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You all know what time it is, character development time! Yaaaaay! (waves hands in the air) Seriously though, we will be seeing a little teeny wee bit of character development. Poor buggedy bug boy never got much, so he will get a little now. Also, Rock Lee will be getting some screen time as well. Even if they're not the title character, I think they are still prominent characters and therefore deserve a bit of screen time. So they're both getting it.

Chapter 6-The Battle Of The BridgeEdit

Sunrise, Four Days LaterEdit

Lee woke from his slumber at the training grounds and sat up. He looked around bleary eyed and blinked before yawning widely, "Morning already?" He rose and stumbled off towards Tazuna's house, only to round the tree and find that many of the others were sleeping around the training ground too. Lee smiled as he saw Gai sleeping on the other side of the tree he had been leaned against, That explains why he did not drag me inside after I fell asleep like he normally does Lee thought. Then he frowned, But normally Tenten and Neji would drag both of us in...

He looked around and a moment later spotted Tenten curled under a blanket, her sickle and chain still less than arm's reach away. He smiled as he realized Neji must have gone to take over watch at the house. Kiba was sprawled not far away with Akamaru on his back, both of them snoring in unison, and Naruto and Hinata were cuddled together under a blanket at the base of another tree.

"So you're awake," Shino said from behind Lee. Lee jumped half the height of the nearest tree in surprise. He landed, "Oh good morning Shino. Please do not sneak up behind me like that." Shino's expression didn't noticeably change, although given how much of his face was covered up, it would've been hard to tell. "It's good that you're awake," Shino said, "Now we can go get some breakfast before we wake the others up. Kiba and Akamaru always whine when there is not food readily available when he wakes up. It's kind of odd when you consider that they do most of our team's hunting."

Lee nodded, "You are right, that is strange. How could he expect there to be food when he has not gotten any and he is the one responsible for bringing it? You are also right that we should go get breakfast for our friends. They were obviously very tired after last night's training." Shino nodded and they headed back to Tazuna's house. Twenty minutes later they headed back, a massive pack of food on Lee's back. Shino had offered to help carry some of it, but Lee had insisted on carrying it himself.

"It is very kind of Miss Tsunami to provide food for us," Lee remarked, "Given how poor the people are here, it cannot be an easy burden for them to bear. Even a single squad would more than double the number of people she has to feed." Shino looked at him, "We have been hunting some you know, and I know Kurenai sensei has been paying for our meals. I suspect Gai sensei and Kakashi sensei have as well. You are correct though, it is quite nice."

"Yes it is," Lee agreed. They walked in silence for a few moments and then they found a young woman in pink kneeling on the grass in front of them, picking herbs. "Excuse me Miss," Lee said unprompted, "Are you in need of any assistance?" The girl turned around to look at them and her eyes widened in surprise as she leapt up. Lee stared as he realized she was very beautiful and Shino raised his hands in a non-threatening manner, "Please, do not be alarmed, we only want to help."

The girl blinked and then smiled, "Well I'm gathering herbs, I suppose you could help with that if you'd like." Shino nodded, "Of course, we would be glad to." "Yes!" Lee agreed enthusiastically, "We will assist you! What kind of herbs are we looking for?" The girl smiled and held up one from her basket, "Well I pick several, but if you could help me find some more of these I'd be grateful." Lee strode closer for a better look and then quickly declared he would find as many as he could before bending over and crawling around on his hands and knees searching, picking the specified herbs every time he found them.

Shino moved slightly slower and quickly identified the herb, as well as several others in the young woman's basket, "I see, you're collecting medicinal herbs. I will see if I can collect some as well. Please, do not be alarmed." "By what?" The girl asked. Shino pointed his sleeve away from Lee and a dark buzzing mass oozed out into the air before scattering across the small clearing. Shino turned back to the girl, "My insects will find and retrieve the herbs Lee doesn't know to look for. May I ask what you are collecting medicine for?"

