Sit Upon the Frozen Heavens
By:
James D. Fawkes

Chapter Four: Requiem for the Lost Ones

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

The room was dark, luminous numbers glowing from their place in its occupant's alarm clock. The windows were closed, covered by curtains to block out the daylight that would normally stream in. The entire room was silent, save for the quiet breathing of its owner and tenant.

Clothes were strewn all over the floor haphazardly, laying on the surface overtop of the hard wood. The door to his closet was ajar, showing the world all of the outfits he had stashed inside of it. They were all identical; a black sleeveless turtleneck vest, a pair of loose black pants, a black belt with a silver buckle, and two black sandals.

The bed sheets were a simplistic white, pristine and clean amongst the messy room and dark clothing he normally wore. The pillows were large and fluffy, though he had bought them at three times the normal price. He had saved up two months worth of his biweekly stipend from the Hokage just to buy those pillows.

The bright blue letters of his alarm clock read nine fifty two a.m., glaring at him through the blackness of his room. Sunlight, bleak and weak behind the dark clouds in the sky, tried in vain to break into the inky gloom, blocked by the heavy curtains over the windows. Dim sapphire stared dully at the floor.

"These feelings," he thought to himself, his expression blank, "what are they?"

An image flashed into his brain of a dark haired girl with pale eyes, her face lighting up in a fiery blush that no amount of her willpower could quell. His heart skipped a beat, as though it thought about quitting its job as a cold sweat broke out on his forehead. Those pale lavender eyes lit up in happiness, a small smile breaking over the girl's face.

Three days had passed since the Sandaime had died, leaving behind a village without a Hokage to protect it. Two days afterwards, he had woken up in the hospital with a concerned Hyuga hovering over his bed and a bouquet of flowers on the nightstand next to it. He had been discharged a few hours later.

Truthfully, nothing had actually been physically wrong with him. Besides a few bruises, he hadn't had any wounds, and even if he had they would have healed quickly. He hadn't broken any bones, so there was nothing to set. He hadn't even had so much as a measly little paper cut. There hadn't been anything wrong with him.

Except exhaustion. Hinata had told him that he had been admitted to the hospital with a severe case of chakra exhaustion. The doctors had said, according to her, that he was so low on chakra, he was likely to slip into a coma. Thankfully, though the doctors had known this, the Kyubi wouldn't have let something like that happen. What threw him for a loop was that the doctors actually treated him like a normal patient.

Ever since he had gotten home, however, he had been thinking about one thing and one thing only. Hinata. Or rather, how he felt about her. It was…confusing, just as much as it was soothing. He hadn't felt anything like it before, not even with Sakura. Chasing after Sakura had been a plea for attention more than anything else, though there had been some measure of attraction to it as well.

With Hinata, however, things were so much different. He was suddenly noticing things about her that he hadn't before. Her blush was suddenly a blush and not a fever, and it was suddenly cute as well. Her eyes were no longer creepy, but oddly pretty and majestic, like some sort of rare jewel.

His perception of her personality had changed as well. Before, no more than a month ago, he had thought of her as that dark, weird girl. Now, she was shy and timid and peaceful, but strong and graceful at the same time. There was a certain beauty to her as well, like he was staring as an angel every time he looked at her.

"I've never felt this way before," he muttered to himself, eyes narrowed as he stared at the floor like it was the most interesting thing in the world.

He tried to imagine something happening to her, something horrible. He tried to imagine Hinata on the edge of death, gasping as the life left her eyes. An unthinkable despair took hold of his heart, clenching it tightly as a thick block of ice plopped into his stomach like a glacier swaying in the sea.

He imagined a tall man with dark hair and pale skin, yellow eyes with slit pupils laughing at him as the man bared his teeth in a triumphant smirk. He imagined that this man, Orochimaru, was standing over the dead Hinata he had imagined earlier and felt an insurmountable rage take hold of himself.

He squashed the feeling mercilessly, like a bug beneath his shoe, reminding himself that it was all a part of his imagination. Still, the dark and vengeful emotion lingered, and would linger until he avenged Sarutobi's demise. He pushed the thought away as guilt and pain threatened to consume him, moving towards his original train of thought.

"Why?" he asked silently, his mouth forming the words as no sound escaped. "Why do I feel this way?"

"There comes a time in every man's life where he must admit that the truth is," Hyôrinmaru spoke to him quietly, "he's fallen in love."

"Fallen in love," Naruto echoed, equally as quiet. "I don't know about that."

The dragon did not reply, vanishing into thin air as a knock echoed throughout the small room. A second later, the door opened to reveal the somber form of Hatake Kakashi, his little orange book conspicuously absent from his hands. Dressed in a black funeral uniform, his sensei looked every bit the mourning man he was supposed to be.

"Naruto," the serious and ominous tone to Kakashi's voice shook Naruto from his reverie, "it's time."

Nodding numbly, the blonde stood up quietly, slipping on a pair of black sandals as he went. Silent as a ghost, he followed his gray-haired sensei out of his apartment and through the streets. He knew what the older man had meant with those three words. He had been trying to avoid thoughts about the event for the sake of his sanity, but, eventually, the real world came back to bite you.

It was time…for Sarutobi's funeral.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

"It's raining," Naruto noted quietly, watching as, one by one, the large procession stepped up to the casket and laid a white lily or chrysanthemum atop it. Each of them said his or her good byes quietly, so as not to disturb the thoughts or grief of others present. Each and every person was wearing identical black uniforms, dressed the part of mourning friends and family.

Rain poured down from the heavy black clouds above, soaking all that stood in front of the large wooden box that held their Sandaime. It was fitting, Naruto thought, that the heavens would cry for the old man when he could not. He had run out of tears in the hospital, crying on Hinata's shoulder.

Dull sapphire watched the proceedings with a soft apathy, their owner silent as thick globs of water pattered against the hard ground. A dense droplet ran down his nose, dripping off the edge and falling to the stone below. His thoughts were a chaotic mesh of guilt, pain, and confusion. The only sign of the torrent of emotion was the twitch of his lips.

By all accounts, he supposed that he shouldn't be placing the blame for the old man's death on his own shoulders. But he couldn't help but feel as if it was his fault the Sandaime Hokage had died. If he had been a little bit stronger, if he had been just a little bit faster, he may have been able to save the grandfatherly man.

Logically, he knew that no amount of extra strength would have helped him defeat Orochimaru in time to save the old Hokage. The elderly man had gone into battle with no intention of surviving to see the next day. He had known that he would die facing down Orochimaru, and he had died knowing that he had protected his village the best he could.

Naruto sighed almost imperceptibly. That didn't make it any easier to say good bye to the elderly ninja, though, and there was still a small amount of guilt telling him that he could have saved Sarutobi. The hardest part was watching those closest to the old man suffer in their grief.

Konohamaru sobbed a few feet away and Naruto wished he could comfort the young boy, but knew that nothing he could say would dry the boy's tears. Iruka was explaining death to the kid, about how people's dreams and beliefs died with them, but they continued to live on in the people who were precious to them. If possible, Konohamaru's sobs seemed to get louder.

