Chapter Fourteen: The Domino Effect

A/N: Sorry for the delay in the new chapter upload. As many of you can tell, FFN is have difficulty with a complicated glitch on their site and many members, myself included, couldn't edit or upload our new chapters for days. Hopefully this problem will be fixed soon.

(Three Days Later)

Sakura, dressed in her nurse uniform, was in the hospital performing her routine training and internship with the medic staff on hand. Currently though, she was on her break and sitting in the lounge with a particular book in hand. Her focus was deeply rooted in what she was reading before her mind wondered to what Naruto told her yesterday:

"…I figured that you'd want to read up on how you can become more feminine with a guy…I was just giving my honest opinion in what I felt you needed improvements on."

Naruto really does think I lack femininity, Sakura though dejectedly, I wanted to pound him into the ground for that statement. But every time I think about it, I found that he was right about me, considered how I've acted around him and others, but especially towards Naruto.

While thinking about that, an infamous statement N. Naruto said to her some time ago came to mind:

"Even in this universe you never change at all Sakura. You're still the same Dekosuke I often took you for."

What people often thought and said about her had gotten to her in time's past, but subconsciously Naruto's opinions of her really mattered to her. N. Naruto didn't say he hated her but at the same time he didn't think highly of her and didn't see her as someone who can change.

Even he didn't think I'm feminine, Sakura thought, I really am that awful as a girl. I wonder if I can change that…

"Of course we can change ourselves," inner-Sakura replied, "We'll show Naruto just how feminine we can be. We'll have him eating his words for sure! Shanaroo!"

"Sakura," a medic-nin called out to Sakura. The pink-haired kunoichi snapped out of it and quickly closed the book and she stood up in attention with the book hidden behind her.

"Yes, Shizune-san," Sakura greeted.

"I left some medic reports on Ryota's progress in her room," Shizune explained, "Would you please be so kind as to retrieve them for me?"

Sakura nodded and did as she was requested to. Upon arriving on the third floor and entering Ryota's recovery room, Sakura found not only Ryota in her room, but also Sai, Hinata and Naruto.

"Sakura-chan," Naruto greeted.

"Naruto," Sakura greeted, "What are you three doing here?"

"We came to see how Ryota was doing," Naruto said, "Sai and I ran into Hinata on the way here who also wanted to see how she was doing after hearing what happened yesterday."

"I see," Sakura replied before going over to retrieve the clipboard from the nearby table.

"Naruto-kun," Ryota said, "We'll have to make up for lost time after I get out of this hospital bed. That Tsuchiko made of mess of everything when she showed up."

"Don't worry about that," Naruto assured, "We'll have plenty of time to hang and do whatever it is you like doing."

"I know Tsuchiko was skilled," Ryota said, "But I didn't think that she was at the level where she was able to land me in the position I'm in now. I really fell behind in my own abilities to counter ninjas like her."

"Don't beat yourself up over it," Naruto replied, "Take it as a gauge in seeing where you and Tsuchiko now stand and where you need to make improvements on and how you can grow stronger from there. If you do that you'll kick Tsuchiko's ass next time for sure. Dattebayo!"

"I'm sure your days of routinely receiving ass kicking helped you to gauge where you stood with others and where you needed to make improvements on and how you could grow stronger from there," Sai remarked.

"Shut up Sai," Naruto shouted. Sakura giggled from Sai remark and Naruto's reaction to it. Hinata went to calm Naruto down while Ryota saw how she could change the subject.

"Sakura what's that book in your hands," Ryota asked. Sakura, realizing her mistake in exposing her book, slid the book behind the clipboard.

"Oh it's nothing," Sakura said, "Just something I was looking into just to pass the free time I had."

"Is that right," Ryota remarked, not believing a word Sakura said, "Mind if I take a look into it?"

"Oh it wouldn't interest you anyway," Sakura said trying to sway Ryota off the subject.

"Why not," Ryota said, "I'm sure I can give the book's advice a chance."

Sakura was getting nervous, not wanting to expose herself in front of Naruto and the others.

Damn it she's on to me, Sakura deduced.

"What are you talking about Ryota," Naruto asked, "It's probably some medical book filled with a bunch of complicated stuff anyway."

