"Yo yo miss two! Look who I brought in to see you!" Bee's announcement was followed by the crashing of a flung door, thrown open by the musically inclined Jinchuuriki to reveal himself, and his blond haired, nine tailed counterpart.
Yugito looked up from her place on the bed, smiling fondly at the bigger man. "Kirabee." She greeted simply before turning her eyes to Naruto. "And you are the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki yes?"
Naruto smiled. "I prefer Naruto if you don't mind."
Yugito nodded. "Of course, I'm sorry." She then noticed the two headbands dangling from around his neck. "Are those..."
Naruto noticed where she was squinting, his smile growing all the more as he scratched the back of his head. "Hah, yeah. Figured since I killed em might as well show off the accomplishment!"
Suddenly and without warning a gloomy pall settled over the blond woman, staring down at her lap where her fists bunched the sheets between her hands.
"Huh? Hey you ok?" Naruto asked, blinking in confusion next to the equally bewildered Bee.
"I lost to the weaker of them while he beat both by himself." The two heard her mutter under her breath.
Yugito looked back up, smiling serenely. "Just fine Naruto-san."
The young man and Bee shared a look before both shrugged their shoulders at the girl's mercurial mood.
"I was wondering-" She continued. "You managed to beat two of them, and Bee tells me you had warned him about another of them, Uchiha Itachi, when he first appeared, how much more insight do you have on the rest of the members?"
Naruto shrugged. "Ahh, haven't really fought any of the others and I don't know much besides what's in the bingo books. Confirmed so far are Itachi, who's good at everything, some shark guy called Kisame that can eat Chakra or something, Bee fought him. He pointed at the now posing man. "There's some guy from Suna that uses puppets, another guy from Iwa that likes to blow things up and one other guy from Kusa. But there's no information on him other than him just looking weird."
Yugito raised an eyebrow. "Nothing more than standard Bingo Book information? Then how was it you beat Kakuzu? Or knew to avoid that...Hidan from cutting you?"
Again, the blond shrugged. "Kakuzu I just...fought. I didn't really go in there with a plan and that other guy I just put him in a Genjutsu and cut off his head. What happens when he cuts-"
He paused, noticing another gloomy pall had settled over the kunoichi.
It took a little while longer for Yugito's "sunny" disposition to return.
"There was something Bee-san mentioned that has me curious Naruto-san. When you were fighting the Uchiha, you never actually called on your Bijuu."
Naruto, now sitting on a chair by one side of the bed while Bee sat at the foot of the bed next to Yugito's feet, shrugged once more. "Nah I didn't"
"Why?" She asked. "The Uchiha was a very powerful opponent, Bee says that you were injured, your arm was nearly crippled, why not use it?"
"Don't really know ho-." He blurted out, then, realized what exactly he was doing before he amended the statement. "-ow to do it without killing everyone!" He exclaimed. "Yeah. Wasn't sure if Hana-chan, Samui, Omoi and Karui-san would be able to survive it!"
"Yo don't sweat it bro! My students can overcome with compensation!"
"Didn't wanna risk it!" The youth answered with a strained smile, pleased they bought his lie. A Jinchuuriki that didn't know how to use his Bijuu was like a swordsman with no sword. Better they think he at least had something to swing around if it came down to it.
"Well that aint right! We need to get you set up to call on the big blight!"
'That is offensive you know.'
Bee ignored Gyuuki's protest. "Yeah starting tomorrow we'll push to get you sweatin on how to get the big fox to do your biddin'!
Naruto's eyes sparkled at the thought of training, then he remembered. "Ahh wait...Bee I'll be leaving with A-san in three more days for the summit we won't really have time.
And just like that the wind was taken out of Bee's sails.
"But hey! There's no reason we can't train after I escape Konoha again!"
And Bee snapped his fingers. "That's a brilliant plan you've made stand my man!"
Yugito raised a slender eyebrow, wondering when the two would realize that it actually wasn't a very good plan.
"Oh but wait-" And they had a winner. "If I come back then A will just send me back to Konoha again and we won't get to train!"
"Yeah you're right! So that means we have to train where bro won't discern before we can adjourn! We gots to go outside Kumo when you make your return!"
"I thought you couldn't leave Kumo?"
"Miss two can cover for me and you!"
It took her brain a second to catch up.
It was three days later, right on the proverbial clock when the iron clamps came down around Naruto's wrists, clicking shut with Chakra resistant steel.
He pouted "Aww come on..." He looked up at A, blue eyes wide and glimmering. "I thought we were friends!"
'A' scowled. "We're not."
"Who is this then?"
The smile on Naruto's face fell to a curious frown. Staring at the cherubic veneer of a gilded mask as a man, a head and shoulders shorter than A approached, staring at him.
