Updated Chapter since 3/16/08

Hey All! This is the new Beta'd first chapter of Holding Destiny. PheonixClaw did an amazing job (thank you) and I hope this chapter is a much funner read.

This story is rated T because of Violence. There is some implied swearing but it is edited out by the symbol '-.'

I am not a professional writer, by I want to be. What does this mean? Please review. I do pay attention to what reviewers say, so if you see something that clickes wrong, tell me! I love feedback, both positive and negative, and people who give constructive critisim will be whole heartedly thanked!

Thank you for reading!


The attack was not unexpected.

Konoha had been at war with Sound for two years now, and both sides knew it was past time for someone to make a move. Sure, there had been innumerous skirmishes, countless sabotages, the words guerrilla warfare weren't just a topic for conversation, and the casualty list was in the high thousands for both sides. Still, there had been no full out army against army battles of epic nature since the one that started this bloody war.

Thus, when Jiraiya's spy network picked up word of an all-or-nothing attack the Sannin rushed back with all due haste, not even stopping at one of the numerous bath houses along the way.

This was something he complained long and hard about with much vehemence in the following days.

Less than thirty minutes after the report arrived, Konoha had stepped up her defenses. With the use of some well-placed earth jutsu her walls were fortified. Oil vats were placed along the walls to pour out on the enemy below. Torches were scattered around to light up the oil, while spikes jutted out from the walls - big enough to prevent walking up the impediment, small enough to keep one from using as ladders.

While there had been no huge attacks, the smaller, combined attacks of Akatsuki and Orochimaru had dwindled their numbers forcing Konoha to cut short free time, rest days, and to extend shifts to make up for it. Yet in spite of this, her guard was increased even more. But no one really complained. Two years had stretched them all thin.

The Akimichi Clan was put in charge of gathering and hoarding the remaining food. Supplies, already rationed because of the war, were slimmed down, and things such as chocolate or milk became luxuries. People were given quick energy raisers and things such as grain and bread to keep up their strength. Meat was almost unheard of while Ramen became quite popular.

Under the watchful eyes of Jounin Haruno Sakura and the Hokage's Handmaiden, Shizune, medical supplies were gathered at a rapid speed. For two days working from sun up to sun down the medics gathered all the herbs in their greenhouses, concentrating on the blood-clotting herbs and nicotine. Bandages were made and after careful calculation, the doctors spent time ripping up the bed sheets for more. Even towels were shredded. Water was drawn from the river and set to boil. Fires were stoked so that when the need would arise the wounds of the injured could be treated quickly.

Sakura, a renowned anti-venom specialist, spent a lot of time ordering various antidotes made according to Sound's Modo de Operandis. As the medic in charge of the hospital, Sakura quickly became pale as time out of the sun, not to mention the shortage of sleep, took its toll. Finally Sai and Naruto marched her to her apartment - a small three roomed place set on the fifth story - and spent the night there to make sure she actually slept.

The Nara Clan was responsible for planning 200 strategies as the Hokage wanted to be prepared for any and every situation. There was not a time of day when some Nara or the other was coming up with an idea to be looked over, criticized, questioned, and then rejected. Nara Shikamaru, a special Jounin (because he was far too lazy to become anything more) was heard complaining loudly and enthusiastically (for him) that he was only getting five hours of sleep instead of his normal fourteen, and he was working constantly; his cloud watching time was drastically cut down and who started these stupid wars anyway?

Training was stepped up and the grounds were not empty be it day or night. There was always someone at the training fields, be it Jounins, Chuunins or Genin teams; everyone was ordered to log time.

Three people in particular spent the majority of their time there.

Jounin Rock Lee, an A almost S rank nin who was also known as the Konoha Sempur was the first and foremost of these three. Lee, tall, lankly, and easily reaching past the seven foot mark, dressed in a loose green outfit and dark hair logged fourteen hours a day non stop. Occasionally the time log went up to eighteen hours a day. However, no one raised their eyebrows as the Jounin's habits were well known. When Lee wasn't training by himself, he was generally training with his team or with other teams that would come to him for advice. Despite Lee's known eccentric antics, he was the best person to go to if you wanted to learn quickly and efficiently.

Inuzuka Kiba, a Jounin marked as an 'A' rank, also known as Wolf Rider was the second fervent trainer. He logged thirteen hours regularly, and he would most likely have logged more, but Kiba had to take care of his pack, after all. He wasn't the head of his clan, but his mother's injuries had rendered her incapable, to put it tactfully, and Kiba had been saddled with a lot of responsibility. Tsume had been attacked and mauled by the Sound-Nin who had decided that it would be crueler to let her live and so had placed her in a position to be found by Konoha. Several blunt objects to the head had caused severe brain damage and swelling, so by the time she awoke she wasn't the person she used to be. After it became apparent that Inuzuka Tsume wouldn't be able to lead the clan through this war, Kiba's older sister Hana had stepped forward. However, Hana was still considered very young to be a clan leader and soon Kiba found himself with a shoulder full of responsibility as he tried to juggle helping his clan, running more difficult missions for the village, and working with his team.

The last ninja to book an unbelievable about of time was one Uzumaki Naruto, S rank Jounin, whose nick-names were as diverse and random as the ninja himself, though he was listed in the Bingo Book as the Fuuton Rasen, having been named after his favorite technique. At the age of eighteen, almost nineteen, Uzumaki Naruto was the chosen replacement for the Godaime. Two and a half years of training, followed by months of searching for and at times rescuing friends closely followed by the two year war had matured him a lot. True, he was still very carefree, but Tsunade had noted a growing responsibility in the boy, especially when it came to his duties. The Jounin was hero worshiped by the younger generation, who spurred on by the stories from the Konohamaru Corps, had looked at him with awe filled eyes ever since he had returned from the training. These rumors and stories had only grown after Naruto rescued the Kazekage and managed to infiltrate Orochimaru's lair, despite his failure to retrieve Sasuke. By the time he had finished with Akatsuki, Naruto was almost a legend to the academy students and new genins. Even among the newest Chuunin's he was held in awe.

