27.27% Birth of the Forest / Chapter 3: Chapter 3

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Chapter 3: Chapter 3

AZUNA'S HOUSE, NAMI NO KUNI.

It was the day after Team 7 confronted Zabuza. A day after Naruto drove Zabuza back effortlessly and ignited suspicion in Kakashi's mind.

Naruto sat at the shore of Wave country, the wind ruffling his hair. He waited for sunrise and Kakashi with a calm look on his face.

He had thought long and hard as to what to say to Kakashi and decided upon a course of action.

Since the awakening of his previous life, he had given himself little time for self-introspection. He had created for himself an illusion of normalcy over the months, and his deceptive mask was beginning to seep into his true personality. As if remembering a previous life, that too his life as the Shodai Hokage would ever be normal.

The ease with which he had forced a supposedly A-rank criminal to flee forced him to truly confront his awakening. There was always a niggling doubt in his mind that he had gone mad. But the fight with Zabuza had erased that doubt forever, even more so than the tussle with Kakashi a month ago.

Thus he had finally asked himself the important question.

Who was he, truly? He did not think like the old Naruto anymore. No, he had lived and lost too much for that, even if only in mind and another life.

The old Naruto was a boy who was starved for affection, cast out and abused by the very populace he was sacrificed to protect. So he put up a bright front and drew attention to himself, seeking to convince himself that he was a normal part of a normal society.

The truth hurt, so he had shielded himself with a lie. It was the thinking of a child.

Ever since he realized his previous life, things got more complicated. He had grown into the experienced and the highly cultured mind he had developed as Hashirama rather abruptly.

During the months he spent sorting the two lives he had lived, he was flitting between the personalities he possessed during this life and his previous. He knew that was not healthy, and that he was developing a psychological disorder.

Luckily, Senju Hashirama also knew a way to treat this disorder. He used to be the foremost medic of his age, after all and had a working knowledge of psychology.

Thus he had come here to the quiet shores of Nami to meditate and accept himself, to stop just using his life as Hashirama. He was here to become the person he used to be as Hashirama.

Naruto's life was too melancholy to be dwelt upon. The scars, mental or physical, endured during childhood went deeper than those gained as an adult.

They healed faster as well, but he was denied the innocent forgetfulness and forgiveness of a child. No, he was forced into the thinking and strength of his legendary previous life and that had changed him in unexpected ways.

Senju Hashirama, despite his life and losses was extremely strong. Both as a shinobi and as a man.

He had taken all the challenges life threw at him with fortitude and cheerfulness, and he was extremely easy going.

He had refused to give in to the dark side of a Shinobi, strongly remaining a beacon of solace and hope to the village he had founded.

He was the light of Konoha, an unassailable force that kept the village strong and prosperous. A guiding force of mercy and compassion.

Naruto on the other hand knew little happiness during his childhood. Stripped of parents, love and forced to survive in a cold and hostile village. He had developed a sad and melancholy view of life, and was considerably confused and angry.

He now drew solace from his life as Hashirama, the love Hashirama had in his life was enough to heal the hatred in Naruto's. He would stop letting this life's trauma darkening his true self.

The first light of dawn washed over the shore, causing Naruto to look up at the beautiful scene with a smile on his face.

An epiphany struck him at that point. He did not have to answer the question of who he was, not yet!

He was still a child now. He would continue as the Shodai Hokage in mind and let the future shape him into a new person.

The sun broke out in earnest, casting everything in the fresh light of dawn. Naruto could feel the confusion, anger and resentment he had been hiding since the awakening draining away.

He could feel the unshakeable calm and assurance he had felt as the First returning. It was faith, in himself and his strength. Faith in his precious people.

He now appreciated his rebirth for what it was. A second chance. It was a second chance for him to protect what was precious to him, to lift Konoha back to its greatness. Back to the Village that held kindness and camaraderie, loyalty and faith above everything else.

That resolution left him with a feeling he had been missing for the entire duration of this life. Peace and contentment.

He felt more like himself than he ever did as Naruto or as Hashirama.

The golden age of Konoha would be back, and he would do his best to make that happen. This time he would guide Konoha to be stronger than ever before.

The legacy of the Senju clan would not fade away.

