The Chibi accident and Kakashi's discovery

PairingsKakaIru, GaaNaru and SasukeKankuro

Tiro here. Here is the last chapter of the story. It took me some times to write it, but it's forty pages so lot of reading for you guys. Enjoy.

-

"Talking"

'Thinking'

"Talking in mind" (mostly Gaara and Naruto when they speak to their Bijus)

"Demons speaking"

Chapter 10: The Truth and The new Beginning

(A/N Shortly after chapter 9; maybe a week)

Two figures stood on a hill, looking over Konoha. Both of them wearing simple black cloaks. The one to the left was tall and had a sword wrapped in bandages attached to him. The hood hid his abnormal face. The one to the right was shorter and black hair fell around his face. His eyes were black as the night and were staring unseeing ahead of him.

"Are we going?" the taller asked.

"Yes", the shorter answered.

"What if they don't believe you?"

"Then they won't."

The taller looked at his companion with mild interest.

"You never relax do you?" the taller said as the hood fell from his face and showed no one other than Hoshigaki Kisame.

"I was not taught to relax", Uchiha Itachi answered as he blinked back the life in his black orbs. "Let's go."

"Yes, Itachi-san."

-

Naruto woke up feeling very warm. He blinked his eyes open and found himself staring at Kankuro's back. Gaara was pressed up against him, arms circling his torso. He saw Sasuke's hand lying on the puppeteer's hip and rose on his elbow. After their unfortunate vacation, all three of them made a habit by falling asleep with Naruto, in his room.

Naruto yawned and turned around. Gaara's soft eyes met his.

"Morning", Naruto said. "Have you slept any?"

"Maybe an hour or so", Gaara whispered. "That was fine. I got to look at you for the rest of the night."

Naruto huffed, but it only caused the redhead to smile. Kankuro moved slightly, but was pulled closer to Sasuke and the two of them continued to sleep. The puppeteer coughed and Naruto nearly jumped at the sound. Gaara laughed silently while Naruto stuck out his tongue. The blonde dressed and shivered as Gaara's hands came to rest over his chest, his back against the redhead's chest. Gaara swayed gently and Naruto smiled. After a gentle kiss on his left temple, the blonde was released. They made their way to the kitchen where Kakashi sat with a cup of coffee. He looked up and gave them a smile before returning to whatever he was reading.

"Where's Iruka?" Naruto said.

"I let him sleep in", Kakashi said. "He was exhausted after yesterday."

"Oh…"

Yesterday had been a hectic day for the academy teachers as they had given their students a full day of tests in the nature. Iruka had supervised most of them, and came home almost asleep after midnight. The Copy-nin helped the brunette to bed and Iruka had slept since then as he had been up for days preparing the tests.

Naruto made some tea as Gaara sat down and looked outside. It was a beginning of a beautiful day. But as everyone knows, looks can be deceptive…

-

Shikamaru yawned behind his hand as he moved towards the meeting place of team 10. He had been up late the day before, helping Iruka stack some papers on the academy after the tests. It had been a boring job, but his former teacher looked really tired and Shikamaru would have felt guilty if he had not helped Iruka. He looked up at the sun and yawned again. Then his father had needed some help finding a scroll when Shikamaru had come home late. He had gone to bed at 5 AM in the morning and was up at eight. That was not healthy. He had a headache coming and felt relived when he reached the meeting place. He slumped down under a tree and closed his eyes. A little nap would not hurt very much…

-

Sakura was at Ino's place as she had volunteered to help her blonde friend with the shop before Ino had to go to her meeting place with her team. Ino's mother was visiting her sick sister (A/N dunno if Ino's mother has a sister, but now I say she has…) so the girl would have been alone otherwise. The pink-haired girl picked up some flowers and arranged them neatly.

Today was her team's day off, and she knew what her teammates were doing. Naruto probably snuggling with Gaara in the couch, since both of them woke up too damn early, and Sasuke still in bed with Kankuro. The two Suna shinobis had moved in, as Suna and the new Kazekage, Baki, had allowed it. This made Konoha and Suna get closer to each other and make a stronger alliance.

Sakura smiled as she imagined it. She was happy for her teammates. Naruto was so happy with Gaara, and even Ice-prince Uchiha Sasuke was loosening up thanks to the Suna puppeteer. She herself had become a better person, all more since she started dating Lee. The energised teenager always calmed her down and soothed her mind on bad nights.

"Daydreaming?"

She looked up at Ino, and laughed sheepishly.

"Guess I am", she admitted.

"Man, mom sure is hard on us", Ino said. "This is more stuff than usual to unpack and arrange."

"Valentine is coming up", Sakura said casually.

"Is it next week?" Ino said.

"Yeah", the pink-haired one answered. "Lee said he would give me a nice surprise."

Ino grinned at Sakura.

"Do you think Sasuke is going to do anything special on Valentine to Kankuro-san?" the blonde asked.

"Not sure, but it sounded like he had a plan", Sakura said. "Gaara actually came to me from some tips and he'll probably come to you as well."

"Doesn't he have Temari to ask?"

"Yeah, but she's not that good with that kind of stuff", Sakura answered. "Besides, she is in Suna right now and has other things to do. I actually recommended you; you usually know what's best."

"Making advertising for me now?" Ino said sweetly and blinked ridiculously at her friend.

"You wish."

Ino laughed and they continued.

-

Tenten was practicing with her team at a clearing next to training ground 19, but at the moment she was doing it alone. Gai had to go since Tsunade had called for him but he would be back in a few hours, so they had decided to stay until he came back. But at the moment, neither Neji nor Lee was training. Neji was lying on the ground, arms and legs sprawled in a very unlike Hyuuga-way as he enjoyed the morning sun. His hitai-ate was missing and so was the birdcage seal. Neji had been released from the hospital three days earlier, and Tenten refused letting him wearing the hitai-ate around his forehead. The hitai-ate now hung loosely from his neck and his pale eyes were closed. Lee was sitting next to his friend and was staring up in the sky.

"Lee!" Tenten called out.

"Hmm?"

"You sure you're just gonna sit there?"

"Just for a while", Lee said. "Even my energy can run out sometime."

"I can't imagine that", Neji said.

"Hey! I thought you were asleep!" the black-haired boy said.

"No, not as long as you don't shut up", Neji said and his teammates had to stifle their giggles. A slurring Hyuuga Neji was not a scary Hyuuga Neji.

"Oh, shut it", he mumbled and turned to his side. "Guys don't giggle, Lee."

"Yes they do", Lee said. "I'm doing it and I'm a guy."

"Are you sure about that?" Neji suggested, a grin making its way over his lips.

"H-Hey!"

Tenten laughed and Lee blushed. Neji opened his eyes and chuckled.

"You meanie Hyuuga!" Lee huffed. "ARE you sure you're a guy?"

"Well, I've always been wondering…" Neji said and pretended to look thoughtful and Lee had to laugh.

All since the birdcage seal had been removed, maybe two weeks before that day, Neji had started joking more and more. His smiles, real smiles not some smirks, began to come more and more often.

Neji sighed happily and curled up into a small boll, making his teammates laugh. He closed his eyes and prepared for a short nap.

-

Chouji looked at his sleeping teammate and shook his head. Shikamaru was resting under their favourite tree, and seemed to be very tired despite he was already in a sleeping state. The larger boy sat down and looked up in the sky. The sky was blue and it was not too hot. The birds were singing and the wind was cool enough. Everything seemed perfect. So why did he have this bad feeling?

-

Hinata was drinking her tea in the garden. She had a purple kimono on her and her shoulder-long hair put up in a beautiful hairstyle. One of the branch members had helped her. She looked up in the sky and closed her eyes to enjoy the sun.

Her father sat down silently across her. He took his tea and sipped it.

"Have you made this?" he asked.

"Yes father", she said.

"Delicious", Hiashi said. "Neji always praised it."

"Thank you", she said and looked at him.

"Resting day today?"

"I will be meeting with my team later today, but Kurenai-sensei said we had free time to 2 PM."

Hiashi absently nodded. Hinata sipped her tea and rose up.

"I know the time is not much", she said, "but I promised to help Kiba with a healing Jutsu."

"He has started with healing Jutsus?" the older Hyuuga said in surprise.

"It's a healing Jutsu that heals small cuts", Hinata said. "With the amount he suffers on trainings, he figured he could need it."

"Be careful then."

"I will be eating lunch with them and perhaps Naruto's team, so I will see you at dinner."

He only nodded and gave his daughter a smile. She smiled brightly back to him and made her way to change clothes.

-

Kiba sat in a clearing, near a lake and watched as Akamaru chased a butterfly. He shook his head at the dog's antics and turned to look at Shino. They shade-wearing boy was sitting by the shore, probably looking over the lake. Kiba sighed and got up. He flopped down next to him and said:

"So, what's so interesting?"

"The wind is chilling", Shino murmured. "A moment ago it was warm and came from south. Now it comes from north."

Kiba narrowed his eyes and looked north. Shino would never lie but why could he not feel it?

"Are you really sure?" he asked, already knowing the answer.

"Fairly sure", Shino said and rubbed his arms.

Kiba put a hand over Shino's and shivered. The other boy's skin was cold. What was the bug-user feeling that Kiba could not feel?

"Are you freezing?" he asked Shino.

"A bit", Shino said. "When was Hinata coming?"

"In around 15 minutes", he answered.

Shino shivered and rose up. He began pacing, rubbing his arms. Kiba stood up as well and stopped him.

"Shino? Man, you're cold as ice!"

The bug-user gladly accepted the coat Kiba ripped off himself and put around Shino. The Inuzuka boy was happy he had decided to wear his new fur-coat, as Shino seemed to get warmer in it. Akamaru came up and barked.

"It's alright, Akamaru", Kiba said. "Shino is just a bit cold."

The dog nuzzled Shino's leg and he gave it a soft stroke.

"Let's go and sit down somewhere warmer", Kiba suggested.

Shino took one last look at north and then let himself be led away.

On the other side of the lake, two pair of eyes was watching them.

"How did he know we were here?" the bigger man said.

"I don't know", the black-haired one said. "He said something about a change in the wind."

"But that wasn't us."

"He don't know that Kisame. Neither does he know who we were. Maybe he doesn't even know we were here, he just happened to look this way."

"Are you really sure about this Itachi-san?" Kisame said. "Konoha may not be so willing to forgive you."

"I tell them the simple truth", Itachi said and closed his eyes. "Let's just hope Akatsuki didn't follow us here."

"Maybe they did the wind the boy felt", Kisame suggested.

"Maybe." 'But I hope not, for both our sakes, Kisame, and for the sake of this village.'

-

Tsunade was doing paperwork when suddenly her window blew up. She turned around and froze. In front of her stood Uchiha Itachi and Hoshigaki Kisame.

"Please do not call for ANBU just yet, Tsunade-hime", Itachi said. "We are not here for a fight."

"W-what do you mean?" she said.

"We're not in Akatsuki anymore", the black-haired man said. "And personally I think you need to know the truth about the Uchiha massacre."

"The… truth?"

-

After one tensing hour, Tsunade stared at the former Konoha shinobi. She had the documents from Sarutobi's safe lock that proved the story Itachi told. All the Jounins and ANBU captains were there as well, together with Jiraiya in the background.

'Uchiha Itachi is innocent', she thought. 'He never killed them. Orochimaru killed them. That snake bastard destroyed Sasuke's, and Itachi's life's that night.'

She looked at Itachi again. He looked tired, but relieved. Bearing for a wrong truth for so long had taken its toll on the young man. The other Konoha shinobis had sunken down in the chairs she had put out to them. Kakashi was staring at Itachi, his mind racing. Of course he had thought it had to be a lie; Itachi would never kill his own family. And now he knew he had been right all this time.