Of course, most of the Konoha Twelve were considered an elite branch of Ninja who had been worthy enough to do so many great things that they were considered almost on par with demi-gods, much to Iruka's amusement. No matter how much acknowledgement his students got, he would always see them as the runny-nosed punks who were perpetually skipping class.

Two weeks dragged on, and Jiraiya soon received the news that Orochimaru was on his way. Konoha sat tense and prepared, as inside her walls the shinobi sharpened their tools.

They expected a large army.

They expected casualties.

They knew the destruction of buildings was inevitable.

But none of them expected...

This.


Front Gate Wall

12:15

Naruto, Jounin, future Rokudaime, and platoon leader stood upon the reinforced walls of his village. Blue eyes, which some swore actually glowed at night, scanned the woods below. Keen eyes, sharpened by the mixture of two chakras easily picked up the shapes and shadows of men and a sharp nose was able to detect the scent of dry grass. He snarled. The moon, a small sliver pinned up in the sky, illuminated his face, highlighting blond hair, tanned skin and sharp red-flecked blue eyes. They're here. He thought darkly, and he licked his lips in anticipation. Already he could feel the churning of chakra inside of him, storming like the wind he was so well known for controlling. It raged and pounded, the bloodlust of his resident mixing with his own anxiety.

A hand, small but calloused, landed on his shoulder. He turned around to see Sakura watching him. Her heart-shaped face was shrouded in darkness, but his keen eyes easily made out her expression; eyebrows curved upwards. Her green eyes, practically glowing despite the darkness, were worried. Behind her, standing nonchalantly, Kakashi stood with his face buried in a book, not seeming to care that the village's greatest enemy was marshaled outside their walls, while Sai, whose face was blank, stood with his head cocked. He noiselessly walked over and put a foot on the ledge, leaning forward.

"Well, well, well…" He cooed, sounding amused. "Look who's here!" Sai turned to Naruto, the smile playing on his mouth. "What's the plan, oh great and fearless leader?"

Naruto growled, his eyes sparking red glow. "We'll send them back to Sound with their tails between their legs!"


Weapons District 3

"Sai, duck!"

Sakura's scream warned the dark haired boy, and, bending his knees sharply, he ducked as a blade passed through where his head had been. Sai cocked an eyebrow as he glanced at the two Sound-Nins positioned before and behind him. Strange, he only remembered engaging one. Sai resisted the urge to sigh.

"Calling for reinforcements? You coward!" Sai almost grinned. Then, in a blur of black cloth and hair, he disappeared.

The Sound-Nins gasped.

"Where'd he go?" The swordsman spun around, his sword outstretched before him. The other man glanced nervously around, looking over his shoulder twice just to make sure that the stray cat which emerged triumphantly from the garbage, prized fish bone in mouth, wasn't the painter.

Then, like lighting from above, Sai flew down, his katana already drawn. He sliced one man on the descent, his blade going through the neck and shoulder as he landed in a crouch. Resting his weight on his right foot and balancing on his toes and a hand, he swept his left foot around and tripped the second nin. When the Sound-Nin was on the ground, the cool silver blade slammed through his chest and heart, killing him instantly.

Blood trailed on the ground, its slow, thick, curling patterns almost making a design as it ran down the cracks between tiles.

Sai looked at the bodies solemnly, his eyes dull. For once a smile was absent from his face and his lips almost seemed to be turned down. At that moment, he almost seemed sad, it that were possible. Then, as if a mask had settled over his face, he smiled. "Too slow! Bakas!" His face became somber once again. "Gomenasai." He bowed to the bodies, and after using one man's shirt to clean his blade, he turned away. There were other battles to fight and no time to pity the dead.


Weapons District 3

Sakura grunted as she slammed into the wall behind her. This was just not her day! The man in front of her was strong, his muscle strength being equal to her chakra enforced punch. Almost. However, Sakura noted, he was stupid and slow. Several times she was almost at his mercy, but he had let her go, perhaps not even noticing her vulnerability. Sakura snorted. She must be getting tired to be getting whacked by this tub of lard.

Of course, she reminded herself, she had been fighting steadily for ten hours. Ten hours of genjustsu, taijutsu, and medical jutsu, with a little ninjutsu sprinkled for flavor. Ten hours of keeping her team in line. Ten hours of watching Sai's back and worrying about Naruto and Kakashi. Ten hours of watching comrades die. Sakura tactfully ignored the annoying voice that sounded a lot like Sai which was telling her that girls half her age were keeping up better than this, and she must be getting old. Sakura stood up. She was so gonna kick this fat tub's butt, and then she was gonna go get a refresher! Oh yeah, that sounds good. Sakura placed her fists in a street fighter position, with her feet spread apart slightly and her hands in loose fists, and moved forward.

The big man laughed. "Weak! You're so weak! You think a little thing like you can go against the Rock!" The man looked her over. Sakura sighed mentally, deciding that she really couldn't blame the man for calling her that after the way she had been fighting. However, if he said what he was thinking, she wouldn't forgive him.

"Oi! You're a pretty thing! Why don't you come with me back to Sound! I'll even let you live as part of the deal." Sakura flushed. He said it! I can't believe he said it! He's old enough to be my dad! Ew!

"Shut up! You think I'm going to become your little whore? Think again!" Sakura sprang forward, her eyes glinting. "First of all, I'm not that kind of girl! Second of all, who would do that with you?"

The man reddened in anger. How dare this little… little - talk to him like that! He would show her! Reaching out he grabbed her extended hand, swung around two times to get momentum, and flung her to the far wall. Smirking in smug satisfaction, he didn't notice the small slips of paper falling at his feet, nor the girl landing in a crouch against the wall. Her fingers came up in a seal and she sprang over the man, her white coat streaming behind her. Shuriken were hurled at him as Sakura gave a sharp, "Kai!"

The mini explosives detonated and the big man howled as his feet were blown from under him. His distraction cost him his life as the shuriken embedded itself deep into his skull.

