Fire and Ice

The Touch of a Friend, the Trace of a Master

Hayate Gekkō coughed again, as he turned slightly to see the board, but before the names could begin to shuffle, the doors opened. The eight teams of Genin turned to look. Haku, still wearing his mask, entered first, bowing.

“Sorry we’re late. The doctors were reluctant to let him leave.” He said. The Hokage chuckled slightly.

“It’s fine.” He said, Haku nodded and moved forward, and a mask less Terra followed. Almost immediately, several ANBU Black-Ops surrounded the Genin. Terra ducked one strike and threw himself under another, sliding out of the circle.

“Stand down!” the Hokage ordered.

“But sir!” one of the ANBU questioned, “Itachi-”

“That is not Itachi Uchiha.” Sarutobi cut across the ninja, “He is a certified Genin of Konoha. He recently arrived with his friend from the Land of Waves, in the company of Squad Seven.” The ANBU stood down, and then disappeared. Terra straightened, shaking his head and sighing at the murmurs going around, most of which he could hear. Unconsciously, he reached up and traced the scar over his eye, from when his chakrams had shattered, as he made his way over to stand in front of Haku, who stood beside the brunette who had asked their names during the first exam. Terra glanced at the blonde girl beside him; rolling his eyes at the nervous looks she was sending him. Finally, the screen began to shuffle the names. Terra shook his head as the first two names were called. As the rest of the combatants moved to the upper levels, Sasuke and his opponent, Yoroi, stayed behind. Terra took up a crouched position balanced on the railing near Sakura, Naruto, and Kakashi. Haku shook his head and leaned on the railing beside his friend.

‘This won’t end well. Judging by their appearances, Sasuke and his team just arrived. He’ll be exhausted, while the older Genin has had enough training that it didn’t bother him too badly.’ Terra thought.

“So, is that what you look like without the mask?” Haku turned to see the rookie with a dog tucked into his coat.

“What’s it to you kid?” Terra asked, not looking away from the fight below, which was not starting in Sasuke’s favor.

“Just curious. Name’s Kiba, and this is Akamaru.” The kid said.

“Nice to meet you, we weren’t properly introduced before the first exam. That’s Terra, and my name is Haku.” The ice-user said. As Haku socialized with Kiba and his teammates, Shino, and Hinata, Terra silently reached out with his senses, trying to figure out what Yoroi was doing. Instead, he was met with shock when he recognized one of the chakra signatures on the other side to be Orochimaru’s. Terra was so shocked that he actually nearly fell backwards, catching himself only with his chakra.

“Terra?” Sakura asked, staring at the older teen. Shakily, Terra repositioned himself on the railing.

“It’s nothing.” He murmured, reaching a hand up to touch his own curse mark. Due to a combination of his shirt’s flat neckline and his hair pulled into a ponytail, the curse mark on his neck, along with the seal that Kakashi had placed on it, was plainly visible. Kiba, immediately striking the Sharingan user as annoying and impulsive, noticed.

“Hey, cool tattoo.” He said, “Where’d you get it?” Terra sighed and closed his eyes.

“Someone…gave it to me.” He murmured. Sakura looked at him worriedly, knowing whom he was referring to.

Haku read the scroll on the wall aloud as Terra stared up at it. It was missing some parts, but they were easy enough to figure out. Terra closed his eyes, and as he was standing behind Haku, the other boy didn’t notice the fire-user sway dangerously. Neither noticed the curse mark on Terra’s neck flare with energy.

“So, this is supposed to signify what it means to be a Chunin.” Haku murmured.

“Let’s open the scrolls.” Terra said softly, pulling their Earth scroll from his pocket. Haku nodded, producing a slightly damp Heaven scroll. They ripped open the scrolls and tossed them forward, so that the two summoning symbols on them crossed. Smoke billowed from the scrolls, and a figure began to take shape. Finally, the smoke cleared, and a familiar face greeted them.

