Author Notes: Hello again, everyone! It's been some time since I wrote something for Naruto, hasn't it? This idea has been kicking around in my head for quite a while now. I'm pretty sure it's been explored before, what with how large the Naruto fanfic pool is, but... oh well, enjoy! :)

General Warnings: Almost crack. Some OOCness. A couple of spoilers for the Akatsuki members, but nothing really earth shattering.

Rating: 'T'

Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Masashi Kishimoto.

- Story Start -

Tsunade, Fifth Hokage of the Hidden Leaf Village, was not pleased.

She glared down at the four urgent messages on her desk, each delivered within minutes of the others. Not one of them had good news to report.

No 'Mission successfully accomplished. On the way home'.

No 'Mission on track. Everything according to schedule'.

Not even a 'We await further orders'.

Nope. Each message bore bad news; reporting on missions gone awry, injured team leaders and all of them requesting urgent backup.

Tsunade placed two manicured thumbs at her temples and dug them in, the frown between her eyes deepening.

Kakashi Hatake - elite jounin, Kakashi the Copy Ninja, Kakashi of the Sharingan - suffering chakra exhaustion after overusing said Sharingan.

Maito Gai - jounin, taijutsu master extraodinaire, wielder of the Eight Inner Gates - also suffering chakra exhaustion after multiple usage of said gates.

Asuma Sarutobi - jounin, wielder of deadly chakra blades, former member of the Twelve Guardian Ninja - stabbed right through the stomach with one of said blades.

Kurenai Yuhi - jounin, genjutsu expert - suffering three fractured ribs, a broken arm and a concussion after falling prey to a genjutsu and stepping off a steep cliff.

All four of them injured out in the field. While heading their own teams of genin. On four separate missions.

Tsunade growled.

These were four of the Leaf's best jounin!

They were supposed to be near invincible!

And all those missions were supposed to be C ranked!

What sort of hellish bad luck streak was this? It was even worse than her gambling one!

"Shizune! Get in here!" she barked.

The sounds of running footsteps was followed by the Hokage's office door slamming open. Shizune rushed in, eyes wide with alarm.

"What is it, milady? Has something happened?"

"Yes!" Narrowed golden eyes pinned Shizune to the spot. "I just received four urgent messages. Teams Seven, Eight, Ten and Gai have all run into trouble."

Shizune gaped at her.

"What? All of them?"

"Yes! I don't know how, but yes! Put together four backup squads, two with a medic nin and deploy them immediately!"

Shizune looked dismayed.

"But milady, there are no backup squads available! Every active jounin and chunin are already out on other missions."

'Impossible!" declared Tsunade. "What about Hiashi Hyuga?"

"On a reconnaissance mission."

"Shibi Aburame?"

"On the same mission."

Tsunade blinked, but she was by no means done.

"Tokubetsu-jounin then! Genma Shiranui?"

"Out on a mission."

"Raido Namiashi?"

"On the same mission."

"Aoba Yamashiro?"

"On a T&I mission."

"Ibiki Moreno?"

"On the same mission."

Tsunade huffed.

"Tsume Inuzuka?"

"On a tracking mission."

"Anko Mitarashi?"

"On the same mission."

Tsunade ground her teeth.

"Izumo Kamizuki? Kotetsu Hagane?"

Shizune's eyebrows flew up.

"They're guarding the village gates, milady. And they're... well, they're... chunin." The words 'How can they help' went unsaid, but were implied nonetheless.

Tsunade slumped back in her chair, stunned. Had she really sent everyone out on missions?

"Who's still around?" she asked in a more subdued tone.

Shizune started ticking off on her fingers.

"Shikaku Nara, Inoichi Yamanaka and Choza Akimichi... but we can't send them out, milady. Not when-"

"I know," Tsunade cut her off. "Not when every other jounin is away."

A minimum number of jounin was required to stay in the village at all times in case of an attack. Besides, those three worked best as a team.

"What about the Anbu?" she asked. "No, never mind. We need them here as well."

"And Master Jiraiya is away," Shizune pointed out unnecessarily.

Tsunade glared at her and nibbled on a manicured fingernail. Things had been pretty quiet of late so she had made it a point to accept as many external missions as she could, deciding it was a good opportunity to fill the village coffers.

Wait.

This meant they could now afford to hire outside help instead. But she would have to be very, very careful. It wouldn't do for word to get out that the powerful Leaf Village was understaffed, or in other words, vulnerable to an attack.

"Shizune, where's that leaflet on the ninja group for hire I saw last week?"

- o -

In a large bungalow somewhere in the Land of Rain...

The Akatsuki were having their monthly meeting in the dining room. Pein dutifully went through the items in the agenda, but there was precious little to report from anyone, apparent by their glum expressions.

When it was Kakuzu's turn, he thumped a fist on the table, making them all jump.

"Our funds are at an all time low," he growled, light green eyes glaring around the table as if it was everyone's fault.

"I thought we agreed to take on small missions until it was the right time to go after the Tailed Beasts," Pein said and looked at the sulky faces around the table.

"Deidara? Sasori?"

"Hn. I haven't been on a mission for months. I'm bored," complained Deidara, tossing his blond hair out of his eyes.

"We haven't gone on any mission in the past two months," Sasori confirmed, his voice as expressionless as his face.

"Itachi? Kisame?" Pein prompted.

"The same as Deidara and Sasori," Itachi said.

"Samehada's getting just as restless as I am," Kisame added, looking annoyed. "I want some action and he wants some blood."

Pein didn't blink.

"Kakuzu? Hidan?"

"Like I said. Nothing," Kakuzu growled.

"I've been getting the usual sacrifices to appease Jashin, but they're regular civilians," Hidan said.

"Not to mention they don't have any bounties on their heads," Kakuzu grumbled. "Worthless."

Konan frowned.

"Has someone else been taking on all the missions?" she asked.

"If I may."

Everyone turned to look at Zetsu.

"Yes?" Pein prompted.

"I took the liberty of distributing flyers throughout the Five Great Nations last week," Zetsu said in his sing song voice, "offering our skills and expertise for hire."

"Do you want to blow our cover?" Konan looked as shocked as she sounded. "If word got out that the Akatsuki-"

"Oh, please. I used a different name, of course," Zetsu said.

"And what name is that?" Pein asked.

"Yugure. Dusk."

Pein raised an eyebrow.

"How appropriate," he said dryly, seeing as Akatsuki meant 'dawn'.

"Isn't it?" Zetsu preened and then he blinked and tipped his head to one side, as if hearing something the others couldn't.

"Oh. Someone wants to hire us."

- Chapter End -

A/N: Thanks for reading! Worth continuing? :)