Chapter 4 : Falling Awake

You never get to choose, you live on what they sent you.
And you know they're gonna use, the things you love against you.
I could learn to play the game, I could learn to run the hustle.
If I only had the brains, the money or the muscle.
Falling awake, falling awake...

Tsunade sighed as she stamped the last paper of the day, or the last one she swore she'd read and sign for today (it seemed like a never ending sea), and placed the detested paper on top of the messy pile of other political papers that had been offically read, passed, and signed. Immediatly, Shizune clapped her hands together once and hid a smile of glee before grabbing the stack of papers and rushing out the door, making sure not to let one single precious paper flutter away. But before the thin short haired lady could get to and out the door, the blond monarch finally spoke up.

"Now that that is done, call in Asuma and the other two." Tsunade called before leaning back in her chair, allowing to crack her knuckles in satisfaction for the paperwork of today being defeated. She almost felt like her fingers were going to fall off, and not because she'd done medical procedures. What a waste of her energy.

"Right away Tsunade-sama," the loyal assistant said before using her backside to wedge open the doors and go out, allowing them to swing shut on her superior.

Twisting around in her chair, Tsunade looked out of her wide windows into the prosperous village that she reigned over. Allowing a heavy sigh to pass through her lips, she rubbed her temples as thoughts of how much responsibility was now on her shoulders, missing the past days of drinking and gambling before sleeping for days all to start the process again. Just thinking about it made her chest twinge in lose.


A deep voice broke her of her nastalgic thoughts and with another sigh, this one heavier still, swiveled back so that her chair was forward. She looked up to face the three Jōnin who stood tall and straight before her clustered desk.

"Asuma, Gai, Kurenai." The blond Kage nodded to them all seperatly, her eyes trailing a tad bit longer on Kurenai then the other two males.

"I'm sure you know why you've been called here."

"Yes," they answered in unison.

"Unfortunatly, there is a change of plans." At this, two tensed while one looked at the floor in guilt, absently placing a hand on her stomach.

"Kurenai will be unable to attend the mission with you two." Tsunade made sure to alliterate right as she crossed her hands in front of her mouth and leaned forward, elbows taking the weight on the desk.

As if a rocket had gone off in her body, Kurenai whipped her head up to look at the blond with wide red eyes, while the other three in the room moved their eyes to her.

"So it is decided that Asuma and Gai will go as a two man team." Tsunade nodded before continuing, "You will meet at the gate at 0400 hours tomorrow. Tardiness is inexcusable as I will be there to send you off."

Asuma was about to ask why Kurenai wasn't allowed on the mission, but Tsunade continued without missing a beat, "You two are excused. I need to speak in private with Kurenai for a few minutes."

Now knowing that his chance was lost, the smoking Jōnin gave a final glance to his lover before leaving the office, Gai having already left with a yell of 'youthfulness.'

There was silence between the two powerful kunoichi before Kurenai broke it with a simple and sincere, "Thank you."

Tsunade nodded dully before, "But are you sure this is what you want? He doesn't even know."

Kurenai bit her lip to stop tears from falling down her beautiful face before manageing to choke out "I know he wants to fight, to protect his team. And who am I to hold him back?" She asked, trying to hold down all her bitterness, yet some still managed to soak through.

Tsunade sighed before waving her hand, signaling for her to leave as to which she did before a deep bow.

Turning her chair once again to the window, her sigh came out more like a groan as she watched the clouds float by. She dwelled on how she'd take all the paperwork in the world rather then have to make another decision like that; one that broke up a family that hadn't even had a chance to start because of bloody warfare.

X - X - X

Naruto sighed in relief as she allowed the door of Sasori's workshop to creak to a close behind him, finally leaving the inhuman red head behind. Allowing his arms to go over his head to arch his body in a stretch, he almost groaned out loud as he felt the tight stitches in his side. With his arms still above him, crossed over his head now, the blond started walking down the fairly long hallway, looking at the various rooms that had the names of the other ten members for identification, he finally arrived at what looked to be the living room, or get together place. On one side, there was a long table where Naruto had been questioned when he came back. There was also a few couches along with another small table with chairs. In front of the couches, there was a large TV where a few of the top criminals where watching. Or they were until Naruto walked in.

"Had fun, un?" Dediara asked with a sadistic smirk.

"Tons," Naruto mumbled as he moved his arms to cross over his bare chest. But his blue eyes didn't linger on the fellow blond for long before he saw the kitchen and felt his stomach growl in pity for itself.

Ignoring how he heard the clay snicker as Naruto passed by him, the teen opened the fridge with enough force to rip the door off if his strength hadn't gone at the sight of all the wonderous food in there. But even with the tempting meat that he was sure to have made Kyuubi drool and whine like a puppy, or the spicy curry that would have made his mouth tingle in satisfaction, he closed the door and turned to the cabinets and opened the first in his sight to grin in satisfatcion.

"I don't see how you can eat so much ramen all the time. I would get sick of it," Kisame said from his place on the small table with Itachi who looked to be reading a long scroll.

"And I don't see how you ate sashimi that one time," Naruto shot back as he went to the sink to fill a bowl with water, his other hand holding the dry noodles in it's Styrofoam enclosure.

If possible, Kisame's face became even more blue and he stuck out his tongue in distaste before his eyebrows furrowed and he snaped, "That was only because I was drunk."

"Hn. Didn't know fish could get drunk." Naruto offered only a feral grin as he sat down next to the blue man and Uchiha, the later of the two only giving the blond a fleeting glance before turning back to his parchments.

"And I didn't know that a fox had to get stiches." The giant sword dealer obviously wasn't backing down anytime soon.

