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Jikan no Kurasshu

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A/N: Oks, heys ya’ll! It’s Kuro-chan here with the updated version of chappie one! I sincerely apologize for having to deal with what I had currently put up for that. Hopefully ya’ll prefer this instead for the first chappie of the Clash of Time. No flames or negativity is allowed, but what will be allowed is positive ad constructive feedback. If you want to let me know what you’d like to see happen next or what you think should be included then put it in your comments because it will be taken under consideration. Anyways, please enjoy and R&R!

Adopted From: Pen-Name-Kitsune-chan

Disclaimer: I don’t own Naruto or any of its characters.

Pairing: SasuNaru, but others may be implied and/or added like usual.

Dedicated- to Capricornkitty1975 because she’s my best friend and adoptive mother. She’s a super special awesome person. I don’t know what I’d do without her. I enjoy spending time with her whether it be merely talking or working on a collab.

Jikan no Kurasshu

Chapter 1

Naruto's eyes narrowed as he rushed towards his goal. Finally! Soon he and his team would reach Itachi. Sasuke was sure to be not far behind. He was anxious to once again lay eyes on the raven haired shinobi.

"Stop!" Kakashi called out, having received a report from Pakun, one of his nin-dogs. "We're nearby. Hinata, see if you can detect anything with your Byakugan," he ordered.

"Hai," Hinata replied, activating her bloodline and looking around. "There! Ten miles to the northeast. There only seems to be two of them."

"Alright. We need a plan," Yamato said.

Naruto fidgeted, bored. He knew the use of a plan when trying to capture a powerful opponent such as Itachi, but it was taking so damn long! He began tracing the patterns of the bark on a tree, zoning out, so he consequentially missed most of the plan.

"Everyone got that?" Kakashi asked.

"Huh?" was Naruto's intelligible reply, having been broken out of his mind wanderings. Damn his inattentiveness! He'd missed the plan!

"Moron. Pay better attention next time," Kiba said, annoyed at Naruto's short attention span.

"Shut the fuck up, dog breath!" Naruto replied, angry.

"Calm down you two," Kakashi chided. "Naruto, we've decided to split into two man groups in order to surround Itachi and Kisame. You've been paired with Hinata. She can explain your part in the plan. And Kiba's right, you should pay better attention."

'Who asked him?' Naruto mentally grumbled.

'They're right, you know. Do you know how annoying it is being sealed into someone with extreme ADHD?' the Kyuubi asked. Naruto couldn't tell if she was being sarcastic or not.

'What's ADHD?' Naruto asked.

'Oh, yeah. Forgot that you humans have almost no knowledge of genetics and the various genetic disorders.' she replied.

'Wha d'ya mean by that?'

'Nothing. Anyways, what ADHD is doesn't matter. What does matter is that you're currently staring off into space and everyone's looking at you weird.'

'…Bitch' Naruto mind-spoke, before coming out of his reverie to see everyone looking at him funnily. Sakura was waving her hand in front of his face. "Huh?"

"What just happened? You blanked all of the sudden," Sakura said.

"Just thinking," Naruto replied.

"That's new," Kiba remarked, earning an animalistic growl from Naruto, which caused everyone except for Sai to blink.

"We should get going now," the oh-so-talkative Shino commented offhandedly.

The others nodded and split up. Shino and Kiba headed in one direction, Sakura and Kakashi in another. Yamato and Sai covered a third direction of attack, while Naruto and Hinata crept around to the unoccupied direction of offence. Itachi tensed as he sensed eight distinct chakra signatures approaching. Kisame could feel it too.

"Think it's Sasuke's group?" the ex-mist-nin asked.

"No, I sense the Kyuubi's jinchuuriki amongst them. My little brother is unlikely to suddenly decide to team up with him," Itachi calmly replied. "More likely it's a team from Konoha come to get us before we can capture Naruto."

"Well won't they be in for a surprise when they realize that Deidara and Tobi are nearby," Kisame chuckled, grinning like a shark.

Itachi just inclined his head by a fraction. All of them were morons. If his superior hadn't ordered it. If it wasn't necessary, Itachi would never have gone anywhere near to pissing of a jinchuuriki with as much potential power as Naruto. It just wasn't worth the risk of being ripped to shreds. A little ways off was Sasuke's group.

"It looks like Itachi and Kisame are standing just over there on that ridge. They're surrounding by a group of eight Konoha ninja. The leaf-nin seem unaware of two other Akatsuki members hiding nearby," Karin said.

"Let the leaf-nin attack first. They should be able to take out at the least one of the Akatsuki members," Sasuke commanded. Karin and Juugo just nodded.

"Fine by me, as long as they don't break the Samehada," Suigetsu said.

"Hey, un, looks like we're going to be seein' some action, yeah," Deidara said.

"U-uh, y-yeah," Tobi shakily replied.

Why the Hell did Deidara have to fly so damn high!? The clay bird that the two of them were currently on was about 500 feet up in the air, and Tobi was, of course, afraid of heights.

"Heh, chicken. How can a ninja be afraid of heights, un? Especially an S-class criminal such as yourself, yeah.” snickered Deidara.

"I-I'm n-not sc-scared!" Tobi protested, visibly quaking with fear.

"Heh, yeah. We're goin' to be dive-bombing those pesky leaf-nin, un, as soon as they make their move. So, hold on tight,” grinned Deidara.

"WH-WHAT!?" cried out Tobi.

Tobi peered fearfully over the side at the so far oblivious Konoha shinobi. He DID NOT like the idea of being of the back of any bird, let alone a clay one, while it dropped unexpectedly and quickly out of the sky, plummeting at high speed towards the rock hard Earth below.

"A-are y-you sure we n-need t-to d-dive b-bomb th-them? C-can't we j-just hit th-them from wh-where we are?” asked Tobi, obviously afraid to death.

"No, un. We might miss 'em if we did that, yeah,” explained the blonde.

"B-but!" Tobi tried to fruitlessly reason with him.

"Hey, un, looks like somethin's 'bout to start, yeah," Deidara cut off Tobi's futile protest.

/Everyone in position?/ Kakashi's voice came over the headphones.

/Hai/ was the reply from the other three groups.

/Good. On three move out. One… Two… THREE!/

At first it seemed like nothing happened when Kakashi gave his signal, but in fact the plan had begun. Hinata activated her Byakugan, and Shino sent his bugs crawling over to where the two missing-nin were standing. Naruto began lightly threading more of the Kyuubi's yoki into his system and spread out a web composed of a mix of chakra and yoki to alert him to any problem, although that wasn't a part of the plan.

/Hey, guys, we might have a problem/ Naruto's voice interrupted everyone's concentration.

His teammates' initial annoyance was overridden when they heard the seriousness in his voice. Little did they know, but the Kyuubi had just told Naruto about the two extra Akatsuki members floating somewhere in the sky. His chakra/ yoku web had paid off.

/What is it, Naruto?/ Sai asked.

/Look up/ was his reply.

The others had to stifle exclamations of surprise when they saw the big clay bird lazily floating above them.

'Shit!' was Kakashi's exact line of thought.

He, stupidly enough, hadn't counted on extra company. /They've probably already noticed us. This is bad./

/Should we retreat?/ Hinata asked tentatively.

/Hell no! We might not get another chance!/ Naruto said, impatient to finish the mission, and get one step closer to retrieving Sasuke.

'Don't be hasty,' the demon sealed within Naruto warned, 'I know that you're worried about your boyfriend, but it won't help anyone if you get yourself killed, and, more importantly, me locked away slaving for those Akatsuki bastards.'

'Shut the fuck up. You're annoying me.'

'I could very easily say the same to you, brat.'

"Um, Naruto-kun, what's that?"

"Huh? Oh, it looks like a… BOMB!" Naruto shouted, staring at the quickly desending clay figure, which he knew was Deidara's medium for his explosives. This was not good…

BOOM!

Kakashi looked up, startled, “What the hell?”

"What was that sound, Kakashi-sensei?" Sakura asked, a bit scared.

"Sounded like a really big bomb going off," Kakashi replied, stating the obvious. "It sounds like it came from… Oh, shit!"

"What?"

"It came from Naruto and Hinata's direction."

"Heh, sounds like Deidara already made his move," the blue fish man chuckled.

"Let's just hope he wasn't stupid enough to kill the Jinchuuriki," Itachi said, with his usual lack of emotion.

"What in all the hells was that?" Suigetsu asked.

"It came from the direction of the Jinchuuriki," replied Karin.

"Who asked you?" Suigetsu snapped.

"Stop it, you two," Sasuke said in a dull monotone, unconsciously mimicking his brother.

He didn't show it, but he was a teensy bit worried about Naruto. Okay, maybe more than a teensy bit even though he'd tried to kill him multiple times, Sasuke still thought of the blonde dobe as his most precious person, and he was, despite himself, almost constantly wondering if the fox boy had gotten hurt, and generally just thinking about him. He hoped that he wouldn't have to kill or even harm the boy anymore than he already had in order to kill Itachi. Sasuke acknowledged that the feelings he had for the blonde; especially the feeling of what he could only describe as lust that he had since shortly after they were put on the same team. He’s not exactly very straight. He didn't care. Uchihas never overreact to anything. Even if they feel something akin to love for someone their own gender. Nope. It was taboo to show emotion for the great Uchiha Sasuke.

'Leader-sama, you might want to see this,' Zetsu said over his mind link with the leader. This looked like it might get troublesome...

Over a hundred kilometers away, safe in Amegakure, Pein's eyes narrowed. This certaintely wasn't looking good. The brat shouldn't be able to pull out that much yoki and live! No human, jinchurriki or no, even those with seals more advanced than Naruto's, had ever managed that.

/Naruto? Hinata? Hello?/ Yamato asked over the intercom.

When all he received in reply was static, he turned to Sai and said, "That didn't sound too good. We should go check it out."

Sai just nodded. The explosion had come from where Naruto and Hinata were, which couldn't be good.

/Everyone, Sai and I are going to check to see if Naruto and Hinata are okay. Start the plan without us./

/Hai./

Hinata quivered, curled into a ball with her hands over her head. When she realized that she wasn't dead from the huge explosion, she blinked and relaxed her muscles.

"Hey, Hinata, you okay?" came the voice of Naruto.

It sounded like his lungs weren't working right, and his voice was laden with pain. Hinata turned her head around to look over her shoulder towards the sky, and saw the reason why she hadn't been blown to bits. Naruto was standing over her protectively, surrounding by glowing red energy. There was blood pooling about his feet. Everything else around them was charred and flattened.

"H-Hai. Wh-what happened?" she asked, shaken.

Naruto chuckled dryly. "That bastard Deidara dropped a bomb on us. I didn't want one of my friends to get hurt, so I shielded you. I don't think the shield I put up around me was able to block all of the blast, though. My back hurts like hell."

'Kit, you're a moron. Thanks to your innate desire to be a hero, you now have burns all over your back, and part of your spinal cord is blown out.'

'Then how am I still talking and moving?'

'I set up a system where my youki can act in place of your major organs, duh. Weren't you paying attention all those times you got a vital organ demolished/ripped out?'

'Guess not.'

"N-Naruto-kun!" Hinata called out, as her hero collapsed. She deftly caught him in her arms, noticing the wounds on his back. Most of the flesh was completely burnt off, and the rest was badly burned. Several bones had been broken, and his spinal cord was, indeed, cut in several places.

"Well, well, well. What do we have 'ere, un?" Deidara asked, as his clay bird landed nearby the semi-conscious Naruto and the shocked Hinata. "Looks like a little girl and a wounded Jinchuuriki, yeah. Tobi, take care of the girl. I'll get the Kyuubi no gaki."

"Alright," said Tobi.

This was getting messy. The brat shouldn't have merged with the fox enough to still be conscious from that blow. The blonde truly was as interesting, and even more so than, Orochimaru had thought he was.

"You! You're the one that hurt Naruto-kun!" Hinata shouted, gently laying Naruto down on his stomach. "You'll pay!"

"Oh really, un? Yeah, I'd like to see you try,” taunted Deidara.

"Um, Deidara-senpai, two of their teammates are heading this way." He really didn't need this. If any more of Naruto's teammates got killed the blonde could inadvertantely end up killing himself which would not be good for him.

"Well, I'm sure that you can take care of at least one of 'em while I dispose of this girl, un,” scoffed Deidara.

Soon the battle was in full swing. In a matter of minutes the battle had been joined by Yamato, Sai, Kakashi, Sakura, Kiba, Shino, Itachi, and Kisame. Sasuke's group continued to watch from the sidelines. Despite their greater numbers, the fight was going downhill for the Konoha-nin. Naruto, although the Kyuubi would allow him to start using youki in place of his spine if his life came into immediate danger, was at the moment unable to move, and would remain so until the bitchy fox running around in his head finished healing him.

"Gekkou Taki no Odori!" Hinata cried out, spinning around.

A lot of the water from one of Kisame's previous attacks flew into the air, and, laced heavily with chakra, was sent flying towards her adversaries. The projectiles blew up several of Deidara's bombs before they could hit the ground, and lightly wounded Kisame. Itachi calmly dodged the attack. Tobi was now nowhere to be seen. Everyone paused for a second to readjust to the new situation. Tobi was gone, Kisame and Deidara were both slightly injured, while Itachi was merely scratched. Deidara was almost out of clay for his bombs, and Itachi was beginning to run out of breath. Hinata was panting heavily, and was almost out of chakra. Sai had a bad gash on his arm from Kisame's sword, and Akamaru had a cut in his side. Sakura's fists were bleeding, and she had been burned by one of Itachi's katon jutsus. Yamato and Shino had both been burned by Deidara's bombs. Both were quickly tiring out. Kakashi also had burns from Itachi's attacks, and had, miraculously enough, been cut by Tobi. Apparently the little pest used some kind of poison in his attacks, which was slowing down Kakashi's reaction speed. Naruto was almost healed enough to join the fray, but not quite. Kiba was panting and had also been cut by Tobi.

"Damn it," remarked Kisame, hefting his sword as if for another swing. "This is taking too long."

At that, he charged at Hinata, swinging wildly. She was exhausted from the chakra consuming techniques that she'd started to use, and couldn't get out of the way in time. Her guts were almost completely ripped out. She gasped, and, falling to her knees, struggled to breathe, before falling prone, unmoving.

"Hinata-chan!" Naruto cried out, mentally cursing himself for being unable to save yet another of his precious people.

Red youki poured out of him, and, ignoring the gashes still present in his back, he pushed himself up into a crouch, and was soon surrounded by what seemed to be the form of a three tailed fox. Bloodlust and rage poured off of him, and then he sprung. Kisame summoned up a wall of water which only served to slightly decrease the speed of the rampaging Jinchuuriki. It caused to further enrage him. Kisame blocked his claw swipe with the Samehada, which heated up and glowed red from the sudden intake of the fiery demonic youki. He swung the sword at Naruto, the chakra absorbing properties of the sword serving to make it possible for him to land a hit. He slashed open the blonde kitsune's stomach. Such a maneuver was to no avail, since the wound healed over again in mere seconds. The gashes and burns on his back had also vanished without a trace by now.

Naruto's teammates were too busy gawking at the sight of the blonde's demon form to notice that Deidara had dropped another bomb, which instantly killed Kiba and Akamaru, and would've killed Shino if not for his shield of bugs. Naruto became royally pissed when he saw even more of his friends die. In his mind it was all because he had failed to protect them. A fourth tail quickly sprouted. Naruto, hell bent on the thought of revenge, fought the Kyuubi harder than ever for control, and, understanding what Naruto was going through, she backed down and let him retain control. It seemed even Itachi was surprised when Naruto not only survived going to the fourth tail, but was able to remain in control of his body. Most Jinchuuriki couldn't survive even going to the third tail, and they all lost control around the first or occasionally the second. It was unheard of for a Jinchuuriki to make it alive to such a high level, let alone resist having their mind supplanted.

The blood covered genin charged with a roar of pure fury at the startled Kisame, forcing him to spring into action. He leapt to the side and swung his sword at the blood lust radiating Jinchuuriki. Big mistake. The sword was almost instantly overloaded with youki, and burst into a thousand fragments. Many impaled themselves in Kisame, while others hit Sakura, Deidara, Kakashi, and Yamato. Several grazed Itachi, and one or two actually hit him. Kisame, by now pretty badly wounded, hit Naruto full force with one of his most powerful water attacks. The boy countered with something mimicking a rasengan, but much more powerful and volatile. He then split into two separate versions of himself, one continuing to block Kisame's attack while the other circled around and attacked the fish man head on at speeds rivaling Lee's at the beginning of the series without his weights on. Before what was happening had registered itself in Kisame's brain, Naruto had stuck a youki claw through his chest, killing him.

The two remaining Akatsuki members had been fighting Naruto's teammates. By now Shino and Yamato had also fallen, dead, and Sai and Sakura were badly wounded. Sakura and Kakashi were both pretty much out of chakra. Naruto saw this, and, roaring, charged Deidara, leaping high into the air. The blonde nuke-nin saw Naruto charging and, noting his flight path, veered off course in order to avoid a painful confrontation. No such luck. One of Naruto's tails lashed out and wrapped itself around the clay bird that Deidara was riding. The clay actually began to melt from the extreme heat. With a feral growl Naruto yanked himself over to the flying Akatsuki member. Left with no other option, Deidara jumped from the bird and set off the explosives buried within it just as Naruto landed on its back, creating an explosion much bigger than the one he'd used at the very start of this fight, and more powerful than even the one he'd dropped on Suna back when he was trying to capture Gaara. He landed heavily on his feet and staggered a bit. He then looked up at where the bird had gone off. Naruto had been sent flying into the air by the blast. If he'd sustained any damage it was already either healed or covered over. He was currently flying about 400 feet off the ground, though. He was beginning to fall back to Earth.

"Should we join the fray yet, Sasuke-sama?" Juugo asked. He could feel the blood lust within him rising at the sight of the battle as he was shaking with the desire to kill.

"Wait and see. I get the feeling that our presence isn't required just yet," Sasuke replied. He could tell that Naruto was still completely in control of his actions, and doubted that the blonde would kill Itachi, knowing about Sasuke's desire for revenge as much as he did.

He might maim or torture the guy, but that was fine by Sasuke. The more painful Itachi's death, the better. There are very few things are as painful as youki poisoning. Plus he wanted to wait until Naruto had calmed down a bit. No need to uselessly risk his neck, after all. It actually hadn't taken that long for Naruto to slay Deidara. The numerous bones that he'd broken when he fell were already mending themselves, and didn't make any difference to whether or not Naruto was able to fight at this point, anyways. Itachi had managed to kill Sai and wound Kakashi in the time period it had taken for Naruto to finish his free fall, regain his bearing, and rip Deidara to shreds. Naruto was so utterly pissed by now that, upon seeing the state of his team, he roared and began to form a fifth tail, almost causing Kakashi and Karin to have heart attacks.

Back with Sasuke's group, Karin was marveling at how completely his chakra had changed, until it didn't even vaguely resemble chakra anymore. She didn't know it, but Naruto's human chakra was extremely low, and if it had been all he'd had he would've been dead from chakra exhaustion by now. He was running solely on youki now, his little remaining energy dedicated to keeping the seal intact. Kakashi wasn't worrying about how weird Naruto's chakra patterns were. He was freaking out because at that moment Naruto was using over half of the fox's power, an event which Jiraiya had said would more than likely put the seal under so much stress that it would completely shatter, releasing the Kyuubi no Kitsune back into the world.

Both of those concerns were far from the first thing on Itachi's mind. Right now, his thought patterns pretty much consisted of, 'Fuck. I just pissed off a Jinchuuriki with the ability to go to the fifth tail ,and now he really wants me dead. I'm screwed.’

Itachi, being an Uchiha, didn't let the fact that his mind was screaming at him to run like hell and don't stop till he'd reached the end of the Earth show. Instead, he slipped into a fighting pose and reactivated his Mangekyou Sharingan. Naruto, still in control, tensed, ready to spring.

"Don't be scared, little human," Naruto snarled. "I'm only going to put you in a world of pain. I have no intention of killing you. Oh, no, I'm going to leave that job to your dear little brother."

Itachi narrowed his eyes. He threw himself aside when Naruto suddenly pounced. He managed to get out of the way of the initial attack, but as soon as Naruto landed all five of his tails lashed out, circling Itachi. He dodged as best he could, but one tail was able to catch him. Little spines instantly formed along the tail, pricking Itachi and forcing the harmful youki into his chakra network, where it immediately started fighting with Itachi's normal chakra, causing the pathways to feel like they were on fire, and, in several cases, start to burn. As suddenly as he had pounced, Naruto whiplashed the tail holding Itachi captive around, before releasing him of its grasp, sending him flying into a nearby cliff side. Much of it collapsed, and a huge cloud of dirt was raised. Naruto impatiently dispersed this with a simple futon jutsu. Itachi slowly stood up. He'd broken several bones when he smashed into the cliff, and he didn't have anywhere near to Naruto's healing abilities. He needed to end this before he was killed.

Knowing that there was a risk in such a maneuver, Itachi stared Naruto straight into the eyes, and, activating his most infamous ability, whispered 'Tsukiyomi’

Naruto stiffened as the advanced genjutsu hit him. He blinked, and found himself in a ghostly world with a crimson moon and skies the color of dried blood.

"Welcome to my world," Itachi said, materializing in front of Naruto. "Here, I control everything. For the next 72 hours, you will watch yourself kill your so called 'precious people' over and over again."

Naruto snarled and lunged at Itachi, only to have the missing nin disappear in a flurry of black wings. He looked around, and found that the scenery had changed. He was now standing on top of the Hokage monument, looking down on Konoha. There were a few key differences, though. For one, it was on fire. For two, there were people screaming bloody murder. He soon saw why. There was a thing running rampant through the streets of his village. He felt a chilling sense of recognition. He couldn't put his finger on the identity of the blood cloaked figure though. Suddenly, he heard Sakura cry out, "Naruto! You demon! Stop!" With a jolt he realized exactly whom that monster was. It was him. Naruto watched in horror as this blood thirsty version of himself ripped Sakura into bloody shreds, not actually killing her until the very last second. Naruto felt like puking. Then, the unthinkable happened. A familiar voice screamed at him to stop, that he wasn't himself, to go back to the Naruto that voice knew.

'I know that voice!' thought Naruto, dread filling every fiber of his being. 'Sasuke! NO!'

Naruto watched as his alter ego turned towards the raven haired teen, and smirking, advanced with the silent stride of a predator confident in the fact that it will kill and feast upon its prey. His eyes widened as the thing that dared to wear his visage pinned a helpless Sasuke to the very cliff upon which Naruto was standing.

"I've been wanting to do this for the longest time," it whispered into Sasuke's ear.

The demon had used a feature of its doujutsu to paralyze Sasuke, leaving him only with the ability to move his eyes and mouth. Naruto, realizing what that thing was intending, screamed at it to stop, to not do that, to get away from Sasuke. It didn't seem to hear him. Naruto leaned forward and slipped. He caught himself on the rock, then looked at his arms and hands. They were see through.

"You don't get it, do you? You can't affect anything here. This is my world," the voice of Itachi whispered on the wind.

Naruto pulled himself back onto the monument and tried to squeeze his eyes shut, to block his ears, to just look away. He couldn't, though. Itachi had rendered him unable to do anything but watch. Naruto tensed when he heard Sasuke start screaming, as the image of his best friend dug claws into his skin. Naruto shook with rage and apprehension as his demonic form raped his most precious person. What scared Naruto the most about all of this was that if he ever went into the state where neither he nor the fox was in control again, he might very well do all of these things. Naruto's mind was in chaos. Seeing all of these things was wearing down on his mental barriers. It was also having another effect. Itachi, knowing that the fox wasn't one to desire an insane Jinchuuriki, and would therefore try to break Naruto out of the genjutsu if given half a chance, had put up barriers separating her mind from Naruto's. Though, as Naruto's thought patterns bordered more and more on insanity, he unconsciously pushed at these barriers, and, between him and the Kyuubi, they weathered away, until the demon's mind was once again linked with Naruto's.

'Kit! Don't believe him! None of this is real! You wouldn't really do these things!' she shouted at Naruto, trying to keep him from going off the deep end.

Some demons, such as Shukaku , quite enjoyed torturing their containers and taking their rage and frustration out on them. Not her. She had been sealed into an insane Jinchuuriki before, and she found it to be quite trying. She'd almost followed her host off the deep end.

'Yes I would! You know I would!' Naruto shouted back, tears streaming down his face.

'It wouldn't come to that, kit. I know what it feels like to lose precious people, and what it feels like to blame yourself for their deaths. I would let you have control back before you killed any of them.' She wasn't lying.

She might try to fight for control long enough for Naruto to hurt his precious people, but she wouldn't let it come to killing. Despite herself, the blonde idiot had grown on her a teensy eensy bit, and she didn't want him hurt too bad. 'Let me take full control for a sec. I'll make that bastard pay for doing this. Don't worry, though, I won't kill him.'

Naruto's mind was in such turmoil that the fox's offer made sense, and he dazedly accepted. He felt himself sinking into darkness as the demon fox completely took over for the first time in his life. Itachi narrowed his eyes once again. Something wasn't right. There was something off all of the sudden with the blonde's thought patterns. Too late, he realized what had happened. He was utterly unprepared when the full mental power of the great Kyuubi no Kitsune slammed into his will. They struggled briefly in a battle of the wills. Normally, Itachi would've won because of his natural advantage from the Mangekyou Sharingan, but the Kyuubi had a doujutsu of her own, which was just as powerful. Within seconds she'd overpowered his will, and broken the genjutsu.

Sasuke had been watching most of the fight with his Sharingan activated, and recognized the chakra patterns when Itachi cast the Tsukiyomi. What startled him was when a split millisecond later the Kyuubi apparently completely supplanted Naruto's mind, and was able to shake Itachi's hold on her and Naruto's minds. He watched with a feeling of impending doom as the figure straightened, the final four tails defying all the laws of nature that siad that not even a hanyou could go beyond five tails as they began to sprout.

Something in Kakashi's gut clenched as he realized what had just occurred. Itachi had trapped Naruto in Tsukiyomi, which, instead of the usual result of the victim collapsing, caused the blonde to retreat into his own mind, allowing the Kyuubi to come out and play. 'We're in deep shit now,' he thought. Sakura quivered nearby. She'd never felt this much blood lust coming from one person! It was impossible. Juugo's desire to kill instantly abated when he felt the blood lust and rage rolling off of the blonde. He unconsciously took a few steps back, before tripping and just sitting there, mouth agape. Suigetsu wasn't doing much better. He saw that something had changed, though he didn't know what. He now wished that he'd never come on this mission. All of his nerves were wound up real tight, and his brain was screaming at him full force to run like the wind and not look back, but his body was frozen to the spot and wouldn't obey. Karin was faring the worst. She could clearly sense that the demon was in full control now, and was an inch from having a heart attack. Screw how good Sasuke looked! Nothing was worth being within a million miles of this thing. Sasuke was perfectly calm. He'd been nervous for a second that the demon would kill Itachi, but it was clear that it had no intention of doing so either.

When he judged that he'd waited long enough, he turned to his team and said, "Come on. It's time for us to intervene."

"Are you crazy!?" Karin shouted. Why the hell would he want to go anywhere near that?

"It seems to be pretty much working on Naruto's wishes, which makes sense due to the design of the seal. Naruto wouldn't wish for me or whoever the hell I choose to be on my team to be hurt, so we don't have to worry about an attack from that front. The other three might be a problem, and it's highly possible that more Akatsuki members are going to arrive soon, so you three only worry about those possibilities. I'll deal with Itachi and the Kyuubi,” answered Sasuke simply as if it were common sense.

Juugo nodded. Sasuke's logic made sense, and he wasn't much of one to dwell on possibilities, anyways. He'd do as he was told. Suigetsu and Karin were a bit more argumentative, so finally Sasuke told them to stay here and that they'd only have to join in if anyone else actually did appear. He also called them cowards, and several other things, which caused Suigetsu to get angry, which caused him to decide to come along. Karin remained adamant. The trio descended to where the demon fox was playing with Itachi, battering him around like a cat would a mouse. A little bit before Sasuke and his group made their move, Naruto and the Kyuubi were having a little chat.

'Hey, Fluffy-nee, we're dying, aren't we?'

'Sadly, yes. Your human body can't take this kind of damage,' the vixen replied, ignoring Naruto's new nickname for her.

'I'm sorry.'

'Huh? What do you mean, you're sorry?'

'It's because I wasn't strong enough to resist the Tsukiyomi or to protect my friends that this is happening. It isn't your fault you got sealed into a moron who can't do anything right. And, although you never told me why, I bet you had a pretty damn good reason for attacking Konoha.'

The Kyuubi gazed sadly down at her host. He was far too kind for his own good, though she marveled at his ability to find light within the soul of even the one who was at fault for the suffering he had gone through during his early years, and the reason why he had a group of S-class criminals after him.

'Don't think like that. The fact that you can resist my youki when it suits you, and that you've survived this long are both amazing.'

'You're just saying that!'

'Do you see any other Jinchuuriki who've been able to dodge Akatsuki this long? Have you met any with the ability to go past two or three tails?'

'Guess not.'

'Case and point.'

'Hey, something's going on out there! Is that… Sasuke!?' The fox laughed under her breath at how fast Naruto's attention shifted. That kid had the attention span of a squirrel! Reminded her of her younger self.

'Careful kit! Let me relinquish my hold first!' Her warning went unheeded as Naruto tried to yank control back from her. She tried to let Naruto have full control, but she wasn't able to unravel her mind from the control center of his body quick enough.

For about a minute, Naruto was trapped in the between form, where neither he nor the demon were in control, and instead he just lashed out at anything moving. It wasn't much time, but it was more than enough. Everyone in the vicinity noticed the change, and saw that Naruto had switched from the fox being fully in control to the halfway state. Itachi, Kakashi, Sakura, Juugo, Sasuke, and Karin all froze. Suigetsu didn't, though, and instead started back pedaling, attracting the attention of the nine tailed Jinchuuriki.

Naruto lashed out a youki claw at Suigetsu, spearing him through the heart, the fiery youki killing him even though he turned to water. Even though he wasn't aiming for them, Sasuke and Juugo both had to dodge, also attracting attention. Something registered in Naruto's mind when he saw Sasuke. A whole mix of emotions floated up, though the mind of the in-between only was able to comprehend the jealousy, the hate, and the feelings of being betrayed. It charged. Before Sasuke had time to properly react, the claw had curved back and taken a chunk out of his side. Normally it wouldn't be too life threatening, but with the youki poisoning taken into consideration, the wound was mortal. Just at that moment, the Kyuubi was able to completely relinquish control, ending the in-between state. 'Kit, I'm sorry. I wasn't able to give you full control fast enough.'

'I understand. I was being an excitable idiot,' Naruto replied, taking in the scene before him with horror in his eyes, knowing full and well that this was all his fault. Behind him, Itachi started to laugh.

"Ironic, isn't it?" he choked out. Naruto briefly noted that he'd forgotten to remove his vocal cords. Itachi's maniacal laughter turned to coughs and wheezes shortly, though, so he didn't have to worry.

"Shut the fuck up," Naruto coldly replied, before dashing off to Sasuke's side.

"Sasuke?" he whispered. "I'm so, so sorry. I didn't want you to get hurt."

"N-not your f-fault, dobe," Sasuke said. "M-mine for not c-counting on your reaction. Fuck, I didn't want th-this to happen. I don't care about dying, b-but I'd hoped to kill him, and I d-didn't want to hurt you anymore. I'm sorry."

He whispered the last part, so that Naruto could barely hear him. He could feel tears forming at the corners of his eyes.

"This brings a sense of de jà vu, huh teme?" Naruto whispered to the raven haired boy, brushing stray strands of hair out of his friend's face

"Yah. D-don't forget what I said last time, 'kay?"

"Don't worry, I won't," Naruto replied, mentally adding, 'I can't promise that I'll listen, though.'

"I'll miss you, Teme-chan," Naruto said, before closing his eye and kissing Sasuke full on the lips.

Naruto was scared of what emotion he'd find on Sasuke's face when he opened his eyes. Would there be hate? Disgust? Instead, Sasuke's eyes were widened in shock. Not for long, though. Before Naruto could pull away he started to return the kiss, closing his eyes and darting his tongue out to lick Naruto's lips. Naruto was even more surprised than Sasuke had been, and he readily parted his lips, letting the wounded Uchiha slide his tongue into Naruto's mouth, exploring every crevice of the warm cavern. One of the two of them, or maybe both, moaned with pleasure. When they finally parted for air, Sasuke shakily lifted his hand to touch Naruto's cheek, running his fingers over the whisker like marks. Naruto put his hand over Sasuke's, whispering the raven's name. Sasuke smiled a ghost of a smile, before falling into a coughing fit.

"G-goodbye, d-dobe," he whispered, before trying to gulp in as much air as possible, and failing, being forced by his burning lungs to breathe out. He didn't draw another breath.

"Sasuke! SASUKE!" Naruto yelled, crying over his the corpse of his best friend and secret crush.

He could sense the two remaining members of Akatsuki approaching along with the two new recruits, though they were still about half a minute off.

"Hey, you, guy who was standing next to Sasuke," Naruto said to Juugo, his body tensing as he prepared internally for the upcoming battle.

"My name's Juugo."

"Juugo, then, could you take two of my friends far away from here? The two currently alive should be a silver haired jounin with a mask over the lower half of his face, and a pink haired kunoichi. A big fight's about to start, and I don't want them taken out in the blast,” answered Naruto.

"What's in it for me?"

"The Kyuubi no Kitsune will seek you out when this is all over. She's powerful, and she's agreed to repay my debts for me in order to pay her own debts towards myself. She won't harm you, and she knows a wide range of techniques, and should be able to help you with whatever the hell you need assistance with."

"You're planning on releasing the demon?"

"Better than letting Akatsuki have her, and as part of our deal she's agreed to leave certain places alone."

"Fine."

"Thank you. The two should be right over there," Naruto said, pointing. Juugo nodded, and walked off to where Naruto's two surviving teammates were located. It couldn't hurt to help the guy, after all. Maybe the Kyuubi would be able to help him with his bloodlust problem.

Naruto waited until he felt the chakra signatures of Juugo, Kakashi, and Sakura almost completely fade away, before turning his attention to the four Akatsuki members now flanking him. The leader was still outside of his range.

"Huh, brat was able to kill Itachi and Sasuke. Impressive. Though Pein and Madara are going to be pissed that Sasuke's dead," Konan remarked.

"Doesn't make any difference," Zetsu replied, staring at Naruto from a distance. He'd been watching for a while, but had only now come closer and revealed himself. He didn't need to guess if Leader would be pissed that Sasuke was dead. He already knew.

"I'll just cut the little brat to pieces!" Hidan exclaimed, raising his scythe and charging Naruto.

His attack was blocked by a wall of red youkai that seemed to appear out of thin air.

Naruto gently lay Sasuke down, before standing and turning to face the undead Akatsuki member, "You have ten seconds to get the Hell out of my sight before I rip you into shreds, human.”

'This kid… Who… No, what is he? I've never felt this much power radiating from anyone! Not even one of the demons or even Madara!' Konan thought, a little bit scared.

"3… 2… 1… Prepare to die, bastards,' Naruto growled, charging. Hidan had missed the rest of the countdown apparently.

He managed to dodge, but just barely, and the now nine tailed Jinchuuriki immediately swung back around in order to charge again. Hidan's ability to keep himself alive even when having been torn to bits was to no avail as his body burst into flames, swiftly turning to ash. He couldn't reattach what was no longer there, after all.

In Amegakure, a clone of Madara stepped out into Pein's sight.

"Release them," he ordered, knowing that it would take the other demons to be able to subdue the nine tailed fox.

Pein nodded and began unwinding the bonds on the demons and binding them to his will. He finished releasing and binding the first four as the rejuvenated Kyuubi finally pinned down Konan and ripped her guts out, Kakazu having been taken out in a single shot by a claw through his chest. Then, the fox turned on Zetsu. The leader released his minions out then, knowing that Zetsu would probably be able to survive long enough for reinforcements to arrive. A couple of minutes later, Zetsu was on the run from an angry demon vixen, when the Shukaku and Nekomata arrived. They charged the Kyuubi, giving Zetsu a chance to retreat as far as he could and still observe the fight. Soon, Isonade and Sokou arrived. They were still knocked around a lot, though, and in no time at all Sokou and Isonade were both dead, and Shukaku was wounded.

A little later, Houkou and Raijuu joined the fight. The fox was having a hard time, now. It didn't take too long for her to kill off Shukaku, but his body was immediately reanimated by Nekomata, just like Isonade's and Sokou's had been. They were much weaker than the originals, but still pretty damn annoying. Suddenly, the nine tailed fox demon leaped! She dug her claws into Nekomata's fur, latching on. She was having trouble, though, because of the cat demon's Shinigami bestowed powers. Then, she felt his powers weaken suddenly. She correctly guessed that Naruto had been the cause, lending a hand from the other side. She pummeled the cat's belly with her back claws, spilling his guts all over the ground. The Shinigami was unable to save him this time.

Before she could react, a wall of earth slammed into her. She surrounded herself with lightning natured chakra, causing the earthen cage surrounding her to crumble. She shook her head and turned her attention to her two remaining adversaries. Houkou had been the one to summon the wall of earth. The Kyuubi briefly wondered if Kaku was going to how anytime soon. Then, as if the thought had summoned her, the Shichibi no Mujina, Kaku, arrived on the scene. She couldn't actually see her, but she could acutely smell her and feel her presence. The fox leaped aside as the ground under her feet crumbled, falling into a deep underground cavern.

She rebounded off of the cliff that Itachi had been slammed into earlier, causing it to form a large crack, and flew at Raijuu, surrounding herself with wind youki in preparation for his attack. Her assumption that his first reaction would be to pelt her with lightning was correct. She sent slicing gusts of wind ahead of her, cutting through his defenses. She then latched her claws into her fur, biting his neck. They struggled briefly, the fox continuing to release wind youki, before she sensed Houkou preparing to attack her. The Kyuubi pretended to be oblivious to the incoming fireball, but then detached herself from her opponent and threw herself out of the way just before it made contact, leaving Raijuu to burn. The other demons apparently had absolutely no sense of teamwork. Then, large spikes of earth suddenly thrust themselves up out of the ground, spearing the crown princess of the foxes in the belly. She coughed up a lot of blood, and fell limp.

Stupid Raijuu, indignant at his burns and cuts, strode up to her body, boasting about how he'd assisted in the capture of one of the four most powerful demons in existence, and one of the only two nine tails alive today. Imagine his surprise when, as he poked the bloody corpse, he was engulfed by wind-aligned fox fire. He died quickly; the wind natured half of Kitsunebi negated his lightning shield, while the fire natured half burned him to death. Houkou shook his head. It was just like Raijuu to do something that stupid, and slipped into a ready stance, searching the surrounding area for signs of the fox. Then, he saw her. Well, he didn't exactly see her, more like sensed her. She was hidden underneath an elaborate genjutsu, which Houkou was only able to even so much as sense, let alone see through, because of his status as the master of illusion. Kaku didn't notice a thing. Since it never crossed Houkou's mind to warn someone not of his original pack about upcoming danger, she was unprepared when the Kyuubi sprang towards her, throwing any earth in her way to the side with a doton jutsu.

Kaku and the fox struggled briefly, but Kaku's much lower strength and experience soon lost her the fight. After the badger demon was reduced to nothing more than a bloody pile of hide, fur, meat, and bones, the vixen turned to the illusionist dog demon, which was idly waiting for her to notice him. Stealth and trickery don't come naturally to either dog or wolf demons, so Houkou hadn't considered that it might serve him better to attack the fox while she was preoccupied with his teammate and her back was turned to him. Canines were upfront fighters, living by a strict warrior's code of honour, versus the rouge's code of honour that the vulpine upheld. He finished the genjutsu he'd been weaving, trapping her in it. She responded with an equally powerful genjutsu, dispelling his. The battle was one of illusions, but the fox quickly won due to her fox abilities, allowing her to cast what were known as 'true'illusions, an ability only held by a few.

"My, my, my, what do we have here? So the great Kyuubi no Kitsune was able to slay all seven of her adverseraries," Madara chuckled.

She whipped around, staring in surprise at the human looking creature who'd dared challenge her. She knew that chakra signature!

"YOU!" she roared, enraged that he dare show his face. "What in all the hells are you doing here, bastard?!"

"Wouldn't you like to know? Sorry! That information's a secret!" Madara said.

Kyuubi snarled. "You're no match for me, no matter how many little powerups you get! I'll always be stronger!"

"Go on believing that, my dear Stella," Madara said.

The now named Stella could here the smirk in his voice, and it only served to fuel her rage, "Soon enough, my ambition shall be complete. The deaths of a few pawns, powerful though they may be, is inconsequiential in the grand scheme of things. Even the death of Sasuke won't set me back to far. More of an annoyance than anything else."

Her eyes narrowed. Madara was no idiot, to challenge one of the only two nine tails in existence. What did he have up his sleeve that was making him so cocky? Suddenly, it hit her. Why else would he be so unconcerned about the loss of a second Uchiha, when he knew that he would need more than one Sharingan of Magekyou status or higher, with the user's potential high enough to exceed a three tail on their own, a potential which Itachi had lacked? There was only one possible explanation.

"Where the fuck is she, bastard? I'll fucking rip your guts out!” hissed Kyubi.

"No need to be so rude! You'll learn soon enough."

That was IT! Stella roared loudly, pouncing on Madara's location, Kitsunebi streaming from her fur and claws. His body dematerialized just as she hit. The bastard had learned how to fully control the Highway. She lifted her bloody muzzle and roared her frustration to the skies. She'd been so close! And now, it looked as if Madara was planning to start a Third Great War. She could not, under any circumstances, let that happen. Growling in annoyance, she shape shifted into her humanoid form, consisting of a human female's body with long, flowing red hair, reaching past her waist. She had two matching ears sitting on top of her head, and nine tails fanning out behind her. She was dressed in finely woven chainmail shirt and leggings, with a dark red, almost black, cape draped over the ensemble. Her eyes were a piercing bright green, showing keen intelligence. She had several weapons strapped about her person, including two swords, several daggers, and a staff decorated with runes. These were the only visible weapons on her. The swords were strapped to her belt along with two daggers, and she had another two daggers tucked into sheaths on the outside of her boots. She held the staff lightly in her right hand.

Stella turned towards the direction in which Juugo had headed with her host's two surviving teammates, and began to seek them out. It didn't take long to find them, and she was able to heal both Kakashi and Sakura of their remaining wounds. As payment to Juugo for taking care of them, she used a kitsune sealing technique to suppress his bloodlust. It took a bit, but finally she was able to assure Kakashi that she had no intention of doing any further damage to Konoha or its allies, and that she was over what had caused her to fly into a blind rage like that. She, of course, refused to tell him her reason for attacking Konoha in the first place. Since he was still unsure about whether or not to trust her, Kakashi sent for backup from Konoha via a hawk, including information about the situation, and marking the message for Tsunade's eyes only. To say that Tsunade was surprised when she received the message would be the understatement of the year. She immediately called for an emergency council meeting, in order to discuss this new turn of events. After much debate, they decided to send out their major members along with an ANBU guard of twenty people so as to talk to the fox. A message was also sent to Suna to tell them of this new turn of events, and Konoha's response.

In less than a week the groups from both Konoha and Suna had arrived at the valley. There they spoke with the Kyuubi no Kitsune. She swore to them that she wasn't going to attack them, and also assured them that she had no interest in such things anyways. The explanation as to why she'd attacked Konoha in the first place was sketchy, but everyone pretty much understood that that hadn't been her original intention. They were still wary of her, though, and put up defenses and warning systems when they arrived back at their villages.

Stella was pacing around her room in her personal pocket dimension. She'd repaid her debts to the kit, kept her promises, and now all that was left to do was hunt down her enemies and locate her closest friend. Not to mention figuring out what the hell Madara was really up to. Trying to start a war wasn't exactly a very good description. She couldn't shake the nagging worry that something was wrong, that she'd forgotten or neglected to do something. Despite the fact that he'd been the only thing standing between her and freedom for three years, Stella couldn't help but miss the hyper blonde. She'd fallen under his unique spell and gotten attached to him, ironically enough. She screamed in frustration and punched the wall closest to her, reducing it to a fine powder. Her fists clenched, one of the greatest generals to have lead a portion of the Rebel forces during the War realized what she had to do. She had to stop all of this from ever having happened. And there was only one person who could and would help her with that. Vesper, the granddaughter of Time.

"Come in!" Vesper called out as she heard the portal bell ring.

She knew the chakra signature, and wondered why Stella, the Kitsune-hime, was coming to visit her of all people.

The fox lady swept into the living room where Vesper was seated, tinkering with clocks of all sorts, from archaic hour glasses to new age digital clocks.

"No beating around the bush, Stella. Why in all the hells are you here?"

"I've come to ask for a favor," Stella replied.

"It wouldn't happen to be the illegal kind of favor, would it?"

"It isn't necessarily illegal, though it is probably widely frowned upon."

"Stella! You know what will happen if Grandfather catches me breaking the rules!"

"I need your help. You're the only Timekeeper who'd be willing in a million years to help me and who has enough power for what I have in mind. And, anyways, you more than likely wouldn't be working alone."

"What exactly are you planning?"

"I know the rules of time travel, so I know that it's impossible for a demon to go back in time, but there's no law saying humans can't go back. I'm planning on reviving the soul of my last Jinchuuriki and sending him back in order to correct past mistakes. At the moment there's another Great War on the horizon, and the only plausible way to stop it is too go back as far in time as possible and prevent it from ever beginning."

"WHAT!? Are you crazy? You'd need the help of not only a Deathkeeper but also a Dreamkeeper for that kind of stunt. And, anyways, you'd only be able to send him at the most as far back as his own birth, probably less."

"I know. I can call in a few favors for the help of the Deathkeeper and the Dreamkeeper, and even a time as recent as three years ago would allow so many things to be altered and prevented."

"Alright. I'll help you if you can assure the help of the other two. You better know what you're doing, though."

Stella, Vesper, Inferi, and Fortuna all gathered round the multitude of symbols drawn into the cave floor. Fortuna was a young, aspiring Dreamkeeper who specialized in prophetic dreams. Inferi was a mischievous young Deathkeeper who would often snatch souls from the afterlife who wished to be alive again and return them into the world either as undead or would resurrect them into a species and position that completely clashed with their personalities and ingrained habits. Each of the four stood at a different corner of the figure centered in the room, facing northeast, northwest, southeast, and southwest. They spread their arms out, palms facing down, and began to chant. The various symbols located on the walls, the floor, and the ceiling all started to glow with an eerie light that cast a plethora of colors about the room, leaving no shadows, as the spell casters were surrounded in immense power, such that only demigods and the most powerful of demons can ever hope to come close to obtaining.

They could sense the border between this world and the next fluxing as Inferi ripped Naruto's soul out of the Shinigami's grasp, and threw him into Vesper and Fortuna's spell. Stella glowed a fierce crimson as her ties to Naruto's soul were reinforced and drawn on, and as her youkai poured into the jutsu. She knew that even she wouldn't be able to withstand such a constant drain of energy, and prayed to the great Fox Goddess that she might be granted with enough strength to see this through.

A/N: Yays! Done with chappie one! Hehes, well this is the updated version. Further edits will occur when I have more time on my hands. So, deal with it as it is for now. Please remember to review lovelies!

Chapter Text

A/N: Hey ya’ll! It’s Kuro-chan here with the next chappie of this lovely story of epicness. Hehes, I thik this chappie went well with my editing. I did my best, but any further editing will occur at a later date. Please enjoy and R&R!

Chapter 2

With a thud Naruto rolled off of the couch that he'd fallen asleep on. After briefly struggling to untangle himself from the threadbare blanket he used during the warmer months, he sat up and dazedly looked around.

'Huh? Hey, Fluffy, what just happened?' he asked the demon in his mind. When he received no reply, he shouted at her to answer him. She remained silent. Wary now, he prodded his subconsciousness, searching for the fox's presence. He began to panic as his search came up negative, but then he noticed a trace amount of the now familiar youkai. He delved into the depths of his mind, following the paper-thin trail.

He straightened in the dark, dank passageway. Something about the sewer-like labyrinth within his thoughts still unnerved him. He always got the feeling that there was something other than the fox watching him, waiting for the opportune moment to strike. He shook off his paranoia, turning down one of the many corridors, searching for the whiff of youki he'd felt earlier. He wandered for what seemed like forever, turning countless corners, passing an infinite number of dusty, unexplored passageways, leading off into the dark depths of his mentality, haunted by little shapeless things that darted in and out of the shadows at the edges of his vision. He could feel their ghostly, demonic eyes boring holes in the back of his head.

After all of eternity, compressed into the time in between moments, he reached the entrance to the cage room, and advanced into the darkness. He couldn't shake the feeling that something wasn't right. Wasn't this place supposed to be lit up 24/7? What was with the sudden power shortage? Naruto shuddered at the very idea of what such an occurrence implied. He peered into the surrounding void, unable to even see his own hand when he held it in front of him. Instinctively, he called on a fragment of Stella's youki, forming a dancing orange, red, and gold flame. He could now just barely make out the bars of the humungous cage, and the shadowy impression of a hulking figure beyond.

"Hey, Fluffy-nee, that you?" he called out, dreading the worst.

Vesper awoke from the nap she'd been taking with a start. "What in all the Hells!?" she exclaimed. She could've sworn that she'd just felt some idiot sending someone back in time. After combing over the disturbed section of the space time continuum, she determined that the identity of the idiot who was dabbling in time travel was none other than herself. She took back her earlier thoughts on the person being an idiot. Of course and naturally, if she'd had anything to do with it, it must've been a perfectly reasonable decision only brought about by the greatest of need.

"K, now that that's outta the way, who did I send back?" she asked aloud, trying to approach this new problem from a strategical direction. "Felt like a human, which means... What does it mean?"

After careful deliberation, she arrived at a conclusion. "Oh yeah! It means that that person's probably in the Universe! Which sector though? Hm... Such a tough choice. Okay, Vesper, you need to decide which sector of the inhabited areas of the Universe is most likely to contain the idiot time traveler!" she told herself, little fires lighting in her eyes. "Here we go! Einnie, Meinnie, Minny, Moe..."

"Hello?" Naruto shouted, inching closer to the shadowy form.

He carefully drew on a sliver more of the youki, causing the handheld flame to gradually increase in size. He was by now right in front of the cage, and could see the outline of what was definitely the fox at the edge of the circle of illumination. He was worried about why she didn't appear to be moving, though.

"Fluffy! Answer me!" he screamed, summoning up enough power to cause the illusionary fire to flare up tremendously, revealing completely the prone vixen.

Naruto was at first confused by how she was laying, curled up into a ball with her paws tucked under her belly and her tails wrapped around her, until he noticed the slight rise and fall of her chest, and the faint sound of snoring. As suddenly as a bolt out of the blue, the pieces all fell into place. She was sleeping! But how? And why? Naruto for the life of him couldn't remember a time when he'd ever seen the demon fox sleeping. A distant memory tugged at his consciousness, though. Hadn't her youki felt just as far away in the real world before he graduated? Thinking back, Naruto could now recall that he actually hadn't even so much as brushed against a foreign power until the night of his graduation, and even then he only just barely scrapped the youki. Also, since then, his awareness of the power held within him and gradually increased, until finally it was almost as if she was constantly in the same room as him.

After pondering for a bit, and vigorously sorting through his memories, he realized that both the seal and their power must have reset to how they were sometime before he graduated. Naruto added that conundrum to the list of the many things he would ask Stella when she eventually woke up.

"That one!" Vesper shouted, pointing at a holographic map that had appeared out of nowhere.

It looked like the sector she'd chosen was the second least populated, and extremely low on any form of humanoid life, let alone actual humans. In fact, there was only one planet in the entire sector that was inhabited by human life. "This is going to be easy!" she exclaimed, settling down to skim through the people. Seeing as how the life form was a young male, and from the looks of things he was also some kind of fighter. Probably a ninja, mage, wizard, sorcerer, druid, priest, monk, cleric, maybe a paladin, or one of those smaller groups that keep on popping up which narrowed her search down to about a sixth of the population.

'Let's go!' she thought, actually not thinking aloud for once.

After about an hour of their time searching, and about five minutes of our time, she found who she was looking for. Nodding to herself she stood and opened the portal into the Highway. The Highway was the only dimension that connected to every other dimension (excluding the occasional hidden dimension), and one of the only non private dimensions that was officially caught in between moments. There were several dimensions that had a tendency to vary how long each of their seconds was in comparison to ours, and would every now and then get caught in between seconds for an undeterminable amount of time. The Highway actually wasn't a material world, and instead was an enormous mindscape. It somehow encompasses the minds of every being in every dimension, and actually allowed for the transference of matter.

Vesper entered the void-like Highway, noting that, luckily for her, it was very busy at the moment, which meant that the chances of anyone actually noticing her were slim to none. After traveling for an infinite amount of time, she arrived in the area of the Highway that overlapped the Universe. It took her almost no time at all to find the proper residence, located in a solar system on the opposite side of the Universe from our own humble planet. Stepping into the shadows of the run down apartment, she heard the voice of a young boy call out in confusion, and decided to make herself known.

"What in all the Hells is going on here?" Naruto asked the empty apartment room confusedly.

"Maybe you could tell me that," came the voice of a girl in her late teens.

She was wearing jeans and a tight tee shirt. An about 6 inch strip of her stomach was exposed. She had watches all over her person. A few examples are the watch earrings, the watch bracelets, the watch necklace, the watch buttons, the watch barrettes, and many more other watch decorations. The watches varied in design, and some of them were alternate time pieces, such as hourglasses and sundials. Okay, maybe the apartment wasn't as empty as we'd first thought.

"What! Who's there?"

Vesper strode out of the shadows, her bearing hinting at someone who knew who they were and what they planned to do with their life. "I am Vesper! Granddaughter of Time!"

Naruto blinked, a lil' bit confused. "Wait, so you're a demigod?" he asked.

"Duh! Who else would I be, Elvis?" she asked sarcastically, managing to lose the almost regal look she'd held just a few seconds earlier. Naruto only looked more confused. "Anyways, who're you?"

"Me? I'm Uzumaki Naruto!" he stated, regaining his bearing. Then, as an afterthought, he added, "Jinchuuriki to the Kyuubi no Kitsune and the Crown Princess of demon foxes. I'm also a shinobi of Konohagakure, one of the five great Shinobi Nations!"

Vesper blinked and tilted her head to the side when she heard who he was Jinchuuriki to. "Thought there was something familiar 'bout you! You're Stella's Jin!"

"You know her?"

"Yup! Man, I feel sorry for you! She's going to be in a bitchy mood when she wakes up!"

"Yah. I've already lived through her waking up once, you know."

"Oh, yeah, forgot. Whoops."

"Anyways, what the hell's going on here?"

"I guessing that my future self and Stella's future self conspired to send you back in time. The only reason I can think of as to why she'd do that is that something went wrong and her enemies got too powerful."

"Oh. Okay. So I'm supposed to fix what went wrong?" He wasn't too surprised about the whole time travel thing. Wierder things had happened.

"No dip, Sherlock. Oh, here," she said, tossing Naruto a circular pendant designed to look like a modern day clock except the usual numbers were replaced by Roman numerals.

The hour hand was stylized to look like an hour glass, although the minute hand was normal except for being made out of some type of gemstone, the facets of which showed off a plethora of colors, ranging from red all the way to violet, situated at the other side of the spectrum. The face of the clock showed a sun, lingering on the edge of the horizon. Naruto guessed that it was rising, seeing as how on the traditional compass rose the East is on the right, and that the sun was currently on the right side. Clouds floated lazily across the picture, capturing the suns rays.

"It'll tell any idiot with half a brain and anything resembling connections that you have my favor." She then glanced at one of the many watches about her person, this one being situated on a golden bracelet on her right arm. "FUCK! I've been away to long! Grandfather's going to kill me! Bye, Naruto! I gotta go now! Hopefully no one noticed I was gone!"

Naruto watched in amusement as she had a meltdown, and he heard her voice reverberating as she entered the Highway. "Man! I'm going to be in SOOOO much trouble!"

"Wow. For a demigod, she acts a lot like... the closest comparison's Ino, I think." Naruto involuntarily shivered at the thought that such a powerful being had such a personality as Ino's. Scary!

Having failed to find any indication of his status as a ninja, and having noted that his calendar said he hadn't graduated yet (although he probably couldn't trust that thing), he set off for the academy with his goggles pocketed. He didn't want to look like a complete and utter moron if it was in fact after his graduation. Along the way he noticed that neither Kiba nor Choji were wearing their headbands. The date was confirmed when he saw Sakura with her usual red ribbon holding her hair back, versus the headband that she'd used afterwards. Naruto then tied his goggles in their proper place around his forehead and followed Choji into the academy.

"Kiba?" Iruka called out.

"Here."

"Choji?"

"Here."

"Naruto?"

"Here," Naruto replied. Iruka blinked and looked at him. Apparently his teacher hadn't expected him to be in class that day.

"Alright, now we can begin today's lesson," Iruka said, ignoring the abnormal occurrence of Naruto actually attending class. "Tomorrow all of you will be taking the graduation test. I can't tell you just yet what it's on, but be prepared. When you do graduate and become shinobi, you'll perform various missions to help bring in revenue for our village. As genin you'll only be doing D missions and occasionally C missions. You'll be able to do higher level missions after you pass the chunin exams. They are held twice every year and consist of ninja from many different villages. Any questions?"

"Yeah," Naruto said, "When will we be able to take the chunin exams?"

"The minimal requirement is 8 missions of any rank. Past that it's up to your teacher." Iruka was relieved that Naruto had actually asked an intelligent question rather than babbled out some idiocy or another. "Anyone else have a question?"

"Are the chunin exams dangerous?" random non important person #986 asked.

Iruka sighed. "Depends on the protector. But usually they are indeed life threatening."

Over half the class gulped nervously. Life threatening? No way were they taking the exams! Naruto mentally groaned in frustration. How could they expect to become ninja when they couldn't handle a bit of risk?

"Naturally, as ninja, unless you do D missions all of your life you'll run into several instances where your life will be in danger, and the greater your rank the more the likelihood of running into a life threatening situation increases," Iruka told the class. "If none of you have any more questions, we'll go ahead and have a test on the three basic ninja techniques: Henge no Jutsu, Bunshin no Jutsu, and Kawarimi no Jutsu."

"Hai," was the general reply from the class although Naruto knew that he still couldn't use a regular bunshin, although he had been able to master Henge and was fairly successful at kawarimi.

They lined up for the Henge test first. Naruto was close to the middle. Everyone in front of him transformed perfectly. 'I wonder whether I should transform correctly or try to keep up the visage of being a hyperactive idiot,' Naruto wondered. What arguments he had with himself as to what course of action he should take we will never know, but we can deduct that his mental wanderings lead him to believe that not acting like a total moron would be best, so that his teammates wouldn't suspect too much when he started acting like he knew what to do, because he chose to transform correctly into Iruka.

"Okay, next!" his sensei called out, secretly relieved that Naruto hadn't done something stupid and inappropriate.

After they had finished the transformation test, and run though both the bunshin and kawarimi tests, Naruto failing at the bunshin test, of course, the students were dismissed and allowed to go home. Naruto walked home dejectedly. He'd forgotten that since he hadn't painted the monument, Iruka probably wasn't going to buy him any ramen. He hurried past the slumped over shapes of homeless drunks, thankful that at the least he wasn't them. After taking a few shortcuts through the many twisting alleyways in the poor section of Konoha, he arrived at the door of his dingy two room apartment. Being careful not to pull the half rotten door off of its hinges, Naruto stepped into the 'living room'. In reality the living room was only a section of a larger room, separated from the bedroom by a screen. The living room consisted of the wide windowsill, which was large enough to negate the need for a table, and several cushions, blankets, and rugs that he'd scavenged over the years from various places. All of them were worn, with very little of their original color or design apparent. The bedroom occupied the third of the room opposite the outside wall and was blocked from the rest of the room by a foldout paper screen which had several rips and tears along it. The only furniture in the bedroom was a couch which Naruto used in place of a bed and a trunk that served as both a bedside table and a closet/dresser. The couch also had numerous tears and stains along it, and the trunk had obviously seen better days.

Naruto knew that if he entered the other room he'd find himself in the extremely small kitchen area. It was about the size of a large bathroom and consisted of a handful of small cabinets, a rusty sink, a fridge, and a small stove. A table and two chairs sat in the middle of the room. Naruto had only been able to get the table because no two of its legs were of equal length, causing him to have to stuff old clothes under the shorter legs to prevent it from toppling. One of the chairs was a weathered foldable that he'd found in a dumpster once. The other was actually a stool with the padding leaking out from the seams. There was another window in the kitchen, situated right over the crates Naruto used for weapon storage.

