and support the old man against Orochimaru."

The three time-travelers were taking the month break between the second and third exams to try out some tricks to turn the Invasion in the Leaf's favor as much as possible without getting directly involved. Going around and thrashing Jonin level enemies always attracted attention to them, and they were distrusted enough with the Kakashi incident hanging over their heads.

Sakura glanced down towards the empty arena. "I still can't believe that the village made this entire arena only for the Chunin exams and never uses it otherwise."

Sasuke shrugged. "It's a sign that the Leaf is so prosperous it can afford such a thing. When foreign ninja and dignitaries are in town, it's all about appearance. Besides, what else would you use this place for?"

Sakura scratched the back of her head. "I don't know, theater performances, maybe? This place could hold a lot of people and there is plenty of room for sets and the like."

Naruto clicked his tongue. "That's not a bad idea, actually. Maybe once the invasion ends and the Leaf has recovered, we can try pitching that to the Hokage. For now though, I'm hungry. Let's go get something to eat. We've done enough prep for today."

Sakura arched a brow. "Don't you want to try and find Jiraiya?"

Naruto gave her a withering look. "Sure I do. I just haven't the slightest clue where to find him."

Sakura gave a sheepish grin as she realized Naruto was right. Jiraiya was impossible to locate if he didn't want to be found. Even with the knowledge from previous loops, the man could vanish without a trace in an instant. The only reason Naruto met Jiraiya the first time around was because the Sannin had been intending to introduce himself to Naruto anyway. When the Toad Sage had seen that Ebisu was teaching Naruto water walking, a skill worth knowing, he had decided to sit back and let the training commence. Jiraiya, ever the opportunist, took the time to peek on the woman's side of the hot spring, which is when Ebisu noticed him.

Naruto just shook his head. "I would like to find the pervert, but he can be as slippery as Orochimaru when he wants to be. It doesn't really matter. He'll find me, though I don't know when. It could be weeks before he decides to show. For now, let's go get some food."

Scene Break

Naruto was very pointedly ignoring the smug look his teammates were sending him. The three were seated inside Ichiraku's and the reason for Sasuke and Sakura's smugness was currently seated next to Naruto.

"Here's your order, sir." Ayame said.

"Thank you, my dear. Food always tastes better when served by a beautiful woman." Jiraiya praised.

Ayame simply smiled and returned to the kitchen to finish Team 7's orders. The Toad Sannin began eagerly wolfing down his ramen, paying no attention to the three Chunin next to him. Jiraiya had been seated in the stand by the time they had arrived. Naruto had actually tried to turn and leave at the sight of the large man sitting on a stool to save face, but Sasuke and Sakura wouldn't let him.

So, three Chunin sat in a small restaurant stall while a living legend ate next to them, apparently not giving them the time of day. Once their orders arrived, the three began eating. After a moment, Jiraiya elbowed Naruto lightly in the ribs.

"This stuff is pretty good, isn't it?" Jiraiya asked with a grin.

Naruto returned with a grin of his own. "Best in the entire Leaf village."

The Sannin stroked his chin thoughtfully. "Is that so? I'll have to eat here more often then." Jiraiya's gaze settled on the three before him. "So, are you three ninja?"

Rather than answer the rhetorical question, all three of them were wearing their headbands and jackets, Naruto responded with one of his own. "I don't know, are you Jiraiya of the Sannin?"

The white-haired ninja chuckled. "I see my reputation precedes me. I can tell by the jackets that you three are Chunin. Tell me, how'd you three get that rank? You all are pretty young and I don't remember seeing you among any of the recent Chunin hopefuls from the Leaf village."

Although they didn't show it, Team 7 became nervous. Jiraiya was fishing for information about the Kakashi incident. He had no doubt heard the official report, but Jiraiya's years as ninja and spy master had taught him that an official report meant nothing.

Naruto chose his words carefully. "There was an accident while we were training with our teacher, Kakashi. He overtaxed his body and suffered from heart failure." That was most certainly true, but no one knew about Kakashi's Mangekyou stopping his heart, or Naruto's Distortion Wave was the trigger. They didn't want it known that Naruto had such a dangerous weapon and was so knowledgeable about seals that he could create it. "We were promoted due to an older law that is rarely referenced, but was used as a precedent for our situation."

Jiraiya leaned back as he contemplated Naruto's words. "Ah yes, I heard about Kakashi passing away. It's a shame, he was a fine ninja. Makes me wonder how he could have been so careless as to over exhaust himself, especially if he was just training." The Toad Sannin's eyes slowly shifted over each member of Team 7.

It was only thanks to years of training in espionage, ironically taught to them by Jiraiya, which allowed Team 7 to avoid giving any signs of nervousness. Sasuke slowly took a deep sip of water before responding to Jiraiya. "We believe that it was caused by his transplanted Sharingan taking too much of his chakra."

Again, it was the truth, just not every part of it. The Mangekyou was supposed to be a secret aspect of the Sharingan, but the higher ups of the Leaf like Jiraiya and Sarutobi definitely knew about it. If they knew that Kakashi had activated his Mangekyou, that would naturally lead to questions about what sort of 'training' they had been doing that had caused the eye to activate. People would start asking questions about how skilled they were and where they got those skills. That almost always ended with them fleeing the village or ending up in an interrogation cell.

Jiraiya idly drummed his fingers on the counter while looking out the entrance towards the street. After a moment, he returned his gaze to Team 7. "So, does that mean you three are in the market for a new mentor?" He asked with a grin

Sakura spoke, slightly off put by the sudden change in subject and demeanor. "Are you offering?"

Jiraiya shrugged. "I'm in town for a while and I see potential in you three. I could show you a few neat little tricks."

Team 7 glanced at one another for a moment before Naruto responded. "In that case, we would be honored to have you teaching us, Lord Jiraiya." The blonde was eager for a chance to sign the Toad Summoning Contract again, as he was unable to summon after each reset.

The Sannin gave a dismissive wave of his hand. "Just Jiraiya, please. Now then, why don't you three meet me at the river near The Great Maw? Do you know where that is?" The three nodded, thinking of the large gorge that resembled a shark's jaw where Naruto first summoned Gamabunta before the loops began. "Good. Meet me there tomorrow." With that, the man threw some money on the counter (with a generous tip for Ayame) and strode out of the stand.

The three stared after the legendary ninja before they lost sight of him in the crowd. "Do you think he bought it?" Sasuke asked.

Naruto shook his head. "Not for a moment."

"He did offer to train us." Sakura reminded them.

"Probably so he can just keep an eye on us. I doubt he'll teach us really serious or useful until we prove ourselves to him. I probably won't even be able to weasel the Rasengan or the Toad Contract out of him."

"So what do we do?"

Naruto sighed. "For now, we stay the course. We prep for the Third Exam and get some training with Jiraiya on the side. The man is still one of the greatest ninja in the world; it's at least worth our time to learn under him."

Sasuke and Sakura nodded in agreement and the three finished their meals in silence.

Scene Break

The day of the Third Exam was bright and sunny, a beautiful day for a tournament and an invasion. Sasuke, Sakura, and Naruto were sitting in the stands and staring down at the proceedings. There were only were only six genin in the arena. Between Naruto and Sasuke's efforts during the first exam and the Forest of Death, there were barely any teams left for the preliminaries.

Gaara was naturally among those participating, along with Temari. Surprisingly enough, it seems that Kankuro hadn't made the cut. Neji was there as well, though that didn't surprise Team 7. He was very skilled, if not currently well adjusted. Kiba was there with Akamaru bundled up in his jacket. The leader of the Sound Team, Dosu, was there as well. The biggest surprise was that Kabuto's energy draining teammate, Yoroi, was there as well.

"Man, who the hell lost to Yoroi?" Sasuke asked.

Sakura shrugged. "He's a pretty dirty fighter and his chakra draining technique can be dangerous if you either aren't prepared for it, or have large enough reserves." The three shared a chuckle at the memory of a time when Naruto had fought Yoroi in the preliminaries. Naruto had just stood there and let Yoroi use his Chakra Draining technique, as he was curious about the odd ability. After ten minutes with no sign of fatigue or strain on Naruto's part, Yoroi was actually filled with too much chakra to channel it properly and lost control of his technique. The boy had surrendered when he realized actually trying to use the massive amounts of chakra he had gained would flash fry his chakra coils. The entire time Naruto hadn't even taken his hands out of his pockets.

The first match of the exam began. It ended almost immediately, with Yoroi impacting with the far side of the stadium courtesy of a wind blast from Temari. She had seen Yoroi's Chakra Draining technique during the preliminaries and had no intention of letting him use it. The traitorous Leaf ninja had never even got close enough to spit at Temari, much less get in physical contact with her.

The next match lasted longer, but was similarly one sided. Kiba's best techniques involved him pumping up his reflexes along with his senses. The Inuzuka's hypersensitive ears proved to be a delicious target for Dosu's ultrasonic sound techniques and Kiba was quickly overwhelmed.

As Neji and Gaara took to the field, feathers began to rain down in the stadium. Team 7 quickly got to their feet and dispelled the sleeping illusion. "Alright, it's show time." Naruto declared.

Down in the arena, Neji managed to throw off the illusion, but found himself shocked by the sudden entrance of multiple Sand and Sound ninja. "What's going on?"

"The village is being invaded." Neji didn't need to turn to see three ninja, Chunin based on their uniforms, land beside him. Across the field, Gaara's sister and team leader, Baki, landed beside him. "Please fall back and help defend the citizens from the invading forces. Any one bearing a headband from Sound or Sand is to be considered an enemy and eliminated with extreme prejudice. We'll deal with these three."

Neji had longstanding grudge against the Main Branch of his house, but he was still a ninja of the Leaf. He wasn't about to disobey a superior in a crisis situation. "Understood." The Hyuuga quickly vacated.

Baki and Temari prepared for battle, but were surprised when Gaara stumbled forward. The genin's eyes were twitching as he stared at Sasuke. "You." He whispered. "Your eyes are like mine. I see the desolation and solitude within them." The red head suddenly winced and grabbed his head. "But there is something different, something else within your eyes. It makes me angry. It makes me want to kill you!"

Sasuke stepped forward. "I may have once carried the burden of isolation, but not anymore. I have my friends who saved me from that darkness. Their love for me gave me the strength to overcome that pain."

Gaara grabbed his head again and began shaking. "No. That's impossible. You can only gain strength through isolation; you cannot be strong by relying on others! You're lying!" Gaara snarled. He was rapidly losing control of his power; they needed to get him out of the village.

Sasuke smirked. "Think I'm lying, then why don't you come see how much stronger I am than you?"

Despite Baki and Temari's protest, Gaara shot forward to strike at Sasuke. The ground beneath Sasuke shattered as he channeled chakra to his feet and legs. Similar to if he used too much chakra while Tree Walking, the surface of the ground repulsed him. The added boost, along with the chakra in his legs, allowed Sasuke to leap up to the roof of the stadium. "Come and get me!" He taunted. Gaara howled in rage and quickly gave chase.

Baki and Temari clearly intended to follow Gaara, but Naruto and Sakura weren't about to let that happen. Baki was a master of wind techniques and could actually feel the differences and disturbances in the air around him to predict incoming attacks. He was therefore completely caught off guard when a thin stone pike shot up between his legs and penetrated all the way to his brain, killing him instantly.

For Naruto, he simply wrestled the heavy metal fan away from Temari and knocked her unconscious with it. She would likely have a concussion, but she would be out for a good while. With them dealt with, Naruto and Sakura took off after Sasuke and Gaara.

Scene Break

Sasuke managed to dodge an orb of condensed air that was fired at his head. Years of training with Naruto meant Sasuke was well versed in predicting and avoiding wind techniques. He was less prepared for the large brown and blue claw that smashed through a tree trunk to grab him.

Sasuke kick flipped off the claw and sprung off the arm to gain some distance. He landed on a nearby tree branch and prepared himself to fight. They were far away enough from the village that he could focus on the monstrosity before him. Gaara was well on his way to releasing his Bijuu, his entire body already resembled a demonic raccoon.

The Jinchuuriki smirked, revealing razor sharp teeth. "Finally done running? Good. Now it's time to make me feel alive!" Gaara's overly long limbs gripped the branch he was standing on and flung himself at Sasuke.

The Uchiha allowed himself to fall backwards, his feet sliding along the surface of the tree branch. Sasuke stood upside down on the bottom of the branch and allowed Gaara to fly over him. Sasuke quickly sped through hand seals and launched a jutsu. "Thunder Style: Destructo Disk!"

Two thin spinning blades of electricity shot out towards the trees. Sasuke didn't bother actually firing at Gaara, the demonic sand covering his body was too efficient at disrupting electricity. Only Sasuke most powerful piercing attacks could actually penetrate Gaara's hide. Instead, the twin electric disk carved their way through the trunks of several trees.

Gaara had landed on another branch and had turned himself around, intent on attacking Sasuke. The sand ninja failed to look upward, so was unprepared for several tree trunks to collapse on top of him. Gaara howled in pain and surprise as he was dragged to the ground by the heavy logs.

The branch Sasuke was hanging upside down on vibrated slightly, indicating someone had landed on top of it. "Not bad at all, Sasuke." Naruto complimented. "It won't hold him for long, though." Sure enough, the pile of logs was suddenly blown away as Gaara freed himself. The crazed ninja's golden eyes latched onto Team 7. He roared and launched himself through the air.

"Scatter! Keep him guessing!" Naruto commanded. Sakura and Naruto leapt of the branch in opposite directions while Sasuke simply stopped channeling chakra to his feet and allowed himself to drop. Over three hundred pounds of malevolent Sand crashed into the now vacant branch, turning it into splinters. Gaara hesitated, as he wasn't sure who to go after first, giving Naruto an opportunity to attack.

"Wind Style: Air Horn!" Naruto's hand was surrounded by a spinning drill of wind. The blonde thrust his fist towards Gaara and launched the attack. Gaara raised one of his massive claws to block the drill, only to recoil in horror at the sight of the drill digging through his Sand. He quickly slapped the attack out of the way and focused his gaze on Naruto, now considering the blonde the most serious threat. This was exactly what they wanted.

Before Gaara could attack Naruto, Sakura appeared over the Sand Ninja's head. Held above Sakura's head was one of the large tree trunks Sasuke had knocked down earlier. Sakura's hands were sunken into the wood to gain a decent grip as she used her super strength to rear the log back. "Batter up!" Sakura slammed the oversized club down on Gaara's head. The branch Gaara was standing on gave way under the sudden pressure and Gaara dropped with it.

Sakura lifted the log again, only for Gaara's arm to shoot up and his claw to wrap around her torso. "I'll crush you!" The raccoon screamed.

The sound of hundreds upon hundreds of birds chirping filled the area as Sasuke shot out from behind a tree. Sasuke attempted to take off Gaara's head with his Thousand Birds technique, but the sound gave him away and Gaara swatted Sasuke away with his tail. The attack wasn't in vain, however, as Sasuke managed to wildly fling his arm out and score a long slash along Gaara's torso. This gave Sakura time to pry the herself free and Naruto time to get in close while Gaara was distracted.

Naruto's hands were a blur as he planted explosive notes along the rapidly closing wound in Gaara's chest before the deranged raccoon smashed his arm into Naruto's side. The blond was sent flying backwards and impacted painfully with the trunk of a tree, but it proved to be to his advantage as the explosive quickly detonated.

The blast was tremendous, Gaara was incased in layers upon layers of reinforced sand, so it wasn't enough to actually kill him. It did, however, succeed in peeling away most of the sand surrounding the Jinchuuriki and he now resembled a melting clay statue of a raccoon. Gaara's breath came out in ragged gasps as he struggled back to his feet, his sand slowly reforming on his body.

"You… I'm going to-" Whatever Gaara had been about to say was cut off by Sakura flinging the tree trunk towards him. The Jinchuuriki was too damaged to evade and the log slammed into his chest like a battering ram, sending him flying backwards into another tree.

Gaara growled and gnashed his teeth, too angry and injured to actually form coherent words, as he desperately struggled to remove the log pinning him to the tree trunk. Sasuke wasn't about to let that happen and moved in for the kill. With another Thousand Birds technique charged and ready, Sasuke sped along the log towards Gaara.

The Sand Ninja's eyes widened in horror at Sasuke's approach. "N-No!" he screamed before Sasuke hand thrust clean through the sand, his neck, and the trunk behind him. There was a tense moment of silence before the sand finally stopped moving and Gaara went limp.

Sighing in relief, Sasuke withdrew his hand and dispelled the technique. The Uchiha held his wrist while staring down at his hand with a small smile. "Thanks again, Kakashi." He whispered. "That technique is a life-saver."

Sasuke quickly made his way up to where Sakura and Naruto were standing. Naruto had mild concussion from his impact with the trunk and it seemed like Gaara's claw broke a few of Sakura's ribs, but the medic ninja was already close to finishing healing both injuries. Once both were fully healed, Naruto spoke.