Naruto choose to only bare his teeth before focusing his attention on the bowl of water he was holding. He simply put his index finger in before the water for a few seconds, heating up his finger like before so the water was then instantly heated. Then taking the steaming liquid, he easily poured it into the colorfully packaged instant food before putting his chopsticks on top of the paper lid to allow it to sit and cook. Naruto found it extremely annoying that he really had no power to make these three minutes of hell go by any faster without ruining his precious noodles.

There was silence as Hidan and Deidara continued to watch the buzzing TV from their seperate couches while Kisame glarred at Naruto and Naruto glared at his ramen, all while Itachi placidly read. Therefore it was quite surprising why it was the most quiet of the five would break the silence with his cool question.

"Why is your chakra flow out of order?"

Naruto looked up the dangerously face of Itachi, his face as empty as even even as he asked the quesiton in his irritating monotone, or at least in Naruto's opinon.

To answer the question, the blond scoffed before, "I told you. It was your stupid little brother's poison that screwed up my entire system."

"No" Itachi spoke rejecting Naruto's answer and causing him and Kisame to blink in surprise, yet the black haired murder continued, "You have always had two strings of chakra. Now you only have a struggling one, no doubt from the poison. What happened to the other one?"

Naruto almost grimaced as he thought of how he'd gotten caught. Itachi's observation was right on the spot, it was true that one of his chakras had gone away in how the Kyuubi had been sealed away for a week. But the blond had to think fast, he didn't want to tell the organization about how he'd used the important seal that they'd ordered him to use in only very dire situations, and so decided in that second to go with his excuse of before.

"I bet it's the poison. I can't think of any other reason," he flat out lied as he looked at the clock, allowing a feral grin to adorn his handsome features as he opened the lid again and stuck his nose in the steam, allowing himself a large whiff of the heavenly smell, or at least to Naruto. Kisame, on the other hand, blanched at the fake smell, still wondering why he'd pick something so cheap and simpleminded when they had the best food in the fridge.

Itachi allowed his dark eyes to focus on the scarfing down teen for a few more seconds before turning back to his papers, Naruto could only assume that he'd accepted the answer and allowed the issue to slip away.

There was no more talking as the TV filled the room with a lull of noise that Naruto's slurps easily matched, so enthusiastic in being able to finally eat that he'd forgotten all sorts of manners, not even looking over to Kisame as a piece of noodle flung just past his face. It would have hit the fish man's cheek had he not moved in the last second. This time it was Hidan who filled the air with his bousterous voice.

"Even though I know you're a fucking brat, I still can't believe you lost to a fucking poison," the white haired immortal stated with a twitch of his lips.

Naruto paused just as he was about to scoop another mouthful of noodles into his mouth, carefully putting down the food while opening his stunning blue eyes to glare at Hidan.

"Before I sensed it, it had circulated through my whole body and I wasn't too keen to purge myself of all my blood and then so die," Naruto snapped matter-of-factly, although he wished he could had just used the tactic of punch-in-the-face.

"If you had told us that, I could have just extracted some blood and strained it out."

Naruto couldn't help but let his face pale as he turned to see Sasori at the hallway entrace into the larger room, a cloth his his hands as he tried to wipe all of Naruto's blood of, which made the blood 'donor' himself want to gag. He always hated the sight and smell of his own blood. In retrospect, he really just hated blood in general. Always so flashy, overpowering and...unneccessary almost in his mind.

"What?" Naruto chocked out as he put a hand to his stitches put in not ten minutes before.

"I could have just taken a sample from you blood, and we could have been done."

Naruto tried to ignore the howls from Diedara and Hidan, Kisame even chuckling next to him, as he swallowed the lump in his throat. All that poking, cutting, and prodding could have been avoided if he'd just told the red head or Pein that it'd circulated through his entire system?!

"Oh well, nothing we can do about it now." Sasori grinned like he was a fat tabby who had finally caught the pretty canary.

Turning back to his ramen, Naruto suddenly didn't feel very hungry as the pains in his stomach increased.

"Wow, aren't you just perfect, UN!"

"I wonder if you screw up on everything?" Hidan added after Deidara as their laughing finally started to calm down. Naruto wanted to slap himself as he recognized their laugh to be the same as he'd heard outside Sasori's room, having just thought it was his imagnination. Now he knew that it wasn't and was just the two of them trying to listen into his personal hell.

At their comments, it having been the last straw for the blond's anger, Naruto slammed his palm on the table, Kisame raising an eyebrow with Itachi as they saw it crack, before getting up and standing in front of Hidan and Deidara.

"Wanna say something fucker?" Hidan cut shot his laughter at the sight of the bare chested, lanky teenager in front of him who had a eerily calm face, yet the immortal knew that was only because Naruto was really boiling inside. This was the best time to fuck around with the kid.

"Oh, I just wanted to say something to your guys." He said with an impassive shrug of his bony shoulders.

"And that'd be, un?" Deidara snapped, thinking he was going to try and ruin their fun.

"Just that your moms must have been dogs and your dads must have been donkeys, because you guys are sure two, grade A, jackass sons of bitches."

Hidan and Deidara both blinked as Kisame chocked on the water he had been drinking, Itachi absently slapping a hand on his back as to try and clear it.

"Oh, I'm going to fucking KILL-" Deidara started, but stopped as Hidan put a hand in front of him, having just about to pounce on the ready younger blond.

"Let me handle this," the Jashin follower stated with a grin of amusement up at Naruto, which he easily returned.

Getting up with a fluid motion, Hidan stood and crossed his arms over his own bare chest, having just gotten stitched up like Naruto, but by Kakuzu.