Naruto sighed and sat down on a particularly large cushion, contemplating what to do next. He wasn't planning on eating dinner, seeing as how he had limited food and wasn't going to be spending much energy for the rest of the day. Naruto knew that he wouldn't be able to pass the graduation test because of the requirement of being able to create a clone, and anyways he was hoping for another peek at the scroll and to be able to stop Mizuki. So that was taken care of. Now, all he needed to figure out was how to save the Sandaime Hokage, Haku, Zabuza, everyone that he'd ever helped, and also how to prevent Sasuke from leaving, all without revealing he was from the future or screwing things up even more. His head hurt just thinking about it.

'Most of that stuff I can worry about later when it's more urgent and I can know the situation at that moment,' he reasoned. Now all he needed to figure out was what he was going to do about the whole scroll fiasco. 'I wanna learn as much from the scroll as possible. I should probably use shadow clones to do that, but then again explaining that would be awkward if I got caught.'

After carefully thinking out every possibility (which to Naruto means thinking that something might go wrong and then wondering what to do about it for a net total of half a second), Naruto decided to just go ahead and use shadow clones and if anything did go wrong to just wing it. Having decided on his course of action Naruto took a scroll from his secret hiding place under the floor and started reading through it. He actually had a secret hiding place in the event of a couple of jackass villagers deciding to trash his apartment. Which, sadly enough, happened quite often, although not as much as it used to. Naruto arrived at the Academy on the day of the graduation test only a minute or two late. He pretended to freak out when Iruka announced that the test would be on the Bunshin no Jutsu. When it came to be his turn to clone himself, he acted seriously and gathered chakra. Naturally, the chakra flared out of control he ended up with only one busted clone. He pretended to look hopeful when Mizuki tried to 'convince' Iruka to let him pass anyways, and acted sad when Iruka said no. After everyone had finished testing, Naruto went out to sit dejectedly on the usual swing. He followed Mizuki when the chunin told him to come with him, and sat down glumly on the rooftop.

"You know, Iruka's only so stern because he wants you to grow up strong," Mizuki told Naruto when the blonde complained about how strict his teacher was.

"Yeah, I know, but I really wanted to pass,” sighed Naruto.

"Well," Mizuki sighed, clearly exaggerating, "I guess I'll have to tell you then."

"Huh? Tell me what?" Naruto asked, looking at Mizuki inquisitively.

"It's a secret, so you can't tell anyone I told you," Mizuki cautioned. Naruto nodded excitedly. "You see, there's this scroll..."

()()()()

Naruto stealthily crept towards the Hokage Tower in the cover of the night. To this day he still wondered why no ANBU had noticed him. Dashing in through a conveniently open window, Naruto padded on cat's feet towards the scroll room. All his stealth was to no avail, though.

"Naruto, what in the world are you doing here?" the Hokage's voice came all of a sudden from behind Naruto.

"Uh... Uh... Orioke no Jutsu!" Naruto called out, not really knowing any other way to get the old man off of his back without harming him. The perverted old Hokage fainted from loss of blood due to a massive nosebleed, just like in the original timeline.

After shaking his head at how the great Sandaime Hokage could be beaten by such a cheap trick, Naruto finished his trek to the scroll room and, securing the large roll of paper to his back, high tailed it out of yet another conveniently open window. That settled it. First thing he was going to do as Hokage, even before he fixed the whole Hyuuga clan mess, was going to be to get some damn security around here!

"Iruka! Open up!" Mizuki called, pounding on his fellow chunin's door.

"Huh? What is it, Mizuki?" Iruka asked, opening the door to his apartment.

"You won't believe what Naruto did this time! He stole the Forbidden Scroll!"

"WHAT!?"

"Hokage-sama! Naruto's gone too far this time!" random non important person #345 called out.

"Man, we need to find him before it's too late!" his buddy, random non important person #528

"Everybody settle down!" the old man interrupted them. "We will search for Naruto in a calm and orderly fashion. NO, and I mean NO unauthorized actions at all. Whoever finds Naruto will bring him back here, where I will explain to him the severity of his actions and make sure that he is properly punished. None of you are to take any negative or violent actions towards him. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes Hokage-sama," the gathered crowd grumbled in unison.

They'd been hoping to at the least be able to beat the kid. Ah, well, maybe they could convince the Hokage to give the demon brat the death penalty. With that cheery thought in mind they set off to find the missing fox container.

"Naruto! What do you think you're doing?" Iruka asked, having finally located the kid. Naruto was sitting on the ground in front of an old shack, the scroll open before him. When he heard Iruka he closed the scroll and stood up.

"Heh," Naruto said, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly, "Man, you found me fast! I only had enough time to learn one jutsu!"

'He was training this whole time?' Iruka wondered. 'I can tell he's been working hard. He's all tired out.'

"Now I'm going to show you the jutsu I learned! And then you'll let me pass and become a ninja, right?"

"What gave you that idea?" Iruka asked, puzzled.

"Mizuki-sensei told me! He said that if I learned a technique from this scroll I'd be able to pass automatically! He told me where to find the scroll, and all about this training place, too!"

'Mizuki?' Iruka thought. Shifting his focus to the corners of his eyes, he saw a flicker of movement. "Get down!" he yelled, pushing Naruto out f the way of the barrage of kunai that came shooting out of the forest.

"Give me the scroll Naruto," Mizuki commanded.

"Huh? What's going on here?" Naruto asked, faking confusion perfectly.

"Mizuki tricked you and lied to you! He only wants the scroll for his own selfish gains!" Iruka told Naruto, still shouting. "Whatever you do, don't let him get his hands on that scroll!"

Mizuki laughed bitterly, "Me, lying to him? I'll tell you who's lying to him!" Mizuki exclaimed. "They've all been lying to you, for your whole life!"

"What do you mean?" Naruto asked, now faking fear.

"No, Mizuki! Don't tell him!" Iruka shouted.

"Even now he's trying to hide the truth from you. He's just like everyone else, telling you falsehood after falsehood, ever since the decree made twelve years ago!" Mizuki exclaimed.

"What decree?" Naruto asked, visibly shaking.

"STOP MIZUKI!" Iruka screamed.

"The decree that only you can't know about! It states that no one can tell you that twelve years ago, instead of killing the fox, the Yondaime Hokage sealed it into you! You are the Kyuubi no Kitsune!" Mizuki stated triumphantly.

Naruto faked shock. "Wh-what?" he asked, eyes wide.

"Prepare to die, demon!" Mizuki shouted, spinning the large shuriken before throwing it at the prone Jinchuuriki.

"No!" Iruka shouted, preparing himself to see the spinning blade impale itself in his student. Suddenly, the blonde dodged, rolling to the side, before regaining his feet and dashing away.

"I'll deal with you later, Mizuki snarled at Iruka, bounding after Naruto.

Iruka had been hit in many more places than in the original timeline, and was having a hard time moving, but he chased after Mizuki nonetheless. The Hokage watched concerned as what appeared to be Naruto ran blindly through the trees.

He had been caught up by someone who appeared to be Iruka. "Naruto! Mizuki's trying to kill you! Give me the scroll!"

Naruto, instead of responding, merely rammed into the chunin, sending him flying. He settled back against the bark of a tree with a grunt, the scroll held protectively in his arms.

"How'd you know?" the Iruka-look-alike asked, before being surrounded by a cloud of smoke revealing Mizuki. "That I wasn't Iruka?"

"Because I'm Iruka," the Naruto look alike grinned as he replied, also being surrounded by smoke, revealing Iruka with a log in his arms.

"Heh, why bother? You saw the look in his eyes. He's a demon!" Mizuki said, "He'll take the scroll for himself, and use its power to exact revenge on this village. After all, that's a demon's nature."

"You're right,” said Iruka through gritted teeth.

While this dialogue was going on, Naruto was creeping into a position from which he could successfully attack Mizuki, "That is what a demon would do. But that's not what Naruto would do. He messes up sometimes, and everyone is hard on him, but he works hard and has a large heart. He isn't the Kyuubi. He's Uzumaki Naruto, number one loudmouth of Konoha, and more importantly, my student!"

Mizuki scowled at Iruka's speech as he shouted, charging Iruka. Mid charge Naruto barreled into him, though, sending Mizuki flying backwards, "I'd been wanting to save you for later, but now I'm going to finish you off first!"

"Don't you dare lay a hand on my sensei!" Naruto growled. "If you do, I'll kill you!"

"Oh, yeah? I could take a brat like you out with one blow!" Mizuki boasted.

"Bring it on, bastard! I'll return the pain a thousand times over!" Naruto snarled, slipping into the way too familiar pose.

"Give me your best shot, demon!” challenged Mizuki.

"Taijuu Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" Naruto shouted.

He was in the danger zone on chakra levels, though, so pulling off such a move should have been suicidal. But, sensing the extreme danger her host was in, Stella stirred, and Naruto, in his frantic scrabbling for even a sliver of youkai, managed to latch onto and drag out enough of the demonic energy to create 999 clones, making for a total of a thousand of him, and have each one fully energized. Mizuki back pedaled when he saw all the Narutos suddenly appear, and ended up tripping over a tree root, a look of panic on his face.

"Well, what are you waiting for? Weren't you going to wipe me out with one blow?" One of the Naruto’s asked. "If you're not coming to us, then we'll bring the fun to you!" another exclaimed.

As if on cue, all of the Narutos rushed forwards, pummeling Mizuki from all sides. He was sure to deal at the least one fatal blow to Mizuki, although he disguised all blows that stood a chance of killing as complete accidents. Mizuki was still breathing when Naruto finished, although he'd be dead within a day. He had extreme internal bleeding, and several vital organs were damaged beyond human repair, unless of course someone almost as high a level as Tsunade was in the area.

"Oops, guess I went a bit overboard," Naruto said, rubbing the back of his head.

Iruka grinned. "Hey Naruto, come over her. I have something I want to give to you."

A few minutes later, Iruka told Naruto he could open his eyes. Naruto immediately saw that Iruka was holding his goggles, and had no headband on.

"I was thinking that we could go out to get some ramen in order to celebrate your graduation," Iruka said. Naruto then cheered and tackled his sensei to the ground, hugging him.

Sarutobi stepped out of his tower and addressed the concerned crowd that had gathered, unable to locate Naruto. "Don't worry. Naruto has been found. He'll be returning with the scroll shortly."

Various members of the crowd grumbled, but they all soon split up to go their own ways.

Sarutobi sighed and turned to walk all the way up the stairs and back into his office. He was really getting to old for this.

()()()()()

Naruto sat cross legged on one of the larger cushions in his living room. He was currently trying to contact Stella, having sensed that she'd stirred, but it was all to no avail. Aggravated, he gave up for now.

'God damn it,' he thought, unable to locate for than a shred of her power. Stillbut it’s progress.

He hadn't even been able to access this much when he first entered the current time line. And, of course, he could always use the jutsu he'd learned from the scroll to wake her up, although that naturally came with risks. He sighed and stood up. He needed to get ready for school. Today was the day they'd be put into squads, and he didn't particularly want to be late. Knowing the fangirls they'd take the seat next to Sasuke as soon as possible. He really needed to hurry. With the thought of the limited seating right next to the raven haired beauty in his mind, he quickly got dressed and went to go eat some food.

"Okay, let's see what we've got," he said out loud. "Cup ramen, spoiled milk, glob of green goop, cup ramen, dead rat, live roaches, cup ramen, and guess what... more cup ramen!"

He sighed audibly, grabbing one of the many containers of store brought ramen, deciding to eat it cold instead of waiting for it to finish microwaving. 'Tastes 'bout the same either disgusting.' Of course he still loved the kind of ramen made in restaurants, but the kind you put in the microwave was so chock full of preservatives and artificial flavoring that it made him want to barf. After having gobbled down the extra small sized thing of ramen, he grabbed his headband and headed out the door, keeping his had down as he ran through the poor section of town. He decided to take a shortcut through the red light district, instead of giving the drunken shinobi and bitchy whores a wide berth like he normally would. Dashing past the gambling houses, bars, and brothels as fast as he could, Naruto hurried to the Academy. He arrived within a minute, and slipped inside. He discovered that he had come in after the vast majority of the class, and that Ino and Sakura were the only two to not have arrived yet. He walked over and sat a seat away from Sasuke, not wanting to draw attention to himself by sitting immediately next to the Uchiha. Five seconds later the two bitchiest kunoichis that would manage to graduate in that year and three years previous entered the room.

"I arrived first, Ino-pig!" Sakura screeched.

"No, I did, forehead-girl," Ino screeched back.

The two of them soon stopped arguing over who was first, and shifted their attention to who got to sit next to their precious Sasuke-kun. Which, of course, raised a huge debate among the fangirls.

"Move over, moron!" Sakura shouted at Naruto, pushing him to the floor. "I get to sit next to Sasuke!"

Naruto pretended to be very, very annoyed by all of this. And he was. He wanted those bitchy fangirls away from his Sasuke-kun. In the Hokage's office, the various jounin watched the fangirls argue over who got to sit next to Sasuke as Naruto got more and more annoyed. Any of them who dwelled on the matter (one or two at the most) assumed that Naruto was annoyed because Sasuke was getting the attention of almost all of the girls.

"So, that's Uchiha Sasuke?" one of them asked, "The number one rookie of the year?"

Kakashi, unlike most of the jounin, wasn't thinking about Sasuke. His eyes were fixed upon the blonde demon host. 'Uzumaki Naruto, eh?' he thought, comparing the image of Naruto to the mental picture he'd already built up.

Back in the classroom, Naruto had had enough of the fangirls' bickering. Suddenly, he jumped on the desk in front of Sasuke and started glaring at the boy. "Naruto! Stop glaring at Sasuke!" Sakura shouted. This time around Naruto didn't even pay a lick of attention to her, and instead continued glaring at Sasuke, actually managing to match the infamous Uchiha Glare full force, waiting for random non important person #762 to push him into his crush. A few seconds later, Naruto got what he was wishing for, and was pushing into Sasuke, their lips meeting. Naruto faked surprise.

'I wanted to be the one to get Sasuke's first kiss!' Inner Sakura raged. The other fangirls were pretty much thinking the same thing.

Naruto knew that the fangirls would beat him up pretty bad, but he thought it was worth it to be able to kiss Sasuke. Anyways, it was fun seeing them all so pissed off. Speaking of... he could now sense extreme killer intent radiating off of the would-be brides of Sasuke. He gulped and turned his head, and started stuttering out that it was an accident. He still got beat up pretty bad anyways. Iruka didn't manage to arrive until after the fangirls had turned Naruto's face into the equivalent of a tortured bowl of mashed potatoes. He apparently didn't even notice Naruto's state, and started explaining the whole teams of three thing. Everyone was focused on Iruka during this, and luckily nobody noticed that all the bruises, scrapes, and cuts covering Naruto's face magically disappeared. Iruka droned off the first six team name finally arriving at Team 7.

"Next, Team 7. Uzumaki Naruto," at this point Naruto looked up from his sulking, listening intently.

"Haruno Sakura," at this point Sakura put her head down and groaned, while Naruto looked slightly miffed as his reaction surprised several jounin and Iruka, but they all figure his unenthusiastic reaction was because of the violent beating she'd just given him.

Speaking of... their train of thought was interrupted at this point by Iruka called out Sasuke's name, causing Sakura to cheer, and Naruto and all of Sasuke's other fangirls to hang their heads. Iruka finished up calling out the names without further major disturbance, and told the genin to wait for their jounin senseis to come pick them up. At that point Iruka high tailed it, not wanting to be stuck in a room with a bunch of excitable kids longer than he had to. Hours passed, and one by one all of the teams were picked up by their jounin senseis, until only Teams 7 and 8 remained. The six remaining genin were all sitting off in a separate section. Kiba and Shino were sitting in random rows, both keeping their distance from the others. Hinata was huddled on the top row, trying not to be noticed. Sasuke was in the same seat he'd been in earlier, ignoring Sakura's blatant advances. Naruto had gotten up out of his seat, and was climbing towards the back row.

To the surprise of Team 8 (Sakura was too busy being a rapid fangirl and Sasuke was too busy being an emo prick to notice their surroundings) he sat down right next to Hinata. Shino just shrugged and went back to watching the door, while Kiba laughed until he couldn't breathe at how much Hinata was blushing. After watching the two and not seeing anything happening, he shifted his attention to the much more amusing show of Rabid Useless Fangirl vs. Egocentric Emo Avenger, Round 2.

Noticing that no one was paying attention to them, Naruto whispered to Hinata, "Hey, the last test we took wasn't the last one. There's another one to cut down on the number of genin who graduate each year coming right up."

"Wh-why are y-you t-telling m-me th-this?" she whispered back, having invented a whole new shade of red, and trying hard not to faint because Naruto was talking to her.

"I think that you have a good chance of passing, and I don't want you to be taken by surprise," he replied although Hinata almost did faint when Naruto complimented her, but reminded herself that doing such would make her look weaker than she already did.

"Th-thanks," she stammered.

Naruto plastered on his fox grin, being sure to keep his voice down as he’d also checked with a minute chakra web that the Sandaime Hokage was no longer watching the events of the classroom, "Don't be hard on yourself just because you can't master the Byuuken, Hinata. It's really not your fighting style anyways. You should try to learn something that incorporates for graceful moves or better yet you could make up your own style!"

"Al-alright," she stammered out. She was actually determined to take his advice to heart.

"If you ever need any help, find me. Alright?" Naruto asked. Hinata was saved from having to reply or possibly fainting by the arrival of Yuuhi Kurenai.

She stammered out a faint 'goodbye', Then she walked over to where her jounin sensei was standing. Naruto watched her go with amusement in his eyes. Although the kind, help everyone side of him scolded Naruto for embarrassing Hinata like that, the sadistic side of him actually enjoyed watching her almost have a heart attack because her hero was actually talking to her. Luckily for the inhabitants of Konoha the sadistic side of him was very small. Most of the time it didn't hold much weight. Minutes dragged into hours as Team 7 waited for their tardy sensei. Naruto, anticipating Kakashi's lateness, had brought along a scroll on politics among the human nations. They’re both shinobi orientated and non shinobi orientated. Sasuke sat where he'd sat since arriving there that morning, wearing the exact same expression and in the exact same position he'd been in when Naruto entered the classroom. Sakura had yet to get bored with obsessing over Sasuke. Her endless tirade continued. Half an hour later, Naruto started fidgeting more than he had been, extremely bored with the scroll. Deciding that it must be around Kakashi's arrival time, he walked over to the door. Snickering, he settled an eraser in between the wall and the sliding door.

"Naruto! Don't do something so immature! We'll get in trouble!" Sakura scolded him.

"Heh, he deserves it, being late like this!" Naruto said, getting down off of the stool. Mere seconds later Kakashi walked in, the eraser dropping onto his head.

'I can't believe he fell for that,' Sasuke thought.

"Ha, you fell for it, sensei!" Naruto shouted.

"Hn, my first impression of you guys is... I hate you," Kakashi said. Sasuke and Sakura sweat dropped at that point.

Naruto just shrugged and said, "Well, at the least you have the decency to be honest."

Kakashi briefly recalled that he'd probably felt hatred from the villagers all of his life, briefly felt sorry for the blonde before forgetting the whole issue as the memory would be filed away as unimportant, "Meet me on the roof in five minutes."

'Let's see... That means that we have about 5 hours before we even need to leave this room!' Naruto thought, but he still followed his two teammates to the roof, though becase he didn’t want to get in trouble.

"Alright, why don't you introduce yourselves?" Kakashi asked once they were all seated.

"What do you mean?" Sakura asked.

"What you like, hate, your hobbies, and your dream. Also tell your name," Kakashi replied.

"Um, sensei, why don't you go first?" Sakura asked.

"Alright... My name is Hatake Kakashi. I have no intention of telling you my like and dislikes. My dream is... I have few hobbies," he drawled.

"That wasn't very useful," Sakura whispered to her teammates, who were, coincidentally, completely ignoring her, "I mean all we learned is his name."

"Okay, you on the left, with the pink hair, go first," Kakashi said.

"My name is Haruno Sakura!" she declared. "My likes would be the person I like. My hobby is unimportant for you guys to know. My dream is to become a strong kunoichi.”

"Well, what do you hate?" Kakashi asked.

"Naruto!" she declared.

'Girls her age must be more interested in boys that ninja training,' Kakashi thought.

Meanwhile, Naruto was thinking something along the lines of, 'God damn it! I forgot how utterly useless she was!', or something like that. "Alright, you in the middle."

"My name is Uchiha Sasuke," he said in a dull monotone. "I don't like many things, and I hate a lot of things. I don't have any hobbies. What I have is not a dream, for I will make it a reality. My ambition is the resurrection of my clan... and to kill a certain man."

'You're not anywhere near Itachi's level, Sasuke. You do know that?' Naruto thought.

'Just as I suspected,' Kakashi thought. "You on the left!"

"My name is Uzumaki Naruto!” the blonde exclaimed. "I like playing pranks, learning new jutsu, training to get stronger, and learning anything even remotely relevant to the current day. I dislike people who discriminate against others or judge them without knowing the full story first. I also dislike people who can't see past their own noses and are either obsessed with themselves or with someone else. I really hate snakes and spiders. My hobbies are learning new jutsu and training. I have a dream, a goal, and an ambition, although I only feel like telling you my goal, which is to become the most powerful ninja ever!"

Then, almost as an afterthought, he added, "I also want to become the greatest of the Hokages!"

Interesting, Kakashi thought. "Well, would you mind telling us your dream and your ambition?"

"Yes, I would mind," Naruto replied coldly, "They are my business. Once I feel that I can trust you, I might tell you. Until then, feel free to keep on guessing."

Sakura snorted at how idiotic Naruto's statement was, while Sasuke just ignored the whole thing, although he was intrigued by the information that the blonde had an ambition. The way that he'd worded it, especially with Sasuke's introduction just a short while before, suggested the ambition being something that took precedence over both the dream and the goal, and the fact that he'd denied telling them it suggested a closely guarded secret. Kakashi's eyes narrowed at the suggestion that the blonde didn't trust his own team, before reminding himself that the boy's life hadn't exactly been the kind that would inspire automatic trust. He too was intrigued by Naruto's wording. The word dream suggested something that he wished would happen, but thought was very unlikely or had slim chances and so therefore he wouldn't dedicate himself towards its fulfillment until after he'd accomplished both his goal and his ambition. He arrived at the same conclusion about the ambition that Sasuke had.

"Listen up! Tomorrow we'll have our first mission," Kakashi told them.

"What kind of mission Kakashi-sensei?" Sakura asked.

"Survival training," he replied.

"Huh? But, Kakashi-sensei, we already had survival training in the Academy!" Sakura complained.

"This isn't normal survival training. The purpose of this is to weed out the weaker shinobi. Only three teams each year are allowed to pass, so that only the stronger shinobi actually make it into the ranks," Kakashi told them.

"B-but!" Sakura complained.

"No buts. Meet me at training ground 7 tomorrow morning at 5. Oh, yeah, don't eat breakfast. You might puke," Kakashi warned.

Naruto didn't hear him though, because he was busy trying to figure out what shapes the clouds were in. He didn't notice that the meeting was dismissed until the other three had already left. He then scrambled to his feet and set off in the direction of one of the most deserted training grounds, in order to try and wake up Stella. Naruto sat down in the middle of the most remote training ground in all of Konoha. Naruto was actually the only one who had come here in the past ten years. Here was where he slept when the villagers were being particularly bastardish and for the week surrounding his birthday.

He gathered as much chakra as he safely could, and as much youkai as he could access while calm and having Stella asleep, and started firing off a series of seals, some of them ones that hadn't been used in centuries. He finished the hand signs about 10 minutes later, and, slashing his palms open with a kunai, slammed his hands to the ground. The blood poured out into a red pool around his feet, the wounds refusing to even begin to heal as a side effect of the jutsu. Blue chakra laced thinly with red youkai picked up the blood and started spreading it in a pattern around him.

The main part of the seal consisted of Stella's clan symbol, the nine lines all joining a perfect circle that surrounded that emblem. Her clan symbol was an upside down pentagon, stylized to look like a fox's head, with nine lines spiraling out from behind it. The circle sat in the middle of a rectangle, its proportions that of the Golden Rectangle. Ancient runes were inscribed all throughout the design, forming twisting patterns. Hieroglyphics, run through with depictions of mythological creatures, also blanketed the area.

Concentrating as hard as he possibly could, Naruto started to chant in the language of the Ancients. He didn't understand what he was saying, and instead had memorized the verse he'd found written in the scroll. The seal started to glow a soft red color, all the shades of red shifting about within. The wind blew fiercely as the ritual continued, rivaling the winds of a hurricane. As suddenly as the gale had begun, it ceased, and the world was still and silent as Naruto collapsed, sinking into the very depths of his mind and soul.

Stella stirred. Something was tugging at her. She resisted, trying to return to the peaceful bliss of dreamless sleep. It didn't work. Whatever was calling her was too powerful to fight. She had to wake up and return to the world. The great demon fox blinked and opened her eyes. She beheld a high ceiling, it and all the walls covered in leaking pipes. On the fourth wall were the steel bars of a jail or a cage. She shifted around and looked out. The room before her was only slightly wider and taller than the cage door. It stretched back for a short distance, before hitting a wall with a single door in it. It was empty all except for a puny human child, who was just sitting there, staring up at her.

"Who dares interrupt my sleep?" she roared.

"I so dare!" the little blonde brat shouted back at her, but now that she looked closely at him, he resembled that blasted human who had had the nerve to seal her away.

"Come closer, brat," she snarled. Interesting that this boy didn't seem to be afraid of her. She'd just have to change that.

He just stared up at her. "Now, why should I do that? And, by the way, I have a name. It's Uzumaki Naruto!"

"Don't back talk me! You're nothing more than a pathetic human. If it wasn't for this cage, I'd rip you to shreds!” growled the kitsune.

"I beg to differ. I'm your Jinchuuriki, and thanks to that little seal there, I'm the one in control. Anyways, what's with the attitude?” asked Naruto.

Stella was about to reply, but then she hesitated. Come to think of it, she couldn't really remember what had happened. Her mind felt fuzzy and the only thing she could perceive was that she was angry, and she wanted to kill something. But why? She shook her head, trying to get the cobwebs out of her brain.

"What's it to you, brat? And why the Hell did you wake me up?"inquired Stella.

" I have something I need to do. It’s going to be hard to accomplish if you're being a complete and total bitch. I woke you up because at the moment we both have a few common enemies and common goals. It’s also because I need your help,” explained Naruto.

She narrowed her eyes. "What are you talking about?"

()()()()()

"Where's Kakashi-sensei and Naruto? They're late!" Sakura complained. It was currently four hours after their assigned meeting time, and so far only she and Sasuke had shown up.

About fifteen minutes later, Naruto came running up. Instead of his normal kill me orange jumpsuit he was clad in black pant with orange stripes running down the outside. He also had a black turtleneck jacket on. Thin orange stripes ran horizontally across it.

"Hey! Kakashi-sensei still isn't here yet?" he asked.

"Naruto-baka! Where were you? You're late!" Sakura fumed.

"Yo," Kakashi interrupted, poofing out of nowhere.

"You're late too! I can't believe you two! Both you and Naruto were four hours late!" she raged while Kakashi just shrugged.

"Hey, sensei, what's our test going to be?" Naruto asked, before Sakura could get any farther into her rant.

"The point of this test is to get one of these bells from me by noon," Kakashi said, holding up two shiny silver bells. "Whoever fails to retrieve a bell will be tied to one of those logs and won't be able to eat lunch, and will be sent back to the academy."

"Wait, then one of us is sure to fail!" Sakura complained.

"Yes, you're right," Kakashi said. "Doesn't matter. On three the test will start. One... Two... Three... GO!"

Both Sakura and Sasuke dashed off into the underbrush. Only Naruto remained in the open.

"I'm going to get a bell from you and pass this stupid test!" Naruto exclaimed, and charged Kakashi.

Sasuke was watching the two fight, dwelling on how stupid Naruto was being, when he heard someone tapped him on the shoulder. He turned his head to see... Naruto? Wait, wasn't Naruto fighting Kakashi? Naruto put his finger over his lips in shushing motion. He then signaled Sasuke to follow him. The raven narrowed his eyes, but complied anyways.

When the two were a good distance away from Kakashi and Naruto, the blonde said, "I've got a plan, Sasuke, but it'll require us to work together."

"Hn. Why should I work with you, dobe? And anyways, how are you in two places at once?" Sasuke asked.

"Kage bunshin," Naruto replied, causing Sasuke to express disbelief.

"I'll show you. Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" In a poof of smoke an exact replica of Naruto appeared which is definetely real. "As to why you should work with me, why not? There're two bells, so we can both pass. Anyways, Kakashi-sensei's a jounin. No way one of us is going to be able to beat him. If we work together though, we might stand a chance. Also, I'll go Ahead and be the fall guy. So, you don't have to take to many risks. I'll take most of the hits, and if we only get one bell you can have it."

Sasuke considered what Naruto said as he thought the dobe did have a good point, "Alright, what do you have in mind?"

()()()()()

"Never let your opponent get behind you," Kakashi said, poofing behind the Naruto clone, forming what looked like a tiger seal. "Sennin Goroshi!"

The Naruto clone was then sent flying, and ended up landing in the water. Kakashi turned back to reading his little orange book. Unbeknownst to him, Naruto and Sasuke were currently putting their diabolical plan into action. Suddenly, fifteen clones of Naruto came shooting out of the water, and charged Kakashi.

'They're real!' thought Sakura. Really, wasn't that kind of… I don't know, obvious?

'I'd heard that he could create shadow clones,' Kakashi mused, before turning to the barrage of Narutos.

"Now,” Naruto whispered to Sasuke when their sensei was being pinned by the clone that had appeared behind him.

Sasuke nodded and started going through the seals of the first fire jutsu he mastered, being careful not to make any sound. Then, holding the chakra, he crept up to Kakashi and released the ball of flame at him. Kakashi, unable to move thanks to the clones pinning him, and having failed to prepare a counter attack thanks to the fact that he hadn't been expecting Naruto and Sasuke to work together, was hit full force. When the smoke cleared, none of the kage bunshins were left. There wasn't hide or hair of Kakashi in sight. Sasuke's eyes widened, taking in this new information. Then, a hand shot up and pulled him into the ground. Apparently the Kakashi he'd attacked had been a shadow clone too. The real Kakashi had been hiding underground. Sasuke cursed as he was yanked into the ground, buried up to his neck. He knew he shouldn’t have trusted the dobe, let alone agreed to work with him!

'Now!' Sakura thought, remembering the cue that her blonde haired teammate had told her about.

She, naturally, believed that the idea of the three of them working together was all Sasuke's idea, and seeing as how that was what Naruto had told her, it wasn't too outrageous.

()

"Hey! Sakura-chan!" Naruto whispered, tapping his teammate on the shoulder. She spun around and asked him what he was doing. "Sorry, but Sasuke-teme told me..."

"Go on, what did Sasuke tell you?" she asked.

"He said that the real purpose of this test is to see how well we work together, and that there are only two bells in order to drive a wedge between us, and make us work independently, but if we all work together, we will have a shot," he explained, still whispering.

"Naruto-baka, you do realize that one of us would still fail?" Sakura asked.

Understanding dawned on Naruto's face, the expression that clearly said 'Oh, duh. Oops.' written on his face, "Don't worry Sakura-chan. You can have my bell!"

Sakura nodded. That way she and Sasuke-kun would be on the same team, without the idiotic Naruto-baka annoying her and ruining her love with Sasuke!

"Okay!" she whispered, "What's the plan?"

Naruto smirked inwardly as he explained her role in the plan. Hook, line, and sinker. He'd known that if she told her that Sasuke requested that she help, she'd do anything, while if he suggested it she would ignore him. He’d lose points for leaving her out.

()

Kakashi turned to the incoming bubblegum-haired kunoichi and sighed. He should've expected something like this from her. She was being a complete moron. All three of the ones on the battlefield failed to notice Naruto sitting in the trees a little bit off. He was currently directed the actions of a young red fox using mental nudges and images, simple body language, sound, and scent languages not being able to convey complex enough information. His intention was that, in the confusion of things, Kakashi wouldn't notice the fox sneaking up to him. He was right. The fox went unnoticed up until when it had actually grabbed the bells in its mouth. It was able to do this because Kakashi was currently resting on his ankles, switching between lecturing Sasuke and poking Sakura to see if she was even still alive, let alone okay, after she'd fainted from the genjutsu he'd cast on her. In reality, she hadn't fainted, only pretended to, because she'd known about the likelihood of getting caught in a genjutsu and what to do from what Naruto had told her, and was tempted to jump up and hit her sensei as he poked her somewhere he really shouldn't have...

When Kakashi and Sasuke heard the jingle of the bells being disturbed, their attention was drawn to Kakashi's belt, where a guilty looking fox was standing on its hind legs, about to snap the string the bells were attached to. Before Kakashi could recover from his shock at such an unlikely event, it yanked the bells off of his belt and dashed off into the woods. Kakashi soon followed after it. When he was sure that Kakashi was gone, Naruto jumped down to where his two teammates were, and started helping Sasuke out of the hole. Sakura then stopped faking and stood up. As soon as Sasuke had gotten up, the three heard the bell ring.

"Time's up!" Kakashi called out poofing in front of his team although he felt slightly surprised that Sakura had woken up so fast and at Sasuke's speed in getting out of the hole, but he didn't show it.

Naruto fox-grinned and pulled out the two bells as he declared, "Looks like we passed, sensei!"

"You forgot something, Naruto. Only two of you can pass," Kakashi reminded the blonde. His grin only widened.

"Hey, Naruto, didn't you say that you'd give your bell to me?" Sakura asked, reminding Naruto of his promise.

"When'd he say that?" Sasuke asked, trying to figure out what the hell was happening. Sakura's involvement hadn't been in the original plan.

"After he told me about your plan, Sasuke-kun!" Sakura exclaimed. Sasuke was immensely confused by this, but he didn't show it.

"Heh, you're probably wondering what she'd talking about, teme," Naruto said. Now it was Sakura's turn to be confused. "I kind of told her that you came up with the plan, since I knew she wouldn't listen to anything I had to say, and that she'd jump at the chance to help you."

"Huh? What?" Sakura asked. But, hadn't Sasuke made the plan?

"He means I didn't make the plan, Sakura. It was his idea," Sasuke informed her, annoyance creeping into his tone. "I didn't even know that he was involving you. The plan he told me only involved him and me."

Kakashi's visible eye arched slightly. From the sounds of it, Naruto tricked his two teammates into working together, telling each of them what they wanted to hear in order to convince them to help, "What did he tell you, Sasuke?"

"He pointed out that since there were two bells, two of us could pass. The plan he told me had him being the fall guy in every way possible. He was intended to be the distraction for me to give me an edge over you. He said that if we only got one bell he'd let me have it since it was his idea. I didn't know about how he'd planned for Kakashi to drag me into the ground or for Sakura to rush out, further distracting him while he pick his pocket," Sasuke said in a monotone.

"Well, it seems like Naruto managed to trick you both. Although, that still doesn't remedy the situation of there only being two bells," Kakashi said.

Naruto grinned, "But, Kakashi-sensei, wasn't the intention of all of this to test our ability to work as a team, despite the fact that one of us was sure to fail? Wasn't the whole two bells and three genin thing to divide our ranks and make us fight each other?"

Kakashi's eye widened, wondering how had the so-called dead last seen through his plan so efficiently as Naruto added, "Anyways, even if my assumptions are incorrect, I still know a way for all three of us to pass."

His two teammates and one sensei were all confused for a second, before Naruto formed the ever familiar seal to call out, "Kage Koumoku no Jutsu!"

This caused a third bell to poof into existence in his hand. He then randomly mixed the three up out of sight. That way it’s impossible to tell between them. He hen handed one to his slack-jawed female teammate and one to his scowling, cute male teammate.

"Where the hell did you learn that?" Kakashi asked.

To say he was surprised would be an extreme understatement. He'd never even heard of that jutsu. The closest thing to it was the Kage Shuriken no Jutsu, which had quite different results which meant that either the blonde had learned an extremely little known technique, or that he created it himself.

"I made it up myself! It's a variation on the Kage Bunshin no Jutsu. Instead of forming a clone of the user, it creates a clone of something the user's holding. I figured that if the principle of solid clones could be applied to living organisms and shuriken, why not to a whole assortment of items?" Naruto explained.

Kakashi sighed. Apparently there was a lot more to this kid than meets the eye. It actually worried him. If the blonde was hiding such intelligence so artfully, and if he had been able to act well enough to fool his two teammates and one sensei so completely, then who knows what else he was hiding. Kakashi then resolved to keep a much closer eye on the boy.

"Alright, you three all pass! You seem to all understand the principle of working together in order to combine your strength. Therefore, you’re able to make yourselves much more powerful than you normally would be. Meet me on the bridge tomorrow at five for our first real mission,” said Kakashi before he poofed away, heading to make his report at the Hokage's Tower.

Naruto turned to his two teammates before he said, "If I were you two, I'd take this chance to sleep in. He's probably going to show up at the least three hours late again."

Sasuke inwardly nodded. From what he'd seen their sensei was chronically tardy. Why not take advantage of that. Sakura, meanwhile, was thinking of how much of an idiot Naruto was. Of course they had to show up on time! The three then parted ways to go where ever it the hell they went when they had nothing to do with their time.

Naruto sighed and wandered off in order to figure out what effects the altered seal would have. One of the nasty side effects of the jutsu he'd used was that it changed the seal. The runes and hieroglyphics should've changed it into exactly what Naruto had intended, but he wasn't sure that he'd gotten everything correct. Anyways, no matter how troublesome figuring out the new seal would be, he was much better off safe than sorry. It probably would help his nerves if he was fluent in the language used, but he guessed he’d learn more from Stella.

A/N: Oks, that’s the end of chappie two! I hope ya’ll enjoyed. Please remember to leave your thoughts in whatever comments you post to this along with the other stuff I have up lovelies!

Chapter Text

A/N: Hey ya’ll! It’s Kuro-chan here with the next chappie of this lovely story of epicness. I hope ya’ll are enjoying it so far. Oks, here’s the deal about this story. There are eighteen chappies in total. I plan on putting out three chappies of this per week. I hope that sounds good with ya’ll. I’ll do my best with editing this, but any further edits will occur later when I have more time on my hands. So, please pardon me if there are any mistakes because they will be fixed eventually. Anyways, please enjoy and R&R!

Chapter 3

"Hokage-sama," Naruto's voice rang out. The Sandaime glanced up, concerned. Since when had Naruto been so serious?

"What is it Naruto?" he asked the blonde.

"I was wondering if next time my team comes in for a mission we could receive a C-rank."

Sarutobi sighed, puffing on his pipe. "I know that you're probably bored with the D-rank mission, but they are a necessary part of our economy. The clients come in with requests for all sorts of missions, ranging from baby-sitting to assassinations. These missions are sorted by difficulty, and the client pas us a certain fee based on the rank. Genin such as you do D-rank missions, focusing mainly on improving your skills and teamwork outside of battle."

"I know that, jiji, but don't you think that a real life situation would better help improve how we cooperate? Anyways, my team is divided by several things, and just trying to befriend each other isn't going to do anything. The only way I can see us putting aside our differences and working together is if we're forced to rely on each other in a real fight, even a low-level one," Naruto said, his tone conveying complete seriousness.

Sarutobi nodded. The blonde had a point. Once again he wondered if there was more to the boy than met the eye. He'd been troubled by Kakashi's report of the boy's intelligence, and of the fact that he'd apparently been holding back. Even more troubling was the information of Mizuki's death. Normally, he would've attributed the mortal blow to an accident caused by an oblivious genin in the heat of battle, but now he couldn't help but wonder. What if Naruto had killed Mizuki on purpose. Perhaps he covered his tracks by making it look accidental? He shook his head at the notion. Surely, even when angered, Naruto couldn't kill a person purposefully... Right?

"You have a good point, Naruto," he told the blonde, "If your teammates agree to being given a higher ranked mission, I'm sure that I have one fit for genin."

Naruto nodded and, fox-grinning, ran out the window with a shout of, "Thanks, jiji!" The Hokage sighed as he dwelled on the other purpose of him giving Naruto the mission. A real life situation, with real life battle, would be the perfect testing ground for Naruto's prowess. He then began sorting through the C-rank mission, trying to find something that could be accomplished by a rookie genin team.

"Thank you so much for returning my precious Tora-chan to me!" the fat old lady squealed. It was the third time since they'd graduated that they'd been assigned that mission although seeing as how this was their seventh mission, that was saying something.

Heh heh, serves that damn cat right! Stella cackled in Naruto's mind. Even though her behavior had become slightly more civilized than it had been in the original timeline after the same amount of time had passed although she was still a sadistic, bloodthirsty monster. Naruto felt weird thinking of how she was so different from his memories of shortly before he'd died. Then, she'd truly deserved the title of nee-chan, for although she was still rough on him, she actually helped Naruto and took his feelings into consideration yet Naruto couldn't help but agree.

Explains why she runs away so damn much. I'd high-tail it too if I were her, Naruto commented, watching the lady practically strangle her cat.

"Alright then. For your next mission you can choose between helping the Fire Daimyo's wife with her shopping, weeding a garden, baby-sitting," the Hokage began, only to be interrupted by Naruto.

He, of course, had every intention of giving the team a C-rank, but it would look suspicious if he decided to do so right off the bat. He just hoped that Naruto would pick up on his charade.

"No! I am sick and tired of these stupid D-rank missions!" Naruto shouted. Iruka then shouted at him, telling him to be more respectful.

"Naruto, you and your team are only rookie genins," Sarutobi began, glad that Naruto had picked up on the act and was playing his part so well, even though his ability to detect the charade only added to the mystery that was Uzumaki Naruto.

He was interrupted by Naruto bursting out, "But jiji, these missions are way too simple! They could easily be done by Academy Students! Also, our teamwork and personal skills are never going to improve if all we do is mow lawns and chase cats."

Before anyone could say anything else, Sasuke interjected. "He has a point, you know."

Sakura had originally been thinking that she was fine with D-ranked missions, seeing as how anything higher level would be way harder and would put her life in danger. Her fan-girl self overrode her cautious self, though, and she immediately began agreeing with Sasuke.

Sarutobi nodded. "Alright, if the three of you are so eager, we do have one C-rank mission befit of genin."

The three members of team seven immediately perked up, focusing their attention on the Hokage. Naruto was mentally crossing his fingers that they'd get the right one.

"Your job is to escort the client to Wave Country, providing standard protection from bandits. Bring in the client!" called out the Hokage.

The door was then opened by a drunken old man, leaning against the frame for support. "These brats are the ones guarding me? You don't expect me to believe that they are actually ninja! Especially the short one with the stupid look on his face."

Everyone on Team 7 instantly knew who he was talking to, and braced themselves for the upcoming outburst. But Naruto, contrary to expectations, remained perfectly calm.

"If I were you, I wouldn't judge a shinobi based on age or looks. There are ninja half my age that can inspire terror in the heart of a hardened killer, and in the shinobi world appearances are never to be held as if true,” said Naruto as the older people in the room agreed. Even though they all thought that Naruto wasn't much to be afraid of while it’s a deadly mistake to base one’s opinion of someone on how they looked.

Tazuna snorted, "Gaki, my name is Tazuna! The great bridge builder of the Wave! You'll do well to respect me, and as my bodyguards I expect you to give me super protection!"

"Respect a drunken old man who doesn't have the sense to not go around insulting people who could easily kill him? Ya, right!" Naruto exclaimed flippantly. Tazuna just scowled.

"Meet at the gates in two hours," Kakashi told his team before the fight could get out of control. "And be on time."

The three other members of Team 7 all nodded and headed off, while Tazuna merely grunted and walked away. Naruto was sitting on a rooftop nearby the gates. He could see his two teammates and their client gathered there, waiting for him and his chronically tardy sensei. Crossing his fingers in the ever familiar ram seal, he summoned ten shadow clones. He'd planned out his strategy ahead of time, so they all knew what to do without being told. Two of them would scout ahead, making sure that nothing was changed. Six would head to Gatou's hideout, mapping out the area and taking note of the strengths and weaknesses of his bodyguards. Two of these six would work to find out about and then replace Gatou's personal bodyguards. They would disguise themselves as the samurai using the Kitsune technique known as Henshin no Jutsu. The remaining two would stay in Konoha, disguising themselves while looking through the village's standards on accepting foreign ninja into its ranks. Sighing, he got up and went to join his team. He would naturally prefer to deal with the problems as they came, making something up on the spot, but such a move would be risky, and he doubted that he could get away with traveling back in time again if he failed to save anyone.

"Alright, let's go!" Kakashi said, poofing in next to his team.

"You're late!" both Sakura and Naruto screamed.

"A black cat crossed my path so I had to go around Konoha in order to avoid years of bad luck," Kakashi explained.

"That would actually be a good excuse if you were in fact superstitious, Kakashi-sensei," Naruto said, being serious again. "Nice try, though."

Sasuke inwardly blinked at Naruto's sudden mood swing from quiet and thoughtful, to loud, stupid, and obnoxious, then to serious and intelligent. By now he wasn't too surprised by the Jinchuuriki's antics, like he had been originally when he'd thought of Naruto as someone who was always an idiotic annoyance. It was actually kind of cute how the boy would be acting all serious then would stop paying attention and do something stupid. Wait, had he seriously just thought that? He must be coming down with something…

"Let’s go!" Naruto shouted, cutting off Kakashi's reply although it proved to be a perfect example of when the blonde would forget he was a ninja and act like a little kid.

"What are you so excited about?" Sakura asked, annoyed.

"This is our first chance for an actual real fight! Even is it's against bandits," Naruto explained, noticing Kakashi shook his head at the fox-boy's eagerness to fight. He could get killed with that kind of attitude.

"Calm down everyone, and fall into traveling formation. Sasuke, you will take the front with Naruto right behind you. Tazuna, you will be in the middle. Sakura will follow you and I'll bring up the rear," Kakashi said.

"Hai!" Sakura replied. Sasuke just 'hn'ed, while Naruto shrugged and Tazuna grunted.

()()()()()

The next day, after they had been walking for a few hours along the dry, dusty road, they came upon a puddle. Now, normally, a puddle wouldn't be that much to comment on, but for an observant Kakashi, it was the sign of an enemy being present. And it provided the perfect source of entertainment for a certain very bored genin.

Splash!

The tense silence was broken as Naruto noisily rushed the puddle and jumped in, both feet landing the same time and effectively scattering the collected water. He heard a faint 'Umph', but he could've been imagining things.

"Naruto-baka! What was that?" Sakura fumed, angry that Naruto had been so spontaneous on a serious mission.

"Sakura-chan, but I was bored, and with the recent drought, there aren't hardly any puddles to jump in! Such a large one was just begging to be splashed all over the place!" Naruto explained.

Sasuke's eyes widened at the sudden revelation. Of curse such a large puddle in the middle of a drought was out of place! He needed to be on his guard. Naturally, the whole situation went over Sakura's head, and she just berated Naruto for being immature. Kakashi was annoyed by the bubblegum-haired girl's ignorance, and the audacity of her to call her teammate a moron when she was being a complete idiot. He also couldn't help but wonder if the blonde had called attention to the puddle's presence on purpose, in order to alert his team to the danger. They continued walking in the same formation they had been earlier, when suddenly two chains wrapped around Kakashi from behind and cut him into bits.

"One down, three to go!" a gruff voice snarled.

Sakura was obviously terrified, while Sasuke was acting calm. Naruto was also showing fear, although if one looked closely they'd notice something off. Maybe it was how little his pupils had dilated or the confident undertone to his stance, which by all means should've conveyed petrifying fear.

"You're the little brat that stepped on me!" one of them hissed as he swiped at Naruto with his claws, but he realized his mistake when the blonde smirked, only to be replaced by a log. 'Substitution!'

Without a word Naruto appeared behind the missing-nin, aiming a kick at his head. The younger of the Demon Brothers tried to dodge, but because he had been in mid-air he was only able to move slightly, and Naruto's foot grazed his head, throwing him off track. When he righted himself he and his brother hooked their chains and charged Naruto. They heard a slight whoosh as a shuriken hit their chain in the center, pinning it to a tree. Before they could yank their weapon away from the tree, Naruto threw a kunai, pinning the shuriken and ruining their hopes of that.

Scowling, the two of them unlinked their gauntlets from the connecting chain. The elder then charged Tazuna, while the younger went after Sasuke. Sakura jumped in front of Tazuna, a kunai held in a ready position, intent on protecting their client. Sasuke shifted his stance and jumped upwards, trying to get behind his opponent. No such luck. Meizu (the younger demon brother) just pivoted and swiped at him. Sasuke was unable to dodge. Before a hit could be landed, though, Naruto tackled Meizu, making his attack go off course, missing Sasuke.

Meizu threw Naruto off, dividing his attention between the two genins. Before he had time to react, Naruto had shadow cloned, surrounding him. Meizu jumped up, landing outside the ring of Narutos, only to be kicked in the head by Sasuke. While he was still disorientated, several of the clones appeared under him and kicked upwards. Then another jumped in the air and punched him in the gut. The final Naruto clone was several yards away and at this point he let loose a barrage of kunai and shuriken. Several imbedded themselves into the missing-nin. While this was going on Kakashi had intercepted Gozu's attack, knocking him out. (Gozu is the older demon brother) Kakashi then proceeded to knock out Meizu, congratulating his students on a job well done.

After he had tied up the two demon brothers, Kakashi turned to Tazuna. "Would you care to explain why two B-ranked missing-nins from Kirigakure were trying to kill you?"

"I don't know what you're talking about!" Tazuna exclaimed, unnerved that the jounin had caught on so fast.

"Tazuna-san, they were targeting you specifically, meaning that they were hired to take you out, and that their actions aren't just shinobi attacking shinobi. Isn't that why you choose to wait on the sidelines, Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto asked. Kakashi was evidently surprised by the blonde's insight. "Anyways, knowing Gatou he wouldn't want anyone to build a bridge to the mainland, thereby providing another trade route other than shipping, which he has a monopoly over. He'd also be likely to hire high level ninja, such as chunin and jounin, to do his dirty work."

"Naruto, do you mean to say you've known all along that this mission was at a higher level than a C-rank?" Kakashi asked, his visible eye narrowing. That brat… He could've told them this!

"Yup! Oh, before you ask me why the hell I'd do something like that, it's because I'm bored and I really want a good fight. I'm confident that we can win!" Naruto replied, grinning.

"Well, this mission is too high of a level for genin. We'll have to go back…" Kakashi began, only to once again be interrupted by Naruto.

"No! I'm going to continue! And I'm going to protect Tazuna-san! I've already committed to this mission, and I never go back on my word!" Naruto almost shouted. "Anyways, if we quit now, Tazuna will be slain and the Wave's last hope will die with him!"

"You have a point. Sasuke, Sakura, do the two of you also want to continue?" Kakashi asked reluctantly.

"Hai," Sasuke said. Sakura had been considering backing down, but then the thought crossed her mind that Sasuke might like her less if she went against his wishes, so she also quickly added her consent.

"Well, I am a jounin, and the mission couldn't be that hard… I guess we'll have to continue," Kakashi said, shrugging. Sasuke smirked in reply and Naruto jumped up, shouting, "Yatta!"

The four shinobi and one civilian got to the dock without further mishap, crossing the section of ocean that divided the Wave from the mainland quietly and quickly. Tazuna quietly thanked the rower when they arrived, knowing how much of a risk he was taking in transporting them. When they entered the forest where they'd previously been attacked, Naruto tensed, his eyes scanning the foliage. Kakashi didn't fail to notice this, and wondered what had the blonde so on edge. After walking for a few minutes, Naruto suddenly threw a kunai into the bushes. Sakura yelped, while Naruto ducked into where he'd thrown the knife. He came out a few seconds later with a dazed white rabbit in his arms.

"Naruto! Don't scare me like that!" Sakura scolded. "And look what you did to that poor bunny!"

"First of all, Sakura, you are a ninja, and therefore shouldn't be scared by something as simple as your teammate throwing a kunai," Naruto commented nonchalantly which caused Sakura to blush a crimson red at his words. "And second of all, this is a snow rabbit, and they're only white in the winter. While it's currently the summer. That means that this rabbit was kept in captivity, either being someone's pet or being intended for a substitution jutsu."

Kakashi was once again surprised at how smart the boy was being, but then again he was getting used to surprises like this. There was definitely more to Naruto than met the eye. Sakura just looked confused, while Sasuke was wary. If the rabbit was used for substitution, then that meant an enemy was nearby. Sakura merely couldn't figure out how Naruto deduced such a thing. So, she decided that it was all a bunch of idiocy. Therefore, the kunoichi thought he was incorrect.

"Naruto-baka!" she began, only to be interrupted by both Naruto and Kakashi shouting "Duck!"

Kakashi pulled Tazuna down to the ground, while Naruto tackled Sakura, removing her from harms way. Sasuke was able to react fast enough to dodge the blade that came spinning through where his midsection would've been. The five travelers looked up to see a zanbato embedded in the trunk of a large tree, a well muscled man standing on the hilt. He turned his head slightly, looking back at the group.

'I see,' Kakashi thought. 'If he is to be our opponent, I'll need this!'

He then grabbed the edge of his headband and lifted it up until it was resting on his forehead, revealing his sharingan.

"So, you are the famous copy ninja of Konoha, Sharingan no Kakashi," Zabuza stated.

Sasuke started at the information. 'He has the sharingan? But how? Only certain members of the Uchiha clan could ever hope to develop the sharingan. Does that mean that he's…?'

"Sharingan? What's that?" Sakura asked.

"A powerful doujutsu, unique to the Uchiha clan. It allows the user to see through genjutsu, taijutsu, and ninjutsu," Sasuke replied.

"It's also one of the three Densetsu no Gengan," Naruto added.

Sasuke tensed suddenly. How did the dobe know about the Densetsu no Gengan, and the sharingan's status as one of the three? Haku, who was watching from the sidelines, was surprised that the sharingan was such a powerful doujutsu. He'd heard about the Densetsu no Gengan before, and how immensely powerful they were. Not only that, but supposedly the three kekkei genkai were all either unique to demon clans or found in human clans that could trace their lineage back to a particularly strong demon that had the kekkei genkai within the last century or two. Everyone else was just confused.

"What's a 'Densetsu no Gengan?'" Sakura asked, voicing her confusion.

"It refers to a specific type of kekkei genkai that deals with the eyes. Normally kekkei genkai aren't sorted all that much, if at all. The main categories are kekkei genkai that deal with elements, kekkei genkai that deal with the eyes, kekkei genkai that affect either the body or the mind, and miscellaneous kekkei genkai. As the name suggests, Densetsu no Gengan are eye kekkei genkai that, in their ultimate form, allow the user to utilize a high powered genjutsu," Naruto explained. "I think that there used to be more than three, but the others have all died out by now."

Kakashi inwardly nodded. He'd already known that the sharingan at its best allowed the user to cast 'Tsukiyomi', and the fact that someone would make specific note of bloodlines with such capabilities made sense. Zabuza just shrugged. So maybe the sharingan had a fancy addition at its most powerful. Kakashi still had yet to come close to fully mastering the famous doujutsu of the Uchiha clan.

"That isn't all the sharingan does, brat," Zabuza said. "It also allows the user to analyze the opponent's moves, speeding up reaction time and allowing for the copying of jutsu. It is said that the Copy Ninja had copied over a thousand jutsu with that eye of his."

Sasuke, Sakura, and Tazuna were all clearly surprised at the information. Naruto tensed, knowing that the fight was about to start, and Kakashi just started copying the water clones jutsu, preparing to not only fight Zabuza but also to protect his team and client. Sasuke could feel the killer intent rolling off of the two jounin. He began shaking, his thoughts desending into panic.

Naruto, his nose sharpened by Stella, could smell the fear scent tainting his smell, and rushed to reassure him. "Don't be scared, Sasuke. I'm sure that Kakashi-sensei will protect us! If he can't, I'll just beat this Zabuza guy to a pulp!"

Shaken out of his thoughts, and slightly angered at himself for his cowardice, he replied, "Oh, yeah? Like a dobe like you could do anything!"

Kakashi inwardly smiled at Naruto's strategy for cheering up his team, as Sakura shook off her fear to scold Naruto for being overconfident. Instead of giving into fear, he gave his team something to focus on rather than their impending doom.

"Naruto's right. There's no need to worry. I won't let my comrades die. I'll protect you three with my life," he said as the two genin calmed down immensely due to being reassured by their sensei's confidence.

The mist began to thicken as Zabuza initiated his jutsu, until the genin would barely be able see their hands if they stretched their arms out in front of them. Sasuke, Sakura, and Tazuna all tensed as they heard the voice of Zabuza float out of the mist, seeming to come from all directions.

"Eight choices." The wispy, deep voice sounded like the voice of a ghost, come to haunt the genin.

"Wh-what was th-that?" Sakura stammered, unnerved.

"Liver, lungs, spine, jugular vein," the voice continued, ignoring Sakura's blatant fear. "Carotid artery, brain, kidneys, and heart. Now, which critical hit should I go after?"

"You forgot the femoral artery and the Achilles tendon," Naruto commented, diffusing the aura of doom that Zabuza had built up. "If the femoral artery if cut, excessive bleeding occurs, swiftly killing the victim. If the Achilles tendon is cut you're pretty much screwed in a fight."

Without further adieu, Zabuza jumped and landed in the middle of the defense formation Team 7 was in.

"You're too cocky for your own good, kid," he said, preparing to sever the four in half, only to be blocked by Kakashi.

The three genin and one civilian immediately jumped away from the two jounin, giving them room to fight. Water leaked out of the wound Kakashi had made in Zabuza's stomach, before said missing-nin suddenly turned into a puddle of water. He reappeared behind Kakashi, swinging his sword. The legendary Copy Ninja didn't have time to dodge, and was cut in half.

"Sensei!" Sakura screamed. Suddenly, the blood and flesh turned to water, making her feel like a fool.

"So, you'd already copied my jutsu by the time you made your little speech," Zabuza said. Kakashi materialized behind him, a kunai at his throat.

"Give up. It's over," Kakashi said, playing the part of the ultra-cool jounin while Zabuza merely smirked at him.

"Oh really?" he asked.

Kakashi's visible eye widen as he slit the water clone's throat, spinning to defend against the opponent which had suddenly appeared behind him. He wasn't fast enough, though, and was kicked into the water.

'Good thing I was able to escape into the lake!' Kakashi thought. 'Hey wait, there's something wrong. This water's unusually dense.'

He started when a voice called out, "Suirou no Jutsu!"

Mentally slapping himself on the forehead, Kakashi thought, 'Oh, right, he's a water ninja! Oops.'

"Mizu Bunshin no Jutsu!" Zabuza called out, forming a clone of himself in front of the three genin.

"You three! Run! You can't hope to beat Zabuza! He's using all of his power to hold me, and his water clone can't go far from his body! Take the bridge builder and get the hell out of here before he kills you! Stay on mission!" Kakashi yelled at his team.

'Sorry sensei, no can do,' Sasuke thought, "If we run he'll just hunt us down and kill us later. Running stopped being an option the moment you got caught.'

Without warning, Sasuke charge Zabuza, jumping into the air. The water clone easily blocked his attack and sent him flying onto the ground. He then stepped on the boy's chest, applying pressure so as to slowly crack the ribs located under his foot. Sasuke let out a scream of pain as he felt his ribs begin to give under the pressure.

"Leave Sasuke alone, you bastard!" Naruto screamed, charging the clone.

The clone only smirked, and sent Naruto flying back, Sasuke with him. "Pathetic. The three of you have forehead protectors as if you're ninja. But the word ninja refers to someone who has gone through numerous life and death situations. In other words, you may be able to call yourself a ninja when you become so deadly that your profile appears in my bingo book. When you have hovered on the line between life and death so many time that it ceases to faze you, then you may have earned the title ninja. But to call upstarts like you ninja… Is a joke!"

The Zabuza clone formed a hand seal and disappeared again, only to reappear when he kicked Naruto in the stomach, sending the blonde genin flying, his headband flying off. The Zabuza clone smirked and stepped on the metal plate.

"You should listen to your sensei," Zabuza said. "There's no way a bunch of brats like you can ever hope to beat me!"

"That's what you think!" Naruto yelled, charging the clone. He was once again sent flying back, but this time his efforts were not in vain.

He's managed to recover his headband, before he then proceeded to speak, "Hey, freak with no eyebrows, put this in your bingo book!"

“What would that be?” asked Zabuza.

Naruto then began tying his headband onto his forehead, looking up determinedly. "The future Hokage, he never give up or backs down n his word! His name's Uzumaki Naruto!"

