Author's Corner: Ok, I've been really inactive lately. Partially, it's been because I wasn't sure if I wanted to wait until the actual manga was done so that I could have a complete story to work with and partially because I've been doing other things, such as writing my own original novel, and working on some book reviews for popular stuff.
And, honestly, I wasn't sure how I was going to do this. So I'm going to plow on ahead.
Oh, I should mention something. I've gotten a lot of questions about Hiashi's death scene (yes, it was a death scene to those who were confused). One of them being if I was ever going to talk about the Shinigami coughing up the Yondaime. The answer is probably not. I might mention it in passing, but I am not going to discuss my ninja afterlife all that much. I kind of feel that afterlives should be mostly mysterious things, other than the fact that I have one. So, there might be some mentions in an omake or something, but I don't think that I'm going to really discuss what's going on. Just that everyone's a very busy ninja. Even when they're dead.
Because honestly, I think they'd be happier with something to do with themselves.
Thoughts on the manga: I knew it.
So, let's begin.
"The phoenix must burn to emerge."
― Janet Fitch
It probably wasn't the best idea in the world to take a break at a tea shop, but Hinata needed it. Granted, she was doing better since the last night, but she was still quiet and kept her head down. They all agreed that maybe some tea would pick her up a little.
They were all quiet as they sat in the booth. Sakura and Hinata drank their tea in silence, while Naruto munched on some dango and Sasuke glowered down at his undrunk tea that was getting cold with enough passion that Naruto was surprised that the thing didn't reheat itself.
"Alright, guys," Naruto said, setting down his stick, "I know no one wants to talk about it right now, but a lot happened yesterday. We have to go over it."
Hinata nodded once, but she didn't say anything.
Neji gave her a worried look, but cleared his throat.
"There isn't much for me to report. The only thing that ended up happening was that Rock Lee, Gai's student joined up with us as well as Hanabi. There was apparently some kind of rebellion in the Hyuuga clan, which is why they weren't present."
"I ended up taking one of Oto's more powerful nin hostage," Kimimaro said, "She's with Tsunade. The others aren't a problem anymore."
So, they were all dead.
"Haku and I got into a fight with some Oto nin. The ones from the preliminaries. We captured them all," Sakura said, "Oh, and Kabuto was a spy."
"Why am I not surprised?" Neji asked, rolling his eyes.
"Because he was obvious," Sasuke muttered. "My older brother appeared during the fight with Yumi. He was wearing the Akatsuki uniform."
The table was silent.
Naruto had managed to forget about little detail. Still, he'd helped them, right? Maybe they wouldn't have Akatsuki on their tails right now. He didn't think that they were really in the mentality to take that as well as a loss and the death of Hiashi.
Sasuke took a deep breath before continuing.
"That means that he has to have had a partner with him. I didn't see them though. Maybe they split up somewhere. I never got the chance to talk to Itachi after I saw him the first time. At any rate, if there's anyone going after us, it's going to be them."
Actually, it didn't seem that anyone was after them by this point. Maybe Konoha was in such a state that it couldn't afford to send anyone to chase them down. It was too busy bracing for a possible attack from one of the other counties, which all had a vendetta by this time. Naruto really hoped so. He was so much in thought that he didn't really notice as someone walked into the shop and sat down in the booth behind them.
"Ok, so I beat up Sora a little and ran into Kiba. That's about it. What was up with the rest of things? Sasuke, you were with Shizune."
"There were some wounded people," Sakura said before Sasuke could answer, "Everyone had been in place at the time, so it helped, but we weren't really expecting what happened. And, of course, there were the sheer numbers..." Sakura sighed.
So, really, they didn't know what had happened.
"As a rule, no matter how safe you believe that you are, it is a poor idea to discuss matters like these in a public place," a calm voice said behind them.
All of them had stood up and braced themselves, Kimimaro already had a bone in his hands, then the man who had been sitting behind them slowly stood up and faced them.
He wasn't very tall, and his long black hair was tied into a long hanging pony tail. He had an almost pretty face, but two lines in the skin kept it from looking feminine. Actually, he did kind of look like someone...
The man calmly reached out, and poked Sasuke in the forehead with two fingers.
"Hello, Sasuke," he said.
"Aniki," Sasuke said.
The immediate aftermath of the three way battle was mostly concerned with figuring out who was dead, and who had defected. The problem was that a large portion of the Jounin, along with a healthy chunk of the old ANBU was gone and so things were slow going with the sudden drop in numbers. ROOT was more interested in dealing with its own wounded than anything else. They had never been all that interested in the city itself.
The civilians were, for the most part, left to try to find one another and bring their wounded to the hospital. There was some grumbling, but, at the moment, everyone was too shell-shocked for it to be anything that was close to an actual outcry.
Ibiki was, in addition to dealing with a ROOT shadow, working see who was still there, which was mostly going to the various districts to see about the clans, find who was still there, who had left, and which districts were now mostly abandoned.
The Uchiha were being very quiet. The news that one of their attackers was Uchiha Sasuke, son of the late Uchiha Fugaku had spread like wild fire, and the clan, which had a reputation for extreme loyalty to Konoha, wasn't used to people looking at them with suspicion. What was worse was that apparently Uchiha Itachi had been sighted and Uchiha Yumi had vanished and, from a testimony from Inuzuka Kiba, she was responsible for the death of Inuzuka Hana. The clan was close to the slight suspicion that
It had been viewed by all those years ago.