"This is a big surprise", Tsunade managed. "Very big one indeed. But why did you leave Akatsuki, Kisame-san?"

"I had nothing to gain in Akatsuki but death", Kisame said. "And if they realized I had helped Itachi-san get out, I would have been dead by now. Besides, Itachi-san is a friend and I was with him from the beginning."

The Godaime nodded. She let the Jounins and ANBUs go except for Kakashi and Jiraiya after making them promise to not breathe a word about the meeting until she said so and turned to the older Uchiha.

"Itachi", she said. "You must know that this will not be easy…"

"I know that already", Itachi said and looked out the window. "Sasuke and the others will probably have a little difficult time believing me."

"You have to speak with him", Tsunade said softly. "Kakashi, is he with you guys still?"

Itachi turned his eyes to the Copy-nin in slight surprise. Kakashi nodded and said:

"He said that Uchiha manor was too cold, and he doesn't want Kankuro to live there…"

"Kankuro, as in the puppeteer from Suna?" the older Uchiha said.

"Ah, yes", the Copy-nin said. "They are a couple."

Itachi looked at Kakashi for a long time, then said:

"Is he happy?"

"More happy than I have ever seen him", Kakashi confessed.

To their surprise, Itachi smiled.

"He always surprises me", Itachi said, "even now. I nearly thought he would stop but I guess I was wrong."

"What will you do?" Tsunade said.

"I need to explain for him", Itachi began but stopped as pain struck his eyes and he fell on his knees.

"Itachi?!" the Hokage screamed.

Kisame helped Itachi to a chair and the Uchiha said:

"My eyes are giving up."

"What?" Kakashi and Tsunade said at the same time and Jiraiya perked to attention.

"Using Mangekyo Sharingan as I have, my eyes are bound to become blind one day", Itachi said. "If that happens, I will be useless."

"Who said we're going to let you?" Tsunade said.

She laid her hand over his eyes and made a quick scan.

"Your nerves are a bit damaged but I can heal that for you", she said ten minutes later.

"W-what?" Itachi stammered.

"I can heal your eyes", the Hokage said. "It will hurt, but after that they will be fully healed."

Itachi seemed taken back. Tsunade smiled and said:

"Let's wait with that one when you have spoken to Sasuke. Kakashi, do you think…?"

"I'll get him", the Copy-nin said. "Should he be alone?"

"Yes", Itachi said. "Then he can introduce me to anyone he wants, or try to kill me if that's more appealing."

"Don't be silly", Kakashi said and Itachi looked up. "He wants to believe it, you know."

"Believe what?" Itachi said and the other three (Tsunade, Kisame and Jiraiya) wanted to know as well.

"That you didn't do it", Kakashi said softly and turned to Itachi. "He said you would never hurt someone you loved, so he never fully believed you killed them. He wants to believe you're still the brother he knows, and he will probably be happy to know he was right, deep inside."

Itachi was speechless. He was staring at Kakashi, trying to take all the information in. Kisame noticed with some pain that Itachi dug his fingers into his arm, but made no move to stop the shorter man. The taller man figured the Uchiha needed something solid to grab onto.

"I'll get him", Kakashi said. "But I think you need to explain the same story to some more people if he accepts it."

"I don't mind sound like a broken record", Itachi said and finally lessened the pressure on Kisame's arm but did not fully let go of it.

Kakashi gave a small chuckle and went to get Sasuke.

-

Naruto peered into his room and smiled as he saw Sasuke waking up. He tiptoed to the bed and met sleepy, black eyes.

"Hi", he said quietly.

"Otouto", Sasuke greeted and made his way out of the bed without waking Kankuro.

He gave his lover a kiss on the cheek before rising and stretching. Naruto watched him and said.

"What were you waiting for, breakfast on bed?"

"No", Sasuke said and pecked Naruto on the forehead as he had started doing on the morning. "I just felt like sleeping in."

They entered the living room after Sasuke had gotten dressed in his normal blue long-sleeved and wide-armed shirt with his white baggy pants. And in the living room stood a grim looking Kakashi.

"Kakashi?" Sasuke said. "What's wrong?"

"Sasuke", the Copy-nin said. "He's here."

"Who?" the Uchiha said while both Naruto and Gaara were confused.

"Itachi", Kakashi said.

Silence. Sasuke was shaking, but not out of anger and hate but by a little fear and a great amount of confusion. Kakashi held up a hand as the young Uchiha opened his mouth.

"He wants to see you", he said. "He said it was time to explain the truth about the massacre."

"The truth?" Sasuke said.

"You were right", Kakashi said, "as was I. He will explain everything to you."

"Go Sasuke", Naruto said. "You always wanted to know; now is the time."

"I-I'm not ready", Sasuke said and gripped his hair as he backed away from Kakashi. "I can't just go in and see him."

Naruto stepped forward and looked Sasuke in the eyes.

"Yes you can", he stated. "Go with Kaka-san. I'll tell Kankuro that you'll explain when you come back."

Sasuke swallowed a couple of times, and then nodded. Kakashi smiled a bit, weakly though, and silently thanked Naruto. They left the house and heard Naruto call out:

"Everything will be fine, you'll se Aniki!"

Sasuke smiled a bit when the door closed. Somehow, he felt at peace when Naruto had told him he was ready to meet Itachi again. Somehow, he did not need Itachi to tell him. Deep inside, he had always known the truth. It had been pushed down by adults who tricked him into believing Itachi had done it. But today he would hear the truth coming from Itachi's own mouth. Maybe after today, he would be proud to tell he did have a big brother…

-

Naruto sat quietly on the couch. It had been only around 45 minutes since Sasuke and Kakashi had left but he still thought it took too long. Gaara softly stroke his hair and Naruto closed his eyes while leaning into the touch. Gaara tilted Naruto's head more onto his shoulder and kissed him. Just as he was about to drift off after the kiss, the door opened and Sasuke called out:

"Anyone home?"

"In the living room", Gaara called back and Naruto looked at the door opening.

Sasuke came in and said:

"Kankuro still asleep?"

"Yeah", Naruto said. "I heard him shift around and told him that you had left but would be coming back and explain, but after that he fell back asleep."

Sasuke nodded. Another figure came in and Naruto and Gaara were puzzled. Sasuke looked at the person, who had brown hair and green eyes with a standard Jounin outfit.

"Drop the Henge Itachi", he said and the person disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

The next second, they were looking at Itachi. He had black baggy pants, a long-sleeved black shirt and a cloak slung over his shoulders.

"Hello Itachi-san", Naruto said and stood up. "Want some tea?"

"S-sure", the older Uchiha said a bit surprised.

"I'll go and wake up Kankuro", Sasuke said and walked to Naruto's room.

Gaara and Naruto nodded. Itachi followed them to the kitchen and Naruto said:

"So you didn't kill them, Itachi-san?"

"No… I didn't", the Uchiha answered.

"Good", the blonde said. "Are you here with anyone?"

"Kisame is still with the Hokage and Jiraiya", Itachi said. "Giving them information."

Sasuke heard them talk and gently shook Kankuro. In a matter of minutes, he had explained it all to his lover and Kankuro smiled.

"Let's get you dressed and introduced", Sasuke said and tugged at Kankuro's sleeping shirt.

The puppeteer got up and Sasuke smiled a tiny bit. His heart was lighter than it had been for years. A burden on his shoulders had been lifted and for the first time since the massacre, he felt truly free.

-

Asuma looked at his team and shook his head. Ino had fallen asleep next to Chouji with her head resting on her knees. The larger boy was letting Shikamaru rest his head on his shoulder but was the only one awake.

"Should we wake them up?" Chouji said.

"Nah, not just yet", Asuma said. "Shika was apparently up late last night and Ino was up too early to get in all the flowers in their shop this morning."

"Okay."

Chouji hoisted Shikamaru a bit better up on his shoulder, so that his neck was not so craned. Asuma sat down next to them and said:

"Wake me up in fifteen minutes, okay?"

"Lazy sensei", Chouji muttered but agreed.

-

Hinata were showing Kiba the seals to the healing Jutsu and told him how much amount Chakra he should use. Shino sat under a tree, still wrapped in Kiba's coat. The bug-user was still shaking a bit and Hinata threw a worried glance at him.

"What happened?" she asked Kiba.

"Dunno", the Inuzuka answered and glanced at his friend as well. "Suddenly he just started shaking. I didn't feel whatever he felt though…"

"Felt what?"

"He said the wind changed from south to north and that it was chilling", he said and turned to the Hyuuga girl. "Let's do this and then find team 7 for lunch, okay?"

"Okay", she said. "I asked Sakura on my way here and she was going to Naruto after that."

Kiba nodded absently, wanting to get Shino and Hinata away from the forest for some reason. He made sure Akamaru was close to the bug-user before returning to the Jutsu.

-

Iruka had woken up to a lot of talking in the house. Kakashi came in and quickly took him through all that had happened. After twenty minutes, Iruka got up from the bed and dressed. He went into the living room and stopped. It was indeed strange seeing Kisame sitting and drinking tea with Jiraiya like it was nothing, and have Itachi and Sasuke talking to each other.

Naruto sat with a book back to back with the tall ex-Akatsuki while Gaara was pointing out something for the blonde in the book. Kankuro was leaning against Sasuke and Sakura listened as Itachi embarrassed Sasuke. The younger Uchiha blushed and glared at his brother as the said person made Sakura burst out in laughter. Kisame did not even seem to notice that Naruto was using him as a support, and only glanced as he heard Sakura laugh.

The man looked haunted, and Iruka could not blame him. He was probably hunted by the Akatsuki for betraying them. The fish-man noticed Iruka and inclined his head slightly before returning to his tea and Jiraiya.

Itachi noticed Iruka as well and bowed his head to the Chuunin.

"Hello Iruka-san", the older Uchiha said.

"Itachi-san", Iruka only answered as Kakashi wound his arms around the brunette.

"Do you want some breakfast, or lunch?" Kakashi said.

"Lunch", he said.

"Speaking of lunch, don't we have one with team 8?" Sakura said.

"True", Sasuke said and looked at the watch. "And we planned to have it at one, and it's almost one, but…"

"Go", Itachi said. "I'm sure we'll be fine here for a while."

"Are you positive about that?" Sasuke asked.

"Don't worry", Kisame said. "We'll be good and nice and stay here."

"Good and nice?" Itachi said. "Not in your case, Kisame."

"Oi!"

Team 7, Kakashi, Iruka, Jiraiya and the Suna brothers looked on as Kisame and Itachi bickered back and forth. Finally Kisame sighed and said:

"Whatever… we'll stay here, Sasuke-san so go and eat lunch."

Itachi looked at Kisame and said:

"That's the fastest time you ever end your ranting, Kisame."

"Not in the mood", Kisame grumbled, "or else I would still be going strong."

"Now go on", Iruka said. "Say hello from me to them."

"Okay", Naruto said as he rose up.

He bent down to give Gaara a kiss before straightening up and walking to the door. Sasuke kissed Kankuro before getting up as well. Sakura thanked for the tea and rose up. The team moved outside into the sun and raced off to the restaurant where they would meet Hinata, Kiba and Shino.

-

Team 8 was already there when they arrived, though looking a bit oddly. First of all, Shino had Kiba's coat on. Secondly, Kiba was alert and seemed to look for something out of place. Third, Hinata seemed to glance over at the bug-user too many times. The three of them relaxed as they saw Sakura, Sasuke and Naruto though.

"You guys are late!" Kiba called out.

"Sorry, we lost track of time!" Naruto called back. "What's wrong with Shino?"

"He's freezing", Kiba said. "I dunno what happened. He said something about the wind changed."

"Shino", Naruto said after a little while. "Let's get inside; I'm sure it's warm there."

The bug-user seemed to accept this and got up. Kiba kept himself close, as he saw Shino's legs shaking slightly. What could have happened to affect an Aburame this much?

