Theres something really weird with my FFnet document file thing. Half the time it won't even work, and now that it FINALLY is, every single time I upload it repeats the first sentence three times. It's so weird!


The month was uneventful.

The most interesting that happened in the Akatsuki lair—everyone seemed to be out, Hidan and Kakuzu were in snow country, Zetsu was doing something that no one exactly cared about, Kisame and Itachi were currently stationed in Konoha with negotiations, and Leader was in his study, except no one dared to go there unless summoned—was on a fine day in the Training ground.

The main mountain where everyone stayed in was hollowed out so that sunlight streamed to the bottom, and grass and some plants grew among the dwindling sunlight.

This was where Deidara had set up his oil paints and easel, his brushes moving smoothly over the fine paper. The mouths on his hands ate raptly on the brush's wood handle, and Deidara had to continuously slap them to keep them from gnawing. Meanwhile, far enough that Deidara didn't have to move himself out of harm's way every other moment, but still in ear shot, Naruto was practicing the Hirashin. Leader had since given him permission to begin larger scaled-practice with it, but he had yet to full understand how the entire process worked. Obviously he was using some sort of higher-scale Shunshin to transport from one kunai to the next, with the use of seals.

Every time though, he'd make it from one to the second, but while on his way to the third he'd lose his concentration and fall flat on his face.

Deidara still hadn't stopped laughing.

"Deidara shut up before I make you." Naruto grumbled over the full out laughter, struggling to get up without moving his now twisted ankle.

The other blond was swatting the ground in bouts of laughter. "B-But God you should have seen your face! Priceless! Can't believe you actually…actually—fell! Oh god…"

Naruto growled lowly, throwing kunai with the intent to maim some decently vital organs and Deidara yelped as he dodged out of the way.

"What the hell! You could have got my painting!" The older of the two screeched.

Naruto shrugged indifferently. "You're fault, you should know by now my dangerous tendencies."

The other looked to retort, before stopping short. "Where the hell's Tobi?"

"Hmm, I haven't seen him around."

"Me either."

The two sat in silence.

"Strange," Deidara finally began. "Usually you'd hear him causing some sort of trouble around here…"

After another minute reign of silence, Naruto shrugged and went back to practicing the Hirashin, and Deidara turned back to his artwork. Deidara was painting the spiral of windows in the Akatsuki lair that faced the hollowed inside, their craggy stone carved into perfect squares, never ending imprints on the rock all the way until the fresh air at the top of the mountain (which was actually a long since dead volcano, hollowed out a little more and built upon).

Neither of them noticed drawn black curtains to a window that almost never opened.

Pein drummed his fingers lightly over the smoothly cut varnished wood of his large study chair. It was a nice thing, made from an ancient tree in the denser parts of Iwa where there were said to be forest gods, and was something he stumbled upon in his travels around the vast world they lived in.

However, this was something he had never stumbled upon.

The man in front of him was not the loser with oddly exceptional dodging skills that he had invited into the organization along with Zetsu. He had known this for a rather long time now, and although he had some hints as to who exactly the man in front of him was, he had to applaud the man's acting skills. He was after all, a being not unlike himself.

"Madara." He greeted informally, with a tip of his head.

The other man mimicked the action. "Nice to see you, Pein."

"What do I owe the dubious pleasure?" The Akatsuki Leader smirked wryly, as the Uchiha leaned against the wall shadowed in inky darkness.

"I'm wondering why you'd exert effort into this 'Orochimaru project'."

The Uchiha was as blunt and forward as usual.

"Is that because I asked you to tag along with them? Or because you really want to know my motives?" Pein tented his fingers and leaned over his desk.

Behind the swirled mask, a Sharingan blazed wildly. "A bit of both, really."

With two of the most powerful men on the planet in one small, woodened door enclosed study, the tension was high and so was the Killer intent. Of course, there would be no lying, no deceit, between the two of them. Their playing field was much, much higher than the one filled with webs of lies created by low-lives, not too unlike Orochimaru and his usual schemes.

"You said you wanted to see the remaining Uchiha." Leader shrugged, the bridge piercings shimmering in the flickering candle light. "If I recall."

"You recall correctly." The Uchiha let the implied insult slide off his back, watching the flickering candle with his three-tomoe eyes. "But, this Naruto character interests me much more than that silly little boy."

"Oh? My adopted son?" Leader's brow shot up in surprise. "I hear him and 'Tobi' do not get along too well."

"No they don't." Madara chuckled lightly. "But then again, Tobi does not get along with many people, does he?"