The girl blinked and then nodded, a slightly sad look in her eye, "My, brother, hurt his shoulder recently. He insists he has to work, but he can't with his shoulder like it is, it hurts him too much. I've convinced him to put his arm in a sling so that maybe he won't hurt himself anymore, but he insists that he has to return to work today. So I'm gathering ingredients to help ease the pain so that he can work without being pain."

"I see," Shino replied as his mass of insects came flying back to him, a double handful of herbs in tow. Lee walked back up, "Here are the herbs you requested." The girl smiled as he laid the herbs in her basket, "Thank you both, you just gave me half an hour to make sure I get the medicine right." She rose, "Before I go, are you two ninja?" "We are," Shino and Lee replied at the same time. "So, you two must be part of the party guarding the bridge while it's being finished?" "That's right," Lee replied, "Does your brother work on the bridge?"

The girl smiled, "Yes, you could say that." Her expression turned puzzled, "May I ask why you are doing this? Protecting the bridge and helping this land?" "Because we were hired to," Shino replied, "And because we cannot in good conscience allow the corruption poisoning this land to continue." The girl smiled, "I see. Well, thank you again for the herbs. I'm sure we'll see each other again sometime." Lee bowed slightly as Shino stood and bowed as well. "Have a nice day Miss," Lee said, "I hope your brother recovers well."

The girl smiled as she turned to walk off, "I'm sure he will, he's not the sort to let a little thing like a bad shoulder stop him." She took two steps and then paused and looked over her shoulder, "Oh by the way, I'm a guy." She walked off as Lee stared in shocked disbelief. He looked at Shino and before he could say anything Shino patted him on the shoulder, "It's alright Lee, she was pulling your leg." The tension of disbelief went out of Lee in an instant and his everpresent smile returned, "Oh, that makes much more sense. I am glad you caught that Shino." Shino smiled behind his high collar, "That's what friends are for."

The Next DayEdit

Hinata, Naruto, Lee got house watch duty for the day. The Jonin had agreed that there always needed to be at least three ninja at the house in case Zabuza tried to abduct Tazuna's family for leverage. So now they waved to their friends as the rest of the team took off with Tazuna heading for the bridge.

When they got to the bridge, they found all of Tazuna's workers all at least badly injured, and many so still those present could only assume them dead. "Wha-what is this?!" Tazuna exclaimed, "What happened?!" "Everyone on guard!" Kakashi barked, "He's here!" "He?" Zabuza chuckled as the mist began to roll in with astonishing speed, "You really think I'm arrogant enough to try this again with one arm and no backup?"

As the mist rolled over them, half a dozen Zabuza's suddenly appeared and slashed at Neji, Sasuke, Kiba, Kakashi, Shino and Kurenai with their copies of Zabuza's massive sword. Before any of them could connect, the Leaf Shinobi lashed out lightning quick and broke the clones. Sakura shrieked as an arm wrapped around her throat, kunai in hand. Her hands flew up and latched onto Zabuza's arm, her strength actually great enough that Zabuza wasn't able to move the arm he had planned to cut her throat with.

That didn't stop him from stabbing her in the back with the hand poking out of his sling and disappearing back into the mist as she crumpled, crying out in shock and pain. Zabuza called through the mist, "Haku! Break em up!" "Demonic Crystal Ice Mirror Maze!" Walls of ice crystals suddenly erupted around the Hidden Leaf Shinobi, breaking them into smaller groups. A form in a brown robe and the mask of a Hidden Mist Hunter Nin suddenly appeared in all the mirrors.

Gai had been isolated from the others, and Haku struck at him first, only to be repulsed by a sudden mini-cyclone of chakra, "Eight Trigrams Palms Revolving Heaven!" Haku was blasted back through her own mirror with sufficient force to break it as the real Gai connected with the other side of the mirror. Haku tried to push herself upright as her ice mirrors shattered, "What?! But how?" Gai's form suddenly flickered and revealed it to be Neji who smiled triumphantly, "And now, Eight Trigrams Sixty Four Palms!"