"Let's get back to the village and… and…oh no." Naruto slowly trailed off in horror, his eyes locked on the forest floor below. Sasuke and Sakura followed his gaze and were shocked to see that Gaara's sand was beginning to rise up towards the sky. For a moment they thought the Jinchuuriki was still alive, but that was quickly dispelled when the sand left behind Gaara's body on the forest floor and continued its ascent.

A growing sense of dread filled all three of them as the sand began to take on a very familiar shape. It was very similar to Gaara's previous form, only much, much larger. An impossibly huge tail began to sway back and forth as an enormous pair of jaws opened wide and let loose a roar of triumph.

The Shukaku was free.

Team 7 stared up at the behemoth in shock before Sakura managed to find her voice. "What the hell do we do?"

Naruto's eyes narrowed. "We have to stop it, if that thing reaches the village, it will turn the entire tide of the Invasion."

"How do you propose we stop an unbound Bijuu?" Sasuke demanded.

"I don't know! Let me think!"

"Couldn't we use the seals you created to bind the Kyuubi's power? They would work on Shukaku, right?" Sakura suggested, pulling said seals out of her weapon pouch.

Naruto shook his head. "The seals are designed to work with a Jinchuuriki's seal and force the Bijuu back into the cage. Without an actual Jinchuuriki to seal the beast back into, they're worthless." Naruto cursed as the Shukaku began moving. It seemed to be gaining control of itself and was no doubt attracted by the sounds of battle coming from the village.

"We don't have any other options. We have to seal it again." Sakura declared.

"Again, how?" Sasuke demanded.

Sakura took a deep breath. "How else? With the Reaper Death Seal."

Naruto's eyes latched onto Sakura as he realized what her plan was. "Are you sure, Sakura? I've studied the technique, but I've never actually performed it. If this backfires, it could cost us our souls. I'm not sure even the resets can allow us to escape the Death God's Stomach."

Sakura placed a hand on Naruto's shoulder. "I trust you, Naruto. I know you can do it."

Naruto slowly nodded, his resolve hardening now that a plan was in place. "Alright, alright, I'm going to need time to properly prepare. Sakura, you're with me. Sasuke," Naruto wore a pained expression on his face. "I need you to hold off the Shukaku while Sakura and I make the preparations.

Sasuke stared at his friend incredulously. "Hold it off? How the hell do you expect me to do that? I haven't signed any summoning contracts this loop."

"I know, Sasuke and I'm sorry. It's the only option we have."

Sasuke grimaced as he realized just what Naruto was talking about. "Okay, I'll do it. You two had better hurry though. I'm not going to last very long against that thing."

Naruto nodded. "We will. Give him hell, Sasuke." Sasuke quickly embraced Naruto and Sakura before turning and speeding off to intercept the Shukaku. Naruto turned to Sakura, his expression grave. "Let's roll."

Scene Break

Sasuke stood atop a tall tree, overlooking the forest and the approaching monstrosity as well. Sasuke noted that the Shukaku was rather slow for its size, barely plodding along with small steps. Though it still made progress through the forest given the size of the beast, Sasuke filed the information away; he would need every advantage he could get.

Sasuke closed his eyes and formed the ram seal with his hands. He took a deep breath and called upon the greatest of Sharingan techniques. Sasuke's eyes shot open, revealing his Mangekyou Sharingan, and his body became consumed in purple chakra. Not the deep, dark purple granted through Orochimaru's curse mark, but a lighter, violet shade.

The violet aura surrounding Sasuke expanded and the Chakra began taking physical form. The ribcage formed first, wrapping around Sasuke like a protective cage. The arms and upper body came next. Large skeletal appendages made of pure chakra and covered by the violet aura came into existence. The left arm only held a single appendage while the right held two. Two separate forearms split off from each other, both connected at the elbow, both ending in six-fingered hands. The Lower body and legs soon formed as well, as skeletal as the rest of the creation. With legs to stand on, Sasuke felt himself being lifted into the air as the ribcage rose, but he paid it no mind, he had to focus. Once the entirety of the body was formed, the head came into existence. A hollow skull with metallic plates screwed into place formed. Two small horns adorned the top of the skull and the empty eye sockets glowed with an unholy yellow light. Even then Sasuke pumped more and more Chakra into his creation, urging it to grow. The previously twenty foot tall skeleton began growing and growing until it stood at eye level with the Shukaku, violet Chakra surrounding the entire body.

Sasuke finally lowered his hands and admired his work. It was the third level of the Mangekyou Sharingan and one of the strongest techniques known to Uchiha. It was primarily made to be used as a guardian that protected its user, but Sasuke didn't need a protector, he needed a warrior. Sasuke floated in the skeleton's ribcage, staring out at the bemused Shukaku. "Susanoo, God of Valor, lend me your might." Sasuke whispered.

The Shukaku had been making its way towards the sounds of destruction and battle, when this violet creation suddenly appeared in its path. "Well, what do we have here?" The Bijuu asked, its voice oddly distorted. "I barely get out of my cage and already someone steps up to be slaughtered. Todays a good day! Here I come!" The demon took a deep breath, its stomach expanding. "Wind Style: Air Bullets!" The Bijuu slammed its arm into its own stomach, forcing the air attack out of its jaw.

Sasuke urged Susanoo forward and the guardian obeyed. The violet skeleton charged forward, its feet tearing up the trees as it ran. The wind bullets impacted, but rather than try to absorb the blow, Sasuke used Susanoo's open frame to his advantage. He weakened the violet aura that acted as a barrier around Susanoo and allowed the wind bullets to simply slip through the skeletal body without breaking stride.

Now that he was close enough to attack, Sasuke reinforced the protective aura and summoned a weapon. A long sword made of chakra appeared in Susanoo's left arm. The weapon was basic and inelegant, but it was a weapon. Sasuke bellowed as Susanoo swung the blade into the Shukaku's leg. Sasuke had no chance of actually defeating a free Bijuu; instead he was focusing solely on deliberating attacks. The conjured blade sunk into Shukaku's leg, severing the appendage.

Shukaku howled in rage and swung its claw at the construct. Sasuke managed to get Susanoo to duck under the swing, but was completely unprepared for the sand demon to whip around and nail Sasuke with its tail.

Sasuke screamed in pain as the Susanoo was sent flying. The God of Valor crashed into the ground, skidding to a halt and leveling acres worth of forest. Sasuke felt as if every cell of his body was attempting to tear themselves apart. Strong the Susanoo may be, but it came with a heavy price. Sasuke knew his eyes were bleeding and he could literally feel his regular eyesight leaving him. The Mangekyou naturally eroded a Sharingan user's eyesight, first their regular eyes, then their Sharingan, until the Uchiha was left blind. Susanoo especially drained away a user's eyesight.

Sasuke didn't give these facts any thought as he commanded the Susanoo back to its feet. His friends were counting on him and he wasn't going to let a little blindness get in his way. For the time being, he could still see fine and that was enough. Sasuke concentrated on repairing the damage done by Shukaku's tail, the shattered bone fragments reforming.

Sasuke urged Susanoo to charge again, hoping to overcome the Shukaku through superior speed. This time, instead of attacking head on, the God of Valor leapt into the air above the sand demons head. Two swords formed in each of Susanoo's right hands and Sasuke slammed them down into the One-tails eyes.

The beast howled as the chakra blades plunged through its eye sockets and out through its head. Technically, the beast was only composed of sand and could thus reform itself, but it would have to pull out the chakra blades first. It was therefore blind as long at the blade remained lodged in its head and that bought Sasuke some time.

Susanoo planted its feet on Shukaku's broad back and used it to springboard over the demon. The beast was still raging, trying to wildly flail about and hit Sasuke. Shukaku seemed to realize that it needed its eyes, so it became still while trying to remove the offending blades.

This was what Sasuke had been hoping for. While the Bijuu was distracted, Susanoo shot forward and wrapped its skeletal arms around Shukaku's tail. Sasuke bellowed as he commanded Susanoo to pull hard on the tail. Shukaku let out a yelp as it was pulled off its feet. Susanoo spun the creature around like demonic pinwheel before releasing the tail.

The Shukaku was flung through the air, away from the village. Due to the beast's immense weight, it didn't travel very far, but every step away from the Leaf counted. Sasuke took a moment to catch his breath. His eyes were still bleeding and the strain of maintaining Susanoo in such a large form was beginning to take its toll. His skin was beginning to rip open in several places along his body and Sasuke was losing blood and chakra fast. On top of that, Shukaku's powers were only increasing as the Bijuu became used to being free. Sasuke couldn't keep this up.

The sound of Shukaku's voice brought Sasuke back to reality. "You're definitely strong, but I'll show just how strong I am!" Sasuke cursed as he realized that all the damage he had managed to do was gone and the Shukaku was whole again. The beast raised both its hands above its head and slammed them into the ground. "Wasteland Tremors!"

Twin jets of sand erupted from the ground and sped towards Sasuke. He tried to dodge, but the attack was too fast. The burst of sand crashed into Susanoo and severed both arms from the construct. Sasuke grunted in pain as Susanoo was thrown off its feet from the impact, but before he could reconstruct the arms and get to his feet, Shukaku planted both claws on the ground and bent forward. The beast's jaw opened impossibly wide as a black orb began forming within its maw.

Sasuke felt his blood turn to ice as he recognized the technique. The Bijuu Ball; the ultimate attack of the tail beasts. Sasuke desperately attempted to get Susanoo to its feet while panicking about what to do. The demonic technique would wipe him and the Susanoo out if it hit him, but if he dodged, he ran the risk of the blast landing in the village behind him.

Fortunately for Sasuke, Naruto had finished his preparations.

"Uzumaki Style: Chakra Chains!" Large golden chains suddenly erupted from the trees and wrapped themselves around Shukaku's arms. The Bijuu tried to pull its arms free, but more and more chains emerged and wrapped around the beast's legs, tail, body and head; completely restraining it.

"What's going on?" Shukaku demanded as the Bijuu Ball faded away. Sasuke sighed with relief and allowed Susanoo to fade. The Uchiha dropped down into the trees, only barely managing to avoid killing himself from the fall. Sasuke landed on the ground and immediately collapsed.

"Sorry, guys. Looks like that's all I've got. Good luck." With that, Sasuke's Sharingan deactivated and his world went dark.

Scene Break

Naruto looked upward through the tree line at the One-Tailed Demon. Once he was sure that Shukaku was restrained by his Chakra chains, he turned to Sakura. The pink haired girl was kneeling in the center of a complex sealing array. Her body was covered in similar seals that spread from a central point on her stomach. She was loosely wrapped in smaller versions of Naruto's chakra chains and already Shukaku's power was being channeled into her body.

"Are you ready?" Naruto asked. Sakura nodded. "Alright, here we go." Naruto nodded to a Shadow Clone who was standing over a kneeling Sound ninja. The clone leaned down and whispered into the masked man's ear. The Sound Jonin nodded and got to his feet. He began forming seals to activate the jutsu.

The man had been placed under an illusion by Sakura earlier after one of Naruto's clones dragged him towards their sealing array. The man was slowly fed Naruto's chakra to boost his reserves and was given strict instruction on what jutsu to perform and how to perform it. Naruto and Sakura were hoping to avoid actually being devoured by the Death God by using the man as a proxy. The sealing array, the chains, and preparations were all done by Naruto, but the Death God would be summoned by the Sound ninja and it would be his soul used to finish the seal.

The Sound Jonin finished the jutsu and Naruto felt a cold sense of dread wash over him. Though the blonde couldn't see it, he was certain he was now in the presence of the God of the Dead. Swallowing his fear, Naruto commanded the Sound ninja to reach out and grab the single chain hanging in front of him. This singular chain connected the ones binding Shukaku and the ones hanging off Sakura. Naruto intended to use it as a conduit to ship the Demon straight into Sakura.

"Here we go! Dead Demon Consuming Seal!" Invisible to Naruto or Sakura, the Death God began chanting as he wrapped prayer beads around his arm. The being plunged his arm into the soul effigy before him, the arm emerging from the Sound Jonin's stomach and grabbing the chain.

Shukaku, now able to feel the Death God's presence, began wailing in fear as it felt its soul and power being drained away. The gigantic form of Shukaku began to crack and fall apart as the demonic being was sucked away leaving only sand.

As the Death God worked to drain the Shukaku from one form and place it into another, he allowed his eyes to gaze upon the two who had summoned him. The boy was easily recognizable as the last being the Death God had been in contact with when he was last summoned to this plane. The being found it strange how the boy was now using the Death God's power to perform the same sealing technique done on him as a child.

The God of the Dead's eyes shifted to the pink-haired girl, the new vessel he was placing the demon into. The being contemplated taking her soul as payment. They had been clever in using a proxy and the Death God would certainly devour the man's soul, but he disliked being manipulated in such a way. Ultimately, the God decided not to take the girl's soul. No, he found himself too intrigued by her. The girl's soul carried the weight of many, many years, more years than any mortal had the right to bear. The Death God was certain that the blonde's soul would be the same. The God found it fascinating. They were both clearly still mortal and would die after their bodies could no longer carry them, but the Reaper felt unlimited potential emanating from them. It was as if Death wasn't enough to stop them from growing.

The Death God returned his attention to the task at hand. He would allow these anomalies to live. They were growing rapidly and still had incredible potential locked away. In fact, the Death God believed they could even become-

The God's musing was cut off as he realized the Bijuu had been completely drained. There was only one thing left to do. With his free hand, the God of Death removed the short sword clenched in his teeth and severed the golden chain. With the Demon's only escape route cut and his task complete, the Death God collected his payment. With a final yank, he removed the soul of the Sound Jonin and gleefully swallowed it whole. With his meal finished and his work done, the God of the Dead faded away from the mortal plane, silently promising to keep an eye on the interesting mortals who had summoned him.

Naruto sighed in relief as the giant form of Shukaku collapsed and crumbled into lifeless sand. The Chakra Chains took massive amounts of chakra to maintain and he was relieved to finally release them. Naruto wiped the sweat from his forehead as he gazed at Sakura. The sealing was in its final stage. The sealing array along Sakura's body and the ground were glowing softly and began retracting. Naruto watched in fascination as the seals all moved along the surface of the ground and Sakura's skin like living words. The seals all retracted towards Sakura's stomach, slowly becoming the same seal array that adorned Naruto's stomach.

Once the seal was complete, Naruto took a tentative few steps toward his friend. "Sakura?" He asked. The medic's head shot upward and Naruto felt a thrill of fear pass through him at the pair of golden eyes that were staring at him. He breathed a sigh of relief as the golden color slowly faded away, being replaced with Sakura's green eyes.

A small smile appeared on Sakura's face. "You did it, Naruto."

Naruto dropped to the ground, letting his legs splay out in front of him. "We did it." He corrected. "You, me, and Sasuke. How is Shukaku?"

Sakura placed a hand on her stomach. "Locked up tight. He's not happy about it either."

Naruto nodded. "So, how does it feel being a Jinchuuriki?" He asked.

Sakura frowned and gazed down at her hands, slowly clenching and unclenching them. "Not what I was expecting." She admitted. "I expected to feel overcharged with energy, or have a voice in my head, but there's nothing like that. The Shukaku feels…far away. Like we're not really sharing the same body."

Naruto shrugged. "The seal Dad created was designed like that. You won't have much connection with your demon at all unless you will it or it's able to take advantage of your mental state. Frankly, I don't think the One- tail will be able to influence you through that seal at all. It doesn't have anywhere close to the power of the Kyuubi."

Sakura bit her lip. "This thing isn't going to follow me, is it? I'm not going to wake up on Team Selections with a Sand Demon still lodged in my gut, am I?"

Naruto shook his head. "I very much doubt it. The Kyuubi doesn't remember anything once a loop resets, so it's unlikely that Shukaku would tag along with you."

Naruto got to his feet and held out a hand for Sakura. "We should go find Sasuke and report back to the village." Sakura nodded and reached out to grab Naruto's hand, only for a wall of Sand to suddenly shoot up between them.

Sakura frowned slightly and the wall slowly fell away. She moved to take Naruto's hand again, but a wall once more blocked their way. Sakura groaned. "This is going to take some getting used to."

Scene Break

Out of all the prison cells Naruto had been in, he liked the Leaf's the best. They were plain stone rooms, but they were roomy and even provided a bed. Not like Stone who had cells with adjustable ceiling, ensuring that the cell was just short enough to make standing up uncomfortable. Even worse was the cells in Cloud, the floors were tiled and each tile was connected to an electrical circuit. A random assortment of the tiles were charged with electricity, not enough to kill, but enough to sting like crazy if you stepped on one. Even worse, the tile arraignment reset every hour.

At any rate, Naruto was lying back on cell bed, simply enjoying the time to rest he'd been given after the fight with Gaara. Turns out more than a few ninja witnessed Team 7's battle and the three had been quickly detained for questioning.

The door to Naruto's cell opened, revealing a masked Anbu. "The council has requested your presence." The masked ninja stated. Naruto nodded and got his feet, following the ninja out the door. The blonde was led through the Hokage Tower towards the Council Chamber.