"Yeah, that's it," Sakura agreed quickly, "Anyway, Shizune-san is waiting for me so I better go. Bye."

Sakura hurriedly exited the room, leaving a confused Naruto and Hinata behind with Sai giving his famous fake smile.

"Sakura was really jumpy for some reason," Hinata said stating the obvious.

"She was hiding something," Ryota said, "And Naruto-kun just covered up for her and gave her an excuse to run before we can see what she was really up to."

"Whatever the book was I'm pretty sure wouldn't have interest you anyway Ryota," Naruto said.

"You're probably right," Ryota agreed, "She'll most likely need that book more than anything, all things considered."

"Well Ryota-san," Sai said, "Seeing that you're doing well, I'll be on my way now."

Sai made his exit out of the room, leaving Ryota with Hinata and Naruto.

"What a source of comfort he was," Naruto remarked.

"I'm not bothered by it," Ryota said, "Both you and Hinata being here is enough for me."

For the remainder of the time, the three of them talked and chattered away while also sharing some good laughs together.

(Several Moments Later)

"Thank you Sakura," Shizune said as she was given the clipboard.

"Anytime Shizune-san," Sakura replied being seeing Sai exiting the hospital by himself.

Naruto and Hinata are still with Ryota then, Sakura figured. Returning back to reality, Sakura looked at the older woman and decided to seek out some advice.

"Shizune-san can I asked you something," Sakura asked.

"What is is?"

"What can I do to become more feminine," Sakura asked. Shizune blinked a few times before she asked, "I beg your pardon."

"I want to know if you can give me some advice on what I can do to become more womanly," Sakura explained.

Where is this coming from, Shizune wondered and then asked, "Why are you asking such questions of me?"

"Seeing the way you carry yourself in public and in your profession," Sakura said, "I thought you'd be the best person to ask; beside the fact that you're closer to my age than Tsunade-sama."

Shizune was wondering on Sakura's motives in asking her such questions. That was when she looked at the book in her hands.

"What's that book in your hand," Shizune inquired. Sakura handed Shizune the book as the older woman reached out and took the book. Looking over the book, the veteran medic-nin saw what kind of book Sakura was looking into.

""Establishing The Womanliness In You"," Shizune said reading the title out loud, "When did you start reading this book?"

"The other day," Sakura replied.

"What brought about this," Shizune asked, "I don't recall you having issues with how you see yourself."

"I did in time's past," Sakura made clear, "That was before I met Ino. Even now part of me still has it."

"Care to share your concerns with me," Shizune offered. Sakura and Shizune walked and went into an empty office and closed the door behind them. Shizune took a seat with Sakura sitting in front of her.

"During my academy days," Sakura explained, "I suffered from low self-esteem and was often picked on and bullied by the other girls. Ino helped me through that when we were younger and we became best friends. This was before our then rivalry for Sasuke started and damaged our friendship though we did later fix things between us so."

Shizune didn't miss how Sakura dropped the honorific she had always used with Sasuke's name.

"But Ino isn't person we're talking about, are we," Shizune asked. Sakura shook her head.

"It's about Naruto-kun, isn't it," Shizune figured. Sakura lowered her head as if she was just exposed. There was an awkward silence between the two medic-nins. Neither said anything for a moment as she one was waiting for the other to break the silence. Soon one of them finally decided to do so.

"What changed," Shizune asked directly. Sakura looked up at the older woman, "Huh?"

"What changed your views of him all of a sudden," Shizune asked, "Does it have anything to do with the proclamation of him being a Jinchuuriki or him being the son of Yondaime?"

"It's not that Shizune," Sakura replied, "In fact it goes much deeper than that, as far back to our academy days."

"I'm listening," Shizune said. Sakura saw that in spite of Shizune's interest in her situation, the older woman had a protective older sister spirit for Naruto. Acknowledging that, Sakura saw she had to lay her words carefully.

"Back then," Sakura continued, "It was no secret that Naruto had the hugest crush on me. For all I could remember, Naruto always annoyed me repeatedly in asking me out on dates; all of which I refused in hopes of one day getting together with Sasuke. I would hit, punch and kick Naruto to the ground, wall and nearby furniture or tree, whenever he did something that was considered stupid, reckless and downright idiotic.

