Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.

Title: Sacrifices

Pairings: Ita/Naru/Pein

AN: This is the first part of a two-shot. The plot just would not leave my head and so I went ahead and wrote it. There are several warnings. Primarily, this is Yaoi. Secondly, this contains Akatsuki Naruto so it can be considered AU.

Those who are wondering about updates and cursing me… I am sorry. I am doing many things at once. Firstly, I have started revamping my very first story in Naruto; "A Change" The first chapter has been reedited and posted. I would recommend those who like that story, to read it because I have made significant changes in characterizations.

Secondly, I am writing an update for Hyakumensou as well as one of my Inuyasha stories, Reiniku, now.

Thirdly, I am seriously considering dropping Rokudaime because it has become dead to me. Those who are willing to consider adopting that story are welcome to inform me.

Lastly, those who have ever read the story "Enchanted" written by "Sessrockks" might want to know that I am considering her offer for me to take over that story. I have not decided yet, but I like that story and may consider taking over. I am open to suggestions regarding this matter.

Now, I believe that this is the longest author's note I have ever written, excuse me for that. Let us continue with the story, I hope you like it.

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Part One: Naruto

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"One must make sacrifices… one must chose, and sometimes, making that choice can be painful, sometimes it can be damaging to yourself and others. However, such a situation may arise when you have to choose between your happiness and the happiness of others." Jiraiya said softly as he looked at him. "But you must remember this, Naruto; there is nothing wrong with being selfish."

The Sennin took a deep breath, "Your father, Namikaze Minato, was a great man. A great Hokage who thought of his village first, he was the Yondaime." He did not even acknowledge Naruto's shocked expression, "I saw him suffer under pressure of the impending attack of Kyuubi. I saw the anguish on his face when he finally came to a decision. I saw the love in his eyes when he first saw you, held you. You were precious too him… you were his son and he couldn't have loved anyone more than he loved you at that point of him."

Naruto's heart stilled at that very moment; years of not knowing whether his parents had simply died or abandoned him because of the Kyuubi. "He made a choice that night. He gave his life and used you to seal the Kyuubi not only for Konoha but also for you. So that you can live a life that he always wanted you to live, you were his little angel, and not even Kushina; his wife could replace you in his heart."

"Minato sacrificed his life for your happiness, Naruto. However, you are not happy." Naruto opened his mouth to protest but Jiraiya shook his head to stall the argument that was sure to come. "Do not try to tell me otherwise, Naruto. You are not happy and I can see this despite the fact that you hide it so skillfully." The Sennin looked at him in the eye, "You will come across a crossroad in your life where you may have to choose between your happiness and the happiness of others, you know that will happen just like it has happened so many times before."

The mentor took a deep breath, "How many times have you found yourself at Konoha's gates, aching to leave the place that his brought so much torment upon you? Don't try to deny it, I have seen you look longingly at the gates of Konoha. You look at it as though it is a road towards freedom." Naruto bowed his head at the truth in Jiraiya's words. "Your desire to be the Hokage, you desire to prove the village wrong will give you temporary pleasure but have you thought beyond that Naruto? I think that you have and I know that you do not like what you have seen." The lack of reply was confession enough for Jiraiya, "I speak to you not as a mentor or a Sennin of Konoha. I speak to you as your father's friend and your godfather. You need to consider your own well-being and happiness too, Naruto."

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Naruto blinked slowly, observing the herbs swirling in his now cooling tea. He was beginning to wonder if Ero-sennin was some sort of seer.

There were so many things happening and Sasuke was the center of it all. His new team, the Hebi left Naruto feeling unnerved. Moreover, with Akatsuki taking orders from Uchiha Madara… someone who Kyuubi seemed to respect was enough to send shivers down his spine.

However, their cause…

Jiraiya and Tsunade had explained it to him, telling him some things that no one else knew, not even the Hokage council.

They were not some common criminals. Naruto had known that ever since he first encountered Uchiha Itachi and Hoshigaki Kisame. They had plans, big plans that did not make sense to Naruto. Unseal the horrible tailed beats? Garner both physical and economic power? Take over the world? Such goals threatened to draw a giggle from him, it sounded ridiculous, and he could not imagine a person like Itachi would actually support a foolish scheme as that.

Even Orochimaru's goal of learning every jutsu in the world made more sense than that.

However, despite the ridiculous goals, the threat they posed was very serious.