Naruto was unsurprised to see Sakura and Sasuke waiting at the entrance. He was surprised, however, to see what appeared to be a very large Golden Labrador sitting on the floor next to Sakura. As he got closer, Naruto realized the dog was made out of Sand. At his questioning look, Sakura just shrugged.

"I didn't have a gourd on me." She said simply. Naruto nodded before turning his gaze towards Sasuke, who had his head down.

"Hey, are you okay?" Naruto asked. Sasuke raised his head towards Naruto. The blonde noticed that Sasuke's black eyes weren't focused on anything. "Oh Sasuke, I'm sorry."

The blind Uchiha shrugged. "I knew what using Susanoo for so long would do to me. It can't be helped." Given that a reset would bring back Sasuke's eye sight, the Uchiha decided to just take things in stride for the moment.

The doors to the council chamber opened and Team 7 was ushered inside. Naruto put Sasuke's hand on his shoulder to guide him and they made their way in, Sakura's sand canine following after them. The Council Chamber was a large circular room, with a ledge that circled the entire room. This ledge was where the various members of the Council sat. The center of the room was lower than the ledge, meaning whoever spoke to the Council was required to look up at them. Three chairs awaited them in the center of the Council Chamber. They seated themselves and looked up at the Council of the Leaf.

Team 7 felt a slight swell of hope at the sight of the Third Hokage staring down at them. It seemed like their trap for the Sound Four had worked and they managed to drive off Orochimaru without Sarutobi losing his life or using the Reaper Death Seal. Naruto was momentarily distracted by the thought of what would happen if two people tried to summon the Death God simultaneously.

On either side of the Hokage were his two advisors, Homura and Koharu, along with Danzo. The various Clan heads along with several prominent civilians were scattered around the room as well.

There was a moment of silence before the Hokage began. "Do you all know why you're here?" He asked. Sasuke started slightly at the sound of Sarutobi's voice and Naruto realized Sasuke wasn't actually able to see he was alive.

Naruto spoke. "We don't know why you've brought us here, Lord Hokage. If I had to guess, I would say it has something to do with our battle against Sand's Jinchuuriki."

The Hokage nodded. "Indeed. We have many questions that need answering about this battle. I want you to take us through the fight; we'll ask our questions as they come up."

Naruto took a breath and began. "Once the Sleeper Illusion was activated, we realized we were under attack. We had been keeping an eye on Gaara, due to him being a Jinchuuriki. We figured he would be instrumental to the invasion, so we engaged him."

Here Koharu raised her hand to interrupt. "How were you aware that Gaara was a Jinchuuriki?"

Naruto bit his lip. "It is difficult to describe. I felt a sense of…kinship? Familiarity, perhaps? Whatever you wish to call it, I felt drawn to him, like I knew him from another life." If the council wasn't so intent on Naruto, they would have noticed Sasuke fighting down a smirk. "It just sort of came to me that he had a Bijuu sealed inside of him like I did." Naruto noticed some worried looks being directed towards Sakura and Sasuke. "Both of my teammates are aware of my… condition." The two other members of Team 7 nodded.

Koharu spoke again. "Do you believe Gaara knew that you were a Jinchuuriki as well?"

Naruto shrugged. "I can't say. I didn't actually interact with him until the invasion, so I don't know what he thought of me." Koharu nodded and gestured for Naruto to continue

Naruto moved on with his story. "It quickly became apparent that Gaara was losing control of his Bijuu, so we antagonized him and led him out of the village and into the forest. Gaara's mental state wasn't at its best, so we used that to our advantage. We kept moving and attacking from different sides and angles to keep him from properly focusing. We feared that he would soon release his Bijuu, so we killed him. This proved to be a mistake, however, as the beast managed to escape regardless. It seems that killing the host only releases the demon." There was some uneasy muttering around the room.

Sarutobi spoke. "This is one of the main issues we wish to resolve here. Multiple ninja felt the malicious intent of the One-Tail and moved to engage the creature before it could reach the village. Before they could however they witnessed," Sarutobi paused for a moment and glanced down at a paper on his desk, quoting it exactly. "'The Devil himself rise from the trees and attack the Sand Demon. The Devil appeared to lose before golden chains ensnared the beast and drained it of its power." Sarutobi's eyes fixed upon Team 7. "Please explain."

Sasuke place his hand on Naruto's leg to stop him from speaking. "I can answer your questions about the 'Devil' they saw. It was…" Sasuke hesitated. "Is the Council aware of the Mangekyou Sharingan?" It was clear the elders and the Hokage knew, but most of the Council seemed confused. "The Mangekyou Sharingan is the next step above a regular Sharingan. It can only be achieved through great loss, such as killing your own best friend or watching your entire family get murdered. As I'm sure you can imagine, I gained the Mangekyou after the Massacre. It seems the pain of the memories caused me to repress the ability until I finally gained my actual Sharingan."

Sasuke paused to let the murmurs of the Council die down before continuing. "The Mangekyou grants its user many abilities, one of which is known as Susanoo. It allows me to give my chakra physical form in the shape of a guardian or sentinel. The skeletal figure you saw was my Susanoo. My grasp of the technique is far from perfect, which is why it only appears as a skeleton. With time, I'll be able to enhance and reinforce the God of Valor with armor and weapons."

This time, Homura spoke up. "If you have such powerful techniques at your disposal, why have you waited until now to show them?"

Sasuke sighed. "The Mangekyou grants many great and terrible powers, but at a cost. The more one uses the Mangekyou, especially the stronger techniques like Susanoo, the more one loses their eyesight. I've used it sparingly up until now, but I overused it during the battle with the One-Tail and can no longer see."

Danzo spoke up. "Does that mean your eyes are useless now?" He asked.

The Uchiha hesitated. "Not exactly. If the Council will allow it, I would like to activate my Sharingan." There was some more murmuring as the Council debated before Sarutobi spoke.

"You have our permission."

Sasuke nodded. "Thank you." A moment later the Uchiha's eyes turned red. Sasuke blinked a few times before glancing around the room. "Ah, that's better. The Mangekyou does erode my sight, but slowly. I may not be able to see regularly, but it seems my Sharingan still allows me to see. If I continue to use the Mangekyou, however, I believe even my Sharingan will one day go dark as well."

Sarutobi took the forefront again. "So you were hoping to defeat the One-Tail with this technique?"

Sasuke shook his head. "Powerful the Susanoo may be, but it is still limited by my own Chakra and abilities. As I said, my Susanoo is incomplete due to my age and inexperience. I was merely trying to buy time for Naruto and Sakura."

Naruto decided to step in and answer the next question before it was asked. "With the Bijuu released, we knew that it would cause massive destruction if not contained. My friends and I determined that we needed to seal the Bijuu into a new vessel through the Reaper Death Seal."

Sarutobi nearly had a heart attack. "You know the Reaper Death Seal?" He demanded. "How?

Naruto patted his stomach as he contemplated how to answer. "The Fourth Hokage was truly and amazing ninja. His knowledge of Seals was second to none. When he sealed the Kyuubi into me, he managed to seal a bit of himself and my mother as well. They were just small fragments, but once I came in contact with the Kyuubi's cage, they appeared."

Naruto's eyes glazed over slightly, as if in fond remembrance. "They didn't last long, as the fragments could only survive for a short time after awakening from their stasis. They told me everything about the Sealing process and also showed me how to use the Reaper Death Seal and the Chakra Chains, an Uzumaki clan technique."

Naruto didn't bother bring up the fact that Minato was his father. Those who were aware of his parentage would understand he now knew and those who weren't aware didn't need to know. "Once I learned the Reaper Death Seal, I made sure to teach it to Sakura and Sasuke as well."

Homura interrupted again. "Why?"

Sakura finally spoke. "If I may be blunt, we're ninja. If Naruto were to be killed, God forbid, then who knows if the Kyuubi would actually escape or not? If the beast did gain its freedom, then it could cause untold destruction. Naruto made sure Sasuke and I were proficient in the Reaper Death Seal so that we would be able to stop a second coming of the Kyuubi."

Listening to these children casually talking about death made Sarutobi feel very old, and only confirmed his decision that a Fifth Hokage had to be appointed soon. "The Reaper Death Seal is incredibly dangerous. You all took a terrible risk in using it."

Naruto just shook his head. "Lord Hokage, the Leaf village is the single most populated village in the world. A Bijuu, be it one or nine tails, could wipe out the village in its entirety. In the face of such devastation, then what is something as trivial as sacrificing our lives or our eyesight to prevent it? Self-sacrifice is a ninja's duty. We risked our lives to protect the village from a Bijuu attack and we will gladly do it again."

Sarutobi had to resist the urge to rub the bridge of his nose to alleviate the headache he felt. He was still the Hokage and couldn't show weakness. He simply gestured for them to continue.

Naruto spoke. "While Sasuke distracted the One-Tail, Sakura and I prepared for the ritual. After setting up the sealing array and restricting the Bijuu with my chains, we put a Sound Jonin under an illusion and used him as a proxy to perform the Reaper Death Seal, hence why I'm still alive. We drained the Bijuu of its power and sealed it into Sakura, making her a Jinchuuriki."

Danzo spoke. "This leads to another point. Sand is demanding the return of their Bijuu." The war-hawk's face was impassive, but Team 7 could tell he was unhappy with this.

Sakura raised her hand. "If I may, why should we return the One-Tail?"

Sarutobi resisted the urge to sigh. "The Bijuu were originally used by the First Hokage as bargaining chips to stabilize relationships and treaties with the other villages. He gave them the Bijuu as a sign of trust."

Sakura nodded. "Exactly. The Bijuu were given as a sign of trust. Sand broke that trust when they allied with Sound and invaded. Is it not our right to take back what was freely given? Let Sand live for a generation without a Jinchuuriki and see how eager they are to pull something like this again. When I pass, they can seal the beast into one of their ninja, but until then let this serve as a symbol that the Leaf gave these creatures as a sign of trust and we can take them away just as easily. Besides, the Leaf village will need all the intimidation power and military might it can muster after this attack. Two Jinchuuriki will certain help that."

Danzo was a master of hiding and killing his emotions. The small smile he wore was the equivalent of an open-toothed grin. He very clearly approved of Sakura's reasoning. Naruto finished his story. "Once the demon was safely contained, Sakura and I found Sasuke unconscious and began making our way back to the village, where we were intercepted by Anbu and put in holding cells. A few days passed, and here we are."

There was a long silence before the Hokage spoke. "Thank you for your report. We will deliberate on what you've told us and decide on a course of action." A few Anbu appeared at the time-traveler's sides and led them out of the Council room. They were led back to the holding cells and all three were allowed into the same one.

Once the Anbu left, Sakura subtly cast an illusion that prevented anyone from overhearing what they were saying. It would just sound like boring conversation. With that done, the medic sat down on the ground, her sand dog lying down next to her and resting its head on her leg. "What do think will happen now?"

Naruto leaned against the wall and shrugged. "Hard to say. They won't execute us, not after learning that Bijuu can escape through death. I don't think they'll imprison us either, we won them over pretty nicely."

Sasuke nodded. "The Third was sympathetic to us from the start. Using Shukaku to increase the Leaf's military power and dropping Danzo's 'Self-sacrifice is a ninja's duty' philosophy definitely won him to our side. Not only that, but the elders and Clan heads seemed impressed with our strategy and skill while the civilians are just relieved to know that there's an actual plan in case the Kyuubi breaks out. I'd say were in pretty good shape."

All three of them nodded and they spent the rest of their time watching Sakura do tricks with her new sand abilities.

It was roughly two hours later when Team 7 was once again summoned to the Council Chambers. They stood before the Hokage, as the chairs from before were gone. Sarutobi stared down at them for a moment before speaking.

"Naruto Uzumaki. Sakura Haruno. Sasuke Uchiha. You three single handedly prevented another Bijuu from causing destruction in our village. For that, and for the incredible amounts of courage, fortitude, and Will of Fire you have shown, all three of you have been promoted to the rank of Tokubetsu Jonin."

The three time-traveler's jaws dropped open. They had never risen in rank this quickly before. All three quickly bowed. "Thank you, Lord Hokage. We are honored with your decision."

The Hokage nodded. "We would not be giving you this rank if we didn't think you deserved it. Tomorrow, I want you three to report to my office where I will have some prepared to go over what is expected of you with your new rank. Understand? Good. You three are dismissed."

Scene Break

The village spent the following days rebuilding and recuperating from the Invasion. The three newly minted Jonin spent their time helping out around town or focusing on helping Sakura control her new Sand abilities. Like with Gaara, Sakura had a set amount of Sand that was charged with the Shukaku's chakra. Being the Jinchuuriki of the One-Tail allowed her to control any form of dry sand, but this specific sand could be controlled effortlessly because it was always channeled Shukaku's chakra.

Due to the Sand being powered by Shukaku as opposed to Sakura, it didn't drain her chakra, but it could also act independently of her control. Fortunately, Sakura didn't have the same distrust of everyone around her that Gaara did, so preventing a sand wall from popping up every time some tried to touch her was a relatively simple affair. It also helped that Sakura was already an Earth elemental, so the sand didn't take a lot of adapting to use properly.

"It's all Earth." Sakura said as she ran her fingers through the surprisingly soft grains. "Each and every grain of sand is really just a very small rock. Given how many grains there are, I normally wouldn't be able to control it so well, but because the sand is being held together by Shukaku and connected to my subconscious, I just have to properly will it and the sand will obey. I don't have to micromanage every single solitary grain."

Team 7 was lounging around in Training Ground 3, simply enjoying the nice weather. They decided to simply take a day and relax rather than train. If the loops had taught them anything, it was that you needed to be able to take a step back and rest or you'll snap from stress.

Sasuke was sitting on a tree branch, his back resting against the trunk. Naruto was lying down at the base of the tree, his head propped up on one arm to watch Sakura play with her sand. Sakura didn't have a gourd to carry her Sand around in, nor did she particularly want one. Instead, she simply willed the sand into the form of a large dog. She had tried making it something more intimidating, like a tiger, but that made the villagers nervous. Thanks to the Inuzuka clan, the Leaf civilians were at least used to seeing large dogs wandering around.

Sakura was making her Sand dog chase its tail when Jiraiya walked in. "Well, what do we have here? You three just made Jonin and already you're slacking off." The large grin on his face countered the admonishment in his tone. "And here I am ready to congratulate you on your promotion by letting your three accompany me on special assignment."

"You're willing to continue training us?" Naruto asked, honestly surprised.

Jiraiya nodded. "Definitely. I must admit, I was wary of you three when I heard about what happened with Kakashi, but Sarutobi was right. You three have the Will of Fire in you. You impressed the Hell out of me with how you handled the Bijuu situation. I'm not so sure I could have done as well in the same situation." Jiraiya's grin settled into an easy smile as he gazed at Team 7.

Sakura tilted her head slightly, her sand dog mirroring her action behind her. "You said you were taking us on a special assignment?"

Jiraiya nodded. "Yep. Sarutobi may have managed to severely wound Orochimaru with the help of some Anbu, but the traitor still got away. The fight made him realize that he truly is too old to continue holding the mantle of Hokage and it's time for a new contender to step up. Our job is to go out and find my old teammate, Tsunade Senju, and convince her to become Hokage."

Team 7 glanced at each other. "If you don't mind me asking, why aren't you becoming Hokage, Jiraiya? You must be the strongest ninja in the village, why go hunting for your wayward teammate?"

Jiraiya sighed. "Let's just say I'm not suited for the Hokage hat. It probably wouldn't fit on my head anyway." The man chuckled as he ruffled his large head of hair. "No, Tsunade would be a far better leader than I would. She deserves the hat more than me. Besides, she's been away from her home for far too long."

"Okay, but why bring us? Wouldn't you travel faster on your own?" Sakura asked, idly leaning against her Sand canine.

Jiraiya shrugged. "I did agree to train you three, and I'm a man of my word. What can I say? I've taken a shine to you three. Besides, it will be good experience to have a senior officer while you three are getting used to being Jonin." Jiraiya scratched the top of his head. "Also, the Council wants me to keep an eye on you three and make sure Sakura's seal is properly implemented, if I'm being completely honest."

The three time-travelers nodded. That made sense. Jiraiya clapped his hands together. "So, I'd like to get moving as soon as possible. Go pack your bags and we'll leave immediately. While we're traveling, I'll show you kids a powerful jutsu I think you'll enjoy."

"Jiraiya." Sasuke spoke for the first time, dropping down from the tree branch. "Can you teach me to fight without using my sight?"

Jiraiya furrowed his brow. "Why? You can see with your Sharingan, can't you?"

Sasuke nodded. "Indeed I can, but there may come a time when I'm forced to use the Mangekyou again and lose the rest of my sight. Even if that doesn't happen, the Sharingan are a constant, albeit minor drain on my chakra. This has been, for lack of a better term, an eye opening experience. I rely too much on my sight. I need to learn how to function without it."

The Toad Sannin rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I like the way you think. You're right; it would be advantageous to be able to fight without your sight. You never know when an enemy will use a blinding illusion or you may simply have to fight in the dark. Alright Sasuke, I'll train you to fight blind. In fact, I think all three of you should learn it. It's a valuable skill to have." He waited until all three nodded in agreement. "Good. Let's meet by the North Gate in an hour."

