Disclaimer: I do not own any Naruto characters, though I wouldn't mind if I did.


The funeral for Elder Chiyo took place only two days after everyone returned to the Hidden Sand Village, all of them. Sand Ninja and Elders and the Leaf Ninja. Everyone returned to the village to recuperate after the terrible fight they had. Gaara had been beyond exhausted and had needed to go to the hospital immediately. However, stubborn as Gaara was, he refused. So he was taken care of back in Baki's home, by Sakura.

The day of the funeral, everyone stood in front of Chiyo's grave, all wearing black and looking at the head stone with sorrowful looks on their faces. They were all in grieving, along with the Elder, Ebizu. Gaara, garbed all in black, had his arm around a crying Sakura. Out of most of them, the pink haired Kunoichi had become the closest with the old woman, even if it was a short period of time. So Gaara couldn't help but try and comfort her, letting her cry on his shoulder. But no one had spoke for a long time. No one knew what they could say.

After a while, Jiraiya looked over at Gaara, frowning thoughtfully. "Gaara, I'm still very curious, as is everyone else. But who saved you from Shukaku's Extraction? Who put you under the Death Illusion?" He asked. All eyes went straight to the young Kazekage for that answer.

But for a very long moment, Gaara didn't say a word. He just frowned thoughtfully as he stared at Chiyo's grave stone. He didn't know what to say really. How could he explain it? He knew that it had been Itachi Uchiha who did it. But how could he tell them that? It didn't make too much sense. All he knew that Itachi had placed him under the Death Illusion but he really didn't know why. Why had Itachi saved him when he was apart of the Organization that was trying to kill him?

"Gaara?" Sakura murmured, breaking into his thoughts.

Gaara blinked before looking down at her. He could see that she was very worried about him, as was everyone else. But after a moment, he decided what to say. "I don't know who did it." He had lied. It was best not to tell them yet. He didn't want to worry them during this tragedy at the moment. It wasn't the right time. "One of the Akatsuki did it, but I don't know who. It seems to me that the Akatsuki has a spy among them. That spy saved my life. For what reason, I don't know." He told everyone.

The news surprised all of them. To think that there was a spy in the Akatsuki, it was a little too alarming. But then Sakura gasped sharply as she looked wide eyed up at Gaara. "It…..It' must have been Sasori then!" She got very strange but surprised looks from the others. But she looked directly at Gaara, who was among the surprised people. "Gaara! It must have been Sasori then that saved you! Before Chiyo and I killed him, he told me that he's been spying on Orochimaru for the Akatsuki, and visa versa! In two months' time, he's going to meet his contact who sells him Orochimaru's secrets and plans. He even told me where we can find Orochimaru! He's a spy!" She told everyone.

No one really knew what to believe though. They were all seriously confused with the news. So, Sasori wasn't exactly faithful to the Akatsuki either? In truth, it didn't make too much sense. But to hear that Sasori was going to go meet a traitor amongst Orochimaru's group, it was the only shot they had to getting Sasuke back.

Gaara, however, just looked off towards the sky, with a very serious look on his face. He didn't understand how there could be two traitors amongst Akatsuki then. He knew that Itachi's reason had to be because of Sasuke. But what had been Sasori's reason? He knew that they would never know now. Not unless they brought Sasori back to life and asked him. But he knew that was no option at all. Sasori was too dangerous, spy or not.

A few days later, Team Kakashi, Team Gai, Jiraiya and the unknown Leaf Ninja were leaving the Sand Village, to return to Konoha. It was time for them to go as it was. They knew that they couldn't linger much longer in the Land of Wind. They had too many duties back home.

Gaara, of course, was staying in the Hidden Sand Village.

In a way, both Naruto and Sakura were a little saddened that he would not be returning to the Leaf Village with them. They had hoped that he could. But then again, they knew that if he was going to be the Kazekage, he had to stay. It was now his job to protect the Sand Village and its people. So he had to stay.

"Thank you." Gaara spoke quietly as he stood at the gates with his siblings. He was seeing his friends and comrades off. He figured it was the only thing he could do since he wasn't going to be returning home with them. "Thank you, everyone, for helping me free my home Village. I could not do it without you."

Naruto just grinned at him, shaking his head. "It's cool, Gaara! We wanted to help you! You're our friend. And this was your home before you came to us. You had to do what you needed to do. And now, everyone's safe because of you." He told him. "But remember, if you ever get bored or need a break, the Leaf Village's gates are always open! And we'll all be waiting for you!"