That was why he did not understand why he was even considering this…

Sitting on the table in front of him was a letter. A letter that was an invitation to Akatsuki… a reformed Akatsuki, Pein was co-operating with Uchiha Madara but he was also planning to find a way to kill the person ordering Akatsuki about as though it was his personal army.

It was a letter to recruit Shinku-Arashi… the sword-master… known to a select few as Uzumaki Naruto.

It concerned him at his secret identity, the one that no one but Tsunade and Jiraiya knew about, had been leaked, somehow, to the Akatsuki. It bothered him because his own skills, the ones that he had cultivated through so much hard work and kept hidden with such care was the reason the most feared terrorist organization was trying to recruit him.

He closed his eyes, not even bothering to drink his cold tea and massaged the bridge of his nose. He knew why things were suddenly becoming so complicated. It had been so ever since Akatsuki managed to capture him.

He remembered only brief snippets of what had truly occurred during the unsealing process. He remembered a three-day unsealing process, he remembered Kyuubi whispering something that was too soft for him to hear, he remembered the pain when burning chakra flooded his entire being just before Kyuubi was torn from his body.

He remembered being alive when Uchiha Itachi stood over him, looking contemplative but unsurprised by the fact that he had survived the unsealing process. He remembered meeting with the Akatsuki leader, Pein, who looked so much like him that it was astonishing that they weren't related.

He had always known the Itachi was not someone who liked unnecessary confrontations so it was unsurprising that the Uchiha did not attempt to kill him, he had what he had wanted, and there was no reason for him to fight or keep Naruto as a prisoner.

However, that did not explain the actions of the leader.

He remembered every detail of that peculiar meeting.

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Naruto stared at the stone ceiling as he lay comfortably on a soft futon. Nothing had gone as he had anticipated.

"Kyuubi no Youko must have been fond of you, Uzumaki Naruto." A smooth voice interrupted his musings. He turning his head slightly, feeling oddly at peace, to look at a strange red-haired man with multiple piercings littered on his face and ears. Sitting beside him was a man he knew all too well, Uchiha Itachi.

Somehow, Naruto was unruffled by the presence of the man who was the cause of his best friend's betrayal.

"We have placed a GenJutsu around his room so that you may be calm as we have this discussion. Your temper is well known, Naruto-kun." The man sounded amused and his odd eyes betrayed that.

Ah, that explains it…

"Let me introduce myself. I am Pein, the leader of Akatsuki." He gestured towards Itachi, "I assume you already know of my comrade, Uchiha Itachi?" Naruto nodded, his eyes narrowing, why was he still alive?

The Leader seemed to understand his silent question and he leaned back in his chair with a thoughtful look on his face. "You seem to have a tendency to survive despite all odds, Naruto-kun. It is either that or fates hold you in their favor." He chuckled lightly at Naruto's look of disbelief. "When we extracted Kyuubi from your body, it did something, I am assuming that he merged a part of his essence with yours, making sure that you will survive the unsealing process."

Naruto frowned thoughtfully, "Are you saying that a part of Kyuubi is still within me?"

"No." Itachi spoke for the first time, looking at Naruto in the eye with his ebony eyes, "I am assuming that Kyuubi was preparing for this day for a long time. It laced its blood with yours, not turning you into anything less or more than a human but somehow ensuring that your body would survive the stress of unsealing. We are unable to understand what exactly it has done to you."

"Yes, yes…" Pein said, looking highly intrigued, "Your situation fascinates me." He leaned forward, looking at Naruto shrewdly; it was odd that the blonde did not feel a slightest bit uncomfortable. "That fact that another soul was seal within your body is unnatural; it had affected you both physically and mentally." Naruto narrowed his eyes, "Its existence within your body has prevented you from reaching your full potential. Your character, your power, your techniques and even the manner in which you speak and walk was affected by the presence of Kyuubi within your body. And now that it is out of your body, everything within your body is righting itself. You are returning to be what you are supposed to be, the traits that Kyuubi's presence forced upon you are disappearing."

Itachi picked up where Pein left off, "Since this is the first time you have been conscious since the unsealing process, we do not know how exactly it has affected you except for the fact that you can no longer fight depending on extremely high chakra levels. You chakra level is less than half of what it used to be and you have no access to the reservoir that was Kyuubi's chakra."

