AN: Here's the epilogue. This isn't fluff, this is meat. Fluff was chapter 17. This is to explain more about what the Akatsuki was attempting to do (since I've gotten a lot of speculation about it, I figured I'd flesh it all out for you).
I probably should have figured out a better place or way to explain this in the core of my story instead of putting it here. I seem to have two types of readers: those who want just pure fluff and those who eat up plot and see the fluff as the icing and cherry on top.
For those who are plot-driven, I owe you an apology for not doing a better job explaining all of this earlier. I got caught up in trying to put Shikamaru and Sakura together and didn't focus as much on Ami and everything else. (Honestly, I didn't think people would care about Ami since she's an OC, but apparently I was wrong.)
So here it is. I tried to fluff it up a little with the first scene (that is if you consider 'angst' fluff then you're in luck) to keep it light and easily digestible. But yeah... it's mostly meat. ;)
They were together. Really, truly together.
He had suspected the two of them were taking their assigned roles a bit too seriously, but he initially shrugged it off as two incompetents failing at a basic shinobi task. Yes, it was surprising to see Nara behave that way. For as annoying as he could be, he did have a keen mind. For Sakura to believe the lie of her mission parameters was almost expected. She just wasn't a good kunoichi.
At least, that was how he thought of her then.
When he first noticed their closeness and lingering looks, he passed it off as yet another example of Sakura being Sakura. She could be moody, stubborn, clingy and sentimental, but she was predictable. She would lose interest in Nara and refocus her attention onto him. Just like always.
But she didn't. She didn't run after him, she didn't seek him out after they acquired the target and she didn't look for him after being declared a missing-nin. He expected that she would just like she did when they were twelve. After all, they were intimate now. It had only been one time, but as long as she wasn't annoying about it he wasn't against doing it again. Plus, it gave her all the more reason to need him, to cling to him, so all he had to do was wait for her. She would come to him. After everything that Itachi had showed him, Sasuke saw a value in Sakura that he failed to notice before. She was no longer the kunoichi she was when she was a genin. Sasuke had been so focused on himself and his revenge for so long that he never bothered to reassess Sakura's worth. He knew she was a good medic who had enough skill to complete a handful of high-level missions on occasion, but he didn't think she was exceptional. How much easier would it be to achieve his goals with an efficient healer by his side? Yes, she could be irritating at times, but he could tolerate that so long as she gave him what he wanted.
And she would. She always did.
So he sat perched on a high branch not far from where he confronted his brother and waited for her as he recovered from the Tsukuyomi. Night fell, and he waited. Daylight came, and he knew she wasn't coming and part of him hated her for that, but he hated Nara more. The closeness he observed between them and the lingering looks they exchanged that made his skin crawl — that was no passing fancy, no silly thrill of two idiots dancing around a not-so-hidden infatuation. That was real.
It was insulting. For a Nara to be picked over an Uchiha, for Shikamaru to be picked over him — it was downright degrading.
He would deal with her, and Nara, later. For now, he needed to observe his brother. He needed to learn more about him and the company he kept. He maintained a safe distance as he slowly followed after him, careful to remain close enough to stay on his trail but far enough away not to be noticed. It was a painstakingly slow pursuit, but Sasuke wasn't in a hurry. He was an avenger and he would take care of things, one problem at a time.
As he adjusted his hood, pulling it lower over his forehead to keep his face dry from the rain, he felt a presence move past him, only to stop just four feet away. He paused in his trek, staring at the tree where he knew someone was hiding themselves for several seconds before finally addressing the stranger.
"Don't waste my time," he said as his eyes shined red.
A face segmented in black and white with bright, yellow eyes began to materialize from the tree trunk as a head took shape, then shoulders, followed by the rest of the body. Sasuke knew who it was but found that he didn't care. He was curious.
"I just want to talk, Sasuke," the newcomer said in a bass-like voice.
"You seem to be in a hurry," he said. "You won't lose track of him. I know where your brother is going. I can help you."
Sasuke narrowed his eyes as he studied the shinobi before him. He didn't seem particularly strong, but there was an aura about him that made him wary. "You're Zetsu, aren't you?"
His lips twisted upwards. "You've heard of me."
"Why would you help me?"
Zetsu's eyes sparkled with something close to delight as he said, "I know someone that would like to meet you. Someone who can help you reach your goals."
"In exchange for what?" Sasuke asked.
"For less than what Orochimaru was asking, but with far more pay-off," Zetsu said. "It would be a mutually beneficial relationship. I am merely here to extend the invitation for a meeting and if you choose to go, I will escort you there."
Sasuke didn't detect any outright deceit, but he knew Zetsu was holding back a large chunk of information. His brother belonged to Akatsuki and so did this Zetsu person. He knew a little about what they were about through Orochimaru, but much of their plans remained a mystery. Still, for his brother to belong to such an organization had to mean there was strength there. Power.
Zetsu waited quietly as Sasuke considered his offer. It would only benefit him to learn more about their organization. Perhaps he could use what he learned against Itachi. Perhaps he could figure out a way to use the Akatsuki toward his own ends.