Sakura landed on the ground upright, her coat brushing against her heels. She sighed tiredly, rubbing her shoulder. "Eh. That took far too long. Four minutes! Bah!" She spat out a mouthful of blood and dirt and pulled off a white glove. "I must be getting old. Or rusty." She paused, her face screwed up in thought for a second, her hand frozen in the middle of shaking out her glove. "Rusty. Definitely rusty." Slipping on the glove again, and slapping her hands together, she nodded firmly as she turned around.

Only to duck away from the fist flying at her.

The punch landed in the wall, smashing brick and mortar. Tile crashed against the road and shattered. Sakura pushed chakra to her feet and jumped into the air over the other kunoichi. She released her last batch of explosive slips, only for a kwarmi no jutsu to carry the enemy away from danger. Sakura swore. That had been her last batch, and those things were expensive.

She landed, her eyes darting this way and that, chakra senses extended fully. And then she was flying, her cheek stinging from the fist that had implanted itself on her face. She hit the ground rolling, her training kicking in as she let herself roll to a standstill. Slowly, the pink haired teenager pushed herself onto her knees and looked up. Her eyes darkened. She knew that punch.

"Youruchi." Venom dripped off the word, and Sakura's green eyes flashed killer intent.

The green haired kunoichi grinned. "Hello. -."


Sai paused, his brush still on the piece of parchment. That chakra. He spun, his previous enemy quickly vanquished by the two flying eagles he had summoned. "Sakura!" He spotted her, her pink hair making her quite distinctive against the force of brown and black haired shinobi separating them. Eyes scanned her location, spotting her opponent easily. "Youruchi!"

Youruchi was a Sound-Nin, one of Orochimaru's elite, and a chosen replacement for the Sound Four. Almost two years ago, on a raid to retrieve enemy plans, she and Sakura had met in a clash of legendary scale. Both girls had similar pasts, similar fighting styles and similar "loves." Naruto had once semi-jokingly stated that they were each other's dark sides brought to life. However, even this had a serious undertone. Sai knew that none of Team Kakashi would forget when Sakura had snapped, becoming nothing more than a twisted, darker image of her former self. In that time, nearly everyone had despaired of her returning to the Sakura they knew, and it had taken every ounce of two blonds' optimism for her to shatter that side of her. Sai knew that even now Sakura feared reverting to the monster she had become. As he grimly watched the two shinobi pound each other, Sai sent up a silent prayer to anyone who was listening.

"Be careful. Old Hag."


It was a clash of titans. Fists demolished stone and wood, and bodies were thrown high into the air, only to be sent back to earth with resounding kicks. Chakra scalpels cut tendons, muscles, and organs, while healing hands mended them just as fast. Taunts, curses and blood filled the air and dust, kicked up in the scuffle, made breathing hard. Sakura landed, her hair blowing around her face, having come loose from the senbon she used to pin it up. Her opponent was getting angry, and Sakura, knowing after years of dealing with her rival, knew that when Youruchi got angry one of two things happened: she got careless, or she became more cunning. It was a gamble Sakura was taking, and she prayed that her luck was better than her Shishou's.

The leaf nin's eyes narrowed and she disappeared. Youruchi hissed. "Running away again? Coward! You're a disgrace to the ninja name!"

Silence… Youruchi spun on her heals, her eyes flitting over the rubble.

And then the missing-nin felt pain rip through her chest, spreading like fire to her lungs. She gagged and blood colored the already stained tiles. Sakura, sunk halfway into the ground with a rock jutsu, had pushed a well placed chakra scalpel in Youruchi's chest. Rising quickly so as to catch Youruchi off guard, she swung her fist and punched the enemy nin into the air. Leaping after her, Sakura drove her heel into Youruchi's solar plexus. The missing nin "oofed" and went crashing back to earth. As she lay there, stunned, Sakura, her green eyes glistening in anticipation, picked up a rather large rafter, fully intending to crush her rival where she lay.

Youruchi, reading Sakura's intentions, threw her head back and laughed darkly. Sakura froze, eyes wide.

"Ooo!" Youruchi chuckled, "The little blossom has grown some fangs! Or is it thorns…" She glanced up, her brown eyes narrowed in amusement. "Going dark are we? Saakkuuraa-chan."


Front Gate

Team Eight, previously known as Team Kurenai until their sensei was killed in an attack soon after her lover's death, stood ready at the gate of the city. Surprisingly, the gate hadn't been attacked yet except for in small forces. Indeed, it had been decided that this was the place that was least attacked, and thus, many of the tired troops were being sent here to rest up. Team Eight was on their second round. However, Hinata, tall and willowy her form the envy of many women, watched apprehensively. It looked like their well deserved rest was going to be cut short.

Kiba was astride his mighty, gigantic dog, Akamaru, who was even larger than two years previously. Kiba still claimed that he couldn't see it, after which Naruto had politely suggested that he go to Sakura to get his eyes checked. The dark-haired boy grinned savagely as he watched the approaching Sound-Nin. "Oi! Shino! You getting this? Let's make a bet! Whoever gets the most Sound-Nin wins! And Looser has to buy the winner sake for a month!" He laughed uproariously. Shino sighed, his bugs buzzing quietly. "This would be childish. Instead we should focus on our job. Setting foolish goals of short term work such as this is something only Genin's would do. And also, I do not drink sake. Instead, if I win, you buy Hinata and I a free meal."

"Whaat!" Kiba protested. "Do I look like I'm made of money to you?" He grinned. "You're on!"

Hinata watched her teammates-turned-brothers in amusement. She knew very well what Shino was doing. Kiba, for all his good points, was hot-headed and sometimes easily unfocused on real goals. Something like this would aid him in staying clear-headed. Especially with such a large amount of money on the line.

The war had been going on for two years. Sieges, sabotages, a decrease in shipping, and the sheer number of villagers no longer planting and growing food had cut down the food supply to the bare minimum. Despite the Akimichi family's best efforts, only a small percentage of the warehouses in Konoha were full. Food had become more valuable than gold.

