Ah, the last chapter. There will be a part 3 (the last part I have planned), tenatively titled "Rescue me." Or something like that. In any case, don't look for it until August. I'm leaving for CORTRAMID in San Diego, and I won't have my laptop or the time to write, especially during Marine Week. Camp Pendleton in the middle of summer, yay.

I'm terribly afraid that this middle part will go the way of other middles, like LOTR or POTC. Heck, Aladdin for that matter. But if it does, it's not the end of the world. I'm in good company. But it needed to be said and I did the best I could.

If you want to complain to me about how evil I am, I will be in town until July 9 and working on my other stories.

Chapter 23

"Hey, wake up!"

Sasuke opened his eyes and turned to the tough redhead standing outside his cell door. She raised an eyebrow as he swung his legs off the bed. "Get up," Kushina ordered, coming forward to grab the bars. "We need to have a talk about our mutual acquaintance."

They'd come in and give her food every once in a while, take her for a walk so she could answer nature's call. Aside from her capture, the men in the red and black cloaks had been not unkind. She just avoided the one with gills.

Tama watched them carefully, memorized their movement patterns and where exactly to hit them to incapacitate them the best. She'd heard them talking and knew that they wouldn't do her any real harm. It would defeat the purpose if the hostage was dead or mutilated. She also knew that if they didn't exactly fear her parents' wrath, bringing Namikaze Minato and Uzumaki Kushina down on them wasn't a good option.

She wasn't a ninja. Her mother had refused to teach her any combat skills beyond basic self defense. She'd compensated by keeping Tama locked up in the valley for her entire life. Tama smirked, she was an outstanding medic-nin and knew the human body intimately. Even if she wasn't trained, she knew how to take each of them down.

Tama settled back in her bed to meditate. It was the best way to keep track of all of them, after all. She'd always been able to easily detect memorize chakra signatures and trails. Her mother called it a special gift, but to be honest, it just gave her a headache most of the time. In meditation, she could either block them out or heighten their sensitivity. When she meditated, it was rather like a "field of vision" just for chakra. In addition to the ones who'd kidnapped her, she could sense three more people. One had water-based chakra, so she assumed he was a Mist nin. Another had mass amounts of power: unstable, dangerous, barely controlled. The third was a woman, and Tama suspected that they shared skills in sensing and identifying chakra.

It would be more difficult to escape with three more rogue nins hanging around, but not impossible. Her plan was all about timing, stealth, and speed, which was why she needed to wait for her knee to heal. She knew the general area of where they were, just not the exact coordinates. The valley was slightly closer, but it would take her a while to find the entrance, so that left her with getting to and inside Konoha.

She took a deep breath and sent her chakra senses out even farther, trying to see if there was a village or house nearby so she wouldn't bring her kidnappers down upon them. Just at the edge of her "field of vision" she detected another chakra moving fast towards their position.

A frown worked its way onto her face as she tried to analyze the newcomer. It seemed as though his chakra was two separate chakras which were at the same time trying to merge and battling for control. She shuddered as he approached. Whatever else he may have been, this man was undeniably evil.

The remaining members of Akatsuki, all five of them, plus the remnants of Hebi sat around a long, oval table. Of the three from Hebi, Karin felt the most intimidated. Juugo wasn't intimidated by anyone, and Suigetsu was too stupid to realize he was in the presence of legendary missing nins. Even on the off-chance he did understand he was sitting down with powerhouses of evil, he was too busy drooling over the big, scaly sword that the Blue man had strapped to his back.

She, however, understood it all intimately, as she could practically feel their chakras pressing down upon her. She knew where the girl was, weak as her chakra signature might be, and she also knew that someone was coming. She'd felt it before—when that blond moron had blown himself up to get at her Sasuke. It was a creepy combination of Orochimaru and Kabuto's chakra. She'd tried to convince herself multiple times that it couldn't be the snake. Sasuke had killed him, and when Uchiha Sasuke killed something, it had better stay dead, or have his hot, angry ass on it again.

The thought of Sasuke's behind got her so distracted she nearly missed the start of the meeting.

"You all know why we're here."

It was the one in the orange mask. She'd sensed him, too, when Sasuke'd been fighting Dei-dumbass. He was the kind of man who'd learned to hide his power well.

"Look, not to be rude," Kisame interrupted. "But ain't we going after the Kyuubi brat? Shouldn't we use the little fishie we captured to get him?"

Konan's face remained impassive, but her voice held reprimand, and Kisame quieted after she said, "Do you really think her parents will trade one child for another?"

"Do you really think they'll give us Sasuke?" Suigetsu demanded. "Even if she is Yondaime's daughter, the village doesn't know her. They're probably thrilled to have their Uchiha back."

Madara, formerly known as Tobi, shook his head. "No, they won't give us Sasuke. We won't demand him, either."

Though no one voiced it, the question remained palpable in the air. It was Pein who came to the correct conclusion first. "We'll request the Jinchuuriki. They'll refuse, amp up the guards around him, and send out parties to rescue the girl. That will be our opening to enter Konoha and escape with Sasuke."

