Itachi looked at the note in his hand and scowled. Why did Sasuke do it? Why did his little brother have to be so completely stupid? This wasn't how things were supposed to be. Sasuke was supposed to be the redemption of the Uchiha Clan so that its ugliness could be washed away. Instead, his foolish brother had become the damnation of the clan bringing all the dirty secrets that Itachi had hoped to burry with his own death to light. Out of frustration, Itachi tore up the note that Sarutobi had sent him pleading for him to return to Konoha and let the pieces fly in the wind.
For the first time since that fateful day, Itachi was lost in the world without an idea of what he should do. Part of Itachi thought about returning to Konoha. However, the thought of returning to Konoha and the shame of his clan there was just too much for the last known Uchiha. Itachi thought about just slipping away into obscurity and settling down as a farmer or tradesman to raise a family. That idea was so alluring and tempting to the self-tormented young man. But, Itachi didn't feel that he deserved such a wonderful life after what he had done. Who in their right mind would ever think that a kin slayer deserved such a wonderful life?
About the only thing that Itachi was certain of was the fact that he couldn't stay in the Akatsuki anymore. Once the other members heard what was announced they would grow suspicious of him. Suspicion in a group of mission ninjas was never a good thing for the one that the others were suspicious of; it tended to result in the suspected ninja dying. Questions would be raised about his loyalty to the group when they found out that he had killed his family under orders. Itachi figured that Madara wouldn't stick his neck out for him and that he was on his own for this situation.
Well, that suited Itachi just fine. He had made it this far on his own; he would make it the rest of the way on his own. Chances that he would be able to make it to the next year were very slim. Itachi didn't like the idea of being a lucky kill of some bounty hunter or getting knifed in the back by the Akatsuki. Those two possibilities did not sit well with Itachi. If he was going to die, he'd die on his own terms.
The missing Uchiha ninja silently got up and calmly headed into Ame. No one down below paid him any heed. After all, he was just ninja to the ordinary citizens and the Rain Ninjas knew that the Akatsuki were servants of Pain. As far as anyone knew, he was just a regular old servant of Pain. Despite the severity of the situation, Itachi couldn't help but smirk. No one would expect what was coming on this, his last mission.
Slowly, Itachi made his way to the center of Ame to where Pain's Tower was located. No one was allowed in the tower except for Konan, Madara, and Pain's various bodies. This was actually good for Itachi because the fear of Pain kept guards from being stationed high up on the tower. The Uchiha ninja quickly used a jutsu on his sword that he had copied off of a Kiri ninja and cut an entrance into the wall. Itachi quickly flew into the entrance and raced down the hallways. He was now racing to locate the real Pain before his betrayal could be discovered.
Fortunately, Itachi's luck with betrayal held up this time around as he entered the central chamber where Nagato's body stood in its crawler. Nagato's body was famished and had dozens of chakra rods piercing it. In a way, it was almost pathetic. This near corpse that was only sustained by lost medical technology somehow managed to convince the people below that it was some type of god. Nagato turned his head to look at Itachi and hoarsely said, "You! How dare you enter this place! This is a forbidden area."
Itachi drew his blade and rushed at the frightened Nagato. Becoming Pain had given Nagato a major weakness: himself. In order to gain the paths, Nagato had to turn himself into a living chakra transmitter. This allowed him to wield immeasurable power through the paths, but left the real him as a target. That's why Nagato was hidden away and only Pain was showed to the outside world. Like any true ninja, Itachi took advantage of this weakness and cut off Nagato's head. Throughout the village, the various bodies of Pain suddenly collapsed because of Nagato's death.
Now on the clock, Itachi burned his way out of the tower and started attacking as many Ame ninjas as he could. Akatsuki needed the minor ninja village as a base of operations and as a place to launder its money. Any damage the village took would only hurt Akatsuki. Moreover, it would draw the other members of the organization out where Itachi could take them down.
Sasori was the first member of Akatsuki to appear against Itachi. The sight of the puppet master gave the rogue ninja a small pleasure. Itachi grinned at Sasori and called out, "Amaterasu!" The black fires of the Uchiha Clan's ultimate fire jutsu suddenly started burning Sasori's armor. Itachi kept pouring his chakra into the flames for a few more seconds before he let the fires burn on their own. Sasori had coated his puppet armor in flame resistant paint, but that was only against normal fire jutsus. Itachi had specifically chosen to use the Amaterasu against the puppeteer because it could burn through the flame resistant paint. That make the extra chakra cost worth it.
