Hey guys and gals this has been a long and tough year. Prelim exams, getting married, and studying—I don't know how I did it, but I got a chapter out for you guys!

I stand corrected with the nee-chan, nii-chan mix up. My bad :(

I hope you like it. Peace and Merry Xmas!

XXX

"Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate."
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Gambit

Naruto did a series of backflips to create some distance between himself and his opponent. He was sweating profusely since he was having a really tough time avoiding all of the precise strikes of his opponent. His arms were beginning to get numb from the pain, but he was fully concentrating on his opponent.

"You retreat? This not like you Naruto-kun" Hinata said while holding the traditional Jyuuken stance.

"Don't put on a brave face hime, I know you are starting to get tired." Naruto said in response to Hinata's taunt.

"I lasted a lot longer than the last time we sparred" Hinata countered.

"And I haven't received as much hits as the last time" Naruto retorted.

While other couples were going on dates and having romantic dinners, Naruto and Hinata were sparring to make each other stronger. Naruto was training to fight at a disadvantage and Hinata was training on conserving her stamina for long drawn out battles against opponents with superior stamina.

"Well let's end this Naruto-kun," Hinata said while doing a series of hand signs "Mizu Hari no Jutsu!" and at her command needles of water began to form in the nearby pond.

"This is not going to be fun" Naruto thought as he began to duck and weave in an attempt avoid the water projectiles. However, Naruto was not simply evading the water projectiles, he was also trying to position himself to counter attack. He eventually found a gap in the water attack and launched himself at Hinata—which was exactly what she wanted.

As Naruto was closing on his girlfriend he saw a smile grace her face as he was about to punch. "Shit!" he exclaimed to himself as he tried to pull his punch and minimize the damage. However, it was too late for Naruto as chakra began to build around Hinata's violently rotating body.

"Kaiten!" she said as she expelled the chakra out of her body creating a shield and blasting her boyfriend away.

To his credit, Naruto kept his composure and righted himself as the Hyuuga secret technique launched his body violently away.

"You learned the Kaiten and ninjutsu!" Naruto said in surprise.

"Father began teaching me the secret techniques of the main house, but the ninjutsu was something I was working on my own. Father doesn't know, but I have been learning ninjutsu and genjutsu from Kurenai sensei and on my own"

"I am really impressed and proud of you Hinata. You are becoming stronger and stronger every day." Naruto said with obvious pride in his voice.

"I have to become stronger for my clan and my village as well. You taught me that" She replied

"Yes, becoming stronger is important for the sake or your clan and your village. Let's continue to get stronger together."

However, the appearance of Anbu guard Cat-san cut their conversation short.

"Naruto-san, you are required to appear before the shinobi council within the next hour"

"Why? I was there yesterday, and I told them everything that they needed to know"

"No, it's not about yesterday's meeting it's about Suna's surrender"

"What about it? What does that have to do with me?" Naruto asked curiously.

"I don't think Hinata-san would want to hear this." Cat said with a bit of apprehension in his voice.

"Is it top secret?" Naruto asked.

"No it is not, but Hinata won't like the news"

"You can say what you have to say Cat-san." Hinata said.

"If you insist." the Anbu said.

"As part of Sand's surrender, to show their sincerity, they've arranged for the late Kazekage's daughter to be wed to Naruto"

The atmosphere became suddenly cold and unwelcoming. "What!" Hinata snarled. "They want to marry my Naruto-kun to that Sabaku!"

"No! He will not!" she said in cold tone.

The Anbu shook his head and with a defeated sigh said. "Just report to the council in the next hour!" before he disappeared from view.

"I wish I could have been there for the show!" the Anbu said to himself while leaping away.

Earlier that evening…

Earlier that evening an envoy from Suna had arrived to finalize the details of the village's surrender to Konoha. In Konoha's council chamber Jiraiya, the soon to be Hokage, and the rest of the shinobi council stood awaiting the speaker for the Suna envoy.

"Honorable Konoha council, we are here on the behalf of the people of Suna and the Land of Wind in order to negotiate the terms of our surrender"

"State your terms!" Jiraiya said with a stern voice that made everyone know that he was not kidding around.

"Our people broke the treaty that for so long bonded our two villages through our negligence in failing to identifying a traitor among our ranks. Thus, we've come to offer Suna's unconditional surrender to Konoha."