"Yet despite this, Naruto always placed me in high regards and would often compliment me about my looks and book smarts. I went as far as to use Naruto's acknowledgment, compliments and attention as a means to boost up my self-confidence and self-esteem. Back then all I cared about was getting Sasuke's attention and interest while I was using Naruto.

"This continued through my remaining academy days and even after we become Genins. Even after Sasuke deserted Konoha I continued using Naruto's praise and interest in me as a means to heighten my self-confidence and self-esteem. I knew it was shallow, inconsiderate and selfish of me but-"

Sakura paused momentarily as she took a moment to gather her thoughts and feelings.

"Yes," Shizune remarked while waiting for the younger girl to continue.

"I didn't realize how attached I was to Naruto and how subconsciously I came to rely on his view of me so heavily. When the other Naruto came to this world, to find out that that version of Naruto looked down on me with strong disapproval in both his and this universe made me feel deeply sad. And the fact that he was what our Naruto could have been had me wondering if Naruto would have viewed me the same way as the other one does.

"I was surprised at how the thought of Naruto's displeasure troubled me that much. From the other Naruto's tone and choice of words, I saw that he didn't think highly of me and that his relationship with my counterpart wasn't like anything our Naruto and I have.

"Your relationship with Naruto-kun," Shizune asked with a raised eyebrow. Sakura blushed upon seeing the choice of words she unwittingly used.

"I-I mean my friendship with Naruto," Sakura blushed and hurriedly corrected herself. Shizune gave Sakura the nod to continue.

"When Ryota came and joined our village, Tsunade-sama assigned my team to give Ryota a whole tour of Konoha. During that mission, all she did was flirt with Naruto, ask him a whole bunch of questions and laugh at all of his jokes. I didn't want to admit it but…"

Shizune stayed quiet as Sakura took a breath to continue.

"I was so jealous," Sakura admitted, "I couldn't believe how another girl was able to take Naruto's focus and attention away from me. So much so that the next day I used the sparing match as an excuse to vent my jealous anger out on Naruto. Ino exposed this to my face after I told her about the events that took place during the D-rank tour mission my team and I did."

"I always believed that Naruto would continuously pursue me for dates and getting me to become his girlfriend. Ino however argued by saying that she completely doubted that Naruto would do such a thing because she believed that Naruto would eventually move on from me and to someone else. I argued by saying that I never saw Naruto look at another girl in all the days I knew him and that he constantly sought to be around me. Ino shot back by saying that if the other Naruto was any testimony to what our Naruto could become in the future, without doubt, there would be other females that would seek his attention and affections.

"I didn't want to believe her even though I knew Ino was right. Days ago when I sat down and really thought about how I treated Naruto and everything I put him through, I broke down and cried. I felt so awful and ashamed of myself.

"From then on, I sought ways to right the wrongs I've done and to become a better friend and person for Naruto. I even talked him out of keeping that promise to get Sasuke back."

That caught Shizune by surprise.

"You got Naruto-kun to forgo his promise to go after and get Sasuke back," Shizune asked.

Sakura nodded and continued, "He almost got killed for trying to keep that promise the first time at my request. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if he were to be killed for sure trying to keep such a selfish promise I had him make for me. I didn't want him to carry that burden of going after a traitor anymore and I wanted us to let go of the past and move on from it."

"Things have started to get better between me and Naruto, though I'm still working on improving myself. After Tsunade-sama announced Naruto's heritage to the village, I wanted to give my full support to Nrauto. However Hinata went and invited Naruto over to her home while I stood by and watched as they left together. Konohamaru went and joked about how Hinata wanted to be Naruto's only means of support, which made me both upset and jealous. And I saw that Ryota didn't exactly look too thrilled about it either.

"A couple of days later, Kakashi had Ryota substitute in his place to train us for the day since he had another assignment to do. Again Ryota started flirting with Naruto much to my annoyance before she started a fierce battle session between herself and the three of us."

"And that was the same day this Tsuchiko girl from Iwa attacked and ambushed Ryota," Shizune deduced.

"It was," Sakura confirmed, "After that incident with Ryota being hospitalized, Sai left and went his own way and before Naruto could do anything, I suggested we spend the day training together. Later though after our sparring session was over, he said that he didn't know what else they could do for the day and then he compared his time with me to the day he spent with Hinata while remarking that he had fun with her."