"You're the cum your mamma should have swallowed." Hidan said with a hidden growl of statisfaction as Naruto's eyes widened the slightest bit, thinking about the file for a split second before it was overwhelmed with the selfcontrol of not jumping the white haired masocist right there.

Igrnoring the 'oooh' from Deidara on the couch, Naruto managed to compose himself with a fanged smile before, "You're so gay, that if someone said "assume the possition" you bend over."

Hidan's eyebrow twitched, making Naruto's smirk now genuine, before coming back with, "You're so gay you make Tobi look straight!"

Naruto tried not to gag and failed.

X - X - X

Tsuande allowed another sigh to pass through her plump lips as she continued to look out the windows, thinking about the decision she'd just made of allowing Asuma to go on the mission, but also how she was allowing Kurenai to keep Asuma in the dark. In the blond Kage's opinion, the concept of a faimly was one of the most sacred gifts that could be given to someone. It never fazed to amaze her how some people though it was more of a problem. But in this world of constant strife and grief, there was a point in disenchantment.

As if he'd been called, one of the most lonesome ninja in the village came sauntering though her door. As always, his silver hair was leaning to one side in an amazing, no gel added, gravity defying act as his one visible eye kept its half open appearance. But there was a few things off of the Copy Nin's usual personage, those being his precious book or his slouched position. Instead his back was straight and his arms were stiff at his sides.

"Kakashi," the pigtailed woman said without turning around, her voice stiff and icy without a hint of warmth.

"Hokage-sama. I have a request," he answered in a tone that equaled hers in emptiness of emotion.

Finally twisting around with a jerk of her body, the busty woman turned to face the younger (although many wouldn't think at first sight) shinobi. Now seeing his ridgid and serious show, one of her delicate gold eyebrows rose on her marked forehead.

"What is it?" She asked as she leaned forward onto her full and messy desk.

"If Sakura asks you for a mission to search for Naruto, I would be honored if you'd allow me to escort and accompany her," he said without even crinkling his eye in amusement, which was usually the case when he talked about his only former female student.

Kakashi saw the blond's eye twitch slightly, making his curiousity spike, even more so when she shook her head and allowed a breath of laughter to go through her painted lips.

"Why don't you ask her yourself? Sakura, stop easedropping."

The silver haired Jōnin raised an eyebrow of his own as he turned his lithe body to see the door of the large room to creak open, a bashfully blushing Sakura trying to put on a facade of innocence even though she had just been caught.

"I though I had masked my chakra and scent. Even Kakashi didn't notice," the pink haired teen grumbled as she crossed her arms over her developed chest.

"I just know your habits. And you forgot about the shadow," Tsunade said with a wink, remembering how in past years when Sakura was done with all her assignments, she'd stand outside her door for hours on end to try and hear about anything important, thinking that the smiling Kage wasn't noticing.

"Well?" the monarch continued as she looked across form her pupil to Kakashi who had suddenly regained his laid back body language.

"Sakura," Kakashi said her name carefully as he turned to her, the teen in question having to surpress a shiver as she looked at the depth of his one visible, pure black eye. But she was jolted out of it with, "Can I protect you?" as he finished it with that famous hidden smile that always managed to make Sakura feel safe and to smile back.

This time was no exception and she allowed a sigh to pass through her warm lips, a smile playing upon them as she said, "I don't exactly need protecting anymore if you haven't noticed."

"I know. But the more the merrier, yes?" His corner of his eye crinkled in amusement, causing Sakura's smile to enlargen a little more.

"Fine. You always do come in handy," her smile now faded a little as quickly she reminisced the times that he'd saved her on missions they'd done through the years together, having even acclaimed the name of the Treacherous Tandem in the Bingo books. While she was indeed extremely strong, there was always the need of someone watching your back, and Sakura and Kakashi had that act down.

"Are you going to leave me out in the cold on this little party?"

At the cool voice, all three heads snapped to the doors once more to see the raven haired Uchiha with the slightest of a smirk on his striking face.

"Where are the ANBU guards?" Kakashi asked nonchalantly, although he was already fingering a few kunai in his pant pockets.

"Don't worry, they're still watching me. Tsunade-sama assigned such good ones to me it'll only take half a second to kill me if they wanted."

"What is it that you want Uchiha?" Tsunade asked in a dangerous tone, yet Sasuke didn't even bat an eyelash.

"I would like to do the same as Kakashi. Accompany Sakura on her future mission to find Naruto."

Tsunade shook her head in annoyance, once again thinking of how things could have been so much easier had Jiraiya never found her. She wondered where he was for a second, not having seen him in months now, but she pushed that thought aside for another time as she looked up into the elegant black eyes of Sasuke, the orbs being focused on a slightly shocked Sakura. The Kage hide a smirk with her entertwined fingers as a thought came into her mind.

"I'm going to let Sakura decide," she stated as she leaned back in her chair again, watching how her former and most successful student would react to the decision.

The pretty teen's mouth fell open even more and she turned her eyes to Tsunade whose expression was sheilded with her hard hazel eyes and pressed thin lips. Her emerald eyes then turned to Kakashi whose own eyes were focused on Sasuke, an icy aura coming off her former teacher, before she finally allowed her bright eyes to settle on her past love. Feeling like she couldn't breath anymore, she stared into those dark jeweled eyes that made her think she was loosing her footing.

Looking away, she blinked and tried to compose herself. But as she looked back into his eyes, she felt like she could feel how earnest she wanted this. She foolishly allowed herself to believe that he truly wanted to find, and if need be save, Naruto.