What had she thought she was going to accomplish?
Well, that wasn't his business. He had interrogations to do on those prisoners who were unlucky enough to be captured. There weren't many of those, and three of them were just civilians who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It was impossible to contact Kinen, or even any Jiraiya's spies that were still in the city. His movements were being carefully watched by his new assistant, Neko. She was a good assistant, if all you counted was sheer efficiency, but it was clear from the way that she watched his every move that he was under some suspicion though not enough for the fact that he was useful to be forgotten.
He missed Anko already for some reason. It was too bad that she couldn't control herself and ran off with that teacher.
Well, with Suna starting to make peace negotiations with Konoha and Iwa showing signs of getting some of its strength back, things were looking a more like a stalemate than anything else. Possibly more because of the news that Konoha's attack had been completely unwarranted than anything else. Kumo was backing off, possibly to aid its ally, and right now, everyone was on edge.
With a sigh, Ibiki looked over at Mizuki. The man was breathing hard, his white hair falling in his face and his hands trembling. He'd been a poor informant for Danzou, and now Danzou, in the name of security of course, was taking out some of his anger on a man who'd failed to discover the betrayal that he'd been sent to sniff out.
"If I'd caught anything..." he gasped out.
"But you didn't, did you?" Ibiki said softly, "And so, you might just be a spy yourself. After all, we can't be too careful…"
He smiled, and honestly, he enjoyed the fear a little more than he should have.
"I'll kill him," he mumbled.
"What was that?" Ibiki asked softly.
"I'll kill Iruka," Mizuki said, a little louder this time, but with an edge in his voice that made it clear that he meant every word he said.
"And what does that matter to me?" Ibiki asked. "Or to Konoha? One dead traitor means nothing."
Mizuki snarled, and Ibiki raised an eyebrow.
Some part of him was worried that Danzou might just take him up on his word.
Hana's funeral was a quiet one, and Kiba was sure that she would have hated it. She was loud, bright, and cheerful. She would have thought that them all standing in front of the white box with her picture on the front was stupid.
Kiba could almost hear her ghost saying "Oh, come on! At least talk about how I used to bite the puppies back or complain about how I would sing loudly in the shower or something!"
That didn't make Kiba feel any better, and the weight in his chest was even heavier.
I'll miss Hana, Akamaru said, looking at the picture.
"Yeah...she was...the best..." Kiba muttered.
His mother stiffened and looked away. No one could really stand to be touched at that moment, and for a family that was always hugging or hitting or something to be all standing with a good distance between one another was a strange thing. Slowly, as the service ended, people began to drift away until it was just him and his mother standing there.
It was so wrong...she shouldn't be dead. She hadn't been killed in battle or doing anything...she'd been murdered by someone she thought was her friend.
After everything that had happened in the rebellion, he didn't really see that Kiba would ever be able to straighten things out. First there was Naruto. Naruto the traitor. Naruto who hadn't killed him when he had the chance. Then there was Yumi...
Had they been working together?
That thought made him clench his fists and his head spin. She did follow them...follow him...
But something didn't make sense.
Akamaru had told him that Naruto had warn him to beware of Yumi. That she shouldn't have a fully developed Sharingan. If they were allies, Naruto wouldn't have done that.
Also, why hadn't Naruto killed him? If he was an enemy to Konoha, there would have been no reason for his not killing Kiba. After all, friendship hadn't kept him from attacking his home. There was no reason. Yumi and Hana had been friends, it was clear, but Yumi had killed Hana.
While he had listened. Completely unable to do anything.
Yumi had mentioned Uchiha Itachi. There had been some reports of someone matching his description, and maybe she'd gone after him. Kiba didn't know much about it, but he was sure that Naruto did. After all, Uchiha Sasuke was with them, and everyone had said that the only person that Itachi had ever had any human feelings towards had been his younger brother.
Kiba looked at the picture of his sister, smiling like she never would again, and clenched his fist.
He had a lot of work to do if he wanted to catch up to Naruto.
Itachi wasn't the most talkative person in the world. Even when they were grilling him with questions, he didn't seem all that interested in explaining too much. Rather, he was drinking his tea, completely at peace with the world, and completely ignoring everyone around him.
He wasn't wearing Akatsuki's uniform anymore, rather he was wearing a black shirt and pants that just seemed kind of boring. Naruto supposed that it was a good idea for blending in, but still...
At least he could seem like he was on the run or something.
"What are you doing here?" Kimimaro asked, his voice level.
Itachi drank his tea.
Naruto decided that if Itachi wasn't interested in talking than he wasn't interested in waiting for him to do something and buried his face in the ramen that he ordered.
"You've avoided being followed," Itachi said at last, putting down his tea cup, "But you'd still left a trail. If it hadn't be for my covering it up, a bounty hunter or hunter nin would have found you eventually and those whom you had gone to. You have all been archived in the Bingo Book."
"What's our rank?" Haku, of all people, asked, looking curious.
"A to B," Itachi said, taking another drink.
Naruto felt a rush of pride that he tried not to show for Hinata's sake, but even she was looking up for the first time since the conversation had started, but she still looked sick at the idea that they could have been followed.