"And I'm sure hearing that didn't make you happy," Shizune figured.

"It didn't," Sakura replied, "But Naruto confessed that he doesn't really know what me, Hinata, Ino or any other girl finds amusing and fun since each of us are different. He added that he might find something that he likes doing but it might turn out to be something dumb to the rest of us. He was totally clueless and yet he wanted to go on dates with me; ironic really.

"When I said that help him in understanding a girl's thinking on they we find fun and enjoying and flip things around and suggested we head to the bookstore to find books on the subject. Then he added that we could also find books that could help me too. When I asked why, he said that I could learn to become more feminine with a guy."

"I'm sure you or any girl for that matter wouldn't happy with what he said to you," Shizune said, "I know I wouldn't be happy with such bluntness even if he was being honest."

"I wasn't and I wanted to clobber him for it," Sakura agreed, "But again I found myself thinking about what Naruto said about me lacking femininity and well, here we are now."

Shizune stayed quiet as she process everything she was told. She had to admit that she was expecting some shallow reasons for Sakura's change and interest in Naruto from looked like to be from out of nowhere. But after hearing Sakura's story, she saw that the girl was being sincere and completely truthful.

"That's quite a story you told me Sakura," Shizune said, "It was more than what I was expecting to hear. But tell me Sakura, did you really love Sasuke?"

Sakura thought about the question.

"Let me ask you this," Shizune said, "What was it about Sasuke that attracted you to him at first?"

"Well," Sakura said, "Like all the other girls, I thought he was handsome, smart, skilled and a prodigy. He was the top student in our class, someone whom I thought had real potential. Back then he had this aura to him that just seemed to attract many of the girls and I."

"Most of your beginning reasons sounds more like a superficial crush," Shizune pointed out, "What was it about his character that attracted you to him? What did he see you for?"

Sakura stayed quiet as she tried to come up with a plausible explanation. So far most of what she came up with didn't sound satisfactory to her. The older woman continued to wait patiently for Sakura's answer.

"Back then," Sakura said as she lowered her head, "I thought I knew."

"What do you mean," Shizune asked.

"I thought I knew Sasuke," Sakura said, "I thought I could understand him and what he was going through in his life. I thought I could help and change him. I wanted to believe that in time Sasuke would see me as a potential girlfriend and would want to go out with me.

"But I was only lying to myself. The truth was I understood nothing about him or Naruto for that matter. Sasuke never looked at me as anything more than another teammate whom he had no interest in. He never complimented me for whatever skills I had, said I was pretty or called me a precious friend like how Naruto would. All I was to Sasuke was annoying obstacle between him and his ambitions.

"Through it all, Naruto was always there for me whenever I was in need of emotional support, encouragement and reassurance. Despite my poor behavior back then, in spite of how blind I was to the truth and how others thought and looked at me, Naruto always looked for the good in me and look out for my best interests, even at his own expense. He was so selfless and was willing to sacrifice his happiness for my own. Until recently, I never appreciated Naruto or all the things he's done for me. That's why I want to change myself."

"It sounds to me that you have a better understanding of Naruto-kun now than before," Shizune said, "Something I'm happy to see. I can see that you really do care for Naruto-kun otherwise you wouldn't have held his opinions of you in such high regards, which you always did. But you never allowed yourself to admit the truth until recently. Now you seek to strengthen your womanliness and bring out your feminine charms on the basis of what Naruto-kun said about your character.

"Now here's my next question, what do you honestly hope to accomplish in all of this? Because it's perfectly clear that both Hinata and Ryota have the same goal toward Naruto-kun. You mentioned earlier that you seek become a better friend and person for Naruto-kun. But be honest with yourself, do you really want to become just a better friend for him or something more? Because if you're willing to constructively change yourself for him as he's trying to improve himself, then maybe you ought to be more truthful with yourself about your feelings for him. That's one of the many ways of demonstrating true womanliness."

Sakura remained quiet as she thought about what Shizune said. After a few short moments contemplating the older woman's words, Sakura broke the silence.

"Is there more you can instruct me on," Sakura asked sincerely, "Please? I'll appreciate whatever help you can offer me very much."

For the next hour, Sakura listened as Shizune offered her some helpful advice.