"Like Kakashi said, the more the merrier." Except that when Sakura said this, it didn't nearly make her feel as warm as when it indicated Kakashi joining. It actually did the exact opposite, it made her feel even more detached.

Kakashi was once again glad for his concealing mask, as it hid an involuntary sigh. What emotions the long breath was trying to imply even he didn't even know.

"When will we go on the mission to find him?" Sasuke voiced what both of the other two former members of Team 7 had on their minds.

"You three are going on a mission, don't worry." Tsunade grinned, causing Sakura's face to finally lax, yet Kakashi's tightened. There was something in the voice of the present Hokage that both he and, it looked as if, Sasuke had noticed too.

"You will be going to Suna."

Sakura's face paled as she whipped to the sannin and snapping, "What?!"

"Calm down. Let me explain something, it ties in with the Akatsuki and who is supposedly 'connected' now with that organization?" The blond questioned, truly wondering what was so magnificent about a past teammate, five years ago too, that Sakura and Kakashi had known for a fairly short period of time to put everything else aside for. As she looked at Sakura's now lit up face, a thing that this genius medic had never been able to accomplish, it made her want to see and meet this child all the more.

"Please explain Hokage-sama." Kakashi asked as he took his hands out of his weapons laced pockets, choosing to cross them over his chest.

"Well, it seems as if Suna is harboring two of the tailed beast hosts there. Because that nation is supposedly the second strongest, only to us, the other nations agreed that they would put their Jinchūrikiin there for safe protection. Suna has just informed me of the move this afternoon with their fastest hawk, requesting that we help with the security. And as it is, we can't allow this organization to gain more of the tailed beasts' power. And since you two," She motioned at Sakura and Kakashi, "are a few of the strongest I have, you will be adding in the precaution. And if you manage to catch a member who tries to take the Jinchūriki, who am I to stop your interrogation of him?"

At the long explination, both Sakura and Kakashi nodded, also both of them inwardly thanked the Hokage for her understanding. Even though they both knew they had to put the village, and the entire world, in front of them own desires Tsunade had somehow allowed for them to indulge in their wants as well as protecting the overall betterment for everyone else.

"What about me? Aren't I going too?" Sasuke broke the silence as the two bowed, Tsunade's calm eyes becoming hard as she remembered about to raven haired teen.

"You would like to come on this too?" she asked sharply, Sasuke not even choosing to answer that as his crossed arms and narrowed eyes told all. Of course he wanted to come, why would he drop out on such a prime opportunity to catch Naruto or Itachi, maybe even both. But he didn't allow his hopes to soar that high. If at least one of them was there, it'd be perfect.

"How do I know that you're trustworthy? You're rough ninja who just came back half dead, and now you want to A, leave the village and B, be put in a place where you could betray us again?"

Sasuke didn't say anything, simply looked over to Kakashi, only to find his cold, just as black as his own, eye that offered no help. Moving to Sakura, he found her rubbing one of her heels into the wood, not offering to meet up with his eyes.

"Sakura..." he whispered her name heartily, causing her to snap her head up, short hair spraying over her delicate face for a second before settling, "You know I just want to find Naruto," he continued to whisper as he dared to take a step closer to her.

Kakashi didn't take onto this lightly, favoring to step in the space between the two teens, his arms still crossed over his toned chest as he glared down his former student.

"Prove it," the silver haired man quipped quickly. Sasuke kept the eyecontact for a few seconds before looking down at his sandals, putting a few fingers to his chin in thought.

"Well, you may have my sword. Much of my power relies on it. In addition, it will always help with man power to have someone who has a more profound grip on the Sharingan," he said as his face raised to look over Kakashi to Tsunade who was contemplating it all.

"Fine. ANBU," Tsunade snapped her fingers and suddenly a masked man was at her side.

"Take his sword to the vault."

"Yes Hokage-sama," the mystery man said while bowing shallowly before he was before Sasuke a split second later, his gloved hand palm up as an indication to give the sword. Sasuke, feeling the slightest sliver of dissapointment, placed the sheathed metal in the mystery man's hand before his fingers grabbed around it, nodding once before being gone froom sight once again.

"If that is all, I would like to go sleep in my hospital room. May I be dismissed?" Sasuke requested as he put his left arm around his torso, faking fatigue and refusing to finish the polite question with a smile.

Tsunade's eyes bore into his before she nodded once. So giving a short bow, the Uchiha left the room, making sure neither of the three could see his dark grin of victory as he covered it with his hand, having pretended a cough although he felt fine.

Sakura sighed before turning to the door, expecting Kakashi to follow after. But as she turned when she got to the frame she saw that he had taken a few steps closer to her mentor and seemed to be about to ask a question by the pose of crossed arms behind his straight back. The pink haired teen had just opened to mouth and was going to ask what he needed, when his deep voice filled the air with, "Hokage, is it alright if I look at the file of Naturo? I would like to check on something about his parents."

Sakura's eyebrow lifted in questioning and she closed the door before walking back to her old teacher's side, "Sakura?" he asked in slight surprise, having thought she'd left with Sasuke. She offered him a glance with her green eyes before sniffing with pride and saying, "I'm your partner in this. I should know everything you know."

"Yes, you may see it. Let me open the door for you." Tsuade interrupted Sakura just as she was about to smile back at Kakashi's hidden one, the traditional crinkle of his eye showing his amusement at her.

But as Tsuande snuck a hand between her massive cleavage to pull out a key, she flashed the two a smirk and explained, "Safest place to keep it, no?"