Gaara smiled softly at his best friend before he extended his hand towards him. The blonde grinned right back before he grabbed the young Kazekage's hand, giving it a light shake of friendship. "Naruto, you are my best friend and practically my brother." The young leader said quietly. "When I get done reorganizing everything here, I will return to the Leaf Village and we will search for Sasuke." His eyes flickered over to Sakura and Kakashi, who both smiled at him. "Together." He added.

Everyone just smiled at him and gave him a nod. Jiraiya moved a little closer, looking proudly down at the young man he had come to love as a son. He remembered the day he had found this boy on the river and how he had spent years watching over him. And now, the boy had become a great leader. "Gaara, I'm very proud of you. You've done great things. I always knew that you would." He said gently before reaching over and planting his large hand on top of Gaara's head, ruffling the wild strands a little, who only smiled softly and then brushed the hand off as if he was silently protesting. He didn't seem to care though. "Like I said before, someday you would show them. You would show them that you aren't something to fear, but something to love."

"And you also told me that if I ever got hurt, it would hurt you more." Gaara spoke softly.

Jiraiya grinned and nodded as he lowered his hand from his young ward's head. "That's right. And I meant it." His face softened to a somewhat saddened look again. "When I saw you lying there, Gaara, hurt and dying, I thought I was going to break into a million pieces. I swear my heart had shattered then. I'm just glad you're all right now." He told him.

And Gaara's lips curled into a soft smile as he looked up at his father figure.

"Yeah. That's what I want to see. I want to see you smile and don't you ever forget that." Jiraiya said, repeating the same words that he had when Gaara was just a very young boy. He even reached over and tapped him on the nose, making Gaara shaking his head with a silent protest but then the large Legendary Ninja reached over and pulled the young Kazekage into a gentle hug. All the while, everyone smiled at the reaction between the two. "You take care of yourself now, Gaara. Don't you ever go get yourself into trouble again. And if you ever need any help, you know where to find me. And even if you can't find me, just call out my name. I'll hear it."

The only thing that Gaara could do was nod. He really couldn't find anything to say. He was a little choked up as it was at this departing. After Jiraiya pulled away from Gaara, the young Kazekage turned his eyes onto Sakura, who smiled softly as she moved closer to him. They both embraced before looking into each other's eyes. "Sakura…..I will come back for you." He whispered to her.

Sakura slowly nodded as she looked into his teal eyes. "I know you will. And I will be waiting for you." She told him softly before she kissed him, which he, of course, returned.

Finally, the Leaf Ninja were on their way back to the Leaf Village. They had turned back a few times to wave at Gaara, his siblings and the Sand Ninja, whom all returned the waves. Gaara just watched as his friends left, a peaceful look on his face. He couldn't believe how lucky he was in his life to have friends like that. He swore on his life that he would protect them, no matter what. He swore he would protect his Leaf brother and the girl he loved. And together, they would bring Sasuke back.

Elsewhere, far from both the Leaf and the Sand Villages, in a very rainy country, and inside a soaked village, there was a loud crash from within a dark building, followed by a string of curses. From outside the building, people of the rainy village could hear that HE was very unhappy. HE was extremely pissed off. And that didn't happen too often. And when it did, it was not good for them at all. It wasn't good for anyone.

Within the building, in a darkened room, a man was throwing things around his dark office and having a terrible fit. He had received news that set off his temper. It was news that he had not been wanting to get at all. It just angered him, greatly. And when Pein was angry, the other Akatsuki members knew better than to be around him. He was too dangerous when he was calm. So if he was angry, it just made things worst. So everyone stayed away from him.

There was only one person who dared to be around the Leader of the Akatsuki, and that was the only female of the group, Konan.

The reason why Pein was angry was because he had found out from their Intelligence Gatherer, that the Shukaku Carrier, Gaara of the Sand was not only alive, but he still carried the One Tailed demon. He really hadn't believed it until he checked the object that they were imprisoning the Tailed Demons inside. Much to his rage, he found that the One Tail was not there. And that was what set him off.

If that wasn't enough, there was another problem that pissed him off to no limit.

"How in the hell did he escape?! How did we miss it?! What happened?!" Pein roared as he went to his desk and threw it against the wall.

His partner, Konan, who was a beautiful woman with dark blue hair just watched him quietly but then sighed as she lowered her head. Normally, she knew how to calm Pein down. She knew what to do to soothe his fiery temper. But right now, she didn't have a clue what to do. She could think of any way. "Pein, maybe something went wrong. Maybe it was Deidara or Hidan goofing around. Or maybe the One Tailed Demon was stronger than we realized." She suggested.

