Naruko and Haku were running behind Tsunade as they crossed the desert toward Sunagakure. They had been running for quite some time now and the girls were starting to feel the effects of the blazing sun above them. They had left very early in the morning as Tsunade wanted to cross as much distance as possible before it became too hot.
"Still okay back there?" Tsunade inquired.
"Y-Yeah but the heat is incredible." Naruko said puffing from the heat. "Do we have to wear these cloaks?"
"Yes, we do. "Tsunade said strongly. "The sun will burn your skin and dry you out. I know it's though but don't take them off. Also it protects your head from the heat. We do not want to get a heatstroke."
"How much further to Sunagakure?" Haku asked.
"We've been making good progress so far so I would say, two maybe three more hours." Tsunade guessed. "We're almost there so hang in there."
"Pff, like we would stop now." Naruko huffed. "We're not quitters, Baa-chan!"
"Good." Tsunade nodded as she picked up the pace. "We'll reach the great walls of Sunagakure by noon if we can continue like this."
Several hours later Naruko and Haku stared at the huge walls made of stone that seemed to rise up for several meters. These walls were natural rock formations that were used to protect Sunagakure from any attack. Along the walls guards were placed at regular intervals and each of them were armed and ready to defend their village. Haku and Naruko looked at the narrow passageway that would allow entrance to the village. It was the only way into the village so it was heavily guarded and protected.
As they reached the great walls they saw someone waiting for them. Haku and Naruko recognized him immediately as the Jounin sensei of Gaara and his siblings. The man was still wearing the same outfit as before and even the white cloth that covered half of his face was still present.
"Welcome to Sunagakure." Baki said as he approached the three kunoichi. "My name is Baki and wish you welcome to our village."
"Thank you for your kind words, Baki-san." Tsunade nodded her gratitude. "It's an honor to be here. I would like to introduce my travel companions Uzumaki Naruko and Haku."
"Ah yes of course; We've met briefly before my team and I left Konoha." Baki smiled at the girls. "It's good to see you again."
"You as well, Baki-san." Haku and Naruko answered.
"Come, let us get past the walls and into the village." Baki said. "You must be thirsty and tired after your trip through the desert. A room has been prepared for you and you're welcome to rest a bit."
"Thank you." Tsunade nodded. "A shower would do good, right now."
As they marched through the narrow passage, both Naruko and Haku were watching their surroundings with interest. As this was the first time they visited another Shinobi village, they were very interested in seeing how things worked around here. As they passed through the narrow streets of Suna, the people looked at them with some reservation and here and there a bit of shame. Nothing to overt or fierce but they could tell it was there. Baki, too, seemed to have noticed and addressed the matter.
"Please excuse them; after the invasion many of us have been feeling very bad about the way we were tricked." Baki said. "Also we lost several good and beloved shinobi in the fight."
"I'm sorry to hear that." Tsunade said diplomatically.
"Don't be." Baki shook his head. "It was our own fault. We were careless and we paid the price. We never once expected that the Kazekage had been killed and was being impersonated by Orochimaru. Perhaps if we had been more diligent all of this wouldn't have happened."
"The shinobi of Sunagakure shouldn't feel bad." Tsunade answered. "Orochimaru has tricked more shinobi than this. He's a master at what he does and you can be sure that he studied the Kazekage very well before taking his place. There's no way Suna could have known."
"Thank you for your kind words." Baki said somewhat relieved. "Still, we have learned from our mistakes and at the very least the new treaty has given us a new chance at forming an alliance with Konoha that surpasses the old one. For that we are grateful."
"Konoha feels the same way, I assure you." Tsunade nodded. "We are honored to call the village of Sunagakure allies."
"Come, not much further." Baki said.
"Baki-san, can you tell us a bit about Sunagakure?" Naruko asked interested.
"Of course, what do you want to know?" Baki smiled at the blonde girl.
"Whatever you can tell us." Naruko said.
"Very well; Sunagakure was founded by the first Kazekage who was in fact the leader of a large tribe of travelers. For many years, decades perhaps, this group had been travelling the desert, roaming from one place to the next. When the Kazekage became the leader of his tribe, he decided that traveling the desert was no longer in their favor. I'm sure you noticed from you trip that the desert is a traitorous place to live."