Even as Sasori burned to death, there was no rest for Itachi. Deidara had taken to the skies and was soaring over Itachi. The former Iwa ninja created two clay missiles and launched them towards the rouge Akatsuki operative. Over the explosions Deidara roared, "Art is a bang! Remember that traitor." Deidara then started circling overhead to try and spot his target.
Itachi had survived the explosions by ducking into a now destroyed shop. Survival was costly for Itachi because a wooden splinter about a foot long and two inches wide was now lodged in his right shoulder. The splinter rendered Itachi's right arm useless and thus stripped him of most of his jutsus. Suddenly, Itachi heard Deidara's mocking voice chant out in the sky, "There once was a little traitor named Itachi who killed his family. He thought that he could kill the Akatsuki. Oops, too bad, he failed and died with a bang!" Itachi heard the faint fluttering sound of Deidara's missiles and quickly rolled out of the store.
That explosion kicked up Itachi's feet as he rolled forcing him to do a handstand with his left hand and get in a crouching position in the middle of the street. Itachi looked up at the smirking Deidara and he knew that he had only one shot at taking that artistic fool down. This might be a suicide run, but there was no way that Itachi would ever allow Deidara the chance to claim victory over him. Focusing with all his might Itachi cried out, "Susanoo!"
Deidara nearly chocked when he saw the spectral warrior appear surrounding Itachi. Who knew that the oh-so serious Uchiha punk had something like this hidden up his sleeve? It just wasn't artistic to keep a masterpiece hidden from other artists. Deidara quickly spotted Susanoo's sword moving and tried to get out of the way. However, he wasn't able to turn fast enough and his ride was sliced by the sword causing it to explode.
Itachi weakly coughed at the sight of Deidara's death. Killing thre Akatsuki agents in one fight was pretty good for a single person and would set the Akatsuki back years. Suddenly, Itachi felt a sword run through him and looked down to see a bloody blade jutting out of his chest. He then heard Madara whisper in his ear, "Don't think that you're going to die like this on me Itachi. You've caused me quite a lot of trouble today and I do mean quite a lot of trouble. I've deliberately missed your vital organs so that I can prolong your death as much as possible. You will wish that you had never heard of the Akatsuki before I kill you later today."
The sun was peaking through the windows of Naruto's apartment revealing Temari sleeping in a futon set up in the living room. Temari was elegant and graceful in many things that she did, but sleeping was not one of those things. Her limbs were spread out on the futon, her hair was a mess, the blanket was all scrunched up, and there was a little bit of drool running down from the left side of her mouth. All and all, this was a typical morning scene where Temari was concerned.
Ever so slowly, the sun's rays started to coax Temari up. At first she tried to ignore the sun and stay asleep. However, Naruto turned the shower on a minute later and the sound was too much for Temari to ignore. The Suna kunoichi sat up and let out a half-asleep groan. Her brain then went on autopilot and dragged her body into the kitchen. Once there, Temari grabbed a highly caffeinated soda out of the fridge and guzzled it down. The caffeine from the soda kick-started Temari's system and caused her to fully wake up.
Now truly awake, Temari chucked her used soda can into the trash. She then headed into the living room and proceeded to put away her futon. Naruto was out of the bathroom by the time Temari had cleaned everything up. This allowed the Suna kunoichi to get in her shower while Naruto prepared breakfast for the two of them. While Naruto trusted Temari to cook for the both of them, he wasn't about to let her cook again since she wasn't that good. Temari finished getting ready for the day just as Naruto was putting breakfast on the table.
Breakfast was eaten in silence. The duo was still friends, but there was still some unease between them. Naruto had forgiven Temari knocking him out before the invasion and put it behind him. However, he was still unsure what he should do about Temari's proclamation of love. This hesitation on Naruto's part left Temari in an emotional limbo. What were the two of them? Were they just friends or were they something more? Neither Naruto nor Temari tried to bring that topic up after Temari's proclamation three days ago. This lack of communication just left things even more uncertain between them.
As breakfast was winding down, Temari looked up at Naruto and asked, "Naruto? What is the plan for today? Where do you want us to meet up?" Even though the terms of Temari's parole were generous, she still had to check in with Naruto throughout the day to make sure that she wasn't trying to escape. This of course meant that she had to fit whatever she was going to do for the day in with Naruto's schedule.
Naruto looked at Temari and replied, "Well, I'm going to see Jiraiya about my lack of a team. After that, I can't really say what I'm going to do. Let's arrange to meet at that barbecue place for lunch at noon. Then, we can arrange for another meeting later in the afternoon."
