AN: Bet you folks thought that I had abandoned this ole story…nope. Though anyone who has been following me for any length of time should already know that it's pretty par for the course that I take years in between updates, though I'm hoping that won't be the case looking for the next update. Good luck folks. I'm actually ashamed to say that most of this chapter was written about six months ago, then life hit me pretty hard, and I dropped until just recently. Oh before I forget to mention this chapter takes my short little story passed the 100,000 word mark. Wow.

Of course it will be at least a month or two until my next update, which is unavoidable because this chapter is being posted during a port call while my ship and I are on deployment. So on that cheery note how about I update all of you glorious readers on where Shinen is now. When we last left our brilliant author he had just completed a grueling two year course of military training to allow him to join one of the most intellectual forces in the United States armed forces, and had finally been attached to his first ship: a Nimitz class aircraft carrier. Since then I have gone on one deployment, which led me to circumnavigating the globe. Yes I did see the world, spoiler alert it's mostly water and that's most of what I saw. Since then I moved to San Diego where my ship was reassigned, yay no more Virginia winters. Once I settled into San Diego I ended my on again off again excessively complicated romantic relationship with my best friend back home. Started a new awesome relationship. Wrote most of this chapter. Realized that I had been displaying symptoms of depression for the last decade. Ended that awesome relationship rather spectacularly. Started another one. Realized that one was going to end similarly spectacularly, so we called it quits. And now I find myself deployed again…c'est la vie. And of course I left out all of the enjoyable exploring of San Diego, the passing of four relatives, the acquisition of a house that created a rather stressful financial situation, and I'm sure I've missed something. Wow I'm going to be bored when things settle down. Not that any of you people probably care about my dull life, I suppose I should stop wasting the time of all of you nice people and let you get back to the story…

Planting Foreign Seeds Part 2: Nurturing

Three days ago in Umi no kuni:

Rock Lee awoke, blurry eyed and in a place he had never seen before. This certainly wasn't the inn that he and his team had rented out for their mission here in Umi. It was a sparsely decorated room that seemed to be made of lower quality wood with not even the smallest amount of effort used to hide the impoverish conditions. The candlelight provided to him also showed Lee a doorless archway that led to another room. As Lee sat up on the futon where was resting, he noticed a lack of weight throughout his body and a damp cloth falling from his forehead where his hitaite would normally reside. Upon further inspection Lee noticed that his body was bereft of the five sets of weighted clothing that usually kept him restrained, and that his normal white gi top was full of scratches and small holes - obviously a left over from his team's fight with those ninja in the harbor - while the green spandex underneath, on the other hand, was relatively undamaged.

While inspecting himself for any further signs of injury or sickness, Lee heard the sound of a door opening and closing in the other room followed by the sound of soft footsteps indicative of whoever must own this small hovel. He tensed slightly, but unnoticeably to those not skilled enough, and otherwise pretended not to notice the new presence prepared for any eventuality. "So you're awake." Observed a small, slightly high pitched voice originating from the archway.

"I am, Ohayo, I am Rock Lee!" Lee said looking up in exuberance and giving his host his best nice guy pose while still sitting down, finally taking in his host. It was a young woman, roughly his age with black hair that messily fell just below her shoulders, and deep brown, almost black eyes. She had pale skin, and a fit muscular build. Lee thought she looked pretty even though much of her face was obscured by bandages. He thought she would look much more pretty if she did not look so sad. As Lee took in her appearance a vague impression came to his mind of the moments just before he passed out, having almost drowned, "You're the person who saved my life?" Lee observed seeking out a little more information, to which the girl responded with a small nod. "And I assume you've also been taking care of me" Another nod, "May I know your name?"

"It's Isaribi." She replied contritely.

"Then, Isaribi, you must be my hero! No my angel! For treating me so kindly I will double my efforts to complete my mission! I will return to my team so that together we can rid the waters of the demon of the ocean! For your kindness I will do this too so that you can be safe to enjoy these waters and be happy again! My angel deserves only the best for her kindness!" Lee began to drone on in exuberance of how they would kill the monster, and how Isaribi would no longer be sad, and that Lee would take her on many dates to celebrate their victory beginning to lose himself in his fantasies.

Quietly, Isaribi interrupted Lee, but compared to her previous silence it sounded as loud as thunder to Lee, "I take it then that you are feeling better." So stunned by the sudden comment, and by the fact that Isaribi obviously did not share Lee's exuberance for his task he was stopped cold in his daydream, and could only respond in a small affirmative, "Then I think it would be best if you ate quickly and left, please." After her statement Isaribi briskly turned away from Lee and proceeded to spoon out two bowls full of a stew that she had been preparing before she left to the other room. Lee quickly joined her for the meal, beginning to wonder about his mysterious host.

Two days ago, just South of Takigakure:

Team 8 leapt through the trees heading North toward Takigakure, having left the Hi no Kuni border yesterday. For obvious reasons they did not know exactly where Takigakure no sato was, but they were scheduled to meet a representative from the village to escort them the rest of the way somewhere in the rough center of the country just before noon. The weather was clear and warm with not a cloud in the sky or a drop of water on the ground, and the mid august sun kept the air beneath the leafy canopy warm even this far north.

The shinobi team leapt off another branch, Kurenai-sensei in the lead of the group, with Kiba and Shino holding the middle each constantly aware of their surroundings, and Hinata taking up the rear conserving her chakra, but ready to activate her byakugan at a moment's notice. With their latest leap Kiba's patience began wearing thin, as the Inuzuka was never well suited for long monotonous tasks such as this journey seemed to be turning into. "How much further?" Kiba whined to his teacher and Shino, hoping that one of the two would give him an answer that would at least give hope that they would see some action soon.

"We should be approaching the rendezvous point soon, Kiba." Kurenai said in response, hoping Kiba wouldn't pursue the information much further. She really did not need to deal with a whining teenager right now, and if any of her students were at risk of providing her that problem she knew that it would be Kiba.

"I expect that we should come in contact with our contact within the next 5 kilometers or so, if that helps any Kiba." Shino provided more specifically.

"Finally, I feel like we've been running forever, and these trees really get annoying after awhile."

"Then why don't you look at something further away?" Hinata provided.

"Like what? It'd just be a different tree." Kiba countered.

Before anyone could provide an adequate solution to Kiba's obvious and clearly dire predicament, a perfectly timed kunai landed on the same tree branch that Kiba and Shino were standing on just after Kurenai had leapt forward again, and just before Hinata had landed on it. "Scatter!" Hinata yelled at the top of her lungs forming and bursting a hasty Rasengan to stop her forward progress and forcing her back and to a lower and slightly further back branch, while Kiba and Shino immediately leapt off in different directions moving slightly slower and at a shorter distance than originally intended since they could not properly get their footing before taking off again. The three genin managed to escape just in time as the kunai exploded not 4 seconds after landing on the branch. As it was Hinata still had to cover her face with her arms in a cross block receiving superficial scratches from the debris all over her arms, while her teammates were more forcefully thrown to their new branches rather than approaching with any sort of control.

Kurenai immediately turned around from her new perch to begin scanning around in search of their attackers, which was made slightly more difficult by whoever they were still being slightly hidden by the trees, still moving, and Kurenai herself not being much of a sensor. Hinata was only just able to land on her feet, using her byakugan to accurately track where her new target branch was to stick said landing. Shino, also, was only just able to land on his feet, and immediately began collecting all of the information that his insects could provide with a scowl on his face as he processed the loss of roughly a dozen members of his hive from the concussive forces of the explosion. Kiba was not as lucky as his teammates, having been thrown further off from his target and actually bodily crashing into his intended branch. Kiba heard another kunai coming his way, and immediately let go of the branch to drop to the one below it. He then flipped tightly forward a few branches and used his chakra to stick and slide around the trunk a few meters in front of him, just as the kunai meant for his head blew up shattering another branch. As Kiba was taking cover, Akamaru was discreetly leaping from his master's head to begin prowling through the shadows in an attempt to find whoever was targeting his best friend and bring them out in the open.

"Hinata!" Kurenai yelled, an unspoken order that her student understood immediately.

"Hai!" The Hyuga replied focusing her Byakugan in an attempt to seek out their assailants. Kiba was trying to regain his footing, and regroup as soon as either his partner gave the signal or his smell picked up an enemy, whichever came first. Shino was dispersing his entire hive thickly throughout the surrounding forest, as well as calling on all of the surrounding bug life in an attempt to get some kind of information. "I've got four enemies, spread throughout the area. Two in motion and two stationary, each about Tenten-chan's chakra level with one slightly higher than the other three. That one's one of the stationary ones, and is hanging back a little further from the other three." Hinata informed her teammates.

"I've got a lock on one of them." Shino said at an even tone – his equivalent to a yell – before flipping through a short series of hand signs, "Ninpo: Tsuyo no ari no jutsu!"(Strength of the ants) and leaping straight into the foliage. By the dull thud that was heard by his teammates, they assumed that he successfully managed to intercept his target. As Shino disappeared from their midst, what remained of team 8 noticed a dark blur shoot from the tree line, closely followed by a large ball of fire.

Kiba saw this, and immediately called out, "He's mine! Gatsuuga!" Before he turned into a silver drill aimed directly at the revealed target smashing him into a nearby tree and pinning him there.

"Hinata keep an eye on those last two!" Kurenai called out.

"Hai, sensei. It's just the two in the back!" Hinata responded.

"Very well." Kurenai said, before seeming to remain alert at her current position, though Hinata could sense otherwise as Kurenai disappeared from her unimproved line of sight and began stalking back towards the enemy in the back. As she was observing her sensei transit, Hinata felt the vaguest tingle of an illusion take hold, coming from her sensei's target, which she shrugged off with the greatest of ease. The attempted genjutsu was far from impressive, though it did give way to Hinata that her sensei's prey was potentially a genjutsu user. Even with this information Hinata felt no need to warn her sensei, because whoever this illusionist was, they were far from Kurenai-sensei's level. Hinata was also much more curious about the last opponent who had the most chakra of this enemy team, especially when they began molding chakra before pulling something out of one of their pockets that was also chakra heavy.

When the last enemy unsealed and launched a torrent of water at Hinata she did feel the need to inform her teammates, "Whoever the larger chakra source is, they are a suiton ninjutsu user! There's an attack headed this way, but you should all already be clear!" Hinata called out, before leaping out of the way of the attack, while leaving behind a small amount of her chakra on the branch in the jutsu's path, but still connected to her feet. As the water crashed through her previous location, Hinata began molding the chakra to utilize it for her own devices, "Suiton: Suien Saiken Mizu Rensa no jutsu!"(twin bonding water chains)causing the water to form into two streams flying to seek out her target. The other ninja did not begin moving until the streams were within a couple of meters, not believing that his or her opponent could actually accurately target him or her through the foliage. By the time they realized their mistake it was too late, and before they could get any momentum towards an escape, they were already bound to a nearby tree by the watery chains.

Once Hinata had the suiton user fully bound she focused back in on her sensei, watching as Kurenai-sensei completely overwhelmed the other genjutsu user. When she finished with the other illusionist, Kurenai-sensei bound the ninja in some wire that she had on hand, and started doubling back towards the suiton user whom she promptly knocked out with her free hand. "I've got him Hinata, you can release him." Kurenai called out.

"Hai," Hinata yelled in response, before releasing her water chains so that her sensei could bind him in wire as well. While their sensei was busy dealing with the two ranged opponents, Shino returned carrying a male ninja over his shoulder that was probably twice his size, with a doo rag style hitaite and a navy blue coat and pants, whom he promptly deposited on the branch below Hinata. "Congratulations on finally mastering your ant strength technique, Shino."

