Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Masashi Kishimoto. All characters, infected or otherwise, belong to him.

Outbreak Part II

Chapter Fourteen: Homecoming

It had been close to four days since they entered the borders of Fire Country. They had enough food though in their storage scrolls, which helped, and they found that the number of infected had actually decreased a bit when they got deeper into the nation's borders.

"It's weird...I thought there would be more of the infected around here..." Sasuke spoke while taking point with Kiba.

"Yeah...it's kind of bothering me...Akamaru and I haven't picked up any of their scents in almost two days now...and those that we did smell were either old or a long ways off..."

A growl was heard behind them and the others turned to see an unconscious Naruto in his four-tailed form being carried by Lee. Lee had been a bit worried about getting burnt by the Kyuubi's chakra, but just like with Sakura, it caused no harm...which was odd.

Naruto was still unconscious, but he had stopped bleeding from the mouth. His breathing had returned to a resting rate...well, close to it at least...with Naruto having the Kyuubi's chakra cloak out and such, his overall vitals were usually slightly higher than normal.

"How is he, Lee?" Sakura asked, slowing down to check on the Jinchuuriki boy.

Lee grinned, "Naruto-kun is fine, Sakura-chan. I know he will get through this; his flames of youth burn brightly as always!"

The group eventually reached a small clearing, and the group decided to camp there for the night. While they ate in relative silence, Kakashi spoke the details of what they planned on doing.

"So...as far as I can tell, Konoha is about seven hours from here on foot...well, seven considering we go at a running pace, which is completely out of the question right now with us in enemy territory. We should probably remain under radar for now and go slowly through here. It seems that the infected are not as populated around the Hidden Leaf's borders..."

"Yeah, it makes me wonder why though. The infected around Amegakure and Iwagakure were going rampant, un." commented Deidara, receiving a nod from a few others, namely the ones who had been scouting out for other hideouts during their time in the mountains.

"Not to mention we don't know Konoha's current state right now..." Shikamaru added, "...for all we know, it's a pile of ash right now, and the infected have moved onward in search of...food."

Kakashi sighed as he looked up at the sky, "Well, I can say this much; we have about three months worth of supplies on us right now, and the land is no longer covered in snow, so we'll have a better chance of making it through this. I don't know where we can go to escape them...but we always have another option..." he picked up one of the vials of red fluid, "...we might be able to bring some of the hunters back..."

"Hold on, this is Konoha we're talking about...if it's still standing then it's no doubt littered with infected...we don't have enough of the vaccine to cure all of them." Temari said while taking a bite out of a rice ball, "For all we know, they may be waiting for us. Not all of them are completely wild and raving mad in nature..."

"Hanabi and I can have our Byakugan activated while we enter Konoha's borders...we might be able to pick out any possible enemies that way..." Hinata spoke quietly while drinking some water from a canteen, "...although...the Byakugan is only so efficient with such a large area..."

"Well...there is another possible way of going about this..."

Everyone turned to Sakura, "What were you thinking, Sakura?"

"We allow ourselves to be captured. Well, some of us anyway..."

Shino nodded, "That would be a great idea, now that you mention it, Sakura. By allowing some of us to be captured, the enemy will think that they have eliminated any threat...not to mention we are immune to any infection."

"If they bite us, they'll without a doubt gain immunity as well..." Sakura added, "...there is one problem though..."

The group turned to the sleeping form of Naruto, his four tailed form still as evident as ever. Kakashi rubbed the back of his head with a befuddled look, "I don't get it. Jiraiya-sama told me that Naruto eventually regressed to his normal state while they were traveling during his training mission...it's been almost three to four days..."

Sakura, who was actually cradling said Jinchuuriki in her lap, whispered, "...I'm not leaving him..."

Konan nodded, "I believe that Sakura's presence was the main reason Naruto-kun was not attacking us when he found us. I am in favor of Sakura staying by his side until he recovers..."