Looking around, Naruto noticed that Kakashi had disappeared from the crowd, as though he were a specter that had guided his student here, and then vanished into the wind. Naruto frowned in thought, and then realized that his teacher was probably visiting the memorial stone that he had told his students about.

Naruto felt a small bit of pity for Kakashi, knowing that the older man had lost so much already. To lose the Sandaime, a grandfather to all that lived in his village, it must have been a harsh and painful blow. Naruto sighed. He doubted Orochimaru would ever realize or regret just how many people he had hurt that day.

He turned his gaze, watching as Hinata lay a white flower atop the coffin then bowed to it, her lips moving silently as she said something to the dead Hokage. As she stood again, she turned and walked away, following her family back home. Faintly, he could see pearly tears hovering at the edges of her eyes.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, it was his turn. He had no flower, as the parting gift he would give Sandaime would be a little more lasting and permanent. Slowly, the eyes of the procession on his back, he walked up to the thick wooden casket. For a long moment, he only stared at the smirking face in the picture.

He held out his empty hand, knowing that everyone was watching him like a hawk. He focused chakra, almost frowning as every ninja present tensed at his action, and concentrated on what he was going to do. Slowly, the particles of water in the air condensed and twisted to his will.

A shape began to form, after a few seconds, the water flowing over his palm and dancing as it shifted. The rain seemed to bend around the object that was forming, or else it merged with the water already there. Finally, after a minute of intense focus and concentration, a perfect rose made of ice sat in his hand. Imbued with his chakra and made from his special abilities, it would never melt.

"I know that you probably can't hear me," he set the flower down, knowing that everyone was listening. Light reflected off the ice, "but I'm going to miss you. You did a lot for me, and for this village."

He sighed, "I know…you died the way you wanted to die. You died defending the village. But that doesn't make it any easier for you to be gone. Konohamaru won't stop crying, you know. He keeps begging me to do something, to bring you back."

He chuckled lightly, "But I wouldn't, even if I could. Something tells me…that you're finally getting some much deserved rest. I wouldn't take that from you, force you back into our world, so full of responsibility."

He sighed again, "I know that you'd tell me not to and that you'd lecture me that it wouldn't bring any closure or satisfaction, but I'm going to do what I feel I need to anyway. I'm angry at you, old man, for leaving behind so much pain. But I'm angrier at Orochimaru."

His eyes sharpened, "I'm going to kill him."

The Hokage's eyes suddenly seemed stern and accusing, "I know, I know, vengeance isn't worth it in the end. I'm not doing it just for me. I'm doing it for all of the people he hurt by killing you."

He bowed, then stood straight again, "Next time I see you, I'll be as old as you are…Hokage-sama."

With his part said, he turned around and walked back towards the rest of the procession, feeling their eyes on him. In a blur and a soft swoosh, like that of a curtain billowing in the wind, he disappeared in front of everyone.

He reappeared walking down the empty street, rain splattering against his clothes and hair, dripping down his face. His eyes had returned to their dull sapphire, staring listlessly at the wet, soggy streets that seemed to stretch on forever. The roar of droplets pounding against the hard earth filled his ears with a loud buzz.

"Hey, kid," a familiar voice called quietly, halting his walk.

He looked up to the direction of the voice, his dull blue eyes blinking as rain bled into them. Jiraiya stood leaning up against the wall of a shop, his arms folded across his chest and his chiseled face set in a serious look. The older man's frown was grim, his hair somehow dry while the rest of the world was wet.

Naruto frowned himself, turning away as he made to move onward. He was going to go back home and try to forget the dull, throbbing pain he felt, even though he knew it would take time to fade. His mouth moved of its own accord, "Go away, Ero-sennin. I don't have time for your nonsense right now."

"I heard what you said," Jiraiya told him, stopping the boy in his tracks again. The Toad Sage's eyes narrowed as he spoke his next words. "Do you really intend to kill Orochimaru? That's not an easy task, you know."

Naruto paused, mulling over his own words as he tried to find the best way to address that question. He took a deep breath, and then let it out in one huge sigh, "Yeah, I'm going to kill that Snake Bastard, no matter what it takes. It might not be easy, but I'm going to do it anyway."

The blonde's fists clenched shut tightly, his fingernails digging into the fleshy skin of his palms. Blood leaked over his fingers, falling to the ground and mixing in with the dark rain water, "For all that he's taken from me. For all that he's taken from the village. For all that he's taken from Konohamaru. And for making Hinata-chan cry. I'll kill him."

There was a thick silence as his words hung in the air, then Jiraiya sighed a deep, exasperated sigh, "Against my better judgement, Naruto, I'm going to ask you a favor. It's not something I would normally ask of a Genin or even most Chûnin, but I think it's something you can handle."

Naruto eyed him skeptically, "What is it, Ero-sennin?"

Jiraiya's eye twitched at the nickname, but he pretended to ignore it, "I'm going to look for my teammate. We need her back here for something, so I have to go find her and convince her to come back. Would you come with me?"

"You said you were reluctant to take me, if not in so many words," Naruto said, eyes narrowed. "Is that because we're going to see Orochimaru while we're gone?"

Jiraiya shrugged, "There's a chance that he'll search for her to get his arms healed, but the chances of us actually meeting him are slim."

Naruto looked at the ground, "Slim is still good enough. Alright, I'll come with you on this trip of yours, but you better teach me some more Jutsu. When do we leave?"

"Tomorrow," Jiraiya said, "so get your things packed as soon as you get home. Meet me at the front gate at ten sharp."

In a poof of smoke, the older ninja disappeared from his spot, leaving Naruto alone once more on the streets. Turning back around, Naruto vanished from where he stood in a blur and a soft swoosh, like that of clothing fluttering in the breeze. Two pale eyes stared worriedly at where he had been a mere second before.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

The sun rose, casting light on vibrant blonde hair. Birds chirped in the distance, greeting the morning with an enthusiasm that no one could match. Wind blew through the tall trees and their leaves, ruffling the hair of the young ninja standing still, ready for the next chapter in his life.

The blonde boy smiled brightly, breathing in the rich summer air and inhaling the scent of nature so plentiful around his village. Lightly, he fingered the strap of his pack, marveling at the amount of strength he had gained since it weighed so little to him now. When first starting his mission to the Land of Waves, it had seemed so heavy and cumbersome. Now, it felt almost weightless.

He loved nature, simple as that. It might have something to do with the elemental dragon that shared his soul and it might have something to do with the demon fox sealed in his navel, but the smell and presence of nature always made him feel better, no matter the situation. The rest of the world just seemed to melt away into the slipstream of time.

All too soon, he was drawn from his euphoria by a familiar voice, one that he recognized easily after spending so much time with the man. Jiraiya called out to him, "Hey, kid, ready to go?"

"Sure, Ero-sennin," Naruto said, laughing as Jiraiya fumed.