"I'll go," Sasuke said, finally, and Zetsu grinned.
• • •
For an experiment that required as much time and money invested into it is as this one, Itachi felt no trepidation as he and Kisame entered Amegakure. Technically speaking, the experiment and mission were absolute failures. The surrogate — whom Itachi had originally been led to believe was invaluable — was lost, and the infant dead. Yet he didn't get the sense that anyone was particularly angry about the outcome. Disappointed? Yes. Angry? No.
And that, to put it mildly, was odd.
Everyone expected that at some point, Pain and his unnamed associate (whom Itachi suspected was a long-lost relative who should not be alive) would attempt to create a jinchuriki of their own. They had the means, the tools, the knowledge — if anything Itachi expected the attempt to happen much sooner. Years ago. Instead they continued to acquire bijuus as money laundering and political favors were exchanged with high-ranking officials over the course of several months.
Itachi didn't like what he was seeing. The Akatsuki was growing. Not in terms of membership, but in terms of power and weight. At one time the Akatsuki's fingers barely dipped into politics. Only on rare occasions would they meddle with a particular regime. They would venture just deep enough to swirl up some discord, but never far enough to actually reshape an entire country. Now they were up to their shoulders in domestic affairs and economics. They had a stake in everything from food production and transport, to pharmaceuticals and medical science to mining and metallurgy. Their sphere of influence was widening to the point that they could easily make lofty demands of a person of considerable political clout and that person would likely conform to those demands.
That alone made them dangerous. They could easily make one country wealthy and another desperately poor. They could deny one country the resources necessary to make medicine or forge weapons while another country turned into a powerhouse of production. It wasn't just Feudal Lords they were looking to sway, but the citizens themselves. When Itachi realized the potential of what they could do he was amazed. No other independent organization in the history of the shinobi world had ever had such a massive influence.
And yet, the Akatsuki did nothing. To work for years to gain that kind of power and to keep it hidden was more than a little unnerving. After all, what was the purpose of having that kind of power if you didn't use it? If your enemies, Konoha and Suna specifically, didn't know about it? What was the Akatsuki waiting for? Better yet, what are they hiding?
That question eventually led him down a trail of discovery that made his insides clench with worry every time he thought about it. He realized quite early on that the ability to starve a nation wasn't the point. At least not in the traditional sense. Having the power to cripple a village or country without declaration of war was the sadistic smirk that made good leaders worry and bad leaders lust for an opportunity to side with evil. And history has proven that the world is always full of bad leaders.
Ultimately, their political power was a means to bargain. For what, exactly, was unclear at first. Then the experiments began.
Initially they were controlled, contained and easily destroyed for more intensive study. Some of the women were volunteers, some weren't. Some only needed to donate genetic material, some were expected to give a bit more. The 'male volunteers' came from the vast stock of genetic material from the impressive collection gathered together from the late Snake Sannin himself, Orochimaru. The control of pharmaceuticals and medical science helped with that, but there was a sense of dissatisfaction over their results. That dissatisfaction quickly transformed into a desire to do more, to try something else, to branch out...
Itachi couldn't relay his suspicions about what the Akatsuki was attempting to do to his contact, not for several months, not until he was sure. But when the experiment changed, when they decided to take a more passive role and essentially step back and 'let nature take its course' he was able to get a message out, brief as it was. Before the Hokage could be informed, Itachi had been required to kill the embedded Konoha spy near Hitofuki — thus forcing Tsunade to act without vital intel. The rest came together rather sloppily.
Had the Hokage received the intel that Itachi had acquired sooner, before the embedded spy was killed, he was certain that she would have reacted far differently. It was by divine providence, pure luck or just plain arrogance that the experiment had failed, but the fact that they were able to push it so far — to the point of actually creating a near-viable fetus — was disturbing.
After all, artificially creating a shinobi with a kekkei genkai was a huge undertaking. It was the kind of stuff that Orochimaru had attempted to do through genetic manipulation, but the Akatsuki wanted more. They wanted to create a weapon that could not only use a kekkei genkai but also had access to a massive pool of chakra — a pool of chakra usually only found in a jinchuriki.
That was the angle that Itachi had failed to see until it was too late. They weren't trying to create a jinchuriki. At least, not in the strictest sense. Yes, they were trying to create human weapons and yes, those weapons required a bijuu and a sealing jutsu – but they weren't sealing an actual bijuu into a human being. They were sealing complementary chakras into a pre-born child in an effort to create a kekkei genkai with a chakra pool equal to a jinchuriki.
Most kekkei genkai were a combination of two chakra natures. Ice resulted from a combination of wind and water. Lava resulted from a combination of earth and fire. Wood resulted from a combination of water and earth. Theoretically, combining fire chakra nature with an earth chakra nature should create a human with a lava kekkei genkai. And the easiest way to get a massive amount of a specific chakra nature was to use a bijuu.
Any shinobi would tell you that if given a choice they would rather face a dozen enemy shinobi over a single well-trained kekkei genkai user. Two jounin-level shinobi could have equal training, equal experience, but if one was a kekkei genkai user he typically had a huge advantage over his peer. Combine that advantage with a pool of chakra that would (seemingly) never run out and you have yourself something close to a one-man army. Worse, it was a custom made army that could be carefully designed for specific war-time strategies, battles and enemies.