"We...were a little distracted," Sakura said, looking at her friend, "...we should have known better."
Itachi nodded, "You cannot allow that to happen again. No matter who died in the process."
His voice had a kind of dull sound, as if he was reciting a lesson. It sounded kind of like Danzou's philosophy. A ninja was a tool, as such there was no emotion that was allowed to be seen or felt.
"What about..." Sasuke started, but stopped when Itachi glanced over at him.
But Itachi smiled slightly.
"I'll explain soon, Sasuke, but this isn't the place for it."
It looked like the only person that could get any kind of anything out of Itachi was going to be Sasuke. Naruto looked around the other booths. There weren't many other people there, but he supposed that there could be a spy or something. While waiting wasn't something that he liked to do, and Sai was tapping his foot and looking irritated. Itachi didn't seem like he was going talk until he was good and ready to.
Very suddenly, Itachi set down some money and nodded to them. They all looked at one another, shrugged and followed him out.
In a few minutes they were jumping from tree to tree, speeding away from the shop.
"So, Sasuke's Brother, why are you here?" Sai asked, he was smiling again, and Naruto was glad that he hadn't decided to be creative with his nickname.
"...I abandoned Akatsuki and intend to seek asylum with the Sannin."
It was incredibly odd to be talking to Orochimaru again after all this time.
Particularly when he was sitting quietly, listening to the explanation of what he had been doing for the last decade with a very calm expression on his face rather than trying to kill them or preform some kind of insane experiment on them.
At the end of the whole, Tsunade was glad she would never had to do it again.
"So...er...how do you feel?" Jiraiya asked nervously.
Orochimaru glared at him.
"How do you think I feel?" he hissed, but then he straightened, "I could have done worse. It's probably a good thing that Uchiha Itachi managed to give me a case of specific amnesia involving that jutsu that would have allowed me to change bodies. I suppose my mind was fragile enough that it wasn't too much trouble.
"From what you've said, that country that I took has already has a successful revolution. It will likely heal from the damage I caused in time, though with a great deal of trouble, as long as they are not harassed by their neighbors. However, the fact remains that there's nowhere for us to go."
Jiraiya grinned at him.
"That's not quite true," he said, "Remember Whirlpool?"
"It's habitable now?" he asked. He didn't sound all that convinced.
Well, it was true that from the wars with surrounding countries and the flooding caused by one of the Bijuu, there hadn't been much left of the country, other than maybe a few old ruins that probably weren't able to hold anyone, but after almost ten years, people had all but forgotten that a city had existed there. There shouldn't be too much of the original problem remaining. The other countries were now trying to kill one another, and the Bijuu had moved on. Tsunade did wonder how it was going to affect Naruto to be brought to the home of his mother, and how it was going to affect the Kyuubi to be taken to the place where it had originally been contained.
Before it had escaped.
No one was aware just how that had happened.
"By the way, Tsunade-hime, what became of Anko?" Orochimaru asked.
Tsunade refrained from cringing. No one knew about Orochimaru's…status yet. They assumed that they were keeping him prisoner or something. Not that they were helping him recover. And did she really think that they'd just welcome him back with open arms just because he'd been somewhat brainwashed at the time? Particularly Anko. She hated the man; for good reason.
She'd have to mentally prepare him (as much as she could at least) for that meeting.
It was some time after the others had gone to bed that Sasuke approached his brother. They had mostly been quiet, but Sasuke noticed that they'd all gone off pretty early, including the unsleeping Gaara and Sai, who tended to keep odd hours when he had the chance.
So they wanted to give the two of them some space.
Sasuke wasn't sure if he was grateful or just annoyed. Particularly since they were probably listening anyways.
They hadn't managed to find a cave this time, so Gaara had managed to make a sand dome, the way that he had when they were much younger. The problem was that they needed to be close to a village for them to have a fire. Since if Gaara made pores for the smoke, they had to be able to look like they came from somewhere else.
After all, even if they weren't being followed at the moment, they didn't want to be memorable.
This particularly one had separate rooms. Since for one thing, the days when everyone, boy and girl, slept in a heap together were pretty much over, and it gave them the freedom to stay or to find the softest piece of floor that they could and go to bed.
Itachi was sitting by himself in the larger room with the fire, apparently thinking about something.
"Your friends seemed more than happy to allow you to speak to me," he said as Sasuke came closer.
"They're probably listening in anyways. For my protection of course. They're not remotely nosy," Sasuke said, glaring back at the one of the rooms. He could have sworn he saw something move.
"It's not wrong for them not to trust me. I'd be surprised you'd lived so long if you had," Itachi said.
There was a teapot on the fire, Sasuke realized. That seemed to be all that Itachi was willing to do right now. Itachi took a small cup from his pouch and poured a fine powder into it before he poured himself some tea.
"That smells foul," Sasuke said at least.
"It does not taste that much better," he said, taking a drink, "However, it's necessary."
"For what?" Sasuke asked.
"Patience. First, you were under the care of the Sannin, am I right? For how long?" Itachi asked, looking up from his tea.
Sasuke shrugged. "Since the spring after we got out. Tsunade-sama ran into Naruto and captured him, we tried to save him or something, and she decided to keep us. After we told her our story."