"I thought I told you not to call me that!" Jiraiya yelled angrily, a vein throbbing dangerously on his forehead and pounding against his hitai-ate. Naruto only laughed harder, walking past the elder man.

"Naruto-kun!" Naruto stopped laughing and turned around, only to be hit with the force equivalent to a torpedo as an indigo-haired girl threw herself into his arms, squeezing him tight.

"Oof!" Naruto gasped as the air was expelled forcefully from his lungs, Hinata clinging to him as though he were the only thing keeping her alive. His look of surprise melted away and he gently wrapped his arms around her, smiling peacefully.

"Hey, Hinata-chan," he whispered, trying to calm his heart as it sped away, reacting to her close presence. She buried her face in his shoulder, suddenly aware that he had grown several inches over the span of the month before the finals.

Naruto's eyes went wide as saucers as she leaned up and planted a warm kiss on his lips, her own pair so soft and gentle that he felt like he had died and gone to heaven. As she pulled back, a blush lit up both their faces. Smiling shyly, she whispered to him, "Stay safe, Naruto-kun."

A loud laugh broke the moment, wolf-whistles being sent their way. Jiraiya cackled gleefully, a notepad in his palms as he called out to the blond boy, yelling, "Way to go, Naruto!"

Naruto turned a glare at the elder man as he continued to laugh, and then moved his attention back onto the girl in his arms. Smiling, he pulled her into a warm hug, whispering gently into her ear, "I'll see you later, Hinata-chan."

Letting her go, he turned back towards the road, gesturing to the old ninja with a scowl on his lips, "Come on, you old lecher, let's get going."

Hinata couldn't help but giggle as Jiraiya fumed at his new student, chasing after Naruto and swinging his notepad around for emphasis. They'd be gone for a little while, but they would be back soon enough.

"Oh, yeah!" Naruto reached into his pack and pulled out a small scroll, one that the old man had given him the day before the Chûnin Exams. He unfurled it and started reading, "I wonder what Ossan had to say."

Naruto's eyes zipped back and forth as he read the shocking words on the scroll, his mouth slowly falling open. He whispered, "No way!"

"What?" Jiraiya looked back at him with a curious expression on his face.

"Uh," Naruto stuttered, "nothing."

He turned his attention back to the scroll and read it over again.

Dear Naruto-kun,

If you are reading this then I must have died fighting Orochimaru at the Chûnin Exam Finals. Whether or not he has died as well is not known to me, though I am sure I tried my hardest. The information I am about to disclose must be made known to the new Hokage as long as you believe he or she to be trustworthy enough.

I'm sure you remember the ANBU that I had look after you when you were younger. In particular, I speak of the weasel masked ANBU, whose real name was Uchiha Itachi. If you have not already heard, he wiped out his entire family several years ago, leaving only young Sasuke behind. He has since been declared an S-rank Missing Ninja.

What was never made public, Naruto-kun, was that he killed the Uchiha clan on my orders in order to stop the next advent of Uchiha Madara, the most dangerous man in Konoha history. Only myself, Itachi, Homura, Koharu, and Danzo know of this, and I assure you that they would not tell anyone.

Itachi-kun is powerful. There are not many ninja of his caliber and most of them are rogues. It has become necessary, however, to bring him back. Something disturbing is on the horizon, Naruto-kun, and we need Itachi-kun in Konoha more than anything. Do what you can to ensure that he is brought back home.

On a more personal note, Naruto-kun, I believe it is time for you to know the truth about your heritage. I am sorry to have kept it from you for so long, but you will be slightly relieved to know that they are both dead, so they didn't abandon you. It was my intention not to tell you until later on, when you had grown some more and were strong enough to hold your own against some of the best, but you have grown faster than I anticipated. For that reason, I can tell you that you are Namikaze Naruto, son of the Yondaime Hokage, Namikaze Minato, and his wife, Uzumaki Kushina.

Your parents would be proud of you, Naruto-kun, just as I am, and your father would be disappointed in his village. If nothing else, remember, Naruto-kun, that they loved you enough to die to keep you safe.

The Old Man,
Sarutobi-jiisan

Naruto rolled the scroll up and bit his lip to keep from tearing up.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

Kakashi leaned against the wall of a small restaurant, more of a simple dango shop than anything, his hands tucked inside of his pockets. He was waiting for his student, Uchiha Sasuke, to show up, so that they could get some training done. Naruto, he knew, was going on a trip with Jiraiya to look for Tsunade.

Beyond that, however, Kakashi was also keeping an eye on the two suspicious men sitting inside of the establishment he was leaning on. After hearing of the Akatsuki from Jiraiya, anyone suspicious that entered the village was a potential member of the dangerous group, so he would not let them out of his sight.

Besides, one of the men seemed awfully familiar, in an ominous and foreboding sort of way. If his suspicions were correct, they could be in a great deal of trouble.

Kakashi looked up as Kurenai and Asuma walked down the street side by side towards him, "Hey, you two, you look good together. Are you on a date or something?"

"Idiot!" Kurenai blushed scarlet, glaring at him. "Anko asked me to pick up some dango for her."

"What about you, Kakashi?" Asuma asked, grinning. "You picking up sweets, too?"

"No," Kakashi smiled beneath his mask, "I'm actually meeting Sasuke here. I'm waiting for him."

Kakashi's eye narrowed almost imperceptibly as the shorter of the two suspicious men tightened his grip on the clay mug of tea in his hand, the material groaning under the pressure of his strength.

If Asuma and Kurenai noticed, they didn't show it as Asuma said, with a smirk, "It's very rare to see you waiting on someone."

"Kakashi," Sasuke walked up, his usual scowl in place, "it's very different for you to arrive first."

"Well," Kakashi smiled beneath his mask, "for some occasions."

Sasuke glanced inside the dango shop to see a plate of dango and two steaming, half-full mugs of tea sitting at an empty table, as if the occupants had left in a hurry. Kakashi nodded to the other two Jounin standing across from him and they both disappeared, leaving the Copy-nin alone with his student.

Asuma and Kurenai followed the mysterious men all the way to a walkway by Konoha's river system, standing in front of the two with a serious look on each of their faces. The strange, cloak-wearing figures stopped, the shorter of the two lifting his hat as if to get a better look at them.

"It's been a while," the shorter one said, his red eyes peering into theirs, "Asuma-san, Kurenai-san."

"You!" Kurenai gasped, eyes wide in surprise and a slight bit of fear.

"Heh," Asuma's cigarette twitched as he spoke, "there's no doubt about it."

The shorter man took his hat off, then unsnapped part of his cloak, resting his left arm in it like a sling. He stared at them impassively, his black hair swaying slightly in the wind.

Asuma's eyes narrowed, "Uchiha Itachi."

"So," the taller man said, taking his hat off as well, "I see you already know Itachi. Guess I better introduce myself as well."

He threw the hat away, grinning at the two Jounin with shark teeth, "Hoshigaki Kisame. Pleased to meet you."

"Itachi," Asuma scowled, "you're pretty brave to come back here after what you did."