Sasuke smirked at his speech. It was typical of the boy to do something like that. Sakura merely shook her head at Naruto's foolishness.

"Alright guys! Let's go wild!" Naruto announced. Grinning, he then formed the ram seal and shouted 'Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!' Over fifty clones poofed in around the missing-nin. All drew their kunai.

Looking around, Zabuza said, "Shadow clones. Impressive. But still not enough to beat me!"

"I'll make you eat your words!" one of the clones shouted. On some unknown signal all of them charged, but their actions were to no avail.

The Zabuza clone quickly threw them off, popping many and sending the real Naruto skidding. The only remaining blonde then pulled a fuuma shuriken out of his pack, and threw it to Sasuke. Catching the large weapon, Sasuke recognized the faint chakra signature coming off it.

'So that was your plan!' he thought. Jumping in the air, the raven threw his own shuriken along with the one Naruto had passed him. Both went around the clone.

Zabuza managed to catch the first one, and jump over the second. He was confident in his ability, but then the sight of the Uchiha smirking threw him off balance, and made him replay the previous scene. Before he could arrive to any conclusions that would explain the expression on the usually stoic boy's face, the shuriken that had been tossed behind him disappeared in a poof of smoke, revealing Naruto. The trickster then threw a barrage of kunai at the real Zabuza, forcing him to leap away from Kakashi, releasing the prison of water.

"You brat," Zabuza growled, preparing to swing the fuuma shuriken at Naruto, only to be blocked by Kakashi.

"Your fight's with me," the jounin stated.

He then straightened on the water, leaping away from Zabuza. Scowling, the Demon of the Mist began gathering chakra for his attack. Taking advantage of the fact that the two were distracted, Naruto quietly swam to the shore and crawled out. He, his two teammates, and Tazuna all watched intently as the two high level jounin battled, until finally Kakashi, using his sharingan, was able to gain the upper hand, overpowering Zabuza's waterfall jutsu, sending the missing-nin barreling back into the woods to be pinned against a tree. Throwing two kunai at him, Kakashi prepared to finish off Zabuza.

"C-Can you see the future?" Zabuza asked, scared of how Kakashi had been able to predict everything from the jutsu he was going to use to the words he was going to say.

"Yes," Kakashi replied. "And your future… Is death!"

Before the jounin could land a finishing blow, though, two senbon impaled Zabuza in the side of the neck, seeming to kill him. Suddenly, a hunter-nin appeared on one of the tree branched.

"Who are you?" Sakura shouted in challenge.

"I am a hunter-nin from Kirigakure. I was assigned to kill Zabuza. Thank you for incapacitating him for me."

"Stand down, Sakura. He's right," Kakashi said.

Jumping down to the forest floor, the hunter-nin said, "If you don't mind, I will now take this body to dispose of." He then disappeared in a swirl of leaves, transporting away. Kakashi soon turned to head over to Tazuna's house, but collapsed before he could go very far.

"Sensei!" Sakura called out.

"He's fine. He just used up too much chakra," Naruto said. "Come on; let's get him to Tazuna-san's house."

She nodded and tried to pick up her sensei, but she was having trouble. Seeing this, Naruto came over and supported their sensei's other side, allowing the two genin to carry Kakashi to safety, Sasuke trailing behind with Tazuna taking the lead.

"Are you alright?" Tsunami asked when she saw the masked ninja waking up. He groaned in response.

"What happened?" Kakashi asked.

"You passed out from chakra exhaustion," Sasuke replied. He'd been passing by the doorway, and seeing that his sensei was up, decided to raise the issue of what was going on.

Before the raven could say anything, Kakashi ordered, "Go find the others. I have something to tell the three of you."

Sasuke 'hn'ed and walked out. Ten minutes later all three member of Team 7 had gathered in their sensei's room. Tazuna also came, and Kakashi could sense a sixth presence beyond that of the five gathered. He assumed it was the grandson that Tazuna had spoken of earlier.

"What did you want to tell us sensei?" Naruto asked, anticipating what was to come next.

"I think that Zabuza might still be alive," he announced. Everyone in the room gasped in disbelief.

"But how?" Sakura asked.

"Now that I think about it, a hunter-nin would've disposed of the body on the spot, in order to help eliminate risk of the body's secrets getting out. That hunter-nin grabbed the body and left. I think he might have been on Zabuza's side all along, and the whole charade with him pretending to kill Zabuza was just that, a trick meant to throw us of course, and have us believe that the danger is over. It would also serve to safely remove Zabuza from any danger he might be in," Kakashi explained.

"Makes sense. So then are we going to train in case the two of them come back?" Naruto asked.

"Hai. I won't be able to fight for a week, but I will be able to train you three. Meet me outside this house tomorrow morning," Kakashi told his team.

"Hatake-san, don't you think that you should rest a bit longer in order to give your leg more time to heal?" Tsunami asked worriedly.

"No, but thank you for your concern. I'm a ninja and have had much more debilitating injuries than this," Kakashi said.

"Alright," she sighed, resigned.

"Alright, team, listen up!" Kakashi commanded the next day. He and the genin of Team 7 were currently standing in the middle of a clearing in the woods not too far from Tazuna's house. "We're going to be climbing trees today."

Two of the three genin were evidently confused, although Sasuke showed it way less than Sakura did. "What do you mean sensei? We already know how to climb trees!" she exclaimed.

"Ah, yes, but do you know how to climb them with just your feet?" their teacher asked.

"I do!" Naruto shouted. His two teammates and one sensei turned to him.

"Well, then, show us," Kakashi said, thinking that the blonde was just bluffing in order to look cooler because he seriously doubted that the boy had the level of control required for the tree climbing exercise.

"Alright!" Naruto shouted.

He then walked towards one of the trees. And kept on going. To his team's amazement, he kept going until he reached one of the middle branches, from there proceeding to stand upside down. "I can go all the way to the top, but that would be too troublesome." 'Damn, I'm starting to sound like Shikamaru!'

"Where'd you learn that, Naruto?" Kakashi asked.

"I taught myself! I had really bad chakra control, so I spent a bit of time trying to figure out ways to improve it. I stumbled upon tree walking and water walking," Naruto explained.

Kakashi sighed mentally. Of course the boy would've had to find some way to teach himself, because of the villagers' aversion to him learning anything actually useful. Although it was surprising that he'd been able to not only discover tree walking, but master it.

"Well, then, how far are you on water walking?" Kakashi asked.

"I can balance on even fast moving water by now, and as far as I can tell I can even fight on it as long as I don't use jutsus that require a large amount of concentration," Naruto replied.

"Well, continue practicing your chakra control any way you can," Kakashi replied. "From what I've heard and observed your control still sucks, to put it bluntly."

Naruto shrugged. "Yah, I know. My chakra just has the weird tendency to randomly flux, so it's a bit difficult. See ya!"

Naruto jumped down from his perch and rushed off into the forest, jumping along in the section of the trees that was more populated with branches.

"Well, now for you two. As soon as you master the tree climbing exercise, you can move onto water walking," Kakashi replied. "Tree climbing works by channeling chakra into your feet, and maintaining a steady flow. Well, I'm off!"

Sasuke wordlessly scowled at where his sensei had been standing moments before. He then turned to the tree, and, taking a running start, got about ten feet off before he was repelled from the tree because he'd put too much chakra into his feet. Looking over to Sakura, she'd managed to get all the way up to the top. Scowling, Sasuke wondered if he was so weak as to have a useless girl like Sakura and the class dobe, Naruto, surpass him so quickly. He kept training for a few hours. Sakura had long since gone home. Then, without warning, he heard a voice coming from his right.

"Still going, eh, teme?" Naruto asked. Sasuke scowled at the implication. "Impressive. It took me twice as long to reach that height."

The raven blinked. Of course he was stronger than the dobe! The idiot had just managed to learn about the technique earlier, was all.

"If you're wondering how Sakura was able to get it so fast, it's because she has so little chakra that it was easy for her to control. That's also why she had to go back so early," Naruto explained, hoping to solve all of his crush's insecurities.

"Hmph," Sasuke replied. "Hey, dobe, how'd you get this?'

Naruto blinked at the fact that Sasuke was actually asking him of all people for help, before grinning widely.

"You just need to stay calm. Chakra control is affected by emotions. The more emotionally worked up you are, the harder it is to control your chakra," Naruto said, parroting what Sakura had told him in the original timeline.

Of course, for him, the opposite was true. Because of his status as a Jinchuuriki, the more emotional he got, the more he drew on Stella's youki, and the more balanced his chakra became. When he was using primarily his chakra, it tended to react violently with the trace amounts of youki always found in all of his chakra. The higher percentage of youki in his chakra, the easier it was for him to just prevent the chakra's reactions from affecting his jutsus. Sasuke inwardly nodded. That made sense. He then turned back to the tree and gathered chakra, focusing on staying as calm as possible. It worked. He managed to get a good five feet above where he had been.

"Hey, Sasuke-teme, I think that's enough for today," Naruto said. "We should go eat now."

The Uchiha merely replied with a 'hn'. He was getting hungry, but he needed to train in order to get stronger.

"Come on! They're serving ramen!" Naruto announced grabbing his teammate's hand and dragging him back to the house, grinning like a maniac.

When they got to the house they entered and sat down. Seeing the food, all thoughts of annoyance at the blonde for interrupting his training disappeared from Sasuke's mind. Damn, he was hungry. Naruto and Sasuke both began eating ravenously, tearing into the food. Sakura, meanwhile, was marveling at how the two could eat so fast. She had indeed exhausted all of her chakra reserves, but not having as much chakra to begin with she didn't need to eat as much in order to replenish her energy. Kakashi was also eating at a reasonable pace, not having tired himself out all that much.

Dinner continued without much mishap, and the seven people all split up to go their own ways, most to go to bed. Naruto was the only one that decided to stay up and train. He shunshin'ed out to the clearing he'd been practicing in earlier. It was about a mile or two away from the one Sasuke and Sakura had been at. Sitting cross legged, Naruto gathered as much of his chakra as currently possible into his palm. Concentrating as hard as he could, he then began introducing threads of red youki into the mix. His intention was to be able to use the youki, preferably with almost no chakra to make it safe for his chakra coils (even though higher percentages of chakra were higher to control, they didn't damage his coils that way) in a manageable and non-self damaging way. His goal was to summon up at the least a small spark of kitsunebi, something he wouldn't be able to do with human chakra.

He spent hours just sitting there, occasionally being thrown back when his control slipped and the flame and youki would suddenly flare up. By the time he decided to call it quits, he'd completely exhausted his supply of chakra and managed to severely burn his arms and torso several times over, causing Stella to have to pump extra youki into his body in order to heal the injuries. Sadly, he still hadn't been able to create a flame that didn't immediately turn into a bonfire and attempt to burn him to death.

()()()()()

The next day, Team 7 gathered in the original clearing. Naruto had managed to regain a bit of his chakra, but was still winded. Kakashi told them that Sakura would be joining him in guarding Tazuna that day, while Sasuke and Naruto continued to work on their chakra control. Once at the bridge, Sakura sat down on the sidelines while Kakashi meandered off to God knows where. After about an hour of watching the construction workers work, Sakura began to nod off.

"You look pretty bored over there by yourself," Tazuna called out. "Where's that blonde idiot and the arrogant guy?"

"They're training in tree climbing exercises," she explained.

"Oh, really?" Tazuna asked, thinking that tree climbing was a ridiculous thing to train in. "Why aren't you training, too?"

"I'm really smart, so Kakashi-sensei told me to guard the bridge," she said.

"Really?" he asked incredulously, not seeing how the girl was all that smart

Picking up on his tone, Sakura got angry. "Why, you!" she began, only to be ignored by the bridge builder, who was currently talking to one of the workers that wanted to quit. Hearing what the worker had to say, Tazuna called a lunch break. Since it was her job specifically to guard Tazuna, Sakura went with him. Walking through the city, Sakura was hard pressed to see anything but signs of poverty and depression. Seeing the people walking around with signs saying that they'd do any work, and some just sitting there dejectedly, having lost all hope, she felt bad for these people. The feeling only intensified when a small child walked up to her, begging. She complied and gave the girl some candy.

"It's been like this ever since Gatou came," Tazuna said. "The adults all lost their courage. That's why we need this bridge. It'll be a sign of hope. If only that bridge was finished, this town would be like it was before! Everyone will go back to normal…"

Sakura could only nod, having been driven speechless by the conditions of the city. They walked back to the bridge in silence.

That night at dinner, while Tsunami was washing the dishes and everyone else was finishing up; Sakura couldn't help but notice the torn picture that Inari had been staring at throughout dinner.

"Um, why are you hanging a torn picture?" she asked, curious. "It looks like someone purposefully tore out the fourth person in the group. Who was that person?"

Tsunami had tensed when she heard Sakura ask about the picture. "He was my husband," she replied. The fact the she was referring to him in the past tense wasn't lost to the four shinobi.

"He was known as the hero of this village," Tazuna said.

"The hero?" Sakura asked, interested.

Inari, angered that his grandfather dare talk about his dad, curtly got up and ran out of the room.

"What's with him?" Sasuke asked.

"Kaiza was the closest thing to a father that Inari ever had," Tazuna explained. "He was killed by Gatou after he saved the village from a flood. Gatou killed him because he didn't want the people to have a hero to look up to and rally to. When Kaiza died Inari stopped believing in the possibility of a hero."

Naruto had clenched his fists when Sakura asked about the picture, and they'd been tightening all throughout the story, "Well, then, I'm going to train extra hard, so that I can prove to Inari that there is such thing as a hero!"

Naruto got up and exited the room. When Kakashi told him that he really shouldn't train anymore, and that it could be dangerous, Naruto just told him not to worry, and that he'd be fine. Having gotten his sensei to let him go train, Naruto went over to the clearing in which he'd first met Haku, hoping beyond hope that he'd be able to engineer events in such a way that Haku and Zabuza would both live, and that the Wave and his teammates would also remain safe.

'Hey, brat, wake up. Someone's coming,' Stella warned, annoyed at her host's lack of ability to defend himself.

Naruto stirred, and realized what Stella had said. So far, so good.

True to the original timeline, Haku soon shook Naruto awake, telling him that if he stayed out here he might catch a cold.

"Are you a ninja?" Haku asked. "You have a forehead protector…"

"Yup! I'm training for a super hard mission!" Naruto replied. "What're you doing out here?"

"I'm gathering herbs for a friend of mine," Haku said, telling the truth.

"Can I help? My name's Naruto!" the blonde exclaimed.

"Sure Naruto-kun. This is what the herb looks like." The two spent about fifteen minutes gathering herbs in silence, before Haku asked, "Naruto-kun, do you have a precious person?"

"Yah! Just five, though, but I think only two of them really like me," he said. Haku smiled at him. To the black haired boy five precious people, even if only two reciprocated the feeling, was quite a lot. "Do you wanna be my friend, too?"

Haku was startled at the boy's request. "Why do you ask that, Naruto-kun?"

"Not many people in my village like me, and you seem like a nice guy, one who wouldn't judge someone based on how unlucky or lucky they got when he or she was born."

Haku was intrigued by this information. It sounded like this boy had the same problem he did. But wasn't Konoha a village that valued those with bloodlines? "Why?"

"Before you get the wrong idea, it isn't because of a bloodline that most hate me. Konoha is in the habit of putting extra stock in those who have kekkei genkai. They hate me for a whole other reason entirely."

"Oh, but then what is?" Haku asked. Unless his family had somehow brought immense shame onto themselves, he couldn't imagine how or why a whole village would hate one boy.

"I'm not supposed to tell anyone this," Naruto began, "But I get the feeling that not only do you understand me, but that you're trustworthy. They hate me 'cause I'm a jin, and even in a city like Konoha, jin suffer the same fate as elsewhere."

Haku started upon hearing that the blonde was a jinchuuriki. He had heard of such beings, the containers for great demons, the like of which were far too powerful to be beaten normally. No matter where they were, they were always hated and seen as a reincarnation of the demon itself. Seeing the look of concern on the blonde's face, he hastened to reassure the boy that he didn't hate him.

"Don't worry, Naruto-kun, I don't hate you. I understand what it's like to be hated for something you had no control over."

Naruto grinned. "Thanks for understanding, hunter-san."

"Wh-what did you say?" Haku stuttered, hearing what the boy referred to him as. He couldn't possibly know! Could he?

"Either you're the hunter-nin that tricked me and my team when we fought Zabuza, or you've got an identical twin somewhere out there posing as a hunter-nin," Naruto explained, his grin growing wider.

"How'd you know?" Haku asked, his hand straying to his hidden weapons while he looked around for Naruto's teammates, expecting a trap.

"Your chakra signature's the same. No need to be alarmed, though. I come in peace," Naruto said, smiling now. Haku was confused by his words. "I don't like having to fight people who are pretty much just like me, and I want to find a way for us and our allies to stop fighting without to any casualties. Excluding Gatou and his thugs, of course."

"What do you mean?"

"I want us to work together. Gatou is a dirty scumbag who's probably going to betray you and Zabuza and try to have you killed," Naruto said. Haku nodded. He'd suspected all along that Gatou would be the kind to do that. "I was thinking that if we could keep our friends from killing each other long enough for Gatou to announce that he's going to stop paying you two, we can beat that fucking piece of shit into a pulp and still come out fine. Also, I don't want to have to fight a friend and a fellow outcast."

"Besides the increased chance of life, what's in it for me and Zabuza-sama?" Haku asked.

"You know how I said earlier that I'm a jinchuuriki?" Naruto began. Seeing Haku nod, he continued, "My demon is the crown princess of the demon foxes. I can get you two as much money as you need, and I'm currently trying to get together my own organization. If the two of you joined not only would you have my full support, but the support of the others I can convince to join and any fox demons who still have a shred of common sense left in them. Even if you decide to strike out on your own you'd be paid and you'd have my favor."

Haku appeared to be deep in thought. Trying to start an organization was a high order for a twelve-year old, even if he was the jinchuuriki of a crown princess. "What's in it for you, then?"

Naruto shook his head. "I thought I already told you. You're my friend and fellow sufferer. Of course, if you mean from a purely mercenary point of view, there's still a pretty good reason to help you two. You are the sole survivor of a clan with a powerful bloodline limit, and Zabuza is one of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist."

Haku nodded. The blonde's explanation made sense so far. But there was one thing he was concerned about. "But why start an organization in the first place if you're already a shinobi of one of the Five Elemental Countries?"

Naruto grinned because he’d been waiting for Haku to ask that, "Many reasons. There are two main points, though. One is too provide a rally point and a way of gathering for outcasts like you, me, and Zabuza. The second reason is to combat organization such as the Akatsuki, the Kitsuekikage, and the Hogosha no Kanshisha. The Akatsuki is an organization consisting of S-rank criminals that hunts down jinchuuriki in hopes of extracting their demon so that they can utilize its power. The Kitsuekikage also hunts jinchuuriki, but for a different reason. They will outright kill the jinchuuriki because not only do they believe that we are abominations, but that we are a threat to society. They think that the only way to prevent jinchuuriki from being captured by people such as the Akatsuki or going AWOL is to kill them. The Hogosha no Kanshisha is the same as the Kitsuekikage, but they hunt people with bloodlines rather than jinchuuriki. Also, in addition, there are people like Orochimaru who prey on those with bloodlines, hoping to gain that power for their own."

Haku had been listening intently throughout the blonde's explanation, his face gradually growing paler and paler. He was all to familiar with such people, and he knew where the blonde was coming from, setting up an organization specifically to counteract such people.

"Well, Haku-kun, what's it going to be?" Naruto asked.

Briefly wondering how the boy knew his name (and about his kekkei genkai, for that matter), Haku took a deep breath before replying. "I'm in. So, what's the plan?"

()()()()()

'Dammit. What the hell was the dobe thinking, disappearing like that?' Sasuke thought. He and the blonde had guard duty that day, and it was his job to find the MIA idiot.

Walking to the clearing where they'd been training earlier, Sasuke thought he heard voices. Exiting the trees, he saw Naruto talking to a girl with long, black hair. She was just getting up to leave when she turned around and saw him. Naruto apparently noticed his presence at the same time.

"Tch, dobe. Where were you? We have guard duty today. And who's that?"

"His name's Haku! He's my new friend!" Naruto exclaimed, gesturing wildly.

'He's a boy?' Sasuke thought, surprised.

"You must be Sasuke. Nice to meet you," Haku said, bowing slightly. "Naruto-kun told me all about you and his other friends." 'So this is the boy Naruto-kun said he had a crush on. He doesn't look like all that much.'

After relaying the plan to Haku, and ironing out a few rough edges, he and the other boy had spoken of various random things, including the people they'd met. To say the least Haku found the boy quite interesting.

"Good day, Uchiha-san, Naruto-kun," Haku said, before departing.

Sasuke felt a stab of an unfamiliar emotion in his chest. It was a dark emotion that told him to grab the blonde and thrust a sword through Haku's chest at the same time. He didn't really understand why he felt the urge to do such a thing, though. It was a stupid thought, anyways.

"Hn, come on dobe. We need to get started already," Sasuke said.

"Ok, let me just get something from the house first."

()()()()()

About half an hour later the two were resting on the sidelines of the bridge, bored. Kakashi was currently training Sakura in the water walking exercise, actually deciding to act like he was serious about being her sensei this time around. Sasuke was staring over the edge of the bridge at the waves, bored, while Naruto was trying to grasp the concept of 'algebra'. He was currently reading a textbook on the subject. Normally, he would've joined his teammate in staring at the waves, but Stella had insisted that he improve his intelligence slightly at the least, declaring that her having a stupid and weak container reflected badly on her reputation. She'd been shocked when she'd learned that he'd only known anything beyond how to add, the barest essentials of reading and writing, and how to sign his name up until he turned fourteen. At that age he learned basic reading skills and simple multiplication. She decided to make sure that the boy would be better educated.

'Grr, I can't make heads or tails of this thing!' he thought angrily.

'P-L-U-S spells plus,' Stella said, implying an insult towards Naruto's intelligence.

Stella looked at the page and sighed. He was currently stuck on one of the more basic problems.

'This is going to take a while,' she thought.

After about eight hours of sitting there doing absolutely nothing, the time came to head back. That night, after dinner, Tazuna raised an issue that had been on his mind since Zabuza's attack.

"I'm happy for the help, but I was wondering, since I lied to you about the mission, why you four are still here?" asked the bridge builder.

This time, though, it was Naruto who replied, not Kakashi. "Because to protect you guys is no longer just a mission, it's our duty, and to abandon one's duty is not courageous. Below courage, there's nothing." Tazuna and Tsunami were both surprised by the blonde's insight, while Kakashi was wondering where the blonde would've learnt a quote from the first. "Those are the words of the Shodaime Hokage of Konohagakure."

Inari then remembered the courageous acts of his father, which had only, in Inari's mind, resulted in him being killed by Gatou's men. "Why…" Inari began, starting to cry. "Why do you try so hard? Even if you train, you can't beat Gatou's men! No matter how hard you work, or how big you talk!"

Naruto tensed upon hearing the boy's words. "Look, brat, go ahead and believe that if you want. It doesn't make any difference to me. If all you do is cry and mope like some kind of victim, then people like Gatou are going to walk all over you! People like you disgust me. Hiding behind their fears, thinking that they have it the worst, that there's no one out there who knows how they feel, or, God forbid, actually has it worse! Well, guess what, brat, no matter how hard you have it there is always someone out there who has it worse.Always."

At this point Naruto looked up from staring at the floor, and gazed around the room, focusing his glare in Inari. The boy cowered under the sheer intensity of that glare. It stripped him of all of his masks and presumptions, leaving only what he was: a small, scared boy missing his father.

"As long as all you do is whine and complain, things aren't going to change. Instead of sitting around, predicting doom and destruction while waiting for someone else to come along and save you, why don't you get up off your sorry ass and do something?" Naruto then turned on his heel and stalked out of the room, fuming.

After he'd left Inari broke down crying, and also ran out of the room. The remaining five occupants of the kitchen were shocked by how Naruto had spoken. Sasuke and Kakashi were especially startled by the hidden meaning behind those angry words that Naruto had spoken. Not for the first time, Kakashi found himself wondering exactly what was behind the mask that the blonde always wore. He also wondered what secrets he was hiding. After everyone had gone their separate ways, Kakashi went to go find Inari. He located the boy sitting on the dock outside the house, sulking. Not bothering to hide his presence, he approached and sat down next to the forlorn child.

"Naruto can be a bit harsh sometimes," Kakashi began. "Even though he means well."

Inari just grunted which he noticed to prove that his current tactic wasn't working, Kakashi switched to plan B, "You know, he never knew his father either."

At this tidbit of information, Inari raised his head, slightly curious, "In fact, he grew up without ever knowing either of his parents or his other family. He had to look out for himself since Day one. On top of that, he was hated by a vast majority of the villagers for a reason he didn't even understand. Despite all of that, he smiles and looks forward, hoping that someday he'll be able to change their minds and become their protector."

Kakashi got up after his little speech, leaving Inari with much to think about. The two genin and one jounin walked alongside their client towards the bridge. They'd left their third member, Uzumaki Naruto, with Tsunami because the night before he'd gone into a training frenzy, managing to knock himself out. Kakashi suspected that it would take several days for the blonde to completely recover. The silver haired jounin was worried by the lack of movement coming from the bridge. Normally, even this early in the day, someone was operating something, in order to speed along the process of the bridge building. As the approached the main work area of the bridge, they saw why. The mist slowly parted to reveal the fallen workers. Luckily, many were still groaning and shifting, showing that they'd survived the encounter. The shinobi tensed, weapons at the ready, as the mist thickened unnaturally quickly. A deep, ominous chuckle emanated from all around…

A/N: Yays! Done with chappie three! Hehes, I hope everyone enjoyed what happened this time. So, like I said at the beginning the next update will be out next week. Hopefully I can keep up with my update schedule, but I’m pretty certain that I’ll be able too because it’ll help me with my anxiety issues like it usually does. Anyways, until then please remember to review lovelies!

Chapter Text

A/N: Hey ya’ll! It’s Kuro-chan here with the next chappie of this lovely story of epicness. Hehes, hopefully ya’ll are enjoying it so far. I’ll make sure the first chappie is fixed sometime this week or next depending on when I have enough time to do so. Anyways, let’s get onto the chappie, shall we? Hehes, please R&R!

Chapter 4

Naruto blinked and opened his eyes. Sunlight filtered in through the open window next to his bed.

"Ah, shit! I'm late!" he shouted, hurrying to get dressed. He couldn't believe they'd left him at the house again!

Saying a quick goodbye to Tsunami, he rushed out the door and towards the bridge. As he was running, he couldn't help but shake the feeling that he'd forgotten something really important. When he saw sword marks on the trees and a butchered pig, all the pieces clicked and fell into place.

'Fuck! I can't believe I forgot that!' he thought, switching directions and praying that he wouldn't be too late.

Sasuke tensed as eight exact copies of Zabuza appeared around him. Looking closely, he scanned for signs of anything off about them.

"Heh, do you really think these brats can beat me, Kakashi?" They all said in unison. "That one's already quivering with fear!"

Having determined that all of the clones were indeed just that, Sasuke smirked. "I'm shaking with… Excitement,"

he said, before leaping and dealing each clone a small cut, causing them to collapse back into water.

"He's fast. You might have a rival, Haku," Zabuza said. Haku merely nodded.

The fifteen year old missing-nin was currently looking around for any signs of Naruto. The blonde had said that he might very well be late, but so many things were riding on this plan and its success that even Haku was slightly worried that something might go wrong. If thing didn't go even remotely as planned, the results could be drastic, and could result in the deaths of all who were involved. Smirking, Sasuke charged Haku, only for the missing-nin to vanish, reappearing behind Sasuke, brandishing multiple senbon. With a flick of his wrist, he threw them at Sasuke. The Uchiha merely deflected them with a kunai, before trying a once again attack Haku.

'If this is going to work, I need to make it look like I'm actually trying to kill him,' Haku thought, while verbally pointing out how Sasuke had managed to get himself into a bad situation.

"I now have the advantage," he said. "You now only have one hand to defend yourself with." Haku then began flashing through one-handed seals, surprising everyone there except for Zabuza.

"Sensatsu Suishou!" Haku shouted, forming ice needles out of the water that had been gathered in the air. The needles all aligned themselves to be pointing at Sasuke, and then flew at him at an extremely high speed. Both shinobi jumped away, although Sasuke had to pump chakra into his legs in order to become fast enough.

'So much for his aversion to killing,' Zabuza thought.

Sasuke scowled, and, drawing another kunai, charged Haku once again, intent on winning the fight.

'Kuso!' Naruto thought, rushing back towards Tsunami's house. He slowed down as he came within sight of the house, seeing as how he didn't want to get caught.

The blonde sighed in relief upon seeing that he'd managed to arrive about ten seconds earlier than he had in the original timeline. Gathering his chakra, he created two shadow clones which he instantly henged into shuriken. Holding the two henged clones at the ready, he switched Inari with a log just as the two swordsmen would've cut him into bits.

"Good thing I arrived when I did!" Naruto exclaimed, setting down Inari and his mother. "Great job distracting those two thugs, Inari! You diverted their attention and enabled me to use a cool jutsu to rescue your mom and then get you out of the way!"

"Naruto-niisan, how did you know that the two samurai were coming here?" Inari asked

Grinning, Naruto replied, "On the way to the bridge I saw a cut up pig and a bunch of branches and trees and stuff that had sword marks on them, as if someone had been practicing with swords. They led back to your house, so I rushed here as fast as possible!"

"So, that's how…" Inari said while thinking, 'Wow!'

"Hey, gaki, what do you think you're doing, interfering with our work?" one of the two henchmen asked. "Aren't you one of those idiot kids that Tazuna hired?"

"Oh, yeah! I forgot about you two!" Naruto almost shouted, annoying Gatou's bodyguards beyond belief. "Hn, you're nothing too special," he stated in a bored monotone as he threw two shuriken at them, not even bothering to aim.

Furious, the two partially drew their swords, deflecting the shuriken so that they flew behind them. The triumphant smirk on Naruto's face at this action not only served to enrage them further but to also confuse them. All of their questions as to the origin of the blonde's facial expression were solved as the two shuriken disappeared in a poof of smoke, revealing two shadow clones, who kicked the petty criminals in the head before they could react, knocking them unconscious.

"A-Amazing," Inari said.

"Hey, Inari," Naruto said. Inari looked up, curious. "About what I said yesterday… I'm sorry."

"For what?" Inari asked.

Sighing, Naruto replied, "For calling you a weakling and a coward. You're really strong to have been able to stand up to those two rounin!" (AN: Rounin are rouge samurai)

Upon hearing Naruto call him strong, Inari grinned as wide as humanly possible. "Thanks, Naruto-niisan!" he said.

"Take care of your mom for me," Naruto ordered, finishing tying up the two unconscious henchmen. "I'm going to go help my friends."

"Alright!" Inari said, already bending down to pick up his mom and carry her inside. He watched as Naruto ran off into the forest, heading in the direction of the unfinished bridge.

Haku and Sasuke had been fighting for at the least a minute before Sasuke had had a lapse in attention, likely cause by his superiority complex, allowing Haku to, once again, run through a series of one-handed seals.

"Makyou Hyou Shou!" he shouted, causing the water that lay around him and his opponent to rise into the air, solidifying into seventeen rectangular mirrors, arranged in a dome surrounding Sasuke. Haku actually then melted into one of the mirrors, his image appearing on the surface of every single one.

'Damn it!' Kakashi thought, rushing to Sasuke's defense. Or, at the least, that's what he tried to do. He was kept from going any further by Zabuza's monstrous sword.

"Your opponent is me," the Demon of the Mist said. "Against that jutsu he's finished."

Inside the dome of mirrors, Haku was speaking to Sasuke. "Well, shall I begin?" he asked. "The time has come for me to show you my real speed!" So saying, he dashed out of the mirrors, vanishing from the sight of all who were watching, flinging senbon at Sasuke.

"Sasuke!" Kakashi shouted, as he saw his most prized student get bombarded by needles.

"Sasuke-kun!" Sakura screamed, watching in horror as the kunai that her crush had been carrying was knocked out of his hand, landing in front of her, and he got scratch and impaled by so many senbon that he started to scream in pain.

"If you go to help that brat," Zabuza warned, "I'll kill those two!"

"Tazuna-san," Sakura said. "I'm sorry. I'm going to have to leave you for a moment."

"It's okay," the bridge builder said. "Go save your friend." Sakura nodded and, grabbing the kunai, charged at where Haku and Sasuke were fighting, before attempting to throw the kunai to Sasuke. Haku deftly caught it, leaning out of one of the mirrors slightly.

Suddenly, something hit Haku in the chin so hard that it knocked him out of the mirror. Raising himself to his hands and knees, Haku looked around, only to see Naruto poof in, exclaiming that Uzumaki Naruto had arrived.

Zabuza scowled, while Kakashi was mentally asking the heavens why he'd had to be the one saddled with the hyperactive, not too bright demon container. "Stupid brat," Zabuza growled, flinging numerous kunai and shuriken at the blonde. Everyone there except for Naruto and Haku was very surprised when Haku deflected all of the projectiles.

"Sorry, Zabuza-sama," he said, "But I want to be the one to fight him."

"Do whatever the hell you wish. Doesn't matter either way to me," Zabuza said, wondering what was with the sudden mood change from aversion to fighting to what was almost eagerness.

Nodding, Haku merged back into the mirror. After Kakashi, Sakura, and Sasuke had all thought about how this was good because if Naruto attacked from the outside while Sasuke attacked from the inside, they just might be able to figure out how Haku's jutsu worked.

Weren't they all surprised when Naruto, obviously not having gotten the memo, showed up inside the mirror dome? "Dobe! What the hell do you think you're doing?!" Sasuke asked, annoyed.

"Helping you, teme! Duh," Naruto said. Sasuke just scowled in response.

"I think these mirrors are the main problem," Sasuke stated.

Before he could continue, Naruto shouted, "Well, then I'll just break them into bits! It'll be easy! Kage bunshin no jutsu!"

Meanwhile, Zabuza had initiated his hidden mist jutsu, rendering Kakashi's exposed sharingan useless. The copycat ninja was currently trying to figure out where his opponent was, before he realized who he was most likely to go after. All Sasuke and Naruto, who were fighting on the other side of the battlefield, heard was a loud, feminine scream.

'Sakura!' they both thought, identifying the voice.

Their fight with Haku had been going on for several minutes, occurring much like it had originally, except this time around Haku was trying purposefully not to hit Naruto to much, and to hit Sasuke in such a manner that it would hinder his ability to move and dodge as long as the needles remained stuck in him, and Sasuke had yet to gain access to his sharingan. Preparing for another barrage of senbon, Haku noticed that Sasuke had gotten to the point where he barely dodged anymore, moving slowly. He decided that this was the perfect time to put Naruto's plan into action. Moving quickly, Haku charged straight at Sasuke, obviously trying to kill him. Sasuke began to panic when he realized that he couldn't move fast enough to get out of Haku's way. Closing his eyes, he waited for the inevitable.

Sakura opened her eyes, expecting to be dead. After all, an A-rank missing-nin had just tried to cut her in half with a gargantuan zanbato. Instead, she saw her sensei blocking the sword with the metal plate on his gloves. Blood was dripping from where sword met hand. Scared stiff, Sakura could only watch as her teacher pushed Zabuza's blade away, driving a kunai into his stomach at the same time. The missing-nin disappeared, replaced by collapsing water. Sakura tensed as an ominous chuckle came from all around.

"I know your weak spots, Kakashi," Zabuza said, his voice sounding disembodied. "The sharingan has two main parts. One analyses my movement and chakra, predicting what I'm going to do next, allowing you to 'copy' me. The other casts a hypnotic genjutsu on me, bending me to your will and furthering the impression that you can see the future. These minor inconveniences are easily solved. In order to counteract the first part, I surrounded you with my mist, reducing visibility to zero. The second part is even easier to deal with. I just keep my eyes closed, preventing you from making eye contact."

'Well, this is just fucking great,' Kakashi thought. "Good deduction. Wonder how you figured it out."

Chuckling under his breath, Zabuza replied. "That boy, Haku, is a genius. He can see an opponent's attack once and immediately come up with an unbeatable counterattack. He was watching our little fight earlier, and your sharingan was all too easy for him to see through. You're nothing but a cheap fake, using other's jutsus and even bloodlines to make a name for yourself."

Kakashi scowled underneath his mask, his eyes narrowing. He needed to end this fight soon and go help the two genin he was supposed to be protecting. Thinking as hard as he could, Kakashi came up with the perfect counter to Zabuza's plan. Sasuke braced himself as he saw his opponent coming to kill him. He flinched when he felt blood splatter on his face and body. Jumping a bit, he realized that even though he'd been covered in blood, he hadn't felt any pain from the attack. Opening his eyes, he looked up a bit. Only to see Naruto's back. The blonde was just standing there in between Sasuke and Haku. Looking beyond his teammate, Sasuke saw the fallen form of Haku. He at first thought that Naruto had deflected the attack somehow, the fact that the fox boy was bleeding quite a hell of a lot more than he should be not really registering on his mind. Just as the fact that Naruto was badly hurt began to make itself known in Sasuke confused mind, the blonde's legs crumpled and he fell back. Not really thinking, Sasuke jumped forward and caught his friend in his arms, halting his decent.

"S-Sasuke-t-teme, y-you okay?" Naruto asked. Sasuke merely nodded. "G-Good. W-Wouldn't d-do for you t-to b-be hurt…" At this point the blonde's speech was interrupted as violent coughs shook his body.

"N-Naruto, why?" Sasuke managed to choke out. "Why protect me?" 'I thought you hated me dobe.'

"D-Don't know," Naruto said. "M-My body just m-moved on its own."

Naruto coughed a few times before continuing. "S-Sasuke, m-my dr-dream and m-my ambition, they're still incomplete," he whispered. Sasuke suddenly remembered when Naruto had said that he had a dream and an ambition beyond his goal of becoming Hokage. "I'd w-wanted to b-be excepted, t-to be tr-treated like a regular h-human, n-not some d-dirty thing that n-needed to d-die. Th-that was my dr-dream." Sasuke could feel tears gathering at the corners of his eyes, and he fought hard to not cry.

'Why am I crying over the dobe?' he asked himself. 'I promised that I'd never cry again. He was an idiot who probably now is going to die because he decided to protect me. So why am I sad that he's dying?'

"S-Sasuke, d-don't do something st-stupid th-that'll you'll end up regretting, 'k? Y-You're my f-first fr-friend, and I don't w-want you t-to be unhappy," Naruto whispered.

Sasuke felt the tears slipping out of his eyes, as his entire head began to ache something fierce, although the pain was mainly concentrated around his eye sockets. Naruto's body shuddered as he took in a shaky breath, before going limp, his breathing stopping all together, and the beat of his heart dying out, before ceasing.

"NARUTO!" he shouted.

Kakashi and Sakura both heard Sasuke's anguished shout. Kakashi immediately guessed what had happened.

'Fuck! I need to finish this now before Sasuke gets killed, too!' he thought, pulling out a scroll.

Back with Sasuke and Haku, the Hyouton user was currently looking at his first friend's crush as he pulled Naruto's body to his chest, crying. Haku understood why Naruto had chosen the plan he did, but he did indeed regret the amount of pain Sasuke had to be put through. Still, if what the blonde said was true, and the Uchiha thought of his comrades so lowly and was so power-hungry, then it was probably better in the long run.

"He… To protect a precious person, and still knowing it was a trap, was still able to jump in. He was a shinobi that deserved respect," Haku began. "This isn't the first time a friend of yours has died, is it? This is the way of the shinobi…"

Sasuke squeezed his burning eyes shut as he heard Haku's words, rage and pain growing within him.

"Shut up!" he said, as Haku melted back into one of the mirrors.

Sasuke lay Naruto down on the concrete as he continued. "Why did you save me of all people, dobe? Why? I hated you!"

Haku was startled when the raven haired boy looked up suddenly, glaring at the real Haku. His eyes had changed from his customary black to a crimson color, two tomoes located in each eye.

'This must be the kekkei genkai of the Uchiha clan! The sharingan… I better be careful, for all of our sakes,' he thought.

Standing despite his injuries, Sasuke charged at Haku with a renewed vigor, summoning up stores of energy and speed he'd never known he had. What had actually happened was that, by some fluke or another, he'd managed to open the first gate, unlocking the brain's holds on the body's muscles. 'I can see!' he thought. Previously Haku's movements had been too fast for him to see precisely, but now it was as if the boy was moving at normal speed, if not slower. His jutsu was also more apparent, and Sasuke could see how he might go about beating the other boy. Haku tensed, recognizing the chakra signature change that opening the first gate caused.

'How did he manage that?' Haku thought. 'Naruto-kun said nothing of Sasuke knowing how to open the gates, and that's one damn lucky fluke. No matter.'

"You'll pay for what you did to Naruto!" Sasuke growled, charging Haku. The missing-nin tried to transport between mirrors, only to be kicked by Sasuke, knocking him off course.

In retaliation, Haku flung as many senbon as he could at the Uchiha, all to no avail. They were all dodged and Haku was kicked in the gut, sending him flying between two of his mirrors and rolling across the ground. Swiftly getting to his feet, Haku realized that he'd have to stall until enough time had passed that Naruto could 'awake' from his coma without arousing suspicion. This in mind, he released the jutsu that had been sustaining the ice mirrors and focused all of his energy on avoiding the enraged genin, opening up the first of the gates himself in order to not be overpowered too quickly.

"I'm not giving up that easily!" Haku said, dodging yet another of Sasuke's kicks. Suddenly, the raven's fist connected with his face, sending him skidding back and cracking his mask.

Standing, Haku turned towards the charging Sasuke, slipping into a ready position as the last of the mask fell off of his face. The Uchiha came to a sudden stop, though, shock evident on his face. Haku briefly wondered why, before remembering that Sasuke had seen him talking to Naruto.

"You!" he said, suddenly remembering the name that Naruto had given for his friend. "You're that boy that was speaking with Naruto!"

"Yes," Haku replied. "We were friends. What does that have to do with anything?"

Sasuke growled before responding. "If he was your friend, then why kill him?" he asked, trying to keep his voice level. This boy was seriously beginning to remind him of Itachi.

"I was hired to kill the person he was assigned to protect. I actually wasn't planning on killing the two of you, merely knocking you unconscious. He ruined that plan of mine when he blocked my attack on you. In fact, if it had been just me who was hired, I would've quit the job upon befriending Naruto-kun, but Zabuza-sama wouldn't be please with me if I quit," Haku told Sasuke impassively.

The raven was astounded by the boy's words, although it only showed as a smidgen of confusion. "You know, you shouldn't hide your emotions so much."

"What do you mean?" Sasuke asked.

"You wear a mask of coldness and uncaring. I don't think Naruto-kun, or whomever you lost before this fight, would've liked it if you shut everyone else out, although Naruto-kun probably wouldn't have spoken against it, seeing as how he, too, wears a mask," Haku explained. He knew that Naruto wouldn't be too happy about him dropping clues as to how much the blonde hid, but Haku figured that if no one ever gave the raven even the slightest clue as to his teammate's mask then he'd never figure it out, preferring to keep the world in his mind organized as how he saw it now.

"What the hell?" was all Sasuke could say in reply to this.

He was greatly angered by Haku's words. They struck a chord deep inside of him, fueling that one small part of him that argued that his mom, his aunts, his uncles, his cousins, maybe even his dad, wouldn't have wanted him to shut himself off from the rest of society, choosing to live a half life of misery and loneliness, just for the sake of his revenge.

"Not all is as it seems with your friend," Haku said, not realizing that he'd used the present tense until the words were out of his mouth.

Luckily, Sasuke didn't notice that he'd referred to Naruto as if he was still alive, instead concentrating on the meaning behind Haku's words.

"Doesn't matter!" Sasuke said, his anger returning as he failed to decipher the message behind the cryptic words of the feminine shinobi. "You still killed him! And I'll still kill you!"

Sasuke then reactivated his sharingan and reopened the first gate, having accidentally shut off both power-ups when he saw who he was fighting.

Haku slipped back into a fighting pose, also reopening the first gate. The two fought for another minute or two, before a distinct groan interrupted their fight. They both whipped their heads around towards the direction of the sound, only to see Naruto, rolled over onto his stomach and attempting to push himself up.

"Naruto! You're still alive!" Sasuke said, shocked for the second time that day. Haku, seeing an opening, took the chance to knock the Uchiha unconscious, before rushing over to Naruto to see if he needed help.

When Naruto had seen Sasuke crumple to the ground, he'd stopped pretending to be seriously hurt, and stood up, acting as if his wounds were minor, nothing more than a few scratches.

"Hey, Haku-kun," he said, "Can you help me get these needles out?" He then yanked a handful out of his arm.

"You'll want to be more careful than that," Haku said. "Removing them so quickly can be dangerous."

Stepping up to the blonde, he gently pried several senbon out of his neck, managing to not do any extra harm in the process. Haku then started removing the ones from Naruto's back, while the blonde took care of the ones on the front of his torso, on his legs, and on his arms.

"All done!" he announced when he was pretty much needle free.

Focusing a bit of youki to his ears in order to enhance his hearing further, he picked up the sound of crackling electricity. Realizing that Kakashi was already using his raikiri on Zabuza, Naruto cursed loudly. Turning to Haku, he said, "Come on! Kakashi-sensei's about to drive a lightning jutsu through Zabuza's chest!" Hearing the blonde's words, Haku also cursed loudly and disappeared from Naruto's sight.

"Fuck!" Naruto said to himself. "Whatever happened to not going in until you know the situation?"

So, mentally running through a list of quite colorful curse words, Naruto ran off in the direction of Kakashi and Zabuza's fight.

"This is the end!" Kakashi shouted, powering up his ultimate jutsu.

Zabuza's eyes widened in surprise as he saw the concentrated mass of crackling lightning natured chakra that was about to plunge through his heart. Confident of the hit, seeing as how his target was currently being held down, Kakashi drove the jutsu towards the Demon of the Mist's heart. Both jounin were shocked when a mirror made of hardened ice appeared in front of Kakashi, a boy standing behind it. Regardless, Kakashi's jutsu continued on, until, just a split second after the boy and the ice materialized, everyone currently conscious on the bridge heard a desperate shout. "HAKU! NO YOU IDIOT!"

Kakashi's mind was in turmoil right about now. 'Naruto?' he thought. 'How did he survive?'

Before anyone could react Haku was shoved to the side by a blur of red and yellow just as the raikiri pierced through the icy mirror. Kakashi tried his hardest to cancel the jutsu, but was unable. He looked on in horror as the momentum from his attack carried his lightning covered hand straight through his least liked student. He was currently piercing the boy through the heart. In the brief silence afterwards he noticed that Naruto was surrounded by an evil feeling energy which felt suspiciously like the Kyuubi no Kitsune's youki.

"Naruto-kun!" he heard the boy from earlier shout.

'They refer to each other as 'kun'', noted Kakashi. 'Wonder how and when they met.'

Even though Zabuza was now free from his bonds, he was in shock from what just happened. His own student had thrown up a shield and then threw himself in front of Zabuza, which didn't surprise the elite member of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist all that much. No, what had him in shock was that the blonde idiot, one of Kakashi's students no less, had just died to protect Haku, and by the sound of it the two were close friends.

Meanwhile, Haku was praying to any Goddess or God that might decide to listen to one such as him, 'Please let some weird side affect of him being a jinchuuriki save him. I'll do whatever it takes. Please.'

Even though Haku was unreligious, he'd invested quite a bit into the boy's plan, and anyways, he liked the boy and considered him a friend. It pained him to see the first friend around his own age that he'd ever really had die too protect him.

'Now, I know how Sasuke felt.'

Kakashi's eyes filled with horror as Naruto's body collapsed and slumped over. It had been bad enough when Kakashi's teammate had died protecting him, but to have one of his own charges die by his hand, and to have said charge die because he decided to protect the enemy was just too much. He yanked his hand out of the boy's chest, allowing the body to finish collapsing to the ground. Sakura peered into the thick mist, wondering what was going on. All sounds of battle had ceased. She could barely make out what looked to be three figures standing and one lying on the ground not too far off. The image became clearer as the mist lightened up. Both Sakura and Tazuna gasped when they saw the identity of the four figures.

"Naruto!" Sakura shouted, staring in horror at the bloody body of her teammate. ‘Where’s Sasuke?’

Her question was soon solved. A second body had just been released from the mist's clinging grasp. Kakashi, Sakura, and Tazuna all stared, knowing exactly who it belonged to. Time, which had been moving in slow motion, sped up once more as Sakura grabbed Tazuna's arm and led him to Sasuke's prone form.

"Do not worry," said Haku, still in shock from the death of Naruto. "The Uchiha boy is merely unconscious, not dead."

"Merely unconscious!?" Sakura shouted. "How does unconscious classify as a minor enough condition to be referred to as merely?!"

Haku looked up, glaring at her. "It classifies as minor because, unlike Naruto-kun, he is not dead!"

Sakura flinched upon hearing his words, reminded of her other teammate's death. She began to protest, but was silenced when Tazuna put his hand on her shoulder, shaking his head. She got the message and held her tongue.

"Well, well, well, what do we have here?" a snide voice asked.

Kakashi, Zabuza, Haku, Sakura, and Tazuna all whipped their heads around to look towards the source. Their eyes fell upon the Mafia boss by the name of Gatou, a huge mob consisting of street thugs gathered behind him.

"Looks like the two elite shinobi I hired failed to do what they were paid for."

Zabuza scowled beneath his bandages. He didn't like where the conversation was going. It didn't help that Gatou wasn't exactly known for playing fairly.

"Zabuza, Haku, the two of you are fired!" Gatou announced. Both missing-nins tensed. "Kill them, boys!"

The mob cheered, raising their weapons in the air. The two jounin and one unclassified shinobi slid into battle positions. Meanwhile, Sasuke had woken up.

"He's awake!" Sakura shouted, hugging Sasuke.

"Pull the needles out carefully and he should be able to move freely," Haku ordered, focusing on the mob, Sakura nodded and complied.

The fight had begun in earnest, every shinobi present doing their best, when everybody heard a quite loud groan and a, "Man, my chest hurts like hell!" Fighting stopped as everyone turned to gawk at the blonde, who had previously been presumed dead on account of the gaping hole in his chest, as he stood up and stretched. "So, what did I miss?" he asked, grinning like a madman. It was enough to unnerve Zabuza and Kakashi, and to scare the living daylights out of the genin, street thugs, and Tazuna. Haku was simply relieved that his wish had been granted. The people gathered were even more shocked when Naruto's wounds began to heal over, a substitute heart forming out of a mysterious red, vile-feeling energy. Blood was being circulated by this red energy, both inside and outside of the body. Within seconds all traces of lesser wounds had vanished and the hole that originally went clean through his chest was nothing more than a deep wound, which was getting shallower by the second.

"So, what if the brat has some freaky power?" one shouted. "We'll still kill 'em!"

Shouts of 'yeah' sounded throughout the ranks of thugs, as they readied for battle again. This time of fighting the shinobi had Naruto and the fear factor of a ninja who can rise from the dead on their side, although Sakura had been hurt badly and needed to sit out.

"Sakura! Take Tazuna and run! We'll cover for you!" Kakashi ordered, seeing that his bubblegum-haired student was on her last legs.

She began to protest when Sasuke cut her off. "Do as he says. Our mission is to protect Tazuna." She nodded and complied, leading Tazuna away. The mob started to try to follow, but they were cut off by ten lines of Narutos, which stretched across the bridge.

"You'll have to go through all of us first!" they shouted in unison, going into various attack formations.

The front line all shifted into the same taijutsu position, while the second line took up a different taijutsu style altogether. The third line all transformed into weapons, which the fourth line caught. The fifth and sixth lines both pulled out various ranged weapons. The seventh and eighth lines both began gathering chakra, intending to use ninjutsu. The last two lines both took up a defensive position. The battle then commenced once again, raging until all the clones were destroyed and several thugs lay dead or incapacitated. The shinobi weren't faring all that well, though. All except for Naruto were breathing hard, having exhausted their chakra supplies between this fight and the previous ones that hour. Without warning one of the thugs pulled out a concealed weapon and stabbed Naruto in the back, taking out his spine. Naruto knew that he could heal the wound almost instantly, or even ignore it, but such an action would require him pulling out so much of Stella's youki that not only would it alert Kakashi that something was wrong (the heart thing could be explained as the seal automatically healing him in some cases of death, since the Fourth wouldn't want him to die so easily and neither would the fox, basically the same as his excelerated healing, but the spine was going to be obviously intentional, since he'd gotten major, not life-threatening wounds before and hadn't had them heal over in a few seconds), but it would do severe damage to his relatively untrained chakra coils. He'd been stretching it earlier, in fact, when he set up a fake heart and the proceeded to heal himself. That'd been do able only because it had been external circulation of youki, not internal.

"Naruto!" Sasuke gasped, seeing his teammate, once again, fall. He rushed to Naruto's defense as he saw the thugs closing in on the boy, intent on killing him.

Naruto looked up when he heard metal clang against metal, to see Sasuke defending him. He opened his mouth to scream and to warn Sasuke as he saw a blade slip through the Uchiha's defense, going unnoticed. "Watch out!" was all he could manage. It was enough, though, as Sasuke noticed the sword and jumped out of the way of a potentially fatal blow. Another blade came seemingly from nowhere as he landed, cutting through his waist, spilling his guts onto the pavement. Sasuke's eyes widened as he fell onto his knees, his heart trying to pump enough blood into the destroyed section of his body. He collapsed onto his chest, blood quickly pooling around him. Something in Naruto's mind shifted as he gazed upon Sasuke's dead body, the raven haired genin's guts scattered across the pavement, his blood seeping into the stone of the bridge and spreading out towards Naruto.

A bestial roar escaped from Naruto's throat as he pushed himself up into a crouching position. Claws sprouted from his fingertips and his canines lengthened and sharpened into fangs capable of ripping a human being into shreds as his whisker marks thickened until they formed black triangles that touched at the base. His pupils elongated into slits as his irises turned a blood red, his gaze striking fear into the hearts of those gathered round. He snarled as red youki poured out of him. Everyone there froze as bloodlust poured off of the fox jinchuuriki. Naruto's bones snapped and reset as he dropped onto all fours, his body adjusting to the feral design of the youki. His chakra coils screamed in protest as more of the volatile youki than they could currently handle was forced through his system, burning the pathways to nothing more than charred shells. Within his mind he was fighting Stella for control. Apparently when his mind was overcome with bloodlust and the desire to rip the person responsible for Sasuke's death to shreds something in her mind, her soul, or the very pool of youki which

served to keep her alive had been unbalanced as some undetected component was triggered. She was now in a state of mindless rage, trying to force aside Naruto's consciousness so that she could be free to sate her thirst for blood. The blonde jinchuuriki tensed as the fight with his inner demon drew to a close, the outcome becoming clear. Mostly thanks to the natural advantage provided by the seal he'd managed to withstand and then repel her onslaught, temporarily sending her back to her previous hermetic state in the back of his mind.

Without warning several of the more idiotic thugs lunged forwards, intent on killing or incapacitating Naruto. Perceiving the threat he acted on pure instinct and sprung towards them, catching them off guard and managing to slip past the closest one's weapon, using his newly obtained claws to leave four long gashes in his chest before he could react. Thanks to the poisonous nature of the youki the guy immediately collapsed, going into some kind of seizure before he died.

Splattered with the dead guy's blood Naruto leapt at another thug, this time ripping his throat out, splattering blood everywhere. Seeing his speed and brutality many of the thugs began to back away, but instead just managed to draw his attention. Twirling in the direction of his targets Naruto used the youki to form a blade extending from his arm out in a radius of fifteen feet. Any and all thugs in his way were cut in half, their blood pooling on the bridge. Growling, Naruto advanced on the remaining thugs with the stride of a large predator. Only the bravest and the stupidest did not back away, and those who were particularly aggressive or felt like they needed to prove something actually stepped forwards, clearly challenged the enraged blonde. Stepping up to the challenge Naruto tensed once more before launching himself forwards, claws extended.

The resulting fight much more resembled a massacre than anything else. Naruto killed with reckless abandon, not showing a shred of self control or mercy, until finally all that was left of the mob was about fifty of the smarter thugs and Gatou himself. The scene filtered in through the red film that had slipped over Naruto's sight and mind, and something primitive within him realized that this man was responsible for the death of Sasuke in this timeline and the death of Haku in the previous one. Growling loudly enough to be heard on the other side of the bridge, Naruto prowled towards his target, calculating eyes taking in everything. Not giving the Mafia boss or his thugs for hire time to think, Naruto charged. He decimated those in his way with ease, cutting through their ranks like a hot knife cuts through butter. Jumping over the heads of the last line of defense he stuck a claw through Gatou's shoulder, causing the short man to scream in pain.

"What's the matter, scumbag?" Naruto asked, his voice rough and deep. "Can't take a bit of pain? Weaklings like you don't deserve to be in charge of anything."

Yanking his arm out of Gatou's torso, Naruto continued, "Not even how you die.”

Taking pleasure in the panicked look that had invaded Gatou's face and eyes, Naruto punched him in the stomach with his left hand. When the man doubled over in pain Naruto kicked him in the shin as hard as he could, resulting in Gatou losing his balance and falling on his back. He quickly pushed himself up onto his elbows and tried to frantically scramble back, but was thwarted when Naruto strolled forward and stepped on his stomach, pinning Gatou down.

Grinning like a madman Naruto used the foot that had been resting on Gatou's stomach to kick him in the chin, causing his head to snap back. Fortunately for Naruto's bloodlust he didn't break his neck, instead just ending up with slight brain damage. Not giving Gatou time to recover Naruto picked him up and slung him fifty feet across the bridge. Gatou landed hard and ungracefully, rolling along the ground after he hit the concrete. By now Kakashi had given up trying to get past the defensive band of youki, and instead settled for watching the kid who was in Kakashi's mind his most harmless student beat the crap out of a Mafia boss after slaughtering his entire guard force of thugs. He really couldn't believe that the kid could be so sadistic, so he came to the natural conclusion that the Kyuubi must've either taken over or heavily affected Naruto's actions in some way.

Haku was worried for his new found friend. Seeing your most precious person die defending you would be hard, and with the blonde's status as a jinchuuriki he ran a high risk of having his emotions overridden, turning him into a senseless beast, killing everything in his path. Zabuza was watching the massacre and following beating with equal terror and fascination. What in all the hells was this brat, anyways? Not only had he gotten back up from a fatal wound, but was now beating the shit out of one of the most feared men in the world after having slaughtered his guard force. The amount of power and killing intent he was broadcasting was extreme for a seasoned veteran, and was nigh impossible for anyone so young. He had heard stories of ninja who were so powerful and bloodthirsty at such a young age, but he believed that this brat was scarier than any of them. After all, with those you could feel the power and desire to kill from a mile away. With the blonde, though, it just appeared out of thin air. One second he was a do good idiot, the next he was a rampaging powerhouse. And if he could go through such a change so quickly, who knew what extremes he was capable of?

"Pl-please!" Gatou cried, "Have m-mercy!"

Naruto snarled when he heard the scumbag's words.

"Mercy?" he asked. "You want me to have mercy? Tell me, Gatou," he hissed, tightening his grip on the Mafia boss's throat.

"Did you show mercy to those who stood in your way? To the inhabitants of the places you took over? Did you show even a shred of mercy towards Inari's father? No! You didn't. So don't expect me to be showing you any mercy any time soon. The beating I'm giving you is far less than someone like you deserves." It was times like this when Naruto wished he had Tsukiyomi.

Gatou whimpered as Naruto tightened his grip so much that he cut off Gatou's airflow. Seeing the short man's distress, Naruto grinned and grabbed Gatou's right arm, yanking it out of the socket. He loosened his grip on Gatou's throat as the man screamed in pain. Getting bored with beating the shit out of such a weak opponent, the demonic Naruto casually tossed Gatou up in the air before jumping up after him. Appearing right in front of the terrified man, Naruto dealt him a roundhouse kick to the stomach, sending him flying off the bridge and into the waters below.

Landing, Naruto looked at the ground and closed his eyes. The protective bands of youki disappeared along with Naruto's claws. He shuffled back over to Sasuke's body, and all three ninja there noticed that he was crying, his features having returned completely too normal. Collapsing onto his hands and knees next to his teammate's body, Naruto began to sink into a pit of despair. 'I failed!' he thought. He'd allowed one of his most precious people to die, making the trip back in time worthless in his eyes. Why go to all of this trouble if he couldn't save the people he cared for the most?

He suddenly felt a nudge at the corners of his mind, interrupting the turmoil and drawing his attention. As soon as he started paying attention, a searing pain erupted from his stomach. It felt as if someone was tracing the new seal with a white hot knife. The memory of replacing the old Shiki Fuujin seal with the current seal flashed through his head, and with it came the knowledge of the abilities he'd programmed into it. One in particular stuck in his mind.