"A gift of good will." A answered before gesturing to Hana. "The Inuzuka as well."
"And yet she is not chained."
"She is not a missing-nin." The Raikage said simply before turning around with a brusque about-face. "Bee, Yugito!"
The two Jinchuuriki stepped up to the Raikage with bandages still wrapped around the blond woman's torso.
"You two are staying here! You're to protect Kumo until I return!"
"Bro, no need to pout! I'll go all out!"
As the village leader instructed his two subordinates Hana marched up beside Naruto, looking down at the iron bands clapped around his wrist. "You ok in those?"
Naruto brought his hands up, snapping the chains taut as he pulled his hands apart. "I'll live I guess." He turned to her with a small smile. "Still, you'll get to go home now! That's good right?"
Hana's smile was a little bemused, wondering if he was trying to change the subject or be nice by ignoring the fact that he was on a one way trip into the village he was trying to escape. "You saying you don't want me around?
Naruto shrugged. "Meh, I'll miss these guys!" He bent down to pet the two dogs at the Inuzuka's side.
"That hurts my feelings Uzumaki." She let out a soft chuckle.
Then there were two pairs of footsteps when Naruto looked up it was to see Bee and Yugito standing before him.
The Kyuubi Jinchuuriki smiled up at them as he straightened to his full height.
"Guess I'll see you Bee."
The Hachibi Jinchuuriki's face scrunched up, eyes glimmering with tears behind his sunglasses.
He lunged forward, gripping Naruto in a fierce hug sobbing uncontrollably.
Naruto blinked as he was lifted off his feet.
Yugito slapped her forehead, Hana chuckled.
"Well...at least I'm not involved in this one." The dog lover rejoiced.
It sat with Konoha to the south, Kumo to the north and Otogakure to the east. For Iwa, it was not an ideal location considering they'd have to cross the potentially hostile territory of Otogakure but it was the best that could be managed with Konoha making the arrangements. They would not risk the safety of their own Daimyo for the convenience of another.
The ruins of what was once Yotsushio, the birthplace of the respected Yotsuki clan of Kumogakure, one that had been leveled to the ground before the end of the long war. It was the place where Kumogakure, much like Konohagakure with the Uzumaki, drew their village insignia from.
The crumbling remains weren't under anyone's territory. The Yotsushio had chosen this land as they'd helped choose Kumo. In the heights of the world with very limited access. It would have made a strong fortress if Kumo or anyone could ever gather enough spare resources to repair and maintain one this far out of normal trade routes.
The thin air was enough to exhaust nearly anyone, even A found himself breathing harder, a ninja's already limited fighting time would be cut down even further up here.
Had Tsunade chosen this place? Or was it the Hi no Kuni Daimyo to give his samurai an edge?
Were they marching into an ambush?
"Whoa! Look at that!"
It was Naruto's voice that brought attention to the ruins themselves.
Just as much of Kumo's earliest years could be attributed to this clan, so could its building techniques.
Sitting at the very top of the peak, like a crown resting on the brow of a great king were the ruins, encircling the mountain near the tip, its buildings an individual jewel gleaming in the light of the setting sun.
The corpse of what was once Yotsushio, where this war would perhaps be delayed for a while longer yet.
Without preamble A turned around, marching right up to Naruto before holding his hand out to Darui who immediately produced a black cloth.
Grabbing it the Raikage brandished it infront of the blond. "I'm gonna put this on Uzumaki."
"Huh?" The youth's face scrunched up. "Why?"
"Political reasons." He explained. "Iwa could interfere or be better prepared for when I present you if they catch wind of you beforehand. This way, they won't know what or who I'm bringing if they do manage to see us.
"Why do you explain." Mokou questioned, the cherubic mask tilting to the side. "He is a prisoner. Nothing more."
"I'm not giving him a choice. But he's earned the courtesy of an explanation." The Raikage offered before stepping closer and wrapping the black cloth around Naruto's face before much more could be said.
As soon as he was done the massive man turned away and barked out to the rest of his men. "Lets keep moving!" With one of them leading Naruto forward.
Tsunade turned, offering a look over her shoulder "Hmmm? They're here then?"
"And the Iwa delegation?"
"As per your orders they've been shown to the west wing"
And the Daimyo?
"Safe, twelve Samurai and six Shinobi stand as guards for him as per your and Hiyoshi-dono's command."
She nodded. "Good. Can you tell if Kumo's Daimyo is with the Raikage or did they send a representative like Iwa?"
"I did not see the Daimyo's standard Hokage-sama."