Itachi didn't say anything. He just watched, and Sasuke took that as an invitation to continue.
"...Danzou killed the Sandaime," Sasuke said, "We watched it. That was why we ran off."
"...Did you know that the ANBU had been given a tip to watch an area that was far from that playground?" Itachi asked. Sasuke didn't understand, but Itachi continued. "I found it odd, but I did not question them and preformed my duties to check anything leaving the city. Later, I checked the paper giving us the order, and I found that there were several small but important differences between it and the Sandaime's writing. But that was not the first event that made me consider foul play. Sasuke, what do you know about Uchiha Madara?"
Sasuke blinked at the same, vaguely remembering a scroll that he'd read a very long time ago.
"He...he was the founder of the Uchiha clan in a way. He allied with the Senju clan, and helped to found Konoha. Then he disappeared. Legends say that he fought with the first Hokage, and swore that he'd have revenge."
"Yes, that's the legend. When I was around your age, I did not believe it. Not until the night that you disappeared. Then, when I was returning home, foolishly thinking that I'd done you a service by sending you out into the world to most likely die, I met a man who wore a strange mask and addressed me by name. He called himself Uchiha Madara."
Sasuke looked up in surprise. How was that possible? Uchiha Madara was dead.
"That was something of my original reaction," Itachi said, smiling faintly, "He told me that he had been watching me, and he knew that I was powerful, and if I wanted to change the clan, then I should ally with him. I was skeptical, and he told me that he would speak to me again, giving me a time a place, but telling me that if I wanted to join, I would have to prove my loyalty to him."
"So...that's why you killed them," Sasuke breathed he was starting to feel sick again. While he could understand revenge, just killing someone to prove a point made his stomach clench.
Itachi shook his head, "No, not quite. I had no intention of speaking to that man again. However, it seemed that fate was not on my side. Shisui...confronted me, and in the conflict, he died. Then, when the Military Police appeared, I had no choice but to leave, and to meet Uchiha Madara. He believed that I had proved my loyalty to him."
"But, why did you join?" Sasuke asked, his voice sounding whiny, even to him.
"Because of you," Itachi said, taking another drink, "Akatsuki has a powerful information network, and I hoped that I could learn something of you. Even your death. Also, because I hoped that I might be able to undermine their attempts to cause conflict, which I did several times."
Sasuke smirked slightly, "And they never caught you?"
"No," and Sasuke thought he heard a faint note of pride in his brother's voice, "though there were several near misses. Since I had both of the family curses I had learned to watch my back very carefully. If it hadn't been for that, I would have died."
"Both...but I thought..." Sasuke started.
"They never told you did they? I suppose that Jiraiya-sama and Tsunade-sama never knew. The Uchiha family has two curses that defile it. The first is the Mangekyo Sharingan, which you acquire from murdering your best friend. The second is a secret that the family has preserved for many years, terrified that people would learn."
"What is it?"
Kisame and Itachi hadn't reported back for a while, and Deidera was starting to get smug about something. Maybe the idiot had fallen under the impression that they'd died, and now he could trash talk the Uchiha without any fear of repercussion. Not that Itachi ever did much other than stare at him and win through sheer intimidation.
Sasori found the whole rivalry between the two of them rather tiresome.
It wasn't even for some mature reason like art, it was just the fact that the Uchiha had managed to beat him by using his illusions, and Deidera was mad about it. He did have to admit that mentioning that he never had problems with Itachi's illusions and watching Deidera turning red had been amusing though.
"So, how long are we going to wait here?" Deidera asked, leaning against a tree and making a small bird of clay fly around. It was almost peaceful. Until he made the thing blow up.
"You seriously want to have some hunter nin come looking for us, don't you?" Sasori asked, ignoring the smug look on the younger man's face.
He was incredibly immature.
What was so interesting about things blowing up? Something was only valuable if it lasted.
Akatsuki very rarely actually met in person. They usually traveled around, finding information, gaining power. That wasn't to say that they didn't have somewhere to go to. The leader had his own personal little village that worshiped him as a god, and allowed them to come and go as they pleased, but the idea hadn't ever had great appeal to Sasori. He liked power, but he liked it spread out over a long distance. There wasn't a major village in the world that didn't have at least two spies it.
As such, while Deidera was gloating to himself, Sasori was well aware of what had happened.
"They are lying low for the time being," he finally said, that smirk was too much to bare after a while. "I highly doubt a little revolution is going to bother either all that much."
"You really know how to ruin the mood," he muttered.
They were relaxing in a cave that also worked as one of Akatsuki's many places to rest while on a job. Or rather, Deidera was relaxing, and Sasori was sitting in his shell, waiting for the rain that had started up to pass. If there was a single problem with the…modifications that he had done with himself, it was the fact that it was impossible for him to sleep.
There was a sudden motion in the distance, and even Deidera looked up to see Kisame coming, looking irritable, along with the complete idiot known as Tobi, and a cloaked figure that he assumed was Itachi.
"Took you long enough," Sasori said.
"I ran into a slight problem," Kisame said. "An old friend of mine was looking for blood."
"I'd say he found it. The three way battle is well known now. Danzou's busy playing politics and trying to avoid a war with Kumo, so he's busy enough that we can continue our activities in the background. Leader wants Itachi to report to him as soon as possible."