He lunged with lightning speed and only narrowly managed to duck and avoid being cut in half by the real Zabuza's sword. As was, Haku still managed to put half a dozen needles into his inner thigh and he collapsed. Before Zabuza could finish him with a tremendous overhead blow, the chain of Tenten's sickle and chain wrapped around his hand and yanked him backwards as Sasuke swept the immense swordsman's feet out from under him. Haku managed to roll and avoid being squashed by Zabuza's immense form, but before Zabuza could get loose, Gai had trodden on his hands and snatched his sword away.

Zabuza's eyes widened as he heard Kakashi call, "Lightning Cutter!" And saw a bright light appear above his head. He rolled and Kakashi's hand landed next to him. Zabuza had just enough time to see that Kakashi was actually just holding a flare before Kakashi jabbed it into his face. Zabuza reared back and yanked the chain holding him out of Tenten's grip, lashing it like a whip and forcing Kakashi back before untangling his hand and readying himself to use the new weapon.

Meanwhile Kurenai had cast a cloaking genjutsu around herself, Sakura and Tazuna while she quickly applied first aid to the wound in Sakura's back that was gushing blood quite alarmingly, and the others were busily fighting off Zabuza's hit squad. Kiba and Akamaru were viciously dueling with a massive ninja who was trying desperately to ward them off with a chain net and javelin. Shino calmly decked a ninja who found his clothes filled with bugs and turned to see where his assistance would be most useful next and casually sent a small swarm of insects up the shirt of the sword wielding ninja Tenten was dueling.

The enemy ninja's concentration was immediately thrown out the window as dozens of insects began biting him furiously. That was all the opening Tenten needed to take her opponents feet out from under him with her double hook swords and switch them out for a heavy spiked ball that she brought thundering down on the enemy ninja's torso. There was a sickeningly meaty thud and the enemy ninja stopped moving as Tenten pulled back her chain mace and whirled it.

They saw Sasuke trying desperately to melt the ice mirror cage Haku had trapped Neji in and Tenten called for him to back up as she charged the spot he had been torching. She brought the heavy metal weight around with everything she had and the mirror shattered. Neji bolted out through the opening, a flurry of needles suddenly connecting with the ground where he had been standing, "Thanks Tenten!"

The ice cage suddenly collapsed in on itself and reformed into a wall of ice spears that suddenly rocketed towards the group of Leaf shinobi. They braced themselves for impact in the split second they had and then, "RAIJIN SCYTHE!" BOOM!!! The ice spears suddenly shattered as Naruto landed, his tail lashing with vicious delight. He looked over his shoulder at them, "You guys started the party without me?"

Sasuke clapped him on the shoulder, "Good to see you." "Are Lady Hinata and the bridge builder's family alright?" Neji demanded. Naruto smirked and pointed, "See for yourself." Haku suddenly collapsed as a tiny black figure sprung away from behind her. Hinata bounced over to them as Lee appeared seemingly from nowhere and swept Zabuza's feet from under him, allowing Kakashi and Gai to duck around his guard and deliver a devastating double punch to the deadly swordsman.

Kakashi snatched Zabuza's sword away from him and Gai delivered a devastating drop kick to the already badly off balance assassin, knocking him twenty feet backwards into a pile of I-beams. Kakashi was on him in an instant, laying Zabuza's own sword to his throat, "It's over Zabuza." The mist started dissipating as Zabuza bowed his head in acknowledgement of his defeat. Just as the assembled Leaf ninja were about to cheer their victory, a huge force suddenly slammed them all flat and held them there.

Footsteps echoed through the dissipating mist and Naruto saw a pair of boots stride past him. The figure walked off past him, then walked back closer. A moment later the force was lifted as a voice called, "Let's all just calm down shall we?" Naruto picked himself up and saw an armored figure wearing a mask like Haku's but with a different design standing over Kakashi, Gai and Zabuza, Zabuza's sword casually on his shoulder. The figure looked down at Zabuza, "Zabuza Momochi, your contract has been rendered void by the extermination of Mr. Gato." Zabuza sat bolt upright, "WHAT?! I JUST TALKED TO HIM HALF AN HOUR AGO!"

