Naruto: Fishcake Chronicles: Chapter 13

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or any videogame for that matter. And I don't own Majin's or Chibi's stories. I'm simply making my own. Oh yeah, the original characters, THEY'RE MINE FUCKERS!

Welcome back! I'm your host HKN and I'm bringing YOU, my readers, another chapter of Fishcake Chronicles.

Alright, I'm very fired up! I'm starting this chapter a few days after the release of the latest chapter, you know, and I won't take a whole year to do this one (hopefully)!

Unfortunately, I won't be answering comments anymore on this. Sad, I know, but PMing the answers to your comments just seems easier.

Now, onto the next chapter (and the second part of Wave Arc)!

XxX Chapter 13: It's Just Business (Part 1) XxX

SPLASH!

Not even bothering to flinch or look back at Kakashi's 'corpse', Naruto and Sasuke rushed at the Oni Kyodai (Demon Brothers) while Sakura stood resolutely in front of the old bridge builder.

"One down!" Gozu shouted, but just as he did, Naruto slammed him with a furious Lariat that trapped the now stunned missing-nin's throat in the crook of Naruto's arm. The blond proceeded to squeeze the nin's airways with all his might as Gozu's eyes bulged from their sockets. He waved his free arm and tried to loosen Naruto's grip to no avail; therefore, he swung his clawed hand, but Naruto, with his trained instincts and reflexes, quickly used his right hand to palm a kunai in a reverse grip and pulled Gozu's clawed arm back with a stab in the man's forearm, drawing a gasp that further emptied the man's airways. The former Kirigakure (Village Hidden in the Mist) Chunin tried to budge Naruto's arm with his unclawed hand for a few seconds longer before falling limp, unaided by his brother.

Of course, Meizu couldn't be blamed for not helping his brother. Sasuke, who with the Sharingan saw Naruto's next immediate moves, knew Naruto was attempting a non-lethal capture of the enemy and thus put his training to use. Hands blurring through handsigns, Sasuke dashed right beside the still crowing Meizu and delivered a quick palm strike crackling with electricity to the side of the head of Meizu, who fell almost instantly like a puppet whose strings had been cut, body's function stopped and paralyzed by the overloading surge of electricity to his neurons and synapses.

Well, that, and Sasuke hit him with a pretty damn hard, pretty damn fast palm strike.

All this happened within seconds. One couldn't be slow if one wanted to survive the gruesome training of the possibly psycho/socio/"it's up for contention"-pathic Kakashi Hatake.

"You fucking bastards!" Naruto snarled, "You killed Kakashi-sensei!"

"Yeah!" Sasuke snarled in a similar manner as he kicked the prone body of Meizu, who didn't respond to the literal kicking of a man while he is down, "That was our goal!"

"Can I kill them?" Sakura snarled as well, getting in on the joke that Naruto and Sasuke had, "I need stress relief and since I can't try to kill Kaka-sensei anymore, I get to collect their heads."

"There's a better way to relieve stress, Sakura-chan!" Naruto exclaimed with a fake leer at the rosy-haired girl.

POOF!

"You know, it doesn't really help me take care of the client if you kill the clones that guard him, Sakura-chan," Naruto casually said as if his clone hadn't just propositioned Sakura with hot kinky ninja-sex.

Yup, it was so good it got it's own name. Ninja-sex.

"And it doesn't really help me maintain my murder-happiness when your perverted clones try to hook up with me," Sakura said with the sweetest, most acidic smile Naruto had ever seen. "Maybe I should start trying to kill you now that Kaka-sensei is dead?"

Tazuna just stared as if were a bystander caught in a shitstorm of horror, face paling. 'These kids are fucking psychopaths,' he thought.

"Hey, I don't mean to ruin your sex lives, Naruto, Sakura," Sasuke said with a really snide, teasing smirk, "But can we immolate these guys? I like how people scream when they're on fire. It makes me feel like I'm one brutal murder closer to killing Kakashi-sensei and my brother."

Before any of the other people in the clearing could step back in horror, the miraculously alive Kakashi interjected, "Okay, I think we can stop with pretending I'm dead and that you're all amoral monsters."

"You can't stop us from wishing you're dead, Kakashi-sensei!" Naruto piped up. He glanced at the blood on his kunai and his eyes slightly glazed over. He and a clone hidden in the trees strode over to the passed out brothers and quickly forced their clawed arms behind the backs of the brothers… and the sickening crunch of a now destroyed shoulder rang out through the clearing. Screams soon followed, as even unconsciousness couldn't stop the pain the brothers felt. Before Team 7 could even try to stop Naruto after his brutal display, he and his clone licked their lips and their arms blurred once more.

SNAP!

Naruto dropped the now limp arm as the brothers screamed even harder over their broken arms. A quick kunai to their skulls knocked them out once more.

A hand gripped Naruto's shoulder. A cloudy eyed Naruto looked to his sensei who currently stood over him, "Taichou (Captain). I have disabled their main weapons. Permission to search their bodies for information and usable materials?"

Kakashi stared hard at Naruto with his one good eye. Unbeknownst to him, Naruto's eyes lightened. "Permission granted. As you and Operative Uchiha have apprehended these two missing-nin, who are also wanted in the Bingo Book, you have rights to their bounties and items on their persons provided that they go through my inspection."

Slightly confused, Sakura inquired, "Why so formal, sensei?"

Kakashi motioned to the prone brothers, "As Naruto has just noted, these two are shinobi. According to the Bingo Book, the Oni Kyodai were only Chunin upon abandonment of Kirigakure and, since most Chunin are expected to have some level of intelligence, it is likely they both knew who I was and my rank; thus, it is likely they weren't entirely suicidal in attempting to kill me. Perhaps they were just marauding traveling merchants… or perhaps they weren't. My guess is that they were after our client, who," before turning his head accusatorially to the further paling Tazuna, "has paid for a mission that contracts protection against C-ranked enemies, meaning bandits and wild animals, not enemy shinobi. Assuming they aren't the worst we'll face, this mission has been immediately escalated to A-rank or perhaps even S-rank. We are clearly underequipped and not nearly experienced enough to handle such a mission, which is now of a level handled by ANBU operatives. If we are involved in a mission that they will take, then I will treat you three as if we were an ANBU platoon and that means unequivocal obedience of my orders from here on out."

Kakashi paused before continuing, "Standard procedure dictates we obtain any and all information about the situation before proceeding further. However, as your captain, I am allowed to make judgment calls at all times. As such, it is my order that we discern any information currently present on the persons of the Oni Kyodai, interrogate them, and, per bounty requirements, kill them and dispose of their bodies with something to return for verification of the kill. Standardly, we would just take their heads. However, I'm going to ask that, if any of you have any medical experience, you conduct an ECFA (Enemy Combatant Forensic Analysis) so that we can determine if their bodies have anything useful to the village in which case we transport the entire specimens. If you cannot, then I will after I send a message to Hokage-sama asking for an upgrade of mission rank and parameters and immediate backup."

Tazuna, who was clearly flabbergasted, recalled his wits before exclaiming, "B-But we can't afford a mission of higher rank! That's why I only got a C-rank! I… I… I didn't know there would be ninjas attacking me!"

"Bullshit," Naruto called. Before Tazuna could retort, Kakashi interrupted.

"It doesn't matter if you can't afford it, Tazuna; we'll extract payment one way or the other. Now, just look into my eyes for a second…"

Tazuna blinked and looked at Kakashi whose hands blurred as he lifted his headband and used his gifted Sharingan to wipe Tazuna's mind of the explanation he'd just given of village procedure. It was minor, true, but every bit of information of how a ninja village's military or inner workings functioned could mean extermination or survival. As such, of the entire conversation Kakashi had just had, Tazuna only remembered that the mission's rank would be upgraded. The Copy Nin quickly covered his headband before instructing the man whose mind he'd just plundered, "Stay in my sight. I am going to send a message to Hokage-sama. Can any of you fulfill the immediate objectives?" he said, looking to his students.

Naruto stood at attention, all business. "Operative Uchiha and I shall conduct the interrogation and, er, looting."

Sakura raised her head, determined, "I shall conduct the analysis as I have a medical kit equipped to do so."

Kakashi nodded once, proud of how far his Genin had come. They were certainly more powerful than everyone in their year. Maybe even more than Gai's kids, too. "Alright. Let's begin."

XxX

After stripping the Oni Kyodai of everything except their undergarments (hey, everything was worth something), Sasuke and Naruto sorted their earnings into three categories: Reusable Tools, Information, and Sellable Loot (which they would dispose of once they returned to Konoha). Interrogation came next.