“Kakashi?” Haku asked. The masked man smiled.

“Yeah, I’m here to greet you. As you don’t have an instructor and somebody already asked to take my team, I figured I’d meet you guys when you arrived.” He glanced over his shoulder at the scroll, “I’m going to take a wild guess here and say that you guys have already figured out this scroll and the meaning behind it.” When both boys nodded, he continued, “Good. Well, you’ve got a few days to rest, so I’d make good use of them.” Haku nodded and turned to ask Terra something, only to have to dash forward as the older teenager collapsed.

“Terra! What’s wrong?” Haku exclaimed. Kakashi came closer.

“Was he injured?” he asked. Haku started to shake his head, then remembered about the mark on his neck.

“Sort of. He got in a fight with a man disused as one of the Grass ninja. The guy was way above Genin, probably even above Jonin level. Terra said that he bit him, and Sasuke.” Haku explained, showing the mark to Kakashi.

“Orochimaru.” The Jonin hissed, picking up Terra, “I’ve got to seal this before it gets too out of hand. I’ll come get you when I’m sure he’s fine.” Haku opened his mouth to protest, but Kakashi was already gone. Haku ran into the hall, looking left and right, but there was no sign of either person.

“Damnit!” Haku growled, punching the nearby wall, “Why didn’t I notice? I usually can tell when a person’s chakra is messed up, but I didn’t notice Terra’s was nearly depleted until just now. Why can’t I ever protect him?” The ice-user rested his forehead on the wall, sighing in aggravation. Unnoticed around the corner, Hinata Hyūga hovered, debating on whether to go and comfort the other Genin. Eventually, the Hyūga decided against it and turned, retreating back to the room her team had chosen.


The third match of the preliminaries ended rather quickly. Now, everyone was again looking at the board, though Terra did so only to keep up appearances. For several seconds, the names shuffled, then they landed on a pair. Terra grimaced slightly when Haku poked him, standing and jumping from his perch on the railing to land near Hayate. The Rain ninja, Kagari, used the stairs. He wore a yellow jumpsuit, which was stitched up the front and sandals. His headband covered the majority of his head, including his eyes, and there was a rebreather over his mouth. He also had spiky black hair. Terra sighed and stood in relaxed position, waiting to begin. After Hayate gave the go ahead and leapt away, Terra again focused on his opponent.

“You might as well give up now.” the Rain ninja said, “You won’t beat me.” Terra simply stared at him flatly. Kagari growled, pulling out a pair of kunai and preparing to throw them.

“Ninja Art, Kunai Rain!” he shouted, throwing the kunai forward. They immediately multiplied into hundreds of kunai that all shot at Terra. A large cloud of dust exploded outwards, hiding the results from view. The Rain ninja stood straighter, turning to the proctor.

“You might want to just call it. There’s no way he could have lived.” Just as he said that, a kunai whizzed by his ear. Kagari whirled to look back at the dust cloud.

“Unless you’re dropping out yourself, I’d leave the good proctor out of this. If that’s all you got, this’ll be over quicker than I thought.” Terra said. The dust cleared, making several people gasp. Terra hadn’t dodged the kunai, hadn’t even deflected them. Instead, he had stood his ground and now looked like Sasuke had after tangling with Haku, but with kunai. The Sharingan user looked utterly bored, despite the several kunai that had scratched his throat and face.

“How did you survive?” Kagari shouted. Terra shrugged.

“I’m a survivor. It’s what I do. Though I admit, it’s fun to piss people off when their opponent just won’t die, not that I’ve got a choice in the matter.” Terra then swiped his arm in an upward backhand arch across his body. Several of the kunai lodged in his arm flew back towards their originator, spinning through the air. Kagari dodged, and Terra slid forward, kicking up several kunai that had missed entirely and then catching them, throwing them back faster than most kunai were expected to go. This went on until Terra ran out of readily available kunai, and had to try getting out the ones in harder to reach places, like the middle of his back.