-

Tenten threw a large shuriken hard, and desperately, against a puppet. She picked up her scroll and screamed to Lee:

"Let's get back to the village now!"

He nodded and hoisted up Neji from the ground. The Hyuuga had been hit by a kunai in his back and was unconscious. Tenten leaped away, confident Lee would follow. Truth be said, the black-haired caught up with her, even with Neji slung over his shoulder.

"Who was that?!" Lee screamed.

"A black cloak with red clouds", she mumbled. "I know it's important. The clothing, a group… where, and who?"

She thought hard and then it clicked. She turned her head to Lee and said:

"Puppets, black cloak with red clouds! No doubt about it! It's the puppeteer in the Akatsuki!"

"Akatsuki?! Here?!"

Lee speed up and grabbed Tenten. He released first and second gate and ran off with both off his teammates on his shoulders.

-

Tsunade was with Gai, Kurenai, Ibiki, Genma and Anko in the tower planning for some tests of the academy. They all sat spread out in her office, working on papers and discussing with the others when the window broke and Lee jumped in. Gai rose up and screamed:

"What are you doing Lee?!"

Then they saw his teammates he let down on the floor and all motion in the room stopped. Neji was losing blood, and fast. Tenten was unconscious as a puppet had gotten to Lee despite his speed and hit her in the head. Lee collapsed on the floor and panted out:

"A… Akatsuki. A shinobi with puppets attacked us near training ground 19. Neji had no chance. Kunai in his back. Tenten got a blow to her head."

"Akatsuki?!" Tsunade said.

"They talked, the puppeteer and someone else", Lee continued even as Tsunade moved to heal Neji the best she could. "They seemed angry. Something about traitors… they seemed to have moved from village to village, trying to find them."

"Itachi and Kisame", Tsunade said and turned to Gai. "Go to Kakashi and warn them! You others, make yourself ready for a battle!"

They all shouted in agreement and leaped out from the window.

"Shizune!" Tsunade screamed and her apprentice showed up only a few moments after.

"Oh my god!" the younger one shrieked.

"Alert the hospital, and make them ready for more injured!" Tsunade said. "I'll call the ANBU. Lee, hold pressure on Neji's wound until I come back okay?"

The black-haired pressed against the wound and Tsunade ran off. Shizune gave him a towel before getting out herself. Lee pressed the towel against the wound and said quietly:

"Neji?"

The Hyuuga groaned but did not open his eyes.

"Neji, look at me."

Neji moved his head and opened his eyes.

"It's alright", Lee said. "You're alright, just stay with me."

"H-hurts…"

"I know, but you'll be fine just stay with me", Lee encouraged.

Neji whimpered at the pain and Lee pressed a little harder.

"L-Le-e…" the Hyuuga said with dull eyes. "L-Lee, l-let go…"

"No", Lee said. "If I let go, you die."

"Let go…"

"NO!"

Neji looked up at Lee, his eyes not dull anymore. His lips began to shake and he said:

"W-what did I just s-say?"

"Something stupid, that's all", Lee said. "Don't worry about that."

"I-is the wound bad?"

"Tsunade-sama did not tell, but she was confident enough to leave you with me", Lee said, "so I'd say the odds are pretty good."

Neji smiled at him and said:

"Doesn't hurt so much n-now. Is it because you p-pressed at the wound?"

"Dunno…"

"First it hurt like h-hell, but now it's just a dull ache", the Hyuuga said. "A-and I feel more awake now."

"You talk too much", Lee said. "Save your energy, idiot."

"A-are you sure you're a guy? You s-sound pretty much like a girl now." Neji could not hide his grin from his teammate.

"You're not gonna let that rest, right?"

"No way I'm gonna let it pass…"

"Figures", Lee muttered but smiled as he saw Neji become more and more awake despite his wound. "Let's wait for Tsunade-sama now. Don't talk."

"You talk", Neji said.

"I'm not injured."

"Still…"

"Neji?" Lee said.

"What?" the Hyuuga answered.

"Shut up."

"… Fine."

"Good."

-

Kakashi stood unmoving in the bedroom as Gai finished. The man had the same haunted look in his eyes as before, when Lee had almost died during the first attack made by Blood Fang.

"Was Neji okay?" Kakashi said.

"I… I don't know", Gai said. "She began to heal him, but I don't know…"

"I'm going to tell Itachi and Kisame this, okay? I'll have Iruka come here with some tea for you."

The green clothed man just nodded and Kakashi came out. Itachi stood up and the Copy-nin said:

"It seems Akatsuki has been looking for you. They reached our village now, and attacked a team with puppets."

"That must be Sasori", Kisame said while Kakashi gently told Iruka to get something for Gai.

"Sasori?" Kankuro said. "The puppeteer from Suna??"

"Yeah", Kisame said. "Freaky person…"

"Not a person", Itachi said. "Sasori even went so far to turn his own body to a puppet. Luckily we know his weak point."

"Was there anyone else?" Kisame said as he got up to get his sword.

"Lee mentioned another one, but couldn't see him. Do you think it's only two of them?" Kakashi said as Iruka moved to the bedroom with a teacup.

"Hardly", Itachi said. "If it's Sasori, then his companion is most likely Deidara, and that man is not strong enough to beat me."

"I can take out Sasori with some ease, so they must be at least four or more", Kisame growled. "Shit, I knew they would come!"

"Where were they?" Iruka said as he came back. "Team Gai when they were attacked?"

"Near training ground 19", the Copy-nin answered. "Why?"

"Kakashi", Iruka said while is face grew pale. "Naruto told me yesterday… he, Sasuke, Shino and Kiba had rented training ground 19 for today. They should be there by now."

Silence.

Itachi stared at Iruka while his heart seemed to stop. Kisame looked at Itachi, then at Iruka as if not believing the brunette. The Suna brothers paled, and Shukaku grew worried. Jiraiya looked at Iruka for a while and then said:

"I'm going there."

"So am I", Itachi said.

"Don't think you're going without me", Gaara growled.

"Everyone calm down", Kakashi said even though his voice was shaking slightly. "Jiraiya, Itachi and Gaara will go there. Kisame will come with me. Kankuro, make your puppets ready but let's hope we don't run into Sasori. By the sound of it, he seems better than you. Iruka, go with Gai and find Hokage-sama."

They all did as they were told. The Sannin made himself ready and Gaara went to get his gourd; he already wore his battle clothes. Itachi slung the cloak over his shoulders and drew the hood over his face. They moved to the door after Gaara returned, but suddenly Itachi stopped and said:

"Kisame?"

"Yes?" the tall ex-Akatsuki said, looking up from the cloak he tried to take on.

"… Don't die."

With that, the three of them were gone. Kisame look at the spot where Itachi had stood and then said quietly:

"I don't know if I can follow that order, Itachi-san…"

-

Naruto cried out in pain as a kunai struck through his arm. Sasuke hauled him flush to his chest and fell on the ground as another kunai came their way. Shino called on more bugs, and Kiba was nursing a wound on his side. Sasuke gently examined the blonde's arm before pulling the kunai out. They were hidden behind a large tree all four of them, and had a temporary shelter. They were fighting against a large numbers of puppets only, and the puppeteer, Sasori. The other one, Deidara, had been struck by a kunai thrown by Shino and fallen down mere seconds after that, dead. The bug-user explained that the kunai was drenched in the poison he had almost died of, only this sample of poison was 20 times stronger than the original.

"Shino, how is it going?" Naruto said.

"I don't know what's wrong", Shino said and held onto his head. "My head… I feel so dizzy I can't concentrate…"

Kiba looked out in the clearing and said:

"Yeah, but you're taking out those puppets good."

Shino swayed a bit but braced himself against the tree. Sasuke bandaged Naruto's arm and said:

"We need to get out of here."

"But how? The guy controlling the puppets seems invincible!" Kiba said.

"It's strange though", Sasuke said. "You can't just simply control that many puppets with your hands. Kankuro said something about a puppeteer in Suna who could control 10 puppets at once, and that was supposed to indicate that woman was very strong."

"And?" Kiba said.

"This guy must be controlling 20 or 30", Sasuke murmured. "It means we can't beat him. The only thing we're doing now is tiring out Shino."

At that exact moment, the tree was blown away. Sasuke ducked with Naruto and Kiba had grabbed the bug-user before hitting the ground. Akamaru whined and was shaking. They looked up and were met by 20 puppets that all were racing towards them.

-

Kakashi, Kisame and Kankuro were racing towards a chakra signal Kisame recognized.

"Who will we meet now?" Kakashi said.

"The guy's name is Kazuku, and he's one hell of a job", Kisame said as he leaped over a branch. "He has multiply hearts, so I think you need to kill him fives times over."

"Multiply hearts?" Kakashi said. "That's impossible!"

"Well, he has", Kisame said. "His partner is called Hidan. Whatever you do, do not let yourself be cut by him."

"Why not?" Kankuro said.

"He has a Jutsu that allows him to kill his opponent without touching them", the tall man said. "He can only do it in a circle, but once he's in there you're dead. He cut himself, and his enemies get the same injury. He can't be killed, so you gotta make sure he can't get up once he's down. I think you need to let me handle him."

Kakashi and Kankuro looked at Kisame. He turned to them and said:

"I feel Hidan nearby. Kazuku is to the west; I suggest you get someone with you before fighting him."

"What about you, fighting Hidan alone?" Kankuro said.

"If I die", Kisame said, causing them both to snap their heads to him, "tell Itachi-san I'm sorry."

"Sorry for what?" Kakashi said, feeling weak.

"For not listening to him", Kisame said.

With that, the man stopped abruptly on a branch and spun around on his foot so he turned to the left. He leaped off in his new direction, not glancing back since he knew they would not follow him. Kakashi said to Kankuro:

"We need someone strong to defeat a guy with five hearts."

"How about Hiashi-san? He should be good with these kinds of enemies."

Kakashi thought for a while and then said:

"Let's go and find Hiashi-san then."

-

Kiba looked up as the puppets never came and was met by a shock. They were inside something.

"This is Jiraiya's summon!" Naruto said. "We're inside a toad's stomach."

"Doesn't sound very nice", the Inuzuka said, "but it did save us. Shino?"

The bug-user moved his head a bit and said:

"The dizziness disappeared when the summoning surrounded us."

"You were exposed to something", Sasuke said. "Earlier, but when?"

"The lake", Shino mumbled. "Suddenly I was freezing and felt horrible."

"It's over now, be happy about that", the blonde said even though Shino did not look too convinced.

The stomach suddenly melted away and they stared. Jiraiya stood in front of them with his scroll ready. Naruto was suddenly attacked by Gaara, who dropped to his knees and hugged him hard. The third one was hidden underneath a black cloak. They saw the puppeteer, Sasori, get up and the Akatsuki member said:

"Who the hell are you?"

"Konoha Sannin Jiraiya", the white-haired man said. "The others names are none of your damn business."

"I'll handle him Sasori", an awfully familiar voice hissed from behind the redheaded Akatsuki.

"Fine", Sasori said. "He's your old teammate isn't he, Orochimaru?"

The snake Sannin stepped out in the clearing and Sasori left towards the village, taking all his puppets with him.

"Hello there Jiraiya", Orochimaru said.

"They let you back into Akatsuki?" the toad Sannin said.

"After the betrayal off two in Akatsuki, they needed members", the snake Sannin replied. "Too bad; I really wanted to kill Itachi-kun for myself."

"Kill me?" the man in the black cloak said.

Orochimaru took a step back and the man removed his cloak. Itachi stared at the snake Sannin with Mangekyo Sharingan.

"Why the hell is Itachi here?" Kiba said.

"We found out something today", Naruto said loudly, catching Orochimaru's interest.

"And what did you find out, gaki?" Orochimaru hissed.