'But how is being able to skim through Stella's knowledge of jutsu going to help me?' he wondered, experiencing a slight blonde moment.

Half a minute later he realized what purpose such a thing might serve and felt the need to slap himself on the forehead for being such an idiot, and so did such a thing, confusing the now five onlookers. Sakura and Tazuna had indeed returned, seeing that the fight was over.

'I'll wonder later how the seal was intelligent enough to remind me,' Naruto thought, a bit crept out by the idea of a sentient seal.

Shifting through the fox's stores of knowledge, he tired to focus on medical jutsu and failed. Undeterred he just decided to sort through all of her techniques. 'Let's see, I need something that'll bring Sasuke back to life. Other than contacting a Deathkeeper, how the hell am I supposed to do that?' Sorting a bit more, he came across one that he thought he recognized. 'Wait, isn't that Chiyo-baachan's jutsu? The one she used to resurrect Gaara?' Accessing the description of it, his suspicions were confirmed. It was a jutsu that transferred wounds from one person to another. 'But this only transfers wounds! Arg!' he thought. Deciding to have that as a fall back, Naruto continued to search. In less than a second our time, but in a few hours within his mind, Naruto found a jutsu that pretty much acted like a defibrillator. If he used Chiyo's jutsu to heal all of Sasuke's mortal wounds, and this one to restart his heart, it would work. Naruto decided that using the two techniques in conjunction would be best, since he was unlikely to be able to find a jutsu that could be used to resurrect someone without offering a sacrifice. If he just used Chiyo's jutsu, then his own heart would stop and, due to the nature of the jutsu, stay stopped when he restarted Sasuke's heart. The other wounds he could take care of with his healing, though he probably wouldn't be able to use anything but small chakra amounts and very high ratios of youki to chakra until his coils finished healing. They'd probably only be half done by the time of the second stage of the chunin exams.

'Well, here goes nothing!' Naruto thought, once again summoning up a dangerous amount of youki and using it to activate Chiyo's jutsu, knowing that there was an extremely high chance of this killing him anyways, but it was the only option that would give him the slimmest chance of living.

All five of his spectators gawked when he started using medical youki to heal Sasuke's wounds.

"Naruto," Kakashi said, stepping forwards, "It's too late for that. He's dead."

Naruto simply shook his head. "I know that, but this isn't an ordinary medic jutsu," he began. Everyone there wondered what he meant, but then they all noticed the blood that had begun to once again drip from Naruto's stomach.

The blonde explained, "It's a wound transfer jutsu. I've seen it used to resurrect people before."

Sakura and Tazuna gasped when they realized the implications of what the blonde had just said. Before they could do anything he closed up the vast majority of Sasuke's wounds, stopping before the boy actually came back to life. Ignoring his audience's curiosity as to why he'd stopped, he started going through another series of seals. When he finished he held out his hand and gathered green electricity in it. This was actually lightning natured medic youki, the like of which could only be used by dragons, demons, demigods, and deities. All five of the people gathered around him were baffled though.

Putting his hand to Sasuke's chest, Naruto focused on not falling unconscious as he sent small jolts through Sasuke's system. The raven's body jerked as he gasped for air, his heart restarting. Sasuke's heart started beating again, although it was extremely faint, and his breaths were shallow. Grinning, Naruto collapsed next to him, sinking once again into a black void. Sakura pushed her hair behind her ears, her eyes worried. Both of her teammates were unconscious and unfit to be taken back to Konoha. They were currently being taken care of in the hospital of Wave. It annoyed her to no end how she had to just sit there and do nothing while her precious Sasuke-kun and the boy who had almost died saving him, Naruto, hovered on the edge between life and death. They'd been this way for two weeks.

Walking into the two boy's room after having eaten her lunch, she looked at their prone forms. Questions surrounding both of them were spinning through her head. She had previously thought of Sasuke as invincible, able to go through an entire fight without getting a single scratch. And Naruto… All along she'd assumed that he was a weakling idiot, unable to do anything other than be incredibly annoying. Now, though, if it wasn't for him not only would Sasuke have stayed dead, but she and Tazuna would probably have been killed also.

She shivered as she remembered the power that had radiated off of him. It hadn't felt like normal chakra, and had felt tainted and inhuman. When she had asked Kakashi about the mysterious power he'd merely told her that it wasn't his place to reveal such things, and that she should ask Naruto when he woke up. 'Stupid sensei,' she thought. 'He probably doesn't even know what that was himself!'

To top off the mystery surrounding Naruto and the near tragic incident of Sasuke's defeat, the two missing-nins insisted on staying around. They, too, wanted to speak to Naruto. Or, at the least, the feminine looking one wanted to speak to him, while the scary one just seemed to be going along with it.

So lost was she in her thoughts that she didn't notice when one of the two boys began to stir, and she started when she heard someone call out her name in a weak, scratchy voice. Haku shifted, uncomfortable. The black haired genin, Sasuke, had woken up about a week ago, although Naruto showed no signs of stirring. Both of the jounin had recently been pressuring him to tell them what the fuck was going on, for some reason assuming that he'd know. All he would tell Kakashi was that he and Naruto were friends that had met coincidentally before this mission. He knew that he couldn't get away with the same excuse to Zabuza, so he told the ex water shinobi that everything would be explained when Naruto woke up and about the blonde's status as a jinchuuriki. Zabuza was a bit wary about trusting the Konoha shinobi, but Haku assured him that it would be fine.

Looking out at the waves crashing against the shore, Haku sighed and sank into deep thought.

Naruto awoke once again to the beeping of a heart machine. Opening his eyes and looking around, he took in the sight of a rundown hospital room. 'I'm alive? How?' he thought. He was seriously confused as to how he'd survived. In all reality he should've died when he took a raikiri through his heart, seeing as how he had yet to build up enough resistance in this timeline to the more harmful aspect of Stella's youki. It was a miracle that he'd lived long enough to kill Gatou and his thugs and then to resurrect Sasuke.

'It might have something to do with the new seal,' Stella said.

'Have you calmed down yet?' Naruto asked, remembering her return to her original brutality.

'Yah. By the way, brat, who in all the hells gave you permission to sort through my knowledge?' she snarled, getting angry.

Naruto mentally grinned. 'I did!' he exclaimed. Seeing her fuming he decided to redirect the subject. 'Why would the seal have affected whether I lived or died?'

'It seems that it does a better job of filtering and managing youki. Unsurprising since it's a higher level of seal,' she replied.

Naruto nodded. The only reason he'd been able to switch the old seal with this one was that Stella was already sealed up and he knew how to draw on her vast stores of youki, increasing his stores of energy beyond any human's. 'Although there's probably going to be one or two side effects.'

'What do you mean?' Naruto asked.

'Look down,' she said. Confused, Naruto looked down at his hands, resting lightly in his lap. He jumped five feet when he saw the inch long claws protruding from the tips.

'WHAT THE FUCK!' he screeched within his mind. This was not good!

'I'm guessing that, although you can use a hell of a lot more youki without harming or killing yourself, the seal is going to change your body every time you exceed your current limits for going without excessive harm,' Stella explained.

Naruto resisted the urge to tell her that that was kind of obvious. 'If you go through enough changes you'll end up as a hanyou, maybe even a full-blood.'

'Well, that's just fucking great!' Naruto exclaimed sarcastically.

Although being a hanyou would mean an enormous increase in his own power (he'd be able to get himself up to the equivalent of five tails of personal power instead of the human limit of three), better chakra control, and in his potential ability to access Stella's youki without killing himself would up to seven, instead of its previous five, it would be almost impossible to hide, even for a half fox demon. Deciding that he was hungry and bored, Naruto got up out of bed and opened the window. Before he could go anywhere he was stopped by a voice behind him.

"Where do you think you're going?" Kakashi asked, a bit surprised that Naruto was awake so soon.

He'd been in critical just three weeks ago when they brought him in, and he'd been in a coma ever since they'd gotten him stabalized, though he still had gone in and out of critical a few times. It hadn't been too surprising when Sasuke woke up so early because Naruto had managed to heal most of his wounds, and Sasuke didn't have some weird extra presence in his system preventing medic nins on any level below that of a master from healing him. Sadly for Naruto the only medic nins in the Wave were extremely low level.

"To get something to eat! I'm starving!" Naruto exclaimed.

"I'll get you some food after you answer some of my questions," Kakashi said, glaring with his one visible eye.

Shifting, Naruto asked, "How 'bout I answer your questions over ramen? That'll deal with both problems!"

"Sure," Kakashi replied, not really feeling like arguing with Naruto.

"Yatta!" the blonde shouted, jumping up in the air. "Let's go!"

Kakashi had to wonder where the hell the boy got all of his energy as Naruto zipped out of the room via the window. Leaving a hastily scribbled note explaining where Naruto was on the table next to his bed, Kakashi followed the hyperactive blonde. When they'd gotten to the resident ramen stand, Kakashi ordered one bowl of pork ramen, while Naruto got his usual of miso.

"Mind telling me what the hell happened back there? And what's with the claws?" the Cyclopic jounin asked, dreading the worst.

Slurping his noodles, Naruto replied, "Don't really know. I think it had something to do with my furry little friend rapid healing me. If you want to know about the medic jutsus I managed to stumble upon a side effect of the seal that allows me to sort through her knowledge of jutsus."

Naruto paused in his explanation to order another bowl of ramen, before continuing, "Sadly, most of the jutsus are in some weird language that I don't understand. The claws are a side effect of my body being adapted to her youki."

His eyes widening, Kakashi asked, "You can sort through her memories? The fox is a she? She heals you?"

He didn't bother confirming the claws, though it did bother him that Naruto's body was changing to accommodate the youki. What of his mind then?

"No to the first and yes to the second two," Naruto replied. Seeing his sensei's confusion to his reply when it contradicted with his earlier statement, he hastened to explain. "I can only sort through the jutsu knowledge. The memories aren't accessible to me. Don't know why it's like that, though. Oh, and before you worry your head off, my mind isn't changing, although I think that my IQ might have gone up a few points."

Kakashi nodded. His explanation made sense.

"Well, as low as your IQ is it can only help for you to get smarter," Kakashi drawled, ignoring Naruto's complaint at the suggestion that the blonde was stupid. "What are you going to tell Sasuke and Sakura?" he asked.

Naruto grinned one of his trademark fox grins. "Leave that to me, sensei! I've got the perfect excuse."

Slurping up the last of his noodles, Naruto jumped out of his seat and, landing in the street outside, took off. Kakashi briefly wondered why until he looked over at where Naruto had been, and saw a huge stack of empty ramen bowls and the owner standing there gaping. The silver haired jounin quietly grieved for his now fairly empty wallet before setting off to go find his other two charges.

"Hey! Haku-kun! Zabuza-san!" Naruto called out, running up to the two nuke-nins.

"Hello Naruto. Good to see that you're awake," Haku said, smiling.

"Hey, brat, mind telling me why the hell Haku said we should wait for you to wake up?" Zabuza asked, not bothering to hide the contempt in his voice.

"Sure! But not here," Naruto said, motioning for the two to follow him. Not bothering to see if they were behind him he took off, heading for the forest.

Landing in the clearing where he'd been practicing with Stella's youki earlier, he spun around and sat cross legged. "Okay, what do you know already?"

Scowling, Zabuza replied, "Only that you're a jinchuuriki. I don't even know whose."

Nodding, Naruto said, "I'm the jinchuuriki of Tsuwamono Stella, the crown princess of demon foxes and the Kyuubi no Kitsune. The claws are a side effect of me getting used to her power."

Naruto grinned when he saw Zabuza start upon hearing the power level of Naruto bijou. "As to what's going on, I have a proposition for the two of you. I met Haku-kun earlier and explained it to him, and he agreed, which is why we're friends."

"Go on," Zabuza said, curious as to what would've convinced the loyal Haku to go behind his back, and how a twelve year old boy could offer a good enough deal to tempt someone like Haku.

"The basic deal was that Haku-kun would help me get myself and my friends out of this mission alive, and I'd give the two of you my favor, which in just about all circles counts as the fox's favor," Naruto explained. "The extended deal is that I would like the two of you to join an organization I'm trying to form. You two are both very powerful and would make valuable additions. I'd be able to get the two of you quite a bit of money, and you'd have my full support along with the support of anyone else I can get to join plus any non suicidal fox demons."

"Makes sense so far," Zabuza said. "But why in all the hells is a twelve year old who already belongs to a village trying to start his own organization?"

Grinning, Naruto replied, "Because that village is full of idiotic blockheads who can't tell the difference between me and Stella and who would only protect me and help me as far as it serves their needs. That's just one of the reasons why I can't just fall back on my village. I have many reasons for wanting an organization in the first place. The two main reasons are to provide a rally point for jinchuuriki and missing nins and to combat organizations such as the Akatsuki, the Hogoshakage, the Ketsueki no Kanshisha, and people like Orochimaru."

"Zabuza-sama, there is no reason why we shouldn't help him," Haku said, noticing his master's hesitation. "It can't hurt to be allied to the jinchuuriki of one of the most politically and physically powerful beings in this dimension, after all."

Zabuza nodded. He knew how governments could hold you back, having run into the same problem when he was still loyal to Kiri, and it made sense that the boy would want him and Haku on his team.

"Alright. We're in. One question. Have you come up with a place for this organization to meet, a way for us to communicate, and a name?” asked Zabuza.

Rubbing the back of his head sheepishly, Naruto replied, "I have an idea as to where our home base should be, though I don't know if it'll work, and I kind of have an idea as to how to communicate. Never thought of a name, though."

'You have got to be shitting me,' Zabuza thought. The boy had the foresight and intelligence to realize that his home village wasn't going to be of much use to him and that it would be a good idea to form an organization behind their backs, but then forgot to actually think his plan through, neglecting such things as a home base and a communication system.

"Alright. Where's the home base?" he asked.

"I'll show you!" Naruto exclaimed.

Before Haku or Zabuza could express their disbelief, he began gathering youkai, before grabbing onto their arms and teleporting the three into the Highway. "This way!" he announced, dragging the two off into the blackness.

A/N: Yays! Done with revising chappie three! Welp, it’s not completely revised, but it’ll suffice for now. Any further editing will occur later when I have more time on my hads. I hope ya’ll enjoyed what happened this time. I plan to redo chappie one either this week or next. Aside from that, chappie five will come out later this week. Until then, please remember to review lovelies!

Chapter Text

A/N: Hey ya’ll! It’s Kuro-chan here with the next chappie for the Clash of Time! Hehes, welp that’s what the translation means if you don’t know already. Hopefully ya’ll are enoying it so far. The first chappie of this has been redone ad uploaded. So, that should be fixed. Now, let’s get onto chappie five, shall we? Hehes, please enjoy and R&R!

Chapter 5

"Where in all the hells are we?" Zabuza asked, looking around at the black void because there was no light anywhere, and yet he could somehow see everybody around him clearly.

Grinning, Naruto replied, "The Highway. It's a way of traveling instantaneously between places. You can also use it to travel between dimensions. The gathering place I have in mind is a pocket dimension that belongs to Stella."

"How do we get there, though, Naruto?" Haku asked, noticing all he could see was what looked like little pricks of light off in the distance to bring him to the conclusion that there was no apparent way to travel.

"We just walk. You guys can only see the main Gateways and other travelers, so the all of the various dimensions aren't apparent to you. We just need to travel enough so that we exit this dimension and enter hers," Naruto replied. "I can actually only see her dimension, though. Without a marker that's encoded to either me or Stella's energy I can't tell one area from another."

"Which way's the dimension?" Zabuza asked, his sense of direction thrown off.

"This way!" Naruto shouted.

He started running in the opposite direction of where he'd been facing. Haku and Zabuza followed closely after him. They traveled for what seemed like forever, taking countless steps, and yet the three travelers didn't even begin to lose their breath or become bored, the time passing as it does when one is meditating, as if it doesn't exist. After eternity had come and gone they arrived in front of an invisible dome that kept them from going farther. Naruto seemed to recognize it and place his hands on some invisible insignia, channeling Stella's youki into the dome.

In Naruto's eyes he'd place his hands upon a picture of Stella's clan symbol. After he'd channeled the required amount of youki into the dome, red lines spread out from behind it, moving in straight lines, forming right angles when they turned. The red lines swiftly filled up a red circle, causing the entire panel to turn in place. It receded, leaving a hole in the dome. Naruto lead Haku and Zabuza through the gap. They had just made it past the outline of the dome when the panel reformed, preventing further intrusion. Haku and Zabuza saw the same endless void as before, but to Naruto's eyes they were now in a world of ghostly outlines, shapes standing out of the haze. He walked through translucent walls of gray, the unnatural mist clinging to him. It felt like he was in a graveyard. Arriving in the main hall of a gargantuan castle in the middle of the small dimension, Naruto once again grabbed Haku and Zabuza's arms. He then dragged them out of the Highway and into the pocket dimension.

They were currently in the main hall of the castle, where visiting dignitaries would be greeted first. The ceiling arched up hundreds of feet above their heads. Light came from intricately designed chandeliers that hung from the ceilings. Finely woven tapestries hung on the walls, adding even more color to the room.

"What the hell?" Zabuza said. He knew that the fox was a crown princess, but this was insane!

"It's designed to be an exact copy of the old capitol of the fox demon society, before the Fall of Omorfia," the voice of a female called out.

All three shinobi turned around to see Stella in her humanoid form, wearing her usual soldier outfit.

"How'd you get out?" Naruto asked, startled.

"This is my dimension. The Shiki Fuujin doesn't take affect here," she explained. "Feel free to stay as long as you wish, but do not damage the place at all."

Her brief speech finished, she vanished in a swirl of flame. Recovering from their brief moment of surprise, the three ninja headed towards one of the conference rooms in order to talk about what they were planning for the organization.

"Damn, why the hell am I even allowing them to stay here?" Stella wondered out loud, staring at her old bed from when she was a little girl.

It was astoundingly simple for a royal bed, nothing more than a cot. The room itself was small, the only furniture being the bed, a dresser, a mirror, a chair, and a trunk. The room was decorated with a handful of hand drawn pictures, various items that held little value in the real world but fascinated a Stella who was no older than the demon equivalent of a five year old. Stella did not see the dingy room. Instead she saw it as it had been the night she last saw it in the Universe…

()

The childish order of the room was ruined, everything in disarray. The drawers were thrown open, clothes strewn on the floor. The room was lit only by an eerie flickering red light which danced across the ghostly shapes. The outlines of things unnamed could be seen lurking in the shifting darkness, waiting for the unwary. A young girl, small for her age, was sorting through the clothes, selecting an outfit that mimicked a stable boy's during the time. She picked up a pair of scissors from the top of the dresser and hacked off a large portion of her hair, the long locks falling to the floor. When it was the appropriate length she grabbed several of the items laying around and stuffed them into a knapsack, before opening the door and running out into the hallway. Screams could be heard drifting down the hall.

Stella forcefully pulled herself out of the memory before it could go any farther. It was no use remembering the events of the past when they would only serve to bring about feeling of regret and an aching loneliness.

"This place… I was lying when I said it's an exact copy of the city. Where are the bells declaring the hour? Where are the voices of neighbors calling to each other? The sounds of children laughing and playing, of people content, even happy, with their lot in life, where have they gone? This place only looks like Omorfia. It is not and will never be the place itself," Stella lamented, staring at the ground with her hair casting her face into shadow.

Her voice conveyed a sadness that ran deeper than simple loss, than simple regret or grief. Her eyes still downcast, Stella walked over to the window. The glass had frosted over, and snow blanketed the city without. It was always like this in the city of Stella's creation. The world was frozen into a repeating cycle of snow. Winter never left, and each night it snowed. The sun always rose onto a white world of newly fallen snow. Despite the fact that new snow was always falling, and that the old snow never melted, the level never rose. It was always just compacted enough for children to play and have fun, the lakes all frozen over. Snow carpeted the tops of the trees and building, turning them from their usual drab selves to wondrous sculptures, capable of fascinating even the adults that had lived in the city, once upon a time.

The stars shinned down from the heavens, the night sky as clear as has ever been possible. Lights glowed in the city below, pulsing with the music that wafted from every street corner. The smells of home baked goods, ranging from gingerbread cookies to turkey dinners to various cobblers, saturated the air. Laughter and friendly chatter could be heard no matter where you were. Children ran laughing through the crowds, playing games of tag. Some carried toys from lands far away, gifts from soldiers that had come home for the holidays. The carnival and the circus were both in town, adding to the merriment. Traveling merchants hawked their goods on the streets, calling out advertisements. Snow covered the city, reflecting the light and sparkling. Snow people and creatures stood all around. In clearings in the woods and parks were forts made for epic snow fights. It was obvious that some of the kids participating had been able to use the snow element, for among the usual were intricate sculptures of both ice and snow. One horse open sleighs were taking people on personal rides through the snowy woods and white fields.

One child in particular stood out. She was obviously a royal child, for her clothes were rich and she was extremely well kept, but she was hanging out with the youngest daughter of one of the many bakers and the middle daughter of a seamstress. The kitsune demon, the tanuki demon, and the snow cat demon were climbing into a sleigh, a snake demon, who looked to be no older than thirteen, standing behind them smiling joyously. His grin held no malice or slyness, only happiness. He conversed freely with the three girls. The kitsune referred to him as aniki, despite the obvious difference of species. They all climbed into the sleigh, a beautiful thing of red, gold, and white, and settled in. They sang and talked amongst themselves as they rode, occasionally laughing merrily.

Winter had always been Stella's favorite season as a kid. It was the time when communication with the outside world was completely cut off, and the soldiers came home from war. It was when everyone grew closer, and those who had originally been cruel were at the least polite, if not kind. It was a season of almost perpetual holidays, a combination of the beliefs of the many species, demon and otherwise, that inhabited the place. It was when there was no school, and she was free to slip away from the troubles of being a bastard of the royal family and play with her friends.

"I need to stop reflecting on the past," she told herself, "It'll only lead to more grief. What's happened has happened. There isn't any way for me to go back and fix the mistakes of the past. There's no way for me to save them."

()

Before her mind could remind her any more of the events that had occurred, Stella turned on her heel and glided out of the room. She then went out into the city itself, exiting the fortress. She was going to take a ride on one of the open sleighs, in order to try and clear her mind.

"Okay! Here we are!" Naruto announced, grandly sweeping his arms to encompass the entire meeting room.

The chairs were made out of mahogany. The seat and the back were soft pillows upholstered in red velvet. The table itself was also made from mahogany, with a glass center. Small figurines were underneath the glass, ranging from depictions of actual people to geometric shapes. A gargantuan chandelier hung over the center of the table, consisting of clusters of lights and crystals. It cast fragments of sparkling light over everything. Plain overhead lights were also available for a lighting option. Naruto flipped a switch on the wall and red lines traced over the floors, originating from the walls. The very end of the tremendously long table separated from the rest along with four chairs. It drifted away from the other table and stopped five feet from the trio. Naruto waked forward and sat in one of the chairs, settling back with a wide grin.

"Wow! This place is fancy! How fucking rich were these people?" He asked, looking round at the decorated walls, ceiling, floor, and furniture.

Haku and Zabuza both sat down in chairs, sinking into them. Neither of them had ever seen anything this expensive or fancy, not even in the palaces of the daimyos. It also made them wonder where such a place had gone to, and how. Surely such a rich and royal family would protect themselves well, and being demons they'd have access to quite a lot of power. What army had been capable of causing the Fall of Omorfia?

"Okay, how is this place for a home base?" Naruto asked.

"We'd be stupid to not use it. Not only is it in an area that seems to be only accessible to one who can use the fox's chakra, but it seems to be designed to withstand a brutal assault," Zabuza said.

He hadn't failed to notice the various things that would allow the palace to be made nigh impenetrable to enemy attack. "The only problem is getting here and getting into the dome."

Naruto nodded. "I can program the dome to recognize your energy signatures, so you'll be able to see it, but I can't think of a way to allow you two to travel between dimensions. We'll ask Stella next time we see her. She might know."

The two missing-nin agreed.

"Okay!" Naruto announced. "Now that that's out of the way, we need a name! How about… I know! The Uber Secret Super Cool…"

Before he could go any farther he was interrupted by Haku. "Naruto-kun, I think a shorter name might be better. It'd be easier to remember for people other than ourselves," he pointed out.

"Well, then what should we name it?" Naruto asked, annoyed that Haku thought his suggestion was no good.

"Why the hell do we even need a name?" Zabuza asked, getting annoyed at the blonde's short attention span.

"So that we can actually do things and recruit new people!" Naruto announced, thinking it was obvious.

"Well, because it's an underground organization of shinobi, how about something to do with shadows or the night?" Haku suggested. Naruto looked thoughtful.

"Sounds cool," he said. "But I don't think we should just name ourselves Kage. What else should the name include?"

"We want it to have something to do with our goal itself," Zabuza said.

"So, something about protecting or working together?" Haku asked. Naruto shook his head no.

"There's already an organization called the Guardian Shadow, and Working Together Shadow just sounds kinda dumb," he said.

"Red morning, sailor's warning. Red night, sailor's delight," a feminine voice called out from thin air.

Stella then materialized in the empty chair next to Naruto, leaning forward and resting her elbows on the table.

"What do you mean by that?" Naruto asked.

He was used to Stella doing stuff like that in his mind, so it didn't bother him to much when she did it in her own dimension.

"A red sunrise forewarns danger ahead, while a red sunset forewarns calm skies and favorable conditions. Therefore, since Akatsuki is our main enemy and is the Red Sunrise, we should name ourselves Shinku Higure, which is Red Twilight," she explained.

'When the hell did she become a member of our group?' Naruto thought.

'When you decided to use my dimension as your home base,' Stella replied over their mental connection.

'Who asked you?' he replied, while saying, "Doesn't Shinku also mean hardship/toil/trouble?"

Haku nodded. "That's a good name for us. In conjunction it means a red sunset, telling of good times to come. When separated Shinku refers to the hardship that we have all gone through and Higure means the ideal conditions for shinobi to work in."

"It doesn't really matter to me," Zabuza said.

"Okay then!" Naruto announced. "It's decided! We shall be called Shinku Higure!"

"You guys were wondering earlier about how to travel between dimensions," Stella said, bringing the topic back to something she viewed as worthwhile. "It's possible to set up a direct Gateway between this dimension and the Universe, and to program it to only allow certain people through, unless they have a key or are traveling with someone that can get through. Nobody's invented a portable Gateway yet, so any that we build will have to be stationary. It is theoretically possible to design a portable Gateway, though."

"How do you make a Gateway?" Naruto asked, intrigued.

"Well, first you have to decide where it's going to be," Stella started.

One could tell by the tone of her voice that she knew she was stating the obvious, and was doing so on purpose, instigating that her audience couldn't figure that out by themselves, "Then there're several techniques that will create a bridge of sorts between two dimensions. In order for this to work you must have someone of both sides of the bridge. The final step is to lock the Gateway and hide its presence from those not allowed to use it."

"Okay. Where should the Gateways be?" Naruto asked. "I think we should have one in my apartment or a similar location to allow easy access in and out of Konoha."

Haku nodded. "Makes sense. If I may make a suggestion, it would also be smart to create Gateways in other countries than the Fire country. If at all possible we should have one just about everywhere."

"Haku has a point. That'll allow a quick retreat no matter where we are and a strategic position from which to attack," Zabuza said.

"All the Gateways that are anchored here should be in the courtyards. There are areas there specifically designed for instant transport. Some of the areas are already taken up, though," Stella said, but she also didn't want them intruding any more than necessary.

"Alright!" Naruto cheered. "We can create the Gateway to Wave today. It should be easy to create a Gateway when I return to Konoha. I don't currently have access to any other countries, though. Hey, do you two want to return to Wave now or stay here?"

"We'll stay here. Just say that we left already or something," Zabuza replied, noticing Naruto nodded before he faded into the Highway with Stella following suit.

"Naruto-baka! Where were you? You're late!" Sakura yelled as Naruto came into view.

She, Sasuke, and Kakashi were all sitting on one of the side railings of Tazuna's new bridge. Kakashi had figured that it would be the perfect place to meet up, and would still allow them to watch Tazuna (not that he really needed it now that Gatou was gone).

"Gomen Sakura-chan, but I was talking to Haku-kun and lost track of time," Naruto explained, grinning sheepishly and rubbing the back of his head.

"Why do you call him 'Haku-kun'?" Sasuke asked, getting straight to the point.

"We met a while ago," Naruto began. "That was before he met Zabuza. He'd wandered into Konoha, having hitch hiked with some traveling merchants. We befriended each other, but then he heard a rumor about some surviving family members of his, and wanted to check it out. He apparently met Zabuza somewhere along the way, and started fighting for him. I didn't see him again until just recently, when we met during the week that we were training to fight Zabuza. We got caught up on a few things, and we also agreed that it would be nice if the fight between us could end without any casualties from any side other than Gatou's."

Sakura nodded, excepting the explanation and filing it away as just one of those weird coincidences that you hear about every now and then. Sasuke looked suspicious, but was unable to find any holes in Naruto's story, and grudgingly accepted that he wouldn't learn the whole truth anytime soon.

"Naruto, if you knew he was the enemy, then why didn't you tell us?" Kakashi asked, having noticed that Naruto's words confirmed that he'd had knowledge of Haku's status as the mysterious hunter-nin.

Despite an apparent hole in his tale, the blonde was unaffected, "I didn't deem it important. We only discussed things relevant to the occurrences in our lives, and neither learned anything about the other's fighting style or abilities. It also would've impeded the mission if you guys knew that one of the enemies was an old friend of mine.”

His fox grin destroyed the illusion of extreme cunning. He wanted his teammates to take him seriously, of course, but he could tell that Kakashi was getting suspicious of him. He didn't want his freedom being restricted. Kakashi's visible eye narrowed so slightly that it was almost impossible to pick up on. Naruto only noticed it because of three years of keeping constant watch for opponents such as Itachi that specialized in stealth, a life time of judging the emotional state of the villagers so that he'd know when to get the hell out of there, and the fact that Stella had greatly enhanced his eyes, giving him the ability to instantly replay things he'd seen in slow motion within his mind.

Kakashi had narrowed his eyes because of what Naruto was saying and how he was saying it. If the jounin hadn't already been suspicious that Naruto was hiding just about everything, the Kyuubi was affecting him, or Naruto had been replaced he would've easily taken the blonde's words at face value, thinking him too stupid to come up with a clever lie. It annoyed him to no end that he couldn't prove this particular explanation to be truth or fiction. Nobody would've noticed one more street brat, and Naruto wouldn't have told this lie if he hadn't at some point run with a black haired street kid. There was also no way to prove or disprove the story that Haku had hitchhiked with some traveling merchants. Plenty of children that had been uprooted by the movement against those with bloodlines in the Mist and other such places had gone to Konoha, having heard of their reverent treatment of those who possessed the legendary kekkei genkai. And the blonde was such a superb actor that he didn't give any outward show of even beginning to deviate from the absolute truth.

"Hey, Naruto, what was that weird power earlier?" Sakura asked hesitantly. On that day she'd seen a side of Naruto not previously shown in that timeline, his mask slipping all the way off and his mentality being consumed by a demonic bloodlust. Naruto blinked before grinning widely.

"You'd never believed what happened Sakura-chan!" he exclaimed, eyes lighting up.

Kakashi could tell that this was an act. No jinchuuriki in their right mind would reveal the fact that they had a demon in them unless the situation was dire.

She scowled, annoyed at the blonde. "Naruto-baka! Just tell me already!"

"Alright," he said, still fox grinning. "I unlocked this really cool kekkei genkai that I'd thought was too recessive in me to show! It's amazing!"

Sakura and even Sasuke were clearly shocked. They'd never thought that the blonde might have a bloodline. Kakashi was surprised at the simplicity and yet believability of Naruto's lie. There were millions of different kekkei genkai in the world, and if one was smart about it they could easily convince someone with little knowledge of demons that a jinchuuriki was not a jinchuuriki, and simply possessed a strong and rare bloodline.

"What does it do dobe?" Sasuke asked, trying to sound impassive, but his tone had a hint of demand and impatience for an answer in it.

Naruto grinned, knowing that the lie would get Sasuke's attention, "It has two parts, really. One allows me to use a special form of chakra that is actually visible and solid and can be converted into a special element that only advanced users of the bloodline can use.”

In reality Kitsunebi was easy enough for demons to use, but the nature of the technique wasn't an easy concept for humans to grasp and was difficult for them, generally requiring a much greater mastery of the foxes' kekkei genkai, "I also have higher chakra control when I use it."

Seeing that he had his audience's undivided attention, Naruto continued, "The other part is actually a doujutsu that deals with memory. It allows me to record what I see and replay it in slow motion in my mind. Because it's a mental thing I can replay what I want to see in nearly an instant. I can also skim through what I've memorized for certain things. There's supposedly an ultimate form of the doujutsu that allows me to access someone else's memories and sort through them. Unless I'm really good at memory sorting what I learn would be forgotten as soon as I released the genjutsu. The purpose of the technique is really to replay the person's own memories to them, rather than information gathering. One of the clan jutsus actually allows the user to show the victim the users memories, whether fabricated or not, and can be used to implant false memory. I don't actually know how to access the ultimate level just yet."

His teammate's eyes widened. Sasuke fully understood the implications of what Naruto had said. This mysterious kekkei genkai was another of the three Densetsu no Gengan, of an equal level to his sharingan. From the description it sounded like the kekkei genkai that was bound to the Kitsune demon clans and those human clans that descended from them, just as the sharingan was tied to the raven tengu. But he'd never heard of a human clan with the kekkei genkai, and the only carriers were a handful of the oldest and/or the most powerful foxes, of a specific line of kitsune which the only member he knew of was the Kyuubi.

"How does a dobe like you have the Nagorigan?" Sasuke asked, his eyes beginning to flicker between his regular black and the angry crimson color of the Sharingan.

"Don't know," Naruto replied, shrugging. "The integration was so long ago that the kekkei genkai had been diluted so much that by a century ago it ceased to be a kekkei genkai. It makes no sense that I would suddenly develop it, unless the gene became recessive instead of disappearing. All four of my grandparents passed on the gene to my mother and father, who in turn passed it on to me. That's still a lot of 'if's and bloodlines rarely become recessive. They're almost always dominant or nonexistent."

Sasuke nodded slowly. His explanation made sense. There were plenty of clans in which the bloodline had become diluted, sinking to the level of mere clan jutsus, such as what had occurred in the Aburame, the Yamanaka, the Amakichi, the Nara, and the Inuzuka clans. It was also theoretically possible for a supposedly extinct bloodline to resurface a hundred years down the line. Sakura just looked confused. She remembered something from the fight with Zabuza about the Densetsu no Gengan, but she'd been too scared at that point to really listen. If Naruto's doujutsu was an illusion eye of legend like Sasuke's sharingan, then did that mean that Naruto's was just as powerful? Her mind, having been transfixed on Sasuke for so long, almost short circuited at the thought. It wasn't possible! Naruto's doujutsu must be weaker than Sasuke's, but tha’ts just what she thought in order to deny the truth. Kakashi was surprised for another reason altogether.

"Sasuke, how do you know of Naruto's bloodline?" It was rare for information to be kept on extinct or extremely rare, bloodlines, and he could've sworn that Naruto made the story up. How had Sasuke come to know the bloodline that Naruto had pretended to possess so well that he was able to recognize it immediately?

Sasuke looked away from his teacher, obviously not wishing to share that particular piece of information, "The Densetsu no Gengan were one of the things I studied as an Uchiha. Even if the sharingan is supposedly the only one that's actually been proven to still be in existence, or was anyways, you never know who might get a hold of what, and what weird occurrences might come to pass. The Densetsu no Gengan are unbeatable in their ultimate form unless you also have one that's been trained to an equal level. As long as the only Densetsu no Gengan were located within the Uchiha clan and we destroyed all missing-nins that decided to leave we'd have an absolute advantage in the battle field. I'd never thought it'd be necessary, though, since the other two were thought to have died out over a century ago, like Naruto said. They're only still called the three Densetsu no Gengan because there has been exactly three for thousands, if not millions, of years."

Kakashi could instantly see the logic behind the Uchiha clan's actions. If a missing nin went to another country they could not only use their sharingan against the Uchiha clan but could also give rise to another group of sharingan wielders, taking away the Uchiha's natural advantage from their ultimate form, whatever it was. From Naruto's various descriptions it was probably genjutsu orientated and you'd have to be a fucking moron to knowingly put yourself in their line of fire.

"Um, but I've never heard of a kekkei genkai with two parts before," Sakura said. "How is that even possible? It isn't physically possible to have two bloodlines active, and the genetic code that causes the bloodlines to form in someone isn't capable of retaining its human nature and being that complex at the same time."

Both Sasuke and Naruto tensed because she had managed to stumble upon a point that neither of them wanted raised.

"Just because something has never happened before, or it's so rare that it isn't known about, doesn't mean it's impossible," Naruto said after a moment's pause, grinning to decrease the effect of his words.

Sakura looked embarrassed and nodded.

‘Of course Naruto’s right!’ She thought.' I can't believe that I even so much as hinted that Sasuke-kun and Naruto-baka are anything other than absolutely human! It's ludicrous to think such a thing! Right?'

Sasuke relaxed, seeing that Sakura and Kakashi had accepted Naruto's scrambling for a way to throw doubt on Sakura's realization. It really wouldn't do if anyone discovered any more about his clan's history than they already had. That idiot Naruto probably already knew a few of the shadier parts, since he had a similar bloodline.

"Hey! You four!" Tazuna called out. "It's getting dark! What do you say we go home for dinner?"

Team 7 and their sensei all looked at Tazuna, realizing how late it was and how hungry they were. Before barely a second had passed after Tazuna's declaration Naruto jumped up in the air, screaming, "FOOD!"

()()()()()

A Few Days Later

"Good luck you guys. Have a super journey home!" Tazuna said, smiling at his guards for the past four weeks.

The bridge was finally done, and all of Wave had shown up to say goodbye to the heroes of the island.

"Keep a good eye on Naruto!" Tsunami called out, knowing how rambunctious the blonde could be.

"Don't worry, we won't let him get into too much trouble," Kakashi replied, wanting to get away so he could continue reading his book.

He was just at the good part, too! Hikari was just about to admit her undying love for Tsukimaru, he could feel it! And after that, knowing the characters, there would be a scene plenty full of 'action'.

"Bye Inari! Bye Tazuna! Bye Tsunami! Bye minna-san!" Naruto shouted, waving.

Inari sniffled, sad that his friend was leaving. He wasn't going to cry, though! He was done with that phase of his life, once and for all!

"Bye Naruto-niisan!" Inari replied, his voice conveying his regret that Team 7 had to leave.

"Bye!" the inhabitants of the Wave called out as the four shinobi that would forever be remembered in Wave history turned and began to walk away.

"Hey, what should we call the bridge?" one of the workers asked.

Tazuna grinned, happier than ever. "I think we should call it… The Great Naruto Bridge! In honor of the hero that single handedly defeated most of Gatou's army and killed Gatou himself!"

A collective cheer was raised from the crowd at his words. They obviously approved of his choice. Inari's sniffled turned to barely muffled sobs, and his grandfather looked down at him.

"Hey, Inari, don't worry! We'll see your friend again soon!" he announced.

Both Tsunami and Inari were confused by this, but Tazuna hastened to explain, "Kakashi told me that the chunin exams are soon, and he'd entering Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke in them. We can go watch them in the finals and cheer them on. We can also later on speak with them!"

Inari grinned when he heard the plan. That was a great idea! It would be cool to see Naruto fight and win in the finals! He couldn't wait!

()()()()()

"Finally! We're back home!" Sakura exclaimed.

She'd been prohibited from bringing the vast majority of her cosmetics and various things that she perceived made her look prettier, and instead had been told to fill up a handbag with her make-up, and if she dared bring any more along it would been tossed out. Some of it had been expensive, so she didn't want to take any chances. Naruto wasn't nearly as overjoyed. He had no wish to return to his empty, small, and unkempt apartment. The blonde had enjoyed sleeping on a real bed in a real house with his teammates and friends not too far away. It had been fun eating dinner and occasionally breakfast and lunch at the kitchen table with the others. It was the closest Naruto had ever been to knowing what it felt like to have a real family. His sensei and both of his teammates had picked up on his mood.

"What's got you down Naruto?" Kakashi asked. He'd seen the boy be quiet and thoughtful, but he never expected to see the cheerful blonde looking almost… depressed.

Naruto adjusted his backpack straps before replying. "I just guess I got used to waking up to someone actually being in the house with me. I'm going to miss it is all.”

He tried to put it in a joking tone. His voice told of nothing, but slight remorse. His eyes matched the same bittersweet mood. The only thing that could've betrayed deeper emotions was a brief darkening of the eyes, transforming them slightly into a more indigo like shade rather than their usual sky blue. His grin and body posture spoke of optimism, though, and he didn't seem weighed down. So anyone would only notice he was acting if you were observant and knew him well. Kakashi picked up on the minor change in the shade of Naruto's eyes, but didn't know what it meant. He thought nothing of it.

It was slightly disturbing that Naruto had been acting in such a way that he could've sworn was severe depression, and the words he spoke hinted at such, but his tone of voice and body posture at the moment said something completely different. Sasuke felt a slight pang of something in his heart upon hearing what the blonde had to say. It wasn't pity. He'd had a far harsher life than the boy, he was sure, and you don't pity those who are better off than you. It was more like he felt that he could relate almost. He, too, wouldn't have anyone to say good morning to him when he woke up or to talk to at dinner.

"Well, ja ne! I've got somewhere to go," Kakashi announced, waving. He then disappeared in a poof of smoke.

"Hey, Sasuke-kun," Sakura squealed in what she thought was a seductive manner. "Want to go on a date with me?"

She looked over at her crush, who she was certain felt the same way about her, but was too shy to admit it, which meant she had to help him! She didn't expect him to be ignoring her, though. Instead of his lips forming the words to accept her invitation all she saw was his back as he walked to the Uchiha manor. Sakura heard footsteps starting behind her. Turning to the source she saw Naruto start sprinting after Sasuke. She at first expected him to scold the raven for being rude to her, as he surely would've in the Academy, but instead he just fell in step beside the third member of their team.

"Kakashi, you said something earlier about the mission rising in difficulty suddenly. Explain," The Hokage commanded.

Sensing that the Hokage was serious, Kakashi pocketed his little orange book and looked the old man in the eye. He explained the attack by the two demon brothers, and how Naruto in particular had acted. The Sandaime Hokage was clearly troubled. He understood why Kakashi and his team hadn't turned back. Doing so would've been immoral and his team would've probably complained, knowing Sasuke and Naruto. Also, Tazuna would've certainly been doomed. But he'd heard of Gatou, and his recent demise, and knew that he wouldn't have been an easy opponent to defeat. Naruto's skill level was also uncanny. A genin shouldn't be able to detect a chunin, especially one who was training as an assassin.

"That's where it starts to get strange," Kakashi said. The Hokage raised an eyebrow in question. "Our client had misinformed us of the mission. He was building a bridge to the mainland, which would destroy Gatou's monopoly. The weird part of that was that Naruto knew about it ahead of time. He'd been able to figure out that anyone, especially a bridge builder, requesting an escort to Wave probably wasn't worried about bandits so much as assassination attempts from Gatou. He knew enough about the amount of control Gatou has over Wave and even of the small rebellion that's trying to undermine him by finding alternate means of transport. That isn't even in files kept for shinobi usage, so there's no way he could've gotten that information unless he has connections in the underground."

The Hokage sat back in his chair to let it all sink in. It was indeed disturbing that the blonde knew of the fact that it had been a falsely ranked mission ahead of time. The mystery surrounding the blonde just grew deeper and more complex every time he tried to figure it out.

"Why didn't he inform you of this before you were all attacked?” inquired Sarutobi.

"He said he was bored and wanted a real fight, and was confident in his ability to win. He then switched the subject from his motives to the fact that we were already committed, and he also managed to get Sasuke and therefore Sakura to agree with him," Kakashi reported. He then went on to explain the events that lead up to just before the fight with Zabuza.

The Hokage had been surprised when Kakashi said Naruto was able to sense two chunin that specialized in the art of assassination. He'd actually assumed that it was a survival instinct that he'd picked up from the Kyuubi. But to be able to sense a jounin that specialized in the silent killing technique either Naruto was skilled on his own or that was one hell of an instinct. He hadn't been this stunned since Naruto used his Sexy no Jutsu to steal the Forbidden Scroll, and for long before that. After pausing to let the Hokage absorb what he'd said so far Kakashi continued, telling the Hokage of Naruto's knowledge of the sharingan, and how he had been able to trick Zabuza.

'Troubling,' Sarutobi thought.

He settled back to listen to the rest of Kakashi's report and was especially shocked by the fact that Naruto had befriended Haku beforehand. He agreed with Kakashi that the story sounded fishy. It was also disturbing how Naruto had seemed to shrug off the fact that he slaughtered upwards of a hundred people, even if they were low life thugs.

"Kakashi, do you think it's possible that Naruto got information on the mission from this friend of his? They might have coordinated it specifically so that they'd have a chance to meet face to face," suggested the Hokage.

Kakashi's visible eye widened because he hadn't thought of that possibility. But how could that have occurred?

Before he could ask any questions the Hokage continued, "Naruto came in shortly before I assigned the mission and specifically requested a higher level mission. He gave good reasons for such. I granted his request. His wording lead me to decide to choose a lower level mission that genin would be able to easily accomplish, and if they failed a jounin would be able to do. The Wave mission was of course the best choice."

The Hokage was right. The whole thing sounded off. But why would Naruto go out of his way to arrange to meet with a cohort of a missing nin, even if they had known each other?

Before Kakashi could muse any more, The Hokage captured his attention, "Hatake Kakashi, I'm going to assign you the at the least A-ranked mission of observing Uzumaki Naruto and finding out what's going on. The mission may rise in level at any time."

The jounin was mildly surprised. After all, it wasn't everyday you got assigned a mission to spy on his own student. Then again it wasn't everyday you had the jinchuuriki of an extremely powerful and intelligent demon as one of your students either.

"Hai, Hokage-sama," Kakashi replied, taking his mission scroll before poofing off to his apartment.

()()()()()

Naruto had to jog slightly to catch up to Sasuke. He knew that unless Murphy had decided in the past five minutes to actually cut Naruto some slack for once it wouldn't do any good to ask Sasuke out on a date. It would probably only serve to creep the raven out and make him even more withdrawn from Naruto. So the blonde just walked silently along.

"Why are you walking beside me?" Sasuke asked after a minute or two of the two of them strolling towards the Uchiha district.

Pouting, Naruto replied, "'Cause I felt like it, teme! I can do whatever the hell I want!"

Raising an eyebrow, Sasuke merely 'hn'ed. He, strangely enough, actually found it kind of slightly cute when the blonde pouted in such a childish manner. Saddened that he hadn't managed to entice an actual conversation out of his crush Naruto lapsed back into silence. It was quite comforting, actually. The birds flying around chirped merrily, adding to the background noise of the village itself. The walk also gave Naruto time to relax and clear his head. It wouldn't do to be stressed out while he was trying to decide how to save his precious people, after all.

Hearing the chatter of the various creatures, mainly birds, which had originally surrounded them suddenly stop, Naruto halted in his tracks. As a street child he'd learned to avoid the Uchiha manor. Only civilians and ninja dared venture near. Street kids, wild animals, and strays all kept a good distance. Even domesticated animals were extremely uneasy around the place. There was something not right that hung in the air, and always had.

"Why'd you stop, dobe?" Sasuke asked.

Naruto look around nervously, agitated. This place had that effect on him. "Just habit, I guess.”

Sasuke could see that it wasn't all that sincere, though. Knowing that Sasuke could tell he was fibbing Naruto stopped grinning.

"Street kids are warned by each other to not go near the compound, is all. I grew up with that pounded into my head. Never go any nearer than where the birds and other creatures go. Didn't you ever notice the fact that no undomesticated animals will go near the place?” explained Naruto simply.

Sasuke shook his head. "It's been that way forever. Why would I take note of it? And why did you have a street kid's warning imprinted in your mind?"

Naruto sighed. He'd been wishing that his past would never, ever come up in a discussion. Further proof that Murphy loathed him, or just took sadistic pleasure in torturing him.

"I spent several years as a kid on the streets. I ran away from the orphanage I was staying in at the time when I was three. I wasn't able to get an apartment until I was six," he explained, staring at the ground, his hands hanging limp by his sides.

Sasuke could tell that it wasn't a subject Naruto liked to bring up. He never would've guessed that Naruto had lived on the streets at anytime.

"Well, see you tomorrow then, dobe," Sasuke said, turning to leave and go back to his haunting, empty clan compound.

Seeing Sasuke walk away, Naruto hesitated for a split second before calling after the boy, "Wait! Sasuke!"

The raven turned back to face Naruto, looking slightly annoyed, "What is it, dobe?"

Naruto had absolutely no plan whatsoever, so he made up something on the spot, "We haven't gotten paid yet for our mission, and I'm hungry! I was wondering if you could buy me some ramen!"

It was true. He was hungry, although he could stand it. They also hadn't gotten paid yet and Naruto was out of money and didn't want to impose on the kind owner of Ichiraku Ramen.

"Dobe, why can't you use your own money?" Sasuke asked, annoyed.

"Because I'm broke, teme! Unlike you, I actually have to pay rent! The landlord drove up the prices again recently. I haven't had enough extra money after paying bills and everything to buy food," he said, embarrassed that he had to admit to being dependant on his friends.

Sasuke had actually never considered that Naruto might be out of money, "Hey, dobe, how'd you get by before you became a ninja?"

The blonde would've been paying for food, rent, and bills out of his own pocket. Academy students didn't get paid.

"Ichiraku-jiji would give me a free meal every now and then. Iruka-sensei helped me get some of the necessities such as clothes. I also receive a monthly pension from Hokage-jiji that used to pretty much cover the rent although that's probably going to stop soon now that I'm a ninja. Anything that wasn't covered by charity I either did without, scavenged, or stole. I was never good at begging. So, that wasn't an option," Naruto replied nonchalantly. Despite the outward appearance of not caring he inwardly was struggling hard to not look angry or annoyed at past situations.

Sasuke had officially learned something about the blonde that he had never suspected. Well, Uzumaki Naruto was known as the most surprising shinobi.

"Fine, dobe, I'll buy you something to eat since if you starve to death I'll just end up stuck with an even less useful teammate, if that's even possible," Sasuke declared, not showing any reaction to the recent revelation about his teammate. "But I'm not buying you ramen. If you don't eat healthily. Your body won't be able to function as well as it could because of malnutrition."

Naruto was overjoyed that Sasuke had accepted his offer, although it troubled him that Sasuke wanted to buy him something other than ramen. The owner of Ichiraku Ramen was the only one that didn't serve him spoiled food and didn't overprice him. "But Sasuke!" he whined, eyes growing wide.

He couldn't tell his teammate the real reason he didn't want to go anywhere else, after all, "I want ramen! Not anything else!"

Sasuke scowled, not about to buy anything as cheap as ramen, "No. It's bad for your health to eat ramen every day.”

The raven didn't even know why he was bothering to buy his blonde teammate any food whatsoever. Normally he would've just ignored the blonde and kept on walking. What in all the hells was up with him recently?

"But Sasuke! Ichiraku Ramen is the best! And their ramen has healthy stuff in it, too! I'll even buy a vegetable ramen if it'll get you to take me there!" Naruto exclaimed.

He didn't want Sasuke to see how badly Naruto was treated, and eating vegetable ramen would also help to appease Stella, who'd been pushing him to seek out healthier food choices.

Sensing that the blonde wasn't going to back down any time soon, Sasuke sighed, "Fine, but only because I don't feel like standing here for hours on end arguing with you. Now come on."

Naruto's face lit up when Sasuke said he'd take the blonde to his favorite ramen store, "Yatta!"

Sasuke sighed, “Sometimes I wonder why I bother….”

Naruto shouted, jumping up in the air, "Ramen, here I come!"

Not wanting to annoy Sasuke too much Naruto merely ran circles around the raven, rather than drag him towards the shop like he was inclined to do.

"Here we are!" Naruto announced, ducking into the shop while Sasuke strolled in, looking nonchalant.

"Hey! Naruto-kun! Who's your friend?" Ayame asked, seeing her favorite customer come in with the last Uchiha in tow.

She'd of course heard of the only surviving member of the Uchiha clan that wasn't a missing-nin, but she felt it proper to let Naruto introduce him.

"This is Sasuke-teme!" Naruto said, grinning. "He's my teammate, and is going to buy me ramen!"

Ayame smiled. She knew that the blonde had been extremely low on money recently, and was happy that he had a friend that was willing to treat for him, "That's so nice of him! You did warn him about your appetite, I hope."

Naruto grinned, "He knows. He's seen me eat."

Sasuke felt the need to slap himself, but resisted. How could he forget the amount of food that Naruto regularly consumed? Too bad he'd already promised to buy Naruto something.

"What are you going to have?" the old owner of the store asked, smiling warmly, feeling happy as well that Naruto had managed to increase his circle of friends.

"Sasuke-teme said that he'd only buy me ramen if I ate something healthier than I normally would. So, I'll have one vegetable and one miso!" Naruto said, looking annoyed when he recounted Sasuke's enforcement of nutrition.

"I'll have one miso," Sasuke said.

Ramen really wasn't his thing, but it'd be rude to buy Naruto something and to not have anything himself. The old man nodded, smiling. He quickly made the ramen, setting it before the two boys.

"Itadakimasu!" Naruto shouted, digging in as Sasuke repeated Naruto's words, but at a much softer volume while he also ate far slower.

Naruto had finished both bowls and order a third by the time Sasuke was halfway through. Naruto was finishing his fifth when Sasuke finished his first. True to his word two of Naruto's five bowls of ramen had been vegetable, and one had been shrimp. Putting the acquired amount of money down on the counter, Sasuke put his hands in his pockets and walked out of the store, Naruto scampering after him. The two walked in silence for a bit.

"See you tomorrow Sasuke!" Naruto said when they arrived at where they had been continuing to walk together which would take Naruto far off from his course home.

He'd already gone in the opposite direction for more than enough distance. Sasuke simply 'hn'ed and waved at Naruto. It was more of a reaction than the blonde had anticipated. Naruto smiled widely. Seeing his raven haired teammate round the corner and go out of sight, Naruto start running towards his apartment. Eating with Sasuke had been fun, but the chunin exams were soon. He wanted to get the portal established in his apartment before he got too busy with training and planning.

'Are you sure that no one's going to notice your youki being used?' Naruto asked Stella for the umpteenth time.

She was currently managing the seal around his apartment that would prevent anyone from noticing the opening of the Gateway, since Naruto only had close to that level of chakra control when he was out of regular chakra and using a shitload of youki, which not only could he not due because of his chakra coils, but it would be noticed instantly. He was pushing it as it was.

'A seal designed to disguise chakra that has a chakra signature of its own and also tells who is making it would be extremely counter intuitive, don't you think so?'she replied.

To her the answer to Naruto's question was quite obvious, and she had to wonder how the fox boy had had such a huge blonde moment as to ask such a dumb question.

'Oh, yeah. Heh, I kinda forgot,' Naruto mind spoke sheepishly. 'Anyways, what's the first thing I need to do again?'

'I'm going to send you a mental picture of a seal. Draw it in blood on the floor,'she instructed.

Haku and Zabuza were currently doing the same in the courtyard of her dimension, if they hadn't already finished. Since she couldn't be in two places at once she'd left them a list of instructions.

'Now write these kanji in the lit up places,'she continued. The indicated parts of the seal started to glow in Naruto's mindscape.

When Naruto had finished drawing the kanji he stepped back to admire his handiwork. The seal consisted of several rings of different shapes and sizes. The outermost ring was a heptagon, all seven sides exactly equal in width and length. The second ring was a hexagon. It somehow managed to intersect the heptagon at all of the hexagon's corners without touching the outermost ring anywhere else. Inside the hexagon was a pentagon, and inside that was a square. The second to innermost ring took the shape of a triangle. The tip rested at the junction of two of the square's sides, the other two angles resting in the middle of the remaining sides. The very innermost ring was a circle, designed to mimic a compass rose. The kanji for 'north' was pointing towards where the tip of the triangle was, the other four directions spaced accordingly. Strangely enough on the north side it was possible to draw a straight line from the kanji and through the other rings, at each ring intersecting an angle.

The kanji for 'hide', 'transport', and 'safe' were imprinted in between the circle and the triangle, one at each corner. These kanji insured that the Gateway would remain hidden from those not meant to find it, would actually take them to their destination, and wouldn't close on them while they were traveling. Adding a few finishing touches to the seal Naruto gathered chakra in his right palm while gathering youki in his left. He was using an external circulation system to give his chakra coils a break, so his arm got mildly burned, but it was better than charring his coils again. He also had to use a bit more than he normally would, and his control was shakier than normal. The chakra would be used to connect to Haku, while the youki would automatically seek out and enter Stella's dimension. Slamming his open palms on the ground Naruto activated the jutsu, causing the seal to glow a bright scarlet red.

Naruto's head felt as if it was about to be cloven in two as the seal began carving a bridge through the void towards its twin. His chakra finally connected with Haku's, and Stella's youki latched onto the dimension. He could feel the void which they'd strung a thin line of chakra and youki across begin to lessen as it was filled, the pathway expanding. It went just as it had in Wave, the bridge finally stabilizing and setting in place. The seal pulsed one last time before disappearing. The blood had mysteriously vanished in the jutsu, although if Naruto had to hazard a guess he'd say it was probably woven into the structure of the bridge along with Haku's blood in order to further strengthen it.

The Gateway shimmered for a few seconds before fading from sight. Naruto could still sense it, though. He would be able to reopen it at any time. Stella then canceled the energy shield. Now that the jutsu was over there was no chance of anyone detecting anything. Exhausted Naruto collapsed on the couch before falling into a deep sleep. If he hadn't been so wounded, he probably would've been able to stay awake, but he'd exhausted his chakra supply in an effort to minimize damage.

()()()()()

"Naruto, you’re late!" Sakura screamed at him.

Naruto had once again arrived two and a half hours after the assigned meeting time, anticipating their sensei's lateness. He could sense that Sasuke had only been there for a short while too, although Naruto doubted that the Uchiha had been yelled at. Sakura was actually now the only one on their team that arrived at the appointed meeting time. They settled down into silence after about ten minutes of talking, and thirty minutes after Naruto arrived Kakashi sensei appeared with a poof.

"Hey guys," he said. "I've got a meeting to go to, so you three have the day off. Ja ne!"

"Well, at the least he told us," Naruto commented, referring to the fact that it was more in their sensei's nature to just not show up that day if he had something come up, leaving the team to figure it out on their own. "Why don't we go train ourselves?"

Sasuke 'hn'ed in agreement, which caused Sakura to nod her head vigorously. Normally the raven would've preferred to train on his own, but he needed to improve his newly gained sharingan and the best way to do that was to train with either Kakashi, who was the world's suckiest teacher, or spar against someone else who had a Densetsu no Gengan. He decided to go with the second option. The trio started walking towards the training ground, not feeling any need to rush. As they walked Konohamaru and his two friends, Udon and Moegi, ran up.

"Hey, boss!" Konohamaru shouted.

He'd met Naruto shortly after the blonde had graduated, and the blonde had helped him realize that he needed to work hard if he was to become Hokage, "Wanna play with us?"

Turning to the three kids, Naruto sighed, "Sorry guys, I need to go train. I'll play with you later."

"But Boss! We're bored, and before you left on that really long mission you promised that you'd play with us when you got back!" Konohamaru protested. His two followers nodded in agreement.

Sakura snickered at the blonde's predicament. She knew that Naruto was too much of a nice guy to upset the kids. But when she snickered she drew attention to herself. Konohamaru saw her and instantly assumed that such a pretty girl would be the kind his Boss would go out with, and of course any girl would jump for a chance to date his Boss.

Grinning, Konohamaru indicated Sakura and asked as he said the last part he extended his pinky finger which is the Japanese sign for girlfriend, "Hey Boss, who's she? Is she your girlfriend?"

Seeing Sakura get angry, Naruto waved his hands in front of him, "No! It's not like that! I wouldn't date her!"

"Naruto-baka!" she screamed, brandishing her fists.

Both Naruto and Konohamaru started running, Sakura right behind them. As they rounded a corner Konohamaru bounced off of something that shouldn't be there. Looking up he saw that the something was a someone, a shinobi from Suna to be exact.

"Hey, brat, look where you're going!" Kankurou snarled, hoisting up the kid by the front of his shirt as Konohamaru started struggling, but was unable to shake the puppet master's grip.