On the other hand, sake had thrived. Sake dulled hunger, warmed you on cold nights. It was cheep and easy to find. You could share sake, while food was hoarded. For one plate of food, you could buy fourteen bottles of sake. Thus, Hinata thought in amusement, Kiba's distress over Shino's bargain. Food for three was a small fortune, nowadays.

Silver eyes, large and luminescent zeroed into the suddenly close enemy nin. Shapely eyebrows curved downwards. "Kiba! Shino." The boys stopped their playful bickering, instantly becoming alert. It was time.

Blood filled the air.


Residential Area 16

Naruto growled, his frustration and impatience getting the best of him, before he kicked off the wall where he sat, perpendicular to the ground, and flung himself at the two twin Sound-Nin. His hand was stiffly outstretched; the wind running across the sides of his fingers forming a sharp blade. With two swipes he had pierced one man's heart, and cut through the lungs of the other. The enemy fell to the ground as Naruto landed in a kneel, his black and orange trench coat billowing behind him before settling on the ground like a train. However, not six seconds had passed before the men were on their feet again.

Naruto swore darkly. "Why can't you just die!"

"Now," Began one, his brown eyes twinkling merrily. A smile played around his mouth.

"Why would we," Continued the other, his long, shoulder length brown hair twisting around him.

"Do something as stupid as that!" They chorused, lifting their knives.

"Now you on the other hand…" The first one trailed off suggestively. That was definitely a smirk.

Naruto could have sworn again, but he settled for hissing. He abruptly back flipped onto his feet and changed stances so that his weight was balanced on the balls of his feet, which were widespread apart, so that his shoulders were straight and upright. His hand moved rapidly: Tiger, boar, dragon, horse, tiger. The wind picked up and began to spin around him. Leaves and dirt lifted as the tornado tore into the ground. It spun around the blond, the sand staying away from him as if hitting an invisible shield "Fuuton: Kaze Kansei: Wind trap!"

The wind moved.

It circled around the brothers, trapping them inside, cutting them with the dirt and chakra-charged leaves whenever they tried to move. Dust attacked their eyes, stung against bare skin. Leaves, charged with chakra so as to be as sharp as razors cut glancing blows into their torso, arms and legs, ripping their skin and clothes to shreds.

Naruto, his own clothing battered by the wind, reached out a hand. "Fuuton: Kaze Touken: Wind Swords." The wind, still circling the brothers like a cyclone, reached out and pierced them like a thousand blades. It caught their bodies as they fell and sent them flying in opposite directions. One brother managed to stay conscious long enough to glance at his twin, horror, dread and dismay filling his face. However, his strength soon gave out and he collapsed into the dust.

After two minutes, and they still didn't return to their feet, Naruto relaxed. He slumped slightly, and moved backwards to lean against the nearby wall. Twins. Brothers. Why did he always get stuck with the emotion provoking enemies? Sakura never got trapped with six year old killing machines, or confused teens in their rebellious years! Kakashi never had to face revenge-obsessed idiots who thought Orochimaru could give them power!

Okay, except for Sasuke, but he didn't count. At least, he consoled himself, they had died together. He turned away. One step, two steps, three steps… Dodge the knife. The Future Rokudaime hurled himself into a summersault. He came up running. Chakra filled feet carried him up a wall and helped him fling himself over the brother's heads to land behind them.

"That,"

"Was very,"

"Very,"

"Mean, little shinobi." The brothers were angry. Well, at least he had gotten an emotion other than amusement, Naruto noted, pleased with himself. The next second he was scowling again. Kuso! How had they survived? Naruto had aimed at every single vital spot.

"You nearly killed him!" One brother growled. This gave the blond haired Jounin a pause. Why would he be so upset? Why was he so worried? Could he use it to beat them? Did it relate to their survival? It couldn't be… Unless… He felt like hitting himself. Muttering curses, some of which made the brother on the right raise an eyebrow, he glanced over at them.

"What are your names?" He asked, even while getting ready for his next attack. The brothers were taken aback.

"Names?" One repeated, glancing at the other. "Why would a Leaf Shinobi be interested in this? We are tools, all of us. We have no need for names." Naruto paused.

"You don't have a name?" His eyes softened. monster, idiot, dobe! Oni - "No one should be without a name."

! Demon. You! You there!-

The brother on the left scowled. "We are merely Orochimaru's experiments, tools at his disposal! Names are unnecessary. Names cause attachments." However, Naruto noticed sadly that he seemed unconvinced of what he was saying, as if he were simply repeating something said a hundred times before and desperately trying to believe it.

"Do you really think that? Or is that just something Orochimaru told you?" Naruto was beginning to regret starting this conversation. Better to keep to taunts or insults. Better to not sympathize. Better to not have feelings of compassion. "How old are you?"

This time the brother on the right answered. "Why do you want to know? This will give you no advantage over us!"

In fact, Naruto didn't know why he was doing this. To prove a point? To try to convert some Sound-Nin? To understand? "It wouldn't give an advantage." Naruto replied seriously. "However," He smiled brightly, "I have a friend who you remind me of. I guess, I just want to see if…" He stopped, deciding that this type of conversation would get him no where. "My name is Uzumaki Naruto. I'm eighteen, almost nineteen, and hopefully, I'm gonna be Hokage!" Naruto laughed, savoring the confusion on the brothers' faces. "I guess I should name you, huh? Well…" He glanced between them. "You, on the right. I guess that mark on your face isn't gonna heal, so…" The brother, startled reached up a hand to touch his face, his eyes showing a hint of fear. "I'll call you…Zenato." Zenato's eyes became wide. Boy kids sure startled easily! Naruto turned away. "And your twin… Well… I guess you oppose to the term Teme… so… Nashiato!" Both brothers exchanged looks.

"What are you trying to do?" They chorused.

"Name you," Naruto answered nonchalantly, putting his hands behind his head.

"And why are you doing that?" They deadpanned.

Naruto paused and glanced at them, his gaze piercing and unreadable. "Because no one should go through life or death without a name. Now," He straightened and grinned cheerfully. "Let's see how you survive decapitation, shall we?"