"No water, blazing hot during the day and freezing cold during the night." Haku acknowledged.
"Exactly, so he and his tribe set out to find the perfect spot to settle down." Baki continued the story. "After many years, they finally came upon this valley. As you can see, the valley is surround by rock formations, protecting it from the wind and the sandstorms that rages the desert frequently. It was an ideal spot to create the village."
"How did it become a shinobi village?" Haku wanted to know.
"Oh, the tribe was filled with several shinobi families." Baki explained. "Other tribes that were dwelling in the desert soon followed and created Sunagakure. This was shortly after Konohagakure had been founded by the Shodaime Hokage. The first and second Kazekage were responsible for creating and building our village's foundations and let it grow to what we are today."
"They sound like amazing men." Haku smiled.
"They sure were. However, they were surpassed by the Sandaime Kazekage." Baki continued. "He was said to be the strongest of all Kazekage."
"He was famous for the use of 'Satetsu'". Tsunade nodded. "He was a legendary shinobi in his time."
"Indeed he was. His use of the Iron Sand put Suna on the map and it allowed us to become one of the great 'Five' villages." Baki explained. "Under his reign Suna flourished and when he disappeared without a trace, Suna was desperate to find him. We never did however."
"He simply disappeared?" Naruko asked. She know of the history and how the Sandaime Kazekage's disappearance had led to the start of the Third Shinobi World war.
"Until now we have found no clue what happened." Baki admitted. "We searched everywhere but we couldn't find even one hair of him. It's a complete mystery and one of Suna's darkest moments."
"What about the Yondaime Kazekage?" Naruko asked.
"That's a story that will have to wait until next time." Baki said as they had arrived at the house where they would be staying. "Some people are anxious to see you two."
"Who?" Naruko and Haku asked. They turned as the front door of the house opened and a familiar girl smiled at them.
"Tsunade-sama, Naruko-san , Haku-san, welcome to Sunagakure." The girl said.
"Temari!" Naruko exclaimed and went over to greet the girl. "It's so good to see you."
"Likewise but why don't you come in." Temari said ushering them inside. "I've got some cold beverages and some food prepared."
"Thank you Temari, that's greatly appreciated." Tsunade smiled.
"Tsunade-sama, the meeting will be at ten tomorrow." Baki said. "Temari will escort you to the Kazekage's office in the morning. I wish you a good afternoon and a pleasant evening."
"Thank you, Baki-san." Tsunade nodded. "You have been most welcoming to us."
"It was my pleasure." Baki said bowing before leaving.
Temari quickly invited her three guests inside and told them to relax and get comfortable. Tsunade optioned to take a shower first as she was really hating the sand that kept crawling up her clothes all the time. Naruko and Haku however were too busy looking at the beautiful home, asking questions to Temari, who gladly answered them and showed them around. When they came to the basement the girls encountered another familiar face.
"Hey Kankuro, look who's here." Temari called out to her brother.
"Huh, who?" Kankuro said not bothering to look up from his workstation where he was working on a new puppet of his.
"Well, if you would stop working for a second and turn around you would see." Temari growled which made Kankuro put down his tools and turn around to face his sister's guests. He smiled as he recognized the two Konoha kunoichi and eagerly greeted them.
"It's good to see you two again." Kankuro said heartfelt.
"Thanks, it's good to see you too." Naruko smiled. "Working hard, I see."
"Just putting together an idea I had." Kankuro shrugged. "It's far from being complete but I prefer taking my time when building a puppet."
"It's a wonderful piece of art." Haku said looking around the workshop. "How many puppeteers does Suna have?"
"Not as much as I would like." Kankuro sighed. "It's a style that takes a lot of work and training so not many pick it up. Also you have to be able to make your own puppets early on and many fail to produce a puppet that last them long enough to advance in the style."
"Sounds like hard work indeed." Naruko said impressed.
"Yeah, but I like it." Kankuro nodded. "It calms me down and gives me a way out of Temari's bossiness."
This of course let to a small fight between the two siblings that amused Naruko and Haku to no end. They could tell that the argument was all in good fun and that both of them clearly loved each other. They were bantering back and forth until both were out of ammunition and halted the discussion. Temari did have the last word when she said that Kankuro wouldn't get desert that night if that was how he thought of her. Kankuro quickly retracted his words and almost groveled at her feet for forgiveness.
