Chapter 52

Sacrifice


Naruto and Kakashi caught up with Chiho, Tenten, and Sakura a lot more quickly than he expected. Maybe it was because the trio had been moving slowly, or perhaps they were just going really fast. He didn't know. However, about two hours after they had defeated Kisame, or the person who they thought was Kisame, the three other ninja came into sight.

"I take it you took care of the person who tried to impede us?" Chiho was the first to notice them. She turned her head to look their way as he and Kakashi paced themselves to tree hop alongside them.

"We did," Naruto answered, "but it seems the person we fought wasn't who we thought he was."

"What do you mean?" asked Tenten as she shifted her focus from the trees to him.

"What Naruto means is that they had some kind of advanced jutsu to make us think we were fighting against Kisame Hoshigaki," Kakashi answered for Naruto. "The person we fought looked like Kisame, fought like Kisame, and even had Kisame's monstrous chakra. However, when we finally killed him, the person turned into someone else—a Suna shinobi that I don't recognize."

"What?" Chiho asked, shocked, eyes growing wide. "Did you bring the body with you? Tell me you you brought the body!"

"We did," Naruto confirmed. "I thought it would be good to bring it along so you or someone else from Suna could identify the body."

"Let's stop here," Chiho requested. "I would like to see the body with my own eyes."

Naruto agreed, though he didn't want to waste too much time, and they stopped in a small clearing, where Naruto took out his storage scroll and unsealed the body. Chiho stared at it with a growing sense of horror. Tenten looked away with a frown, while Sakura studied the damage done to the two halves.

"This is… Yura?!" Chiho almost screamed.

"Yura?" Kakashi asked.

"He was a jonin of the village and a member of Suna's council in charge of security," Chiho's voice shook as she spoke, unable to believe what she was looking at. Naruto couldn't blame her.

"So this man was an important member of the village," Kakashi summarized.

"Do you think he was a spy?" asked Sakura.

Chiho, though, shook her head as if to deny it. "That shouldn't be possible. All of Suna's council was carefully selected and scrutinized before we let them join. Had he been a spy, we would have known about it."

While it was true that one couldn't perfectly judge a person, and that it was possible he'd been a spy all along, Naruto didn't think that was the case here. It was one thing for the village to let a genin or chunin spy into their midst, or to miss a really skilled jonin spy. However, letting a spy into the council of a village was a serious error. It took incredible incompetency to let a spy in that high up on the hierarchy.

"It's possible that he was a sleeper agent being controlled by a jutsu," Naruto said, once more sealing the body. "If he was a sleeper agent, then he wouldn't even know that he was a spy himself until the jutsu activated. That would keep anyone from figuring out that he was a spy."

"Yes, I suppose it would," Chiho agreed, though from her grimace, she didn't seem to like that thought. It opened a whole new can of worms. How many people were sleeper agents? How many were on the council? There was simply no way of knowing if he was the only one, or if there were more and in what numbers.

"But why would they reveal such an advanced jutsu?" asked Tenten.

"It was obviously done for several reasons," Kakashi deduced. "They were probably gathering intelligence on us. By using this jutsu to fight against us, it not only negates the risk to themselves, but it also means they can learn all about our strengths and weaknesses without having to actually fight us."

"It's more than that," Chiho said. "The fact that they would use such a jutsu means they wanted to stall us. It's just as I feared. This Akatsuki group is clearly trying to take the Shukaku from Gaara."

Naruto agreed. "The two things required to take a Tailed Beast out of a jinchurikki is a seal that's powerful enough to pull the Tailed Beast out, and enough time to use the jutsu."

"Which means they've probably already begun using the jutsu on Gaara," Kakashi said. "They've had him for several days now. There's no telling how far they've gone with the unsealing."

Naruto looked at the setting sun. It had taken them a long time to finish that fight with Kisame, and it was now nearing night. The sky was painted with color and getting darker by the second.

"And it looks like we can't go any further tonight, which means their plan to stall us has succeeded," Naruto said. "It'll take another eight hours to reach the Akatsuki hideout that Pakkun found, and that's if we keep going at the same pace we have been going. However, if we keep going now, we'll be exhausted and unable to fight." He bit his lip hard enough to draw blood as he came to a decision. "Let's get some rest here. We'll sleep for six hours, and then head out again."

Everyone got out their supplies and set them up within the clearing. Naruto had Kakashi go out and hunt some fish for them to eat. Meanwhile, he had Sakura start a fire while he set up a perimeter using a seal that he had created from scratch.

"Do you need any help, Naruto?" asked Tenten as she came up behind him.

"Sure." Naruto reached into his sealing pouch and pulled out several slips of paper, which he handed to Tenten. "Could you please put these on some of the trees surrounding this area. I want them to form a perimeter around our camp."

"What are these?"

