Naruto – The Tale of Three Outcasts
‘Naruto’ by Masashi Kishimoto
“The Tale of Three Outcasts” by Del’Cera Osirin Kusakurin
Beta: Ryuuzaki Kusakurin
DISCLAIMER: Naruto isn’t mine, and I don’t pretend that it is either.
Warnings: Violence, language, etc.
Characters: Haku, Momochi Zabuza, Hatake Kakashi, Uzumaki Naruto, Haruno Sakura, Uchiha Sasuke, Akira
Theme Songs: Tears in Heaven [Eric Clapton]
This is also posted on fanfiction.net, so if you see it there, it’s just me!
“Immediate: visual contact with subject, fifty meters away from my current position. Recommend a flanking maneuver, over.”
“Roger that, flank is a go, repeat, flanking maneuver is a go. Naruto, Sakura, how far are you from Sasuke’s current position?”
“Fifty meters and closing, Kakashi-sensei. Surrounding the target now.” Naruto answered.
“Ditto that.” Was Sakura’s reply.
“Roger, capture the target at your discretion.” Was Kakashi’s response. Sasuke began to flash hand signals, meaning: 3… 2… 1… LET’S GET HIM! As one, they jumped the cat, which ran away, leaving Sasuke and Sakura to bump their heads. Naruto saw the cat tensing and, on instinct, turned his jump trajectory ever so slightly so as to land in the perfect position to follow the cat. In the mad scramble through the underbrush, Naruto thought he caught a glimpse of something. A boy, actually. He was no older than Naruto, but was pretty tall for his age. He had red hair and a ponytail. But when Naruto looked back at where the boy was, he had disappeared. In his place, he saw the cat, stuck to one spot with what looked like paper shackles binding it. However, they were starting to come loose, so Naruto decided to just grab the cat and forget about the boy. He must’ve been seeing things. And, as if to add insult to injury, this was the third time that week that very cat had run away. Naruto was getting very sick of finding in the forest. So Naruto picked the cat up and walked over to his comrades.
“Kakashi-sensei, subject captured. We’re ready to go home now.”
“Excellent. Then mission: “Find the lost cat” is complete! Let’s go home.”
Once inside the mission assignation chamber, Naruto began to complain about all of the D-ranked missions that they were getting, and the other members of his cell were inclined to agree, though they would never admit it aloud. After the Hokage’s long-winded explanation of the mission class system, he saw Naruto sitting down, mentally discussing what type of ramen to have for lunch that day. Sensing the entire team’s distress about the level of missions they had been getting, the Hokage decided to give them a chance and let them do a C-rank mission. After calling Tazuna in and knocking out the introductions, he dismissed them all, except Kakashi.
“Kakashi, can I see you this afternoon?” the elderly Hokage asked.
“Of course, Hokage-sama,” was the reply.
That afternoon, Kakashi made his way back into the round office of the Hokage.
“You wanted to see me, Hokage-sama?” He asked.
“Ahh, yes, Kakashi, please take a seat. I have a very grave matter which I wish to discuss with you. A new boy has shown up in the village and he is more than qualified to be a genin. However, he has had a rough past, and he needs a jounin sensei that he can trust. And I feel that you would be perfect for the job.”
“I appreciate the offer, Hokage-sama, but aren’t genin teams only allowed to have three members?”
“Usually, that is the case. However, in this case, I will make an exception. There are special circumstances surrounding this boy, and, if my suspicions are right, he will be more of an asset than a hindrance on your team’s current mission.”
“I will trust your judgement, Hokage-sama. Can you have him meet us by the front gate tomorrow morning? At nine o’clock?”
“I will tell him to meet you there and then.”
“Thank you, Hokage-sama.”
“Kakashi, it is I who should be thanking you. This boy will be a great asset to the village, I can tell. Train him well. Take care of him.”
“I will, Hokage-sama.”
“Thank you, Kakashi. That will be all.”
With that, Kakashi disappeared in a poof of leaves, presumably to his apartment to prepare for the upcoming mission.
After receiving the message from the Hokage that he would meet his new team at the front gate at 9 AM the next morning, the soon-to-be ninja checked to make sure that everything was prepared for tomorrow. His kunai and shuriken holsters were filled, his clothes ready, and his bag packed. He was told that this was to be an extended mission, so he packed for every possible contingency. There was only one thing he didn’t plan for. One of the most shocking, yet pleasant, surprises in his life.
The three genin that comprised Cell Seven waited by the gate with their new charge, Tazuna.
“Where is Kakashi-sensei?” Naruto yelled, his patience for the silver-haired genin wearing thin.
“Naruto, calm down. He’ll be here soon, and then we can be on our merry way.” Was Sakura’s answer to the hyperactive blond.
At that moment, they caught sight of Kakashi walking toward them, with somebody following him. It was a boy, no older than Naruto, and he was slightly taller than Sasuke. He had red hair with black bangs, and they hung down far so that when his head was bowed even slightly, like it was now, his face was completely obscured. He had a long, red ponytail that swung behind him as he walked. He wore somewhat baggy clothes, enough to allow easy movement, but not baggy enough to get caught on something. They were a strange matte black, and they reflected no light, even though there were obviously bits of metal sewn in. His kunai and shuriken were strapped to his right thigh, and he had on a belt with strange, almost book-shaped objects strapped to it. His eyes were an unusual purpleish color, with slit pupils, almost like a cat’s. He wore his hitai-ate across his forehead and his left ear, seemingly hiding something. His hands were covered in angry, red scars, as if they had not healed properly when they were fresh gashes. His gait had a hint of a limp to it, as if he had broken a leg and set it almost, but not quite, right.
“Naruto, Sakura, Sasuke, this is a new genin. He will be joining our team, and will be participating on this mission. I guess we can call this your ‘baptism by fire’, huh?” Kakashi asked jokingly. “Anyway, would you care to introduce yourself to your new teammates? You know, likes, dislikes, dreams, things about you that we should know, stuff like that.”
“Sure, Kakashi-sensei. My name is Akira. Just Akira. There’s really not a whole lot I like anymore. Only the clouds. And darkness. Let’s see, I dislike people. Please don’t take it personally, as I’m perfectly willing to give you guys a chance, but, as a whole, I just don’t like people. I really don’t have any dreams, and as for the things I think you should know, I’ll wait until the time is right to tell you guys that. And, before we get started, I’m going to tell you right now. I like to be alone at night. But I will stay within earshot of the campsite. Is that okay?”
“Yes, that’s fine.” Was Kakashi’s answer, sensing something behind that desire to be alone, other than just his antisocial nature. “Well, now that that’s over, let’s go!”
And with that, they were off.
The journey to Wave Country started off as uneventfully as it could, considering Naruto was on the team. They weren’t fifty feet from the main gate when Naruto started spouting off some nonsense about how he was the “cream of the elite”, even though he was barely a genin. Tazuna promptly retorted that he would never respect Naruto, even if he became Hokage. Naruto got angry and was about to beat the crap out of Tazuna, when Akira pulled him back by the lobe of his left ear.
“Naruto!” Akira hissed, “don’t do something stupid right now! We need to make a good impression so that the Hokage will get a good report, and we will be sent on more C-rank missions! Plus, what you were about to do is the reason that I loathe people.”
Naruto looked downtrodden for a moment, then brightened back up at the possibility of more C-ranked missions. Akira, however, wasn’t fooled. He realized that Naruto was wearing a mask, hiding some indescribable pain. Akira was impressed. The only reason he could figure it out was because he had worn a mask just like that many years previously, until he got sick of wearing the endless “happy mask”, and settled on his current, indifferent one. Heading toward the back of the group, Akira heard Sakura ask if there were any ninja in Wave Country, and he heard Kakashi launch a long-winded explanation of the five Kages (the Hokage, Mizukage, Kazekage, Raikage, and Tsuchikage). After reassuring Sakura that there were no ninjas in Wave Country, Kakashi noticed a small puddle by the side of the road. After the group passed it, Akira’s gut, which he had learned to always trust, screamed out a warning. Almost instantly, two ninja from the Hidden Mist village wrapped a large, serrated chain around Kakashi and cut him into small, bloody chunks.
“One little piggy…” they said menacingly in unison, positioning themselves around Naruto. They had just started wrapping the chain around him when Sasuke grabbed a shuriken and threw it at a nearby tree, temporarily pinning it down. Akira followed up with a paper kunai, sending it straight through the hole in the shuriken, making the hold pretty much permanent. Sasuke then grabbed both of the Mist Nins’ wrists and gave them each a strong kick to the face. This broke the chain, and the Mist Nins each sprinted toward different targets. One ran to Naruto, who promptly froze up and managed to leap away, but not without a gash on the back of his hand. The other ran toward Tazuna, who was bumped out of the way by Sakura, and Sasuke then leaped in front of her, who was in turn leaped in front of by Kakashi. Kakashi clotheslined the charging ninja, the other one already safely KO’d and under the Copy Ninja’s arm. After both of the enemy nins were tied up, Kakashi had a little “discussion” with Tazuna about the details of the mission, and then tried to decide between continuing the mission and returning home to get Naruto medical attention. His choice was made for him, however, when Naruto grabbed a kunai and cut deeply into his hand, cleaning the poison out of his system. Kakashi then remarked, with a smile on his face, that Naruto cut too deeply and could very well die from his self-inflicted wound. After bandaging up Naruto’s hand, they continued on and made camp for the night. Camped out in a grove of trees, they built a small fire and cooked some fish they had caught in a nearby river. There was a somewhat awkward silence, until Sasuke brought up a topic that made Akira cringe.
“Akira,” he asked, “what was with that kunai you threw? It looked like it was made out of paper, or something.”
Akira cringed at this, knowing that his bloodline had been found out. But, he had heard that there were two very prestigious clans in Konoha that had bloodline abilities, so he figured that it was okay to tell them.
“It was made of paper. It’s a part of… my bloodline. My family had a very unique one, which manifested itself in different forms depending on the person. I got complete control over paper. I can make it into anything I want. I don’t know about the other forms. It’s different for every person. I once knew somebody who could do some pretty cool tricks with water with her bloodline, but she died a long time ago. Anyway, I’m really tired. I’m gonna go find somewhere to sleep. Don’t worry; like I said before, I’ll stay within earshot. Anyway, goodnight.” With that, Akira went off into the forest to find somewhere in the dark to curl up and mourn his long-dead sister.
Noticing Akira’s hidden distress at the topic of his sister, Naruto got up and began to follow Akira.
Finding a suitable spot inside a dip in a rock, Akira got some sheets of paper out of his backpack and assembled a guitar. He had taught himself to play, since he got mighty lonely at times when he was younger. The music helped soothe him in a way that no drug, medication, or any other conventional form of relief ever could. It was as if he could feel the tension slipping away from him as he played the notes. And so he started to strum a familiar tune.
As Naruto neared the place he last saw Akira, he began to hear a haunting melody coming from a dip in a rock. It was beautiful, and yet melancholy at the same time. But if the music was hard to describe, the difficulty in describing the lyrics was near impossible to even put into words. Even though they were in a language Naruto could not understand, they sounded, sweet, mournful, longing, happy, in fact, just about every human emotion possible.
“Would you know my name,” Akira began,
”if I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
if I saw you in heaven?
I must be strong and carry on
‘Cause I know I don’t belong here in heaven… Would you hold my hand
if I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand
if I saw you in heaven?