Scene Break

Team 7 quickly found themselves on the road with Jiraiya in search of Tsunade. They spent their time moving rather than training, Jiraiya assuring them that once they got to another town they would begin training in blind combat. Thanks to Team 7's future knowledge, they already knew where Tsunade was, but they couldn't just tell Jiraiya that. Luckily, they also knew where she had been and who to get tips from.

"Yeah, the Legendary Sucker was here. She racked up a nice big debt, then skipped town, damn bitch. She owes me over two-hundred thousand ryo!" The owner of a gambling den groused. "Last I heard, she was heading for Tanzaku Quarter."

Sasuke stepped forward and placed a large stack of bills on the table. "Thank you for your help. Will this be enough to pay off her debt?"

The owner's eyes widened as he quickly counted out the money. "Uh, yeah. That….that'll do it."

Sasuke nodded. "Good. Thanks again for the help and you have a nice day." Team 7 and Jiraiya turned to leave.

"Come again any time." The owner called after them, significantly happier now that he had been paid.

Once they were outside, Jiraiya turned to Sasuke. "Are you sure you want to keep paying off Tsunade's debts like that?" He asked.

Sasuke shrugged. "It's not like the Uchiha clan can't afford it, it would just sit around otherwise. Hopefully we can use this as a way of convincing Tsunade to return with us. Besides, now that I'm a Jonin, I'll be making a lot more money doing higher ranked missions." Sasuke left out the fact that the Uchiha clan would probably be rolling in their graves from Sasuke blowing hundreds of thousands of ryo on a Senju.

Jiraiya shrugged. It wasn't his place to tell Sasuke how to spend his money. Instead he decided to focus on finding Tsunade. "Tanzaku Quarter is a few days away and Tsunade never stays in one place for very long. If we want to catch up to her, we'll have to pick up our pace. Think you three can go the distance?"

Naruto snorted and lightly smacked Jiraiya on the arm. "Just try and keep up." It took them less than a day to arrive.

Scene Break

"Now if I know Tsunade, and I do, she'll be in a bar getting hammered at this hour." The four Leaf ninja glanced around the darkened street. The sun had already set and the lights from the various restaurants and bars offered the only illumination.

Tanzaku Quarter was a large walled in city. It was originally built by a warlord who hoped to one day overthrow the Leaf village with his forces. The Leaf village, naturally, wiped him out. Rather than just destroy the town and the large castle that stood over it, the town became part of the Fire Nation and was now a filled with casinos, restaurants and hotels. It was a popular tourist attraction.

Team 7 was rather enjoying what amounted to little more than a road trip. Since Sarutobi hadn't been forced to steal Orochimaru's arms with the Reaper Death Seal, Kabuto would be able to take care of any injuries the Sannin received. Meaning it was highly unlikely the snake would show up to get Tsunade's help.

"So we go on a bar crawl until we find her?" Naruto asked.

Jiraiya grinned. "You got it."

They hit pay dirt on their first try. They entered the bar and almost immediately spotted the distinctive blonde haired woman sitting in a booth with her brunette companion. Their ability to spot her may have had something to do with the fact that Tsunade currently had a death grip on a terrified waiter's shirt.

"Listen up, you little punk." She growled, her face flushed and her speech slurred. "I'll tell you when I've had enough, until then, you just keep the Sake coming, understand?" The terrified waiter quickly nodded his head and ran for the kitchen once Tsunade released him.

The four Leaf ninja glanced at one another before making their way over. All four of them seated themselves on the opposite side of the table from Tsunade and Shizune, with Sakura's sand dog lying down on the floor next to them. "Long time no see, Princess."

Tsunade's eyes narrowed. "Jiraiya. What are you doing here?"

"I'm here to convince you to come back to the Leaf village and become the Fifth Hokage."

Tsunade snorted and took another sip of alcohol. "Forget it. I'm not going back to that damn village. Only an idiot would do something as stupid as become the Hokage."

Sakura and Sasuke both sighed. They had forgotten how bad Tsunade was early in the loops. Tsunade was one of the most powerful ninja in the world, but the pain of losing her brother and her fiancé caused her to spiral into a depression of gambling and alcohol. It made them sad to see such a great woman brought down to such lows, especially since they had seen firsthand some of the great things she was capable of. If was particularly heartbreaking for Sakura to see her Master, the woman who had taught Sakura so much, in this state.

Naruto, however, had a very different sort of reaction. Seeing Tsunade like this made him very, very angry. She was better than this, he knew she was. Naruto had seen Tsunade lead the village through war after war while being Hokage. He had seen her go toe to toe with Pein and fight him to a draw. Naruto cared about Tsunade; she was a very important person to him. That's why he hated seeing her in this drunken state.

To Naruto, this wasn't even truly Tsunade. It was just a broken shell of the woman she could and should have been. The trials and tribulations Naruto had experienced during these loops had hardened Naruto's already impressive resolve into something immovable. Naruto, like his teammates, devoted themselves to becoming strong and to constantly moving forward. To give up and let life pass you by was inconceivable to the blonde. To see someone he cared about, especially someone as strong as Tsunade, simply giving up enraged him to no end.

"Maybe you didn't hear him." Naruto said, gaining everyone's attention. "You've been ordered to return to the village and become the Hokage."

Tsunade narrowed her eyes at Naruto before turning to Jiraiya. "Who are these brats, Jiraiya?"

Jiraiya was very serious when he answered. "Jonin of the Leaf village and my students."

Shizune and Tsunade were taken aback. "I thought you swore never to take on any students again?"

"I did, but these three are special."

Tsunade looked over Team 7. "They sure don't look like much."

Naruto snorted. "Look who's talking, lush."

The Slug Sannin's fist clenched. "What did you just say to me?"

"You heard me, you drunk. Are you going to return to the village, or am I going to have to drag you there?"

Tsunade grabbed the bottle of Sake and took a deep chug from it. She slammed the bottle down on the table with enough force to rattle it. "Piss off. There is nothing you can do to get me back in that God-forsaken village."

"Nothing at all?" Naruto asked. Tsunade shook her head. "Fine, I didn't want to have to do this, but if you're going to be stubborn then I have no choice. Tsunade Senju, if you do not return with us to the village then your Sannin travel rights will be revoked and you will be labeled as an A-rank missing ninja. You think having debt collectors constantly chasing you is bad? I'll have Hunter ninja after you before the week is out."

Shizune gasped, her face going pale, and the glass in Tsunade's fist shattered. "You… how dare you!"

Naruto was unrepentant. "The Third Hokage allowed you to keep your travel rights and move freely across the country so you had time to grieve. Well guess what? Time's up. You're little pity party has come to an end and it's time to grow up and face your responsibilities as a ninja of the Leaf."

Tsunade shot to her feet, her fist already moving to connect with Naruto's face. Sakura's hand shot out and caught Tsunade's wrist, holding back the Sannin's super strength with her own. Jiraiya, Shizune, and Tsunade all stared in shock at Sakura's hand holding back Tsunade's. The pink-haired girl threw Tsunade back into her seat before sitting back down.

Naruto clicked his tongue in disproval. "How childish. You hear something you don't want to and your first reaction is lash out with violence? Pathetic. Jiraiya, are you sure there isn't someone better suited for the position of Hokage?"

Tsunade's temper was beginning to get the best of her. "Just who do you think you are, brat?"

"I'm Naruto Uzumaki, son of Kushina Uzumaki and Minato Namikaze, and I'm a proud Jonin of the Leaf village." Tsunade was taken aback by the venom in Naruto's voice. "I'm someone who respects what the title of Hokage represents and I can't stand people like you trying to sully it. Insult it again, and I'll flatten you."

A smirk worked its way onto Tsunade's face. "Oh, you think you can take me?"

"Yes, I do. In fact, you like gambling, so let's make a bet. Fight me. If I win, then you return with us to the village." Naruto declared.

Tsunade stared down at Naruto. "And if I win?"

Sasuke spoke up. "If you beat Naruto, then I'll pay off all your gambling debts." Tsunade's eyes moved over to Sasuke, only to widen as she recognized the Sharingan in his eyes and realized he was an Uchiha.

Tsunade got to her feet and gestured outside. "Sounds like a deal. Shall we?" Naruto got to his feet and followed her out the door. Shizune picked up Tonton and began furiously whispering with Jiraiya.

"Master Jiraiya, you can't let that boy fight Lady Tsunade! She'll kill him!" She pleaded. Sakura patted the worried medic on the shoulder and gave her a relaxed smile.

"Don't worry. Naruto can handle himself. Come on, let's go watch." They quickly headed outside, Sasuke pausing long enough to pay the tab and leave a considerable tip for the poor waiter who had been dealing with Tsunade.

Tsunade and Naruto stared each other down as they stood in the middle of the empty street. Tsunade raised her index finger into the air. "Bring it on, brat. One finger is all I'll need to-" A clone of Naruto appeared behind the blonde Sannin with a kunai covered in wind chakra. The legendary medic only barely managed to catch the clone's wrist before being cut and destroyed it with a kick.

"Ah, you recognize your own vulnerability. You chose to keep your arm instead of sticking with your stupid pride." Tsunade glared at Naruto, a growl emanating from her throat. "I'm going to end this quickly."

Naruto shot forward, covering the distance between himself and Tsunade in an instant. Surprised by the blonde's speed, The Slug Sannin attempted to hit Naruto with her super-powered fists. Unfortunately for Tsunade, Naruto was teammates with Sakura and had more than enough experience fighting close-range power houses.

Naruto ducked under Tsunade's fist and slammed the heel of his foot into Tsunade's ankle. The Sannin grimaced as Naruto broke her ankle. She needed leverage and momentum to pull off her powerful blows, without a wide stance and two firm feet to stand on; she couldn't use the full extent of her strength.

Tsunade could easily heal her ankle, but Naruto had no intention of giving her that chance. He crouched low and delivered a devastating uppercut to Tsunade's jaw. The woman was thrown off her feet from the force of the blow. Naruto jumped above her while still in midair and used his finishing blow. A blue orb of swirling chakra formed in his hand and he slammed it into Tsunade's stomach.

"Rasengan!" The Slug Sannin was driven into the ground by the jutsu, the street cratering beneath her. She lay prone on the ground, her eyes wide and gasping for breath. Naruto stood over her, a smug smirk on his lips. "What's the matter, Granny? Feeling your age?"

"H-How?" Tsunade managed to wheeze out between gasps.

"When was the last time you seriously trained in combat or fought a powerful opponent?" Naruto asked. "How many years have you spent drinking and gambling instead of honing your skills? Did you think your abilities wouldn't decay? Did you assume you would always be naturally strong enough to take on anyone who challenged you? Tsunade Senju, the Slug Sannin, could do that, but you aren't her. You're just a washed out drunk, a Legendary Sucker."

Naruto sighed and crouched down so he could look Tsunade in the eyes. "I take no pleasure in doing this, but you have to understand that the village needs Tsunade of the Sannin right now. I know about the pain you've suffered and the loved ones you've lost." Naruto rapidly used his transformation jutsu, turning into Nawaki, then Dan, before returning to normal, much to Tsunade's shock. "I know you're in pain, but you are not more important than the entirety of the Leaf village. Dan and Nawaki both died believing in the village. To waste your life drinking and gambling while leaving the Leaf on its own is an insult to their memory."

Naruto got to his feet and gave Tsunade one last look. "I know it's painful, but you need to get your shit together and think about what's really important. You have a week to decide if you'll come willingly or unwillingly. Think carefully, because I will chase you if you try to run."

Naruto walked towards his team, leaving Tsunade in the crater. "We're done here. Jiraiya, I'm going back to the hotel." Sasuke and Sakura quickly joined their blonde friend. Jiraiya contemplated following them, but decided against it. He walked over to Tsunade, who was already being healed by an awe-struck Shizune. He was going to have a lot of explaining to do.

Scene Break

It was two days later, while Team 7 was exploring the town shops, when Jiraiya finally tracked them down. Naruto turned to glance at the tall man, but didn't stop looking through the various trinkets laid out on a store display shelf. Sasuke, Sakura, and her dog were on the other side of the store, talking quietly.

"I was wondering when you'd finally show up. How's our wayward princess?" Naruto asked casually.

"She's fine. Her injuries were mostly superficial; she's more surprised and shocked than hurt. She's not the only one." Naruto sighed and put down the blown glass eagle he had been admiring. He turned to Jiraiya and put his hands on his hips.

"I suppose this has something to do with mentioning my parents and using the Rasengan?" The blonde asked.

Jiraiya nodded. "Sarutobi told me about the report you gave to the council. I had intended to bring it up with you, but was waiting for an ideal moment." Jiraiya's voice became slightly strained. "Did…did you really meet Minato and Kushina?"

Naruto hesitated for a moment before nodding. "Yeah. Yeah, I did. It's actually kind of uncanny how much Dad looks like me, and Mom was so full of life and energy." Both Jiraiya and Naruto grew quite as they each lost themselves in remembrance.

Naruto shook his head slightly and brought himself back to the present. "They taught me as much as they could, Chakra Chains, Reaper Death Seal, and the Rasengan." Naruto held up his hand and The Spiraling Sphere appeared floating above his hand. He stared into the swirling lines of chakra, the glow from the jutsu illuminating his face slightly.

"It's mesmerizing, isn't it?" Jiraiya asked. "The intricate way the chakra swirls and mixes."

"It is destructive force and restrained grace given form." Naruto agreed. "But it's more than that. This is a technique created by the Fourth Hokage, something he created that no one else has been able to replicate without his instruction. I… I never feel closer to my father than when I'm using this technique."

A hand came to rest on Naruto's shoulder. The blonde dispelled the Rasengan and placed his own hand over the one his shoulder, gripping it tightly. The blonde turned to give Sasuke a smile of thanks while Sakura wrapped him in a quick hug.

Jiraiya watched, silently impressed by the way these three were able to bring such comfort to each other without words. Just their mere presence was enough to calm each other. Jiraiya had been worried when he had read the Academy reports about Naruto's teammates. The dynamic seemed like it would be almost eerily similar to Jiraiya's own team. It terrified Jiraiya to think of his Godson going through the same pain he went through when his team fell apart. It did Jiraiya' heart good to see how close Naruto was with his teammates. Somehow, he doubted Sasuke and Sakura would be going anywhere without Naruto by their side.

Jiraiya sighed. "Anyway, Tsunade is still trying to come to terms with her battle against Naruto. She isn't stupid enough to leave town, so we can just wait around until she's ready. Until then, we might as well take in the sights, maybe do a little more blind training." Jiraiya tilted his head towards the large structure that loomed over all of Tanzaku Quarter. "Want to check out the Tanzaku Castle?"

Scene Break

"Man, this place is huge." Naruto admired as they walked through the halls of Tanzaku Castle. They were admiring the architecture as they headed towards the main throne room, which was the largest and grandest part of the castle. "I can see why this is such a big tourist attraction."

"It's pretty dead though, don't you think?" Sasuke asked as he used his Sharingan to look around. "I mean, we are literally the only ones here and it's the middle of the day."

Sakura shrugged as she moved ahead a bit to be the first one in the throne room. "Eh, not even the hottest attractions are visited all the time. People are probably out gambling or something." They entered the throne room, and were impressed by the grandeur of the room. Large stone pillars lined with gold inlay held up the high ceilings. Tapestries hung from the walls, depicting battles and tragedies. There were two large doors that led to separate rooms on either side of the area, along with the large archway they had just passed through. In the center of the room stood a large throne, originally held by the warlord who built the town as a fortress for his forces before being wiped out by the Leaf.

Jiraiya frowned. "Something is wrong. Even if this place is empty of tourists, there should still be some staff here to watch over everything."

A voice spoke out. "Don't worry about the staff. We've made sure that no one will interfere with us." The doorway the four had just passed through slammed shut behind them. All four dropped into ready stances, unsure of what was about to happen.

"Show yourselves!" Jiraiya shouted, his voice echoing.

"Very well." From behind the throne, emerged four figures, each adorned with the signature cloaks of Akatsuki.

Naruto mentally cursed himself for being careless as the figures came into view; they should have seen this coming. Akatsuki usually made a move to capture him shortly after the Invasion ended, but they had forgotten in the face of everything that had gone on in this loop. Given that Sakura was a Jinchuuriki now as well, they should have expected Akatsuki to send in extra force to capture both her and Naruto.

"It's been a long time, Little Brother"

"I say we should shave off Blondie's legs so he can't run away."

"We're after the pink-haired one, right? I can't wait to show her the explosive talent of my art!"

"Shut up, brat. I'm already irritated from having to wait all day for them and I don't feel like listening to you spout out your amateur flash in the pan style. True art is about lasting through time and eternity."

Itachi of the Sharingan, Kisame, the Monster of the Mist, Deidara of the Explosive Corps, and Sasori of the Red Sand. Four members of the Akatsuki, all S-ranked ninja, in the same location and ready to fight. This was very, very bad.

"We need to get out of here." Jiraiya whispered.

"Do you really think we are gonna escape four S-class ninja?" Naruto demanded.