"So where is Gaara?" Naruko asked when they were heading back up.
"Oh he's training in the desert." Temari explained. "He's been doing that ever since we came back from Konoha. He was strong before but he's on a whole new level now. I don't know what's gotten into him but he's a different person."
"How so?" Naruko asked.
"Before he was always cold and distant. Even to us." Temari explained. "Before he wouldn't have hesitated a second to kill us. It's not nice to say but my little brother scared the hell out of me when he was like that. The thought that he could and would kill us without even blinking terrified me to no end. But now he's trying to close that bridge between us. It's still early and new but we've made wonderful progress."
"We're happy for all of you." Naruko and Haku said.
"It's thanks to you that he's changed so much." Kankuro said as he joined him. "I still don't understand why you managed to get through to him but it doesn't matter. Gaara has made a total one eighty and we're very thankful to both of you for it. Even the villagers and other shinobi have noticed it. When he walks around the village, people are no longer running away from him. They're still wary and uncertain but it's a definite improvement of how it used to be."
"Can we go see him?" Haku asked.
"Bad idea." Both Temari and Kankuro said immediately. "Trust us, you do not want to be around when Gaara is training in the desert. He goes crazy with his Jutsu while training there. The whole desert is at his command; the amount of sand he can control now is mind blowing."
"Really?" Naruko asked excited. "I really want to see him now."
"Me too." Haku agreed. "Please show us where he trains."
"You two are still as crazy as before." Kankuro shook his head. "Fine, I'll take you to him but don't say we didn't warn you."
"Awesome." Naruko grinned.
After they informed Tsunade of where they were going, the four youngsters left the house. On their way to Gaara's training ground, Temari and Kankuro entertained the two Konoha Kunoichi with stories and information about Sunagakure and their lives in the desert. As they walked through the sandy roads, Naruko and Haku noticed just how different life was from theirs in Konoha. There were no trees or small parks where one could relax in the shadow on a hot summer day; no small waterways where you could enjoy a refreshing dip of the feet; no colorful scenery in the autumn or spring. No, Sunagakure had none of that. It had a different kind of beauty to it.
The village layout was different from Konoha; the Kazekage's office was right smack in the middle of the village and everything was build around it in a circular fashion. The small houses were charming in their simplicity and elegant but Naruko found that they lacked the warmth that Konoha's houses had. Still, she could tell that the house were build to withstand the harsh environment of the desert. If they had build their houses like Konoha had, they wouldn't last very long.
"So Gaara has his own personal training ground?" Naruko asked as she focused on the conversation.
"It's not a personal training ground per se." Temari explained. "He simple requested that no one approached him while he was there. He said that he didn't want to accidently hurt anyone if they came too close."
"What kind of training does he do that he could hurt people of they get too close?"e GH Haku asked.
"You'll see soon enough." Kankuro smirked. "Like we said, Gaara is training like crazy. Before he never actually trained as he was already strong enough to defeat almost anyone. After getting his ass kicked by you however, he changed." He said looking at Naruko. "He's been training ever since we came back but when we ask why, he refuses to tell us. It's been driving Temari nuts."
"Hey, you're just as curious as I am!" Temari yelled at her brother. "Don't make it seem like I'm the only one curious about it."
"Fine, I'm just as curious." Kankuro grinned as he managed to rile his sister once more. "Here we are; be careful and keep your eyes open."
Naruko and Haku nodded as they followed the two Suna Shinobi. As they reached the training ground they saw nothing but sand as far as they could see. In the distance however they could see a small human shaped form but it was so far that they had to strain their eyes to see it. They watched as Kankuro and Temari advanced forward and quickly followed them. After a few minutes of running across the sand, they stopped and watched as the desert seemed to explode and sand just about reached the heavens. A tidal wave made out of sand seemed to roll across the desert only to come crashing down several hundred feet further.
"Wow, that's a lot of sand." Naruko said perplexed. "Is Gaara controlling that?"
"Yep, that's one of his techniques." Kankuro said. "Get caught up in that and there's no way to come out alive. The weight of the sand alone would crush you like a tin can. Not to mention the force of the initial impact."