"Arigato." Shino responded, in his typical manner, as another, more lithe but still male body was deposited next to Shino's prey. This ninja was wearing a grey open shirt and grey pants and a black tank top undershirt with a more traditional headband revealing his brown hair.

"Wow, that was disappointingly simple." Kiba declared as he and Akamaru landed behind Hinata.

"It is unwise to despair over a successful task." Shino declared.

"It was the first break in monotony we've had all trip, and it's over already." Kiba continued to complain.

"Shino's right Kiba, not every opponent will be so easily dealt with, so accept such victories with thankfulness." Kurenai-sensei warned, as she leapt down to her students also depositing her prey, a kunoichi with short spiky orange hair in just a black tank top and grey pants and a standard hitaite, as well as a shinobi between the sizes of the other two males wearing a grey shirt and navy pants with his hitaite on his left bicep.

"What are we going to do with them now Kurenai-sensei?" Hinata interjected before Kiba could continue to argue.

"That is quite the predicament, isn't it Hinata. More than likely, these ninja had no foreknowledge of our arrival and were just trying to protect their village." Kurenai said.

"Or the whole mission was just a trap." Shino provided.

"Or the whole mission was just a trap, yes. Though if that were the case, it was an extremely poorly executed trap, so I would hope for Taki's sake that it was not the case. So the question remains: how to deal with them?" Kurenai stated.

"Perhaps, I can help you with that decision?" A man requested as he walked on to the path beneath Team 8. As he was revealed Team 8 saw that he was more a teenage boy rather than a man, with brunette hair falling down just past his shoulder blades, wearing a green shirt and black pants as well as a traditional taki hitaite. "Allow me to introduce myself: my name is Shibuki. I am the leader of Takigakure no Saito, and the one who ordered the mission from Konoha for a team to look into the disappearance of my cousin. My subordinates were unaware of such a mission, which is why they were hostile towards you. I formally apologize for their behavior, and if you'll follow me to my residence I can explain your mission in greater detail. I will deal with my subordinates."

"Hai, Shibuki-sama, if that is what you would prefer we will bring them with us and leave them to you. Shino, kiba." Kurenai replied, giving over the situation to the village leader, before giving an unspoken order to her male students.

"Hai," Shino, acknowledged.

"Whatever," Kiba grumbled as he also acknowledged, and the two went through the five necessary hand seals for their jutsu, "Kuchiyose no jutsu." They both declared, Kiba summoning two dogs about the size of black bears, and Shino summoning ants that were slightly smaller than Kiba's dogs. After a few quick orders to his summons from Kiba, and a few pulses of chakra from Shino to communicate with his own, the summons each picked up a shinobi in their mouths/mandibles and the dogs leapt to forest floor while the ants put the shinobi on their backs and walked down the trees to the forest floor. Team 8 followed the summons down, and the now more than triple sized party began making it the rest of the way to Takigakure.

Yesterday morning in a farmhouse on the Ta/Hi border

The crescent moon shone dimly on the farmhouse of team 10's employer, far too dimly for any light to actually slip into the quaint dwelling not even through the new hole in the paper window of the easternmost room of the single story building. No sound was heard as a pair of thin shapes slithered across the floor of the room, moving towards the two futons at the center of the room, and the figures sleeping upon them. The snakes moved in their own rhythmic manner so quiet that it would be debatable whether or not their prey would notice them even if they were conscious. They moved up over the two sleeping bodies, their fangs bared and venom ready, one of the snakes was about to come down on the neck of the plump form that was rolled onto its side, while the other was hovering over the neck of the stick thin body lying prone with its hands cradling its head. The snakes began their attack when suddenly a blinding flash engulfed the room from behind the two bodies. The sudden action surprised the snakes for a single second, but that second was all the two young ninja needed as their shadows - formed by the flash bang - suddenly twisted and bent back in on themselves before piercing the skulls of the reptilian assailants leaving them dead as their prey was now on the move.

Chouji began shrinking, and compressing his mass as he curled into a small ball that began rolling towards the hole that the snakes had entered through, "Ninpo: Shushuku yama no jutsu!" (ninja art: shrinking mountain technique)

Shikamaru bounced to his feet before slipping towards the shadows that were returning as the effects of his flash bang began wearing off. "Kage shunshin." Shikamaru muttered as he disappeared within the returning shadows. Suddenly an image of one of the trees on the property from when they had arrived at the farm house earlier in the day popped into Shikamaru's and Chouji's heads, and the message was clear to the teammates as Ino threw open the sliding door of their guest room. The target was on that limb in that tree.

Shikamaru slipped from the thin shadow of the apparent assailant - a tan ninja in grey robes and a tan turban with a music note scratched into the wrapping - appearing right in front of him with a kunai bared. As Shikamaru brought his kunai forward, slicing at the shinobi's jugular, the other ninja barely managed to stumble backwards missing the slash. Shikamaru smirked as he slid off the branch allowing Chouji to shoot past as he uncurled himself fist first and began returning to his normal size.

Suddenly, alarm bells started going off in Shikamaru's head, and the image of a purple haze slipped into it courtesy of Ino. "Chouji!" Shikamaru called out, in desperation, though he knew it was pointless because he knew Chouji would have gotten the message as well, but with his current momentum there was no way that he would be able to stop. Quickly moving through the hand seals, Shikamaru let loose with his Kage Mane no jutsu just as a new figure - wearing a grey bodysuit and scarf with a grey skullcap hitaite - appeared spewing a bank of purple fog at where Chouji was before Shikamaru managed to yank him out of the way. Once Shikamaru managed to pull Chouji to safety they watched as what appeared to be a pair of three meter long arms reached into the fog and yanked out the other two assailants pulling them deeper into the safety of the tree line. Chouji started to move after them, but Shikamaru put his hand out stopping him. "Leave them, our mission is to keep the farmer safe, not hunt down his enemies. We have no idea what traps they may have set in the forest."

"If you say so, Shika." Chouji acquiesced.

"Ino, did you get anything from their minds?" Shikarmaru asked.

"A few names and faces but nothing that I recognized, and there weren't enough surface thoughts to fill in the details." Ino informed him, as she joined him coming through the now open window.

"Well I guess that just means we'll have to prepare for them to come back, and hope for the best. Let's go and report to Asuma-sensei." Shikamaru said as he began to lead his team to their employer's living room where Asuma had gathered their family so that he could adequately protect them after he felt the chakra from the flash bang go off.

Tazuna's pier side home, shortly after the battle with Zabuza

"Tsuname-chan, Inari-kun, I'm home!" Tazuna called as he threw open the door to his home. Team 7 heard a dull thud before a woman - with black hair down to her shoulder blades wearing a light pink shirt over a black dress, who seemed to be about the same age as Kakashi and just slightly shorter - walked out from a small back room slowly.

As she took in the old man standing before her with his arms spread wide, a small tear welled up in her eye, "O-otou-san?" The woman mumbled out.

"Tsuname-chan…?" Tazuna responded in confusion.

"Otou-san!" Tsuname said before lunging at her father and embracing him, as she broke down in tears against his shoulder. "We were so worried. We thought you wouldn't make it back, or that if you did, it would be to Gato in pieces. Especially, after Gato raised the bounty against you. I'm so glad you're here."

"Shush, shush, Tsuname-chan, it's going to be alright. Everything's going to be alright. Now, thanks to my super cool ninja friends, Gato will never be able to harm us again. They kept me safe, and took out some super strong opponents on the way. There's nothing Gato can send at us that they won't be able to handle." Tazuna boasted.

Tsunami looked up at Team 7 for the first time since the group entered her house. She backed away from Tazuna to get some space before bowing parallel to the floor, "You brought my father home to me safely. Domo arigatogozaimashita."

"Think nothing of it, miss. My team was simply doing their job." Kakashi responded, waving off the apology with his typical eye smile.

"Where's Inari-kun? I figured he would have wanted to say hello to his Oji-san now that I'm home." Tazuna inquired as Tsunami righted herself.

"He was playing out in the woods, last I knew." Tsunami replied. "He should be home in a minute." No sooner had Tsunami spoke those words did the door that team 7 entered the house through, open again, and in walked a boy about Konohamaru's age in a white tee-shirt, green overalls, and a white bucket hat covering a messy mop of brown hair.

"Okaa-san, I'm home!" Inari called as he shut the door behind him, and began removing his sandals, not realizing that his mother was already in the room.

"Inari-kun, come give your Oji-san a hug." Tazuna ordered playfully.

"Oji-san!" Inari yelled, as he ran to give his grandfather a hug, though he did so in a much more subdued fashion than his mother had.

"Inari, say hello to these people," Tsunami instructed her son, "they are ninjas who protected your Oji-san."

"But Okaa-san, they're going to die." Inari stated matter-of-factly.

This got the attention of Team 7, and Naruto responded, "Oh really, you think we're gonna die, kid? Listen here: I'm a hero whose one day going to become an incredible ninja called the Hokage. I've heard about Gato, and let me tell you: the power that a thug like him boasts is nothing compared to that of the Hokage. Don't worry, we'll deal with Gato."

"You're an idiot. There's no such thing as heroes." Inari responded with a sneer on his face. Naruto sneered in response thinking of his father, and the kind of hero that he was. "If you don't want to die, you should leave." Inari said as he turned to leave.

"Where are you going Inari-kun?" Tazuna asked.

"To watch the ocean from my room," Inari responded, "can you let me know when dinner's ready Okaa-san?"

"Hai."

"Arigato." Inari said as he left the room. Naruto subtly sent a bunshin to follow Inari and watch him.

"Sorry about Inari," Tsunami said.

"Don't worry about it. He'll come around," Naruto responded, while Kakashi watched him handle the situation, pleased that he did not overreact with the younger boy.

After a pause, Tsunami began speaking again, "I guess I should go into town and pick up more groceries. I didn't know I'd be cooking for guests."

"It's fine." Kakashi replied.

"Sakura, Sasuke will you two please go with her?" Naruto asked his teammates, though they could tell that it was less of a question and more of an order.

Of course that did not stop his teammates from arguing with the request, "But what about Kakashi?" Sasuke said.

"Don't worry about Kakashi-sensei." Naruto responded.

"Naruto, seriously, he turned his back on us once, how do we know he won't take this opportunity to divide us and disable us so that he can take us back to Konoha?" Sasuke continued in paranoia, Sakura looking like she wanted to agree.

"If you don't trust him, then trust me. He's our sensei, he's not going to betray us like that." Naruto countered.

"But-"

"My decision is final! We can't continue to be a team if we can't even trust our sensei, and I want to discuss some things with him to prove that trust. To that end I need to speak with him, and I shouldn't have to explain that to you. Understood?" Naruto stated, using a tone of authority that he usually refused to take with his friends, because he'd rather be their friend than their leader, but they knew he would be Hokage one day, and that one day he would need to be that leader.

Sasuke simply backed down, and he and Sakura bowed their head, accepting Naruto's decision, "Hai." They said almost adding the 'Hokage-sama' as they typically would when Naruto took this kind of tone.

"Besides, someone needs to make sure Tsunami-chan is safe, and I want you two to observe the condition of the country so that we can get a better understanding of the damage that Gato's done." Naruto added.

After a pause to try and let some of the tension settle out, Tsunami spoke cautiously, "Well, if that's settled, I guess we should get going, so that we can get back in time for me to make dinner."

"Hai, we should probably get going, Tsunami-san." Sakura agreed as she, and Sasuke followed her out the door heading towards the village.