SLAP! SLAP! SLAP! SLAP!

With reddening handprints on their faces, the brothers started thrashing and whimpering against the tree they were bound to by Sasuke's metal wire.

"Shut the fuck up."

The two former Chunin turned to Naruto, whose face was the mask of professionalism. "Your boss. Your partners. Everything. If you do not say what I want you to say when I want you to," he quietly demanded, eyes flashing red as a burst of otherworldly killing intent rocked the brothers who gasped and thrashed even further.

SLAP! SLAP!

"Then I guarantee that I will go straight to hell and bring a piece of it back to shove down your fucking throats."

Sasuke stood by Naruto, mildly amused and impressed by the level of fear Naruto could inspire.

The brothers', however, were panicking and Gozu opened his mouth, "Gozu! D-Don't tell this fucker anything!" Meizu shouted.

SLAP!

"I'm pretty sure my partner told you to shut the fuck up," Sasuke stated plainly.

"N-No! No, please don't hurt me!" Gozu whimpered in both pain and fright. This kid was a demon, maybe an even bigger one than Zabuza!

"Sasuke, make note that we're about to perform a joint torture of Gozu of the Mist," a bored Naruto requested.

"NO! I-I'll tell you… just don't hurt me!" the younger Oni Kyoudai member begged.

"Then talk."

To the best of Naruto's and Gozu's knowledge, everything seemed the same as before. Gato, who was his employer, had hired Zabuza Momochi, who the Oni Kyodai served. Zabuza also had his partner – 'Haku,' Naruto thought fondly – who would save him through their Hunter-nin escape plan should the enemies they encounter be too much for them. The Oni Kyodai, who normally served as enforcers of Gato's will (along with the corrupt businessman's ronin army), were tasked by Zabuza to set a trap for Tazuna, who they thought was coming alone. However, there was someone else…

"What do you mean 'someone else'?" Naruto demanded, gears in his mind working. Who else could be helping Zabuza? Another Kiri missing-nin like Zabuza?

"I-I don't think he's working with Zabuza!" Gozu cried frantically. "I only knew because Meizu did some snooping around! There was a contract for someone else! All he remembered was that he was getting paid more than Zabuza! That's it!"

"Any names? Discerning features? Is he even a missing-nin?"

"Gato o-only hires missing-nins as far as I know… a-and Meizu told me that the guy, he didn't know his name. The only thing he remembered was that his name began with a K! That's it! That's all I know!" Gozu cried out once more.

SLAM!

Naruto thought contemplatively as he bashed in Gozu's skull with the ring of his kunai. Someone who was getting paid more than Zabuza? Gears spun furiously in Naruto's head as he thought of anybody stronger than Zabuza whose name began with a K.

Miniboss Defeated: 'Gozu and Meizu'! Experience Gained: 57!

Interrogation: 'Gozu and Meizu': PASSED!

Naruto remained silent till the end, thinking only of possible enemies, unconcerned with any changes to his stats.

Experience Gained: 83!

Charisma: +5!

Intelligence: +3!

Luck: +1!

Bonus: Speech: +5!

Bonus: Torture: +6!

Karmic Ranking: Plus Bad Karma! Current Karmic Ranking: First Class Friend!

Now that occupied Naruto's attention for a second before he continued thinking. The bad karma must've come from his brutal treatment of the brothers. Kicking a man while he was down, it seemed, was bad. But still…

Kisame. That was the only name that came to mind. If that was true… if his luck was really that bad…

Holy fuck. He was going to die. Or get Kurama taken out of him!

You'd still die, brat. Kurama grumbled. Decent intimidation job, fleshbag. I'll have to take away points for using my power and not making him void his bowels… but I love the brutality. Five out of ten.

'This is not the time, damnit! Do you remember what happened last time? The only reason that fish fucker ran away was because Ero-sennin was there!'

"How will you obtain that kind of strength so quickly?" the Sage asked, "From what I've examined of your memories, that man who protected you was leagues more powerful than the man you call sensei. Though… from what I can sense, your sensei is far more powerful than when you were alive before."

Naruto blinked. 'What?'

"It seems your master has become more powerful, on league with what you consider an S-rank threat. Perhaps you do stand a chance."

'Even so, we're still going to need more power! I mean, Kisame can steal my chakra and Kurama's power! How the fuck do we stop that?!'

"Maybe this backup your sensei will call will be enough to combat this threat without abandoning the mission," the Rikudo Sennin replied, though he was a bit unconvinced of the statement he just made.

Why don't you get the help of the crossdressing ice user and the cradle robber without eyebrows, you pathetic insect? Kurama jeered.

'Did NOT need that image inside my head you pheromone fueled freak!' Naruto thought while recoiling. 'But… maybe you're right! We can save Haku and Zabuza! I mean, they weren't all that bad! But… we're going to have to do it the first time we see them otherwise they may side with Kisame or whoever Gato hired on the bridge and that would be too much for us to handle.'

Then you may want to polish up on your smooth talking skills because it'll take a lot to get these two to side with you.

'No shit,' Naruto thought as he shook his head before going through the items he and Sasuke had obtained from the brothers.

Still… something was bugging him.

Why had he gone just the slightest bit nuts and fucked up the brothers' arms?

Likely… Kurama murmured, You may just be getting smart and ruthless. Oh, wait, smart and you don't go in the same sentence, the fox sneered, No, it's just likely that the additional bloodlust you gained upon getting that boost in power took over.

'I guess…' Naruto thought, thinking it made sense.

But something in the fox's tone made him think it was hiding something.

After all, wouldn't his 'bloodlust' be triggered upon getting cut up by Ripper, even if most of the times his cuts were fatal?

Something wasn't right.

That was a sentiment Sasuke thought and agreed with privately upon seeing Naruto leave.

His… friend was a totally different person when he crippled the brothers. Ruthless. Perhaps even cruel.

'That's not who he is,' Sasuke thought with a frown but said nothing as he took his place next to Naruto while checking out the bits of information found on the Oni Kyodais' bodies.

A grim Sakura took her place where the two boys used to be. Why wouldn't she be grim when one of her – 'I can't believe I'm thinking this,' – best friends had just gone a bit nuts and crippled the brothers' arms for life? Not to mention his very successful endeavor at torturing and interrogating the brothers. Coupled with some small talk with Ino about what happened during her time with Naruto as Team 10's leader and Sakura couldn't help but think that there was a lot she didn't know about her cheerful blond knucklehead teammate.

He had far more darkness than she'd thought. That was to be expected of having lost his parents in the Kyuubi attack thirteen years ago and having lived through the Uchiha massacre with Sasuke, but…

'Even for a ninja, he's got a lot of darkness, maybe too much, for a boy whose just shrugged it off all his life,' came the circumspect thought of a worried Sakura.

She spared one more thought of her blond teammate as she put her medical kit next to the prone bodies before conducting the ECFA.

'And something tells me… it'll be too much to shrug off for him one day.'

XxX

"Go quickly, Guruko," Kakashi half asked, half ordered to his summoned hound. The dog with a pouch containing a scroll nodded and dashed away.

Naruto's senses twitched as he looked to the woods on his left before turning back to Kakashi. "Taichou."

Kakashi nodded at his straightened, blond soldier, "Report."

"Operative Haruno has the necessary knowledge and gear to conduct the analyses and has just started to. Operative Uchiha and I have completed the interrogation in a total of thirteen minutes in an elapsed time of seventeen minutes after the encounter and defeat of the Oni Kyodai," Naruto recited. Kakashi was impressed.

'As soon as he passes the Chunin Exams, I'm sending him off to ANBU. He'd fit nowhere else considering the professionalism, skill, and discipline he's shown up until this point,' Kakashi thought.

"After speaking with Tazuna-san about the status quo in Nami no Kuni (Land of Waves), I have sent a request for backup to Hokage-sama, asking that he send any capable backup, preferably a Jonin or ANBU level team. Likely, they will also be bringing along our updated parameters and requirements for pay, which will make it necessary to renegotiate the contracts. Preferably, we will need to keep Tazuna, who, in his words, "speaks for Nami", afraid of Konohagakure (Village Hidden in the Leaves) and her prowess in order to negotiate a contract that benefits Konoha as much as possible," Kakashi explained. "That is why I am making it specifically your side mission to awe Tazuna with your capabilities and to make him indebted and a friend to you."

Naruto lost some of his composure and just stared at Kakashi for a moment. "Permission to speak freely, Taichou?"

"Granted."