Residential Area 14

Kakashi glanced up from the dead bodies of his enemies to see Naruto strolling toward him. "Oh? Finally finished? It took you longer than usual."

"Shut up. What's your status? Are you injured?" Kakashi stared at him. "What?" Naruto rubbed an arm across his cheek. "Do I have something on my face?"

"No…" Kakashi smiled sheepishly. "It's just strange to hear you sound intelligent."

"Oh!" Naruto rolled his eyes and nodded sagely. "Sai can grow a personality, Sakura can actually grow a figure, you can arrive slightly on time, but I can't be smart." He glared at his sensei. "Where, exactly, is the logic in that?"

"No logic." Kakashi's eyes turning into upside down 'U's. "Only reason."

The younger Jounin growled. "Sensei."

Kakashi laughed, waving his hands submissively. "Just kidding, just kidding." The men began walking, scanning left and right for any concealed ninja, their eyes darting to any shadow or movement. Trash blew across the road, and a pop can rocked slightly up ahead. "So, how'd you beat them?"

"Who?" Naruto asked.

"Boys of Regeneration back there."

"Oh! Them." Naruto's face was blank. Then he smiled brightly and shrugged his shoulders. "I didn't."

Kakashi face vaulted. "WHAT?"

Front Gate

Hinata gasped, trying to suck in any oxygen that she could. It hurt. Kami, it hurt. Her ribs were broken and every breath of air brought into her lungs rubbed against them. Hinata knew that pretty soon she would be risking a punctured lung as well. Bruises covered her face and torso, gifts courtesy of a rather nasty Rock-nin turned Sound. Her ears were ringing, and a rather annoying nosebleed just wouldn't stop. Hinata snorted to herself, wincing at the pain. Wouldn't that be a dignified death worthy of the Hyuuga Head. Death by nosebleed. Not. Her legs seemed to have turned into jelly, and Hinata couldn't stop her descent onto the ground.

"Hinata! Are you okay?"

Kiba-kun.

Hinata glanced up at her leather clad teammate. She schooled her face to be jovial. "I am fine. You?"

"Aw, just great!" He smirked. "Final count, eighty-seven." He glanced up over her head. "What about you, tough guy? Can you compete with the king?"

"I find myself at the humble number of ninety-four." Shino said calmly, coming up to stand behind her.

Was Hinata imagining it, or was that sound satisfaction? Of course, anyone would be satisfied to put that look on Kiba's face. "What!" The Inuzuka floundered, his hands motioning frantically, his mouth moving soundlessly. "How?" He finally gasped. Hinata hid a smile, and knew that Shino was using his large collar to do the same. There was no question if Shino was cheating. Shino didn't cheat.

"Do not worry, Kiba-kun." Hinata rushed to encourage him. "There are still many hours left in this day. I am sure that you will be able to narrow the score…" Hinata's kind words only seemed to depress the Wolf Rider even more.

"Even Hinata's against me! Hinata!" Kiba groaned, face palming himself.

Shino sighed. "Come now, Kiba. This was only a bet. You will not pay much."

"Hah! Have you seen how much your bugs eat?" Kiba retorted hotly. For the first time, Shino's face flashed with annoyance. "Insects. Not bugs. Insects. Baka."

Hinata grinned, even as she cringed inside from the pain of taking breath. If she could only hold on just a little bit longer. Just a little bit…


Residential Area 1

Twelve hours. Twelve hours of blood, sweat, and tears. Twelve hours of Battle. Tsunade grunted as she slammed her foot into an approaching enemy. Heh. Of course the Hokage has to get involved. Because nothing about the Hokage job is ever easy. Because that would just be too unfair! Another building crashed into rubble, and Tsunade could feel her pocket book getting lighter. She jumped onto a wall. Shock. Astonishment. They riveted through her in waves. This was Konoha? This was her beautiful village? What… what the – had happened to it?

So few buildings remained standing. Bodies covered the ground like flees on a dog. Blood ran freely, the ground so soaked with it that it couldn't absorb more. The streets and walls were literally stained with red. "Kami." Tsunade breathed. Was there anyone left? Panic seized her for a second. Where was Naruto? Where was Sakura? Calm down. They're very capable. Sakura'll take care of Naruto. Don't worry. And they have Kakashi and Sai with them. Now, what about the others. What about—" Tsunade froze, for one instant her senses stretched out to their limits. The next instant, she was airborne, flinging herself headlong off the wall.

Orochimaru's sword sliced into the place where she had been standing, leaving a deep gash. "Oh… Feeling lucky? Tsunade-hime."

Tsunade sneered, her lip curling back in plain distaste. The sound of wood clicking against tile and the brush of familiar chakra alerted her to Jiraiya's presence. "Well, well, well," She quipped. "If it isn't the perverted traitor. Strange, I thought you would be back at home playing with your boy toys. Pedophile."

Jiraiya guffawed behind her, even as Orochimaru's eyes narrowed. "Such a pitty, Hime. I didn't think you would descend to the level of the idiot behind you. Such humor is below you." Tsunade 'tsh'ed, looking to the side and Jiraiya rolled his eyes. "Okay, let's get this on with! I got places to be, people to see. Especially…" Tsunade glared at him and he cut himself off sharply. "…Er… Let's just get one with it."


Weapons District 3

Sakura swore loudly as she slammed her fist into the ground. The earth splintered and shattered. Youruchi lurched, swearing vilely as she grabbed for a handhold. Sakura quickly made seals and plunged her hands into the ground, turning the earth before her into quicksand. However, Youruchi was able to rise above it, hurling herself over Sakura's head. She flipped, her heels digging into the back of Sakura's head, flinging her forward. Swinging around, she roundhouse kicked Sakura up into the air.

The Konoha Jounin felt herself hurl through the air. Then, pain blossomed through her side, ballooning from her chest, sparking down to her kidneys. Blood, red and bright, pulsed from her lips dribbling down her chin to trail down her neck. Sakura swallowed, choking down her desire to cough. She looked down and became pale.