Pein scowled lazily. "Did you come here to converse about Tobi's relationship with Naruto?"

"On the contrary I came to speak about Naruto and you." The dark black curtains in Leader's study were usually pulled back, however now they were open with the dim light from the training grounds, Deidara's yelp and Naruto's growl heard faintly. "He's quite a temperamental fellow."

"He is." The Leader agreed. "I wonder if it has to do with Kyuubi."

Madara's eyes flickered back from the window to Pein. "Do you think it was a good idea to announce his identity?"

"It doesn't matter." Pein grinned, a true mimic of the Cheshire cat. "Soon enough, Akatsuki will be revealed, Naruto is only a small part in the grand scheme of things."

Behind the mask, Madara's eyes were hooded. "Just a pawn on the chess board, right?"

The Leader didn't answer, cat-like eyes watching his leaning form closely.

"Are you so sure," The Uchiha continued on. "It isn't that we are nothing more than pawns and Naruto is the King?"

"And what do you mean by that?" Pein asked slowly.

Madara grinned, walking out of the room. "What do I mean, indeed."

--

--

--

"Kakashi-sensei is late." Sakura sighed as she leaned against the railing, watching the arena.

Team Seven had made it into the finals, together. It was something she new was a blessing, a miracle even, that she had been able to keep consciousness in her fight with Ino. She had bounded up the stairs, congratulated slightly by her teammates. At first, she had wondered angrily why they weren't a bit more interested, when she then realized that her win was nothing more than a heavy stroke of luck, and nothing more. Since then, her spirits had sunk lower, but she had trained nevertheless. Sai had made it in too, using some subtle ink creatures to finally bind his opponent. Sasuke had easily defeated his opponent in one of the very first rounds.

Now however, was where the problems were.

She peered over the railing a little more, to get a better look at the stands. She could see the outline of Kurenai's dress, and a green blur she suspected to be Maito Gai. But no Kakashi.

Sai had already lost to a Sound Nin, and Sasuke was going up against a boy formidable opponent named Gaara from Sand.

On the floor now was a long, drawn out match between Temari of the sand and Shikamaru. Shikamaru of course, was being a lazy bum and hiding in the shadows as Temari hacked away at the shrubbery. She could tell that this match was going to take a long, long time. Temari growled something to Shikamaru, who was still somewhere behind a tree. The boy said something back, but behind the ringing in her ears she couldn't hear. She clenched her fists again, she was facing whoever won this challenge.

Sighing, she uncurled her fists from the railing, and walked over to the match brackets.

She noticed that—as they said—none of the three who helped her and Team Seven to the tower were there at all, it was as if they never existed.

But they did exist.

And she remembered what Kakashi had said when they told him.

"Someone helped you?" Kakashi blinked, and actually looked up from his book to stare at them.

Sakura fumbled a little with the bottom of her dress, feeling a little misplaced at the hard stare that Kakashi was giving them.

"Three people." Sai watched his teacher's face closely. There was something that the man new. "Do you know of them?"

Kakashi shrugged evasively. "Go on."

"They said their names were…" Sakura frowned, trying to remember. "One was named Deidara."

Kakashi nodded. He had heard of Deidara from Stone, a notorious S-ranked criminal.

"Another one named Tobi." Sasuke spoke up.

Kakashi had never heard of that one, maybe a new criminal? He'd have to check his bingo book.

"And…there was another one." Sakura started again. "But I don't remember—

"Naruto." Sasuke growled icily. Kakashi felt something in him freeze. "The youngest of them. He said his name was Naruto."

Kakashi had then proceeded to shuttle them over to the Hokage to relay the same message, and Sakura watched the old man—whom she had looked up to as the greatest ninja in the village like the rest of the ninja and citizens in the village—drop his pipe in surprise and…some other emotion. An emotion that she couldn't place. But seeing such a variety of them on the Sandaime's face was rather surprising. Who was Naruto? And what was his affect on the Hokage? How could he possibly have such an effect on people like Sarutobi-sama and Kakashi-sensei when he wasn't even from the village?

And more importantly, why did he have such an affect?

"Winner is: Sabuku no Temari!" The Chuunin on the ground yelled into the stands, and cheers began to wildly erupt.

Sakura felt her stomach drop.

"Sakura." Sasuke looked over his shoulder. "It's your turn."

Sakura nodded timidly, beginning her trek down to the arena. She passed Shikamaru on the way up, the lazy boy shrugged indifferently when she tried to ask him how the match went. He didn't seem too particularly interested in making Chuunin or the outcome of his match. He wished her good luck though, albeit in the laziest way possible and it came out more like a large, lazy grunt. All in all, his laziness made her a little less jittery, but nothing could stop the storm raging in her gut, coiling like a dense hurricane amidst an isolation of anxiety.