(Meanwhile; At ANBU Headquarters)

Behind closed and locked doors, Tsunade was having a private meeting with Jiraiya and Itachi who was dressed in his black ops ANBU uniform. All three of them were seating around a large table in the center of the meeting chamber. This meeting started over an hour and thirty-minutes ago. Two ANBU ninjas were stationed by the door and they were ordered that no one was to enter the meeting chamber. Itachi's return to Konoha still hadn't been made public knowledge to the populous yet though a number of the villagers had requested for Itachi's return.

"And that's everything about the Akatsuki that I know of up to now," Itachi concluded.

The two Sannins took in everything they were informed of: from to the identifications and abilities of the main members of the Akatsuki to the shocking news that Madara was still alive. The two older ninjas were finding the fact about Madara still being alive hard to swallow after it had been said that he was slain by Hashirama years ago at the Valley of the End.

What was also sobering was finding out that it was Madara who had awakened and brought Kyuubi to attack Konoha and later assisted in wiping out the Uchiha clan. All of those events ultimately led to so many other chains of events. Jiraiya was especially shocked after he heard about Konan and Pain, with Pain being figurehead and secret ruler of Amegakure. What also disturbed Jiraiya was learning that Pain had a Rinnegan while clearly Yahiko never had it when it was Nagato who did. The Sage could only wonder how that happened.

"This was more than what we were expecting," Tsunade said, "I had no idea that Madara was able to survive for this long a period. And to top it all off, he's the true leader of the Akatsuki."

"Yes," Itachi said, "Though he's not as powerful as he was before he's still a dangerous threat. His true plan for the bijuus is still unknown at this time. The only thing I was able to acquire was the name of his plan involving all nine bijuus, which is called "The Moon's Eye." This plan has been kept top secret from all of the members of the Akatsuki. Even I had a difficult time trying to investigate and learn more about this plan as Madara wasn't too trusting of me and he always sought to keep an eye on me."

"Do you suppose they'll hunt you down for deserting them," Tsunade asked.

"Not likely," Itachi replied, "Presently they can't spare time, manpower and resources hunting me down. Also, they're continuing to focus their prime objective in locating all of the known Jinchuurikis."

"When do they plan to be on the move again," Tsunade asked.

"They're on the march even now," Itachi answered, "They're also accepting any missions or bounties to help build up their revenue. There is a chance that they might move through Hi No Kuni. I was originally assigned to capture Naruto-kun considering that the Sharingan can control Kyuubi. That was also how Madara was able to manipulate Kyuubi into attacking Konoha on both occasions during the reign of Shodaime and Yondaime."

"This is far more information I received about the Akatsuki than I ever did from my spy network," Jiraiya spoke up after a long period of silence, "You've been a great help and asset to us Itachi."

"…My one true failure and disappointment is Sasuke," Itachi replied, "Who completely undid everything I planned and hoped he fulfilled."

"I know you had high expectations for Sasuke," Tsunade said, "However Sasuke never possessed the will of fire. I know that your clan's shameful disgrace was a truth you were hoping would never see the light of day. But clearly Sarutobi-sensei was deeply troubled maintaining the illusion that the traitorous clan's name was clean while the Uzumaki-Namikaze clan's name was sullied in their place.

"During Naruto's public inauguration as the rightful sole heir of the Uzumaki-Namikaze clan, the village was about to be divided as a possible riot between the citizens and ninjas was looking to break out. For the sake of maintaining order among through the village and to prevent Naruto and his future descendants from suffering further, I decisively chose to dispel your illusion that the Uchiha clan was slaughtered as a result of your twisted ideals of testing your abilities and seeing what you were capable of. In effect, the populous took and redirected their anger from Naruto to your traitorous clan which resulted in the Uchiha District's destruction. All of the ninjas turned a blind eye to what happened."

Itachi said nothing as he looked as stoic as ever.

"I'll understand if these recent events have led you to develop feelings of resentment towards me and the rest of the village."

Itachi looked at Tsunade straight in the face.

"As the Hokage," Itachi said, "You did what you believe was for the good of village as a whole. I did my duty as a shinobi protecting this village from both the inside and out. I hold no ill will towards you or my homeland. I'm loyal to Konoha not to the Uchiha."