“How the hell did you manage to get one there?” Terra muttered, trying to reach, but unable to. Kagari, who had been panting during the slight respite from playing dodge-the-kunai, straightened, pulling out a small orb that appeared to be a smoke bomb, but was blue.

“Take this!” he shouted, throwing the bomb and launching himself to the ceiling. Terra gave up on the kunai and braced himself, only for the bomb to explode and flood the arena. The water rose until it was even with the bottom of the upper levels.

“Uh oh.” Haku murmured, making Teams Seven and Eight look at him.

“What? What’s wrong?” Naruto asked.

"Terra doesn't like to get wet…not like that anyways. It doesn't help that he can't swim very well. This match won't end well. He was just going to disable the other guy, but they might need a body bag now," the ice-user said, focusing on the raging water just below.

“B-Body bag?” Sakura exclaimed, “But Terra wasn’t doing so well before!” Haku shook his head.

“Yeah, because he was holding back. We didn’t want to show off all our moves. Hopefully Terra will keep his head enough to refrain from his Kekkei Genkai.”

“What’s his Kekkei Genkai?” Kurenai asked, showing that she’d been listening in. Haku glanced back at her, and then focused again on the arena.

“I won’t tell you directly, but I will say that it’s more than mere coincidence that Terra looks like the famed Itachi Uchiha.” Kurenai took a step back in surprise.

“W-What d-do you mean?” Hinata asked quietly. Haku shook his head.

“I did my homework while I was waiting here. The only reason keeping Terra from doing so himself is that he doesn’t want to chance getting hurt. You’ll see, come finals. Especially if he and I end up fighting each other.” He said cryptically. Suddenly, the water, which had mostly stilled, began to steam, then bubble.

“What is going on?” Naruto wondered aloud.

“Ever seen a fire baked rock dropped into a bucket of water?” Haku asked.

“I suppose so.” Sakura replied.

“Well, the water below us is in the bucket, and Terra’s the rock. Things are about to get really ugly.” Haku finished. As he did, a geyser of water erupted from the center. Several people had to dodge the hot water to escape being scalded. The air was suddenly filled with steam as the water rapidly began to retreat, the air becoming thicker.

“You really shouldn’t have pissed me off.” Terra growled, “I’ve got a bit of a short temper.” The steam was suddenly burned away as a massive wave of heat surged through the room. Terra was now visible, standing on a mostly still water-covered floor. Flames licked at Terra’s clothes and hair, and his drawn katana was sheathed in fire.

“But now that you have, you’re gonna want to say your prayers…if you believe in any sort of deity that is.” Terra looked up, showing that his face was also covered in the flames. His black eyes burned through the flames, glaring at Kagari.

“Now die!” Terra hissed, then he disappeared, leaving a crater in the ground, which quickly filled with water. Kagari appeared on the ground, flat on his back, and another crater appeared on the ceiling, only for Terra to appear, driving his katana into Kagari’s stomach. The Rain ninja screamed, and redoubled the scream when Terra pulled his sword from him, leaving a cauterized wound. Slowly, the fire began to dissipate; leaving slightly reddened skin, and singed clothes. His face was actually burned, but before everyone’s eyes the skin healed back to the way it had been, pale and smooth except for the scar over his eye. Hayate coughed and raised his arm.

“Winner, Terra!” He called, not having to examine the Rain ninja to know the match was over. Terra nodded to the proctor, then sheathed his katana. He chose to use the steps this time, as the medic ninjas took his opponent away. It was absolutely silent up on their side of the rail, as the younger Genin teams were staring at Terra. Haku raised his hand, and high fived with Terra.

“Nice, I expected you to downright pulverize him.” Terra shrugged as he got back on the rail.

“I could of, but I usually use my chakrams to do stunts like that, and as I don’t have them, I couldn’t slash him to ribbons like I wanted to.” Terra said solemnly, then turned to Haku and grinned, “Besides, it was worth it to see the look on everyone’s faces.” Haku laughed slightly.

