Damn it, I couldn't resist writing this now!

I'd like to thank all of those that stuck by this story all this time, it really means a lot.

Also the poll has been changed since one of the titles is already used by someone else, that was my bad. So, if you have time, look at the poll at my profile again and vote. I'll take it down in three days so vote for your favorite.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto

Naruto: A New Path

Sasuke Retrieval Arc

Ch. 50 Farewell

Tsunade and Shizune walked along the hallways of the hospital. The legendary medic held a clipboard on her hands, reading its contents with a pleased look on her face. Most of the retrieval team was doing better and some could be let out of the hospital the following day.

So far only Naruto, Ino, Neji, Shino and Gaara were well enough to be discharged the next day while Lee, Kiba and Choji would need to stay longer.

"Are you sure you should be here lady Tsunade?" Shizune asked out of concern. Tsunade had yet to take a break and looked as though she had seen better days.

Tsunade put the clipboard away before chuckling softly. "Don't worry Shizune," she waved her off, "I know my own limits and even though I haven't worked so hard in some time, I'll be fine."

Shizune nodded as the two of them walked into a hospital room. Inside sat Neji, Shino and Gaara, the latter standing near the window with a passive look on his face.

"I think that you'll be glad to know that you will be discharged tomorrow," she began while reading over the clipboard once more, "Just make sure to rest once you're out and absolutely no missions or training for a few days."

"Understood," Neji nodded before a serious expression etched on his face, "How is Lee doing?"

Tsunade crossed her arms before shaking her head, "He'll need to stay here for a couple more days. Even then, we're not sure if he'll wake up. The damage he took was very severe and it could take weeks for him to get better."

"I see…" Neji muttered with his usual calm look though his eyes held a bit of worry.

Gaara eyed the cast on his arm with a curious expression, never having worn one before. Before coming to the Leaf he had never been harmed but after meeting Naruto everything changed. Not only his ways but also the people he came to meet. It was as though trouble followed wherever Naruto went.

"I would like to know the condition of our other teammates, if I may," Shino asked in interest.

"Most of them are doing well," Tsunade began, "In fact, Naruto and Ino will be discharged tomorrow as well. Choji is not well enough to leave but he'll do so in a few days."

Gaara turned his attention to the window in the room, now having the information he wanted. It was getting dark and the small garden on the back of the hospital was empty save for a man gathering some tools. He then turned his attention to the sky, looking at the retreating clouds and thinking of his home. It wasn't that he didn't enjoy the company of, well, his friends, but he found himself missing the familiar desert he had grown up in.

And for the first time Gaara wondered if he was feeling homesick.

Sasuke sat on the bed of his small room with hundreds of thoughts racing through his head. Where was he? What did they want with him? Had Orochimaru taken him to his base?

He had seen the light of day fade away to the darkness of night and wondered how long he had been resting on the bed. The soreness on his jaw was almost gone while the pain on his back seemed to get stronger. Almost as a reminder of he and Naruto's battle. A fight in which he lost against the dead-last.

His fists clenched in anger before the door to his room was opened once again. Turning his head to the side, Sasuke was met by the sight of the masked ninja that had punched him earlier.

"… Our Lord is here now," the masked ninja informed. His mask and voice not showing the slightest emotion whatsoever. "Follow me…" he ordered but saw that the Uchiha had yet to move.

"I can't move," he tried to reason with a glare, "The pain on my back is too strong."

The masked ninja kept his gaze on Sasuke for what seemed like hours before he finally spoke. "… Very well," he approached the Uchiha, gently holding onto his shoulders before gripping them tightly and flinging him across the room.

Sasuke let out a cough as his back slammed against the wall before dropping on the ground. He grit his teeth in pain before the masked ninja walked to him once more. His hands shook before the ninja kicked him on the side, cracking some ribs on the process.

The masked ninja bent next to Sasuke before gripping his hair tightly and pulling him to his feet. "… Our Lord wishes to see you," the masked ninja repeated before moving towards the door, "It would be for the best if you followed me."