"The villagers will more than willingly offer you their full support knowing of all the things you have done for them," Tsunade said, "Which was at a great personal cost to you."

"Much like Naruto-kun," Itachi replied, "Though unlike me, he didn't have a choice in the matter."

"But he proved to be loyal to Konoha regardless of his harsh trials as did you," Jiraiya said.

"…I thank you for your confidence and trust in me," Itachi said, "And as I've always have, I'll continue in my service to Konoha."

Tsunade nodded, "In regards to your new lodging-"

"A new house with an acre of land would be a good start for now," Itachi said, "But not in the former Uchiha district."

"Is that all," Tsunade asked.

"…No," Itachi said, "There's one other request."

"We're listening," Jiraiya replied. After gathering his thoughts together, Itachi went on to explain his request. Jiraiya and Tsunade were a little surprised by what Itachi told them but in the end, they told him to consider it done.

(In Otogakure)

Orochimaru was in this chamber when Kabuto when knocked on the door.

"Enter," Orochimaru said, granting Kabuto access to the chamber.

"Orochimaru-sama," Kabuto said, "I have some very interesting news for you."

"Speak," Orochimaru said, "And this better not be a waste of my time."

Kabuto went on to relate his news to Orochimaru. As the Snake Sannin listened, the smile on his face grew bigger and bigger. By the time Kabuto was done, Orochimaru broke out into a loud fit of laughter, one Kabuto hadn't seen since, ever.

"…Oh…the irony!," Orochimaru laughed, "It's just too funny!...I haven't had a good laugh like this in a while!"

"I'm happy that my news has put you in good spirits Orochimaru-sama," Kabuto said.

"Indeed it has," Orochimaru said as Kabuto approached him with a book in hand.

"So that's the book that was written by Sarutobi-sensei," Orochimaru acknowledged.

"My spy managed to acquire and bring it here to me to give to you," Kabuto said as he handed Orochimaru the book. The Sannin took the book and reading into it. His smile only widened as he read the authenticated words written by his late sensei.

"And Naruto just so happens to be the son of the late Yondaime Hokage," Orochimaru said, "It makes sense considering that someone of Yondaime's character wouldn't have chosen just anyone to be the host of Kyuubi. But Naruto isn't my concern at this time."

Kabuto said nothing concerning that statement.

"Bring me Sasuke-kun," Orochimaru ordered, "I want to have the pleasure of giving him the news of what truly happened to the Uchiha clan. I'm sure his reaction will be deliciously priceless."

"As you wish Orochimaru-sama," Kabuto said with a bow before leaving to retrieve Sasuke.

(Location Unknown)

In a closed off cave, eight figures in spectral projections were having a meeting together about their progress and everything else that had taken place concerning their organization. Currently one of them was reporting what he found out concerning one of their members.

"Are you sure of what you found out," Pain asked.

"Yes," Zetsu confirmed, "Itachi has defected from us and returned back to Konoha. From what I also found out, Itachi's wiping out the Uchiha clan was in fact done on orders issued by Konoha after that clan turned traitor and sought to overthrow the government and take control of the village."

"A double agent who was amongst us," Pain said, "This is indeed troubling."

"You can never be too trusting of any Uchiha these days, yeah," Deidara remarked.

"First Orochimaru left the organization and now Itachi," Sasori said, "The Akatsuki won't last long if we continue to dwindle in number like this."

"I'm now without a partner," Kisame said, "But I can still handle myself with little to no problem."

"Be that as it may," Pain said, "But Itachi's desertion does delay things for us."

"Are we to go after him," Hidan asked, "He would make a most worthy sacrifice to Jashin-sama."

"You and your ridiculous religious rituals," Kakuzu remarked, "They're a waste of our time."

"Shut the fuck up!," Hidan barked, "Don't you dare speak such blasphemy!"

"Enough!," Pain cut in sharply, "Right now we can't get off track in carrying out our goals. For now, focus on acquiring missions from villages, towns and organizations willing to employ our services. No one is to pursue Itachi at this time. Am I clear?"

"Yes leader," Kisame said.

"Whatever," Deidara shrugged, "Though if I was given a chance to kill him, I'd have made his death a true work of art, yeah."