Jiraiya simply nodded and said. "Go on"

"In addition to the terms demanded by Konoha, we wish to show our sincerity to the council, the village, and the Land of Fire by suggesting an arranged marriage between the late Kazekage's daughter and Uzumaki Naruto. This marriage will help strengthen the ties between our villages and help repair the bond of trust that was broken"

At the envoy's proclamation, there were murmurs among the shinobi council for a bit.

"Konoha accepts the terms and conditions of Suna's surrender, but on one condition." Jiraiya said.

"What condition Hokage-sama?" the representative asked.

"Let the Uzumaki decide his fate for himself."

He then motioned for the one of his Anbu guards who appeared immediately.

"Go find Naruto and tell him get his butt here in hour!"

"Yes Hokage-sama!" the Cat masked Anbu said as he disappeared.

One hour later…

Hinata stood outside of the council chamber waiting on Naruto's meeting with the council. He told her to come along with him, as he knew that such a meeting would not take long to complete.

As she was sitting on one of the chairs in the waiting room, she saw Temari approaching dressed in a beautiful white and red kimono. Her rival in battle and in love was flanked by two Sand shinobi.

As their paths crossed, their eyes locked onto each other with a steely gaze. The cold, pale gaze of the Hyuuga's Byakugan remained firmly and defiantly stared at the proud green eyes of the Sabaku. The gazes revealed the deep tension between two heated rivals. Their gazes broke as Temari and her bodyguards continued to walk towards their destination leaving Hinata behind pondering the outcome of the meeting.

Following his Kage's command, Naruto stood before the council yet again.

"Bring her in" Jiraiya said with a wicked smile on his face.

Not a moment later, Temari entered beautifully dressed in long white and red kimono.

"Suna, as part of their surrender have decided to wed their former Kage's first-daughter Sabaku Temari to you as a means of strengthening the ties between our villages." Jiraiya said.

"I have left it up to you to decide your fate as it pertains to this matter"

To which Naruto immediately responded.

"No. I will not wed Sabaku Temari"

"We do not wish to be impolite or crass, but may I ask why are you passing up the opportunity?" the representative from Suna replied. The man was curious because it was the very first time that a man has openly declined a marriage to beautiful and high-class young lady.

"She is being forced into a life that is not of her choosing and that is no way for a person to live their life. I will not be a part of such an act." Naruto responded. His response did not surprise the council who knew very well the type of person the boy was. However, Temari's response caught them completely off guard.

"Naruto-san, before I knew I who I was going to be wed to I was filled with fear and anger at my fate but I was willing to do it nonetheless because such things are part of the life of kunoichi and my fate would help protect my village. Therefore, it was a price I was willing to pay. However, when it was decided that I would be wed to you I was happy because I knew that I would be with the man who gave me back my brother. Whatever happened between you and Gaara in your battle changed my brother. He is rapidly gaining acceptance within the village and has grown to love it more than ever. I am eternally grateful to you for that, and I would be more than happy to be your wife." Temari said sincerely with her head bowed.

The council stood quietly listening to the exchange between the two youngsters and Jiraiya with his trusty notepad and pencil out scribbling away a widely embellished love scene for his next novel. "This is going to be my next hit!"

The council knew that when Naruto was involved in anything there was always an eventful show to be had—and he didn't disappoint.

"Look at me Temari-san." To which the kunoichi slowly raised her head.

"I am the one who is solely responsible for the massacre of your people. I purposefully planned to blow them to bits and pieces for attacking my village. I watched and listened as the men and women of your village screamed in pain as their bodies were ripped apart in the explosion. Even further, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed watching as my enemies were literally ripped asunder right before my eyes. Their blood and bodies were raining down on the village and I could only a feel a sense of euphoria and bloodlust. I wanted to kill each and every last one of you. When I was done massacring your people, I had their mangled and dismembered bodies dumped in the river to rot and cause chaos".

Temari began to tremble and turn her head away from Naruto as he recounted the sordid tale of the battle between Konoha and Suna during the invasion. Pain, anger, and sadness washed over her as Naruto spoke. His description was vivid, dark, and painful.

"I wanted Suna to have a horrific reminder of what happens to those who show aggression towards Konoha in the most gruesome manner possible. I wanted your people and shinobi have nightmares for decades about what happened so that the next time your village ever thought about betrayal or aggression towards Konoha, you all would be reminded of the horrors that we are capable of perpetrating for the sake of defending our village. Suna was also a message to the rest of the other villages to not mess with us—it was a message written in the blood of thousands of your comrades and friends."

"Look at me Temari!" Naruto said firmly to the girl looking away at him. To which Temari responded.

Looking deep into her eyes, Naruto asked. "Do you really want to spend the rest of your life with the man who perpetrated such violence towards your people?"