"Very impressive." Haku said shocked. "Gaara truly has the upper hand here. The whole desert is at his disposal; only a fool would attack him here."
"Correct me if I'm wrong but is he floating in the air?" Naruko asked suddenly feeling a bit stupid from asking such a question.
"You're not wrong." Temari laughed. "That's one of his new Jutsu. It's called 'Sabaku Fuyuu' and it allows him to levitate sand and stand on it. He still needs a lot of concentration to use it but he's learning to use it together with other techniques."
"That's so awesome." Naruko said obviously envious of such a skill. "Wish I could do that."
"Come on, let's go see him." Kankuro laughed at Naruko's envy.
Gaara was breathing heavily as she canceled his latest Jutsu. It still took a lot of chakra and concentration to keep the attack going but he felt like was slowly getting better. It had been very strange for him to feel the satisfaction that came with this. Before he had never felt any satisfaction from learning a new technique; they came naturally to him and the only satisfaction he felt was when he killed an opponent with it. Now however he felt good whenever he trained and it had taken some adjustment. The feeling of accomplishing something that made you work so hard was new to him but he liked it.
Ever since his return from Konoha he felt different. He felt better and more at peace with himself. No longer was he focused on killing people in order to prove his existence. Now he focused on becoming a better shinobi and a better person. It hadn't been easy though. The people of Sunagakure were still afraid of him and they kept their distance but he noticed that their opinion was slowly changing for the better. Once they saw that he no longer killed at a whim and he actually stopped producing such a menacing air around him, the people relaxed a bit as well. It was a welcome change and one he hadn't expected to happen for a long time but he was happy about it nonetheless.
He did his best not to distance himself again from his sibling but it wasn't easy. He had never been very attached to them until now and yet again it was a strange feeling. Where before he would have been annoyed at Kankuro for acting like an idiot at times, he now tolerated his brother's goofy behavior. He still didn't understand it and more often than not questioned the boy's mental capabilities but he accepted it.
Temari had been different. She was very protective of him now and at time she hovered around him as if he was a fragile babe in need of a mother. He didn't really need her attention like that but he let her do as pleased. If he was honest with himself, he would have to admit that he kind of liked it how she worried over him as no one had ever done that before. He was about to do his Jutsu again when he heard his name being called.
"Gaara, you have company." He heard his sister's voice call out. "Look who's here."
Gaara turned around and looked down as he was still floated on his sand and saw who had arrived. He knew some shinobi from Konoha would be coming to Suna but he didn't expect to see the two familiar faces that were smiling at him. He willed his sand to lower to the ground and gently floated down.
"Hi Gaara, it's good to see you again." Naruko said getting closer to the boy. As she was happy to see him again she gave him a small hug.
"Uzumaki Naruko, it's good to see you as well." Gaara said stiffly not knowing how to react to the hug.
"You look wonderful." Haku said as she gave a small hug just like Naruko. "You've become much stronger than before."
"I have been training every day to catch up with you." Gaara nodded to Naruko. "You told me that I can be strong like you if I fight to protect those precious to me."
"And did you find any precious people yet?" Naruko smiled.
"I might have." Gaara said looking towards Kankuro and Temari.
"That's great." Naruko and Haku smiled. "We saw your last Jutsu. It was amazing; how do you manipulate so much sand at once?"
"It takes a lot out of me so it's not perfect yet." Gaara answered. "I'm not strong enough yet to do it right."
"Well, now that Naruko and Haku are here you can stop for today." Temari said. "We should get home so they can relax a bit after their trip. It's not good for you two to stay out in the sun all day. You might catch a sunburn or heatstroke without noticing it until it's too late."
Everyone nodded and returned to the house. Along the way Naruko and Haku were asking Gaara tons of questions, all of which he answered in a typical Gaara way. Short and to the point but they didn't mind. They knew Gaara was still adjusting to having people to talk to and wanting to be around him, even after all these months. When they got to the house, they found Tsunade sitting in a chair, relaxing and they quickly joined her. Naruko and Haku opted to take a shower and refresh themselves before having diner.