The wind blew once more, causing his shoulder length blonde hair to fly as he stood up, neither as Naruto the attention craving and damaged boy nor as Naruto who was desperately trying to choose between two lives.

No, he stood up as the reborn Shodai Hokage, who was tempered by the trauma of his second childhood. He was wiser for it, but not darker.

He could sense a familiar chakra approaching him. It was time for him to tell Kakashi the truth. Trust had to be freely given, and he had come to the conclusion that Kakashi was a ninja who had the Will of Fire burning brightly within him.

A shinobi worthy of his trust.

…..

Kakashi walked towards the place he had asked Naruto to meet him at. He had directed Sasuke and Sakura to do the tree climbing exercise, and left them to it.

He knew that Naruto had extremely perfect chakra control. One could not perform those earth jutsu with just a single seal without that much control, even if one had a very strong affinity.

Naruto was an enigma, and he would get his answers today. He would care for Naruto the way Minato had taken care of him.

Kakashi made his way beside Naruto who was calmly staring at the newly risen sun, and tapped him on the shoulder.

"Well, Naruto?"

Naruto turned to face him and Kakashi gave a gasp.

Naruto had changed even more.

His blazing forest green eyes had held compassion that should not be seen on any child. But now they held resolve as well, unearthly resolve. Those eyes at least were old.

His face though was quite cheerful. He seemed to have thrown a great weight off his soul. He almost looked like Minato-sensei.

"Hey, Kakashi-sensei. So you are here for answers, right? You want to know how I have changed so much…"

Kakashi snorted, amused. "Yeah, that is why I am here. I'll keep your secrets as long as they are of no harm to Konoha. Oh and don't bother to lie, I will be watching you closely with my Sharingan"

"Cool! Don't worry, Kakashi-sensei, I won't lie."

Kakashi nodded. "So…"

"Right…" Naruto sat down with crossed legs, a thoughtful look on his face.

He cast out his senses for intruders and found just two people sufficiently far from their position. Just as a precaution, he put up a very powerful silencing barrier.

"You do know of the botched sealing, I believe?"

Kakashi stared wide eyed. "You know of Kyuubi? How is that possible? Who told you?"

Naruto waved his hand unconcernedly.

"I met the fox and he told me everything about the sealing. Except for the fourth's mistake, neither he nor I know what happened then…"

"You met the Kyuubi? You must be careful, Naruto! That thing is pure evil!"

Naruto snorted. "No, not really. It is just a bored immortal fox with a great deal of power on its hands. Even I will die eventually and it will be free one day, so it can wait. A century means nothing to the bijuu, you know."

Kakashi just stared.

"Anyway, I know that Yondaime was my father, and Uzumaki Kushina is my mother…", Naruto looked at him meaningfully.

Kakashi sighed. "I did not expect this day to come so soon. Yes, my sensei the Yondaime was your father, and your mother is alive. She did not abandon you, by the way. She loved you too much for that. But you must ask the Sandaime for details, though, as I have no idea why she left."

Naruto was happy. His mother had not left him callously! He would definitely grill Hiruzen for answers, though.

"That is a relief to hear. I would have forgiven her anyway. Family is too precious to throw away so easily, is it not?"

Kakashi looked at him in wonder.

"You are no child, Naruto. Nor are you a mere Genin. Tell me, who are you?"

Naruto was laughing.

"You hit the nail right on its head, Kakashi-sensei! I will tell you, don't worry. Anyway, the mistake during the sealing had awakened something in me that is impossible for any soul to awaken. It is truly the Shinigami's gift to me…"

Kakashi looked serious. "What did you awaken…"

"It did not happen until a few months ago, when my old sensory abilities manifested stronger than ever….has to do with the absorption of my Uzumaki chakra I guess…" Naruto started mumbling theories.

His tangential thought process was cut off by Kakashi's sharp voice.

"What do you mean, your old sensory abilities, Naruto? Just what did you awaken?"

Naruto looked Kakashi in the eyes.

"Watch closely, Kakashi-sensei. You will not believe what I say without me showing you…"

Naruto turned to the opposing shore which was just visible. Tazuna's half complete bridge lay far to their left.

He gazed at the bridge, calculating and visualizing. He turned back to the opposite shore and gathered his chakra.