Everyone in the council room waited with anticipation for the girl's reply.

With tears in her eyes, she replied "Yes!" in a strong firm tone that surprised everyone in the room including Naruto.

"My answer is yes Naruto. They were doing their duty and you were doing yours. It is the way of war and shinobi life. I cannot fault you for doing your duty because had you not, many more people may have died, and I would not have regained my little brother. I would gladly marry you because I know that you would go to any length, no matter gruesome or brutal, to protect the ones you love, and I know I would be in good hands"

At her words, Naruto's tone softened.

"Sabaku Temari, you are strong and beautiful woman deserving of a man that will treat you right and honor you as the woman you are. I would gladly take you as my wife"

Temari's heart began to bubble with joy before it was crushed.

"However, my heart belongs to someone else and I will not dishonor her or her family by entering into such a union. The ties between our villages should not be unduly hampered by this."

Hiashi was pleased at how the boy showed respect for both his daughter's feelings and the clan, although he knew Naruto was well within his right to accept the offer. Hiashi wasn't wrong in allowing Hinata to date Naruto.

With a quashed heart Temari spoke. "So I lose to her for a second time!"

"This time you were not enemies" Naruto replied.

Everyone knew that they were both speaking about the battle between her and Hinata during the chunin exam.

Interjecting on the little discussion Jiraiya called an end to Naruto's meeting.

"I guess it has been decided then. Konoha accepts Suna's unconditional surrender except for the proposed marriage between Uzumaki Naruto and Sabaku Temari. I, the council, the village, and the Land of Fire shall honor the terms of the agreement." Jiraiya said formally.

"Thank you Hokage-sama. The people of Suna and the Land of Wind wish to foster a new era of peace and prosperity between our two villages." The Suna representative said as he bowed respectfully to the council.

"Escort her back to her hotel and she may visit the sites in the village if she so choses." Jiraiya commanded. "Thank Naruto, you may also leave. We have more business to attend to with the Suna representative"

Jiraiya said to the boy as the meeting was going to continue to hash out the finer details of the surrender.

"Thank you Hokage-sama" Naruto said as he bowed to his Kage. Then turning to the council members, he bowed again.

"Council members, I take my leave" he said as he turned and left.

As Temari was leaving the council chamber she walked by a familiar foe. Once again, their eyes locked and Hinata could see the disappointment in Temari's eyes despite the fact that the girl was valiantly trying to hide it. When she reached in front of the Hyuga girl, she stopped for a brief moment, stared directly into the Hinata's eyes and said.

"Take care of him, he's a good man" before walking out of the waiting room.

"I know, and I will take care of him." Hinata said.

As Hinata finished her words, she saw Naruto walking out of the chamber and she immediately ran over and embraced him in a tight hug that Naruto duly returned.

At the end of the corridor, Temari stood between the half-opened door looking on at the couple wishing that it would have been her in Naruto's embrace.

"All is fair in love and war right?" she whispered to herself in consolation as tears began to make her green eyes become grey. Then she left. The shutting door sealing away all hope of a future she so badly wanted.

Maybe all is not fair in love and war.

Two days later inside the borders of the Land of Fire two men were in a secret hideout.

"It was tough sneaking in the Land of Fire with so many patrols running around" one man said.

"Yes. Unsurprisingly Konoha has ramped up its border defenses. They stopped Iwa, Suna surrendered and Oto will lay low to recover. Kumo is going to take the chance to attack for sure." The other man said.

"I wonder how Konoha is going to react?"

"The best possible plan would be enact a surprise counterattack against Kumo as they don't have the strength to repel them in a head-to-head battle."

"You think they'll do it?"

"Yes. The Uzumaki and the Nara would've figured out that a preemptive strike it the best possible option. But what Konoha does is not our concern, we came for the Kyubi"

"Our spies in Konoha said that the security is tight—even more so than the border therefore we won't be able to sneak in. However, they also said that Hokage to-be, Jiraiya, will be heading out with the Uzumaki to look for Tsunade. We'll ambush them when they leave the village"

"No!" the other shinobi said.

"I know a way into the village. Jiraiya is one of the Sanin and based on the reports Uzumaki Naruto took down the Ichibi in its full form. Trying to ambush them together will decrease our chance for success. I'll get us into the village and we'll ambush the Uzumaki when he's alone"

"Sounds like you are afraid of Jiraiya?"

"Remember our mission is to kidnap the Kyubi, not start a fight"

"You don't want to destroy your village any more than it has been eh Itachi?" Kisame said.