As the blinding light—to her it almost looked like it was the light coming to take her dead body—at the end of the tunnel to the arena overcame her senses, she found herself remembering what happened in the forest of death a little over a month ago with Naruto and his team. They had dispatched a team of Rain-nin with such speed, accuracy, and overall disinterest that she felt herself in both awe and fear. Actually, Naruto had dispatched them, while the brunette-blond stood lazily over on the side and the Tobi boy cheered.

"The life of Shinobi." The blond had shrugged to her indifferently when he noticed her shivering. She was captivated by the blue of his eyes.

Right now, as she saw the kunoichi on the ground canting her hip and leaning against her fan in the most I'm-going-to-kick-your-ass way she had ever seen a Kunoichi, she wished she had that same kind of strength like Naruto did.

--

"Hokage-sama."

The Hokage stiffened, a voice from a very long, long time ago.

The Yondaime (AN: It is the Yondaime right?) of Sunagakure had excused himself as one of his subordinates had come with some apparent 'urgent' news. Leaving the Hokage alone on the loft balcony, watching one of his newly made Gennin with pink hair battle it out with a blond kunoichi from Suna. It was unusually quiet, and the Sandaime was just thinking about the Akatsuki's ominous prophecy of Orochimaru. Here. In the exams. The thought made him shiver. Was he there, on the ground? Or was he somewhere much, much, closer…?

The voice had jolted him to reality.

The Hokage nodded curtly. "Itachi."

Sarutobi's eyes swept to the corner of his vision, where three figures cloaked in red cloud coats were standing ominously against the Konoha dusk, imprinted with the backdrop of a sleepy Konoha behind them. They wore the straw hats still, the miniscule bells jingling portentously with the wind. He noted that one was most certainly Itachi, from the Uchiha's voice, another was-from the large sword strapped on his back and covered with bandages-his partner, Hoshigake Kisame. But who was the last? He appeared very small compared to his much taller and more mature counterpart, tipping his hat forward to keep his face shrouded in darkness, a tan hand with fingerless gloves stretching from the inside of the cloak.

From the way the boy stood, he acted like he was the runner of the show, just as threatening as the other two against a blood sunset, the pink and chambray spreading out behind them on the easel of the sky, drawing out the darkness of the black on their coats.

He wondered why he even struck a deal with them, when it was obvious what there ill-intentions were.

"We've come to inform you of the specific dates of the infiltration." The Uchiha—dubbed spokesperson of the three—informed him in the low drawl that was normal for the elder of the Uchiha brothers.

"And those would be…?" Sarutobi trailed off.

"The match of Uchiha Sasuke and Sabuku no Gaara."

"The Kazekage's son?" The Hokage wondered aloud. "But then that would mean that—

The Uchiha nodded indifferently. "That Orochimaru is using the Kazekage's body as a disguise."

"And so in exchange for letting your comrades into the exam you will take care of Orochimaru for me?" The Sandaime asked warily, making note of how notorious the two known Akatsuki member's reputations were.

The other—Kisame—nodded. "We'll take care of him, but you should probably alert your Shinobi, because Orochimaru has created an alliance with Sand—

"And as of thus he will have double the forces. Along with the power of the Shukaku Jinchuuriki." Itachi interrupted the fish-man, who growled furiously. "Would you like us to dispatch the Jinchuuriki as well?"

The Hokage of Konoha eyed the proposition warily. "And why would you go through the trouble to do so, exactly?"

"Because!" Finally, the smallest of them spoke up, and the Sandaime was shocked to find how high pitched it was. The boy could be no older than thirteen. "I want to test him."

The Uchiha nodded curtly. "Alright."

"Huh, no orders?" The youngest (it was obvious to tell with his voice) teased slightly. "How strange."

Itachi turned to the boy, skeptical. "Fine then, Naruto. Go down into the stands and wait until the Jinchuuriki begins to move against protocol. Then, you are ordered to use whatever means necessary to take him down, besides the use of Konoha citizens."

Naruto pulled his mask down, rolling his eyes. "Such a stickler, as usual."

The Hokage stood up quickly. "Naruto?!"

To both his chagrin and fear, the young blond boy remembered him, giving him a half wave in the air breezily before he turned to jump the twenty or so feet to the stands. "Yo, old man."

The Sandaime was still standing, even as the two S-class criminals used a Shunshin to fade into the background.