Kakashi looked on as chakra exploded from Naruto once more, a massive amount. How could a boy of thirteen release so much chakra and not even blink? He waited for Naruto to do something.

He saw Naruto perform the serpent seal, and he could see chakra being molded in an unfamiliar way with his Sharingan. Was it an earth jutsu again?

"Mokuton Hiijutsu: Mokuzai no okibona hashi"

A great rumbling sound was heard and the waters of the sea were churning as if something was trying to come out.

What did come out caused Kakashi to nearly faint.

A massive bridge made entirely of wood rose from the sea, identical in every way to Tazuna's. It spanned from Nami to the mainland in a straight line, and it was monstrous in size. It was about half again as large as Tazuna's bridge.

Kakashi pinched himself hard, convinced he had lost it. No, the bridge had not disappeared. He flared his chakra to a high, and then…

"KAI" he yelled sending out a huge blast of chakra.

Naruto face palmed.

Convinced he was not under a Genjutsu; Kakashi stared at the wooden bridge reverently. Then he turned to Naruto with a look of absolute amazement on his face.

"How?" he asked, his voice shaking.

"You asked me twice what I had awakened, Kakashi-sensei. The answer is…I awakened memories of my previous life and became that person recently, with a few changes of course."

Kakashi had a look of dawning realization on his face, but still observed Naruto with his Sharingan blazing.

"I was and am Senju Hashirama, one of Konoha's founders and its Shodai Hokage"

Kakashi did faint this time.

Momoichi Zabuza had just woken up groggily and the first thing he saw was Gato's unpleasant face leering at him.

"Woken up have you, demon of the bloody mist?"

Haku appeared in front of Gato and released his killer intent, causing Gato to fall down to his knees. He let up a moment later.

"Leave. Scum like you don't even deserve to lick the feet of Zabuza-sama…"

Gato scowled as well. "Make sure you get the job done, or else…"

Zabuza turned to Gato slowly.

"The blond boy is very strong. He and Kakashi together cannot be defeated by just me and Haku. You will need to reinforce us with more shinobi…"

"And where am I to get more shinobi? It was hard enough to get hold of you two! Missing nin are tough to find!"

Zabuza said weakly, "I will send a message to one of my previous acquaintances. He is strong enough to get the job done providing you pay him well, Gato."

Haku just looked worried. "But…"

Gato ignored her, and looked directly at Zabuza. "And who is this ninja you have so much faith in?"

Zabuza closed his eyes, preparing once more to rest.

"Hoshigaki Kisame"

…..

Sasuke had just finished with the tree climbing exercise and was quietly eating his breakfast with Sakura. Eating alongside them were Tsunami, Tazuna's daughter and Inari her son.

The door opened to allow Kakashi and Naruto inside. Sasuke threw a glance in their direction and was startled. Something had evidently changed between sensei and student.

Where Kakashi used to look at Naruto with pride and appreciation, he now gave Naruto a look full of respect, awe and …reverence?

This did not go unnoticed by Sakura either.

"What happened, Kakashi sensei?" Sakura asked.

Kakashi glanced at them and his expression changed to his usual bored face. "Things happened." He said listlessly.

Sasuke gave his trademark response "Hn."

Sakura looked at Naruto. "Why were you not there for training, Naruto?"

"The tree climbing exercise? I already know it, Sakura-chan!" Naruto said cheerfully.

Sakura was about to retort, but remembered Naruto's exploits at the bridge again. He would probably know the exercise at that.

Inari suddenly spoke up.

"Why do you all bother, anyway? Gato is going to kill you all! He is too strong for anybody!"

The shinobi all gave him a deadpan little shrimp looked unnerved by their silent glares.

"Why are you all looking at me like that? You have no idea how strong Gato is! You have no idea what we have suffered…"

Sasuke looked disgusted at that statement, Sakura looked irritated, and Kakashi just went back to his reading.

Naruto had sympathy on his face as he looked at the kid.

"We have all suffered, child. More than you can possibly imagine. Don't worry, Inari, you will soon see something that will restore your faith. All of you will" Naruto said, looking at all of the family of three with satisfaction.

"What do you mean?" Tazuna asked.

Naruto looked at Sasuke and Sakura as well. "Come with me to the bridge, will you? You will see something remarkable!"