The figure pointed towards the end of the bridge with Zabuza's sword as though it didn't weight a thing. Everyone looked and was stunned to see a mass of bodies at the end of the bridge, a short man with dark glasses and white hair impaled on some kind of spear held partially upright above the gruesome pile. "Gato was planning to kill you rather than pay you Zabuza," the masked figure stated bluntly, "I showed him and his thugs the error of their ways."

Zabuza stared, even for him, that was no small pile of bodies. Then he looked at the masked figure, "What do you want?" The figure plucked a scroll from a pocket of his flak jacket and offered it to Zabuza, "Zabuza Momochi, by direct order of the Mizukage, you are being offered reinstatement as one of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist." All present stared and then Zabuza growled, "I'm nobody's lap dog, especially that idiots!"

There was a note of irritation in the masked figure's voice, "I strongly recommend you read your reinstatement orders. There's a new Mizukage who sent me to get you specifically." Zabuza swatted the scroll away, "I don't care who it is I'm not-" He got no further as the masked figure beheaded him with his own blade in an instant. "I really hate having to repeat myself," The masked figure said irritably as he tucked the scroll back into his pouch. It had taken a second for what had just happened to sink in, then Haku screamed, "ZABUZAAAAA!"

She launched herself at the masked figure, needles ready to kill, and suddenly stopped midair, just floating there as the masked man turned to her, his eyes glowing a pale purple, "Haku of the Ice?" He strode forward and plucked her mask off, revealing the girl Lee and Shino had spoken with the day before, her face stricken with rage and grief. They stared as they realized they had aided and abetted an enemy unwittingly, then the masked figure continued, "You are also being reinstated by order of the Mizukage, and I'm afraid you really don't get a choice in the matter. We require your kekkai genkai. Your cooperation is not necessary."

"I'll kill you!" Haku hissed angrily as she struggled against the mysterious force holding her frozen in the air. The masked figure sighed, "No you won't." He proceeded to step closer and his hand suddenly glowed with chakra as he snapped a hand into a nerve center and knocked Haku soundly unconscious. He proceeded to quickly tie her up before setting her down and turning to the Leaf ninja, "Sorry for interrupting your hunt, I had my orders."

"I'm afraid protocol states that I'm not allowed to let you keep the bodies, but I will ensure the bounties for these missing nin are paid to the Hidden Leaf." "How do we know we can trust you?" Gai asked skeptically. The masked figure seemed to smile, "Why Gai, if I hadn't been willing to ensure you were compensated, I would have simply killed you all." Gai blinked and started to protest until Kakashi sighed, "Calm down Gai, he's doing his job, just like we're doing ours. He's right, he could have killed us all just now. He let us live, he probably doesn't mean us any harm."

The masked figure had a smile in his voice, "See Gai? Kakashi knows I'm on your side. Don't worry, I have a little influence with the new Mizukage, I'll make sure you get your bounty. I have a feeling the Land of Waves wouldn't be able to cover this mission otherwise." He chuckled as he slid Zabuza's sword through a strap on his back, lifted Haku's bound form over his shoulder and manifested several shadow clones, "Who knows? Maybe they'll even send me to deliver the money myself."

The shadow clones set about lifting Zabuza's body and his unconscious hit squad as the masked figure continued, "If not, as I said, rest assured, you will receive payment for the elimination of Zabuza and his team." Kakashi smiled, "Well that is very generous of you, but may I ask why you are being so generous?" The masked figure's voice took a more ominous tone, "There are storm clouds gathering Kakashi Hatake, soon we will all need allies. I prefer to make friends now rather than in the thick of battle."

Then he was suddenly cheerful again, "So have a nice day, and enjoy the rest of your time in the Land of Waves. It should be quite peaceful from here on, oh and I hope that little pink haired kunoichi over there recovers well." Kurenai's eyes widened in shock as she realized the masked figure with the glowing eyes had seen straight through her genjutsu. Then Sakura groaned and as Kurenai looked, she saw that the masked figure had healed her wound. The masked figure bowed and then straightened and waved goodbye, "Tata." He then jumped nearly a mile over the end of the bridge to the mainland, his shadow clones all right behind him.