The young medic could only blink before her face broke out into a vicious blush or embarrassment at her mentor. Daring to glance over at Kakashi she had found that he was even more amused while looking at her red face. But Sakura didn't have to worry about his gaze any longer as Tsunade got up and went to the door, sticking the key in and turning it to open the stuffy room. She flicked on a few dim lights before walking into the room, Sakura and Kakashi waiting at the frame of the door.

They heard her lightly gasp before, "It's not here. Naruto's file and his Mother's are gone."

"Why?" Sakura asked after a pregnant silence.

"Maybe he is really still alive. Or else why would someone take his file?" Tsunade wondered out loud as she stared at the spot where the two files should be, "Is there any other files missing Kakashi?" she added.

The silver haired ninja nodded before pulling his headband up, activating his Sharingan that Sakura gaped at. It never stopped surprising her how much power her teacher held, and how well he'd mastered the Uchiha bloodline weapon. His head quickly gazed around the entire room, checking for any disturbances that may have recently happened.

"Orochimaru's is gone too, making it three. But that's it," Kakashi finally answered as he covered his eye back up.

"What does this mean...?" Sakura willed herself to not stutter from her shock and her gut feeling that was telling her something very wrong was in the making.

"Could it have been an assassin? Coming to get information?" Tsunade asked as she turned to Kakashi, knowing that out of the three of them he had much more experience in that graphic area.

"It is probable. But that would mean that Naruto is their next target. And if that's the case then why would they take his Mother's file too? He is suppose to be already deceased as she is."

" don't think it's an assassin." Sakura tried.

"I'm not saying that it's just... it may have been Naruto himself. Trying to get ride of his existence in the village and then taking the information to go after Orochimaru."

"So Orochimaru was his target? He was the assassin?"

"If Sasuke was telling the truth."

Tsunade growled as she walked out of the room with the other two, closing and locking the door before putting the key back in it's special place. But Sakura was too preoccupied with what the hell was going on to blush this time.

X - X - X

Shikamaru tried to suppress a yawn but failed. And so when he felt the first rays of sunlight of today, his mouth was wide open and eyes were tearing. But his ears perked up when he saw a deer in the far distance, it's tail twitching as it made eyecontact with the ninja. Looking around at the others one last time, Shikamaru got up. He had been last for watch duty and since it was technically now morning, he could now do what he wanted. He quietly started walking in the direction of the deer that seemed to be waiting for him to see if he'd follow it or not. From growing up on a farm with deer all his life, it must make him seem like a ally to the species and he wanted to see how things in this area were going. What better way to find out then from the things that lived there?

Ino blinked her blue eyes drearily as she heard a rustle of leaves, focusing her eyes just in time to see Shikamaru duck into the woods. She quickly got up and ran after him so as not to loose him, legs feeling stiff but working non-the-less. When she saw him lazily walking, hands in his pockets, she quickly leaped to his side. The only indication of him noticing her was his eyes widened a little before moving back to the forest in front of him, his steps never missing a beat. She was about to ask him what he was doing, but it was that moment when they came into a small clearing that had a young buck. Ino put her hands to her mouth as to hold in her gasp of surprie, but Shikamaru didn't seem any more enthusiastic at the sight then when she'd jumped to his side.

He easily continued walking towards the animal, pulling something out of his pouch and opening it. Ino tilted her head to the side to see a better view of it and recognized it as his family's medicine that they made from their deer's antlers. The young buck hesitantly walked up to Shikamaru, the ninja holding out the small container for him to sniff. Ino held her breath as she waited for the deer's reaction, as to which he took a step back. He analized Shikamaru for as second before he took two steps forward and nudged his head into the teen's chest. The blond's mouth fell open in fascination, but is distracted when she felt herself nudged in the back by a deer. She inovolentarily let out a squeal at the contact, whirling around to see six does staring at her with big brown eyes. She was just looking at the four little freckled fawns when she heard a rumble of laughter behind her. Turning around again, she smiled as she saw Shikamaru's face twisted into one of laughter that he was trying to hold in.

"You should have seen your face," were the first words he spoke to her, at to which she scoffed. She was about to make a snappy comeback when the buck nudged Shikamaru again, bringing his attention back to the herbivore.

The two team members watched as he motioned with his head to the direction that they'd come from.

"Apparently they saw something that made them flee up here," Shikamaru voiced again.

"I didn't know you spoke deer," Ino giggled as she gently petted a mother and her big eyed fawn.

"I can't. I can tell by their body language, how they're fidgeting. The only reason I could come so close to them was because I reek of their kind. Yet I still had to use my medicine to show that I was a friend of them. Shows how much they're on edge," he explained in length.

The deer silently trotted over to the river about a hundred feet from them, motioning with his head towards it and stamping his feet near the bank.

"A river? Just like Kiba said!" Ino gasped as she went to Shikamaru's side.

"Right," Shikamaru agreed darkly as he put a few fingers to his lip in thought.

The buck then came back to them and pointed his neck east, using his hoofs to tear up the grassy ground beneath him.

"I think he's telling us now that they're headed East. Probably heading the opposite way as to get away from what scared them."

"So that person, or Naruto, (Ino still didn't believe the accusation of him being an Akatsuki member) went North or West?"

"Probably West. Where the Akatsuki are apparently hiding. It all fits." Shikamaru's eyes widened in understanding.

The buck blew out of it's nose before nudging Shikamaru's chest, and then moving on to do it to Ino, at to which she was able to hold in her gasp this time. The animal turned away, but Shikamaru put a hand on it's broad neck, causing it to turn back to him again. He closed his medicine container and put it back into his hip pack, but then pulled out a smaller container. As he opened it, Ino wrinkled her nose at the sticky red stuff inside.