Sasuke ignored the pain shooting through his body and followed after the masked man, figuring that he would rather meet their 'Lord' rather than take another beating.

Once they walked outside of the room he was greeted by more grey walls, though this time they were part of a large hallway. He noticed that there were many doors along the hallway, all of them the same brown color.

The masked ninja began to move through the hallway, Sasuke quickly following after him with a slight limp. They kept on walking for what seemed like hours before they arrived to a large door protected by two other masked ninja.

"We have been summoned…" the masked ninja spoke.

The two other ninja pushed the door open, their masks glaring into Sasuke once the door was fully open.

"… Let us go," the masked ninja ordered before entering the room with Sasuke on tow.

It was a large room with many windows on the walls though they showed no view. A large desk stood in front of Sasuke, behind it a single chair where a man sat. His wrinkled face showing no emotion as he looked over the young Uchiha.

The masked ninja kneeled before his Lord, "I have brought the Uchiha, Lord Danzou."

Danzou nodded before motioning for the masked ninja to leave with a wave of his hand. The ninja left the room without a word, closing the large doors behind him, leaving Sasuke alone with the older man.

"I suppose you wish to know why you have been brought here," Danzou stated with his face giving nothing away. "You have been brought before me in order to determine your future," he explained, "As things stand. You can only bargain for it."

"What are you talking about?" Sasuke glared, "What you just said made no sense. Tell me why I'm here."

Danzou's single eye narrowed before he snapped his fingers, two masked ninja instantly appearing next to Sasuke and holding his arms painfully. The Uchiha let out a growl of pain as his sharingan glared into the elder.

"You are still in Konoha," he informed in a cold voice. Sasuke's brows furrowed as he looked around the room, finding that it didn't look like anything on the village.

"You see young Uchiha," Danzou began. "You only have two choices and I'll lay them out for you," he stated, "You can either work under me, get stronger and rise through the ranks of my force. Or you could go back to Konoha where they'll lock you up for the rest of your life, at least."

Sasuke grit his teeth, the answer being obvious to him. "I'll join you," he declared while glaring at one of the masked ninja gripping his arm, "Just get them off of me."

Danzou nodded to the two masked ninja, both instantly releasing their grips and leaving in clouds of smoke. The elder smirked, having just gained a new tool.

"Then welcome to Root."

Day had come to Konoha once again. The streets were filled with villagers and ninja alike. Some simply to take in the peaceful sights while younger ninja rushed from place to place doing the odd jobs that came with D-ranked missions.

Naruto and Ino walked out of the hospital feeling refreshed and ready to go. Naruto still wore his cast while Ino had a few bandages wrapped around her ankle.

"I can't wait to go home and shower," Ino complained, looking over her clothes with a frown, "I hate smelling like hospital and on top of that, my parents couldn't come get me a change of clothes."

Naruto chuckled as he walked alongside his girlfriend. "I keep on telling you to keep an extra pair of clothes on a scroll," he reminded, earning a pout from Ino. He smiled before getting an idea, "Hey Ino let's go on a date."

Ino stopped on her tracks, looking at Naruto oddly, "But we just go out of the hospital."

"I know, we can do it later," he grinned as he held her right hand. "Let's just go celebrate for having gotten out of that mission in one piece," his smile, in Ino's eyes, was fake.

His eyes seemed to lose their spark, like something was bothering him. "Sure," she answered while looking at him in worry, "At what time should we go."

"Quickly," he immediately said before catching himself and smiling sheepishly. "I-I mean if you don't mind. I'll pick you up in about an hour."

"Alright," Ino nodded before the two came to a crossroads. She looked at him in concern before beginning to walk away.

"I'll see you later!"

Ino turned to Naruto, flashing him a smile, "I'll be waiting."