"I guess I'll go get a nap," Tazuna announced, "it's been quite a long journey, and we've got a super busy day ahead of us tomorrow."

"Very well Tazuna-san. We will ensure your home is secure." Kakashi told their employer.

"Arigato." Tazuna said as he retired to a back room on the first floor.

"Perhaps we should take this outside," Kakashi suggested.

"Very well, Sensei." Naruto agreed.

The pair of ninja made their way outside, where Naruto decided to take a seat on the pier that made up the small house's front porch, draping his legs over the side to hang over the water. Kakashi was slightly taken aback at such a childish action from the blond, what with all the seriousness and suspicion that had surrounded his team as of late. When his sensei remained standing Naruto looked up at him, before gesturing next to him expectantly. Kakashi gave it a minute's worth of contemplation, before releasing a sigh of concession and taking a seat next to his pupil. The pair sat in silence, for a pause, before Naruto decided to break it, "So, how did your conversation with Hokage-sama go?"

"How do you mean?"

"You know exactly how I mean, but I guess I'll be a little more specific. How did he take our insubordination surrounding the demon brothers?"

Kakashi gave a sigh, "Neither one of us viewed the team's actions as insubordination. Perhaps you three were reckless for thinking that you could handle this mission by yourselves. Maybe even a little negligent for not sharing the information you had on the parameters of this mission beforehand. That taken into consideration, your determination to finish the mission despite the obstacles was admirable. In Hokage-sama's words, 'you three were a fine display of the will of fire.' He sounded proud of you all things considered."

Naruto gave a snort of derision at the accusations against his team, "Reckless, and negligent? Don't you think those are fairly hypocritical accusations from the kage that decided to send his most inexperienced shinobi on a mission that was so obviously miss-labeled to anyone that did a proper amount of research into the current events of the focal region of said mission?"

Kakashi raised his visible eyebrow, barely noticeable because of his hitaite, at Naruto's counter argument, "Hokage-sama is extremely busy running the village. I'm sure you of all people understand his distraction, given your ambition and the steps that you've taken towards achieving that ambition. Do you honestly believe that Hokage-sama has the time to personally review and research every mission that comes across his desk?"

Naruto sighed in exasperation, "I know he can't take that much time out of his schedule to personally examine every mission, that just taking the time to personally assign as many missions as he does taxes his schedule as it is. I also know he has attendants specifically assigned to performing that sort of task for him, and those ninja are far from Hokage-sama's skill and experience level, and even Hokage-sama makes mistakes." Naruto acquiesced, but held up a hand to stop Kakashi, who had just opened his mouth to begin a rebuttal. "But let me ask you this: one mistake can be understandable, but are four mistakes equally understandable?"

"Four mistakes?" Kakashi asked in confusion, not aware of what exactly his student was alluding.

"Are you aware of the missions that the other three most junior genin cells are taking part in right now, Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto asked, beginning to get a little more aggressive in his tone.

Kakashi looked up in thought, trying to remember if he had heard anything about the other three teams. "Not particularly, no. Should I have been?"

"I didn't expect you to be, but I figured you might have been paying attention to them as well seeing as they are our peers, and our current home lives are all linked." Naruto stated, though Kakashi could tell by his tone that Naruto did not really expect that at all. Truth be told Kakashi had been paying attention to the apartment complex that had become known as 'the leaf pile' ever since he took on team 7. Outside of the apartment Kakashi had not really been paying any attention to the other genin. Kakashi made a mental note to be more attentive in the future, if the twelve teenager's lives were really as connected as Naruto was alluding. "Each of the three teams closest to ours in age were assigned C-rank missions around the same time as we were. Team Gai was assigned a pest control mission in Umi no Kuni the day before we were assigned our mission. Team 8 received a mission to investigate a missing person's report filed by Takigakure no Sato within the same hour that we were given our own C-rank mission. Finally, Team 10 was assigned a mission to act as negotiators and peacekeepers regarding a land dispute between a farmer in northern Hi no Kuni and a noble in southern Ta no Kuni at the Hi/Ta border just before the mission distributions were secured that same day. Sound routine enough so far?"

"So far, it does, sure." Kakashi agreed.

"Well I've been having each team keep in touch with me through the summon animals that we share in common, and based on each report all three missions are going sideways, though based on the information we managed to dig up prior to the missions the twelve of us honestly expected things to go bad." Naruto informed his sensei before starting to get into the specifics: "First of all we have team Gai's pest control mission in Umi, a situation revolving around a creature that even back home in Konoha the local naval merchants know of as the Kaima. Quite a presumptive name except that the specific location in Umi no Kuni where team Gai was sent is especially close to where Tokubetsu Jonin Anko Mitarashi was found just after her abandonment by Orochimaru ten years ago. I don't know about you, sensei, but I don't think anything that contains the target as 'the demon of the ocean' and a location near where Orochimaru was known to have had an experimental base at some point should be classified as a C-rank mission. Furthermore, according to a recent update brought to me by one of the bear summons that me and Tenten share: since arriving in Umi no Kuni their team was attacked by the Kaima and two unknown shinobi that were adept at the use of suiton ninjutsu, and demonstrated the potential for other, more unique abilities though they seemed to use their other abilities more sparingly. Gai-sensei wasn't present during the altercation, and at the end of it Rock Lee had disappeared, and his weighted vest, as well as his ankle, and wrist weights were found at the bottom of the sea."

"That is rather troubling; I hope they can find him, and that he's unharmed. Gai has a particular fondness for Lee-san." Kakashi said, mildly less flippant than his typical demeanor would suggest.

"Lee's tough so I doubt he would go down too easily, but the problem still remains that this happened to begin with, and our team and team Gai are not the only ones. After a little digging we found that the noble in Ta no Kuni has been contracting work from Otogakure no Sato ever since they set up shop in Ta, and the unofficial 'Otokage' of Otogakure is none other than Orochimaru himself, so that should be provocation in and of itself to hire a more experienced squad in case the noble decides to hire oto-ninja for this case as well, especially with how invested Orochimaru must be in this particular plot of land. Kami forbid Orochimaru himself get involved, which while unlikely given how trivial the issue is; it is still a possibility because of how close the situation is to Orochimaru's current public base of operations, and the fact that it would be Konoha shinobi who would get involved on the other side of the fence. Sure enough I get a message from one of the otter summons I've shared with Ino detailing to me how team 10 had to fend off an assassination attempt led by a trio of oto-ninja with unique, if simple, abilities. Luckily, everyone made it out of the altercation unscathed."

"That is troubling, though it could certainly be worse." Kakashi agreed, beginning to see where his student was going with these observations, and frowning in distaste at what they could potentially mean.

"True enough," Naruto agreed, "then finally we have team 8, who admittedly the only thing that looked funny about the situation on the surface was the fact that the mission request was filed by the current leader of Takigakure, a ninja by the name of Shibuki, and the fact that they asked for assistance with a simple incident that Taki's tracker's should've been more than capable of handling. Luckily, we had a little bit more information than just what was on the surface, thanks to Shino's insect spy network. According to Shino the location described as the last place where the missing person was sighted in the report was the location of an almost impossible spike in chakra, which led to Shino thinking it had to have something to do with a potential altercation involved with Taki's fabled jinchuuriki. After which the largest chakra source in Taki seemed to have disappeared, further pushing Shino's theory. Upon arrival to the location where the team was supposed to meet Shibuki so that he could lead them to Taki, they were attacked by a team of Taki ninja who were completely unaware of the mission. Once they cleared things up with the village leader, they were informed that Shibuki had ordered the mission without the village council's permission and he was trying to keep it as quiet as possible, because the individual who had disappeared – a cousin of Shibuki's by the name of Fuu – was generally viewed as negatively by the village's populace, but Shibuki could not afford her disappearance both because of familial loyalty and because she apparently possesses some amount of importance to village security. All of these clues furthered Shino's assessment that they are probably looking for the village's jinchuuriki - though whether or not she is the jinchuuriki actually still remains to be seen. Regardless the very fact that a potential jinchuuriki is involved should raise the mission rating to nearly S-rank if not S-rank outright, and the only thing that kept the ranking so low was because Shibuki was trying to avoid suspicion, which is hardly responsible, though given the circumstances I can kind of understand."

"If this Fuu individual is Taki's jinchuuriki…"

"Hai, if Fuu is Taki's jinchuuriki."

Kakashi had no further comment, truly understanding the severity of the situation. One mission could be passed off as an accident, two a coincidence – though Kakashi did not believe in coincidence, so he allowed two to be called another accident – but four missions? Two of such missions involving Orochimaru, the third involving another village's jinchuuriki – even if that village was their ally, and the presence of said jinchuuriki was still suspicion only – and the last involving a crazed business man willing and able to hire an A-rank – borderline S-rank – shinobi to assassinate a harmless civilian? That was hardly grounds for dismissal, and with such events Kakashi could understand his team's suspicious attitude towards him, and any other member of their chain of command. Even Kakashi was a little suspicious of Hokage-sama now, though he was sure there had to be a good explanation, and he was certain he would find it.

"Thank you, for confiding in me your concerns Naruto. I just ask that next time you tell me sooner, so that we can work through these issues together. I'm your sensei, and I can't help you if you don't give me the tools to do so." Kakashi said imploring his student to trust him.

"I understand sensei, it's just that the twelve of us have depended on each other, and only each other for so long, that sometimes it can be hard to let someone new into our circle, you know? I promise that we'll try to include you more in the future." Naruto agreed begrudgingly.

"Thank you, Naruto. That's all that I ask."

X With Sakura and Sasuke at the local market X

"Konichiwa, Kaiso-san, how's business today?" Tsunami asked, as she spoke to one of the fish vendors in the sparsely populated market street.

"Oh, as good as can be, Tsunami-chan. Every once in a while I manage to sell one of my larger fish, or even a couple of fish, whenever a hapless traveler manages to wander into our dreary little country, but usually I only make enough to live off my catch. But I should stop boring you with an old fisherman's woes. What brings you out to my stall today?" Kaiso responded.

"It looks like I'm going to have to take a few of those bigger boys off your stall, and give you a good day. We just happen to be hosting some guests." Tsunami informed the old man, and the two began working out prices for enough to feed her whole household.

Sakura, and Sasuke stood back a ways drifting in and out of the crowd to stay inconspicuous. Sakura could tell by how Sasuke's hand kept dipping in and out of his hip pouch that he was nervous, both at having left Naruto alone with Kakashi, and at having their charge so open to potential attack. "Don't worry she'll be fine, Gato wants Tazuna, not her. Even if Gato did send someone after her, he doesn't have anyone on his payroll right now that's fit to fight us."

"And if I'm not worried about her?" Sasuke asked.

"Then you've nothing to worry about." Sakura reassured, grabbing the hand that kept dipping into his pouch, and squeezing it reassuringly before letting go. "How many times has Kakashi been on our side before he became our sensei? Even if he was going to try and knock Naruto out and bring him back to Konoha, we'd know about it, and Naruto wouldn't leave him in any condition to deal with the both of us. Besides, that would endanger the mission which would look bad on Konoha."

"He's been willing to abandon the mission before." Sasuke countered.

"That was before we left the country, now it can't be covered up as successfully." Sakura said in rebuttal.

Sasuke just grunted in acceptance as they slipped into a tea shop that was parallel to some vegetable vendors that Tsunami had begun negotiating with. They sat at a table close to the exit where they could see out at the market stalls, and waved off the waitress when she came to take their orders, not expecting to stay long enough to properly enjoy any tea. As they observed Tsunami from the distance, a pair of thugs with swords at their waists marched into the shop, and began harassing the shop keeper.