Sasuke snorted, "What are you talking about?"

Naruto just looked overexcited now, "Come on!" and he appeared behind his teammates and started dragging them off, ignoring their vehement complaints.

Kakashi just eye smiled at Tazuna and his family.

"He is right. You will see something that will stay with you the rest of your lives…"

Tazuna shrugged and followed Naruto along with his family.

Inari just looked pissed, as did Sasuke as they walked behind Naruto and Kakashi towards the bridge which was coming into sight.

Naruto just laughed at their identical expression.

They reached the bridge entrance after a fifteen-minute walk.

"We are here, dobe. What is it you wanted us to see?" Sasuke asked with extreme irritation upon his face.

"Look to your right, Sasuke!" Naruto said mischievously.

They all did, and felt their jaws drop. Tazuna and his family stared at the completed and massive all-wood bridge as if it were their salvation.

Tears ran down their faces as they realized they were saved. They were saved! Inari started laughing through his tears as did Tsunami. Tazuna fell on his knees.

Sasuke and Sakura lifted up their hands in the ram seal and simultaneously yelled, "KAI!"

Kakashi bonked them on their heads. "Don't bother, I did that too. It's real"

Sakura looked at Naruto with just one question written all over her face.

"How?"

"I have Mokuton" Naruto said happily.

His teammates looked stunned.

"I don't believe you, it must be something else." Sasuke said pointedly.

Sakura just stared at him sceptically.

"What is Mokuton?" Tazuna asked curiously, getting over his astonishment over seeing the wooden bridge.

"It is the most revered bloodline in Konoha, possessed by the Shodai Hokage. The power he wielded with Mokuton is almost a fairy tale. It is said that he created Konoha's core area and the forests surrounding it with a single Jutsu.", Sakura recited from what seemed like rote memory.

The bridge builder and his family looked awed. Inari looked at Naruto with an expression dangerously resembling the one on Sasuke's fan girls.

"And you have it, Naruto-oniisan?"

"He says he does, but there is no way he can have it!" Sasuke said snidely.

"Mokuton Hiijutsu: Shinboku no Josho" Naruto intoned, looking smugly at Sasuke.

A beautiful cherry tree rose up from the earth behind them and stood about thirty feet high, spreading its branches over them all. Its bright pink blossoms showered down upon them softly, thanks to the force of its birth.

"Beautiful…" Sakura whispered in reverent awe.

"Dobe…" Sasuke seemed lost for words, as did Tazuna and family.

Kakashi pitied them all. If only they knew that it was the Shodai himself who was wielding the wood release in front of them….

"Sasuke, Naruto showed you and Sakura his Mokuton as a measure of his trust in you. Please do not say anything about it to anybody until I say it is fine, got it?"

Sasuke and Sakura just nodded dumbly.

"I need you to promise me."

"I promise" Sasuke said reluctantly, echoed by Sakura, Tazuna and the others.

Sasuke turned to Naruto. "So you created that wooden bridge all by yourself? I find that hard to believe, dobe, even if you have wood release! Only Hashirama-sama could create things on such a scale."

Naruto started. That was way too close to the truth, and he was content with only Kakashi knowing it for the time being.

"Believe me, it took the last of my chakra, Sasuke, and I had to take a soldier pill to replenish my lost stores. I was literally crawling after doing that…" Naruto lied unconvincingly. If he had one thing common in both lives, it was that he could not lie to save his life.

Fortunately, Sasuke swallowed up that lame excuse but Sakura looked sceptical still. But one look from Kakashi told her to drop the matter.

Kakashi stared hard at Sasuke.

"Naruto will use Mokuton only in the direst of situations so do not bother him about it. It is not something to be used frivolously, as it is the most sacred and coveted of Konoha's bloodlines. Clear?"

Sasuke nodded again. Naruto heaved a sigh of relief. He could now practice his ninjutsu without fear of discovery by Konoha's higher echelons.

Tazuna turned to Naruto and spoke, "Is wood not easily combustible? That bridge can be burnt down easily!"

Naruto replied nonchalantly, "Relax, Tazuna-san. That bridge is as durable as stone and about as combustible. So you need not worry about it!"

Tazuna was convinced. He bowed low to Naruto.