"Fuinjutsu tags," Naruto answered. "It's a seal that will alert me to whenever a chakra signatures walks past it. It's indiscriminate, so I can't tell friend from foe, but since there are only enemies out there, it won't matter unless one of us decides to leave the perimeter."

"You've really improved your fuinjutsu," Tenten said.

"It's one of the things that perv trained me heavily in," Naruto said. "That and learning to control my hybrid mode."

As he and Tenten talked, Naruto gained the distinct sense that she was trying to bring up something specific. She kept starting to talk about something, and then stopping as though she wasn't sure whether she should continue. Should he call her out? He shook his head. No. Not right now. Whatever she wanted to talk about was clearly problematic, and if they brought it up now, there was a chance that it would affect her performance, which could lead to the mission failing or even death. Neither of those were an option.

I'll shelf whatever discussion she wants to bring up for later, he decided.

It was a decision he would later come to regret.

XoX

Kakashi couldn't sleep. Naruto, Sakura, and Tenten had gone to bed, but he and Chiho were still up. That was all right by him. As an experienced jonin, a former ANBU at that, Kakashi had done more than his fair share of missions where he'd gone days without rest. Not sleeping for a single night like this wouldn't affect his performance.

He couldn't say the same about Chiho, but she was his senior, so he wouldn't reprimand her.

"Kakashi, do you mind if I ask you something?" Chiho suddenly said.

Leaning against a tree, Kakashi flipped through a page of his book, though he wasn't actually reading this time. He'd been expecting this conversation.

"Go ahead," he said.

"Why is Naruto trying so hard to rescue Gaara?" asked Chiho. "Why is he so determined?"

Kakashi looked at Naruto, who was sleeping against a tree, his head lowered, eyes closed, breathing even. It was an interesting position. He guessed Naruto had grown used to sleeping at awkward angles during his stint around the Elemental Nations with Jiraiya.

He looked back at Chiho. "There are many reasons. I don't know if you know this, but Naruto and Gaara are actually friends. As I understand it, Naruto spent six months in Suna, learning how to use wind chakra. During that time, he and Gaara sparred with each other many times." He closed his single visible eye and sighed. "However, if I had to give the biggest reason, I would say it's because Naruto is also a jinchurikki. Sealed inside of him is the Kyuubi, the Nine-tailed fox."

Chiho sucked in a deep breath, and Kakashi, having heard the sound, gave her a mirthless smile hidden behind his mask.

"More than anyone else, Naruto understands the pain that Gaara has gone through… because he experienced that exact same pain." Kakashi turned his gaze back to Naruto. "Did you know that Naruto's dream is also to become Hokage? I'm sure that when he first learned about Gaara becoming the Kazekage, he was equally parts frustrated and happy. I'm sure he was overjoyed to discover that his fellow jinchurikki had reached such a position because it meant that Gaara had finally become recognized."

Silence descended upon them. Kakashi didn't mind. Talking about this subject always weighed heavily on his mind. Naruto was his student, but he was also so much more than that. A lot of people thought that Kakashi had accepted this team because of Sasuke Uchiha, and that was partially true. Sasuke had reminded him of himself when he was younger, and he had been hoping to steer the boy away from his path of revenge. However, the biggest reason he wanted to take on this team was Naruto, a boy who reminded him so much of his long-lost friend, Obito, and the son of someone he admired.

"I've lived for a long time," Chiho said suddenly. "Long enough that I've been through two shinobi wars and was present during the ascension of each Kazekage. In all that time, I never imagined we would be in this position. I never thought that Suna would be forced to rely on a village that I didn't trust for aid in rescuing our Kazekage."

"Life is certainly full of surprises," Kakashi agreed. "However, I do not think this is a bad thing."

"No, I suppose not," Chiho said.

Silence descended again, and this time it remained.

The moon overhead cast strange shadows on the ground as it peeked from between the leaves.

XoX

Naruto had the team wake up before the sun had risen, packed up their camp, and made off toward their destination. Five days had already passed since Gaara had been kidnapped. They couldn't afford to delay this any longer.

It didn't take more than eight hours to arrive at their destination. They didn't run into anymore Akatsuki, so they arrived safely and at full strength. Even so, Naruto was concerned. The fact that no one came to impede them suggested that Akatsuki may have already achieved their goal.

The river calmly flowed beneath their feet as Naruto, Sakura, Kakashi, Tenten, and Chiho stood within a small ravine. Cliffs faced either side of them. They were steep and tall, with no ledges or anything to grasp. Only a shinobi would be capable of scaling them. Within this ravine was one section that appeared different from the others. There was a massive boulder stuck in the wall. It was not natural. Someone had placed it there.

A seal tag had been put on the boulder.

"This is the Five Seal Barrier Technique," Naruto announced as he looked at the tag. "It's created by placing five seals with the kanji for 'Forbidden' at various locations within a certain perimeter. We won't be able to get in unless all five seal tags are removed at the same time."