Naruto had rounded the corner just after Konohamaru. He had seen the collision. He was briefly startled that he'd lost track of time so much, but regained his bearings quickly. Sakura followed soon after him and saw the Suna genin threatening Konohamaru. Moegi and Udon ran up just after she did.

"Hey! Put him down!" Naruto shouted, anger creeping into his tone.

"Heh, why should I, you little squirt? This brat was rude enough to run into me, and should therefore pay the price!" Kankurou said, tightening his grip on Konohamaru.

In reality he wasn't mad at the Academy student, and would've normally ignored him, but right now he was furious at Gaara and the fact that they had to work with the unstable jinchuuriki on such a high profile mission.

"Kankurou, calm down! We don't want to start anything!" Temari said, trying to keep her brother from getting them in trouble with their youngest sibling.

Before Kankurou could say anything a rock hit him square on the wrist, impacting with enough force to cause him to loosen his grip on Konohamaru, allowing the boy to wriggle free. The puppet user looked over to see Sasuke leaning against a tree, tossing a rock up and down, before catching it and crushing it.

'What do you wanna bet that that was actually a dirt clod and not a rock?'Stella remarked. She was just as annoyed at Sasuke for being a show off as Naruto was.

She could swear that he was a male version of the ikeike some days. 'Even if that was a rock it's stupid for him to destroy his weapon.'

Naruto agreed wholeheartedly with Stella. Why the hell was the teme such a goddamned show off?

Sakura and Moegi stared at Sasuke with hearts in their eyes, while Temari observed that he was apparently the hot guy around town. Sasuke and Kankurou began glaring at each other, trying to bore holes in the other's skull with their eyes alone. Their glaring match was brought to a screeching halt as a voice belonging to someone that hadn't been there a second before called out to Kankurou.

“Don’t bother with these fools, brother…. In the end, they’re all maggots that will be crushed by my sand.”

A/N: Yays! Done with chappie five! Hehes, hopefully I did a decent enough job with editing this. At least I think I did, but meh I could be wrong. I really enjoy this story. I’m glad I adopted it. Hopefully ya’ll are loving it as well. So, the next chappie will be out later this week. After that, ya’ll will have to wait until next week for the next chappie. So, until next time, please remember to review lovelies!

Chapter Text

A/N: Hey ya’ll! It’s Kuro-chan here with the next chappie of this lovely story of epicness! Hehes, hopefully yall are ejying it so far. Anyways, enjoy the chappie. Please R&R!

Chapter 6

'Shit,' was Naruto's only thought as he stared at the person who, in the future, was one of his closest friends.

He hadn't realized that so much time had passed. Now was not the time to be dealing with a psychotic mass murderer who also happened to be a jinchuuriki whom Naruto would be impaired against because not only did he not wish to kill or even badly hurt Gaara, but he couldn't exactly pull out enough of Stella's yoki to beat Gaara without it being noticed. Another thing was that if Gaara was here then the chunin exams were soon, which meant Orochimaru wasn't very far away. The blonde hadn't even begun implementing his counter strategy yet.

"G-Gaara!" Kankurou said, scared. The red-head just ignored his fright and shunshin'd down to where Naruto and the others were standing.

"Who the hell are you?" Naruto asked, an obliviously angry look on his face.

He'd decided that the best course of action for now would be to at the least attempt to prevent Gaara from killing too many people, and maybe even get him on Konoha's side before the final exam.

"I'm Kankurou,” sai the Puppeteer.

"Temari,” introduced the blonde haired girl.

"I'm Subaku no Gaara," Gaara replied in his usual bored monotone. "Who are you?"

"Uchiha Sasuke," Sasuke announced, jumping down from the branch he'd been sitting on.

"Haruno Sakura!" Sakura exclaimed, although nobody seemed to hear her.

"Me? I'm nobody important. Just a friend of a friend of Shukaku's. Name's Uzumaki Naruto," he announced, his eyes briefly flickering to the first stage of the Nagorigan.

Gaara's eyes widened almost imperceptibly for a split second. Not only did this boy know of Shukaku, but judging by his chakra signature he was the jinchuuriki of a fox. The Nagorigan meant that his bijuu wasn't just any fox, to top it all off. Only the foxes of the Old Blood possessed that particular doujutsu, and Stella was the last of that line. Kankurou and Temari were also surprised, and had to wonder how this Konoha shinobi knew of the sand demon sealed within Gaara.

Sasuke, Sakura, Konohamaru, Moegi, and Udon were all just confused. 'Who's Shukaku? And how does Naruto/the dobe know Gaara?'

That would be the general gist of their thoughts. Sasuke and Sakura were less surprised, of course, having gotten used to Naruto's status as the least predictable shinobi of all time.

"What do you want, fox?" Gaara asked in demonic, not wanting to involve the non-jinchuuriki present in their conversation.

Naruto grinned. He could count on Gaara to be paranoid enough to not only think there was something more to Naruto's simple greeting, and to not wish any more people than absolutely necessary to be knowledgeable of their conversation. Although they could tell that the two were talking. They wouldn't understand the language. Weighing his options, Naruto decided to talk to Gaara then and there. It was risky, especially since he could feel Kakashi watching him like a hawk, but randomly disappearing to talk with a foreign shinobi who would be later revealed to not be on the side of Konoha would be even more suspicious. He would be able to explain talking to Gaara as them both being jinchuuriki, and the different language could be passed off as them not wanting others to know of their status as jinchuuriki. Although explaining how he even knew the language in the first place would be troublesome… Maybe he could just say that he learned it through osmosis via the seal. That would go over real well. Luckily and unluckily for him it was unlikely that they'd confront him about it, preferring to draw their own conclusions.

"Can't I just say 'hi' without you biting my head off?" Naruto asked casually, grinning. He decided that further irritating the sand shinobi might not be the brightest of ideas when Gaara growled at him.

"Fine! Don't get your panties in a knot!" This comment earned Naruto a death glare, and his demon enhanced ears could hear Gaara's sand starting to bristle, although very little signs were actually visible. "And try to refrain from killing me. Anyways, I want'd ta talk to ya' 'bout somet'in'."

Gaara's sand relaxed slightly, although he still looked at the ready. His eyes adopted a suspicious, guarded look, though somehow the death glare remained on full force.

Seeing that the volatile red head wasn't going to kill him within the next thirty seconds, Naruto's fox grin returned in full, actually managing to surpass the one he'd worn at the start of the conversation.

"What's with the look? I'm not goin' ta kill ya'… Unless you hurt my friends. Then I'd rip you to shreds. Nothing personal," Naruto said, still grinning.

Gaara tensed back up at the death threat. Knowing the Kyuubi no Kitsune and having a slight idea as to the design of the seal, based on the mixture of Naruto's chakra signature and Stella's yoki signature, there was no doubt in either Gaara's mind or in Shukaku's mind that Naruto could and would carry out that threat… No, it wasn't a threat. It was a promise.

Able to tell that Gaara had taken his words to heart, Naruto continued, "There's an organization called the Akatsuki on the move. They're hunting jinchuuriki like us. I want to team up with you, so to speak. Oh, and Gaara, try not to give off any indication of what we're talking about. We do have an audience."

Naruto's facial expression and body language completely contradicted the seriousness of what he was saying. To an observer, it would seem as if Naruto was chattering incessantly, and Gaara was annoyed. The blonde knew that Gaara's natural instinct would be to act out what he was saying, though, giving hints as to the content of their conversation. Realizing what Naruto had said, Gaara gave no outward indication that he'd heard the blonde and merely started acting as if he was even more annoyed, rather than switching to intrigued. An extra observer also explained why Naruto had been acting all hyper and excited when he threatened Gaara with death.

"Go on, you have caught my interest," Gaara said, his tone conveying extreme annoyance, but their audience probably thought he was telling Naruto to shut up.

Laughing nervously, as if he'd just pissed off a down-right scary mass murderer, Naruto replied, "I'm forming an organization to oppose them and others like them. Before you say no there is something in it for you. Meet me at Training Ground 42 at midnight so we can talk."

Training Ground 42 was where he'd replaced the old seal with his current one. It was near enough to the Forest of Death that normal people avoided it, and far enough that ANBU and jounin rarely went within a mile of it. Glaring at Naruto as the blonde backed away slowing, rubbing the back of his head.

Gaara said, "Whatever. Don't be late."

Naruto visibly paled, before grabbing his teammates' arms and pulling them away from Gaara.

"Say bye-bye to the sand ninja!" he announced before running in the opposite direction with them in tow, the Konohamaru Corps right behind them.

"Naruto-baka! You made him mad, didn't you!?" Sakura screeched, her question sounding much more like an accusation.

Naruto laughed nervously. "Maybe… But, hey, it's nothing I can't deal with! Really!"

"Dobe, who's Shukaku?" Sasuke asked, a determinedly suspicious look on his face.

"A friend of a friend!" Naruto announced, fox grinning.

Sasuke scowled at Naruto, before deciding that getting anything concrete out of Naruto was a hopeless cause. Stella watched the two interact, as Naruto and Sasuke started arguing. She felt a strange tugging at her heart. It reminded her of something, how the bickered and fought, but were the best of friends. The fox had the nagging suspicion that it was somehow related to the random comparison of Sasuke earlier to the ikeike. She couldn't recall whom that might be, though. Her memories were sparse. The outline of a face, feminine and mysterious, regal and infuriating, floated at the edge of her consciousness. She could just barely make out hair as black as a raven's wings and eyes a deep, dark purple, almost black. Any other features were hidden, along with a vast majority of her memory, stretching from when she was a street brat in one of the many ramshackle cities that sprung up as refuges for the multitudes of people fleeing from the onslaught of the worst war to date, when she was the demon equivalent of a seven or eight year old, until she awoke in Naruto's mind. Only bits and pieces could be recalled beyond that. She felt that the nickname, held in similar or even equal significance to Naruto's name of teme for Sasuke, and the shadowy face were connected, and from that veiled time. Who was the ikeike? What had she been to Stella? Those were the questions plaguing the fox's mind. She hadn't found any indication of the missing days in the pocket dimension, and she suspected that she probably hadn't visited it that often. She'd only remembered it because of something her true mother, not that bitch that was her father's wife, had once told her. Sighing, Stella returned her attention to the outside world. Naruto had finished his argument with Sasuke apparently, and was now trailing behind his two teammates as they walked to the training grounds. He heard her sigh, and had sensed that she was thinking deeply.

'Fluffy-nee? Is anything wrong?' he asked, slightly concerned for the demon that had regained her position as his honorary sister. She'd seemed troubled by something lately.

'Nothing, nothing. Just memories and the lack thereof,' she told him.

He accepted the explanation, knowing he wouldn't get any more out of her. Stella had already told him about her lack of most of her memories. Maybe she was starting to get some back, which would explain why she seemed to be so confused and almost nostalgic, although she hadn't done this the first time around. Then again, he hadn't exactly been in the habit of communicating with her on a regular basis then. Naruto spent the day training with his teammates, before heading home. On his way back to the apartment, Sasuke caught up with him.

"Hey, dobe!" the raven haired genin called out as Naruto turned around, wondering why Sasuke wanted to talk to him until Sasuke quickly caught up to the blonde.

"Want to go to Ichiraku?" Sasuke asked, his voice as monotonous as ever and neither his body posture nor his facial expression giving away anything.

Naruto blinked, before frowning, "Sasuke, I got my paycheck. I don't need my friends feeding me!"

Sasuke scowled and crossed his arms, looking annoyed. "Dobe, I asked Hokage-sama, and he said that you haven't been able to pay your bills recently. Save your money for that. I'll buy you food."

Naruto was about to protest again, but Stella cut him off. 'Baka!' she scolded. 'Say yes! He's actually annoyed that you aren't letting him treat you to dinner!'

'Fluffy-nee, he isn't asking me on a date. He just wants to feed me 'cause I don't have that much money,' Naruto replied.

'Double the reason why you should accept. Him wanting to buy food for you, especially knowing your appetite, means that he cares about you,' Stella told him. Before he could protest any more, she continued. 'Also, I've met people like him before. He's not the type to 'enjoy the chase', and will probably only like you less if you turn him down.'

Naruto mentally grumbled about smart-ass foxes, but listened to Stella none the less, accepting Sasuke's invitation. The Uchiha boy just smirked. The boy was acting like a girl who was pretending she didn't have a crush on a boy that had just asked her out.

'Wait a second…' Sasuke said to himself, catching his mental description of the blonde. 'Nah, there's no way!'

Uchiha's were known, among other things, for their ability to adamantly refuse to come out of denial despite being buried in evidence that went against their view of the world. Stella, meanwhile, had been wondering how she knew how to court 'people like Sasuke' when said boy's smirk, combined with the current track of her thoughts, triggered a flood of memories. The same illusive face, this time with details filled in. The same smirk that Sasuke was known for, much like Naruto was known for his fox grin. It was the kind of smirk that was liable to infuriate one to no end. It made someone want to wipe that look off the person's face, preferably in one of two ways. Those were punching the person as hard as humanly (or demonically) possible, and smashing one's lips against the person's own. The chosen course of action would probably vary based on mood at the time, body posture that accompanied the smirk, and whether or not it would be appropriate to kiss the smirk wearer out of the blue at the moment. With the face came a name, sounding beautiful to Stella's ears despite her lack of memory to associate with it to make it such. Luna. The moon. As lovely and mysterious as the person who bears its name. She began paying attention once again. Naruto was arguing with Sasuke. Apparently the raven had put a limit on how much the blonde could eat. Now that she had a face and name Stella chuckled at how similar Sasuke was to the barely remembered Luna, and how similar Naruto was to who Stella had been while in the company of her two charges (although their species, what they looked like, how exactly they'd become her charges, their names, and even their genders alluded her. She clung to the memory of Luna, that being the only thing she could remember from the haze that covered that timeframe beyond the barest descriptions of the roles people had played in her life and a slight skimming of the surface of their personalities.

Naruto said goodbye to Sasuke after having talked to the raven for a while and consumed as much as he was allowed. Stupid teme, putting a restriction on how much Naruto could eat. The bastard had a whole family fortune to use to treat friends to meals! And because of missions and the fact that he had enough to support the life style of an entire high end clan for a decade even if all sources of income got cut off he wasn't going to be running out any time soon. Plus if he was ever hard pressed for cash the villagers and his various fangirls and boys would be happy to help. It didn't help that Stella was currently laughing at him for being so upset at such a minor thing as being limited to ten bowls of ramen. He did not like being compared to a stuck-up, hormonal, PMS-ing teenage girl who's boyfriend hadn't given her enough gifts.

'You do realize that you're a girl,' Naruto pointed out.

'Yah, put I've never been stuck-up. And pouting over not getting enough gifts from your date is such a prep thing to do! I am like so totally not a prep, like, duh!' she replied.

'You're not even able to remember that section of your life!' Naruto retaliated.

'I remember enough, gaki! Anyways, you're annoying me, so shut the hell up!'

Naruto decided at that point to not bother arguing with her any longer than he already had. She was smarter and far more stubborn than he was. It was an uphill battle that wasn't worth the effort. Arriving 'home', Naruto immediately stepped into the Highway. He needed to tell Haku and Zabuza about the fact that Gaara might soon be joining them. He didn't want to show up with a new member for their organization unannounced, after all.

()()()()()

Gaara stared down at the assigned meeting place from his perch in one of the many trees, waiting for Naruto to show up. All day he had to put up first with those two annoyances and then with Baki asking him about who Naruto was. He almost killed them for being loud and not shutting up when he told them to. He would've gotten in big trouble with Suna, though, so he didn't. Instead he came to Training Ground 42 two hours before he was told to be there. Finally, when midnight arrived, Naruto walked into the clearing. Unsurprisingly Gaara hadn't sensed him coming. Foxes are and were known for their abilities in disguise, and the blonde obviously hadn't wanted anyone to even know that they were talking more than would be the norm for two jinchuuriki that happened to run into each other.

Not bothering to use any form of stealth, Gaara shunshin'd down to where Naruto was. Staring the blonde in the eye, Gaara cut to the chase, "What's in it for me if I join this 'organization' of yours?"

"Blunt, but effective," he commented, chuckling lightly although Gaara scowled. "The deal's this. You help the other members of the organization, including but not limited to assisting in their protection. This also includes the fulfillment of my own deal with them, and you'll receive help from everyone available in regards to protecting yourself from any enemy. You’ll also receive help with any personal goals. As an added bonus, I'll replace your current seal with a better one that'll help you control Shukaku. It’ll also give you access to more power in a more stable form."

Gaara's eyes widened almost imperceptibly. The temptation from the offer of having his seal fixed was almost enough on its own. He didn't particularly care at the moment for the idea of receiving protection and/or help with the fulfillment of goals from other people at the moment, although the survival instinct that he'd 'inherited' from Shukaku told him to be wary of the Akatsuki, and that if Naruto was going out of his way to form a probably illegal organization then there must be something big on the horizon. There was always a catch to these things, though, and Gaara doubted it was simply helping the other members.

"What's the catch?" he asked, cautious. "I doubt you're going to trust me right away. There has to be something in this for you if you're going to so much trouble."

Naruto grinned, "I knew you'd catch on. The catch is simple really when you think about it. You just have to refrain from killing anyone for the next month. You’ll also have to fight for the leaf when the sand and the sound invade Konoha. Don't worry about the bloodlust because I'll put a temporary patch on your seal. It'd be counterintuitive if you went on a Shukaku induced rampage after all. What's in it for me is that you have to help me with my ambition."

Gaara's eyes widened even more. This boy knew about the planned invasion of Konoha? But how? Deciding that he wouldn't get anywhere from mere speculation, Gaara started to chuckle darkly. The chuckle quickly escalated into a full blown maniacal laugh. He didn't really care about the whole helping thing, as long as he got his way. Naruto merely shook his head by Gaara’s reaction. He knew he had given him a deal that’s too good to pass up. That’s the fun part he thought about being Kyubi’s container which is he enjoyed being able to pull out people’s secrets by using his sly wit.

"You amuse me, Uzumaki Naruto! I accept your offer!" Gaara announced.

His excitement was the direct effect of Shukaku's anger towards the fact that Gaara had decided to join Naruto's organization. The rage of the demon, rather than scaring him like it normally did was now only hilarious. He had the advantage now. Shukaku had lost. Naruto only smirked. It was easy enough to guess why Gaara was so happy. Shukaku must be throwing a hissy fit. The blonde could distinctly remember the several times he'd majorly pissed off Stella, both in this timeline and the original one. The result had been hilarious.

()()()()()

Naruto walked up to his teammates exactly five minutes before Kakashi was likely to show. Sasuke had just arrived, so Sakura was so busy obsessing over him that she didn't notice Naruto's late arrival. Naruto greeted both of his teammates in his usual manner before leaning against the railing next to Sasuke. He immediately fell into deep thought. He'd have to set the next step of his plan into action soon, which would likely be extremely difficult, and he needed to fine tune some points. The hardest part would probably be convincing her to help him. They hadn't seen each other in several years, ever since slightly before Naruto got an apartment. He briefly wondered what had happened to the girl that had been his caretaker when he ran away from the orphanage, even though she wasn't much older than he was. He hadn't exactly seen her much. Surfacing from his deep thinking mode when someone roughly shook him, Naruto blinked and looked around. Apparently Kakashi had arrived, and was standing there looking like he always did. Sakura looked pissed. Sasuke looked mildly annoyed, and had been the one to shake Naruto. The blonde was privately glad that Sasuke had awoken him before Sakura decided to punch him. Even though she wasn't as strong as her future self she still punched pretty hard.

"Huh? What's going on?" Naruto asked, knowing full well what Kakashi's announcement was.

"Well, now that Naruto's woken up, we can continue," Kakashi announced in his usual bored drawl. "As I was saying, the chunin exams are coming up. I recommended you three for them. Here are your papers."

Having told them the minimal amount required for information on the exams, Kakashi handed them each a slip of paper and poofed away.

"Hey, guys!" Naruto said before his team could wander away from each other like they normally did. "Are you two going?"

Sakura looked hesitant. Originally she'd been planning on not going, since from what she heard it would be dangerous and Kakashi-sensei had said that whether or not to participate was completely optional, but if she announced that here Sasuke's opinion of her would probably go down the drain. Then again, Sasuke was smart and might decide it wasn't worth the risk. She decided to see what her teammates' decisions were before announcing her own.

"I'm going to participate, dobe," Sasuke told Naruto, not forgetting the ever present nickname.

"If you think you can show me up, teme, you're wrong!" Naruto announced. "I'm going to kick your ass!"

Seeing the eagerness of her two teammates, Sakura decided that even though she might slow them down, they wouldn't mind and would be disappointed in her if she dropped out.

"I think I'm going to go, to," she announced normally, rather than accompany her declaration with a mightier than thou smirk or a determined expression.

Naruto grinned at her before patting her on the back. "That's the spirit Sakura! Show those bitches who's top kunoichi!"

She smiled at his words. She would beat Ino-pig! CHA!

"Speaking of being the best," Naruto said, bringing his teammates' attention back to the matter at hand. "We should train more, especially as a team, and at everything, not just fighting."

"What do you mean, dobe?" Sasuke asked.

"We should also train our communication skills and our reconnaissance skills in case of an emergency like for instance we need to share a plan or some vital information but are surrounded by enemies. Also we need to be able to find the information in the first place," Naruto explained.

He'd already asked Stella if she would help him during the test, and she'd said no. Naruto knew that he wasn't smart enough to figure out the questions on his own, and enough people hated him for being a jinchuuriki that even if he cheated well they'd still bust him. Both Sakura and Sasuke nodded.

"Like a secret hand sign code?" Sakura asked, catching on quickly.

"Yup! Something of the sort," he said, but when both his teammates only looked baffled, his grin plastered on his lips only grew. "What I'm thinking about is these.”

He showed what he meant by pulling three complicated devices out of one of the many pockets lining the inside of his black jacket.

"Dobe, what exactly are those?" Sasuke asked, wary, now feeling officially suspicious of any 'surprises' the blonde enigma had in store for them.

"I guess you could call them transmission devices," Naruto explained. "These are designed to be worn on a necklace. I would've had them be the type that gets imbedded in teeth, but I want those ones to be the absolute best. They are chakra activated and will allow us to communicate silently."

"Let me see," Sakura demanded, taking the proffered necklace from Naruto and holding it in her hand.

Hey Sakura,a voice that sounded exactly like Naruto popped into her head.

She jumped before trying to reply. Seeing immediately that just thinking didn't seem to have an effect, she focused a minute amount of her chakra on the talisman before thinking out her reply.

It works! she told him before repeating herself in the real world, noticing Sasuke took the one Naruto handed to him and looped his around his neck.

It's also possible to only talk to one person using these. You just think of who you want to talk to and if that person has a talisman then a 'channel' of sorts will be opened that no matter what won't close until you cut off the flow of chakra to the necklace, Naruto explained, his teammates nodded to show they understood.

"This is so cool!" Sakura exclaimed, staring in awe at the little device.

"I was think that since we all are good at different types of information gathering, Sakura specializing in sheer brains and being able to deduce things, while Sasuke's good at spying and my specialty is convincing other people to tell me their secrets," Naruto said, noticing Sakura beamed at the praise and Sasuke smirked.

"Well, what are we waiting for?" Sakura asked, her previously waning confidence returned with interest. "Let's train!"

"Ah, Sakura, don't you think it would be best if we decided on what skill or skills we're all going to improve on first?" he asked, eyes shining with mirth.

Sakura blushed and mumbled an agreement before Naruto spoke up again, "You can go look in the library, Sakura. You're really good at research and stuff. Me and Sasuke-teme can go figure out other ways to figure out what to train in!"

Sasuke shook his head at the idiocy and yet rationality of what Naruto had just said. Sakura nodded vigorously. Promising to meet back up on the bridge at the end of the day all three genin went their separate ways.

"Hey! Hinata!" Naruto called out, running up to the Hyuuga heiress as he had spotted that she was training in one of the secluded training areas reserved for her clan.

"N-Naruto-kun!" she stuttered out, turning around to face him although she had to wonder though why he wanted to talk to her.

"The chunin exams are coming up. I was wondering if you're going," Naruto explained, coming to a stop right in front of Hinata.

"Of c-course," she replied, blushing and staring at her feet. "I don't want to d-disappoint Kiba-kun and Shino-kun. Wh-Why do you ask?"

Naruto grinned, "Me and my team are going. Hey, how's your training coming along?"

Hinata blushed again, looking up suddenly. "Well, b-but I'm st-stuck on a few things. "I haven't figured out how t-to make the t-technique effective."

"No problem,” Naruto assured her. "You just need to find something that matches you specifically. Speaking of, I found these scrolls. They have water jutsus and some different taijutsu styles that you might be able to use."

Taking the scrolls out of yet another pocket lining the inside of his jacket, Naruto gave them to her and continued, "I don't know what your elemental affinity is, but a lot of Hyuuga have a water affinity so I kinda assumed you'd have one too."

"Th-thank you,” Hinata said, cradling the scrolls to her chest. "Water is my a-affinity."

"That's great!" Naruto exclaimed. "There's a bunch of cool things you can do with a water affinity combined with how graceful you are!"

Naruto smiled earnestly at Hinata as she stuttered out her thanks, embarrassed at the praise. He was sure to assure her that she deserved it. "I gotta go now. See ya in the exams!" he called out, waving goodbye to her. She shyly returned the wave, albeit much more subtly.

"Oh, before I forget, here," Naruto said, handing her a necklace.

Seeing her confused face, Naruto decided to show her what its use was, It allows you to communicate silently with whoever happens to be wearing another of those. You just think about the person or people you want to talk to and channel chakra into the talisman.

Thank you, Naruto-kun,she said, despite how embarrassed she felt not stuttering, apparently the mental link didn't pick up on that.

Sakura and Sasuke have one, too. These are for your two teammates. I'm also planning on giving some to Ino, Shikamaru, and Chouji,he said, handing her two more necklaces.

She nodded and accepted them, Oh, one more thing. Don’t tell Kurenai-sensei about these. It might be a bit difficult to explain how I got them.

Assuming that Naruto had probably stolen them, or at the least the components for them, Hinata agreed. Naruto had actually stolen the components, but that wasn't why he wanted her silence. The technique used to make these was a demon one, and they'd been made with yoki. It would take a ton of explaining as to how he'd managed to make something that only the fox should be able to make, with the fox's obvious help, when he wasn't supposed to be even so much as conversing with the demon. Naruto said goodbye again before running off to give Team 10 their necklaces. After that he could deal with how they were actually going to survive the chunin exams in the first place.

'I must say,' Stella began, 'You've actually managed to come up with a pretty good idea to save the old geezer and Konoha at the same time. Now let's see if it works.'

Naruto mentally nodded. He wasn't so sure about his plan, after all, but it was the only thing he could think of doing beyond using more than was suggested of Stella's yoki, which probably wouldn't have that good of consequences. Arriving at Team 10's usual training ground, he hesitated in a tree, expanding his senses. Nope, Asuma wasn't anywhere to be found. Neither was Kakashi. Alighting on the ground at the edge of the clearing, Naruto called out to the three genin training there. He managed to confirm that they were, indeed, going to the exams as well. The same explanation was given for the necklaces, although Shikamaru questioned his motives.

"This way all nine of us will be way more likely to pass! Plus I'm friends with Shikamaru and Chouji. I want to help them. So there!" Naruto exclaimed childishly.

Ino and Chouji easily accepted his explanation, although Shikamaru was still suspicious, he just shrugged and mutter 'troublesome'. He'd known long before anyone else how hard to predict Naruto was. Figuring out the blonde's motives wasn't worth the effort involved.

"Oh, by the way," Naruto continued. "Don't tell Asuma-sensei about these."

When he saw their confused looks, Naruto decided to elaborate, "I may not have gotten the stuff used to make these and the jutsu for them in a widely accepted way…"

Ino rolled her eyes. "That's just like you, baka! Being on a different team from you's almost enough to make up for being on a different team than Sasuke! I can't believe you stole something!"

"Mendokuse," Shikamaru mumbled. "Ino, you do know that it's commonplace for shinobi to steal. Naruto's only issue is that he probably stole something restricted to genin. Right?"

"Ya!" Naruto agreed loudly. ‘So far, so good.’

"Whatever," Ino replied, slipping the necklace over her head.

Seeing that the three would keep quiet, and that they most likely didn't have any more questions that he was going to answer, Naruto said goodbye and ran off. He sure hoped that he would be able to find his old friend before the exams started in earnest…

A/N: Yays! Done with chappie six! Hehes, hopefully I did a decent enough job with revising, but further edits will occur later whe I have more time on my hands. Hopefully ya’ll are liking the story so far. Please remember to review lovelies!

Chapter Text

A/N: Hey ya’ll! It’s Kuro-chan here with the next chappie for the Clash of Time! Hehes, hopefully ya’ll are enjoying it so far. The chappies are long which means there’s plenty for ya’ll in the sense of reading fodder. Hehes, anyways, please enjoy and R&R!

Chapter 7

Tsuchi Kin stared out the window of her hotel room. She felt… nostalgic almost. Huh. Never thought she'd feel anything but contempt for the place she'd been born and raised.

'Don't think it's the place you miss, little one,' the voice that had always been her constant companion whispered. Indeed, it wasn't Konoha that she missed.

'Onee-chan, can you stop reminding me already?' Kin replied, her tone lacking the usual spite she normally spoke with.

The two fell into silence, as Kin watched the sun set over Konoha. Sunset had always been her favorite time of the day. It was when the world slowed down, and all the people fell asleep. Then the true wonders of the world showed themselves.

"Hey! Kin!" a familiar voice whispered from nearby.

Kin jumped slightly, having dozed off and foolishly dropped her guard.

"Who's there?" she whispered back, her tone conveying annoyance.

"It's me! Naruto!" the voice answered, and Kin's eyes widened slightly. Him… she hadn't seen the blonde in years. Why was he seeking her out?

"What the hell do you want?" she hissed, annoyed. If she got caught talking to a Konoha shinobi, she'd be damned.

"Can't tell you here. Make up some excuse to go to the market district. A friend of mine'll meet you there," Naruto replied. "Gotta go."

Before Kin could say anything, a common blue jay dropped from the roof above her window, whispering "Bye!" back at her.

Typical Naruto, doing something so easy and yet rarely thought of to sneak around. Stupid Naruto… Who the hell was she supposed to meet with, anyways?

'Little one,' the voice whispered. 'Did you notice his chakra signature?'

'No,' Kin replied. 'Why?'

She paused for a second, before replying. 'His energy signature has changed… he's starting to merge with Stella.'

Kin smiled. So, the brat had finally met his demon. Good for him. 'Well, let's go see what this is all about.'

Grabbing some money, Kin slipped on her shoes and walked into the hallway. Dosu apparently heard her, because he opened the door to his and Zaku's room, looking around. "Where are you going?" he asked, not trusting his teammate to not do something foolish.

"Don't get all pissy. I'm just going shopping," Kin replied, holding up her purse. "Go back to your boyfriend."

Dosu scowled at her. She'd been bothering him and Zaku incessantly ever since Dosu had tripped and fallen on Zaku during a training session, their lips accidentally meeting. Dosu'd never been able to shake the feeling that she'd somehow rigged the training match so that'd happen, although he'd never be able to prove anything. Still scowling, Dosu retreated into his room and slammed the door behind him. Idiot. Didn't he know that she wasn't the type of girl to randomly decide to go shopping? Of course not. He never paid attention to anyone other than himself. Plus it helped that she'd made him too annoyed to desire to talk to her any longer than necessary, effectively killing his curiosity. That had been almost the best prank she'd ever pulled. It'd even happened in front of most of the Sound genin and many of the chunin and jounin! Their embarrassment had been worth the trouble of arranging it just right so that it'd work and she'd get away with it. Kin arrived at the market area within five minutes, deciding to walk rather than run. The hotel was close to the shops, anyways. She had only been there for ten minutes when somebody tapped her on the shoulder. Turning around, Kin saw a brown haired girl with shoulder length hair and unexpressive brown eyes. One of the most nondescript people she'd ever seen.

"Excuse me, miss," the girl said. "But you left this in my grandfather's shop." She held out Kin's purse, offering it to the black haired girl. Kin blinked.

She could've sworn she'd kept her purse with her the whole time, and she hadn't seen this girl in the one shop she'd entered.

"Thanks," Kin said, grabbing the purse.

Before she could turn around and leave, the girl continued the conversation.

"I noticed you had a music sheet for song Kitsune no Aika. I'm trying to learn how to play it, and I was wondering if you could give me some tips," she said, staring at the ground. Kin blinked.

First of all, she'd never heard of a song called Kitsune no Aika, and she didn't have any music sheets in her purse. The reference to a fox, though… could this girl be Naruto's friend he'd told her to meet? Discussing music would give them an excuse to talk to each other.

"Sure," Kin said, after checking briefly that no sound nin or spies that she knew of were nearby.

She wouldn't be surprised if Orochimaru's spies were following her, though. He didn't trust anyone other than himself. Then again, the bastard considered everyone else so beneath him that he never seemed to think of the possibility of someone betraying him. "Name's Tsuchi Kin."

"I'm Aiji," the girl replied.

Kin followed Aiji back to the shop she'd entered earlier. Instead of entering the girl walked into a side alley, presumably heading for a back door. Kin followed after a moment's hesitation. She didn't exactly trust this Aiji, after all. Aiji opened a side door, turning to Kin and beckoning for her to enter.

The door led into a hallway, doors spaced unevenly along it. At the end of the hall way a stairway with steps leading up and down. "My apartment's on the second floor, right above grandfather's shop. I have a music room there that we can practice in."

Kin nodded and followed the girl. The door swung shut behind them, preventing anyone who might have been tailing Kin from following. When the two girls had reached the top of the stairs they both heard the door to the outside creak open, and Aiji quickly grabbed Kin's arm and pulled her up another flight of stairs. Once there Aiji soundlessly opened a window to the outside, before jumping out. Kin looked out the window and saw that it faced another building, which was clearly newer than the one they were currently in. It was very close to the window Aiji had exited out of, and Kin could see that the girl had landed on a window sill of another wing of the building Kin was standing in. The enormous window had been cut off by the new building and was boarded up, the state of the window itself attesting to the fact that the room beyond hadn't been used in quite some time. Kin followed Aiji onto the ledge, letting the window slide shut behind her. Anybody outside of the building shouldn't be able to see them, and her pursuers inside wouldn't have any reason to suspect that she'd gone out a third story window. They probably thought that she had simply entered a room before they could climb the stairs to the second floor. Aiji wasted no time in scaling the wall with chakra, Kin following right behind her. The two entered one of the abandoned rooms through a substantial hole in the wall.

"This wing of the building was heavily damaged when Stella attacked, and has never been repaired," Aiji said, explaining the desolate state of all the rooms they'd passed.

The room they were currently in was, other than the hole in the wall, in a fairly good state of repair. Aiji formed the hand sign for henge, before her visage was replaced in a poof of smoke with that of a boy with dark brown eyes and black hair. Kin knew the use of disguising herself, and choose the form of a brown haired boy with light brown eyes. The two girls exited the room, slipping onto the fifth floor of the main wing of the building. They ran down to the first level, exiting through a different back door than they'd used to enter. Aiji led Kin through the market to the most run down section of Konoha, taking a winding path that would throw off any pursuers not familiar with the streets of Konoha. They quickly arrived at an apartment complex, which Aiji entered without hesitation. The two girls ran up to one of the middle floors, entering into the last room on the hall.

"This is Naruto-kun's room," Aiji told Kin, turning slightly to face the sound nin.

Kin glanced around, but didn't see anyone. If she was supposed to talk with the blonde it was fairly logical to assume that she'd actually get to meet him. She still hadn't figured out why he'd decided to contact her after all this time. Or how he'd even known she was participating in the chunin exams. Aiji walked to the wall farthest from the window, gathering chakra in his/ her hand. Pulling aside a picture of Naruto and what Kin assumed was his genin team, Aiji slammed his/ her hand into the wall. A blue handprint was left behind, and Kin felt a weird sensation overcome her as a complex chakra barrier was raised. Her specialization in illusion allowed Kin to appreciate the work of art that was the chakra barrier. It had likely been created by Stella, Naruto probably not having the chakra control or experience required to create this advanced an illusion. Kin watched, fascinated, as a shimmering portal opened in front of her. Aiji stepped through, and after a moment's hesitation Kin followed, figuring she had nothing to lose. Even if this did turn out to be pointless, she was bored and had nothing else to do.

"Hey! Kin!" Naruto called out, seeing two boys arrive using the Gateway that led back to his apartment even though they didn't look at all like their original selves, Naruto could sense their identities.

Both Haku and Kin released their transformations at the same time. Kin looked around, temporarily ignoring Naruto.

"Where the hell are we?" she asked.

"Stella's place," an unfamiliar voice announced.

Naruto looked in the direction it had come from and saw a woman. With butterfly wings. Stella thought she'd seen her before, but had no clue where. She was petite, her skin a light tan. She had long blonde hair, streaked with a pale shade of pink and a deep purple. Her outfit was made of some bright, multicolored shimmering cloth, loosely covering all of her body except for her head, neck, hands, and feet. Both feet were clad in shoes of what looked like soft leather. Her wings were the most amazing thing about her, great sweeping butterfly wings decorated with figures in a plethora of colors. She had bright green eyes, and her ears were pointed and long, easily extending four inches beyond the normal ear length of humans. Her ears were pierced many times over, colorful and complex baubles decorating them.

"May I ask what such a beautiful fairy lady such as yourself might wish to be called?" Naruto asked, hoping he'd gotten the wording right and didn't sound like a fool.

He made sure to compliment her, of course. It's considered rude in fairy society to not compliment someone the first time you meet them. The fairy lady laughed, the sound light and tinkling.

"Such manners! You've taught him well, Stella," she said, smiling. "Yes, you may ask my name, young warrior. I am called Chou Yosei. I'm sealed into Kin."

"Hey! I know you!" Stella exclaimed, finally remembering where she'd seen this girl before. "You were Rikka's and Tejina's sensei!"

Finally she'd remembered her charges' names! And genders!

Yosei laughed lightly. "I knew that you were having memory problems due to Aranea's poison, but I didn't think that it would take you so long to remember me."

Well, there went her moment of giddiness over her memory return. Who in all the hells was Aranea? Meanwhile, Naruto, Kin, and Haku were having a conversation of their own.

"You're a jinchuuriki?" Naruto asked, surprised. He'd never thought that Kin had been a jinchuuriki of any kind although it explained how she'd been so mature for her age.

"Yah, onee-chan was sealed into me as punishment by some new world fairies. The idiots didn't bother so much as putting a seal so I can talk to her freely," she explained. "What the hell did you call me for, anyways? It's dangerous for me to meet a Konoha nin, and you know it, so don't tell me you felt like a reunion."

"Let's talk inside," Naruto said, indicating the massive palace behind him.

Kin briefly had to wonder who the hell could afford the place. The three walked into the main hall of the palace, Naruto leading them towards the same meeting room he, Haku, and Zabuza had first used. Zabuza was already there. He'd been dozing lightly in one of the chairs. He snapped awake when the three shinobi entered.

"This is Momochi Zabuza," Naruto said. "Zabuza, meet Tsuchi Kin."

Kin nodded, indicating the she'd heard him. This place was huge! The fanciness of it all astounded her. Really, what was the point of having something so expensive? A regular table and chairs would serve the same purpose, and be way more affordable. The three sat down at various random points about the table. Receiving a message from Stella that she'd be awhile, and that she and Yosei could always learn what had been talked about from their jinchuuriki, Naruto decided to go ahead and start.

"Kin, I need your help with something," Naruto told her, his tone and facial expression serious.

'He's sure grown up in the last six years,' Kin observed, comparing Naruto to the kid he'd been when she knew him, always either being all happy and stupid, not having a care in the world, or being sad and a crybaby.

"Like what? I'm not going to do anything that'll end with me dead, or likely dead, or badly hurt," Kin replied, knowing that the only reason Naruto might want to seek her out, if he'd already gone to such pains as to have high ranked missing ninja under his command, was to get close to Orochimaru either to kill him or spy on him. Both of which were high risk jobs.

"Basically, I need your identity. Using you as a contact, I can replace people close to Orochimaru with clones, and gain spies among his ranks. Also I know you, and I know that you probably already have access in some way or another to restricted information," the blonde explained.

Yup, he’d definitely changed. Gone was the impulsive child he'd been, replaced with a calculating master mind. Still, she didn't want to take any risk for someone she'd only been companions at the most with for three years.

Before she could point out the flaws in his plan like her own safety, Haku interrupted, "Any high risk parts such as the upcoming chunin exams, you don't have to carry out yourself. Either a clone or I will take your place when Oto and Suna invade Konoha. You can also be replaced during the first two stages of the chunin exam and any other times when risk if high."

Kin nodded again. Naruto had thought everything out, and he could probably use his fox abilities to mimic her genjutsu.

"I assume you're not planning on taking out Orochimaru?" Kin asked, knowing that Naruto had always been the type to avoid using no subterfuge whatsoever, almost always having some trick or another beneath the surface. Killing Orochimaru outright, in front of all those people, would be stupid.

Naruto fox grinned, "Knew you'd figure it out. No, I'm not going to kill Orochimaru during the invasion. That would be way too obvious. If I can, I'll arrange to have him killed off by ANBU. What I plan to do is actually replace one of his bodyguards with a clone. Replacing one of the Sound Four would screw up so many of his plans."

Kin blinked. No way… it was just too perfect to work. Still, if she wasn't in the direct line of fire it couldn't hurt her to try.

"I think I know a way to incapacitate one of the Sound four," she said, knowing she was likely going to regret this, but it couldn't hurt. "But before I tell, what the hell am I going to get out of all this?"

Naruto grinned again before he answered, "The help of me, Stella, Gaara and Shukaku, most fox demons, Zabuza and Haku, and anyone else I can convince to help for starters. Also we'll all help protect you. Trust me, Orochimaru doesn't have anything good planned for you. You won't be at too much risk. I'll give you a communication device. Anyone who knows how would be able to get to you in a split second if you raised the alarm. Also I have at the least one demigod on my side, but she doesn't want me to reveal her identity until things have been decided."

"Wait, brat, back up," Zabuza growled. "You have a demigod helping you? Why the hell didn't you mention this earlier?"

Naruto shrugged, "Didn't think it mattered. She's not going to help unless things start involving her or I get into a situation involving other demigods."

"Stupid brat," Zabuza growled. "Of course it matters! Don't you known that the first rule of not getting your ass creamed is to not mettle in the affairs of deities and demigods?!"

"Yes, I know that," Naruto replied grinning. "But the second rule says not to mettle in the affairs of dragons and demons. You’re doing that just by being in this organization!"

"That's different! Dragons and demons are way less," Zabuza began, only to be cut off mid-sentence by Naruto.

"Anyways, they're more of guidelines rather than actual rules, so we don't really have to follow them," Naruto said, still grinning.

Before Zabuza could reply, Kin interrupted. Again. "What the hell are you two talking about? I've never heard of these rules!"

"Haven't you ever heard the saying 'Don't mettle in the affairs of dragons and/or demons, for thou art crunchy and taste good with ketchup'?" Naruto asked, his grin growing wider. "The 'Don't mettle in the affairs of deities and demigods' is pretty much just assumed to be common sense.

Kin opened her mouth as if to reply, but then seemed to change her mind, instead asking, "Back to the subject we're supposed to be talking about, why're you trying to start an organization, anyways?"

'Really, do they all have to ask why I'm gathering missing ninja, jinchuuriki, random people that could be useful, and various others? I mean, couldn't they just, I don't know, accept the fact and agree or decline?' Naruto asked himself.

'They could, but then they'd be an idiot, and having anybody stupider than you in this organization wouldn't be such a smart idea. You're already pushing the limits of accepted intelligence level, as it is,'Stella replied over their mental link.

'First of all, wasn't talking to you. Secondly, I'M NOT STUPID! Also, this is my organization, which means I can't be kicked out! So there!' Naruto snapped back.

'Do you realize how childish you just sounded?' she laughed.

'You know what? Shut up. I'm going to ignore you now.'

'How are you going to ignore a voice in your head?'

'Lalala, I can't hear you!' Naruto thought, projecting a mental image of him with his hands blocking his ears.

The blonde could've sworn he heard a snort and a 'baka' comment from the fox, and had to resist the impulse to reply.

"I'm in for now," Kin said, bringing Naruto back to the conversation. "But if things get too dangerous towards me or you ask me to do something I don't want to, I'm out."

Naruto nodded, agreeing. Made sense.

Rather than continue the conversation there, Naruto decided to give Kin a transmitter and explain its use. She had been followed, and if she was gone for too long it would look suspicious. They could finish the conversation over the mind channel, anyways. And Zabuza seemed to be getting annoyed. Best not to annoy the maniacal killer. Naruto and Stella both said goodbye to Kin and Chou, the fairy and demon having caught up fairly well. Stella had learned as much as she could from Chou. She was beginning to piece together her lost memory. Haku left with Kin and Chou, promising to return later. The more he ventured out the more risky it was, but he needed to be present to make Kin's story sound.

"You were saying earlier that you want to replace one of those bastards, and one bitch, in the Sound Four. I know how you might be able to replace Kidomaru, and I know some of his personality," Kin began, as she ran back to the market district. She somehow sensed over the mind link that her audience of four (Zabuza had decided to listen to what she was saying, despite how annoyed he was at all the 'useless banter') "The moron has this creepy obsession with me. He says I'm the 'hottest chick in Sound'. The freak has asked me out on dates several times."

Naruto grinned manically, which Haku and Kin sensed. "Hehe! My favorite kind of trick! I can take care of that part, since you seem kinda adverse to the idea of going within half a mile of him."

"Whatever," Kin said, slightly relieved that she didn't have to, dare she think it, seduce Kidomaru.

The guy was a jerk! He was always going out of his way to creep people out, and he had the strangest idea of 'flirting'. He was one of the two reasons Kin had decided not to rise any further in the ranks. The other being the really high ranked people were generally subjected to Orochimaru's various experiments; especially curse seals. The more gruesome experiments were preformed on the really low ranked people and on prisoners. Naruto nodded, and asked her about Kidomaru, explaining that people rarely see past their own selves more than is necessary. It’s easy to fool someone as long as you act in the range of what they expect. Which also includes their self image. Someone with an over sized ego, for instance, is far more susceptible to being fooled by someone faking interest in them than someone with almost no self esteem.

It made sense to her. Kin explained everything she could about Kidomaru's personality and also how she would be expected to act. She also told the four people as much as she knew about the invasion, who would be where and when, when things would happen, various people's weak points, etc.

'You're being awfully helpful,' Naruto remarked, recalling Kin's usual personality.

'I'm just excited at the thought of that jackass Orochimaru being ground into the dust. He acts all nice and kind, but he's a million times worse than Kidomaru! I'm thankful that I'm not a boy and he's not straight. He's a complete pedophile!' Kin… ranted. Naruto was mildly surprised (and amused) by the normally calm yet sadistic girl's rant. 'You should disembowel him. Hang him from his toes off the side of a cliff infested with hawks!'

'I knew about the pedophile part. I second Kin's idea for killing him!' Naruto said, mentally adding, 'Kinda obvious that he was a pedophile. I mean, come one, why else would he be all like, 'Sasuke, I must have your body!' I bet he… eeewww, do NOT need that mental picture!'

'Keep your thoughts to yourself, brat!' Stella snarled because she didn't need the mental picture, either!

()()()()()

He was scared. No, scratch that, he was downright terrified. Yah, sure, guys aren't supposed to get frightened or anything, and are supposed to be all big and strong, but he really wanted to go hide under a rock right now. It wasn't as if he was the bearer of bad news, per se, but it wasn't good news. Plus the genin had heard of Orochimaru's sick sense of humor, and dreaded that he might stumble upon the snake lord when he was bored, or, worse yet, annoy him. Such an infraction would be the death of this poor genin.

"Um, excuse m-me," he stuttered out, having come to the passageway leading into Orochimaru and his pets' living quarters. He needed to pass the gate guard before he could proceed to deliver his news.

"Oh look, it's a scaredy-cat little genin," one snarled, looking at the frightened boy with sadistic contempt shinning in his eyes. "Wonder if he's here to play?"

"Oh, yes little genin, we'll have so much fun playing with you," he chuckled darkly.

The third guard rolled his eyes, getting annoyed with how stupid they were being. Couldn't they tell that the kid was a messenger for Orochimaru-sama? The genin shook, terrified of these two. His eyes were wide, the pupils almost swallowing the irises and giving him the look of a rabbit staring at a wolf that was about to gobble it up.

"Come on, guys," the third guard said. "Stop this nonsense. You know the rules."

The two guards that had scared the genin snarled in unison. Still, the third was of a higher rank than they, and they had to listen to him. Pity.

"Why are you here?" the third guard asked the genin.

The boy stared at him blankly for a few seconds, the terror still holding him. His eyes kept frantically darting between the two monsters that guarded Orochimaru's domain, the third guard that had saved him, and any possible routes of escape or possible hiding places.

"M-my c-commander told m-me to deliver this m-message to O-Orochimaru-sama," he stuttered, holding out a letter sealed with some kind of jutsu. "He s-said it's u-urgent."

The guard nodded, his eyes sliding over to the other two guards. He mentally weighed the chances that the kid would mentally or physically make it through Orochimaru's main lair in one piece, and decided the chances were slim. The brat couldn't be older than six or seven, although knowing the condition of Orochimaru's minions he might be slightly older.

"Why don't you give the letter to me, and I'll deliver it for you," the guard suggested, his tone calm and soothing.

Before the genin could protest, because messengers weren't supposed to trust their messages with anyone else, the nice guard continued.

"You don't know your way around, and will likely get lost. Also, because of your age, you'll likely annoy Orochimaru-sama, while someone older will not get on his nerves so much,” explained the guard.

The genin nodded slowly. The guard's words made sense, and he really didn't want to go anywhere near Orochimaru! So he hesitantly handed the precious letter to the nice guard and, watching the two Bad Men like he was a rabbit and they hawks flying lazily above him, he turned and jogged down the hallway, his speed steadily increasing until he was sprinting away from the horrifying depths of the snake's temporary domain. The guard turned and, telling the two imbeciles to watch the station while he was gone and to try not to do anything stupid, he descended down the stairs into the gloomy passageways that composed the labyrinth of Orochimaru's chambers. After many twists and turns, he finally came upon the room in which he knew Orochimaru would be. It was a basic command room, allowing Orochimaru to view any part of his domain he wished, and to listen to anything he wanted, via a system of camera and bugs. He could also contact those outside of the lair and within it. The guard stood outside the door, knowing better than to risk calling out and interrupting his lord. Unsurprisingly, for Orochimaru was used to frightened messengers either too scared to or to wise to announce their presence. What was surprising, though, was what Orochimaru was watching. It wasn't the view from any camera, nor a scene of what should be of interest to an evil wanna-be world ruler. The guard actually for a second or two had trouble placing exactly what Orochimaru was watching. He'd only seen it on occasion when he was a child, and some of the other children would amuse themselves by watching television. One of the more fearsome humans, and the sworn enemy of Konoha and mankind in general, was watching Ed, Edd, and Eddy. Scary.

"Yes?" Orochimaru called out, annoyed slightly by the messenger who had shown up at his door because he was just at the good part, too!

"Orochimaru-sama," the guard said, his voice steady and calm, rather than laughing or frightened as it should be. "There is a message for you. It's urgent."

Orochimaru turned his chair around, equally annoy at the gall of the message sender, the messenger, and the world in general, whom dared interrupt him, and mildly interested by the mysterious message.

"Give it here," he ordered, golden snake eyes gleaming in the low light.

The guard obediently walked forward, handing Orochimaru the letter. He backed up slightly, waiting to be dismissed before he returned to his station. As Orochimaru's eyes skimmed over the letter he began to smile slightly, his smile soon growing and a dark chuckling sound emitting from the back of his throat as he read further. Finally he erupted into full blown laughter, his insane cackle echoing off the walls and chilling the hearts of those who heard. The guard watched, a feeling of dread growing in his stomach as Orochimaru cackled, clenching the letter, the cause of his laughter, tightly in his hand. Whatever may have caused this much rampant joy in Orochimaru could not be good.

'Kukuku,' Orochimaru laughed within his head. He no longer minded being interrupted. Not at all. 'Seems like fate is on my side.'

A/N: Yays! Done with chappie seven! That last part made me crack up a bit. I mean some people do think this about the Snake Sanin so it makes sense to me. If people don’t like it then oh welp. It’s your loss. Hehes, yeah I know I’m going over the three update limit for this week, but I have finals coming up. So, I’m trying to do an update spam. I hope ya’ll enjoyed what happened this time. Let me know what you thought please if you don’t mind and/or have the time. Please remember to review lovelies!

Chapter Text

A/N: Hey ya’ll! It’s Kuro-chan here with the next chappie for the Clash of Time! I hope ya’ll are enjoying the story so far. I know I sure am! Hehes, welp I’m making sure I get the updates in for next week because I won’t be able to due to studying and then taking my final exams. So, I hope ya’ll like that I’m putting out more chappies this week than usual. Please enjoy and R&R!

Chapter 8

Prince Epesi Mguu was laying in the clearing in front of his den. The tall metal trees of the two leg's jungle rose high above him, and the sounds of the Grumbles filled the air. All was well in his kingdom. The pups were many and strong, and famine was a thing of the past. He was bored, though. Nothing had been happening recently. Being the only dog pack in existence the Thunder Pack didn't need to compete with others of their kind for territory or hunting rights, and there was little hunting to be done in man's jungle. Deciding to roam around too see if there was anyone new to meet, Epesi Mguu strolled down the paths of the city, his royal head held high. While walking in a clearing he saw the most beautiful creature that he'd ever laid eyes on. Her coat was a brilliant red color, the tips of her tail and ears white. Her eyes were a laughing, sparkling green, showing keen intelligence. Her body was lithe, and her fur was lush and thick. She moved with a feline grace, darting through the crowds of humans. Epesi Mguu ran after her, intent on discovering this unique beauty's name. Stopping briefly to grab a piece of meat from the front of a butcher's shop, dashing away before he could be caught, the great dog lord ran after the lovely fox.

"Excuse me, Madam," he said in Universal, trotting up beside her. "Might I ask you for your name?"

She looked him then, her eyes showing mirth and joy, like they always had, "Why, such manners! I am the Princess Kit. What might your name be, Sir?"

"I am the leader of the Thunder Pack, Prince Epesi Mguu. It is a great pleasure of mine to be able to converse with one so lovely as yourself," he said, bowing.

She laughed once again, bowing in return, "It is my pleasure, kind sir! Such gentlemen as yourself are rare these days. Might I ask if you are planning on eating that sausage all by your lonesome self?"

She had of course seen him run after her and grab the sausage, and knew that he intended it as a gift.

"Why, of course not my lady! It would be rude of me to not offer to share with a companion. Might we dine somewhere more comfortable?" he offered.

"Why, naturally!" Kit laughed. "I know just the place! This way!"

She leapt to her feet and started running, Epesi Mguu close behind. They had run for not even five minutes when Kit slowed down. They were in a part of the city that Epesi Mguu did not recognize, but he was determined to not loose face and ask where they were. He had nothing to worry about, so it seemed, for Kit was apparently lost as well.

"Oh, my," she said, tail and ears drooping. "I am quite afraid that we have gotten lost on the way. These human jungles confuse me so."

Knowing that he would only look like a fool if he offered to lead and only got more lost, Epesi Mguu decided to swallow his pride, "Well, then we should only ask for directions. I'm sure one of the locals knows where we are."

"That's a great idea! But I'm not very good at striking up a conversation. Why don't you do it, Epesi-kun?" she suggested. The dog nodded and strode up to one of the humans. The fox, who was currently lurking in the shadows and trying not to be seen, could only think of how gullible he was.

"Excuse me, sir," Epesi Mguu called out in Universal to the human. "Might you be able to tell us how to find our way to the Spire from here?"

The human looked down at Epesi Mguu, an expression of surprise crossing his features. He said something in Human which Epesi was unable to comprehend. Kit understood what the human was saying perfectly though, and had to struggle not to laugh. Epesi had accidently approached a young boy, whose mother was currently in the shop he was standing in front of. The child, probably only eight years of age, squealed, "Puppy!" in Human and grabbed the scruff of Epesi Mguu's neck. The Prince, realizing that something was going on, tried to wriggle free. His efforts were to no avail. The child only tightened his grip and scolded the dog. Epesi realized that he'd been tricked when he heard a cruel, feminine laughter originating from the fence. It wasn't Kit, for she was being careful not to reveal her presence, but instead Kitty, the cat Princess. Neko and Epesi had been at odds for a long time. The feline as black as pitch looked down at her adversary with amusement shinning in her golden eyes. Dark violet and dark blue shimmered in her pelt as she moved, creating a mystifying effect.

"Well, well," she drawled in Universal. "Look at what the fox dragged in."

Before Prince Epesi Mguu could reply the child's mother exited the shop. She saw her son with his hand buried in the scruff of a dog's neck, and of course raised a commotion. She and the boy spoke for a bit, before she finaly relented, deciding to let her son keep the dog. Epesi Mguu stared back in horror as he was dragged away. Kit then emerged from the shadows, laughing her enchanting laugh.

"Fool!" she cried. "Remember this, and remember it well! Thine own grandiloquent airs shall be thy downfall! Thy pompous kind shall be such no more! The era of their rule is come to and end! Man shall determine their fate!"

Snarling at the fox, Epesi Mguu replied, "Curse thy name and thy kin, fox! From this day forth I shall hunt you and your ilk to the ends of the Earth, until not a single fox is left breathing! If my breath is stolen from me before this goal is accomplished my descendents shall take up the hunt! Run and hide little fox! Cower in your den!"

True to his word, Epesi Mguu escaped from the boy two years later. By then news of the trickery the fox had played had spread far and wide, and his kind were being taken in by Man as pets. The animals of the wild and of the streets laughed at him. Such a fool, to let his pride and conceitedness get him caught! Did he really think he could woo the magnificent fox Princess Kit? The humiliation that the vixen had cause only increased Epesi Mguu's desire for revenge. He swore an all out war on the foxes, and since that day many dogs have upheld his example, striking out at foxes whenever the opportunity presents itself. The foxes are cunning though, and are hard to catch and harder to kill. So the cycle repeats, each new generation of dogs being taught to hate foxes, and each new generation of foxes to taunt dogs.

A/N: Oks, that’s the end of chappie eight! I think this would be oen of Stella’s memories, but I could be wrong. Hopefully yall enjoyed it. Until next time, please remember to review lovelies!

Chapter Text

A/N: Hey ya’ll! It’s Kuro-chan here with the next chappie for the Clash of Time! I hope ya’ll are liking the story. Hehes, I know I sure am. Hopefully ya’ll will like what happens this time. Please R&R!

Chapter 9

Naruto took a deep breath, hearing the argument over the issue of the illusionary floor and door numbering long before his teammates.

'You think we should help?' he asked Stella.

'Ya. It wouldn't be fair to Team Gai or our other allies to leave them with those two, although helping our enemies won't be particularly enjoyable. Just remember to remind Sasuke about showing off.'

Naruto mentally nodded his agreement.

"Don't forget guys: no showing off. We shouldn't let anyone else know how advanced we are," Naruto said.

He still wasn't up to full power, and he didn't think he could handle a real fight against any of the more powerful shinobi here with all the jounin and ANBU watching his every move. He'd be able to fight in the Forest of Death, but only because then he could get away with using Stella's yoki to balance his own.

"You've said that a million times, dobe," Sasuke pointed out. Really, what could go wrong so much that the blonde was worrying as much as he was?

Forget that thought. From what he'd seen of ninja like Gaara there were a lot of things that could go wrong. Like being marked as a target. And the 'having enemies underestimate you' thing was a good point, though Sasuke's pride made him a bit disliking of the notion, and if it hadn't been for Naruto's stubbornness he likely would've been 'showing off' all he could which was probably why Naruto was reminding him. Sakura, unlike Sasuke, didn't need the reminder. She wouldn't've been showing off her skills to anyone, preferring to avoid conflicts with people other than Ino or someone who made her mad. Even then she wouldn't fight if it would be anything more than a catfight. Both Sasuke and Sakura noticed the genjutsu over the door, and wondered why Naruto was still going onto the floor. He really should've noticed it, and unless he was planning on being a hypocrite and showing off, there was no perceivable reason as to why he wasn't just walking past it.

'Dobe, you do realize that this isn't the right floor,' Sasuke said, keeping his thoughts to Team 7.

Naruto had already told both he and Sakura about Teams 8 and 10 having communication devices. Sasuke didn't feel like broadcasting their conversations to the whole Rookie Nine.

'Ya, I do, but there's some potential allies who also happen to be very powerful stuck outside this door,' he explained.