Pein's head whirled around and he glared at him. He knew that those suggestions were no help. And he was sure that she did too. "No! Those two idiots, Deidara and Hidan knows better than to goof around with the Extractions! We've done the Extractions before and never had we ever had a problem! Nothing has ever gone wrong before!" He shook his head angrily. "As it is, we've captured the Fifth Tailed Demon and it's more powerful than the One Tailed. And we did not have any problems with it! Now, someone messed it up on purpose!" He snapped. Konan couldn't help but draw back a little, an uncomfortable look on her face.

"Do not jump to conclusions, Pein, or it will be the undoing of you." Came a cold drawl.

Both Pein and Konan stiffened when they heard that voice. They knew very well who it belonged to. They didn't hear it often but they knew that it was a dangerous someone. So they both turned around to face the owner, bowing down to one knee to the shadow among the shadows. Pein had waved a hand at Konan to leave, but she was already leaving the room. Once the two were alone, Pein turned his cold gaze onto the real Leader of the Akatsuki. "Master," He spoke humbly as he stood up. "Someone has sabotaged the Extraction of the One Tail. The Shukaku has evaded us."

The true Leader stood up from sitting against the dark wall and moved closer, into the light. It was revealed that he wore all black, along with a dark cloak and hood to hide his real identity. But Pein could see the orange and black swirled mask from the opening, along with the fiery red eye peering out of the one hole in the mask.

"I already know, Pein. And I know who's responsible for the sabotage." The Leader held up a hand when Pein's face darkened and he looked ready to start demanding for the name so he could kill the traitor. "When the time comes, I will deal with him myself. But at the moment, we mustn't worry about his reason for doing it. We must concentrate on the task at hand." He told him.

"It was Itachi, wasn't it?" Pein growled, nastily. "I told you bringing him into the Akatsuki was a mistake."

The Leader turned away from him, looking towards the rainy scene outside. He didn't even seem bothered by the accusation at all. "Calm yourself, Pein. Bringing him into this was my own doing and it is my business. We have already put that behind you and me and we had left it at that. Do not bring it up again. In time, I will deliver the punishment upon him. Leave Itachi to me." He finally turned to face the orange haired Akatsuki. "You, on the other hand, will concentrate on the other plans."

"But what of the Shukaku……?" Pein asked quietly.

The Leader shook his masked head, an unamused aura coming off of him. "Do not worry about Shukaku, Pein. We will leave him alone for a while. The failure to capture him was expected. Unlike the other Tailed demons, the Sand demon is the hardest to hold onto. Even if we had extracted him, he would have escaped. He is like the sand he controls. He would slid right through our fingers. He's trickier than you actually realize." He then chuckled darkly. "He is a Tanuki, after all. They are slick little creatures. As I said, leave him and the Kyuubi to me. I will deal with them myself." He told him.

There was a pause as Pein looked away as if thinking hard about something but then he turned his dry stare back onto the Leader. "And what about the other one that escaped? Both Hidan and Kakuzu has reported that they failed to capture the Two Tailed Cat."

"Yes. I heard about that report from Zetsu." The Leader said, not any amused as Pein was. He was actually annoyed that the younger criminal brought up that report. "The Nekomata had jumped into the ocean, faking her own death. Both Hidan and Kakuzu were idiots for thinking she actually committed suicide to evade us. We'll only have to keep our eye out for her. Sooner or later, she'll show up. But never mind her. It'll be Zetsu who will look for her. You just prepare for the next stage. The old man is making his next move as it is. And we must watch him carefully to see what he is planning." He warned Pein. "As it is, I think I'm going to rejoin Zetsu. He's found Deidara, the sly little bastard." Then he vanished into the darkness.

"Yes, Master." Pein spoke to nothing but darkness. He waited for a very long time for the Leader to be truly gone before he narrowed his eyes dangerously. "Your orders will be obeyed. For now. But I'm slowly growing tired of playing your foolish war games. Soon, I will be in charge." He growled to nothing. Then he looked out into the rainy horizon of the Rain Country.

To be concluded in the sequel.

Author's Note: Yes, there will be a continuing story. But as for The Sand Prince, it has come to an end. I'm actually surprised that it came this far. I wasn't really expecting to write 40 chapters for this story. I was aiming to making it shorter. But, I am pleased of the progress. And I greatly thank all of you for reading this story and writing such great things about it.

As for the continuing story, I have already started writing it, but it has yet to be titled. I am actually aiming at calling it "Save the Demons" or "A Demon's Tale." But I'm still going through more titles. The new story will probably be up soon. But until then, thank you for reading "The Sand Prince."