"You are a hero to Nami, Naruto-san."

"My capabilities must not be revealed, Tazuna-san. This is all I demand for my services. Can you deliver?"

"I swear, Naruto-san. Your secret is safe with me and my family!"

Naruto nodded.

….

ONE DAY LATER

Naruto opened his eyes, stopping his meditation. He was currently trying to bring back the purity and potency his chakra had back in his other life.

That would take him at least another three to four years, by which time he estimated that his old capacity too would return.

But what made Naruto shiver in excitement was that his growth would not stop there! Oh no, it would continue at the rate of an Uzumaki and a Senju, which he knew was astronomical.

He grinned excitedly. His chakra capacity this time would be much higher than his chakra capacity as Hashirama which was a truly frightening prospect.

In the age of the founding Kage, Hashirama was said to be the foremost Kage. He had enough strength to casually calm the rage of nine Bijuu simultaneously.

They called him the strongest shinobi to exist since the Rikodou Sennin.

That strength multiplied by two, even by three…

This time, he would have the strength to protect his precious ones and his village.

TAKE THAT, MADARA! The child in him proclaimed, which was pretty much all of him. He did used to be called frivolous and childish by the entire Senju clan.

His trip to his happy place was interrupted by a bonk on his head. Turning indignantly, he saw the emo face of his teammate, Uchiha Sasuke.

"Dobe…can I talk to you for a second?" Sasuke queried with a constipated look on his face.

Naruto looked closely at him. He seemed to be in discomfort.

"Bowel problems?" the medic in him asked with concern.

Sasuke looked ready to kill him.

A light bulb flashed in his head. OH…that's why he looks like that.

Not easy to let go of your pride, eh, Sasuke?

Sasuke seemed to have calmed down.

"Can you tell me how you move so fast in a battle? I know it is a ninjutsu. What is it called?"

Naruto looked at him in interest. A polite Sasuke?

"Teme… it is called the shunshin no jutsu. Yes, you can use it too. But to use it like I do with just one seal requires absolute mastery of chakra control, or to dedicate a lot of time to the shunshin itself. Why do you ask?"

"Can you teach me, Dobe? In exchange, I will teach you the grand fireball. What do you say?" Sasuke asked Naruto with that pained expression still on his face.

Naruto stared at Sasuke. The child was able to fight down his own pride, Uchiha pride stoked by the village for years!

If he kept up this attitude, he would become strong indeed.

One sensing of Sasuke's emotions told Naruto that he was sincere, even if reluctant.

He had never bothered with Katon himself, as mastery over Doton and Suiton was enough for him. This was perfect! This was the way to engender long lasting camaraderie, not by some impromptu test.

He made a mistake with that test, really.

So, he decided. Teaching Sasuke and learning from him would be great training for the team.

He would rope Sakura in as well, and teach her how to use that excellent chakra control of hers.

"I agree, Sasuke. I will teach you shunshin in exchange for your fire technique. Let's get Sakura; I have a few ideas for her as well."

The two of them trotted off, a tentative new bond forming between them.

Naruto was quite happy inside. Sasuke was the first friend he had made in this life! Even the experience and maturity of him being Hashirama reborn did not fill the void left by lack of friends. It intensified it actually.

Hashirama had thrived on friendship, love and loyalty. Resolve filled Naruto.

I will make him a powerful shinobi.

….

THREE DAYS LATER

Naruto looked at Sasuke with satisfaction. The Uchiha could now perform a shunshin with the proper hand seal sequence. He was quite slow with it by his standards, but it would do.

Sakura had also progressed well with Genjutsu. Naruto was considering teaching her how to augment her strength with chakra, seeing she had good control. She even had good enough control to be a good medic.

But time was lacking before Gato attacked them, tried to destroy the bridge or both. Presumably he would go recruit much more powerful ninja.

So he always kept his senses extended so he could sense any threats.

Kakashi was being annoying as well. The Jounin had insisted on deferring to him whenever they were in private, calling him "Shodai-sama".

That had irritated him to no end and he had put his foot down firmly telling Kakashi that he was still Naruto, albeit one that remembered his previous life. That definitely did not change who he was at the core.