Naruto paled at that information. That was a devastating blow for him as a ninja. Pein nodded, "Your appearance has changed a little." He said as he reached forward and traced an unmarked cheek, "The possession marks on your face have gone and your ears…" he whispered as he traced at shell of an elf-like ear, "Are different too, it gives you an unnatural appearance but my researchers tell me that you are 100 human." Pein looked rather entranced, "How much your personality and abilities have changed, you will figure out over a course of time. You are of no use to us now; we will release you without any harm. However, Itachi-kun will be sealing away any information that you have garnered on Akatsuki during your stay here. You may remember the information but you will be unable to tell anyone else, by any means."

Pein seemed to reluctantly draw himself away from Naruto, "It would be interesting to see how you recover from this, Naruto-kun. From what I have been informed that you rely heavily on Chakra and nearly all your jutsu are between B-class to S-class, you will not be able to use them as efficiently as you used to, if at all. I look forward to seeing how you emerge from this handicap."

Naruto narrowed his eyes, "We shall see if it really does prove to be a handicap, Pein-san."

A slow smirk formed on the Leader's lips, "An obstacle then." He conceded, "Do not liken me to those foolish friends of yours in Konohagakure, Naruto-kun. I am not willing to blame your survival against whatever life throws at you on just luck." His eyes glinted, "You are more than you let on and I am very interested in exploring all your secrets."

Naruto's eyes widened at that and he glanced at Itachi, he did not know how to react to such a declaration. His pupils nearly dilated in shock as ebony eyes of his best friend's brother seemed to agree with his employer.

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It was one of the most confusing moments in his life. Even after two years, he couldn't decipher what that singular statement and the look in Itachi's eyes implied.

Two years and he still hadn't completed rebuilding his life. The absence of Kyuubi had changed too many things; it had changed him, his perceptions, his ideals, his strengths and his weaknesses.

The loss of so much chakra nearly cost him his life so many times that he had lost count. It never struck him how serious the situation was until he just couldn't manage to utilize his specialty Taiju Kage Bunshin no Jutsu as often as he could. It exhausted him almost completely. He could use Rasengan only once in a battle and that left him unable to fight.

The loss of those precious skills was heart breaking.

Akatsuki had given him to Jiraiya when he was still too weak to move on his own. His new appearance had caused Jiraiya to become wary of him that that hurt like bitch. It didn't help that his personality had changed too, and Naruto did not know whether it was a good thing or a bad thing.

Jiraiya still had performed his duties as a sensei but something had changed, the camaraderie that they had shared previously was absent. Many reasons may have contributed to that, Jiraiya's new wariness and his own changed personality could have been the cause.

That thought did not soothe him when he felt stirrings of betrayal at his sensei's behavior during those first few months.

One after another, they, along with Tsunade had uncovered everything that had changed within him; low levels of chakra for him meant flawless control. He never realized just how volatile his chakra was before the unsealing process until he was able to weave it with such finesse that it would put him nearly on par with Tsunade.

His reflexes had improved with a lighter, more agile body. The chance of GenJutsu becoming his specialty was very high and Tsunade thought that it would be best that he was trained in secret, away from Konoha for a while.

That was the start of turning Uzumaki Naruto into Shinku-Arashi.

KenJutsu coupled with a solid command over GenJutsu and the mastering of Hiraishin no Jutsu, his father's most infamous technique, made him a skilled Shinobi despite his new weakness in the department of NinJutsu. Despite its effectiveness, Hiraishin no Jutsu did not require too much of chakra, it was all about control, speed and accuracy.

Sometimes, Naruto just couldn't decide whether the unsealing of Kyuubi was a blessing or a curse. Yes, the handicap the Kyuubi's absence forced upon him compelled him to work more, improve himself to such an extent that he was confident in his abilities and quite skilled in his own right.

Until recently, he had depended so much on raw power and now he was depending on pure skill and wit. He couldn't understand why, but it gave him a greater sense of accomplishment.

However, the lack of seal brought in a whole set of new problems. If the villagers hated and distrusted him before, it was nothing compared to what he was facing now. Even the Shinobi class seemed to be wary and suspicious of him. It did not help matters that the only ones accustomed to his changes were Tsunade and Jiraiya.

With a sigh, he picked up the letter and read it again.

Dear Naruto-kun,

I believe it has been almost two years since we first met and have been keeping an intrigued eye on you. You are the most fascinating subject to observe, Naruto-kun; you overcame your obstacle and emerged stronger than you were before.

It pleases me, and proves your worth to everyone who is smart enough to see your potential.