"What the goddamn actual fuck, Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto hissed. "You're ordering to make him a precious person of mine only so we can later take advantage of him? What the hell? Especially what the hell since you heard his story about his grandson, daughter, and son-in-law!"

Kakashi sighed. He knew he'd have to talk to his kids about the hardness and looseness of morals of shinobi life. But in this case… he hated to think it, but he really did feel like a dick in this situation, especially since this was Naruto who made friends because he truly needed them, because they were his reason for fighting, for being a ninja.

"Naruto… believe it or not, I've done much worse in my life. Even your idols. The Shodaime, who was happily married by this point, had to seduce the wife of the leader of Takigakure (Village Hidden in the Waterfall) in secret only so that she could convince her husband to make Takigakure a satellite to Konoha. The Nidaime's done things like this. Even the Yondaime. Even the Sandaime and especially him; how else could he keep the peace for so long and keep Konoha so prosperous?" Kakashi explained, feeling slight pangs of guilt and pain because of the heartstring-tugging reactions of several of the women he'd seduced when he'd left them and the memories of his sensei, respectively. "This is the type of diplomatic negotiation we'd leave to people specifically trained for that or for Chunin who normally undertake seduction missions."

Seeing Naruto still look at him in disappointment, Kakashi sighed, "The best I can do to moralize and mitigate this is to remind you of your home. What would you do for Konoha? This is exactly what it means to be the Hokage: to sacrifice everything. The Shodaime nearly sacrificed his life to preserve the peace of Konoha when Madara left. The Nidaime did sacrifice his life to save the lives of his squad and his people from the Kinkaku squad. The Yondaime sacrificed his soul to protect Konoha from the Kyuubi. The Sandaime has sacrificed a lot of things to protect you and his people, one of the foremost being his integrity."

"Your nindo… the nindo of the Hokage… when it comes down to it, it's not right to you. It's not fair to you. But no matter how you spin it, patriotism is all about sacrifice. That's the fact. But by doing anything for your home and people, I've found that you do what you hope is right. That's… all anybody really can do. Do what we think we must," Kakashi whispered before patting Naruto's back. "I know you don't like it… but if it's any consolation, I'll write a report to the Hokage about this and have this use of your natural charisma documented as a mission and have you receive adequate pay for it."

Naruto's expression softened a fraction but it was still hard. "Money doesn't fill the void of integrity, Taichou, but I still accept," Kakashi's lone eye became slightly melancholic at his words, but nonetheless, the man nodded. "We can expect to face the A-ranked Kirigakure missing-nin Zabuza Momochi, former member of Kiri no Shinobigatana Shichinin Shu (Seven Ninja Swordsmen of the Mist) and wielder of the Kubikiribocho (Decapitating Carving Knife) who will likely ambush us to kill Tazuna. He is known to have a young, hidden partner who dresses up as a Mist Hunter-nin as a method to get away from his aggressors should he be outclassed. He is known for his former status, weapon, and his very powerful chakra which takes the shrouds him in the visage of a demon as a tactic for intimidation," Naruto explained before pausing. "I would like to request that, should you be incapacitated by this man, I be given leadership of our team and the power to make a judgment call as to whether I should save you or the rest of the team."

Kakashi hesitated before speaking, "…Granted with the conditions that should I find you outclassed you run from both those combatants and that you, under no circumstances, utilize your tenant's power in the encounter at all."

Naruto nodded though his expression was a bit sour. "I guess…" he sighed, "But I would like to recommend one thing."

"What is it?"

Naruto paused before speaking further. "Meizu had discovered a second contract from Gato contracting another… bodyguard. He was being paid even more than Zabuza," he said, making Kakashi's eyes widen. "I know how much this entire endeavor could benefit Konoha… and that is why I would recommend that, despite the danger, we continue on."

"I am questioning your sanity," Kakashi muttered, "but go on."

"Based on the information gathered, the geopolitical profile of Wave, and the pattern Gato has demonstrated, I suspect that the missing-nin Gato has likely hired is an S-rank ninja of Kirigakure. The only person that immediately comes into mind is Kisame Hoshigake, the wielder of Samehada (Sharkskin)… or another S-ranked missing-nin whose name begins with a K. I don't know," drawing a wide eye from Kakashi.

"Given your own status as an S-ranked ninja of Konoha, I would suspect that you are our best chance at combating this… monster that Gato has hired. Maybe it is Kisame or maybe it isn't; like I said, I don't know. However, if it is Kisame, it would be wise to – here's where my recommendation comes in, by the way," Naruto interjected. "It would be wise to try to persuade Zabuza to work for Konoha when we encounter him. I know," Naruto said to Kakashi's even more widened eyes and skeptical eyebrows, "that it is very unlikely that we can accomplish this, but it's a win-win situation. We anyway capture a missing-nin and if he agrees, we get another jonin or two on our side and, should this mystery aggressor be Kisame Hoshigake, information on how to combat the S-ranked missing-nin. Coupled with the backup you've requested, we should be able to take down this missing-nin and Gato and save Nami."

"And you think you can convince them?" Kakashi asked, who was, you guessed it, unconvinced.

"How do you think I've made most of my friends, Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto said with a smirk. "It's crazy and stupid, but people usually started liking me after I've pounded them into the dirt."

"Right," Kakashi said as he shook his head. Jeez… it was like dealing with Kushina all over again…

"But should we proceed with this plan of action Taichou? Do you approve?" Naruto asked urgently.

Kakashi gave the blond a hard stare before giving one of his trademark eye smiles. "Sure, Naruto. I'll approve it. But YOU will be telling Sandaime-sama about the mission."

Naruto almost looked like he was about to cry at the prospect of telling his extremely powerful and wise grandfather about his stupid plan before Kakashi chuckled, "Just know: if we live to encounter this possibly S-ranked nin, you have my permission to use your tenant's power."

Naruto started before slowly nodding. "Agreed, Taichou."

"Taichou!" Sakura called, ending their conversation. "I've done the analysis. Turns out these two are bastard brothers and Meizu has a latent Kekkei Genkei we may be able to study. Should we keep him?"

"Yes. Bag and tag the other brother but give Meizu a relatively clean kill."

Sakura nodded before grimacing and covering Meizu's airways. He thrashed for a little bit, growing wilder as he felt the pain from this crippled limb, eyes wide and pupils narrow. Sakura avoided looking into his eyes, but faltered and saw them the split second before he died. She gasped and Meizu fell limp.

Kakashi resolved to talk to Sakura later as flinched and skittered away from Meizu's corpse as Naruto sealed it into a spare scroll. She closed her eyes as well when Naruto took out his sword and decapitated the unconscious Gozu in one slash of his sword. Blood spread and seeped into the earth as Naruto sealed Gozu's head into a separate scroll.

As Tazuna turned away and Sasuke prepared to incinerate Gozu and his blood, Naruto sat beside Sakura and held her close and comfortably while murmuring sweet assurances lowly into her ears. And as Sasuke burned them in a fiery inferno, Kakashi knelt beside her before whispering, "I'll make sure I write a recommendation for further medical training into the mission report."

But he thought back to his words: money, further training, or promotions really couldn't take the place of lost innocence or integrity. Kakashi realized then just how hard it was for the Sandaime, who loved every single man, woman, and child in his village, to watch and let his kids throw away their innocence in the name of the village. Kakashi felt that now more than ever for his kids.

And as he looked back to his own past, Kakashi pondered.

It really didn't seem right for people to be forced to give up their innocence at such a young age. It really didn't.

But in a world of war and deception, survival more probable, as it always had been, for those who'd lost their innocence sooner than later. Sensei, who promised that he would bring peace and change that, was dead.

Now more than ever, Kakashi truly wondered.

Who would bring peace to their world of war?

XxX

Naruto's clones sneezed as they followed Guruko and the girl following the hound.

Haku.

More than anything, Naruto and his clones wanted to reach out and comfort the person who'd lost everything to the Yondaime Mizukage (Water Shadow) and who'd truly shaped him more than any of his teachers.

But that was then. Haku could be protected later, if the original's plans worked. For now, the clones had a duty and that was to ensure backup came.

Haku currently was stealthily trying to intercept the dog that was running to provide backup. Here was the kicker.

The clones had to make sure that Haku followed the dog long enough that she would return to Zabuza after the fight with him had started, but also make sure the dog didn't get spooked right away and make sure that they didn't let Haku know they were following the masked shinobi while still remaining stealthy in their pursuit. If they were correct, Haku would try to stop Guruko without outright confronting the hound. And the only way Haku could do that was to…

"Fuuton: Ranryu (Wind Release: Turbulence)," whispered one of the four clones following Haku. Already, the needles flew silently, but with the imperceptible shifting breeze, they didn't fly true to their target and missed Guruko without letting Haku or the dog know they were there.