When Youruchi had kicked her, Sakura had flown to one of the shattered roofs. A rafter, splintered and pointed, was positioned in exactly the right position to stab her on her landing. She was impaled on the rafter. Haruno gasped in shock and pain. Her mind, trained and accustomed to analytical assessments quickly diagnosed her situation. The rafter was large, probably having pierced her intestines and breached her lungs. Her kidneys… they hurt, but they wouldn't kill her. No her greatest problem was… well, several things. Choking on her blood, intestines falling out, bleeding out… was her sternum damaged? No, it wasn't. Good. That meant that she wouldn't die the moment she was off the post. What was her Chakra situation? Well… Sakura could answer that question immediately. It was poor. Very poor. She only had a small percent, perhaps two or three, before she entered into chakra exhaustion. It would be great to heal her wounds only to die from that, now, wouldn't it?

A dark chuckle reminded her suddenly of why she was here, suspended ten feet off the ground, and hanging from a rafter. Youruchi, madness and bloodlust dancing across her face, her eyes dark and dangerous. Her lips were stretched into a feral grin, heaves which lifted her chest up and down also bringing dark laughter. From her ankle, spreading like a whirlwind of cherry petals, the dark marks of a curse seal crept up her leg and across her face and body.

Looking into the countenance of her now insane rival, Sakura swallowed thickly.

This had just gotten more complicated.


Hokage Tower 1

Sarutobi Konohamaru, a young Chuunin dressed in the normal Chuunin vest and a blue scarf, ran down the streets. He had just come from the Hokage Area. However, it was now, as were many areas, either overrun or a silent battlefield filled only with the carcasses of the dead. The Chuunin coughed. Many of those corpses were friends. Some, family. Some were closer than brothers…

Udon. Smart, clumsy, snotty Udon, whose mathematical mind had always figured interesting ways out of many situations. Gone… Just like Ebisu-sensei, pervert that he was.

Why was the road so…blurry?

Thud!

Two bodies slammed into each other before falling to the gory ground. In a flash, both were standing, kunai drawn, stances prepared. However, the bodies froze suddenly. "Moegi!"

"Konohamaru!"

The Chuunin teammates stared at each other for a second, before the boy rushed forward to support Moegi as she slumped, her hand pressed against her side. "What are you doing out here! I thought I told you to get away from the Hokage Area!"

"And since when," Moegi muttered, standing up straight, "Have I ever listened to you?" She snorted, placing a hand on her side. "Besides, despite what it may seem, it is only a surface wound! It is not life threatening. It is certainly no reason to have your teammate dragged off by some genin to a medical area so that you and Udon can go off and fulfill the call of your testosterone!" Moegi paused, her face flushed. She had been poking him in the chest, becoming more aggressive with each 'it.' Then she looked around. "Where's Udon? Is he coming along?"

She turned to Konohamaru, her eyes meeting his. She froze. He didn't know what his face looked like. He didn't know if his eyes darkened, or if his face paled, or if his jaw tightened. He didn't know if she could sense the cold feeling that seemed to wrap around his throat, soak his stomach and steal the strength from his bones. However, whatever she saw, Konohamaru knew that it was enough. She fell silent, except for a quiet, "Oh God, not him too. Not him." They stood there, Moegi staring at the ground before her, face white except for two red spots right on her cheeks. Her bottom lip was caught between her teeth, and Konohamaru knew the signs well enough to know she was trying not to cry.

Her back straightened. "At least… he won't have to see what's become of us… what will become of us."

"Oi!" Konohamaru protested. "Don't talk like that! You still haven't seen what Nii-san will do. And I don't intend to die until I see Naruto on that mountain as the Rokudaime. And certainly not until I see my face on there right beside him! So… don't give up." He turned away, flinging his scarf over his shoulder. He turned away muttering, "Tch, this thing is so troublesome!"

"Oi! That's my line!"

"Hanging out with Shikamaru much, Konohamaru-kun?"

Konohamaru and Moegi turned around to see two Jounins… or rather a Jounin and a half walking up to them. "Shikamaru! Ino!" Moegi cheered. "We lost track of you! Where's Chou…" She stopped, wondering if perhaps she shouldn't ask that. However, when Ino rolled her eyes and Shikamaru sighed as if the world was looking at him to hold it on his shoulders, she grinned. "He's taking a breather, eh?"

"Never mind that!" Sarutobi cut in. "We need to get you to the hospital, Moe! And then—"

The female Chuunin rolled her eyes and hit him on the shoulder with a clenched fist. "Stop that, I told you I'm fi… Konohamaru!"

The Sarutobi felt himself fall. Pain. She actually hit him! Right there! On the wound! Ouch… He thought absently.

Hands caught him and lowered him to the ground where he could lean against the nearby wall. It was dark… why? Oh, my eyes are closed. Blurry vision. The outline of a head. Blue eyes. A halo of gold hair. Ino. Moegi… she was talking. Always…talking.

He winced.

"…And you were lecturing me about going to the hospital! You hypocrite! Cheat! Liar! Deceiver! Insensitive gout! How could you! We… we need to get you to a hospital! The medic center!"

"It's no good." Ino broke in, unzipping Konohamaru's Chuunin vest. "We just came from there. It's completely over run." Deft hands exposed the large wound that cut into his shoulder and down his chest. "However, while I'm nowhere near Sakura's skill, I have some training. I'll do what I can."


Near Residential Area 1

Shizune gasped, her eyes staring at the battle in front of her. This could be a war in its self! Three kage-level nins of equal power. A triangle. Not one greater than the other. Shizune watched, her eyes wide as they battled. Never before had she seen them this passionate about winning.

Jiraiya wasn't as good as he used to be. His injuries, courtesy of Akatsuki two years prior still hampered him. After all, one didn't just recover from being dead for eighteen minutes (an unheard of record), then having a boatload of chakra pumped into you from two very panicked sources (Tsunade and Naruto), and then be nearly killed again, not six weeks afterwards by a vengeful Akatsuki in the "Final Battle," as it was "affectionately" named. Or, as Naruto called it, "The Final Battle to End all Battles and Help Us Save the World from Being Taken Over By Crazed, Power Hungry Maniacs with Gender Issues."