I’ll find my way through night and day
‘Cause I know I just can’t stay here in heaven…Time can bring you down, time can bend your knees
Time can break your heart, have you begging please…begging pleaseBeyond the door there’s peace I’m sure
And I know there’ll be no more tears in heaven…Would you know my name
if I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
if I saw you in heaven?
I must be strong and carry on
‘Cause I know I don’t belong here in heaven…”
As he finished the song, Akira finally noticed that he had a visitor. Naruto stood there, by the rock, just staring at him. But it wasn’t a stare that Akira was used to getting. It held much more than anger. It was pity, it was questioning, it was longing, all at once. Akira answered Naruto’s unspoken question by patting the hard soil next to him. As Naruto sat down, he asked only one question.
“That was beautiful. Was it for your sister?”
“Yes, it was.”
“When did you learn to play?”
“A few years ago. When did your mask come up, Naruto?” It was Akira’s turn to ask a question.
“What makes you ask such a weird question?” Naruto answered, dancing around the proper answer.
“Don’t try to play dumb. I’ve worn the same mask before. The bright smiles that don’t reach your eyes. The loud, boisterous attitude just to garner attention. Don’t think that I haven’t been in your shoes before. So, I’ll ask again. When did the mask come up?”
Shocked at what he was hearing, Naruto decided to answer the question truthfully. “Since I can remember. I think I was eight, the first time I put on the stupid smile.”
“What happened to make you do that at such a young age?”
“I was punished on a daily basis by the entire village for a crime that I didn’t commit.”
“Can I ask what happened? Or would you rather forget?”
“I would rather forget. But what about you? What happened to you to make you wear a mask?”
“Let’s put it this way. After my father learned about my mother’s bloodline, which was passed on to me and my sister, he wasn’t too happy. And our house had katanas in it.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“There’s nothing I can do about it now. I just have to live with the pain. And you should probably go back to the rest of the team. They’re probably looking for you.”
“Okay, Akira. Good night.”
With that, Akira drifted off to sleep, finally glad that he had found a friend who didn’t care about his bloodline.
The next morning, Akira awoke with a start. Trying to capture anything from the dream he just had, he felt it slip away like water through his cupped fingers. But, however much slipped away, some images remained within his grasp, like the droplets of water on grass just after it rains. The images that he had weren’t clear, not by a long shot, but they weren’t so fuzzy that they couldn’t be made out. They flashed before his eyes, showing him a girl (who looked remarkably like his sister) riding a big, black motorcycle, picking him up; a dead Konoha shinobi, strangled with his own hitai-ate; citizens running in terror as the stone face of the Nidaime fell from the Hokage monument; and, finally, crimson eyes and a long tongue. All of this flashed before Akira in the space of a few seconds, his mind remembering all of the hurried images. Running through them backward, forward, in a different order, every possible combination Akira tried resulted in one thought. Something was going to happen. Something big. But, realizing the situation he was in, Akira shunted the pictures to the side for the moment. He decided to make a good impression on his team by making them breakfast. Finding the berries, nuts, and other foods that he needed, Akira neared the campsite, looking for one final ingredient, where he heard snippets of a conversation being held by Kakashi and the genin of Cell Seven.
“… I don’t trust him. There’s something about his eyes that just…” came Sasuke’s voice.
“… what you mean. I sense it too. Something…” Sakura agreed.
“… how many times do I have to tell you? He’s not gonna…” Naruto argued.
“Naruto, I understand you need to look at the good side of people, but there’s…” Kakashi said.
“And Naruto, don’t forget about his bloodline…” Sasuke piped up.
“Yeah, what the hell kind of bloodline controls paper?” Sakura continued.
“Like you’re one to talk, Uchiha. After all, did you forget that you have a bloodline too?” Naruto yelled.
“Naruto! Calm down! He’ll hear us!” was Sakura’s hushed answer.
“Ya know, It’s really rude to talk bad about people behind their backs. Oh, well. When you get back, tell the Hokage that, while I appreciate the offer, I would rather not be a ninja of a village as prejudiced as back home. See you guys later.” was all Akira said to them before turning around and dropping his headband to the dirt, revealing a long strip of black leather tied around the top of his head, and a missing chunk of the top of his left ear.
“Assholes,” Naruto muttered to the rest of Cell Seven before running toward Akira’s retreating back, grabbing the redhead’s headband on the way.
“Akira, wait!” He called.
“Yes, Naruto? Thanks for defending me, but if you want me to go back, I won’t.”
“Look, I’m not asking you to come back permanently. But I know you’re not a bad guy. Please, just help us on this mission. If you want to leave after that, I’ll let you. Hell, I might even join you. It’s not like I have it easy here either. What do you say? Hmmm?”
“Well, since you put it that way, I’ll help you out on this mission. But only because you’re asking. If it were anybody else from your team, I’d have left long before now.”
“Anytime. Always happy to help a friend… that is, if you don’t mind a friend with a bloodline…”
“Why would I mind?”
“Forget it. Come on, I’ll make breakfast.” Akira said, tying his forehead protector back on.
After a small breakfast of bite-sized pancakes, Cell Seven and Tazuna set off down the road.
“Wow, Akira! Where’d you learn to cook like that?” Naruto exclaimed as he finished the last of his pancakes. (A/N: The pancakes are finger-food in this situation, okay? Hence the words ‘bite-sized‘!)
“Just around. You’ve got to learn things pretty fast where I’m from.”
“Speaking of which,” Sakura queried, “where are you from? You haven’t really talked about it.”
“And there’s a reason for that.” Akira snapped. “If you really want to know about me and my past, gain my trust. Then, maybe, I’ll tell you. But not a minute before. And I’ll tell you right now, you won’t gain my trust having little conversations like this morning. That goes for you too, Kakashi.”
Everybody was stunned. Not only was the sweet, good-natured boy from the previous morning gone, but he had been replaced with somebody who was willing to speak harshly to both his teammates, and his superiors. Sakura was in shock, Sasuke was as speechless as he normally was, and Naruto was silently cheering Akira on. But, as they neared a small lake, everything fell apart. The first warning they had was when Kakashi screamed “GET DOWN!”. Akira’s gut hammered out a warning as they dropped, and a massive sword spun over them, right about where their stomachs would have been. As they arose, they saw a man standing on the sword, which was now buried in a tree. The man was bare-chested, with bandages wrapped around his mouth, and a strange, belt-like thing wrapped around his neck and slung across his chest. He had camouflaged arm guards that extended to his elbow,and had long pants and shinobi sandals on.
‘This is my chance!‘ Naruto thought, ‘My chance to finally show up Sasuke!‘
Naruto charged forward at the strange man, but Kakashi held him back.
“Hold on, Naruto. This guy is on a whole other plane than those two we fought yesterday. Let me handle this.” With that, Kakashi pulled up his hitai-ate revealing a fully developed Sharingan eye. Sasuke was stunned, Sakura was confused, Naruto was confused as well, and Akira was amazed.
‘To only have the Sharingan in one eye,‘ Sasuke and Akira thought, ‘He must’ve gotten it from someone. The question is, who?‘
“You are not my opponent, Kakashi. Give up the old man now, and I will let you get away.”
“Did you honestly think it would be that easy, Zabuza?”
“Nope. I just figured I’d ask.” With that, a heavy mist rolled in. The members of Cell Seven gathered in a circle around Tazuna, when a chilling version of Zabuza’s voice came through the mist, giving his “Eight Targets” monologue. Sasuke began to shiver with fright.
“Sasuke,” Kakashi said, a smile on his face, “don’t worry. Even if he gets me, I’ll never let my teammates die!”
“Such a touching speech. Too bad it was a waste!” Said Zabuza, appearing behind Kakashi, completely prepared to cut the copy-nin in half. As Zabuza swung his massive sword, Kakashi dropped to his knees and rammed a kunai into the swordsman’s abdomen. As soon as Kakashi noticed the water pouring out of the wound, he knew that ‘Zabuza’ was only a mizu-bunshin. Another Zabuza popped up behind Kakashi, who disappeared into a puff of smoke when Zabuza sliced him. Kakashi suddenly put a kunai around Zabuza’s neck.
“Game over, Zabuza.”
“Oh, really?” Zabuza replied, “then check again, Kakashi.”
Suddenly, there was another Zabuza behind Kakashi. As Kakashi drew his kunai along his captive’s neck, the clone exploded into water and Zabuza tried to go for the kill. Zabuza swung his mighty sword, which Kakashi ducked. Zabuza drove the blade into the ground, and, using the end of the hilt as a pivot, he swung around and kicked Kakashi square in the stomach. Kakashi went flying into a nearby lake, and tried to regroup. He was cut off, however, by the appearance of Zabuza, who promptly trapped him in a Water Prison Jutsu.
“You running around free makes my job too hard. I’ll finish you after I get your brats and the old man.” With that, Zabuza summoned a mizu-bunshin, which took up a position on the shore, a little ways away from where Kakashi was held up.
“Go on! Get out of here!” Kakashi said to the genin of Cell Seven, “His clone will break up after it gets a certain distance from his body! Get out of here while you can!”
As Kakashi said this, Naruto charged the mizu-bunshin, only to get kicked in the face. He went flying back, and, as he did, his headband came off, and Zabuza’s clone stepped on it. Naruto noticed this, and charged the clone again, only to have the same result. This time, Sakura yelled at him for overestimating himself, before she noticed Naruto tying his hitai-ate back on his forehead. Noticing this, Sakura stopped short.
“Go ahead. Get out of here, if you want. I’m staying here. I’m going to free Kakashi-sensei.”
With that, Naruto took up a stance in front of the remaining members of Cell Seven and Tazuna.
“Well? Go on!” He said, impatiently.
“If you’re staying here, then so am I. I can’t let my friend run off to certain death, no matter how stupid he is, eh?” Akira quipped, while taking up a loose taijutsu stance.
“I am not stupid!” Naruto retorted, “I’m just hard-headed! There’s a difference!”
“Will you two bakas just shut up and concentrate?” Sasuke said, joining them.
“Yay, Sasuke-teme decided to grace us with his presence! What about you, Sakura? Gonna help us get Kakashi-sensei out? Or are you gonna take Tazuna back home?”
“We’re staying.” Was all the pink-haired kunoichi said.
As soon as Sakura voiced her opinion, Sasuke flipped open a demon windmill shuriken. Catching his idea, Naruto created many Kage-bunshins, all of them confusing Zabuza and his clone. Meanwhile, one Naruto threw another windmill shuriken to Sasuke, who stacked it on top of his previous one. With a mighty throw, Sasuke heaved the shuriken at Zabuza.
(A/N:You know what happens here, and it’s too long for me to type and get this chapter out within a reasonable timeframe. So the rest of this happens just like it does in the manga.)
As soon as the masked ninja collected Zabuza’s “corpse”, Kakashi collapsed on the ground, due to chakra exhaustion. This, of course, left Sasuke, Sakura, Naruto, and Akira to drag Kakashi’s half-dead body to Tazuna’s house. After a very uneventful journey, Cell Seven was lead to Tazuna’s small home. Since Akira didn’t really do much in the fight, he said he wanted to burn off some excess energy caused by his adrenalin rush by training. After making sure that Kakashi was alright, Naruto and Sasuke decided to go spar in the woods. Sakura wanted to stay behind, and help Tazuna’s daughter, Tsunami, with that night’s dinner. A while later, Akira came back, his excess energy gone, and Naruto and Sasuke came back, battered, bloody, and bruised, a while later. After a small dinner, everyone went to bed. The next morning, Kakashi awoke to Naruto attempting to remove his mask. As Naruto fell off, Kakashi began laughing. Soon after, Kakashi took them into the forest to show them the tree-climbing exercise. After showing them the proper form, Kakshi walked off, presumably to go back to Tazuna’s house. Sakura completed the exercise first, followed by Sasuke, then Akira, and, finally, Naruto. However, because they took so long to do it, and since they used so much chakra trying to scale the tree, Naruto and Akira fell asleep on the higher branches. The next morning, Akira and Naruto found themselves lying in the clearing they had been practicing in. However, as they looked around, they spied a young girl picking herbs in the clearing. Akira felt a strange sense of nostalgia around the new girl, but quickly burshed it away, asking of she needed help. Once the two boys agreed to help her, Akira noticed what kind of herbs she had them picking.