Kakashi had finally understood, but insisted that they were equals at least. The thought of treating the legendary Shodai as a subordinate made him really uncomfortable.

Naruto had conceded. But he had re-emphasized his point that he was the Shodai reborn into this life, so he would try to redefine himself into something more.

As he looked at around at the training ground idly, an anomaly came to his attention.

It seemed that a massive chakra with a water affiliation was rapidly approaching the bridges. Presumably to destroy them.

Gato had made his move.

"Kakashi-sensei, I can sense a massive chakra with a really strong water affinity heading towards the bridges. What do you think we should do?"

Kakashi turned towards Naruto.

"How massive is the chakra, Naruto?" he still fumbled with the name."

"I can match him, but only just. I can outlast him with my chakra control, though."

Kakashi was alarmed. A ninja with as much chakra as the Shodai? Naruto must have sensed his discomfiture, for he replied.

"Do not worry, Kakashi-sensei. Currently I am at about a fifth of my old strength. The body of a child, even an Uzumaki child, can handle only so much chakra. I will grow back into my old strength and more in a few years."

Kakashi looked relieved.

"It is clearly a diversionary tactic, Naruto. They hope to separate us."

Naruto nodded. Kakashi continued:

"Gato would not hire multiple missing-nin of this much strength as it would threaten his own position. So we can assume safely that this person you sensed was the only new hire. Would you check, to be sure? "

Naruto cast out his senses at full strength and checked seven kilometres in all directions. Except for the one he had sensed, there was no one else notable.

"Just the one."

Kakashi started thinking aloud again.

"We can assume two things. One Gato's base is at least more than seven kilometres from here as you could not sense Zabuza"

Naruto agreed with him.

"And secondly, we can now be a hundred percent sure that Gato has hired only one missing-nin"

"How do you figure that?" Naruto asked curiously.

"Zabuza knows that you are a sensory-type, but he has no way of knowing your extraordinary range. The strongest sensor in the seven swordsmen had a range of three kilometres, so Zabuza would have assumed that much as well. So if you could sense no one at full strength, it means that there is indeed no one as the enemy will have underestimated your sensing range."

Naruto gave Kakashi a look of respect and nodded. A great Jounin indeed.

"I can tell you one last thing, though. The one rushing towards the bridge is probably one of Zabuza's acquaintances as Gato does not have his fingers deep in the Shinobi missing-nin world, yet." Kakashi looked towards his other two students.

"Go on", Naruto prodded.

Sakura and Sasuke had by now finished their training and were walking leisurely towards them.

"By your description of his massive chakra and strong water affinity, it is most likely Hoshigaki Kisame."

Naruto looked intrigued. "Can you tell me more about him?"

"I only know that he has so much chakra that he is dubbed the tailless tailed beast, and he possesses the great sword Samehada which consumes the chakra of its opponents. So it would be better if you go and deal with him, while I stay here and defend Tazuna-san."

Naruto understood. Kakashi had proved himself as worthy of his reputation once again.

"An excellent analysis, Kakashi-sensei. Now, I need to be going. Make Zabuza bite the dirt for me, will you?"

Kakashi chuckled and nodded. Naruto disappeared with a shunshin.

"Where is he going?" Sakura asked. Kakashi turned to them.

"Gato has made his move. Zabuza and his accomplice will most likely attack here, so get ready"

Sakura and Sasuke looked excited and nodded.

Kakashi directed them to begin evacuating Tazuna and family to a safe place so they could fight the enemy unhindered.

….

Naruto appeared on the bridge he had raised with a series of fast shunshin. A figure awaited him on the water a good distance from the bridge.

He appeared before the ninja with another shunshin. In both his lives, he had never come across an odd specimen like him. Naruto contained his impulse to just start laughing out.

He was blue skinned and looked like a shark taken human form. Oh, and he wore a black cloak with red clouds stitched upon it with a porcupine-like sword slung across his shoulder.

He again sensed the abundant chakra oozing from the man and saw that his earlier estimates were right. The chakra of the swordsman felt unrefined and unsubtle but was full of raw power.

"You look ridiculous", Naruto voiced his thoughts.

This man was obviously a Jutsu powerhouse. It would be a close fight. The man scowled.

"You are the brat Zabuza told me to be wary of? You don't look like much to me, just a short snotty Konoha Genin. Scram, brat! I have a bridge to destroy!"