"Dismissed," Pain said before severing the telepathic link he made with the other remaining members. The sole female of the group approached her partner.

"Itachi is a formidable fighter," Konan said, "Is keeping him untouched a good idea Pain?"

"Itachi won't be a problem," a figure said from the shadows. Both Konan and Pain turned to see who it was that entered the fortress. It was a ninja with an orange spiral mask and a black robe with red clouds.

"Madara-sama," Pain said as Madara took a few steps forward before stopping in front of them.

"Itachi was proving to be a thorn in my side for some time while he was part of the Akatsuki," Madara said, "But with him no longer here, I don't have to concern myself with him."

"But what will we do about finding a potential replacement," Konan inquired.

"Let me worry about that," Madara said, "I have in mind who I want as Itachi's replacement but he's not ready to join us at this time. Until then, focus on your current tasks and continue looking for new members willing to join our noble cause."

The two of them nodded before Madara turned walked back into the shadows, disappearing from their sight.

(Back In Otogakure)

Orochimaru watched as Sasuke read the book from cover to cover. The Sannin watched as Sasuke silently read the history between the Senji clan and Uchiha and everything that led up to his clan's destruction. Earlier Orochimaru told Sasuke of Naruto's heritage being announced to Konoha. Sasuke was indeed surprised that the one he always looked at as a dobe was the son of the great Yondaime but he deduced that the villagers wouldn't have accepted such a truth.

That opened to the door for Orochimaru to explain what Tsunade did to turn the villagers' hate toward Naruto toward the Uchiha clan. When that was done, he gave Sasuke Hiruzen's book explaining in details the ugly truth about the history of the Uchiha clan. Neither Orochimaru nor Kabuto said a word as they allowed Sasuke to read the journal. It wasn't until about fifty minutes later when Sasuke was done. When they saw Sasuke close the book, Orochimaru decided to hammer the nail deeper.

"I received word from a reliable source that your former teammates Naruto and Sakura have abandoned any intentions of ever seeking to find and bring you back to Konoha," Orochimaru said, "But that's not all; The people of Konoha have been requesting that your brother be found and allowed to return. They want to welcome Itachi, the one who slaughtered the Uchiha clan on Konoha's orders, back home with open arms. He's their newly loved prodigal son whose return they desire; whereas you're looked down at as a wanted traitor and criminal in their bingo books by order of the Hokage. The Uchiha District was also burned to the ground by the villagers while the Hokage and all of the ninjas looked the other way and did nothing about it. In its entirety, with the exception of Itachi, both you and the Uchiha clan are officially nothing to Konoha."

Sasuke stood there as he absorbed everything he learned and heard. His head was spinning as he saw that everything he was led to believe for years was inverted and revealed to be an outright lie.

"I'll kill them," Sasuke said lowly but loud enough for Orochimaru and Kabuto to hear, "I'll kill them."

After a short moment of silence…


Sasuke's rage was boiling as his bloodlust soared through the roof. The cursed seal was also reacting to Sasuke's rising dangerous rage. With the thirst for mass bloodshed, Sasuke turned and hurriedly headed towards the door. However, he was only able to take several steps before he fell forward to the ground and lost consciousness. Kabuto stood over him after effectively knocking him out.

"Well he took the news better than expected," Kabuto remarked.

"This ensures that he has nowhere else to go but here," Orochimaru said, "No one will want him and he certainly can't return to Konoha or go to any of its allied villages. His hate for Konoha has certainly grown stronger and this will serve as a drive to make him train harder to become stronger thus producing a stronger body for me to later possess. You did well Kabuto."

"Thank you Orochimaru-sama," Kabuto said.

"Take Sasuke-kun and return him to his room," Orochimaru ordered, "Notify me the moment he regains consciousness."

"As you say my lord," Kabuto said before following Orochimaru's orders.

(Later That Afternoon)

Sakura, still in her nurse uniform, left the hospital after finishing her internship tasks for the day. After learning that Naruto and Hinata were no longer in the room with Ryota, Sakura went on her way home. While on her way, she thought about everything Shizune told her and the advice she was given from her.

"There's so much for me to change about myself," Sakura said to herself, "Especially if I want to be seen as being more womanly."

"By whom do you want to be seen as more womanly," asked a female voice from behind. Sakura jumped upon seeing that someone caught her off guard. She turned to see Ino behind her.