Naruto watched Ino's retreating figure, his eyes turning to the ground. He would tell her at the end of their date. There was still time before he had to leave with Jiraiya anyway which meant that he could tell her at his own pace. He just hoped that this date would be enough to hang on to for three years.

Two Akatsuki members walked through a mountainous path. Large valleys could be seen from where they walked near a mountain's edge.

One of the members had light blue hair with a paper rose on her hair. Alongside her was a man with orange hair and many piercings on his face. He carried a heavily armored man over his shoulder, his eyes closed and parts of his armor missing.

"We are still not done with preparations," the Akatsuki member with orange hair spoke. "We will extract this bijuu and then go into hiding until our preparations are completed."

"What of the man wearing the whirl mask?" the member with blue hair asked.

"He is not to be trusted," he responded. "We do not know of his motives and associating with him would only endanger our cause," the Akatsuki member explained, "Also, our comrade has met with him before. I take her word over his."

The blue haired Akatsuki member said nothing as the two continued to walk through the mountain. Han, the jinchuuriki of the Gobi had been captured but it seemed as though they got ahead of themselves.

The Akatsuki would wait for now. They were in no rush after all.

"I can't believe you ate all that ramen," Ino giggled before pointing a finger at Naruto, "But next time we'll go to a place that I choose. I don't mind eating ramen but it's my turn to choose the place of our date."

Naruto smiled as he and Ino sat on a nearby bench. They were currently on a park near the village's gate. Ino wore an orange shirt along with brown shorts since she knew the date wouldn't be anywhere formal due to it being last minute. She did wonder why Naruto was dressed on his usual ninja attire even sporting his headband.

"It's a deal," Naruto smiled as he turned to Ino with his expression turning serious. He drew in a breath before speaking, "I have something important to tell you."

Ino looked at him in slight concern. It was rare for him to be so serious outside of missions. She didn't know what she expected him to say but the next words that left his mouth caught her completely off-guard.

"I'm leaving the village."

"W-what?" she stammered with her eyes wide in shock.

Naruto caught wind of his words before flailing his arms in the air. "Not like that. I mean that I'll be leaving for training with Jiraiya-sensei," he quickly explained, not wanting to sound like he was about to desert them.

A wave of relief washed over Ino, now knowing that things weren't too serious, "When are you coming back?"

"I'll be leaving…" he began but couldn't finish. Looking into the eyes of Ino, watching him closely in curiosity, he couldn't bring himself to tell her. He clenched his fists before finally gaining the courage to talk, "I'll be leaving for three years."

Ino looked at Naruto as though he were crazy before a wave of desperation watched over her. "But why?" she asked louder than she intended, "Why for three years?"

"I don't really know why three years but Jiraiya-sensei has though it over for some time," he cast a look at the ground, not being able to meet Ino's eyes. "I have to do this Ino," he thought back at the last mission, how he had been unable to put a dent on Kimimaro, "If I'll go with Jiraiya-sensei I'll become strong enough to protect you."

"But you're already strong Naruto," she argued, "I'm already training with Tsunade-sensei. Soon, I won't need you to protect me anymore. There's no reason for you to go."

"There's some people after the Kyuubi," he explained, "I have to get stronger if I want to go up against them."

"Then get Jiraiya or Kakashi to help you with them," she offered in desperation.

Naruto shook his head. "It's not their fight Ino," he muttered with his gaze still on the ground, "The last thing I want to do is hurt you but this is really necessary. I want to be able to protect you from the Akatsuki. Jiraiya-sensei and Kakashi-sensei won't always be there to protect me."

A shaky breath escaped Ino's lips. "What's going to happen to us then?" she asked worriedly.

"I'll write you every time I can," he responded as he clenched his left fist slightly. "I promise that I'll always write to tell you how I'm doing," he assured before letting out a short breath, "This hurts me too but I have to go."

Ino looked at Naruto with tears threatening to fall. "Look at me Naruto," her voice overflowing with emotion. Naruto let out a sigh before meeting her eyes, "Is this really what you want?"