“I hope that he is able to move around freely soon.” Akira said to the girl.
She looked stunned for a moment before asking, “What makes you think that?”
“Well, I noticed that you have us picking herbs that help cure temporary paralysis, and there are better herbs for helping women, since these utilize testosterone more than estrogen, so I assume you’re doing this for a guy.”
The girl suddenly looked relieved, before saying, “Thanks. I’ll tell him you wish for him to get well soon.”
“Tell him I said the same thing!” Naruto said, traditional foxy grin in place.
“I’ll make sure to do so.”
After a while, all of the herbs had been picked, and the boys said goodbye to Haku (they had just learned of her name), and made their way back to Tazuna’s house. After coming inside, Sakura was all over them, screaming about how they ‘could have gotten seriously hurt, or worse’. Kakashi quickly pulled her out of their face, and asked them if they would go into town and shop for some groceries. After agreeing, they were out the door again.
Once in town, Akira saw a few familiar faces, even though he had never been there before.
“Hey! Akira! Is that you?” Shouted a deep voice.
“Yuu-san! How are you! How’s Mina-chan doing!” Akira said, running over to a man with black hair and brown eyes, and a small girl, no older than five, perched on his shoulders, while Naruto just watched confusedly.
“We’re both fine, Akira. When did you get here?”
“Not long, only about two or three days ago. Hey, guess what! I think I finally found a place to live!”
“You’re kidding! That’s great, man! Where is it? I gotta come by sometime.”
“Well, if I play my cards right, I think I can get a place in Konoha.”
“Wow! I’m impressed, man! Well, look, I gotta go. I promised Minako I’d take her fishing. Isn’t that right, Mina-chan?”
“That’s wight, daddy! You pwomised!”
“Hey, it’s great to see you again, Akira. Come visit if you can, alright?”
“No problem, Yuu. Hey, tell Eri-san that I said ‘hi’, okay?”
“Sure thing. Say bye to Akira, Mina-chan!”
Walking back over to Naruto, Akira said, “If you have questions, let’s get something to eat first. We’ll talk then. Besides, I’m starving!” As if to punctuate his sentence, Akira’s stomach chose then to let out a nice, loud growl.
Once inside the restaurant (and Naruto had a fit over the menu not having ramen), the ‘interrogation’ began.
“So, Naruto,” Akira began, “What do you want to know?”
“First of all, how did you know what kind of herbs we were picking? They weren’t covered in any of the Konoha survival guides.”
“One of my first friends was an herbalist. She knew pretty much every plant I’ve ever seen, and what to do with it. Anything else?”
“How long did it take you to learn all of that?”
“Hmmmm… good question. My rough guesstimate would be… somewhere around… I dunno, four, maybe five years?”
“….Wow.” Was all Naruto could say. How could anybody be that patient? It must’ve taken forever to learn how to use them right, let alone actually identify all of the useful herbs that he dealt with. “So, you got any other aces up your sleeve? Like, say, an ultra-powerful jutsu or something like that?”
“Haha, no, nothing like that. Anyway, here’s our food.”
Their waitress came up and deposited their orders, and Akira gave her a good tip, for he noticed that she saw them talking and she waited until they were done. Thanking him, the girl went back to the kitchen, leaving Naruto alone with Akira, and more questions than answers.
As the two boys continued to eat, Naruto, curious as to the details of Akira’s herblore training, began to ask Akira more questions.
“So,” He began, “you trained with your sensei for four years? How could you possibly stand that?”
“Naruto, I never said anything about training with Rin-sensei (A/N: No, this is NOT Kakashi’s teammate, Rin. It was just the only name I could think of.) for four years. We would’ve driven each other crazy. The six months I was there were like hell on Earth. For both of us. For instance, I’m an early riser, and the words ‘Not a morning person’ don’t even begin to cover her… she regularly wakes up at at least noon. Most of the time, though, it’s one to two in the afternoon.”
“Wow.” Was all Naruto could say. He had never known anybody to sleep that late, ever.
“Yeah, so anyway, it took me six months to learn how to work with the herbs, and then she gave me this little book that had everything else I need to know in it.”
“Mind if I take a look at it?”
“Go ahead. But it’ll probably look like gibberish to you.” Akira said, while handing Naruto a small, black book with a leather binding.
Opening it, then quickly closing the volume and handing it back to Akira, Naruto said, “Wow. You’re right. I can’t make one lick of sense from that. But, I guess you know what you’re doing.”
“Here,” Akira said, procuring another book out of his trenchcoat, “you might be interested in this. This was the single most helpful resource I had when I was learning to cook in the woods. It’ll probably help you too.”
Akira handed the book to Naruto, who took the time to look it over. It was leatherbound, just like the herb book, but this one had a forest green cover and had little knots over it for a better grip. (Think basketball-type cover) “Thanks, man.” He said, patting Akira on the shoulder. Noticing how stiff his trenchcoat was, Naruto just had to make a joke about it. “Wow, you use enough starch in that thing?” He said with a laugh.
“This? No, I don’t starch it. It’s made of paper, just like the rest of my clothes.”
“What? Seriously? All of your clothes are made of paper?”
“Well, I do have some things under it that are actual cloth, but the outer shirt, outer pants, and the trenchcoat are all made of paper. It helps to have some around at all times, even if the clothes are a little stiff. But once I sleep in them for a few days, they’ll be really soft.”
Naruto could only stare wide-eyed at Akira’s confession. How on earth could he stand wearing paper? Even if he did have things under it, it must’ve gotten really hot in the summer. After voicing his opinions, Naruto couldn’t help but stare as Akira laughed. “Nah, they don’t get hot.” He said. “They’re light enough so that, even with clothes under them, they aren’t too bad. Hey, shouldn’t we get back to Tazuna’s? It’s getting sorta late, and we still need groceries.”
“Good point. Let’s get going.”
After buying their groceries, Naruto and Akira headed back towards Tazuna’s house. As they returned, Tsunami thanked them and ran off to unpack the groceries. After a few hours, Tsunami began to make dinner. During the meal, Sakura noticed, and commented on, a torn picture hanging on a wall by the table. What followed was a long, sad retelling of how Inari met his surrogate father, then how he was subsequently killed by Gatou for ‘crimes’ which amounted to nothing more than trying to save the country of Wave.
A few days later, they were afraid that Zabuza had recovered, so all of Cell Seven (save Naruto, who overslept) went out to the bridge to guard Tazuna while he was working. As they neared it, though, something felt drastically wrong. The closer they got, the worse the feeling got, until the smell of death was all around them, crushing them under its iron grip. Finally, they saw what caused the feeling- every worker on the bridge was lying dead, all in a circular formation, all with the same slash marks at roughly chest level. They knew of only one man that would have the almighty gall to do something this heinous, and their suspicions were soon proven correct when a heavy mist rolled in.
Zabuza and his ‘Hunter-nin’ subordinate stepped out of the mist, and began to converse with Kakashi. After a few seconds of tense dialogue, Kakashi’s Sharingan met the air for the second time since their journey began, and the fight continued from where it left off at the lake.
A resounding “SHIT! I OVER SLEPT!” Was heard all across Tsunami’s house, causing said woman to chuckle and sweatdrop at the same time. She watched as an orange and yellow blur tore out the front door saying things like “I can’t believe they left me behind!”
As Naruto leapt through the forest, he noticed something on the ground that shouldn’t have been there. Now, Naruto would have passed over the dead boar, feeling sorry for it of course, had it not been for the way it died. It was covered in deep gashes that appeared to be made from a sword. There were also several identical gashes on trees leading… back… to… TAZUNA’S HOUSE! Naruto quickly pulled a 180, and gunned it back to the place he had just left not five minutes before. He quickly spotted two samurai, one of them holding Tsunami captive, the other advancing on Inari, who acted brave, but was giving off distinct signs of being scared. Luckily, that held the samurais’ attention long enough for Naruto to use a quick replacement on Inari and save the boy’s life. After telling the boy that he did a good job fending them off for as long as he did, Naruto began his assault on the two samurai. After not but a few minutes, Naruto told Inari to tie up the now-unconscious samurai, then to gather up every villager he could find and bring them to the bridge with whatever weapons they could scrounge. With that, Naruto tore toward the bridge with renewed vigor. His time had come. The fight for Wave’s survival was at hand.
While Sakura guarded Tazuna, Sasuke and Akira faced off against the still-masked Haku. Akira’s feeling of nostalgia came back with a vengeance, but he managed to push it down for a second time, though it was admittedly harder than the first. The masked nin created a few Mizu Bunshin, which were quickly cut down by Sasuke’s kunai. That was when the masked nin spoke.
“That was a big mistake. Now I can unleash my true power.”
With a cry of “Sensatsu Suishou!” the water around them rose up, assumed the form of a senbon, froze into ice, and launched at Sasuke and Akira, all within a few seconds. Akira yelled at Sasuke to “Go guard Tazuna. This one’s mine, and mine alone. Tell Naruto that I won’t be needing help. And if he tries to intrude, hold him back.” All of this was said while Akira grabbed Sasuke roughly by the shoulders, threw him out of the deadly ring of senbon, and leapt into the air, performing multiple backflips to stay in the air long enough to avoid being skewered. As he landed he yelled at Sasuke to leave, and Sasuke, noticing the boy’s powerful desire to take on the masked nin in one-on-one combat (comparing it to his need to kill his brother, Itachi), went to go assist Sakura in guarding their charge.
Naruto arrived at the bridge to see something he never thought would happen. Kakashi was on his own against Zabuza, and Akira yelled at Sasuke, who actually listened, and took on the masked nin that he saw during the first fight by himself. Naruto began to run over to Akira, only to be stopped by Sasuke, who related what Akira said. Naruto struggled for a few moments, then resigned to guard Tazuna, realizing that his newfound friend was completely serious in his desire to fight the strange ninja alone.
“You can drop that mask.” Akira said. “It’s not fooling anybody. You aren’t a hunter-nin, and I prefer to see faces when I fight.”
With that, the masked ninja took off her mask, revealing the girl that Akira had met in the forest a few days prior. Right then, Akira knew why he felt the waves of nostalgia every time that he saw this girl. This was the same girl that he had played tag with as a child. This was the same girl that knew his deepest, darkest secrets, and didn’t care one iota. This was the girl that he swore upon his, and his mother’s, lives to protect. This was his sister.
Akira stood dumbly for a moment, shocked at the girl in front of him. He flashed back to their final day of happiness together, back when they had been a family. He came around just in time to avoid a pair of senbon aimed for his neck. He sidestepped and said, “You’re getting better- no doubts there. But you still can’t beat me, Aisu-chan.” Akira had hoped to jog her memory with that remark, but was sorely disappointed.
“Never say that name again,” Haku ground out. “Only two people in the world can call me that, and they’re both dead! I was going to just incapacitate you, but now that you’ve defiled my brothers’ memories, you must die. Prepare yourself!”