"It's interesting though..." Shikamaru spoke, "I could feel the malevolent chakra practically saturating the air when he was killing those infected. Now it's like Sakura's holding a fox kit her lap. He's not even emitting anything higher than a typical chakra signature of a human being..."

The group decided the best way of going about with their plan would be to wait for the first group to be captured, then have the second group infiltrate Konoha, and start sabotaging the defenses and start curing a few of the infected to cause confusion. They would then free the captured group and begin a full wave of vaccinating the village...as best as they could, anyway.

"Sakura, worse case scenario...you may have to allow Naruto and yourself to be captured..." Kakashi spoke, finishing a rice ball.

A gentle breeze blew by, and the dogs perked up, as well as Hana and Kiba, "Kiba...you too?"

Kiba sniffed the air, and turned to Hinata, who nodded before activating her Byakugan. She scanned the area, and turned south, "Ah..." she let out a gasp, "...there's at least thirteen shinobi heading this way. They're about three miles from our location, and they seem to be moving in a standard scouting formation..."

"Damn it, this is just wonderful..." Asuma let put out his cigarette in the dirt, and looked to the others, "Well, I suppose we may as well go with your plan, Sakura..." He looked at the group, "I can guess they already knew of our location..." He sighed, "Kakashi, Sakura, Hinata, Kiba and Akamaru, Kurenai, Konan, Deidara, and myself with Naruto being cared for by us...we would be the best suited for capture... We'll leave it to the rest of you to devise a plan...worse case scenario...Deidara can bust us out." A chuckle from the clay user after he heard the last part.

Iruka took charge of the group along with Anko, and they headed northward while Shino left some of his kikaichu to monitor the situation.

The group of remaining shinobi waited, acting as though they were unaware of the hunters that were heading there way. A growl escaped Naruto's throat, and Sakura held him closer, "He's waking up..."

Kakashi bit down a curse, "That's not a good thing. We don't know if he'll attack them or not..."

Naruto opened a glowing white eye, and blinked while looking up at Sakura, "Sak'ra..."

Sakura let a smile grace her features, "Naruto...are you okay?"

Naruto shook his head, "Hurt...lots, but...not bad."

Sakura noticed the warmth that began emanating from his body. She held him closer and spoke softly, "Naruto...we have some of the infected coming from Konoha...part of our group is going to hide while we allow ourselves to be captured..." Naruto immediately stiffened while growling, "No, no...Naruto, listen. I need you to remain calm...okay? We don't want to hurt the infected...we want to cure them, remember?"

Naruto growled, but nodded, "Help them..."

Sakura smiled, unaware that the others were watching the conversation between them intently, "Sakura, is he okay?"

Sakura turned to Hinata, and nodded softly, "Yeah, he's hurting a lot, but he said it's not serious." Sakura replied while helping her Kyuubified boyfriend get up to a sitting position, "Can you move, Naruto?" Naruto nodded in reply.

Not a moment sooner, thirteen separate footfalls could be heard. The group turned to see a group of ANBU, along with one face that made a few members in the group gasp a little.

"...Tenzou...you too?" Kakashi spoke, looking at the wood-using shinobi.

'Yamato' nodded, "Kakashi, I was surprised to hear that a group of shinobi that was supposedly in Suna months ago is still alive." Tenzou then noticed something that made him take a step back, "Naruto?"

Upon hearing his name, Naruto let out a growl-like reply, "Yam'to..."

"He...he's talking?" Tenzou asked the group while the other infected shinobi pulled out weaponry, "Stand down! I never ordered you to attack."

Asuma and Kakashi stood up and looked at Tenzou, "I'm surprised that you managed to keep Konoha in one piece...after all that happened because of the virus..." Asuma spoke with a glare at the group of infected.

"Don't categorize us with the feral ones...we wiped out the unstable ones." Tenzou replied, "What I would like to know is first off is how Naruto is in that state and not rampant, and two, why are you associating with two missing-nin that were originally out for Naruto's life?"

"Hey, we were just taking orders back then. In all honesty, I like the kid, un." spoke Deidara as he nodded to the Kyuubi-container. Konan said nothing, but nodded as Deidara finished.