To that day, Haku would be puzzled as to why, over the entirety of the ten miles she'd painstakingly followed the ninja hound, none of her senbon hit the messenger hound, only for the last batch she threw to fly just ahead of dog only for it to get spooked and run faster than she could without using her mirrors. She was drained as it was and reaching Zabuza-sama would take longer than she'd prefer.

Protecting Zabuza was more important at that point when she returned instead of preventing backup from arriving.

XxX

Naruto was stolling along the path near where he fought Zabuza with his team and Zabuza following. Every single sentry clone he had created was busy cutting leaves multiple times at once as Asuma told him as he read a scroll on atmospheric pressure, which continued to amaze him. Seriously, controlling the weather by changing the atmospheric pressure? It'd take a shitload of chakra but damn if that wasn't cool.

SHLUNK!

"It's not time for hunting, Naruto," Sasuke sighed, though he noticeably tensed at the possibility of Zabuza being around. Naruto sighed as well. He'd actually killed the rabbit this time around, so he felt bad.

"Look at the pelt I just bloodied. It's a snow pelt and it's not even winter. Which means…"

SCHWANG!

"EVERYONE DUCK!" Kakashi roared as he threw Sakura and Tazuna with his body to the ground. Sasuke and Naruto quickly ducked.

SCHLUNK!

"Which means I'm here to fuck you with my sword," Zabuza casually said as he stood on the sword embedded in the tree.

"Better that bigass sword than your little wakazashi," Naruto snorted, "You get a twelve out of ten for overcompensation, No Brows."

"At least my oodachi sees some action, you little brat," Zabuza growled at Naruto. "I doubt you've pulled out your little knife for anything."

"Hey, when I want to put my zanbato through the ringer, I don't have to pay for some action. I just go out and find a target," Naruto said gleefully, waggling his eyebrows with a small smirk on his face.

Zabuza growled through his bandages but before he could retaliate, an irritated Sakura growled, "Are you seriously having a dick measuring contest with a missing-nin, Naruto?"

"Hey, I'm just saying I measure up a lot more than him, Sakura-chan," Naruto winked, "I mean, it's a little fishy that he's carrying around such a big sword."

Sasuke and Kakashi watched in disbelief as Zabuza jumped off his weapon and roared, "Maybe because I'm a member of the Kiri no Shinobigatana Shichinin Shu, you little brat!"

"Oh?" Naruto said with a fake tone of surprise as he made a hidden handsign to Sasuke, "Aren't you Kushimaru Kuriare? No, no, you're… Jinpachi, aren't you?"

A growl came almost from nowhere, since it didn't come from Zabuza, whose face was turned down in anger. A red, incorporeal grinning face that bared countless sharp death in the visage of a demon appeared behind the man whose arms blurred as he swung his massive blade with an almost inhuman roar, "I AM ZABUZA MOMOCHI!"

SLICE!

"Chikan Sutoraiku (Replacement Strike)!" Naruto shouted as the Iwa Bunshin (Rock Clone) he replaced with fell into smaller rocks, one of which he Kawarimid with to return in the air above his original spot. In an impressive display of Iaido, Naruto unsheathed his sword in an almost invisible blur and slashed it at Kubikiriboucho's handle, forcing Zabuza to let go of it lest he lose a few fingers.

CLANG!

The massive zanbato went flying in a spinning arc and sunk itself into the earth a few yards away from Zabuza. Quick as lightning, Sasuke had already activated his Sharingan and placed a wire just in front of where Zabuza stepped with one of his feet and Sasuke PULLED as hard as he could. The man who'd already extended himself tumbled to the ground and was prey to Sakura's paralysis poison-tipped senbon.

SPLASH!

The needles only sunk into water as Kakashi grabbed the only other Zabuza in the clearing in a hold with a kunai at the bob of his throat.

"Before we proceed any further with this fight," Kakashi growled both at Zabuza and his students, "One of my operatives would like to speak with you."

Naruto sighed. "Right."

"And what makes you think I even want to speak to a little brat like you?" Zabuza sneered as the man in Kakashi's grasp fell apart into water.

Kakashi jumped back next to Naruto. "We'll have to use my tried and true method: beat his and his partner's asses before they talk. Do you have any sedatives?" Naruto muttered.

Kakashi nodded. "Poisoned needles. I'll use them when I have the chance." Then, in a louder tone of voice, "Don't worry, kids. I'll take Zabuza on."

"Oho?" came the voice of the former Kiri shinobi whose hands were raised as a thick fog rolled in. Kakashi's and Sasuke's Sharingan were revealed, allowing them to copy the jutsu, but Zabuza didn't care. "So it is you, Kakashi Hatake. The Copy Nin of the Leaf, huh? Said to have copied over a thousand jutsu; last I checked, you're worth a pretty penny in the Bingo Book. Maybe I should turn you over to Iwagakure (Village Hidden in the Stones)."

Kakashi snarled in memory of the village that had taken his best friend's life. "Just try." He already found a weakness in the mist Zabuza had created. But perhaps it was time for some common sense. "Raiton: Jibashi (Lightning Release: Electromagnetic Murder)!" Sure, Sasuke would copy this one, too, but he'd beaten the dangers of using lightning into the boys head.

The powerful burst of electricity lit up the mist that was only just ahead of them, "Step back!" Kakashi roared as his team jumped away from the flashing mist.

The water in the lake and air spread the powerful current. "Arrrgh!" shouted a still hidden Zabuza. "Errgh…"

"I can't believe you didn't realize that a lightning jutsu couldn't use your water as a conductor," Kakashi said, half amused. "What are you, an idiot?"

A growl came from the mist, "How about you eat those words!"

The mist and waters shifted, the mist growing less dense as Zabuza became more visible among the now shifting, crackling waters. "Suiton: Suiryuudan (Water Style: Water Dragon Bullet)!"

True, Kakashi and Sasuke copied the jutsu, but their faces were fearful ones as a crackling water and electricity dragon rose from the mist and lake to splash down on everyone.

"Whatever you do, dodge it!" Kakashi yelled. A Shadow Clone grabbed Tazuna while another grabbed Sakura as Naruto and his clones jumped as hard and high as they could above the trees. Kakashi leapt with Sasuke between tree branches before making to the sky as the large electricity-conducting dragon splashed down in a roar of raging currents and crackle of sparking lightning. The crackling energy remained for little time as the current discharged into the earth, a fraction of it remaining in patches of especially muddied and puddled earth. "You and I will try to hypnotize him," Kakashi muttered to the airborne Sasuke as the pair came to land. The silver haired man shot a look to Naruto that the blonde immediately understood as he himself relayed orders to Sakura.

"If you see a chance to take him down with your senbon, take it," Naruto hissed as he pocketed his shades with a ephemeral blast of chakra as he focused on preparing a trick he'd been working on since he started fighting Ripper.

Zabuza ran to his sword, weaving through Sakura and Kakashi's needles, dodging Kakashi's just barely, only to be tripped up by a wire wrapped around his ankle by a wire a few feet from his blade by Sasuke. The wire was gritted between his teeth as he wished he could just try and sever the foot.

"Katon: Ryuuka no Jutsu (Fire Release: Dragon Fire Technique)!"

Zabuza growled and chuckled madly as the fire approached him. A purple aura surrounded him in the frightening visage of a demon as with pure strength and chakra, he ripped his foot through the wire and jumped to his sword just as the flame exploded where he once was.

Naruto breathed as he opened his glowing blue eyes as he guarded Tazuna. His eyes had a dark glint to them as he concentrated more power; his face curled into a hungry grin. Meanwhile, Zabuza cackled. "Nice try, Uchiha rat! But you'll need far more to kill me!" Instead of proceeding to cut down Sasuke in revenge, Zabuza ran to fulfill the original purpose of his arrival: to kill Tazuna. Kakashi's eyes widened. "Naruto!" he shouted in worry. He quickly made handsigns and slammed his hand on the ground but the man had already reached Naruto.

'Help me out guys!' Naruto furiously thought while he simultaneously slashed his sword forth, braced himself against the ground with chakra, and prepared his little surprise.

XxX

Kurama grinned as he licked his lips. The Rikudo Sennin looked on at the fox as he shook his head. He could not help the boy with the fox's power. Only once a year would it work, for the influence the Sage had on his soul diminished greatly after using his power. The only reason Naruto could still contact him was because of the sword.