"What's up Forehead," Ino greeted, "You started talking to yourself about becoming more feminine."

"Oh, Uh…ignore that…," Sakura said with a nervous laugh, "…By the way, did you see Naruto-kun by any chance?"

Ino didn't miss the honorific Sakura used with Naruto's name.

"I haven't seen him all day," Ino replied, "Why?"

"I wanted to see and talk to him about something," Sakura said, "But Ryota told me that he left with Hinata somewhere after they spent most of their day with her."

"Speaking of Ryota," Ino asked, "How's she doing?"

"She's doing fine really. She'll be allowed to return home tomorrow morning."

"That's good to hear," Ino said, "Sorry that I can't help you with finding Naruto."

"That's OK," Sakura said, "I'll find him when I find him."

"Sakura-san, Ino-san," another voice greeted them. The two girls turned to see Hinata approaching them.

"Hey Hinata," Ino greeted, "Where's Naruto? I heard he was with you and Sakura here was looking for him."

"He was with me," Hinata said, "But Jiraiya-sama came and told Naruto-kun that he had to come and leave with him."

"What for," Sakura asked.

"I don't know," Hinata said, "He didn't say why."

"Looks like you're going to have to get a hold of Naruto another day Forehead," Ino remarked, "He's just out of your grasp."

"Oh be quiet pig," Sakura retorted, "In any case, I'll find Naruto-kun later. I have to go. I'll see you all later."

Sakura left the group and continued on her way home.

"I wonder what Sakura wanted to see Naruto-kun for," Hinata said.

"That's an interesting question," Ino replied, "I suspect something's up with Sakura and I'm sure Naruto is the center of it."

"What do you mean," Hinata said.

"I overheard her talking to herself about how she needs to become more womanly and she referred to her teammate as "Naruto-kun"."

"Aren't those good things," Hinata asked.

"Since when has Sakura ever called her teammate "Naruto-kun"," Ino asked, "If you ask me Hinata, she has an ulterior motive and her wanting to change herself to be seen in a more feminine light involves Naruto."

Hinata knew that Ino was one that loved juicy gossip and digging up the latest dirt on anyone.

"And you…figured all this from…a few words you overheard and…the way she refers to Naruto-kun now," Hinata asked while hoping Ino was wrong about the ulterior motive part, "Don't you think you're exaggerating?"

"Open yours eyes and learn to read between the lines Hinata," Ino advised, "I'm sure you've seen how Sakura has been acting lately, haven't you?"

"Well, I-I…," Hinata stuttered.

"Hinata," Ino said, "Sakura is my friend, but so are you, and I know how you deeply feel for Naruto. But whether you want to hear it or not, Sakura likes Naruto a lot also."

The Hyuuga heiress was stunned and silent. First it was Ryota and now it was Sakura too. Hinata could only wonder when and how could this have started.

"B-B-But Sak…Sakura ne-ver look…ed at Naruto-kun…in such a-a way," Hinata replied in disbelief between stutters, "Surely you…yo-you must b-be mistaken. I-It's just ano…ther go-gossip."

"I know you would like to believe that Hinata," Ino said, "But if you don't believe what I say, then by all means go to the horse's mouth and find out for yourself. If anyone asks, you heard nothing from me."

Hinata thought about what Ino just told her. Ryota already confirmed it with her that she was interested solely in Naruto for reasons Hinata never knew at first. Now she had Sakura as another potential rival for Naruto's affections. But what made Hinata worry even more so with regards to Sakura was that Naruto had always liked the pink haired Genin since their days at the academy. Hinata didn't want to think about the possibility of losing Naruto to either Ryota or Sakura. But in the state of mind she was in she couldn't face Sakura about the issue yet.

"I'm going to return home now Ino-san," Hinata said, "Thanks for making me aware of things."

The Hyuuga heiress departed from Ino and went about her way home. There was so much on Hinata's mind that she had to sort and clear out before she confronted Sakura personally…

One thing has led to another in these chains of events. What was Itachi's request to Tsunade and Jiraiya? How will Hinata deal with now having to worry about Sakura seeking Naruto's affections? What will result now that Sasuke knows the truth about his clan's history and why they were destroyed? Find out next time.