23 : Mission Group

By: Kokoro Kakera HP

Disclaimer: Naruto, (Manga, anime, products, etc.), belongs to Kishimoto Masashi

Author's Notes:
::Evil grin::
That being done, I'll go onto the real notes. I'm so very, very sorry about the long wait... and my thanks goes to all of my reviewers, who've all inspired me to keep on going! I am right now, giving a great sigh of relief. Why? Because after a year and a half or so (it could have been WAAAYY less had I updated more often) this fanfiction is finally nearing its conclusion!!! Woo!
Aww, and for those of you who feel a little misty eyed at the news, guess what? There's a sequel in the works! (I believe I've already mentioned this to a reviewer on my blog, (address of the blog can be found on my profile page XD). My attachment to this fanfiction would not allow me to conclude it so abruptly unless there was something else coming after... There's also a few loose ends I left on purpose. But meh, it's not like this fic is finished yet. There are at least 2-3 chapters left with the rate I'm going...

Oh, and the hint for the day: Reviews are like really good candies for authors. :)

Henge (no jutsu): Transform

Junrou grinned in great satisfaction. He'd gained the upper hand in the situation once more and that was enough to lift his spirits. He had been and was still quite unhappy about the fact that the Kyuubi's vessel would not provide Amuka's resurrection. It didn't matter though. There would be many other chances and it would take only one of those to bring his god back.

But for now, he would take care of the irritating mosquitoes barring his way. They were embarrassingly dangerous opponents. He shifted his grip on the dead kunoichi's neck. Even if it were a lowly tactic, it would be enough to get rid of the bothers long enough for him to prepare his Blood Curse jutsu and give Jinn some time to find a place to hide.

"Hey, what kind of loser attacks someone who's already dead?" A clear, feminine voice broke through Junrou's thoughts. Before he could react, a fist met with the side of his jaw - hard enough to make him let go of Sakura. Another fist slammed into his neck right after and threw him back far from the alter.

"Junrou!" Jinn had already gotten up and caught him before he hit the ground.

"S-shit!" He hissed as he coughed up some blood. He didn't keep the anger from seeping into his voice as he berated Jinn. "I told you to stay out of the way. Your foot is broken. If you become useless, then I will have no more to do with you." She didn't let him go though and knowing that she wouldn't until it was definite that he was all right, he opted for checking his throat to ease her worries. He grimaced and gingerly rubbed the front of his neck where the girl's fist had been. It was just bruised. No real damage had been inflicted upon him. "Trash can't hurt me." He murmured.

More importantly though... His eyes narrowed as he straightened, shoving Jinn from him as he glared at the girl who'd attacked him. "Unless something has changed with the world, I believe the dead do not move."

Green eyes glinted in his direction smugly. "The world is always as it was. You're just ignorant." Sakura crossed her arms. "And another thing." For a brief second, a cloud of smoke rose up and blanketed her before sliding away. "I'm not dead." Sasuke stood where Sakura had been seconds before, a smirk gracing his features.

Junrou stared at him in shock. "Henge..." When had he gotten the chance to perform the switch without him noticing?


"Annoying brat." Junrou snarled, snatching up Sasuke by the neck and harshly kneeing the boy in the chest. He was sent flying into the bushes. There was a rustle and a small cloud of dust rising up, but nothing else.


His wide eyes narrowed in angry comprehension. "That was just a clone."

"Ah." Sasuke's stare remained fixed on the man. "You were careless."

"I'll have to make up for it then." Junrou snarled as he charged at Sasuke. His eyes flickered back for a split second and noting that Jinn had finally taken leave as he had ordered her to do, he concentrated fully on his opponent.

Sasuke leaped to the left to make it harder for Junrou to catch up and rolled to gain some extra distance in a shorter amount of time. The Sharingan now occupying his eyes, he turned to face his pursuer, feet still skidding upon the ground as he swiftly performed the hand seals necessary for the jutsu he was about to use. 'He's the real thing. Not some clone.' Having confirmed this, his hand rose to his lips and the second they reached, in a furious curling mass, flames roared from his mouth.

"That won't work on me!" Still sprinting forward, Junrou threw his arm before him just as he was enveloped by the storm. Cursing, Sasuke jumped up, his eyes making him unhappily aware that his jutsu had failed and that he would be in trouble if he didn't get far quickly. He didn't move away fast enough.

Junrou shocked everyone witnessing the event by shooting through the last of the fire torrent and slamming into Sasuke, sending them both crashing into the forest.


There was no one in sight: no one that posed any real danger to him anyway. Shikamaru cautiously crept out of his hiding place in the bushes. Sasuke had - without a doubt - taken care of distracting the guy. He cast a searching look completely around the area wearily. But that left the woman - the one that'd dealt Lee a stunningly powerful blow to the head - for him to watch out for. On high alert, Shikamaru slowly made his way towards Lee. He was worried about Ino as well, but like any other level-headed ninja, he knew that he'd be an easy target if he just rushed into the area without watching his back.

"Lee?" He checked the man's vitals. He was fine and even the blood that had once been streaming freely from the side of his head had formed clots and stopped. Just in case though... He reached into his pack and pulled out a roll of bandages and quickly wrapped up Lee's wound, before just as carefully rolling him over so that he was on his side instead of on his stomach. He would have hidden Lee's body somewhere, but Shikamaru was sure that Jinn's eyes were on him, even if he couldn't sense from where. It would be a better idea to just keep Lee close by.

After checking his condition once more and verifying that he would be fine, Shikamaru went to assess how Ino was doing. Her pretty blond hair had become a little messed up and there was a bit of dirt on her face, but other than that...