"Did you see what I saw?" Kakashi asked Gai. Gai nodded, "Yes, but it's hard to believe. I thought it had died out." "So did I," Kakashi replied as he pushed his forehead protector back down over his eye, "But there's no mistaking that." "What is it Gai-sensei?" Lee asked. "The Land of Water's equivalent of the Byakugan and Sharingan," Gai replied, "One of the most dangerous, rare and powerful kekkai genkai ever seen, the Rinnegan."

Half an Hour Later, Many Miles AwayEdit

The masked figure set down Haku and the shadow clones dropped Zabuza's unconscious flunkies and set Zabuza's corpse down beside Haku. The masked figure casually drew four kunai and killed each of the four ninjas after making sure Haku couldn't see. Then he pushed his mask up and his hands flashed through an activation sequence, "Fire style! Fireball Jutsu!" He exhaled and set the four fresh corpses alight. He smiled, "That's good, I'm gonna have to remember that one!"

He pushed his mask back down and walked around in front of Haku, turning and sitting down to face her. He pulled out a scroll and a kunai, quickly slashing the ropes holding Haku before offering her the scroll, "Haku of the Ice, you are hereby being offered reinstatement by order of the Mizukage." Haku glared at him coldly, her pretty face hardened by rage.

The masked figure told her coldly, "Read the scroll Haku. Don't make Zabuza's mistake and think I'll tell you a third time." Haku snatched the scroll out of his open hand and read it, her eyes roving the page, confirming it was indeed an official document, then she got to the name at the end and her heart skipped several beats, "That's the new Mizukage?!" "You see why we weren't worried about Zabuza trying another coup," the mask figure said smoothly.

"Now then," he continued, "You have a choice to make." Haku looked at him warily. "You can either come back willingly, and you will be allowed your freedom. You will be allowed to continue practicing ninjutsu, and you will keep all your limbs." Haku's eyes widened as the masked figure continued, "Or alternatively, you can resist. If that is your choice, I will carry out the unpleasant task of ensuring you never make another hand sign or walk again before I drag you back and we toss you into a lab to harvest your bloodline talent and you never see the light of day again."

He suddenly shed his mask, allowing Haku to see the three ringed Rinnegan behind it, "And just between you and me Haku, if I were you, I'd go willingly rather than try to fight a stage three Rinnegan." Haku gulped. Even stage one Rinnegan users were legendarily dangerous, a stage three was considered Kage level power. The Rinnegan user put his mask back on, "Now then, let's bury Zabuza and you can think it over while we do."

An Hour LaterEdit

The Rinnegan user looked at Zabuza's grave, "So Haku, what is your decision?" Haku didn't answer for a minute, then, "I will accept my reinstatement and return to the Village Hidden in the Mist." The Rinnegan user suddenly wrapped an arm around her and pulled her into a hug. She blinked in surprise but before she could protest, "I know it hurts Haku. Leaving an old life with someone you cared about behind always does, but the pain will fade with time."

He stepped back, and even though Haku couldn't see it through his mask, she knew he was smiling, "There's a new life waiting for you Haku, let's get you to it." Haku smiled as the tears finally broke free, "Okay, let's go." She turned to Zabuza's grave, "Goodbye Zabuza, and thank you, for everything." Then she turned and bounded away behind the Rinnegan user, wondering what the new Mizukage had in store for her.

Teamwork boys and girls! It shall not be lacking here! Once again, some actual ninja tactics giving tremendous advantage to those who use them. What do you do when one arm is caught? Strike with the other one. What do you do when your foes outnumber you? Break them up. What do you do when your opponent knows your team members strengths and weaknesses? Switch places. How do you defeat an opponent much bigger and stronger than you when he is as skilled or possibly far more than you are? You call in a friend or five.