As Shikamaru dipped his index and middle finger into it, he then put his fingers to the buck's ears and rubbed it into his fur.

"What are you doing?" Ino asked in fascination as he started with a doe next.

"Marking them. It's dye that'll hold for a very long time since it sinks into their skin and then dyes their hair when they grow more. It's so that no one will hunt them."

"That's very...thoughtful of you Shikamaru," Ino said with sincerity and a small smile. He turned to her with half opened eyes and shrugged, "Lease I can do for them helping us and supporting the lead."

Ino continued watching him working and started giggling when a fawn tried to eat his green vest.

X - X - X

"I'll bet you couldn't count your balls and get the same answer twice!" Hidan yelled without restraint at Naruto, both of them somehow panting from yelling insults at each other to the highest caliber.

Naruto opened his fanged mouth and took a breath to start, but when the occupants of the room heard a clearing of the throat at the hallway door, he blew it back out and they all turned to the hallway door to see Pein and Konan. Naruto turned his facial expression at the sight of Pein, going from glaringly pissed off to blankness with a hint of respect in his open eyes.

Pein cleared his throat, making everyone straighten a little bit more in the room, before saying "I have decided your punishment Naruto," in a voice devoid of all emotion other then a shred of determination.

"I am ready for your judgement Leader-sama," Naruto bowed shallowly, fast so he could regain eye contact again. He had learned that throughout the years, if you held Pein's gaze for a while it not only made you more brave in his opinion, but also slightly stupid. Naruto was frustrated to be pretending what he used to be, but he swallowed it and allowed to play innocent for future gains. If he could fool Pein then he could get closer to him. Close enough to stab him in the back, literally.

"You, alone, will go to Suna and capture the two tailed Jinchūriki there, bringing it back alive. You will be given twelve hours to sleep and prepare before you must leave."

Naruto blinked at the punishment, thoughts of coup d'état gone, which sounded more like an opportunity before he regained his bearings and bowed so deep his nose was brushing his legs. Coming up straight again, he said in a steady voice, "I will accept this. I hope I will be able to please you." With that said, he did another shallow bow (this one directed at Konan) before going down the hallway, not forgetting to turn around and flip off Hidan who bristled in return but could do nothing vulgar in the eyesight range of Pein.

"Leader-sama, that is my target," Hidan barely managed to hold himself back from attacking Naruto after his the 'friendly handsign' to obviously him.

"And why are you giving the brat such a cool mission, un?" Deidara added his own opinion, himself glad he and Saosri had already attained their target and so wasn't in the situation like Hidan and Kakuzu.

"It's not because I'm being nice and forgiving, that's for sure," Pein's voice was so empty the others wondered if he was joking or not. But when they saw the curve of his lip, their eyes widened in recognition.

"You're planning something more," Sasori stated the obvious, looking up from his chest that he'd been working on.

Pein nodded once before moving to one of the couches, Konan obediently following to sit by his side. "You see, my third body has just informed me that reinforcements are being sent to Suna to protect the Jinchūrikis."

"Wait...there's more then one in Suna?!" Kisame said with slight shock.

Pein nodded his head again before, "The two and six tails are both there. Apparently the nations believe they will be safe in 'strong' Suna."

"So...even with the help from the Kyuubi, Naruto won't stand a chance against the two hosts and the Konoha reinforcements?" Hidan asked with an more-then-usual evil glint in his rose colored eyes.

Pein stayed silent for a second, closing his eyes to collect his thoughts in the simplest way, before "There's actually no lose in it for me as for one, I want to see how well Naruto has developed and how he will deal with the mountain of power ahead of him. And then two, if he is mortally wounded, it will make collecting the beast inside him easier. In addition, he has become too wild lately and this will show him his place."

"So either way, it's a win-win outcome, un?" Deidara smirked as he played with a clump of clay, his mouth on his right hand chewing on the earth substance as his brain chewed over Naruto's newest predicament.

"But we need to be careful. That is why Sasori, Deidara," both looked up, "I'll be needing you to trail him. Do not give assistance but if he is obviously going to die, make sure to swoop in and take his body. If he does die on the job, you have my full permission to try and collect the other hosts if they are weakened."

Sasori blandly nodded as Deidara's face lit up in a full-blown smirk, the blond slowly turning his head to Hidan who looked even more pissed off then ever.

"We'll have some fun then, won't we Sasori?" he asked his partner who didn't even show the slightest bit of care. The light redhead was just thinking about how he was going to see his puppet in action. Maybe he could remember some of those moves to use later on.

"Why do THEY get to go too? Why not me and Kakuzu?!" Hidan bite the side of his mouth so hard he could feel the sharp taste of blood.

"Because Sasori used to live there, and so is familiar with the terrain and people, and also has many subbordinants there. He is more equiped in you," Pein felt like Hidan was being too much of a pain in the neck lately. The strong split-body shinobi was glad that Hidan nodded, seeming to have been explained into submission.

Pein nodded once again to everyone before leaving with Konan the way Naruto had.

Once Hidan knew the Leader was out of hearing range, he whipped at Deidara and snapped, "I fucking HATE you. You're just getting a free ride because of Sasori!"

"Yeah, yeah. Jealousy isn't a good look for you Hidan. Maybe if you'd prayed a little harder to Jashin you'd have been able to-"

Deidara was cut off as Hidan had lunged forward and had started strangling the explosion-junkie.

Itachi blinked at the two of them, Deidara seeming to obviously need some air soon as his slightly purple face suggested. First looking at Sasori, who seemed to have no intention at all of saving his partner as he pulled a wire, Itachi knew he had to intervene. So, turning to Kisame, he blinked again and the half fish man understood right away.

