Inari slumped and curled up into a little ball. Gatou's men had just come and taken his mother. What had he done? Nothing. Of course he'd done nothing. He couldn't stand up to two adult swordsmen, that was insane!
"Mom... I'm sorry. I'm weak, so I can't... I can't. It's-"
You think the word 'impossible' makes it all right to just give up?
"I-I'm not... I'm not strong enough..."
So what if you think you can't win! So what if you think you can't even come close to touching him! You haven't even tried yet!
He had no father when he was young. In fact, he doesn't even know what parents are...
That Sasuke guy... he's never given up. And that Naruto, he's... he's had it even worse than me, but he can still smile like that. How can he...?
He understands the meaning of true strength. Much like Kaiza did.
...All I want is to protect what's important to me, with these two arms. Even if I die...
Strength, Inari suddenly realised. It's not something you strive for.
Inari ran out the door. Gatou's men still had his mother between them, but they hadn't gone that far yet. He yelled out to get their attention.
"G-GET THE HELL AWAY FROM MY MOM!" The scarred one on the left turned around, utterly bored.
"Oh, it's just that brat, huh?"
"I'll kick your asses! If you hurt her, I'll kick your asses even more!" Inari yelled.
Scars laughed, "Ha! This kid's got a spine after all!"
"Yeah. Too bad he won't get to enjoy it," His partner smirked, as they reached for their swords.
"Inari! If-if you hurt him, I'll bite my-" Tsunami didn't get to finish, one of her captors knocking her out. Inari yelled and charged.
Your strength is something you make yourself! Dad! I WILL be strong!
Suddenly he was back at the door to the house, next to his unconscious mother, someone's familiar voice in his ears.
"Nice, Inari! You got their attention so we could get your mom out of the way!"
"Out of the way?" he asked dumbly.
"Go for it, you assholes!" The two mooks dropped, revealing two more clones behind them.
"Enough with ordering us around, you ain't the boss," one of them groused to the clone by Inari.
"No," that one preened in response, "but I'm just as handsome as he is."
The grousing clone growled in annoyance, "We all are, dumbass! We're clones!"
"Yes, but I'm still the better-looking," Inari's guardian told it dismissively.
"How does that even work! We're clones! We're all clones, so we're all identical, you jackass!"
"Well, if we're identical, then you must be a jackass, too, jackass."
"Um... excuse me?" Inari asked. He was completely lost here. One moment he was swearing his newfound strength to his dad's memory and then... this? "But... what are you doing? How did you know about the samurai?"
The two clones continued their bokke and tsukkomi routine, the designated 'straight man' marching up to the idiot, both ignoring the young boy. The third clone came up to Inari, utterly unimpressed with his compatriots.
"For fuck's sake, those two... Hey, kid. Long story short, we didn't."
"Then how did you know to help?"
"Boss left us behind before he left for the bridge. Come on, close family of the old man? Prime hostages. Of course Gatou was gonna come after you."
Inari bristled. He'd seen this happen and he hadn't done anything about it? The clone noticed his building ire and cut him off before he could begin.
"Hey, relax. We couldn't do anything while you or your mom were still so close to these jokers," It jabbed a thumb over its shoulder at the two unconscious mooks, "So we were setting up a distraction." It grinned in approval. "Then, all of a sudden, who should come charging out of the house yelling his head off?" It slapped him on the back in congratulations. "Nice one, kid, the boss always knew you had it in ya." The smile faltered slightly. The other two clones were still doing their double act, and it yelled, "HEY! Will one of you idiots just dispel and let the boss know what happened!" They ignored him and he made a very rude sound in frustration, "Fine! I'll do it!" It held a hand up in a half-seal. Before the terminal action, though, it gave Inari one last final smile, "Ya got your strength, kid. Now what are ya gonna do with it?"
* * *
"Sakura! Sasuke! Form up on Tazuna, now!" Three-quarters of Team 7 immediately closed ranks around the old man, the fog thickening around them with every second.
I knew it... He was alive.
"Sensei... This is his Kirigakure no Jutsu, isn't it," Sakura asked. Kakashi made a noise of confirmation, and Sakura responded in annoyance, "Tch. This is going to make it harder to plant any genjutsu on him... Inconsiderate no-brows bastard."