“Yes, that’s true.” He turned to the board as it finished sorting. Beneath his mask, Haku smiled.

“Guess it’s my turn. Good thing they didn’t clean up the water.” Haku vaulted over the railing and walked over to stand near Hayate as the other Rain ninja that hadn’t withdrawn, Oboro, came closer. He wore the same jumpsuit and headgear combo as Kagari, but his eyes were visible.

“I’m gonna kill you for what your friend did to my teammate.” Haku rolled his eyes.

“Why don’t you try and back that up?” he said calmly, drawing three senbon.

“Let the match begin!” Hayate called, then got out of the way. Oboro got one hit in, right in Haku’s face. The ice-user staggered backwards as his mask went flying.

“That hurt.” Haku stated as he pulled his hand away from his face. Oboro reeled back, staring at the ice-user.

“What the hell? Are you a girl?” Haku’s eyes narrowed at that.

“No…I’m not.” He hissed, then disappeared, reappearing and flashing through a series of one-handed hand signs before slamming his foot in a puddle.

“Ninja Art, A Thousand Needles of Death!” he called, and then dashed away as the numerous senbon needles of ice crashed down. Up on the balcony, Terra snickered.

“Why are you laughing?” one of the girls asked. She was slightly older than Sakura, with brown hair pulled up into two buns on either side of her head.

“If there’s one thing that absolutely snaps Haku’s infinite patience, it’s someone calling him a girl.” Terra replied. Down in the arena, Haku reappeared.

“Now this ends.” The ice-user said darkly, forming an ice mirror. The single mirror shot was something that was a looser variety of the ice dome, forming only a single mirror and allowing Haku to only speed in one direction. It was over in a few short, bloody seconds. Haku wasn’t nearly as kind to the Rain Ninja as he had been to Sasuke and Naruto. Haku stepped out of his mirror and brushed his hands off, calmly walking over to his mask and picking it up. Thankfully, the mask was still in one piece, the punch having simply knocked it free of the holding.

“Jeeze Haku, I thought you’d gotten past the stage of using others as pincushions…at least without the voodoo doll between.” Haku ever so elegantly flicked Terra off, making the older Genin laugh.

Terra moved through the back alleys, having learned from his experiences earlier in the exam that people were not a fan of whomever it was that Terra looked like, though the ANBU Black Ops attack was a big clue. Haku had put in an order for a new mask for him, which would dilute the effect. In any case, Terra had to put in an order for his chakrams today if he was going to have enough time for them to be made and for him to break them in. He had some new design ideas that he needed to discuss with the smith, whenever he found one, to see if they would be applicable. It mainly included adding spikes to the outer rim of the blades, giving both more damage potential to the chakrams, and making it easier to attack while using them up close. Chakrams, by definition, were mid- to long-range weapons. True, with the added attachment of retractable wires that Terra had designed years ago, they became more easily wieldable in close-range fights, but a circular blade was much more easily deflected than a series of protruding blades.

Terra glanced around the corner, spotting one of the weapons shops Haku had pointed out to him; he could smell the forge even if he couldn’t read the sign. Seeing, and sensing, no one in the immediate area, Terra left the cover of the alley and darted to the store. Letting himself in the door, he grinned as he felt the waves of heat coming from the smithy attached to the store. The sound of working bellows followed by the clang of hammer hitting hot metal and the hiss of that metal being doused in water filled the air. Terra’s grin wouldn’t leave. He’d been fascinated with the art of smithing since he’d watched one repairing Zabuza’s sword once when it got nicked. The man had been a perfectionist about his sword. It probably didn’t help that he was so attuned to fire. Glancing around, Terra took in the various weapons mounted on the walls. From masses of kunai and shuriken, to bundles of senbon, large fūma shuriken, ground spikes, and dozens of other weapons were displayed neatly on two walls as well as the single row of freestanding shelves. Swords took up the whole back wall, along with a smaller section of similarly large bladed weapons taking up the left side of the front wall, right at the entrance. A counter was to the right of the door, the only part of the wall that wasn’t covered in weapons, and fine jewelry was displayed in the clear front. Terra was surprised to recognize the woman behind the counter…though woman was jumping the gun a bit. It was the brunette girl from the Chunin Exams, the one that had lost to the girl from Sauna.