"That means both sides could be more inclined to start a fight With neither of their Daimyo's at risk. Show them to the east wing. And then get your men, watch them all. We'll meet formally tomorrow, and I want no surprises."
The sound brought Orochimaru's eyes up to see the raven thrall as it flew through the passage to land at his desk. The black orb of its eye peering at him as its clawed feet scratched at the wood.
The pale snake turned his eyes back to the file in his hand. "He is gone Itachi. I don't know what you told him. But he left the very next day. No trace left."
The Sannin paused. "He'll probably go after you...one way or the other..."
The raven scratched at the desk, then with a flare and a flap of its wings it was gone, leaving nothing but a few feathers remaining.
"But you already guessed that out didn't you." He muttered to the remaining feathers as he turned a page.
They would meet in the village square. The Samurai and Shinobi of Hi-no kuni were the first to rise and take their designated places as the hosts of the summit meeting. With Tsunade, the Hokage, and Nagakute Hyoshi, the head general of the Daimyo's standing army standing in wait. A long table had been spread out with seven chairs for the delegates.
In a place like this, with no servants, or workers, only crumbling stone and rotting wood, there were only the bare bones of a ceremony to speak of.
Iwa arrived first, Tsunade counted six Samurai in their number and four Shinobi escorts, not counting Onoki himself. The diminutive man marched side by side with a thin, armored man. She could vaguely recognize him as the Iwa Daimyo's nephew though she could not for the life of her remember his given name.
The Samurai spread themselves to stand at the western side of the courtyard, mirroring Konoha's twelve who stood on the south side of the square.
Kumo was next.
Tsunade counted only four Shinobi, including A, and two Samurai with the representative, a short man with a child faced mask.
Either A was very confident in his strength, or he had some serious faith that nothing would happen here.
They, took their place on the eastern side of the table.
The Daimyo of Hi no Kuni entered last.
Stepping out into the courtyard to march past Tsunade and Hyoshi, the man was dressed with a simple Haori and Hakama, with nothing but a thin layer of armor over his sword arm and a blade resting at his hip for his own protection. Tsunade would have preferred the man encased from head to toe in steel plate.
Everyone in the courtyard respectfully bowed, herself included, her eyes never leaving any of the opposing ninja.
When the Daimyo spoke, it was almost a relief.
"Now that we are all present let us all begin our efforts to form a lasting peace between our villages." Extending his hand, the raven haired man gestured to the table. "Please. Take your seats."
All rose from their bows, and immediately the representative of Iwa and Kumo moved to take their seats at either side of the Daimyo of Hi no Kuni, who sat at the head of the table.
Tsunade marched with Hyoshi after they seated themselves, taking the seat beside them, and finally A and Onoki taking seats beside herself and Hyoshi respectively.
The Daimyo opened his mouth to speak when Mokou, bowing his masked face quickly to show his intent, interrupted him. "Forgive me Taeda-sama. But before we begin, we of Kumo would like to offer a gift of our good will if you'll allow it."
The Daimyo raised an eyebrow, but quickly schooled his features, nodding sharply. "Very well. I accept your gesture with thanks."
Mokou bowed once more turning his head to look at A across from Tsunade and so the Raikage, made a gesture of his fingers as a response and an order. Darui bowed and vanished in a shunshin.
Seconds later, with another puff of smoke he was back with another Kumo Shinobi, two Nin-ken, a kunoichi and-
Today...as Tsunade sat in a summit meeting that could very well determine the state of peace for the next decade. One could find Jiraiya fulfilling one of the most important functions of his work as a Konoha Ninja.
"Hehehehehe" Spying shamelessly on Konoha Kunoichi in the pursuit of keeping the Konoha male Shinobi population's morale up by, all the sooner, releasing the next installment of his award winning series.
The silver haired man turned, frowning in confusion before grinning. "Oi Kakashi! How's my number one fan?"
"Still number one!" The Copy nin smiled, taking up a perch beside the man, bemoaning the loss of his Sharingan eye as he peered into the onsen.
"So what's up? This one won't be out for a couple more month's ya kno."
"Actually, I was wondering if you could help me with something." The Jounin admitted.
"Whats that?" Jiraiya raised a curious eyebrow.
"You're one of the few left alive that fought with my father."
The sannin nodded, very curious now. Sakumo was not a subject Kakashi was known to talk about with anyone.
Reaching into his back the copy ninja pulled out a distinctive blade.
A moment later, the weapon was coated from pommel to tip in potent white Chakra.
Kakashi turned to look at the toad sannin his one remaining eye a gleaming silver as the chakra crawled up his arm, invading his tenketsu. "I was wondering if you could help me with this."