However, that was an incredibly long title, so after being pounded by Sakura, Naruto had agreed to the "Final Battle." This was much to Sai's disappointment, as he had already made the banner.

Tsunade was slower than two years before, stress, age, and an over abundance of sake taking their toll. Her movements were slow, but her hits still packed a punch. However, Shizune and Sakura knew what no one else did – Tsunade was loosing her eyesight. Her peripheral vision was fading quickly, and her left eye had lost depth measurement. Orochimaru, on the other hand, looked as good as he always did.

Shizune, after watching her mistress being hurled headlong into a wall, clenched her teeth. This battle wasn't going to turn out like the "Last Battle". Not if she could help it. She gritted her teeth and threw herself off of the wall.

She was half way to her mistress when a hand wrapped around her ankle and flung her to the ground. She smashed into the gravel spectacularly, her face quickly turned raw with scrapes.

"Tsk, Tsk," A smooth voice reproved. "A little girl like you shouldn't get caught up in the debates of adults. Why not come play with me instead?"

Shizune grunted, gravel biting into her face before she pushed herself up. "Kabuto. You low down, slimy, double crossing, two-faced traitor!"

Kabuto grinned, unruffled as he pushed up his glasses. "It's so nice to hear the last words of a friend."

Shizune sneered. "That's nice. However, I could never be friends with a medic who so abuses his art. Nor will I die to one."

Kabuto raised an eyebrow. "Well, when you meet Kami face to face, you can complain to him."

Shizune watched him warily, knowing she was no match for him. He was younger, more skilled and had regeneration ability. He was also more brutal, had killed more, and he wouldn't hesitate. She knew, as she studied him closely looking for a weakness, any weakness, she was going to die. But maybe… just maybe she would take him with her.

Shizune rose to her feet, determined to meet her death fighting.


Tsunade gasped as her handmaiden's chakra signature disappeared. Shizune's signature had been implanted into Tsunade's mind from the day Shizune had come up to her, bag over her shoulder, hair stuck to her face, and had told her flatly that, no, she was going into exile with Tsunade, and nothing the drunk blond could say or do would stop her. If she had to she would just follow behind by a day until Tsunade eventually had to say yes. Looking into the wide, dark eyes, and seeing the reflection of her fiancé in the passion held there had made her say nonchalantly agree, expecting the girl to give up in a month. She never expected to gain a life companion.

And now…

She watched helplessly as her friend, surrogate daughter, niece, and companion fell to the dust. Those same eyes, once so filled with heartfelt passion, so often filled with concern and exasperation, were now dulled.

NO! Tsunade felt a piece of her heart die as she saw the limp figure. She had so many things she wanted to do! Open a tea shop, have a dog, be able to sleep in two days in a row… marry that one punk! Genma! It's not fair! Not fa—

"Tsunade! Move!" Jiraiya's warning barely came in time and Tsunade sank into the ground as the large snake landed where she had stood. When she rose again, dirt sticking onto her face where her tears had trailed, she heard the sound of Orochimaru's snickering. "Getting old, Tsunade? You should pay more attention to your surroundings! After all, that just might kill you someday."

In his glee, Orochimaru failed to notice the growing shadow until it was nearly too late. Gamabunta landed where Orochimaru had stood just moments before. Setting his foot up, he rested an elbow on it, and with a smirk stated, "Better pay more attention to your surroundings, Orochimaru. That just might kill you someday."

As Orochimaru growled, Tsunade looked at the body of her handmaiden, noticing with pride that she had taken Kabuto down with her. Slowly, she looked over her village. This was her home. Hers.

"Orochimaru." She hissed, causing both men to look at her. "I think today would be a great day for there to be only two Sannins, don't you think?" She turned her head to glare at him, her forehead marked with seals.

The sound of a summoning broke the silence.


Close to Weapons District 3

Kakashi and Naruto landed close to where they sensed Sai and Sakura. Ten minutes before they had felt Sakura's chakra spike in a way they hadn't sensed since… that time. Kakashi reached up to his ear mike, which was, for once, clear as hundreds of chakra explosions, spikes, and failings contributed to interference on the headset. However, at this distance, it was likely that Sai would be able to hear them. "Sai, Sakura, report."

They continued to walk down the remains of what once was the main street. Except for the sounds of occasional explosions, screams and jutsu in the distance, all was silent. "Sai, Sakura, this is Kakashi. Code in." Static. Naruto glanced at him, his eyes concerned.

"No answer?"

Kakashi glanced at him, and then tapped the mike again. "Haruno Sakura, Sai, report. What is your status?"

"This—Sai. Brea—up. Locat—Weapon shop. Status… Tired but well."

By this time, the other half of Team Kakashi was already on the move. "Keep speaking, Sai. We're coming to you. How's Sakura?"

"I'm fine." Sakura's voice came clearly over the mike. "Just…having a little," There was a large crash and the sound of a wall crumbling. Naruto glanced up to see one of the few walls left in Konoha collapse. "Trouble with a gnat."

"Sai, what are you doing?" Naruto asked, finally turning on his own headset. "Are you in combat?"

"Negative. I'm just watching two ugly hags have a cat fight to prove their superiority to the common dust mop-using housewife." As Kakashi and Naruto exchanged sweat dropped, deadpanned looks, they heard the roar of, "What? Come here and say that to my face you-"

"You're supposed to be on my side you two timing, double faced-"

Naruto rolled his eyes. "Well, that answers who she's fighting. You'd think she'd learn not to get so emotionally involved." Kakashi snorted. "Pot. Kettle. You get emotionally involved if your just see someone you think you recognize. And what about those twins…"

Naruto glanced at him. "No comments from the ramen gallery, please."

A spike of chakra, so strong that it was nearly suffocating, swept over them and Naruto froze, his face becoming an inexpressive mask. His eyes darkened and became red while his face twisted. "Orochimaru!" The blond crouched and vanished, appearing several yards away only to vanish again.