Itachi didn't respond, but Asuma could have sworn he glimpsed a small amount of regret deep in those bloody eyes. It was gone before he could confirm it, so he just shook it off as his own imagination.

"Heh," Kisame chuckled, "your village doesn't seem too fond of you, Itachi."

"Asuma-san, Kurenai-san, please do not interfere with my affairs," Itachi said calmly. "I would prefer not to kill you."

"That's a pretty strange thing to here from your mouth, Itachi," Asuma said. "After all, you didn't have a problem with slaying your entire clan."

"There were circumstances beyond your knowledge," Itachi told him, the first traces of a scowl crossing his lips. "If you knew what I do, then you would be thanking me."

"What's your purpose for being here?" Kurenai asked, her gaze firm.

Kisame swung his large package off of his back and to the concrete, grinning toothily, "Enough small talk. Let's get down to the nitty-gritty."

"Don't kill them," Itachi warned, "just make sure they can't get back to the village to stop us."

Kisame suddenly lashed out, making a vertical slash with his sword. Asuma drew his trench knives, crossing the blades together to form an x-shaped block that stopped clothed weapon short. Asuma grinned as Kurenai flashed through hand seals and disappeared into thin air.

Steadily, however, Kisame's weapon lowered itself until it rested against Asuma's upper biceps, proving that Kisame indeed had an advantage in strength. The fish-like man grinned as the bandages on his sword were torn to shreds, revealing the true form of his infamous and formidable blade.

He yanked it backwards, dragging its surface over Asuma's arm and causing a good deal of damage, "My Samehada doesn't cut, it shaves!"

As Kisame pulled his sword back for another strike, his legs began to sink into the ground. Simultaneously, tree roots shot from the ground and wound their way around Itachi's prone form, ensnaring him in their trap. Kurenai emerged from the tree a few feet above Itachi's head, kunai poised to kill him as she said, "This is the end."

In an instant, Kurenai was the one trapped in the tree and Itachi was standing in front of her, his gaze impassive, "Genjutsu of this level has no effect on me, Kurenai-san."

Scowling, Kurenai bit her lip in an attempt to release the Genjutsu, freeing herself just in time to block a kick from Itachi that sent her into the river.

"Kurenai!" Asuma yelled, even as Kisame lifted his sword up for another strike, one-handed.

"Not paying attention will get you killed," Kisame smirked.

"As expected of Kurenai-san," Itachi told Kurenai, standing behind her as she sat up on the water surface.

"This is it," a voice said behind the Uchiha, "for you."

Asuma ducked under the second slash, moving in as the man hefted his sword once more. He shot a punch at Kisame's head, missing by several centimeters as the fish-man tilted to the left slightly. Regardless, a cut carved itself into the missing-nin's cheek, bleeding sluggishly.

"Suiton," Kisame flashed through hand seals, water swirling around him.

"Suikoudan on jutsu!" a voice called in time with his, unleashing an identical attack simultaneously. The two techniques twisted together, negating each other and splashing back to the ground.

A silver haired Jounin stood in front of Asuma, glaring at Kisame, and a second one stood behind Itachi holding a kunai out threateningly.

"Kage Bunshin," Kurenai muttered, glancing at the Kakashi that stood behind the Uchiha.

"Hatake Kakashi," Itachi turned his head, gazing into Kakashi's Sharingan eye with his own. His eyes quickly darted over to Kisame, "Move, Kisame."

"Huh?" the blue-skinned man asked incredulously.

"Against a single opponent, you would resolve this matter quickly," Itachi told him. "However, you are about to face multiple opponents, which would take a great deal more time. Time is something we don't have, and we did not come here to die."

"Then why are you here?" Kakashi asked, the Kage Bunshin on the land dissipating into smoke.

"We're looking for something," Itachi said plainly.

Kakashi flashed through hand seals, "Suiton: Suijinheki!"

The jutsu aimed at him from all sides collided with his water wall, stopping short of its target. Kakashi glared as the liquid fell back into the river, wary of any tricks his enemy might pull.

"You are skilled, as expected," Itachi said, his face calm.

A second Uchiha stabbed Kakashi in the back, "Isn't that right?"

Kakashi dissolved into water and Kurenai saw her chance, reaching for a kunai to strike the Itachi in front of her. Kakashi suddenly leapt at her, pulling her beneath the water as the man she had been about to kill exploded, singeing the Copy-nin's back.

"For someone who is not of Uchiha blood, you are quite skilled with that eye, Kakashi-san," Itachi closed his eyes. "Now…I shall show you…the true power of the Sharingan!"

"Close your eyes, now!" Kakashi commanded, leaving only his Sharingan open.

The silver-haired Jounin's breath caught in his throat as Itachi's eyes opened, then he collapsed to his knees, panting as though he had run a marathon. His body ached with phantom pains, as though he actually had been stabbed thousands of times in the span of seventy-two hours.

"Guh," Kakashi groaned, fighting to stay conscious, "you're after Sasuke, aren't you?

"No," Itachi said calmly, his penetrating gaze stabbing into Kakashi's soul. "We are after the Yondaime's Legacy."

"What?" Kakashi asked incredulously. "What do you want with him? Your target…it's the Kyubi inside of Naruto, isn't it? Your organization…Akatsuki."

Itachi tensed, eyes wide, then he glanced to his right almost imperceptibly before his shoulders seemed to sag in relief. In a tense tone, he said, "Kisame…take Kakashi-san out."

Kisame hefted his sword, dashing towards Kakashi with the intention of killing the silver-haired man. A green blur leapt from the trees to his right, colliding with him in a cry of, "Konoha Gouriki Senpuu!"

A tall man with a bowl-cut wearing a green spandex suit stood straight, grinning charmingly, "Konoha's Green Beast! Maito Gai!"

Kisame stood, rubbing his cheek gingerly and glaring at the Jounin, "You're Konoha's Green Beast, huh? I think I'll just call you an exotic animal."

Kakashi suddenly pitched forward into the water, unconscious. Gai lifted him onto his shoulder, glaring at Itachi fiercely. There was a heavy pause where Itachi seemed to be considering his options, then he spoke.

"Kisame," Itachi said calmly. "We're leaving."

In a blur, both Itachi and his partner disappeared from Konoha, leaving nothing behind but their hats. All three Jounin relaxed, glad that the threat had left for the moment.

One sentence rang throughout Kakashi's mind, piercing through his skull even in his unconscious state.

"Kakashi-san…please, take care of Naruto-kun for me…"

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

Naruto rose from the comfortable bed with a loud, angry sigh, his right eyebrow twitching dangerously as he moved towards the door to his spacious hotel room. It had been a day or two since he and the perverted old man had left Konoha searching for this Tsunade woman. Jiraiya had just blown him off so that he could go mess around with some hot girl that had given him nothing more than a wink.

"I'm coming, I'm coming!" Naruto shouted as a second, much more insistent knock resounded throughout the room, echoing off of the walls.