"I no longer hold ties to the village, and I don't care whether or not it is destroyed. We just need to complete our mission" Itachi replied without emotion in his voice.

"Heh! Let's do this then!" Kisame said.

Later that evening, Naruto and Hinata were taking a walk along the outskirts of one of the training grounds. The couple was enjoying the warm atmosphere that permeated as the village was beginning to wind down for the night.

While they were walking through the remote grounds

"Today was an interesting day, Naruto-kun" Hinata said. "That Temari girl really likes you a lot. Why didn't you accept Suna's offer? You would have all rights to do so, especially since you're the last of your clan." Hinata said. She knew very well that clans obtain significant leeway, especially when it involves ensuring the continuation of the bloodline.

"Yes Hinata-chan, today was a very interesting day. I didn't accept the offer because I did not want to dishonor you or your clan." He then stopped to face his girlfriend and while looking directly into her eyes he said.

"And besides…I want no one else but you!"

"Thank you Naruto-kun. I want no one else but you too!" she said as she embraced him in a tight hug.

While the couple continued to walk along their path they spotted Sasuke training in one of the village's remote grounds. They approached the Uchiha to chat for a bit before they continued their stroll.

"Hey Sasuke, how have you been?" Naruto asked.

"I'm fine" Sasuke said in a semi-annoyed tone. He came to this remote ground so that he could be away from people, and yet he was still found. Life was extremely busy as a chunin with the extra missions due to the lack of man power as a result of the failed invasion. Time to train was premium and he wanted to make the most of every minute he could get.

"It's been pretty hectic with all the patrols but I am sure you're doing an excellent job at being a Chunin" Naruto commented.

"Yeah…"Sasuke replied in a rather disinterested tone. There isn't much time to train with all those missions going on now.

"Congratulations on making chunin" Hinata said in a polite tone.

"Thank you Hinata. I heard you did well in the exam yourself"

"Thank you Sasuke-san" Hinata said before she turned to Naruto.

"Let's leave him so that he could get the best out of his limited training time."

"Yes, Hime let's go"

"Take care Sasuke"

"Hn" Sasuke replied.

Naruto and Hinata continued to walk for about another half hour before the stopped by a nearby river relaxing and holding each other. However, as the pair was enjoying their embrace Naruto felt two barely restrained and clearly hostile chakras within the immediate area.

Keeping his composure, he whispered in her ear. "Hinata-hime, go inform the Hokage that Akatsuki is here!"

Remaining completely calm, Hinata pulled from Naruto's embrace, gave him a quick kiss on the lips, nodded and then leapt off into the trees. No words needed to be said. A moment later, the two men leapt out of their hiding spots.

"Impressive Naruto-kun, you sensed our presence. You really can't sneak up on a swordsman" Itachi mused.

"The little runt isn't too bad." Kisame added in. "Plus he seems to have the beast's chakra in check"

"So I was right. You are from Akatsuki." Naruto replied.

"You know of us?" Itachi asked in a curious tone.

"Do you expect me not to know about the persons who are after my tenant?" Naruto quipped back.

"Your girlfriend isn't going to make it in time you know." Itachi said.

"It will take her fifteen minutes to get to the village and it will take the fastest shinobi about fifteen minutes to get here, plus the time it would take to get the men together" Naruto replied.

"I know my village Itachi"

"I am indeed impressed Naruto-kun. So you should also have deduced that you have no hope of surviving until then"

"You all need me alive—you can't kill me. It's much more difficult to capture an opponent than to kill them."

"You overestimate yourself Naruto-kun!" Itachi said as he stood behind the boy.

'Fast!' Naruto thought.

"You underestimate me Itachi-kun!" Naruto said as his sword pierced the clone in its stomach.

The clone immediately burst into a mass of crows that blinded the boy.

Kisame swung his great Samehada at the boy's legs hoping to sever a limb.

Sensing the attack coming, Naruto somersaulted in the air while doing a horizontal slash slicing off Kisame's head—the body promptly turned into water.

"He's good Itachi!" Kisame commented to his partner standing next to him

"You were trained really well. The legends of master swordsmen being highly resistant to genjutsu is true."

"I still have a very long way to go before I can be considered a master, but you aren't going to fool me with cheap mind tricks either." Naruto replied.

"Let me play with him for a bit Itachi, I won't be long." The large blue-colored shinobi said.

"Don't underestimate him Kisame. We don't have the time to play around"

"I won't be long!" Kisame said as he prepared a jutsu.