"Naruto, wait!" Kakashi yelled, running forwards a few paces. However, the blond ninja either didn't hear him or chose to disregard the call. Growling in exasperation, Kakashi reached over and tapped on his headset. "Sai, Sakura, the Sannin's are fighting. Sai, help Sakura end that fight soon. I'm gonna go after a certain knucklehead."

"Acknowledged."

"Tsunade-sama? Understood."


Naruto sprang from rubble pile to rubble pile. His teeth gritted. His eyes were narrowed. "Baa-chan. Ero-Sennin. Don't do anything stupid. Don't die.

Tsunade gasped, her chest heaving. I'm getting too old for this. Her weary eyes met those of Jiraiya. He was badly hurt. He had taken two strikes by Orochimaru's sword to the chest. One arm was nearly severed. He wouldn't last long without help. She wasn't doing too well herself. Her regeneration jutsu, while giving her an extra boost for a while was beginning to drain her. She was running low on Chakra, she knew she had at least four broken ribs. Internal bleeding—definite. However, she derived satisfaction from the fact that Orochimaru wasn't doing so well either.

His breath was coming in wheezes. One of his arms was disabled, a fair exchange for Jiraiya's limp one. A bad limp slowed down his movements. She was sure that she had given him some internal bleeding with that last punch. However, he still had more reserves in Chakra than her, and a greater number of jutsu. Jiraiya had more chakra than the both of them. She had more control than both of them combined. Snake trumps Frog, Frog trumps Slug, Slug trumps Snake. More jutsu, more control, more chakra. We really were the three parts of a whole. Where did it go wrong? Where did we fail?

Orochimaru started laughing. The sound grated on Tsunade's ears. He sounded insane, like a maniac! "This has been… very fun. However, I think it's time I wrapped this up, don't you think?" He reached up a pale hand to his face and pulled. Skin came off like rubber revealing a very familiar face. "Say hello to your old comrade. Uchiha Sasuke."

Naruto landed in a crouch, his hands brushing against the ground. His trench coat trailed behind him, it's orange flames kicking up dust. His cat eyes easily picked up the signs of battle. Fresh blood, not yet browned with the setting of the sun led him to what used to be a busy, crowded living area. Now… it was an open field.

He arrived just in time to see a blur drive a long sword into the Godaime. Tsunade's eyes opened wide in shock. Her lips parted as if exhaling. Her eyes met those of her attacker, and for a second she pretended she could almost see regret.

"Why?" She gasped. "Why?"

Orochimaru didn't answer except to withdraw his sword. She fell to the ground lifeless. It was about then that Naruto took in the face of her killer.

"Sasuke!" No, not Sasuke, Naruto realized as the figure turned towards him slowly. Sasuke's eyes had never been that cruel. That… hostile. Even at the end, the last time Naruto had seen him, his eyes had been cold. Dead. They had never been hate filled except when directed towards the disaster that was Itachi. Sasuke's companions, what remained of them had already disbanded. Only he had remained.


Two Years Ago

One Mile from Konoha

"What are you going to do now?"

The dark-haired teen didn't answer. He just stood with his head bowed and his gaze fixed on the ground. Naruto came to stand beside him, putting an arm on his shoulder. "Do… you know that you can always come back with us, right?" The Chuunin didn't want to force him. He didn't want to make Sasuke feel trapped. Cornered. Naruto sighed and flopped onto the ground.

Two years and a half years ago he had returned from his trip with Jiraiya. Two years and four months ago, they heard that Sasuke had found his brother. However, Naruto had been called off the search to save Jiraiya who had foolishly gone into Akatsuki's lair to face Pain alone. However, he had heard from Sai that, after fighting through Sasuke's companions, they had arrived to see him standing over his brother, the sword held at his throat. He let him live. Even now, Naruto didn't know why. Two months later, Sasuke paid Naruto a visit. It lasted only five minutes. But it was enough for Naruto to see something was missing in Sasuke's eyes – purpose.

The visits became more regular. Five minutes became ten, ten became 15, and fifteen became thirty. Naruto never told Sakura and Kakashi except for days after when he knew Sasuke wasn't going to come back. He didn't know why not. Naruto knew that Sakura still loved Sasuke. However, despite how much he looked for it, Naruto didn't see any hint of Sasuke returning those feelings.

Until now…

"Baa-chan wouldn't be opposed to it. And well, you're name will slip you by the elders…" Naruto trailed off. "The fact is… I still think of you as my best friend… Sasuke."

Sasuke stiffened, the first sign of emotion Naruto had seen in… well… a long time. Black eyes met blue. A second seemed to become a day. In Sasuke's eyes, Naruto saw a kaleidoscope of emotions. Pain, longing, betrayal, hope, despair. Then, they hardened. "Sorry, Naruto." Sasuke turned away. "Can't go back to Konoha. That ship's sailed a long time ago." He paused. "For what it's worth… you were my best friend too."

"And Sakura?"

Sasuke paused again. "Perhaps it's best if she moves on. I…I'm not who she thinks I am."

"Yes, you are." Naruto said softly, not looking up at the dark-haired teen.

Sasuke didn't answer.

"Goodbye, Naruto. Become a great Hokage."

Two years ago, the war on Konoha started. Orochimaru had returned.

And now…

"No…" Naruto shook his head. "You're not Sasuke. Orochimaru!" He bared his teeth. "How did you survive? Sasuke told me he overwhelmed you. You… you failed to take over his body!"

Orochimaru chuckled. "Oh, that is true. Unfortunately for the boy in question, he could only suppress me as long as his will remained strong. Without a purpose… well… It was quite easy! Such a pity! He so wanted to join Konoha. Unfortunately, he already felt me in his mind and didn't want to endanger you!"

It took a moment for Naruto to identify the grinding noise as his teeth. His eyes became scarlet. Fangs elongated. "You -! I'm gonna kill you!"


TBC…

Read and Review!

P.S. Does anyone know why all the page breaks have disapeared? It's really annoying!