This… what would happen with the fox would only be within Naruto's control or how little he let it happen. And…

The Sage looked at the blond walking out of the cage with a sick, hungry grin as he stepped forth into Naruto's conscience, the ancient hero's eyes stony.

His.

The red-eyed lad only smirked more as he helped Kurama shape a form worthy of himself. Ripper was right.

They were monsters and so a monster's form they would have.

XxX

CLANG!

Zabuza's eyes gleamed in hunger and delight at the boy who was before him. The blond sweated for an instant as they clashed their blades, the boy's much smaller than his, but he saw two things that were just wonderful.

A blue ghost behind him. The boy was manifesting his power in a way quite like his own, partly to intimidate him but also because he, too, had the strength of chakra Zabuza possessed. It was a skeletal animal, monstrous… with horns and a bony tail.

A fox?

But what delighted him truly was what he saw for a split second. The boys eyes…

They were the same as his own.

The thirst for battle that Zabuza normally felt, saw in the mirror everyday, was reflected in the boy's eyes. Oh…

He was so fucking happy. There was another demon… but in Konoha.

Zabuza jumped back instinctively as the ghost disappeared and dogs burst from the earth where he once stood… but it would come back, he would make sure of it.

He cackled even louder as he targeted the boy. This time, though, Naruto was ready and ran at the man. He had no name for his technique but he made one on the spot. A screaming tempest adorned his blade as he swung his enhanced blade downward at the rising cleaver, arms pumped with reinforcing chakra.

"Kizu (Scar)!" he screamed as he cleaved his blade almost hammer-like at the mad butcher's sword, skeletal fox shining once more to Zabuza's delight and surprise.

SKRIIIIIIIIII-!

A loud screech accompanied the clash between the blades for a moment before Naruto and Kyuseishuken cut straight through the Kubikiriboucho. Zabuza's eyes widened and the dogs finally made their attack in his moment of weakness.

"Argh!" Zabuza growled as the smaller dogs chomped onto his softer flesh and his arms to immobilize him while Bull tackled him to the ground. As per Kakashi's orders, however, they did not disable him. In a flash, Kakashi knelt by him and before he could force a Sharingan genjutsu onto the man, two needles made their way into his neck. Kakashi stood over the seemingly dead man, eyes narrowed and alert. A masked hunter-nin clad in a kimono with long black hair appeared in front of Kakashi, chest silently and almost imperceptibly heaving in exhaustion.

Haku contained her heavy breathing as she just managed to put Zabuza in a near death state just before Kakashi of the Sharingan could kill him.

"Thank you…" Haku managed to say bowing but keeping her guard up whilst speaking a stiff manner reminiscent of most shinobi who meet other ninja from different Hidden Villages. "I've been tracking Zabuza for a long time… and now – "

"Oh, no problem, hunter-san!" Naruto interrupted with a huge grin as we gave a little casual wave. "We understand your job. If you want, we'll burn up his body for you!" As he said that, he formed handsigns, which didn't alarm Kakashi at all. Haku tensed and –

"Katon: Gokakyu no Jutsu (Fire Release: Grand Fireball)!"

A massive ball of fire roared quickly towards Zabuza's stiff body. And just before it did, Haku Shunshinned quickly to Zabuza's body and an icy wall of mirrors sprung up to literally take the heat. Just before she could flee, Sakura, at an advantage due to Haku's exhausted state and wearied reflexes, melted silently out of the earth behind Haku and managed to jab the fake hunter-nin with a sedative-tipped needle. The androgynous nin stiffened before falling over. Kakashi gave a little grin beneath his facemask as he lowered his headband over his Sharingan eye. 'I see she caught Naruto's secret message. His waving hand. And she's made pretty good use of that jutsu I taught her.'

"Good job, team!" Kakashi cheerfully said. "We've captured our intended missing-nin and a fake hunter-nin! Sakura, make sure you keep them under stasis, okay?"

Sakura took off Haku's mask and paused, the entire team excepting Kakashi awed slightly at the teen's looks. Long black hair highlighted the girl's pale face. The dark brown eyes, hidden by the unconscious eyelids were large and slightly entrancing to look at. Sasuke wasn't too impressed… I mean, he was a bishi for Sennin's sake, he saw that same sight in the mirror everyday!

Naruto… well, he'd seen Haku before and was still slightly awed at the boy(?)'s prettiness.

"Wow," Sakura thought aloud, "She's a looker," she said, growing slightly spiteful at the end as she discretely peered at Sasuke who didn't look for too long. Naruto looked at Haku's face, with a warm smile unknowingly covering it as he looked at his once-friend's face.

'Haku,' he thought, 'I will save you this time.' Then his brain caught up to Sakura's statement.

"Girl?" he asked, dumbfounded. "You mean boy, right?" Sakura snickered.

"I didn't know you were so gender-confused that you'd think someone with this face and without an Adam's apple could be a boy. Tell me, should I let Sasuke live with me?" she said with a wink to Sasuke, "I'm afraid you might molest your poor female roommate."

"Fuck you," Sasuke and Naruto simultaneously snarled to her, making her giggle, as their words caught up with them and they looked away from each other. No yaoi or he-she-love would happen between them, damnit! "And I'm a boy, Sakura, Naruto," Sasuke growled pointedly. Naruto only looked away as Sakura giggled even harder.

Sakura let a green glow cover her hands as she concentrated and affixed and transmitted the medical chakra into Haku and Zabuza's brains and cores. "Say, Naruto," Sakura asked while removing the needles after affirming they didn't kill Zabuza or that he would wake up after she pulled them free, "How did you know that was a fake hunter-nin and not a real one? For all we knew, there could've been a real one after him."

"Hey, you didn't die trying to incapacitate her, did you?" Naruto said, distracted by the latest revelation. 'Haku… is a girl?'

My god, Pinkie is right: you ARE gender-confused. Does that mean you think the branded Hyuuga is a woman?

'Neji is not a chick!' Naruto mentally screamed, shuddering at the thought. Sakura, in the meantime, fumed at Naruto's answer but didn't hit him.

'Now is not the time,' she thought irritably.

"Hey, Sakura, what was that jutsu you used to sneak up behind Haku, anyway?" Naruto asked. With a tic on her forehead from his latest response, she answered.

"Ask sensei, idiot." Naruto sighed.

'Women get pissed so easily.'

While Naruto thought his slightly sexist thoughts, Kakashi piped up. "Operatives," his team brought themselves to attention, "We have a change to the agenda: transport the prisoners. We will bring them to Tazuna's place of residence and proceed to negotiations in persuading them to defect to Konoha and help us with our mission of protecting Tazuna. Backup is coming in case we need it to fight off any additional shinobi. Should the need call for it, we shall also deal with Gato."

Naruto nodded and proceeded to make two clones to carry Zabuza and Haku while a relieved Tazuna led them to his home just as the world went dark.

Boss Fight Completed! 'Zabuza Momochi and Haku: Version 4'! 'Kubikiribouchou' Obtained! Strength: +7! Perception: +9! Chakra: +7! Agility: +2! Luck: +2! Bonus: Stealth: +4! Youki Control: +10%! Ninjutsu: +10! Kenjutsu: +10! Wind Affinity: +10! Wind Control: +10! Learned Aura: 'Demon of the Leaf'! Experience Gained: 553!

Naruto watched the large mass of words go rolling down before him without complaint, though he gained a small smirk at the sight of this 'Aura' and how much experience he gained. 'Must be the shroud I made. We did kinda trash them, though.' The massive wind bonuses was probably delayed from the great control he now had over from the exercises.

Level Up! Level 13! Stats Gained:

Strength: +4!

Perception: +5!

Endurance: +4!

Charisma: +4!

Chakra: +5!

Intelligence: +4!

Agility: +3!

Luck: +3!

Bonus: Stealth: +3!

Bonus: Poison Skill: +1!

Bonus: Chakra Sensing: +2!

Bonus: Speech: +2!

Ninjutsu, Taijutsu, Genjutsu, Kenjutsu, Fuuinjutsu: +3!

The power-ups coalesced into one great mass that swirled into… a small orange and blue pill that quickly started its life as a REALLY healthy suppository.

XxX

The three higher powers laughed at when they heard his screaming. Truly, mortals were amusing. And his pain was just musical.

I mean, who wouldn't laugh seeing a guy get something shoved up his ass?

XxX

'I think Kakashi has gone crazy,' Hiruzen thought furiously to himself. 'An S-rank? Against his team? I wouldn't risk it no matter how much the country could be worth to Konoha! But… he is of an S-rank himself… It is insane, but perhaps I shall send backup and not abort this mission,' the Sandaime thought as he chewed his pipe. 'Who do I send?'