I told you, those years ago, that I am interested in exploring all your secrets. I told you that you interested me and there was something more to you than you let on. I would very much like to develop a working relationship between us…

Therefore, I invite you to join the Akatsuki.

Think about the offer carefully, Naruto-kun, do not be a fool and reject it on sight. Akatsuki is an elite organization and everyone here is a ninja par excellence. The very fact that I am trying to recruit you shows how much your skills have improved.

We have so much to offer to you and you have so much to offer us, it is an exchange that will benefit us all. Think about it, Naruto-kun. In Akatsuki, everyone is equal, and everyone deserves respect. Each has his or her own unique skills and everyone important is to me. We are like a family…and we are trying to bring a sense of peace and order in the chaotic world that we belong.

All of us are different… special and you are too… more special than you realize. There is a place reserved just for you, amongst us.

Should I dare be more candid? Then I must confess that there are other, more personal reasons that have led to this invite. I keep repeating myself but alas, I cannot help it. For two years, you have lingered in my mind and I wish to know of that powerful force within you that draws everyone to you. Two years my eyes have been on you, I have studied your improvement; I have observed your perseverance to learn the art of sword until scornful, distrusting Samurai.

You have molded yourself in such a manner, Naruto-kun, which I cannot help but respect you. I extend a hand of friendship towards you for such reasons. You remind me of myself and I would rather have you by my side than as an opponent should our paths cross.

Consider my words carefully, Naruto-kun and for once, think of your own happiness and well-being than that of others.

I am leaving my summoned bird, Hyouden, with you. When you reach you decision, send a reply to my invite through him, we shall proceed from there.

With regards,

Pein

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Naruto frowned in confusion. This Pein was a strange character and in the presence of his unnerving forthrightness, he found Itachi's silence comforting. Those words in spoke in the letter sounded comforting and calming and he would have been fooled had it not been for his recently developed cynicism.

Pein was smart enough not to say anything against Konoha but his words certainly hinted at the abuse and distrust he had suffered in Konoha for years.

Such mere words were not enough to lure him into accepting the invitation. He was not begging for any sort of companionship and even if he had the desire, he could easily spend time with his friends.

However, he had to admit that the letter could not have come on a more opportune time. Things in his village were changing and a feeling of intense dread was settling over him, although he failed to understand why.

Soft blue eyes turned calculative and Naruto leaned back in his couch and gazed at the beautiful summon that Pein had sent him. The bird was definitely exotic looking, a Philippine Eagle, if he was not mistaken. He reached forward and stroked the lion-like mane on his head, "Your master is certainly quite puzzling."

The bird chirped, his voice unusual, so much so that it settled uneasily on his sensitive ears, "That he is, Naruto-sama." He conceded with surprising eloquence, "He is quite taken with you." The bird sounded amused, "What magic have you woven around him that a mere few weeks of your stay with Akatsuki was enough for him think of you so often and so deeply, young master?"

Naruto raised a brow at the eagle, "Had I known, I would have surely answered you, Hyouden. The content and intimacy of his letter baffles me also."

"How do you take my master's offer, then?" The bird asked curiously and Naruto fought down the irritation he felt at the grating voice. For such a beautiful and elegant looking bird, his voice sounded like a hag's screech.

"At the moment, you cannot expect much of an answer from me," he gestured out of the window, "I will not take such a decision in my moments of indecisiveness. Your master is very sly; he must know somehow that I am wavering in my loyalty towards Konoha…"

The bird observed him shrewdly, "It is not him, but the Uchiha who questions your loyalty towards this pitiful village, Naruto-sama."

Blue eyes flared with surprise, "Itachi-san?" He questioned, "Well, that is certainly… unexpected." He frowned thoughtfully, "I have not given anyone, much less Itachi-san, reason to question my loyalty towards Konoha. At least, I hope I have not done. It will land me in insurmountable amount of trouble if anyone in Konoha notices such a fact."

"I do not believe they will." The bird's piercing gaze seemed to sparkle, "And I do believe that you have planned something that no one is privy to." Had the bird been human, he would have raised a brow, "And you accuse my master of slyness."

Naruto grinned slyly, "You are certainly a smart bird, dear Hyouden and an interesting company too."

The bird elegantly bowed his head, "I live to serve, young master."

Naruto chuckled before standing up, "I will give you my answer soon, I need time to think."