"Then we should split up and remove them," Tenten said.

"No." Naruto shook his head. "That's exactly what the Akatsuki wants us to do. They probably have traps set up at each barrier site to keep whoever pulls the tags occupied. We'd only lose fighting strength that way."

"Then what should we do?" asked Sakura.

"Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!"

Naruto responded to her question by forming a cross-shaped hand seal and shouting the name of his signature technique. Instantly, five clones appeared. They already knew what to do, so all of them except one shot off in opposite directions. The remaining clone leapt onto the boulder and crouched before the seal.

"Sakura."

"Yes?"

"Once my clones pull off the seal, I want you to break this boulder down."

Sakura cracked her knuckles. "You got it."

"Everyone, make sure you're prepared," Naruto continued. "We have no idea what we're going to find in there, so we won't be able to assess the situation until we get inside, but if we want to rescue Gaara, we're going to need to respond quickly."

"Got it!" Sakura said.

"I'm ready," Tenten added.

Kakashi pulled up his headband, though he kept his eye closed. Meanwhile, Chiho remained as she was. He didn't know what she had planned, but she seemed like a wiley old lady, so he wasn't concerned.

It wasn't long before his clones signified they were ready by creating another clone and dispelling it. Naruto and the fifth clone got the message. Each clone was going to pull off the tag in one… two… three!

The Naruto clone in front of them dispelled, and Sakura didn't hesitate to rush forward barely a second later, slamming into the boulder like she was a tidal wave smashing against a small coastal village. Even Naruto found himself shocked by the results. Cracks spread from Sakura's fist, soaring across the surface faster than he could blink. The boulder soon fell apart. Large chunks fell into the water with loud splashes.

Naruto rushed in. Kakashi, Sakura, Tenten, and Chiho followed. He stopped the moment he entered and assessed the situation. It wasn't that hard.

Within the large, cavernous space were several objects of interest. The most obvious was the massive statue that sat inside of the cavern. It looked like a monster with multiple closed hands. Hands from the monster jutted from the ground, fingers splayed in a gesture that seemed pleading, as though it was anguished and wishing for salvation.

The other objects were clustered together. It was three bodies. One of them was a hunched figure, another was a sitting, and the last was a figure lying on the ground, which the second figure sat on. Naruto immediately recognized Gaara. His red hair and the black rings around his eyes were a dead giveaway. The other two figures he didn't know, but they were wearing black cloaks with red clouds. Akatsuki.

Gaara…

Naruto didn't need to get close to see that Gaara was dead. If he'd been alive, there was no way he would have let that blond-haired Akatsuki member sit on him like that.

Damn these… these bastards!

"Huh, you guys are late," the blond one said. "Do you know how long we've been waiting for you? Now, which one of you is the nine-tailed jinchuirikki?"

A red haze fell over Naruto's eyes. He could hardly think. He could barely breathe. All Naruto could see was that blond bastard sitting on Gaara as though he was a piece of furniture. It was a wonder he had the capacity to actually produce words.

"You." Naruto pointed at the blond. "I'm assuming that you're the one who kidnapped Gaara." He switched his finger from the blond to the hunchback. "Which means that you are Sasori of the Red Sand, the one who poisoned Kankuro."

"You hear that, Sasori?" the blond one said. "This kid knows us. Are you Konoha's jinchurikki? I was told that he was supposed to be a brat with blond hair, but you seem awfully calm. Was our information wrong? Oh, well."

"Kakashi," Naruto said softly, his arms trembling. "I'm going full throttle right from the start. I'll separate those two from Gaara. I want you to grab his body and run for it. Take him somewhere safe."

Kakashi opened his eye. The Sharingan's three tomo swirled.

"You got it."

"Sakura, Tenten, Chiho… you three can deal with Sasori once I've separated them. The blond is mine."

Sakura, Tenten, and Chiho didn't say anything, but they tensed at his words. He took that to mean they were ready. Even if they weren't, he wasn't waiting.

Naruto didn't hesitate to release all of his chakra in a single burst and transform into his hybrid mode. Purple chakra exploded around him, becoming visible. The ground beneath him cracked as it was unable to handle the massive outpouring of energy. His hair grew longer and jagged. His eyes went from blue to purple as his vision sharpened. Claws grew from his nails, long and sharp, and his whisker marks thickened and turned jagged.

Before his transformation was even complete, Naruto had burst forward. Not even a tenth of a second had passed before he appeared in front of the blond shinobi. The ninja had literally no time to respond, especially not sitting as he was, and Naruto used that unpreparedness to slam into him with a heel kick to the face.

Never had Naruto felt more satisfied than he did now. There was a loud crack as the face he hit caved. The blond was launched off Gaara like a rocket. He soared straight through the air, parallel to the ground, and then slammed head first into the giant statue. Cracks appeared before the statue broke apart seconds later. Loud crashing noises echoed around the cavern as the entire statue collapsed to the ground, turning into a heap of rubble.