“Tenten, right?” the brunette’s head snapped up. A single crutch lay against the wall behind her, signifying that she was still recovering.

“You’re…Terra was it?” the teen nodded, still unable to wipe the grin off his face, “Why are you smiling like that?” Terra shook his head.

“I can’t help it. I love forges and smithing in general. If I thought I could get away with it, I’d toy with learning it myself, but I really don’t want to waste our savings.”

“Our? As in you and your friend?”

“Haku? Yeah, he needs it more than I do. He’s got potential to rise above and beyond. I’m glad that Kakashi decided to bring us back with him. I’d hate to see what would have happened if Haku was left to his own devices after our mentor died.”

“You didn’t do too shabbily yourself in the preliminaries.” Tenten commented. Terra shrugged; looking uncomfortable, grin dying.

“Yeah, I guess. But…I’m nobody. No past…not really anyways, and no real future. I don't even know what village I came from.” Tenten bit her lip.

“Sorry…” she murmured. Terra shook himself, pulling the small sketchpad out of his pocket and putting it on the counter.

“Anyways, I actually came here on business.” Tenten smiled, swallowing her questions about this strange young man.

“Of course, what can I get for you?” Terra shook his head, smiling slightly.

“I need something custom made.” He flipped open the pad to a page. Tenten’s eyes widened, staring at the schematics before her. She helped her parents in the forge sometimes, had created most of her weapons, so she understood the ins and outs of weapon making. She glanced at Terra, who was studying his drawing, frowning slightly. She noticed that he’d tucked a drawing pencil behind one ear. Looking back at the drawing, she studied it further. Nothing was written, however, Terra had draw a scaled image of himself in the corner, and the page moved from the designed weapon being held by him, to progressively enlarged images, making an easy gauge of how big the weapon would be. Tenten could tell the base was a chakram, and it was connected to a glove by an extendable and retractable wire cable. Unlike most chakrams, which had breaks in the continuous blade for a handle, the proposed chakram had cross-guards in the middle, making an ‘X’ shape for gripping. Around the outside rim, eight blades extended, almost kunai-shaped, from the metal.

“You added the extra blades to give you a better edge for close-quarters fighting.” Tenten stated. Terra nodded, smirking slightly.

“Yeah, you get real tired after the first couple of times your attack is spun off because your weapon is round. Glad you knew what they were for. Do you think that it’s possible?” Tenten looked at the picture again, and then glanced at the list of projects that were supposed to be completed.

“You want it in time for the finals?” she asked. Terra nodded.

“Yeah, they’re my weapons of choice, I use two at a time. I only use this when I really need it.” Here he touched the katana handle protruding over his shoulder. Tenten did some figures in her head, and then nodded.

“Yes, it’s possible. We might have to fiddle with the design just a bit, figure out the right width for the outer blades so they don’t snap off the first time you encounter another blade. I’ll see if I can talk dad into putting off some of the less time-pressed jobs so we can start figuring that out. Come back some time next week and we’ll see how the first one turns out.” Terra nodded, and began to tear the page out of his sketchbook.

“Wait, don’t do that!” Tenten exclaimed. Terra stopped, looking at her with a raised eyebrow.

“How else are you going to have the schematics?” he asked dryly. Tenten rolled her eyes.

“Just leave the whole book. If you tear the pages out like that, the binding starts to come undone and then you begin to loose pages.” Terra hesitated at her words, glancing from the book to her and back to the book again. Tenten was about to reply sarcastically, when she noticed that his eyes weren’t debating on the truth of her words. She could see he was trying to decide if he could trust her or not. She also noticed that his eyes, which she’d thought were just a dark slate color before, were actually black. She could just make out the pupil, and was slightly startled to see it was elliptical like a cat’s.