That had the toad sannin put away his notepad. "I never actually fought your father and only saw him fight once. Wouldn't it be better to find someone who actually did more with him?"
With an abrupt snap click the blade was back in its sheath, the chakra receding, Kakashi's eye returning to its natural hue.
"You're the only one strong enough to help me train, and the only one that knows enough about sealing to use it if something goes wrong." The copy ninja smiled. "So whadaya say? Willing to teach an old dog a new trick?"
Jiraiya shrugged. "Not sure how much help I'll be but I'll give it a shot. But first-" He turned back to his sight seeing as he pulled out his notepad again.
Kakashi happily joined him in this particular instance, he wouldn't mind spoilers.
Naruto was sitting still and keeping quiet.
A novel experience for him really.
Since all the ninja had to remain at their posts to guard the Daimyo he was currently sitting a little ways off, flanked by two of the Samurai escorts, Hana stood by the other Shinobi, her nin-ken sitting quietly at her side. She threw him an apologetic look but he smiled at her with a shrug.
He'd make his escape soon enough. He'd already unbound the knots with the rope binding jutsu he was just sticking around to see what happened at this point. Once his curiosity had been satisfied Then he'd make a thousand clones, toss a genjutsu here and there and slip away in the chaos.
The only real issue he could see would be Sakura since she could dispel his Genjutsu as easily as Itachi and might even be able to discern the real him in the mass of clones to boot. He had little doubt Tsunade, A and that short Tsuchikage might have been an issue too, since they could most likely detect and eliminate his best efforts, especially since two of them knew he used Genjutsu.
But they have an escort to protect at all cost.
A C rank missing nin wasn't a big enough fish to risk the security of the Daimyo or the representatives of the Daimyo, even slightly.
"It was your ninja that were spotted crossing our borders!" Takechio, the Iwa daimyo's nephew snarled at A and Mokou.
"Only after we'd received one too many distress missives from our trading caravans of increased bandit activity." A shot back. "You didn't answer our queries so we investigated ourselves.
"And ended up killing a team of our chuunin" Onoki cut in drily."
"Who were attacking one of our caravans!"
"A sanctioned mission to stop illegal contraband from leaving our borders. Which you still have I'll remind you!"
"There was nothing in those wagons." 'A' answered scathingly. "Except payment from one of our clients, grain, silks spices and furs. You just wanted to take a slice of the pie without paying your fair share Ryoutenbin! Is your village so dirt poor you have to resort to stealing like common Nuke-nin?"
Naruto scowled. I take offense to that!
The pudged nosed Onoki scowled. "I've got enough money to buy you, your village and your ninja ten times over! Raikage."
"Before we get to measuring each-others...ego." Tsunade fished, amending her statement at the last moment. "I'll remind everyone here that this is a negotiation table. The point is to negotiate a deal. Not argue. You wouldn't have come here if you wouldn't have terms you wanted to pursue."
"Well said lady Hokage." Mokou praised, once more bowing his head contritely before producing a small scroll. "These are the terms our lord has laid out to agree to a truce. "Firstly. Iwa is to pull all forces back behind the Koshuo river."
"That is thirty miles from our borders!" Takeshio gasped.
"Furthermore." Mokou spoke over him. "They are to hand over all the stolen goods appropriated from our caravans within the last year. To not do so will be considered a declaration of intent of war. The estimated number of goods are listed here."
The hunched back figure moved to hold out a scroll when young Takeshio smacked it out of his hand. "Do you relate negotiation to extortion!?"
"Please!" Taeda shouted over the two men "If we cannot even make demands at the table without descending into shouting contests. We will never get anywhere!"
"This summit was never going to work Taeda-dono." Takeshio pointed straight at the cherubic faced Mokou. "Their lord truly is as mad as a march hare if he thinks we'll bend over to his ludicrous demands!"
"Watch your tongue boy." The polite voice of Mokou dropped to a deadly hiss, the high pitch vanishing to be replaced by a hollow gravel.
Before anything more could be said however there was a sudden burst of sound.
It took half a heartbeat for everyone to realize none of them had struck their palms together.
It took another half a heartbeat for everyone to realize there was someone else sitting at the table who shouldn't be there.
All the Samurai drew their blades, the ninja doing the same with their kunai staring down the man in the black robe and the spiral mask.
Tobi clapped once, twice more, leaning back in a stone chair "We stand here gathered today to celebrate the union of these two great houses in a lasting peace. By lasting we mean as soon as convenience wears off and...oh...wait are we not at that part yet?"
"Who are you?" Onoki asked, hands hidden beneath his Kage robe as he stood...err...hopped down from his seated position.
"It doesn't matter who I am." Tobi answered, smirking behind the mask at the lack of recognition now that he was lacking the red clouds. "All that matters is what I can offer you."