"Is everything alright, Hokage-sama?" The 'Kazekage' asked him lightly, but seriously.

The Sandaime forced himself to keep his cool. "Yes, everything is fine, I just thought I…saw something."

The Kazekage raised his brow. "Oh?"

"Oh…" Sakura panted heavily as she skidded to a halt in the dirt, dust picking up like slight clouds, separating her from Temari.

The blond had one slim hand curved up, crossing her body in the aftermath of a large sweep of her fan. The blow had forced Sakura to retreat into a corner, brushing the locks of pink hair out of her hair, she really should cut it. Her hands were about to go up her dress to the Kunai holster on her thigh, when she remembered what happened after Temari's match with TenTen, the weapon master. It hadn't ended well for someone who specialized in weapons, so Sakura doubted it would end well for someone like her, who hadn't really had much training with the besides the standard.

Suddenly, Temari charged, and Sakura rolled to the side, before lifting herself into the air with a giant chakra-enhanced leap.

Bad move.

Temari used her fan to push the air, sending Sakura toppling into the wall, sliding down from a good ten feet and clutching her badly bruised and possibly broken shoulder. Smirking, Temari flicked her enormous fan so that it opened a little wider.

The purple of it glowed in the peachy sunset that was casting long shadows over the arena.

"I forfeit!" Sakura screamed so suddenly that even her opponent blinked.

Hayate shifted the cigarette in his mouth, raising his right hand. "Winner is: Sabuku no Temari!"

Once more, the audience roared with the echo of the stadium, wild and fierce and it pierced through Sakura, because it wasn't as fierce as it had been not even at the last match, because she hadn't given them anything to be interested for. She was just an average Gennin that was by no means qualified to become Chuunin.

As she tumbled over clutching her wound, she caught a sparkle of golden that glistened in the stands.

Looking up, she saw the outline of a heavy black coat, imprinted with red blots that she couldn't make out from the distance. The man—no boy—was standing in the shadows, far up from the rest of the crowd. The only way she would have ever noticed was the golden sunshine of its glow in the dying sunlight. It had only taken that one glance, that one look of perfect saffron, to know who it was. She averted her eyes, knowing that the blond probably realized she saw him, and she made her way into the hallway.

Bruised and beaten, Sakura noticed Sasuke padding lightly down the stairs, wondering if this was slightly how Shikamaru felt. Probably not, Shikamaru was too lazy to care.

But, she felt the need to say something, anything, and 'good luck' didn't seem like it was a good idea.

"He's here." She said suddenly, but softly.

The Uchiha's eyes, if possible, darkened even more until they nearly bled Sharingan. "I know."

And then he walked into the arena, shoving past a whistling Temari, who only gave him a fleeting warning glance that he didn't bother to match with his own. Sakura decided to get moving before she was stuck in a hallway with that battle-axe of a woman.

The first thing that Uchiha Sasuke did when he walked into the blinding sunset washed arena, was not to sit and glare precariously at his opponent, but to swivel his head deliberately slow enough to be caught from a good hundred yards away and in the direction of a certain blond that was standing ominously in the corner of the highest stands where there were no people.

That blond was Uzumaki Naruto.

The blond, his arms crossed in his cloak and hat shed, grinned wildly. What a little brat, that Uchiha.

A cocky little bastard, the blond noted duly in his head. Cocky, but he new how to set his sights for the top.

The blond made himself comfortable, leaning against the small ledge that surrounded the very top of the stadium, and watching the announcer raise his right hand up to call the beginning of the match. Sasuke's stance said it all, a cocky boy ready to show off to someone he wanted to intimidate. Naruto wondered if this person was him, or perhaps the Uchiha had seen his older brother?

But that was farfetched, because if the younger of the brothers saw the elder, than he would probably go charging blunt-head first into the other and getting his ass handed back to him.

He'd be good, if he just had something better to base his life on than revenge.

"Not bad." Kisame tapped his chin lightly, hat tipped up to reveal the blue hue of his skin.

The Uchiha, in front of him by a little, watched his younger brother with disinterested eyes, however, Kisame wondered somewhere in the backdrop of his mind if that was just a forefront.

"He is formidable." Itachi said lightly. "But he lacks hatred, and he lacks strength."

"If he wanted to I'm sure he could do something more interesting than that Chidori of his or whatever." Kisame began again. "But I'm sure there's something that Hatake can teach him."

"If you are implying that he would be good for this organization," The Uchiha began. "Then I highly suggest you revaluate."