"How an annoying little snake called Orochimaru killed the Uchiha clan", Sasuke said and rose up. "I can't believe I ever doubted Itachi; he would never harm mother or father for testing his powers."

"How…?" the snake Sannin said.

"Documents Sandaime had sealed away for the right day", Itachi said. "He sealed away the truth and sent me to a kind off unofficial mission."

"Infiltrating Akatsuki?" Orochimaru guessed, fighting to keep his fury inside.

"Yes, but not alone", Itachi said. "To my help, I had a friend. Sandaime did not know that though. I had planned to tell him whenever I got back, but he died."

"Who was that person?!" the former Konoha Sannin demanded to know.

"He's not too far away", Itachi said and closed his eyes for a brief moment. "The only partner I ever allowed."

Everyone wondered who he talked about for a few seconds, but then Orochimaru growled out:

"Hoshigaki… Kisame."

"That's right", Itachi said. "Kisame was on our side from the beginning. Hard to believe, ne? He makes an awfully good impression off being evil, doesn't he?"

"I'll kill you, and then him", Orochimaru said. "Then the Akatsuki can destroy this stupid village."

"Aaah, but you have forgotten something", Itachi said with a bit of a sing-song voice.

"What?"

"We were sent to Akatsuki to spy and now we're done. That means, everything we know, every Jounin, ANBU and Chuunin knows. So you're pretty much screwed."

"And what have you learned?" the snake Sannin said with a hint of panic in his voice.

"Sasori's weak point", Itachi said and Orochimaru froze. "How many hearts Kazuku owns, Hidan's secret, Zetsu's involvement--"

"Wait, what do you mean with Zetsu's involvement?!" Orochimaru interrupted.

"Or maybe, the lack of involvement", Itachi said with a shrug and looked up in the sky. "He never liked you. He's not even here. Because of the fact he travels so much, you haven't noticed he betrayed you as well."

Orochimaru was fuming.

"And I'm not done yet", Itachi continued. "We even know about Leader's shape shifting, so it won't do any good for him (A/N I know that there is no such guy in the manga so far as I've read, but this is fanfic and therefore, the leader is a shape shifter… kapsich??). And his partner is already dead."

"Dead?!"

"Yeah, Kisame lost his temper with her", Itachi said with a slight smile. "He really needs to learn some manners."

Orochimaru had enough, and attacked. But he did not lung for Itachi. No, he lunged for Sasuke.

Faster than anyone had ever seen, Itachi had kicked the snake Sannin back and thrown a Katon Jutsu on him. The older Uchiha looked at Orochimaru, who now had burned arms and said:

"Touch Sasuke and I'll rip you apart."

"How scary we sound", Orochimaru chuckled and went through some seals. "Let's see if the mighty Uchiha Itachi can handle Manda?"

The snake Sannin finished, and hit his palm in the ground. Smoke came out and they all leaped away. Manda rose gracefully with Orochimaru on its head.

"Shit", Itachi said. "I can't fight him like this."

"Sorry to say this, but I'm on Gamabaunta's bad side, so he won't show up", Jiraiya said.

Naruto looked between the two of them and then bit his thumb, raced through seals and hit his palm on the ground. They all lifted to the air and Orochimaru waited to see who Naruto had summoned. When he saw the creature, fear gripped his body.

-

Tsunade was fighting Akatsuki's leader together with Tsume and Shibi. The man had been shifting into different forms, trying to find a weak form for them to use. Tsunade had almost stopped when he shifted into Naruto, but the cold eyes betrayed the otherwise perfect image and she had broken his nose in rage. Tsume had been his next victim. He had turned into Kiba, but Tsume had only smirked and kicked him down. As he looked at her, she tipped her nose carefully with one finger and said:

"I know Kiba's smell. You don't smell like him."

The leader shoved her aside and suddenly Shino stood in front of Shibi. The Aburame stopped for a moment, and the two women feared he had been tricked. But then Shibi spoke with a hint of anger in his voice and the two women understood he was pissed off:

"You may look like Shino, but you lack something he has."

"And what is that?" the leader said with Shino's stoic voice.

"How about two colonies of Kikai bugs?" Shibi said with a rare predatory grin under the collar of his jacket. "I'll fix that for you."

The leader felt something strange in his hands and looked at them. He could not help but scream. Bugs were entering his body through small cuts on his hands and were currently eating away his chakra.

"By the way", Shibi said and the leader turned to the Aburame. "They would never try to kill Shino as they are killing you now."

"I'm not finished with you", Tsunade said and grabbed the man. "Shibi, do the bugs get hurt if I hurt him?"

"Not at all, Hokage-sama", Shibi said.

"Good."

She closed her fist and gathered chakra. She slammed it into his face and heard with satisfaction how the nose broke once more and the leader changed back to himself.

Tsume took him from Tsunade and said:

"You really thought changing into children would save you? You don't know them but we do! There is no way you can trick us!"

She gave him a powerful kick in the stomach and Kuromaru bit into his neck. He fell to the ground and felt his chakra leaving. He could not do anything, not even form seals. He made a last attempt and changed into Naruto one last time. Tsunade stepped up and said:

"Do you think we'll be tricked by that?"

She was taken back though, when the leader looked up and stared at her with Naruto's deep eyes. She looked into them for a while and then said:

"You may look like Naruto, but you don't have the same depth as his eyes. His eyes are filled with love and the power of the Kyuubi while yours are filled with hatred. Farewell."

She crushed his skull, and with a sickening crack, it was over for the Akatsuki's leader.

-

The village was a war zone. People were running, buildings were burning and puppets made their way into the village. Sasori looked around and sighed.

"There are no shinobis here", he said. "What a lousy village."

"What did you say?" a voice behind him said.

He turned around and looked at a teenager with pineapple hairstyle, a Chuunin vest, black ANBU-pants and a net shirt. He had black gloves on his hands. Sasori did not notice the shadows around the newcomer's feet shifting.

"Just a Chuunin", Sasori said, sounding bored.

"Just a Chuunin", the newcomer echoed. "Who said I am alone?"

With that, three other figures jumped down and Sasori observed them all. A slightly taller teenager rose up next to the first one. The boy was muscular and Sasori was slightly taken back by the hatred in his eyes directed to the puppet master. The teenager was dressed in dark grey shorts, a baggy black T-shirt and a deep green vest. Bandages covered his arms and legs, and he had light brown hair falling down his face.

The girl right behind the Chuunin had long blonde hair put up in a ponytail. She wore a deep purple skirt, fish-net on her legs and a tight purple shirt. On her belt was several small scrolls, and he did not understand their purpose as they were only capable of holding around three weapons each or less.

The last one was a Jounin. He immediately saw it was Sarutobi Asuma. He looked at the Jounin and said:

"You think you can beat me?"

"Actually, yes", Asuma said. "Are you ready, Sasori of the Red Sand?"

Sasori stared. How did a Jounin from Konoha know his full name?!

"Surprised?" Asuma said. "Don't worry; we aren't that smart. We were just lucky and had two angels to tell us all about Akatsuki."

"Uchiha Itachi and Hoshigaki Kisame then?" Sasori growled.

"None other", the Jounin said. "Let's play. This is my team; the girl is Yamanaka Ino, the dark-haired Nara Shikamaru and the last, but not the least, Akimichi Chouji. Together, we're team 10."

Sasori's eyes widened the tiniest bit. He had heard of the previous generation of Ino-Shika-Chou and was not very happy he had to fight their children. Secretly he was hoping that they were not like their parents as he had heard rumours about Konoha's first Ino-Shika-Chou.

"Team, get in position!" Asuma yelled and the three of them disappeared.

"What, you don't want them to get hurt?" the puppet said.

Suddenly he could not move. He looked down with his eyes and saw… shadows. Asuma grinned and said:

"Good one, Shikamaru!"

'Nara… Nara Konoha…' Sasori thought and then it hit him. 'Naras in Konoha controls shadows. Shit!'

His head suddenly moved and he was shown how Shikamaru had caught him. Sasori was impressed by the shadows. They seemed to move on their own, a sign that the boy was strong. Shikamaru looked at Sasori and said:

"Let's start playing now. Chouji, Ino whenever you're ready!"

He turned his eyes to see Chouji coming down towards him and Ino flashing through seals.

-

Orochimaru swallowed once, hard, as the smoke disappeared and showed whoever Naruto had summoned. It was like staring on Kyuubi. The dark-orange fur and those red eyes made the fox look exactly like the great demon. The fox peered up on its head and said:

"For what reason did you bring me out, Naruto-kun?"

"Um, need help to take care of an annoying snake", Naruto said. "By the way, it's been a long time ago Zetsumei(1)."

Orochimaru choked as he heard the fox's name. The Kyuubi brat had summoned the leader of the fox summoning! Zetsumei grinned before saying the same to Naruto before looking over at the snake Sannin and Manda. The fox-summon could not help but growl:

"Orochimaru and Manda… it's been a while."

"Zetsumei, Kyuubi's younger brother", Orochimaru said. "Worthy of being a leader of summoning but why did you listen to a small boy?"

"He has earned my respect", Zetsumei roared and the snake Sannin became quiet while he was shaking slightly of fear. "He used such strength, that he even succeeded bringing me down on my knees. He can be compared to my brother, to Kyuubi himself."

The former Konoha shinobi froze. A thirteen year old boy with powers equals to Kyuubi no Kitsune?? Naruto looked a bit shocked as well, but hid it good only moments after. Zetsumei shrugged and said to the humans on top of its head:

"I'll take care of Manda; you take out Orochimaru."

"Yes sir!" Naruto called.

Itachi cracked his fingers with a predatory smile on his lips.

"I'm going to tear him apart, limb for limb", the older Uchiha said.

"Happy to help you", Jiraiya said. "Kids, go further away; this may be violent."

The teens did not argue, for once, and a few moments later Sasuke, Naruto, Gaara, Kiba and Shino left the great fox's head to get to a safer location. Itachi and Jiraiya turned to Orochimaru and both said at the same time:

"Shall we begin then?"

-

Team Gai were huddled together at Tsunade's office, trying to treat Neji's wound. Tsunade had come inside just to give them some healing salve and bandages before she had to go. Puppets had attacked the village, so now they had retreated to a dark corner to not attract any attention. Tenten kept her scroll ready while Lee was bandaging Neji's back and torso. The Hyuuga looked on with empty eyes. He had stopped reacting to his surroundings thanks to his blood lost and Lee found himself constantly glancing up to see some life in his friend's pale eyes. There was none.

"I'm finished", he said after a while. "What should we do? He needs a blood transfusion, or else he'll…"

"I know!" Tenten said, not wanting to hear the truth from Lee. "We gotta go to the hospital."

"I can't open the gates again", Lee said. "My muscles can't handle it again."

"Then we have to prove we're a good team", the weapon-mistress said and rose up. "Lee, take Neji."

Lee rose up while carefully cradling Neji in his arms. The Hyuuga did not react; his head rolled onto the black-haired teenager's shoulder while he stared at whatever crossed his eyes. Tenten walked to the window and said:

"You go to the hospital, I'll cover you."

Lee nodded and leaped out, the girl not far behind.

-

Hinata and Sakura hid inside of a shop at the moment to recover from the latest attack. They had been walking when puppets had swarmed inside the entire village and start to attack the villagers, shinobis and non-shinobis. Hinata was holding a small boy that had been separated from his parents and did a good job of comforting him. She rocked his small form and shushed him as he silently cried. Sakura made ready kunais with explosive notes attached to them.

"Should we be going?" she said to the Hyuuga.

"Where to?"

"The hospital", Sakura concluded. "There are people there to take care of him."

Hinata nodded and rose up with the boy.

"You need to hold onto me really tightly now", she gently told the child. "We're going to run really fast and then we're going to the hospital. I'm sure your parents are there or hiding from the bad men."