Yes, I think Lee would fall for Haku's leg pull about being a guy every bit as much as Naruto did in canon. Lee is just too straightforward, honest and trusting for that joke to not work on him. Shino could tell she was joking because his bugs have much better senses and can identify male or female.

I'm sure you're also wondering why Neji didn't at least haul Tenten inside after everyone passed out training. The answer is that he passed out too. Naruto woke him up for his turn at watch and brought the girls blankets. For those wondering how the watch schedule goes, it is Hinata, Kiba, Kakashi, Naruto, Neji, Shino, Sasuke, Kurenai. These shinobi all possess extreme reconnaissance potential due to their gifts, and thus are the prime candidates to serve watch. They are ordered this way so that the senses and skills are alternated as much as possible so that no method of concealment will work for long due to the variety of methods of detection.

Since you're probably wondering, Tazuna's family was stashed at a family friend's house while Naruto, Hinata and Lee were on their way to the bridge so that any follow up attempts to abduct them would find the house deserted.

Yes, Naruto has now learned how to aim and control his Thunder Release by dialing back the amount of energy he superheats the air with and only charging it in one hand. His new attack is called Raijin Scythe because he holds his hand in a curve to use it, not only helping to put the blast where he wants it, but also reducing the amount of air he's superheating. The more he curls his hand, the more powerful the technique is.

Yes, the Rinnegan is now a Kekkai Genkai completely unrelated to either the Sharingan or the now removed Sage of Six Paths. The Rinnegan still has the same powers, but they are now obtained in a certain order evidenced by how many rings the Rinnegan has. For example a stage one would only have one ring and be the equivalent of the Byakugan with the Rinnegan chakra absorption ability, which essentially cancels out any chakra based attack and allows the user to instead feed off the energy, replenishing their stamina and healing them. All Rinnegan powers now have a basis in chakra manipulation. If the user pays attention and has a good memory, it can even allow jutsu copying like a Sharingan. More on the new workings of the Rinnegan to come as the story progresses.

Yes, Haku is still alive. Yes, there is a new Mizukage who Zabuza probably would have felt no shame in working for if he had actually read the scroll. However, I figured he would be too stubborn, and at that point too cranky to accept any offer made to him, and Hattori, the masked man with the Rinnegan, really does hate having to repeat himself. So Zabuza is now dead. I'm sure you're wondering why Hattori buried Zabuza instead of cremating him. The answer is quite simply that it was a gesture of good faith to work towards winning Haku over.

The Village Hidden in the Leaves received payment in full for the extermination of Zabuza and his entire team two weeks later. The amount was enough to pay for two A-Rank Missions as Zabuza's bounty alone covered the cost of the mission to capture him, and his team was enough for another A-Rank. The Land of Waves was promptly reimbursed for the C-Rank they had paid for as a subtle way to ensure they would always come to the Hidden Leaf for shinobi services, and subsequently the Land of Waves began to thrive again. The bridge the Leaf shinobi had worked so hard to protect was later named the Great Leaf Bridge.

Hattori's healing took perfectly and Sakura was up walking around a few days later although she was still a bit fragile for a week or two from the blood loss and wasn't back up to her usual strength for almost a month. However, Sasuke fretted over her like a mother hen the whole time, so she didn't particularly mind. Sasuke did after about a two week's worth of bribing and cajolery, talk her into trying on one of Gai and Lee's jumpsuits. She immediately freaked out because he fainted from the nose bleed it gave him. She later smugly remarked to Ino about how funny it was that he had tried so hard to get her into that jumpsuit and now all he wanted was to get her out of it.

Upon learning of the Mist nin Hattori's words, and later upon the delivery of his guarantee, the Hokage felt a sense of deep unease settle in his gut as he wondered just exactly how dark the storm clouds that had led to such a gesture must be, and how powerful the new Mizukage must be to have been able to rally the numerous and treacherous factions of the Mist Village for such a bold and grand gesture on the word of a single ninja.

Next Time: A New Chapter Begins! The Chunin Exams!Edit