The man from the Seven Swordsman shrugged. "Well, if he had been given the right environment, I'm sue he would have turned out different. Like Naruto."

The Uchiha's eyes flickered slowly to the spot on the opposite side of the arena where the blond leaned against the frame around the coliseum. Yes, Naruto was very formidable, he was very strong, and he was very smart. But the environment that Naruto had grown up in, filled with blood shed, warped twisted minds, lies and deceit and a thousand dead bodies pooling underneath his feet, was not the kind he wished for his younger brother. Neither was a childhood alone and under the impression that his older brother was a conniving murderer (the murdering part wasn't exactly a lie) but it was at least slightly better.

Outwardly, Itachi only made a grunt.

"You have to admit, the kid's got talent." Kisame's beady eyes never left Naruto's frame. "Whether it's from his unlimited chakra or his heritage, he was built to be great. Kinda makes you feel bad, you know? Knowing we had to claw our way up from the bottom when the kid had the makings to be great from the beginning."

"However, Naruto did not turn out to be a spoiled prince with nothing better to do than slice off heads." Itachi said tonelessly.

Kisame nodded. "True. That's why you can't complain."

The Uchiha watched his younger brother counter a fist of sand, and barrel around while throwing kunai to the redhead, who caught them with bouts of shifting sand.

"Leader-sama seems upset with his temperament, though." Kisame noted. "Man, he's fierce when he's pissed, but he honestly has to something with that temper. Leader'll get mad if his 'project' turns into nothing because Naruto's too hotheaded."

Itachi nodded indifferently, and Kisame brought his head back from staring at Naruto's form when the screech of thousands of birds met his ears, their calls loud and echoing. The haphazard ball of electricity ran up the boy's arms as he sprinted down the wall, the eddies of the sparkling blue electricity fading behind him. His opponent stood still, probably too animalistic to do anything but stare at the substance that was unknown to him. Finally, Gaara had erected a barrier of sand that slowly curled around him like a ball, the brown substance shifting around him very slowly compared to Sasuke's pace hurdling down the wall.

And then the Chidori struck, Sasuke's hand being shoved into the sand.

It was silent.

The cry of birds was muffled by the layer of sand. Nothing was heard but the shuffling and whispers from the crowd, everything had gone quiet, and the announcing Chuunin had taken a tentative step closer, to survey the damage.

Then, a blood curdling scream.

The three Akatsuki members scattered across the arena looked down in mild interest.

"B-blood?" The red head touched the wound lightly, in awe and horror. "M-Mother…what is this?"

Sasuke raised his guard, taking a step back as he noticed the other's shaking getting worse and worse.

"Blood!" Gaara screamed, tearing at his hair in shattered sanity. "Blood! Blood!"

Now Sasuke was shaking, the kunai in his hand so unsteady it visibly shook.

"You'll pay! You'll——

It was then that all hell broke loose.

Suna and Sound launched their attack, all the people in the stands being hit was waves of Genjutsu, the only ones who could block it were a few of the Gennin, the Chuunin, and all of the ANBU and Jounin stationed in the arena. Luckily the Hokage already knew of the attack, and had made sure to put more ANBU in the stands just in case. The Akatsuki members easily blocked the low level genjutsu, it was probably meant for the civilians anyways.

The outer wall broke with a shatter, enormous snakes already smashing all of the buildings in their way. The things were massive, large and spitting with their slit tongues in a way that only Orochimaru would have summons do.

Atop a building rooftop, a cube of purple was erected. Almost immediately did all the ANBU not currently doing something to help leap to the building top, in which both Orochimaru and his former teacher were battling it by themselves. The Sound four had begun erected the barrier to keep intruders out.

The sand siblings, Temari and Kankouro leapt from the Gennin waiting room, grabbing their still screaming brother and jumping over the ledge.

Noticing that his kill was getting away, Naruto pushed off the stadium with such force that he went flying through the air, nearly closing the entirety of the gap that Temari and Kankouro were trying to put between them. He grinned widely, it was time to test himself against his fellow Jinchuuriki, and he could feel Kyuubi shaking in his cage in anxiousness, at the thought of attacking Shukaku, after such a long…long…time. Naruto put a hand to his head as he ran to the forms in front of him, trying to keep the blood lust at bay.

Kankouro sped up a little so that him and his sister ran side by side. "T-Temari…" He gasped. "Who's that?"

Temari sent a furtive look behind them. "I don't know. Shit, this whole plan isn't working out. There were way too many ANBU members in the stadium."

"What about the snakes?" Kankouro tried to peer over the trees they were currently running over, but he couldn't see their enormous forms.

