Alas, I do not own Naruto

Important Note: Dec. 5, 2008

The sequel "Rises the Flame" is up along with a bunch of drabbles posted under the title "The Nukenin Chronicles"

I just thought you would all want to know.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

"What were you thinking?" an irate voice hissed. Akira would later swear his heart had stopped when his partner had taken the blow meant for him.

Violet eyes rolled in exasperation. "I was thinking that attack would have killed you." Really, it wasn't like the shapeshifter was expecting his friend to kiss his feet, but a thank-you would be nice. Casually Hiraku stretched his arms over his head, "where as I am already healed."

That was technically true; he was still in pain though. Akira wasn't the only one upset with Hiraku's actions. Spikes of demonic chakra shot through his body at random intervals. Each was accompanied by a colorful expletive, most referring to the jinchuuriki's intelligence, or lack there of. A few of the better insults were tucked away for future reference. They could be useful someday.

Hiraku's attention was pulled back to the present by the arrival of his long time personal stalkers. He tensed, a weapon coming readily to hand. Akira quickly followed suit. The shapeshifter was not pleased by the arrival of the pair, but at least there were only two of them.

"That will not be necessary Hiraku-kun," Itachi informed his long time prey. "We did not come here to fight."

The jinchuuriki blinked. "Come again?" this was not how encounters with the Akatsuki went.

A fanged grin appeared on Kisame's face. The former mist nin looked genuinely cheerful as he gently tossed a scroll on the ground between them. "An offer of truce," he explained. "Signed by every member of our organization." He was careful to make any threatening movements. Not easy, for someone like him.

Hiraku's eyes strayed to the scroll but he made no move to pick it up. That explained why there were only two of them. "And this was brought on by?"

"A combination of factors," was the Uchiha's reply. "Most noticeable your recent victory against Orochimaru."

Violet eyes narrowed. It didn't take much to read between the lines. He knew just what Itachi wasn't saying, mainly Kyuubi's contribution to the battle. A surge of irritation went through him as he realized the Akatsuki had been watching him, and that he hadn't noticed.

"In short kid, where you are concerned, the potential benefits no longer outweigh the costs." Kisame was privately pleased at the decision. The jinchuuriki had grown into an interesting person. He didn't want Naruto to die.

"Oi," Hiraku protested. "I am not a kid anymore." He wasn't really paying attention to the words that came out of his mouth. His mind was on other things.

The shark-like nin made a show of looking him up and down. "You know," he murmured thoughtfully, "Perhaps you're right. You come up further than my waist now."

A look of outrage crossed the shapeshifter's face. "I was not that short!" Hiraku's partner blinked. They had known each other that long.

Kisame laughed. "Just keep telling yourself that kid."

As the pair turned to leave Itachi glanced back over his shoulder. "Until next time Hiraku-kun, may our future meetings be more pleasant than our past." Then the two shinobi were gone, vanished between one breath and the next.

That night, the man known as Hiraku Kazama sat on a grassy hillside staring at the stars. It had taken most of the day before the shapeshifter had snapped out of the daze he had fallen into. He didn't react when Akira plopped down next to him. Hiraku didn't need his eyes to identify his partner. The poison-user had a distinctive scent.

"What are you thinking about?" the former grass nin inquired.

The light from the moon reflected off slitted eyes as Hiraku turned to face the other. "My past," he answered honestly. Akira shifted but said nothing. He would not ask. This time however, he didn't need to.

"Let me tell you a story Akira. It starts with a powerful shinobi, Arashi Kazama, the Fourth Hokage."

The brunette nodded. "Your Father."

A look of approval crossed Hiraku's face. He wondered just how much of the puzzle his partner had managed to put together. "Do you know how he died?" the jinchuuriki asked.

Akira's brow furrowed; he had heard the story. "Kyuubi no Kitsune attacked Konoha. The Fourth died after killing the demon."

Kyuubi growled at the mention of the oft-repeated lie. Not that it mattered; the poison-user couldn't hear him. The only one who could have had ample practice at tuning the fox out. "Not quite," Hiraku corrected him. "No human can kill a bjuu. The best one can hope for is to seal it away."

Green eyes narrowed. Akira was beginning to see where this was going.

"My Father lived just long enough to name me," the jinchuuriki continued. "The villagers had no idea who I was of course. I don't blame the Third for his silence," he confided to his partner. "He was just trying to protect me from Arashi's enemies."

Hiraku's jaw clenched. "That doesn't change the fact my heritage was denied me though. No name, no clan, nothing but a placeholder," the words were murmured bitterly. "Naruto Uzumaki of Konoha."

"So how did you become a nukenin?" Akira's question went unacknowledged. It is possible Hiraku didn't even hear him. The demon vessel was lost in his past.

"There was a time I would have done almost anything to gain their acknowledgment," the younger ninja admitted. "By the time of my final betrayal, that had long since faded."

A low hiss escaped the poison-user's throat. Betrayal, that was something he could relate to. "What happened?"

Hiraku shrugged. "Naruto died, the victim of a dagger to the back. I rose from his ashes."

For a long moment, Akira was silent. He was touched his partner trusted him enough to share his past. The brunette laid back, his gaze traveling upwards to rest on the star filled sky. "So what now?" he asked.

A burst of triumphant laughter escaped the demon vessel. Hiraku Kazama had no problems with Konoha. Orochimaru was dead, the Akatsuki were no longer his problem. The world was wide open. The shapeshifter's words were simple but heartfelt. "We live." Fang's flashed in a fox-like grin as Hiraku caught his partner's eyes. It was the look of someone that was clearly up to something. "Of course, if you're bored we could always take over Hidden Sound. I always wanted to be a kage."

Akira groaned as he closed his eyes. He was starting to miss Itachi and Kisame already.



It isn't perfect but I had to do something or it would have become the fic that never ends. My only other feasible option involved a bloodbath. Obviously, the ending is framed in such a way that I might someday write a sequel. I haven't decided yet.

I am however writing a humorous side fic that will be more like a series of chronological drabbles. It will involve Hiraku's interaction with Orochimaru, the Akatsuki, and various citizens of Konoha. Our favorite demon vessel will even adopt a genin team, much to the despair of their jounin sensei. Updates will be slow for a while because there is a lot of stuff that got put off while I was writing this. From the Ashes ended up a lot longer than I originally thought it was going to be. Hope you liked it.

I take it back. There is a sequel. It can be found by clicking on my user name.