Temari nodded her head and said, "Okay, the barbecue place at noon. If you need to find me I'll be in the civilian library on Senju Street. At least there I can get some peace and quiet without too many stares from the civilians." Naruto winced slightly at the mention of the hostility directed to Temari. None of the civilians had attacked Temari, but a lot of sneers and hostile glares had been sent her way. It was to be expected that something like that would happen since many civilians were angry over the attack and Temari was the closest target. Still, that didn't mean that Temari or Naruto liked the civilians' actions.
The room grew quiet for a few minutes before the duo said their goodbyes. Naruto left a few clones to take care of the dishes and then headed off for the Hokage Tower. As Naruto walked down the street, he was given many curt nods of respect and even a few smiles by the villagers. Word had gotten around the village about Naruto's actions during the invasion. Many of those still on the council didn't like Naruto, but the average villager was starting to warm up to him.
Once Naruto got to the Hokage Tower, he quickly headed towards Jiraiya's office. The secretary knew that Naruto had an appointment and simply waved him on through. Naruto quickly spotted Jiraiya sitting behind the desk and two others standing near the desk. Judging from their age, Naruto figured that these were his new teammates.
Jiraiya quickly started talking after Naruto arrived, "Good morning Naruto. These are your new teammates, Tenten and Lee. Tenten has been newly promoted to Chunin, so she's on the team to polish off her skills before going on her own and to gain command experience. She is in charge of the team whenever your Jonin teacher is not around."
Lee quickly piped up, "Yosh! Welcome Naruto to the youthful Team Gai. It is an honor to have you on our youthf-" Lee wasn't able to continue his sentence because Jiraiya chucked an IchaIcha paperweight at Lee's head.
Everyone then heard Jiraiya mutter under his breath, "How did this kid pass his psych evaluation?" Jiraiya then took on a more dignified look and said, "Gai Maito will not be your Jonin instructor. He has been reassigned to the Ninja Academy to become the main Taijutsu teacher. If he is even halfway as successful with those kids as he was with Lee, our graduating genin will truly be formidable to the enemy. Tenzo from the now defunct Team 7 will become your instructor. Naruto, you know what Tenzo can teach you. Tenten, Tenzo can increase your ninjutsu so that you have less weak points. Lee, Tenzo can teach you about traps and other ways around your unique circumstances."
The reactions of the new Team Tenzo team members were interesting. Naruto had a big grin on his face, Tenten seemed thoughtful, and Lee was pouting. Tenten then looked at Jiraiya and said, "Hokage sir, where is our team's instructor?"
Jiraiya gave Tenten a small smile and replied, "Good thinking girl. Unfortunately, there was a critical mission that needed Tenzo's skills that you three aren't ready for yet. That means, of course, that you are in charge of the team for now Tenten. What your team does today is up to you. The three of you can train, take a D-rank mission, or just blow the whole day off. It's all up to you. Just remember to consult with Naruto when you're planning your team's day. He has to routinely check in with Temari Sabaku to make sure that she is honoring her parole. Now you three get out of my office so that I can work."
Tenten frowned a bit at the mention of Temari since it reminded her of Gaara and Neji's death. However, Tenten reminded herself that Temari wasn't Gaara and simply led Team Tenzo out of the office. Once outside, Tenten turned around to face her teammates and said, "Alright you two. I want to know how good both of you are and to go through some basic teamwork skills. We're headed for training ground 19. Naruto, I want to know the exact times that you're supposed to be meeting Temari." Seeing the look on Tenten's face, Naruto quickly complied as the team headed for training ground 19.
Konoha, despite what people outside and inside might claim was well aware of the dangers of that existed in the ninja world; the Leaf simply didn't broadcast its understanding of the real world. This actually gave them a measure of security since everyone else thought that they were a bunch of naïve fools. One example of where this played into Konoha's hands was a small holding facility that was run by ANBU for housing people too dangerous to be held in the village proper.
Tenzou was a bit surprised to find himself temporarily back in the ANBU working as guard in this facility. However, he was the only one with the skills necessary to look after a very dangerous prisoner. Gaara was confined to a large cage in the center of the room. On the floor of the cage was a large seal designed to drain away a portion of Gaara's Chakra. All of the boy's sand had been thoroughly scrubbed off of him and disposed of by dumping it into a river.
As a Jinchurriki, Gaara represented a major security problem. Killing him was out of the question because that would release the demon locked away inside him. That's why in the past, people fighting Jinchurriki aimed to disable, not kill. Tenzou was here because he was the best person to handle an enraged Jinchurriki if Gaara got loose. His mokuton, while not as effective as the Shodai's without the Senju jem, would be useful in containing Gaara.