"Alright Baa-chan, time to pay up." The one with long, greasy, orange hair barked at the elderly woman in charge of the store. He was wearing a black muscle shirt displaying green fire tattoos on his arms, and a set of black pants.

"But I just paid Gato two weeks ago. He's only ever demanded payment monthly." The old woman whimpered.

"It seems a few of your neighbors are costing Gato a little money, so he's decided to hike up fees for everyone." The bald, shirtless one said, placing a hand on his sword, "That includes you baa-chan."

"But I can't afford to pay anymore this month." The woman continued to whimper.

"You hear that Akuto, sounds like she doesn't want to pay us. What do you think we should do about that?" The greasy haired one asked as he drifted close to a rack of cooling dango. Without waiting for a response from his partner, he kicked the rack over spilling the dango on the shop floor.

The now named Akuto walked over to the glass counter concealing a variety of sweet pastries, "I'm not sure Yotamono, but I've got a few ideas," he said as he took the hilt of his sheathed sword and smashed it into the glass, before reaching in to grab a namagashi which he popped into his mouth.

"Always thinking with your stomach." Yotamono chuckled, as his partner snacked.

"No, please don't, I'll pay, I'll pay." The old woman cried as she opened her cash register.

Sasuke grit his teeth, and reached into hip pouch again, "Stinking punks, think they own the place."

Sakura grabbed his hand before he could withdraw it, "Don't, we have our charge."

"We can't just let those thugs rip off that poor woman. This business is probably all that she owns." Sasuke said in annoyance, already wound up because of the situation with Kakashi.

"We have to," said the unusually rational Sakura, "we could kick them out, but they'd just come back again tomorrow, and probably with more numbers, and they might not just stop at money. Not to mention they'd run straight to Gato, which would put an even bigger target on Tazuna and his family for bringing in the interlopers that are messing up his business."

"Good, then we could just end Gato now, and finish this mission more quickly." Sasuke argued.

"You don't really mean that." Sakura said quietly, "Besides, you know it might just ruin Naruto's plan."

"Shika, and Shino have got him plotting too much for his own good." Sasuke complained.

"You know it's good for him. It balances out his impulsive nature." Sakura giggled playfully.

"Yeah, yeah," Sasuke agreed dismissively, "since when have you been the rational one."

"One of us has to be rational, and with you in one of these vengeful moods I don't get to be emotional." Sakura informed him before leaning across the table and giving him a quick peck. After she broke contact with him, Sakura hopped to her feet, "C'mon Tsunami's moving again." She said as she quickly departed the store.

"I'm not in a mood," Sasuke grumbled after his girlfriend as he followed her out of the shop. As the waitress was doing her rounds to check on her customers, and clean up the mess that Gato's thugs had left behind them – just glad the two had stuck to only demanding money – she wandered over to the table where the two preteens had been sitting. She got an excited gleam in her eye as she spotted the sizable wad of ryo sitting on the table, and immediately went to show her manager.

X the next morning at a grove near Tazuna's house X

Team 7 walked into the clearing getting ready for a session of training, the genin stretching out their arms as they walked, while Kakashi continued reading his book as per usual. Kakashi went and stood at one side of the clearing, while the three genin stood at the other end and continued stretching. Sasuke piped up while everyone was winding themselves up for the training session, "Why is it that we're just leaving that lowlife Gato alive? Our mission is to protect Tazuna while he completes the bridge from Nami to the mainland, and the only real threat to Tazuna's life is Gato, so it stands to reason that if we just eliminate the threat now then our mission will be complete, and Tazuna will be safe."

"We've already told you Sasuke we can't just go ahead and get rid of him." Sakura sighed in exasperation, while Naruto remained silent both having his own reasons for wanting the mission to continue, and also because Hinata, Neji, Shino, and Shikamaru had all already explained situations like this to him. It took all four of his friends to explain it to him because while it was usually Shino who brought information to him, and Shikamaru who would explain the largest importance of that information, Neji and Hinata would often further advise Naruto when information started to build into political information or information revolving around national infrastructure.

"We can't kill Gato, because Gato has too deeply ingrained himself in the infrastructure of Nami no Kuni. As it stands Gato has ensured that any trade that occurs externally, or internally, for the country goes through his company's hands, and with that growth in power his personal bodyguards have, to that end, become a force that he is using to enforce laws in his favor." Kakashi said, "For all intents and purposes Gato has circumvented the current Nami no Kuni feudal lord, and has become a sort of pseudo-lord of the nation. He provides protection – both domestic and otherwise – infrastructure – as poor as it may be – and regulates trade, all of the typical duties of a head of state."

"What's that got to do with anything? Shinobi assassinate heads of state whenever necessary, why is this instance any different?" Sasuke argued.

"An assassination on that scale needs to be done extremely carefully. An assassination of a local head of state usually drives the country into a civil war between whatever exists of the loyalist faction and whatever faction supported the assassination. When the assassination involves a foreign head of state there comes a new issue as other outside parties begin to assume that the assassination was performed in an attempt by the performing party to expand into the country, unless there was some sort of internal revolutionary party involved. Basically, if we were to assassinate Gato, outside of our mission parameters the other elemental nations would assume that Hi no Kuni was just doing so to absorb Nami no Kuni as a colony of Hi."

"But based on our current mission parameters, if Gato's smart as soon as the bridge is built we'll leave and Gato will just hire someone new to kill Tazuna and his family, and then he'll either destroy the bridge or take control of it and turn it into a toll bridge." Sasuke continued to argue.

Kakashi shrugged his shoulders, "Perhaps, but that is the way of things. We can't do anything to Gato directly unless either: the people of Nami no Kuni attack him themselves, or Gato himself comes to attack Tazuna personally, which would make him a direct threat to our client. Otherwise we risk war with the more important countries. Anyway, we are getting off topic, Naruto I want to test you on your use of raiton. I'd test you two as well, but neither katon nor doton are my primary elements, so I'd rather wait to test those until we return to the village."

"Hai," Team 7 responded, though Sasuke did so grudgingly, still trying to get over Kakashi's betrayal.

"In the mean time I want Sakura to continue working on katon, and Sasuke I assume you can handle working on suiton with your doton training. Don't forget to keep your other skills sharp as well." Kakashi continued.

"Hai." Team 7 repeated.

"Now, whenever you're ready Naruto," Kakashi said, as he put his book away, revealed his sharingan, and got into a stance, "you know the rules."

"Of course sensei: no genjutsu, and no weapons. Focus on raiton ninjutsu, I got this sensei." Naruto said, cracking his knuckles before dipping down into a fighting stance – his legs bent slightly at the knees and slightly wider that shoulder width, his right shoulder turned toward his sensei, his hands at stomach level fairly close together with his fingers clenching and unclenching ready to start a round of hand seals at a moment's notice – as Sakura and Sasuke leapt into the tree branches to watch the match.

"Then, Hajime!" Kakashi ordered.

Naruto performed a quick, short series of hand seals before calling out "Raiton: Denryu Mori no jutsu!" (electric current lance) as electricity began coursing around his hand so violently that it was visible before he brought his hand back, fingers splayed and the electricity gathered at his fingertips then he thrust his palm forward and the arcs of electricity shot to meet inches in front of his palm where they fused together before shooting forward as a collected bolt of lightning containing an immense amount of energy in it. Naruto immediately began another set of hand seals, this one a bit longer as the technique he was about to use was more technical than the last.

"Starting off with a finishing move? How foolish." Kakashi admonished, knowing from experience watching his students practicing and developing new jutsu that this one in particular was generally fast enough and strong enough to quickly eliminate most opponents, but if they were as prepared as Kakashi all of that speed and power would mean nothing. Kakashi performed a quick set of hand seals before beginning the charging steps of his raikiri just as the bolt that Naruto sent came into contact with the field of electricity and was absorbed into the new jutsu before launching his jutsu, "Raiton: Raiju Tsuiga no jutsu."(lightening beast tracking fang)Kakashi said calmly as he launched his lightning hound made slightly stronger than usual because of Naruto's attack, directly at Naruto.

Naruto finished his sealing just as the beast was released, and called out, "Raiton: Hoshi no katachi hiraishin no jutsu!" (lightening rod in the shape of a star) Once Naruto finished he knelt down and placed his hand on the ground and sent a pulse of lightening chakra in a star pattern around himself on the ground. As the jutsu completed Naruto immediately began the signs for his next jutsu. While Naruto was preparing his next jutsu, the lightning hound continued its path straight towards Naruto before pouncing straight at a point roughly a meter and a half away from Naruto and dissipating into the ground. Kakashi raised an eyebrow in curiosity at the result of Naruto's apparent defensive technique. As Kakashi started planning his next move Naruto released his next technique, "Raiton: Shinkei-no Kaizen no jutsu." (neural improvement)Naruto said as he released his technique displaying no outward effects, but Kakashi could see the chakra running up and down his body.

Kakashi quickly ran through the seals for his next technique before sending his next technique to test Naruto's defense, "Raiton: Kaminari shuriken no jutsu." (lightening shuriken)The three small shaped bolts of electricity flew right on course arcing towards Naruto from three different angles until about a meter and a half away from him they redirected and flew to three separate points in front of Naruto. Kakashi tried again, this time throwing three times as many bolts which met the same fate being absorbed into the same three points. Seeing the failure Kakashi switched tactics and began the three hand seals for the chidori, and triggered the jutsu just as Naruto finished his next technique

"Chidori."/ "Raiton: Kyokusei Rifuto no jutsu." (thousand birds/ polarity lift) Naruto palmed the ground with a charge of electricity that was the same as what he was using for his lightning rod technique, just as Kakashi began charging forward with the watered down version of his signature assassination technique. Suddenly Naruto shot into the air driven by the two forces that he was forcing to interact, and completely avoiding Kakashi's charge, causing Kakashi to plant his feet to stop his forward progress and perform half seals with his off hand to redirect the chakra from his chidori to a new jutsu, "Raiton: Shiden no jutsu." (purple electricity)Kakashi said before throwing the now purple bolt of lightning at his aerial student, who was already completing his own seals.

"Raiton: Nusumi Denka no jutsu." (electric charge stealing)Naruto said as he caught the bolt in his hand before moving into a new set of hand seals, watching as Kakashi did the same. Naruto finished his seals just as he landed within Kakashi's guard, and said, "Raiton: Sutan Ken no jutsu," (stun fist) as Naruto began engaging Kakashi in taijutsu disrupting Kakashi's hand seals. Thanks to the neural enhancement charge from Naruto's shinkei-no kaizen, and because he started inside Kakashi's guard, Kakashi was actually having a hard time dodging the blonde's attacks and actually had to resort to blocking one of his students punches in an attempt to restrain him. That proved to be a mistake as a charge of electricity leapt from Naruto's fist into Kakashi's arm that was meant to stun the jounin. As soon as the blow was landed, Naruto leapt back for some distance, just as the Kakashi in front of him exploded with a shower of electrical currents leaping in all directions.

Kakashi charged from the forest, a new chidori already coursing through his fingers heading straight to his student's back. Naruto turned around and actually caught Kakashi's fist in his palm, before channeling the electricity from Kakashi's chidori and striking Kakashi with his sutan ken hitting Kakashi's outstretched shoulder before moving into his guard again and hitting him in the opposite shoulder and Kakashi's left thigh bringing Kakashi to his knees effectively bringing an end to the spar.

"I see," Kakashi said from his knees, "you still managed to keep your nusumi denka, active this whole time."

"Hai," Naruto said, before giving his sensei a foxy grin. "So how'd I do?"