He had another reason. Lee might be able to derail Sakura from liking Sasuke, meaning that she'd be less hurt when she realized Sasuke was gay. She'd also be more likely to advance faster if she wasn't busy obsessing over Sasuke. Either that or Lee would just freak her out. It would encourage her to glue herself to Sasuke twice as much. The second one would be hilarious, though, so it was worth the risk.

"Please, let us through!" a girl in a pink martial arts shirt with two buns said to the two genin blocking the door, but they just scoffed and slapped her.

'Don't let your guard down, and don't let appearances fool you. That girl and her team are holding back, too. They're way more powerful than they seem. And those two 'genin' are really chunin hidden under a genjutsu,' Naruto told his teammates as they nodded because they’d learned to trust his instincts and ability to perceive things that no one else noticed.

'Which of us should point it out?' Sakura asked. Since they'd all noticed it due to constant 'awareness training' from Naruto (which pretty much consisted of daily or twice daily prank attempts, though sometimes he'd skip a day to keep them on edge), they all had equal claim to pointing it out.

'I'm supposed to be the idiot, and I'd like to keep people thinking that I'm a complete failure. Sakura, you're not the type who'd go around bragging all the time unless you're around Ino. Sasuke's the obvious choice. What do ya say, teme?' Naruto asked through his explanation.

Sasuke didn't reply, just interrupted the two chunin who had been going on about how hard the chunin exams were to pass.

"I agree," he said, "but… you will let me pass through, and you'll also drop the genjutsu on this surrounding area."

'Don't mention the genjutsu on them!' Naruto suddenly warned, stopping Sasuke from going any farther. 'It's too high a level for most rookie to notice! Oh, Sakura, you might wanna say something so teme doesn't steal all the spotlight.'

Sakura mentally thanked him, although she didn't broadcast it over the mind link. Her skills had greatly improved, and she'd begun to realize, with no small amount of guilt, how utterly useless she'd been. Time to start changing things.

"What are they talking about?!" several genin complained. Sakura took this as her cue.

"It's kinda obvious, even if you can't sense genjutsu," she said, keeping her voice from showing anything other than confidence. "I mean, there's only one flight of stairs between here and the ground floor!"

She thought it might be beneficial to downplay their group's intelligence and observational skills in perceiving genjutsu by adding that. She not only managed her goal, but made most, if not all, of the genin gathered there feel quite stupid.

"Yah! Sakura's right! This is only the second floor!" Naruto exclaimed, his tone and facial expression made it look like he was merely picking up on what his teammates were saying and was being overly confident.

"So, you noticed," one of the genin said.

"Not bad," said the other, he charged Sasuke, swinging into a kick. "But all you did was see through it!"

'Don't move!'

The warning stopped Sasuke immediately. He'd been preparing to kick his assailant. He schooled his features to nonchalant instinctually. Before he could wonder why Naruto had given the warning, a green blur jumped in front of him, catching the attacking genin's leg. Sasuke consciously relaxed himself, acting as if he'd known that the other genin would intercept the blow. How had he moved so fast? And how had Naruto known the green spandex wearing ninja would catch the guy's foot? Sasuke instantly saw what Naruto had intended, though. If he'd kicked the genin/ chunin he would've had his foot caught by Lee. Then he would’ve seemed weak in comparison. Even if they were trying to downplay their skills so the other teams would underestimate them and not label them as major threats, they didn't want to appear to be easy prey. If he'd dodged he would've seemed jumpy and easily frightened, dodging from a threat that didn't exist. By just standing there, and not seeming surprised, he appeared calm and in control. It also made it seem as if he'd known Lee would interrupt the fight.

"Hey," his teammate, a Hyuuga, said. "What happened to the plan? You were the one saying that we shouldn't be drawing attention to ourselves."

Both Sasuke and Sakura noted that their injuries had vanished. Had they been exaggerating the amount of damage they'd taken? Naruto didn't even bother wondering about it.

"Well," Lee began, blushing lightly. His female teammate, Tenten, sighed and began shaking her head.

"Hi!" he said to Sakura, walking up to her. "My name is Rock Lee! So yours is Sakura…"

Sakura had a bad feeling about this. Naruto began giggling mentally. Since he wasn't attempting to shield his thoughts, Sasuke, who'd been practicing stretching his mind out and listening through the communication devices for stray thoughts, caught it. This was the first time he'd ever caught anyone other than Kiba's and Ino's thoughts, so he was briefly surprised. He always ran into a massive barrier when he tried to read Naruto's thoughts, rather than the simple inability to grasp thoughts he had with the others.

'Why's he giggling?' Sasuke wondered.

'Brat, the Uchiha caught you giggling,' Stella warned, careful to not even let a trace of the possibility that someone else might be talking leak out. 'He's getting better at an extreme rate. We'll have to warn the others to be even more careful with their thoughts.'

Naruto mentally nodded, quieting his mental giggling in such a way that it wouldn't set off red flags in Sasuke's mind that he'd been noticed. He instantly sent a message, this time camouflaged with extra precaution, to Gaara, Haku, Zabuza, and Kin.

All this happened in the space between Lee's sentences.

"I want you be to my girlfriend!" Lee announced. "I shall protect you with my life!"

'Sakura, he's a potential ally. Don't be too hard on him. This is a great time to practice your kunoichi skills,' Naruto said before Sakura could insult Lee.

She had to agree, although she really didn't want to. The point of kunoichi was to get information using methods that in most cases wouldn't work with a male ninja (although there had been several examples of when a male was needed). And, if Sasuke was any indication, her flirting and seducing skills were lacking. Naruto was probably better at it than her! (Oh, if only she knew…)

"Well… that's really sweet of you…" Sakura began, unsure of what to say.

She didn't want to encourage him, but she was trying to keep Naruto's words in mind and not insult him.

"But… I'm interested in Sasuke, and you're really not my type," she said hurriedly.

Before Lee could say anything, Neji stepped up to talk.

"You. What's your name?" he asked Sasuke.

"It's rude to expect someone to give you their name without giving your own first," Sasuke replied.

"You're a rookie, right? How old are you?" Neji continued, pressing for any information that might be useful.

"Hn, if you're always so obvious about interrogating someone, then you'll never learn anything," Sasuke said. "Let's go."

He turned and walked off down the corridor. Naruto caught up to him quickly, falling into step next to him. Sakura trailed behind by about two feet, standing equidistant from both boys. Neji didn't fail to notice how, despite their rivalry, both boys were content to share the lead, and how Sakura was trailing behind them. What was also notable was that Sasuke and Naruto were almost touching, and Sakura seemed reluctant to crowd them, even though she'd said she was interested in Sasuke. Both boys were, according to what he knew, normally at each other's throats and reason said would walk much farther apart, probably with Sakura in between them. So why didn't they?

"Lee, what are you doing?" Tenten asked her off-kilter teammate.

"You guys go ahead," he said. "There is something I have to do."

He ran to catch up with Team 7, stopping on the balcony overlooking their position.

"Hey! Guy with the dark eyes!" he called out to Sasuke.

"What is it?" he asked.

"I challenge you to a fight! Right here, right now!" Lee announced in his typical manner.

Naruto instantly started weighing the pros and cons of Sasuke fighting Lee. There was no one other than the bushy eyebrowed genin and his sensei here to view them fight, so it wouldn't give too much away. Also learning Lee's moves could be beneficial for Sasuke. But there was the risk of Lee gaining an advantage in a later fight if he and Sasuke met again, and the risk of Gai not interrupting fast enough and Sasuke or Lee getting hurt.

'Let him have his pride.'

Naruto mentally nodded.

'Be careful. He's way tougher than he looks. His hands are majorly bandaged, so his strength probably taijutsu. Try not to use any advanced techniques if you can avoid it,' Naruto cautioned.

Really, he was beginning to get excessive with all of his warnings. And why did he rarely warn Sakura even if she was going to do something risky and/or stupid?

"I want to fight you, to test my strengths against the offspring of the Uchiha clan," Lee explained. "Plus… I want to prove that I am better than you and win the heart of Sakura!"

'Sakura, leave it,' Sasuke said, knowing that Sakura was about to complain.

He wouldn't be too unhappy if she started going out with Lee. She'd leave him alone then. As long as she didn't bring her boyfriend anywhere near him he wouldn't mind at all.

'Sure thing, Sasuke-kun!' she replied, quelling her anger.

"You're a fool to challenge me, knowing the Uchiha name. I'll show you what the name means, bushy brows!" Sasuke announced coolly.

"I'll say this: You guys cannot defeat me. Because, right now, I am the strongest genin in Konoha," Lee said.

Sasuke smirked. "So you think. Sounds fun. I'll do it."

"Sasuke-kun! We only have thirty minutes until the meeting!" Sakura complained.

"Then I'll be done in five minutes.”

Keeping Naruto's warning in mind, Sasuke turned on his Sharingan to slow down the match. He watched Lee's muscle movements carefully, knowing that the muscles tensed before actually being put to use. Thanks to knowing that Lee was using taijutsu ahead of time, and rigorous training in reaction time, perceiving things with his Sharingan, taijutsu, and speed, Sasuke fared much better than he had in the previous timeline even though he didn't suffer the same level of utter defeat, Lee was still able to trap Sasuke in his Leaf Shadow dance. Then he began to wrap him up before Gai interrupted. Sasuke fell to the ground, too stunned to react in time to fall without doing himself damage. Naruto dashed forward, catching Sasuke in his arms, grunting at the sudden increase in weight. He managed to keep his balance, though. Naruto held Sasuke for a second or two more than he probably should've before slowly setting his teammate and secret crush down. "You alright?"

"Ya, you don't have to worry so much, dobe," Sasuke replied, swatting Naruto's hand, which still rested on his shoulder, away.

"I wasn't worried about you, teme! It's just that if you broke something in your stupidity then I can't enter the exams!" Naruto replied instantly.

Sakura hung back, subconsciously knowing that it wasn't her place to intervene, that Naruto was the one with the most right to fuss over Sasuke. Her instincts had begun to realize since the Wave mission that she wasn't the team member who could ever lay claim to Sasuke, and had affected the way she interacted with the boys, even if she never really understood why. She'd begun to detach from her ditzy fangirl self though. Her conscious mind was slowly beginning to realize what her subconscious mind already knew. They turned to see a turtle admonishing Lee. Both Sakura and Sasuke were confused.

'What the fuck?' they both wondered.

Their questions were answered when Gai poofed on top of the turtle. Gai and Lee's conversation went pretty much the same as it had in the original timeline. When they started hugging Sasuke and Sakura stared, though Naruto ignored it. He'd gotten used to Gai and Lee's eccentricities in the original timeline. Stella had, strangely enough, known even weirder people, so she wasn't affected at all. Gai finished assigning Lee his punishment. Then he turned to the three rookies. Naruto was staring off into space, Sasuke was scowling, and Sakura was still gaping.

"Hey you guys! How's Kakashi doing?" Gai asked, addressing Team 7.

"…You know Kakashi?" Sasuke asked, annoyed and curious at the same time.

"Know him… Hehe," Gai said, before speeding over to stand behind the three genin to cause Naruto to blink, Sakura to freak out, and Sasuke showed slight signs of surprise. "We're eternal rivals! 50 wins, 49 losses… I'm stronger than Kakashi!"

"You've probably only won so many times because Kakashi-sensei's too lazy to fight you," Naruto said, not even reacting to Gai's speed or claim of having won against Kakashi.

Gai decided not to comment.

"See! Gai-sensei is incredible!" Lee yelled.

"Sorry about Lee. I swear to this face that it won't happen again!" Gai said, pointing to himself.

Sasuke wasn't so shocked about Gai's prowess or speed this time, Naruto's comment about Kakashi's laziness reminding him of, well, Kakashi's laziness. They probably hadn't ever seen the jounin's true speed, and there was no way he'd actually bothered in many, if any, of his contests against Gai.

"You guys and Lee should probably head over to the class room," Gai announced. "Good luck, Lee. Later." He then seemed to vanish, running off to the jounin meeting room.

Lee started to rewind his bandages. No one on Team 7 this time around failed to noticed the multitude of scars covering his knuckles.

"Sasuke-kun, one more thing. The truth is, I came here to test my abilities." Finishing wrapping his bandages, Lee continued. "I lied to you before. The truth is that the strongest genin in Konoha is likely on my team. I've entered this to defeat him, and you're also one of my targets. Be prepared during the exams!”

Lee then jumped onto the ceiling before running away. Team 7 didn't speak much as they continued towards the classroom where the first exam was to take place. Kakashi was standing outside the door.

"So, Sakura came too. Good," Kakashi said, but his team proved to not be as confused as he thought they’d be. "Now we can properly take the exam.”

"If you're going to say that only teams of three can take the exam then we already figured that out," Sakura announced.

"What made you think that we wouldn't figure it out, Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto asked, seeing his teacher's surprise. "We're assigned into teams of three. Besides, let one or two members take the exam would throw off teamwork which is something that probably needs to be tested in order to become chunin. Plus, everyone else who's taking this exam is taking it in teams of three."

Kakashi smiled. "Well, I guess I underestimated you guys! Go on ahead!"

As his team opened the door and walked through, Kakashi's smile faded. None of them should've been able to figure out that he'd been lying when he said that the test was an individual choice. Sakura wasn't perceptive enough of people's motives, and Sasuke was unable to read emotions or even look outside himself that much. That left Naruto, who'd shown a startling ability at perception, which defied all previous data from the Academy. Still, his perceptive abilities hadn't shown themselves to be enough to see through the lies of an ex-ANBU who specialized in subterfuge. At least that wasn’t until now. Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura enter the room in their usual formation, the same one they'd been in when they walked away from Team Gai. They immediately noticed the large number of people in the room. Sakura was stunned. She'd never thought that so many people would take this exam! Sasuke was concerned. There were a lot of potential enemies, and few potential allies. Naruto was annoyed. This many people would make it all that much harder to get through the chunin exams, and made for a lot of x factors. If even one of them acted in a way he hadn't predicted, maybe passing an exam they hadn't previously, or taking out an enemy of theirs who was Naruto's ally or would take out one of Naruto's enemies later, his entire plan could be screwed up. Sadly, there was nothing he could do about it, so he subtly scanned the room, locating Gaara and his team, the other rookies, Team Gai, the team from Sound, Kabuto and his team, the team that Orochimaru would or had taken over, and the team that Haku and two of his clones had replaced. He'd decided that it was best for now to have Haku be close by in the exams, but since Haku wasn't good at taking over someone's identity that he didn't know well convincingly enough to fool everyone that knew his target and was perceptive to subterfuge, it was best that he didn't try to replace Kin. Haku couldn't even fake her bell genjutsu, so that was out of the question even more. Naruto also located teams that could pose a threat, noting to avoid them.

"Sasuke-kun! You're late!" Ino shouted, latching on to Sasuke.

All members of Team 7 tensed. Sasuke didn't like having his personal space avoided. Naruto, although he wasn't sure enough of himself to actually flirt with Sasuke, was possessive of his crush. Sakura, even though she was beginning to think of Sasuke as hers less and less as she realized it wasn't her place to try to grab his attention, but she did know that Ino was not worthy of Sasuke. She also didn't want to lose in any way to the other girl.

Ino pouted, "I haven't seen you in forever!"

Before either Sakura or Naruto could yell at Ino to get off of Sasuke, he shrugged her off himself, sending her crashing to the floor.

"Would you stop being so annoying?" he asked. His patience with obsessive fangirls had taken a nose dive after Sakura had ceased obsessing over him.

Plus he felt as strange form of annoyance, the kind he would likely fell if she was asking him out. Apparently, others couldn't tell that he already was interested in someone else. The only problem with that was that he didn't think he was interested in someone else. Ino was shocked that Sasuke had shrugged her off like that. Why the hell would he do that? He never had before! The only reason Ino could think of was if he was going out with someone else, or wanted to. But the only girl he had regular contact with was Sakura! And there was no way Sakura had won Sasuke in such a short amount of time! So then why was Sasuke acting like this? Shikamaru didn't fail to notice how quickly Sasuke had shrugged Ino off, or how Naruto had gotten even angrier than Sakura when Ino pounced on Sasuke. He had noticed the same things about their walking formation that Neji had. And why wasn't Sakura jumping to put down Ino about her rejection by Sasuke? All the pink haired girl had done was to giggle lightly. This was not what he'd expected. It would take way more investigation to unravel the mystery that was Naruto and Team 7 than he'd thought before.

"Yahoo! Found ya!" Kiba shouted, seeing the other two teams that made up the Rookie Nine.

"H-Hello," Hinata stammered, seeing Naruto.

"Well, well, seems like everyone is here," Kiba said.

"Not you guys too…" Shikamaru mumbled.

"I see the entire Rookie Nine has decided to take the exams," Kiba continued, ignoring Shikamaru. "Let's see how far we get, eh, Sasuke-kun?"

"Don't be cocky, Kiba. You should learn to not challenge your superiors," Sasuke replied.

"Hey, you! We did a lot of training, so there no WAY we're going to lose to a bunch of weaklings like you guys!" Kiba all but yelled.

"Heh. We'll see 'bout that," Naruto said, fox grinning.

"YOU!" Kiba began, only to be interrupted by Kabuto.

"Hey, you guys, you should be more quiet. You guys are rookies just out of the Academy, right? You shouldn't be screaming like school girls. This exam's way harder than you'd think," he said, walking up to the genin.

"Who the hell do you think you are?" Ino challenged him.

"I'm Kabuto, but that isn't the point. Look behind you."

Everyone except for Naruto listened, turning to see pretty much the whole room glaring at them. Naruto just kept his eyes confidently fixed on Kabuto, an unspoken challenge reflected in his blue orbs. Kabuto was confused by Naruto's behavior, to say the least. This went against all data he'd gathered. The Sound spy didn't let it show how much he'd been unsettled. It wasn't good to show weakness to an enemy. He continued as planned.

"Those guys behind you are from Amegakure. They have short tempers. Everyone here's nervous about the exam and is on edge because of it, so quiet down before you cause a scene. Well, I can't blame you. You're clueless rookies. You remind me of how I used to be,” shrugged Kabuto.

"Kabuto-san, right?" Sakura asked. Receiving a 'yeah', she continued. "So this is your second time?"

"Actually, it's my seventh. And since exams are held every six months, twice a year, this is my fourth year."

"Wow, you know a lot about this exam…" Sakura commented.

"That's right. I'll even share some of my knowledge with you rookies, with these nin-info cards," Kabuto said, whisking out his stack of cards.

"Nin-info cards?" Sakura asked as everyone in the Rookie Nine's full attention was on him now.

His explanation went pretty much exactly the same as it had in the original timeline. When Kabuto confirmed that he had information of specific individuals was when it started changing.

"I want to know about Rock Lee, Subaku no Gaara, and Uzumaki Naruto," Sasuke said, intent on finding out what the hell was up with his teammate.

Kabuto glanced up suddenly, as the entire Rookie Nine turned to look at Sasuke. Naruto's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly. "You want information on your own teammate?" Kabuto asked, surprised. Did Sasuke suspect that Naruto held the Kyuubi no Kitsune within him? Or was there another reason for his inquiry?

"Is there a problem with you showing me any information you have on him?" Sasuke asked.

"No," Kabuto said, whisking out the three cards. He couldn't show the Rookie Nine all the information on Naruto's card without getting in trouble with the ANBU, but he didn't have a censored version available.

He'd never thought that anyone in the Rookie Nine would question him about Naruto of all people, meaning that he hadn't been prepared. It would look suspicious to black some things out, but he'd have to. Luckily he knew how to block out words, but he couldn't completely erase them on such short notice. Kabuto started with Lee and Gaara, his explanation the same as it had been originally. Slowly, he put Naruto's card down on the floor and started putting chakra into it. Sasuke and Sakura both were the most curious about this one, while the rest of the Rookie Nine were also mildly curious, mostly wondering why Sasuke would need to be given information on his own teammate. They were surprised when his information was shown. Ninjutsu was listed as a two, along with speed and force. Seal knowledge and genjutsu were unsurprisingly listed as one, with taijutsu being one point five. Chakra capacity was a five, and cunning/ intelligence was listed as unknown. At the least a three. There was one fairly large black box covering a good bit of the notes. A note saying 'take precaution was shown, and beneath that was a note that the data might be inaccurate, and that Naruto's true skill level wasn't precisely known, just estimated. If it was inaccurate, it was underestimating him.

'What the hell's with that box?' was pretty much what everyone was wondering because they wondered what there could be to hide about the blonde.

"I'm sorry that I can't show you everything," Kabuto said, not giving any explanation as to why.

Shikamaru and Sasuke both started calculating what that could mean. The only real reason to not show them everything was if something was classified that Kabuto had found out. Sasuke thought that it might be something to do with Naruto's bloodline, but that would be a secret confined to the ANBU, if they even knew of it. It was very suspicious that Kabuto would know anything classified, even if it was common knowledge in the ANBU. Both Sasuke and Shikamaru realized this.

Kabuto continued on as if nothing had happened, inadvertently insulting Oto just as he had in the original timeline. Although this time around Naruto didn't yell at the crowd of chunin hopefuls like he had originally, the team from Oto decided to attack. Kin let Naruto know ahead of time, and he told her to just play along so that she wouldn't look suspicious. Naruto didn't intervene. Kabuto actually ended up more hurt than he had originally. Kin had interpreted Naruto's 'go ahead' as 'I really don't care if you wail on this guy' and had taken some of her pent up frustration and sadism out on him. Naruto fought back a smile. He didn't even rush forwards when Kabuto started throwing up. He knew the value of fooling his opponents, but he didn't want to give the spy a viable reason for being anywhere near his team. Before the fight could escalate anymore, they were interrupted by the entrance of Ibiki and the other exam proctors.

A/N: Yays! Done with chappie nine! I hope ya’ll enjoyed. One more chappie or two will be put out this week. After that, ya’ll have to wait until the week after next for more chappies. I hope that sounds good with everyone. Please let me know what you thought. Hehes, so until next time, please remember to review lovelies!

Chapter Text

A/N: Hey ya’ll! It’s Kuro-chan here with the next chappie for the Clash of Time! So, this will be the last chappie of this for this week. More chappies for it will come out the week after next. I hope ya’ll enjoy what happens this time. Please R&R!

Chapter 10

"Break it up! No fighting in my classroom!" Ibiki shouted at the Sound shinobi.

The following orders went pretty much as they did the last time, the genin all taking their assigned seats. Naruto immediately took notes of everyone's positions. He'd managed to get a seat at the very back of the class, in a corner, so he could watch everyone without easily being watched. (Well, they wouldn't be able to watch him without his knowledge unless they had some fancy jutsu going, but even then he could probably sense their chakra signatures.) This time, none of the Rookie Nine were seated together. Sasuke'd managed to get unlucky, and was seated in the first row. So, he couldn't use his Sharingan to copy anything without being completely obvious. Gaara was seated directly in front of Naruto. Everyone else was scattered haphazardly in the middle of the room. Ibiki started explaining the exam. Sakura, just like last time, questioned him about it. They began just as they originally had.

'Any of you guys get this?' Naruto asked the other members of the Rookie Nine. 'My math isn't this high of a level yet.'

'Naruto! He said we shouldn't cheat!' Sakura replyed, not aiming her thoughts at only the Rookie Nine, but instead broadcasting to everyone. Luckily Naruto had warned Kin, Haku, Zabuza, and Gaara that this might happen, so they didn't react.

Gaara, Kin, and Haku had all decided to use the communication devices to answer the questions. If the Rookie Nine didn't broadcast, they'd just ask Naruto. The reasoning behind their tactics was that their own ways of gathering information might be noticed and points might be deducted. It was especially important for Haku to keep his abilities secret, since they were so exclussive.

'Sakura, the point of this exam is to test our ability to gather information without being noticed,' Sasuke replied.

He, despite not knowing that others had communication devices, limited his words to the Rookie Nine. His reasoning, though, was that if he could listen to private thoughts that weren't blocked, who knew who was listening in to broadcasted thoughts that weren't even remotely protected from detection or disguised so as to not be able to be read? Sasuke had enough healthy paranoia to not take the risk.

'…Oops,' Sakura replied sheepishly. Damn! She'd wanted to not look like a useless ditz! Not be the definition of one!

'I don't get this, either. Any of you mind sharing?' Ino asked, being psychic also knew the dangers of broadcasting thoughts, so she also kept hers to the Rookie Nine. 'Oh, and Sakura, please stop broadcasting your thoughts. We don't want someone who could be an enemy or who could just get us in trouble for having these hear them!'

'Ino's right, Sakura,' Naruto said before the bubble gum haired kunoichi could reply. 'Anyone with any sensitivity to chakra can probably tell you're doing something weird. Anyone with a similar communication device would be able to pick up on your side of the conversation.'

Sakura resisted the urge to visibly hag her head, not wanting to make the situation any worse.

'I'm sorry,' she said, this time specifically keeping her thoughts to the Rookie Nine.

'Don't worry about it,' Sasuke actually replied. Sakura's temporary elation that he was trying to comfort her was completely crushed when he continued. 'Just tell us the answers. You're smart enough to figure these out, right?'

'Well, at the least he thinks I actually have a use. An improvement I guess…' Sakura thought to herself before launching into an explanation of the problems, their answers, and what the other Rookies should put down as their work.

Naruto opened a second channel with Gaara, Haku, and Kin, relaying the information given to him by Sakura. Ibiki surveyed the room, picking out how everyone was cheating. The Hyuuga boy, Neji, was being extremely obvious. Did he seriously think that no one would notice the veins bulging around his eyes? He was still cheating above low chunin level, though, so Ibiki had to let it pass. His two teammates were also being obvious. Those large mirrors that had randomly appeared on the ceiling were, like, so hard to notice… Not. And that Suna guy with the puppet. Did he really think that Ibiki wouldn't notice that one of his proctors had been replaced? And so it went…. Wait a second… What the hell? He couldn't even tell how the Rookie Nine were cheating! Not only them, but that Oto girl, one of the kids from the Mist, and that creepy Suna red head were also undetectable in their cheating other than the occasional odd chakra flare. He'd expected one, maybe two or even three or four of the genin to be able to figure out the test without help, but the entire Rookie Nine definetely wasn't this intelligent! He couldn't say about the other three, not having their stats as far as intelligence went.

The only two of the Rookie Nine who should've been able to figure this out on their own were Shikamaru and maybe Sakura. No way was the dead last that intelligent, and Sasuke had never been shown to be good at math. Same thing with Ino, Chouji, Kiba, and Hinata. He didn't know about Shino, but the Aburame clan weren't know for having brains good at solving mathmatical equations. And there was no way any of them were cheating so well that he wouldn't notice. Unless those stories about how much the Kyuubi no Gaki had been hiding his power and intelligence were true. He'd even heard that the brat figured out that the Wave mission he and his team had been assigned was actually an A-rank mission, not a C-rank, almost as soon as he got it. He'd discreditted the story, though, not thinking that the blonde could actually be that intelligent and have hid it for so long. But if Naruto was behind the strange behaviors of the Rookie Nine, that meant that he'd somehow figured out a way for them to communicate or to cheat without getting caught.

Ibiki started focusing on their chakra flares. He couldn't detect any from Naruto, which was strange. Even the calmest of genin would likely be experiencing flares due to stress, and Naruto was known for being emotional and over reactive. The chakra flares of the others seemed to be following a pattern, though, almost as if they were speaking. Something nagged at him about Naruto's chakra signature. It was perfectly normal, and the lack of chakra flares could simply be explained as the blonde finally growing up and learning to center himself, which a few genin had been able to do over the years. But… Naruto's signature was too normal. He was a jinchuuriki, not a human. So, why did he have the chakra signature of a normal human?

'There's no way he's successfully masking his chakra signature. Even completely erasing your chakra signature's a hard skill to learn. Being able to change its appearance and to such a level is even harder,' Ibiki thought, mildly puzzled and worried.

If the blonde could hide his chakra signature so well, then he might be more in contact with the demon than any of them had thought possible. It was only a theory, though, driven and arrived at by instinct, but if there's one thing Ibiki had learned, it was to trust his instincts. This would have to be looked into. He knew, as most jounin knew, that Kakashi had been assigned specifically to watch his student. Kakashi had reported nothing amiss other than the occasional show of intelligence from Naruto. But had the jounin been fooled by his own student? Ibiki decided that he'd have to find out.

Naruto flipped his test over, grinning at his success. The communication devices, and his plan, had worked perfectly! He hadn't even needed to beg Stella for help!

'Kit, you're still going to have to learn how to do those problems,'the kitsune replied, knowing that Naruto thought he'd be able to skip the almost immpossible problems since he ended up not having to do them this time.

'Why in all the hells are you calling me Kit?' Naruto asked. Wasn't that the word for a fox child?

'You see, in the fox dialect of Daemonic, there are two words that would likely be translated as 'brat'. One, the one that I would translate as brat, refers to annyong who is rude, uncouch, gross, and a complete spoiled brat in a masculine sense of the term. The other, which much more closely translates to 'kit', refers to anyone who is bratty in a stereotypical, feminine sense of the word. Kit is also a girl's nickname, though generally only amoung preps, and people who like to mock preps. So that's why I call you Kit,' Stella replied.

It took a few seconds for Naruto to proccess the information, due partially to the sheer absurdity of the whole thing. He had to fight himself to not show any visible signs of being very, very mad.

'I am not a girl, and there's no fucking way in all the hells that I even remotely resemble a prep!' Naruto mentally yelled.

'I never said that you're a girl, or that you're a prep. In all the demon societies, except for about a little over two thirds of the New Bloods, it's perfectly exceptable to be feminine or masculine despite your gender. The pure Old Bloods, some Half Bloods, and a few New Bloods actually don't even have genders, just prefered genders. I don't have the ability to have an extra fully human-like and humanoid with ears, tails, etcetera that's of a different gender, though, even though the Old Blood beats just as strongly in my veins as the New Blood, if not stronger,' she informed him.

'You're a Half Blood?' Naruto asked, surprised. 'Then how are you the Crown Princess? Wouldn't a fully New Blood fox or a fully Old Blood fox be the first choice?'

The kitsune nodded in Naruto's mind. 'Actually, until the start of the Second Great War of Many Species, I was the middle daughter of the second youngest son of the reigning New Blood Queen and King of the Kitsune. I was, to further remove me from the throne, an illegimate child taken in due to the kitsune honor code rule that pretty much states that if it's you're biological brat, you're responsible for its raising. We actually had ways to prove parentship, so my father would've been disgraced if he'd left me with my low rank Old Blood mother, who was coincidentally the daughter of the previous Warrior Princess, the littermate and identical twin sister of the Crown Princess, and who was also her assigned bodyguard. From what I gathered she was his prize for a job well done in the rebellions that rose as a result of the fall out of his grandfather's take over. I'm now the Crown Princess because all the kitsune with Old Blood within the last three generations other than me was killed in the Fall of Omorfia, along with all the New Blood kitsune who were anywhere close to the throne. I don't think that I'm the only one still alive out of that group, but everyone else was either killed or sold into slavery. Also I got regonition later in the war for pretty much winning it for our side, so no one disputes my claim. And me being of mixed blood shut up most of the people who were complaining that a leader of one Blood or the other would show favortism.'

'Wow, that's sure ain't the easiest way to win the throne. Hey, if no one has any better claim than you, then why aren't you the Queen or Emperess or whatever?' Naruto asked.

He already knew that Queens and Kings were more of a New Blood thing, while the Old Blood ruled huge swaths of land that rose and fell gradually when compared to the swiftly changing kingdoms of the New Blood. The New Blood way of government hadn't even managed to last more than about fifteen millenia, which was the blink of an eye compared to the millions of years the individual Old Blood empires had lasted, let alone the way of life and form of government. Most demons apparently thought that this was so because the New Blood weren't desended from the Supreme Deities like the great Old Blood clans had been, instead tracing their lineage back to minor goddesses and gods.

Stella sighed, having to go into a thorough explanation, 'Cause I don't want to be. The Emperesses and Emperors are remnants of an ancient past, just as the Queens and Kings soon will be. Things changed with the Second Great War, years being measured in centuries rather than millenia, technology advancing and humans taking their place in the world as the fastest adapting species. Monarchies run by those who were descended from their previous rulers were replaced by councils, a remant from the way the enitre world had operated during the long centuries the war lasted. I had had enough of politics and of fighting. I desired only to settle down with my mate and the charges who I took in as a favor to an old friend, and who became like sisters to me. Even now I would not become Queen, though my surrogate family has been scattered to all the corners of the Earth. Things changed yet again, though the change was marked not by a single Great War but by many, small upheavels. It was during this time that ages were measure in decades, and the shinobi way of life way truly established. It was only six decades ago, an eternity in this time's way of measuring things, the blink of an eye in another' period was rife with peaceful protests against the civilian governments turning violent, with many small wars and skirmishes, one blending into another, no way to tell between a war in this country and a war in that. The Three Great Shinobi Wars were caused by the fallout of this, just as the overthrowing of the old government, driven by the ninja who had arrisen amoung the people to defend them and to fight for them and to be their voices, their hands, their weapons and shields. That was the true, original purpose of the shinobi, lost now over six of the current world's ages. And, as time speeds up, so does the wait between changes decrease. Another upheaval is on the way. Time will once again shorten, and governments will once again change. Ages will no longer be measured by ten years, they will be measured by one. Technology will improve, as it always has previously, and a newer, faster adapting race will likely begin to replace the old. The traditional ways will fade, often violently, to be replaced by emptiness and then the dawn of a new day. Now, that I have gotten most of my memories back, now that I know this much, I think that the reason the future me sent you back is to make sure that this next change doesn't lead to another Great War. This world, this new, ever changing, flexible, unstable world will not survive another such conflict. The changes have gotten too close together, and the people and the deities and the Universe itself has not yet had time to heal…'

Naruto was silent after the Kyuubi's explanation. It was confusing… and yet it made perfect sense. Everytime they had modernized, every time they had started refering to things in ever shorter blocks of time, there had been a great war, or a period of many small wars.

'What does this have to do with me?' he finally asked, curious as to why he of all people had to be saddled with this job of bringing about change.

'I'd started to unravel a pattern before I lost my memories. I'd been trying to predict the next upheaval. I've come to believe that I had actually found the key to the mystery. That’s why I was silenced by the enemy, my memories erased and most of my notes destroyed. I've only managed to recover bits and pieces, but the basic and most obvious common qualities of each event are already clear to me,’ explained the kitsune.

Stella paused for a few seconds, sorting through her patchwork of memories and theories, half remembered facts and opinions. She wanted to explain it as best she could, which was the reason for the pause.

'There always seems to be only two 'sides' in these conflicts, one fighting for change in a certain general direction and one resisting. There's also four 'main players' total, they being the one's with the most influence, a pair per side. The pair on the 'resisting' side are the most traditional and powerful members of their side. The pair on the 'rebeling' side are more different from each other. One is always a representation in physical form of what-is-to come, and is almost always charismatic. She or he generally tends to be a member of the next ruling species or subspecies or lineage. The other is actually typically related to one of the 'resisting' pair, and has the same traditional roots. She or he is, figuratively speaking, the black sheep, and is more forward thinking and modern. Also I've noticed that she or he is generally concerned more with power, pride, and revenge, reflecting older styles of thinking that focused on these things. Also, while the first member of the pair changes a lot from upheaval to upheavel, the second tends to retain fairly the same looks and personality. The 'resisting' side may or may not fight together. Some of the time they'll even fight against each other either before the 'rebeling' pair starts to change things or while they're actually in action. Now, as to what this has to do with you, I can't say for sure since I'm not a deity, but you're likely one of the 'rebeling' pair. Before you say anything, there's a reason for this. You adapt scarily fast, even for this day and age. Your body suffers no majorly inhibiting side effects from such fast and drastic changes, unlike demons and hanyous who only grow at the rate of humans or anywhere close to it when they're in extreme peril, and then it tends to take it's toll on them. I, luckily, was resistant to this, probably because I was one of the 'rebeling' pair. You are also resistant. Even though you might argue that it's the seal, the fact that you are able at all to adapt to demon yoki so potent it can even kill other demons with ease is beyond amazing. I burned my yoki pathways the first time I started using my mixed yoki in more than tiny amounts, and every time I increased my power by any significant amount, despite my extreme ability to adapt to it,’ she explained, hoping that would answer his question. ‘Your mind is also always adapting, absorbing information and taking note of minor things. Your entire thought process shifts to be able to better fight against new threats. You can be given the shock of your life and then just except it and start to account for it in your plans without the amount of angst, moodiness, drama, and wasted time and energy that's normally required. Your plans are fluid, always counting on there being x amount of x factors, instead of ignoring x factors enitrely or only counting for a specific, limited number of discrepancies with how you expected things to go even you yourself, you're the embodiment of 'adaptation'. Never before has anything more powerful than a eight tailed New Blood been sealed away, let alone a Nine Tail with yoki poisonous to even herself with Old Blood been sealed away. Hell, I was the third demon with a full Old Blood ancestor within the last three generations that has ever been sealed, and the other two were one tails who had no clue what the fuck they were doing. You even have formed a bond with someone who, other than specific goals, species, power level, and gender, is practically a carbon copy of the last second member of the rebeling pair. Even your bond with him mimicks my bond with her. He's even descended from a girl blessed with the power of my mate, the scond member of the rebeling pair! And he's related to one of the resisting pair.'

Stella finished what was officially her lengthiest explanation to date since she'd been sealed into Naruto. The blonde could easily guess who she was talking about. Sasuke. The last official member of the very old fashioned Uchiha clan. The guy that Naruto practically lived for. Were they really the ones destined to decide the fate of the new world that was to be born from the ashes of the old, like the pheonix of legend?

'Stella, you said it like you know who the resisting pair is,’ pointed out the blonde.

'It's already been decided beyond a shadow of a doubt who the first one is, Kit. Nobody's certain about the second, though. The first member of the resisting pair is none other than Uchiha Madara, over lord and master mind of the Akatsuki, and the official founder of the Uchiha clan as it is today,’ sighed Stella.

It was another ten minutes of silence, tension so thick in the air that you wouldn't even be able to cut through it with a knife. The weapon would merely end up stuck in the chakra and stress signals infused air.

"Okay! Time's up! If your pencil's still in your hand five seconds from now you are cheating!" Ibiki announced. Everyone's pencils clattered to the desks.

The explanation of the tenth question went pretty much the same, except this time Naruto warned the Rookie Nine to not give up and he himself didn't interrupt. Consequentially, many of the shinobi who had stayed on before dropped out. Instead of seventy eight passing, only forty eight did. Sixteen teams instead of twenty six.

"To the forty eight who remain," Ibiki announced, seeing that no one else was going to drop out. "Congradulations on passing the first test!"

"WTF!?" Naruto had one of his clones, who was disguised as the kunoichi on Haku's 'team' shout. "Then, like, what was the point of this whole thing? Just to screw with us? What in all the hells happened to the tenth question, huh?"

"There never was a tenth question, unless you count those two choices," Ibiki said.

"Then what the hell for the first nine for? Were they just pointless?!" Temari shouted.

'Your cue to show off, Sasuke,' Naruto sent to the Uchiha.

He had sensed that the various jounin and chunin were getting suspicious, and thought it best to downplay his own skills. Who knew. He might even be able to get all of his successes contributed to Sasuke.

'Funny how things have changed,' Naruto thought bemusedly. 'In the original timeline I would've been horified to think of Sasuke getting all the glory. I would've fought it tooth and nail.'

'Careful not to let his ego get too inflated, Kit,’ chuckled Stella.

'Yah, I know,’ assured Naruto.

"They were supposed to test our information gathering skills and to set the stage for the tenth question, making us more apprehensive of actually taking it, weren't they?" Sasuke confirmed as he smirked.

He knew that Naruto wanted to draw attention away from himself. It was kind of obvious, with how paranoid Naruto had been earlier about being found out and having skills revealed. It only added to the mystery that was the blonde. "The questions were also designed to put pressure on a team as a whole, especially the slower members of a group, making us more likely to freak out and mess up. The questions were designed so that a genin wouldn't be able to answer them most times, having to cheat to pass."

Ibiki grinned slightly. "Good observation, Uchiha. There were two chunin placed in the crowd who already knew the answers, to help you guys out. Of course, any that cheated below a low chunin level were out."

He paused then, taking his headband off to reveal scars and burns, "Because in many situations, information of more important than life, and on missions and the battlefield, people risk their lives and sanity to get it."

He continued to explain it, his speech going the same as it had originally.

"I still don't get the tenth question!" Temari said.

His explanation, once again, followed the original timeline. The 'to be or not to be' question, as Stella called it. Naruto didn't get the reference.

'Brat, you seriously need to brush up on your intergalactic education. That's the next thing we're going to start on! Literature, history, culture, demography, and geography of some of the more notable other worlds!'

'Why the HELL do I have to know jackshit about a world on the other side of the Universe?’ complained Naruto.

'Cause I said so, and it'll be important to know if we want to seek help from other worlds or their demons and deities, at least. Although there are many powerful beings focused here, there are others who might help us elsewhere. It's called diplomacy.'

'Great… How are we supposed to contact these other worlds? It isn't like we can poof to a world we don't know the exact location of, even using the Highway!” Naruto asked with a little bit of uncertainty.

'Yah… I'm still working on that one,’ sheepishly admitted Stella.

Naruto internally rolled his eyes. He knew that despite millions of years of effort, the people of this world had never managed to actually maintain contact with another world long enough to secure their help in any of their worlds. Though technology was improving as the world changed, so they might actually be able to get help this time around.

'Hey, by the way, has the rebeling side ever lost to the resisting side?” asked Naruto curiously.

'All the time,’ answered Stella without hesitation. ‘The rebeling side actually starts showing up five ages into a new set of ages, and after that pair's beaten they show up at random, as far as I can tell, until the resisting side is beaten. If you and Sasuke are the rebeling side, then you're the second pair. The previous pair was killed, though only one of them is known to us.'

Naruto was unable to ask why and who as Anko poofed into the room, derailing all trains of thought.

"You're early, Anko," Ibiki said.

She sweatdropped, but covered her embarrasment by blowing up at Ibiki for the number of teams left.

"Forty-eight?! You left sixteen teams? What the hell! This test's way to easy!" she yelled.

"This time, there are a lot of outstanding ones," he replied.

She snorted, "Whatever. Less than half of them will be left by the time I'm done."

The chunin hopefuls didn't like the sound of that…

"I'll explain everything once the second exam begins. Your jounin sensei will be given the location and time of the actual exam. Don't be late!” Anko announced to them before she poofed out though it wasn’t as nearly as dramatically as she'd entered.

Ibiki sighed at her pepiness, as the genin filled out of the room to go back to doing whatever the hell it was they did in their spare time. Why the hell was Anko a jounin again?

A/N: Yays! Done with chappie ten! I hope ya’ll liked it! Ya’ll hopefully know the drill by now about when the next update on this will be. Just be patient, oks? Please remember to review lovelies!

Chapter Text

A/N: Hey ya’ll! It’s Kuro-chan here with the next chappie for the Clash of Time! Hehes, I’m on my break now! So, I’ve been doing a little bit of an update spam. It’s so much fun! Lol, clearly I’m really excited. Although this means I can put up the rest of what’s already written for this and then I’ll see about continuing it. I hope that sounds good with ya’ll. Please enjoy and R&R!

Chapter 11

Naruto took a deep breath as they walked up to the gates. There was less competition this time, but that also meant that there were fewer options for the scrolls, and most of the people who had dropped out had been the weaker teams wich meant the Rookie Nine would be prime targets. They definitely couldn't let Orochimaru destroy their scroll this time around. That would mean that they would have to find two scrolls instead of one, and the one possessed by Orochimaru's 'team' was out of the question. Naruto knew that he would never be able to face Orochimaru in his current condition. If he went over the top by more than the most minor of margins despite his ability to adapt and the new seal, he'd likely die. If he went more than half a tail over his current limit, he definitely would die. He knew from experience that it took more than four tails to kill Orochimaru, forget about the one he'd be able to access if he was willing to put himself into the hospital until the third stage of the chunin exams.

Another thing. He couldn't risk a prolonged stay in the hospital, or any stay at all, really. The medic nins weren't as oblivious as the ones in Wave, and actually knew the design of his previous seal. They'd certainly notice the difference, and Naruto knew that he'd never be able to explain away being on good enough terms with the fox for his current seal to function properly. He'd just have to avoid Orochimaru. There was nothing else he could do.

'Kit, what are you going to do if you can't avoid him?' asked Stella, knowing he’d need to figure out a few strategies if they ran across the Snake Sanin.

Naruto was silent for a few seconds before replying. 'I'll distract him for as long as I can, and send Sakura and Sasuke to Lee and his team. I'll also tell them and the others to alert the ANBU and tell them my general location. I'll probably have Hinata and her team report it, since Hinata would be able to see him without getting too close, Kiba would be able to smell him, and Shino would be able to sense his chakra, so it won't arouse too much suspicion.'

Both of them knew that it was a risky plan. Orochimaru was fast, and he was powerful. There was no guarantee that Naruto would even be able to distract him for long enough to let Sasuke and Sakura so much as begin to run.

‘What if you're not powerful enough?’ asked Stella quietly, clearly worried about her container.

Naruto was silent for even longer. He already knew what he'd do. The only concern was how Stella would react.

'I'll go beyond the limits of my body. I’ll pull out however much power is required to save at the least Sasuke, but preferably also Sakura. I won't just abandon the world, though. I'll release you. Now that your memory has returned, and along with it your skills, you have the ability to suppress your yoki till it's almost unnoticeable. I'll even leave you chakra to mask your yoki with. You're a good actor, and you should be able to take my form before the ANBU arrive. I know you, and I know that you'd be able to lie your way out of using the extra yoki. You were one of the rebelling pair before, and you're sealed into your replacement. You know me better than anyone. You can take my place in the face of the world, or at the least help the next rebelling pair along, and make their fight easier.'

Stella gazed at the mental representation of Naruto, sadness reflecting deep within her now green eyes. In her eyes, he truly was a 'kit', a baby fox. She was a thousand by the time she ever saw death. He was sixteen and he was preparing to die for his love. She knew that, if it was merely Sakura he was protecting, that Naruto would not let himself be killed. He'd become depressed, but he wouldn't sacrifice the world for her. Sasuke was another issue entirely. Death, for Naruto, would be entirely different than it would be for his friends and his precious people. It was against the Laws of Physics for a demon to time travel. It was not against any laws to help someone time travel, though it was taboo. The only law regarding time travel that had been set in place by anyone other than the Universe itself referred to the time traveler himself. It had been illegal since the time of the Old Bloods and before in all of the worlds to travel backwards or forwards in time. The punishment varied depending on how much the individual changed. Naruto was planning on preventing one of the largest and the most devastating wars in their world's history. He would get the maximum sentence. Eternal damnation. The blonde would gladly accept the price.

While most beings were simply reincarnated, occasionally becoming so enlightened as to be removed from the cycle or so attached to their physical form and life that they were stuck on the Earth as banshees, Naruto would fall into a cold, empty void, where he would be punished by being given exactly what he'd been searching for which is the Past. He would be made to relive the worst moments in his life and the lives of those precious to him over and over and over again. He would live out the miseries of all the worlds, every hurt and pain felt. All because he decided to change things. He knew this, too. He couldn't have traveled into the past without being informed of the risks. He'd accepted, though, despite everything. The question remained would be why. It hadn’t been because he wanted to save the world. Someone else could always do that even if a great war started in this world, even if it destroyed this world and everyone in it, it likely wouldn't carry over to other worlds and dimensions. Life would go on elsewhere. He didn't do it to save Konoha, or to save his teammates and companions. Their souls would continue on, since they'd mostly been good in life and remained untainted. He'd jumped at the chance to change things for one reason and one reason alone.

It’s Sasuke because it all came back to the raven haired Uchiha. His soul had been branded by Orochimaru, a brand that would echo across a million or more lifetimes. The curse seal alone damned him for a hundred. The second level, for a thousand. Absorbing a snake demon who had wreaked havoc in a hundred worlds into his body rather than killing it? If the goddesses and gods were having a really good day, a little over a million. There was no upper limit, though it wouldn't last for all of his lifetimes for sure. If none of that had ever happened, though, his soul couldn't be held accountable. Stella was puzzled by the depth and intensity of his emotions for Sasuke. It had taken a century of traveling a world on the brink of war with just the two of them, half a century in the company of her charges' long deceased family, and another century and a half of war and pain and hardship for them to fully realize how much they meant to each other when it came to her and her mate. Naruto's world had revolved around Sasuke since they'd first become genin in the original timeline. The first time he had ever used her power in any significant amount had been to avenge what he'd thought was Sasuke's death. He'd used the power a second time against an unbeatable opponent to protect the boy. He'd started to use her power deliberately not only to survive and get by but mostly to impress Sasuke, to make himself seem worthy of the Uchiha's attention. He'd nearly died to bring out a tail of power long before he was ready just to convince Sasuke to stay by his side.

He'd defied Jiraiya and slipped away to train in secret after the Sannin had prohibited him from using her power. He'd fought Orochimaru once again, that time pulling out so much power that his flesh burned off, and he nearly lost his mind. He'd signed his death warrant over the thought of himself possibly hurting Sasuke when trapped in Itachi's Tsukiyomi. He'd died in the most painful way possible when he released Stella into the world, to take the revenge that he could not after Sasuke died. All for the black haired, black eyed boy called Sasuke. He would do it all again. Naruto would damn the entire world if it meant he’d be able to protect Sasuke. Stella knew this. Naruto's dedication to Sasuke was the only thing she feared, the only thing she could not fight against.

"Alright, you maggots!" Anko shouted, bringing everyone's attention to her. "Listen up! This is the start of the second exam! The exam will take place in the Forest of Death."

This time Naruto didn't interrupt which caused Anko to continue her explanation, "You'll each be given a scroll, marked Heaven or Earth. You need to get whichever scroll you don't have from another team before heading to the Tower. You have five days to complete the exam, and if you don't have both scrolls or one of your teammates is dead you won't be able to pass. Also it is strictly against the rules to open either scroll. If you do, you will immediately be disqualified."

Everyone nodded, absorbing and filing away the information. No one questioned her.

"Any questions?" she asked.

"What are these pieces of paper for?" random non important ninja number 84 asked.

"It's a release form that states that if you die you won't sue us," she explained.

"I don't think that a release form covers death…" the same idiot said.

'How in all the hells did he get past Ibiki?' Anko wondered. 'I seriously need to talk to him about being too soft…'

"Fill out your forms, an in exchange pick up your scroll in that booth!" she shouted.

The genin all obeyed, teams going one by one into the tent. Naruto's team got a Heaven scroll. Everyone then went to their gates, as instructed. Naruto stared into the forest while he waited for the exam to start, confirming his plan of action with Haku. Haku would keep nearby, incase Orochimaru or a team that Naruto and his team couldn't handle without difficulties got too close. If it was Orochimaru, Haku himself wouldn't confront him directly, instead sending in shadow and water clones. His goal would be not to actually beat the Sannin but to give Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura time to get away. And if Haku's 'teammates' were killed by Orochimaru they'd be easy to replace, merely being advanced clones.

"Hajime!"

The gates sprung open, and the ninja all rushed into the forest, to begin the competition. Unluckily for Kiba and his team, the team of idiots that they'd taken out previously hadn't managed to get past Ibiki. They ended up having to actually search for their opponents, this time, meaning that they weren't among the first there. Naruto had seen the team that had come after them previously pass Ibiki's exam. True to form, they came after Team Seven once again.

'Haku, Orochimaru's somewhere close by, and I can't be wasting energy and time fighting this idiot and his team. Can you take care of him for me?' Naruto asked.

'Sure thing,' Haku replied. Both kept their thoughts to each other.

He moved to intercept the Mist shinobi. He sensed immediately that he was alone, probably having split off from his group to search for targets. The ninja didn't even have time to scream as he was pierced from a thousand directions by shards of ice which instantly melted upon exiting his body, leaving no trace of their existence other than the holes in the ninja.

'Damn… He doesn't have his team's scroll,' Haku thought to himself, rooting through the ninja's bags. Well, nothing to do for it, then. There were so few scrolls in the forest that he'd have to track down this one's team and liberate them of theirs.

He swiftly stripped the shinobi of all useful items, storing them in various scrolls, before using a hunter nin jutsu to destroy the body without a trace, not even leaving ashes as would've happened if he'd set it on fire. The jutsu was simple, really. It sped up decomposition so that the body was absorbed into the soil almost instantly, and the bones turned to dust. Haku then transformed into the Mist shinobi, slipping on the devices he'd stolen. He instructed the one of the two Naruto clones to stay nearby Team Seven in case of emergency, and took the other with him. Luckily, the dead ninja had had traces of his teammates' chakra on him, so tracking them was easy. Haku killed them before they could react. He treated their bodies the same way he'd treated their teammate's body.

'A Heaven scroll… Just what I needed.'

Pocketing the scroll, he started running back towards Naruto's team. His assignment was to help make sure that they got through with as little trouble as possible, after all.

"Hey, guys!" Kiba called out to his team. "I smell something!"

Shino paused, leaning down and putting his ear to the tree trunk. "It sounds like six people, about ten kilometers that way. Hinata?"

"Hai," she said, activating her Byakugan. "There're definitely six of them. Three of them are from Sand and the other three are from Mist."

"Let's get them!" Kiba shouted.

Hinata disagreed, though. "B-but Kiba! We can't beat all six of them!"

"We'll wait for them to kill off each other, and then pick off whoever's left over! That'll delete competition later, and increase our chances of getting the right scroll!" he replied.

"Kiba's right," Shino said.

Hinata nodded and followed her teammates in the direction of the two fighting teams. They slowed down as they approached, sneaking into some nearby bushes. Gaara was in the mood to kill.

"Hey, Gaara, calm down! Haven't you already killed someone today?" Kankurou asked quietly.

They'd already run into another team, although that one had also had an Earth scroll, so it hadn't been of any use to them. It had only served to annoy Gaara further. The whole business with not killing anyone had put him on edge. Luckily he'd been told by Naruto that killing during this exam, as long as he didn't harm the blonde's friends, was fine and wouldn't break their agreement. It also helped that the bloodlust was cut in half by the seal patch. Gaara ignored his brother, attacking the overly confident Mist shinobi. His two teammates didn't even have time to start getting scared before they'd also been crushed, blood spraying everywhere. Gaara had thought ahead, and removed the scroll from their pockets before killing them. It was a Heaven scroll. It’s just what they needed.

'I don't think that this was such a good idea,' Kiba thought, deciding that this dude was a bit too powerful to take on, even though he definitely had the scroll they needed.

Gaara calmed down instantly, not threatening his siblings like he originally had. That meant that Temari wasn't as distracted as she had been.

'What's that?' she thought, hearing the leaves of a nearby bush rustle in a way that only a really big animal could've been responsible for.

All non-humanoid life had been scared off by Gaara's bloodlust, though, which meant that they had watchers.

"Hey, there's someone over there," Temari said, turning to face Team Eight's hiding position.

'FUCK!' thought Kiba.

Before they could run, Temari poofed behind them, using her wind to force them out into the open.

"Well, looks like we have some little puppies watching us," Kankurou said. "What do you say we put them out of their misery?"

Before he could begin to follow through on that threat, Gaara spoke up. He recognized the three Konoha genin. They were three of the people Naruto had told him not to harm, lest Shukaku be released in all of his fury on him.

"Don't,” stated Gaara bluntly.

Temari and Kankurou both turned to stare incredulously at their brother, Team Eight following suit. Why in all the hells was he telling them to not kill the intruders? Naruto had told Gaara that he'd put a chakra sensor in each of the necklaces, so that it'd be able to tell if the person it was attached to ever died or was knocked unconscious, and that it would tell him when and also who was nearby. If Gaara was anywhere in the general vicinity of one of Naruto's friends when she or he died then he'd likely be held accountable, even if he didn't kill them himself.

"What? Why?" Temari asked, surprised.

Gaara had already started to walk away. "There's no point."

Before either of his siblings could argue or question him, or the three genin that he'd saved could realize what had happened, they were all hit by a wave of bloodlust and power…

'No way…' Gaara thought, suddenly spinning to face the direction it had come from. Right after the first chakra spike another followed, this one sly and poisonous rather than fiery and raging. 'Naruto!'

"Pathetic," Kin said, picking up the scroll from the kunoichi she'd just knocked out.

One of her teammates had been sliced into bloody bit by Zaku's sound waves, and the another was now collapsed in a pool of his own vomit after Dosu had attacked his inner ear. They'd actually been ambushed by the team from Kumo, which made their failure to win all the more pathetic. They'd gone down without much of a fight despite all the advantages they'd had. She then turned to looting the bodies. The morons had even brought money with them into the forest! She whistled as she counted it out. They'd had about 10,500 yen on them! (AN: About 100 U.S. dollars and 65 Euros)Why the hell they hadn't just left it with their jounin sensei was beyond her. She made sure that neither teammate had seen the money before pocketing it. The guy's teammates hadn't had nearly as much, only possessing pocket change compared to their teammate. It wasn't that much in the long run, but she'd always been very low on cash. They also had a large supply of food, weapons, and clothing stored in scrolls, along with cooking utensils and other camping items which the Oto team hadn't had due to a low budget. And their stuff wasn't exactly cheap, either. A particularly nice katana had gold and silver inlay in the handle, and was, as far as Kin could tell, very finely crafted. Their clothing was of a high quality, too, designed for optimum performance in the areas around Konoha. Since the terrain of Kumo was nothing like anywhere in the Fire Country, the clothing had obviously been custom made for this trip.

"Were these idiots carrying everything with them?" Kin wondered as she found a scroll on the dead girl which contained jewelry, dresses, fancy blouses and skirts, cosmetics of the highest quality, several silver mirrors, some very nice brushes combs, and the like. "Talk about rich! Even if you combined all the money I've ever had I still wouldn't be able to afford the cheapest of these dresses!"

"No wonder they lost. Only idiots bring shit like that to the chunin exams," Dosu commented.

Kin nodded, but she was still grinning. Jackpot! It was a miracle that these buffoons had gotten past the first exam! Things were definitely looking up for her!

'Little one, you do know that Stella probably already has this stuff in her palace,' Yosei said, amused by Kin's delight.

'Yah, but all of her stuff's out of style other than the armor and isn't up to date! This stuff's the newest technology! There's even communication devices!'

Kin sorted through the scrolls a bit more. She paused when she found one that stood out. This one had belonged to the guy that Dosu had killed. She was curious when she opened one of the seals and out popped this strange circular device with wires coming out in one location, ending in what looked like a headband with ovals on the end. Curious, she put in over her head. The ovals fit perfectly onto her ears. She randomly pushed one of the buttons on the device, jumping when sound started blasting into her ears.

"What the fuck?!" she exclaimed, hitting the same button she'd pressed before, the sound suddenly stopping.

It seemed to function like Dosu's arm thing, but it was way smaller! She thought that the headband with ovals thing was similar to the radios used for short distance communication, but this was insane.

"What is it?" Dosu asked, coming over to look over Kin's shoulder at the device.

"Listen!" she said, putting the headband over his ears and pushing the button. He was also curious.

Looking closer at the scroll, Kin noticed that the section she'd taken it out of was marked for a few years previous.

"I'd heard that Kumo had the most advanced technology, but I'd never really believed it until now," Dosu commented, turning the sound producing device over in his hands, fiddling with the buttons.

The Lightning Country's hidden village had actually been the first with electronics, due to their specialty with lightning and their understanding of its properties, but after their technology had spread everyone had assumed that it hadn't advanced that far. Kin nodded. One of the main reasons why everyone had assumed that Kumo didn't have that much new was that there was only so much that most people thought that electronics could do. And really there was no use to anyone outside of Oto for a compact, automatic sound producing device. She continued searching through the scroll, rolling to a more recent date.

()

Three Months Ago

She activated the seal, pulling out what looked like a weird form of miniature football goal. Finding a button on the side, she held the football goal thing out and activated it. Lightning crackled between the prongs. Curious, she waved it close to Zaku. The lightning suddenly jumped, shocking him.

"Watch it!" he cried, pulling his hand back to slap her. Or, at the least, he tried to. The arm she'd zapped refused to do more than twitch. "Damn!"

"Kin… I think you just screwed up his brain's ability to send messages to his arm," Dosu commented.

Kin's eyes widened. She quickly turned to device off, before putting it in a seal she kept on a bracelet of hers. That could be damn useful, especially since she couldn't use lightning jutsu!

"Hey guys, what do you say we don't tell Orochimaru about this shit and take it all for ourselves? He's just going to take it away, and not only could we make a killing selling this shit off, but we could actually use a bit of it," Kin said.

She quickly began pocketing the scrolls that had caught her interest, including several with weapons and a second electronics scroll. Dosu grabbed the first.