Naruto had to give Sasori credit. The man had not been idle while he'd been using that blond man's face as a soccer ball. The puppet user leapt back quicker than Naruto expected, then lashed out with a metal tail that sprang from within his cloak.

Not one to just stand there and take it, Naruto also couldn't let it hit Gaara, so he did what any good ninja with destructive powers would do.

He shoved a rasengan into it.

His purple rasengan ground against the tail, producing a loud squeal as the rasengan, made from overpowered condensed chakra spinning in multiple directions, tore the tail apart. Naruto kicked at the tail, making sure to coat his leg in a layer of chakra so thick the metal couldn't cut him. The tail hit the ground. Naruto knew this was his chance and took two steps forward and thrust out his fist, punching a hole straight through Sasori's body…

Or he would have, except this didn't feel like much of a body. In fact, the body that his hand broke through had a very wooden feel to it.

A shadowed figure leapt away from the body. Naruto grimaced as he kicked the body his hand had plunged through. As the figure landed on the ground several feet away, the body that Naruto had skewered broke apart, revealing that it was nothing more than a puppet.

Kakashi darted in as the figure on the ground remained crouched. He grabbed Gaara and hurried back outside of the cavern. Meanwhile, Sakura, Tenten, and Chiho appeared around him. Sakura and Tenten were both prepared for combat, but Chiho was staring at the crouched figure in shock.

"You surprised me," an incredibly young voice said as the figure stood up. "I had not expected such speed and power. It seems our information on your abilities was wholly inaccurate. I guess that's what we get for listening to that idiot Hidan."

The figure before them wore the same black cloak as his puppet. However, that was where the similarities ended. He stood before them with his back straight, his youthful face surrounded by messy red hair. This person looked young, far younger than Sasori was purported to be.

"This… can't be," Chiho muttered.

"What's wrong, Granny Chiho?" asked the young man, tilting his head quizzically as though curious by her reaction. "Are you so filled with emotion that you can't speak? I'm not surprised. It is our first reunion in twenty years."

"Sasori… you…"

"Hey, Deidara," Sasori called out. "How long do you plan on lying there? Come out."

The pile of debris that had once been the statue exploded in a gout of flames. As large clods of rock and sediment rained down, out from within this cloud of falling detritus came Deidara, who walked along the ground, wincing as he limped forward. His clothing was ripped and numerous cuts lined his face. However, he was still whole.

"Yes, yes. I am coming," Deidara said. "Just give me a minute to recover. You can't be too harsh on me. That hit really knocked me for a loop. I was actually unconscious until just a few seconds ago."

"I do not care what sort of injuries you are suffering from," Sasori retorted. "We have a job to do."

Deidara clicked his tongue. "You can be so harsh, Sasori."

Naruto frowned as Deidara walked up to Sasori. That kick should have pulverised his face. He hadn't been holding back, so how was this asshat still alive?

Well, whatever. None of that mattered. The only thing he cared about was killing these two.

"I want you three to handle Sasori," Naruto instructed as he struggled to think of how to fight this battle. His head felt like it was covered in a thick layer of fog. "I will take on the blond one."

"I'll help you," Tenten said.

"No!" Naruto snapped, then grimaced when Tenten reeled in shock. He took a deep breath and began again. "Sorry, but no. I'm going to unleash all of my power. However, my abilities are indiscriminate. They're just as likely to catch you as they are my enemies. It's better for all of us if you help Sakura and Chiho."

Tenten's face reminded him of a person who'd been slapped. The shocked anguish there made him want to flinch, but he couldn't let her fight with him. He couldn't release all of his power if he was worrying about his comrade getting caught up one of his attacks.

"But I want… I wanted to help you," Tenten muttered.

Naruto needed to take a calm breath to resist his first impulse, which was to tell Tenten that she couldn't help him.

"I'm sorry," he said. "But in a battle of this caliber, I'm afraid I can't afford to hold back, which I would be forced to do if you fought alongside me."

"So you're saying I'm a burden?"

"Of course not! I'm saying that my own powers are too destructive, and I don't have enough control over them to fight alongside other people! However, to win this battle, I need to go all out. If I have to hold back so I don't accidentally kill my teammates, I'll never be able to win." Naruto calmed down as he realized he was getting worked up. "Look, Sasori is the more dangerous opponent from what I have seen. Sakura and Chiho will need more help than I do. Please help them."

Tenten sighed. "All right. Fine. I'll help them."

"Thank you."

"Hmph!" Deidara huffed. "That foolish blond seems to think you're more powerful than me."

"That foolish blond is onto something," Sasori said. "I'd also like to point out that you are blond."

"Whatever." Deidara held out his hand, and Naruto realized there was a mouth on his palm. The mouth spat something out. Then Deidara performed a hand seal and created a giant clay bird, which he hopped onto. "Anyway, I'm sorry to say this, Sasori, but I think I'm gonna take that jinchuikki as well. See ya later!"