The boy nodded and gripped the Hyuuga's jacket. Sakura nodded, and they leaped out.

-

Kakashi jumped back and swore. Kisame had been right about Kazuku; he had five hearts. Hiashi jumped down a bit away from the Copy-nin and panted. They had destroyed three of the hearts so far. Kankuro kept the Akatsuki member busy with his puppets while the older men caught their breath.

"What should we do?" Hiashi said to Kakashi. "Two more to go, but do we have strength for it?"

"Let's hope for that", Kakashi said but doubted.

Hiashi was nearly drained, and so was Kakashi. And there was no way he would let Kankuro fight an Akatsuki on his own. He began going trough their options and swore again. They were in trouble.

At the same moment, Kazuku succeeded throwing away Kankuro and he fell to the ground with a sickening crack.

"Kankuro!" the Copy-nin and Hiashi screamed.

The teenager did not move, and the chakra strings disappeared which made the puppets fall down on the ground.

"One down", Kazuku growled. "Good; I hate kids."

"Bad move of you", a voice behind the two older men said.

They both whipped around and saw Ibiki with Anko and Genma. The three of them had murder in their eyes. Ibiki said to Kakashi and the Hyuuga:

"You guys take care of Kankuro. We know of Kazuku's hearts, so it'll be fine."

"He has only two left", Kakashi offered.

"Good work", Ibiki praised. "Take Kankuro to the hospital."

Kakashi nodded and the three of them leaped to Kazuku. The Copy-nin stumbled to Kankuro and felt around on his body to not damage him further by moving him. Left shoulder and left arm broken, a few cracked ribs and twisted ankles. Kakashi gently lifted up the puppeteer and Hiashi quickly sealed the puppets and the parts that had broken off into a seal before they leaped off to the hospital.

-

Chouji jumped away from Sasori's poison attack again and swore quietly. Shikamaru was working in the shadows, building up his strength and that left Chouji, Ino and Asuma to fight the human puppet. Luckily, they already knew about Sasori's poison, and avoided his attacks. Shikamaru had brought up a shadow shield when Sasori had thrown every weapon he had on them. The puppet master from Suna seemed to get more and more aggravated and more violent in his attacks.

Ino had yet to use any of her scrolls, and she was smart enough to figure out they would not help so much. She had weapons sealed into the scrolls drenched in the same poison Shino had on the kunai he killed Deidara with. She knew that they had to kill the puppet master by destroying his heart that was the only living thing inside him. The girl panted and thought over her next move.

Asuma knocked out yet another puppet. The man began to wonder how many the human puppet had. Shikamaru still had not prepared his last attack, so they had to stick to the plan until the very last moment. The only thing Asuma hoped was when they took Sasori down, they would not take Shikamaru down together with the Akatsuki member.

-

Tsunade was on the hospital, currently healing a wound Shikaku had. The Nara winced as she began the final stage, but did not give out one noise of pain. Suddenly the doors burst open and Lee came gliding through them at a great speed, succeeding to stop before he crashed into the wall.

"Lee?" Tsunade said and stopped breathing as she saw Neji's limp form clutched in Lee's arms.

"He needs a blood transfusion now", Tenten panted as she closed the doors, "or else he'll die."

"Go to the medic-nin in room 25; she'll know what to do", Tsunade said and the black-haired boy nodded and got up from the floor.

Neji's head lolled back effortless on Lee's shoulder and Tsunade shuddered. He looked dead already.

Only a few minutes after that the doors opened again, and Kakashi stumbled in with Kankuro. The Copy-nin slid down against the wall as his legs gave up. Hiashi looked inside, saw Kakashi there and closed the doors before returning to the battle.

"What happened to Kankuro?" Tsunade said.

"Left shoulder and arm broken, cracked ribs and twisted ankles", Kakashi said. "He fought an Akatsuki, so no big surprise there."

Tsunade left Shikaku, who sat up to look at the puppeteer Shikamaru had gotten to know pretty well. The Hokage bent down and carefully lifted Kankuro from Kakashi. The man himself slumped further down and succeeded t get out:

"Over…used… Sharingan…"

Then Kakashi lost consciousness.

-

Iruka helped a few villagers getting into the caves. Tsunade had put him, Gai, Yamanaka Inoichi and Akimichi Chouza in charge with getting the villagers safe. Most of them were now there. The brunette's heart was swelling with agony and he wanted his family here right now. At the time of the chibi accident, his family had been two persons. Now it had extended to seven, and would probably grow some more if Sasuke got his will through with Itachi. He wanted them with him. He wanted to hug Naruto to make sure the blonde was alright. He wanted to ruffle Sasuke's and Gaara's hair just to see their half-hearted glares. He wanted to hear Sakura's and Temari's giggles as they watched some photos they had taken. He wanted to see Kankuro teasing Kakashi for being a pervert. He wanted the Copy-nin to surround him with his warmth and tell him everything was alright.

He looked over the village as the puppets raged over the buildings. He saw Tsume and Kuromaru fighting alongside each other, Shibi not far from her. They watched their backs, just as Shino and Kiba did. Iruka shivered and closed his eyes for a moment. Gai would warn him if enemies came.

-

Manda and Zetsumei were fighting furiously in the forest while Itachi and Jiraiya were fighting Orochimaru. Sasuke looked on from their hideout, a cave they had found, worry clenching his heart. His brother was good, but even Sasuke could see the small mistakes he made because of the overuse of Sharingan.

Gaara was holding Naruto close and had his eyes closed. Sand whirled around them all, as Gaara could not keep Shukaku's powers inside at the moment.

Kiba and Shino were furthest away from the opening since Shino had begun feeling dizzy again. Now it had become so bad that the Aburame could hardly keep his eyes open. He was lying on the ground, lifeless. Kiba was feeling on his limbs and asked the bug-user if he still could feel them. Akamaru was whining and nuzzling Shino's chest to give him some warmth.

"How is he?" Sasuke asked the Inuzuka.

"Not good", Kiba answered. "He can't feel his legs anymore."

"Shit", Sasuke mumbled. "We need to get him to the hospital."

"Go guys go", Naruto said. "I need to be here because of Zetsumei."

"Don't even think we're going to leave you alone!" Sasuke, Kiba and Gaara shouted in union.

"Then Gaara stays, and you two go", Naruto said. "I'll be fine Aniki, don't look so upset."

Sasuke's mind was racing. After a while, he gave in and nodded. Kiba lifted Shino off the ground and the Uchiha looked at the Jinchuurikis.

"Don't do anything stupid", he warned.

"We'll try", they answered.

Sasuke shook his head and then took a look at Itachi.

"If Itachi needs it", Sasuke said, "give him your help."

"Promise", they said in union.

"Good."

With that, Sasuke, Kiba with Shino and Akamaru leaped away from the battle to the hospital.

-

Tsunade wiped her forehead and sighed. The puppeteer was stable, and she tore her eyes from him to look at Kakashi. The Copy-nin laid silently on the next bed with Shikaku by his side if anything would happen. The Hokage stumbled to a chair and sat down. The puppets in the village became less and less and she was feeling grateful to everyone. The hospital doors opened and Shikaku dropped the book his was reading from. Tsunade whipped around to see who it was and her heart stopped.

Shikamaru was bleeding heavily from his chest, and blood dribbled down his mouth and out his nose. Asuma dragged himself inside, a kunai still attached to his side but he was still holding the Nara boy. Ino limped inside after him and Chouji closed the door before collapsing down.

"What happened?!" the Godaime shouted.

"Sasori of the Red Sand", Asuma said and slid down the wall. "We… we took him out with Shika's new Jutsu. O-only problem was Shika didn't end the Jutsu i-in time; he got hit by the impact himself."

Tsunade screamed for medic-nins before gently removing Shikamaru from Asuma's limp grasp. She handed him over to a medic-nin and barked out orders. She then let them begin without her and she bent down again and said:

"Are you guys badly hurt?"

"Don't think so", Asuma replied. "You guys okay?"

"T-tired", Ino gasped, "but nothing life-threatening. Chouji… are you okay?"

The Akimichi boy was grabbing his bleeding side and did not answer. He seemed far away and he was slumped against the wall. Tsunade went over to him and gently shook him. His head lolled down and she stared into unseeing eyes. Panic gripped her for a moment, but then she shook herself out of it and laid Chouji down. She checked his pulse and screamed for a medic-nin.

"What's wrong?" Shizune asked her master.

"Chouji's dying!"

-

Itachi fell to the ground and cursed his eyes. He could not see very well, as Tsunade had not had time to heal them. Orochimaru chuckled somewhere over him and he turned over to his back.

"Giving up already?" the snake said. "Too bad."

Jiraiya was still unconscious a few feet away; he had taken a good blow to his head.

"Sayonara(2) Itachi-kun."

Itachi closed his eyes and waited for the sword. Instead, he felt demonic chakra fill the clearing. He opened his eyes wide and whipped around as best as he could on the ground. Red armour, orange hair and manic red eyes. Kyuubi no Kitsune no Youkai stood with a katana in his human hand.

"Touch the Uchiha and you're dead snake-freak", Kyuubi growled.

Orochimaru was trembling with fear. Naruto stepped up next to the demon and showed red eyes on his own. Suddenly a man with black hair and golden eyes jumped down next to Kyuubi. He stood up, dressed in a black battle armour and said:

"Looks like I can go all out for the first time on many years."

"Shukaku", the snake Sannin whispered.

Itachi found himself staring at the two demons and the two lovers; Kyuubi and Ichibi. Gaara came out and stood next to Naruto. Sand was whirling around him, and his eyes had a golden twinkle in them. Naruto closed his eyes and let red chakra surround him as he called back the fox leader. Zetsumei came back and after a nod from Naruto, he gratefully returned to his universe to recover. Manda laid dead behind.

The snake Sannin decided to take out the weakest first, or so he thought, and lunged for Naruto. The blonde looked at him and as Orochimaru reached him and was going to decapitate him, the blonde ducked and kicked the snake's legs before jumping up and landing safely next to Itachi. Kyuubi turned to Naruto and said:

"Go, we'll take care of little snake-freak."

Naruto nodded and Gaara rushed to help his lover get up Itachi from the ground. Naruto then went to Jiraiya and heaved him up.

"Let's go", Gaara said to the blonde.

Naruto nodded again and they left with Itachi and Jiraiya. Shukaku and Kyuubi turned to Orochimaru and both said with equal predatory grins:

"How about we finish this now?"

Orochimaru could not move one inch as Kyuubi's red eyes once more bore into his soul. Last time, he had been lucky and got the controlling Jutsu over the demon the same day Naruto had been born. Orochimaru had been the reason Kyuubi went berserk, but now he doubted he would get the Jutsu over the great demon once more. Or rather, he knew he would not get it over Kyuubi; the demon had grown too aware of his cunning nature.

-

Ibiki took one last look at the now dead Kazuku. Genma sucked on one of his senbons as usual while looking bored, and Anko was clearly disappointed.

"I thought Akatsuki was stronger than this!" she complained.

"He was half-dead when we got him", Genma said. "Of course he was easy then."

Anko pouted but they all froze as they felt the pressure of not one, but two demons.

"Kyuubi and Shukaku?" Anko asked weakly.

"Yeah", Ibiki whispered. "What the hell is the brats thinking?!"

"How about we go and look what they are thinking?" Genma asked.

"Good idea."

They leaped off.

-

Itachi was panting and constantly fighting to keep consciousness. Gaara stopped and gently put him down against a tree. Naruto stopped as well and let the very groggy Jiraiya sit down as well. The redhead took out a canteen of water and gave it to the Uchiha. Itachi looked at Gaara in a silent question, and the Suna shinobi nodded. Itachi downed the water in mere seconds and then leaned back to the tree. Jiraiya had done the same thing to Naruto's canteen of water.