Temari shook her head. "One's already dead, this…thing (she couldn't call it a human) came out of nowhere and killed it." She looked back to the spotted cloak Naruto wore, already closing the gap. "Wore the same thing that guy's wearing. Had blue hair or something."

Kankouro nodded gravely. "We've got to get Gaara to do…something."

They both watched their brother as he gasped for rattling breaths, eyes closed and a slight puncture wound near his chest. It was his first time ever being wounded and he wasn't taking it very well. Without him the ambush wouldn't be able to do much, and it wasn't doing much already, especially with these cloaked Shinobi and the rigid defense Konoha was putting up.

"But Kankouro we—

"You should really keep your guard up."

The siblings looked up sharply, as a shadow fell over their forms, looming in the direction of the sun, making it hard to see where the person was.

The ground suddenly split, and the three of them had to split into different directions to avoid the sharp blast of Earth that sprang up in long, dangerous spikes. However, they had to let go of Gaara, who now lay somewhere not too far from Naruto in the forest clearing. Temari had hurdled into a nearby tree, wincing in pain as she met the rigid bark of Konoha trees against her back. Kankouro skidded into the dirt, limp body twisting and turning with the terrain. Wasn't a very nice landing at all but anything to get away from the attack. It was obvious that the cloaked man in front of them was not here to simply hurt them and take them out until the end of the ambush, but to kill them immediately.

Instead though, the blond ignored them completely, walking slowly to the slightly moving form of their sibling.

Temari pushed herself up first, swinging her fan until blades of wind sent jagged lines against the Earth, coming in Naruto's direction. But the other blond had used his affinity for wind to cut the winds in half.

Kankouro was getting up as well, already moving his puppets.

But the Akatsuki member didn't move from staring at Gaara's unmoving form, as if willing the other boy to move. Even as the two other sand siblings closed the gap to the two of them, he still hadn't moved, still watching the prone form of the red head with aloof eyes.

And then, something stopped the two of them.

Temari's large fan had been caught in the beak of a clay bird. She didn't understand where exactly it came form, or why it was a bird until—

"AH!"

She felt herself being pulled backwards, dragging her feet so she wouldn't go flying into a tree again.

It was a bomb.

Kankouro had been met with something different. He had a puppet already on the move, its clawed hands were open and ready for the kill when it had been stopped so suddenly. In fact, it had been cut into several pieces, leaving him stunned and nearly tangled in chakra strings.

He was met face to face with a swirling orange and black mask.

However, unlike nearly anyone else who had ever met the masked Akatsuki member Tobi, they were extremely close to each other. Close enough that Kankouro could get lost in the swirls of orange and black, until they eventually lead him to the single eye whole in the mask. He blinked in surprise. His last thoughts were wondering what kind of Sharingan the man had, before said man activated it on him.

Kankouro fell forward, lost in the blank unconsciousness of hypnotism.

Madara—not Tobi, because for once, he wasn't acting—stared at the form below him in thought.

The Uchiha lazily peered over to his 'teammates'. Naruto had already begun battling an unconscious Gaara, who had unleashed the demon Shukaku unknowingly. Even if Naruto did beat the monster in front of him (which was rather probably, considering Naruto's own mastery of the demon inside of him) they wouldn't seal the thing just yet. It would ruin the plans that he had for the upcoming years for Akatsuki, and Naruto, if he revealed Akatsuki's true purpose too soon.

With a last look at Deidara's final blows to the exhausted other blond, he decided that he had important things to talk about with Pein, and teleported out of there.

"—Tobi?" Deidara called over his shoulder, worriedly, half expecting to see Tobi on the ground and that Kankouro kid ready with a final blow.

The kunoichi from sand—Temari—fell over into the ground, unconscious and exhausted. Currently Deidara didn't feel like finishing her off, she wasn't about to get up any time soon anyways.

What really interested him, was the minced form of a puppet and the limp form of the puppet master.

Tobi did that…?

"Maybe that idiot is good for something after all." Deidara shrugged, disinterested.

He turned his attention back to Naruto and Gaara, where Naruto got side swept with a massive paw of sand. The blond hurtled into the ground, growling lowly at the enormous form of Shukaku. Obviously Naruto was going to win, but he seemed to be having some trouble at the moment with the 'weakest link' of the Bijuu.

The blond sprang up, delivering a kick directly into Gaara's face, not the monster's face, but Gaara's.

The monster howled, thrown into the ground and clawing to get up.