"…No." Jiraiya said after a moment. "Do you intend to fight them?"

"I'm really not seeing any other option here."

"I'm tired of waiting around." Sasori growled from within his Hiruko puppet, the bladed tail coming into view.

Deidara nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I've been itching to try out my art."

"We have to split them up; we can't risk fighting all four of them together at once." Naruto said. Jiraiya was about to protest, but Naruto cut him off. "We don't have time to-"

"Sasuke!" Sakura suddenly screamed.

Sasuke had taken his eyes off of Itachi to glance at Naruto and Jiraiya, and didn't notice his brother appear in front of him. Before the younger Uchiha could defend himself, Itachi's foot connected with Sasuke's gut, sending the Uchiha flying into one of the antechambers on the side of the throne room. Itachi leapt into the room after his younger sibling, the door slamming shut behind him.

Naruto cursed as he pulled out a scroll. "Sakura, Jiraiya! You two handle Sasori and Deidara! I'll deal with Kisame."

"Are you crazy?" Jiraiya demanded, but Naruto wasn't listening.

The blonde was running towards the other antechamber while unraveling the scroll and activating the storage seal. With a puff of smoke, Zabuza's sword, The Decapitator appeared in his hands. Naruto held the overly large blade above his head, waving it back and forth. "Hey Fish Face! Recognize this?"

Kisame's eyes widened at the sight of Naruto wielding on of the Seven Swords. His teeth clenched and he chased after Naruto into the separate room. Kisame's sword lashed out and shut the doors after him.

"Damn them!" Jiraiya swore. "This is not the situation to go running off on your own."

"Jiraiya, move!" Sakura yelled. The Toad Sannin only barely managed to avoid getting caught by the blast of an explosive clay bird.

"I don't like being ignored." Deidara said, his hands regurgitating clay into palm. "I came here to show you people true art."

"Naruto and Sasuke can handle themselves." Sakura said, her sand floating around her as she prepared for battle. "We've got our own problems to worry about. The sooner we take these two down, the sooner we can help them." Jiraiya grimace, but nodded, settling into a battle stance.

Deidara grinned and held up his arm. Resting on his forearm were five different clay birds. "Don't you know? Art is a real bang!" The birds took flight and sped towards Jiraiya and Sakura.

Scene Break

Itachi landed in the room he had knocked Sasuke into as the doors closed behind him. The room was the Tanzaku Library, filled the brim with scrolls and books of history. The library was three stories tall; two separate levels of balconies lined the walls to reach the books on the higher shelves. There were desks and chairs scattered around for reading and two large windows as tall as the ceiling allowed the sunlight to illuminate the entire library.

Itachi didn't care about any of this, nor did he pay it the slightest mind. His entire focus was on his little brother, Sasuke. Itachi's mission was to capture Naruto, but Itachi didn't care about that either. No, the rumors that had floated around the village shortly after the Invasion had shocked Itachi. If the rumors were to be believed, then Sasuke had fought off the One-tailed demon with a demonic skeleton made of chakra.

As soon as Itachi learned this, he knew he needed to confront his brother. Could Sasuke truly have already attained the Mangekyou? And could he have such control that he was actually able to use Susanoo, even in its most basic form?

Itachi watched his brother from across the library, waiting for Sasuke to make the first move. When it became clear that Sasuke was waiting as well, Itachi left an illusion of himself standing in place while simultaneously covering himself in a camouflage illusion and leaping up to one of the balconies on the side of the library. His execution of both illusions was flawless, yet he still found Sasuke's eyes staring up at him on the balcony.

'Not fooled for a second.' Itachi thought. The missing ninja leapt over the balcony and launched a fireball down at Sasuke. This was, of course, an illusion to cover Itachi throwing two kunai towards where the real Sasuke was hiding in the corner. Except Sasuke wasn't in the corner any longer, he was on the ceiling directly above Itachi, launching a lightning bolt down on the older Uchiha's head.

This was exactly what Itachi had planned on. He Replaced himself with a nearby chair and fired off a wind jutsu while Sasuke was in the open on the ceiling. Sasuke had naturally seen this coming and had planted explosive tags under the chair that he knew Itachi would use as a Replacement. The tags exploded directly under Itachi's feet, just as the missing ninja knew they would. The older Uchiha used the blast as cover to knock over the bookshelf Sasuke was hiding behind.

Sasuke easily saw through the illusion of the falling bookshelf and rather than jump out into the open, he shot a bolt of lightning directly through the thick bookcase at Itachi. The elder Uchiha was already on top of the bookcase, having known Sasuke would see through his illusion, and blasted his younger sibling with a fireball.

Sasuke had easily predicted this and was hanging upside down underneath one of the balconies. The younger Uchiha threw a barrage of shuriken at Itachi's back. The missing ninja ignored the obviously illusionary blades and instead dodged the curved blast of lightning that Sasuke had thrown off to the side and twisted around to attack Itachi's blind spot.

Itachi leapt into the air to avoid the blast. Sasuke leapt into the air as well. The two Uchiha flew towards each other, fists cocked back and ready to strike. Before they could, however, both Shadow Clones ran out of chakra and dispelled with a puff of smoke. The real Sasuke and Itachi were standing in their original positions, having never truly moved in the first place.

"Not bad." Itachi said after a moment. Sasuke just smirked. "Your ability to see through multiple illusions is impressive. Now, let's see how you handle something a bit more advanced." Itachi activated his Mangekyou Sharingan, trapping Sasuke within the dark world of Tsukuyomi.

Itachi slowly approached Sasuke, who was strapped to a large stone slab. "I can see it your eyes. You still lack hatred. You have not lived to kill me as a told you to, so now I must punish you." Projections of Fugaku Uchiha and Mikoto Uchiha appeared kneeling before Itachi. "For the next 72 hours, you're going to relive that day."

To Itachi's surprise, Sasuke actually laughed. "You're right, Itachi. I haven't lived like you told me too and I'm not filled with hatred. That's exactly why you can't beat me!" Sasuke's eyes changed as he activated his own Mangekyou. "Tsukuyomi Destroyer!"

Itachi barely had time to note that Sasuke's Mangekyou resembled an atom in shape before the red and black world of the Tsukuyomi shattered.

Itachi was so discombobulated by the Tsukuyomi, the strongest illusion in the world, being destroyed that he was unprepared for Sasuke's next attack. The younger Uchiha closed in on his brother and delivered a high kick to Itachi's jaw.

The pain of the blow brought Itachi back to reality and allowed him to intercept Sasuke's next blow. The elder sibling caught his brother's fist and slammed his knee into Sasuke's gut. Sasuke grunted in pain, but wrapped his arm around Itachi's leg and used it to throw the missing ninja to the side.

Itachi easily landed on his feet and launched a wave of fire at Sasuke. Sasuke flipped over the flames and charged at Itachi, a Thousand Birds technique chirping on his right hand. Sasuke used a burst of high speed to get behind Itachi and try to stab at his back. Itachi's insanely fast reflexes allowed his to twist around and catch Sasuke's wrist. The missing ninja was surprised by Sasuke's strength, as he was only barely managing to keep Sasuke's assassination technique from connecting.

Itachi drew a kunai heated with fire chakra with his free hand and attempted to stab it into Sasuke's neck. Like his brother, Sasuke caught Itachi's wrist, barely able to keep the super-heated blade from connecting.

The two brothers struggled against one another, neither willing to divert attention away from the others attack for fear of being overwhelmed. "You say you refuse to live with hatred, yet here you are trying to kill me." Itachi taunted, his voice showing none of the strain he was under.

Sasuke growled out his answer through his teeth. "I am not the avenger of the Uchiha clan! I refuse that position!" The lightning encasing Sasuke's fist suddenly extended out into a blade, clipping Itachi's side. Sasuke used his grip on his older brother's arm to pull himself into the air and plant both feet into Itachi's face. Using the missing ninja's face as a spring board, Sasuke catapulted himself away, landing on the other side of the library.

Itachi stared at Sasuke, uncertain of what his brother was talking about. He had carefully arranged so Sasuke would hate him for the death of the Uchiha clan, but now Sasuke claimed to no longer care? "If it is not for the Uchiha clan, the why are you fighting? This is not the way a man without purpose battles."

Sasuke took a deep breath. "You're a member of Akatsuki, correct? The goal of Akatsuki is to capture all the Jinchuuriki of the world and forcibly rip the Bijuu from within them." Itachi was surprised by the information Sasuke possessed. "Naruto and Sakura are both Jinchuuriki and that means you intend to capture them and kill them. The Uchiha clan and their ideals can go rot for all I care, but I will not stand by and let you take my friends from me. You hear me, Itachi? I won't let you take them!"

Violet chakra suddenly flared around Sasuke's entire body. "Susanoo, Great Guardian of Darkness, I summon thee!" The skeletal upper body of Susanoo reared to life around Sasuke, its ribs forming a protective shell around him.

Itachi threw himself backwards to avoid the skeletal fist that attempted to crush him. He had no choice, the Susanoo was too powerful to face with conventional means. Yellow Chakra flared around Itachi as he summoned his own version of Susanoo. Unlike Sasuke's demonic Susanoo, Itachi's appeared more human in nature. Its head was smooth and devoid of horns and while it had two right arms, it only had five fingers as opposed to Sasuke's six.

The skeletal appearance of Itachi's Susanoo didn't last long. Unlike Sasuke, Itachi had completed his Susanoo. Muscle and skin spread across the bones, covering and reinforcing them. The grinning skull was covered, forming into a calm face with an extended chin and a helmet covered in curved spikes that resembled dreadlocks.

Sasuke charged forward, a sword forming in his Susanoo's hand. The violet skeleton lashed out at its yellow counter-part, only to be stopped dead by a red spiral shield appearing in Itachi's Susanoo's left hand. "Behold, The Eight Span Mirror. This legendary artifact is imbued with all elemental affinities, allowing it to change its own characteristics and counter any attack."

Sasuke summoned another blade in his Susanoo's other hand and tried to attack Itachi's other side, but was once more stopped. Itachi's Susanoo's two right hands both held this weapon. The lower hand held a gourd while the upper hand held a blade made of liquid that emerged from the gourd. Itachi's blade met Sasuke's and the younger sibling's sword shattered on impact. "The Sake Cutter Long Sword is far superior to your mere chakra constructs. This blade can seal anything it pierces into the gourd, trapping it forever."

The yellow Susanoo lashed out with its blade, attempting to bisect its opponent from shoulder to hip. Sasuke managed to throw himself backwards and dodge the attack. In desperation, Sasuke fired a blast of Amaterasu at his brother. To Sasuke's shock, the Eight Span Mirror blocked the attack and the Sake Cutter Long Sword sealed the black flames into the gourd, leaving no signs of damage. In all the years Sasuke had lived through the loops, he had never seen Amaterasu fail to incinerate whatever it touched. Where did Itachi gain such powerful weapons? Between the two of them, he had no exploitable weaknesses!

Sasuke grimaced; the pain of using Susanoo was beginning to set in. Sasuke could feel his eye sight erode even further. Itachi spoke. "Give up, Sasuke. You can't hope to match the power of my Susanoo while yours is still incomplete."

Sasuke shook his head, his voice coming out in a desperate rasp. "No. No. I can't give up, I have to beat you. You've already taken Naruto and Sakura away from me once. I won't let it happen again!" Itachi was confused by Sasuke's words, unaware that his brother was lost in the past, back during the dark days where Naruto and Sakura had been murdered before his eyes. It may have been Tobi under an illusion, but that didn't change the fact that the image burned into Sasuke's mind was of Itachi cutting open Sakura's throat.

"I wasn't strong enough. I wasn't strong enough and I lost them. I won't go back to those dark days of being alone! I can't, I refuse!" Sasuke's voice grew into a shout. "I refuse to let my family die again!"

Sasuke's Susanoo reared back and roared, responding to its master's emotions. Skin and armor began spreading across the skeletal frame. Samurai armor formed over the torso and arms, the shoulders flaring out into wide spikes. The helmet that formed around the head had three distinct ridges, two along the edge to accommodate the horns and one along the center that connected to the other ridges into a pointed front. Unlike the face of the Itachi's Susanoo, which was calm, Sasuke's held the visage of a large, maniacal grin.

Itachi was amazed. 'He forced his Susanoo to completion through sheer will power!' Sasuke was hunched over, his breath ragged at the effort it had taken to complete his God of Valor. Sasuke squared his shoulders and raised his head to face Itachi. His eyes were bleeding profusely, but his gaze was unflinching.

"Do you see this, Itachi? This is a living embodiment of my emotions and desires. The stronger the desire, the stronger Susanoo becomes. You know what my Susanoo is an embodiment of?" A flat, violet disk appeared on the Susanoo's left arm, similar to the Eight Span Mirror. However, this disk had two branches that arched out from the ends and were connected by a string, forming a bow. "This is a physical representation of my desire to protect. True strength comes when you are defending someone precious to you and Susanoo is a living embodiment of that!"

The two right arms of Susanoo held up their empty palms. In one hand, a purple orb of burning energy formed. Long arrows of chakra emerged from orb and were grabbed by the second right hand. Sasuke's Susanoo nocked the two arrows and aimed at Itachi's. "Take this!"

The two arrows were let loose, the air around them being blown aside as they sped towards Itachi. The yellow Susanoo intercepted both arrows with the Eight Span Mirror, only for Itachi's eyes to widen at the force of the attacks. The mirror was holding, but Susanoo's arm was beginning to cave under the pressure from the attacks.

Itachi was forced to use the Sake Cutter Long Sword to seal both arrows away. Itachi turned his eyes towards Sasuke, who was already preparing a second volley. "Your eyes were already severely damaged from your battle with the Shukaku. If you continue using the Mangekyou like this, you'll become permanently blind." Indeed, even Itachi was beginning to feel his eyesight decay from prolonged use of Susanoo.

"I don't care!" Sasuke shouted. The three arrows held by Sasuke's Susanoo twisted together, forming a single arrow that was twice as large and trembling with barely restrained power. The violet guardian pulled back on the bow and let the tremendous power of the arrow loose.

Itachi's Susanoo automatically raised the shield to attempt to block the arrows, but Itachi had come to a decision. He had come here to test Sasuke and he now knew all he needed to know. Sasuke had done far better than Itachi could have ever dreamed of. There was no point in dragging out this charade any longer. It was time to end what he started the night of the Massacre. It was time for old Uchiha line to be eradicated.

Itachi took a deep breath, exhaled it, and let his Susanoo deactivate.

Without the God of Valor's protection, Sasuke's arrow impaled Itachi directly through the stomach. The missing ninja was thrown off his feet, carried by the arrow's momentum. Itachi painfully slammed into the far wall, where he remained suspended by the arrow.

Sasuke was so shocked by Itachi's action that he let his own Susanoo fade without even realizing it. Not even fully aware of what he was doing, Sasuke ran over towards where his brother had slid down the wall after the arrow disappeared with Sasuke's Susanoo.

Sasuke knelt down next to his brother, already fully aware that the gaping hole in his chest would kill him. Even with his Sharingan sight reduced to almost nothing, Sasuke could see that the damage was far too great. Not even Sakura would be able to completely heal a wound like that and Itachi didn't have a medic of her caliber on hand willing to help him.

"Why?" Sasuke demanded. "Why did you do that? You let that attack through."

Itachi chuckled weakly, blood trailing from the corner of his mouth. "I let it strike me because you don't need me anymore. Sasuke, there is much I have to tell you and I don't have much time. So please let me speak. Our clan has long been plagued by a Curse of Hatred. The Uchiha clan has a great capacity to love. Be it family, friends, or comrades, our compassion always runs deep, but that is what makes us dangerous. Our greatest powers come to us through the pain and fear of losing our loved ones."

Sasuke's mind flashed back to before the loops began, so many years ago, to the mission in Wave. It was during the fight with Haku when Sasuke activated his Sharingan for the first time. The eyes didn't emerge from facing a stronger opponent, the activated because Sasuke wanted to protect Naruto from harm. Sasuke had been terrified that he was going to lose his friend and was determined to protect him. The Sharingan responded to those emotions.

Itachi continued. "I realized from a very young age that our clan was doomed. Our capacity to love should have been our greatest strength, but we began exploiting it to gain the higher levels of the Sharingan. The Uchiha's desire for power began overtaking them, to the point where they were prepared to stage a civil war to gain control of the Leaf village. Do you know what a rebellion from a founding clan would result in? No matter who would win, the other villages wouldn't be able to resist attacking a divided and weakened Leaf village. The Uchiha's rebellion would have plunged us into another Great Ninja War. It couldn't be allowed to happen, the Uchiha had to be stopped."

"That's when the Hokage and the Elders ordered you to put down the entire clan before they could revolt." Sasuke whispered. Itachi's eyes widened. "I-I've known the truth of the Uchiha clan for a very long time, but I've never understood your actions during that night. The Elders claim you spared me because you truly loved me, so why did you torture me that night?"