Kakashi blinked. Did she really just...? "Sakura?"
"...Did I say that out loud just now?" she asked sheepishly. Kakashi nodded dumbly.
"No, it's good to know you've got some real spine. I feel better about being on your team, now, Sakura," Sasuke explained to her.
A familiar voice drifted out of the fog. "Oh, she's definitely got some spine... Wonder what it'll look like when I tear it out?"
The less-than-subtle threat did not have the intended effect of demoralising the supposed weak link.
BASTARD! Sakura thought, Sasuke-kun just complimented me! There's no way anything you say is gonna get to me now! She drew a kunai with a flourish, settling into a defensive posture next to Tazuna.
Come and get it, you no-brows bastard! SHANNARO!
"Heheheh... I'm impressed. I know a chuunin or two who couldn't take that one. Looks like your brats aren't so weak after all, Kakashi. Though," Zabuza immediately homed in on the sound of rattling metal, the kunai in Sasuke's trembling hand. "That one looks so scared, he's trembling again. How pathetic." He ordered his water clones in closer, under the cover of the mist, to prepare for the killing strike. Sasuke grinned. It's width was perhaps indicative of just how much time he'd been spending around Naruto since joining Team Seven. He looked the nearest clone right in the eyes.
"It's excitement, not fear."
"Have fun, you two," Kakashi chirped.
Sasuke blurred into motion as the clones swung for an attack.
Seven battle cries gave way to seven splashing sounds.
Sasuke breathed deep, schooling his features, and fighting to get his heart rate under control. His blood felt warm, almost hot in his veins after dispatching those water clones, and comfortably so. He'd experienced something similar in spars, but this, apparently, was the difference a real fight made. This must have been what his father had meant when he'd said fire ran through an Uchiha's veins. It sure as hell felt like it, anyway. He forced himself to be calm, and it was noticeably more difficult than he thought it should be.
The difference a real fight made, indeed.
He was brought out of his thoughts by the real Zabuza making himself known.
"So, he can defeat my water clones now... those brats got stronger pretty quick." He turned to his pet Bloodline-user, "Looks like a rival for you, Haku."
The masked head barely inclined in consideration, "...Perhaps."
"Well, well, looks like our theory was right," Kakashi drawled.
"So that masked guy really was working for Zabuza," Sakura moaned. "Well, I suppose no-one ever said being a ninja would be simple."
Sasuke levelled his glare at that mask. "I'll fight him," he growled. "He pulled that stupid act on us, and Sakura's genjutsu make her more suited for a defensive role in this situation, anyway."
Kakashi shrugged, "Well, I guess it would be a good idea to keep a pair of eyes on Tazuna at all times... and I doubt either of you could handle Zabuza... So, sure, why not?" he concluded.
"An interesting boy," Haku thought out loud. "Even if your water clones are only a tenth as powerful, he dealt with them rather well. Though I suspect his other team-mate would have dealt with them more impressively." Zabuza raised a bald eyebrow at the choice of words.
"...He did manage to devise a strategy to free his teacher from you. He even managed to capture your interest, I believe?"
Zabuza grunted, "I suppose he did. That was some nice bloodlust for a fresh genin. The brat's a wild-card, though. I don't feel like dealing with whatever bullshit he can come up with, so we're finishing this up early. Understand, Haku?" Haku slumped slightly in relief.
"Haku, you're not scared of him, are you?"
"No, Zabuza-sama. Not scared."
"...Hurry up, either way."
"Hai." Haku sped off to battle.
Sasuke fought down the grin threatening to spread across his face as he watched Haku's approach. His enemy was coming, and using a technique he hadn't seen before and wasn't sure he could beat. He was about to be in a fight, a real fight for his life. His pulse quickened as his blood began to heat up. He tracked his opponent's movement as best he could, lifted his kunai to defense, and waited for the right moment to strike.
Steel clashed as he met Haku's senbon with his own kunai, and the passive mask with his own confident grin. They separated, clashed again, darted around one another, steel colliding with each pass, before finally locking weapons again. Haku took in Sasuke's wild-eyed expression behind his kunai.