Reaching into his robe he pulled out two simple vials filled with clear liquid. "Surely the ails of your leaders become the ails of the people. And so here I be, to offer you both a remedy, One for he who's fallen to insanity and one for he who's become so sickly."
He placed the vials on the table pushing them towards Iwa and Kumo respectively.
"My associate has made it clear these will heal your lords, madness and sickness gone. For a time...these will wear off. And they will dilute and become little more than water within a weeks time, not nearly enough time to determine what the formula is I assure you."
"Then..." Tsunade ventured carefully. "It was poison! You poisoned them?"
"Not I..." Tobi gasped. As though appalled by the accusation. "I'm innocent it was all my associate. He's been looking forward to this for a long time." Tobi said.
"Looking forward to what?" A asked.
Tobi ignored the samurai surrounding him, the ninja taking position to cut off any escape attempt. "To our payment for the real antidote."
He paused, single eye scanning over the others. One could almost feel the smile behind the veneer of the spiral mask.
"We want something very simple in exchange for these cures..." He raised a single hand, pointing straight ahead at the man sitting across from him.
The Daimyo of Hi no kuni.
"Him..." He chirped "...dead."
The tension that settled over the room became thick in an instant, the ten Samurai escorts marching forward to flank their lord as the Shinobi of Konoha abandoned their attack positions to settle on defensive ones. The only ones who didn't move were the ones standing guard over the frowning Naruto.
Hiyoshi, the Samurai general of Hi no kuni that had remained quiet up until that point sneered. "So...you seek to push Iwa and Kumo to destroy us? Are you too weak to do this yourself."
"Why get my own hands dirty when others have a duty to do it for me to save their lords.
A's fist smashed through the stone that made up the back rest of Tobi's chair, his lightning covered limb going straight through Tobi before most Shinobi in the room could even blink at the man.
The Raikage turned, the most fearsome snarl a human ever did make decorating his lips. "We won't be your puppets!"
Tobi gave a languid shrug, not having moved an inch even with the back of his chair gone, still holding that same leaning position. "Then your Daimyo will remain insane, to die once the people become fed up, and Iwa's will perish a slow death in sickness...who knows what will happen with their successors."
Suddenly, the leader of the Akatsuki stood up, waving cheerily at the glowering group. "Well now. Don't let me keep you from the bloodletting eh? This is gonna be so much fun!"
With the wave transforming into a circular motion of his whole arm, Tobi was soon swallowed into the black void of the spiral mask.
Forming into the world again, the Uchiha found himself staring into the placid smile of Tezai.
"Its done then?" The Gardener asked
Tobi nodded. "Yes. To threaten the Daimyo is clever. But it will not be enough to spur on a full conflict.
"You leave that to me." Tezai assured. "I have been setting the stage for this for a long while. Iwa, Kumo and their armies will soon be marching to war. Of that you can rest assured."
Tobi nodded. Tezai continuing to move the pieces for Konoha's destruction sat just fine with him.
He would have his hands full in all too short a while without stretching himself thin playing an active part of Konoha's downfall.
He needed to get to Ame.
It was well past midnight by the time Tsunade and general Hiyoshi agreed that it was safe to stop. A forced march through the plains of Otogakure in rice country had given way at last to the great forests of Konoha's woodland.
They were on the very edge of the border. But they were in friendly territory and that was enough to put them at some measure of ease.
"I want a perimeter set. Standard Wolf pattern trap array. Now."
"Yes Hokage-sama" two of the men chorused before they took to the trees carry out their assigned task.
"My lord please you must remain where my men can keep you safe. The Godaime heard Hiyoshi's voice behind her, telling her who was now approaching before she turned and bowed.
"Taeda-sama." She greeted with a bow.
"Tsunade-hime." His voice was serious, but surprisingly calm for a man who essentially just had a hit placed on his head with two countries after the prize. "Our course of action is simple from this point."
She looked up from her bow, waiting for him to speak.
"I will prepare my armies to defend Hi no kuni. In the meanwhile you must find whomever this masked man is."
She nodded. "The moment we find him, we can find the antidotes for Makesho of Iwa and Tsugeyori of Kumo ourselves."
Taeda nodded. "Yes. I'm sure I don't have to tell you we'll need your best on this.
"You'll have it."
At the edge of the camp Naruto sat, watching everyone. After that little display with Tobi he'd forgone his earlier plan. Not wanting to really risk an open fight where it would just make it easier for Iwa or Kumo to attack the Daimyo in the confusion.
As the chief source of funding for Konoha, anything that happened to him on Tsunade's watch would be disastrous for the village's economy at the very least.