Madara nodded. "Exactly."

"We have the combined strength of Akatsuki and Hebi," Suigetsu snapped, leaning forward. "Why do we need to use this . . . subterfuge?"

"Ooh, big word from the fish man," Karin said, smirking. "Did that make your peanut-sized brain hurt?"

Kisame grasped the handle of his sword. "You got a thing against fish, little salmon?"

"Fish are stupid and useless," she shot back. "But sharks aren't."

The blue behemoth laughed at that statement and sent a sharp-toothed smirk to the fuming Suigetsu. He bared his teeth, revealing his pointy canines, which failed to impress Kisame as the man had either been born with a mouth full of fangs or had filed them all to points.

"Then how are we going to get the Kyuubi?" Konan asked. "We need him to complete the process since we capture the eighth last month."

Madara nodded and folded his hands. "That is where Sasuke will be instrumental. He has proven that he can subdue the Kyuubi using his Sharingan. We also know that the Jinchuuriki still considers him a friend, and will be unlikely to fight to kill. He will capture the Jinchuuriki for us."

"Look, I've fought the brat—" Kisame started.

"As have I," Madara cut him off. "And he is no great threat to any of us, unless he calls on the Bijuu for help."

"In that case, can't you just control the Kyuubi?" Zetsu's white half asked.

Madara shook his head. "I am no longer young, and I will need my strength for the sealing process, as will all of you. Since we are missing so many, it will take much longer."

"Hebi, it will be your job to get Sasuke," he informed the group of three.

"Why us?" Juugo asked, breaking his silence.

"If Konoha believes that a small group of young missing-nins freed Sasuke, they will not send their full force. Akatsuki can deal with that easily," Madara explained. "We could not handle Konoha, still the strongest of the five nations, declaring war. Strong as we are, down by half, we could not defeat an entire hidden village."

Kisame chuckled as light bulbs—or candles in their cases—went off above the young members of Hebi. He shook his head sadly at them. To be that oblivious to the strength of your allies, your enemies. They just didn't make criminals the way they used to. He turned back to Madara. "So, what will we do with the little girl?"

"We leave her here," Madara answered. "Unless the man coming toward us has a better solution."

"So, if you attach someone else's arm," Jiraiya said. "I would never be able to channel chakra through it again."

Tsunade nodded as she led him carefully to a bench. They were out in the garden by the hospital. One of the hospital managers had decided it would be therapeutic, good for the patients to get fresh air. Despite the Sannin's protests, Tsunade had pushed him out in a wheelchair and made him sit down on 

one of the benches. She settled next to him. "Yes. The combination of unfamiliar chakra paths and the fragility of the connection sites would make it impossible to use it in battle."

"So, no more handsigns, no more jutsus," Jiraiya mused. "Unless I was able to only channel chakra through my right arm."

"I know you have good chakra control," Tsunade said. "But can you really go against forty years of training? It would take you years to learn to fight with one arm and not the other."

Jiraiya sighed. "Yeah. So if I take the arm, I can't be a ninja."

"That's right," Tsunade sighed. "I know it'll be hard to give up fighting, but—"

"Are you kidding?" Jiraiya exclaimed. "I'm one of the Legendary Sannin, the great Toad Sage Jiraiya, known for my prowess and skill in battlefield and bedroom."

"Bedroom?" Tsunade scoffed. "Try any flat horizontal or vertical surface."

Jiraiya frowned. "More accuracy, less ring. But that's not the point. I've been thinking it's time to lay down my mantle, let Naruto become a legend on his own. I thought I'd done everything, achieved the highest level of honor and skill I could get."

"Will you get over yourself?" Tsunade snapped.

The white-haired pervert threw his head back and laughed. "You know what, Tsunade-hime?"

She rolled her eyes, but didn't respond.

"You know what? Come on, say it, say it."

Still, she didn't answer or give into him.

"It's just one little word. You know what?"

Tsunade sighed. "What?"

"I'm going to become the first one-armed shinobi!"

Tsunade turned her head to stare at him. His face was pale and drawn, but full of life and excitement. Her stomach dropped. "You're kidding, right?"

Jiraiya shook his head. "Nope."

"How exactly are you going to fight with one arm?" Tsunade demanded.

"Well, obviously, I'll have to invent a whole new taijutsu system, to compensate," Jiraiya said. "And as for jutsus, well, Naruto told me about this kid from Mist who could do one-handed jutsus."

"Really?" Tsunade asked.

Jiraiya nodded. "Oh yeah. It was when his genin team was in the Land of Waves. Fought a couple of missing-nins. That's when Naruto got it in his head that he'd change the shinobi way of life. Make ninjas more than weapons."

"Kids got dreams as big as the skies," Tsunade said. "Come on, let's get you inside."

"Oh-hoh-hoh," Jiraiya chuckled. "He's not the only one with big dreams. I'm going to learn a bunch of new jutsus, invent a new taijutsu style, and seduce your panties off on our date."

Tsunade grunted and stood up. "I half-hoped you'd forgotten."