"Er…Toby thinks that that's going to be a problem…" Toby said, speaking up in that annoying voice that he had. "Itachi-san is gone. Kisame-san doesn't know where he is, but we found a new friend!"
A new friend. Sasori automatically looked over at the figure, who removed the hood.
It was an Uchiha, but this was a woman. Her long black hair feel loosely to her waist (which Sasori had always considered a wonderful way to get grabbed) and her face, pretty enough he supposed, was without expression.
Deidera narrowed his eyes, likely mentally comparing the woman with Itachi and finding a few immediate similarities.
"Sasori, Deidera, this is Uchiha Yumi. Zetsu has informed me that she is to join Akatsuki."
"We've got a long way to go," Naruto sighed as they got up the next day.
He ignored the fact that Sasuke was looking more tired than usual. He'd probably been talking to his brother, though that cold look on his face that usually meant he was unhappy about something was there. He'd have to corner him at some point later on and get him to tell just what had happened.
Of course, this was forgotten the moment that he say Itachi emerging from the area sectioned off for the girls.
Everyone stared at him. Itachi blinked at the group of guys and walked out, completely calm.
"He's...alive," Sai whispered.
"We have witnessed a true god among ninja," Naruto said. "Even Ero-sannin would never dare to set foot in that sacred ground."
"...But isn't it kind of disgusting that he just went into the room for a pair of twelve year olds?" Haku asked, biting his lip.
The boys stared at him, and Neji cracked his knuckles.
"Let's see if we can poison some of the Ninja Puffs. They're inedible anyways. No one would notice," Kimimaro said calmly.
Sasuke raised an eyebrow.
"You guys do realize that he probably had a really good reason for being in there right?" he asked.
"Like what?" Gaara asked, there was a dangerous edge to his eyes.
"That was so weird," Sakura said as she walked out of the room, shaking her head. She stopped when she noticed the boys but then shrugged at them. "Did you know that Itachi just came in here and asked for nail polish remover?"
"What," Neji said.
"I guess Akatsuki was really big on its members wearing purple nail polish for some reason," Sakura said. "Like I said, it's really strange. Anyways, we're all set. Hinata's starting to feel better, but..."
Naruto nodded. They were going to have to avoid people to the best of their abilities and get their fast.
"Whirlpool shouldn't be too far," he said at last, taking a deep breath, and stepping into the sun, waited for Hinata to join them so that they could begin. "Let's try to get there quickly. Also, we've probably made the Bingo Book. We're missing nin now. We're going to have to be careful."
There was a noise from the girl's room, and Hinata stepped out. She was looking better than she had the last day, but still a little subdued. She gave a small smiled to everyone.
"It's alright. I'll be fine," she said. Her smile was too large, and Neji was standing next to her, but they had to move, and everyone knew it.
"At the moment, there is no sign of any pursuers," Itachi said, appearing out of nowhere. "It is time to go."
Naruto nodded, and motioned to everyone.
"Perhaps I should make something to leave a trail?" Sai asked.
He been getting better at that kind of thing. Naruto nodded, and Sai, quickly drew what looked like a foot monster, motioning it to move in the other direction.
"Sai, you make creepy drawings," Kimimaro said.
"You are not in a position to discuss creepy," Sai said, smiling.
Slowly, it looked like everyone was starting to recover from their defeat. Naruto smiled a little at Hinata, she smiled back, but it still looked wrong. Well, not everyone.
Whirlpool was a shadow of its former self. Once, the village had been prosperous, thought it wasn't known for its military might. It had been a fishing village that had, through luck, managed to gain a standing force, and even some respect.
It had been unfortunate that the village was all but destroyed by both natural disaster and war. The Mizukage had seen the area as a wonderful place to get a foothold that would allow it to attack other small nations and thus expand, and that spring, increased rainfall had made the buildings sink into the ground, and turned the area into a temporary marsh, so the project was set off and never resumed and thousands of men, women and children were homeless.
Nowadays, the place was just left to rot. What buildings hadn't sunk were in ruins, but the disasters were over, and it was still a good location.
At least, that was what Tsunade kept telling herself.
In reality, the place looked like a wreck, and it was depressing to look at the ruins of the lives and hopes and dreams that had once been a part of the village. To her, it was like standing in a graveyard, and she found herself wanting to speak in a hushed voice.
Jiraiya, naturally, had no respect for the dead.
"This is a great location. Maybe even for a plot. Hm…a young man, on the run from the authorities for a crime that he didn't commit stumbles upon the ruins of a once prospering village. The only one left is a lovely woman, haunted by the memories of the friends that she has lost. As he stays with her they…"
"Have sex," Orochimaru said boredly. "No matter how many times you retell the story, it remains the same: 'They banged. The end.' I would have thought that you'd have gotten bored with it by this time."
"Growing old is mandatory. Growing up is optional," Jiraiya sniffed.
"So is thinking."
Well, they had just started up where they had left off. It would have been sweet if Tsunade hadn't had to listen to it all the way there when she wasn't working with the wounded and consoling those grieving for the dead.
The blonde girl, Ino, was still barely speaking after her father was confirmed dead, and while her mother was working hard with the wounded, Tsunade was afraid that the poor girl would wander off or something. Maybe it would have been better if her team was there, but the other two had their own family's to take care of and cousins to mourn.