He looked up at the sound of an approaching dog.
Smiling at one of the triplets the blond nuke nin held out his hand, happily petting the animal that proceeded to lick his cheek.
"Hey girl. What's up? You'd rather come with me than stay with boring old Hana-chan."
"Funny Uzumaki. And here I was gonna be nice and bring you some food."
Naruto looked up, smiling at the brunette who looked at the two guards at his side. "Is it allowed?"
One of them came forward, looking at the small plate in her hands. He poked at the food, making sure it was real before he plucked out the utensils. "Hope you're good at eating with your hands." He remarked before handing him the plate.
Naruto lifted his bound hands up, taking hold of the tin plate before he went to grab some and he realized the chain made it too awkward. Setting the plate down in his lap he finally dug in. Offering the two dogs some scraps as he finished them off.
Before he was fully done with his meal he looked up, staring at the waiting Hana. "Hey...Hana-chan."
"Could you bring Tsunade over?"
"You want me to go get Tsunade?" She questioned slowly. "As in...go interrupt her when she's having a discussion with the Daimyo and the leader of the Samurai forces?"
"Please?" He offered her a patented puppy eyed look. Those big blue eyes staring up at her imploringly. "I won't say you're boring anymore."
"Yes. That's incentive." She muttered drily.
Naruto's playful countenance vanished, genuinely pleading with the Inuzuka. "Please Hana-chan. This is important. Really."
Raising a slender eyebrow. Hana was unsure but eventually nodded. "I'm not promising anything." She warned before turning and marching off, her dogs staying behind.
"Thanks." He called after her.
"You guys get close or something as Kumo's guests?" One of his guards asked.
Naruto craned his neck to look up at the man. "Nah! I'm just a nice guy!"
"Never heard of a missing nin as a nice guy." The Anbu drawled.
He hoped Hana would get back quick. But as the minutes wore on he fidgeted anxiously where he sat, going over the approaching conversation in his head when he got his second visitor of the day.
She'd been so quiet he hadn't even heard her until she was almost ontop of him.
He looked up to see the scowling face of Haruno-Sakura.
Naruto would have smiled at his one time friend and teammate but some instinct told him it'd be the wrong thing to do right now.
"Hi Sakura-chan." He offered instead.
"Three years...and that's what you say to me?" Her voice was a hiss and Naruto, for all the time's he'd heard her angry, this was one he knew to be a lot more serious than the times they were childred.
His face fell. He knew that Sakura's anger was because he'd left her alone. He himself hated being alone. He supposed it was too much to hope that she wouldn't be angry with him for putting her through that.
"I'm sorry." He offered instead.
She looked to the two guards at his side. "You two mind stepping back for a sec?"
The two looked at each-other before one responded. "Don't touch him." Then he took two steps back followed by his partner, they were still within earshot but it was enough to offer at least the pretense of privacy.
Sakura looked back down at him and after a second of her intense, baneful stare Naruto averted his eyes like a kicked puppy.
"Why did you leave?"
"I had to keep you all safe from Akatsuki." He answered looking back up at her. "They were after me. And they would have hurt you the same as they hurt Kakashi sensei! I couldn't let that happen so I left. You'd all be safer that- He trailed off
Her fists were clenched, her hands shaking, holding herself back from striking him. Green eyes as furious as ever.
"You're as selfish as Sasuke is."
Naruto's outrage was overshadowed by hers as she shouted over whatever he was going to say.
"We were supposed to be a team!" She howled. "We were supposed to help eachother! We were supposed to have eachothers back. But you and him just left to do your own goddamn thing!"
Naruto shifted, ready to stand when one of the guards stepped forward with a heavy hand on his shoulder, stopping him. "Sakura." He cried. "We couldn't have fought against them! None of us would have been strong enough to-"
"I don't care! We were a team! You both should have at least given that a chance before you-"
Sakura's mouth snapped shut, and she whirled around to see Tsunade making her way closer, the Inuzuka girl at her back.
Tsunade didn't shout, didn't posture or do much more than simply stand beside the pink haired girl.
Sakura bowed her head. "Hokage-sama."
"This isn't your teammate right now." She said. "This is a captured Nuke-nin. And you having a shouting match with him here is unbecoming."
Tsunade raised an eyebrow but gave it no further thought before turning to look at the contritely sitting Naruto. "Naruto." She said, her voice as hard as steel but the small smile of relief belying her happiness at finally being able to speak to him after all these years.
"Hey Baa-chan." He grinned weakly.
"Stand up please." She said, as much to him as to the guard holding him down.
Soon enough the Uzumaki was standing and she noticed now that he was just an inch shy of being eye level with her. A few more years and he'd be taller. She smiled.