Asuma had been hinting at wanting for a C-rank mission his team… though this could hardly be called a C-rank mission anymore. Though the C-ranks had been surprisingly sparse as of late, that didn't justify sending in a practically worthless support team in the face of an S-rank criminal. And he couldn't spare too many more ANBU or Jonin to fight this S-rank nin. Though…

'Argh,' he both mentally and physically groaned. 'If I think about this far too hard, I will go insane. Perhaps…'

"Alright," he growled to himself, "Aoba, Genma, and Asuma. Ebisu will temporarily command Team 10 for the duration of the mission. And perhaps…" He pressed a button to access a radio link between him and his secretary.

"Call in Aoba Yamashiro, Genma Shiranui, Asuma Sarutobi," he commanded authoritatively, "…and Danzo Shimura."

XxX

Kakuzu looked at the dead body he held before looking at the messenger before him. The kid (everyone was a kid compared to him) was trembling with a contract in hand. And here he was with a contract to complete… he was in no mans land and he didn't have any storage scrolls he could use to transport the body: the latest bounty had burned his tool pouch.

Kakuzu felt like sighing and growling. He was far too old for this shit. He quickly snatched the contract from the boy and quickly read it over, feeling a small surge of delight at the clause to kill Zabuza afterwards and the note promising more work for him – he meant Akatsuki.

He shook his head. He had to contain his greed sometimes. Kakuzu signed the contract before giving a quick growl.

"Get out of here." The boy nodded before scampering away –

"Oh…" the boy froze. "And leave your money."

How else would he pay for the food he wanted? Food wasn't cheap.

But others' lives sure were.

XxX

"This is quite the surprise, Hiruzen," Danzo dryly noted as he talked quite familiarly with his old friend. "I would have thought you would prefer me and my… comrades to remain hidden in the shadows of Konoha."

"Perhaps. Perhaps I merely called you here to kill you," Sarutobi commented quietly. "But we have an S-rank to worry about right now. I'd like one of your operatives to come along as backup."

Danzo raised his chin slightly. "I can only fathom why the Hokage," he intoned, with barest of traces of sarcasm in his voice, "would not have faith in his soldiers. Why bother with overkill? Why bother with what you abhor?"

Hiruzen was quiet as he puffed on his pipe. "…To ensure the protection of my son," he said in a neutral, quiet monotone.

Danzo raised his visible eyebrow. "You can lie to me, Hiruzen. You would not lower yourself purely due to sentimentality… but I shall not question you now. Later, when the mission is done, you will tell me why you require my elite operatives. But I shall answer your request." He bowed before making to leave for the room.

"Remember your place, Danzo," Hiruzen spoke with bloody steel in his tone to the turned Danzo. Had he been able to see Danzo's face, Hiruzen would see the faintest trace of a smirk on the man's face.

"By your leave, Sandaime-sama."

XxX

"…Why are you here?"

Gaara knelt before his father. He despised him. If he didn't need him and if his father was without his dust, he'd entertain the idea of killing him on the spot. But that was not the point.

"I am here… to carry on the legacy of my predecessors. And to better control… Shukaku." He yearned to call the demon Mother as the mad beast had instilled in him years ago but tried being the charismatic person his father had trained him to be.

Telling him what he what wanted to hear was one thing and his father wouldn't believe it. But not telling him what he didn't want to hear? That would sound somewhat believeable.

The man raised his eyebrows. "You have finally gained some semblance of control? After killing Karura and Yashamaru, all it took was nearly dying in an A-rank mission?"

Gaara refrained from snarling at the mention of Yashamaru or his mother. How dare he… But he was a master of facial expression. His team (or rather he) had decided to trade up from B-ranks and attempt an A-rank. His weakling brother and sister almost died, but he saved them because otherwise his current plan would not come to fruition. The job was to kill a Kirigakure former Jonin now missing-nin. They were, unfortunately, in the missing-nin's territory as they had taken chase and were a little tired after chasing him.

Then they realized they were at the border of the sea. And there wasn't really much of a beach. Droves of water clones occupied Baki as the man took a gleeful look at Gaara and his siblings.

He had a rapturous expression at the thought of killing his siblings and doing… distasteful things to his sister. Gaara had felt a twinge of annoyance at the man's words but dismissed them as his own irritation at the man being rather loud. Then, he said something that made Gaara think.

"Akatsuki would pay a fortune for you, Gaara no Sabaku! Or should I say Shukaku?"

Apparently there was some organization out to steal Mother from him. But he needed Mother. She protected him. And he in turn gave her blood.

A symbiosis in validating his own existence.

Thus, a terrible clash began between the water wielding shinobi. What didn't help was that the shinobi – his name wasn't really worthy of remembering –kept getting soaking his sand, making it slow and sluggish. He'd kept still, trying to avoid the waters when the man revealed he had more than just water jutsu.

Earth jutsu, apparently. Thus it was to great surprise that Gaara was cut in several places by the man's rocky spikes. He would have lost control at the sight of his own blood… but his father had promised quite the subjugation should he rampage in borders not his own; an international incident was absolutely out of the question. So, Gaara only screamed but did not transform.

He realized that his old tactics of flooding the area with sand or just merely crushing them with sand was not enough. The man had turned all of mother's sand into muddy clumps, too heavy to be controlled in time. He had a seal in hand, ready to subjugate Gaara with… only to realize that the person he placed it on was a Suna Bunshin (Sand Clone). The sand streamed into a coffin, immobilizing the Kiri missing-nin, and Gaara was ready to crush him but he hesitated for a moment. He never really did. But one question rang through his mind.

Who wanted Mother? He asked that question, promising the man freedom. He was no longer high and mighty as he babbled with fright. A group of S-rank criminals. They wanted Mother, making Gaara come to the conclusion they wanted all of Mother's family. Mother snarled at the thought of mortals coming to take her.

LET THEM COME! Shukaku screamed. WE WILL BURY AND CRUSH THEM AND WATER THE DESERT WITH OCEANS OF BLOOD!

Gaara clutched his head in pain at the loud tone of Mother. She was angry.

Very angry and thirsty.

"Give me names," Gaara demanded, his final request, unclenching his hand and slightly loosening the sand.

"Sasori hired me! K-Kisame was with me!" he whimpered. "That's all I know. You promised me freedom!"

SQUELCH!

The water clones fell apart as the man died in an explosion of blood. At such proximity, Gaara's Suna no Yoroi (Sand Armor) and clothing became doused in blood. His siblings and sensei looked cautiously at the panting exhausted Gaara. They expected his face to be curled into a mad grin.

But the boy's bloody face was only contemplative.

Crazy, he was. Powerful, he was. Insane, he was.

Stupid was not one of the adjectives that could be used to describe the youngest son of the Yondaime Kazekage.

Mother's sand was powerful… very powerful… but not enough. He'd heard the stories. Sasori had supposedly killed the Sandaime Kazekage, possibly stronger than his father, an S-rank shinobi. Sasori had destroyed a country. All with puppets.

Kisame Hoshigake could do far worse than the jonin he'd killed. S-rank shinobi were supposed to be leagues above jonin… and Gaara had nearly been killed by a jonin.

He wasn't strong enough yet. He had to fix that to validate his existence and please Mother.

Which was why he was here. "I have come to release that the sands are not perfect. They cannot always protect me. The sands are powerful… but not as powerful as the iron sands. Or the gold dusts."

His father, Haru, snorted. "Why would I hand you more power? And what makes you believe you have the gift of Jiton (Magnet Release) that the Sandaime and I possess?"

Gaara would not budge. "The Sandaime learned it through observance of Shukaku's sands. It is no bloodline limit. And I… I am the living weapon of Sunagakure (Village Hidden in the Sand). I am your weapon," he softly crooned. "What good is a weapon without the capability to shield itself? To fight with more than just one tool? Though It is my duty to uphold the might of Sunagakure and the legacy of the Kazekage… and…" Gaara paused before pushing forth into a painful topic for him and his father, "Consider it a… last duty as a father." At that, his father's eyes narrowed. "Perhaps my curse is my mother's parting spite. But allow me the warmth not of desert suns… but of a father's protection, a father's strength."

Haru paced around Gaara, examining the boy. The boy felt his urge to kill the silent man slightly rise, but held it within. The most effective monsters, as he once read, are the ones that look human, the ones that can hide the inhuman lust for blood.

Haru stopped. "I am not stupid."