"We found that living in a group was the best option. We survived for quite some time while the infection was wiping out the mass majority of the Elemental Nations' populations." replied Kurenai as she stood up with the rest of the group, "They're no longer members of Akatsuki, if that's what you are implying."

Tenzou sighed, "Fine. Regardless, you're all going to be taken to Konoha. You'll find that we've kept an established order in the village. We run things differently than the rest of the infected do."

As the group walked back to Konoha, a few bugs flitted off to inform Shino of what had happened...

-ooOoo-

Hidan was getting bored. The prison guards had finally caved in and allowed him to have access to some reading material. Hidan, unlike what many thought, was a rather cultured man. Sadistic and borderline insane in battle? Yes. Illiterate? No.

"You Konoha-nin sure like keeping a record of your clan events..." spoke Hidan as he scanned over the contents of the scroll, although he was ignored by the two Chunin guarding his cell door. He was still chained to the wall by the chakra depleting cuffs, but that didn't prevent him from being annoying, "So...when is lunch?"

"You're meal won't be for another two hours," replied one of the Chunin, "Now keep it down."

"Screw you, I don't have to shut up for a spineless bastard like you!" Hidan retorted, turning back to his scroll.

The sound of the main corridor doors opening roused the former Hot Springs village shinobi from his reading. He looked up, and watched as the door to his cell opened. To his surprise, he was greeted by two familiar faces, "What the hell??"

"...oh no...come on, can't I have a different cell? This guy is the worse than death by skinning." groaned the blond clay-user. Konan remained silent, but if one looked they would have seen her eyes roll in annoyance.

"Konoha protocol dictates that A-class criminals or higher are to be placed in the maximum-security cell block." the ANBU replied, "No exceptions..."

"Just my luck, un..."

As they were locked up and the doors were shut, Hidan smirked, "It's not all bad...they actually serve decent food to us..."

The Chunin that were supposedly guarding the door headed off after receiving some orders from the ANBU captain that had brought the two former Akatsuki members to the prison. Konan looked outside the small, barred opening, then around the cell walls before speaking, "Hidan...we have a group of our survivors who will be infiltrating the village. We've found a cure for the infection..."

Hidan raised an eyebrow, "A cure?" He noticed the seriousness of the situation, "...you mean you found a way to cure these freaks?"

Konan nodded, "Yes...if Deidara and I can trust you...we'll let you in on the plan."

Hidan thought for a moment. He hadn't shed any blood in quite some time. Jashin no doubt was mad...then again, if Jashin had been so favoring of the white haired man, he wouldn't have allowed Hidan, a faithful follower of the god of destruction, to fall into this situation. Hidan nodded, "...okay...what's the plan then?"

Konan and Deidara exchanged looks, silently agreeing that they could trust Hidan..for now at least. Checking once more to make sure that no one was by the door guarding them, Konan let a few pieces of paper unravel from her arm, and a small syringe filled with a vial of red fluid dropped into her hand. She tossed it over to Hidan, and gave him an answer before he spoke, "Before we go any further with explanations, you need to inject that into your system, and wait for the effects to wear off. Then we'll talk about plans."

"You just happened to carry a vial of that stuff on you, huh?"

Konan nodded, "It was going to be used as a last resort if I was endangered."

Hidan nodded, and took the vial of fluid as Konan rolled it across the room with the syringe, "Well, may as well get this over with..."

-ooOoo-

Sakura had been placed in a maximum security cell with Naruto, much to the chagrin of the ANBU. The moment Sakura was more than a few feet away from him, he growled and released a crippling wave of killer intent. After failing to coax him into the cell without his girlfriend, they caved in and let the pink-haired medic share the space with him.

As of right now, Sakura was sitting contentedly with Naruto. She noticed he had mellowed out a bit, and his breathing was becoming more relaxed. His blood-red fur had disappeared, but he still had two tails of red chakra.