Suppressing a growl as a third knock pounded against the heavy wooden door, he took a calming breath to cool his anger. When he was sure he wouldn't blow up at his guests, he opened the hotel door and greeted the two men behind it with a bright smile and a friendly, "Hello!"

"Hello, Naruto-kun," came the return greeting from a young, black-haired teen, his long locks tied, for the most part, in a ponytail at the nape of his neck. His red eyes swirled with the legendary Sharingan, his impassive gaze flickering with hesitation for a second as if he were unsure about doing his task. "We'd like you to come with us."

A taller, blue-skinned man stood next to him, gazing down at Naruto with a skeptical look, "Is this brat really the Kyubi's vessel?"

"Come out of the room," the black-haired teen said firmly, and Naruto felt himself obeying, stepping outside of the room's safety.

"Alright!" the blue man cried excitedly, grasping the hilt of the object on his back. "Let's get this started. After all, we don't need him running away! Let's cut off a leg!"

Naruto suddenly realized that he was in danger, and that his Hitai-ate was sitting over on the bed with the rest of the stuff he had packed. Scowling, he yanked his sword free at an impressive speed, swinging it towards the teenager.

The teen held up two fingers, blocking the blade effortlessly. He frowned, however, as blood began to trickle down his hand. He had indeed blocked the sword, but it had still cut into his skin, despite his fingers being reinforced with chakra to protect them. That was most troubling.

"Tch," Naruto's scowl deepened as he pulled back his sword, standing straight with his eyes narrowed. "Let's take this somewhere a bit more open."

In a blur, all three of them vanished from the hallway. Uchiha Sasuke rounded the corner a second later, staring at the door that had been left ajar and the empty hall that stood before him, baffled and feeling as if he had missed something important that may have changed something fundamental about his world.

The three ninja appeared once more in a huge clearing outside of the city, a large building standing at the edge of one side and a wall of trees guarding the other. Naruto scowled at the two men across from him, gauging their strength and the amount of power he would need to beat them. He sighed.

"I don't suppose you guys would just leave, huh?" he asked, receiving narrowed eyes from the teen and a dark chuckle from the fish-man. He gripped his sword tightly. "Very well."

A bright aura lit up around him, casting deep shadows against the trees and shocking his enemies. He swung his sword forward, his voice cold and calm, "Bankai."

There was a blinding flash of light, forcing the two Akatsuki members to look away in fear of blindness. Seconds later, the flash died down and the two of them stared at the creature that now stood before them.

Wings of ice spread outward, giving a single, bird-like flap. They were attached to his back, covering his shoulders with a protective layer. Beneath the wings was a large tail of ice that flicked back and forth, as if it belonged to him. A thick layer of jagged ice covered the blonde's right arm, encasing his fist and the hilt of his sword in a dragon's head. His feet were covered in ice as well, forming what appeared to be a dragon's paws. His left arm, from elbow to wrist, was also covered in ice, a claw like paw attached to the wrist.

The hilt guard on the sword appeared to be the only thing that had changed about the katana, morphing into an eight-point star. Four ice flowers, each with four petals, hovered around the blonde's form. Naruto's eyes were frigid blue, "Daiguren Hyôrinmaru." (Great Crimson Lotus Ice Ring)

A thin layer of ice covered the ground, merging the grass and dirt into one solid mass of flat frozen liquid. It seemed to stretch the length of the clearing, and even farther, if the frosted trees and bushes were any measure. The sky above had darkened with black clouds, blocking out most of the sunlight.

"You sure this is the Kyubi brat?" the blue-skinned man asked his companion. The teen merely nodded in response.

With a battle cry, Naruto left the ground, soaring towards the shark-man with his sword poised to stab through him. Too surprised to move, Naruto's blade sank into the blue-skinned freak's chest, piercing through the other side like a hot knife through a slab of butter. Ice spread rapidly from the point of contact, freezing over the ninja's body and creating a long line of ice behind that man that was easily half as tall him.

Naruto scowled as the man trapped in his ice vanished in a poof of smoke, revealing him to be a Kage Bunshin disguised as his enemy. Naruto turned cold eyes towards the two men, realizing that he just might be out of his league.

"Whew!" the blue-skinned man sighed in relief. "That was close! Thanks for saving me, Itachi!"

"Itachi?" Naruto's eyes widened, then took on an angry gleam. "Itachi—i!"

He charged forward again, his left hand slipping into his kunai pouch under the cover of his wing. Surprised at the sudden outburst, Itachi barely dodged the blade as it cut through his cloak just inches from the left side of stomach, bent over with his head near Naruto's right shoulder. He was even more stunned as he realized that the charge had merely been a distraction, as Naruto's left hand pushed something into his right sleeve: a scroll.

"I know the truth," the blonde whispered into his ears, "Itachi-niisan."

"Then you know," Itachi whispered back, pressing his still bleeding fingers against Naruto's bare forehead. The blood trickled down into Naruto's eyes, which flashed red for a second as he blinked, "that I will always protect you…otouto."

With a gentle strength, Itachi pushed Naruto back several yards, watching as the blonde steadied himself effortlessly. Muttering under his breath, Naruto held out his free hand, palm forward, and recited a single sentence, "Hadô no Sanjuusan: Sôkatsui!"

A ball of blue fire shot forward, scattering both of the black-cloaked ninja. The moment Kisame landed, Naruto was upon him, stabbing. The blue-skinned man leaned backwards, the silvery sword slicing a small cut into his clothes at the shoulder. There was a second stab and Kisame ducked under this one, too, undamaged.

With a grunt, Naruto swung his sword instead of stabbing, watching as Kisame leapt over it almost gracefully, flipping and landing behind him. Spinning on the spot, Naruto let loose another slash, cutting right through his foe. Kisame splashed into water, which froze before it could even completely lose its shape.

Growling, Naruto stabbed one of the pieces of ice, skewering it. Hefting it, he swung again and the huge chunk shot forward. It shattered completely against the thick bulk of Samehada. Kisame's grin revealed a mouth full of row upon row of sharp, pointed teeth that fit his shark-like appearance oddly well.

Naruto smirked, bringing his free hand up into a flurry of hand seals. Upon the last one, he declared, "Sensatsu Suisho!"

The shattered pieces of ice quickly melted, morphing into a tight cage of a thousand water needles. A look of shock crossed Kisame's face for a moment, then he was skewered, only to fall apart into water once more. The real one was standing a short distance away, his grin still stretching across his face.

Naruto scowled, his grip on his sword tightening. Then, he vanished, reappearing several feet in front of Kisame with his sword poised to strike. The blue-skinned man swung down at the same time as Naruto swung diagonally. With a loud clang, the swords met in a ferocious battle of steel.

Then, with apparent ease, Hyôrinmaru cleaved right through Samehada, cutting the large sword in half at the middle. The larger half, the one that was all blade and no hilt, flew off in the direction of Naruto's strike, landing several yards away on the ice.

Naruto's slit pupils gazed up at Kisame as he spoke, "Hyôrinmaru and I predicted the thickness, density, and durability of your blade and strengthened our own accordingly. This allowed us to destroy your weapon, and thus, the main point of your attack. If I had used chakra, you may still have your sword. It seems, however, that Samehada is intolerable of Reiryoku."