"There is something else, Naruto-sama." The bird said seriously. "I believe you are on the path to becoming a seal-master, are you not?" Naruto nodded tentatively and almost started in surprise when a scroll appeared before him. "Itachi-sama is a seal-master himself, although he does not flaunt that knowledge nor has he taken the qualifying examinations for it. After Kyuubi no Youko was unsealed, he did extensive research on the seal that housed it. Your father's seal is unique… one of its kind and Itachi-sama made some startling discoveries." He nodded towards the scroll, "He concluded his research a few months ago and found it imperative that you be informed. His findings are in that scroll and he assumed that as an apprentice in the art of Sealing, you may understand what he has found."

Naruto sat back down and took the scroll carefully. He had wanted to examine the seal his father used for sealing the Kyuubi for a while now, but Jiraiya had told him that the original seal, the one written in the Forbidden Scroll, had been modified by the Yondaime before he used it.

He unfurled the scroll and scowled at the neatly organized data. It was clearly the work of a perfectionist. Each part of the seal was divided and thoroughly examined; he could easily understand why it took a person as intelligent as Itachi two years to compile all this data.

He carefully read each section. The innermost layer was the most simple; it was like the foundation of the seal. However, its simplicity did not mean that it was not important. Without a solid foundation, the whole seal structure would collapse. He whistled in appreciation, "Such intricate work, Itachi-san must have experienced great delight from researching such a masterpiece."

Over the course of an hour, Hyouden amused himself with the various exclamations of awe and wonder that came from Naruto. It was wonderful to observe such brilliant eyes shine with that scholarly light. It was not difficult to see why his master and the Uchiha were so taken by this being.

However, that beautiful visage was turning stony. Pink lips pulled themselves into a severe line, and intense anger clouded his eyes, the shock it turning them into clear, cutting blue.

"I see…" he murmured after a long, tense moment. His eyes no longer held scholarly curiosity but rather a hint of steel that did not seem to fit those still-maturing features. His eyes scanned the parchment, expertly taking in the details. Many unanswered questions that Naruto had for such a long time were being answered.

His eyes trailed over the dissected seal design. The seal of servitude, the seal of unwavering loyalty, the seal of submission, the suppression seal…

Necessary precautions, he understood that.

However, that did not stop the tide of unprecedented rage that flooded him. He understood that there was a fear that the presence of Kyuubi would corrupt him. He knew that there was a chance that he would have given into the tantalizing whispers of Kyuubi, forever tempting him with power.

He understood all that, but the thought that he had been a near slave to Konoha due to a seals designed by his own father, infuriated him.

Those seals were for him, not the Kyuubi, but him.

Those individual seals that were so skillfully incorporated into the main seal ensured that he would not lift a single finger against any citizen of Konoha with the intention to harm them.

He laughed softly; he understood his father's motives. He understood them. He did. He knew he did.

He did…

He did not!

Naruto threw the scroll away with a roar of rage. He fisted his fingers in his hair, pulling back those silky stands against his skull, hoping that the physical pain would provide him with some sort of distraction from the tearing, scarring emotional pain he was feeling now.

Hyouden observed as the young man sat down heavily, his face buried in his hands, he did not know what the contents of the scroll were, but the young man's anger was enough to tell him that it was not pleasant.

Blazing blue eyes looked up to the bird, "Return to me in two days, Hyouden. I will not be pleasant company now. I need to think, I need to evaluate, and I need to heal."

"Two days are not enough to heal, little one." The bird whispered soothingly, "You will damage yourself with such rage bottled and suppressed."

Naruto snorted, leaned back with a pained expression on his face, "Please, Hyouden, leave."

The bird nodded without taking any offence, he simply disappeared with a puff of smoke.

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Naruto entered Tsunade's office silently, his thoughts still centered on his recent discovery. Tsunade was discussing something with a Jounin and scowled at his unannounced entrance, "When will you start learning some manners, brat? I thought you had improved over the years!"

Naruto just grinned at her slyly, "You know you love me, obaa-chan!"

She snorted but he could see amusement in her eyes. He glanced at the Jounin and saw that the person was a new one, "If you would excuse us for a moment?"

The Jounin nodded and stood up. He bowed to Tsunade and then to Naruto and left without a word.

"Before you say anything," Tsunade said before Naruto could speak, "I need you on an urgent mission; you need to leave within a few hours. It is an A-class assassination mission."

Naruto raised a brow at the abruptness of her demand, "The target was a spy from Kumogakure. The information he has is vital and we cannot let anyone else know of it. I want this to be swift and clean," she narrowed his eyes on him, "Something that you shouldn't have any problems against."