She smiled as Naruto was curled up against her, not unlike that of a canine. Although it was from the Kyuubi, she wouldn't deny she loved the warmth Naruto was radiating from him. It helped her stay relaxed and kept her warm in the otherwise cool cell.

"Sakura...chan...?"

Sakura looked down to see Naruto looking up at her with red eyes, "Yes, Naruto?"

Naruto paused for a minute, his expression showing one of deep thought, "You're...not scared of me?" She could hear the hint of fear in his tone.

He was still afraid she would turn away and reject him after seeing his four-tailed form, along with the dangerous power it brought along with it. She frowned, shaking her head, "Naruto...I would never have reason to be afraid of you." She ran a tender hand through his somewhat blond locks of hair.

Naruto let a small smile appear on his face. While he still had his fangs due to his current state, Sakura could tell that it was a genuine one from the blond, "Thanks...Sakura-chan...love you..."

Sakura smiled gently as she rested her frame on his, "I love you, too."

"Will the plan...work?" Sakura noticed that his speech was becoming smoother by the minute.

"I hope so. If Shikamaru is leading the group, I'm sure that they have already begun preparations as we speak." Sakura replied, breathing in the familiar scent of the teen beside her.

Sakura and Naruto remained like this for awhile, lulled by each other's warmth. That is...until Sakura felt one of Naruto's hands snake it's way up her shirt. That earned Naruto a quick smack on the head.

"Ow!"

"Baka. Stop trying to get cute with me right now...I mean seriously...a prison cell? Would you really want to do that in here of all places?"

Naruto's eyes looked away, but the wagging of his tails spoke silently for him. Sakura could only roll her eyes, but in reality she was finding the idea more and more appealing...

She looked through the prison door window, and saw no one. She felt Naruto's eyes upon her, and met his gaze. She smirked a bit, causing Naruto's tails to wag a bit more, "Fine...five minutes, but anything more and we stand a good chance of getting caught..."

Naruto grinned widely, "Heheh...fine by me." Before he could do anything further though, he found himself tackled to the ground by the kunoichi. For a brief moment, he swore he saw Sakura lick her lips as she pinned him to the ground, and he knew he saw her eyes flash with a fire in them.

He may have the Kyuubi's chakra active around him...but he still wasn't sure if that could stand up to whatever Sakura was going to throw at him...especially in only five minutes.

-ooOoo-

"Still feel like keeping quiet, Kakashi?"

"You really think I'm going to talk? You're not even administrating any type of torture or interrogation...be realistic."

Yamato frowned, "We're not your enemy, Kakashi. We just want answers as to why you're sneaking around the forests of Konoha."

Kakashi groaned in annoyance before answering, "Why the hell wouldn't we be? The continent is littered with blood-sucking humans, and we may very well be the only surviving group of people, let alone shinobi, left that aren't infected."

"...anything else?"

Kakashi shook his head, "It wouldn't matter if there was...it's not like you'd let us go. You need to feed, right?"

"Not necessarily. We could bring you into our village. It would be nearly harmless; a simple bite, and you'll be fine." the wood manipulator replied.

Kakashi was well aware that wouldn't be the case for him and the others with their newfound immunity, but it didn't stop him from acting the part. This was an ANBU captain he was talking to after all, "No thanks. I like to keep my humanity, thank you very much."

"...leave us."

The ANBU present looked to the wood manipulator, "Captain?"

"Hatake's always been one of the best. It'll take some persuasion on my part to get him to talk."

"...yes, Captain." The ANBU exited the room, and soon Yamato and Kakashi were the only one's present.

Kakashi said nothing as the younger ANBU captain sighed, "Kakashi...perhaps you don't realize what exactly this new Konoha has to deal with." He turned to face the masked Jounin, "We're not blood-thirsting, rabid, half-maniacal freaks like some of the other infected."

Kakashi made a sound that sounded close to a laugh, "Tenzou, I don't care how civilized you all are. You're infected, and a risk to us."

"Us?"