Gaara froze. "I know you still seek the blood of innocents, the blood of your foes, and death to all who oppose your existence. You want to kill me so very, very much right now."

"You are right," admitted Gaara.

Haru chuckled morbidly. "That frankness. It's refreshing. I will, in turn, be frank with you." Haru looked Gaara in the eyes.

"I see you've started to change." Gaara cocked an eyebrow. "Since your brush with death, you've stopped using murder over the power of your mind… and instead have started to think. You do not solely push an issue with power… but you think with your mind, you speak with charisma." Gaara's father chuckled. "I did not believe you had it in you to use a bullshit line like 'fatherly duty'. After all, you yourself said that these ties of blood were worthless. But you have started to think. And that," Haru spoke with a slight chuckle.

"That is what pleases and frightens me most. But perhaps we can both benefit from this idea you propose."

"Speak."

"The Chunin Exams loom in the future five months from now. The Daimyo," he spoke, lip curling at the mention of the sovereign, "has been giving most of our missions and funding to Konohagakure. These exams will be held in Konoha. Here is what I propose: I will tutor you in exchange for three things. First, you put on some semblance of a mask and tune out Shukaku as much as you can at these Chunin Exams. You will be entered with Baki, Kankuro, and Temari. Act with some stability in public and provide a more than respectable showing and the Daimyo will likely have a good enough impression of our village and of me to listen to my persuasions."

Gaara paused before nodding, "That is acceptable." He had acted so far. He could keep acting.

"Second, I would like for you to continue to think. Do not always rely on the demon. Your mind and your own power can be more formidable than that a massive, mindless demon."

Though he could see the logic, Gaara still grew a bit irritated and tried to ignore the headache created by Shukaku's outrage at the insult. "Acceptable."

"And third…" Haru paused before speaking, fire in his eyes. "Upon my death or my stepping down, you will take up the mantle of Godaime Kazekage and bring our nation to greatness."

Gaara paused, silent… and partly angry, partly intrigued. He wondered why his father had practically given him the title of Kazekage.

"You hold no love for me or this village. I understand that. I understand I haven't been the greatest father to you as well…" Haru said with a sigh. "Did you ever wonder why I did some of the things I did? Why did I groom you to be my heir instead of Kankuro or Temari? Why did I make the so-called monster," he asked, putting a trace of distaste in the word monster not to convey hate to Gaara but loathing of the term used to describe his son, "so ready to be my successor, the only possible successor?"

"Because I am the ultimate spear and the ultimate shield of the village."

"Gaara… ever since two years ago, I stopped thinking in pain. In anger. In remorse at the loss of Karura." They both flinched at her name but Haru forged on. "Why did I still send the assassins to you? Because you enjoyed it. I have not been the best father, but I knew you drew some pleasure in killing them. You, Kankuro, and Temari were groomed initially because there is a code of conduct expected of the family of the Kages… but I kept grooming you. A few thoughts ran through my mind before I did. And it took nearly losing you today to truly make me realize something." Gaara's eyes were wide as the Kazekage's hand hesitantly fell upon his son's, not stopped by the automatic protection of the sand.

"No matter what… you're my son. I… do love you Gaara. Do not forget that." The moment was unbroken for a moment before Haru's hand was pushed away by the sand. Gaara turned to leave the room. Just before he left, he spoke.

"We begin training tomorrow… Father." Gaara's expression was unreadable but just before he closed the screen door, Haru spoke, too.

"Gaara… for what it is worth, I faintly believe Karura did love you… I just thought you should know that."

Haru's eyes burned and the sun shone through his and Gaara's hair, as Gaara left, heart clenched and head throbbing from Shukaku's roars. Haru resumed staring out at the sands, the tiniest of smiles crossing his face.

'I will make him strong. He is Sunagakure's future… and he is yours, Karura. I will try to be a better father and a better Kazekage,' Haru thought.

'After all… he is your living legacy.'

XxX

The man knelt in the darkness to the bandaged old veteran. "You have your mission by the Sandaime. Do not forget your other assignment. You will survive. You are among my most useful operatives."

In his regular monotone, the man replied.

"Yes, Danzo-sama."

XxX

"You have all been gathered to provide back up for an S-rank or higher mission." Those weren't the words the Tokubetsu Jonin necessarily expected, but that's what they got. Asuma, who was a bit more accustomed to S-ranks, was a little less fazed but still surprised it was backup.

"S-rank? Where's Raido then?" Genma asked, looking around.

"The three of you will not be working together for this assignment partly because Operative Namiashi is out on a covert A-rank mission and partly because the Hiraishin (Flying Thunder God) will not be required for this mission." Genma nodded, though he and Aoba felt a little down their friend wouldn't be backing them up. Asuma, however, asked the question on all three's minds, "Who are we backing up and for what purpose, Hokage-sama?"

"You will be backing up Team 7 under Operative Hatake." They were so shocked, Aoba's jaw dropped and Asuma and Genma dropped their respective cigarette and senbon.

"Those kids are doing an S-rank?" Asuma asked recovering. "That's…"

"An unfortunate turn of circumstance. You see, apparently there is an S-rank missing-nin involved in this mission who will be coming to Nami no Kuni to kill the client. Given as he speaks for the entirety of Nami no Kuni, with our aid, it would be likely we could secure favorable trade relations or perhaps," the Sandaime spoke in a steely tone of voice before pausing.

"Perhaps we could outright annex Nami no Kuni."

Silence reigned so powerfully throughout the room for a moment; one could possibly hear a pin drop and roll.

Then the moment ended.

"…How very Danzo of you, Hokage-sama," Asuma responded coolly. He didn't flinch when his father turned a burning orb on him. But he did feel like stepping back when he felt the man's enormous presence of being fill the room. Aoba and Genma's eyes widened as the legendary Sandaime felt… irritation.

"We both want what is best for Konoha," Hiruzen spoke with such power, such finality that it would be true no matter what they said. "And speaking of my former teammate… we have one of his shinobi waiting outside the door to go with you."

The door slid open at that and a man covered up by full-body coat that covered almost every extremity. He wore fingerless gloves. Dark goggles covered his eyes. His face was expressionless and his mouth was pulled into a face so straight, it put lines to shame.

"I am Torune," he spoke in a monotone regular to himself but not others.

XxX

After their briefing, the four retrieved supplies necessary for a long mission and sealed them within their own skin. Torune, Asuma, Aoba, and Genma assembled in the Hokage's office not thirty minutes later. A dog stood by their leader.

"This is Guruko," Hiruzen explained. "He is a familiar of the Inu Clan and he will be aiding you with your transportation."

The dog gave a quick bark as an affirmative before speaking, "As soon as Kakashi-san gives me the go ahead and sends Pakkun to complete the link, we'll be reverse summoned to the Inu Clan's caves and then summoned to Nami no Kuni in no time! It shouldn't be too long now!"

So they waited there for five minutes, unmoving, although the non-ROOT members fidgeted around the end before Guruko gave a quick sniff. "Hmm! I've received the signal! Hold on tight and don't let go! Being summoned in any way is quite the doozy."

The four silently grabbed the foxlike hound and a moment later, they disappeared in a poof of smoke, leaving the Sandaime with his thoughts and his ANBU guard.

'I hope you know what you're doing, Naruto,' Hiruzen thought as his clenched his pipe in his teeth, lighting it up to relax.

Even he, the Kami no Shinobi (God of Shinobi), would be uneasy at the prospect of fighting an S-rank.

That didn't bode well for the blond Jinchuuriki. Not well at all.

XxX Five Minutes Earlier… XxX

"Yoooo!" bellowed a drunk, happy Tazuna. "Tsunami! Inari! I'm hooome!"

"I knew I should've taken his bottle," muttered Sasuke.

"Dad!" A pretty woman with dark hair walked into the foyer and was assaulted by the smell and sight of a wet grandfather and his less wet shinobi team. "Get inside, people might see you!" she scolded.

The team had fallen out of the boat they'd taken into town and were still wet from it. Tazuna… well, he was drunk so he splashed water and got even more drenched. Team 7 wasn't so wet since Sasuke used a fire jutsu to dry off slightly but left no warmth for Tazuna since the man ruined his precious hair.

Nobody touched the precious.

Kakashi entered the conversation smoothly, one eye raking up and down the form of Tazuna's daughter subtly as he slowly took off his vest, leaving him in his skin-tight, soaked standard issue jumpsuit, "You must be the super-beautiful daughter Tazuna-san mentioned."

A hint of red unnoticeable to everyone except Naruto and Kakashi crept onto Tsunami's cheeks but she wasn't all that flustered, "And you must be the… capable ninja my father hired to protect him."