The blonde nodded thoughtfully, "Anything specific?" he asked as he took the mission scroll from Tsunade.

"That's all, you may leave."

Naruto paused, "Before I leave, baa-chan. Read this." He placed a paper in front of her. "I want you to get everything completed by the time I return from this mission."

Tsunade's eyes widened and she looked at Naruto with shock written over her features. "Naruto… This is…"

Naruto nodded, "Yes and don't try to talk me out of it, Tsunade." He looked at her with piercing blue eyes, "It is my final decision."

"But…" she looked down at the paper, "There must be a reason… after everything…"

"There are several reasons. Several personal reasons and I am not willing to discuss them." There was certain coldness in Naruto's demeanor that startled and warned Tsunade to hold her tongue. He could be very kind and gentle but he also had the capacity to be extremely cruel and sharp-tongued.

She nodded, "I will see what I can do." She hesitated and opened her mouth to speak…

"I am certain and my decision is not going to change no matter how much you insist. Please forward that for me." He stood stiffly and left, leaving Tsunade stunned and speechless.

She looked down at the paper and sighed.

A letter of Resignation.

Naruto wished to resign from the position of being a Shinobi of Konoha….

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His target lay dead on his feet and his famed sword Kokuei was dripping with blood, dark crimson chakra swirled lazily about the blade and Naruto looked down at it.

He cursed his luck as he slowly lifted his gaze to find the last two Uchihas standing in front of him.

The spy was not an easy opponent and Naruto was dismayed to find that there was a possibility that this would take longer than he anticipated. However, his sword skills were nothing to scoff at and no mere spy could evade his blade.

The spy must have sensed Itachi and Sasuke, powerful ninjas as them were very difficult to ignore, and must have moved in that direction in hopes of distracting Naruto and evading him.

Foolish tactic, if he ever saw one. One did not run from Naruto towards the Uchihas in hopes of escaping. Itachi wouldn't do anything to help and Sasuke would just kill in order to continue his battle with Itachi.

The runes on his sword, the seals that he had personally carved onto it, glowed for a moment, drawing his attention towards it. Carefully, he waited for the glow to die down before settling down on one knee and cleaning the gleaming blade of his sword.

"Naruto ka?" Sasuke questioned softly as he sheathed his sword once again, somehow knowing that the fight would not happen now, not in the presence of Naruto. He did not allow himself to relax nor did he allow himself to dismiss Itachi's presence. However, he did observe the changes that his former friend had gone through with a shrewd eye.

Naruto had changed, everything about him had but Sasuke still recognized him instantly, even if it had been nearly three years since they last encountered each other. He moved forward when the dobe started to stand, placing himself between Naruto and Itachi. He knew that Itachi and his teammate had managed to capture Naruto once and he was not going to allow that to happen again…

At least, not under his watch.

"Mission?" He questioned lightly, his head tilting to the side in curiosity. It was odd that Naruto had not reacted passionate to his presence, as he always did but Sasuke ignored it. He looked down at the boy who was a little shorter than he was, observing those changed features.

The first oddity he noticed was those strange, elf-like ears. He wondered briefly if those ears facilitated advanced hearing. He then noticed blood-red strands of hair standing out starkly and randomly against bright blond. Two think crimson bangs framed those famous blue eyes standing out against surprisingly pale skin.

"I did not imagine the two of you could stay at the same location without bloodshed." Naruto joked lightly as he looked at the Uchihas. A soft smile gracing his lips when his eyes met Sasuke's. He found the same haunting impassiveness there and the sight of him still caused a familiar ache in his chest but Naruto ignored it. It had been years since he last met Sasuke and since he was resigning, there was no need for him to actually force the younger Uchiha to return to Konoha.

He sealed his target's head inside a scroll before looking at the silent Uchiha Itachi. "Itachi-san…" he said, narrowing his icy eyes, "Arigato gozaimasu."

Both Uchihas raised a brow at that but Itachi knew why Naruto was thanking him and he nodded. He glanced at Sasuke, "Some other time, otouto." He said calmly before turning his eyes to Naruto. Itachi moved forward, ignoring the manner in which Sharingan flared protectively in Sasuke's eyes, until he was standing just beside Naruto, his back facing Sasuke.

He raised his hand and Sasuke tensed, his fingers caressing the hilt of his sword, "Itachi…" his voice held a distinct warning but Naruto himself did not seem worried or uncomfortable at the proximity.