"Us. The ones you captured. We barely made it through the winter, and I'm not about to let you go and infect us as well."

Yamato was now no more than a few feet from Kakashi, "Kakashi-senpai, the people here aren't all shinobi. They depend on me and the other still capable shinobi to protect them from the outside."

"Protect them?" Kakashi repeated, "You mean from the infected outside the walls?"

Yamato nodded, "Which makes me wonder how the hell you're little ragtag group got through the woods so easily."

"We've gotten good at running through dangerous territories. That and Naruto had the Kyuubi's cloak over him. Though..."

"...what?"

Kakashi closed his eyes for a moment, as though trying to collect his thoughts, "He decimated about three platoons of infected shinobi like nothing. Yet...he managed to keep himself under control while Sakura was around."

"Heh...just goes to prove my theory is true."

Kakashi quirked an eyebrow, "Theory?"

"Yeah." Yamato nodded, "Sakura has a strong hold over the boy's heart. I suppose that was my first assumption when he protested against being separated from her. She had a calming effect on him. Sakura seems to be an anchor for Naruto's humanity when he goes over the edge and transforms. That's my belief at least."

"Yeah..." the masked Jounin couldn't help but smile, "They've become very close..."

Yamato frowned, "Senpai, listen..." Kakashi raised his head to face the younger shinobi, "I don't want violence among us. I just want answers. Hell...I could just let your group go, and pretend we never saw each other. We've managed to find a way to live amongst ourselves here in Konoha. We don't need unnecessary bloodshed."

"...so you enjoy the fact that you're feeding off of others' blood?"

"No." Yamato shook his head, "Far from it. It's not like we have a choice though, is it?"

"That's...not entirely true."

"I suppose. The other option would be killing ourselves off."

Kakashi knew that it would be now or never. If he gave away this information, it would be either a blessing for him, or possibly lead to their demise, "...Sakura found a cure for the infection."

Yamato froze in place. He turned to Kakashi, and spoke, "...come again?"

Kakashi prepared himself for the worst as he spoke again, "Sakura...found a cure for the infection."

"...are you serious?"

"Yes."

"...how?"

"It's Sakura. She a medical prodigy. That, and Naruto has a natural immunity due to him being a Jinchuuriki. His blood was used in the development of the vaccine."

Yamato was quiet for a few minutes as he paced the room. He eventually stopped so he was facing his back to Kakashi, "...how sure are you of this cure working?"

"We tested it on several infected. They...they experienced mild pain, but they were cured."

"What happened to them?"

Kakashi looked away, "Well...we did this testing on the field. We couldn't afford to have the infected finding out where their missing comrades were. We simply left them where they were after they were healed. They seemed fine."

"Senpai...you just left them on their own?"

"Hard times call for hard choices."

"...I suppose. So, I take it you're all immune as well?"

"Yes." Kakashi gave a weary nod, "The first two hours after the shot are a bit draining, but we did enough testing afterwards. The infection is ineffective to us now. No matter how much you all tried, we'd be fine."

"This...is good." Yamato took a seat in a chair on the other side of the room, "How much of the cure do you have?"

"It's not on us. We left it back in the forest with..." Kakashi paused, and noticed Yamato look up, "We left it with the others in our group that stayed in the woods."

Yamato raised his eyebrows, "You mean there's more of you?"

"Exactly. After all...Shizune was part of helping find the cure as well. Even Hana Inuzuka helped with making a vaccine for the nin-hounds."

Yamato was about to speak when there was a knock on the door. Yamato told the person to enter, and a winded Genin walked in, "Y-Yamato-taichou. We've received word of possibly thirteen more shinobi in the forest. We await your orders."

"Were there any possible identifications?"

"Y-yes. We were able to identify the Godaime Kazekage, Shikamaru Nara...and the missing-nin, Sasuke Uchiha."

"That's them, alright." Kakashi spoke, and Yamato sighed.

"Very well..." Yamato walked over and loosened Kakashi's restraints, "You and Asuma will come with us. I'm willing to have a truce between the village your group if you can give us this cure."