Kakashi rolled his eyes at the stupid question, "You pass. You have my permission to use raiton whenever you want." Naruto laughed at the statement, knowing that really if he needed to use raiton he would anyway.

Sakura turned to Sasuke, "I'm guessing your spar with sensei went similarly?"

Sasuke nodded, "Hai, but if sensei were really trying to kill in these matches there's no way either me or Naruto would be able to catch his chidori or raikiri with nusumi denka. All this really proves is that if it came to a fight sensei wouldn't be able to capture us in a purely raiton duel. That's not to say that we don't have a jutsu to neutralize the technique, but right now the only one I know of is a futon jutsu." Sasuke told her.

"So outside your particular expertise?"

Sasuke nodded again, "Hai, but not outside of Naruto's."

Sakura gave a short giggle, "That's good to hear." She said, before hopping down to begin administering first aid to her sensei.

X A few hours later at Tazuna's bridge X

Sakura let out a mighty yawn as she sat on the railing of Tazuna's bridge observing Tazuna and his construction crew hard at work; the sounds of the industrial work area only barely keeping her from losing her mind in boredom. She had the whole area covered: with a mud clone on the shore monitoring the ground's vibrations to keep track of any potential attackers and a water clone using a similar technique to prepare for any potential attack from the sea. "All alone and bored?" Tazuna observed, "Where are your teammates?"

"Training." Sakura responded.

"Then why aren't you with them?"

"Somebody has to protect you, or we wouldn't be properly executing our mission."

"And how'd you get assigned the task."

Sakura turned away downcast, "I lost at jan-ken-po…"

Tazuna sweat-dropped at the ridiculousness of the statement, "You've got to be joking…"

"I swear they both cheated, I just can't prove it." Sakura ground out clenching her fist.

"Ok then," Tazuna said, backing away with no attention of becoming the outlet for the girl's anger.

"Tazuna…can I talk to you?" One of Tazuna's crew members asked.

"Huh, what's wrong Giichi?" Tazuna asked turning around to acknowledge his worker.

"I've been thinking it over…this bridge we're working on…" Giichi began, "I want off the job."

"W-what, why?! Out of nowhere like this…you, of all people!"

"We go back a long way, Tazuna. I want to help you, but we can't take this risk. Gato will take out a contract on us if we don't stop! And if you die, it won't just be this one project. We could all lose everything!"

Sakura raised an eyebrow in curiosity at the ignorance of Tazuna's workers, given that they apparently did not know that Gato had already taken out a hit against Tazuna. She chalked it up to not wanting to drop morale any lower than it already was.

"Please, just give it up…" Giichi continued, "The bridge isn't worth it."

"I can't do that." Tazuna said sternly, it was probably the most serious that Sakura had seen Tazuna since the mission had begun. "This bridge belongs to all of us. It's everything that we've been working towards for our entire country. When it's finished it will bring commerce and affluence to us, and put our poor, little Nami no Kuni on the map!"

"But we're talking about lives here! Your life!" Giichi pleaded.

"It's afternoon now already, isn't it? Let's call it a day." Tazuna said as he began walking towards the shore, "Giichi…you don't have to come back."

"If you don't mind Tazuna-san I think a little more work can still be done today," Sakura said to her client as she hopped from her perch on the railing, and cracked her knuckles as she walked towards him.

"Oh?"

"Kage Bunshin no Jutsu." Sakura said making roughly thirty clones. When the smoke cleared Sakura took a deep breath to try and recover from the effort. "I'm afraid that's about all that I can make right now. I don't have quite the numbers that Naruto does, but mine are much better for physical labor. You're still free to leave Giichi-san. Tazuna-san, what do you need done?"

It took Tazuna a second to get over his shock from the display, but once he regained his bearing he was all business as he began ordering the clones to tasks, a gleam of hope in his eyes at the support from his new work force.

X Sunset on the trip back to Tazuna's home X

Sakura walked quietly with Tazuna through the streets of Nami, observing all of the signs of poverty in complete distaste at how Gato could let the situation deteriorate so far. "Tsunami asked me to pick up some things for dinner on the way home." Tazuna said quietly, "You up for a little detour? You look pretty wiped out."

"Don't worry Tazuna-san, I'll still be more than capable of dealing with any thugs that Gato might send here." Sakura assured, with a smile on her face, "Though I appreciate the concern."

Sakura's frown returned as she saw the kid sitting outside the grocery shop – because it had hardly enough product to be called little more than a stall let alone a store – who was sitting there begging in despair, just as much as the homeless men on the streets. "Here we are." Tazuna announced as he walked into the store.

As Sakura watched Tazuna shop, she felt a presence sneak up behind her and reach forward. She grabbed the hand and put the man in a submission hold with his face in the dirt floor as she held his arm straight back above his shoulder and twisted his wrist. "Please, I just need a little ryo for food," the man begged, "I promise I meant nothing else by it."

Sakura sighed, before tossing a wad of ryo that would've bought a good dinner in Konoha at the man as he stumbled to his feet. The money would probably go much further here, "Fine, but if I find you spent that on something less ethical you're not getting your hand back." She told him as she began leaving the shop with Tazuna.

"That was generous of you. You keep giving like that and you'll probably wind up broke. At the very least you'll have spent everything that I paid you for this mission." Tazuna advised her.

Sakura sighed again, "Don't worry my friends and I have managed to build up a decent amount of funds with some of our extracurricular activities. These people clearly need the money more than I do." Suddenly, she felt a tug on her skirt and turned around to see a small girl with her hands out pleadingly. "Here you go," Sakura said kindly as she handed the little girl some small candies that she had in her hip pouch for dealing with younger patients when it was needed. The little girl ran away with a cheer, smiling the whole way to whatever or whoever she called home. "What's wrong with this town? I understand the poverty, but everyone is so depressed. Usually, even impoverished towns have their bright spots, at least that's what my parents used to say about their merchant days."

"It's been like this ever since Gato moved in." Tazuna informed her, "We've become a nation of slackers, cowards, and fools! That's why the bridge we are building is so essential. It will be an emblem of courage, and determination! Maybe the people who've taken the path of least resistance will be willing to walk the road of courage and dignity again. If we can complete it…I truly believe that our people can be what they once were again!" Tazuna declared. Sakura gave it some thought and knew that no matter what Naruto would make sure that Tazuna's declaration would come true. She smiled as she planned on her and Sasuke helping him, and what this victory would do for their team with their long term goals.

X With Sasuke and Naruto back at the training grove X

Naruto met Sasuke's sword with his own kunai, sliding his body and the kunai to deflect the blow rather than actually try and block, as he twisted around his friend and rival, shooting towards the tree line at the other end of the clearing. Sasuke turned around at the other tree line and both genin began a chain of hand seals. "Raiton: Yasei Isseishageki no jutsu/ Futon: Taifugan jutsu!" (wild firing volley/eye of the typhoon) the two cried out simultaneously, Sasuke launching a spray of different arcs that Naruto met with a barrier of wind. The lightening was stopped in its tracks by the defensive jutsu, and as it coursed up and down the barrier Naruto gave the jutsu a slight push to disrupt the technique causing a blinding flash that Sasuke had to shut his eyes against. This gave Naruto the opportunity to charge Sasuke with a rasengan in the palm of his hand. Sasuke managed to recover just in time to slip around his friend and give him a good kick in his back to throw him off balance. Naruto dispelled the jutsu just in time to roll forward and recover his bearings, which was fortunate because as he came back up he noticed Sasuke finish the hand seals for the chidori. Naruto flipped through a minimal number of hand seals and got his next technique off just in time "Futon: Fujin no Igi no Jutsu!"(Objection of the wind god)Naruto said as he caught Sasuke's chidori in the palm of his hand, his jutsu completely nullifying and dispersing Sasuke's chidori. Naruto grinned before forming a half seal with his other hand, and saying "Furton: Shirizokeru no jutsu."(Repluse) With a pulse of wind from Naruto's open hand using the remaining wind built up from his last jutsu Naruto sent Sasuke tumbling back.

Sasuke stood back up with a smile on his face, "Not bad dobe. At this rate you'll be a match for any raiton user in the elemental nations."

"Don't give yourself so much credit, teme. Your good, but I'm not quite sure you're on the same level as the raikage or his subordinates."

Sasuke frowned at the comparison, "No, but my skills with raiton aren't too far from Kakashi's."

"Not this again. Sasuke, sensei is on our side, he was just trying to do his duty to the Hokage by reporting the incident." Naruto told him.

"Then he could've waited until we got back to the village," Sasuke countered, and when it looked like Naruto was going to argue further he stopped him, "But that's beside the point. Kakashi trying to turn us in for disciplinary action isn't the only time you might have to restrain him."

"Really? What do you mean?" Naruto asked giving him a confused look.

"Baka, do you really think that Kakashi will let you talk to Zabuza long enough to try and make an alliance with him?" Sasuke asked.

"I suppose we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. And speaking of bridges…"

"This better not be a pun about who's on guard duty next." Sasuke deadpanned.

"What? No! That's not what I was going to say. I was talking about the next time that Zabuza would probably attack us."

"What's that got to do with bridges?" Sasuke asked with a grin on his face.

"Grr, it's a figure of speech!" Naruto ground out in frustration, allowing Sasuke to chuckle on the inside at his teammate's frustration. After a second Naruto gave it a thoughtful look before saying, "Though now that I think about it, the next time they attack has a pretty good chance of being on the bridge."

Sasuke face-palmed in incredulity, "Just forget about the damn bridge."

"Right," Naruto grinned and scratched the back of his head sheepishly, "So what's the plan for dealing with Zabuza next. Sakura said depending on his and his associate's skill medically, recovering from a temporary death can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks. Then he'll probably come with the fake hunter-nin, so it'll be an even 2 to 'll also probably attack at the bridge because there's a water supply that's too vast for us to stop, and it's too public and open for us to adequately trap on short notice."

"Hai, though if I remember right, Sakura said it would take medical ninjutsu to accelerate the healing process enough to get Zabuza back on his feet in just three days, and even then he wouldn't be at full health, which is a dangerous way to do missions. So let's assume that the associate isn't a medical ninja but has advanced first aid knowledge fitting of a hunter ninja since that was what they were masquerading as. According to Sakura that would put recovery time at right around the week mark, so at that point we should increase the guard." Sasuke said.

"I agree, but I think one of us staying here to train, and hang back to guard Inari and Tsunami would still probably be best in that situation. Also I think just to play it safe on our estimates at the three day point one of us should go join Kakashi training closer to the bridge just in case the associate is capable, and the two of them are cocky enough to meet the three day mark. I think we should also keep Sakura at Tazuna's defense like we have the last couple of attacks, since her defensive and supportive techniques are definitely better than her attack, and better than either of our defensive techniques. We should also probably leave Zabuza to sensei since only one of us is going to be there and last time it took all three of us to beat Zabuza." Naruto added.

"Which just leaves the unknown apprentice to one of us." Sasuke said slightly excited.

"Right."

"So what do we know about the associate?" Sasuke asked.

"They probably have a fair amount of hunter ninja skills, or else they wouldn't try the masquerade because otherwise the inexperience would give them away. They also obviously have some skill in acupuncture to put someone in a death like state, and that also suggests an amount medical skill for resuscitation." Naruto started.

"None of that really tells us much, acupuncture is typically taught to ANBU in training so it's probably also taught to hunter-nin, and we know from experience that ANBU can range in combat skill from decent chunin to elite jounin. The resuscitation was probably picked up from necessity and experience depending on how often the two of them play this little charade." Sasuke said contemplatively.