While he was down, Naruto powered his Rasengan, the glowing blue ball spinning crazily in all different directions, blue as the azure sky and glowing iridescently in the Konoha sunshine.

When the ball of pure chakra hit the monster, it howled in pain.

Finally, Gaara woke up.

Gaara's blinking eyes met Naruto's aloof hooded ones, as Naruto regarded the other boy. Maybe in contempt, like the eyes of a predator watching his prey struggle in its last moments of life. Or maybe as a fellow Jinchuuriki, lost in a world filled with dripping blood and lifeless bodies and no one that really cared. Naruto had gotten over the feeling a long, long time ago, but for some reason, watching the boy below him struggling to get up, he felt the wash of emotions over him again.

He remembered his life in Konoha, the bitter pieces of memory that had no happiness, nothing but depression and the harsh faces of everyone he met. He remembered how much he hated the orphanage, how the caretakers and the other kids hated him, how he used to take the blows without flinching because he knew there was nothing he could do about it.

He remembered the first few months in Akatsuki, with everyone who looked at him looked like the wanted to eat him. And Leader's face in contempt because Naruto of how weak Naruto was, and how he couldn't even make a Bunshin.

He saw that when he saw Gaara struggling to push himself off the ground, helpless and weak and unable to do a thing about it.

The life of a Jinchuuriki.

"You're names Gaara, right?" He called out lightly, putting his hands in his pockets.

The other Jinchuuriki sent him a look that could wither plants.

"I don't understand why you think you're the only one who has to go through shit everyday." He started, coldly watching the way Shukaku's spine straightened. "It's the life of a Jinchuuriki. And you can sit there and think that this is shit and that there's nothing you can do with your life, or you could get up and prove that you're stronger than them. Got it?"

The other's green eyes watched him with interest, watched the toned muscles under tanned skin, the scars that ran up his arms thinly from where the cloak was pulled up. And he watched the other boy's eyes, flickering red with the movement of the sun, his intense-eyed form standing perilously above him, and Gaara realized that this man right in front of him, was strong. He was a Jinchuuriki, and he was strong.

"Who…are you?" His voice was raspy.

Naruto watched him with interest, as the boy's knees buckled as he tried to get up.

"U—" He blinked, and stopped himself. "Namikaze Naruto, Kyuubi Jinchuuriki, and member of Akatsuki."

The other Jinchuuriki let the information sink. "Sabuku no Gaara…Shukaku.. Jinchuuriki…" He felt the ground rushing up to meet him, and felt his vision swim and then turn into nothingness.

Naruto watched him for a few moments, the kid had will power, that was for sure.

Deidara was watching him interestedly from the other side of the clearing and he scowled. He didn't want Deidara to go about telling the rest of Akatsuki about this.

"Let's go." Naruto sighed. "Itachi and Kisame said that Leader-sama would be here, so we should probably report back."

"Leader-sama?" Deidara blinked. "Here?"

Naruto nodded. "Him and Konan-san are, but I don't know why. I doubt it's because of Orochimaru, it's probably something more."

"You go ahead. I'm going to find Kisame, got a bone to pick with him." Deidara told him, and they split into different directions.

--

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When Naruto rushed up, he saw Konan first.

She had a paper butterfly delicately on one of her fingers, it was a pretty thing. They were her informants, and this one was colored blue with purple speckles, looking so entirely like an actual butterfly that it was nearly impossible to tell if it was paper or not unless you saw Konan near by. She was listening to it closely, and he suspected that they were communicating or something. How, was anyone's guess. There was much he didn't know about Konan, or Leader for that matter. Even if Leader was his adopted father he still didn't have the slightest clue of anything about him.

When she saw him, her eyes blinked at him, before returning to her butterfly, the only true way he new that she saw him was the nod of her head.

The building rooftop was a vast terrain of concrete, filled with splattered blood and air conditioning units.

He made out Leader's form, adorned with the usual Akatsuki cloak and a straw hat, the paper fringes flowing gently in the wind. It seems that Orochimaru had tried to flee the scene with his Sound accomplices, however, Leader had intercepted him and his ninja, and from the looks of the one-hit fatal injuries the limp bodies scattered around the building top, he took care of them easily. Some were sprawled out of the ground with blood pooling beneath them, others were strewn atop the air conditioning units. It looked like he had killed them all instantly from the air.

Naruto figured that Leader had decided that it was much easier for him just to come out and kill the traitor himself, although Naruto highly, highly doubted that was the only reason that he was here. Knowing Leader, it was probably something much more than that.

He didn't see Orochimaru yet.