"I don't want to kill you, but you're not going to back off, are you?"
Sasuke barely heard his opponent. His blood was pounding in his ears and boiling everywhere else. Back off? Like hell.
"Don't be an idiot." Damn, even his tongue felt hot in his mouth.
"I thought as much. You won't be able to keep up with my next move, though. I have already gained two advantages." His legs felt hot. "The first is the water already on the ground." His chest felt hot. "The second is that I'm keeping one of your hands occupied." His arms felt hot. "Therefore, you can only defend against my attack" His eyes... His eyes felt...
Wait, were those one-handed seals?
Panic, and the ingrained reaction to it, flooded in, drowning out the heat.
"Hissatsu: Sensatsu Suishou."
Chakra flooded into the water, forming hundreds of needles that lifted into the air. All pointed at Sasuke.
Calm down! Focus your chakra-
The needles clashed together in an enormous splash. Haku leapt back to evade the technique, overbalancing slightly on the landing, quickly recovering to check on Sasuke's status.
Gone. Where did he-?
A shuriken from above answered that question. Followed by others, all of which Haku was forced to evade.
"Damn, you're slow."
Haku stood up slowly. Sasuke had quite a good kick, one had to admit. Especially once on the receiving end. Zabuza watched as his pet worked out a new kink in the neck.
"Haku. Enough playing around. I told you already I'm not in the mood to deal with that orange brat."
"My apologies, Zabuza-sama." Haku's fingers came up in an odd seal almost a Tiger seal, but with the middle fingers wrapped over the indices. Sasuke watched in confusion as cold air billowed out from under the fake oi-nin's clothes. "I shall deal with it now."
Then ice began to sprout up around him.
"Hijutsu: Makyou Hyoushou."
* * *
A great explosion of smoke appeared in the middle of the bridge, slowly clearing to reveal a squat, orange figure bearing a hitai-ite of Konoha. The blond spoke loudly, the better to ensure he was heard by all present.
"Uzumaki Naruto... SANJOU!"
As one, regardless of their side on the battlefield, all present immediately had the same thought.
Is this guy an idiot?
Heedless of such disrespectful thoughts, Naruto straightened up, turning immediately to where Sasuke lay prone inside Haku's deadly house of mirrors.
"Hey, Sasuke, how you doing in there?"
He coughed, "Better than you would be, idiot."
"Well, as I'm not stupid enough to get caught in a technique like that, we'll never know, will we, bastard?"
Sasuke smirked, "Bite me." Naruto grinned, and decided to now deal with the second most important problem.
"OI! NO-BROWS!" Zabuza twitched at the appellation. "Yeah, you with the giant sword!"
"What is it, brat?"
"You know Gatou's planning to betray you, right?" That got his attention. "Only my clones heard his goons bragging about it down at Tazuna's house." The old man started at the mention of his home.
"At my-! Tsunami! Inari! Are they all right?"
"They're fine, gramps, two wannabe swordsmen aren't any match for my kage bunshin," Naruto waved him off. "Anyway, Zabuza... What are you gonna do about this?"
"...That depends. What are you suggesting?"
"Well, the way I see it, you've got no reason to trust me, but what I'm suggesting is plausible enough that you can't completely ignore it."
"Stop wasting my time, brat."
"A temporary truce. We wait for Gatou to show, and if he really is going to betray you, you see for yourself. Meanwhile, we don't fight each other. If I'm lying then, hell, you can take my head along with the old man's." He finished nonchalantly. His team made noises of surprised objection to that offer, and Haku turned to face him almost quickly enough to cause whiplash. Zabuza raised a hairless brow contemplatively.
"Tempting offer..." Naruto smiled. "However." The smile faltered. "I may be a nukenin, but I still have my pride as a ninja. I will complete the mission, and if Gatou decides to betray me after, I'll kill him and take my payment from his corpse."
Naruto was silent for a little while after that declaration. "I see. Well, we'll kick your asses either way, so... your funeral." Naruto couldn't keep a small amount of sorrow out of his voice at that. Kakashi turned his attention back to his opponent.
"I think I expected better of you, Zabuza. Not sure why."