Kakashi rolled his shoulders a few times before he followed Yamato, "Fair enough. I trust that you won't try and pull a fast one on us later?"

Yamato smiled, his fangs exposed slightly, "You have my word, senpai."

"One more thing."

Yamato turned to Kakashi as they headed down the hallway, "What's that?"

"Deidara and Konan. They are part of our group. They may have had criminal histories...but they've helped us a lot. Do anything harmful to them, and I'll be dealing with it personally."

Yamato hesitated for a moment, "...they were after Naruto until not too long ago."

"Maybe...but they're not as bad as you think. Now, either you give them the same treatment as the others, or consider the cure nonexistent." Kakashi said, his tone giving no room for argument.

Yamato looked ahead, but nodded, "Fine, I guess I can trust you on this one."

Kakashi was relieved; things looked to be going the way he had hoped. No bloodshed, and no violence. Hopefully they would be able to maintain this peaceful way of dealing with things. If the citizens of Konoha were as understanding as Yamato, then maybe, just maybe, they would be able to bring their old friends back from this blood thirst they had...

-ooOoo-

"I don't like this..."

Temari sighed, "Shika, calm down. We just need to wait for the signal...or wait twenty-four hours...which ever comes first."

Shikamaru groaned as he got up from his spot on a tree limb, "Well...we have twenty hours left then, I guess..." He pulled out a ration bar from one of his vest pockets, and chewed on it, "This is too troublesome..."

The thirteen members of the surviving group that had not been captured were stationed amongst a group of trees about two miles away from the walls of Konoha. Twice they almost were seen by patrols...at least they hoped it was only twice.

The sound of a bird chirping caught the attention of the shadow user, "Tenten's signal..." He got up and headed to the right, Temari following behind.

The two were soon gathered in a large tree with the others, sitting amongst themselves as Tenten was looking through a pair of binoculars, "We spotted a group of twelve infected...and Kakashi and Asuma are leading them."

"...you don't think that...?"

Anko looked to Iruka, "No, Kakashi and Asuma wouldn't go and betray us. If anything, perhaps they struck a deal with Yamato and the others."

Sasuke, who was leaning against the body of the tree, nodded in agreement, "It's possible...they seemed like they were under their own self-control...they're not like most of the infected we've encountered in the past couple months."

"We should assume that they're still a threat though. The infected here aren't all as wild as the ones we've encountered before, but that means they can hide their intentions better as well." Gaara spoke, his sand moving about him.

Anko looked to Hanabi, and the young Hyuuga gave a nod before activating her kekkai genkai, "...they're about a half a mile from here...and moving fast." She deactivated her Byakugan, and sighed, "...we have them outnumbered fifteen to twelve, including Kakashi-sensei and Asuma-sensei."

Iruka fingered one of his kunai, "Damn it...we were supposed to wait for a signal from Kakashi or one of the others..."

Hana's dogs started growling quietly, and Shino's bugs buzzed quietly. The bug user looked to the east, "...they're close..."

The thirteen ninja remained stone-still while watching the small clearing. Kakashi and Asuma hopped into open, and Asuma gave three distinct whistles. Iruka frowned, but looked to Anko. That was the signal if the captured shinobi got free...

"...I guess we're going to risk it." the kunoichi spoke, and Iruka merely nodded.

The group jumped out to the clearing, and immediately noted that the infected were just behind the cover of the forests.

"Kakashi, Asuma, what's going on?" Anko asked.

"We've struck a bargain with the infected. We give them the cure, they let us live."

Shizune decided to speak up, "How can you be sure? They may be trying to lure us."

"We don't want any death tonight, Shizune. We just want the cure. If there's a way out of this, then we'll take it."

The others looked to Yamato, who along with the other infected shinobi, walked out. Moegi and Hanabi took an instinctive step back while the older shinobi held their weapons at ready, "How can we be so sure?" Iruka asked, his eyes not moving from the group of vampire-like shinobi.