The bird lifted off and flew out of the cavern. Naruto glared at it, his seething anger no longer held back and boiling over. He forgot all about Tenten and the others. Only one thing mattered: catching up to Deidara and tearing him apart.

With a snarl splitting his lips, Naruto rushed out of the cavern, ignoring the shouts that came from behind him.

XoX

Kakashi didn't know how far he should travel. He was lugging the body of Gaara across his shoulder, racing through the trees. His breathing came out in even pants as he regulated his oxygen intake and timed it to his running. The problem was that he had no idea if there was anywhere that was safe outside of maybe Suna, but that would take days to reach, so Suna was out.

This would have been so much easier if Naruto had been more specific…

As he came upon the clearing where he and Naruto had fought Kisame, Kakashi stopped. Several people were standing around, studying the battle site. Suna ninja. He recognized Baki and Temari, though he didn't know the others by name. None of them were in the bingo book.

"Baki. Temari," Kakashi called out the two as he rushed over to them.

"Kakashi—is that Gaara?!" Temari shifted from greeting him to screaming as she recognized the figure over his shoulder.

Wearing a grave expression barely masked by his mask, Kakashi nodded and set Gaara on the ground. Temari, Baki, and the others crowded around their Kazekage. Temari was the first to recognize what state Gaara was in. She gasped and held a hand to her mouth. When the others realized that Gaara was dead, a wave of shock, horror, and anguish rippled through the group.

"No…" Temari muttered, covering her mouth with her hands. "No… Gaara…"

"I can't believe it," Baki said. "Our Kazekage has been killed."

"I'm sorry," Kakashi said. "We found out where they had taken Gaara, but we arrived too late."

Temari fell to her knees and buried her face on Gaara's chest as she began to cry. Kakashi looked away. This wasn't something he should be seeing. He caught Baki's eye and resisted a sigh as the man walked up to him.

"Can you please inform of what happened?" Baki asked.

Nodding, Kakashi told Baki and the others everything that happened. All the while, Temari's inconsolable cries filled the air.

XoX

Naruto snarled as he raced after Deidara, who flew high above him on some giant clay bird. He had tried jumping up to reach Deidara several times. However, each time the man would throw one of those clay bombs at him. None of the attacks hurt. Even so, the force from each blast forced him back to the ground.

It was really pissing him off.

Naruto glared up at Deidara as he leapt across several giant roots that were sticking out of the cliff walls. Up above, Deidara tossed several of those clay bombs shaped like spiders at him. With a snarl, Naruto swiped his hand through the air, unleashing a powerful blade of wind that sliced through the clay bombs, causing them to explode. The heat from the explosion singed the hairs on his arms.

Reason had lost its meaning.

Slashing out his hand again, Naruto sent another blade of wind at Deidara. It was dodged. Deidara directed his clay bird to ascend higher than his wind blade. His gums bleeding from how hard he was gnashing his teeth together, he sent several more wind blades at Deidara. His clawed hands raked against the air. Five blades of wind soared across the sky at Deidara, but his clay bird went into a sudden barrel roll and avoided all of his attacks.

"Is that all you can do?!" asked Deidara, crowing with laughter. "If this is all the vaunted Jinchurikki has, then it doesn't look like I have much to worry about!"

"This man is taunting you…"

Yes, he is.

More bombs fell. Naruto destroyed them before they could reach him. Something vicious bubbled beneath the surface of his skin.

"Don't you hate that?"

I do…

Unleashing a bigger jutsu, Naruto created a ball of wind in his hand. He compressed the wind further. The sphere, which had been about the size of his head, soon became half the size of his palm. With an action that was as violent as it was angry, Naruto hurled the wind sphere at Deidara, who had no time to dodge as it raced to them.

The wind sphere struck the clay bird on the left side, tearing apart its wing as though it was made of paper, and then exploding to destroy even more of the bird. Deidara leapt away from it before he could be engulfed by the explosion. As the winds tore at Naruto's hair and clothing, he tracked the falling shinobi, his lips twisting as the red haze that had fallen over his eyes darkened to the color of blood.

"Then kill him. Make him suffer. Tear him limb from limb! Tear him apart! KILL HIM!"

Naruto placed his hands behind him, channeled wind chakra through them, and used the resulting propulsion to send him flying upwards. He soared straight at Deidara, who saw him and tossed several balls of clay. He formed a hand seal. The clay turned into birds that flapped their wings and shot at him.

Naruto didn't even bother dodging or destroying them.

Chakra poured from Naruto's pores in quantities so vast that his body became surrounded in purple flame. The birds slammed into him and exploded. Nothing happened. Naruto burst through the explosions with no injuries.

Deidara had only a moment to be surprised before Naruto, tearing at the airspace with his claws, unleashed a powerful series of wind blades that tore into Deidara's body—only for that body to turn into clay and explode.