Zabuza laughed, "Nothing personal, Kakashi." He thought about that for a moment, "Actually, I've been looking forward to fighting you, so I guess it is a little bit personal," he drawled.
"Fantastic," Kakashi deadpanned.
"Before that, though... That punk's caused one too many headaches for me." Zabuza tossed a few kunai in Naruto's direction. He made no move to avoid, standing with his hands in his pockets and a confident smile in place. Haku quickly leaned out of the nearest mirror and deflected Zabuza's kunai, taking everyone else by surprise.
"Haku," Zabuza growled, "What is the meaning of this?"
"Please allow me to deal with these two, Zabuza-sama. Didn't you say you didn't want to deal with any of his... antics?"
Zabuza considered that, then smirked.
"Do whatever you want, Haku. Just don't let that brat interfere."
Haku turned back to face Naruto, to find him smiling more warmly.
"Oh, I see... so you can recognise and act on your own wants after all. That's good. I guess I kind of misjudged you when we first met. Sorry about that!"
Haku didn't answer, suddenly intensely grateful for the mask and that it could cover any kind of blush.
"But..." The smile dropped, becoming a hard look of determination. "You don't seem to understand just who you're dealing with here. I am Uzumaki Naruto. Student of Umino Iruka, Maito Gai and Hatake Kakashi. Part of Team Seven, and Genin of Konoha. The man who will become Sixth Hokage." His determined expression split to reveal another grin that his current team were familiar with. "And I fight dirty."
A sudden yell drew Haku's attention away from Naruto's strange declaration. What was so noteworthy about that? They were ninja, ninja are supposed to fight dir-
That train of thought was rudely interrupted by an orange blur's flying jump kick landing squarely on Haku's face. Haku was, once again, intensely grateful for that mask. That didn't stop the blow from sending the young bloodline-user flying halfway across the bridge. Naruto's grinning kage bunshin dispelled as the original made himself known and recovered from his introductory kick, while wearing an ear-to-ear grin identical to his clone's.
"I am so glad I asked Gai-sensei to teach me the Dynamic Entry." He interpreted Haku's sudden stop some five metres away as agreement and chuckled.
Zabuza twitched, "That orange brat... I knew he'd try some crap like this."
Sakura sighed, "Honestly, why am I even surprised?"
Sasuke grunted in agreement and Tazuna gaped openly. Kakashi simply watched it all happen. He refused to react. A reaction was exactly what Naruto wanted.
"Oi, Sasuke! You gonna be able to pull yourself out of there?"
"Yeah, sure... what about him?"
"I'll keep him busy, don't worry!"
Sasuke snorted. "He's fast, but I got a pretty good hit in earlier... just don't underestimate him."
Naruto barked in laughter. "Bastard, don't underestimate ME."
Sasuke just worked on standing up again. Naruto let him get to work and ran up to where Haku lay prone. If he was lucky, he'd knocked him unconscious with that opening kick.
Well, so much for luck, Naruto thought.
* * *
Kakashi eyed his strangest student as he went to distract his opponent from those ice mirrors. Zabuza followed his line-of-sight and stepped in.
"Careful now, don't get any funny ideas."
"Oh, don't worry, Zabuza-kun... my cute little genin aren't quite as cute as I gave them credit for. I think those two should be able to handle your sub-ordinate."
"Well, maybe. But for now, why don't you tell that other kid of yours to stop with the genjutsu. If she thinks that level of illusion will work on me, she's got another thing coming." He hefted the sword slung across his back, making sure Kakashi knew the other 'thing' she had coming was large and very sharp. Kakashi sighed and turned to Sakura over his shoulder.
"He's seen through it, Sakura."
Sakura sighed, while Tazuna made a very rude noise and put his hands on his hips.
"Of course he has," he growled as his image twisted and reformed into Sakura, while 'Sakura' turned back into Tazuna. "I really need to learn some scent- or sound-based genjutsu, damn it..."
Zabuza let his sword drop back over his back, "Since you and I are essentially at a stalemate for now, why don't we just enjoy ourselves and watch the show?" He turned to watch where Kakashi's students were fighting his own masked tool.