They should have stopped the moment that the surprise attack failed. She and Jiraiya should have surrendered.
Tsunade shook her head. It didn't matter. This was what had happened, and she was going to have to work with it.
"We've already found that he main building has survived most damage, even though it is almost entirely submerged. That might be to our advantage if we're being followed," Tsunade said in a pointed voice.
"That might work, but there are going to be signs that we are present, regardless." Orochimaru said. "Smoke for instance, and signs of hunting. We'll be able to use the civilians for that job, simply buying what we need and divert the ventilation for the fires into areas that are truly without people."
"Looks like we're going to need some of those skills we learned in the Academy that were taught in case the village failed," Jiraiya said thoughtfully. "Who'd have thought."
"We'll send Hakumei to do hunting when they arrive at the moment, we have to get everyone settled in, and tend to the wounded."
Anko hadn't taken the news well.
Iruka knew that she had issues with her old mentor, though she tended to joke about it, and make it sound as if he'd killed her pet for experimentation or something. No one really thought much of it or asked questions. The only ones who knew what happened for sure, being the ANBU and the council had never mentioned it.
Ibiki likely knew as well. That man's head was full of nearly every one of Konoha's secrets.
Iruka had never asked because he thought that it was rude. The same as he never commented on Anko's choice in using mesh with skin colored cloth to make her look like she was running around naked. She'd always seemed to appreciate it. Particularly when he'd come to apologize for his…rudeness the night that Naruto and his friends had run off.
Since he'd never asked, he was surprised when she suddenly appeared at the tent that he had set up and stormed in.
"Alright, I'll talk, but only to you," she said, looking down at the ground.
"What?" Iruka said, looking around.
"When I was a kid, I was assigned to be Orochimaru's apprentice. I…er…didn't play well with others, and I was an extra kid, so no one really cared that I was being given special treatment. It was the first time that I was treated like I was important. Orochimaru was a hard teacher, but…I thought he was a good one.
"It wasn't easy for a girl to be taken seriously as a kunoichi who wanted to specialize is anything other than support back then, and the fact that he took me seriously really flattered me.
"I realized my mistake too late. He took me on what he called a training exercise, away from everyone and everything, and asked me if what I would do to help him."
She stopped looking down.
"You said anything," Iruka said softly.
"I might as well have," Anko said with a shrug. "It didn't even get the creepy pedo vibes from that question. I was such an idiot. So, I, in his sick little mind, gave my consent and then he tested on me. He had made this…thing…that was supposed to make me more powerful…if I didn't die first. Well, I obviously didn't die..."
A bitter smile came on her face.
"I fought back. I refused to die. At first…I was stupid enough to want my dear sensei to be proud of me. Then, when conscious thought was gone, it was because I wanted to live. I survived, sick, nearly dead, aching, and he walked into the room where I had been confined, congratulated me on living, and then told me that I was a failure and he wanted nothing more to do with me.
"He left me in the middle of the woods to make my way back with nothing but the clothes on my back, in the middle of Water Country."
Iruka winced. She didn't need to elaborate. Just the thought of being thirteen and having to walk through that hell hole with a Konoha headband on made him shiver. Well, she'd likely taken it off, but still. Even when it was in one of its rare moments of not being in the middle of some kind of civil war, the area had often been thick with missing nin, as well as families that had never joined a village.
"You got back in one piece though."
"More or less."
Slowly, unsure of what he should do, Iruka embraced her. At first, she stiffened, almost like she was going to recoil, but then her arms were around him, pulling him closer and her mouth was on his, and Iruka pretty much lost try of everything for a few minutes.
"…I won't trust him." Anko whispered in his ear.
"You don't have to," Iruka said softly, holding her a little closer. "It's alright."
He was going to say something about trusting him, but her mouth was on his again, and talking just didn't seem important at the moment.
It took five days, travelling hard, to reach Whirlpool, they'd taken the long way, making long detours and splitting up to leave false trails, mostly on Itachi's recommendation, and since they were dealing with someone who was accustomed to being a wanted criminal, Naruto didn't see a reason to argue with the man.
Besides, it gave Hinata time to grieve without people talking to her. There wasn't much time to say anything.
They reached the place one morning, as fall was staring to set in. The mist had blanketed the cove where the village had once been built, and for the moment, Naruto couldn't see the ruins of the main building or any other surviving structures. But he could hear the sea at that distance, and the knowledge that this was where his family came from made him a little quiet as they looked at it.
"Are the others down there yet?" Haku asked, looking over at Neji and Hinata, both had the Byakugen activated.
"Looks like half the village went off with us," Neji said, smirking.
"Alright, let's give the signal and come down for our warm welcome!" Naruto said, grinning.
With a smirk, Sasuke sent a fireball exploding into the air three times, and they make their way down.
Almost everyone in the camp was asleep as they made their way through the mists, making the camp look abandoned or something out our of one of those movies like Curse of the Nekomata that tended to always be in some run down theater or another. If it wasn't for the sound of snoring from some of the tents and the fact that Neji and Hinata could see that people were alive, Naruto would have been a little scared.
But still…shouldn't they have heard something?
"You're early!" Jiraiya's voice cut into the silence.