"That's true on both counts. So down to observations, all we've really seen is that they are fast. Fast enough to catch sensei by surprise and to interrupt us in our attacks. They also know hyoton, based on Sakura's prognosis from the attack that sensei got hit with. They're also skilled with senbon which could either mean it's either a preferred skill or just a secondary one, and we haven't actually seen their preference." Naruto added.

"Well my sharingan and what little defensive techniques you have should be able to deal with the needles assuming that's their preference. If it's not my sharingan and your clones can generally deal with surprises. As for speed, we can both be fast when we need to be." Sasuke said.

"Don't get cocky teme," Naruto warned though there was a sparkle of playfulness in his eyes.

Sasuke just rolled his eyes and continued, "Anyway, that just leaves the supposed hyoton. What do you know about it, oh master of the advanced elements?"

Naruto scowled, "Next to nothing. The only place real hyoton has ever been seen was in Mizu no Kuni, and there were never any that made it to any level of infamy or fame outside the country, and then they were probably wiped out in Yagura's bloodline purges about ten years ago. There's a variant of ninja out of Yuki no Kuni that use a fake version of hyoton, but this looked more real than any reports I've heard from those who've fought the Yuki ninja."

"So what do we think we know about hyoton?" Sasuke asked slightly annoyed, but not quite to the same level as his teammate.

"Well we know that mokuton is water earth, and based on the skills of the current Raikage's lieutenant we can guess that ranton is some kind of fusion of lightening and water. So unless hyoton is some kind of kekkei tota like the Tsuchikage's jinton that just leaves either water and fire, or water and wind." Naruto started.

"And given the nature of the element we can probably rule out fire, which just leaves water and wind." Sasuke deduced.

"Right," Naruto agreed, "we've also found from my limited personal experience, and from watching Tenzou-sensei whose doton and suiton are some of the strongest I've seen, that usually users of advanced elements have ridiculous proficiency with the component elements. So assuming they are using true hyoton, and true hyoton is a combination of suiton and futon, then it would stand to reason that they have a ridiculous skill with those two elements, which puts you at a slight disadvantage." Naruto told him.

Sasuke gave it some thought, "I suppose, though we are dealing with a lot of assumptions. Besides the futon side probably makes it slightly more vulnerable to my katon."

"That's assuming the suiton doesn't reinforce it, which it probably does." Naruto countered.

"Well there, are other ways besides, ninjutsu and taijutsu assuming they might actually be faster than me." Sasuke said. "That being the case I want to make sure I've got a jutsu that can break down their ice if I need to and katon doesn't work."

"Alright," Naruto said before backing away from Sasuke. Sasuke took the cue and began making some distance between them as well. After a quick series of hand seals Naruto said, "Futon: Taifugan no jutsu!" Sasuke began preparing the best raiton jutsu he could muster in an attempt to penetrate the barrier.

Surrounding the pair were hundreds of Naruto clones, half of which were working on the newly discovered hyoton art, the next quarter working on proving himself capable in katon, another eighth working on finally becoming proficient in mokuton, while the last eighth was splitting its attention between Naruto's other three advanced elements, the rasengan, and their coordinated attacks as clones. Amongst these hundreds of Narutos there were dozens of Sasuke clones who were much more focused, that focus being primarily on mastering suiton, and fighting that suiton with his two main elements. Honestly the sheer density of destructive elements filling the two hundred meter diameter plot of woods the two genin had claimed as their training area made it nearly uninhabitable for anyone not of at least B-rank level of skill.

X Closer to the bridge X

Kakashi stood on top of the channel, dancing around the blades both slashed and thrown by four shadow clones that he had summoned. Occasionally the clones would trade their kunai for taijutsu blows, and their shuriken for ranged ninjutsu, each aided by the sharingan. Further down the channel another five clones were running through every ninjutsu and genjutsu that Kakashi knew in varying combinations, including the jutsu that he had been copying from his students during every one of their training sessions against him. This was not a training tactic that Kakashi favored, and he really did not have the stamina for it, however after observing the progress of his students he knew that if he did not do something extreme soon they would leave him in the dust, and while Kakashi was all for his students surpassing him he was not going to let them do it easily, and he would be damn sure to be better for it by the end as well.

X That night around Tazuna's dinner table X

Naruto and Sasuke were scarfing down every bit of food that they could get in their hands. Every second or two they each had to stop, and start beating their chest to keep from choking on their full mouths. Kakashi and Sakura were each equally ravenous, but each was more polite in there frenzy: Kakashi using every bit of stealth his skill as a jounin provided to sneak large strikes against his own food still keeping his face hidden; while Sakura used all of the grace taught to the kunoichi to mask her own eating in a demure shell, though she was still putting away a fair bit of food to compensate for all of the energy she spent helping Tazuna that day. After one particular rough coughing fit, Sakura took it upon herself to chastise her teammates, "Really you two, if you keep going at it like that you're bound to suffocate, and I'll have no problems not resuscitating you."

Naruto paused from his feeding frenzy to look up and chuckle before commenting, "Please, you're just waiting for the opportunity. I'm pretty sure you encourage any chance to blow air down Sasuke's windpipe." This comment led Sasuke to miss a motion in his own frenzy in embarrassment and immediately start choking on his food, causing Naruto to laugh even more raucously.

"Naruto-baka!" Sakura howled in outrage as she loomed over the laughing Naruto ominously.

"Perhaps any retribution related actions would just exacerbate the issue by giving you a new, unwanted patient Sakura." Kakashi said incredulously, "Also I think Sasuke might need some help." Sasuke's choking fit starting to cause his face to turn colors that did not exactly agree with his natural, pale complexion.

"Sasuke-kun!" Sakura cried before shifting over to help her now suffocating boyfriend. This whole chain of events just caused Naruto to laugh even harder, and Kakashi to chuckle slightly at his student's antics along with Tazuna and Tsunami.

"Wow, this is super fun! It's been a long time since I've had a meal with so many people!" Tazuna said exuberantly.

As soon as Sakura got Sasuke's breathing back under control, he thanked her before diving back into his food full force and still managing to finish at the same time as Naruto, "More please!" The two said at the same time, holding up their bowls.

Sakura sighed in incredulity, "I can't believe you two. Can't you take a break for one second to at least catch your breath?"

"Must keep eating!" They responded boisterously yet still like zombies. Inari scowled at the merry band of ninja.

Sakura just shook her head at her boys, before starting to make her way back to her seat. On her way she noticed a picture hanging on the wall, and backtracked to observe it more closely. "Um, why is this picture torn? Inari-kun was staring at it the whole time we were having dinner. Someone's face was ripped out, was that deliberate?" A cloud of depression immediately covered the dining room, as Tazuna and Tsunami immediately became quiet and Inari's scowl deepened.

"It was…a picture of Inari's father." Tsunami said in a subdued fashion.

"Once upon a time our nation called him a hero." Tazuna told them uncharacteristically quiet.

Hearing his grandfather's words, Inari shoved himself away from the table, and stormed from the room to his own. "Inari, where are you going?" Tsunami demanded before he had left the room, but she was too late, as Inari annotated by slamming his bedroom door. She turned back to yell at Tazuna, "Father, I've told you time and again not to mention that in front my son!"

"So you're talking about a trauma from Inari's past?" Sakura observed. "What has him acting so aggressive towards us?"

"Sounds like there's a story there." Kakashi stated off hand.

Tazuna sighed, "The man in the picture was not Inari's birth father, but they were as loving and close as any biological father and son could have been. Inari was such a happy, laughing child back then…" As Tazuna continued his story tears began sliding down his face and his hands clenched in fists of rage, shocking team 7 with his sudden shift in demeanor. "…But Inari changed…After what happened to his father. Our people and especially Inari-kun were robbed of the very meaning of courage because of what happened that day."

The genin looked amongst themselves in curiosity, having heard a synopsis of this story from the briefing given to them by Shino. Kakashi glanced at his students in annoyance, noticing one more bit of information about the mission that they seemed to have kept to themselves, and contemplated confronting them about it later, before deciding against it given the current level of animosity directed towards him from his last confrontational action. He would let them come to him in their own time, though that's not to say he was not going to pay closer attention to them in the near future. For now he decided that he needed to come up to speed, "What happened?" Kakashi asked Tazuna, "What was it? What could have changed Inari and this nation so much?"

Tazuna took off his glasses to wipe away the tears from his eyes. He took a deep breath and began, "Let me start at the beginning, and tell you about the man who our entire land called a champion and a hero." Team 7 listened with rapt attention, "It was about three years ago that Inari and that man first met.

"Inari wasn't the strongest boy his age, and so he was very often picked on by others in his age group. It didn't help that his father died before he was born, so he was growing up without a father figure to show him strength. Because he was picked on so often by kids around his age, it was hard for Inari to make friends, so he adopted a pup and named him Poochie. Poochie was Inari's closest companion until one day one of the children who was picking on Inari decided that he would claim Poochie for his own. Inari was outnumbered and much smaller than his tormentors, so he could do little to fight back, but he did as much as he thought that he could fighting back. That is until the leader of the punks decided that it was too much work dealing with Inari to take his dog, so he threw Poochie into the sea.

"Neither Poochie, nor Inari knew how to swim, so Inari's tormentor's had finally broken Inari's spirit, because as much as Inari wanted to save his dog he didn't know how, and his ignorance initiated a level of fear that froze Inari from acting. While Inari was frozen in fear, the leader of the punks thought it'd be funny to push Inari into the water too, and see how he would fare. Poochie, in his need to survive, learned how to doggie paddle, and managed to swim to safety. Inari, in his fear, did not fare as well.

"When Inari woke up next it was at the campsite of a man he had never met before, a fisherman from abroad who had come seeking his fortune. His name was Kaiza, and after saving Inari's life he fed him, and comforted him over the situation. Kaiza lived by a creed that he passed to Inari that day, 'if something is precious to you hold onto it with both arms and never let go.' From that day forward, Inari's affection and admiration for him grew and grew. It probably had something to do with Inari's prior lack of a father, but even so that boy stuck to Kaiza like white on rice. They were always together like any other father and son. In no time at all Kaiza was like one of the family.

"And he was just the kind of man this country needs more of! Within a year of Kaiza's arrival, the rivers that run into the country began to overflow during a storm that typhoon season. It was on the verge of flooding one of the plots of land where crops where raised inland. The levy lock had been blown open, and the only potential way the lock could be reclosed was for someone to manage to swim through the river and attach a rope to the other end so that it could be pulled closed, but the current was too strong and whoever would be foolish enough to attempt the swim would surely be swept away. It seemed an impossible task, but Kaiza took it upon himself to achieve it. Inari brought him the rope, Kaiza made the swim and managed to secure the rope to the lock, he then managed to return with his life as the village managed to re-shut the lock and save the crops.

"That was when people around here started calling Kaiza a champion and a hero. With a father like that, Inari could hold his head up high. That is until Gato came into town." Tazuna said gravely.

"And the incident you've alluded to took place? So what happened?" Kakashi prompted.

"Gato had Kaiza put to death! In front of the entire city," Tazuna informed them. "He held a fake trial accusing Kaiza of trumped up charges of assault, sabotage, anarchy, and terrorism. He had his men remove those two arms that Kaiza was proud of. He hung him to a cross and his men beheaded him in town square. It happened in front of the whole town, including Inari. Ever since then Inari changed, and Tsunami and everyone in the city's changed too."

As Tazuna finished his story, Naruto reflected on every action of Inari's that he had observed. It did not take him long to decide on a course of action, and stand up with as much force as Inari had done earlier. "What are you doing, Naruto?" Sakura asked.