"Alright, break it up you two," he snapped as he stood to his menacing height.

"Easy for YOU to say!" Hidan growled, his grip on the artist's throat still not loosening.

"You shit, WE were assigned the six-tails and now may not be able to have the opportunity. I'm just as pissed as you are, except I don't take it out on idiot blond over here."

Hidan growled before he released Deidara who huffed before storming out of the large room.

"I just need to fucking kill something or I'm gonna go crazy," Hidan mumbled as he went to satisfy his want.

X - X - X

Shikamaru and Ino walked the short distance back to the group and found that they were all awake and well, a few going through their morning stretches as others got food and fire ready.

Ino allowed her eyes to look over to Hinata who was checking up on Shino, the young Hyuuga having just finished examining Kiba. Ino smiled at the care she gave to her team, but that pride in her best friend was pushed aside as she saw Hinata gasp before staggering away from her teammate before biting her lip to hold in tears.

"What's wrong Hinata?" Ino asked with genuine care as she approached the black haired teen, crouching down to her level.

"It's...I don't think Shino will ever recover. His throat...I didn't heal it in time before and even with yours, it wasn't enough."

"For what?" Ino's eyebrows furrowed.

"He can't talk again, his vocal cords are burned and twisted up," Hinata said while continuing to will herself not to cry.

Everyone stared at Hinata in shocked silence before Kiba turned to his long time friend and asked, "Shino, that true?"

Shino dipped his head in thought before he opened his mouth to try and speak, but found that he really couldn't. He shook his head to say no.

"Fuck everything," Kiba growled into his hands, anger causing his spine to shake like he was about to burst out of his skin, "That FUCKING Naruto is going to get it!"

Hinata, oddly, felt the dull throb of revenge in her gut too as she looked down at her hands, feeling as if she hadn't been good enough once again. Feeling a weight on her shoulders, she looked up to see that Shino had placed his larger hands on her shoulders. He solemly nodded once, causing Hinata to give back a watery smile, the only thing she could manage as she continued biting back tears. She allowed her brain to think over the whole situation and started to feel the bitter taste of the inevitable result of a shinobi-life in her mouth.

"On a more hopeful note, me and Ino discovered something interesting this morning," Shikamaru announced to the slightly down group, making everyone's spirits lift just the slightest. He then went on to explain how Ino and him had found the deer this morning and how it all connected back to what Kiba had explained. The puzzle pieces all fit together and it was now up to them what they determined to do next.

"So once Kiba is healed we'll go into the mountains to search?" inquired Neji after Shikamaru was done.

"I think that is the right choice. Although we've become disadvantaged with Shino's new problem, we don't have time to send back for help. The lead is hot and we need to follow it before it cools and then becomes impossible to follow. Also, the Akatsuki are probably not going to stay in one hide-out for very long. It's only a matter of short time before they decide to move and we need to find them before they do," Shikamaru said while rubbing his bristling chin in thoughts of plans and strategies.

"We can go now, I'm all healed up!" Kiba exclaimed after Shikamaru was done, the dog-boy wanting to get up and start moving ASAP.

"No, you're still injured. Your chakra is slow to circulate through your body from all your injuries and blood-loss," Hinata said softly as she went from Akamaru back to him, putting a few hands on his chest to make double sure. As she heard the steady pounding of his heart, she knew it was getting stronger but it was still not what it used to be. It was still slightly lagged from all the pressure it'd just been under.

Kiba growled in annoyance, feeling ratted out by his teammate. Hinata sighed at his endearing stubborness before moving her delicate hands to his shoulders just like Shino had done for her. He turned his head to her and sighed before, "Fine. Half a day more since you say I need it and I know you know best for me. You're almost always right."

She smiled at him. The first one in what felt like eternity.

X - X - X

Naruto sighed openly as he rolled over in the large bed, sheets splayed out from his half-naked form as he stretched his hands above his head.

"Hope I'm not interrupting anything," a cool voice broke the blond completely out of his sleepy-haze. Sitting upright while rubbing his eyes to get rid of that haze, he blinked his crystal blue eyes to stare up at Konan as she leaned against the frame of his door, hands crossed over her chest.

"Good morning, Konan," Naruto said with an only half-forced grin.

"The sun hasn't come up yet," she said with as much emotion as a corpse.

"It will very soon," Naruto shrugged as he stood up to his full height, stretching his arms over his head again as to stretch his body.

"Will you put some clothes on already?" Konan asked with slight irritation.

"What, don't like my sleeping habits?" Naruto joked as he waved a hand to his only-boxer wearing body.

"I don't like having to stare at something that's only skin and bones," her lips twitched upwards for the slightest of a second, not missed by Naruto's sharp eyes.

"I have muscles, too, Baby," Naruto sniffed as if he was offended, "Maybe not as much as others but they're still there."

She rolled her eyes, saying that this subject of conversation was over, before, "I'm here to inform you that you have a half-an-hour before you must leave."

"Wow, I slept for that long?" Naruto thought out loud, thinking of how he had been allowed 12 hours, as he threw a black t-shirt over his spiky head.

"Have fun on your mission," she offered before she turned to leave.

"You bet!" Naruto laughed as he zipped up his pants.

X - X - X

Kakashi, Sasuke, and Sakura all regulated their breathing as they ran to Suna, using the most sufficient speed that was as fast as they could go without wasting too much chakra. Kakashi raised his nose to the air and sniffed before looking at the sky, deeming that they only had about an hour before the sun set. Plus the air was too crisp, meaning a cold front was coming. Tonight would be especially cold, the degrees so low it might stiffen their bodies up if they weren't extra careful.