Kisame actually growled, "Why, you little—!"

"Kisame," Itachi warned, "we're leaving. Jiraiya-sama will be here soon."

"Tch," Kisame scoffed, "next time, brat, I'll kill you."

In a blur, both of them vanished.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

"This is Tanzaku-Gai?" Naruto asked, staring at the destroyed area in front of him, the remains of a decimated castle. Jiraiya nodded solemnly.

Had a larger area been affected by the carnage, 'natural disaster' might have been a believable excuse for the destruction that had occurred, but such wasn't the case. The castle was all that had been razed to the ground, so the culprit could only have been a summoned animal of some sort, or one of the tailed beasts.

"This has Tsunade written all over it," Jiraiya said calmly, a frown on his lips. "By the way, how far have you gotten on that Rasengan?"

"I'm still having a bit of trouble with stage three, but it shouldn't take me much longer to figure it out," Naruto glanced at Jiraiya. "Should we really be discussing my progress when we're searching for Tsunade?"

"No, I suppose not," Jiraiya admitted. "But, it's too late in the day to do much of anything, so let's go eat some dinner, huh?"

Nodding, Naruto followed Jiraiya dutifully as the elder man led him to a restaurant nearby. The moment he stepped inside, he was viciously assaulted by the quiet noise of the pub and no one seemed to notice his entrance. He might as well have dropped a pin in the middle of this calamity, he may have actually gotten more attention.

"Speak of the devil," Jiraiya muttered, looking at something that Naruto couldn't pinpoint.

The elder man's appearance suddenly took on one of excitement as he waved, calling out cheerfully, "Tsunade-hime!"

A blonde woman, apparently Tsunade, looked up at them, startled, "Jiraiya? What are you doing here?"

Naruto looked at the woman as Jiraiya led him through the crowd and onto the couch stool that sat on the opposite side of Tsunade's table. Somehow, when he had heard of the great Tsunade, he had expected a wrinkled old woman that could rival Jiraiya in terms of age. But before him sat a beautiful woman who seemed to be somewhere in her mid twenties.

Then there was the girl who sat with the blonde-haired Slug Sennin, and she seemed to be about Kakashi's age, if he were any accurate a guess. She seemed like the timid type, one who didn't often speak up out of turn. She seemed kind of subdued, though Naruto had no idea why.

"Today…" Tsunade broke the awkward silence, "I met with someone who brings back a lot of bad memories."

"Orochimaru, you mean?" Jiraiya asked, absently noting the sudden anger Naruto was trying to squash. "Did anything happen?"

Tsunade shot a quick glare at Shizune, then responded nonchalantly, "Nothing much. Just a little greeting."

She gave him a look.

"You're here, too," she pointed out. "Why? What's the reason for this unexpected reunion?"

Jiraiya fixed her with a serious stare, "Konoha's Elder Council has issued a request for you to become the Godaime Hokage."

Both girls' eyes widened, a shocked look passing over their faces. Naruto stared at him incredulously, then looked back and forth between the two members of the Sannin, wondering if he had heard right. This blonde woman was going to become Hokage? Why wasn't he told?

"The Third," Jiraiya looked down sadly. "Sarutobi-sensei is…"

"Orochimaru told me," Tsunade said, her expression stoic. "It was his work."

"You met with Orochimaru?" Naruto asked her heatedly. "And you didn't kill him?"

"Who is this brat?" Tsunade asked Jiraiya.

"He's Uzumaki…"

"I'm Namikaze Naruto," the blonde boy interrupted, standing up, "and I—!"

"And he's made it his personal mission to kill Orochimaru," Jiraiya interjected, pulling the kid back into his seat. He gave the blond a wary look, slightly alarmed that he knew his true heritage. He changed the subject, "So, what's your answer?"

There was a long pause, as though she was thinking about it, considering the offer, then, "I decline."

"What?" Naruto stood up again, glaring at her. "Konoha offers you the position of Hokage on a silver platter and you simply turn it away like yesterday's news? Damn you! This is important!"

Tsunade chuckled, "Jiraiya, this brat is worse than your previous student…in terms of looks, speech, and intelligence."

"It's hard to compete with the Fourth…" Jiraiya started. "He had the talent. Talent that only comes alone once per generation. He was like me: smart, reliable, and handsome!"

"But even the Fourth died quickly," Tsunade said bitterly. "He sacrificed himself for his village. Life is different from money. It can't be gambled so easily, and whoever does is a fool."

"If you have nothing you would die for," Naruto hissed quietly, eyes narrowed, "then you're not truly alive."

Jiraiya frowned in disappointment, "You've changed, Tsunade."

"Age changes people," she waved her hand, as if brushing off the question, "but only a fool would be Hokage."

Plates and food jumped off the table as Naruto tried to jump over it, intent on beating her up. Jiraiya had grabbed him by the back of his vest, preventing his blonde student from jumping into a battle he had no hope of winning. Naruto glared at her, scowling as if he had practiced it for years.

"Let me go, Jiraiya!" Naruto growled. "No one says that about Tousan or Ossan!"

"You do realize we're in a bar, don't you?" Jiraiya asked rhetorically.

"I don't care if she's a woman!" Naruto hissed. "I'm going to beat the shit out of her!"

Tsunade stood up, glaring at Naruto as she planted one foot up on the table, "You've got guts to say that to me. Let's take this outside!"

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

Tsunade smirked, standing about ten yards from Naruto, holding up a her right index finger, "I've been one of the Sannin since before you were even born. I don't have to take this seriously. One finger should do."

"I wouldn't be so quick to judge, Tsunade-hime," Jiraiya warned her as Naruto seethed. "He shows even more promise than Minato-kun."

"If you won't take me seriously," Naruto said coldly as he yanked his sword from its sheath. "Then I'll just have to force you!"

He rushed her, swinging his sword in a downward arc. She ducked inside his guard, poking his sword arm with enough force to jerk it backwards, then reached into his kunai holster and grabbed one with a single finger. She spun it into a reverse-grip, slashing upwards with enough force to dislodge his hitai-ate.

Naruto tried to steady himself, moving his feet until he was sure he wouldn't fall, then he turned his gaze back to his opponent, shocked to see a finger poised to hit his forehead. With more strength than he believed she could have possessed, she flicked him with her index finger, sending him flying several yards back and to the ground.

"Why are you so obsessed with the Hokage title?" Tsunade asked, her hands on hips.

"Because it's my dream to be Hokage!" Naruto shouted at her.

Tsunade looked down distractedly, biting her lip as if she were faced with some unthinkable decision.

"Che!" Naruto scoffed as he stood, rubbing his forehead. "I guess Bankai would be too big for such an enclosed street like this."

He stabbed his sword into the ground, flashing through hand seals as he called out the name of his technique, "Kinjutsu: Ninpô: Ryûjin no Torai!"