"Don't even think about training any more today. If you try to push yourself any further without resting first, you could hurt yourself." Kakashi warned his student absentmindedly.

Naruto stopped at the door and clenched his fist, "I'm going to prove to him that he's wrong." Naruto declared.

"What?" Tazuna asked in confusion.

"I'm going to show Inari that there are still heroes in this world." Naruto declared forcefully, "Besides, Sensei, you know this isn't my first training day, I'm more than capable of dealing with a long night of training." Naruto reminded over his shoulder.

Naruto's declaration caused a smirk of pride from his best friend, a sigh of exasperation from his team medic, and a shrug of indifference from his sensei, each of whom understood that Naruto was not bluffing.

X 6 days later in a clearing not far from Tazuna's home X

The sun rose, shining light through the branches upon Naruto as he lay sprawling in exhaustion from his late night training session. Surrounding the prone ninja was the evidence of his labor taking shape in the forms of random tree trunks sprouting unnaturally, piles of ashes and cinders strewn about the clearing, and slowly thawing leaves and blades of grass in the otherwise warm summer morning. Truly it was a bizarre scene.

A feminine form took in the conflicted sight before her as she followed a trail of useful herbs into the clearing, before tensing slightly at the sight of the young ninja. Seeing the ninja was asleep, the young teenager slowly began to make her way towards the blond. About half way across the clearing the blond suddenly shifted from his prone state by about fifteen degrees to his right now using his right hand as a pillow. The sudden stirring caused the teenager to stall in her forward progression, going as far as holding her breath hoping not to wake the blond and alert him to her presence. When his breathing evened out again, the teenager continued her approach, now creeping even more cautiously towards the younger ninja with her right hand slipping towards the bottom of her basket where she hid a pair of senbon needles mixed with the threading of the wicker.

As the teenager stood over the genin, she contemplated to herself what to do with her position. She never enjoyed killing, but this ninja had come close to slaying Zabuza-sama the week before with the help of his team. He was a threat. There could be no threat to Zabuza-sama. On the other hand, Zabuza planned on dealing with these ninjas in his own time. Besides attacking the genin now could simply provoke a counter attack from his allies, when the Konoha ninja seemed content to wait for their next attack. Of course the teenager knew that these excuses were more likely an attempt by her own mind to allow for her preferred pacifism.

Before the teenager could decide on a course of action, the decision was taken from her hands, "How's Zabuza-san doing?" Naruto asked from his lounged position, otherwise still feigning sleep. The teenager flinched and began to leap back to put distance between herself and the apparently awake blond - tightening her grip around her hidden senbon - but was stopped in her movement as she felt a blade nick the back of her neck. "Careful, onee-chan wouldn't want to hurt yourself." A Naruto clone said from behind her tapping the blade gently against the other individual's neck.

The feminine teen was slightly surprised at the situation since she still saw the blond in front of her, but quickly shifted from surprise to anger as she prepared to attack the flanking assailant, as she growled out, "You should've taken advantage of your position. You won't get another like it." As she swiped at the clone behind her with her senbon he leapt back with his palms up in a placating gesture.

"Woah, woah, onee-chan I don't want to fight you. I just want to talk." Naruto said from behind her, as he hopped to his feet.

"And why should I believe you? Obviously you realize we are enemies, somehow."

Suddenly a shower of kunai attached to ninja wire made a web around the feminine ninja, and the clone in front of her dispelled. As the wire drew tight one strand came close to making contact with her outstretched forearm, and while the wire never made contact she still noticed the thinnest of cuts appearing on her arm, and a single drop of blood to drip out. "Because I've had you surrounded since you penetrated the proximity seals and entered into this clearing, and I'm sure you're aware of futon users. You'd have never heard the blade. Now can we talk?"

The teenager still did not trust the genin but he made a valid point, "Fine, speak your piece."

With that the wire went loose and fell around the feminine ninja, "Well then you never answered my question before, uh, and I guess I'd like to get your name, I'm Naruto Uzumaki."

"And why should I tell you either?" She demanded.

"Come on, onee-chan," Naruto whined, "I'm just trying to be concerned, and it's kinda awkward calling you onee-chan all the time."

The teen started slightly at the second comment, and gave it a second of thought before sighing in resignation, "Fine, just call me Haku…and I'm a boy not a girl."

Naruto thought about this for a second before busting out laughing, "Nice try Haku-chan, but you're not going to fool me that easily. I'm a sensor. It's how I knew you were the one who helped Zabuza, and there's a lot you can tell about someone based on how their chakra feels. You're no boy, I can tell that much."

Haku did not know whether to be pleased that her opponent gave away such a useful piece of information or affronted that he had the audacity to call her bluff. She decided to settle for slightly indignant, "Fine, think whatever you want."

Naruto got his laughter under control with a few final chuckles, "So you never answered my question about Zabuza-san."

Haku scowled, "I already told you I wouldn't divulge such information to an enemy."

"We're not enemies right now, just two people, but I'm guessing you're not just picking flowers for him in that basket. Zabuza-san doesn't strike me as the flowers at his bedside kinda guy, so I'm guessing you're picking herbs to help his recovery, which makes me think you've got him on the mend pretty well and he should be fit for full duty in a matter of days, if that long." Naruto deduced.

Haku was shocked at his deduction, and immediately tensed up again in caution, "If you could figure out all of that by yourself why did you keep asking?"

"Because I wanted you to tell me yourself as a measure of good faith. Because no matter how it may look I really want us to not be enemies. Because that deduction actually took the thinking power of half a dozen Narutos and a personal experience with my own garden to figure out…" Haku stared owlishly at Naruto after this admittance not sure if her opponent was clever or an idiot. "Would you like help gathering herbs?"

"Do you really think I'd trust you to help me? You'd probably just try and give me poisonous herbs."

"I'm sure you'd catch anything poisonous I'd try and give you before it got to Zabuza," Naruto pointed out, "Besides it's not like you haven't already given me your back. I've already proven I don't want to harm you or Zabuza-san, at least not right now."

Haku scowled at the comment before setting her basket down and griping, "Fine do what you want."

As both ninja began picking out the herbs from the weeds, a silence spread between them. After a few minutes of dwelling on her current predicament Haku finally sighed, "What were you doing out here this early, especially passed out?"

"I was training." Naruto said simply.

"Obviously," Haku responded with a roll of her eyes, "but why? You and your team seem fairly strong as it is. To go so far as to drive yourself to exhaustion is counterproductive."

"Don't worry about me I can handle it," Naruto said cockily, "but to answer your question no matter how strong I am, I've got a long way to go. I'm going to be the Hokage one day, just like Zabuza-san wants to be Mizukage, and to that end I've got a long way to go before I'm strong enough. That, and right now I need to prove a point to someone I know."

Haku looked up in surprise, "How would you know if Zabuza-sama wanted to become Mizukage."

Naruto looked at her in confusion, "Well it's in his file isn't it? Zabuza fled Kirigakure after a failed coup attempt against the Yondaime Mizukage, Yagura. Since then he's been gathering money, man power, and resources. I wouldn't be surprised if he wanted to have another go for the hat. I know I would if I was in his shoes, and it's not like it'd be the first time the Mizukage hat was changed hands because of a rebellion. Yagura stole it from the Sandaime back before he went nutso and the Sandaime stole it from the Nidaime. At least that's what it's always looked like from the outside. Am I wrong?"

Haku looked at Naruto for a second, before turning back to the herbs they were picking, "So this dream of power that you have…do you chase it for your own sake, or for someone else?"

"Hm? Why do you ask?"

"I'm just curious, do you have someone special in your life?"

"Maybe, but you've yet to tell me why."

Haku became pensive for a second, finally she answered him, "When people are protecting something truly precious to them, they truly can become as strong as they must be!"

Naruto thought about Haku's declaration for a second, before giving her a bright smile. "Yea, I know all about that." His smile calmed a bit, "Arigato, Haku-chan for confiding that secret in me, I feel like I know you better, and it makes me hope even more that we can be comrades one day."

Haku stared at Naruto's contented smile, wanting with every fiber of her being to feel threatened. She knew that she should see him as an enemy, that she should not waste time and thought on his idealism. As much as she wanted to view him as an enemy, that warm smile would not let her steel her heart. She returned his smile with a small one of her own, "I hope that we can be comrades one day as well, Naruto-san."

Haku stood with her basket, and began making her way out of the clearing. Naruto stood as well, and called after her, "So that means you'll pass along my message to Zabuza-san?"

Haku stopped, but did not turn around as she called back over her shoulder, "You never said anything about a message for Zabuza-sama…"

"I didn't?" Naruto asked, before going over their last few minutes of conversation. Upon realizing that Haku was right Naruto began scratching the back of his head in embarrassment, "Ano, I guess I didn't, did I? Alright please tell Zabuza-san, that me and my friends have a large network of information gathering spread all over the elemental nations, as well as a good amount of funds available, and if he's willing to ally with us we'd be willing to help him take back Kirigakure. It would be very beneficial for him to consider our assistance. Will you tell him that for me?"

Haku paused for a moment considering the blonde's words before responding, "That's quite the boast, Naruto-san. I doubt Zabuza-sama would even accept such a large boast from a kid like you. I'll consider passing on your message. If nothing else I'm sure he will find it amusing." With that claim Haku took her leaving, while Naruto was left standing in the middle of the clearing trying to restrain a smirk. One would think that such a snub would have driven the hyperactive blonde irate; however, it had already been the downfall of many a powerful opponent the underestimating of Naruto Uzumaki.

X The Clearing Near Tazuna's Home One Week Since Team 7 Arrived X

As the moon rose into the night sky, Sasuke approached the clearing that he and his team had been training in since arriving in the Nami no Kuni. Sasuke had spent the day with Sakura, protecting Tazuna at his work site with Kakashi nearby, while Naruto stayed behind to train and protect Tsunami in case Gato thought to attack Tazuna's loved ones.

As Sasuke entered the clearing he noticed that in the middle of the clearing, where the previous day had been empty now stood a large tree that was wider around than any other tree surrounding the clearing. This new tree was a deeper tone of brown compared to those surrounding it, bordering on a light black rather than a dark brown. Its height was not quite half as great as those surrounding it, making this new tree seem all the more odd to Sasuke given this tree's thickness. Furthermore, while most of the surrounding trees were lined with branches of leaves, this new tree's limbs were in fact thick with needles. Sasuke let out a small smirk of understanding.

Sasuke's smirk just became wider as he focused in on his best friend, who stood before this new tree with his arm just slightly above his right hip where a clone stood at the ready. Sasuke stopped his approach, and activated his sharingan to take in the events occurring before him as a rasengan began forming above his right hand. In short order the rasengan was fully formed, but Naruto did not stop there, as he began injecting more chakra into the spiraling sphere of energy.

As the rasengan began taking on an orange hue began holding its own hands over the technique to help properly mold the intense chakra. With the assistance of the clone, the sphere began taking a new shape, as some of the extra chakra began spiraling back towards Naruto in a cylindrical pattern similar to one that could be found on a hilt before stopping its spinning and twisting just short of forming a palm sized ring a third the width of the cylinder shape. Meanwhile, the rasengan also began spiraling out and away from Naruto into something of a blade that was a little longer than the blonde's forearm, as the clone began coaxing the shape of the blade so that it flared out about a third the way up its length until its width at that point was greater than Naruto's hand. Finally, Naruto forced the core rasengan of this new, kunai shaped technique, to condense until the hilt that contained it fit neatly into Naruto's grip as he brought his left hand around to reinforce his grip on the kunai, and the clone dispersed in a cloud of smoke.