“Alright.” Terra’s voice brought her back to the present, as he pushed the sketchbook closer slightly, “I’m trusting you with my book. Please be careful. It was the first thing my mentor…or anyone, gave me.” And with that, he left, leaving a slip of paper with neat handwriting that had an address and phone number on it. For a moment, Tenten couldn’t figure out why, and then realized that it was contact information as a customer. She shook herself, blushing slightly, and picking up the paper, which felt distinctly cool, except for one place where Terra’s fingers must have been where it was warm. She moved to flip the book closed. A page towards the front caught her eye, and she stopped, flipping back to that page. It depicted a fairly good sketch of a campfire in a snowy clearing. The image was from the angle of someone laying down, and her eyes widened as she recognized a much younger Haku. He was very pale, hair a wreck, and looked more than a little starved. Flipping the page, Tenten saw a title had been written in the same neat handwriting on the contact information slip.

‘Taste of Freedom’

The brunette’s eyebrows furrowed, confused. ‘Taste of Freedom’, what was that supposed to mean?

Tenten and Neji stood in the middle of one of the more recluse training grounds, the weapons user helping the Hyūga practice for the third round of the Chunin Exams. They’d been at it for about four hours now, and Tenten could tell that Neji was exhausted. She opened her mouth to suggest a break, when a yell reached her ears. She and Neji both looked up, staring in the direction it came from. They both nodded at each other and took off, stealthily racing towards where the voice had come from. They came to another of the training grounds, this one more open, and both skidded to a halt. Haku was fighting with a clone, and the whole field was spread with ice. Every time his foot touched, more ice sprang outwards, swirling over the ground and forming spikes when he kicked off. He’d shed the turtleneck sweater, instead only wearing the short-sleeved kimono, hakama, and sandals. In one hand he kept a steady supply of senbon, while the other gripped a short ninja-to. The only time they could really see him was when he had stopped to turn, and even then it was barely past a flicker. Tenten gaped, and out of the corner of her eye she could see that Neji’s mouth was slightly open. Haku was so fast; it was like watching Lee without the weights. It was even crazier because of the fact that despite the ground being nearly covered with smooth ice, Haku didn’t slip, didn’t even skid.

“It’s rude to watch other people’s training sessions.” The two brunettes jumped, whirling around to see Haku…wait, what?

“I can make clones out of ice that work similarly to how your shadow clones work. I remember all that happens and all that they learn.” The sixteen year old explained. His brown eyes observed them from the thin holes in his mask, making it nearly impossible to see.

“Sorry.” Tenten finally recovered slightly, “We heard a yell and came to investigate.” Haku raised an eyebrow, not that they could see, then nodded.

“Ah, you herd Terra. He’s practicing about twenty meters further along. I think he set something on fire and was trying to douse it. Thankfully he chose the clearing with a stream. Last time that happened, he mixed up a water can with a jug of gasoline.” Neji rolled his eyes and Tenten giggled.

“That sounds like him…” she murmured.

“Indeed, it’s a good thing that our sensei had us each learn the Water Dragon Jutsu after that time, otherwise the whole of Konoha would be up in smoke.” Haku replied.

Terra gritted his teeth, crouching on the ground and clamping a hand on his neck. He’d finally pulled off one of the more complicated moves he’d been working on developing, only for the curse mark on his neck to flare painfully. Annoyingly, it had caught him off guard, and he had let a loud yell get out. He could handle just about any pain, but this was pushing on even his tolerance.

“I thought Kakashi’s seal was supposed to counterbalance this.” Terra muttered bitterly. Worse, it wasn’t an actual physically caused pain, though it felt like a deep muscle ache. Shaking it off, Terra straightened and used a fair amount of mental effort to push the pain back and lock it behind a door at the back of his mind. Which was saying something with his tolerance for pain. He huffed, then began working on some more jutsu he’d dredged up from his Sharingan’s copying power.