"Sounds good," he said. Zaku nodded, also grabbing scrolls. Greed is a very powerful driving force, after all.

()

Back To the Present

'Interesting…' Yosei said.

'What?'

'The technology's leaped significantly in the last twelve or so years. You remember what I told you about the upheavals?' Yosei said.

'Yah, these these scrolls don't have anything advanced marked for before a few years ago, which means that whoever's the next rebelling pair's probably already active,' Kin replied.

Just as they'd finished looting their opponents' bodies, all three felt two separate waves of energy wash over them. Dosu and Zaku only recognized one, that of their leader, but Kin and Yosei knew both.

'FUCK!'

()()()()()

Naruto was taken by surprise as a hundred kilometer per hour wind slammed into him, blowing him away from his teammates.

'Fuck! How in all the hells did I miss that?!'

He'd known it was coming! He really shouldn't've been taken off guard, but he had been. Now, Orochimaru was alone with Sasuke and Sakura. Halting his roll, Naruto looked up to see the same giant snake that had eaten him the last time he'd done this. Not bothering to stay and fight it, he shadow cloned. The clone formed a Rasengan and charged the snake as Naruto ran back to his team. It really was too bad that he couldn't use Rasengan against Orochimaru without having first been trained by Jiraiya or someone else he knew who could use it. He already knew that Kakashi would likely refuse to teach him it, Jiraiya having been the first person to encourage Naruto's gains in power. Even Ero Sennin had backed off after he learned just how powerful Naruto could get.

'Hey, Naruto, is it really you we're talking to?' Sasuke asked him, wary of pretenders just after what must have been an attack.

'Not in the flesh, no,' Naruto replied, speeding up. Damn! Orochimaru had already found them!

'Great… Then who in all the hells are we talking to?' Sasuke wondered to himself.

The Naruto look alike had approached him after Sakura had, and after Sasuke had confirmed her identity through the mental link.

'Sakura, that's not Naruto. Don't let him know that you know,' Sasuke told her, knowing that she was about to engage in conversation.

One thing to say about her: her acting skills had greatly improved. She gave no outward sign of having heard Sasuke.

"What's the password, dobe?" Sasuke asked, deciding to stall until their entire team could be nearby, including Naruto because he still didn't know where the look alike's teammates were, so he also needed to keep an eye out for them.

"How do I know that you two aren't fakes?" 'Naruto' instantly challenged.

"My password is ichigo," Sakura said, coming up with something off the top of her head.

"Mine's raven," Sasuke had no clue why he gave that as the password, but it’s probably due to Sakura giving a description of her hair color, too.

'Interesting… They have separate passwords for each person, and they likely decided on these ahead of time, basing them on hair colors in unimaginative, though. What would Naruto's be?' Orochimaru disguised as Naruto thought.

"Ramen," Orochimaru said. The color of the noodles was close enough, he figured. And the blonde seemed to be obsessed with the food.

Without warning, Sasuke flung several kunai with explosive tags attached at the look alike. He dodged them all, even the blasts. 'Naruto was right about this guy's skill level,' Sasuke though. The blonde always seemed to know stuff like this! He wasn't even a Yamanaka, who had the possibility of being able to attempt to have a chance of seeing the future, and yet he seemed to know everything that would happen ahead of time!

"You want my Earth scroll, right?" Orochimaru, dropping his henge into Naruto to show a ninja from Grass asked. "Since you have the Heaven scroll…"

Showing the scroll to them, he swallowed it, his tongue extending to wrap around it first.

'That's so wrong that disgusting and unnatural doesn't even begin to describe it,' Sakura thought. ‘What in all the hells was up with this guy?’

"Now, let’s start to fight over who gets the other scrolls," Orochimaru said, staring at the two genin. "With our lives on the line!"

He cast a genjutsu on them then, showing them their deaths, how he would kill them. Sakura was frozen in fear, unable to even think. Sasuke was hardly any better off, able to think but not move. Orochimaru threw two kunai at the frozen genin. Sasuke prepared to stab himself in the leg, to drive away the feeling of paralyzing fear, but was interrupted when two shuriken deflected the kunai, changing their path.

"Hey! Snake bastard!" Naruto shouted, standing on a nearby tree branch.

He sent a mental note to Haku where he was and what was going on, warning him to stay away unless Sasuke and Sakura somehow managed to escape, and Naruto felt he would be unable to hold off Orochimaru for any length of time. If that happened, Haku would move to assist Sasuke and Sakura in running, the two clones trailing behind in case Naruto was defeated. If necessary, Haku was to pull the two genin into Stella's pocket dimension. Naruto would risk exposure to keep Sasuke safe. If only Sakura escaped, Haku wouldn't pull her into Stella's dimension. Naruto wouldn't risk exposure and failure to keep her safe. Haku understood. He felt the same way about Zabuza that Naruto did about Sasuke.

"Well, looks like your little teammate has come to join us," Orochimaru said, turning to face the blonde, meeting Naruto's eyes, he cast the same genjutsu he had earlier.

Nothing happened. The boy was unaffected.

"It looks like you defeated that giant snake, Naruto," Orochimaru said, disguising his surprise.

It was probably just that he, being a jinchuuriki, ran into death threats way to often to be scared. There was certainly no sign that his genjutsu had been resisted entirely.

'Sasuke… Sakura, I need you to run. He's way above your level. Get the hell out of here!' Naruto mentally shouted to his teammates, remaining calm on the outside.

'Like hell we're abandoning you, Naruto!' Sasuke shouted back.

Why did he feel so strongly that Naruto shouldn't do this on his own? The blonde was able to take on over a hundred people at once and win after a major fight and taking extreme wounds, and then even heal Sasuke using a wound transfer jutsu and come out of it alive and well. So why couldn't he fight this one fight alone? Because he wanted to. Naruto wasn't the type to do something stupid like that, even if he could. When he was however the type to face off against an unbeatable enemy alone, one which would certainly kill him, just to give Sasuke and Sakura time to escape. And Naruto, who always knew their opponents' skill levels through some mysterious way, would know if this guy could kill them all or merely threaten them. Naruto growled mentally, but he didn't argue. There was no arguing with Sasuke when he was this determined. Sakura would stick next to the raven.

"That stupid thing was easy to kill, snake bastard!" Naruto shouted, sending in a group of ten shadow clones that he'd formed before showing himself to attack Orochimaru.

'Ah, shadow clones,' Orochimaru thought. 'Impressive.'

What he didn't notice was that they all had explosives coating their bodies, underneath their clothes, courtesy of Naruto's Kage Koumoku no Jutsu. He didn't bother throwing anything at them. So, all ten exploded nearby him. He didn't have time to fully dodge, getting burned. There was no way the blonde had that many explosives or enough time to coat the shadow clones. He’d done it anyways. Orochimaru's surface liquefied, turning brown as he collapsed, the mud clone losing its form.

"Impressive," he said, stepping out of the shadows.

He rolled up his sleeve, revealing the summoning tattoo. Biting his thumb and smearing blood across the symbols, he yelled, "Kuchiyose no jutsu!"

While he slammed his hand into the bark of the tree branch he was standing on. The branch erupted as the snake he'd summoned entered that world, replacing the tree underneath Orochimaru's feet.

'Shit!' Naruto thought, as the snake lunged for Sakura. Pulling out about a quarter of a tail of Stella's yoki he blocked the snake's attack, holding it in place before lifting up one now clawed hand and raking it across the reptile's face, tearing scales.

The snake reared back, hissing in pain.Naruto turned to face his team. Nagorigan blazing fully, his irises blood red, his pupils slit like a cat's pupil, black lines radiating around the pupil.

'I told you guys to run!' Naruto shouted at them through their mind link. This was getting out of control.

Sasuke hesitated upon seeing the nagorigan. He had distinctly felt the sudden change in Naruto's chakra signature, from that of a human to that of a being one eighth demon and seven eighths human. Except… Hadn't the last time Naruto had shown his true chakra signature, the faint traces of demonic power revealed, his demonic power been just that? Trace amounts, enough to say to anyone with chakra sense that something wasn't quite right about him, but not enough to raise red flags.

'I already told you, Naruto. I'm not going to leave you alone,' Sasuke replied, activating his own doujutsu, the sharingan, in response. He would fight.

'Sasuke you idiot!' Naruto screamed.

Sasuke could sense that he'd purposefully left anyone other than the two of them out of the conversation. Sakura, who was in equal danger, couldn't even hear their talking now.

'Why in all the hells do you think he's even here?! He's after your sharingan! His name's Orochimaru, the snake sannin. He'll stop at nothing! He will take over your mind and your body, so that he himself can possess the sharingan and its powers,’ Naruto told him.

Sasuke paused, not responding. The world outside their conversation was frozen as he pondered for a half second, minutes in the sped up world of the mental links. He'd heard rumors of such jutsu, which allowed the user to take control of the body of another, either as a puppet or to possess. He'd also heard of Orochimaru. But how did Naruto know the name? And how in all the hells could he ever realize what his intentions were, or who he was under his disguise?

'It doesn't matter how I know this for now! I'll explain it later! But, Sasuke, please… I beg of you, get the hell out of here!' Naruto pleaded.

He knew that Orochimaru likely wouldn't actually kill the Uchiha, instead marking him. But he knew how the curse seal worked, and he knew that to divert Sasuke from his quest for power might not be a possibility if the raven was branded. He wasn't willing to risk losing Sasuke to the snake bastard yet again. Sasuke stared at Naruto. What had caused this desperation? If Orochimaru was indeed after his sharingan, the likeliness that he'd kill Sasuke was slim. Sasuke questioned its source, but he didn't doubt the blonde's judgment as to who they were facing off against. Memories rose unbidden to his mind. Naruto helping him train to reach the top of the tree. Naruto blocking Haku's needles, to protect Sasuke. Naruto going into a rage over Sasuke's death. Naruto nearly sacrificing his life to bring him back. That was only during that one section of the Wave mission! There'd been a few times before, and many times since, when Naruto went to insane lengths to protect Sasuke, or when he showed favoritism to Sasuke over Sakura, despite his supposed infatuation with the kunoichi. An infatuation which had vanished without a trace the day Naruto was put on his team, as if it was merely a paper mask falling, soundlessly and forgotten, to the floor.

'Naruto… Why go so far for me?'

Sasuke didn't receive his answer, as time caught up to them, and the snake struck again. Naruto spun around and leapt at his, claws and fists and feet fighting it back, until Naruto was able to shadow clone himself and place explosive notes along the snake's sides, the clones disappearing as soon as each one placed its own note. Orochimaru leapt from the snake's back as the notes went off, ripping the giant reptile to shreds.

'This kid… No way!' Orochimaru thought, seeing and sensing Naruto's use of the Kyuubi no Kitsune's yoki. ‘So, the Yondaime hadn't actually killed the fox? Interesting…’

He sped through hand signs, causing a thousand and more snakes to erupt from the branch underneath Sasuke and Naruto, wrapping around the two genin. Sasuke was stuck fast, though Naruto was still managing to struggle. Snarling, Naruto upped the amount of yoki he was using to three fourths of a tail. He was nearing his limit, and he could feel it as the yoki seared his chakra coils, blood leaking out of the corner of his mouth from the aggravated internal wounds caused by the yoki coming so close to his chakra coil system. Sasuke stared. He'd been unconscious the last time Naruto pulled out any significant amount of Stella's yoki. He hadn't been aware that Naruto had so much power! And it was obviously doing him damage, even though as a bloodline it really shouldn't be. The only case Sasuke knew of bloodlines harming their user was with the Mangekyou Sharingan, where extensive and frequent use could cause blindness. But kekkei genkai shouldn't be able to cause internal damage so quickly. A wave of yoki washed over the forest as Naruto surrounded himself with Kitsunebi, burning the snakes to a crisp.

Orochimaru's eyes narrowed. The brat shouldn't have been able to pull out so much power, let alone have enough control of the yoki and contact with the fox to use Kitsunebi. He flared his own chakra in response, summoning a more powerful snake than he had previously. This one was heavily poisonous, so should be able to get rid of the brat once and for all.

'Everyone!' Naruto shouted over the mind link to the Rookie Nine.

He knew that they'd all be able to feel the power, 'No matter how curious you are, stay the hell away from that power!'

He knew that Shikamaru and Ino with Team Ten would likely be able to sense the individual signatures of Sasuke and Sakura, and that all three members of Team Eight would be able to figure out who was there. All the Rookie Nine understood. They didn't want to go near that power, but Naruto and his team were in trouble!

'Kiba, Hinata, and Shino, I need you guys to do something for me!' Naruto continued.

'What, Naruto-kun?' Hinata replied instantly.

'I need you guys to go to the tower now, even if you don't have the scroll. Find Anko if you can. If you can't any jounin or preferably ANBU, and a couple of chunin, will do as well. Tell them what you sensed, and that Orochimaru's here! Also tell them exactly where he is,' Naruto said.

Hinata nodded. She knew what Orochimaru looked like due to her father requiring her to search through bingo books, so she could always claim she saw him.

'Hai,' she said.

Knowing that help would get there eventually at the least, Naruto turned his attention back to the fight to see the snake lunging. He leapt out of the way towards Sasuke, killing the snakes holding the Uchiha in place, allowing Sasuke to get out of the way of the battle. The Uchiha landed on a branch nearby, making sure he didn't land close to Sakura. The snake sannin would likely go after him again, and he didn't want to have to be slowed down by worrying about the kunoichi. Orochimaru summoned several more snakes, including a million small poisonous ones. Naruto fought them off, using every weapon he could. It was taking a toll on him, though. He'd been gradually sliding up the amount of yoki he was using, and he knew that Orochimaru was still toying with him, seeing how far he could go. His chakra pathways were back to how they'd been after the Wave mission, the yoki still only flowing because it could float freely. He wasn't up to this fight yet. A single snake slipped under his guard, sinking its fangs into his leg. Naruto snarled, ripping the snake out. He surrounded himself with Kitsunebi, burning all the nearby snakes. He suddenly was hit by a wave of nausea, his muscles seizing as he prepared to jump towards Orochimaru.

'What?' he thought, his mind feeling fuzzy as his muscles started spasming.

'Shit, kit. That damn snake had powerful neurotoxins in its venom! It won't kill you, unlike what would happen to most creatures, but it'll slow you down until I can burn it out.'

Naruto didn't even have time to curse, physically or mentally, as Orochimaru's tongue wrapped around his midsection, lifting him up in the air.

'FUCK! Not again!' Naruto thought frantically, struggling and trying to flare Stella's yoki as Orochimaru lifted up his shirt to view the seal.

Pain seared his body as his nonresponsive muscles protested the attempt to use his already burnt out chakra coils to transmit more poison. Orochimaru slammed a glowing hand around the modified seal, effectively blocking Stella's yoki. Luckily, due to the design of the new seal, it stored yoki elsewhere in his body in case of a failure of the main seal, so his healing abilities weren't cut off. He'd probably need antitoxin and medical attention now, though, since he could only heal himself enough to keep himself barely alive in face of his numerous wounds from overuse of yoki and the venom. Naruto grabbed on to a branch after Orochimaru threw him, barely keeping conscious. He couldn't let Orochimaru win. He couldn't let him have Sasuke!

'Get out...' Naruto said to his teammates, blackness clouding the edges of his vision as his eyes blurred and his muscles barely working.

He needed to stay conscious. Sasuke wasn't even able to say no once again. Snakes erupted from all around him, binding him in place.

"Amazing that your little friend over there has been able to drag out so much of her power without killing himself even more so that he's still alive let alone conscious," Orochimaru commented, smirking as he watched Sasuke struggle and the hatred evident on Naruto's face.

'Her power? What's he talking about?' Sasuke wondered, glaring at the snake sannin.

'HELP!' Naruto screamed out to everyone with a necklace, sending out visuals of what was happening, scents and sounds for those who could track using them.

Haku raced towards them, everyone else too far away to help.

"Naruto-kun's been very troublesome, but now there's nothing to stand in my way," Orochimaru said, forming the hand seals that would place the curse mark upon Sasuke that would likely seal his fate.

His neck stretched, flying towards Sasuke, fangs extended.

"No!”

Sasuke, Sakura, and Orochimaru's eyes widened as Naruto blasted an edge of the seal blocking Stella's yoki off, using the small amount he was able to get to force his muscles to work, propelling him towards Sasuke. At the same time, the temperature dropped, ice forming in the trees and needles of frozen water rushing towards Orochimaru. He was too close, though. It wouldn't get there in time. Time slowed down to a snail's crawl, as Naruto shoved Sasuke out of the path of Orochimaru's jutsu, sending him flying out of the tree and crashing to the forest floor below. When this occurred, Orochimaru's jutsu kept going too advanced to stop. His fangs sunk into the junction of Naruto's shoulder and neck rather than Sasuke's.

A/N: Yays! That’s the end of chappie eleven! Hehes, hope ya’ll enjoyed what happened this time. The next chappie will be out soonish, but then again I plan to put out the rest of what’s already been written for this tonight which I should be able to do so. Please remember to review lovelies!

Chapter Text

A/N: Hey ya’ll! It’s Kuro-chan here with the next chappie for the Clash of Time. I hope everyone is doing well despite the chilly weather. I also hope ya’ll are still enjoying the story. So, the next semester of college begins in a few weeks. Lol, yeah I’m in my third year so far, but I still love it. This means during my break time I try to make sure I put out as many updates as possible within the timespan I have at my disposal. Hehes, anyways, please R&R!

Chapter 12

Shortly After the 2nd Exam

"There! A perfect Konoha symbol!" Anko said, grinning as she threw the last toothpick into the bark of the tree."-sigh- I guess I should be going to the tower now. The faster brats will be finishing soon."

Before she could do anything, a chunin poofed in front of her.

"Anko-sama! Trouble!" he announced.

"What is it?" she asked.

"Bodies… Three of them! In the graveyard!"

"And…?" she said. Really, you'd expect there to be bodies in a graveyard, wouldn't you?

"Oh… Well, they're not a part of the graveyard," he said.

Anko blinked. "Oh… Oh, shit!"

She rushed to the graveyard, leaving the chunin behind. When she got there, her eyes narrowed as she viewed the three faceless, dead bodies.

"Fuck," she said, rubbing the side of her neck where the curse seal was.

It was beginning to tingle, a sure sign that her old sensei was nearby. This jutsu was all too familiar. 'I can't believe he's here… What does he want?'

"Tell the ANBU that Orochimaru might be here, and that I went into the forest after him!" Anko shouted at one of the chunin, rushing off into the training zone.

()()()()()

"What the hell?" Kiba shouted suddenly, hearing Naruto's request. Temari and Kankurou turned to stare at him as if he'd started talking to himself.

"That power, the fire like one, belongs to your friend Naruto, correct?" Gaara asked, turning his gaze on Kiba and his team. "And the other belongs to Orochimaru, the snake sannin."

"H-hai," Hinata stammered. "N-Naruto-kun asked us to tell them ANBU what was going on." Seeing the incredulous stares of Gaara's teammates, she rushed to explain. "He set up a communication system, through chakra activated necklaces, so we could talk in our minds. Really, I'm telling the truth!"

Kankurou frowned. "I don't believe her. She's probably just trying to talk us into letting them go!"

"No," Gaara said, once again halting his siblings. His gaze was fixed firmly on Hinata. "Naruto-kun gave me the same necklace after I agreed to help him with something. I heard his message too."

'Don't doubt me,' he said over the mind link to Team Eight alone. He knew that there was no way Naruto would wish his hand revealed so soon, but there was no other alternative.

Kiba jerked when he heard Gaara speak within his mind. Hinata jumped, while even Shino tensed. They would never have suspected the two of being in league with each other! And that meant that there might be some ulterior motive to the blonde's gifts, other than everyone of the Rookie Nine passing.

"WHAT?!" Temari shouted/ asked, spinning around to stare, shocked, at her little brother. He was teamed up with the enemy? Why?

Kankurou just sat there, his mouth open. He was more shocked than anyone. Temari wasn't too surprised because she herself wasn't all too loyal to Suna, but it had never crossed Kankurou's mind to betray his village, so he was less aware of the desire in others, not being of the paranoid type either.

"I tire of repeating myself. Let them go," Gaara said, turning to glare at his siblings. "I'll explain later," he added as an afterthought.

"Wait! Hinata, no way are we going to the tower without both scrolls!" Kiba shouted, rounding on his teammate.

"But, Kiba! Naruto could die! Don't you know who Orochimaru is?" Hinata shouted back, her lack of confidence evaporating in the face of her crush's peril because she couldn't let Kiba's stubbornness get him killed.

"Which scroll do you need?" Gaara intercepted, his voice low and angry.

These idiots were wasting time in his opinion. He couldn't go to the ANBU himself without looking suspicious to the Konoha shinobi, and without screaming at Suna and Oto that he wasn't on their side anymore.

Gaara smirked, "We've got extras."

"But! Gaara!" Kankurou shouted spinning to face Gaara.

Temari was silent. She knew better than to anger her little brother any further.

"The Heaven scroll," Kiba growled.

"Here." Gaara threw the scroll at Hinata who caught it in surprise of the gift he had given her. "If Naruto dies because of your delays then I won’t hesitate to slaughter you.”

"Gaara! You can't give away our scroll!" Kankurou shouted, once again. This was beyond insane!

"There's other scrolls. Let's go, and stop wasting my time," Gaara said to his brother, simultaneously daring his sister to challenge him with his eyes, but she remained silent.

Kankurou realized the peril he was in as Gaara's sand started to bristle, sliding over itself. "H-hai," he said, deciding that his life wasn't worth the argument and the short amount of time that would actually be lost.

"Come on!" Hinata said to her teammates, dragging Kiba, who'd been staring at the Suna trio, to his feet. "We'll ask Naruto what's going on later! For now we need to get to the tower!"

He snapped to attention, leaping to his feet. Team Eight shot through the forest, driven by Hinata's newfound determination as much as anything. She sped up when she felt the waves of fiery energy cease, knowing that it meant something bad had happened to Naruto. Both her teammates were left behind as she propelled more chakra out of her legs than she should've been, making her chakra coils scream as she tripled her speed. She slammed through the tower door, using her chakra as a shield to protect herself from harm. She then used the tree walking technique to glue herself to the floor, bring her to a swift halt. She yanked both scrolls open, laying them in a crossing pattern on the floor, the symbol for person overlapping as smoke poured out.

"Kurenai-sensei! Trouble!" she panted out, as her teacher appeared in the smoke.

"Where's your teammates?" Kurenai asked, seeing only Hinata.

"Catching up!" she replied. "That isn't the problem, though! Orochimaru's in the forest, and I know where he is!"

Kurenai's eyes widened. All the jounin had been warned that Orochimaru was likely somewhere in the forest, and was being hunted by ANBU. She activated the short distance communication device she carried everywhere with her.

"Hokage-sama," she said, activating the radio. "My student saw where Orochimaru is!"

"The ANBU will be here shortly," she said, turning to Hinata, but then Kiba slid in, Shino following him at a more controlled pace.

"Kurenai-sensei!" Kiba exclaimed.

"I guess you two can also confirm Hinata's story?" she asked.

Shino and Kiba bother nodded. "Me and Akamaru both smelt him. He smells like somewhere between a snake, a human, and a dead body," Kiba said.

"His chakra signature's so powerful that only an S-class criminal or higher could be producing it, and his power is corrupt and making my insects on edge. Most shinobi, even powerful ones, can't do that. The only one I've heard of having that effect on an Aburame is Orochimaru," Shino explained.

"Good. More evidence. I've already called in the ANBU," Kurenai explained.

"When in all the hells are they going to get here, then?" Kiba shouted at Kurenai.

"Now."

They all turned to see the two ANBU standing behind them. None of them had sensed their presence.

"Where is he?" the one with the bird mask asked.

Hinata really wished she could convey mental information to them like Naruto could to her. Sadly, it wasn't so. She described everything she could remember from Naruto's information, including the surroundings, how far it was from the gate, how far from the tower, and how far from the river.

"I also saw N-Naruto-kun and his team there," she added when she'd finished. "I think he m-might be after one of them, like Sasuke."

The ANBU stiffened almost imperceptibly. They'd felt the blast of the Kyuubi no Kitsune's energy, followed shortly by Orochimaru's own power, but they'd hoped the two were unrelated. They'd also had suspicions that Orochimaru was after Sasuke for his sharingan. This girl very well might've just confirmed it. The second ANBU, the one that had yet to speak, turned on his own radio, sending what Hinata had reported to Anko.

"Do any of you have anything else to add?" the bird masked ANBU asked.

Kiba and Shino both relayed all the information they could, including the feel of Orochimaru's and Naruto's chakre. They also added in the scents. Kiba was able to add extra information to the location, due to his nose picking out the specific scents of the area. The two ANBU nodded when they finished, poofing away to join the search. It would take more than just Anko to combat Orochimaru.

"You three," Kurenai said, receiving a message on her radio. "Are to report immediately to the Hokage."

Team Eight nodded, wondering what in all the hells Naruto had gotten them into. This was way bigger than they'd thought earlier.

()()()()()

Anko was combing the forest for Orochimaru, the tingling of her curse mark her only guide, when the message from one of the ANBU came.

'Huh, so he was found out by a genin,' Anko thought, finding the whole things a bit… off.

Orochimaru shouldn't have been obvious enough for a genin to see and recognize him, even if that genin had the Byakugan. Still, it was her best lead, and it did point her in the same direction as her curse mark did. She adjusted her course to take her directly to Orochimaru, adding speed so that she might get there before he killed any of the genin on Team Seven.

"Gaara, what are we going to do now?" Temari asked, bringing up the subject timidly.

He didn't reply, instead just walking in a seemingly random direction. He'd actually sensed the presence of another team, though. His teammates hurried to follow, Temari's wind specialty allowing her to 'hear' the currents carried through the breezes. Including the information that just shortly ahead of them was yet another team to loot for their scrolls. She raced ahead, wanting to get this over with. Neither brother attempted to stop her.

"What the hell?" one of the genin exclaimed as she suddenly rushed towards them in a great blast of wind as it seemed that they were from Iwa.

She didn't pause, just jumped off her fan onto the forest floor. Landing in a crouch, she caught her fan in one hand as it fell out of the sky. She spun up out of her crouch, reopening the fan and sending out cutting waves of air as she did so. The only remaining genin after that onslaught was quickly dealt with as Temari sent him slamming into a tree with yet another gust of wind. She was calmer as she looted their bodies, her brothers arriving just as she found the Heaven scroll in the pouch of the genin who had spoken up when she arrived.

"Let's go," Gaara said, seeing that his sister had the correct scroll, but instead of waiting for a response he turned to begin to head back to the tower.

"Gaara, please wait a second," Temari called out, using a gentle rather than commanding tone of voice.

He turned to glare at her as she continued, "We've got the replacement scroll and now some time to waste. We won't be able to talk much once we're back with Baki. Could you possibly explain to us why you felt like betraying Suna?"

"I feel no desire to help those who have oppressed me, and Uzumaki not only offered me acceptance and protection from enemies, but he temporarily patched up my seal so that Shukaku's bloodlust does not affect me as much. He has promised to fully replace the seal after the chunin exams are over if I uphold my part of the bargain," Gaara explained monotonously, after a moment's hesitation.

Both siblings were surprised at first, but Temari luckily got over it first replied to her brother in the same gentle tone she used before, sending a silencing glare to Kankurou as she did so. "That's good. You deserve a chance at peace."

Both brothers were once again shocked at her words, though Gaara didn't show it. Kankurou decided to keep his mouth shut this time. He was going to keep on being surprised no matter what he said. It seemed. Plus talking was only getting him in more trouble lately.

()()()()()

Kin looked around, nerves on edge. She knew something was wrong, from how Naruto had screamed out like that. She could also no longer sense his chakra signature, so obviously overpowered by yoki.

'That much yoki… This isn't good, even if Orochimaru hasn't harmed him badly,' Yosei said.

Kin turned her full attention inward. It was better than staring at the bark of the nearest tree, waiting for Orochimaru to tell her team whether their specific purpose during this exam would need to be fulfilled or not.

'Why?' she asked.

Yosei hesitated before replying. 'When I saw him last, I could tell that his chakra coils had been badly damaged recently, and were still mending. They can't have possibly finished yet. Based on the waves of yoki, he's using three fourths of a tail, much more than he should be at this point. His chakra coils are going to be utterly useless for at the least a week after he awakes from having his most life threatening injuries healed by Stella, more if Orochimaru's done something to interfere with his healing ability.'

Kin instantly realized the problem with that. If Naruto's chakra coils were busted, he couldn't fight. The likeliness of her surviving and his plan working would be reduced dramatically. Even if he managed to regain use of his coils before the invasion, he probably wouldn't be able to use more than a small amount of yoki and only a little more chakra.

'That's very bad…' Kin thought. Yosei nodded somewhere within her mind.

Haku leapt out of the tree that he'd been hiding in when he saw Naruto be branded with the curse seal. His water and shadow clones distracted Orochimaru, pelting him with needles of ice. His senses extended, he sensed the ANBU closing in. They probably couldn't locate him over Orochimaru's overpowering chakra signature, so he was hopefully safe for the time being. Haku landed next to Naruto. Sasuke had already regained his feet and rushed over, and Sakura was making her way through the battle zone.

"What the fuck are you doing here?" Sasuke snapped at Haku who had dropped his henge into a Mist genin.

"I'll explain everything later," Haku said softly, sending his chakra out to check what was going on with Naruto. "For now, Naruto-kun needs my help and your cooperation."

Sasuke couldn't argue, his focus taken up by Naruto's predicament.

'Dobe, you baka! You shouldn't have protected me!' Sasuke thought angrily, nails scraping painfully at the bark of the tree branch as his hands clenched into fists.

A burning sensation built behind his eyes as he fought back tears. Uchiha don't cry. Ninja don't cry. Itachi had never, ever cried. Sasuke couldn't cry now. His attention was yanked out of his angered musings as Haku gasped, his search of Naruto's internal chakra and blood network turning up as not good.

"What?!" Sasuke asked, dreading the answer.

"Orochimaru put another seal on him, blocking any ability of his to fight the curse seal and heal himself," Haku said monotonously, his extensive training with Zabuza kicking in as his rising panic was buried under a mask of ice.

"I saw him use that, with my sharingan," Sasuke said, recalling what he'd seen Orochimaru do and how it had been done, knowing If only he knew more about seals, he might be able to reverse the one on Naruto! "He called it the Five Pronged Seal."

"I know little about seals, but I do know that that's a weak, easy to remove one, and it seems as if Naruto's already begun to remove it," Haku said, maintaining perfect calm as he examined the seal directly with his chakra.

He lifted up Naruto's shirt and jacket. Sasuke stared at the revealed seals. He could recognize, based on Orochimaru's hand placement, the marks that were likely the Five Pronged Seal, but his sharingan told him that there was at the least one more. No, he couldn't be thinking about that. Helping Naruto came first. Questions could wait until Naruto woke up again.

Haku muttered quietly to himself as he recalled some half-forgotten jutsu, seen once or twice in a scroll, forming full hand seals. That in and of itself was a sign of how little he knew what he was doing. Anything he was even mildly proficient in he could easily pull off with only one hand. His hand began to glow, and he slammed it into the Five Pronged Seal on Naruto's stomach. He hadn't known the jutsu for removing the seal, so he'd actually gone with a jutsu designed to pull on seals that were very weak or already worn away, finishing breaking them. It was a good, all around jutsu, that worked even on things such as old locks and such. Naruto's body jerked, the added assistance allowing Stella's yoki to break free, flooding Naruto's body. Haku leapt back, the heat too much for his snow accustomed body, but Sasuke gritted his teeth and held his ground, actually shifting closer to Naruto. The yoki began to fight with Orochimaru's invading curse seal, trying to prevent it from gripping Naruto's body, heart, and mind. As a result, the blonde's body began to jerk violently, thrashing about. Sasuke grabbed him and hugged him close to his chest as it looked as if the fox boy were about to fall off. He ignored the burns beginning to form on his bare arms, cradling Naruto's body so as to do the minimal amount of damage.

"Give me both of your necklaces!" Haku shouted at Sasuke, feeling a single jounin draw close enough to be worrisome.

Sasuke hesitated, though. "If those are found, Naruto will be in extreme trouble, and the medics will insist on checking both you and Sakura! Trust me, they will find those."

Sasuke nodded slowly, removing his and Naruto's communication necklaces before tossing them to Haku. The boy turned to Sakura then, who had paused much closer to the tree when Naruto's body was flooded with yoki. "Yours too," he said, in a calmer and less demanding tone of voice. She probably was too scared to reply well to a more commanding tone. She nodded swiftly, yanking her necklace off and tossing it to Haku. If Sasuke had resisted, so would she have, but Sasuke had handed his over to Haku. Haku nodded, before vanishing without a trace. He wasn't surrounding by glowing lights, or a poof of smoke, or swirling leaves, or even a flare of chakra. He simply ceased to be there, as if he'd never stood in that place. If it weren't for the swiftly melting ice, Sakura would've believed him nothing more than a phantasm. The few of Haku's clones still left vanished. They'd somehow managed to hold back Orochimaru that long even though it had only been a minute or two. Before Orochimaru could turn to attack Sasuke and gain his prize, Anko poofed in. All three still conscious could sense the ANBU, now much closer, approaching behind. Orochimaru hissed in irritation of the interruption. Without a word, stepped back into the tree, Anko's attack coming a second too late.

"Fuck!" Anko shouted, looking around, stretching her senses for Orochimaru's signature. It wasn't there. "Orochimaru's run off! Look for him! I need two of you to stick with the genin team here in case he returns.”

She nodded when the ANBU replied. They'd listen to her orders. Two of them, one's she'd worked with often in the past and the same ones who had questioned Hinata poofed onto a branch slightly above everyone's heads shortly after Anko's orders.

"Anko, what about the test?" One of them asked, indicating the genin with a tilt of his head. "If we bring the downed one in for medical attention, that'll automatically disqualify them if they don't already have both scrolls, probably even if they do, and we can't exactly follow them around without being declared as interfering with the test. Even this much is stretching it."

Before Anko could reply, Sasuke's shouted his answer. "I don't care! Naruto needs medical attention!"

"Well, it can't be against any rules to bring them to the tower, especially under these circumstances. If they don't have the scrolls, too bad for them," Anko said, turning to go help look for Orochimaru. The two ANBU nodded.

She poofed away as they jumped over to stand next to the remains of Team Seven.

"Give him to me. That way we'll be able to travel faster," the one with the bird mask said, reaching down to take Naruto from Sasuke's arms.

"No!" Sasuke shouted, gripping Naruto tighter. He calmed down slightly before continuing. "I'll carry him."

The ANBU's eyes went to the boys arms. He saw burn marks there. He'd smelled burnt flesh when he entered the clearing, but had assumed it was either from the Uchiha's fire jutsu actually hitting Orochimaru or from the Kyuubi no Gaki's own actions causing some of his flesh to burn. He's also sensed the yoki radiating from Naruto as he fought the poison within him and the invading chakra. Sasuke's arms were beat red all over, in many places beginning to blacken as yoki leaked off of Naruto and burnt anything it came into contact with. Now that Sasuke was hugging the boy against his chest, his shirt, damp with blood and sweat, was beginning to smolder, drying out swiftly.

"Your arms are already badly burnt from holding him. I have protective gear on my arms. If the medics are busy healing you, they can't be healing your teammate," the ANBU replied, looking Sasuke in the eyes.

The sharingan was still going, despite Sasuke's exhaustion and mental and emotional stress. He probably wasn't keeping it up on purpose, which meant that he subconsciously still thought that there was a threat to be fought. Maybe there was. But the sharingan, despite its many powers, was no match for the threat that now faced its wielder. Sasuke didn't continue arguing, just shook his head, hugging Naruto tighter. Sakura looked on, feeling lost and useless. If only she could fight… If only she could cast genjutsu, like Kakashi said she had the potential to do, she could've helped Naruto. If only she could heal, like she knew she had the potential to, she could ease his and Sasuke's suffering even if only a bit, but she couldn't. She couldn't even use jutsus higher than a low genin level, let alone advanced enough to have made a difference in the fight or to make a difference now. She realized for the first time exactly how completely and utterly useless she was in the face of true danger. She'd known for a while now that she might not be the most useful person, or that she could've acted different. She'd never, ever known how much of a burden she was, though.

"Sasuke," she said, putting her hand lightly on his shoulders. He turned to stare at her, wide eyed and confused.

He hadn't been able to do anything, either. He'd just been saved by someone who by all rights should've hated him, should've been weaker than him. That someone had been one who shouldn't have had to save him in the first place. Inwardly sighing, he didn’t know what to do. He wanted to be the one to help carry Naruto to the medics. On the other hand, he thought that Sakura would be able to figure out a way after this to come around to become a strong, independent woman who could heal anyone from anything with enough training.

"I know that you don't want to let a stranger carry Naruto," she continued, her voice calm and soothing. "But you're injured, too. You'd take up the attention of medic nins, and you'd slow us down getting back to the tower. Please, Sasuke, for Naruto… Please."

Maybe all hope wasn't lost. Maybe she could be useful. As she watched Sasuke's shoulders slump in defeat, as the ANBU picked up Naruto, as she stood to follow them in a wild run through the trees, she decided something. No longer would she chase Sasuke. No longer would she be the giggling, useless, obsessed fangirl. She had a new dream, a new goal, a new ambition, even. She was going to be useful to her teammates, to the boy she still secretly loved, but now never expected to be loved by, to the boy who she'd scorned and who had risked it all to save her love and her life and who had shown himself to be more than anyone had ever thought possible. She didn't want to be the add on, the extra in someone else's movie. She didn't want to be the cannon fodder, or the one that was always getting in the way. She no longer thought of being a damsel in distress as romantic. She had been. It wasn't as good as the fairy tales said. Her knight in shining armor, her prince had never come. She was going to change things. She was going to become independent. She would slay her own dragons and help her teammates while she was at it. She was going to become what she'd signed up for. She was a kunoichi, a female shinobi, and she'd start acting like it even if it cost her everything. It was worth it, to be the one they needed, to be the knight in shining armor, even if only once.

Gaara stood up, sensing the signatures of Naruto and his team approaching, along with two ANBU. It didn't take someone with Shikamaru's brains to figure out what had happened. Team Seven had given up on the exam, choosing Naruto's safety over their success. Pity, really. He knew that it had been a major point of Naruto's plans to end up in the final round, though he didn't know exactly why. A main point was the training excuse, so that he could seek out a good teacher in the month they were always allotted, was all that he'd gathered. He also suspected some other reason, though he didn't know what.

'I wonder… If his team already had the scroll, and Naruto was declared 'fit to battle', if they'd be allowed to pass? Or even then if Naruto wasn't they might simply say it's due to Orochimaru, and let his teammates pass,' Gaara mused.

He remembered the blonde saying they had a Heaven scroll when he'd asked before the exams. And he had two Earth scrolls. It couldn't hurt to give the extra to their team. Deciding this, Gaara stood and began heading for the door. He was giving off such bad vibes that neither teammate dared ask him where he was going. He stopped before he got too close to the ANBU, waiting for them to deposit Naruto with the medics and tell Sasuke he couldn't be in the room with his teammate. The chakra signatures of the ANBU faded shortly afterwards, as they moved to guard the entire tower. He meandered casually towards the two standing genin of Team Seven.

"What do you want?" Sasuke snapped when Gaara got too close.

His voice was thickened with pain, but whether physical or emotional was beyond Gaara. Probably both. The boy's arms were badly burnt, and he had several wounds. His teammate had just practically sacrificed himself for him.

"Naruto is a… friend of mine," Gaara said, searching for the right word.

Strange, how this mission and his treachery of Suna had changed him. He'd never have considered calling someone 'friend' before. Sasuke didn't react as Gaara had thought he would. Instead of growing suspicious or angry, he merely seemed defeated.

"Doesn't surprise me… the dobe's been keeping so many secrets lately…" he muttered, staring at his feet, body posture showing that he was at the end of his will power.

"I know that you have a Heaven scroll and that you didn't manage to get an Earth scroll by the time you were attacked," Gaara said, not one to dwell on emotional issues. He couldn't spend too long here without looking incredibly suspicious. He was pushing it as it was.

Both genin stared at him, suddenly on guard.

"So? Naruto's down for the count. It doesn't matter which scrolls we have!" Sasuke hissed.

Gaara looked at him impassively, inwardly wondering at the boy's emotions. He was so upset… It was nothing that Gaara comprehended, caring so much about someone to get so worked up about them being in danger.

"Because of who attacked you, it's unlikely they'll disqualify the two of you for having your teammate be knocked out," Gaara said. "Also, if what I'm sensing is correct, Naruto's chakra's so chaotic that it's likely lashing out at anyone who comes near, potentially harming or killing them, especially if he senses killer intent, which counts as being able to fight."

He paused, waiting for either genin to respond. Neither did, so he continued, holding out the extra, "I have an extra Earth scroll. It couldn't harm you, and it might be able to help both you and Naruto.”

Sasuke's eyes flickered in between the scroll and Gaara's face, wondering if he should trust the Suna shinobi. Remembering the first time Naruto and Gaara had met, when they'd spoken in such a strange language… Their body posture, or at the least Gaara's, had been off. Tone, body posture, speed of speaking, and reactions didn't line up as they should. Remembering all the strange things about Naruto, and about how he'd had a friendship with a missing nin who just happened to be their enemy that none of them knew about, how that same missing nin had shown up just now to defend them… Sasuke grabbed the scroll, nodding at Gaara and whispering a thank you towards him. Gaara heard it though. He turned and walked away, his mind more confused than before. It was strange, how this mission was affecting him. He hadn't felt this way in six years.

A/N: Yays! Done with chappie twelve! Hehes, hopefully ya’ll enjoyed it. It’s going to be interesting for ya’ll to see how things unfold after this. Hehes, the next chappie will be out as soon as possible. Until then, please remember to review lovelies!

Chapter Text

A/N: Hey ya’ll! It’s Kuro-chan here with the next chappie for the Clash of Time. Hehes, hopefully ya’ll are enjoying the story so far. I know I sure am, but then again I’m the one who adopted this lovely story of epicness. It’s definitely a wild ride. Anyways, please enjoy and R&R!

Chapter 13

"We have both scrolls," Sasuke said, staring blankly at the exam proctor, Anko. She'd come by after she gave up on Orochimaru to question them about what had happened, though she'd started with their status in the exams.

Anko nodded slightly. "Hokage-sama has said that, due to extenuating circumstances, your team will be allowed to proceed if at the end of the second exam the medic nins declare Naruto fit to fight, though if he's declared fit and loses your entire team will be held back." Sasuke gaped at her. That made no sense! "Sorry, brat, but if he didn't then everyone would be throwing a fit about how he played favorites."

Sasuke nodded, looking forlorn again. Naruto would have to fight within a few days of having his chakra coils almost destroyed, and being marked with Orochimaru's curse seal. And he'd have to win. It wasn't worth it.

"Would it be an option to specifically give up your place in the finals to someone even before it being decided who fights who?" Sakura asked, knowing what was on Sasuke's mind and thinking the same thing herself. The chunin exams weren't worth Naruto's health, forget about his life.

Anko blinked. That had never been done before, but, then again, someone Orochimaru's level had never attacked a group of genin during the second exams.

"I'll have to ask Hokage-sama," she said. Well, there certainly couldn't be that much argument against it. You were allowed to throw a match. Why not throw it specifically to someone?

"Now, mind telling me what happened?" Anko asked, bringing the topic back to why she'd come there.

Sasuke's eyes lost the calculating, almost living look they'd had, shutting down as he closed in on himself.

"We started the exam like everyone else. We were going through the forest, looking for other teams, when a gale force wind slammed into us. We all got split up," Sasuke began, his voice a monotone and his face showing no expression as he told Anko what had occurred. "I met up with Sakura first, and we exchanged previously agreed upon passwords. Then someone who looked like Naruto walked up. It wasn't, though. He didn't know the password. It was Orochimaru in disguise. I attacked him when he got the password wrong, but he dodged,” Sasuke paused, trying to think of how to say what happened next because he didn't entirely know what had happened himself. "He cast what must have been a genjutsu on me and Sakura. It made us see our deaths. We were frozen with fear and couldn't move. He threw two kunai at us. Naruto showed up and blocked the kunai with shuriken. Orochimaru cast the same genjutsu on him, from what I could tell based on his chakra patterns, but Naruto didn't even blink.”

Anko did blink. She recognized the jutsu. It was designed to mimic the Tsukiyomi, though it did a poor job of that. All it did was show the target being killed in some horrible way. How was Naruto unaffected? He was a genin! Anko would've thought it had merely been jinchuuriki resilience to death threats, if she hadn't been told of Naruto's apparent skill level and if the boy hadn't held out so long against Orochimaru, or used so much yoki…

Sasuke continued, not noticing Anko's surprise, but if he did notice it then he didn't care, "He attacked Orochimaru, and they began to fight. Naruto used things like shadow clones covered with explosive notes at first, but then Orochimaru summoned a giant snake. Naruto started using that weird power of his, and he beat the snake. Naruto started yelling at me and Sakura to run. Orochimaru used an area of affect jutsu to bind me and Naruto with snakes, though. Naruto burnt them to a crisp. Orochimaru summoned another giant snake, this one poisonous, and summoned a bunch of small poisonous snakes," Sasuke said, his voice beginning to ever so slightly rise in pitch, speed, in volume as he neared the end of that one section.

"I don't know how, but he was bitten!" Sasuke exclaimed, losing his detachment as he got closer and closer to the final moments of the fight. "He stopped fighting! He… He just collapsed!"

Sasuke thought it best not to mention the seal that Orochimaru had put on him. "And then Orochimaru start the curse seal jutsu, and Naruto started radiating power, and he shoved me out of the way!"

He was beginning to hyperventilate, the panic and confusion flooding back to him.

"Calm down!" Anko admonished, seeing Sasuke's rising panic. It was a bit worrying how worked up Sasuke got at the memory of Naruto's near death. (That still might kill him…) "I've got it from here," she said in a much calmer tone of voice. "Was there any hint of his plans?"

Sasuke began shaking his head, lightly and hesitantly at first, but then speedily and violently. "No!" he said, clutching his pants legs. Naruto had known! Orochimaru had probably actually dropped some hints, but Sasuke had been too absorbed in the fight to notice… He couldn't even help provide intelligence on Orochimaru! He was useless... He'd thought he was all that, the last of the Uchiha clan, avenger extraordinaire. He'd been full of it. And, because he was such a useless waste of space, Naruto now lay on the operating table, hovering between life and death. All because Sasuke had been too stupid and too stubborn to run when he was told to. It was his fault, no matter what anyone said!

"Sasuke, calm down. It's not going to help Naruto if you panic or get depressed," Sakura said, her voice soothing, calm. She was the strong one now she guessed.

It was strange, being the one that her team needed. Naruto was hanging on the brink of life and death. Sasuke was sinking into depression. She was the only one that hadn't been cut down by Orochimaru's attack. Sasuke stilled, knowing Sakura was right. But he couldn't help his thoughts, his rising self hatred. It was his fault. It always was. And now, because of his faults, he was about to lose the most precious person to him since the Uchiha Massacre.

'No! You can't think that!' he screamed at himself. He couldn't think of the worst thing that could happen. He had to believe that Naruto would make it through this, that he'd wake up and laugh his annoying little laugh and be his usual weird self and that everything would be normal again…

While they were thinking, Anko had walked away, knowing that she wouldn't get much more out of Naruto's two teammates. Plus, now she had something else to talk to the Hokage about. Sasuke and Sakura were left alone in the hallway, to wait for word on Naruto's condition, their doubts and fears clouding the air around them.

"I wonder if Naruto-kun's alright," Hinata said, staring in the direction of the medical bay. She couldn't even contact Sasuke and Sakura, since they'd told everyone with necklaces about taking them off so that the medic nins wouldn't figure anything out.

"Don't know," Kiba said, his usual attitude dissipated.

Nothing had been going the way they'd expected it to. Naruto had an ally that scared the crap out of Akamaru, and who was from Suna. Gaara's teammates hadn't even been aware of their friendship. Plus, they'd all seen the condition Naruto was in. Unconscious, burnt, bleeding, and leaking several types of weird chakra. Shino's bugs had freaked out, and Akamaru was still refusing to come out of hiding in Kiba's jacket. Hinata had reported that Naruto's chakra coil system was practically nonexistent. What could've done that kind of damage was beyond any of them.

"I'm going to go ask," Hinata announced quietly, standing up. Kiba and Shino got to their feet, too, unwilling to let Hinata wander around on her own and curious themselves.

They made their way to the medical bay, stopping in the waiting room where Sasuke and Sakura were.

"Any news?" Kiba asked, his voice quieter than usual. The scent of despair was thick in the air, ruining any chance of him being his normal, loud, obnoxious self.

Sakura shook her head, being the only one of the two willing to converse more than necessary.

Team Eight nodded to varying degrees, settling into various areas around the room. Shino leaned against the wall opposite the remainders of Team Seven, while Hinata sat on the same bench as Sasuke and Sakura, though with a few feet of distance between herself and Sasuke. Kiba crouched roughly in the middle of the room, Akamaru's agitation and his own not allowing him to fully relax. They sat like that, the silence and tension thick in the air, for what felt like a thousand eternities, but couldn't have been more than a few hours. Someone would occasionally shift, and Team Eight would speak now and then through their communication devices, but no one dared say a word out loud. They all looked up when the door to the emergency room opened, a young male nurse coming out.

"What's going on?" Sasuke asked immediately, his tone somewhere between hopeless, pleading, and demanding.

"We've managed to apply the anti-venom successfully, and he's stabilized. We're having trouble healing him due to the nature of the actual wound, and it might be beyond our skill level, but we can keep him from getting worse for now. He hasn't shown any signs of improving, though," he explained, not bothering to under exaggerate the problem. These were ninja because they should be able to handle their teammate of only a few months being in danger.

Hinata saw Sasuke's face fall, and knew that he was blaming himself, and likely over exaggerating the situation in his own mind. "It's still too early to tell whether anything will happen, right? He might just be stuck right now, or slowed down on healing," she said.

The medic nin nodded. "That's often the case with these types of wounds. He should start to get better within a week.”

Sasuke seemed to become slightly less depressed at those words, knowing that now Naruto could be saved.

"When will he be able to have visitors?" the raven asked, curious.

"Not today. He's still giving off massive amounts of chakra, and any visitors could interrupt the medics' concentration and be harmed themselves."

Sasuke nodded, resigned. He didn't care about getting hurt, but he didn't want to draw attention away from Naruto.

"Those arms of yours… They look pretty bad," the boy said, seeing the state of Sasuke's arms. The skin was peeling off, burnt badly.

"I can deal. Hinata gave me medicine for them, and I've been hurt worse," Sasuke said.

Hinata had in fact given him a cream for the burns. And he had been hurt worse. Dead is worse. The emotional pain he'd felt in the past and was feeling now was worse. "I don't want any attention taken away from Naruto.”

The medic boy nodded. Every medic nin was actually being rotated in and out of Naruto's room. Any not currently healing him were resting, and likely unavailable for the extensive amount of chakra that would be required to heal the Uchiha's arms.

"I suggest you guys get some rest. It's past sunset, and we're not going to have any more news for at the least half a day. You won't be doing anybody any good by staying up. Especially you with the burns. You need rest if those are going to heal properly," the medic said sternly.

Everyone reluctantly nodded. They knew he was right, but all of them, especially Sasuke, wanted to stay. They stood up, and began walking towards the rooms where they'd been told they'd be sleeping when they got in. Right before they split up to go to their separate rooms, Sakura pulled Sasuke aside.

"What is it?" he asked, annoyed. All he wanted to do was be alone, or with Naruto.

She took a deep breath before replying. "You know how I asked earlier if it was possible to specifically give up your place to someone?”

Sasuke nodded. He'd been planning on letting Naruto take his place if they were allowed to continue, and were allowed to swap places, since there was no way the blonde could survive a fight so soon.

"I don't think you should give your place to Naruto," she said.

Sasuke tensed, looking like he was about to yell at her, so she rushed to continue. "Don't yell at me! But it's just that I don't think Naruto would want you to drop out on his account unless you had to. Naruto also wouldn't want to become a chunin without you. Let me give my place to him! I know that I'll never be able to beat more than maybe one of these guys, probably not even that. I'd never make chunin, not this half of the year. You and Naruto, however, could. I'd get killed. You two stand a chance."

Sasuke calmed as she spoke. He argued, though. He wanted to take Naruto's place. The two genin spoke for about ten, fifteen minutes, until Sakura was able to convince Sasuke finally, the argument of what Naruto would want winning it for her. They said goodnight, and went their separate ways. That had been the last thing that happened on the first day of the exam. On the second day, Haku and his team of clones arrived, disguised once more. On the third day the team from Oto arrived, along with Team Gai. On the fourth, Kabuto and his team arrived. No one came on the fifth. Other than that, the days were spent the same as the second half of the last one had been spent. Team Seven and Team Eight waited outside the emergency room. On the third day, Naruto was declared stable enough to have a single visitor, as long as whoever came in wasn't a problem. Everyone cycled through. Then Sasuke came a second time and didn't leave. Naruto showed signs of slight improvement when Sasuke came, and the Uchiha was actually helpful, so no one said anything. Sakura brought in Sasuke's meals, and the Uchiha slept in a chair next to Naruto's bed. He refused to get up and go elsewhere. On the sixth day, after the exam had officially closed, all the genin, including Sasuke and Sakura, were summoned to the arena. Both genin knew that today it would be announced whether or not they'd be allowed to continue. The Hokage gave his speech, explaining why the chunin exams were held. It went smoothly.

"Hey!" Zaku called out. "Why are those two leaf brats here? Isn't their teammate down?"

"Yes, about that," the Hokage said. Before he could continue, Hayate poofed in.

"If I could explain, Hokage-sama, since I'm the third proctor, -cough-" he said. The Hokage nodded. "Alright. It hasn't been decided whether or not to let Team Seven continue, due to extenuating circumstances."

He explained it all. They'd be having the preliminaries first, and due to being unable to decide themselves, the people in charge of the chunin exams had agreed to leave the issue of Team Seven's passing up to their fellow genin. That way, no one could fairly complain.

"Is he even in fighting condition?" Kin asked.

She was actually genuinely curious, though she made it seem to be merely an argument against Team Seven. She hadn't been able to ask after Naruto's health, her only information source being what she could get from Gaara and Haku, which was sparse. Neither Naruto or Stella were in good enough condition to leave their body long enough to speak with them in Stella's pocket dimension. Hayate motioned forward one of the medics.

"It depends on how you define 'fighting'. He's giving off massive amounts of chakra, which burns whatever it comes into contact with, and lashes out violently at any potential threats," he began. The lashing out this had been shown when they first tried scanning his body and Stella's yoki, not recognizing the chakra as familiar and safe like it had with Haku's, struck out. It had taken the anti-venom and some time to get close enough to actually make a difference. "He can't move at all, but if we put him in the middle of the floor and told you to attack him, even if you threw projectiles at him his chakra would likely automatically deflect it and attack anything within twenty feet of him. His chakra has to potential to kill when like this, since it randomly converts to the fire element, occasionally the wind element, and it has once converted to both at the same time."

The genin all were surprised to say the least. Well, that did sound like fighting!

'Sounds like the idiot's a better fighter when unconscious than when awake!' Kiba thought to himself, eyebrow twitching. He sure wouldn't want to fight the blonde when he was like that, and Akamaru had been refusing to go anywhere near Naruto since the end of the first day. His own senses warned him to stay away, though he went against reason and instinct when he ignored them to provide support for Hinata.

"They also –cough- have both scrolls –cough cough-," Hayate said.

"Hasn't Naruto been healed since he came here, though, making that unfair?" Neji asked, pointing out an inherent flaw in letting Team Seven pass.

"He's only been made less dangerous," Sasuke said before Hayate could say anything. "I was near him for about two or three minutes, and my arms were badly burnt." He unwrapped the bandages which he'd started putting around his arms on the second day (at Hinata's insistence), showing the still vivid burn marks and peeling skin.

'After four days, it still looks like that… Even though he hasn't gotten medical attention for it, that's still pretty impressive,' Neji thought, his Byakugan revealing what normal eyes couldn't see, that in addition to the burns, several of the tenketsu on Sasuke's arms were badly damaged, the residual chakra signature the same that now swirled around Naruto.

Sasuke rewrapped the bandages, knowing that he'd proved his point.

"We'll take a –cough- vote on whether or not Team –cough- Seven should be allowed to continue," Hayate announced. "If they are, it's also an option that –cough- someone will be allowed to accede their position in the finals –cough- specifically to Naruto. We'll also –cough- need to vote on that."

Everyone nodded, and Hayate started asking them one by one what they voted for. Kabuto had already left, so he didn't get a vote, though he would've voted to let them stay. Neither of Kabuto's teammates saw anything wrong with it, and both were confident that it didn't matter if Team Seven continued or Naruto got to skip the preliminaries, since that was what Orochimaru had told them to say should it become an issue.

"Doesn't matter if any of these weaklings get a free pass. Who knows? Could be amusing watching them suffer," Kin announced, her two teammates agreeing with her.

"I don't give a damn," were Gaara's exact words. His teammates echoed the same thought, though not as rudely.

"Yosh! I wish to challenge Uchiha in an official match to prove that the power of the Flames of Youth…" Guess who. Yup, Lee. He was all for a chance at an official match with Sasuke. Neither of his teammates cared.

Team Eight said that Team Seven should definitely be allowed to pass. Haku and his team of clones pretended not to care.

"Well, since no one has voted against, and many have voted for, Team Seven will be allowed to continue!" the Hokage announced.

He nodded to Hayate, who continued. "Okay, before we –cough- drag Naruto out here, is there anyone willing to give their position to Naruto?"

Even before Hinata, with her Hyuuga trained reflexes and recent increases in speed, could get her hand up, Sakura's hand shot into the air, and she announced, "Me!”

Hayate confirmed it with her, questioning her on whether or not she was sure. Yes, she was certain. Sakura turned and walked up the stairs to the railing, to watch the proceedings that would follow. If things had been normal, she would've thought that it was Naruto's incredible luck that allowed them to continue. Now, though, she wasn't so sure. The vote had gone too easy. She'd recognized Haku's chakra signature, and she'd learned Gaara was on Naruto's side, so she wasn't too surprised by their consent, and Team Eight was likely just supporting Hinata. Team Gai… well, Lee had acted predictably, showing enthusiasm as to fighting Sasuke. His team had just seemed indifferent, and they probably didn't want to have to argue with Lee about it. The others though… They had no reason to agree, and all the reasons not to. Before the Wave mission, she wouldn't have thought about it at all. Before the second exam, she would've brushed it off as inconsequential. Now, though, she had her doubts. Sasuke had noticed the same things Sakura had. Team Eight had, too, though they counted Haku's teams among the ones who shouldn't have agreed. Everyone outside of the genin were also suspicious. Team Eight and Team Gai were the only ones for whom it made sense for them to agree. Before anyone could ask anything, the fights began.

"First up, Rock Lee versus Akadō Yoroi," Hayate announced as the other genin all filed to the stands.

The fight went pretty fast. Yoroi's entire attack basis revolved around draining his opponent's chakra, which Lee didn't have any accessible paths to. Lee kicked him in the head once, ending it. The next fight was between Gaara and Haku. Gaara radiated immense amounts of killer intent before even stepping down to fight. Haku gave up. Most of the fights were uneventful. Gaara, Lee, Neji, Kankurou and Shino all passed without a problem, Neji and Shino finishing off Haku's 'team', Kankurou taking out the remaining member of Kabuto's team. The sixth fight was Temari versus Zaku.

"Come on! I have to fight a weak little girl?" Zaku exclaimed, facing off against Temari. She smirked.

"Are you so sure I'm weak?" she asked, setting her fan down on the ground.

"He, duh!" Zaku said. "How 'bout this. To even the playing field, I'll let you have the first shot!"

'He's way too cocky for his own good,' Kin thought, annoyed. It would be detrimental to Naruto's plan if her teammate got himself killed out of stupidity.

"If you insist," Temari said, gathering her chakra. This moron was going down. He'd dared call her weak!

Before he could react, he was lifted two feet off the ground by a blast of wind and sent flying back to slam against the wall. Temari brought her partially open fan back down, one single moon revealed.

"That was what's called a warning shot," she said, a sadistic glint in her eye. "When all three moons are revealed, you lose."

'That bitch!' Zaku thought, embarrassed and angry. He could hear that stupid dog boy laughing at him. Kin was giggling under her breath, the sadistic bitch.

'You know what? Never mind about Zaku getting his moronic self killed. This is funny as hell!' Kin thought, watching Zaku get his ass kicked by the Suna kunoichi.

"Impressive, bitch. Now to get serious!" Zaku shouted, readying his sonic attack.