"Suiton: Water…." Kisame was about to call his jutsu when he saw Naruto right beside him.

"Oh!" Kisame commented before he was sliced in two before turning into a pile of water. A clash of metal rang through the air as Naruto's sword clashed with that of Kisame a couple of feet away.

'His sensing ability is really good!' Kisame thought.

But in terms of physical power, the kid was no match for the blue swordsman. With little effort, Kisame was able to hurl Naruto's comparatively tiny frame away from him and towards one of the large trees. Naruto righted himself in mid-air and landed feet first onto one of the trees. He deftly landed on the ground and took up a relaxed defensive stance.

"You're not too bad kid, but your time is running out"

"Kisame, I'll take it from here" Itachi said calmly.

"What you think I can't take him out?"

"No. I know you can take him out, but he's using a jutsu intercepting technique designed catch the ninja off guard in battle. It's one of the techniques that made the samurai swordsmen very difficult to deal with. Also, he's also more agile than you and I'm sure he has the stamina to keep up with you. Additionally, with the fact that you can't use excessive jutsu, which is your forte makes you unsuitable for this kind of particular mission. Therefore, it's better if I handle him" Itachi said as he approached the boy.

Kisame couldn't disagree with Itachi's logic.

Itachi began speaking while stepping forward. "You continue to impress me Naruto-kun. Keeping calm in such a dangerous situation against opponents you cannot possibly defeat at your current skill level. Your jutsu intercepting technique is good, you can sense when your opponent is about to mold chakra and intercept them at their most vulnerable position. However, how will you deal with an opponent who can mold chakra faster than you can react?" Itachi said as he raised his hands and blew out a huge ball of fire.

"Katon: Gyokakyuu no jutsu!"

"Whoa!" Naruto said as he dodged the huge fireball. However, he was barely able to block the viscous right kick from his new opponent. Before Naruto could recover, he was assaulted by a hail of kunai.

Itachi wasn't giving him the time launch an attack.

Not too far away, Myushi was calmly surveying the battle between his student and the two high level shinobi. He felt the two ominous presences tailing Naruto for a while now so he decided to observe what their intentions were. Fighting against strong opponents was good training for the boy—it would speed his development. He was impressed with this Itachi character—the man was calm, poised, and calculated.

"Stay calm Naruto, stay calm and keep you composure" Myushi mused as his student was firmly on the defensive

As Myushi was looking on as his student was trained by the men charged with capturing him, Hinata was using all her might to get back to the village as soon as possible. Pouring every bit of available chakra into her legs, she was making her way to the Hokage's office. She activated her Byakugan to see if she could locate any nearby shinobi to aid Naruto. It wasn't long when she located Sasuke who was still training in a nearby ground. Sasuke should definitely be able to provide Naruto enough backup until help arrived. She took out a small scroll and began writing information on it as she made her way to the Uchiha.

Meanwhile Sasuke was hard at work when he felt a presence rapidly approaching him. It didn't seem like an enemy but he was on guard none-the-less.

Not too long after, he saw Hinata speeding by him on the treetops overhead. His first hunch was that something was wrong, and it was confirmed as he deftly caught the small note—and it read.

"Due north, river, Naruto, Akatsuki, help!"

In an instant Sasuke was off to aid Naruto.

Meanwhile Naruto was barely keeping up with Itachi. The Uchiha already landed a number of cuts and bruises to Naruto's body, but was unable to get a decisive blow on the boy to immobilize him enough for capture.

"He is very strong defensively. He has very few openings to exploit, and getting to them is quite a challenge while not being serious."

"It seems I have to get a bit serious in order to capture Naruto"

"Your chance to capture has long gone Itachi. You don't always have to win a battle, in order to be victorious." Naruto commented. He felt Sasuke swiftly coming to support him.

"My foolish little brother is here" Itachi commented impassively.

Not too long after, Sasuke landed next to Naruto with his sword drawn.

"Hinata told Akatsuki was here so I came to help" Sasuke said.

"Yeah thanks. We just need to hold out on till reinforcements arrive" Naruto responded.

"I'll take care Itachi and you with handle his partner!" Sasuke said in a serious tone with Sharingan blazing at his brother.

"Yes! Let's go!" Naruto said as they prepared to attack.

"Be quick Kisame, our time here is quickly running out" Itachi said.

"Okay, okay, I'll be a little serious" Kisame responded.

Not too far away Myushi was enjoying the show.