Diner was lively affair as Kankuro entertained all of them with stories of his adventures in Sunagakure. Temari added much to the stories as well, as she told them how often she had to save her brother from trouble he had caused in the first place. Naruko, Haku and Tsunade also told some stories about the latest few months so everyone was in high spirits. The only one who seemed to be very quiet was Gaara but they could all tell he was enjoying himself as he sat there listening to the others. A tiny glint of a small smile showing on his face and the eyes that were once so cold and distant, now showing signs of contentment and happiness.
Meanwhile in Konoha, a certain Uchiha had only just returned from a new mission with his team. The mission had been a simple C-rank and had posed no challenge whatsoever which frustrated him till no end. For months now he had been forced to do these meaningless missions and his patience was running thin. Whenever he asked for special training or more worthwhile missions Kakashi refused saying that he wasn't ready yet. That he should focus on mastering what he already knew instead of wanting to learn new techniques. That the basics were important and so on.
They were nothing but excuses he realized. He was starting to see what Mizuki and Amachi had tried to tell him; if he stayed in Konoha he would never reach the necessary level to beat Itachi. Yes, he would get stronger eventually but it would take years and years before that happened. His thirst for revenge simply couldn't wait that long. His revenge was all he had left and he wanted to get stronger fast. While he understood the seriousness of what leaving Konoha meant, he found himself not really caring any longer. He had no ties left here and thus it wouldn't be that much of a sacrifice to leave his native village. Perhaps it would even be for the best as it would also mean a fresh start. Surely an Uchiha would be welcomed anywhere.
As he pondered his options he was suddenly startled when a large snake appeared next to him out of nowhere. He jumped up and readied himself to attach the snake but he halted when the snake dropped a scroll on the floor. Curiously he got closer and slowly picked up the scroll, keeping an eye on the snake should it decide to attack. He unrolled the scroll and started ready.
I'm sure you know who I am as no doubt you have heard of me before. I've had my eye on you for quite a while and I recognize much of myself in you. Both of us are considered geniuses and are capable of things other shinobi can only dream of. However, just as I was, you're being held back by Konoha and its weak regime. They fear that people like you and me would get too strong. They fear our capabilities because they know that it's only a matter of time before we would rise above them and they would lose control over us. People like us are meant for greatness but this greatness cannot be achieved as long as were shackled down by those inferior to us.
If you desire the strength and power to defeat your brother then I'll make you an offer you shouldn't refuse. Join me and I'll give you all the power you'll ever need. Your revenge upon your brother will be within your grasp.
Join me and I shall free you of these shackles and give you the one thing you desire above anything else. Power. Power to defeat not only your brother but also all those that try to control you.
If you agree to my proposal, all you have to do is meet with my subordinate north of Konoha in two weeks time. A map will be delivered later on. A diversion will be arranged to ensure that you can leave without anyone noticing. As a token of my good will, I have included a present to you. Use it well. Remember this is but a fraction of the things I could teach you.
Putting the scroll down Sasuke noticed that the snake had delivered a second scroll. He picked it up and unrolled only to reveal several B and A rank Ninjutsu. There were about ten of them, five Katon Ninjutsu and five Raiton Jutsu. Sasuke grinned as he read the description of the Jutsu and he could feel excitement running through his veins. Finally he had received something that would help him in getting stronger.
'Perhaps it's time for me to spread my wings on my own.' Sasuke thought as he considered the offer. 'I'll wait to make a decision for now but in two weeks I'll decide whether I'm staying or not. I'll give Konoha one last chance to do right with me. If they keep insisting on keeping me on a leash, I'll show them that I'm nobody's dog.'
With that thought, Sasuke went to his room and turned in for the night. Tomorrow he would start learning the Jutsu he had received.
Naruko and Haku were having an amazing time in Sunagakure. While Tsunade was occupied with the Suna council, the two of them spent most of their time with Temari, Kankuro and Gaara. The three siblings had shown them around in their village and they had met several very interesting people along the way. In fact they had made a few new friends and had sparred with quite a few Suna Shinobi, under the observant eye of Baki.
"So who's the strongest Shinobi of Sunagakure?" Naruko wanted to know.
"Living or dead?" Kankuro asked.
"Both." Naruko smiled. "Not including the Kazekages. I mean, Konoha has several legendary shinobi so I'm sure Suna has them as well."