* * *
Naruto just waited as his opponent pulled themselves to their feet. There no point in attacking yet, as pressuring him needlessly would just force a faster recovery, which was exactly what he didn't want. He still needed to buy Sasuke enough time to get out of those mirrors. Haku was standing up again. Time to stall!
"Yo. Sorry about the kick to the face, but I kinda had to to get you out of those mirrors, you know?"
The mask tilted slightly in his direction.
"I feel really bad about it now, though, since you just saved me from your boss's shuriken and all. Well, okay, you saved a kage bunshin so it wouldn't have made much difference, but you didn't know that. Then, I repay you by kicking you in the face," He shook his head sadly, "I like to think I have more class than that usually and you're not saying anything."
Haku continued to not say anything, straightening up and facing him directly.
"Look, I can't hold a conversation on my own here... Well, okay, maybe I can, but it kind of defeats the purpose. You need two people for a conversation or it's just one guy talking to himself. I don't feel like calling up a clone just for that, if only because it'd still be me talking to myself."
"Come on, say something," he whined, "I want to know more about the guy I'm fighting here. Come on, anything."
"I know that you're stalling for time for your friend," Haku told him, "And I can make, and use, my mirrors outside of the main Makyou Hyoushou." Haku showed him, the water flowing up to one side and flattening out into a new mirror. Naruto's eyes widened and he charged forward. He remembered this, and he needed to stop Haku from using it before Sasuke escaped. He threw shuriken between Haku and the mirror, but they were deflected with senbon and did nothing to dissuade Haku. The mirror shattered just as Naruto reached it. He spun around at Sasuke's pained cry. Haku was back in the fun house.
"...Damn it." He ran up to the mirrors, though not close enough that Haku could attempt to hit him as well.
"What the hell, you idiot!" Sasuke yelled at him after another barrage of senbon pierced him, "I even told you not to underestimate him! What the hell!" He hissed in mixed anger and pain as another barrage struck home, glaring at the image plastered on the ice all around him. Enough of this! He was an Uchiha, and this was only ice! Fire MELTS ice!
He blurred through the necessary hand-seals, completing it before Haku retaliated. Strangely, the fake oi-nin didn't even bother. As though he thought that it wouldn't work and wanted him to waste his energy. Sasuke ignored that possibility.
"Katon: Goukakyuu no Jutsu!" The flames billowed against the ice mirrors, licking at them hungrily, but ultimately dying without any success.
"Unfortunately, that level of flame isn't enough."
Naruto perked up. "That level of flame wasn't enough?" He repeated.
"Correct," Haku confirmed.
Naruto grinned, "So, you're implying that there's a level of flame that would work?"
Haku wisely shut up. Too late. "Oi, Sasuke. You thinking what I'm thinking?"
"For once, I think I might be," He smirked. "Do it." Naruto responded by beginning the seals to the kazerou. There was no way of know which mirror Haku was hiding in, so he chose one at random.
"Fuuton: Kazerou no jutsu!" He looked inside the dome to see Sasuke already finished with his own seals. The fireball sped into the wind prison and ignited it, the winds fanning the flames to greater degrees of heat. Naruto watched the mirrors to either side closely. If this was working, it would be affecting them too...
Except it didn't seem to be. They weren't even beginning to melt. He tsk'ed in annoyance and stopped the kazerou.
"The hell are you doing?" Sasuke demanded.
"Look." Sasuke did. As the wind-enhanced flames died down, he saw that the mirror within was unaffected.
"It seems," Haku said with a hint of smugness, "That that level of flame was not enough either."
Naruto ground his teeth. Okay, fine. That didn't work, so... new plan! The mirrors were made of some kind of ridiculously hard ice that apparently couldn't be melted by any fire they had access to. Additionally, Haku could use the mirrors to move faster than either of them could follow... Well, if you can't attack, try defence. Though how to defend against that kind of speed was another problem. Neither of them could react quickly enough to defend against Haku's attacks. So, reactive defence was out of the question... constant defence? Naruto nodded, a plan forming in his head.
"What?" His team-mate growled.
"I think I can fudge the kazerou to get you out of there." Sasuke looked at him in confusion before realising what he was suggesting.
"Do you have enough control for that?"
Naruto shrugged, "I don't know, I've never tried it before."
"...Fantastic," Sasuke grumbled.