"Yeah," Naruto answered truthfully before taking her hand on his. "Those guys will be after me and I don't want anyone getting hurt because of it," he explained, "I want to be able to protect myself from them. If they did anything to you because of me. I don't know if I could take it."

"Fine," Ino responded with her gaze on the ground. She understood his intentions for leaving. Looking at his eyes she could see the inner turmoil he was going through. He was sacrificing himself in order to protect them and the least she could do was make a sacrifice herself. A sad smile formed on her face as she thought of this, "I know I can't stop you when you get like this."

"Ino I-"

He was cut off as Ino's lips found his. His eyes widened slightly before returning the kiss eagerly. Ino moaned into his mouth as their kiss deepened, Naruto's arm snaking around her waist and pulling her closer.

Naruto caressed Ino's tongue with his before she suddenly pulled away, leaving him a blushing stuttering mess, "W-what?"

Ino giggled. "That's something to remember me by," she explained with a mischievous glint on her eyes, "If you ever hide something from me again, you'll pay."

"S-sorry," he stammered, still feeling the effects of that kiss.

"It's okay," she interrupted before wrapping her arms around him and pressing her head against his chest, "Let's just stay like this for now."

Naruto obliged and pulled her closer. He closed his eyes as he took in the moment, knowing that he would miss her dearly.

Jiraiya stood near the gate of Konoha. His arms were crossed as he looked for any sign of his student. The boy was late, something he had been doing lately, it seemed that he was gaining a few traits from Kakashi and, as much as he liked to take it easy, he would have to get him to get rid of that single thing.

He was broken out of his thoughts when he finally saw his student approaching him with Ino walking right beside him. Both had a sad glint on their eyes as they came to a stop a few feet away from him.

"Are you ready kid?" Jiraiya asked, knowing how much it would hurt his student to leave. He himself had gone through something similar before but sacrifice is something a ninja should get used to as soon as possible.

Naruto hesitantly nodded before throwing a glance at Ino and then back at his master, "Can I just have a few minutes to say good-bye?"

"Alright then," Jiraiya agreed before beginning to walk away.

Naruto smiled sadly at Ino as she moved to stand in front of him, only a few inches separating them.

"Hey Ino, make sure to take grandma Tsunade's training seriously," he said in a teasing voice.

Ino looked at him with a fake frown, "What? You're the one leaving with a pervert. You take your training seriously and I don't want you picking up any of his habits."

They both chuckled before being interrupted by Jiraiya yelling from the gate, "Come on Naruto. We have to get going!"

Naruto nodded slowly before turning back to Ino, the kunoichi looking sadly at the ground with tears threatening to fall.

"Tell... everyone to take care," his voice was barely a whisper as he struggled to keep himself together.

Ino nodded with her gaze still on the ground, the first of tears beginning to roll down her face, "Y-yeah…"

They both stayed still before Naruto pulled her into a hug, closing his eyes and taking in her scent. Three years. He wouldn't get to see her for three years. "Hey Ino…" he whispered into her ear, trying to ignore the hollow pain shooting through his chest before muttering something into her ear.

Ino's eyes widened as she heard Naruto's last words. More tears rolled down her face before he pulled away, smiling sadly before giving a small wave and running to Jiraiya's side.

She watched as the two left. Three years. She wouldn't get to see him for three years. His last words to her replayed on her head as a small smile formed on her lips. He had never told her that and it left her with a bittersweet feeling.

Ino watched Naruto's retreating figure before responding to his last words to her.

"I love you too."

The End

Wow I can't believe I'm finally done with this part of the story. It's been eleven months since I began my story but I can't really believe it's been so long.

The next part of the story will be called Naruto: Path to Hokage. Just to give you a heads up. It is on this part of the story that you will see the most changes since I want to keep everything fresh to you guys.

Anyway I should have the sequel posted in about a week since I'll be a bit busy.

Thanks to those that read the story and I hope you liked it.