It was at that moment that Akira realized just how much trouble he had gotten himself into. He had seen what Haku could do when she was mad, and that was when they were both seven- and that was five years ago. He could only imagine what five years of Zabuza’s tutelage had done to her already jounin-level skill level.
Forming a set of seals, Haku summoned her ice mirrors. Akira immediately set about encasing himself in his paper, which he then hardened into a set of full-body armor. Haku, meanwhile, had seen what Akira had done, and was impressed with his speed. It was all for naught though – she could pierce bone with her senbon. Immediately going on the offensive, she grabbed a handful of her needle-like darts and began to attack. Tossing needle after needle, she soon realized the futility of her actions, noticing that she connected with every throw, but they simply bounced off Akira’s body.
“Well,” she called out, “it seems that we’ve arrived at a stalemate. Would you like to try your hand in taijutsu instead?”
“Anything to get rid of those damn mirrors! Do you realize how freakin’ cold they are!?”
Haku smiled – she had him right where she wanted him. Deforming the mirrors, she created a large broadsword in her hand, behind her back. The siblings dropped into their respective taijutsu stances. Haku charged, beginning their dance of death.
She opened with a diagonal strike intended to remove Akira’s head and right arm, but he dodged. Noting his speed – comparable to hers – Haku dropped the heavy blade, which promptly melted. Pulling out her preferred weapon – senbon darts – she charged Akira. Spotting her charge, Akira pulled his arms back toward his chest, right arm in front, relaxing his hands into a comfortable position. He slid his left leg back and slightly to the left, gracefully dropping into a stance which had saved his neck more times than he cared to count. Waiting until the perfect moment, he parried Haku’s strike with his right arm, swinging to the side, trying to position himself so that he could give her a deadarm – he knew how unbalancing it was to fight with only one arm, and hoped that Haku couldn’t compensate. Haku, however, appeared to anticipate this movement, and went for his left knee with a particularly vicious snap kick. It connected, and Akira went down, Haku following so she could sit on his chest and ensure that he would stay still. Holding a senbon to his neck, she asked him one final question: “Anything you want to say?” To which Akira simply laughed.
Haku stared at him strangely, and so Akira managed to choke out, “You were right. The knee is a weak spot. And to think, seven years of training did nothing. Heh. You got any suggestions for closing that gap?”
For her part, Haku took it better than he hoped. “Who the hell are you!?” She asked, the dart inching closer to Akira’s neck.
Akira concentrated for a moment, and then, in a puff of smoke, his hair changed to a deep black, his eyes to a light green with normal pupils. “Remember me now?” He asked.
Haku looked at Akira though the clearing smoke, doing a remarkable impression of a deer caught in a pair of headlights. While she was staring, something deep inside her subconscious suddenly clicked. That laid-back drawl he used, even when fighting for his life, when he spoke; his use of her old nickname; and, finally, the scar around his left ring finger. It was a faint scar, barely noticeable against his skin, but she saw it. She knew how and when he got it, and that was the clincher. Haku only managed to say one word before the shock caught up with her mind. “O-Onii-chan?”
Meanwhile, Kakashi had his hands full with Zabuza. He wasn’t fairing badly, not by any means, but he didn’t have the high ground, either. Both men were covered in various scratches, though none were lethal. “It’s time we end this, Zabuza!” Kakashi said, biting his thumb and smearing his blood down a long scroll. Rolling it back up, Kakashi did some hand seals, then slammed the scroll onto the ground. There was a deep rumble, and suddenly, a set of nin-dogs appeared, holding Zabuza in place. Seeing his opponent was immobile, Kakashi began the seals for his one original technique- the Chidori. He had almost finished when Gatou showed up.
“Good!” said the shipping magnate with a smug look in his beady eyes. “Finish him off! That way, I won’t have to pay his outrageous fee!” The mercenaries behind him all shifted anxiously, as if anticipating the coming bloodshed.
Akira carried Haku’s limp body over to Naruto and Sasuke. Sakura had long since left with Tazuna for the worker’s small home, under the insistence of Naruto. Because of that, Akira felt safe leaving his sister under their care – with Tazuna gone, so was Haku’s reason to fight. Sasuke saw Akira and ran up to him (Naruto had zoned out). Once Sasuke saw Haku unhurt in his arms, his joy that his comrade was alive quickly turned into anger.
“What the hell were you thinking!” he cried. “What if she wants to kill us all!?”
Akira heard his rant continue, but tuned it out- he was more focused on Sasuke’s eyes, which would occasionally flash a deep crimson color. Sasuke seemed oblivious to the change, as was the newly approaching Naruto, who was broken from his daydreaming by Sasuke’s yelling.
“She won’t kill you.” Akira argued.
“But Akira,” Naruto asked, “What if she still wants to?”
“Trust me. She won’t. But I need you to do something for me.”
“Naruto, keep Sasuke and yourself away from the other end of this bridge. I’m about to do something I’m not at all proud of, and I’d rather y’all not get hurt.” Akira said, already slipping into the heavy accent associated with his changes in mental state.
“What about this girl?”
“She can take care of herself, and I’m pretty sure I won’t hurt ‘er. Now, get goin’!”
Naruto hesitated, then went back to Sasuke and said, “We gotta get off this bridge, and stay away from the other side.”
“Because Akira said we need to.”
“Naruto. You trust somebody, from another Hidden Village, who you barely even know, with something like this!?”
“Sasuke. I know when people lie. You’d be amazed at what I can read from somebody’s eyes. We can trust him. So, let’s go.”
Sasuke sighed in a defeated manner. “If this comes back to bite us, dobe, it’s on your head.”
Naruto smiled- that was as close to a flat-out ‘yes’ as he could hope for. As soon as Akira felt them leave his area of perception, he smirked. He wasn’t going to like this, or the consequences on his body, but Gatou did deserve it – he was the one who told their father of their mother’s lineage. Suddenly, the smirk fell – that was him thinking, not Akira. However, he knew that, however much he disliked it, he had to let him take over, if just for a little while. He simply wasn’t powerful enough to take on that many people at once, even if they were just a bunch of mercenaries, and even if he did have the help of Kakashi and Zabuza.
“Onii-chan?” A small voice called out.
“Haku!” Akira may have been contemplating releasing him from his bonds, but that was shoved rudely aside by Haku’s awakening. Akira ran over to his sister, a million scenarios flitting though his mind simultaneously. Suddenly, one clicked.
“Haku,” he said, “I need your help. I’m gonna do somethin’ that I’m gonna have a hard time gettin’ undone.”
“What is it?” She asked.
“I’m gonna pass out in, prob’ly fifteen minutes. I need ya to make sure I stay safe until I wake up.”
“Onii-chan, are you-”
“Sorry, Imouto. No time. I’ll answer your questions later- all of ’em.”
“O-Okay. I’ll keep you safe.”
Akira ripped off the left sleeve of his trench coat, and revealed a strange seal. It was a large rectangle, with six smaller ones arranged around the bottom end. Akira bit his thumb, drew blood, and ran it along the bottom-right rectangle. Akira made a tiger hand seal, and said “Fourth Column- Release!” Retreating to his mindscape, Akira suppressed a shiver. This was going to be brutal.
Within his mind, Akira found himself standing on a circular platform. There were others, and they surrounded a central dias in what appeared to be a cave. It was dark, everything was made of stone, and there was the constant sound of water dripping. Gradually, the platforms began to fill up. On each of them stood Akira. And yet, they weren’t Akira. The first one to come was clothed in solid green, and had matching hair and eye color. He had an air of confidence around him. The second was all pink, and couldn’t seem to stop smiling and laughing. The third, dragged along by the second, was straight gray, and refused to look at anything but his feet. The fourth was a burnt-orange color, and had a book in his hand, and three more at his feet. The fifth was yellow, and started comforting the gray one as soon as he showed up. And the sixth wasn’t in the shape of Akira. It was simply a box, with barred window-shaped cutouts, covered in chains and padlocks, though one side of the box was, strangely, not chained up. Occasionally, though, a clawed hand would reach through the bars, grabbing at air. As one, Akira and his various clones pulled out a strange object. They were all pieces of a key. He quickly slotted them together, and released four of the seven padlocks. Forming another tiger seal, he channeled some chakra, and placed his hand on the latch holding the unchained side closed. He said, “You have fifteen minutes. Gatou – a short man with white hair, and glasses, must die. If you hurt anyone wearing a headband with a metal plate on it, I will never release you again. Is that understood?”
“Yes.” The thing in the box said, but it was much more akin to an inhuman growl than an actual voice. The response satisfied Akira, who then released the latch. The thing in the box stepped out into the light. It looked like Akira, but at the same time, bore no resemblance at all. It did not walk on two legs, but used its hands as well, giving it a feral look. It was completely red- blood red, unkempt hair hanging around its head – instead of in a neat ponytail like Akira – and it wore a cloak of the same color. However, the biggest difference was its eyes. There were four of them- little more than wide slits- one pair on his forehead, just above his normal ones. They were all red- no white or pupil could be seen, and they seemed to glow with an unearthly light. Then, just as quickly as it stepped out, the creature leaped straight for, and into, Akira’s chest. The cave quickly dissolved into nothingness, and Akira’s mind was suddenly riddled with extremely violent, though fragmented, thoughts. Then, after naught but a few moments, Akira passed out within his own mind- his anger had taken root.
Back on the bridge, Akira’s body was already making its way back to where the mercenaries were. He came upon them just as Gatou told Kakashi to kill Zabuza. However, Kakashi paused.
“I’m no longer your enemy Kakashi. Can you release me? That bastard needs to die.”
“How can I trust you, Zabuza?”
“I’m a mercenary. Gatou just refused to pay me for the services I rendered. You do the math.”
“Oh.” Kakashi said, dispelling his dogs. Zabuza bent over to pick up his sword. As he straightened back up, he saw Akira stalk out of the mist, down on all fours. Akira, Zabuza, and Kakashi all stared at one another. Then Zabuza and Kakashi said at the same time, “Get out of here, kid. This is out of your league.”
Akira only laughed- a cold, hollow laugh. This was not the boy that Kakashi had left Tazuna’s house with – he seemed evil, as though he were driven only by anger and hatred. The three of them took up positions across from the mob. Then, as though a silent command went through them. They exploded with action. Akira charged down the center of the mob, using his paper as a set of armor, right to Gatou. With a quick strike, Gatou fell dead, and Akira turned on the mercenaries. Five more minutes saw Akira standing in a clearing, mercenaries afraid to get near the boy. They would rather take their chances with Kakashi and Zabuza than fight him. The presence inside Akira’s body realized that ten minutes had passed- the bridge was longer than he thought, and if he didn’t get moving now, he would collapse before the mercenaries could fall, and then he would be in serious trouble. He leaped out of the fray, hoping that he could make it back to the end of the bridge. Unfortunately, he had used too much chakra- while Akira could wield paper with abandon, it took up consequential expenditures of chakra for him to keep the armor up. Knowing that he didn’t have enough chakra to give himself a speed boost, he walked as fast as he could to the other end- as fast as he injuries would allow, anyway. He didn’t look it, but some of the mercenaries had pierced deep with their weapons, and he was thankful that he could walk at all, let alone keep up the jogging pace that he was. He knew right there that he would need the full five minutes he had left.