"We didn't kill a single one in your group, including Deidara and Konan."

Iruka looked to Kakashi and Asuma, who nodded in confirmation, "What about Naruto?"

"He's with Sakura, and it appears he's making a steady recovery." Yamato replied, a small smile gracing his features.

Sasuke still wasn't convinced, "You're sure that you don't plan on killing us once we enter Konoha?"

Kakashi was the one to reply, "Sasuke...we don't have many options. Besides...they have a system set up to hold back the blood cravings."

"Let's hope so." the Uchiha commented as he put his sword back in it's sheath. Gaara, called back his sand into his clothes while the others put their weapons back into their holsters.

"I promise you that nothing will happen to any of you while in Konoha. There are some of our shinobi who I'm sure would actually be happy to see you alive and well." Yamato spoke, "...although, I just want to be sure...you do have a cure, correct?"

Shizune was the one to reply. She pulled out her backpack, and opened it to reveal at least five dozen sets of red vials of fluid, "The dosage to start the curing process doesn't need to be much at all, though half a vial is recommended. However, it can vary with the person as well."

The two groups headed back to Konoha, not knowing that in the distance, a few figures watched in the shadows. A few hisses and growls were heard, and the figures vanished into the approaching dark.

-ooOoo-

"Hey, Itachi...you okay?"

Itachi nodded as another bout of coughs escaped him, "I'm fine...just a minor cold."

Kisame frowned, "I don't believe that for a second..."

Itachi leaned against the tree they were under as rain drizzled down from the skies, "...I don't honestly know what's wrong. I've been getting worse for the past couple of months now..."

Kisame gave a grunt of understanding, "You were always a bit of a stubborn idiot when it came to your health."

"Kisame...look."

Kisame looked to see his partner pointing at about ten or more sets of footprints. They all were heading eastward, "Huh...they're fresh."

"Yes...but take a look here." Itachi pointed to about another twelve or so footprints, "It seems these two groups met here, and then headed towards Konoha...yet this first group looks like they had been coming from the west..."

"That's...a bit odd...you don't think that they were captured, do you?" Kisame asked as he looked down at the first set again.

"No...there's no sign of a struggle, or any blood."

"Hey, Itachi...you think that they may have been that group of survivors that you think your brother's with?"

Itachi shook his head, "I do not know. If it is, then we must head to Konoha."

Kisame grinned, "Well, I'm up for a bit of fighting."

Itachi looked to his teammate, and gave a grunt, "Kisame, I think we should avoid a fight if we can help it...we need to speak with my brother...and Naruto."

Kisame's features turned serious as he shifted Samehada, "Right."

"I can only hope that they're alive. Namely Naruto..."

"You sure he's the cure for this?"

"I don't know for certain. Pein was suspecting that 'Tobi' was behind this...although...if that's true, then we may be able to get the upper hand in this dilemma." Itachi got up, "We should go now, before it's too dark."

Kisame and Itachi took off towards Konoha, leaving no trace of them being in the area aside from the few leaves that scattered as they jumped off towards the hidden village.

"I don't know how much more time we have..." Itachi thought as he picked up pace. He needed to find his brother and the blond haired Jinchuuriki, and he needed to find them now.

-ooOoo-

Hidan took in a deep breath as he felt the effects of the vaccine wearing off. He looked to see Deidara and Konan watching him, "Damn...that was different."

Deidara smirked, "I guess even immortals feel pain. Wouldn't have guessed it, un."

Hidan snorted indignantly, "Tch, whatever. So, what's the plan?"

Konan was about to open her mouth to reply when the clanking of keys on the door was heard, and the lock clicked. Konan watched the door open as Yamato, along with Kakashi, Shizune, and two ANBU walked in. Kakashi spoke, a small smile on his masked face, "Looks like we've got a change of plans."

Deidara and Konan were a bit confused when the locks on their chakra-depleting cuffs were taken off. Deidara raised an eyebrow as he massaged his sore wrists, "So...a new plan?"

