The Way of the Tea

Timeline/Summary: A random mission in the land of Tea about a month or two before Itachi's death. As he seeks to purify himself before his impending death, he finds something more than just absolution.

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, I am just borrowing some wonderful characters for a little bit.

Chapter 1

Turning angrily toward the window Pein watched as the sleeting rain came down in precisely measured amounts. It calmed him a little to know he had complete control of every single drop of water. He glanced at the paper on his desk, and felt the burning core of hatred ignite within his soul at the name written on it.

Hanzo, his mind spewed out the name. Even though the man had been long dead, his name still had the power to pierce his heart. It was because of him Yahiko died.

Pein stared moodily at the paper in front of him, as he remembered back to his deadly retribution against Hanzo and his family. He had been absolutely ruthless in destroying the man, his family and anyone associated with him. Yet, according to the report he just received, he didn't destroy all of his sons, one of them was still alive.

While he sat at his desk he looked in the envelope the report came in, and pulled out a picture. The man in the grainy photo had blonde hair and a sinister expression on his face. Just like his father, Pein sneered as he slammed the picture hard on his desk.

The sound of knock on the door interrupted his thoughts.

"Enter," he called out in an authoritative voice.

He watched as the door opened and the Uchiha entered his office and bowed before him. "Leader, how may I serve you?"

"Close the door. I have a mission for you…"

Itachi squinted slightly as he looked at the path before him, and he could see it was becoming increasingly sandy. Visually gazing out in the distance he could only see distorted shapes and colors that blurred together like a jumbled kaleidoscope. Fortunately, his vision was much better close up, it was only a little blurry, but he could still see the outlines of people, their faces and colors. And because he had to rely upon them so much, he was becoming adept at utilizing his other senses. It was his keen sense of smell, that told him he was getting closer to the seashore, and the town of Chado.

It doesn't matter that my vision is fading, he reminded himself darkly. His life would be over soon and then he'll finally be able to atone for eliminating his clan. His brother would be considered a hero for killing him, and be allowed to return home to Konoha.

Konoha, he thought to himself feeling grimly nostalgic. Belonging there and being a part of that vibrant village felt like it was a lifetime ago to him. So much had happened to him since he had left; he was not the same person.

He felt old, sick and tired well beyond his years. He was tired of assassinations, endless missions and training. Most of all he was tired of being hated and feared. It sickened him to his core that very few people ever made eye contact with him. Most people, especially ninjas were too afraid to risk it. Deep in his soul he was more of a man of peace than he was a ninja. He only killed because he had to, not because he wanted to.

A large part of him was grateful for this mission. Pein wanted him to remain anonymous and dress as a civilian and hide his chakra. Akatsuki was beginning to stand out too much, and it was becoming unsafe to wear the very recognizable red and black robes. Though he was still a ninja to his core, he welcomed the chance to be a normal man, even if it was just for a short while.

Itachi stopped for a moment and breathed in deeply the crisp sea air. On it he could smell a slight fragrance of newly minted tea leaves. The refreshing scent reminded him of his other purpose for visiting the area—he wanted to use this time to prepare himself for the end. Like a warrior preparing himself for battle, he wanted to purify himself, by attending the tea ceremonies and rituals that Chado was famous for. Once he found peace and absolution, then he would be free to contact his brother, and die at his hands.

After he entered the town he stopped at a small outdoor café, and ordered some food and a fragrant cup of green tea. Before she left him, he had the waitress add a side of dango. A reluctant smile touched his mouth, as he thought about how much his brother disliked sweets.

He remembered how Sasuke used to pitch a fit to their mother whenever she would bake cookies, and she would usually cave in and make something special for him too. That would leave all of the cookies to him and their father. Back in the day, when they were still getting along, they would take the whole plate of them outside and eat one after the other. Putting his head in his hands for a moment, he wondered why he kept torturing himself with memories like that.

Itachi expelled a taut breath before taking a sip of his tea. It seemed like he was thinking about his family more and more lately, the closer the impending meeting with his brother became. His expression grew cold and distant, as he forced himself to stop being weak and to stay focused on his surroundings.

He was just about to leave and go check into his hotel, when three people and a large white dog sat next to him. In a split second he quickly activated and deactivated his Sharingan, and instantly gauged the three of them were ninjas. And not just any ninjas; they were from Konoha.

In a few short moments he recognized they were members of the Inuzuka, Aburame and Hyuuga clan. Concurrently he deducted they were here because of the pirate attacks, and the negative economic impact they were causing the tourist industry in the area.

It was a well-known fact the Land of Tea did not have their own ninjas, so they always had to hire them from other nations. He determined they must have hired Konoha this time around.

Itachi quickly left the café as soon as he realized they were ninjas. He knew by their abilities they were a recon team and his slightly modified appearance probably would not hold up against the kind of scrutiny they would likely give him.

He walked just a little ways down the road and checked into the largest hotel in town. His overly tired body sorely needed some rest, and a long soak in the hot springs. Unfortunately, he never got the chance to enjoy those amenities, because as soon as his pack hit the floor he fell on the bed, and was sound asleep until morning.

Hinata looked around her and patted Akamaru on the head as he ran by her. She took a deep breath of the crisp sea air and tried to contain her excitement. Scanning ahead in the distance with her Byakugan, she could see they were getting close to the town of Chado.