"Heh... just unconscious." He breathed a sigh of relief. "You shouldn't have been so rash anyway." Taking one last look at Ino before he got up, Shikamaru slowly made his way to the back of the alter where Sakura's body was.

Carefully, he lifted the lifeless body up onto the stone platform, keeping an eye out for Jinn as he did so. Then, he took Sakura's hand and placed it under the demon's. Picking up the kunai with Tsunade's blood, Shikamaru shoved it quickly through the flesh, trying not to wince when a short sucking sound ensued from the action.

A minute passed and nothing moved. He waited and still, nothing happened.

"Damn it..." Shikamaru hissed angrily. So the whole thing had been for nothing! He looked at Naruto and cursed again.

He looked at the steadily bleeding wound in Naruto's hand and frowned. 'That should have clotted already... The jutsu must be preventing that from happening somehow... If it had worked for them - if it had worked at all the way it was supposed to, then that function would make sense...' He reached for the kunai with the intention of pulling it out despite clearly remembering Tsunade's warning that it would be impossible to stop the jutsu once it started. A painful spark snapped at Shikamaru's hand and deeply split the tips of his fingers. 'Damn it.' Sorrow bit menacingly into Shikamaru's chest. Despite how annoying and stupid Naruto seemed at times, the occasions he'd proved himself to be an outstanding ninja had been more than enough to gain his respect. Not only the respect given to a great fighter, but also to a great friend.

"Ohh, too bad, isn't it?" Shikamaru turned and his eyes met with Jinn's.

"You knew it wouldn't work." His thoughts flickered to the kunai kept in his back pocket.

"If it didn't work for Amuka-sama, why would it do anything for that brat?" Jinn's eyes sparkled. "This ritual was not meant to be used to resurrect one so insignificant. One day, Junrou and I will obtain our dreams, even if we have to kill everyone on this world to do it."

"I think you should reconsider those dreams. The process of attaining them sounds rather troublesome." Shikamaru readied himself. "You don't even know what kind of guy this Amuka is. For all you know, he could be a carnivore that isn't the least picky about his meat." A movement caught the corner of his eye and he glanced at the disturbance briefly.

It was enough time for Jinn. She slammed her good foot into the ground, propelling her body rapidly enough to place a hit before Shikamaru could even think to react.

'Too fast...damn it.' He coughed violently, splattering blood across the side of Jinn's face. She blinked dully and reached up to wipe the droplets away. She deliberately ran the back of her hand across her face, smearing the liquid into long crimson streaks that contrasted sharply to her fair skin. His hands fumbled around his stomach where she had connected and he shut his eyes as dizziness swallowed his head.

"You're lucky. That wasn't a fatal blow...Shikamaru." She murmured into his ear as he fell forward.

She inhaled shakily and turned to the separated mess of bushes and snapped branches where Sasuke and Junrou had crashed during the initial stages of their furious exchange. "Let's find him, shall we?" She whispered, limping to it.


"Nng..." Naruto groaned as he slowly came to. "What's...urg..." He hissed as he struggled to get up. "Can't... move..." Pink caught his eye and he froze briefly in his movements. His scattered mind quickly brought a name to him. 'Sakura-chan?'

Unbeknownst by him, the blood pooling around his and the demon corpse's hand began to seep into the demon's cut. The flow didn't end there however. As soon as the Naruto's blood entered the dead demon's body, it circulated to its other hand and drained into Sakura's cut.

Naruto's hands became alight with red.


'Kyuubi?' Naruto frowned and tried to clear his disoriented vision. "Whaa the'll...youuwant?" He slurred, fatigue weighing his tongue down to the bottom of his mouth.


Naruto's hand obediently reached over to the dagger pinning his hand to the demon's, but something struck him as peculiar and his fingers hesitated around the hilt of the blade. He squinted at the pink he had seen earlier, looking past the shriveled thing beside him. His eyes finally cleared and his breath caught when he saw Sakura lying across from him on the other side of the corpse he was beside. Her skin looked abnormally pale and he wasn't sure if she was breathing.

Sakura-chan...? Why is she- how is she connected to all this?'

SHE'S ALREADY DEAD. THERE'S NOTHING YOU CAN DO FOR HER. NOW SAVE YOURSELF!' Kyuubi snarled, claws smashing ferociously against the binding cage of Naruto's mind. DO IT!

"Sakura-chan...dead?" Naruto whispered. "Can't be..." Tears filled his eyes and he shook his head to get rid of them. "No... No!" Naruto fell back against the slab of stone he lay on. "Sasuke, you bastard! You were supposed to protect her! If I couldn't do anything, then-" His eyes snapped open and they fell upon the kunai in his hand. Comprehension filled him and Naruto went limp. "Oh." He whispered. A wry smile came to his lips.


"Why...? There a good reason?" Naruto murmured.

"DO AS I SAY!" The Kyuubi's patience was pulled rice paper thin by what it considered to be Naruto's stupidity and weakness.

"No...Just a little more... You can handle it, can't you? Or are you too weak to sustain another person, you mangy Fox?" Naruto croaked. Anger that didn't belong to him spiked within his gut and Naruto shut his eyes when the bones in his other hand abruptly stretched and curled into the shape of a claw.


"No way." Naruto said stubbornly, struggling to keep his body from obeying Kyuubi's demands. "If you can't handle this, then you're a disgrace to all demons!"


"What's wrong Fox? You afraid or something?" He grinned weakly.

'Sakura-chan... for sure...'


'I'll save you!'