Yamato was the one to answer the question, "Village-wide vaccination. By force, if necessary."

Deidara and Konan both let a small smile cross their lips. Deidara laughed, "Heh, well, I don't believe it, Kakashi. You actually managed to talk to someone without pissing them off."

Kakashi groaned, "...very funny...now come on, let's get a move on. We've got to get the group together without attracting the attention of ninja who aren't aware of the situation. They're still infected..."

"Hey, what about me?"

The group looked to Hidan, and Kakashi spoke, "...you're from Akatsuki as well?"

"Was." Konan spoke, "Akatsuki's no more, remember?"

Yamato sighed, "Hidan, we've said this too many times now; 'You're a missing-nin of high ranking that is a threat to our village's safety'."

"He's immune." Deidara added.

Hidan picked up the empty syringe of the vaccine, and smirked, "It's not like a whole village couldn't stop me if it had to, right?"

"...leave his cuffs on, but free him from his other restraints." Yamato spoke, and the ANBU did as instructed.

As Hidan got up, Kakashi spoke, "We should also check on Naruto. If he's still in his present state, then Sakura must be with him."

"Actually, Uzumaki's regressed to his normal state, though his canines are still enlarged and his nails are sharper than usual. He's otherwise making a steady recovery." spoke one of the ANBU.

Shizune finally spoke, "That's good...but we must hurry. The vaccine is only effective for another week before it's no longer able to work. After that, we'll need to make a new batch of it."

"A week?" Yamato repeated, "That should be enough time for..." his voice drifted off a bit as he shook his head.

"What's the matter?" Kakashi asked, his bad news senses tingling.

Yamato spoke in a calm voice, "Well, we're not entirely sure on this, but we've made enough observations to believe it true..." The wood-user looked to the silver haired Jounin as he continued, "We have reason to believe that the infection has...further mutated the infected."

"Further mutated?" Shizune whispered, "How?"

Yamato shook his head, turning down the corridor towards the exit, "I can explain when we get everyone together. For now let me just say this..." He spoke in a low voice, his tone becoming grave, "If you think that we're scary with our thirst for blood and our slightly altered appearance...then I wouldn't recommend making too much noise outside the walls at nightfall."

The group left the prison corridor, and headed towards the other holding blocks. If this plan was too work, then it would have to be executed quickly, efficiently, and even without the populous knowing if necessary...

...and Konoha was still a large village.

Still, what Yamato had said just a few moments ago about further mutation sent a chill down the spines of the survivors.

What could possibly be worse than the state the infected were already in?

- - - - -

Two Jounin of Konoha stood in a guard tower overlooking the main gate as the moon shined brightly.

"They're quiet tonight."

The other shinobi nodded, "It's still early though."

The wind picked up for a few moments, and the faint sound of an unearthly howl could be heard. A few more howls were made, and sound the night air was filled with the animal-like sounds, "Damn, was hoping they'd shut up for once."

The other Jounin shook his head, "Have you ever seen one of them before?"

"No, but I lost two of my friends to them. Our search party only found bone and some entrails of the two the next morning."

"Sorry to hear that...I saw them once, thank all that is holy it was just one. We killed it without even thinking. We thought it was some kind of wild animal before we got a good look at it after it was dead..."

The two were silent for a moment as the howls died down. A few distant clicking sounds could be heard, as though some insects were communicating. Just like almost every night, the sounds carried on into the early morning.

end of Chapter Fourteen- I know, I KNOW...heh, it's been TOO long. I apologize. Like I said, I had been working on this chapter on and off. Not really action packed, but it's setting things up. I know what a few of you are thinking; 'Denim, what the heck are you plotting that you're not telling us?' That's for me to know, and you to find out. A few of you have asked me if I plan on killing off any certain characters. I'll say this much; telling would be ruining the plot for the readers. I know the feeling though...stories that leave so much death in it make me worry too, heh.

Well, thanks for those who have continued to read this story (after the HUGE delay on updates). The next update will hopefully not be as long from now. Later!