"How are you guys feeling?" Naruto said.

"Tired as hell", Jiraiya said. "And my head hurts."

"My eyes", Itachi moaned and covered his face with his hands as to try block out the pain. "Even without the Sharingan, they still hurt."

Naruto bent down and pried away the older Uchiha's hands from his eyes. He gently rubbed the area around the eyes with his small thumbs and after a few minutes, the Uchiha began to relax. Gaara looked at Naruto and said:

"You work wonders with massage do you know that?"

"Seems like the Uchihas are the weakest against my massage", the blonde chuckled. "Aniki always melts whenever I take care of his shoulders."

"Aniki?" Itachi mumbled.

"I call Sasuke that", Naruto mumbled. "He said he liked it."

"Aniki…" Itachi echoed. "He always called me Nii-san."

"Maybe he didn't want to confuse it", Naruto said and shrugged. "You're Nii-san and he's Aniki. That way you won't mix it up."

"True."

Naruto finished five minutes later, and Itachi was reluctant to open his eyes. When he did, the pain was only a dull ache.

"Let's go", Naruto said. "We need to get you to the hospital, Itachi-san."

The Uchiha let himself be dragged up once more by the redhead and they leaped off.

-

Tsunade was sitting by Shikamaru, her mind racing and thousands possibilities ran through her head. His bleeding did not stop from his mouth and nose; he was given frequent blood transfusions but was still dying. She got up and began pacing. Shikaku was staring at his son, holding one limp hand loosely.

Suddenly the hospital doors opened once again and Tsunade looked up. Sasuke, Kiba, Shino… something was wrong with the picture. Kiba was holding Shino, and Shino was bleeding… from his nose and mouth. Just like the Nara boy.

"What happened?" she said.

"I don't know", Kiba answered desperately. "Suddenly it just started coming blood from his mouth and nose! He's not even injured!"

'Same as Shikamaru. Shikamaru has wounds, but they don't cause the bleeding. What's going on?'

Tsunade was thinking hard as Kiba laid down the Aburame on a bed when Shikamaru raised his voice high enough to be heard:

"P… poi…"

They all turned to Shikamaru. He was staring intently at Kiba, as trying to say something. Kiba came close and said:

"What?"

"Po…i…son", Shikamaru gasped out. "Ch-chillin…g w-wind… n-north…"

Tsunade did not understand but Kiba's head snapped up.

"A chilling wind in the north", Kiba said. "Shino said the same thing, and then he started freezing. Did it happen to you as well, Shika?"

The Nara boy nodded.

"Couldn't m-move", the brunette continued. "W-was about t-to release my J-Jutsu when suddenly I c-couldn't move…"

"You lose the feeling of your own body", Kiba said. "Shino couldn't move, he could hardly do anything. You say it's poison, why?"

"Sasori… he knew I w-was affected… saw it on h-his face. He knew h-his po-poi… son w-worked…"

Shikamaru started coughing up blood and they all started to think if there was any antidote. Suddenly Sasuke spoke up:

"Where's Sasori's body?"

"Near the Tower", Asuma said weakly. "Why?"

Sasuke did not answer; instead he just dragged Kiba with him and ran out.

-

Naruto suddenly stopped and looked in the other direction.

"Naruto, what's wrong?" Gaara shouted.

"Kisame-san", the blonde mumbled and Itachi froze. "His chakra is disappearing…"

"I have to go", the Uchiha said but fell down on his knees by the sheer pain in his eyes.

"Impossible", Jiraiya said. "You'll only get yourself killed!"

"I'll go", Naruto said and turned to look at Itachi. "Don't worry."

"Naruto!" Gaara shouted but the blonde had already leaped away.

Itachi was staring at the spot where the boy had stood. Kisame… His vision blurred and he touched his cheeks. They were wet… why were they wet? Was he crying? Was Uchiha Itachi crying? He looked up at Gaara and said:

"I need to go… I need to make sure Kisame is alright."

The redhead hesitated, and then turned to Jiraiya.

"Go to the village, Jiraiya-sama", the Jinchuuriki said. "I'll take Itachi-san to Kisame-san and Naruto."

"I can't stop you can I?" the white-haired man said.

"No", they both said.

"If you aren't careful, I'll kill you", Jiraiya warned.

They both nodded and he gave his permission. Itachi staggered up on his feet and Gaara took a good hold on the man before leaped after Naruto.

-

Kisame got up on his knees but no further. Hidan looked at the former Akatsuki and said:

"You're one tuff man to beat. But it ends here you know. The ritual is complete."

Kisame was bleeding through a cut on his neck; any longer and he would lose his voice and soon after that, his life.

"Farewell", Hidan said and raised his weapon.

In the next moment, he was kicked away from his circle by a blur of black and red. Kisame looked at the creature and almost choked.

Naruto, in his black trench coat, surrounded by red chakra. His eyes were shining and Kisame could just sit there and stare at the child.

Hidan rose up and screamed:

"Who the hell are you?!"

"I am Uzumaki Naruto, child to the Yondaime Hokage", Naruto said and the Akatsuki member froze. "I am a shinobi of Konoha. I am also the container, the Jinchuuriki, to Kyuubi no Kitsune no Youkai. I am the so called monster of Konoha."

Hidan looked at Naruto, whose chakra changed from red to blinding white. It seemed like time stopped around the blonde. Small stones and dirt rose from the ground around him before slowly starting to rotate around him. The wind was being dragged towards him and settled in to wound around the teen like a shield, and the Akatsuki member seemed to lose all colour in his face.

The blonde crunched down on the ground and made ten seals. He then put his right palm down on the ground before starting over. Hidan looked at him and then screamed out:

"What the hell are you doing?!"

Naruto gave no answer and made a final seal. He looked up with deep blue-red eyes and said:

"Youjutsu: Sadondesu."

Kisame looked on, terrified, as black streaks came up from the ground and gathered around Naruto, just like the wind, before being pushed out by the white chakra. The streaks were directed to Hidan, who was frozen on his place. The streaks went to him and surrounded him. The tall ex-Akatsuki heard the most terrified scream in his entire life and then the streaks was thrown outwards. The streaks hit him and the world went black.

-

Ibiki, Anko and Genma reached the clearing with the dead Manda and looked horrified on it. It had big claw marks on its skin and they looked at each other. Carefully they made their way to the next clearing and was standing there, staring.

Orochimaru's corpse laid in the middle of the clearing. His head was lying a few feet away. Two men, one orange-haired and one black-haired one, stood a bit away from the corpse. They were radiating demon chakra. The orange-haired one looked up and saw them.

"Oi!" he called out to them and they all snapped to attention. "Bring me back to Naruto after I release the Jutsu, okay?"

"Take me to Gaara", the black-haired one said.

"What are you talking about?" Ibiki said but they did not answer.

They both raised their hands and screamed 'Kai!' and smoke erupted. A katana was stuck on the ground with a necklace around it after the smoke cleared. The katana radiated Kyuubi, and the necklace Shukaku.

"That was Kyuubi and Shukaku?" Anko said.

Genma went into the clearing and picked up the katana and the necklace shone in the sun from its position. The chakra radiating through them seemed to calm down and soon quieted.

"Let's go", Genma said.

The other two did not protest.

-

Gaara and Itachi reached the clearing and stopped to survey the damages. Both Naruto and Kisame laid unmoving on the ground. Itachi stumbled to Kisame while Gaara ran to Naruto. The blonde coughed a few times and opened his eyes. Gaara gently lifted him up and held him tightly.

A pained scream from Itachi made them whip their heads to look at him. The older Uchiha was clutching an unmoving Kisame. The man had a trickle of blood running from his mouth and his eyes were closed. Itachi hit Kisame's chest and screamed out:

"Don't die on me, you idiot!"

Kisame did not react or move. Itachi laid him down but still hit on his chest. The two boys made their way there but did not touch the Uchiha. He broke out in cries and weakly hit Kisame's chest once more before lying his head on it. Naruto dropped down next to Itachi and Gaara crunched down behind the blonde.

"Kisame you idiot", Itachi whispered. "Answer me, you damn idiot."

Only silence answered his pleading.

-

Shibi was stroking his son's forehead, and tried to ease the pain. Blood still came out. He looked over at Shikaku and Shikamaru. Nothing had changed there. Tsunade was pacing back and forth when Sasuke and Kiba rushed inside. They had identical grins on their faces.

"What?" Tsunade said.

Sasuke threw a vial to Kiba, who grabbed it and went to Shino. Sasuke ran over to Shikamaru. They both made the Aburame and the Nara drink the liquid in the vials before anyone could protest. Only a few minutes later, the blood stopped. Shikamaru coughed but no blood came out. He opened his eyes and stared at Sasuke. Then he grinned weakly and rasped:

"You figured it out?"

"Yeah", Sasuke said. "You knew he had an antidote didn't you?"

"I wasn't 100 percent sure, but I thought he had to have one", the Nara whispered.

"You did well", the Uchiha said. "Rest now."

Kiba grinned and then looked at Shino… only to meet Shino's open eyes. His shades had been removed at some time, but he did not seem to notice. He was still looking at Kiba, then he looked up to his father. Shibi could only offer him a weak smile.

Suddenly a medic-nin came forth and whispered something to Tsunade. The Hokage shone up and thanked the man. She turned to them and said:

"Chouji is stable now. He lost some blood, but other than that he should be fine."

"What happened?" Shikamaru said.

"He had major internal bleedings", Tsunade said. "But he's fine now, so don't get up Shikamaru."

The boy nodded and fell back on the bed as he had started to rise up. Shikaku looked at his son with fond eyes. Sasuke turned to Tsunade and said:

"Have you seen Kankuro?"

"He's up in a room with Kakashi", the Godaime said. "He was a bit messed up but stable."

The Uchiha looked at her with a silent plea and the Hokage just said:

"Room 48."

"Thanks."

With that, Sasuke went to Kankuro and the Copy-nin.

-

Itachi thought he heard a heartbeat and sat up abruptly, eyes wide and his heart swelling with hope. Kisame took a breath and opened his eyes. Itachi heard Naruto and Gaara exhale loudly but did not register it. Instead he concentrated to look into Kisame's eyes without breaking out in cries. The fish-man coughed and said weakly:

"I was going to fuck your order and just die… but you are really too loud, Itachi-san."

"Shut up you idiot", Itachi said.

"I think my throat is kinda hurt", the tall man admitted and coughed again.

"His vocals are damaged", Naruto said to Itachi. "Let's get him to a medic-nin."

"Aa."

Together, they succeeded to get themselves off the ground. Itachi dragged up Kisame's heavy sword and swung it on his back. Kisame looked at him, eyebrow lifted in a silent question and the Uchiha answered:

"You're too hurt to carry it."

"What about you?" the blonde kitsune snapped. "You can hardly walk on your own."

"Mind your own business", Itachi huffed.

"You Uchihas are all the same", Naruto sighed.

"Too stubborn for their own good?" Kisame said and the blonde nodded. "Yeah, I've experienced that as well."

"Shut up!" Itachi said and Gaara only shook his head before starting walking with Kisame leaning heavily on him.

-

Lee thanked the medic-nin and pushed the door open as he was carrying Neji. He met Hinata in the hall and the younger Hyuuga paled even further than before.

"He's fine", Lee said quickly to calm her down. "It was pretty close for a while, but he's alright now. Are you alright?"

"Y-Yes, I'm fine", Hinata said. "Tsunade-sama told me Neji-niisan was hurt and I thought I would find him…"

"He's in good care now", the black-haired one said. "I'm going to put him in room 48 with Kankuro-san and Kakashi-san, okay? You can visit later."

"Hai", she said. "I should go and check on Kiba-kun and Shino-kun."