"Hmm, this should be really interesting. I wish I had some pop-corn"

Hinata finally made it to the village and was making a beeline to the Hokage tower. For a shinobi with almost 360 degree vision, she was unsurprisingly tunnel visioned at the moment.

At the Hokage tower, Jiraiya and the rest of the council members were hashing out the details of the surrender between Suna and Konoha when Hinata busted into the room.

"Hokage-sama! Naruto and Sasuke are fighting two Akatsuki members right now at the North bridge by the river."

As soon as Hinata finished her words, Jiraiya was already out of the room closely followed by Hiashi and the rest of the shinobi council.

"Please be calm, guests from Suna, our men will take care of this situation." Koharu said calmly.

"Send teams of Anbu to circle around Itachi and Kisame to cut them off. We won't let them escape" Koharu said in an authoritative tone to the nearby Anbu guard.

"Yes, I shall inform the chief right away!" the Anbu said before disappearing in a cloud of smoke.

Itachi and Kisame raised the hornets' nest.

As Jiraiya, Hiashi and the rest of the Konoha shinobi were rushing to aid Naruto and Sasuke. The young duo were having a tough job dealing with the two S-class criminals.

"You've matured your Sharingan and you have improved a bit Sasuke. However, you are still weak! Where is the hatred and animosity?" Itachi asked of his brother as they engaged in a heated taijutsu battle.

"I'll live my life my own way Itachi!"

"Weak, weak, naïve child! There's no way you are going to surpass me by being this weak"

Sasuke was getting angry and his form was beginning to get sloppy quickly. His body was tiring rapidly after hours of training and now engaging his brother in a heated battle.

"Stay focused Sasuke!" Naruto shouted in between dodging Kisame's huge sword and powerful water jutsu.

"Brat! You have no time to be looking out for you friend" Kisame said as he swung his sword to cut one of Naruto's leg.

Naruto responded by leaping into the air while launching a horizontal slash at Kisame's neck.

"I've seen that attack before you little brat" Kisame said. He simply continued with the momentum of the slash, twisted his body, and executed another slash at Naruto just as he was about to land.

Thinking quickly, Naruto drove his wakizashi downward into Kisame's blade in order to prevent his leg from being chopped off, and to briefly take the large man's sword out of commission. However, he was totally surprised when the man's huge sword barely moved an inch.

"Hehehe! A light-weight like you can never move Samehada even with all your strength!"

In one upward motion, Kisame launched Naruto into the air and said.

"Feeding time!" Suiton: Sui-rend…" However, he wasn't able to finish as he had to dodge Naruto's wakizashi from impaling him.

Naruto was finally able to land on the ground and not too long after Sasuke landed nearby after being kicked in his stomach by Itachi.

"We can't beat them!" Sasuke gritted his teeth in anger.

"I know. I never intended on beating them. We just need to endure until reinforcements arrive—this is a defensive battle Sasuke!" Naruto said.

"Naruto and Sasuke you did well, but playtime is truly over now" Itachi said with Kisame standing beside him.

"We have five minutes before the reinforcements arrive" Kisame said

"Yes, yes, you two did well. It was good practice" Itachi and Kisame heard a voice behind them. The two men immediately retaliated by slashing behind them.

"You have two some good reflexes there!" Myushi commented while standing behind Naruto and Sasuke. His image fading behind the two men as the two men's attack completed.

The atmosphere completely changed from a semi-serious almost playful to cold and serious with Myushi's arrival. Itachi and Kisame knew that this man was no pushover and they had to be deadly serious.

With narrowed eyes and a menacingly rotating Sharingan Itachi asked. "Are you Naruto's trainer?"

"You're one really sharp kiddo" the old man replied.

"Why the tense atmosphere all of a sudden, we were all having fun just a while ago?" Myushi asked bemusedly.

"He isn't afraid of them at all!" Sasuke thought.

"How come we didn't sense you?" Kisame asked.

"Because I didn't want you to?" responded Myushi nonchalantly.

"Kisame we should retreat. This mission is a failure" Itachi said calmly, "The situation is out of our control now."

"Yeah! Things are going to get real dicey if we don't pull out now!" Kisame said in agreement.

"Bye, and thanks for training the boys" Myushi said while waving jovially at the two men.

Itachi took in every little detail his highly perceptive eyes could capture.

"It won't be like this the next time we meet!" Naruto said to his two adversaries.

"Don't get cocky kid, we weren't serious" Kisame replied bluntly.

"Let's go Kisame"

"Yeah"

Then the two men disappeared.

"You were here looking on all the time?" Naruto asked his master.