"Advent of the Dragon God?" Tsunade whispered bewilderedly. "What kind of technique is—?"

His flesh rippled as the muscles beneath them condensed and strengthened, his pupils thinning and lengthening into slits instead of the normal round circles. There was a sickening squelch as a black-feathered wing tore itself free from his back and his shirt, folding up against his side.

In a blur of motion, Naruto and his sword vanished, reappearing behind Tsunade and swinging downwards. The blond woman turned around, stopping the gleaming silver blade with her index and middle fingers. She glared at him as he smirked at her, his animalistic eyes shining in the moonlight that roved over his face. And, she noticed, he was hovering in midair, his feet level with her knees

"We could have sworn you said something about 'only one finger'," Naruto said, his voice deeper and cooler, a certain smoothness to it that hadn't been there before. "It's impressive that you're not bleeding, but what ever happened to beating us with a single finger, Tsunade-hime?"

"Watch your mouth, brat," Tsunade growled, glaring at him.

"Oh dear, we're sorry. We've been such a bad boy," the blond said, rearing his free hand back. Chakra gathered, swirling in his palm dangerously. "We haven't quite gotten this thing down, but we daresay it should be good enough."

The hand jerked forward, an unstable ball of white chakra hovering above it as Naruto cried out, "Rasengan!"

Tsunade leapt backwards, watching as the orb flew through the spot she had just vacated and collided with the solid ground, carving a deep gouge in the earth. She could only look on in amazement as he stood back up and grinned at her, the bruise on his forehead from her earlier attack already healed.

"Jiraiya!" she suddenly rounded on her old teammate, glaring at him. "Was it you who taught him those techniques? Rasengan and this…Ryûjin no Torai?"

"The Rasengan I can lay claim to," Jiraiya said calmly. "After all, if only in principle, I am his teacher. The other thing, though…it looks remarkable like my 'Sage Mode', but I would never teach him such a thing." He neglected to mention that he had shown it to the kid, though.

"Teaching him something he can't learn and pretending to be his teacher, you're a fool," she replied, venom in her voice. "It's better if he doesn't think that way, so that he won't joke about idiotic dreams like 'becoming Hokage'."

"It's not a joke, hag!" Naruto yelled at her, face twisted in rage as his wing twitched angrily. "Give us three days and we'll have that technique figured out!"

Tsunade's eyebrow twitched, "Is that a bet?"

Naruto smirked, "What are the stakes?"

"I'll give you one week," she also smirked. "If you can master the Rasengan in that time, I'll acknowledge your skill and give this necklace."

She thumbed the pendant around her neck, "But if you lose, all your money is mine. Deal?"

"Deal."

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

Naruto stared at his handiwork as his clones disappeared and their knowledge became his, proud that he had managed to get so far into the completion of his Rasengan. It had taken the better part of the week, but all of his hard work and determination had paid off. He grinned at the demolished tree, upon which was a hole that put to shame the one Jiraiya had made in demonstration.

The landscape had changed drastically since he had started his training. In the beginning, it had been a small river surrounded by an ocean of stones and a few lush trees. While it hadn't been the prettiest site in the world, it certainly held some measure of aesthetic quality to it. It had been a healthy environment.

Now, however, that landscape had changed drastically from what it had been into what it was. Several of the rocks had been demolished and destroyed, leaving behind nothing but faint blankets of dust and pebble. The trees, once lust and baring lively green foliage, had been torn to shreds by the shear power of the Rasengan.

Naruto looked up at the last remaining tree, standing tall and proud amongst its fallen brethren and the rocks that had lost any sense of shape or form. He grinned, gathering chakra into the bare palm of his right hand. An orb came to life, rotating at high speeds a few centimeters above his palm.

With a war cry, Naruto charged the tree, right hand held back as he rushed forward. He thrust his hand forth, at the tree, and called out the name of his technique, the name of the Yondaime's technique, "Rasengan!"

The orb of chakra buried itself into the trunk of the tree, digging into the bark and carving a hole the size of a volleyball into the thick, sturdy wood. There was a whining sound, like that of chainsaw cutting into a tree, and several grooves carved themselves into the thick bark and wood around the hole.

Naruto jumped back as the tree began to fall over, grinning at his success with the supposed A-rank jutsu Jiraiya had taught to him. Tomorrow, when he went to show Tsunade how far he had made it, she would be surprised to see that he had mastered the jutsu that she had said he couldn't.

His grin widened. She should know better than to bet against him.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

Tsunade stood against Kabuto, Orochimaru's assistant, and Orochimaru himself. The fight had only begun a little while ago, but a tie seemed imminent. Orochimaru, without use of his arms, was almost useless, but with Kabuto helping him, they made a powerful team.

Shizune, a drugged and sluggish Jiraiya, and Naruto all arrived on the scene, skidding to a halt a score of yards away from the battle. Naruto narrowed his eyes as he caught sight of the silver-haired boy standing next to the snake Sennin. Tsunade was frozen, covered in blood not her own.

"Kabuto," Naruto growled. "So, you've been working for the Snake-perv all this time?"

"My, my, Naruto-kun," Kabuto drawled, fixing his glasses, "so you finally noticed. You're so thick, Naruto-kun. That's why you can't compare to Sasuke-kun."

Naruto glared, his eyes turning into chips of ice.

"Even if you make such a scary face at me, you're nothing more than an out of place Genin," Kabuto told him. "For a Genin, you have some skill, but with the Sannin in front of me, you're worthless."

"Tch," Naruto scowled as he unsheathed his sword, holding it out in front of himself. His lips curled around the word as he said it in a thick, strong voice. "Bankai!"

The wings, tail, claws, and gauntlet all formed instantly, followed quickly by four flowers, each with as many petals. The guard on the sword doubled, taking on four more points to the already four-pointed star. Blue eyes narrowed as the sky above darkened, a light sprinkling of snow beginning to fall.

"Orochimaru was lucky before," he said, glaring at Kabuto, who seemed unaffected. "If he had been alone in that box, I would easily have cleaved his head from his shoulders. As it is, that gray-haired freak of his got in a lucky shot. I'll make sure it doesn't happen again."

"Big talk from a Genin," Kabuto said calmly. "What makes you think you can actually take on Orochimaru-sama? He has several years of experience on you and everyone in the entirety of the elemental nations recognizes him as one of the strongest ninja ever. He'll crush you…effortlessly."

Snarling, Naruto sent a hail of ice spikes towards his enemy in response, watching as Kabuto easily dodged it, leaping backwards. When he landed, however, he quickly discovered that Naruto had completely vanished, as if he had never been standing there in the first place.

The blond reappeared out of nowhere, stabbing forward from behind the gray-haired ninja and skewering Kabuto through his chest and out the other side. Ice leapt from the point of contact, consuming the body of the silver-haired teen. In under a second, Kabuto was standing upright inside a frozen coffin, undoubtedly dead on his feet.

Naruto scowled as the boy inside the ice transformed into a wooden log, turning around to face the real Kabuto as he slowly rose from the ground next to Orochimaru. There was a smirk on the teen's lips, his dark eyes gleaming as he slowly adjusted his glasses with a single finger. Sunlight reflected off of his Sound Village hitai-ate.