‘This is supposed to be used with a fūma shuriken and some kunai…but…I think I can make it work with my chakrams.’ Terra thought as he spread fireover the metal of his new chakrams. That had been another thing to tweak with Tenten, but they’d finally gotten the right balance of metals so it wouldn’t overheat too quickly. Now he had two working chakrams with the new design specks, fully paid off too.

“This is something I’m really gonna have way too much fun with.” The seventeen year old murmured.

Terra looked up as he sensed someone entering the clearing. Leaping to his feet, he spun his chakrams once, setting them aflame as he did, and assumed a defensive position. After a few moments, Naruto came around a tree. Terra’s eyebrows furrowed as he reached out with his chakra, sensing for anyone else in the area and coming up with one other, not too far away.

“Naruto, what are you doing here?” Terra asked, keeping an eye, figuratively speaking, on the other person. Naruto scratched the back of his head nervously. He was still rather nervous around the older Genin. Even if he was usually friendly, Naruto had seen Terra in the midst of battle, and it was an almost one-eighty flip if he wasn’t protecting someone.

“I wanted to ask you something.” Terra tilted his head at the blonde’s words, letting the fire on his chakrams die.

“Okay, but first, who’s your friend?” Naruto looked nonplussed for a bit, then seemed to understand. Especially when the tall, white haired man walked out of the bushes.

“Your friend’s sharp Naruto.” The man said.

“Oh him? That’s my trainer for the Chunin Exam!” Terra’s eyebrow furrowed again at Naruto’s loud response.

“Why isn’t Kakashi teaching you? He’s your sensei, isn’t he?” Naruto looked put out.

“He’s training Sasuke.” He grumbled. Terra shook his head.

“And you’re sour about it; of course. I don’t want to give you false information, but…did it occur to you that Kakashi might be waiting for you to meet him in the middle?”

“Huh?” was Naruto’s eloquent reply.

“He means, you have to work hard enough and show enough determination to show your sensei that you mean business.” The white haired man put in. Terra nodded, clipping his chakrams to his back and folding his arms over his chest.

“Exactly. Kakashi wants you to show your own potential. And it would help if you stopped acting like an idiot.”

“I’m not an idiot!” Naruto roared back.

“I didn’t say you were.” Terra said calmly, “However, you do let others think the worst of you. I’ve seen you thinking things over. If you would apply yourself, apply some of that hyperactive energy that Kakashi said you were known for, you would find things advancing much faster and smoother. It’s not that Kakashi doesn’t think you have potential, he’s waiting for you to realize you have potential.” Naruto was staring at Terra now, and the older teen was staring off into space, “All your life, you’ve been told you were worthless, a loser, stupid, dead last. And eventually, you began to believe it.” Naruto flinched, “Start proving them wrong.” Terra focused on Naruto, staring unerringly into the sky blue eyes, “I grew up wondering if I would even wake up the next day. I didn’t have a past, and as far as I or anyone else was concerned, I didn’t have a future. I was either going to survive in the catacombs until the day I died, or I would be sold into slavery, and worked until I either was too old or too injured to anymore. And at that point, I would have died. But, now look at me.” Terra spread his arms, “I’m a ninja of the Village Hidden in the Leaves. I was trained by one of the Seven Swordsman of the Mist for six years, and I have a Kekkei Genkai.” Terra rested one hand just below one of his eyes, “If I, a starved little twelve year old that hadn’t ever seen the sun, can do it, you most definitely can.” Naruto stared at Terra, stunned.

“Well said.” the white haired man said, and Terra nodded at him. Finally, Naruto seemed to snap out of his stupor. He grinned, not his usual bright, misleading grin that hid his real feelings. Terra could feel the difference, and smiled slightly himself.