Naruto turned around to see him standing outside of a large tent towards the center of the camp and waving them to come in. He stopped for a moment as his eyes set on Itachi, frowned, but then seemed to come up with a solution since he moved to let them all come in, ducking under the flap. Naruto found himself relaxing completely for the first time since he'd life the hermitage. He's miss that place.
It was pretty roomy, but then it was Jiraiya's tent, and there was a small desk and supplies for writing in a corner. He must have used scrolls to store the things. Only Jiraiya would waist scrolls on carrying supplies for his stupid books. Tsunade was nowhere to be seen, which was odd, since she was usually present when the signal went off.
Jiraiya and Itachi looked at one another with the same blank expression, but then Itachi moved, taking out a katana and a few kunai and throwing them to the floor.
"I have come to ask for asylum from Akatsuki," Itachi said softly. "I will provide information in exchange."
Jiraiya looked at him, hard.
"So, you've defected?" he asked, waiting for the nod of approval. "They're going to be looking for you."
"I highly doubt that they will be knowledgeable of this place, and I doubt that they would be willing to attack as of yet. I…caused some difficulties before leaving that I believe will slow them down enough so that our trail is cold by the time that they pick it up."
"Well, you're going to have to talk things over with our lovely head medic, but its fine in my book. Though if you do betray us, you're dead."
It was kind of creepy how his face didn't even change expression when he said that, but the killing intent in the room spiked just for a moment, and Naruto was certain that he'd be more than able to follow up that threat. He turned over to the rest of them, reaching out and patting Hinata on the shoulder.
"I heard about what happened to your dad. I don't think he'd have rather gone out another way," he said softly.
Hinata smiled faintly, but the expression didn't go far.
"I just…wish…that I'd had the chance to talk to him again," she whispered.
"Burn incense. Talk to him that way," Jiraiya said. "Just tell me if he starts talking back."
Hinata giggled a little, and for the first time, her smile was more genuine.
"Thank you, Jiraiya-sensei," she said softly.
Jiraiya nodded, looking up at the others.
"Right, now. The rest of you. You have so much work to do. We're going underground. There's an entrance with a few old tunnels that some survivors of the original catastrophe here used, but they're mostly caved in by now. We're working to rework them, but we have to work fast. Konoha's busy dealing with the aftermath of our hijinks, but my sources don't know when Danzou would be able to risk a strike again. By then, I want us to be safe underground with no sign that we were ever here."
"You got it," Naruto said.
"Good," Jiraiya said, grinning. "Now, there are people who're wanting to talk to you all, so why not look around."
They'd split up, and Sakura was enjoying a little time to think about everything. They'd lost, and Yumi had really made her look useless. She had to do something. She'd said before that she was going to improve, and she knew that it was mostly because she hadn't been able to use most of her real abilities but…
Sighing, Sakura kicked a can, sending it flying. Some apprentice to Tsunade. Shizune wouldn't have gotten caught. She would have just breathed poison or something.
"Well, well, I was wondering when I'd see you again," a familiar voice said as Sakura turned around to see the old women from Konoha walking towards her. "Slug girl said you'd take your time, but I was starting to worry if I'd die before you turned up."
She was here?
"Um…good morning?" Sakura said, falling on politeness due to not having a clue what else to say.
"Hn, it is," the woman agreed. "You have some potential with your Chakra, am I right? I have a question, you think you could…I don't know...focus it on…that can you just kicked?"
Not sure what to say, Sakura looked over at where it was sitting and focused on it hard, feeling something draining from her.
For a moment, something thin and shiny appeared between her and it, but then it was gone.
The woman smiled.
"W-what was that?" Sakura breathed.
"That was…something that I might just teach you," Chiyo said thoughtfully.
It was twilight when everyone met up again. Haku had been quietly talking with Isaribi, while Zabuza was watching from what might have been considered a safe distance, but probably wasn't. Kimimaro had been mostly looking around, talking to a few people, and once stopping to annoy his prisoner. He seemed to really get a kick out of it, though Tayuya didn't seem to realize that swearing at him only made him kind of want to annoy her more. Hinata and Neji had been fairly quiet, but Hanabi had found them quickly enough. Naruto was fairly sure that they were mourning in their own way, and wasn't sure if he should interrupt.
After all, no matter how bad he felt for him, he hadn't ever had a father, at least not one that he could remember, so he wasn't sure if what he said wasn't a little harsh for her to hear.
Sasuke and Itachi also had some catching up to do, though he was under Tsunade's watchful eye, and seemed to be taking some kind of medicine that was making his nose bleed.
He was sitting on a rock, overlooking the camp when Sasuke found him, he was followed by Sakura and the others.
"How's Itachi?" Naruto asked.
"Tsunade said she's going to talk to some of the Yamanaka. Until then, he's in custody. With Orochimaru."
Naruto snorted. Even after what Jiraiya had said the whole brainwashing thing still sounded crazy.
"We're going to challenge him again," Naruto said, watching as the sun disappeared behind the mountains that cut off Whirlpool from the rest of the world.
"Of course," Kimimaro said softly.
"I've got a few things to take care of," Sasuke muttered.
"We've never done something halfway before," Sakura said. "Only I want to be prepared."
There were some nods.
"What about Akatsuki?" Haku asked.