As Sasuke beheld Naruto wielding his new tool, he had to squint for the shear brilliance of the shaped chakra. Sasuke watched as Naruto stepped forward with his flaming rasengan kunai and swept it forward, striking at the tree that the blonde had to have formed from his own ability as well given its newness. Naruto's attack cut cleanly through the trunk, before escaping through the other side, where Naruto let the chakra dissipate. Naruto collapsed to his knuckles and knees, as the tree that he had just cleaved through began to fall.

Sasuke's muscles clenched, prepared to leap in and save his friend, as his eyes predicted the fall of the tree. The tree first fell to the right where the technique had initially made contact with the trunk. The force of the collapse caused the trunk to bounce on that initial point of impact, before beginning to rotate counter clockwise on the plane that Naruto's technique had cut through. The tree came closer and closer to falling on the blonde, and Sasuke got closer and closer to leaping into the clearing, as Naruto seemed unable to move. Just before Sasuke decided to stop waiting, an explosion burst from the side of the tree that was facing away from Sasuke causing to fall towards him, and land behind Naruto's kneeling frame.

Sasuke allowed himself to relax from the situation, seeing that his friend was no longer in danger, before walking into the clearing. Upon clearing the large, downed tree, Sasuke approached Naruto, "Not bad with the tree. Was that bakuton that saved you from being flattened?"

"Explosive seals." Naruto heaved out in a reply, his breath coming in large gasps as his lungs tried to catch back up to normal operation after their previous exertion. "I couldn't trust that I'd have enough chakra after that rasengan to move out of the way, or stop the tree somehow, so I put a ring of explosive seals around the trunk primed with proximity seals. As soon as it was clear the tree was going to fall towards me, and was getting too close they went off to alter its trajectory. I would've expected your eyes to see that…"

"I wasn't looking for it," Sasuke admitted abashedly, at having missed the chakra ring on the tree. In retrospect he had noticed something, he just had not taken the time to figure out what it was, too concerned with his friend's safety. "Not a bad tree to have produced. Any thoughts on using the needles in combat?"

"None yet," Naruto said, as he brought his legs underneath him to start standing. "Takes too long to summon for right now. That one took fifteen seconds, and way too much can happen in that amount of time. It's still a work in progress."

Sasuke nodded in agreement, "I suppose so. Of course there are ways to buy that time until you can get faster. I know I don't have to tell you that, given your enjoyment of traps, but I digress. What about that katon rasengan? Was that a sword? It was pretty impressive."

"A kunai actually," Naruto corrected, "and it has its own mess of problems. Just like the other four elemental rasengan, it's still too dangerous to use in battle. Even I can only manage one of those fully formed given a twelve hour period, and the physical damage is too much. Even with my healing factor, and Sakura's healing techniques I'll probably be unfit for combat until tomorrow morning. No I think this one is going to have to stay as a last resort technique for now like the others." Naruto moved to take a step towards heading back to Tazuna's house, but as he moved his leg almost gave out on him, and Sasuke had to rush forward catching his shoulder.

"Baka, looks like you actually managed to overdo it." Sasuke admonished, as he threw Naruto's right arm over his shoulder, so that the blonde could use his friend as a crutch. "I guess I'll have to help you back to Tazuna's house."

"Don't sound so put out, teme," Naruto chuckled, "I bet you've been wanting to get this close to me this whole mission."

"Shut up, dobe, you smell…" Sasuke countered.

X Tazuna's house X

It took only a few minutes for Sasuke and Naruto to make it to Tazuna's house, where Sasuke managed to push open the door, and squeeze the pair through the doorframe. As the pair stumbled into the house Sakura, Tazuna, and Kakashi, looked up from the dinner table where she had been talking strategy with Kakashi and Tazuna regarding the next day's protection detail.

"So you're finally back! Looking like something the cat dragged in!" Tazuna commented taking in the blonde's condition.

Upon seeing the condition of her teammate Sakura leapt to her feet, "Naruto, you baka, what have you done to yourself this time?" Sakura yelled at her teammate, as Sasuke passed the blonde to the team medic.

Sakura took one look at Naruto's palms, as the blonde began leaning on her, and growled in annoyance. "Tch, Tsunami-san can you please bring me a bowl of water from the kitchen." Sakura called to their host, as she brought Naruto next to the chair at the dinner table that she had previously been occupying.

"He managed, to pull off a katon rasengan." Sasuke told Sakura in way of answering her initial question, as Tsunami brought in the requested bowl, gasping as she took in Naruto's injury.

"Oh, Naruto, you know that this is the reason most katon jutsu are propelled from the mouth. The amount of control necessary to maintain a lethal katon jutsu so close to the body without harming the user is all but unheard of outside of shakuton users." Sakura admonished as she began using a basic diagnostic jutsu to assess just how bad the damage was.

"Still that is certainly a feat of accomplishment, Naruto, congratulations. That makes all five elemental rasengan now, doesn't it?" Kakashi inquired.

"Five failures, sure Kakshi-sensei. The amount of personal injury sustained is too great to risk using, even for me, at their current stages." Naruto said, as Sakura shifted from diagnostic jutsu to alternating between medical suiton jutsu and ijutsu to begin the healing process.

"Nonsense, Naruto, I promise you'll understand eventually, that if you're in a situation that's dire enough that you need to use a jutsu as powerful as a perfected shape and form manipulation like an elemental rasengan, the subsequent consequences of using the jutsu are going to pale in comparison to the alternative." Kakashi countered.

"If you say so, Sensei." Naruto sighed, as Sakura continued to sooth some of his pain.

"Of course I do, that's why I'm you're sensei." Kakashi said, giving his signature eye smile.

Sakura let the green chakra glow of her medical techniques subside, as she set aside the now empty bowl of water. "I've done what I can for now Naruto, and if you were anyone else I'd have you laid up for at least a week, but you being you, well…" Sakura gave an irritated sigh. "I still want you to rest for the rest of the night, and don't even think of taking this as me giving you permission to put yourself through this level of torture on a more consistent basis."

"Yes ma'am, wouldn't dream of it." Naruto responded, with a sarcastic level of obedience.

"Whew, well I'm dirty, sweaty, and real worn out from all of the work on the bridge today, but construction is almost complete!" Tazuna said with a cheerful grin.

"Father, you and Naruto are two of a kind. Please don't work yourselves to death!" Tsunami said, imploringly, as she laid a plate of fish at the table in preparation for dinner.

Inari looked on to all of the smiling faces surrounding him in the dining room, as he sat at the table in contemplation. He listened to the laughter, and it just began bringing back those painful memories, memories of a strong, optimistic, and cheerful fisherman. As his bucket-hat shaded his eyes, tears began to well in his eyes. The hat that his papa had given him…

"What's wrong?" Naruto asked looking up from his slouched position at Inari on the other side of the table.

At Naruto's question, Inari could hold back no longer. Inari slammed his hands down on the table, tears streaming down his face as he yelled at Naruto in response, "Why do you wear yourself out trying? No matter how hard you train, you'll never be a match for Gato's thugs! You act all cool, and you talk all tough, but big, strong guys like that are always too much for people weaker than they are. They'll destroy you!" This little speech was met with varying reactions around the table: Tsunami, and Tazuna seemed truly shocked at Inari's outburst; Kakashi seemed somewhat surprised, but also curious as to Naruto's response; Sakura, and Sasuke both seemed relatively unconcerened about the situation; Naruto himself just continued to rest his head on his arms, seemingly bored.

Inari did not stop there, rather he continued his tirade even louder, "Just watching you ticks me off! You go running your mouth when you don't know a thing! This isn't your town! And you don't know a thing about me, about what it means to be in pain. You're always clowning around and having fun. You don't know a thing about suffering or lonliness or what my life is like!" Inari stated, tears still streaming heavily down his face as he took in deep breaths to recover from his yelling.

"You done yet?" Naruto asked quietly, before continuing without waiting for a response, "So…you figure it's noble to star in a melodrama and treat everyone around you like guests at your pity party?" Naruto looked up, a snarl on his face as he said, "It takes a really big man to sit around and cry…you brat! You big cry baby!" Naruto's words just caused Inari's waterworks to become heavier, before he stormed out of the house to sit at the pier, as Naruto turned his back to the younger boy.

"That's not like you Naruto. Usually you're all about trying to show support." Sakura commented.

With those words Naruto's stiff posture slackened, and the blonde slumped forward with his head bent forward and a frown spreading over his face, "I'm sorry, it's just something he needs to hear. Inari needs to be reminded that he needs to stay strong for the memory of the man that he's still grieving. That, that's the best way to remember his father."

X On the Pier X
As Inari sat on the pier outside his house, with his feet dangling over the water, Kakashi stepped up behind him. "May I join you..?" The Jounin quietly asked, a sad look covering the visible portion of his face.

Inari nodded his head dejectedly in acceptance, as Kakashi settled in next to the boy. "You know, Naruto's kind of a brat, but he wasn't trying to be mean or hateful…he just…prefers to be a little too blunt sometimes…" Kakashi said as he looked down at Inari. Inari barely hummed a response at the slight apology. "Tazuna-san told us about what happened to your father. I think it reminded him a bit of his own parentage."

Inari looked up suspiciously, "What do you mean?"

Kakashi eye smiled, slightly conspiratorially before continuing, "Well I don't think Naruto knows that I know, that he knows this so don't tell him I told you, but… Naruto's father was a great hero for our village, and both of Naruto's parents died the day he was born. He doesn't have either of them to come home to."

"What?!" Inari asked in surprise.

"Yea, it was difficult for him, for a time. He never even got to know them. In fact because of similar circumstances, it was quite a while before he had anyone, and it was hard for him to make a single friend. Now he's surrounded himself with people like him. People who have had a hard time of things, and as he does so he takes their burdens upon himself. It seems he can't stop himself from taking on their pain, but even with all of that pain that he's taken for those that he cares for, and the pain that he's felt himself, I've never seen him cry. I've known Naruto for quite a long time, and in all of that time, he's not shed a single tear. Nor has he ever used his troubles as an excuse to sulk or be a coward. Not once. He always just…tries his hardest, hoping that the people around him will notice and congratulate him. He's always hoping for a new word of acknowledgement from anywhere that he can get it. He thinks he's gotten better at hiding it, but I can see him still trying to live up to his father's name. That is his dream after all, to surpass his father, and a couple of times he's risked his very life to try and accomplish it. I think one day he must've…just gotten fed up with crying.

"He understands what it means to be strong. He knows its costs and what it's worth…Just as your father did."

"What!?" Inari cried out, causing Kakshi to crinkle his eye in his typical eye smile.

"He can't leave you alone, because you've gotten under his skin." Kakashi said smiling, causing Inari to just stare at him in shock. "I think I'll head in and grab a bite of your mother's delicious food before I turn in for the night. Goodnight Inari." Kakashi finished as he left Inari sitting at the pier to think about their conversation.

X

AN: So I'm not super psyched about some of this chapter, a little too much dependence on the manga in a couple of places. That being the case, this is still done now. As I'm sure that everyone noticed, I started adding a few parentheses with jutsu translations. I was getting a few requests for those translations in reviews, and I was kind of interested in doing it myself anyway to ultimately create that scroll in the leaf pile that I was talking about a few chapters back with all of their techniques on it. Unfortunately, that will probably mean editing, and a few changes to those chapters I wind up editing. Well, I cannot think of much else to blather on about, and I am sure most you really do not want to hear it, so I am calling it a day. Later folks.