"You look good...for a captured Nuke-nin."
Naruto grinned. "Yeah...about that...captured part...could we uhh...change that?"
Both her eyebrows shot into her hairline. "You're asking me...the Hokage of Konohagakure to just up and let you go?"
Naruto's smile was as strained as it was sad. "Baa-chan...you know its for the best."
"Who's best? Your best? Desertion is a crime punishable by death. This is a military village after all. If you weren't who you were you would be dead as it-"
"Its for your best." He argued. "You have a war to fight. You can't waste resources holding back Akatsuki too."
"I'll decide what resources we can waste Naruto."
"Baa-chan." He whined. "You know I'm right. Itachi, Kisame, Deidara, Sasori and who knows who else they have! These guys are all top list badasses and you know they'll be coming after me once they know you have me! They won't give me a chance to get away like I did before."
"Naruto I have a battle on two fronts to fight, against two opposing villages, both of which have two Jinchuuriki each-"
"Iwa only has one."
"Iwa." He explained. "They only have one. Kisame got the Gobi. Or at least he implied as much to Bee!"
Tsunade raised an eyebrow, filing that piece of information away for later. A missing Gobi Jinchuuriki was a good thing. "Either way Naruto I can't just let you go!"
"No one would know." He said gesturing with his hands. "You have twelve Samurai here and six ninja. They'll all keep the secret if you make them promise and-"
"Its not that-"
"It is that simple!" He pleaded. "Akatsuki can't come to the village Baa-chan you know I'm right! Itachi wiped out his whole clan in one night, just imagine what he could do with help from five or six people just as strong as he is!"
It was a scenario she couldn't deny would knock the village flat. And with the wolves now potentially closing in from Kumo and Iwa, Tsunade knew that Naruto's argument was a valid one.
Her lips thinned, pursing.
Sakura noticed her hesitation and spoke up. "Hokage-sama, you can't be considering-"
"Quiet..." For a while longer Tsunade stared at the blond man, almost willing him to reveal what was going on in that head of his with nothing but her gaze.
"You sure this is what you want Naruto?"
The blond paused, looking at Sakura a sad expression crossing his features. "No...but...its for the village. So I'll do it."
Tsunade's features never wavered. "You'll be listed as an A rank." She warned. "After what you've supposedly done in Kumo, we can't hide your strength. That means every hunter nin...from every village will be after you. You'll be considered an enemy of the country, same as any missing nin."
Naruto's smile was bittersweet. "You know I can take anything Baa-chan."
Tsunade took a deep breath. Then she looked at the two guards. "Let him go."
To their credit, the men only gave the briefest pause before one stepped forward, undoing the clamps with a burst of chakra from two fingertips.
Naruto rubbed his sore wrists as Tsunade asked for his things, the other guard unfurling his belongings from a sealing scroll and handing them to him.
The blond took hold of the weapon last smiling at Tsunade. "Thank's Baa-chan."
The sannin clasped her hands behind her back. "Try not to get yourself killed...brat."
Naruto nodded reaching down to pet the two dogs and stepping forward to offer, much to Hana's surprise, a hug. He turned to Sakura last. His smile vanishing at the sight of her green eyes burning like fires, fists clenched so hard the metal tang of her blood reached his nose as she ground her teeth.
It half looked like she was ready to attack him, the Godaime, the guards and half the people in the camp at that very moment.
He wasn't sure if he should speak. But in the end, decided he couldn't leave with, at the very least, a goodbye a second time. "Bye Sakura-chan."
With a single leap, the one time Konoha gennin landed on a branch, turning to look over his shoulder. "Hey...if you guys ever need some help-" He waved over his shoulder. "Just ask...and I'll be there. I promise!"
And with that he vanished into the trees.
Tsunade waited a moment longer before she spoke to the Shinobi around her. "Spread the word, Uzumaki Naruto has escaped custody. He is to be considered an A rank Nuke-nin."
It was a day later when Kushina gathered them. The spectral images of Itachi, Kisame and Jiraiya forming over the seals etched onto the floor.
Her face was grim. "Have you heard or not?"
Jiraiya's arms crossed. "My spied picked up something.
"We have not." Itachi intoned, speaking for himself and Kisame. "Perhaps you shouls enlighten us."
"Two days ago, Tsunade and the Daimyo moved for a summit to promote peace between Kumo and Iwa. Someone interfered and now, its very likely Kumo and Iwa will both be attacking Hi no kuni very soon."
Kisame let off a low whistle. "Damn. How the hell do you mess up a negotiation so badly you get the two pissed off parties to call off their fight to kick your ass."