"…I think we should worry about that when it comes," Neji said, closing his eyes. "Let's go back. Lee and Gai are going to come up here and start going insane training, and I don't want to be roped into joining them."
They laughed a little bit, but the sound wasn't as confident as before. Naruto stood up and pumped his fist in the air.
"And girls!" Sakura called.
"And girls," Naruto nodded, "we're not dead, and we're going to improve. Yeah, things didn't go the way we wanted the first time, but we didn't die, and we're going to get stronger. We've got the best part of Konoha with us, and we're going to keep running missions and we're going to do it right under Danzou's nose. He knows we're there, and he knows that we're dangerous. And you know something, the rest of the world does too! We're just blown apart Konoha's little thing about how the Old Man was killed."
"Besides, always remember…"
"He who fights and runs away lives to see the light of day," the others chanted.
"Quit trying to make that inspirational," Sasuke muttered, rolling his eyes, but he was smirking.
And the others were looking a little happier too. Naruto grinned and leaned back, as people started chatting a little bit, and something of the tension started to dissolve.
It was the truth, Naruto thought, as they walked towards the camp, watching night fall and the fires start to come up. There'd be a genjutsu to hide them pretty soon and no one was going to know that they were there.
They'd rise again, and they'd be better for it.
It wasn't perfect. It wasn't a complete victory and all their problems were solved. People had died for them, and some of them had been people that they'd known and cared about. But they were all alive, and somehow, just like always, from the time that they'd stowed away in a cart heading out of town, they would survive.
Omake: The Uniform.
Itachi wasn't sure just where the Akatsuki uniform had gone, but he had started wandering around one of the buildings trying to find it. The only clue that he had was from Jiraiya, who had gotten a strange smile on his face and told him to go look around the outskirts buildings and maybe he'd find something.
It was a problem, since the uniform might have something on it that lead Akatsuki or rather lead Zetsu to come sniffing around for his body. Certainly Kisame had reported by this time.
"Oh come on, Sasuke, you've had it for a half hour, let someone else have a turn!" The whining voice of Uzumaki Naruto reached his ears.
"It's my brother's cloak," Sasuke's voice said.
"And you're hogging it. I want to see how I'd look evil," Haruno Sakura's voice called.
"Come on, children, we can all take turns seeing what we'd look like in Akatsuki," one of the older ones, maybe Kimimaro, said.
Itachi walked into the room, staring at Sasuke, who seemed to have taken on a dramatic pose, but had frozen, staring at him with wide eyes. All the others were looking at him too, and some part of Itachi thought it was funny that Haku and Kimimaro were both blushing slightly in embarrassment of actually being interested in this kind of thing.
"...When you're done playing with it, remember to return it," Itachi said finally, turning around and walking away.
For a moment, there was some quiet from the room, but Itachi had to suppress a smile when he heard the sound.
"Er...does this mean it's my turn now?" Naruto's voice managed to carry down the hall.
Yes, I've reached the end. It's been a long time, writing this chapter, and it just didn't want to come out right, but I've got it. Once again, I want to thank everyone here, who was so excited about this, and who didn't just let me sink into the oblivion of grad school.
I'll admit that I've been really busy with school, reviewing stuff, writing my own novel and co-writing with a friend of mine, so this sort of took the back seat for a while.
Thanks for your patience.
The sequel: Hakumei Kakumei will be out once I hammer out details with the outline. Particularly given how much I'm deviating from the manga, I have to make sure that it works.
Thanks for all your support, and I shall be back.
Tainted Blood: Yep, I'm bringing that back, and I've had this planned since chapter four, so yeah. Itachi's in the medium stage at the moment, so he's going to have lower endurance than Kimimaro the entire story. It's not going to be all that different than his power in the manga, though it he does push himself too hard, he'll face some repercussions. Also, if you notice, Kimimaro and Itachi do have some similar situations when they die. Both cough up blood, both die very quickly at that point, and both diseases are considered incurable. I didn't think that it was that far of a stretch.
Kyuubi's Escape: Yes, I know the real story behind how the Kyuubi got loose, but it would cause a huge gaping plot hole in this universe if I bent to canon. And I'm not going to. This is the problem when you made explanations that are wrong for things when they haven't been fully explained. I wish I handn't, but such is life, and I'm going to work with what I have rather than pretend that I never said it or something.
Anko's story: Alright, I've mentioned a few times, and most others would guess by now, that there is no successful curse seal in this universe. This is more or less Insane!Orochimaru's attempt at making one. It failed for reasons that I'll discuss in the sequel, but left Anko with the same basic issues, but no seal. And yes, this version of Anko's backstory is modified from the one in the filler.
Jiraiya and Itachi: Yeah, he's pretty willing to believe him. For one thing, Itachi did help them out, for another, he's not quite as feared as in canon. Remember, he hasn't wiped out all the Uchiha, and at the moment, he would be considered a more or less regular, if not really dangerous, missing nin.
Ninja Afterlife: There's a shinigami and while Kishi works pretty hard to make it be ambiguous if there is or isn't one, there are enough omakes with the Sandaime turning up and talking to Naruto or the Halloween one where Naruto was wondering around the woods and saw things to make me pretty confident in writing characters who think that there is one, even if they had no idea what it's like, and, like many of the religions/philosophies in China and Japan don't really focus on in favor of keeping the present in mind.