Naruto howled in outrage. He landed on the nearest root and sniffed the air, trying to track the scent of his prey. They smelled like clay. It should have been easy, but there was so much clay scattered around this place now that he couldn't find the scent.

Glaring into space, he channeled chakra into his eyes. Colors faded as his ability to perceive the world changed. Every living creature around him, be they plants or animals, suddenly appeared green. Meanwhile, kilometers away, four large orange spots signified where Sakura and the others were still fighting against Sasori.

There was another orange spot.

It was much closer.

"YOU'RE MINE!"

Naruto didn't waste time in forming a rasengan and running toward the chakra source. The orange spot leapt away as if to avoid him, but Naruto followed it and slammed the rasengan into it—or tried to. A large blob of orange appeared between them and grabbed his arm. Before Naruto could pull his arm out, it exploded, sending him flying backwards.

With smoke wafting from his body, Naruto felt a growl escape his throat as the orange blob ran further away. Was it trying to escape? It was trying to escape! He wouldn't let it.

Naruto threw himself into a sprint. The orange blob came closer. Several smaller blobs flew at him, but they exploded against the chakra that cloaked his body. Before the orange blob could move any further, Naruto thrust out his hands, creating two large, purple claws, which latched onto the blob.

"W-w-what is this?!" The blob screamed as it was lifted into the air. "There was nothing in our information that said you had this much power! What is going on?!"

The noise coming from this creature was annoying, so Naruto killed it. He clenched his fists, causing the chakra arms to clench as well. The snapping of bones echoed around them as gray fluid gushed from the orange blob in his grip. The orange blob soon lost it's color, going from orange to gray. Yes! It was dead. He had killed it, that annoying blob! That annoying… annoying…

As Naruto came down from his high, the world around him suddenly shifted. His chakra vanished, causing his transformation to wear off, and then color returned to the world. The chakra claws he had created were gone, so the corpse of Deidara was lying on the ground, a bloody carcass within an expanding puddle of crimson.

Oh… Oh, no…

Naruto held a hand to his face and took several calming breaths. With the haze that had once clouded his mind gone, he could remember vividly what he'd been doing. The rage that had filled his heart, the violence he had committed, and the voice that had spoken to him from inside of his soul, of the Naruto that was him but wasn't. He remembered it all.

The seal must be weakening. I'll need to let Jiraiya know so he can check on my seal.

If the seal was weakening, then that was a bad sign.

It meant he was getting free.

Naruto's other half.

XoX

A weary Naruto made his way to where Kakashi stood around Gaara's body with Temari, Baki, and three other Suna shinobi. Temari's loud bawling could be heard from several dozen meters away. As he walked into the clearing, he saw that she had buried her head on Gaara's chest. Slowly, warily, he made his way over to the group of ninja, who parted to let him through.

"Temari…" He muttered.

Temari's head snapped up at the sound of his voice. She stared at him for several seconds as though unable to comprehend what he was doing there. However, after a moment past, Temari stood up, wiped her eyes with the forearm, and then glared at him.

"You… promised," she muttered harshly. "You promised me that you would rescue Gaara. You said that nothing would stop you from rescuing Gaara! Was all that just a lie?! Was your promise so worthless to you that you couldn't even save my brother?!"

Naruto knew that Temari didn't mean any of this, which was why he didn't say anything back, why he didn't defend himself as she came up and began pounding her fists on his chest. All that rage and anguish had to go somewhere. In which case, it was better for her to let out her feelings there, with him, then it was to go on bottling them up.

"I'm sorry," he muttered.

Temeri leaned her head against his chest. She pounded her fists into him, but they had no strength, and eventually, she let them drop to her sides.

"Why…? Why did it have to be Gaara? Hasn't he suffered enough?"

That was a question without an answer. There were many people who didn't deserve to suffer, but through no fault of their own, they did anyway. Consequently, there were also many bad people in this world who deserved to suffer but never did. Sometimes good people died. Sometimes evil people prospered. If the world was a place where only the evil suffered, then people like him and Gaara would have never existed.

Naruto wrapped his arms around Temari as she cried, pulling her close enough that her sobs were muffled against his chest.

This was the scene that Chiho, Sakura, and Tenten came onto.

The three of them looked a little worse for wear. Sakura and Tenten were sporting numerous cuts on their arms and legs, which bled quite a bit. Likewise, Tenten's shirt had been torn, revealing a good portion of her side. If he had to guess, she had been injured, but Sakura or Chiho had healed her. On the other hand, Chiho didn't look too bad off. Injury wise. There was a haggardness about her that hadn't been there before.

"Baki," Chiho said. "You all followed us?"

"We managed to convince the council that it was necessary for Suna shinobi to find the Kazekage ourselves," Baki replied. Still looking at Gaara, he shook his head. "Though we arrived far too late to be of any help."