The eldest Uchiha paused, a slow smirk gracing his lips and he glanced at Sasuke over his shoulder and raised a brow, "Something you wish to say, otouto?" he asked as he patted Naruto, almost affectionately, on his head before vanishing soundlessly.

Naruto sighed as Sasuke's questioning eyes landed on him and shook his head, "Don't ask me, temee. Your brother is just weird." He tilted his head to the side, "Where are your friends?"

"Friends?" Sasuke raised a brow. "They are my subordinates."

Naruto chuckled and shook his head, "Whatever you say, buddy." He tucked the scroll away and waved, "I need to get going, Tsunade wanted a swift and clean mission."

He started to walk away but Sasuke's next words stopped him, "You have changed." The Uchiha observed the blonde. "Too much to remain the dobe I remember."

Naruto smiled, "You have changed too." He said as he turned, facing Sasuke once more, his smile growing slightly when he found the young Uchiha standing closer than he was before, "For the better. I dare say Orochimaru did something good before you killed him."

"Did he?" Sasuke was definitely amused now, leaning over Naruto, one hand on the tough bark of the tree Naruto was standing against and other behind his back, and it was as though they were friends again.

Naruto liked that feeling.

After all, Sasuke did not have to be a Konoha ninja to be his friend and he was not the first missing-nin Naruto had befriended.

"Yeah…" Cerulean eyes were light, full of warmth. "He has taught you patience." He chuckled, "And forgot to teach you his maliciousness. I sense that you do not kill indiscriminately as Orochimaru did."

Sasuke sighed. Trust Naruto to be able to read him easily, even after so many years of separation. The blonde must have read the expression in his eyes because his soft laughter rang out in the clearing, echoing pleasantly for several moments after it ended.

A slender finger poked him in the chest, "You have not changed that much, temee." Sasuke raised a brow and looked down at the finger poking at his chest with an amused smirk. "You haven't either, still so childish."

Naruto huffed and crossed his arms, "I will have you know that my personality is way better than yours. Moreover, childish means cute, and being cute means you can deceive people easily and get your work done faster." The blonde smirked slyly, "You attract more flies with honey."

Sasuke chuckled, "Resorting to a kunoichi's tactics? I guess it becomes you."

Naruto's brow twitched, "What did you say??" He hissed.

The Uchiha said nothing in response but his smirk remained. Abruptly, Naruto sighed and looked up at Sasuke with serious eyes. "I am leaving Konoha."

"What?" Sasuke hissed in surprise, his eyes holding Naruto's, "What did they do?" He asked almost venomously. The blonde's eyes widened at the vehemence displayed by him.

"Nothing… ever since Kyuubi was unsealed, I have changed… I am different now." Naruto explained and Sasuke narrowed his eyes. He wondered why he even bothered; the Uchiha would draw the truth out of him no matter how much he tried. Naruto held his breath as Sasuke moved closer and lifted his chin to look into his eyes.

"You are lying." He whispered softly, "Naruto, what has happened?"

Naruto hesitated biting his lip, before stealing himself against any disapproval the Sasuke may voice. He started out tentatively, with the circumstances of his capture then his release, Kyuubi's part in giving him a new life. He told Sasuke about the discussion he had with Pein and Itachi. He went on to tell Sasuke about his release into the custody of Jiraiya and then training.

At this point, Sasuke seemed to be listening keenly. Naruto took a deep breath and continued. He told him about Yondaime being his father and the changes in the behavior of the villagers and the Shinobi too.

Naruto flinched when Sasuke's eyes flashed at that and wondered if he should continue…

"Naruto…" he looked into those ebony eyes and sighed, "You have more to say… continue."

"I don't know what to do Sasuke." Naruto lifted his hand to massage his chest; an odd, continuous ache seemed to have developed there. "The seal… the bloody seal bound me to Konoha. There were the seals of servitude, of unwavering loyalty, the seal of submission, the suppression seal on me… and a few others. They ensured that I would be a willing slave to Konoha, never think of betraying it and never try to harm the people in it… Not even in self-defense because my bloody father thought that I wouldn't have needed to defend myself from the villagers because I would be their hero!" he hissed scornfully. He leaned forward, his forehead falling tiredly on Sasuke's shoulder, "Konoha is suffocating me, and everything there reminds me of betrayal, of distrust and pain… Not even Kakashi and Sakura's daily banter manages to take the pain away."