So, stopping on a thick branch, he held up his right hand to signal to the two teens behind him and they stopped as well. Sakura just two feet to the right side of Kakashi while Sasuke took a branch just above.

"We will set up base for now. Sakura, go get food. Me and Sasuke will get everything else together."

The pink-haired medic nodded before leaping back into the tangle of trees, thinking about the wildlife she'd spotted on their run and what would be best for nutrition and heath. Kakashi allowed his eyes to follow her lean body before looking up and fixing his one visible eye on Sasuke before ordering, "You go get firewood and start a fire below this tree. Make sure we have enough wood for tonight."

"Won't the smoke attract attention?" Sasuke asked carefully.

"The trees are so thick it'll hold the smoke in, plus we're not close enough to people for it to matter," Kakashi said, knowing he'd throught this through for a reason and annoyed that Sasuke had doubted him, the Leader. On missions the Leader was never questioned unless there were large amounts of reasonable doubt. Ordering to get firewood was obviously not that.

Sasuke, as if sensing his past-teacher's anger spike, bowed his head before saying, "Forgive me. It's hard to trust anyone's orders except my own."

Kakashi didn't comment any more (even though he wanted to), knowing he wasn't a temperamental teenager anymore and needed to always keep a level head. And that meant not starting scraps with members of the same team, even if that person had recently (or at lest to Kakashi) betrayed him along with the rest of the village. He didn't have time to think about the raven haired anymore as he saw him dart away in the opposite direction of Sakura.

Landing on the tall grassed forest floor, the silver-haired ninja crouched down and sniffed the ground through his mask, noting that there were a few animals who had passed by, a group of deer notably, but nothing else. He was just about to stand up, but something iron-like and bitter caught his nose from far off. Refusing to gag, he knew the smell was of old blood and, by the scent, it was from a carnivor. He was unsure if it was a human as the scent seemed to be a hybrid of the two, mixed with some canine, but he pushed it away. It was probably just a large wolf or some sort.

Getting to his job, he easily cleared a small area of sticks and piled leaves in three large piles for warmth. When they went into their sleeping bags, they could cover themselves in the dry leaves to further insulate their heat. He then dug a shallow hole into the ground, tearing up the long grass so the fire could have a good place to start. Just as he finished, he heard someone land very lightly in front of him and glanced up to see Sasuke.

"Start it here," Kakashi further ordered the teen who had an armload of all sorts of wood, pointing to the hole he'd just made. Sasuke nodded before he arranged some of the wood into the freshly revealed dirt before doing a few simple handsigns and blowing a strong stream of fire into the timber. Immediatly the fire sparked and it started gnawing on the wood, it's warmth instantly soaring into the air.

Kakashi's eye fell on Sasuke over the fire, his youthful face illuminated in the coming darkness from the fire.

"I know you don't believe me," Sasuke said without looking up from sharpening his kunai, "but you'll see soon enough," he finished and had barely enough restraint to not smirk.

"You're lying," Kakashi said in still-obvious denial.

"What reason do I have to lie?" Sasuke couldn't hold in his smirk any longer before continuing with, "If you think it's to give you further pain, I could just do that myself. I have no reason, no gain to lie like this."

A deep rumbling came from the depths of Kakashi's chest before spilling out of his mouth, lips pulled back in a primal snarl just like his pack of loyal dogs did. He was just thinking about screwing the whole 'respect your teammates' when he heard a branch not so far away creak at the weight of someone jumping off of it.

Kakashi had just enough time to bite his tongue and hault his growl before Sakura landed by the fire, an assortment of things clutched in her skilled hands.

"Seems that this forest has lots to offer," Sasuke said as he offered Sakura a glance up from his weaponry.

Sakura numbly nodded as she handed the things over to Kakashi who started preparing them. Sakura, as she sat a in the third pile of dry leaves, wondered if it was just her or if the air was crackling with more then just heat from the fire.

X - X - X

The wind whipped in Naruto's eyes and tore through his ears and clothes, yet he didn't realize it in the slightest. For he had just remembered something very important that had slipped his mind before he'd been able to have time to think, like he was having while running. He knew that he had cut-off Kyuubi away with that seal, but that seal only lasted 7 days. With his unconsciousness from Sasuke's poison he realized he didn't known how long he was out for. It could have been one day, it could have been three. Because of this, his count of the days was off and he had no idea how much time he had left until Kyuubi could come back into his head and being again.

He knew he'd come out full force too since he was probably beyond pissed and Naruto also knew he'd have to find some place where he could focus on the inner-battle inside him and not allow the Kyuubi to take over his entire being.

A growl ripped from his mouth and into the cool air of night, knowing that even with this realization he had no time to dwell on it as he landed on the top of a sheer cliff and looked down into the one of the great five nations. Feeling the sand in the crisply dry air that he breathed in, his nose crinkled in distaste. This place was not only in the middle of the dessert that was as desolate an old bone, but it was just as large as Konoha. But, as his eyes scouged the village, they had another similarity in how their Kage tower stretched higher into the cloudless sky then the rest of the odd buildings.

So, with a confident smirk on his face, Naruto leapt off the cliff and into the village covered by shadows.


0400 - Military time for 4:00 AM

I know it might be boring from the other prospectives and side stories of the others, but no need to fear. That reading is all build-up that will pay off in time. Plus I find that it keeps the story interesting and with different views it helps shape and develop the story more. And anyway, in the original series there's always many things going on at once and that's one of the things I really love about Naruto. Connections with the different plots are always innovative and fun to make too.