Naruto was a little irritated at the jab to his height. He could not use shunshin too much in this fight, as he would need all his chakra at his command at any instant.

He released his chakra in an explosion of silver, causing the water to spiral around him agitatedly.

His opponent grinned and released his chakra as well to much the same effect. The two steadily continued pumping more chakra into the air. The waves started getting higher and a wind blew hard in response to the agitation of the water.

The man unslung his huge sword and held it in one hand. Naruto narrowed his eyes. He was strong.

"I am Hoshigaki Kisame, wielder of Samehada. You are strong, brat. What is your name?"

Naruto smiled, settling into the opening stance of the nature fist.

"I'm Uzumaki Naruto, Genin of Konoha."

He disappeared with a burst of speed and attacked Kisame with a kick which was blocked nonchalantly with Samehada.

This ninja was good. Naruto grinned, this would be a great fight.

Flaring his chakra even more he started fighting Kisame in earnest, the graceful power of the nature fist matched by the masterful Kenjutsu of Kisame.

Shockwaves emanated from wherever they met, causing water to fly everywhere in violent waves. Naruto was unleashing more and more strength in his blows and Kisame seemed to be blocking them all with some effort.

Naruto flared his chakra even more, his blazing green eyes settling on Kisame's fish like ones. Kisame had unwrapped the bindings on Samehada and held it towards Naruto.

They both disappeared once more, and met with a resounding impact, causing water to fly outwards in a huge circular wave. Kisame grinned as the unwrapped Samehada absorbed the monstrous impact of Naruto's strike.

Naruto sagged suddenly and looked at Samehada in realization.

"Samehada likes chakra, brat. Allow me to feed it with yours."

But Samehada suddenly started coughing as it started going limp.

Naruto wanted to laugh as he saw the sword acting sick. The stupid thing had taken in a healthy dose of his Nature chakra.

"Looks like Samehada has a bad case of indigestion, Kisame", Naruto said, laughing.

Kisame looked incensed, and flew back a good distance and started going through Hand seals rapidly.

"Suiton: Bakusui Shoha", Kisame yelled.

A humongous water wave rose from the sea and hurtled towards Naruto seeking to crush him.

Naruto too gathered chakra and held out his hands in the tiger seal.

"Suiton: Suuijinheki" he responded.

A massive water wall rose up to absorb the impact of the wave rendering Kisame's jutsu useless.

Kisame stared at Naruto with a raised eyebrow as the water settled down.

"A Jutsu like that with a single seal? Not bad, brat! You have a very strong affinity to water, I see."

But Tobirama's was always a bit stronger he thought nostalgically, watching Kisame clap his hand palms together and slam one hand on the water surface.

"Suiton: Goshokuzame!"

Five ferocious sharks shot towards Naruto from his palm. A cool jutsu, thought Naruto absently as he felt a large spike in Kakashi's and Sasuke's anger. His heart skipped a beat: he could no longer sense Sakura's chakra.

He had to finish this fast. He held out the Dragon seal and yelled out his jutsu.

"Suiton: Mizu no uzu o Kakudai!"

A huge whirlpool whose diameter spanned a third of the entire length of his bridge started forming around Naruto rapidly, so powerful that it even exposed a bit of the ocean floor deep beneath him. Kisame's sharks were snuffed out of existence like little gnats and the whirlpool kept on expanding ominously towards Kisame who was retreating hastily and prepared to counter with his own Jutsu.

Naruto heard a tremendous explosion behind him, but paid little attention to it.

Naruto abruptly released his jutsu causing the water of the sea to roll around chaotically, generating powerful currents. He used the distraction to catch Kisame in his Genjutsu.

"Kokuangyo no Jutsu"

Kisame suddenly flailed around blindly, caught in a Genjutsu of absolute swirling darkness. He flared his chakra continuously in massive pulses, trying to break out in vain. Naruto held too firm, though, pouring most of his chakra into the Bringer of Darkness technique.

He appeared behind the essentially blind Kisame and struck with his forefinger at a vital point on his head with great precision, knocking him out instantly.

He suddenly felt unbearable pain in his back causing him to fall to one knee. He reached behind and pulled out the Kunai embedded in his back.