To say that Zabuza was pissed would be an understatement. That little bastard! He stole Zabuza’s kill! However, Zabuza took solace in the fact that there were still mercenaries to take out his frustrations on, and that the kid was retreating to the other end of the bridge. Zabuza and Kakashi had forced the mercenaries to the end of the bridge that they came from, but that was when they realized their mistake. They had forgotten that their opponents had archers among their ranks, and they were in a bad position- they had allowed themselves to be led into an enemy-controlled bottleneck. Just as they had begun to back away, the mercenaries prepared to charge. Suddenly, a crossbow bolt cut through the mist, and landed just in front of the mercenaries. A small form followed it out of the mist, with a war cry of “Move and you die!”
“Ha! What can a little brat like you do to stop us!?” One of the braver mercenaries asked menacingly.
“Oh, it’s not what I’ll do,” Inari said menacingly, “It’s what we’ll do.” Suddenly, the entire population of Nami no Kuni stepped from the mist. The mercenaries were at a loss. They could take down two jounin. They would lose quite a few men, but they could do it. But taking down two jounin and the population of an entire country!? The mercenaries may not have been the sharpest kunai in the pouch, but they weren’t suicidal, either. As such, they turned on their heels and ran, tails between their legs. As soon as the last mercenary left their sight, the villagers began to cheer.
Akira’s body stalked through the mist. Reaching the end, it called out, “Ha…ku…” and passed out. Haku made it to his side just in time to catch him.
Three days later…
Akira groaned- he was sore all over. He wanted nothing more than to go back to sleep, but that idea was soon driven from his mind by a weight landing on his chest. His eyes shot open, and he screamed “ITAI!” The weight immediately lifted to reveal Haku kneeling in front of him, a big Naruto-esque grin on her face.
“Sorry about that, Onii-chan. I’m just glad that you’re okay.”
“So am I.” Akira wheezed out, noticing his voice was hoarse from disuse. “How long was I out?”
“Wow. I-” He was cut off by the arrival of Cell Seven.
“Akira! You’re up!” Naruto cried, a smile on his face. “Man, we thought you’d never get up!”
Sasuke was much less vocal about his opinions, letting out a simple “Hn.”
“The teme means that he’s happy to see you up, too. HEY! That reminds me! Pay up, ya jerk!”
As Sasuke handed out a small sum of cash to Naruto, Akira chuckled- it seemed that only Naruto could translate Sasuke’s various “hn’s” and “hm’s”.
“So,” Akira asked, “when do we leave?”
“Kakashi-sensei says that they’re just doing the last bits of work on the bridge. It should be another few days at most.” Naruto said. “Oh! Guess what!?”
“I don’t know. What?”
“Kakashi-sensei also said that Zabuza and Haku can come back home with us!”
“What, seriously!?” Akira asked incredulously. He looked at Haku, who smiled softly and nodded.
Half a mile away, back on Tazuna’s bridge, Kakashi and Zabuza heard a loud cry of “Kick-ass!!”
“HA!” Zabuza said. “I told ya that he’d be up within the week! Pay up ya jerk!”
Kakashi merely started mumbling about stupid swordsmen under his breath as he handed a wad of bills to Zabuza.
Akira, meanwhile, was having a very up-close-and-personal meeting with his mattress, courtesy of Haku’s fist.
“What have I told you about cursing? Especially that loud!?”
“But Nee-chan,” Akira whined, “I’m not nearly as bad as Toshi-san!”
Akira opened his mouth, and then closed it. Opened it. Then closed it again. He couldn’t find a rebuttal – his little sister had shot down his entire argument with a simple two-letter word.
Naruto cleared his throat. Haku and Akira looked up at him, big shit-eating grins on their faces.
“Yeah… umm… well, we should be able to go soon. Kakashi-sensei said to just take it easy for the next few days until we leave.”
Dinner that night was a joyous affair. Everybody was in high spirits- even ever-stoic Sasuke cracked a rare smile when he thought of his first successful A-rank mission. Everyone went to bed with a smile, Cell Seven dreaming of their return to Konoha.
The next morning Haku and Akira decided to take a look around town. Stopping at a few market stalls, the two siblings caught themselves up on everything they had missed while they were apart. They headed to a restaurant for lunch, and, before they knew it, an hour had passed. Leaving the building, Haku noticed something. Or, more accurately, someone. It was a girl, who looked to be only a few years old- maybe ten at the most. She had long white hair that flowed loosely around her. It looked like it hadn’t been washed in quite some time. Her eyes, a strange purple-silver, were dull, instead of the bright of a normal child’s, and perched over a scar that ran under her eyes, perpendicular to her nose. Her clothing, a tee-shirt that was at least two sizes too big, and a pair of shorts that were covered by the shirt, was frayed and patched with random materials- bits of cotton, silk, and leather all adorned the outfit, all in various colors.
“H-Haku-niisan?” The girl asked. She had a small voice that sounded extremely timid. She was very pale, and looked entirely too thin.
“Arashii-chan! Are you okay?”
“I think so. But I’m scared! I don’t want you to go away! I want you to stay here with me, niisan! You’re the only one that’s nice to me anymore!” The girl, Arashii, said this while running up to Haku, then grabbing her sleeve.
“Hey. Hey. It’s okay. Come here. Come on, it’s okay. I won’t hurt you.” Akira said, crouching down so that he was at eye-level with Arashii. He held his arms open, and she cautiously approached, never letting go of Haku’s shirt, as if it was some sort of lifeline. “It’s okay,” Akira repeated. “You know who I am?” At the small girl’s shake of her head, Akira continued. “I’m Haku’s big brother. It’s okay. I won’t bite!” He said, laughing. Slowly, Arashii got nearer to Akira. He grabbed her left hand with both of his, as she wouldn’t let go of Haku with her right. “I’m Akira,” He said, reassuringly. Smiling at Arashii, he pulled out a piece of paper. She looked fearfully at him, but then the paper between his index and middle fingers suddenly folded itself into a butterfly. It flew into her hair, and then started flying around her head. Arashii laughed, and so did Akira. “See?” He said. “I told you its okay. Now. Let me get this straight,” he said looking at the girl, who was still staring at the butterfly that had now landed on her finger. “You want to stay with Haku, but Haku has to come with me.” She nodded, and he took that as a sign to continue. “Well, then, how about this? Why don’t you come with us?”
“Yeah! That’s a great idea, Onii-chan!” Haku said, beaming brightly at Arashii. The small girl smiled up at them, and then nodded.
“Great! Haku, can you go with her to get her stuff? I’ll see if Kakashi-sensei has room for one more.”
They went their separate ways, Haku to a small alleyway that had an awning over it, and Akira to Tazuna’s bridge. After questioning Kakashi with some help from Zabuza, he got the okay to bring the girl along. Going back to where he met the girl, he saw Haku and Arashii standing there, waiting for him.
“You got her stuff?” He asked Haku. She held up a small bag, indicating that she had everything. Akira sighed. She looked like an orphan, so he assumed that she wouldn’t have much, but that bag was pitifully small- even for a ten-year-old orphan. Still, its contents must have been very valuable to Arashii. As such, he decided on an extra means of security.
Akira quirked an eyebrow at Haku, who simply smiled softly, but did nothing else. Akira, though slightly unnerved at being called ‘niisan’ by a girl that he had just met, continued on like nothing had happened. “Do you want me to make sure that your stuff stays safe?”
Arashii nodded enthusiastically at the prospect.
“Okay, then. Haku, can I see the bag?” She handed it to him, and watched him pull out a bright blue scroll. He unrolled it, then showed it to Arashii. “This is a reusable storage scroll,” He told her. “A friend of mine made this for me, and it will make your stuff as safe as possible. But I need you to do something for me.”
“What is it?” Arashii asked, eyes wide.
“Haku, you know some medical jutsu, right?” At her nod, he continued, ignoring her questioning gaze. “Arashii, what I need you to do is cut your finger on this kunai when I tell you.” Akira pulled out a kunai.
“Why?” She asked, nervousness in her voice.
“Because, that way, nobody but you can open the scroll and take your stuff out. Okay?”
“Good.” Akira said, placing the bag on the edge of the scroll, touching the ink on the paper.
“Now, Arashii, I want you to cut your finger, then place it in the big circle, there. Haku, when she finishes, I want you to heal her. Okay, you two?” They both agreed, and did as they were asked. Arashii hissed a little when she cut herself, but pressed her finger on the paper just like she was told, then Haku healed it. The girl was amazed at what Haku did, and she swore right then and there that she would learn medical jutsu, just like Haku. Akira, meanwhile, forced just a small amount of chakra into the scroll, and, with a puff of smoke, the bag was gone, and a kanji had appeared in the circle. It read ‘bag’, and then Akira rolled the scroll up. He gave it to Arashii, who took it nervously. “It’s okay,” he said. “Whenever you want to take your stuff out, all you have to do is open the scroll, and put a little blood on the circle. Your stuff will pop right out.”
“Cool! Thank you, Akira-niisan!”
“You’re welcome, Arashii.”
At that moment, Akira’s stomach let out a loud roar, completely killing the current mood. He laughed, and then said, “Well, I’m hungry. You two want to go back to Tazuna’s house and see if Tsunami has dinner ready yet?”
With two nods of assent, the party began to make their way to Tazuna’s house.
The next morning, heartfelt goodbyes were exchanged, and Inari cried tears of joy for the first time since his ‘father’ had died. Naruto ribbed the small boy a little, and then promised to come back some day to see him. As the ninja left to go home to Konoha (Arashii rode on the backs of either Haku or Akira at various times during the journey), one of the Wave citizens asked, “So. What do you guys think we should name the bridge?”
Many potential names were proposed, but only one name continually stuck- the ‘Great Naruto Bridge’. After all, without Naruto’s help, Inari would have never gathered together the citizens of Wave, and they would still be under Gatou’s oppressive thumb. Everyone agreed that it was a good name, and so, as one, they all agreed on something without having to worry about any further oppression.
Five minutes of ninja running from Nami no Kuni’s borders, Naruto let out one of the largest sneezes he’d ever had, and nearly fell off the branch he was leaping from. Everyone else had a good laugh at his expense, while he just pouted, but the effect was ruined by his smile.
Later that night, when the group arrived at a campsite for the night, Haku gently lifted Arashii off of her brother’s back, where the little girl had fallen asleep quite peacefully. After Haku had more or less stolen Akira’s jacket, they both went to ‘take a walk’.
“Haku, why that little girl? There’s something different about her, isn’t there?” He sensed a level of discomfort in her, and gently prodded her for information. He didn’t mention it, but there had been an odd chakra that had originated from the little girl… it was almost as if she had a power that she was unaware of.
“You’re right. She’s not normal… you could feel her chakra, almost as though it were an aura, right?” Haku seemed to be unusually thoughtful tonight. “It’s because she, too, has a Kekkai Genkei. A bloodline ability, much like your friend’s Sharingan. She comes from one of the many fallen clans… one of many clans of outcasts.”
“What’s so different about that, though? There are hundreds of those throughout Nami no Kuni, right? It’s sad, but…”
“Her original clan is that of the Yubashiri. The frozen snow.”
“Wait… they were eliminated years ago, weren’t they?”
“Supposedly. But one of them survived, because Zabuza and I were passing along. We weren’t always mercenaries for hire, you know,” Haku replied, brushing her long hair back, over her shoulders. “They were the last remaining god-clan.”
“Hang on a sec there, niisan, aren’t the god-clans the ones who pass down forbidden jutsu through their bloodline?”
“Hai,” the kunoichi responded, “And they apparently also passed down the memories and spirit of the kami that lent them their powers. That’s why you felt the strange chakra.”
“Wait a minute… That little girl’s possessed by a kami!?”