Naruto expression suddenly turned dark and angry, "Orochimaru. For what you've done…I'll kill you."

In a blur of Shunpô, Naruto was instantly high in the air, swinging his sword down, "Hyôrinmaru!"

A winding blue water dragon with glowing red eyes wound its way around Naruto, then roared as it rushed towards its targets.

"Without the command phrase?" Kabuto asked incredulously, eyes wide. "But he's supposed to need the command phrase to activate that power!"

Kabuto and Orochimaru leapt back away as the dragon collided with the ground, dispersing but leaving behind a large spike of ice. Kabuto gathered some of his blood on his finger as the bandages on Orochimaru's left arm unraveled themselves. Simultaneously, Naruto landed and both he and Jiraiya bit their thumbs before making their own seals, even as the icy appendages on Naruto's back and arms and legs dissipated into nothingness.

"Kuchiyose no Jutsu!" four voices cried out simultaneously.

In a humongous plume of smoke, four tall entities appeared on the field. Manda, the purple boss of the Snake summoning style; Katsuya, the pale boss for the Slug summoning style; Gamabunta, the orange boss of the Toads and their summoning style; and Hyôrinmaru, the giant blue dragon of the sword in Naruto's hands.

"Katsuya and Tsunade, and Orochimaru and Manda, it's been a while," Gamabunta said calmly, puffing on his pipe. "But I don't recognize that strange-looking upstart Naruto-kun is standing on. Looks like a dragon."

Hyôrinmaru looked up at Naruto, "When you wrote that contract for me, I didn't actually expect you to use it."

"Neither did I," Naruto admitted, gaze locked onto Orochimaru. "I didn't think I'd ever face another person capable of Summoning, let alone someone who could call on a Boss."

The dragon's claws dug into the dirt, carving deep gouges into the earth, "Somehow, this just became an entirely different battle."

"You!" Manda just seemed to notice Gamabunta. "Maybe I should turn you into toad jerky!"

"Heh!" Gamabunta reached for his sword. "I've always wanted a snake-skin wallet!"

"This is quite the reunion," Katsuya mumbled.

Manda didn't respond, instead looking up at the man standing on his head, "You owe me a hundred sacrifices for this, Orochimaru!"

"You'll get your sacrifices," Orochimaru hissed back, "just as soon as you — !"

"Now!" Naruto called.

Hyôrinmaru dove forward, clamping its jaws onto Manda's neck as Naruto disappeared in a blur. Manda turned its head angrily, hissing as he glared at the dragon whose teeth were trying rip out his throat, "You insolent whelp! Let go of me!"

Naruto reappeared atop Manda's head, the beast's eyes moving to stare at him, "What?"

"Now," Naruto reared his hand back, an orb of glowing chakra spinning above it. He shoved it into Kabuto's stomach, delighting in the look on the traitor's face, "Rasengan!"

Kabuto pitched backward, falling off of Manda and to the unforgiving earth below. His fate was sealed. Should he collide with the ground falling at terminal velocity and without any form of cushion to lessen his descent, he would die. And the only one even slightly willing to save him…was Orochimaru.

"Damn you, you brat!" the Snake Sennin cried angrily, leaping off of the boss summon.

"Hyôrinmaru!" Naruto called over his shoulder, his gaze flickering to the massive blue dragon still biting Manda.

"Right," Hyôrinmaru answered, clenching his powerful jaws as hard as he could and digging his claws into the ground for leverage. With an audible snap, Manda's spine broke and the summon boss disappeared in a plume of smoke, hissing curses at the dragon that had done him in.

Orochimaru wrapped his long tongue around Kabuto's body, channeling chakra to his legs as he held his faithful servant aloft. He hit the ground with a loud thud, a sharp tingling pain shooting up his legs, despite the chakra cushion he had used to guard against such a thing. He glared up at the blonde, who was once more standing atop his blue-dragon summon.

Growling angrily at his humiliating defeat, at the hands of a Genin, no less, he and Kabuto sank into the ground. He would have his revenge, someday.

He swore on it.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

"Damn that brat," Kisame growled angrily, making an aggressive poke at the fire before him with a long stick. The coals churned at his ministrations, spewing sparks and flames as the blaze rose several feet, then dropped back down to its previous level.

"Ug!" Kisame stabbed the fire a second time, watching the flames rise up as if in anger, then fall back down as if they had been doused. It wouldn't bring his sword back, but it sure as hell made him feel a bit better about losing it. "I'm gonna kill that brat!"

Itachi ignored him, his Sharingan eyes pouring over the text held in his hands. To any outward observer, he was casually reading the scroll that he was holding, taking in its information without really absorbing it. Anyone who knew him well enough, however, would notice that he was biting his bottom lip, lost in thought.

Something disturbing is on the horizon, Naruto-kun, and we need Itachi-kun in Konoha more than anything. Do what you can to ensure that he is brought back home.

Itachi reread the scroll, his eyes burning the words into memory like a cattle brand. He glanced over at his partner, Hoshigaki Kisame, the largest obstacle he would face in his return. If he wished to do as the Sandaime desired, then he would have to abandon his post as spy and make contact with Naruto again.

"Hey, Itachi!" Itachi looked over at the shark-man, who was chewing on some fish he had managed to catch earlier. Kisame held up another fish, offering it to him. "Want some?"

Itachi turned his head away and Kisame took that as a no, shoveling the fish down like a starving man. In under ten seconds, the entire thing was picked clean to the bone and the blue-skinned swordsman was smacking his lips with satisfaction. It disgusted him.

Itachi turned again, looking at his partner with an unreadable expression on his face, "Kisame…"

Kisame looked up at him, then froze, too shocked to do anything but watch as the cold steel of Itachi's kunai dove for his head, aimed for right between his eyes. There was a stabbing feeling, the feeling of the metal piercing his flesh, and then all went black.

Itachi stood straight, wiping his kunai clean of blood and placing it back in its holster. He turned back to the fire and stretched his senses out, but couldn't find any trace of the mysterious Zetsu. That meant that he had several days, or even longer, before the Akatsuki became aware of his betrayal. As he glanced back at the blue-skinned man, Itachi couldn't help but feel a slight bit of satisfaction.

Hoshigaki Kisame…was dead.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

To be continued

Weren't expecting that ending, were you?

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or Bleach

The fight between Kakashi, Kurenai, Asuma and Kisame, Itachi was taken almost directly from canon. It might seem pointless to do something like that, but there was something I needed to do. I needed to go a bit farther into Itachi and his personality as well as his motivation.

No, Naruto isn't super-powered. If you paid attention, you would notice that the only reason he fought so well against Itachi and Kisame was because he had the element of surprise.

Saevam iram, iram et dolorem… (Raging anger, anger and misery)

James Daniel Godric Alan Fawkes

James Daniel Godric Alan Fawkes(Signature best viewed in Wendy Medium font style)