What he did see though, surprised him.

Tobi was leaning against one of the larger air conditioning units, the low drone of them was loud enough that he couldn't hear what they were saying over the wind or the units. His cloak was tucked in his folded arms, and he looked casual, as did Leader. But there was something very different about this situation.

Tobi didn't look dumb, for once.

It looked like they were discussing something of interest.

Leader didn't look annoyed either, if anything he looked tense. When was Tobi so…concentrated? He was usually staring out in space.

"Konan-san?" He asked tentatively.

Konan folded the butterfly and placed it somewhere inside her cloak, turning to look at him. "Yes?"

"Uh, why are you guys here?" He surveyed the damage, and the large snakes that were lying dead in the street.

"Leader-sama had business to take care of nearby." Konan seemed to choose her words carefully, as if not to tell him much of anything.

He frowned slowly. "Well, okay. I take it you guys took care of Orochimaru?"

Konan nudged her head slightly to wear Tobi and Pein were conversing quietly, and he noticed the dead body and the inky black hair that spread over the head. Definitely Orochimaru.

Orochimaru's strength paled in comparison to Leader's; that was easily noted.

He walked up slowly, as the last tips of sunlight cast long shadows painted in strokes of darkness, lengthened until Leader's shadow nearly reached the end of the building, the flapping coat ominous against the red washed sunset.

Madara looked up in mid speech, silencing their personal conversation before Naruto could even glimpse it. He caught a glance of Leader's reaction through the fringes of his hat, and was deciding whether he should act like his true self or become under the alias of Tobi. Naruto's long face though proved that he wasn't about to be fooled by it again, the sunshine hair being pushed back by the wind, his coat flowing distantly. At first he eyed the dead corpse of Orochimaru, punctured and beyond repair. Leader really did a number on him.

Then he eyed Tobi, or Madara really, with another glare that matched his fiery temper.

"So why'd you send us on this dumb mission if you ended up doing the job for us?" He asked lightly, but his eyes spoke otherwise.

"It wasn't deliberate." Leader chided him, pulling his hat lower.

"And it was a good way to measure your…skills." Madara added.

"And obviously, you're not a dipshit like you like to run around and say you are." Naruto said sharply, watching the mask for any indication that his words had hit something.

But Madara shrugged indifferently. "You would have acted much differently if you knew who I was."

Naruto snorted softly. "I still don't know who you are."

"Uchiha Madara, nice to meet you." He waved to the young boy warmly.

Naruto blinked. "…Uchiha—?"

"But that's enough introductions for today." Madara cut him off, tone light. "Naruto, we have a proposition for you."

Naruto frowned slightly at the words. Proposition? What did they mean by that? However, he said nothing, opting to listen in and decipher whether he wanted to take the chance or not.

"What?" He asked impatiently.

"Konoha is in need of a new Hokage."

Naruto had no idea where Leader was going with this, but he froze considerably. The only reason that Konoha would need a new Hokage was that the old one was…

"What happened to the Sandaime?!" He burst quickly.

"He's not dead, if that's what you're asking. Orochimaru got to him before we could, and he's in the hospital now." Madara chastised him lightly. "He'll be fine."

Naruto looked skeptical, but he didn't say anything.

"What does that have to do with me?" He asked skeptically.

"As you already know your true father was a man by the name of Namikaze Minato." Pein told him blandly. "He was the Yondaime Hokage, and had many, many contacts. One of them is in the village right now, a man by the name of Jiraiya, and also one of the three Sannin. He's currently here and is probably going to be the next Hokage now that Sarutobi has been injured. If you can find him, he may have something to teach you."

"Teach me?" Naruto's brow shot up in surprise. "Like what?"

The Leader showed no movement that he even heard the statement, pulling his cloak as he stepped over Orochimaru's body. Konan was brushing past him as he sputtered indignantly, using her papery hands to pull her hair back into its orderly bun, and placing the paper flower in as well. He was still, as Madara followed in suit, coolly pushing himself off the wall of the air conditioning and following Pein as he walked to the other side of the building.

He was half way into following them to get more answers when the Pein turned around.

"I suppose you'll find that out, won't you?"

And then, then they disappeared in ashen smoke, the tendrils of the substance curling with the wind.

"God dammit." Naruto spat, more in frustration then in anger. He was sick of Leader's stupid mind games.

He looked up at the sky, dusk moving into twilight as the moon overtook the last bits of saffron with its stretching limbs of navy blue.

"Jiraiya…huh?"


So I've decided to do something different then the plot I followed on the prev. AC. Tell me what you think?