Gaara was currently staring at Tenzou with hatred in his eyes. For most of his life, Gaara had been devoted to proving his existence by killing anyone who fought him and here he lay defeated. What was the purpose of his existence? Gaara looked on in rage at Tenzou who represented the loss of purpose. Why couldn't the Konoha ninjas have just killed him instead of putting him in this terrible limbo?
Looking at Gaara pulled at Tenzou's heart. The boy reminded him in a lot of ways of Naruto. Both were Jinchurriki and both, at least what was gleamed from other Suna ninjas, were dislike and feared by many in their home villages. However, where Gaara had given into despair and hatred, Naruto had overcome it. Eventually, Tenzou decided to break expected protocol and spoke to Gaara. "It's pathetic really. You have so much potential and yet, you're wasting it in this loathing of yours."
Gaara's face took on a more enraged looked and he shot back, "What do you know? My existence has been taken from me! What is a monster without the ability to kill?"
Tenzou frowned and calmly replied, "Is that all you think of yourself as? Having a demon sealed within you does not make you a monster. If you are a monster it is because you've turned yourself into one. Trust me; I know what I'm talking about. I have a friend who has exactly the same burden that you do and he is the farthest thing from a monster that any shinobi could possibly be. My friend has had a hard life and yet he's never given in to the temptation to become a monster."
These words cut Gaara to his core. All his life, he had thought that he was alone and that no one else knew what it was like dealing with a demon every day. Gaara wanted to deny Tenzou's words and retreat into his familiar mindset. However, being locked up in the cage prevented him from retreating and he had no way to kill Tenzou to silence the painful words. Slowly, these words moved through the mental cracks to Gaara's heart and forced him to see what he had turned himself into: a Monster.
Shukaku sensed that its hold on its host was diminishing and tried to counteract this. The sand demon sent every image of Gaara being isolated that had ever happened and intermixed this with feelings of pleasure whenever he killed someone. Gaara grabbed his head trying to deal with the massive influx of images. A brown aura started to form around Gaara putting Tenzou on the defensive. Just as Tenzou was about to pull out sealing ward, Gaara painfully screamed out, "GET OUT OF MY MIND! I AM NOT A DEMON ANYMORE!!!"
The demonic chakra emanating from Gaara suddenly exploded outward. This energy then shot up, folded in on itself, and then returned to Gaara. Tenzou watched as the returning energy slashed the kanji for redeemed above Gaara's right eye. Once the last bit of demonic chakra had returned, Gaara felt to the ground unconscious.
Hinata was walking down the streets when she saw something that completely shocked her. Naruto was sitting at Ichikaru's having ramen with Temari. Now, Naruto having ramen was not an uncommon thing and was why she usually walked this way. However, Naruto always, always ate his lunch by himself. Okay, so Ayame and Mr. Ichikaru would occasionally chat with Naruto for a bit, but the majority of the time Naruto ate by himself.
How could this have happened?! Naruto hadn't shown the slightest interest in any girl except for Sakura and that was in the past. Hinata had been carefully stalk-, er, watching Naruto hoping to build up the courage to ask him out. In fact, that had been why she was here today. Naruto hadn't been pursuing anyone and he had to deal with the disaster that had happened to his team. It had been Hinata's hope to cheer Naruto up and claim his heart that way. That plan was obviously not going to work considering how friendly Naruto was acting with his guest.
Suddenly, Hinata heard two nearby women talking amongst themselves. "Can you believe it?" One said to the other. "That Suna kunoichi is allowed to roam free throughout the village! Why the hell isn't she locked up with all the other sand whores?"
The other villager quickly replied, "I heard that it was some favor called in by the Daimyo. How unfair is that? Just because she's the former Kazekage's daughter she gets to go free."
Hinata felt an unexpected rage start to build up within her. Why was a Suna Kunoichi hanging around with Naruto?! It wasn't fair and it wasn't right. Naruto should be hanging out with her! Or at least, he should be hanging out with someone from Konoha. It wasn't right for him to be talking with a traitorous enemy. Unable to stand the sight of Naruto with Temari anymore, Hinata whipped around and started running away as fast as her legs could carry her.
The Hyuga heiress ran as fast as her legs could carry her until she reached an abandon training ground. Once in the training ground, Hinata threw her head back and let loose a scream of anguish and rage. Hinata had long been a very kind and gentle woman, but on that day her heart grew to hate Suna with every fiber of her being. That accursed village seemed to Hinata to solely exist to ruin her life. First, a Suna ninja kills her cousin Neji, then that village attacks the village, and now a Suna kunoichi steals time with Naruto. Hinata's eyes hardened as her heart hardened against the sand village.