“You got it!” Naruto yelled, flashing a thumbs-up, “I’ll train harder than ever!” Terra nodded.

“Good, now, you had a question? Well, ask away. I’ll answer if it’s not too personal.” Naruto nodded, getting somber, then pointed at Terra’s right shoulder.

“You…you got a mark like Sasuke…didn’t you?” Terra froze, one hand unconsciously lifting to touch the sealed curse mark on his neck.

“I…yes.” He said quietly, “That’s…I messed up, big time. I underestimated my opponent, and he got under my guard. By the time I realized that a clone had gone off to fight Sasuke, you, and Sakura, she’d…he’d…whatever the hell that person was, used something called ‘Striking Shadow Snake’ to hold me still long enough to bite me.” Terra looked up at the white haired man’s sharp intake of breath.

“Orochimaru.”

“Oh, is that his name?” Terra asked blandly, “Now I know what to carve on the guy’s headstone when I kill him.” The older man chuckled darkly, shaking his head.

“Better get in line kid. Besides, he’s one of the three Sannin. What makes you think you can best him?”

“The fact that I was fighting the real thing for the whole time Sasuke was fighting the clone.” Terra deadpanned, “Drew blood too. Got a slash on his face after he bit me. True, he wasn’t expecting it, but a ninja should be ready for anything and everything.” The man drew in a sharp breath, eyes wide at that statement, “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go back to training.”

The last fourteen days leading up to the finals passed in a blur. Haku and Terra were getting prepared to face each other, no easy feat even under the best of circumstances. Though the two teens were basically treating it as a beefed-up training spar. The two days before the finals, and everyone was resting up to be at their very best for the tournament. Haku stopped by the weapons’ shop where Tenten worked, to pay off the last of the money owed for Terra’s chakrams.

“Are you both ready for the finals?” Tenten asked. Haku nodded, having left his mask at home. It was too warm this time of year in the Land of Fire for him to wear the turtleneck he usually did, so after the first few days after the second exam, Haku had shed the sweater for a lighter muscle shirt underneath his outer kosode.

“As ready as we can be. We know we’re going to be facing each other, but…we’re unsure on which of us will actually win. With our respective abilities, it will literally be a showdown of fire and ice.” The ice wielder began writing out the check, and Tenten did a double take.

“That’s your handwriting?” Haku looked up, tilting his head slightly.

“Yes…” he looked down at his handwriting, then blinked, looking up again, “Oh, you thought it was Terra’s?” Tenten nodded, and Haku shook his head, “I don’t know what Terra’s handwriting looks like, but I have a feeling that it would be barely legible when he’s not copying from another. Terra never learned how to read or write.”

“W-what? How-”

“You’d be surprised how little a part reading plays in day-to-day life. At least for us. Anything that needed to be read, our sensei or myself usually read aloud. Terra though we didn’t notice for the longest time, too proud and too stubborn to say otherwise. It’s a major part of the reason he hasn’t started searching for information for his Kekkei Genkai, because he doesn’t want to take up another’s time to come read for him.” Haku signed off the check and handed it to Tenten.

“Thanks.” She murmured absently. Haku nodded and turned to leave.

“Thank you for your help. Terra needs more friends.” He said with a small smile.

“Wait!” Haku turned, looking at the konoichi, “I wanted to ask…when did that picture Terra draw happen. You looked a lot younger.” Haku tensed, and Tenten began to seriously regret letting that query slip out.

“That…was right after we escaped. Terra drew that shortly after our sensei took us in. He said, ‘So we’ll never forget where we came from or how far we’ve come.’ Every time one of us begins to doubt, we flip to that picture and remember that day. The day we escaped from the slavers.” Tenten sat back on her stool, staring after Haku as he left.

“Slavers?” the brunette weapons user shuddered, “No wonder Terra doesn’t know how to read and write. Not exactly an important skill to teach slaves.” She hugged herself and went about tiding up the shop. However, she couldn’t get the two older teens out of her head for the rest of the day.
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