It really was a brilliant idea, but Itachi still didn't want to believe that it could actually be successful. There were more than a few problems with the concept.
First and foremost, how does one truly separate that much chakra from a bijuu without becoming a jinchuriki?
Second, chakra natures don't develop in the womb. They develop shortly after birth so forcing the development of a kekkei genkai in a fetus often caused miscarriage or deformities.
Third, the experiment in Hitofuki wasn't the first, nor would it be the last. As far as Itachi was aware it had come the closest to succeeding — so why was the priority placed on recovering the infant corpse at the expense of reacquiring the surrogate, if necessary? Wouldn't they need her again?
And finally, and most puzzling of all, what did Pain and his associate hope would happen if the girl, Ami, and her unborn child were exposed to Kyubi chakra? That question threw everything that Itachi thought he knew about the experiment into chaos.
"I'm heading to the tower," Kisame said, pulling Itachi from his thoughts. "You coming?"
Itachi glance up at the kage tower that loomed behind his partner and said, "I will in a few minutes."
Kisame smiled. "Hungry?"
He wasn't. He simply wanted more time to organize his thoughts before facing Pain and the others, but the excuse that Kisame provided was a good one. "Yes. I won't be long."
The blue-skinned shinobi nodded before turning away. Itachi watched him go as he remembered their orders just before confronting the team from Konoha, 'Keep the girl near the Kyubi and try to bring out its chakra prior to birth.'
Trying to bring out the Kyubi's chakra was usually the last thing anyone who confronted Naruto wanted to do. What did they hope would happen in that situation? A large portion of Shukaku's wind chakra and Kokuo's earth chakra had already been sealed inside the fetus weeks ago with the hope that the child would be able to manipulate sand much the same way that Gaara could.
What would exposure to the Kyubi accomplish? Was this mere curiosity born out of fortunate circumstances because Naruto happened to be there, or did they have an actual hypothesis? They certainly didn't think that the fetus would be able to absorb some of the Kyubi chakra, did they? Even if such a thing were possible, it would have been too late. She was too far along, the fetus too old, too developed...
Or did they honestly think exposure to the Kyubi's fire nature would somehow combine three chakra natures and create a particle user like Onoki? Or was it the girl they were trying to affect? And if they were, why leave her behind?
As Itachi made his way toward one of the nearby restaurants intent on ordering tea and onigiri, he tried to clear his troubled mind. Everything he thought he knew about the experiment was suddenly on shaky ground. He had hoped that the pink-haired medic would take the girl, take her and flee to Konoha or Suna, anywhere as long as it was far from battle. If Zetsu hadn't been watching he would have let her, perhaps even told her the quickest route to escape.
Once he met with Pain and the others he would know more about what the Akatsuki planned to do next. He suspected that this was just the beginning. They had come too close to success to quit now. It wouldn't surprise Itachi if their next step would be to reacquire the girl and try again. He just hoped Konoha and Suna were better prepared for them this time.
AN: Will there be a sequel? Maybe. But as of this moment, I would just like to relax and not think about starting another multi-chapter fic. ;)
I did do some research into this concept of artificially creating a kekkei genkai user without resorting to genetic manipulation that Orochimaru used (which created Yamato). Here are some of my notes. Not sure if this helps or not, but I aim to please. ;)
Fire (火, Hi) natured chakra allows for Fire Release (火遁, Katon), which is strong against Wind but weak against Water.
Wind (風, Kaze) natured chakra allows for Wind Release (風遁, Fūton), which is strong against Lightning but weak against Fire
Lightning (雷, Kaminari) natured chakra allows for Lightning Release (雷遁, Raiton), which is strong against Earth but weak against Wind
Earth (土, Tsuchi) natured chakra allows for Earth Release (土遁, Doton), which is strong against Water but weak against Lightning.
Water (水, Mizu) natured chakra allows for Water Release (水遁, Suiton), which is strong against Fire but weak against Earth.
KNOWN KEKKEI GENKAI CHAKRA COMBOS:
Water & Wind: Ice
Earth & Water: Wood
Fire & Earth: Lava
Lightning & Water: Storm
Water & Fire: Boil
Earth & Lightning: Explosion
Lightning & Wind: Magnetic
Wind & Fire: Scorch
Wind & Earth: Sand (?)
Fire, Earth & Wind: Dust (Onoki)
TAILED BEAST CHAKRA NATURES:
One-Tail (Ichibi/Shukaku): Wind
Two-Tails (Nibi/Matabi): Fire
Three-Tails (Sanbi/Isobu): Water
Four-Tails (Yonbi/Son Goku): Lava (Earth & Fire)
Five-Tails (Gobi/Kokuo): Earth
Six-Tails (Rokubi/Saiken): Water (?)
Seven-Tails (Nanabi/Chomei): Lightning (?)
Eight-Tails (Hachibi/Gyuki): ?
Nine-Tails (Kyubi/Kurama): Fire