Itachi chuckled weakly. "Truthfully Sasuke, I was afraid. Sasuke, you were such a cute child. You were full of life, always smiling, always laughing, and had such a cheerful personality." Sasuke momentarily tried to remember his own childhood and found he couldn't. All he can remember about his life before the loops was being in a constant state of brooding and self-hate. The thought of being a cheerful child actually seemed alien to him.

"I could tell from the moment I saw you that you had a kind heart and an incredible capacity to love. It terrified me. It terrified me, because I could see the incredible potential within you. I believe that father saw it as well. That is why he so pointedly ignored you; he hoped to draw out your power as early as possible. I knew if you were left unchecked, your heart would continue to grow and grow. If anything were to happen to those you cared about, it terrified me to think about what you could have become."

Sasuke clenched his fist, his mind falling back to the dark days after Naruto and Sakura had been taken from him. The things he had done, the atrocities he had committed, it made him sick just thinking about it. Itachi continued on, unaware of Sasuke's thoughts.

"When the order came to wipe out the clan, I knew I couldn't bring myself kill you. You were an innocent child; you didn't deserve death for the foolishness of your family. At the same time, I knew you loved our family, even if father ignored you. To have your family ripped away from you so cruelly, I knew it would bring about the Uchiha Hatred within you." Itachi swallowed hard before continuing. "You needed a focus for your hatred, something you could strive towards; otherwise your hatred would consume you and everyone around you."

Itachi took a shuddering breath. "I knew what I had to do. I made sure you knew it was me who killed our clan and then I struck you with the Tsukuyomi. I…I knew it was a horrible, inhumane thing to do and to this day I've never forgiven myself for it, but I needed to break you from your love. I needed you to devote yourself to overcoming me, so that you could overcome the Curse of Hatred."

Sasuke's mind was a whirlwind of emotions as his mind struggled to comprehend what he had learned. "I don't understand. How did you expect me to overcome the Curse of Hatred when you made sure I would fall under it? You told me to devote myself to hatred."

Itachi smiled slightly. "It was a gamble, but one that paid off. I believed in you, Sasuke. I believed that you could rise above such hatred and anger. I believed that you could learn to love again, even after being so greatly harmed in the past. You didn't disappoint me, Sasuke. You said it yourself; you fought me to protect your loved ones, not to gain revenge. You've done it, Sasuke. You've overcome the Curse of Hatred."

Itachi suddenly grimace in pain and Sasuke realized that Itachi didn't have much blood left. The elder Uchiha's time was running out. "I…I don't have long, Sasuke. I must leave you with a warning. You are not the last Uchiha left alive. Beware Uchiha Madara. I don't know how he has stayed alive for so long, but he is very dangerous. I believe he will search you out and attempt to sway you to his side, but you have already overcome your own hatred. I can rest easy with the knowledge that you are beyond Madara's grasp."

Itachi's breath was beginning to come in short gasps. "Sasuke, I have one last request. Please take my eyes."

Sasuke stared down at his brother in shock. "Take your eyes? What do you mean?"

Itachi took a deep breath. "There is a way to counteract the Darkness of The Mangekyou. If you transplant the eyes of another Uchiha who has gained the Mangekyou with your own eyes, integrating the two, then you can create The Eternal Mangekyou Sharingan. Not only will it restore your sight, but using the Mangekyou will never erode your eyesight again. If you take my eyes, not only will your sight return, but you will gain even greater control and power from the Mangekyou."

Sasuke was shocked. "T-Transplant your eye? Brother, I can't!"

Itachi chuckled slightly. "That's the first time you've called me your brother since the Massacre. Please Sasuke, this is my final request. Your eyes shine with a glorious light and I would never forgive myself if I let the Darkness consume them." Itachi weakly reached up and placed his hand on the back of Sasuke's head. The elder Uchiha pulled Sasuke's head down until their foreheads were touching. "I won't ask you to forgive me for the things I've done. I just want you to know that I have always loved you and that you have made me very proud to be your brother."

Sasuke felt the hand on the back of his head go limp and slowly slide away. The elder Uchiha's breathing stopped and his eyes closed for the final time. Itachi Uchiha was dead.

Sasuke's tears fell onto Itachi's face. "Brother." He whispered. "Even after all this time, even after all the things I've done, you still believed in me. Just like Naruto and Sakura, you truly believed that I was could become a great ninja. You were willing to throw your own life and happiness away for my sake. Itachi… thank you."

Sasuke wiped his eyes and stared down at his brother. "You truly are one of the greatest men I have ever met, Itachi. I need you with me, brother. I will carry a part of you, so that you can watch over me." Sasuke took a deep breath and reached for Itachi's eyes.

Scene Break

Naruto quickly surveyed the room he had entered. It appeared to be some type of war room. There were maps covering the walls, all covered in battle plans, and a large table in the center of the room that featured a scale model of Tanzaku Quarter, most likely to be used in case of invasion to formulate strategies. Naruto quickly kicked the table into the far wall, he needed all the space he could get and it would only get in his way.

The sound of the door slamming shut was the only warning Naruto got before Kisame's blade, The Samehada, attempted to take his head off. Naruto ducked beneath the swing and lashed out with the Decapitator. Kisame easily avoided the attack and jumped backward.

The missing ninja rested his sword, which was still mostly covered in bandages, on his shoulder while eyeing Naruto. "You have a lot of nerve wielding that blade in my presence, boy." Kisame said.

Naruto snorted. "What do you care? This is coming from the man who not only gleefully slaughtered his own teammates to prevent information from falling into enemy hands, but also gained admittance into the Seven Swordsman by killing his instructor. I've heard plenty of other stories about you, Monster of the Mist."

Kisame narrowed his eyes. "You're certainly knowledgeable about my past, but that's not the issue here. Do you really think you have the right to wield that sword?"

"What does it matter? Zabuza is dead."

Kisame's grip on his sword tightened. "Did you defeat and kill him in combat?"

"No." Naruto replied. It had been a team effort to take down Zabuza and Sasuke was the one who delivered the killing blow.

"Then you don't have the right to wield it!" Kisame suddenly roared and charged at Naruto. The blonde barely managed to block Kisame's sword with his own, only for the force of the attack to knock him off his feet.

Kisame pressed his advantage, only for Naruto to replace himself with a nearby chair. Naruto reared back with his sword, the Decapitator glowing with wind Chakra. "Wind Style: Helm Splitter!" Naruto slammed the blade into the ground, causing three blades of wind to shoot out from the impact point, slicing through the ground.

Kisame easily side-stepped the attack and rushed at Naruto. The blonde time-traveler intercepted Kisame's swing with the Decapitator, but once again found his grip faltering beneath Kisame's strength. Naruto lashed out with a kick to Kisame's gut, but the Mist ninja easily avoided it. Kisame began raining down blows on Naruto with the blonde desperate to keep up.

Kisame was easily one of the strongest members of Akatsuki. He and Itachi concretely held the position of third and fourth strongest members, after Tobi and Pein. In many ways, Kisame was the worst opponent for Naruto to face. Naruto's specialty laid in his high speed, his ludicrous amounts of chakra, and his ability to basically overwhelm his opponents. Unfortunately, Kisame was his equal in almost every regard.

Kisame was terrifyingly fast, one of the fastest opponents Naruto had ever had to face. On top of that, Kisame had Chakra reserves that could rival a Bijuu. Naruto actually had larger reserves than Kisame, but the Samehada sword evened the playing field. With Kisame's sword able to gleefully eat chakra and swallow jutsu, Naruto had to expend a lot more chakra then Kisame did to stay effective. Naruto had hoped that bringing his own legendary sword to the fight would help him, but was rapidly realizing how stupid that was.

"Challenge the strongest member of the Seven Swordsman to a one on one sword duel with one of their own goddamn blades. Real bright." Naruto muttered. Naruto had slowly been realizing over the course of his training that he wasn't suited to wield the Decapitator. The blade was simply too large and unwieldy for Naruto's fighting style. Naruto needed speed and precision something like kunai, short swords, or even a katana would suit him better than the giant carving knife. That was no more apparent than in his current fight. Kisame could twirl The Samehada around like a baton while Naruto needed both hands to use The Decapitator.

Naruto silently cursed for being so full of himself. He gets his hands on a famous sword and suddenly he thinks he can take on Kisame in a sword fight. The reason the Decapitator is so well known isn't because of its incredible abilities, it's because of who wielded it. Zabuza was the one who made the sword famous, not the other way around.

Naruto inwardly sighed. He was trying to change his style to incorporate something he wasn't suited for. That wasn't how he operated. Naruto was a man who always followed his own path and ideals. Trying to change his fighting style to use The Decapitator was more detrimental than anything else. He shouldn't be changing himself; he should be using his own style and techniques to bring his opponent down. That is how Naruto Uzumaki rolled.

Mind made up, Naruto inhaled deeply and released his breath like a jet at the ground. The blast of wind propelled Naruto backwards and away from Kisame. Kisame regarded Naruto silently, wondering what the blonde was up to. Naruto flipped The Decapitator upside down and stabbed the blade into the floor. Once he was satisfied that the sword wouldn't be going anywhere, Naruto walked around it and dropped into a battle stance.

Kisame stared at his opponent for a moment, but said nothing. This time, Naruto was the one who charged at Kisame. The shark man swung his sword at Naruto, only for the blonde to leap over the attack and onto Kisame's shoulders. Before the Missing ninja could react, Naruto's feet clamped down on either side of his head.

Wind surrounded Naruto in a vortex, causing him to spin in the air and take Kisame along with him. Naruto, while still spinning rapidly, used his momentum to flip Kisame over himself and slam the former Mist Ninja into the floor. "Uzumaki Style: Cyclone Smash!"

Naruto was flung into the air from the recoil of the attack. He flipped himself upside down and landed on the ceiling. Pumping chakra into his legs, Naruto shot off the ceiling towards Kisame. Naruto extended his knee and brutally crashed it straight into Kisame's spine before he could get up off the ground. "Uzumaki Style: Satellite Drop!"

Kisame grunted in pain, but he was as tough as they came. It would take a lot more than that to take him out of a fight. The blue skinned man slammed his hand onto the ground. "Water Style: Piranha Missiles!" Water flowed out of Kisame's sleeve and formed into sleek water projectiles shaped like open mouthed piranha.

The aquatic creations shot through the air towards Naruto. The time-traveler flung himself off of Kisame's back to avoid the attack, but that only gave the swordsman time to launch an even bigger jutsu. "Water Style: Shark Bomb!"

From his crouching position on the ground, a twelve foot shark made of water formed around Kisame. The liquid carnivore snapped its jaw twice before speeding towards Naruto. The spikey haired blonde pulled back his hand and slammed it into the snout of the shark just as it got within range. "Wind Style: Unrelenting Force!" The blast of concussive air blew the shark apart, scattering it into tiny droplets of water.

Naruto's back suddenly exploded in pain. The blonde cried out while falling to his knees. Naruto glance behind him to see Kisame standing behind him. The man was grinning a sharp-toothed grin and holding up his sword, which was covered in Naruto's blood.

'Bastard used the Shark Bomb as a distraction to get behind me.' Naruto inwardly groused. His back was already trying to heal, but Kisame had shaved most of the skin off the blonde's back. It was a slow process. Ignoring the pain, Naruto shot to his feet and formed a Rasengan in his hand.

Kisame easily saw the attack coming and simply raised The Samehada sword to block it. As soon as the jutsu came in contact with the blade, the sword devoured the chakra and cancelled the jutsu. Naruto attempted to coat himself in Wind Chakra for protection, but Kisame quickly put a stop to that by simply swinging his sword at Naruto. The blade didn't actually connect, but it came close enough to devour the chakra of the jutsu.

Cursing lightly, Naruto swung a fist at Kisame's face. Naruto knew how to fight enemies with large weapons at close range. The best thing to do was to use their weapon against them. Things like swords and spears had flat edges or parts that weren't dangerous to the touch, like a shaft or handle. It was easy to gain control by simply grabbing a weapon on its flat edge or even using it as a foot hold.

That strategy went right out the window against a weapon like the Samehada. It wasn't a sword so much as a bunch of spikey teeth glued together. As Kisame liked to boast, The Samehada sword doesn't slice, it shreds. There was literally no part of the blade Naruto could come in contact with that wouldn't hurt him. Even the hilt would emit spikes if anyone other than Kisame tried to wield it.

Kisame just stood there, laughing as Naruto tried to land a blow. He wasn't even fighting back, he was just moving his sword to intercept Naruto's blows and the blonde would pull back to avoid getting stabbed. Jutsu didn't fare any better, they all dissipated before they could do any sort of damage.

'I need something he can't block.' Naruto thought. 'Something that his sword can't absorb.' An idea suddenly occurred to Naruto. He did have a technique in his arsenal that Kisame couldn't block. He really didn't want to use it, but Kisame was a very powerful opponent. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Naruto flung himself backwards to gain some distance. He reached into his pouch and pulled out a sealing scroll. Kisame spoke. "What, going back to using weapons now?" He mocked. A cynical smirk appeared on Naruto's lips.

"Not exactly." Naruto ripped open the scroll and held it out toward Kisame. The Mist ninja stared in confusion at the seals on the scroll. They didn't resemble anything he had ever seen before. The seals began to glow as Naruto channeled chakra into them. 'I'm sorry, Kakashi.'

"Distortion Wave!"

The technique was disturbingly fascinating to watch. The radius of the attack spread out from the scroll in a cone. All colors within the scope of the attack appeared polarized. Black turned to white, blue to orange, and so on. Long, brutal gash began forming within the cone as the negative space from the scroll began tearing real matter apart.

Kisame started screaming as soon as the technique struck. He tried using his sword to defend, but the only chakra used in the technique came from the scroll itself. The Samehada was flung out of Kisame's hands as his skin began tearing itself apart. Kakashi had managed to halt that technique by using Kamui, The Authority of The Gods, to tear open his own dimensional hole and escape the Distortion Wave. Kisame had no such option available to him.

Naruto was so focused on watching the effects of the Distortion Wave that he was completely unprepared for a large set of teeth to sink into his forearm. The sudden pain caused him to drop the scroll, cancelling the Distortion Wave as he could no longer pump chakra into it.

Naruto stared down at what had interrupted his technique. Kisame's sword, The Samehada, had completely shed its bandages. The blade was now wider than Naruto and had an honest to God mouth that was currently latched onto Naruto's arm. The sword was literally growling at him.

Thoroughly disturbed by this, Naruto desperately began thrashing his arm in an attempt to get the demonic sword off of him. A sudden whistle caused the blade to release its hold on Naruto's arm. The sword began slinking its way over towards Kisame, making sure to shred Naruto's scroll on the way. Naruto stared at the weapon as it pressed its snout into Kisame's leg, like a worried dog. Kisame began running his hand along The Samehada's back and the blade honestly began purring.

'That think isn't sword.' Naruto thought. 'It's a goddamn demon on a stick!'

Naruto finally managed to tear his gaze away from the sword and focus on Kisame. He was crouched down on one knee, breathing heavily. His Akatsuki cloak had been destroyed by the Distortion Wave and his body was littered with long gashes. However, Even now his wounds were beginning to close. Naruto realized that the hand Kisame was stroking The Samehada with must have been absorbing extra chakra to heal his wounds.

Kisame slowly got to his feet. "What. The fuck. Was that?" Kisame demanded.

Naruto heaved a sigh. "A project I've been working on." 'And pretty much my last shot.' Naruto added silently.

Kisame picked up The Samehada, the blade thankfully shrinking down to its dormant form. "You're one seriously scary kid, you know that?" Kisame asked. Naruto was about to respond, when they both a sudden flare of chakra caused them to turn towards the doorway they had come in through. There was a moment of silence as they both tried to comprehend what they had just felt. "I don't believe it." Kisame whispered.

The sudden flare of chakra followed by it being snuffed out was a strong indication of a ninja's death. Both Kisame and Naruto instantly recognized whose Chakra it was. Naruto couldn't help the small smile that worked its way onto his face. "Sasuke won."

"I don't believe it." Kisame repeated. "Itachi is actually dead?"

Naruto stared at Kisame. He paid attention to the man's body language along with the tone of his voice. Naruto was very good at reading people and recognized the signs that Kisame was displaying. The blonde heaved a sigh and began walking over towards where he planted the Decapitator.

Kisame notice this. "Hey, what do you think you're doing?"

Naruto pulled The Decapitator out of the ground. "This fight is over."

"Like Hell it is." Kisame growled. "I'm nowhere near beaten."

Naruto still wasn't looking at Kisame. "No, but you are finished."

Kisame charged at Naruto. The blonde calmly turned around, making no move to defend himself. Kisame halted The Samehada sword less than an inch away from Naruto's face, but the blonde didn't even flinch. "What makes you think I'm finished?"

Naruto crossed his arms, not showing a trace of fear. "You've lost your will to continue fighting. I've seen it happen before. It can be difficult to keep a battle going after you lose a very close comrade."

Kisame laughed. "What? You mean Itachi? I'm the Monster of the Mist, remember? I don't care about my comrades."