With that and a last look at Neji, Hinata disappeared. Tenten came in view and said:

"Let's go and put him in bed."

Lee gazed down at the Hyuuga as they walked. He was too pale, but he was breathing. He was too weak, but still alive. That was all that mattered. Strength could be build up again.

-

Tsunade was waiting in the entrance hall of the hospital together with Iruka and Sasuke. They had felt the two Jinchuurikis and the two ex-Akatsukis chakra and now ended up there to wait for them. Genma had given Sasuke the katana and the necklace, who now both were secure with Kankuro, Kakashi and Jiraiya.

The doors opened and Sasuke exhaled. Naruto was first with Itachi. The older Uchiha was having trouble staying on his feet, so the blonde dragged him to a bed and put him down. He gently took off Kisame's heavy sword from Itachi's back and said to Tsunade:

"His eyes are the problem."

"I can heal them, but right now I'm too weak", the Godaime answered. "Can you wait a few hours, Itachi?"

The Uchiha nodded and relaxed on the bed. Gaara came in with Kisame and Tsunade dragged her breath. The tall man had a hole through his neck. His breath was forced and he seemed having trouble getting air down his throat. Shizune came forth and said:

"I can heal him, Tsunade-sama. Just focus on resting."

Tsunade nodded and Shizune helped Gaara to put Kisame down. Iruka had under that time almost crushed Naruto with a hug and Sasuke sat down on Itachi's bed. The older Uchiha turned his head towards the younger one, eyes closed and said:

"Sasuke?"

"I'm here", the black-haired teen answered.

Itachi nodded and coughed.

Gaara went to Iruka and said:

"Everything okay?"

"Kankuro and Kakashi got hurt", the brunette Chuunin said. "But me and Sasuke have visited them, they're fine."

Gaara looked at the brunette, and then towards the door that led to the different rooms. He bit his lip and looked back at them.

"How about Itachi goes to room 48 and then we get Kisame there when we finished treating him?" Tsunade said with a wink.

"Sounds good", Sasuke said.

Itachi was helped up by Sasuke and they left to go to Kankuro, Kakashi and Jiraiya.

-

Luckily, Gaara and Naruto had decided to go in first and had met team Gai. They quickly explained some things before they let Sasuke and Itachi go in. Kakashi and Kankuro were still asleep and Jiraiya was sitting on the window sill with the window open and smoking. Lee looked at the elder Uchiha and said:

"Is he alright?"

"He's going to be", the younger Uchiha said before Itachi had time to answer. "Sit down Itachi."

Sasuke gently lowered Itachi down on a chair next to Kakashi's bed while Gaara went to his big brother's bed. Iruka sat down on the Copy-nin's bed and asked Tenten and Lee:

"How's Neji?"

"Getting better", Tenten said and absently stroke Neji's forehead. "He was close there for a while, but after the blood transfusion he got better."

Lee nodded and held onto the Hyuuga's right hand.

"Where is the guy Itachi-san had with him?" Tenten said and Jiraiya decided to listen since he wanted to know where Kisame were.

"Shizune is healing him", Naruto said. "He has a hole through his neck thanks to an Akatsuki member."

The two awake in team Gai and Jiraiya stared at the blonde, as if he was joking. Gaara looked at the three of them in turn before saying:

"It's not a joke. I saw it too."

"Me too", Itachi mumbled and Sasuke nodded to them, silently saying he had too.

"Is HE alright then?" Tenten said.

"He should be", Naruto said. "He was able to walk with a little help here."

"A little?" the redhead said. "I was practically dragging him."

"Well, he was awake", the blonde responded.

"True."

Gaara sat down next to Kankuro's head and looked him over. His left shoulder and arm was bandaged and he had some cuts in his face. At that moment, the puppeteer's eyes fluttered open and he stared at Gaara.

"Hi", the redheaded Jinchuuriki said.

"Hi", Kankuro said back.

"You awake now?" they heard Iruka softly ask and Kankuro nodded.

He felt a careful hand on his chest and looked up at Sasuke's face. He smiled at the Uchiha and Gaara left them to let them have some privacy. He embraced Naruto from behind and snuggled into the blonde's neck. The boy giggled and said it tickled. Jiraiya shook his head at them and then returned to gaze out the window.

-

As the day progressed, the shinobis started to get away the puppets from the streets, some of them still with some device to explode when touched and so on. Only a few villagers got to their houses to see the damages; the streets were still too dangerous for them. The hospital was full with injured shinobis and some villagers, and the Hokage had a busy day after her rest. The first thing she did was to go and heal Itachi's eyes. She gently took away her hands and said:

"Does it hurt, Itachi?"

"Not so much", the Uchiha said.

"Try open them", the Godaime said.

Itachi blinked a couple of times, and then opened them fully. Tsunade made a scan and said:

"They will be tender for a couple of days, so avoid sunlight until the pain is completely gone. Kisame is on his way up here, okay? I've already arranged so that he'll get a bed in here."

The older Uchiha nodded and closed his eyes again. She rose up and checked on Kakashi, Kankuro and Neji. When she was satisfied with them, she asked if they all were alright. No one was hurt so much that it needed her attention, so she left to get on with her work. Iruka stroke Kakashi's brow and smiled softly at his sleeping lover. Tenten and Lee were still hovering over Neji, when the said Hyuuga decided to wake up. He groaned and opened his eyes.

"Neji!" Tenten said, relieved. "How are you feeling?"

"My back hurts", the Hyuuga responded.

Lee took a gentle hold and turned Neji to his side and said:

"How's it now?"

"Better."

Tenten sat behind Neji, and made a calming circle over his back with her hand, as she had seen Gai do whenever Neji was upset or hurt. The Hyuuga relaxed into his new position and closed his eyes again.

"Lee?" he said quietly.

"Yeah?" he heard the black-haired teen answer.

"I'm sorry for upsetting you back then", Neji said and burrowed his head in the pillow.

Lee looked at Neji for a while and then realized what he was talking about. Back in the Hokage Tower, when Neji had told him to let go.

"Idiot", Lee mumbled and Neji opened his eyes. "You were in so much pain you didn't realize what you were saying, so don't worry about it."

"O… Okay."

Tenten looked confused at them both, but lee juts shook his head. She nodded and continued to rub circles on Neji's back. Naruto looked on as Gaara leaned against the wall with him. Iruka looked at them and then turned his eyes to Kakashi. The Copy-nin was staring at him, and the brunette almost let out a shriek. He quickly clamped his hands over his mouth and his next word came out muffled:

"Kakashi?!"

Naruto whipped his head and saw the man indeed awake. Gaara smiled softly and released the blonde, who ran up to the bed and said:

"Kaka-san?"

"Hi Naruto", the Copy-nin answered. "You look pale, Iruka, what's wrong?"

"It's you!" Iruka said, furious. "Tsunade-sama said you overused Sharingan!"

"Either that, or Kankuro would die", Kakashi said. "Rather have him alive, y'know."

Iruka nodded and the Copy-nin began to rise.

"No you won't!" Iruka scolded. "Lie down this instant!"

Kakashi whined but complied. He turned his head to Naruto and said:

"Well, if I'm not allowed to get up you are the one who have to hug me, so come here!"

The blonde laughed but inched closer and carefully wrapped his arms around the Copy-nin. Kakashi got up one arm around Naruto's back and smiled softly underneath his mask. Sasuke carefully made his way to them and Iruka laid an arm on the Uchiha's shoulders. Sasuke let himself lean into Iruka's side and he sighed softly. For some reason, the atmosphere in the room made him feel like he had come home from a very long journey.

-

Shikamaru was sitting in his hospital bed and was looking out the window. His chest was bandaged but he hardly felt it. He kept his eyes glued on the sunset. Chouji laid in the bed next to him, pale but alive. A slight movement from the other boy made Shikamaru blink and look over to him. The Akimichi boy moved and opened his eyes.

"Yo", the Nara said.

"Shika? You okay now?"

"Yeah, I'm okay", Shikamaru said. "Sasuke and Kiba saved my ass."

"They did?" Chouji said and moved his head to look at the Nara boy, who once more looked at the sunset.

"Yeah, but they said I kinda helped them. I tried to explain to them what had happened and Sasuke gripped my suspicions very fast. I think Shino was exposed to the same poison."

"Is he alright?"

Shikamaru mutely nodded.

"What happened really?" Chouji said. "Is it over?"

"Yeah", Shikamaru whispered. "It's over now."

-

Hinata sat by her father in the hall of the hospital, Shibi and Shino just next to them. Shino was pale and kept falling asleep. Finally Shibi did not try to wake up his son; instead he just let the teen sleep. Kiba was with his mother and sister just around the corner; they could hear Akamaru's exited barking and Tsume's rough voice kept telling the dog to calm down. Occasionally they could hear Kiba.

The Hyuuga heir looked at Shino and then out the window. The sun was setting and the sky was colored blood red and hot orange. The colours shifted into a blur of motion in front of her eyes and she smiled. The end of a horrible day, but also the start of a better beginning.

-

Sakura was with Ino outside the hospital, escorting hurt people from the caves to the hospital together with Kurenai, Asuma and Gai. The pink-haired girl wiped her brow and looked up at the sky. The day was turning to evening and night, so they needed to hurry. They had started escorting people only ten minutes ago, so it would take a while. Ino carefully poked her and said:

"You okay?"

"Yeah", Sakura said. "Just thought we need to be fast if we want the villagers into the hospital before dark."

"Don't worry", the Yamanaka girl said, "we'll manage."

"Yeah", Sakura said and nodded absently. "I guess so."

"You're spacing out on me", Ino whined. "Worried about your team?"

"They're alright", the pink-haired teen said. "I met them not too long ago; they're fine. I'm just tired that's all."

"Then let's hurry up."

Sakura nodded and continued.

-

The night fell, and the village was silent. The puppets had been removed and burned together with the bodies of the Akatsuki. Shinobis were scouting the village, but otherwise little movement was made inside Konoha.

The hospital was the only building with lights on. Medic-nins were still working, and so was the Godaime. She made her check on each room before leaving for her rest. She opened room 48 and stopped.

The room itself was full with people. It normally held 6 people, but it was over ten people currently in it. Kisame was lying next to the window on his side, with heavily bandaged neck and chest. The tall man's tense body had relaxed fully in a most needed sleep. Itachi was sitting in a comfy chair Tsunade had brought him earlier right next to his partner. The Uchiha peered one black eye open to look at her; when no danger was registered, the eye slipped close again. Kankuro was lying in the middle bed, comfortable spooned against the younger Uchiha. The bed closest to the door on her left side was Neji and his team plus her pink-haired student. Or rather, Tenten, Lee and Sakura had fallen asleep with their heads and upper body resting on the bed. Neji's hand was still loosely held in Lee's left hand. Sakura had fallen asleep next to her boyfriend with her hair spilling onto the bed while Tenten was on the opposite side.

Tsunade let her eyes go to the other side of the room. Opposite of Kisame was Jiraiya and she smiled fondly at her ex-teammate. The bed next to him was Kakashi and Iruka. The brunette had the Copy-nin trapped close to his body, but it seemed like the grey-haired man had not put up much of a struggle for that. The bed to her right held Gaara and Naruto. The redhead and the blonde were embracing each other and Tsunade noticed something going back and forth between them, which shimmered with the moonlight. She carefully stepped closer and nearly gasped as she saw what it was.

Shimmering chakra, in blending gold and bleeding red that went in and out the two teens. Kyuubi and Shukaku. Sometimes the chakra collided, merged and then separated. The Godaime was fascinated by it when the red suddenly turned to blinding white. It was Naruto's chakra. She had heard Kisame tell about the colour of the blonde's chakra. She carefully took up a blanket and gently laid it upon them both, made sure to tuck them in before smiling and leaving the room.