Blood flowed down his back, the wound was quite deep. His spine was nicked and only pain tolerance built over decades allowed him to think clearly.

He looked up and saw a young man wearing a black cloak stitched with red clouds in the process of slinging Kisame on his back.

He routed pure medical chakra towards his injury and healed himself almost instantly, and stood up. The young man had turned to leave.

As if a wound like that could keep him down.

Sharingan. The young man had a Sharingan.

No deeper sensing told him that he possessed the Mangekyou as well and that it was used frequently.

"Uchiha Itachi" Naruto said calmly. This youngster was a real enigma. He could wait a bit to talk, as he could sense that his teammates had ended their fight.

A face closely resembling Sasuke's, check. Mangekyou Sharingan most likely obtained from clan slaughter, check.

The man turned around abruptly, his eyes widening at the sound of the boy who he thought was seriously injured.

"I thought I had neutralized you, Naruto-kun" Itachi said, his stoic face expertly hiding his emotions.

"You seem to be making a habit of killing unwary people, Uchiha Itachi." Naruto said, silver chakra exploding from him again.

"The Kyuubi healed you, I assume."

Let him believe that.

"A reasonable assumption. You are a real prodigy to have escaped my Sensory perception so thoroughly. Good job!" Naruto said admiringly.

Itachi did not acknowledge that in any way. He studied Naruto carefully with his Sharingan.

"You are very strong to have defeated Kisame, Naruto-Kun. He was not really giving it his all, but I can see that you weren't either"

Naruto's expression became cheerful, his silver chakra receding.

"Yeah, that was a good fight. Tell Kisame that it was fun!"

Itachi did not respond except to raise his eyebrow and disappear.

He surveyed the damage wrought by his fight with Kisame. The trees along the coastline were all destroyed.

He could repair that, no problem.

He turned around completely and saw something that made his jaw drop and eyes bug out.

He had destroyed the bridge he had so dramatically created with his own jutsu. That whirlpool he used against Kisame had churned his bridge to pieces.

He would be the laughing stock of Team 7. He really felt like going somewhere private and banging his head repeatedly on a wall.

He should have made the wood of the Bridge a little more Chakra resistant, he thought sadly. But that would have aroused suspicions among shinobi that a Mokuton user walked the lands again.

It would completely destroy the rumours Kakashi had planted about his multiple shadow clones building a bridge in two days.

Deciding to forget this embarrassment, he shunshined quickly towards Tazuna's house. He had been relieved when he had faintly felt Sakura's life-force.

He could heal almost any injury, except death.

A WEEK LATER

A fully recuperated Team 7 waved one last time to the people of Nami, Tazuna and family at the forefront of the huge group, and began walking back to Konoha contentedly.

Tazuna's bridge was complete. Naruto had refused to rebuild his wood bridge, saying that the hope of Nami had to be created by its people alone.

Thus they had named the bridge after Team 7, all their names engraved upon its arch.

He had briefly told Kakashi how he had defeated Kisame and confronted Itachi, alarming the man greatly. Naruto wanted to make speculations and give details only when they were back in the presence of the Sandaime.

Some secrets were too sensitive.

The fight with Zabuza had gone well resulting in the death of both Zabuza and his accomplice, who he learned was called Haku.

What a waste, Naruto thought. The last Hyoton user lost to the world.

Evidently Sasuke and Haku had formed a bond before the fight, without Sasuke knowing Haku's true identity.

When Sakura was put into a near death state by a masked Haku, Sasuke had awakened his Sharingan and engaged Haku.

He had managed to counter the Hyoton user's assault and break open his mask. Sasuke had refused to strike a final blow against one he counted a friend.

Haku had died to protect Zabuza from Kakashi's Raikiri. Gato had then assailed the entire group with his thugs.

So Sasuke and Zabuza, the latter moved deeply by Haku's sacrifice, had together finished off the entire thug army albeit with a little help from the villagers.

Zabuza too succumbed to his wounds and was buried alongside Haku.

The entire ordeal had changed Sasuke's attitude, igniting in him the Will of Fire and wiping out the last of his hatred. Naruto could see it only too clearly.

With Sasuke fighting alongside him, they would be able to do together what he could not do with Madara.


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