"Yeah I sensed that you were in trouble so I came to see what was going on. You did well, but you're not strong enough to take them on by yourself—it was good training for the both of you though."

"How did you manage to get behind my brother without him noticing?" Sasuke asked in shock.

"Well I just went behind him?" Myushi responded with a dumfounded look on his face. Which irked Sasuke as much as it irked Kisame and Itachi.

"Train me! You can make me strong enough to kill him!" Sasuke demanded.

"Nope, no can do your heart isn't in the right place kiddo and who do you think you are ordering me around like that?" Myushi asked Sasuke with a serious look on his face.

Their little dialogue was cut-off with the arrival of Jiraiya and Hiashi.

"Where are they?" asked Jiraiya.

Myushi simply pointed in a direction. "They went that way."

"You chased them off by yourself?" Asked Hiashi with hint of curiosity under his serious demeanor

"Nah, not really, their time to capture Naruto ran out. It was a good show though—plenty of action. I wish I had some popcorn. That Itachi kid is really good, and the blue skinned guy was a real monster. They were just playing around with Naruto and Sasuke. I stepped in before things got serious" Myushi spoke as if it was all a game.

"Myushi-san, you knew that they were facing down two S-class criminals right?" Hiashi asked.

"Yeah, but it was good training for them. The small skirmish will raise their abilities quite a bit—the best way to train your student is to always place them in situations where their lives are on the line. I wasn't going to make those two harm the boys."

Hiashi just nodded as he understood what Myushi was trying to do.

"Okay let's return to the village, and let the Anbu handle this for now." Jiraiya commanded.

"Naruto we leave in two day to go find Tsunade." Jiraiya said.

"And when you're back, your training resumes" Myushi said.

A week after the Akatsuki incident, Kakashi and his men stationed in Shimo country, were waiting for the Kumo force to enter. The 50-odd shinobi were all predominantly earth-type chakra users. Each and every shinobi, was dressed in Iwa uniforms salvaged from the last shinobi world war. Also, each and every member of the force was trained in Iwa's specialty techniques and formations that Kakashi managed to record with his Sharingan during the great war. From the moment they entered Shimo country, Kakashi and his men began to lay down numerous traps to block their pursuers when the time to escape would come.

While the Konoha shinobi were setting up their ambush, the intended prey was making its way to Konoha via Shimo country. The Raikage ordered a battalion of shinobi to test Konoha's military strength by encroaching on the Land of Fire's borders. Based on the preliminary skirmishes Kumo would use the information to either take further military action or stop the current hostilities and wait for a more opportune moment. Unfortunately, for Kumo, the shinobi of Konoha were one step ahead of them.

Darui, the Raikage's right hand man was leading the battalion of Kumo shinobi to Konoha. His orders were to encroach as far as possible into the Land of Fire while keeping casualties to a minimum. The goal of the mission was test Konoha's military might in light of its recent invasion by Suna and Oto. Darui and his men were about one day's march away from Shimo and about 4 days march to the Land of Fire. The Kumo shinobi were confident that their mission was going to be a success. Konoha was recovering from a vicious assault by two rival nations—it was ripe for the killing.

"Ah Dauri-san, we've finally gotten the chance to tangle with the Konoha shinobi. If the reports are true then we should be in for a good fight eh!?" The young and energetic Kumo shinobi said.

"Take it easy Obi. War is not a game. Didn't Bee-san teach you this?" Samui asked

"Yeah, but I like fighting strong opponents and Konoha seem to be pretty strong according to the reports"

"Shut up baka!" Obi's teammate Karui said before hitting the young boy a hard punch to the head.

High above them was a little bird gliding on the windy currents peering critically at the Kumo force below taking in all the details that its eyes could capture.

Below, Kakashi stood at the center of all his team leaders as a Yamanaka shinobi lay still on the ground. The shinobi was in the process of using the mind-body switch jutsu to keep tabs on the enemy's whereabouts. In this case, the Yamanaka stole into the body of a little bird that was common to the Shimo region.

Not too long afterwards, the shinobi opened his eyes. "A battalion of Kumo shinobi, approximately 400, is about 2 hours away. They are heading directly into our path as predicted by the Nara and the Uzumaki"

"Okay men, the time is almost here. Remember, we're going to employ a swift and decisive ambush on the enemy. When the enemy starts to regroup we'll use that as the opportunity to make our retreat out of Shimo country. Remember, we're not returning to Konoha just yet. Our retreat path is going to towards Iwa. The objective is to make the Kumo shinobi think that Iwa is attacking."