“Give or take a few subtle details, that’s about right,” she sighed, having retained her keen sense of sarcasm throughout the five years they were apart. “She’s not possessed so much as… gifted. For lack of a better explanation, the kami only emerges on full and new moons.”
“New moons… that’s tonight, Aisu-chan,” Akira suddenly realized, practically gaping as he saw the graceful figure appear behind his sister. “Wha… What are you?”
The very darkness seemed to part around the person- no. It wasn’t a person. The figure radiated a strange, inhuman beauty, and yet, at the same time, there was an aura of power that surrounded the figure as well. Akira felt conflicted on his deepest, most primal level- he wanted to run away; to never see this person again for as long as he lived, but, at the same time, he felt that he wanted to remain, and learn about this new arrival.
“Do not fear me, little one. I’m not going to harm you.”
Akira started. This figure could read his thoughts!?
“Yes. Yes, I can. But you have nothing to fear from me. You befriended my, for lack of a better term, host. I am grateful- she has few friends in this world. I am glad that she could meet ones such as you. And now, I have a request.”
“What is it?” Haku asked, before Akira could respond.
“Take care of her. Not for my sake- I have lived long enough. However, she has not, and what little life she has had was full of pain. I wish to see that end. You can help me do that. Will you?”
“Yes, we will.” Haku agreed, again, before Akira could get a word in edgewise.
“Excellent; thank you. Now, go back to the campsite. It is late, and you need your sleep.”
Haku grabbed Akira by the shirt collar and quite literally dragged him to the campsite, before he rounded on her. “What the hell was that! You didn’t let me talk!”
“’Cause I know you! If I let you talk then, you’d screw it up so bad that she’d never help us again! And I get a feeling that we’ll need her help sooner than we’d like.”
“So what if I- ya know what? Nevermind. It’s not important. I’m going to bed. But, I am curious. I haven’t seen you for years and years. How did we slip back into our old routine?”
“Who knows? I sure don’t. It’s weird. But that’s for another day. Goodnight, Akira-nii.”
With that short exchange, they went to bed.
Two days later, the unlikely group walked through the gates. Kakashi let Naruto, Sasuke and Sakua go off and do whatever they wanted, saying that they had the day off. Akira, however, had to stay because, as Kakashi put it, “He was part of the reason that they had two missing-nin to present to the Hokage.” They approached the Hokage’s tower, and walked inside. Kakashi steered them to the Hokage’s secretary, who waved them in, saying that he wasn’t busy at the moment. They walked inside to see the Hokage sitting at his desk, a pile of paperwork on either corner.
“Ahh, Kakashi! Come to give your report?” The Hokage said, looking up from the papers on his desk. “But, wait. Who are these two with you? Is that… Momochi Zabuza?!”
“Hai, Hokage-sama. But, before you attack him, let me explain.”
“Make it quick Hatake.” The aged Hokage said, his voice steel.
“Yes, sir. While we were in Wave, Gatou, of the Gatou shipping company, hired various missing-nin to kill our charge, Tazuna. First, we were attacked by the Demon Brothers- I believe some of our ANBU recently picked them up?”
“Yes, Kakashi. I fact, they did; just last week. Continue.”
“Of course, sir. After we defeated the Demon Brothers, we elected to continue the mission, even though Naruto sustained a poisoned injury. He drained the poison from the wound, and we continued to Wave. We reached a large lake, where we met Zabuza, here. Zabuza and I fought, where he trapped me in a water prison. Naruto and Sauske then freed me by forcing him to drop the jutsu, while Sakura continued to guard Tazuna from any other attacks. Zabuza and I continued our fight, and, just when I was about to deal the finishing blow, Haku, dressed as a Kirigakure Hunter-Nin, put him into a near-death state. My team trained in chakra control, while Zabuza recovered from his ordeal. One week later, we met again on Tazuna’s near-completed bridge, and we fought. My students took on Haku, while I fought with Zabuza again. As we fought, Gatou showed up. He said that he would no longer pay Zabuza for his services, and offered Zabuza’s paycheck to any mercenaries who managed to kill him. Zabuza then turned on his former employer. As we faced down the mercenaries, we saw Akira, here, walk out of the mist that Zabuza created. He had obviously incapacitated Haku somehow and, as I later learned, left her under the guard of Sasuke and Naruto, after convincing Sakura to take Tazuna back home. Akira then proceeded to kill Gatou, but was wounded in the fight. His injuries, though not life-threatening, could very well have cost him his life in the battle. I assume he knew this, because he then retreated to the other side of the bridge, leaving the rest of the mercenaries to Zabuza and I. Apparently, Naruto also managed to convince the citizens of Wave to rise up against Gatou and, just when we were put into an awkward situation, the citizens showed up, armed to the teeth, scaring away the mercenaries. After waiting until Tazuna finished the bridge, we left the country with Zabuza and Haku, who say that they wish to join Konoha.”
“I see…” the wizened old man said, taking a long drag on his pipe. After a few minutes of thought, he asked Zabuza, “Why do you want to join Konoha?”
“Well, Hokage-sama,” Zabuza began, showing proper respect- the old man may have been well into his sixties, at least, but it was obvious that he was once an extremely powerful shinobi, and could easily handle himself in a fight. “I have always heard that Konoha has extremely powerful ninja, even after the Kyuubi’s attack and the village’s subsequent devastation. I would like to see what makes those ninja so powerful. Also, life as a missing-nin is hard, especially when taking care of another as well. It would be nice to not have to worry about Hunter-nin attacking us while we sleep.”
“I see.” The old Hokage said. Turning to Haku, he asked the same question.
“Well, sir, I have seen something here that I have not seen in other villages- true teamwork. In the other countries I have visited with Zabuza-san, there are three-man cells, yes, but they are merely groups of people, slapped together for a common goal. Here, the cells are different. They are much more cohesive than other countries’ cells, and that leads to better survival rates. Also, my brother is a member of this village. We thought each other dead for years, and I would like the chance to reconnect with him.”
“I see. Well, tell me about yourselves.”
Zabuza and Haku, taking this as a good sign, told the Hokage their life stories. As Haku finished hers, the Hokage’s face twisted into a pensive look, before speaking.
“I see. Very well, you two will have a constant ANBU watch for the first six months After that, for the next eighteen months, there will be random checks by ANBU watch. Zabuza, you will be registered as a provisional jounin. You will be a proctor in the upcoming exam- if you do your job well, you will be recommended for the next jounin exam, so you can gain full jounin status. Haku, as you were never actually a shinobi of Kirigakure, you will be registered as a full genin, and placed with a sensei. Your new sensei will choose whether or not you are to be recommended for the chuunin exam.”
“Hai, Hokage-sama!” Both of the ex-missing-nin said.
“Very well. Anything else?” The Hokage asked.
“Yes, sir. If I may?” Akira spoke up, in a small voice.
“What is it, Akira?”
“Well, sir, it’s just that, well, I’d really like it if I could be on a team with my sister. We have worked well together in the past and, as she said, I would like a chance to reconnect with her. Also, I would prefer it if I was on a different team.” Seeing Kakashi’s look, he quickly continued his statement. “It’s nothing against your team, Kakashi-sensei, but five people on a team is too much. Yes, we can take on slightly more difficult missions and have a better success rate, but we sacrifice stealth. However, with three genin and yourself, you stand a much better chance of completing infiltration missions. As such, I respectfully request a team transfer.”
The Hokage could not find fault with the boy’s logic- he knew himself that four genin and a jounin were pushing it more than he felt comfortable with. He was much more comfortable with a two… genin… cell… HE HAD IT! He knew what to do with his new shinobi.
“Very well, Akira. I have an idea. You will be transferred from Kakashi’s Cell Seven to the newly-created Cell Twenty-Five. Akira, you and Haku will be the members, with Zabuza as your sensei. You will have an ANBU watch for the first few months, with random checks after that for the next six months.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
“Anything else?” When no other comments came up, he said, “Very well. Dismissed.”
With that, the collection of jounin and genin left the Hokage’s office. Sighing, the old man took a drag on his pipe. It had been a long day, and there was going to be a LOT more paperwork before the day was through.
“Well, kids,” Zabuza said to his new subordinates, his gruff voice cutting through the silence that hung over the training ground, “We’re a team now. As such, I need to know what you’re good at, and what you need help with. So spar. Anything goes, but I’ll stop you before you get any life-threatening injuries.”
“Are you questioning me, boy?” Zabuza asked as Akira prepared to voice a question.
“No, sir. Just clarifying. Anything goes?”
“Anything,” Zabuza reaffirmed.
Akira and Haku both donned nearly identical evil smirks. Zabuza wondered why he suddenly had a feeling of impending doom, but quickly shook it off. They were genin- what could they do?
Five minutes found Akira trapped within another dome of mirrors- Haku had not held back at all, and went straight to her strongest technique. Akira was wrapped safely in his paper cocoon again, but this time held a major difference. Instead of holding back like the last time they’d fought, Akira began to grow small spines from the outer edge of the cocoon. As they grew larger, a small groove began to spiral up toward the very point. When the spines were a good length- three inches, Akira commanded his wrapping to shoot them off. The grooves in the spines made them spiral through the air, and they plowed into Haku’s mirrors, drilling their way deep into the ice. Akira quickly stood up and, sacrificing his armor’s thickness for maneuverability, ran to Haku’s mirrors, forming a large club. He smashed his way through the mirror, and found himself on the outside. He reached down to his belt, and withdrew two of the small book-shaped objects hanging there. He opened them to reveal more paper. Lots and lots of paper. He threw them up into the air, and they quickly exploded, raining paper down on Haku’s mirrors. It quickly formed a massive igloo shape, and began to compress. He would have simply trapped Haku in a dome, but he wanted to leave her a way out- she was his sister, after all. However, he didn’t need to leave an exit. As the paper began to crush her mirrors, Haku leaped out and slashed open a hole with two small ice blades. She charged him, and Akira quickly encased his forearms with paper, making it incredibly dense, let alone thick. He leaped back, and created his preferred weapon, a small staff, roughly eighteen inches long. He extended the staff with a thought, and blocked her blades. Shrinking it back down, he leaped into the air, and made his staff roughly as wide as an average-sized tree. Haku rolled to the side, and threw a volley of senbon at him. Akira brought his staff to the side, turning it into a decently-large shield, and deflected the needles. He quickly reformed his small staff, and came down in front of Haku. He threw a punch to her head, and connected. The force from his landing was channeled through his arm, and dazed her for a second, which was all he needed. Akira quickly let loose a series of rapid-fire punches, all aimed at her stomach, and actually lifted her in the air roughly two inches, before knocking her away. Haku recovered in midair, and rolled to reduce the shock of landing. Then, focusing chakra into her limbs, Haku sprinted for Akira, clotheslining him as she ran. He was entirely unprepared for the assault, still trying to catch his breath from the large expenditure of chakra his technique took, and Haku caught him. He was flipped over, and Haku turned around, kicking him in the spine. He flew upwards, and then fell, before being kicked into the air again. Haku continued to juggle him for roughly a minute, before she couldn’t keep up with him any longer and let him hit the ground, hard. Akira tried to cushion his landing with paper, and succeeded somewhat, but he still felt the impact more than he wanted to. He slowly got up, and almost immediately rolled away, seeing Haku come at him. He threw his hand out, wrapping her ankles in paper. He ran toward her, intending to finish the fight quickly. He jumped in the air, intent on kicking her in the face. He succeeded, but watched in horror, as his momentum carried him through the puddle that was once her face, and saw her body dissolve into water. The real Haku then walked up to him, laying against a tree, and brought an ice blade to his neck.