Sasuke sighed looking down at the blonde head with a small frown, running his fingers through silky dual-colored hair, he thought of what Naruto said.

"You are going to join Akatsuki?" Sasuke questioned softly and received a nod in return, "I am sorry, Sasuke." He whispered and Sasuke would almost feel the guilt Naruto must be feeling.

His hand stilled at the apology, and he felt Naruto's arms wrap around him, fingers clutching the back of his haori. "You have nothing to apologize for, Naruto." He whispered, turning his head a little to take in the long forgotten scent of his friend. "My fight is with Itachi not with Akatsuki. I do not care what your connection with Itachi is; this is between me and him."

"Just like I chose my own path, you will choose yours and I am not going to stop you." Sasuke said with certainty. "I can hardly blame you, I had fewer reasons to do it then you do."

Naruto snorted, "Let us not go in that direction and why exactly we are embracing each other like lost lovers?" He asked as he pulled away with a scowl.

Sasuke raised a brow and smirked, "Lost lovers, eh?" he let his eyes roam over Naruto's body, "Well you can definitely fool a man into believing that you are his lost lover… who would have though that you would grow up to be so pretty."

Naruto grit his teeth although his eyes held slight relief. "Temee. You were the pretty boy, I am not the one fangirls follow around; I don't think they have stopped."

"At least I get fangirls." Sasuke replied, nonplussed.

The blonde narrowed his eyes, "What is that supposed to mean?"

Sasuke smirked; the dobe had left himself open, "I am certain that you have fanboys following you around."

Naruto raised his fist to punch Sasuke only to have his hand caught. "Hey, you admitted that that Pein guy was oddly interested in you."

"I didn't mean it in that sense!" Naruto argued.

Sasuke waved the blonde's retort off, "You are just too naïve to understand the motives of grown men."

"Grown men?" A saccharine smile formed on Naruto's face and his eyes turned razor sharp. He did not even sense Naruto move but he felt the cool press of deadly metal against his throat quite clearly, "Care to repeat that, Sasuke-kun?"

Sasuke backed off gracefully while Naruto realized the he needed to return, "Send me a missive when you leave Konoha." He said seriously, "We will stay in contact."

Naruto nodded and stepped back and Sasuke smirked, preparing to leave.

"Before you leave, Sasuke… there is something I need to tell you…"

The Uchiha raised a brow in question.

"Uchiha Madara is alive… controlling Akatsuki." Blue eyes were calculating and hard, "And he could pass for Itachi's twin… same skills, same voice… same eyes…" Sasuke stiffened, "Better have that investigated, lest you commit a terrible mistake, Sasuke."

Naruto was gone before Sasuke could say anything.

wmwmwm

Tsunade was not surprised to see that most of the faces amongst her council were gleeful at her announcement. They had been waiting for years to try and stop Naruto from being a ninja and his willing resignation just made their day.

It was not surprising that they did not even consider denying the request and granted the resignation with dancing eyes.

However, Nara Shikaku and Hyuuga Hiashi exchanged troubled glances. They knew very well that Naruto was a skilled Shinobi and the loss of such a ninja would definitely be a blow to their village.

Moreover, neither the Hokage nor the council would have much hold and control of Naruto should he retire. He could leave Konoha if he wished to.

That bothered them the most. If Naruto left Konoha, where will he go? Would he join Suna with his best friend Gaara or would be go to Uchiha Sasuke to assist him in his goals?

Nara frowned; his son had told him that he had seen Naruto looking at the gates of Konoha more than once. Shikamaru had warned him that Naruto would leave, should he find a good reason to do it. When he said that, Shikaku had not believed his son. He had seen just how loyal Naruto was but now… with this resignation, he did not know what to believe.

Hiashi sat amongst the beaming councilors with an expressionless face but his mind was lingering on the warning he had been given by his nephew. Neji had told him that Naruto was a peaceful boy, not inclined towards violence. He had told him, respectfully, that all adults had been fools to treat a person like Naruto in such a manner.

Hiashi was not going not interfere with the young man's plans and he knew Naruto was planning something. He was not about to underestimate the person who had survive so many adverse situations and come out better than he was before.

Those were precisely the reasons why both Shikaku and Hiashi stayed silent when the council foolishly voted to grant Naruto's request.

If he left Konoha now… he cannot, under any circumstances, be listed as a missing-nin.

The boy was ingenious.