Kakashi nodded, flinging a few droplets of water from his silver hair. "That is correct." Only Naruto knew what was going on since he'd spent quite a few years of his youth, before he started living with Sasuke, in districts lit with red lanterns.

As it turned out, Kakashi was an old hand at seduction.

The blond was a little annoyed with the man for trying to get some with his little brother figure's mother, but he wouldn't try to blatantly stop Kakashi.

Not yet, anyway. He wouldn't want his teacher to cockblock him in the future.

"So where is the super cute grandson the old drunk mentioned?" Naruto asked with just the slightest hints of annoyance with his teacher and the situation as he subtly emphasized that Tsunami was a mother.

The aforementioned mother blinked. "Oh! Inari! Come down! Your grandfather's home!" she called turning her head towards the stairs.

Kakashi gave Naruto a stare that made the blond uncomfortable and little more pissed off as Tsunami was turned away. Apparently, everything subtle was blatant with Kakashi. As the young boy started stepping down the stairs, Tsunami turned back the team and smiled. "You must be tired of the dampness. Give me your clothes and I'll dry them out for you." The team nodded and went upstairs to change as Kakashi walked into the kitchen and took off the top portion of his jumpsuit and gave it to Tsunami, not all too interested in meeting the grandson. His scarred frame was hit by the sunlight as Inari came down. He stepped out onto the lawn and into the trees. Tsunami blushed as she saw the man without his shirt.

She was kind of annoyed the man still wore his mask, however.

Maybe she could… persuade him to remove it later.

XxX

Kakashi bit his thumb and drew blood.

"Kuchiyose no Jutsu (Summoning Technique)." He waited for a moment before two dogs and four men, three familiar, one not so familiar, appeared before him in a large puff of smoke. He fell to a knee, both to pet Pakkun and Guruko and to pass through the slight wave of tiredness summoning so many people brought. "Thank you, Pakkun, Guruko. I'll make sure to bring those mango biscuits you love so much next time I come visit."

"We'll hold you to that Kakashi," came the gruff voice of his favorite pug as Guruko nodded in agreement, "We'll see you later."

Kakashi turned to the four men. "I know three of you operatives here. Not the fourth. What is your name, operative?"

The hooded man answered with his usual monotone, "I am Torune."

"Specialties or particular talents you have."

"Torture, Interrogation, Tracking, Reconnaissance, Taijutsu, Kenjutsu, and I am particularly good at attacking enemies without them seeing my method of attack." Kakashi paused at that before looking over the man.

"Aoba, Genma, Asuma, you three will stay in town. Conduct some reconnaissance. Try guarding the bridge temporarily. My team and I will pick up from you when we reach there. You will have to camp out in the woods or find board in the town, though be warned that prices are cutthroat. Perhaps literally."

The three shinobi nodded before disappearing in respective swirls of leaves. Kakashi turned back to Torune.

"Aburame-san… why did Danzo send you here?"

Torune didn't even bat an eye as he remained silent nor did he feel impressed Kakashi deduced his "clan affiliation".

"…Why exactly did Hokage-sama send you here?"

"My superiors said it was to protect his son."

Kakashi knew that couldn't be the only reason. 'Hokage-sama can't be all that worried about Asuma; he's a grown, accomplished shinobi,' he mused for a second, 'To protect his son…' Then it came to him. 'Perhaps you deserve to be called the Professor, Sandaime-sama.'

"Then you will stay with the other three. You heard what I said to them, you have the same thing. Tell them and yourself to report back to me three times a day."

Torune nodded. "Taichou."

The man disappeared in a swirl of leaves.

Kakashi frowned. Protect his son, huh? It was likely he meant his sensei's son. But why did Naruto specifically have to be protected?

What did the Sandaime know that they didn't?

XxX

Naruto blinked as he came down and saw Tsunami at the stove, Inari looking at him unblinkingly from the table.

"Hello. You must be Inari," Naruto said, his smile growing slightly as he remembered the changed boy.

"You're going to die." Ah, right, he was still a little bitch.

"The day I die is the day the world starts over just to give me another chance," Naruto spoke with a shit-eating grin.

"Hmph," Inari grumbled, "I guess that day will come soon. Gato's gonna kill you all. You won't be able to touch him, no one can!"

"Geez kid," Naruto said, knowing his next move was gonna make him feel like an asshole, "Didn't your mom or dad ever teach you not to be so negative?" Inari's eyes widened and he ran back upstairs.

"Inari!" Tsunami yelled, turning around after hearing the D-word. "I'm sorry, Naruto-san… he's never usually so negative around guests. His… his father's a sore topic around here, so…"

"No, I should be saying sorry, Tsunami-chan," Naruto sighed. "I saw the pictures in the dining room. I could tell he was hurting because of him; one of the pictures had a man ripped out."

Tsunami's eyes narrowed. "Why would you bring him up then?"

"Scars scab over. In order for you to begin healing those scars… you've gotta scratch or just rip off the scab," Naruto said, forcing a sad smile on his face. He'd moved on from the sadness and rage of knowing his father had condemned him. Naruto never knew him. He couldn't really care too much. All he knew is that his dad needed a punch in the gut.

He didn't feel right provoking Inari… nor did he feel right acting for Tazuna's family like he was now… but that was his mission. His chest hurt when he saw Tsunami sadly smile right back at him.

The deepest scars are not the ones inflicted by others but the ones you inflict upon yourself, the ones you create through your own actions.

Naruto was covered with them.

Unnoticed by the blond Jinchuuriki, a harsh laugh rang through his mind. A blond boy with eyes crimson like the blood he wanted coating his fingers gave a sick grin as he finished the thought Naruto had unknowingly left unfinished.

Scars only scabbed when the wound closed.

"Some of your wounds… are still open, Naruto." The grin grew ever more malicious as the boy laughed even harder and more maniacally.

"And those wounds will soon swallow you whole."

Crimson eyes gleamed in the cackling void.

XxX Chapter End XxX

Don't you enjoy the crazy stories that leave endings that chill you?

I fucking love them.

Slight cliffhangers are kinda nice. Abrupt endings like this… aren't really, but they are necessary unless you want to read a 20,000+ chapter.

Naruto's Stats: Level 13:

Strength: 87 (7)

Perception: 84 (3)

Endurance: 72 (9)

Charisma: 67 (7)

Chakra: 71 (9)

Intelligence: 124 (3)

Agility: 78 (3)

Luck: 70 (6)

Stealth: +77 (Base Stat: 30)

Bonus: Poison Skill: +45 (Base Stat: 12)

Bonus: Chakra Sensing: +43 (Base Stat: 18)

Bonus: Speech: +55 (Base Stat: 25)

Bonus: Torture: +28 (Base Stat: 12)

Ninjutsu: +42 (Base Skill: 15)

Taijutsu: +20 (Base Skill: 5)

Genjutsu: +13 (Base Skill: 0)

Kenjutsu: +34 (Base Skill: 0)

Fuuinjutsu: +28 (Base Skill: 15)

Wind Affinity: +33 (Base Skill: 15)

Wind Control: +20 (Base Control: 0)

Youki Control: +39% (Base Control: 0%)

Battle Lust: 2.5X. Mental Effects = DEGRADING

Oh, and since you all were too lazy, I'm going to tell you the Champions.

'Ripper Through the Darkness': Raiden (MGS). –Did Ripper not tip people off?

'The Renegade Four': The Winds of Destruction (Khamsin, Mistal, Monsoon, Khamsin), (MGS). –Renegade is the synonym of 'Desperado'.

'Fire of Greed': Senator Armstrong (MGS). –Lyrics from his battle theme.

'Scarred Spirit': Lich King (Arthas Menethil), (WoW). –How did no body get this from the inscription on Frostmourne?

'Size Doesn't Matter': Edward Elric (FMA). –You're not gonna hear ME calling him short.

'Nameless Man': Scar (FMA). –That's not his real name, it's literally a moniker. Described as nameless.

'The Little Family': Pride, Lust, Sloth, Gluttony, Envy, Wrath, Greed (FMA). –'Homunculus' means 'little man' hence Little Family.

'Four Psychopaths': Cammy, Abel, Rose, M. Bison (Street Fighter). –The ones with Psycho Power (not technically Rose, but she was possessed so yeah).

PUT SOME FUCKING EFFORT INTO FIGURING OUT PEOPLE. PLEASE.

Read, review, and fucking enjoy. Thanks. I may try writing an actually book someday. Expect the next update to be DIBAD.

King, signing out.