"Hmm, let's see." Temari said. "Well, there's Baki-Sensei for sure. He's very strong and has mastered the "Kaze no Jaiba" unlike anyone before. He's recognized as one of the strongest Jounin in Sunagakure. I would say he's about the level of Hatake Kakashi."
"That's strong indeed." Haku nodded. "Kakashi-Sensei is definitively one of the strongest Jounin we have."
"Akasuna no Sasori." Kankuro said without a doubt. "He was a legendary Puppeteer before he turned Nukenin. He was taught by Chiyo-baa-sama and she's as much a legend as the Sannin of Konoha."
"Tsunade-sama told us about her." Haku nodded. "She must be very impressive as Tsunade-sama spoke with respect and admiration about her."
"She's a cranky old bat that prefers to be left alone." Temari scowled lightly. "She lives at the outskirts of the village with her brother. She doesn't bother with the village anymore as she has lost all interest in it. I respect her greatly for her achievements but I dislike her because of that fact. She could do much good for the village but she refuses any and all requests for help."
"What happened?" Naruko wanted to know.
"Nobody knows for sure but rumor has it that she became disillusioned with the village when her grandchild, Sasori, became a Nukenin." Kankuro shrugged. "It's a shame though, I could learn so much from her. She's said to be one of the strongest Puppeteers ever. Her 'Jikki Chikamatsu no Shuu' puppets are legendary; it's said that she leveled a fortress with them."
"Really?" Naruko and Haku said impressed.
"It's definitely one of the strongest Puppeteer Techniques in existence." Kankuro smiled, glad that the girls seemed so impressed with his art. "There are ten of them and she could control each puppet with only one finger. That takes an insane amount of Chakra control to do; nobody has ever managed to duplicate that."
"Well, you should totally make that your goal then." Naruko smiled.
"Are you crazy? Do you know how difficult that is?" Kankuro gasped in disbelief.
"So what?" Haku said. "If it's difficult, try harder. If you fail the first time, try again until you succeed, no matter how long it takes. That's how Naru-chan and I train; no matter how hard or difficult something might seem, we'll do it because we won't give up until we succeed."
"Never give up." Gaara said quietly. "Good words to live by."
"See? Gaara understands." Naruko laughed. "Don't think about how difficult something is but think about how amazing it will be once you succeeded. That will be all the motivation you need. You said you wanted to bring your art back? Well, then you better man up and get to work."
"Anything else?" Kankuro asked.
"Yeah, you might want to reconsider your clothing style." Naruko grinned knowing that it would get a rise out of the young man. "It looks like a pajama."
"Hey, I'll have you know that these are traditional clothes designed for Puppeteers." Kankuro shouted. He glared at the girls but when he saw that they were holding back their laughter he scowled. "You did that on purpose!"
All four of them laughed while Gaara had a small grin on his face. After that they continued their walk to the house in order to get some shelter from the sun and some well earned refreshments.
A week later Naruko, Haku and Tsunade were ready to leave Suna and return to Konoha. Tsunade had been introduced to the council of Suna and they had reformed the Alliance with new terms and agreements that pleased both of them. She had played hardball with the council to show that she wouldn't be intimidated nor pushed aside just because she would be new to the job. She stuck to her demands and, while consenting a bit here and there, the terms were favorable to Konoha. Some terms hadn't been touched, such as the support of either village to the other in time of war, distress or any possible danger that could have major repercussions to the village. An exchange program was to be created that would allow Gennin to come learn in the other village to see what it was like.
This would not only improve both villages as they would learn new techniques and knowledge, it would also mean that the relations between the two villages would strengthen. Konoha, who had a great Medical Nin program could for instance train some Suna Medical Nin under the guidance of Tsunade herself. Suna would teach how to survive in the rough environment of the desert and some Fuuton techniques.
All in all both Suna and Konoha would benefit from the alliance.
After saying their goodbyes to the three siblings that had been their hosts for the past week and a bit, the three Konoha shinobi prepared themselves to cross the desert once more and return home. The three of them had enjoyed their stay at Sunagakure but they were eager to be back home so they wasted no time. Tsunade was itching to get some well deserved rest; Naruko was eager to get some Ichiraku ramen and Haku was wishing for some alone time with Naruko.
"Alright, let's pick up the pace and get home shall we?" Tsunade ordered. The girls didn't mind one bit and followed their future leader through the desert, heading home.