Naruto was unimpressed. "Oh yeah? Then why did you stop your sword?" Kisame's eyes widened. "I made no move to defend myself and blatantly showed you my back. Yet, you still halted your attack before it got to me. Not exactly the actions of a monster, don't you think? Face it, losing Itachi took the fight out of you."

Kisame wanted to deny it. He wanted to shave this little brat's face off. He wanted to show this kid why he had been named the Monster of the Mist. He wanted… he wanted… he wanted to see Itachi. Kisame had never experienced this feeling before. He didn't want to continue battling. His sword just felt heavy in his hand. He didn't want to keep fighting; he wanted to go mourn Itachi. He wanted to mourn his friend.

Kisame slowly lowed The Samehada sword away from Naruto, his eyes downcast. A cynical chuckle worked its way up his throat. "Well what do you know, Itachi? Looks like I'm not so cold hearted after all."

Kisame's attention was suddenly drawn to the handle being held out to him. His eyes moved up to see Naruto offering the Decapitator. "Listen, I… I wanted to apologize. You were right; I didn't have any right to wield this sword. You should take it back, it belongs the Seven Swordsman, even if it's a former member."

Kisame regarded Naruto silently for a moment before he place The Samehada sword on his back. "Hmm, you're just a kid, so I guess I can let it go this time. Just don't pull anything stupid like that again." Kisame reached out and wrapped his hand around the handle. He hefted the Decapitator up, allowing a few memories of a certain Mist assassin to play through his mind before sighing and placing the sword on his back. The Decapitator and The Samehada now formed an X on Kisame's back, the two blades being suspended with chakra.

"So, what are you going to do now?" Naruto broached. Kisame heaved another sigh.

"I'm going home. I'm done for the day. You can just go; you aren't my assigned Jinchuuriki anyway." Kisame said with a dismissive wave.

Naruto couldn't quite help the sigh of relief. "Good. I really don't think I can beat you yet."


Naruto grinned. "Give me time; I've still got a lot farther to grow. One day, I'll wipe the floor with you."

Despite himself, Kisame chuckled. "I'll be waiting, then. So long, kid."

"Wait, before you go." Naruto said, Kisame regarded the blonde silently. "When I met with Zabuza, he had an apprentice with him. A young girl whose mother managed to survive the bloodline purge of the Mist, but was eventually found out. After her parents was killed, she activated her ice bloodline in self-defense. She didn't have anywhere else to go, so Zabuza took her in and trained her."

Kisame snorted. "That doesn't surprise me. Zabuza always did like kids."

That revelation threw Naruto for a loop, but he pressed onward. "I have it on good authority that she was the one who killed Gato after he had Zabuza murdered. Last I heard, she was on the run. If it's not too much to ask, do you think you could find her? She's a good girl and an even better ninja. She deserves more than a constant life alone."

Kisame regarded Naruto for a moment. "Little Zabuza got himself a little apprentice, eh? Well alright, I suppose I can track her down. I owed Zabuza a favor anyway. It would be a shame to let his legacy go to waste. Maybe she'll even be a decent successor to The Decapitator."

Naruto couldn't quite help the smile that worked its way onto his face. "I was wrong about you, Kisame. For someone called the Monster of the Mist, you're actually a pretty nice guy, underneath it all."

Kisame snorted. "Yeah well, don't go spreading it around. It would ruin my rep."

"My lips are sealed." Kisame gave Naruto one last nod before he disappeared in a swirl of water. Naruto stared at the spot where Missing ninja had stood, before suddenly remembering that there were still two more Akatsuki members around. "Sakura. Jiraiya."

Naruto kicked open the doors to the throne room and charged into the fray.

Scene break

Kisame appeared in the library, idly taking note of all the damage the room had suffered. "Someone is going to pitch a fit over this." He thought.

The Missing ninja's eyes were drawn to two figures against the far wall. Itachi was lying prone on the ground, but Kisame found his eyes drawn to Sasuke, who was standing rigidly over his brother with his eyes closed.

Kisame's approaching footsteps alerted Sasuke to his presence. The young Uchiha's eyes flashed open and Kisame felt a slight pang in his heart as he recognized Itachi's Mangekyou mixed with Sasuke's. The younger sibling dropped into a ready stance, only for Kisame to raise his hands in surrender.

"I'm not here to fight you." He said simply. Sasuke said nothing, his eyes latching onto The Decapitator on Kisame's back. The Mist ninja noted this. "You're blonde friend is a hell of a fighter. He gave me Zabuza's sword if I agreed to retreat."

Sasuke relaxed, but only slightly. "If you're going to retreat, then why are you still here?"

"I want to bury Itachi."

Sasuke certain hadn't been expecting that. "Why?"

"He was my friend." Kisame said simply, as if that was all reason he needed. In a way, it was.

Sasuke hesitated for a moment before stepping aside.

Kisame nodded his head. "Thank you. You should probably go help out your other friends though."

Sasuke's eyes widened. "Sakura! Naruto!" The last Uchiha took off across the library and out the door into the throne room.

"So, that kid is all that remains of Itachi Uchiha's Legacy, huh? He sure doesn't look like much, but what do I know?"

Kisame watched Sasuke go for a moment before turning his attention towards Itachi. As he approached, Kisame couldn't help but snort as he got a look at Itachi's face. "Of course you, of all people, would die with a smile on your face. I've been your partner for nearly five years and never seen you so much as chuckle and now you finally smile?"

Kisame just shook his head. "I don't understand you, Itachi. I really don't." The blue skinned man stared down at the smiling face of Itachi. "Well partner, I kept my promise and stayed out of your way while you confronted your brother. I don't know what you were looking for, but I sure hope you found it."

Kisame knelt down and gently lifted Itachi's body into his arms. "Come on, buddy. Let's get out of here." With that, Kisame Hoshigaki and Itachi Uchiha vanished.

Scene Break

Sakura and Jiraiya both dived behind a pillar to avoid one of Deidara's explosive art projects. Sakura was going over what she knew about her two opponents before talking with Jiraiya. "Jiraiya, I'm going to go after Sasori, do you think you can handle Deidara?"

The Toad Sannin eyed her for a moment. "Why do you want to take on Sasori?" He asked.

Sakura grit her teeth. "I don't want to face either of them. Frankly, I don't even want to be here right now, but we don't have any other options. Sasori is a puppet master and he is sure to have all sorts of poisons ready. So much as a single cut can be fatal without an antidote, which I don't have with me."

"You don't have any poison antidote?" Jiraiya demanded. "What kind of medic ninja are you?"

Sakura didn't appreciate that insult to her skills. "Sasori of the Red Sand uses very potent, custom made poisons. Regular antidotes won't work; they need to be custom made as well. Without a sample of the poison itself, I can't make any antidotes." She whispered furiously. "As such, we need to avoid getting hit by him at all costs. I have the best defenses with my sand, so I should be the one to fight him."

Jiraiya nodded, mollified by her answer. "Ok, I'll take care of the explosive happy blonde. You deal with the walking doll house. Just be careful." Sakura nodded.

Jiraiya suddenly ran out from under cover, already forming seals. "Fire style: Salamander!" A deep red serpent of flame shot out of the Sannin's mouth and up in the air towards Deidara, who was standing on one of his giant clay birds.

Sakura, meanwhile, moved to face Sasori in his Hiruko puppet. "Finally, I'm tired of waiting around." The outer layer of Hiruko's cloak had been removed, revealing the mechanical features of the puppet. Sakura was in luck, it didn't seem like Sasori had made some of the improvements to Hiruko yet. As opposed to the bright red demon face that usually made up the puppets outer shell, it was now a relatively dull brown turtle shell. The left arm was just a basic arm as opposed to the Senbon Torpedo Fist, which Sakura was grateful for.

Sakura smirked at the puppet. "Well wait no longer, because here I come!" Sakura took off running towards the hunched over puppet. Sasori ripped away Hiruko's bandana, revealing three disconnected lower jaws. All three opened wide, allowing a barrage of senbon needles to fly out at Sakura.

The needles only came from a set point and in a relatively thin stream. For Sakura, dodging them was easy. The pink haired girl swerved back and forth as she closed in on Hiruko, the puppet unable to hit her. The pink haired medic suddenly leapt into the air directly over Hiruko. The puppet's head was unable to tilt that high, so Sasori instead used the bladed tail to attack.

A barrier of sand blocked the bladed tip from hitting Sakura. A small bar formed on the side of the barrier, almost like a handle. Sakura had discovered, much to her delight, that her sand could be used to create footholds in midair whenever she needed them. Sakura's hands latched onto the handle and she used it to swing beneath the metallic tail and smash her feet directly into Hiruko's shell. "Knock knock!"

The puppet crumbled beneath Sakura's super powered blow. The real Sasori quickly darted out of the wreckage to avoid damage. Sakura, well aware of how much use even a broken puppet could be for someone of Sasori's level, quickly incinerated the remains of Hiruko.

"That was one of my favorite puppets." Sasori seethed, his voice noticeably less gravely now that he was out of Hiruko. He cast off the remains of Hiruko's cloak, revealing a deceptively young face beneath bright red hair. "Now I'll have to take you as a replacement, little girl."

Sasori's eyes roamed over Sakura. "Incredibly fit, appealing features, and I rather like the distinct pink hair. Yes, I think you will make a fine puppet."

Sakura placed a hand on her hip. "Sorry, I never cared much for dolls. Maybe you should stop being a coward and fight for yourself." Sasori was far too experienced to let a petty insult like that get to him, instead he pulled out a sealing scroll with the number three emblazoned on it.

Sakura tensed as a puff of smoke revealed a new puppet. This one was a tad taller than Sasori; it wore a long black cloak and had wild black hair. The features were blank and hardened, but Sakura still recognized who it was.

"You've turned the Third Kazekage into a puppet." She observed. Sasori's eyes lit up, he loved it when people recognized his work.

"Indeed. He was quite difficult to bring down, but he was worth it. I 'collected' him when I left my village." Sasori's hand reached up and stroked the puppet's cheek. "It wasn't easy to kill him, but it was even harder to make sure he didn't lose any of his magnificent abilities in the transition. I must say I think I did a phenomenal job with him." Sasori was always happy to talk about his art.

Sakura did some quick mental calculations. "You kidnapped him when you left the village, the Third Kazekage disappeared seventeen years ago and you're thirty-two." Sakura blinked. "You managed to kill the strongest Kazekage when you were fifteen?" Despite herself, Sakura couldn't quite keep the admiration out of her voice.

A smirk appeared on Sasori's face. "Indeed I did, and I did much more than just kill him. Would you like to see the true extent of my art?" The former Kazekage's mouth opened, revealing a passage way down into its stomach. Dark grey, almost black grains began filtering out of the mouth and floating around the puppet.

"The Kazekage's signature technique, Iron Sand." Sakura said in awe. "I still don't understand how you manage to do this. I can understand how you convert a human shell into a puppet, but how do manage to keep the bloodlines and special techniques as well?"

Sasori chuckled. "You can call them 'dolls' if you wish, but my art is unparalleled." A sly grin grew on his face. "Why do you sound so interested? Are you, perhaps, interested in learning my style?"

"I'm a medic, my interest is professional." Sakura paused for a moment. "Are you offering to teach me?"

Sasori's expression settled into an easy and rather handsome smile. "I don't see why not. I'm always on the lookout for potential students to pass my skill onto, not that I have any intention of dying." Sasori took a moment to give Deidara, who was laughing manically why trying to blow up Jiraiya, a dirty look. "Besides, I really need a new apprentice who understands real art."

"What would I have to do to gain you favor?" Sakura asked slowly.

Sasori tilted his head slightly in contemplation. "Being able to use puppet techniques, obviously. Good chakra control along with some medical background would be a plus. Showing initiative and creativity by creating your own puppets, I dislike when a puppet user uses other peoples work in battle. Not being disturbed by turning humans into puppets would also help."

Sakura mentally filed that information away, promising to take up Sasori on his offer in another loop. "It's a tempting offer, but I don't think I could fit all the requirements right now."

"Are you sure? I can see potential in you; there's a lovely fire in your eyes. I would be willing to teach if you're willing to learn." The missing ninja honestly sounded remorseful.

Sakura just shook her head. "Sorry, not this time. I'll hit you up in another life."

Sasori nodded. "Another life it is then. Now, here I come!" The iron sand floating around the puppet separated and formed tiny spheres. "Bullet Rain!"

The tiny projectiles flew through the air towards Sakura. The pink haired Jinchuuriki remained stationary. Sakura's own sand rose into a wall, absorbing the deadly barrage. Sasori smirked. "That was a mistake."

With a flick of his finger, Sasori sent the Third Kazekage hurtling through the air towards Sakura, a sadistic bladed wheel spinning in the puppet's hands. Sakura waited for her sand to defend her, only for her eyes to widen when her sand remained stationary.

Not having time to figure out what was wrong, Sakura threw herself backwards to avoid the deadly blades. The marionette closed in on her, using its extended reach to stay out of range from her super powered fists. The Kazekage's free arm suddenly popped open, revealing even more poison soaked blades. Realizing she was getting hedged in, Sakura retreated underground.

Using her earth techniques, Sakura tunneled through the concrete floor towards where Sasori was standing. Once she was beneath him, she thrust her hands out of the floor, hoping to catch the missing ninja by surprise. Sasori was an S-classed ninja for a reason, and shot off to the side, avoiding Sakura's attack.

Cursing slightly, Sakura pulled herself out of the ground. Sasori once more had the Kazekage floating near him, but this time without the Iron Sand. Curious, Sakura attempted to locate the metallic sand. She found it when her eyes fell on her own pile of sand.

"So that's why my sand shield stopped working." She mused out loud. "You used your Iron Sand to suppress it."

Sasori nodded. "Indeed. The Iron Sand is far heavier than your regular sand. By mixing my sand in with yours, I'm able to keep it stationary."

Sakura nodded. "Impressive."

Sasori gave a theatric sigh. "I'm afraid I can't take credit for the idea. This was a technique used by the Fourth Kazekage to suppress the Sand of the Shukaku, though he used Gold Dust as opposed to Iron Sand." Sasori's expression turned wistful. "It's a shame that Orochimaru killed him before I could. I'm certain that Gold Dust would have made a beautiful addition to my collection."

Sakura was listening, but her eyes were intent on her sand. She tried several times to will the sand to move or take shape, but the Iron Sand always moved to stop it. She noticed that Sasori's eyes were also on the mixed pile of sand.

Sakura spoke. "It's a very interesting technique, but I wonder how long you can keep it up." Sasori arched his brow, prompting Sakura to continue. "You can't actually control the Iron Sand, you control the puppet, which controls the Iron Sand. That means you have to not only manage your puppet, but micromanage to keep my sand in check. Think you can maintain that level of focus while holding me off?"

Sasori frowned slightly. "You're in the same boat I am; I can feel you trying to free your sand."

Sakura laughed. "I'm afraid not. My sand is fueled by the energy of the Bijuu within me. It doesn't need me to command it to move, it does it subconsciously. I can fight freely and my sand will still continue to struggle to protect me."

Sasori grimaced. "It doesn't matter. As a Puppet Master, I am well versed in dividing my attention to multiple things at once."

Sakura smirked. "Then why haven't you noticed my Shadow Clone sneaking up behind you?"

Sasori's eyes widened and he whipped around to face the incoming threat, only for there to be nothing behind him. Realizing he'd been tricked, Sasori attempted to turn back around, but Sakura was already within striking range. 'Damn!'

Sakura's fist slammed into Sasori's cheek with concussive force. If it wasn't' for his chakra reinforcing his body, his entire head would have shattered. The red-haired ninja was sent flying across the room, his puppet being dragged along with him.

Sasori managed to land on his feet, but saw Sakura already charging straight at him. He had no intention of letting her get close enough to hit him again. The Third Kazekage extended his arms. The separated limbs all split open, revealing seals along the inside of the arm. The seals all activated at once, causing dozens upon dozens of extended puppet arms to shoot out from the Third Kazekage. The hands and arms all shot towards Sakura attempting to crush her.

Sakura had begun performing seals the moment The Kazekage's arm opened. She crouched down and slammed both palms into the ground. "Earth Style: Ten-Thousand Fists!" The ground around Sakura suddenly exploded upward. The stone formed into a barrage of arms and fists that rose to meet Sasori's attack head on.

The reinforced wood of the puppet limbs were no match for the raw strength of stone. Sakura's jutsu pulverized Sasori's attack, the stone arms constantly pulling back and punching forward at blurring speeds.

With a broad grin, Sakura continued in her charge while her jutsu finished off the puppet limbs. Sasori scowled and flicked his finger upward. A tube popped out from the condensed mass of limbs, a deep purple cloud of toxic gas spewed from the tube, enveloping Sakura.

The time-traveling medic, easily recognizing the gas for poison, quickly held her breath before she inhaled the toxic fumes. The cloud was too large to escape out of before she would need another breathe, so Sakura got creative.

'Earth Style: Buzz saw!' She thought. On either side of Sakura, large blades rose from the ground. The blades spread out horizontally, forming a shape similar to a Windmill Shuriken. The poles connecting the blades to the ground began to spin, causing the blades to spin as well. Normally, Sakura would build up spinning speed before launching the saws at her opponent, but this time she kept them spinning. The whirling blades acted as make-shift fans, blowing the toxin away from Sakura, allowing her to breathe.