"Do we really have a choice right now?"
Sasuke glanced at the mirrors around them. Their opponent seemed to be waiting for them to decide on a course of action. Sasuke growled as he realised what that meant. He was trying to let them exhaust themselves, physically and mentally, until they gave into despair and surrendered. He wasn't trying to kill them, he never had been. He didn't consider them a real threat. He was toying with them. He felt his blood starting to boil at the insult.
...You are not worth killing...
He wanted them to just give up? Like hell.
"Just do it," he growled.
Naruto nodded to himself and bit his lip as he formed the seals and focused his chakra. Kazerou, as was the technique it was derived from, was normally stationary. He needed to change that, to twist the chakra just so to be able to make it move with Sasuke. He also needed to tone down the power, or Sasuke could be cut up even worse than any number of Haku's senbon.
"Fuuton: Kazekabe no jutsu!"
A spiralling whirlwind picked up around Sasuke, whipping dust off the ground and slightly obscuring him. He leapt forwards, towards the mirrors, and past them, freedom. Senbon flew at him once again, and he closed his eyes, bracing himself for the pain.
It never came. The fierce winds had followed him, keeping him roughly at the eye of the technique, and whipped the incoming senbon away.
One metre. Two. Another hail of senbon, deflected as easily as the first. They shot off around the circle, ricocheting off mirrors and scoring small grooves into the ground. There was the edge. Freedom was close. One more step, and...
He was shoved, hard, back into the circle of mirrors. Haku had dived out and bodily checked him. The winds, lacking the cutting force of the kazerou, were no help against anything bulkier than a kunai, and Sasuke went sprawling from the unexpected tackle.
"Damn!" Naruto had been hoping that would work. He'd thought it would work. Though, on the up-side, Haku was distracted and, however briefly, not hiding in the mirrors. He rushed forwards, gathering wind chakra in his palm. Haku caught his movement and leapt back, moving to the advantage of the mirrors again, as Naruto slammed his hand against the outside surface of one of the sheets of ice, releasing the chakra as a thin line, a sharp razor edge, like when he had first trained to use that nature, trying to cut through the mirror to leave a weakness in the technique. He blinked. Not only had it not worked, there wasn't even a groove on the ice. Unfortunate, but not completely unexpected. Hyouton was a combination of wind and water chakra, so using wind on its own was unlikely to have worked, but not so unlikely as to be written off without even trying. Then Haku's arms leapt out of that mirror and grabbed his wrists. He looked up at the mask still inside the mirror.
"Something else you don't know about me." Haku drew him closer and Naruto couldn't stop a shocked gasp at the cold feeling when his own hands disappeared into the ice. "I can take others through my mirrors."
Then he was on the other side, rolling into a ball and shivering uncontrollably in the centre of Haku's house of mirrors. Sasuke came up above him, attempting to shield him. He'd comment on that, in a sarcastic manner of course, if he was able to actually say anything through his chattering teeth.
"C-Cold." Well, anything other than that.
Cold. Coldcoldcold and I did NOT know he could do that and COLD, DAMN IT those mirrors are REALLY FUCKING COLD on the inside!
"F-f-fu-fuck y-y-you. L-l-let's s-s-see YOU g-go th-th-through o-o-one of-"
"Well, seeing as I'm not stupid enough to get caught like that, I guess we'll never know." Naruto's eyes shot up to Sasuke's face at that.
...Oh, son of a bitch you did NOT just throw my words back at me.
He felt feeling return to his fingers and couldn't keep down the feral grin. It was about damn time that big, red and fuzzy started pulling his weight in this fight. Naruto blinked.
Had he imagined that annoyed growl, or had the Kyuubi actually heard what he'd thought about it?
Ah, whatever. He was inside the fun-house now, but maybe he'd still be able to wrangle his way out.
"So, any more ideas, dead-last? Or do you want to try running up to the mirrors again?"
"Yeah, okay, that was stupid. I mean if your face wasn't enough to break the things, I dunno what I was thinking trying to use chakra."
Sasuke simply raised an eyebrow sardonically and Naruto huffed. He knew that one wasn't up to his usual taunts and Sasuke had just called him on it.