-

Shikaku looked up from his shougi-board to see Chouza enter the room. The Akimichi looked at him and said:

"Playing shougi in the middle of the night?"

"Can't sleep", the Nara replied. "Shougi makes me relax."

Chouza looked over to the opposite side of the room, where Shikamaru and Chouji slept. The Nara tossed around on the bed, so Chouza said:

"Why don't you try calming your son down?"

"Well, last time his reflexes acted instead of his brain. Man, that blow hurt", Shikaku muttered. "Watch out; he's got a good right-hand."

Chouza shook his head and sat down. Chouji turned over and opened his eyes.

"It's still night, so go back to sleep", the Akimichi head said.

"Shika…" the teen said. "He's having a nightmare."

"Shikaku says he reacts violently if you try to wake him."

Chouji ignored what his father said and sat up. The Nara and Akimichi heads looked on, puzzled. Chouji made his way to Shikamaru's bed and stopped right next to it. Carefully he extended his hand, and laid it on the Nara boy's forehead. Shikamaru stopped tossing in an instant. He took a few deep breaths and opened his eyes.

"Just a dream", Chouji said. "It's alright, go back to sleep."

Shikamaru nodded and closed his eyes again. The Akimichi boy nodded to himself and returned to his bed, leaving the two adults to stare at him. Shikaku said after a while:

"Damn, your son must have some special trick when it comes to Shikamaru."

"I begin to suspect that as well", Chouza answered.

-

Ino sat on her bed, absently twirling a lonely flower she had found on the street. It was in the middle of the night, yet she felt no sleep come to her. She looked out at the moon and sat there staring at it, lost in thoughts, until dawn began to come.

-

Kiba and Hinata found themselves once more cocooning their teammate in his bed. Shino's head was tucked under Kiba's chin as before and Hinata had her head where Shino's neck met shoulder. Shibi looked at them for a long time before silently exiting the room and gently closing the door behind him.

-

Asuma, Kurenai, Gai, Ibiki, Anko and Genma were sitting on the Godaime's head in silence. Sleep had abandoned them all at the moment. They all were lost in thoughts in a comfortable presence as they either watched the village or the stars.

-

One week later, Valentine's Day: (A/N Warning, extremely sweet and fluffy last part; finally some innocent love in this story, yay)

The sun was shining and the streets were busy. Love-struck girls ran around, talking who they wanted a flower from and so on. Sakura walked hand in hand with Lee towards the hospital as they were going to collect Neji. The Hyuuga was to be released later on the day and they had volunteered to help him home. They stepped inside in the cool air of the hospital and took the route to room 48, where he and Kisame were staying. The ex-Akatsuki was not yet to be released, as his neck-injury had caused him some troubles with his speaking abilities. Lee knocked on the door and entered. Neji looked up from the book he was reading and smiled at them.

"If it isn't the love-birds", he teased.

"Neji!"

"Neji-san!"

He laughed at the blushing faces and put away the book. Kisame looked on as the Hyuuga continued to tease them with a small smile. Sakura looked at him and said:

"How are you today Kisame-san?"

The fish-man shrugged, which meant "No change since yesterday" and the pink-haired felt a little sorry for him. Three days ago Kisame had stopped talking since it hurt too much.

Neji was ready in a few minutes and he waved goodbye to the tall man before they left. Kisame made a small wave back to the Hyuuga before returning to stare out the window. They closed the door and Neji said:

"I think he's getting depressed."

"I would too", Lee said, "sitting in a room not able to talk because of the pain in a village you hardly know anyone."

Neji nodded and they went out into the sunshine.

-

Shino was sitting on a bridge with his feet in the water. Kiba plopped down to him and gruffly gave him something. Shino turned the flower in his hand and said:

"An ivy?"

"Ino said it meant friendship", Kiba said. "Mom said I should've gotten you a luck flower, since troubles seems to find you."

Shino snorted and looked at the flower again.

"Thanks", he said a while later.

"Don't mention it", Kiba replied.

They sat in silence for a while. Then Kiba said:

"How about we go and find Hinata? She said something about homemade chocolate."

"You always think with your stomach don't you?"

"Not always!"

Kiba huffed and raced off. Shino took on his sandals and carefully picked up his flower. He smiled at it and gently held it in his hand as Kiba yelled at him to move faster. He took his time to walk over to the Inuzuka, knowing the teen would wait forever if he had to. Shino looked at Kiba and thought:

'Friendship. I like that word.'

-

Kankuro was sitting on the porch at Kakashi's and Iruka's house. His ankles had healed, and so had his shoulder with a bit of Tsunade's healing powers but his arm was still not entirely healed as the Godaime had not wanted to risk to damage it more by putting more of her chakra in his body.

Suddenly a pair of hands was over his eyes but Kankuro already knew who it was.

"Cut it out Sasuke", he said.

"Boring", he heard the younger Uchiha say before the hands slipped away. "I think I need a new shampoo so you won't recognize me."

The puppeteer looked at the pouting teen and laughed. Sasuke looked at him and said:

"Close your eyes."

"Why?"

"I got a surprise for you."

Kankuro looked slightly taken back but complied. Sasuke shifted around a bit and after a while he said:

"Okay, open them now."

Kankuro did and stared. In his uninjured hand laid one single beautiful red tulip.

"For me?" he asked the Uchiha.

"Yeah", Sasuke said. "I got Ino to order it for me. A red tulip means declaration of love."

Kankuro looked at his lover for a long time. Then he inched closer and pressed his lips to the corner of Sasuke's mouth.

"Thank you", he breathed against the Uchiha's lips.

The Sharingan-user slipped one hand into soft hair and said "You're welcome" before kissing him fully.

-

"Where are you taking me?" Naruto said.

Gaara only smiled secretly and continued to drag his blonde further into the forest. After a while he stopped and said:

"I want you to close your eyes."

Naruto looked confused but let his eyes slid close. Gaara gently led Naruto through the last piece of forest and then they reached the place Gaara had found recently.

"Okay", he said. "Take a look."

The blonde opened his eyes and took a deep breath. They were standing in the outskirts of a meadow filled with flowers. Butterflies were everywhere and the wind was blowing softly, making the flowers sway like in a dance.

Naruto took a few steps and looked around. Gaara stayed behind, just loving the expression on Naruto's face.

"Do you like it?" he asked.

"Like it?" Naruto whispered. "I love it."

The redhead walked up and said:

"Got another surprise."

Naruto turned around and Gaara held out a white rose. While Naruto did not know much of the language of flowers, Gaara had made some research to Ino's pleasure and had ordered it for today. The blonde took the rose and Gaara said:

"Ino-san said to me that every flower means something, and I thought over what I wanted my flower to mean. I decided on that one."

"What does it mean?"

"Eternal love."

The kitsune child looked at Gaara in surprise with big eyes, and the redhead looked down on his feet. Naruto then tackled Gaara to the ground, smothered him with kisses and a chanting of "Thank you!" between each kiss. Gaara pushed so that Naruto ended up on the bottom and smiled softly down at the blonde. The smaller teen's eyes started to leak in red and Gaara's got a golden edge on them. Kyuubi and Shukaku kissed each other, although not in their own bodies, for the first time in many years in the middle of a meadow full with flowers.

-

As the day progressed, girls got gifts and guys bragged about who they got a kiss from. Team 10 was content to sit under their favourite tree with a deck of cards and a lunch made by Chouji's mother.

Team 8 ate lunch together and then hanged out for the rest of the day; Kiba ate almost all the chocolate Hinata had made for them. Shino had only shook his head with the ivy safely in his pocket.

Team Gai, plus Sakura, had eaten lunch at a restaurant before going separate ways. Lee had gone with Sakura, and Tenten and Neji parted after they had shared an ice-cream they had been offered. Neji had met team 8 and was invited to spend his day with them. Tenten had gone home to spend some time with her parents.

Iruka and Kakashi ate lunch with some other shinobis; a few of them were Gai, Kurenai, Asuma and Genma, before going home to a peaceful afternoon.

Even Tsunade and Jiraiya relaxed that day and took a drink on Yondaime's head with some small-talk and food.

But there was one who ignored all this.

Kisame was never used to all that and preferred to ignore it all. He laid on his side, away from the window and was at that moment asleep. The window opened from the outside and someone slipped in. Itachi looked at his partner for a while and then put something on the bedside table before leaping out again.

The fish-man woke up not long after that and noticed a flower with a note. Kisame sat up, rubbed his eyes and took the note. He saw the flower was an iris and was puzzled. He opened the piece of paper and read:

'Iris means many things, Kisame, but in this case it means hope. Not hope for today but hope for the future. There is hope for you in the future, even though you don't want to believe it. And if you still feel there is no hope, I will give you hope.

- Itachi

P.S I'm on the hospital roof. Nice view; you should join me.'

Kisame looked at the note for a long time. Then he looked at the open window and thought for a while. He picked up the iris and rose from the bed. He cracked his body and slowly made his way to the roof. He opened the door and looked around. Itachi was sitting not too far away, with legs dangling over the edge. The Uchiha said without turning around:

"Decided to come?"

"Yeah", the man rasped and then coughed.

"If it hurts, don't speak", Itachi said and turned around. "Come and join me."

Kisame made his way to the smaller man and painfully sat down. Itachi noticed the iris in the fish-man's hand and said:

"You still have hope?"

Kisame did not answer for a long time. Then, just as Itachi had lost hope that he would answer, he heard his partner's raspy voice said:

"I always had hope. I just forgot about it for a while."

Itachi grinned.

-

It was near midnight and Iruka stood outside on the porch with a cup of tea. Kakashi came up from behind and said:

"It's been a strange year."

"You can say that", Iruka chuckled. "Lots of troubles too."

"Yeah. Regret any of it?"

"No", the brunette said. "Actually, thanks to your team's foolishness to test something in Tsunade's office without her permission, was the start. If they hadn't, we wouldn't be living like this."

Kakashi rested his chin on Iruka's shoulder and said:

"I would never have noticed Naruto in that way I did in those few days he was turned to a child. He was too good in hiding the truth."

"What do you think will happen from now?"

"No idea", the Copy-nin said and grinned. "But I know it will be better than before."

Iruka nodded. One year ago, he would never imagine he would be in love with Hatake Kakashi. One year ago, he would never consider anyone else than Naruto his "child". Now he had six "children"; Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura, Gaara, Kankuro and Temari. One year ago he would never believe he would call Uchiha Itachi and Hoshigaki Kisame friends; now they were already a part of his family. All of this, all this happiness, because of one little thing that Kakashi discovered when he looked underneath the underneath.

-

On four different places around the village, laid for flowers.

Ivy – friendship

Red tulip – declaration of love

White rose – eternal love

Iris – hope

Together, these four flowers will shape the future of many people in Konoha. Ivy has done its deed and made many people friends, red tulip has given many people someone to love, white rose has shown that love is stronger than anything else, and iris has made sure that there will always be hope.

For Uzumaki Naruto, hope for someone to call friend and hope for someone to love was lost one year ago. Thanks to a small discovery, he now had friends, a home, parents, and someone who had given him eternal love. As he laid in the arms of Sabaku no Gaara, the feared Jinchuuriki of Suna, he could not help but think how stupid he had been to hide himself. Once he was discovered, everything had gone better with his life.

He now knew hope never dies out; it just tends to be forgotten sometimes.

The End


This is the end of my story, and I hope you liked it. I really loved to write this one, and felt encouraged to continue thanks to the reviews many wrote to me. I will hopefully soon continue with some other Naruto fics; otherwise I have other ones to write. I have started on many but I have to give some up. One Naruto fic I'm quite certain that I will write and post is a fic where Naruto as older, around 32, travels back to the past to make it all better. Sound cliché? I know, but I kinda like it. We'll see. Check on my profile if I have some other plans; I'll try update if anything changes.

Thanks once more and see you later,

Tiro