Jiraiya was working in his office trying to sort out some necessary paperwork when he felt the minute tug of a summon wanting to talk to him. Putting down his pen, Jiraiya got up and calmly summoned the toad in question. The smoke cleared to reveal Pa standing on the floor with a solemn face. Jiraiya gave a respectful nod and said, "Okay Pa. Why did you want to talk to me?"
Pa looked up at his perverted student and said, "I just received word from the Crow summons. It appears that their summoner Itachi has died. Before he died however, Itachi was able to take out three other members of the Akatsuki. The Crows don't know which three Itachi took out; they only know for sure that he took out an extremely power member as one of his three kills."
Jiraiya bowed his head when he head about Itachi passing. As a person, Itachi's actions had repulsed Jiraiya. However, Jiraiya could understand and grimily admire Itachi's actions as a ninja. Itachi had put his own hopes and dreams, even his own family, aside for the good of the village. In a quiet voice Jiraiya asked, "Were the Crows able to retrieve Itachi's body?"
Pa shook his head and replied, "Sadly they couldn't recall Itachi's body. His executioner apparently had a seal in place that prevented Itachi's body from being summoned before the connection broke down."
With a sigh, Jiraiya replied, "I guess we'll just have to do an absentee funeral then. It's such a shame. Sarutobi had been hoping that Itachi could return to Konoha or at least retire quietly to the countryside. The punk really got screwed over by the village and his clan. He deserved the right to enjoy life. Still, thank you for informing me of this Pa. Is there anything else you want to talk about?"
Pa nodded his head and said, "You bet I do little Jiraiya. Ma and I are interested in young Naruto. The boy proved to be extremely capable during the invasion. Although Ma still has her reservations, we both want Naruto to come to the mountain for training."
Jiraiya stared dumbly at Pa and practically stuttered out, "You want Naruto to come to the Mountain? He's too young! Sage training isn't allowed to anyone younger than 14!"
Moments after saying that, Jiraiya's head was reintroduced to its old friend Pa's training cane. After some cranial landscape changes, Pa put away his training cane and hopped onto Jiraiya's badly bruised head. The disgruntled toad elder sage grumpily said, "Frogs leap before they look, Toads look before they leap. Didn't I specifically teach you that Little Jiraiya?" Unfortunately, the Hokage couldn't answer his teacher do to being unconscious.
Once Jiraiya was conscious again, Pa started to explain what he wanted. "Naruto has a great deal of potential, more than I've personally seen in any human before. I want to see that potential bloom. Normally, I would wait a few years before inviting Naruto to Myobokuzan. However, Itachi's actions have put me on high alert since there is no way to know what Akatsuki will do now. They might delay their plans to recruit new members or they could speed up their time table to not appear weak."
"If Akatsuki speeds up their timetable, Naruto is in grave danger. He's not a powerful as some of the older Jinchurrikis and his actions during the invasion have put him on the public radar. Naruto represents the best possible target for the Akatsuki if they do decide to show that they are still a force to be reckoned with. Bringing Naruto to Myobokuzan allows him to be trained in some of the lesser toad jutsus and gets him off of the public radar."
Jiraiya had to admit that Pa had a good point. However, the situation was much more complicated. Jiraiya looked at his teacher and said, "I have to agree with you Pa, but I can't have Naruto disappear. It would look suspicious if he just vanished. His new team would wonder what happened to him. Besides, it's an open secret in the village that Naruto is Temari's parole officer. There would be trouble if Naruto disappeared and she stayed around. I can't just lock Temari up again until the peace treaty since the Fire Daimyo specifically asked for her to be released."
Pa closed his eyes and thought about the situation for a few moments. The elder toad then smirked and said, "If Temari's presence draws too much attention to Naruto she'll just have to vanish with him. Arrange a scene involving some angry 'civilians' 'attacking' Temari over the losses from the invasion. She won't be hurt of course, but for her 'safety' she and her guard needed to move her parole area to an undisclosed location where she will be treated well. Of course, we'll have to bring both Temari and Naruto in on this little play to insure that it goes smoothly."
A small grin appeared on Jiraiya's face as he listened to his teacher's advice. It was such a simple plan and the best part was no one would question it. There only seemed to be one flaw to the plan from what Jiraiya could see. This caused him to speak up, "What about Ma, Pa?"
Pa shrugged his shoulders and said, "Ma would appreciate some female company. I'll just need to run this by her first before bringing Temari and Naruto back to the mountain."