"Oh, bite me," he told him, just before grunting in pain from a barrage of senbon aimed at his back.
Sasuke was breathing heavily, almost panting. The mist was leeching heat away from his skin, he was surrounded by mirrors made of ice, and he couldn't keep up with the fake oi-nin's movement.
So why did he feel so hot? Why did his blood feel like fire, like real fire, in his veins? Why was his heartbeat pounding in his ears, why was he enjoying this, damn it?
He quickly blocked to defend against a fresh barrage of senbon, grimacing as the needles pierced his arms. Sasuke hissed in frustration. He'd barely caught that in time. If this went on much longer, they'd-
He'd caught that movement. He'd seen those senbon, and blocked them. Just barely, but he'd seen them. He'd seen them.
"Naruto," he called, trying to ignore the heat in his veins.
"I think... I think I can see him."
His friend paused at that, seemingly thinking it over, then, "You think you can catch him?"
A smirk crept up Sasuke's face. His eyes burned.
"Then lets go hunting the hunter."
* * *
Naruto caught Sasuke just as he started to collapse, his eyes hazy and unfocused, the Sharingan he'd used just a little earlier already gone. The plan had been improvised, spur-of the-moment insanity, the both of them acting upon whatever instinct or whim they thought might work and hoping the other would catch on soon enough for it to work.
The two of them had read each other far better than they had any right to.
Naruto looked over to where Haku lay slumped against the mirrors, unmoving. He couldn't tell if their opponent was out cold or just dazed. The mirrors were still up, so probably just dazed. Sasuke coughed in his arms and Naruto winced. Haku had cottoned on that while Sasuke could track the speed freak's movements, Naruto couldn't, and gone right for him. The trap was obvious, and Sasuke had charged right in so he could return the body check from earlier. The result was the current situation. Sasuke full of pins, and Haku slumped against the mirrors.
"Damn it..." Sasuke groaned, "Why the hell are you so slow, you idiot."
"We don't all need special eyes to be awesome. Some of us are awesome just because we're awesome, damn it."
Sasuke laughed weakly at that. "Saying that... Like you're awesome, huh?"
"Damned right I am, 'ttebayo."
"...I didn't want to die. Not like this, not before..." He trailed off, before focusing on Naruto's unusually serious face. "Naruto... you told me... you said I could ask for help. You meant that?"
"Of course I did."
"Then I'm asking now... Kill my brother. Kill Uchiha Itachi. If I can't... I want you to do it."
"Wh- Why me?"
"You said I could trust you. I guess maybe I do, now. Or maybe I just don't have a choice."
"...I promise, Sasuke. If you can't, I'll find your brother, and I'll kill the man who slaughtered your family."
"If you don't, I'll come back and haunt you."
"A closet voyeur, huh? Never would have guessed."
Sasuke snorted in amusement before his eyes glazed over and his entire body went limp, Haku's needles finally putting him into a near-death state, like before.
At least, Naruto hoped it was a near-death state like before.
He looked over to where Haku was just beginning to stir. It looked like that impact against the mirrors coupled with the flying kick to the face earlier was taking its toll on top of however much chakra it had to take to keep these mirrors going.
* * *
"Something you said earlier made me think, Zabuza. I also have my pride as a ninja, so unfortunately, I'm going to go ahead and finish this, right now."
"An interesting bluff, Kakashi. I think I'll call you on it. What can you do when you can't even see or hear me in this mist?"
Kakashi didn't bother answering with words, slamming the scroll to the ground and waiting patiently. He didn't have to wait long, Zabuza's cries of painful surprise accompanied by the familiar sound of his dogs barking and growling. He moved forwards to where he'd heard his partners trap Zabuza at last, stopping once he'd got close enough to see him despite the fog which, Kakashi noted, was beginning to thin. He began the necessary hand-seals for his finisher.
"Blood has a very powerful scent, Zabuza. If you've managed to forget even that, then I think you've killed one too many times." Zabuza's eyes widened in disbelief.
"You left yourself open to my attacks deliberately!"
Kakashi finished the sequence, lightning chirping merrily between his fingers. He held his hand up before his face, marking his intended target on Zabuza's chest, a point between one and two inches to the left of the sternum.