"Someone interfered." Jiraiya cut in. "Someone in a spiral mask is holding the Daimyo of both Kumo and Iwa hostage and in order to ensure their safety he want's Taeda-sama dead."
"Who was it?" Itachi asked.
"No idea." Jiraiya shook his head. "Someone wearing a spiral mask."
Kushina looked at him. Itachi and Kisame turned to look at eachother.
"What did you say?" The Uzumaki asked.
"Someone in a spiral mask." He repeated before looking at Kisame and Itachi. "You two know something?"
"Yeah." The fish man answered. "Some new guy in the Akatsuki. Replaced Sasori. He wears a spiral mask."
"What's his name?" Kushina barked.
"Tobi. Or so he says." Kisame shrugged. "Don't know much about him other than that.
"Find out more!" She hissed before rounding on Jiraiya. "And you find out what's to be done with the Daimyo, I'll work on the others to keep tabs on Iwa and Kumo's movements for now. Tell Tsunade to send Naruto to me immediately!"
Before anyone could get a word in edgewise she cut the link, the three holographic images vanishing, leaving her alone in the room.
The man in the spiral mask...
The rains in Amegakure were particularly harsh today. Each individual raindrop was a lance of pure ice driving its point through his cloak and into his flesh as the wind battered against him with the full power of the perpetual storm that hovered over these lands.
It was almost a relief when he finally stepped into the building to see Pein's ringed eyes glaring at him.
"A man in a spiral mask makes an offer...and now all of Amegakure will know pain once more."
Tobi mentally cursed. That was quick. Did Pein have spies at the summit? Zetsu would know better than to report his activities to Nagato or Konan.
"This will make things easier."
"Not for Ame." Tobi looked up, finding Konan materializing with an inrush of paper, flying in through the window. She glared coldly down on him from where her paper wings held her aloft.
"For all of us." The Uchiha insisted. "Iwa and Kumo are the only ones who hold Bijuu now, inside the village walls, with the full force of their allies behind them they, especially Kumo's Kirabee, are all but untouchable. War will avert the Kage's eyes from their peacekeeping weapons and onto their campaigns. Leaving us to roam freely."
"Then you will capture them." Pein spoke. "Konan and I will defend Amegakure...and kill all those that would pretend to make our home a battlefield for their wars once more."
Tobi frowned. Pein's power was something he was counting on for when they eventually moved against Kirabee, and perhaps the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki now too. He had spotted him with the Konoha delegation if he wasn't mistaken.
Nevertheless he shrugged. This was one battle he could wage later.
"Fair enough. Have Kakuzu and Hidan returned with the Nibi yet?"
"Kakuzu and Hidan are dead."
"...Surprising...I did not think the Nibi Jinchuuriki to be that powerful."
"It was not her...their slayer is...surprising considering what we knew of him once."
And out of his robe Pein produced a Bingo book.
"Nice!" The shout brought many curious looks to cross the eyes of the townspeople looking over to see a blond haired man smiling into a booklet.
'Blond hair blue eyes, known for high endurance, evasion, proficient in close range combat, adept at ninjutsu and gen-'
The blond frowned pulling out a pen and scribbling on his correction. 'Blond hair blue eyes, known for high endurance, evasion, proficient in close range combat, adept at ninjutsu and (very proficient at) genjutsu. Not to be engaged unless well prepared or holding a numerical advantage. Considred A rank to be captured on sight if possible. Lethal force is authorized.
Naruto frowned again, flipping through the pages before he found Cyrus' old picture looking down at the man's alias.
"The ghost of Iwagakure"
"So alias is a cool nickname then." He nodded to himself deciding on his next goal.
Tsume blinked, staring stupidly at the piece of paper before looking up at her daughter. "Are you serious?"
Hana shrugged. "You joined once."
"Hana you're a vet." She deadpanned. "Outside of a few missions here and there you don't do combat missions what's brought on..." She held up the page. "This?"
The younger Inuzuka smiled. "Just thinking of getting some more experience under my belt."
Tsume looked at the page her lips making a strange sort of frown, almost incredulous but not quite. She seemed to shrug. "If you're sure. I won't stop you then."
She handed her daughter the paper. "I'll tell ya though. Training to become a hunter nin is its own special kind of hell."
Hana smirked. "I think I can manage."
Whelp. Here's the last chapter for the first installment. All these wonderful things have been set up for part two that I feel inclined to remind you my readers part 2 won't be out for a while yet. I have a Fate Stay Night story to finish along with the sequel to Shikon. Once those are done the second installment of this will be published.
Hope you enjoyed it Read and review (if you can I know this story has been marked as "already reviewed" by a few people so no worries if it can't happen.)
I'll see you all next time then. Bye for now.