Chiho looked at Gaara's still form, lying on the ground, almost as though he were peacefully sleeping. Sakura was also looking at Gaara with a sense of despondency. Tenten had been looking at him and Temari, but she did eventually look at the Kazekage. Her eyes grew moist.

"I see. Yes, I understand. Do not worry. I shall bring Gaara back."

Everyone paused at Chiho's words, even Temari, who stopped crying and glanced at the woman as she walked up to Gaara's still form and knelt down.

"What do you mean, Lady Chiho?" asked Temari.

"I mean just what I said child," Chiho told the girl as her hands and Gaara's chest were enveloped in a blue light. "I am bringing the Kazekage back using a reincarnation jutsu. It is a jutsu that only I know. However, I can only use it like this once."

Baki's eyes widened. "Wait! You aren't talking about Kisho Tensei, are you?"

"What else would I be talking about?"

"But that's—"

"I am old," Chiho interrupted. "I have lived a long life, been through two wars, and seen many horrors. I was forced to battle my own grandson, even, and now, I have been poisoned by that very same grandson. Even if I wanted to live, I am not long for this world."

"Lady Chiho!" Sakura gasped. "Why didn't you say anything?!"

"And worry you needlessly?" Chiho chuckled. "What could you have done? There were only two antidotes, and you and Tenten are the ones who needed them the most. The old should not outlive the young."

Chiho had not turned away from Gaara; she continued to stare at the place where she had put her hands, at the blue glow engulfing Gaara's chest. The glow was getting weaker, fading. If Naruto had to guess, she did not have enough chakra needed to perform the technique completely.

"I… want to do this," Chiho continued. "What happened to Gaara is my fault to begin with. It was I who sealed the Shukaku inside of him, I who made him into a weapon. If I had not done that, Gaara would have been able to live a happy life. The least I can do now is correct my mistake."

No one could say anything to dissuade her, nor did it seem like they wanted to. Everyone here was a fan of Gaara's. The Suna shinobi who had come admired and looked up to him. To them, he was a great protector and mentor, someone who would risk his life to save his village.

Chiho's breathing grew labored as she continued to use her jutsu. Sweat had formed on her forehead, and there were bags appearing under her eyes, almost as though using this jutsu had aged her. Despite this, she continued feeding chakra into her technique. However, Naruto wasn't sure if it would work, for the light around Gaara's chest continued to fade.

Naruto removed Temari from his embrace and walked up to Chiho, placing a hand on her back and sending his chakra into her. Chiho's eyes grew wide. Her back straightened. Turning her head, she stared at him with wide eyes.

"Don't just kneel there, looking shocked," he said. "You don't have enough chakra to do this on your own, do you? Well, I've got plenty of chakra to spare, so use as much as you need."

"Thank you, Naruto."

With a smile now on her face, Chiho turned back to Gaara, using the chakra that Naruto was lending her to increase the power of her jutsu. The blue light that surrounded Gaara's chest regained its former size. Then it grew bigger as Naruto continued feeding it his chakra.

"In this world of shinobi, created by bitter old people like myself, it's a great comfort to know that new souls like yourself have come along," Chiho said. "Everything I have done up to this point in my life has been wrong, but at least, here in my final hour, I can finally do something right for a change. Suna and Konoha. I hope the future that awaits them be different from the one in my time."

"Don't worry," Naruto said solemnly. "I'll make sure that our future is different from the war torn era that it's been so far. I'm going… to change the shinobi world."

When Naruto had first become a genin, his dream had been to become Hokage. Now that he was immortal, Hokage was out of his reach. Who had ever heard of an immortal kage anyway? That was why Naruto had changed his goal. If he couldn't become Hokage, then he would become someone even more powerful, a legend whose name went down in history. He would become the ninja who changed the ninja world. All of the pain and suffering that had come about because of stupid people fighting in stupid wars, he would end them.

A world without war. Jiraiya's dream. That was what Naruto wanted.

Chiho chuckled. "You are a very special child. Your words, your actions. You speak with such conviction that I cannot help but believe you will succeed where so many others have failed. Sakura?"

Sakura, who'd been standing behind Chiho with a glum expression, shifted as she was called. "Yes?"

"In the future, help those closest to your heart, not one old lady who already has one foot stuck in the grave. You are so much like me. So few women possess such strong spirit. You'll surpass your master as a kunoichi. I have little doubt. Tenten, I know not what ails you, but I can see that you are conflicted by something. I suggest not keeping that bottled up. It will only lead to pain."

Tenten seemed shocked. Her eyes widened fractionally, but then her shoulders slumped and a self-deprecating half-smile formed on her lips.

"Nothing gets by you, does it? We barely spoke ten words, yet you already seem to know about my deepest secrets."