Chado. The village was almost sacred to her, as her deceased mother had been a follower of the way of the tea. She had believed the sacred rituals were powerful for purging the mind, body and soul, and for bringing peace and harmony to the believer. As a child she had learned a great deal about the ceremonies, and could not wait to attend some of them while she was here.

The Hokage had assigned them to keep watch over the harbor, as there have been random attacks over the last few months by a group of pirates. Hinata was excited that she was going to get a chance to be undercover. Plus the Hokage was practically forcing her to take some time off for herself during this mission.

"Hey Hinata, how much longer before we get there? Akamaru and I are dying of hunger," Kiba complained dramatically to her as his loyal dog barked along with him.

Hinata smiled knowingly at her team-mates. The two of them were always starving.

"We should be there in about twenty minutes, Kiba-kun," she answered them patiently.

"Alright!" Kiba said to Akamaru and they bolted ahead of everyone.

Hinata turned to Shino and shared a small exasperated glance with him.

"So much for keeping in formation," Shino said dryly as he rolled his eyes behind his glasses.

Hinata smiled politely at his small jest and the two of them rushed and caught up with their team-mates. It wasn't long before they found a small café and they all sat down wearily.

Shino raised his glasses a fraction after he saw the dark-haired man who had been sitting next to them, stand up to leave shortly after they had arrived. His brow dented slightly as he assessed his chakra. He couldn't tell for sure, but he definitely could tell the man was a ninja, he just couldn't gauge his chakra. He watched as he left. The man looked like he could be part of the Uchiha clan, but his eyes were a dark blue color. Dismissing him as being mostly harmless, he decided to keep his eyes open for other ninja's in the area.

"Hinata, we will be leaving you alone a great deal of time. Kiba and I are to monitor the harbor constantly, while you are to scour the village for information about the pirates. Remember to keep your chakra hidden and be alert for other ninja's in the area," he reminded her in a very quiet voice, so he would not be overheard.

"I promise, Shino-kun, please don't worry about me," she told him in a quiet voice as she laid her hand on his shoulder. Her eyes were reassuring as she looked at him.

Shino looked at his friend and team-mate. His eyes glanced to where her hand was still resting on his shoulder and inwardly he smiled. He always liked that she was not afraid to touch him, or sit next to him. She trusted him enough to keep his allies to himself.

He knew she was the heart and soul of Team Eight. If anything were to happen to her, it would be a devastating blow to both him and Kiba. He reached over and gently placed his hand upon her shoulder in return as he looked at her.

"Hinata, just be careful."

Hinata nodded solemnly. She knew how important she was to both of her team-mates. They had been watching over her like big brothers practically since the first day the team was put together.

"I will Shino, arigato," she replied calmly before she broke apart her chop sticks and began to eat her dinner.

Hinata opened the door to the very large hotel room she had reserved for all of them. Deciding to splurge a bit, she had paid for it with her own money. Besides she felt that it would help with her cover of being just a tourist in the area.

After settling in for a few moments, Shino began to give them their assignments. Kiba and Akamaru would patrol the harbor during the day. He would take his turn from mid-day until midnight, and then Hinata would take her turn watching the harbor until early morning.

The hotel was very close to the harbor and Hinata had requested a room near the top floor, which gave her an excellent and uninhibited view of the harbor. She would be able to see for long distances if the pirate ship was entering the harbor and alert the others.

A self-satisfied smile touched her mouth as she watched the others begin to settle in their luxurious rooms. It made her feel good to be able to share some of her family's wealth with them. They were always so good to her, it was nice to return the favor for once.

She yawned slightly before she opened up her pack, and went into the bathroom to get ready for bed. They had been travelling nonstop for almost two days straight, and she was exhausted.

After Hinata was finished, her eyes glanced around the room as she headed over to Akamaru, and scratched him softly behind the ear. The big dog moved his head slightly to give her better access to his neck area too. He always loved it when she petted him, she was always so gentle. Next to Kiba, he loved her the best. The bug-guy had always creeped him out a little.

"Goodnight Akamaru," Hinata whispered to him as she kissed him delicately between the ears.

She turned the light off and went over to the sliding glass door that led to an outdoor patio. As she stepped outside she was instantly drawn by the moonlight and the quiet swaying sounds of the ocean. Ambling toward the railing she was struck by how beautiful the view was of the ocean was. The lights from the town were astonishingly lovely and seemed almost magical as they glistened on top of the gentle waves.

The full moon was shining brightly over the harbor, and off into the distance she could see a long bridge that connected the shore to a small island. She activated her Byakugan and could see far out over the ocean, another much larger Island was on the other side of the channel.

Hinata was surprised at how large the town was; in her mind she had always pictured it to be very small and quaint. The large village was nestled between the ocean and high rolling hills, that surrounded the town like a protective barrier.

Her eyes were captivated as they took in the view for several more minutes, before her weary body began to protest telling her it was time to go to bed. She took one more look around before she headed inside, and reluctantly slid under the covers.

Tomorrow, I want to see everything, was her last thought, before drifting off to sleep.

Author's note: This is a small plot bunny that I have had in my head for some time now. I plan for the story to be rather short. As always, I have made Hinata and the others to be about a year older than they are in the manga. The mission is a simple one and the focus of the story will be more on Itahina and their small little romance in the setting of tea ceremonies. I have been reading about the way of the tea and the settings and the rituals will provide some great opportunities for them to meet. Thanks for reading. Feedback is always welcome!

Edited: 4/26/12