"Why did you agree?" Jiraiya asked.

The Hokage sighed heavily. "When you left to fight the Akatsuki leader . . . I told myself that if you came back, well, I'd give you a chance. Just for the hell of it."

She spun around and placed her hands on her hips. "One date. That's all you're getting. When I don't like it, you don't ask me out anymore."

Jiraiya grinned. "But if you do like it?"

"I won't," she assured him. "Now, come on. We need to get you back inside."

"When do you want my report about the Akatsuki leader?" Jiraiya asked. "I've remembered almost all of it."

Tsunade pursed her lips as she began to wheel him back into the hospital. "Akatsuki's been lying low for a while," she informed him. "Wait a few more days, see if you can recall all of it. In the meantime, prepare the rest of your report and rest."

Sasuke made a face as another visitor approached. Surprise, surprise. He'd already received one visit from an Uzumaki, and she'd kept him up half the night. It was clear where Naruto got his ability to talk endlessly from. Now the famous blond himself was here to chew Sasuke's ear off.

He was not prepared for Naruto's first sentence. "I talked to Itachi, right before you killed him."

The tension in the room suddenly shot up and became so thick it could have been cut with a knife. Naruto, either oblivious or uncaring, didn't notice and kept talking. "He asked me what I would do, if you attacked Konoha. Would I risk the entirety of my village to save your life?"

Sasuke didn't respond.

"I told him I refused to make that choice," Naruto finished. "I would find a way to save your life and save Konoha."

"How?" Sasuke demanded.

Naruto shrugged. "I don't know. But I hope I'll never have to. Are you going to make me make that choice, Sasuke?"

"What are you talking about?" Sasuke inquired.

"Will you ever attack Konoha, Sasuke?" Naruto asked, his blue eyes intense.

Sasuke grunted and shifted his eyes just to the left of Naruto's head.

"Will you?" he persisted.

Sasuke refused to respond, instead focusing intently on a patch of wall. The conversation he'd had with Uzumaki Kushina was running through his head, but he still hadn't figured out everything about it. Sasuke sighed, knowing that Naruto would stay in the corridor, pestering him until he responded one way or the other. "I . . . have no reason to attack Konoha."

Naruto smiled and leaned back, gripping the bars to keep himself from falling.

"So, I thought about what you said," Naruto began, pacing back and forth. "About how I was being a hypocrite and how you didn't want a family."

He fell silent after that, staring into the middle distance. Sasuke thanked whatever gods existed that the blond knucklehead had finally overcome his crippling Babbling Disease. If it were someone else, Sasuke would be prompted to ask why he'd come down, but he feared any comment on his part would result in a debilitating relapse.

"And I've been trying to figure out why you don't want a family," Naruto said, and then started to pace. Sasuke's eyes narrowed and he noticed the barely detectable limp in Naruto's stride. It seemed as though one of his knees was bothering him, but Sasuke knew that Naruto hadn't been on any missions lately.

The blond shook his head. "But I can't. I mean, it just doesn't make sense. When I had my family, in that other world—"

"Your make-believe family?" Sasuke asked.

Naruto bristled, but kept going. "Anyway, that was awesome, having somebody to come home to, somebody to talk to about how bad my day was. I just can't figure why you wouldn't want that."

He came forward to lean on the bars, peering expectantly at Sasuke through them. After several minutes of silence, the black-haired teen raised an eyebrow. "Are you just going to stare at me all day?"

"Hmm?" Naruto asked. "No, I'm just running through all of the possibilities."

"If you think you understand what it's like to have a real family," Sasuke said. "You're sadly mistaken, Naruto."

Abruptly enraged, Naruto slammed his fist onto the bars. "They were real!"


"Yes! You think they weren't? I had a father, who taught me jutsus and healed my cramped legs. I had a mom, and I had two younger brothers. One was a—a freaking genius, he was so smart, like Shikamaru, and the other was a little ball of energy, and I was teaching him how to fight, and channel chakra!" Naruto shouted. "And I had a sis . . . ter."

His knee throbbed.

"Oh, shit," Naruto whispered. He knew now—how could he have not known before?—that his sister, Tama. She was in trouble. It was her knee that was hurt—the dreams about Akatsuki, they were from her. He sprinted through the corridors of the prison, blowing past the guards.

His parents were currently meeting with Tsunade to sort out their death records and such. He jumped up to the roofs and flew across them, heedless of the ninja chasing him. Finally, in sight of the Hokage tower, Naruto put on a burst of speed, reaching the window in record time.

Inside, his parents and Tsunade stood around her desk. Naruto threw open the window and jumped inside. "Tama! Akatsuki has Tama!"

Tsunade nodded. "We know. We just got a ransom note."

Kushina reached out to hold Minato's hand. To find out that you have a daughter and that she'd been kidnapped by an organization of S-class missing nins in one moment was a bit unnerving.

"A ransom note?" Naruto cried. "What do they want in return?"

Tsunade sighed. "You.


So, lots to look forward to. Heh. I have big plans, lots of fun.