Temari was able to use her wind to cancel out most of Zaku's sound waves, though a few got by, leading to cuts in her shoulders. The second moon was revealed. Zaku sent out another, bigger attack. Temari had only been cut the last time because she'd been taken by surprise. This time she was able to completely block the attack, swinging her fan out fully. Everyone's sight was blocked as Temari summoned a whirlwind. The dust settled, and she was gone. Before Zaku could ask where she went, he got hit by a gust of wind from above. Temari was flying above his head. He lost in much the same way Tenten had in the original timeline, his back broken over her fan. No one caught him when she cast him off, though. He was carried away by the medic nins. She took her position next to Gaara. The next fight was between Hinata and Tenten.

'So, this is Neji's younger cousin, huh?' Tenten thought, looking at her opponent. The girl seemed stronger somehow than Neji had described. More sure of herself, definitely, and she held herself gracefully, almost like a dancer who was about to begin her main show. 'From the looks of her, I might actually have to fight.'

"Haijime!"

Tenten shifted her arms, feeling the concealed weapons shifting. She'd loosened them before the match began, of course. Hinata settled back, her stance shifting to allow her to move suddenly if the need arose. She wasn't planning on attacking first, her style being better suited to taking out an opponent who was attacking her, rather than actually charging someone and taking them out. They spent about fifteen seconds, an impossibly long time for a ninja, just observing each other. Suddenly, Tenten vanished. Hinata turned her Byakugan on full force, swinging her head around swiftly to scan all around her, including up and down. She spun as the kunai and shuriken flew towards her, deftly dodging every one. Using her new reflexes and the trajectory of the weapons, she sent a faint chakra pulse in the general direction of what should've been Tenten's location. It wouldn't do any harm to Tenten, but it would make her easier to hit and track. Hinata had already discovered that if she left a chakra 'marker' on something, she could send out slashed of chakra that would zero in on the marked target, focusing on the specific pattern unique to the marking signal. She barely caught Tenten, the girl having almost moved out of the edge of her cone shaped chakra pulse. Hinata didn't have the chakra reserves to just blast the area with chakra pulses, hence the more calculated and exact strategy she was using. If she hadn't improved her speed and reflexes, though, she never would've caught the now elusive Tenten.

"Sorry, but that strategy isn't going to work against me," Hinata announced.

Tenten had probably been taught it by Neji just in case something like this happened, since it wouldn't be useful against any advanced Hyuuga who was capable of using the chakra spin. Any attacks that didn't deal a massive amount of brute power would be deflected. Other than that, the only way to take out an experienced Hyuuga was to kill or knock them out before they ever were aware that the fight had even begun. Or to hit them in their blind spot, which was pretty hard to hit. Tenten came to a rest on top of the Hokage statue, not reacting to Hinata's words.

"So, you dodged a few kunai and shuriken. That isn't going to save you, though," Tenten announced, letting two of her weapon scrolls drop into her hands.

These weren't the ones used for the Twin Rising Dragon technique, of course, but they did have weapons advanced enough to take out this girl. Hinata began dancing out of the way of the weapons once again, though this time she did something unexpected. Using her chakra, she latched onto several weapons, turning them around and launching them at Tenten. She hadn't bother marking them, though, since she didn't want to reveal her technique so soon, so if the girl dodged the weapons would just slam into the wall behind her. Tenten leaped out of the way. Hinata's eyes followed her, even if she didn't move her head, before the heiress began moving too as Tenten came in closer than she had before. Hinata sprinted, going as fast as she could. It wasn't that fast by shinobi standards, though it was fast for a member of the normally stout Hyuuga, and for a rookie genin. She was definitely faster than Tenten, who focused on weapons more than she did on taijutsu and speed. Tenten threw more weapons at her. Hinata used her chakra to snatch a dagger out of the air, spinning around and under the other weapons. Tenten had been sticking to the wall in order to maintain distance between herself and Hinata, and so could only keep from getting backed into a corner by trying to slip past the Hyuuga heiress. It was a nice try, but it didn't work.

Hinata spun again, catching Tenten's arm. The weapon mistress pulled a katana seemingly out of nowhere, though Hinata recognized the activation of a seal on the girl's right wrist, causing the sword to poof into her hand. Hinata brought the dagger up, increasing its sharpness, length, and strength with her chakra, literally using the dagger as an extension of her arm. The katana that Tenten had pulled was obviously custom made by a master. Hinata had been taught how to tell a good sword from a bad one, among other things, as a part of her training, and this one was purely amazing. In addition to the fine edge and the obviously high quality of the metal, shown in even higher detail by Hinata's Byakugan, it was intricately detailed, a work of art as much as a weapon. The tsuba (hand guard) was carved as a dragon coiled around the sword itself. The handle was, weirdly enough, pure black with a carving of a kunai in gold, covered with pink silk in the normal triangle pattern. The blade itself was also beautiful, shining blue in the light. It had a design of a dragon beautifully detailed on it, though this one looked more dangerous than the one on the tsuba. The kanji for kaeri chi were carved in the blade. (返り血, means spurt of blood from one's victim according to the translation site I used…)

'Creepy thing to have carved on a sword… Though I guess it fits for a ninja who specializes in weapons,' Hinata thought, blocking yet another swing from Tenten with her chakra enhanced dagger.

She wasn't very good at using weapons, though, so she was losing ground. She'd been instead using the time to scrutinize Tenten and her sword with her Byakugan, looking for any possible weaknesses. Luckily for Hinata, Tenten sucked at short range when compared to her long range abilities. This was proven when Hinata lashed out with one hand, hitting a pressure point in Tenten's wrist, causing her to release her grip on the sword. Hinata dropped the dagger, following up with a second hit with her other hand. This time, she hit Tenten in the shoulder, blocking one of the tenketsu. She still couldn't actually make them out very well, so she'd compensated by memorizing the locations of the more major ones in the joints, chest, arms, legs, and a few of the other important ones. Since it was memorized, she didn't have the accuracy of Neji or the other, more adept, Hyuuga, but it was enough to hopefully throw off Tenten's aim.

It did have one immediate effect. Tenten was much slower to react with that arm, unable to defend herself as Hinata caught her still active arm, yanking her forward and down while the Hyuuga girl spun around behind Tenten, using chakra to knock the other girl's legs out from under her. To her credit, Tenten didn't go down easily. She expelled chakra violently from the bottoms of her feet, pushing back towards Hinata. The other girl managed to avoid being slammed into, spinning partially out of the way, though Tenten still managed to throw her balance slightly off.

The weapons mistress was doing very well for being out of her element, having actually trained in taijutsu a few times with Lee and Gai. She took advantage of Hinata's balance loss, kicking back in a slightly sweeping motion. She was able to trip the girl, Hinata's persistent hold on her preventing the girl from being able to dodge effectively. Tenten was taken by surprise when Hinata turned her backwards fall into a back flip, letting go of Tenten and sending the other girl sprawling to the floor.

Tenten leapt to her feet as Hinata twisted around, managing to end her mid air acrobatics facing Tenten. Tenten activated the seal on her left wrist, pulling out a wakizashi before slashing at Hinata. The girl deflected it with chakra, effectively using her hand a shield. Tenten took Hinata by surprise when she suddenly flung the short sword at the other girl, using the distraction to leap away and ready her Rising Twin Dragons scroll. This girl was harder to beat than she'd originally expected. She wasn't nearly as strong as Neji, or as experienced, but she clearly had a better head for strategy and knew how to adapt her unique style to her opponents instead of using the same set of tricks over and over like the rest of her family.

She slammed the two scrolls down on the ground and speed through the hand signs. Hinata recognized the chakra patterns for a summoning jutsu, and started gathering chakra to either dodge or block the upcoming barrage. Tenten leapt into the air, throwing the two scrolls as she went. They twirled around her in a spiral, and she twisted and turned within them like some kind of dancer, her hands touching the scrolls lightly and coming away with deadly weapons. Hinata danced out of the ones she could and used her chakra to deflect the others. The spin she got from dodging actually added to her ability to block, much like how Neji spun for the Heavenly Spin. She used strings of chakra rather than sheets of it, though, and she moved from place to place instead of standing still to be aimed at. She paused when Tenten landed, having ran out of weapons. Hinata snapped to attention when her Byakugan picked up the shining of light on metal thread behind her. Tenten yanked on the nin wire, pulling the weapons back towards herself.

'Time to use my new technique!' Hinata thought, spinning to face the majority of the weapons and bringing her hands up in front of her, the middle and index fingers extended.

Her finger tips glowed with chakra as she rapidly moved them in front of her, weaving a web of chakra to catch the oncoming weapons and cut any nin wire it came into contact with. The attack blocked most of the weapons, and Hinata was able to dodge or specifically deflect most that got through, but about two shuriken and three kunai hit Hinata. Luckily all the bigger and more dangerous weapons had been taken out by her net. Hinata winced as she raised a hand to one of the wounds. There was a kunai in her right shoulder, both shuriken had hit her legs, one kunai had hit her chest, and the last one had impeded itself in her left arm. Tenten smirked, knowing that it would be hard for Hinata to use her techniques with the wounds she'd received.

"Well, looks like the heiress of the great Hyuuga clan hasn't managed to live up to her clan name if she's beat so easily by a few kunai and shuriken," Tenten said, fairly confident that she would win.

"The battle isn't over until one of us is unable to fight," Hinata replied, the beginnings of a smile creeping onto her lips. She'd have to use her ace in the hole, apparently.

Tenten was taken by surprise as Hinata yanked both shuriken and all three kunai out of her, coating them with chakra before flinging them at Tenten. It wasn't that Tenten hadn't seen her moving, it was that she'd never though the Hyuuga girl would be so stupid as to try that. Tenten really was surprised when the kunai and shuriken changed trajectory midflight, heading right at her. She began to dodge them, but they swung back around.

'What the hell?' Tenten thought. 'There's no way she can be using nin wire that accurately without me being able to see it!'

Tenten saw more weapons heading for her out of the corner of her eye. She wasn't able to stop and catch her breath as the ten or so weapons chased her around, hounding her every step and changing direction midair to follow her. If they'd been normal, she wouldn't have had any problem at all. But these wouldn't stop zeroing in on her. Tenten had been pushing herself hard to move fast enough to not be hit by Hinata's earlier attacks, and she tired out quickly. Luckily, Hinata brought the weapons to a halt before they stabbed her, pointing at her throat, heart, and other vitals as she stood there panting for breath.

"I give up!" Tenten announced.

It was clear that Hinata had more endurance than her, or that whatever technique this was, it took up less energy than dodging it did. She didn't feel like being stabbed by a bunch of kunai and shuriken if she could avoid it. Her surrender was accepted, and both she and Hinata walked to the balcony again.

"Those were some pretty cool techniques," Tenten said to Hinata. "I've never seen anything at all like them before."

"Oh, thanks!" Hinata replied. "Your techniques were good, too! I've never seen anyone below high jounin level use a sword like that before!"

Tenten smirked. "Well, maybe I could train you with weapons, and you could help me with ninjutsu! I've never really gotten much training, since I'm not from a ninja family, and Gai-sensei isn't good with ninjutsu. Plus, even if I don't ever really use ninjutsu, it'd be nice to know how to fight it."

Hinata nodded. "Okay. My techniques could really be improved if I used a weapon, since I don't have the endurance or skill to take on more than one or maybe two opponents at a time. Having a weapon would mean that I could conserve chakra for getting into position to attack, using jutsus like the one I used to beat you, and increasing my speed to dodge."

The two girls kept on talking, their conversation straying to Neji and other Hyuuga clan members. Tenten was curious about her enigmatic teammate, and Hinata needed someone to talk to who'd talk back (certain people weren't very good about replying), wasn't overly biased, didn't have ANDHD (main problem with Kiba and who wouldn't randomly decide to kick Neji or whoever's ass for being a bastard. (Yet another issue with talking to Kiba. Everyone's attention turned to the exam proctor as the next match was announced.

"The next match is between Uchiha Sasuke and Kinuta Dosu!"

A/N: Yays! Done with chappie thirteen! Sorry if it’s a little messy, but further edits will happen at a later date in time. So, deal with it as it is for now, oks? The next chappie will be out as soon as possible. Until then, please remember to review lovelies!

Chapter Text

A/N: Hey ya’ll! It’s Kuro-chan here with the next chappie for the Clash of Time. Hopefully everyone is doing well and still enjoying the story. I thought it would be good to update this again because people seem to like it. Please R&R!

Chapter 14

"The next match is between Uchiha Sasuke and Kinuta Dosu!" the exam proctor announced.

Both ninja stepped down onto the field. Sasuke was itching for a fight, his pent up frustration and worries over the situation with Naruto putting him on edge. It would probably help to take it out on someone. Specifically, some random nobody that he just happened to be in an anything goes match with…

"Haijime!"

The two male shinobi didn't spend nearly as long gauging each other as the girls had. They almost immediately went on the offensive, Sasuke leaping towards Dosu as the Oto shinobi prepared his attack. Sasuke saw the buildup of chakra, and knew it was something worrying. He figured out what when a wave of sound energy hit him from the side, bursting his right ear drum and causing him to fall to the floor, gasping.

"Heh, looks like the great Uchiha isn't all that he was made out to be," Dosu commented.

The prone Uchiha smirked.

"Guess again," he said.

Dosu's eyes widened as a hand broke through the surface underneath him, pulling him into the floor. The Sasuke he'd hit with his jutsu disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

'I'm damn lucky Naruto insisted I not only learn that move but learn how to use it…' Sasuke thought, pulling himself out of the ground after his Doton jutsu.

That one he'd learned, along with a few others, from a scroll Naruto had 'borrowed' from Kakashi, though Sasuke doubted their sensei realized he was lending something out in the first place. Sasuke had only recently managed to get the Kage Bunshin down, and could only make one at a time if he planned on using higher level jutsu like his Katon, due to his comparatively low chakra reserve. It wasn't even useful in a fight, since he couldn't keep them around as long as Naruto could. They were only actually useful for distractions at one point in the fight (cloning multiple times in one fight was hard because, once again, Sasuke didn't have as much chakra as Naruto and Kakashi).

Kakashi was mildly surprised that Sasuke knew both the Doton jutsu he'd used on him in the genin test and the Kage Bunshin. The Uchiha had probably learned the Kage Bunshin from copying Naruto, though he shouldn't have been able to use it just by seeing it a few times with his Sharingan, since he likely didn't have enough chakra for it to effectively work. Well, apparently he did. Dosu fired up his arm technique again, aiming for Sasuke. The Uchiha had seen it before with his Sharingan when Dosu hit him, but he couldn't replicate it since he didn't have the device Dosu was using. And he didn't know how to dodge it. Seeing the Oto nin gather his chakra like he had before Sasuke's clone had popped, Sasuke started speeding through hand seals. He couldn't let Dosu's attack go through, or he'd lose for sure. His arms felt like they were on fire as he gathered the little bit of chakra needed for his fire jutsu in his arms, the remaining gathering in his lungs, throat, and mouth. Like he had for the Kage Bunshin and the Doton jutsu, Sasuke ignored the feeling of his already damaged tenketsu being strained further.

"Katon: Goukakyu no Jutsu!" Sasuke cried, using one of his older techniques. Hey, Dosu had likely never seen it before, and it was fairly hard to dodge if you didn't know how.

The Oto nin's concentration was interrupted, and he had to stop gathering chakra as he attempted to dodge the giant fire ball. He still got scorched along his right side.

'Fuck!' Dosu thought, feeling his sound device stop working as some of the interior wiring melted.

This was really bad. He'd pretty much relied on his ability to produce sound waves to fight ever since he first got access to the speaker like armband.

'Moron… This is what happens when you only have one trick,' Kin thought, seeing her teammate's predicament.

Looked like she'd be the only one of her team passing this round. Good, because she doubted Naruto would be too happy if Sasuke got held back or badly hurt. And Dosu deserved a beating. While Dosu tried in vain to get his techniques working again, Sasuke rushed him and kicked, using the taijutsu he'd copied from Lee to send the Oto nin flying into the air. He finished it off quickly, using the Leaf Shadow dance to appear behind Dosu and send him crashing to the floor with a single kick. He didn't bother doing more, since the Oto nin obviously wasn't going to be doing much more fighting.

'Hey! No fair! That's MY technique!" Lee thought. The Uchiha shouldn't have copied his jutsu! That was really rude!

"The winner is Uchiha Sasuke!" the exam proctor announced as Sasuke just walked to the upper level to stand with Sakura without making a sound. "The next match is between Inuzuka Kiba and Tsuchi Kin!"

Both descended to the arena floor, Kiba more extravagantly than Kin.

"Heh, this'll be easy!" Kiba announced.

'Really… Didn't he learn from the past few fights not to underestimate kunoichi?' Kin thought, mildly annoyed. Ah, well. The moron would soon learn his lesson.

The fight didn't last long. Kin managed to avoid Kiba until she could throw her bells by switching with a bunshin just as he was about to swipe her. Apparently Kiba's heightened sense of hearing from his affinity with dogs made him extra vulnerable to her sound based attack. He, even with his sense of smell, was unable to tell the difference.

'I can't smell!' Kiba thought, his ears ringing painfully as he clamped his hands over them. He felt dizzy as if he was about to collapse as his vision switched between quintupling everything and just fading.

'Cool,' Kin thought. 'Inuzuka are weak to sound based attacks.'

Having an opponent with a heightened sense of hearing came in handy when she didn't have a ton of training. She'd begun improving her kenjutsu skills since meeting back up with Naruto, and Yosei was helping her with illusions and such, but she wasn't good enough to take on a skilled opponent quite yet.

'It isn't just the sound, little one. Dogs have always been particularly affected by fairy magic,' Yosei commented. 'And really any kind of illusion. The fox's are always rubbing it in their faces.'

Kin nodded mentally before turning her attention back to the fight. Akamaru, who's senses were even keener than Kiba's, looked sick. Kin walked up to Kiba, unsheathing a kunai. He growled at her, looking around frantically, unable to tell the real from the fake. Kin pointed the kunai at his throat before turning to the exam proctor. "It should be pretty obvious who wins. Are you going to call the match or do I have to get stains on my clothes?" she asked in a monotone. She couldn't drop her act, but Naruto would be beyond pissed if Kiba got badly hurt or worse, killed.

"The winner is Kin!" the exam proctor announced, seeing that Kiba was apparently unable to do anything about the knife pointing at his throat.

Kin stopped jingling the bells, and the Inuzuka took a deep breath, his senses slowly returning to him. He scowled at Kin. "This isn't over yet!" he announced, his pride hurt. Kin snorted.

"You can't attack me outside of an official match, dog boy, so when exactly are we going to finish this?" she asked before turning and walking away to leave Kiba left stuttering angrily.

"Kiba-kun, she isn't worth it," Hinata said, putting her hand on his shoulder.

"At least I can fight my own battles without having to use bells!" Kiba called after Kin.

"At the least I don't have to have a puppy with me to do anything!" Kin called over her shoulder.

"You! Don't you dare insult Akamaru!" Kiba shouted as Akamaru yipped in agreement.

"Kiba, attack her and you're off duty for a month," Kurenai said, walking up behind her student. "Same goes for Akamaru.”

Kiba protested, of course, but Kurenai was able to get him to settle down grudgingly.

"Would the winning combatants please step down to the floor!" the Hokage announced as Sasuke, Gaara, Shino, Neji, Hinata, Kin, Temari, Lee, and Kankurou all stepped down.

The raffle went pretty much the same as it had last time, though this time around Naruto, not Sasuke, was the one missing. Hinata drew number one, Neji number two, Naruto number three, Shino number four, Lee number five, Temari number six, Sasuke number seven, Gaara number eight, Kankurou number nine, and Kin number ten. The explanation went the same, too. The first match was between Hinata and Neji, the second was between Naruto and Shino, and so on. Match six was between the winners of matches one and two. Match seven was between the winners of matches three and four. Match eight was between the winners of matches seven and five. Match nine would be the final match, between the winners of matches six and eight.

"You will have one month to prepare while we send out invitations!" The Hokage announced.

Sasuke was slightly worried. Naruto would be under for a good bit of that if things kept on going as they were. Hopefully the blonde would make one of his miraculous recoveries and still have time to train. Who the hell was he kidding? It would be beyond miraculous if Naruto survived in the first place, let alone recovered fast enough to train before the match and actually fight within a month!

"Hokage-sama, about that…" one of the chunin said, walking up.

"What?" asked the hokage.

"Uh, well, shortly after the second exam ended, and we have no clue how, a large number of snakes got into the nesting area and ate all of the messenger hawks that weren't already out, or in the possession of a specific shinobi. We don't have enough hawks or shinobi to send messages out within a month," the chunin said nervously as the Hokage's eyebrow started twitching in annoyance.

The arena was so silent you could've heard a pin drop. Orochimaru, disguised as the Sound team's sensei, had to resist laughing. What? Since he hadn't been able to mark Sasuke, his plans had been thrown back! He'd have to hunt the boy down again, get him alone, test him, and then mark him! That, along with all the preparations for invading Konoha, would take forever! He needed extra time! And he and his snakes' favorite food was poultry… Especially from Konoha. Plus, the look on the Hokage's face when he learned that snakes had eaten most of their messenger hawks was priceless.

"Okay, then you have however the hell long it takes us to send out messages to train! Expect about two months," the Hokage said, knowing that it wouldn't take too long since they could send out messages with shinobi, but the time would at the least double.

If the Hokage was cursing then he must be flustered. Inner Sasuke was cheering. Two months! With Naruto's healing rate, he could do that easy. Though the other combatants would all also have that long to train. Damn. Hadn't thought of that. The genin were dismissed as they all went their separate ways. Sasuke made a beeline for Naruto's room, Sakura and Hinata falling in step behind him. Both girls visited Naruto several times a day, though Hinata's teammates generally just hung around outside the door. All three had the foreboding feeling that something was very, very wrong as they approached the medic ward. Ino scowled as she pulled leaves out of her hair. Their team had been completely unable to find a scroll in the possession of someone actually weaker than them. She could've sworn that there were several teams weaker than them in the exam room, but of course they'd all dropped out.

'We probably would've actually made it if Shikamaru wasn't too damn lazy to actually do that much,' Ino thought, annoyed at her teammate's lack of enthusiasm in passing the exams. She'd really wanted to become chunin alongside Sakura…

"Hey guys!" Asuma called out, seeing them exit the forest unsuccessful, but Shikamaru or otherwise known as the intelligent one, picked up on the strained undertone in his sensei's voice.

"What's going on?" Shikamaru asked.

Asuma sighed. "Naruto's in bad condition. Team Seven passed the second exam, and both he and Sasuke are going to be competing in the third in two months, but it's uncertain if Naruto'll live that long."

Team Ten was shocked. "Wh-what do you mean?" Ino stuttered out. Naruto, the bright, annoying ball of sunshine, was in danger of dying? How?!

Asuma took a drag on his cigarette before replying. "The combatants of the third exam were decided by preliminary matches, and Sakura dropped out. Though I guess you're asking what happened to Naruto, huh?”

All three members of Team Ten nodded. Ino was shocked even more that Sakura had dropped out of the chunin exams. Why? She was always going on about how she was better than Ino, and becoming chunin would prove that! So why just give up?

"He was hurt badly in the second exam when his team fought an opponent they couldn't beat. His chakra coils are collapsing and are constantly burning from the inside. The medics had him stabilized, but…"

"What the fuck do you mean, he's getting worse?!" Sasuke yelled although shrieked is probably closer to the sound he made.

"He destabilized about half an hour ago. We're sorry, but his condition keeps on getting worse and worse. We might be able to keep him alive for about six or even seven more weeks, since he's healing himself pretty fast, but there's no way we can bring him out of his coma, let alone pull him through alive," the medic explained, noticing it was the same boy who had told them about Naruto's condition earlier.

"Sasuke, calm down!" Sakura exclaimed, putting her hand on his arm. He threw her hand off, his eyes wild. "Panicking isn't going to help anyone!" Turning to the medic, she asked, "You said that you guys don't have the skills to keep him alive. Is there someone who does?"

The medic nin nodded slowly. "Tsunade-sama is the most skilled medic nin who ever lived, and she might be able to do something, but she hasn't been seen or heard from in years, and last anyone heard she's refusing to use her medical skills."

Sasuke stopped struggling, staring at the medic, "Where is she?"

"I'm sorry, but I don't know," the medic nin said, shaking his head slowly.

"THEN WHO THE FUCK DOES?!" Sasuke screamed, angry again.

"Jiraiya, the Toad Sennin, was her teammate," Hinata said, putting her hand on Sasuke's shoulder, whirling around to face her. "He might know something. Hokage-sama might know where Jiraiya is."

Sasuke nodded before turning on his heel to find the military leader of Konohagakure. He would find the damn medic Tsunade, no matter how many people he had to bug, no matter how hard and long he had to look. Naruto could not, would not, die on him. Hinata and Sakura followed him quietly, leaving the medic behind, surprised at the passion of the last Uchiha.

'Seems he isn't as cold hearted as everyone says,' the medic thought. 'He's just as desperate as any civilian who hears their love is on the brink of dying, if not more so.'

His own thought caused him pause. 'His love… now where did that thought come from? Ridiculous of me to think that… Right?'

The medic wasn't getting his answers anytime soon, so he returned to Naruto's room, to tell the medics in there to hold on just a little longer, that they were trying to find Tsunade-sama to come and help heal the Jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi no Kitsune. Most thought it was a waste, having someone as skilled as Tsunade heal the demon brat, but if it got her back into the healing business then they guessed it was worth it. Plus, the Hokage would be pissed if Naruto died before his time.

"Hokage-sama! Please tell us where Jiraiya-sama is!" Hinata pleaded.

The Hokage sighed. He was way too old for this! It wasn't that he didn't want to help Naruto any way possible, or that he didn't want the genin to help their friend, but he was concerned about several things. First of all, the likely hood that the two sannin would agree to help the three genin in the first place was extremely low. Tsunade would probably just send them flying through the nearest wall, if they even got that far. Secondly, and most importantly, the council wasn't very likely to allow Hinata, her team, Sasuke, and Sakura to go off on a wild goose chase for a sannin that had been missing for many years right before three of them participated in the finals of the chunin exams. Hiashi in particular would throw a fit. Still, it wouldn't hurt to let the kids try.

"Alright, but only on one condition," he finally said.

"What?" Sasuke asked, impatient.

The head Sarutobi paused for a second before replying. "The three of you and Hinata's team would have to leave Konoha to find Tsunade. With it being so close to the chunin exams, that's not likely to happen. Also I can't send a group of genin on a mission with the specific goal of bringing back a sannin, since that'd be too high a rank for any genin, especially rookies, and all the ninja above genin level other than the senseis are currently being required to protect the village, do missions necessary for the village's survival, and send out messages. We don't have any extra man power to assist you. I'd allow you to go anyways if it was up to me, but the Council is another issue."

"We have to convince them to let us go," Sakura said, realizing what the Hokage was getting at.

He nodded. "The main people to convince are the Hyuuga, Aburame, and Inuzuka clan leaders. My two main advisors, Homaru and Koharu, will also have to be convinced. You'll need to convince your senseis, and come up with a good excuse. Any other council members you can get on your side will help."

"The excuse is easy," Sasuke said. Everyone turned to look at him. "A training trip. Sakura is planning on specializing in medical ninjutsu and in genjutsu, and she can receive training from Kurenai on this trip. I also need genjutsu training, since Kakashi isn't all that good at it and I don't have beyond the most basic understanding of genjutsu. Hinata needs to be trained by someone with a large repertoire of jutsu, especially water based ones. Kiba and Shino could further their tracking abilities under Kakashi and Jiraiya, since Kurenai likely wasn't able to teach them much. Both Kakashi and Jiraiya are tracking experts, right? And as for the travel part, there are many biomes that we could easily reach with a few days travel that aren't available in Konoha, and being able to in them to train would be a huge asset. If we explain it like that, especially with the upcoming chunin exams, they can't really argue effectively. Jiraiya helping probably won't be argued against much, since the clans would be honored to have him train their heirs and there's no reason why not other than him disagreeing."

Everybody agreed. Apparently Sasuke had picked up on the essential ninja skill of actually thinking ahead. (Something Sasuke in the original timeline had never been very good at…) And the way he described it, the teams could stand to switch senseis…

"We can even make one of the goals of the training trip to find Tsunade within a month and half. That'd be great training in tracking, and would be a realistic situation," Sakura added.

The Hokage was surprised at how far the two conscious members of Team Seven had come. Sasuke was thinking about the future and about other people and their reactions to certain things, something he'd never bothered to do before. Plus, he was doing it well. Sakura had started applying and improving her already impressive reasoning and deductive skills, rather than wasting her time blabbering on. She'd also apparently found an actual direction to go in with her ninja career, instead of going nowhere or learning randomly. Both had also grown more serious, and both had developed a strong sense of teamwork, if their reactions to Naruto's condition were anything to go by.

He smiled. "Well, sounds like you three will do fine. The only concern is convincing first Jiraiya and then Tsunade to help you. Jiraiya is actually here in Konoha, so finding him shouldn't be that much of an issue. He's not very likely to desire to help you, though."

Before the Hokage could continue, Sasuke interjected. "It doesn't matter. If he doesn't want to help us, we'll find Tsunade on our own. You were her sensei, right? You should know where she'd likely be."

The Hokage sighed and nodded. "Yes, but she's more likely to help you if Jiraiya's there to reason with her. About getting Jiraiya to help, he's probably only going to if there's something in it for him."

Sasuke sighed. Suddenly, he felt… tired. He didn't know why thought, or what he was tired of. Maybe it was the mercenary tendencies of even the kindest ninja. (Ya, right. Kind ninja. What a laugh…) But why would he be tired of that? It didn't make any sense. He was a ninja. He shouldn't care.

"What do we need to do?" Sasuke asked, wanting to get the whole damn deal over with.

He was confused and tired and he wanted to see his dobe awake and well again. The blonde enigma had set him adrift, completely turning his world upside down. The stupid weakling was a powerful genius. The underneath the underneath was barely scratching the surface. The coincidence was a planned out and calculated event, or even a cover up story. The boy that was always smiling, laughing, and boasting, and who always had acted overconfident and annoying, was hated by most of the village, hadn't had a real friend to speak of before Sasuke, had practically raised himself, and had never even known the names of his parents. The blonde that Sasuke had always disliked for being loud and obnoxious was the only thing he could think about. He hadn't even thought about his older brother or his dead family since Naruto had been bit, when normally he thought of them many times a day! His mind had been preoccupied with thoughts of how to help Naruto get the credit he deserved and to help him survive. He'd thought of revenge, not on Itachi, but on Orochimaru for putting the blonde into this damn situation in the first place. He didn't think about gaining power, but instead about how to lure the greatest medic nin in the world back to Konoha so that she could heal Naruto. The way Naruto had invaded his thoughts and emotions, the way he reacted to the blonde, the way he felt, was what confused Sasuke the most of all.

()

The Kitsune Scrolls

Scroll Two: Hana-Bi

"LUNA!"

The raven girl blinked, hearing her teammate's loud voice. What did she want now?

"What is it?" she asked, turning to face the fox girl.

"Luna! You're always ignoring me! I wanna do something with you! Please?" Stella asked. Seeing that Luna wasn't about to give in anytime soon, and actually looked like she might rip Stella's head off for daring to suggest that she actually do something, Stella decided that desperate measures were called for.

"Pleeeaaaaaasssssssssssseeeeeee, Luna-chan! Wou nwever spwend winy twime with mwe!" Stella pleaded, turning on her best Kit-Fox Look (Similar to the puppy-dog look, but a million times cuter!).

Luna resisted the Look. Well, she tried to. No one had ever resisted the Kit-Fox Look, and no one was about to anytime soon.

"Okay! Fine! just stop it with the cuteness! It's creeping me out!" Luna said, as Stella tried to start butting her head against Luna's arm like an actual kit would if she wanted attention. Luna fought down the blush that threatened to stain her cheeks.

"So you'll go to the Festival with me?" Stella asked, grinning from ear to ear.

No. Way. In. All. The. Hells. Luna was not going to be in a huge crowd of happy, cheery people having an amazing time while she was stuck with the juvenile fox and pressed into a tight, confined space with random bodies bumping into her and crowding her. It was not going to happen.

Luna was about to say no. She really was. but the memory of the last time she'd done something like that flashed into her brain. Stella had started welling up with tears, saying something about how Luna wasn't keeping her promise and didn't like her. The raven had ended up doing thrice the amount she would've if she'd just kept her damn mouth shut and went along with what Stella suggested. Plus, she really didn't like seeing Stella that upset. It was a better bargaining chip that even the Kit-Fox Look, and it made Luna feel like a real cold hearted bitch.

'Damn you, Murphy,' Luna thought, annoyed. She knew that Murphy would hear her, too. He, unlike his older sisters Fate and Destiny, always stuck around to hear his victim's curses.

"I'll go," Luna sighed, defeated. Stella managed to get a teeny smile- no, it wasn't a smile! It was a smirk!- out of her when she started jumping up and down, cheering that Luna was going to the Fesitval with her.

'I'm so going to regret this,' Luna thought.

Stella paused suddenly. Luna looked at her, suspicious.

"You smiled! You actually smiled! I can't believe it! The Ice Princess smiled!" Stella exclaimed.

"I didn't smile, I smirked, there's a difference!" Luna shot back. Really, you'd think someone as clever as Stella would know the difference.

Stella smiled wickedly. "Nah-ah! I saw you, and I know that you smiled!"

Luna scowled and shook her head. Well, maybe a hint of a smile had creeped into her smirk, but it wasn't enough for the expression to be called an actual smile. And any thing that even remotely resembled a smile in her smirk was not her fault! It was Stella's fault for being do damn cute!

"Oh! We need something to wear!" Stella exclaimed, grabbing Luna's arm and dragging her into the only part of the kitsune's pocket dimension that she ever used.

It was originally a suite for visiting dignitaries, but the rooms had been modernized, any hints of the palace and life there being removed, and anything that could provide a glimpse into the replica city covered up. It seemed like Luna wasn't the only one who hid from her memories.

The suite was now full of Stella's most worn armor, most used weapons, various items she might need, accessories, everyday clothing, old clothes for getting dirty and torn up, costumy type clothes for a few of the less formal holidays, and formal wear. The walls were covered in shelves, cabinets, hooks and rods for hanging things from, the occasional fold out table or seat, and plenty of mirror which could be repositioned however you wanted. The place was packed with items, and although Luna knew that they were extremely organized, she couldn't begin to discern the pattern. Figured that Stella would have an organizational system which made no logical sense to anyone else. It was probably how she kept so many secrets despite her open nature. No one could puzzle out what in all the hells all the clues she dropped even meant!

Okay, back on track. Luna's mind kept doing that for some reason, wandering off to her fire haired teammate and distracting her.

Stella reamerged from wherever she'd gone to, several clones following her with armfuls of stuff. Luna tried to see what they were carrying, but was stopped.

"Sorry, Luen-chan! You can't see it until it's on you!" Stella said, playfully hiding the fabric. Luna only managed to see a flash of dark purple before it was hidden.

"I told you not to call me that!" Luna protested, refering to Stella's nickname for her when they weren't arguing. The best Luna could figure it came from a combination of her name and the English word 'raven'. Really, what was it with Stella and foreign languages? Luna couldn't understand what she was saying half the time!

"Oh, I mean Ikeike!" Stella corrected, grinning. Luna scowled. "Now, Luen-ikeike, you can't be scowling like that! It'll sooo totally ruin the whole thing! Your makeup will get all messed up, and it just doesn't complement your features! And you're so pretty when you actually smile!"

Okay, the fox seriously needed to stop that! Luna had to fight down yet another blush as Stella called her pretty. Damn foxes for being so desirable and hard to get.

Two more clones came into existence in swirls of kitsunebi.

'Really, she's way to high a level to need the flame swirls,' Luna thought, knowing that Stella was just being her usual extravagent self.

"You'll need to take a bath," Stella declared, knowing that Luna had recently come from training. "We need to get all that grime off of you!"

Luna glared. Stella grinned.

"Of course, if you resist I can always join you and force you to wash," the kitsune commented off handedly. "Or if you just think that you'll be lonely in that big tub I can join you."

Typical kitsune. Flirting everytime she got the chance, no matter who or what she was actually flirting with.

Still, it made Luna a bit uncomfortable, yet another blush threatening to rise. 'Why in all the hells, just when I thought she couldn't get much worse, she has to start being normal for a fox?' Luna grumbled mentally. Unlike most kitsune, Stella really never flirted with anyone. 'When I told her to stop being so wierd, I didn't mean for her to start flirting!' Okay, might be partially Luna's fault. She had told the fox girl to start being a teensy bit more conformist.

She'd meant to her ways, though, not to kitsune ways.

"No thanks. I can bathe myself," Luna said, turning towards the bathroom. She refused to acknowledge the part of her mind that was encouraging her to take up on Stella's offer.

Once Luna exited the room, Stella's thoughts turned fully to her recent interaction with Luna. 'Was I just flirting? No way am I atracted to that Ice Princess!" she thought to herself. Luna was extremely good looking, she had to admit, but she was way to unfriendly to be a possible mate! Stella had decided a long time ago that she wasn't going to bother with anyone she didn't think could be her mate. A few moments of satisfaction wasn't worth the angts. Plus, whoever she chose had to be strong enough to not get killed easily and smart enough to not draw fire.

'Well, I guess that means Luna's a perfect candidate!' that annoying little voice in the back of her mind exclaimed. Really, why did logic decide to come a-calling now of all times, when it seemed to ave been nowhere to be found when she actually needed it!

'Shutupshutupshutupshutupshutup! I'm not listening!' Stella said to Logic, her version of a consience.

...Right. Moving on. It was about another half an hour before Luna emerged from the bath, toweling her hair off still.

"Screw it," Luna muttered, using a light touch of Amaratsu to dry her hair quickly. Doing that majorly damaged her hair, but she could easily use her yoki to heal the burnt and strained hair cells. Three fourths of the damaged ones were already healed.

Dismissing the Amaratsu, Luna dropped the towel, it's purpose served.

"L-L-LUNA! Don't do that! Don't you have any sense of decency!" Stella shouted, her enitre face, neck, and the parts of her shoulders and chest that were visible suddenly turning the exact same shade as her hair. It was really interesting, since most people didn't blush that particular shade of red. Luna comtemplated this new discovery, eyes fixed on Stella's face.

Stella was not comfortable with this at all! Thanks to the live feed from her Fire Clones, she'd just gotten a view of naked Luna from about ten different angles. She and all of her clones had almost instantly averted their eyes, but the image was still seared into Stella's mind.

"What?" Luna asked, smirking slightly when she noticed Stella's problem. 'Knew it! I was wondering why she was flirting with me when she's normally so reserved!' "We've been teammates for one hundred years, and companions for three hundred years before that. It's not anything you haven't seen before."

'Ya, but then I hadn't been attacked by hormones yet!' Stella screamed in her mind.

She'd only recently advanced to five tails, landing her right where Luna had been when they first met, and one tail behind where Luna currently was. Even though demons with the potential to reach nine tails gained the appearance of sixteen year olds at four tails, they didn't actually start desiring to seek out a mate until five tails. (Any earlier and they likely wouldn't be able to defend their kits, so all the kitsune and other nine tailed demons that had liters before five tails tended to get themselves, their offspring, and their mates killed off, especially with the constant wars going on.

"Oh! I know what it is!" Luna exclaimed, her smirk growing. "Little Kit-chan has grown up! How could I forget that kitsune especially start feeling the pressure to mate at five tails? Silly me!"

'Bitch. You knew it all along!' Stella thought to herself, realizing that Luna was purposfully messing with her. 'And kitsune are supposed to be the flirtatious ones!'

"Here," Stella mumbled, tossing Luna some underclothes without looking. The raven caught them.

"Okay, I'm decent," Luna said. All ten Stellas turned around to see.

Damn. She was still pretty blush inducing, even with her privates (barely) covered.

Two of her clones started brushing out Luna's long hair, taking care not to pull it. Another two start rubbing moisturizer into her skin, to keep in from drying out in the desert like area they currently resided in. Another two began working on Luna's makeup. Stella walked into the next room to finish getting ready. She wanted her own appearance to be a surprise to Luna, also. The remaining three clones followed her. Luna gazed about the room, annoyed that all the mirrors had been covered or turned to face away from her, and that any hint of what she'd end up looking like was carefully hidden from view. She returned several times with something for the three hairstylists before settling down to help. The two clones finished brushing her hair, and moved to styling it. Luna could feel them tugging the hair gently into place, but couldn't for the life of her figure out what they intended to do. The two putting moisturizer on finished soon after. 'Pity,' though Luna. 'i was really enjoying that.' One of the clones joined the other two in styling Luna's hair, while the other walked out of Luna's line of sight. Her makeup was done before her hair. She didn't want to even begin to guess what had been done to her face. The two who'd been working on her makeup started working on her finger and toenails next, trimming, filing, and finally painting them. The hairstyle was finished quickly, and two of the four clones started painting her left hand and foot. The two others had already filed and trimmed all her nails, and were just getting started on painting her right hand side.

The other two wandered out of her sight, and she heard cloth rustling. Her nails, at the least, could be seen. They were being painted a shade of black that shone and sparkled with dark blues and purples. Pretty enough, Luna guessed. She was surprised when, finishing painting the nails, the clones used Kitsunebi to dry them and start paterning them with silver nail polish. A cresent moon was drawn on both her thumbs and big toes, a single silver dot being drawn on all the other nails. The new coat was dried, and a protective layer of nail polish was added to keep it from chipping. She was signaled to stand up once the third coat was dried.

"Close your eyes," one of the clones ordered. Rolling her eyes, Luna complied.

She felt the fabric settle about her, and the clones start to work on fastening it. Some of them also moved to jewelry, one placing a braclet on her right wrist, another putting an armband on her left. One of them, she didn't know which, put an ankle braclet around each ankle. The clothing was taking forever to get on! Luna, despite her high birth, had never actually had to deal with formal wear, since the First Great War went into full swing the day after she was born. She'd always worn battle armor and a sword to all of her important meetings, so she wasn't used to sitting there while attendants attached her clothes.

"Wow, you look great!" Luna heard Stella comment.

She could tell from the minute difference in yoki signature that it was the real one. Nobody else would've even picked up on the difference, but Luna had been around Stella so long that she knew instantly which was real and which was a clone. The Fire Clones all had poofed away, by the sound of it.

"You can open your eyes, you know," Stella said.

Luna complied, fully intending to glare at Stella. Well, she almost had that down! At least the unblinking part was right. But glares weren't supposed to include a dropped chin and wide eyes. Stella was stunning. She was wearing a black kimono with flame patterns rising from the bottom and from the sleeves. The obi was a dark red to contrast the brighter red of the flames and of Stella's hair. The underclothes, which were typically white, were the same blood red as the obi. The colors matched her ahir and fluffy fox ears perfectly. Her necklace was a black cloth choker with a heart shaped ruby of fairly good size hanging from the middle. Red thread made intricate designs on the fabric, dotted with the occasional small ruby. She had on a gold bracelet that had the links of the chain formed into hearts. She didn't have any other ornamentation on. Luna noted briefly that she was wearing simple geta with black ties.

"Here's a mirror," Stella said, taking the cloth off of one of the larger mirrors.

She also removed the cloths from a few smaller mirrors, and positioned them so that Luna would be able to see all around herself. Luna was stunned at her own appearace. She was wearing a gorgeous dress that hugged her figure perfectly, the fabric a beautiful amethyst. It had a fairly low neck, but not so low as to be considered indecent. Strangly enough, the back was very high, extending all the way up to a collar aroudn her neck. The front also connected to the collar, though only by fairly thin strips of cloth. The dress split in the traditional kunoichi stlye just below her hips, continueing down to just past her knees. The black tights underneath went to midthigh. The dress itself matched the small amethyst flecks in her predominately dark purple eyes, making them pop out. The cresent moon was detailed beautifully on the back in silver, the kanji for tsuki in the hollow where the rest of the moost would've been. Silver rays of moonlight interspersed with flying and resting ravens done in the same shade of purple as her hair and eyes. The ribbon that went around her wait and matched the hemming of the rest of the dress was the same dark purple as her hair and eyes. Her jewelry was also beautiful, the armband being made of a silvery material set with amethyst gems in the shape of a raven with its wings outspread. Looking closer, Luna gasped as she realized that the armband was platinum! No wonder it was so heavy... The bracelet was made of intricate chain links, so finely detailed that they must've been made by a master and must've taken forever. On the same side of her wrist as the back of her palm was a pendant like piece, suspended between the ends of the chain. It had a single purple black feather in high detail on a light lavender background. The anklets were made of thread, but not just any old thread. It was the fur of an Artic kitsune, one of the most exclussive of the kitsune and the only one that refused to try to vie for the trone of the Kitsune. They had only ever traded with one clan, a group of Artic cat demons, who had died out a while ago. Even when they had traded with the Artic cats, they had done so sparingly and at high prices, so self sufficient were they that their only need of trade was for the occasional exotic luxury. And their any article of clothing, even anklets, made of their fur, was said to make the wearer completely impervious to the cold. These garments were the most expensive of all. The earings were simple amethyst studs. Stella stepped up behind her, smiling. "I have one more thing for you to wear," she said, her hands behind her back, the thing they contained artfully hidden from the view of the mirrors. She clasped it around the still stunned Luna's neck. The raven lifted her hand to the necklace, gaping. The other pieces were valuable, but this. This must've cost beyond a fortune. The links of the necklace were intricately carved obsidian. Yup. Carved glass, basically. The only ones who could've made something so intricate and delicate out of obsidian, (which was, ironically enough, one of Luna's favorite minerals. She'd always just liked the look, never really having given must thought to whether something was actually valuable.) without it breaking immediately due to the fineness and thinness of the carving, were volcano spirits, who were notoriously bad tempered and seemed to have it out for anyone even associated with kitsune. (That last part apparently had something to do with an age old arguement over who had greater claim to being the Master of Fire.) And if a kitsune had pillaged the piece from someone, the nearest pool of lava would somehow find its way to the fox and destroy it. And even getting access to regular obsidian was fairly hard, since the volcano spirits guarded their domains and everything in them to fiercly. The stuff was common around volcanos, but protected tooth and nail by fire spitting demons. Not exactly easy to get. The gems were the most amazing part, though. They were arranged in a small triangle hanging down from the middle of the necklace. They were the same shad eof purple as her hair, with veins of black and silver and amethyst and rec running through them. They were fascinating, because the colors kept on shifting within the gems, the threads moving and winding lazily about.

"These... These are crystalized yoki!" Luna exclaimed quietly, knowing that this made the rest of the outfit look like rags. It was a rare being that could not only crystalize yoki, but could keep it that way.

"Do you like it?" Stella asked, suddenly feeling shy. She'd actually been wanting to give these to Luna for a while, knowing that her teammate would love them.

Although Luna's emotional state, although extremely toned down for a normal person, was the equivalent of a normal person suddenly turning into a prep and ranting about how awesome Stella was and how she wanted to marry her.

"Like it? Stella, I love it! Where'd you find these?" Luna asked, turning to face Stella.

The fox girl smiled. "The armband was left over in a chest from my great-great-grandmother's time, along with the bracelet. The only explanation I could come up with was that they'd belonged to your people and been taken as spoils during the First Great War. I decided that they belonged with you, not collecting dust in some storage room. The earings are just amethysts. The anklets were given to me as a birthday present by an old friend, who was one of the last of the Artic cats allowed to trade with the Artic kitsune. I've worn them before, actually. They're how I survived the snow and ice for so long with inadequate covering before I met you. I rarely use them, though, and they don't look good on me, and I know how much you loathe the cold. The dress I had custom made," she explained.

"And the necklace?" Luna asked, wondering about the obviously nigh impossible for Stella to have piece of jewelry.

"I managed to patch things up with one of the volcano spirits, and he made that for me in exchange for some old things from my great-grandmother's stuff that, if they'd stayed in my possession, would've continued collecting dust. The crystalized yoki is actually a mixture of your's and mine, though I had it set up so that your yoki was the color decider," Stella explained, fidgeting. She really just wanted Luna to accept the gift. Stella didn't want Luna to feel like she owed her anything, also.

"How in all the hells did you 'patch things up' with a volcano spirit, where did you get a sample of my yoki, how did you mix ours together, and how'd you get it crystalized?" Luna asked, the sentence rushing out.

Stella had to pause to process it before replying. Luna was talking more and quicker than ever, throwing her teammate slightly off balance.

"The volcano spirit thing was easy. I explained that the only fire Kitsune really have mastery over is Kitsunebi, which is primarily illusions, and that there were different types of fire: the hottest fire controlled by any being is controlled by the ravens, the only fire capable of burning your very soul is controlled by the Old Blood cats, etc. I said he had the title of Rock-Fire master, which no one else can control at all without it killing them, and that I really thought that mastery of illusions, trickery, and acting were much more befitting and descriptive of Kitsune than Fire-Mastery. I've yet to clear it with most other foxes, but it's been a title held on to only by the ruling class for reasons of pride, and most Kitsune really are better at illusions than fire," Stella said, explaining the volcano spirit being willing to help her. "Many are also tired of the volcano spirits being pissed at us. And even if the agreement of the rest of the race wasn't guareenteed, the spirit thought it enough that the Crown Princess gave over the title."

Luna nodded. Made sense. Plus, Stella had never really been one for upholding the traditional codes of pride and what part it played, though she did tend to uphold the honor system... Luna had never understood how exactly she managed that, but she did. IT was more of she was willing to admit when something was stupid more than anything else.

"And the yoki?" Luna prompted, knowing that, given Stella's explanation, that would've been the most difficult to obtain thing.

"Remember when you attacked me with Amaratsu after I wouldn't stop bugging you to play with me while you were PMSing?" Luna nodded, inwardly grinning. She hadn't actually been that mad, but it had been a good excuse to chase Stella around the camp and get back at her for some of her more annoying pranks and qualities. "I caught a bit real fast and transported it to one of the clearings on the outskirts of the city. After you'd calmed down, I slipped away when no one was looking and came here. I forced my Kitsunebi and raw yoki to mix with your Amaratsu and the raw yoki that was laced through it since you hadn't bothered making it as deadly as you would've in a real fight. There was a ton more than what's on that necklace, but everything else didn't turn out right. I used a couple of really old things as binding agents, and a jutsu I found in one of my great-great-grandmother's scrolls on binding."

Luna was stunned. So that was why Stella had been unconscious for three days after their mini battle! Most people had thought it was a combination of her overtraining (which she hadn't been doing as much as everyone thought she had), not having eaten right in a few days (actually, Stella had been stealing from the local barons again, so she'd been eating plenty at the time, but only her charges had known that), a disease that had been going around, and the exhaustion from keeping away from a very pissed Luna. Most had also assumed she was being lazy and overexaggerating, though Luna remembered Stella dragging herself out of bed, hardly able to move, so that was hardly likely. And it shocked her that Stella had been able to perform such a complex and chakra demanding jutsu when only a four tail, even if she was using her genius of a great-great-grandmother's techniques.

'You're going to be a force to be reckoned with when you hit even seven tails, Stella. And you'll be nigh unstoppable at nine...' Luna thought, looking on her klutzy, hyperactive, inattentive friend in the light of a girl who had pulled off a jutsu presumed to be reserved for eight and nine tails when she only had four. A child doing the work of an elite adult. And well, by the looks of Luna's new necklace.

Indeed, Luna's prediction was correct. Not even an army of demons had been able to threaten her when she finally reached that point, and even the genius Yamata no Orochi, a seven tail at that time, had been beaten by her. It had taken the mastermind behind the whole damn war to crush her, and when she rebounded and struck back it had taken the Uchiha clan, newly gifted with the Sharingan, to fight for the mastermind. And when she hit nine tails, only a small handful of the Goddesses and Gods themselves could take her on, and an even smaller handful that could take her on without help. The Shinigami had only been able to beat her because the Fourth calling on him allowed the Death God to effectively cheat.

"Stella, I don't think I can accept gifts this expensive," Luna said, still awestruck by the richness of it all.

She'd been born to a royal family, yes. She'd actually been second in line to the throne when she was born, unlike Stella, who had only gained the title of Crown Princess because the hundred or so kitsune who were ranked before her had all been killed when Omorfia was raized to the ground. Stella was now the only remaining being alive with blood from either of the two Kitsune lineages to have claim to the throne. The other three lineages, the Desert Foxes, the Arctic Foxes, and the Sea Foxes were not major contenders for several reasons. the Arctic Kitsune because they were so removed and didn't even want the throne, the Desert Foxes because they had almost been obliberated by the First Great War and now lived in scattered tribes (though they still vied for the throne, Stella as a three tail would've been able to kill most've them outside of a desert) and because they were so removed. The Sea Kitsune, although high in number compaired to all the others by this point (Arctic Foxes were unknown but presumed low due to avaible resources, Desert Foxes were to be considered heavily endangered, and both the Old Blood and the New Blood lines had been reduced to one half of a member each), and fairly strong, few of the common kitsune actually liked them, they had little sense of politics or of managing a kingdom or even of fighting a major or even a small land war. Also they never would have been able to deal with any sort of discord or unrest. Stella had been known fairly quickly, since the few survivors of the Fall had spread rumors, and her return had been anticipated. Plus, she was a descendent of the two most powerful and at odds lines, the two of which most common kitsune were aligned with. She could easily help put a stop to the fairly common uprisings and civil wars. She also had shown herself to be a tactical genius, when she'd taken out a camp of the enemy with a small gang of street kids from Omorfia that had pledged their allegiance to her after discovering that she was not only the last surviving member of the royal bloodline, she was the girl who had often slipped out of the palace to socialize with them. Plus, she'd worked her ass off helping them gather supplies to make the journey away, treat the wounded, and give the bodies proper funerals.

"They'd be collecting dust if you didn't!" Stella exclaimed. "Anyways, you've stuck by me through so much, even thought you had no reasons to and every reason not to," she added, looking slightly uncomfortable. She'd never even been able to figure out why Luna hadn't actually gone through with killing her, the supposed enemy, the first time they'd met, when Stella had been a mere three tail. The reason why Luna had stuck by her despite all the shit she faced was even harder to figure out.

'Oh, I had a plenty good reason to stay by you,' Luna thought. 'You were to damn cute and pathetic to kill for one, and, even though I loathe your family line, you were the one to free me from my prison, and you're not only willing to see reason and fight the damn snakes with me, but you're on the top of their hit list, and vice verse.'

Of course, she'd never say that to Stella's face.

"I stay by you because we're both fighting the same enemy, and because the war between our peoples was lifetimes ago. Also, we're both kinda in the same situation, thrust into a position we never planned for, fighting an apparently hopeless war, with all our friends and family dead,' Luna explained, saying more than she'd intended. The last line had not been intentional.

Stella was quite for a second before smiling softly. "Come on, Luna! The Festival's starting about now! We don't wanna be late!" she exclaimed, pulling Luna out of the pocket dimension and into the real world. Despite the crowds and the noise, Luna managed to enjoy herself. Stella knew of her discomfort with crowds, (It was not a phobia. Luna wasn't scared of anything, definetely not something as simple and common as social situations.) and she had stayed on the rooftops, removed from the bustling crowds, only other shadows there to share the space with. They did go into the crowds occasionally, to get food or play games or shop through the stalls the vendors had set up for the special day, or just to look and marvel at everything. Luna didn't even mind that so much, as focused on Stella as she was. It was almost as if the world had shrunk, cutting out the majority of people, leaving only her, Stella, and the handful around them. It wasn't so bad. The Festival ended what actually seemed to be all too soon.

"Come on!" Stella laughed, tugging at Luna's arm. She followed, her heart the lightest it had ever been in her life, so close to laughing for the first time.

Luna gasped when they arrived at their destination. She could see everything perfectly, the place they stood illuminated only by the full moon. The stars seemed to laugh and dance to the music, twinkling so brightly they were visible despite the bright lights of the Festival. Stella's hand slid from her arm to her hand, grasping it lightly. Neither girl noticed as the fireworks that would signale the end of the Festival began to go off. Luna was completely in awe, the bright and colorful fireworks like nothing she'd ever seen.

"This is the first time you've seen fireworks, isn't it?" Stella asked, shifting closer to Luna ever so slightly. There was hardly any space between them, their personal space bubbles overlapping, but neither girl took note, so absorbed in the night as they were.

Luna nodded, speechless. "They're beautiful," she whispered. She'd spent her entire life with the army, carried on the back of a serving girl who had fled the palace before it was overrun and, then homeless. decided to follow her warrior brother to all of his battles. When she was old enough to walk, she'd been trained to ride a horse, to run long distances, to plan a battle, and to fight. Even the games she'd played as a child with other children who's parents or caretakers had followed the wandering army had been centered on developing battle and strategy skills. She'd been trained to fight in, and even command in, world wars.

'Not as beautiful as you are,' Stella thought, blushing at her own thought. The colored lights reflected off of Luna's pale skin, giving her a multi-hued sheen, the colors that highlighted her constantly changing as new fireworks went off.

She turned to finish watching the fireworks, smiling happily. A real, true, if small, smile had also crept unnoticed onto Luna's face, making her glow all the more. Luna actually clapped when the grand finale went off, Stella jumping up and down enthusiastically.

"That was amazing!" Luna exclaimed, her dark eyes reflecting the stars perfectly.

Stella grinned from ear to ear. "Glad you liked it!" she also exclaimed. "Told you you'd have a good time!"

"Ya," Luna agreed, smiling lightly. "I really did."

"Beautiful," Stella whispered, her eyes focused on Luna's face, so radiant now that she was actually happy. Normally her looks were enough to have almost every guy and a fairly large number of girls after her. Now, though, they were enough to render borderline asexual Stella unable to think.

Both girls blushed, their minds registering not only Stella's comment, but also the grip they had on each other's hands, and how close they were, nearly touching. Before Luna could pull back, or Stella's brain could actually start working again, the fox girl leaned forward, closing the one inch distance and capturing Luna's delicate, smiling lips with her own. Oh, now Stella's brain started working. Damn Murphey. She'd been enjoying that!

"Oh! L-Lun-na! Uh, um," Stella started stuttering, pulling back, flustered. She couldn't believe she'd just done that!

Luna reached the hand not grasping Stella's up to gently touch her lips, also surprised not only by the kiss but by her reaction to it. It had felt good to have the kitsune's lips pressed against her own.

"I don't mind," she whispered in Stella's fluffy fox ear, biting it gently before moving her lips back to Stella's mouth.

The younger girl didn't pull away, leaning slightly into the kiss, letting Luna support most of her weight. Stella panted as Luna pulled away. 'That... That was my first kiss,' Stella thought, surprised that not only had Luna of all demons been her first kiss, but that she'd somehow reached full maturity without kissing anyone.

"Tell me, Stella," Luna whispered. "Have you kissed anyone before? I haven't. You taste good."

Stella blushed. "N-no," she replied quietly. "Y-you t-taste good too, Luna."

Luna smiled, hugging Stella tighter. Somehow they'd switched between holding hands to hugging. The younger girl had tasted delicious and exotic, like a mixture of red bean paste and strawberries. Luna would never have thought that the two would taste good together, but they did. Stella blushed again, looking even cuter than she had been. She leaned into Luna's embrace without question, though, relaxing fully for the first time in nearly a millenia. She felt... safe, almost. It might've had something to do with the joy of the situation, or with the power she knew Luna contained. Maybe it was because of the delicate taste of Luna, the familiar taste of egg nog with a hint of Stella's favorite, cinnamon and sugar. It reminded her of the winters spent happy with her friends, playing in the snow and building ice forts, laughing when the other teams in snow ball fights accused them of cheating because they had a Snow Cat on their side. The sleigh rides that the soldier boy- too young to fight by many standards, but in the army because he had nowhere else to go- who had been her first friend and who had introduced her to her mother and her mother's nephew. The training she got from the soldier boy in the eclectic style of martial arts she still used to fight. Stella smiled, the memories of her life before the Fall for once not causing her blinding pain, only a feeling of distant sorrow and nonstalgia for times past.

"I guess this means we're girlfriends, huh?" Luna asked. Stella blushed an even deeper shade of red, hiding her face as waves of embarassment and elation washed over her. She had a girlfriend!

For the first time in her life, Luna laughed. She laughed at Stella's childish antics, so out of place for a kitsune. She laughed with joy at being so close to another being. She laughed because her future was looking good, despite the war, despite everything. She laughed because she'd realized the irony of the whole situation, that a turn of events she'd cursed had made her so happy.

'Thank you, Murphey!'

A/N: Yays! Done with chappie fourteen! Hehes, the second longish scene is a part of Stella’s forgotten past which she is slowly remembering. Hehes, hopefully ya’ll enjoyed what happened this time. The next chappie will be out soonish. Until then, please remember to review lovelies!