"Break into your respective groups of 10 and take up the assigned positions" Kakashi ordered

"Understood sir!" the men said as the respective groups split up and went to their respective positions. When each team was settled, they all sent the signals that they were ready for action.

"Okay let's get into position!" Kakashi said while raising his hand to his lips—the other shinobi weaved the same sign "Meisai Gakure no Jutsu (Camouflage Concealment Technique)" they all said in unison and promptly disappeared

2 hours later the Kumo shinobi were slowly making their way into Shimo country. The battalion was split into four groups of one hundred shinobi each traveling behind each other. Their guard was totally down because of the fact that their intended enemy did not have the military strength to launch any kind of offensive against them. Therefore, the Kumo shinobi were totally unprepared for what was about to happen—except one. Darui, the leader of the battalion, who was in the second group

"Hmm! Something's off" Darui commented.

"Huh? We're in Shimo country we're not near Konoha as yet" his second in command said.

"Yeah, tell the first group to be on guard" However, the messenger was not able to relay the message as the devastating ambush was launched.

Before the men in the first wave of the battalion could react, they were bombarded by huge pillars of rocks that flattened the ground, uprooted trees, and sent shockwaves that covered a wide area. And just like that, one hundred Kumo shinobi were killed.

Darui, recognizing the attack ordered his mean to disperse.

"Each group split into three and fan out to locate the enemy. The more we disperse the weaker the effect of the attack!"

The men immediately followed their leader's orders and fanned out. Unfortunately, that is exactly what Kakashi wanted.

Kakashi saw that the Kumo shinobi were doing exactly what he thought they would do, and promptly signaled for the second wave of attacks.

"Doton: Tsuchi Kairō" the second group of Konoha shinobi called out as walls of earth began to surround the group of shinobi to trap them. However, the Kumo shinobi reacted quickly to break out of the prisons using their lighting jutsu, but not all of them were able to make it.

After the second wave of attack the mission was accomplished—the Kumo were caught off-guard, separated, and had no clear idea about what was going on besides an ambush by possibly Iwa shinobi.

Kakashi then signaled for the final wave of attacks. Once again the Konoha shinobi coordinated their devastating attack perfectly!

"Doton: Devouring Earth no jutsu" final group of shinobi called out and large rocks of earth in the shape of jaws surrounded and crushed any enemy caught within it.

The three-wave ambush was deadly and accurate. Wave one, was meant to do as much damage as possible, as well as disperse the enemy. Wave two, was meant to capture and confuse the dispersed enemy. Wave three, was meant to do further damage to the enemy.

"Okay time to retreat. They're going to try and figure out who was behind the attack." Kakashi said.

So, to give Kumo's sensors a little help Kakashi and his men dropped the invisibility jutsu and started to rally at the designated retreat point. It didn't take long for Kumo's sensors to take the bait.

"Sir, fifty earth type shinobi were responsible for the attack. It's seems that it was a scouting and reconnaissance team that we encountered. They seem to be Iwa shinobi based on the attack types and patterns"

"What direction are they headed?" Darui asked.

"It seems that they're heading in the general direction of Iwa." The sensor responded.

"Strange, why would Iwa ambush us at this time especially when they're dealing with a plague?"

"I don't know, the Iwa shinobi are some strange ones"

"Okay, send a few teams to track them down before the reach the border and in the meantime let the rest of us report back to the Raikage."

Konoha's plan worked!

While news of "Iwa's" ambush on Kumo spread Naruto and Jiraiya was closing in on Tsunade at one of the many gambling dens of Konoha. However, as they got closer they heard a loud "boom" echo in the area and not too long after, they could see clouds of smoke and dust in the distance.

"Let's go see what's going on kid!"

"Yeah, Let's go"

Both men came into the town and saw that half of the gambling den was blown away, and Tsunade was standing in the middle street holding a shinobi at his throat with his comrades dead on the ground around him. The man was trying valiantly to release the vice like grip that Tsunade had on his throat, but he was unable to as she was using her chakra to block his nerves making him more-or-less paralyzed.

"Oi Tsunade, I see you've been keeping busy as of late!" Jiraiya said in a jovial tone trying to calm the infuriated Tsunade.

"WHAT DID YOU DO JIRAIYA BAKA!" She shouted at her former teammate knowing that somehow her teammate was involved in the mess she found herself in

Jiraiya simply pointed to Naruto and said.

"I swear it wasn't me! It's all the kid's fault!"

Naruto stepped forward, bowed, and said with his head still down. "Tsunade-sama, please return with us Konoha needs you!"

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