With fresh air in her lungs, Sakura let both spinning blades of death loose. The two stone saws tore through the air, one aimed at Sasori and the other at the Kazekage. Sasori snorted, easily jumping over the attack while commanding the Kazekage to do the same. As soon as he landed, however, he found Sakura directly in front of him, her fist pulled back to strike.

'Not this time.' Sasori thought. He may not have been a close range fighter, but he was still an S-ranked Shinobi. A poisoned kunai was instantly in his hand. He ducked beneath Sakura's punch and stabbed the blade into her stomach. Sasori's triumph was short lived, as Sakura disappeared in a puff of smoke.

'A Shadow Clone? Then that means…no!' Sasori turned towards his favorite puppet, but it was already too late. He turned just in time to see the real Sakura smash the Kazekage to pieces. "Damn you!" Sasori cursed. His chakra strings attached to the one of the discarded blades from the Kazekage's arsenal. The poison blade shot off the ground towards Sakura.

A wall of Sand rose beside Sakura, halting the attack. Sakura smirked as her sand crushed the blade into a scrap of twisted metal. "Well, well, looks like I've got my sand back and you're out two puppets. Ready to surrender?"

Sasori stared at the young woman before him for a moment. It started out as a small chuckle, but it quickly grew into a full belly laugh. Sakura was slightly unnerved by the sudden laughing fit, uncertain of what Sasori found so amusing. It wasn't a cruel laugh, it sounded honestly amused.

Sasori settled down, shaking his head slightly. "Oh, this is brilliant." He reached up and began unbuttoning his Akatsuki robe. "I've been so bored lately, looking for a new challenge, when low and behold, you appear. It's been years since I've been pushed this far." Sasori cast his cloak aside. "It's been years since I've used myself in battle."

With the Akatsuki cloak gone, Sasori was left in only his pants and sandals, revealing his true body. There was a large hole in his stomach, showing a spear tip attached to a long rope curled within his stomach cavity, all soaked in poison. On his back was a holster containing five different scrolls and two sets of what appeared to be wings. The spread out on hinges from his back, but as opposed to feathers, they were formed by five curved blades each. There was a closed hatch over Sasori's right chest and from his chest emerged a round, cylindrical object marked with the word Scorpion.

This was Sasori of the Red Sand's true form, a living puppet.

The red head grinned as Sakura took in his appearance. "Do you like it?"

"It is certainly interesting, I'll give you that. Did you make a human puppet out of yourself? How did you manage to pull that off?" Sakura asked.

Sasori chuckled. "Alas, no. This body, The Scorpion, is entirely mechanical in creation. Well…not entirely mechanical." Though Sasori didn't know it, Sakura knew he was referring to his heart. Sasori's heart was the only organic piece that remained within his body, located within the tube marked Scorpion. The living puppet grinned at Sakura. "Shall we continue?"

Spears of Sand shot towards Sasori as soon as he spoke. Rather than dodge, Sasori raised his left arm in front of him. Four separate slots on his arm opened at the elbow, forming a cross at his wrists. Blue chakra flared to life between the slots, forming a dome. The sand spears crashed into the chakra, only to immediately fall apart as soon as they did.

Sakura stared at Sasori with wide eyes. "How did you do that?" She demanded.

Sasori shrugged, his arm returning to normal. "Chakra shield. It's a useful little backup to have."

Sakura shook her head. "That's not what I'm talking about. Your shield didn't block my attack, you dispelled it."

Sasori's expression lit up. "Ah, I see what you mean. I matched the frequency of my Chakra shield to match your sand's frequency."

"Frequency?" Sakura asked.

Sasori nodded. "All jutsu and techniques circulate chakra in some way, shape, or form. If you know how, it's possible to match the frequency of another attack and dispel it, like I did with your sand."

Sakura's mind raced as she considered all the implications of Chakra frequency. Her eyes narrowed. "But how do you know the frequency of an attack?"

Sasori smiled. "That's the main weakness of this little trick. Unless it's an attack you are intimately familiar with, it is next to impossible to figure out the frequency of an attack. I managed to get a lock on your sand's frequency while I held it down with the Iron Sand. Your sand attack won't work on me."

Sakura mentally promised to learn more about Chakra Frequencies. It sounded like an incredibly useful, if somewhat limited, skill to have. She figured she could start by learning the frequency of her Sand's chakra once this fight was over. Who knows, it may even come in handy if she ever has to fight Gaara again.

A sudden thought occurred to Sakura. "You're being awfully informative about your techniques." She said slowly.

Sasori shrugged. "Honestly, I'm hoping to still convince you to become my apprentice."

Sakura snorted. "Sorry, but I have no intention of becoming a puppet."

Sasori looked offended. "As if I would waste your talents by adding you to my collection. You have far too much potential and power to simply let slip away. I don't need to make you a puppet to make you mine."

"I'm flattered, but it just isn't going to happen this time around."

Sasori sighed. "I figured as much, but it would be remiss of me not to try." His expression hardened. "You are very skilled. I don't think I can afford to hold back against you any longer." Sasori suddenly turned towards his blonde companion. "Deidara! I need some extra room!" He shouted.

Deidara chuckled. "I here you, Sasori my man. I think this ugly room could use a good skylight anyway!" Large clay spiders, which Sakura had not noticed until now, grew in size and crawled out from their hiding spots on the ceiling. Deidara, grinning like a madman, formed the ram seal. "Bang!"

The clay animals detonated with an ear shattering explosion. The entire ceiling was blown away, along with the entire upper two layers of the castle, allowing the sunlight from the outside to shine in. Sakura slowly lowered her sand shield, it had risen to protect against any rubble, and stared upward at the suddenly exposed blue sky. It was such a nice day, and here she was fighting for her life. Typical.

Sasori grabbed one of the scrolls off his back an unraveled it above his head, while popping open the hatch on the right side of his chest. "In acknowledgment of your skill, I will show you my greatest technique. Dozens of red cloaked figures shot out of the scroll Sasori unsealed while chakra strings flooded out of his chest and into the air.

Sakura soon found herself staring up at a small armies work of puppets suspended in the air, all attached to Sasori. "Red Sands Secret Technique: Performance of a Hundred Marionettes. I once used this technique to conquer an entire nation."

"Which nation?" Sakura couldn't help but ask.

"The Smoke Country." He replied

"Never heard of it."

Sasori smirked. "Exactly."

Sakura bit her lip as she gazed upon Sasori's attack force. She really didn't like her odds. Sakura was well versed in fighting multiple opponents, but this wasn't a hundred different people attacking her, this one man controlling a hundred bodies. In other words, Sasori would be able to perfectly coordinate his puppets to take her down. Even Naruto's Shadow clones became separate entities once they were created, meaning it was possible to confuse or fool one or two of them. That wasn't the case here. On top of that, Sasori would be able to adapt to anything she did instantly, since these puppets were tied to his core as opposed to his fingers. There was no delay between his commands and their movements.

Sasori raised his arms, the puppets above him readying their weapons. "It has been so long since I last used this technique. I hope you will give me a good show, a puppet dance is no fun without a decent partner."

"In that case, may I cut in?"

Sakura and Sasori both whipped around to see Naruto, a little beat up, but in one piece. The blonde grinned as he held his hands in his signature cross sign. "Mass Shadow Clone Jutsu!" The entire area was suddenly filled with blondes. "Let's go!" Naruto commanded. The shadow clones roared in approval and leapt into the air, the puppets flying down to meet their challenge.

A clone of Naruto landed next to Sakura. "Itachi's dead and Kisame retreated." He quickly informed her. "Let me and my clones deal with all-star puppet cast up there. You focus on Sasori." Sakura nodded and the clone quickly joined the fray.

All things considered, it was actually a pretty easy battle for Naruto. Sasori's technique specialized in overwhelming opponents with power and numbers. Unfortunately for him, it was literally impossible to outnumber Naruto. Sasori's poisoned weapons didn't really play a factor either, since Shadow Clones disappeared after one strike anyway and Naruto could easily just make more.

Sasori's Scorpion Stinger suddenly flew past Sakura. Like an idiot, she turned to look at where it landed, seeing it embedded in the far wall. The way the chord suddenly tightened made Sakura realize what Sasori was doing. She turned just in time to see Sasori flying towards, being pulled by the retracting cable. The bladed wings on his back were spinning wildly as he close in on her.

Sakura ducked beneath the living puppet, only barely managing to avoid the blades, but Sasori was ready for her. Two nozzles stuck out of the missing ninja's palms and blasted out powerful streams of fire. The flamethrowers acted as makeshift propulsion jets and allowed Sasori to immediately change directions in mid-air.

Sakura only barely managed to stand back up before Sasori crashed into her. The two tumbled on the ground in a confusing mass of limbs until Sasori managed to pin Sakura to the ground beneath him, one of his hands directly over her heart.

"It seems we've lost this day, but I can't just leave without saying goodbye." The nozzle on Sakura's chest began heating as Sasori prepared to launch another blast of fire. At this range, not even Sakura's sand would protect her. "Goodbye."

Sakura had no time to perform a jutsu, escape, or even counter attack. She had only one refuge: sheer audacity.

Sakura wrapped her arm around Sasori's neck and began running her finger over Sasori's heart. "You know, you're pretty sexy for a puppet. Are you anatomically correct? Because I bet this body of yours could go all night long."

The comment was just off kilter and out of the blue enough that Sasori paused his attack, trying to process what he just heard. Sakura, not about to let her one widow go waste, made a fist with hand on Sasori's heart and punched straight into it. The girl's fist shot straight through Sasori's chest and out the other side, obliterating his heart.

Sasori gasped in pain. He stared down at Sakura's arm sticking out of his chest, before meeting her eyes. He chuckled. "Straight for the kill, huh? Ah well, I guess you proved yourself the better ninja." Unable to support himself, Sasori collapsed on top of Sakura, putting his face inches away from hers. "Such lovely eyes." He murmured. "It's such a shame, I would have loved…to make you mine."

With that, Sasori's life force ran out and the missing ninja quietly passed away.

Sakura waited an extra few moments to make sure he was truly dead before pulling her arm out of his chest and moving out from beneath the body. There was a sudden series of loud crashing noises as Sasori's puppets all fell to the ground like, for lack of a better term, puppets whose strings had been cut.

Naruto quickly appeared standing over Sakura. He held out his hand for to take, which she gratefully did. Naruto spoke. "That's three down and one explosive happy blonde to go."

"Let's get him."

Scene Break

Deidara frowned. This white haired old man just refused to die. No matter how many explosives or tricks Deidara threw at him, the man always found a way around them. If he was being honest with himself, Deidara would acknowledge that Jiraiya was simply a better ninja than he was, but Deidara was too angry to be honest with himself, so he just decided to blame God like he usually did.

Truthfully, the only reason Deidara wasn't already beaten was his height advantage on top of his creations, and even that had been a close call on several occasions. On top of that, Deidara was running out of clay for explosives, and Sasori was dead as well. Judging by the blonde kid running around now as well, that brute Kisame was probably gone as well.

Deidara didn't like the odds he was getting, and decided it was time for a grand exit. "This has been fun." He mockingly called down towards Jiraiya. "But it's time to end this. I'll show you all my specialty!"

The bird Deidara was riding on, the fourth one he had to make as Jiraiya kept destroying his others, suddenly flapped its wings hard and propelled the blonde man high into the air. Deidara didn't want to use this technique, since he didn't have enough clay to make it as grand and big as it should have been, but it would still be powerful enough to wipe out the entire castle, if nothing else.

The clay in Deidara's hands formed a simple statue. It was round on the bottom and pointed on the top. It had two arms that were crossed in front of it and a face twisted in a scream. Deidara grinned as he saw the tiny forms of his enemies down below. "Have a taste of my art!"

Deidara dropped the statue. He formed the ram seal, causing it to expand as it dropped. "Explosive Release: C3 Ohako!"

Scene Break

Naruto and Sakura began panicking as the realized what technique Deidara was using. "We have to get out of here! That thing is gonna level this entire castle!"

Jiraiya, who had quickly met up with the two time-travelers, spoke. "There's no time! We need a defensive jutsu!"

"I don't have anything that can block that!" Naruto shouted.

"We're out of time!" Sakura screamed. All three turned upward just in time to see the Ohako detonate.

High above and far away, Deidara watched with satisfaction as the Tanzaku Castle was wiped out by his Ohako. Nodding to himself, Deidara flew off, wondering how he was going to explain all this to the Leader.

Scene Break

Naruto honestly expected to wake up on the day of Team Selections, but the fact that he was lying on his stomach was a sign he wasn't. He slowly opened his eyes, but couldn't see anything. "Sakura? Jiraiya?

"We're here, Naruto." Jiraiya responded.

"What happened?" Naruto asked.

"I threw up a dome of Sand, hoping it would protect us." Sakura answered. "I didn't think it would actually work." Sakura commanded the sand away, causing the dome to dissolve. Once the dome was gone, it quickly became apparent what had actually saved them from Deidara's Ohako.

Sasuke was standing over them, and the area around them was protected by his Susanoo. Naruto and Sakura couldn't help but marvel at Sasuke's Susanoo's new form. The God of Valor was covered in twisted armor plating that gave the impression of skin flaking off. A massive bow was held in the left hand while the right held a ball of black fire. The head was covered in a helmet resembling a shrieking bird. The helmet twisted around the head and a pair of yellow eyes were visible within the darkness of the beak.

"Sasuke, what is that?" Naruto asked with awe.

"My Final Susanoo." He declared. "It changed shape when I gained my Eternal Mangekyou Sharingan." Sasuke turned to allow eyes to be shown. Naruto and Sakura both instantly recognized Itachi's three bladed windmill Mangekyou mixed with Sasuke's regular one.

"Eternal?" Sakura asked.

Sasuke nodded, letting the Susanoo fade and his Sharingan to deactivate. "The blindness is gone. My vision is back and better than ever." Jiraiya was about to ask how, when a voice rang out.

"What in the Hell is going on here?"

The four ninja turned to see Tsunade and Shizune making their way over the ruined remains of Tanzaku Castle. The Legendary Medic and her assistant were soon standing before the Leaf ninja. Tsunade continued. "The entire town is in a panic over all the explosions that have been going off and now the entire castle has been leveled. What do you four think your doing?"

Sakura snorted. "Oh, I'm sorry. We were just fighting off four goddamn S-rank ninja! Sorry if fighting for our lives disturbed your day!" She was in no mood for getting yelled at right now.

Jiraiya spoke. "Speaking of which, what happened in each of your fights?" Jiraiya asked.

Sasuke went first. "I killed Itachi and took his eyes, gaining my Eternal Mangekyou." Sasuke would share the revelations he'd learned about Itachi with his friends later.

Naruto went next. "Kisame is still alive, but I managed to make him retreat."

Sakura finished. "Sasori is dead, his body was probably destroyed in the blast."

Jiraiya sighed. "And Deidara got away." The Toad Sannin scratched the top of his head before grinning. "We engaged four members of Akatsuki, killed two of them, made the other two retreat, and came out of it with no casualties. I call that a pretty solid victory."

"You four really managed to fight off enemies that powerful?" Tsunade asked.

Jiraiya nodded. "Of course. Do you think I've been sitting on my ass all these years? I've been working hard to increase my skills. These three are my apprentices and they are growing into fine young ninja in their own right. Mark my words, Tsunade. These three will one day be running the Leaf."

Tsunade's head lowered. When was the last time she felt motivated to train? The desire to better herself and become stronger? The spark had left her after Dan died, but seeing these three children, already so strong, seemed to reignite the flame. She was Tsunade of Sannin. She wasn't about to sit back and let some little brats pass her by!

"They may run the village one day, but until then, we are still in charge." Tsunade declared.

Naruto grinned, recognizing the look of determination in Tsunade's eyes. "Does that mean you've made a decision?" he asked.

Tsunade nodded. "You've got it. My name is Tsunade Senju, future Fifth Hokage of the Leaf village."

Naruto smiled. "Now that is what I like to hear!"


A/N: Well that was…something. I would like to once again apologize for who long this chapter took me. It feels like forever. I hope you all enjoyed it.

I was a little hesitant to put Team 7 through the Wave arc, simply because it is one of the most used arcs in canon. I've seen everything from Zabuza containing a bloodline that turns him into the symbiote Carnage from the Spiderman comics to a sentinel from the Matrix movies attacking Naruto and downloading every single character from those movies into his brain. I am not even remotely kidding. Still, it's a station of canon, so I guess it would be remiss of me to not try my own spin on the arc. I tried what I could.

This may just be because I'm reading the wrong fanfics, but I seriously can't recall a seeing Susanoo used in Fanfiction. I understand why though, it is hard as fuck to describe the Susanoo's appearance.

Can you tell I like Sakura and Sasori together? Because I really like Sakura and Sasori together. Again, I'm not doing pairings in this story, so don't expect anything beyond occasional flirting or vague references.

See you next time.