“I win,” she said.
“Look again, Haku.” The gruff voice of Zabuza said, startling them both- they were entirely too focused on their spar; they had completely forgotten about their sensei- a VERY bad move on the battlefield. Haku then looked down, and saw Akira’s hand carefully placed on her stomach- he had a blade of paper on the underside of his arm, and it was set up so that, if he wanted, he could extend it and pierce her stomach and spine in one blow.
“I guess we tied.” Akira finally said.
Zabuza could only chuckle- this was going to be FUN.
Akira and Haku, for the first time in years, let out a groan, in complete unison- this was NOT going to be fun AT ALL.
Two months and at least sixty D-ranked missions later…
Kakashi looked up, and saw a bird circling in the sky; he knew it was a signal to come to the Hokage’s office- the Chuunin Exams were set to begin.
Kurenai looked up in the sky, and saw a bird circling in the sky. She told her team to take the rest of the day off, and made her way to the office.
Asuma looked up, seeing a bird circling overhead. He told his team to do whatever they wanted for the rest of the day, and he took off.
Zabuza heard the bird cawing, and smirked evilly under his bandages. That was a call to come to the Hokage’s office, to nominate teams for the Chuunin Exams. He drove his sword vertically into the ground between his two students, ending their spar prematurely.
“I’ve got a meeting.” Zabuza said, “So I’m ending training today. Go do whatever for the rest of the day. I’ll see you here tomorrow.”
After the Genin teams under Kurenai, Kakashi, Asuma, and Zabuza were nominated for the exam, Sarutobi officially announced the date of the Chuunin exams.
In an underground room, lit only by candles, a tall figure chuckled. His pale skin stretched over his face, curling into a disturbing smile; his spy had just delivered excellent news.
“Ku ku ku,” He laughed, “Things are going along just as I planned! Soon, the boy will be mine!”
Haku and Akira walked home, somewhat confused by their new sensei’s actions- he’d never given them a day off before, so why was today different? Oh, well, whatever, they had figured. This just meant that they had more time to hang out with Arashii. Akira thought it was strange how the little girl grew on him- he’d never been the greatest with kids before, but there was just something about her that struck a chord with him. Deciding that whatever made him like her was unimportant, he turned his attention back to the road in front of him, just in time to see a small blue-haired girl with pale eyes dart behind a tree. Noticing that he was right in front of Ichiraku Ramen, Akira asked if Haku wanted to stop for lunch. She agreed, and they went into the small stand.
Akira noticed Naruto sitting down in front of a steaming bowl, and walked up to the counter.
“I’ll have whatever he’s having,” Akira said to the waitress. Haku mimicked Akira’s statement, and the waitress disappeared into the back of the stall, presumably to take their orders to the chef. Naruto glanced over to see his new eating buddies, and smiled.
“Akira! I haven’t seen you in forever! How’re you doing?”
“We’re pretty good, Naruto,” Akira answered. “How about you?”
“Same old same old.”
“So, being stalked is normal?”
“Hunh?” Naruto’s incredibly intelligent statement made the former Mist-nins chuckle.
“There’s a girl outside, with darkish blue hair, and she’s following you.”
“How do you know she’s following me?”
“‘Cause there’s three people besides me and Haku in this stall; one is old enough to be her father, maybe grandfather, one’s a girl old enough to be her elder sister, and then there’s you, a boy her age. I assume she was in your graduating class?”
“Yeah. Damn, I thought she’d given up on me by now.”
“What’s THAT supposed to mean?” Akira and Haku asked, in one of their strange moments of completely synchronized speech.
“Well, see, she’s got a crush on me, but if we got together, then people would start to hate her, and her home life would get even worse – her dad already hates her, and she doesn’t need to worry about his opinion of ME on top of all of that.”
“Is that why you were always bugging Sakura when I was on your team?”
“Partially. Originally, I was trying to make Hinata give up on me, but it just sorta became a habit.”
Haku spoke up. “Naruto, I’ve got to tell you, this seems like a REALLY stupid idea. I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt because I don’t know you OR this new girl very well, but this just doesn’t seem right.”
“Haku, I agree. I hate to do this to her- she’s a really great person, and I do sorta like her, but mixing up with me will just leave her hurt in the end.”
“So?” Haku continued. By this time, their bowls of ramen had been delivered and had grown cold. “Shouldn’t that be her decision, not yours?”
“Haku, what are you-” Naruto began, but he was cut off, again, by Haku.
“I’m saying that you should let her make her own decisions and mistakes, instead of you deciding things for her. That’s all.”
Naruto looked over at Akira, wordlessly pleading for help, but the redhead simply shrugged while slurping up a few noodles, as if to say ‘you’re on your own, buddy.’
The normally-hyperactive genin sighed. “Maybe you’re right. I’ll– I’ll think about it, okay? I’m still worried for her, but, well, I’ll think about it.”
With that, Naruto put a few coins on the counter and walked off, a thoughtful expression on his face. Akira and Haku picked at their ramen for a little while longer, before they too paid and left. As they neared their apartment, which was near Konoha’s forest, Akira split off, claiming that he wanted to look for something. Haku kept going, and was soon having fun with Arashii, who had taken to calling her ‘Ha-kun’ instead of ‘Haku-niisan’. She wasn’t quite sure how she felt about the change of address.
Akira came back a few hours later, dozens of bundles of small leafy plants in his arms and a big smile on his face. He walked over to the table in the kitchen where they typically ate, put the bundles on the tabletop, and then started rummaging through his coat’s pockets.
“C’mon,” he muttered softly, “I know you’re in here somewh– aha! There you are!”
With that, he first pulled out a small black book, and then a ceramic cylinder, rounded on one end and tapered up near the top. He then pulled out a ceramic bowl with small stubby protrusions that acted as feet. Humming to himself, Akira pulled out a length of fishing line and a few dozen paperclips, and began to hang some herbs to dry. Others he crushed with his mortar and pestle.
Haku, meanwhile, was somewhat surprised. The fishing line and book she could see fitting in a pocket; maybe even the pestle if she stretched a bit. But a full-size mortar as well!? She was absolutely shocked, and said so.
“Aww, c’mon Aisu-chan, Airi-chan would be so upset that you didn’t remember her.”
“The hell are you talking about?”
“Airi-chan? You know, kinda tall, blonde hair, green eyes, typically wore a skirt over a pair of jeans?”
“Yes, I know Airi-chan. We used to hang out when we were kids, remember?”
“Yeah, I know. Anyway, she helped me with my coat. I ran into her when I was traveling around. Turns out she’s really good with seals now, and she sewed some into my coat’s pockets. This one here,” he said, tapping lightly on one over his right bicep, “has all of my ‘packets’. I’ve got stuff for a quick little energy boost, painkillers, stuff for various diseases, hell, I’ve even got what amounts to a dried soldier pill! She also put a seal on this one,” he patted his left hip, “to keep a mortar and pestle so I can make more packets. I also keep a couple-dozen books in the pocket on the opposite hip if you ever want something to read. Just let me know. Anyway, can I get back to work? These herbs are kinda sensitive.” With that, he went back to crushing his herbs, arranging them into little piles on a paper towel he grabbed, and labling them with a pencil he pulled from yet another pocket. He then started measuring various amounts of the different piles into little paper packets, sealed them, and then stored them in what he called his ‘packet pocket’.
The next day, Naruto woke up, stretching as the morning sun poured in through the windows next to his bed. Was it that day already? It felt like they had just gotten back home yesterday. Still, Naruto dragged himself out of his bed, nearly falling over when his feet touched the floor. The cold wood sent a shock up his feet, right to his spine, and he immediately pulled them up to the warmth of the covers. He reached down, grabbed some slippers that had obviously seen better days, and made his way into the small portion of the room that made up his kitchen. His apartment was essentially four rooms- the toilet, the bathroom, the training room, and the bedroom/kitchen/living room. He grabbed a loaf of bread out of a cabinet, idly noting that he needed to go get some more soon. Putting it in the toaster, he waited a few minutes, making a glass of chocolate milk while he did. As soon as the toast popped up, he grabbed it, and began to eat. Minutes later, he set his glass in the sink, and made his way to the team’s training grounds. Sasuke and Sakura were already there, and they were holding small pieces of paper- obviously the entry forms for the Chuunin exams. He grabbed his own out of his pocket, and uncrumpled it. He met up with the other preteens, and they made their way to the Ninja Academy. Walking inside, and up a flight of stairs, they saw a large commotion. A boy clad in all green was trying to force his way through a door that was guarded by two kids, who looked about seventeen. Sasuke about to ask them to drop their genjutsu, seeing as they were only on the second floor, even though the door said “301”, but then decided against it- anybody who could fall for a simple genjustu like that wasn’t worth fighting. Leading his team down a small side corridor, and to another staircase, he was met by that same boy in green. Up close, they were able to realize that his eyebrows were absolutely HUGE!
“Fight me,” the strange boy said, “I have wanted to test my mettle against the last of the great Uchiha clan.”
Sasuke agreed, and the fight began. It was quickly proved, however, that even Sasuke’s Sharingan, which he had recently achieved through training with Kakashi, could not beat the boy- he was just too quick. The fight was soon ended, though, as a giant tortoise threw a pinwheel, trapping the boy’s bandaged hands to the wall. Another man in green popped up, standing on the turtle’s back. He had a bowl cut, just like what was obviously his student, and he had eyebrows. Big ones. Bigger than the boy’s! It was like they were alive! He began to berate the boy, who he revealed to be named Lee. He yelled something about youth, and punched Lee in the face. Then, he turned to Naruto’s team, and smiled a giant smile, light bouncing off of his teeth.
“You three must be Kakashi’s students! My hip rival has truly imbued you three with the fires of youth! However, your flames must be stoked- they are not large enough! My student here can help you with that! What do you say?”
“Ummm…” Sakura began, “thanks for the offer, Sir, but we are sort of in a hurry. Can we get back to you on that?”
“Of course! Should you ever want to find me, just ask for Maito Gai!”
As the two spandex-clad men walked off, Naruto turned to his two teammates.
“That…” he began, “that was the most disturbing thing I have ever seen.”
Sasuke and Sakura could only nod in agreement.
It was mutually decided to lock that memory away forever, never to see the light of day ever again.
They walked through the door, and saw an absolutely enormous room, filled to the walls with prospective Chuunin. Naruto looked around, and spotted a few familiar faces, but the first person to come up to them was definately not somebody he was looking for. Yamanaka Ino leaped onto Sasuke’s back, spouting some nonsense that Naruto could not bring himself to care about, while her teammates simply watched with thinly-veiled annoyance. Naruto greeted them, and then noticed Hinata, Kiba, and Shino walking toward them. He greeted each of them in turn (and silently vowed to talk to Hinata after the exam was over), and then saw Akira and Haku leaning by the doorframe, smiling quietly at Sasuke’s predicament. Naruto greeted them, and introductions were shared between the two teams that the siblings did not know. They shared some small talk for a few minutes, before a boy with silver hair and glasses walked up to them with an advisory that they stay as inconspicuous as possible. Akira immediately got a bad feeling about him, and voiced his opinion in low tones to Naruto, even as Sasuke asked about a few people taking the exam.
Kabuto pulled out his cards, and quickly gave a rundown on the stats of the people Sasuke asked about. He also went into a little detail about how many teams were from where. He made a rather snarky comment about Otogakure, and its only team decided that they would defend their village’s honor by attacking Kabuto. He quickly dodged out of the way of their attack, only to have it hit anyway, thanks to the strange technology that one team member had. Kabuto went down hard, and the Sound team was about to press its advantage when the proctor for the first exam showed up.
He introduced himself as Morino Ibiki, and told them that they had less than five minutes to find their seats. In the mad rush to get there, everyone made it, but it was rather close for some. Ibiki quickly went through the rules of the first exam, and explained the points system. Then, double-checking the time with his watch, he started the test.
Haku soon noticed that a handful of people were answering the questions a little too quickly, and the meaning of the test quickly came to her– it was a test of their information-gathering abilities. Making some discrete handseals under the desk, she condensed the water in the air around her into a small mirror, no larger than a contact lens, right on top of her eye. Thankful that, because of her bloodline, she could deal with extremely low temperatures, Haku created another mirror on the ceiling above the plant’s test. Again, it was no larger than a contact lens, but that was all she needed. She quickly signaled Akira, who used his bloodline to send a small, hair-thin tendril of paper and link his test with Haku’s. Once that was done, she began to copy the plant’s test, and whatever Haku wrote appeared on Akira’s sheet as well. Once all nine questions were answered, they began to wait.
Others found out the secret in short order as well; Sasuke started copying a plant with his Sharingan, Lee and his only female teammate used the mirrors mounted on the ceiling, Hinata used her Byakugan, etcetera.
Eventually, it came time for the tenth question. Ibiki explained the ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ system he had put in place, and deflected the complaints with ease. After a few teams had left, Naruto raised his hand, as if he wanted to resign, when he suddenly slammed it down on his desk, and spouted some nonsense about how he would become Hokage, even if he was relegated to Genin forever.
Akira could only palm his face in a strange mix of amusement and embarrassment. Did nobody on Cell Seven use their brain? Naruto had just increased the competition exponentially! Sure, it sounded good, but it also made their jobs just that much harder. ‘Oh well,’ he thought, ‘what’s done is done.’
Suddenly, a cloth ball burst through the window, which quickly opened to reveal a cloth banner proclaiming the arrival of somebody named Mitarashi Anko and a woman in the most provocative attire Akira had ever seen while still being decent. Whereas Ibiki had worn black clothes, and black bandanna and a trenchcoat, Anko had on a khaki-colored skirt and coat. And that was it. Shin guards and a fishnet bodysuit completed her ensemble. For crying out loud, the coat wasn’t even buttoned!
Anko quickly did a headcount, and was surprised at the results. “Twenty-something teams, Ibiki? Either this is a damn good crop, or you’re losing your touch. And I would hate to hear that the head of the torture and interrogation division can’t scare a bunch of genin.”
“What can I say? It’s a good crop this year, Anko,” Ibiki replied, with a pointed look at Naruto, who had the decency to look sheepish.
“Well, whatever. Follow me, kiddies!” Anko yelled before she leaped out the same window she entered.
Twenty-something teams leapt out the window, and by the time they were through, Ibiki was swearing under his breath that he would not be the one giving the area a new paint job.
Maybe he would leave it to Anko.
“So the rules are that simple,” Haku murmured, taking off into the forest without so much as a second glance. She instinctively knew that Akira was behind her; his chakra signature was hard to miss – at least, it was hard for her to miss.
“We have an earth scroll,” Akira sighed, easily catching up to his sister. “We need a heaven scroll though…”
“One of the easiest ways to get one would be to make friends, fight rival shinobi, and steal the scrolls,” Haku replied, stopping after a full minute of full-tilt ninja running, which amounted to nearly a quarter-mile. “Of course, you don’t make friends well, and I don’t fight well in a group.” Taking a short breath, she began to run through the branches again. Akira swore softly at her speed [again] and followed her.
“So what are you suggesting? That we still team up with some of the Konoha genin?”
“No,” Haku replied, flashing him a wicked smile. “We go after the Konoha genin.” Straightening her new Konoha hitai-ate, she paused, as if listening for something, and motioned for silence when Akira began to ask what was going on. Then he heard it, too.
“Neji, do you see anyone around?” That had to be Tenten. Nobody else in Konoha sounded quite like her.
“There are four teams around us, all of them belonging to Konoha,” the Hyuuga boy replied, obviously having engaged his Byakugan.
“Shall we attack our Konoha rivals in order to prove our strength?” Akira assumed it was Rock Lee; having met the kid’s sensei, Maito Guy, he new that any kid who spoke like that had to be under the strange jounin’s tutalage, or maybe be related. He opted for the former in this assumption.
“There are two of them coming towards us,” Neji replied. As he did, a senbon of ice struck a tree trunk next to him.
“Rising twin dragons!” Tenten had pulled out her huge scroll of weaponry and had begun to spin around as the weapons flew at them — specifically at Haku. Haku, in turn, raised her mirror walls, protecting herself and Akira from the barrage. As she was dong so, she was slightly distracted, and didn’t see Lee flying through the cracks of the walls until he landed a kick to her shoulder.
“I am your opponent!” The boy proclaimed, although Akira was too busy warding off Neji. It took him only a second to realiize that this Konoha team had an earth scroll as well.
“Nevermind,” Akira called, beginning to walk off. “Sorry to trouble you!”
“They have an earth scroll,” he replied, shrugging. “Sorry, guys.”
Tenten, Neji, and Rock Lee never saw them leave when they took off into the trees in search of a heaven scroll.
“You’re sure that these guys have a heaven scroll?” Haku asked for the hundredth time. “I haven’t seen a single scroll on them once.”
“Don’t worry, they have one,” he replied, somewhat confident.
Since fighting Neji, Tenten, and Rock Lee, the duo had fought about three other teams, recieving minor injuries each time, and each time, they were rewarded for their efforts with earth scrolls. Haku had started offering them to the weaker teams as if they were party favors; they didn’t need three extra earth scrolls. However, by this point, Akira was fed up with the constant dance between shinobi, and moreover, his chakra was beginning to run out. Forming a few hand seals, he pulled out a sheet of paper and formed it into a leaf-like shape. Letting it go, he gently blew it into the area where the rival shinobi stood, and chuckled softly when it latched onto the leader’s clothes.
“Are you sure this is gonna work?” Haku whispered, mindful of their target’s proximity. Akira promptly nodded once, and then began to weave more hand seals, willing the leaf to slowly inch down the genin’s clothing until it fell into his pocket. Of course, the genin hardly noticed this, having already noticed the leaf and deemed it a non-threatening object. Therefore, it was promptly ignored.
“Bad choice there,” Akira snorted softly, weaving the hand signs for retreival. As he did, the paper latched itself onto the scroll and promptly flew awy.
The other ninja never noticed.
“Good job, kids,” Zabuza rumbled, patting Haku on the head much like he had when Haku was a child. “You’re the third team to get here.”
“Who else is here?” Akira asked, curious enough to get a feel for his rivals.
“Some Sand-nins and a team from Sound,” the special jounin replied emotionlessly. “Doesn’t matter; you’re free to go.”
“Arigatou, Zabuza-sama,” Haku replied, bowing. The two siblings then walked through the door behind their sensei, hoping to get a little R&R before the exam continued.
Sasuke’s foot caught his opponent in the chest, and the boy fell to the ground, his sunglasses flying off as he landed.
“Winner, Uchiha Sasuke!” Hayate, the referee, cried, strangely lacking his customary cough.
The names on the board cycled again, displaying “Akira vs Haku”.
“Well,” Akira said, “that’s kinda weird.”
“No kidding, Onii-chan.”
“So, shall we?” he asked, offering his hand.
“Thank you,” Haku replied, smiling softly, and together they walked down the stairs, hand in hand, just like when they were little children.
After Hayate confirmed that they were ready, his hand sliced through the air, and he yelled “Begin!”
Haku opened with a volley of senbon, which Akira dodged, replying with two kunai of his own. “Hey, Aisu-chan. Care to make this interesting?”
“Interesting how?” she asked, dodging the two kunai with a rather impressive cartwheel.
“How about adding a few rules of our own?” Akira jumped into the air to avoid a poison-dipped senbon.
“Like what?” Haku continued, leaping away from Akira’s fist.
“No ice, no paper? Just a straight fistfight?”
“Hmm,” she murmured, stopping altogether as if considering the idea. “Sounds fun. Let’s do it.” Haku sprinted forward, her fist drawn back into a punch, when she suddenly leaped away at a complete right angle.
Akira watched in horror as a low-powered explosive tag detonated at his feet, singeing him mildly, but completely disorientating him. He cursed as Haku zipped behind him and landed three solid punches before kicking him in the spine. He flew forward, tucked into a ball, and rolled to a stop in front of the strange statue that adorned the arena. It was shaped like two giant hands in the ram seal, and Akira leaped off it, trying to regain the small advantage he’d held at the beginning of the fight. Reaching into his coat pockets, he withdrew two knives, and slipped them onto his fingers. They were shaped like brass knuckles with a blade on the opposite side of his hand from his thumb. Haku ran at him, senbon in hand, and Akira met her charge. He swung his blades, and watched as she blocked them with her senbon. Taking the chance he saw, he lashed out with his foot. Haku, however, managed to hook his other leg with one of hers, taking him down as she flew away.
Both combatants slowly got to their feet, and settled into their most comfortable fighting stances. With one final charge, the two siblings drew back their fists, each knowing that this would be the final blow. They closed on one another, and then the world cut to black.
Akira awoke an indeterminate amount of time later to see Haku standing over him. He was in what was obviously a hospital room. Looking out the window, he saw thick trees, which meant that they were still in the tower in the forest.
“Who made it to the finals?” He asked. Akira smiled in his mind– his voice wasn’t scratchy, so he wasn’t out for too long.
“Naruto, Sasuke, Shikamaru, Shino, Neji, a genin from the Sound team, and all three of the Sand team.”
“Wow. They weren’t kidding about culling numbers.”
“No, they really weren’t.”
“So, did I miss the finals?”
“No, you’ve only been out for about an hour. The finals are in a month to give the candidates time to prepare.”
“Good. I can’t wait to see the finals.”
“Neither can I.”
The next month was a trying time for all of the contestants. Hinata had been beaten severely by Neji, and Naruto swore to beat him down in the finals. Akira and Haku silently cheered him on; anybody who could do that to his own family deserved whatever beating Naruto saw fit to give.
Zabuza had also been training his students even harder than ever. He was disappointed that neither of them had made it to the final round. It was after one particularly grueling session that Akira made up his mind. Waiting until Arashii was asleep, Akira spoke to Haku.
“Aisu-chan? Can I talk to you for a minute?”
“Sure, Onii-chan, what’s up?”
“I’ve got something for you.” With that, Akira pulled out the same pair of knuckleduster knives that he used in the chuunin preliminary fight.
“Why are you giving these to me?” Haku asked as he handed her the blades.
“Because they don’t fit my fighting style, and because Kenta-aniki told me that he wanted you to have them.
Haku quickly gave the blades another, more thorough look and, sure enough, a name was engraved at the very base of each blade. ‘Kenta’, it read. She looked up at her brother with teary eyes, and he nodded, confirming her worst fear. Their older brother, their true father figure, was dead.
Haku bolted from the room, and headed straight for the bathroom. Akira heard the water run in the tub, and went to lay down in his room. It was a strange quirk that his sister had picked up during her travels with Zabuza– whenever she had strong emotions to process, she would take a long bath, and then come out completely better. Akira wished that he could do something similar; he still had nightmares sometimes.
Sighing, Akira slowly bedded down; he had a feeling that tonight was going to be a rough one.