"I am merely so old that I've already been in the position you are now," Chiho said, turning back to Naruto. "I know it's wrong of me, but I have a favor to ask of you, Naruto Uzumaki. Please, look after Gaara. You are the only one who understands his pain, and he understands your pain. You're the only one who I can entrust this task to."

Closing his eyes, Naruto said, "you don't need to ask that favor of me. It was already something I've sworn to do."

"I am glad to hear that," Chiho said. "With that… I can… go in… peace…"

Just like that, Chiho died. As the life faded from her eyes, her body slumped forward, though Naruto caught her before she could fall. He passed her off to Sakura as Temari knelt down next to her brother.

Slowly, with a low groan as though coming out of a deep sleep, Gaara opened his eyes. He blinked several times as the light hit them. His pupils were glassy and glazed, the kind of look found on a corpse, but they quickly gained life. He struggled to sit up. Naruto and Temari helped him.

"Hey, you okay, Gaara? Feeling kosher? How many fingers am I holding up?"

"Shut up, you dolt," Temari said to Naruto as he held up two fingers. "Gaara wasn't knocked for a loop. He was dead. Those aren't the kind of questions you should be asking." Temari then turned to Gaara. "How are you feeling Gaara? Are you okay? How many fingers am I holding up?"

"Oh, sure. I see how this is," Naruto muttered.

"Naruto? Temari?" Gaara muttered. "What's going on here?"

Some time during the reincarnation jutsu, more ninja from Suna had shown up, until the whole clearing had become filled with ninja. Gaara was in the center of this crowd. They circled around him, keeping a bit of distance, though not because they were afraid—well, not afraid of Gaara. Temari had glared daggers at every person who tried getting too close.

"Did you… rescue me?" asked Gaara.

Naruto bit his lip as he shook his head. "I tried to, but I arrived too late. I couldn't save you. The one who saved you was Chiho-oba-san."

Gaara turned his head. Several meters away, being held by a tearful Sakura, Chiho sat with slumped shoulders and closed eyes. Even at this distance, it was easy to see that she wasn't breathing.

Grunting, Gaara tried to stand up. His knees shook, his face became strained. He almost fell back down. However, Naruto grabbed his arm and helped him to his feet. With Temari beside them, they walked slowly to Sakura and Chiho. Tenten and Kakashi stood behind them, their expressions solemn.

"Everyone, pray for Chiho-sama," Gaara said before closing his eyes and bowing his head.

One by one, the ninja around them closed their heads, bowed their heads. Naruto followed Gaara's example. As one, whether they were ninja from Konoha or ninja from Suna, the group closed their eyes and prayed to a woman who had given her life to give another person their life back.

The setting sun sank slowly behind the mountains.

XoX

It was late at night, or perhaps early in the morning, and Naruto couldn't sleep. He was lying on the bed inside of the hotel they had been given. Outside of his window, the sounds of Suna's citizens as they partied continued to echo up to him.

Naruto had partaken in some of that partying, but after several hours, he had decided to call it a night. He was tired from the rescue mission. His body ached, his eyes were droopy, and he was still concerned by what had happened during his battle with Deidara. The anger he had felt at that time was reminiscent to the anger his other self felt when they fought. He'd need to speak with Jiraiya about this.

As Naruto continued staring at the ceiling, a knock sounded at his door. Thinking it was Kakashi, Naruto climbed out of bed and opened the door—only to blink when he saw Temari standing in the doorway.

"Temari, what can I—hmph!"

Naruto wasn't even given a chance to finish his sentence before she was on him. Her lips claimed his in a kiss so passionate his knees turned to jelly. He felt her small tongue intrude inside of his mouth, warm and wet, her saliva mixing with his as the friction of her tongue sent chills down his spine.

Before Naruto knew what was happening, he was lying on the bed, Temari straddling his waist as she continued to lock lips with him. Her hands had already worked their way under his shirt. Fingers pinched his nipples. It felt weird. Not bad. Just weird.

Just as Naruto was about to succumb to Temari's sudden attack, he regained his senses.

"W-wait! Temari, hold on!"

Temari stopped, frowned, and sat up. She was straddling his waist. Her thighs felt like heaven against his hips.

"What's wrong?"

"W… why are you… what brought this one?" asked Naruto.

"This… it's to thank you," Temari said.

Naruto looked away. "You know that I didn't do this to receive gratitude. Gaara is my friend."

"I know." Temari smiled as she leaned down and planted a kiss on her cheek. "But even though you didn't rescue my little brother for such a petty reason, I still want to give you my thanks."

At her words, Naruto relaxed and placed his hands on her hips. So long as it was a decision that she had made herself, he would not contest her. As long as this was what she wanted, he would never deny her. Naruto had decided that if he was going to live forever, then at the very least, he could do everything in his power to make the people he loved, the ones who would eventually leave him behind, as happy as possible.

As Temari leaned down to claim his lips in a kiss that was much more tender than before, Naruto lost himself to the feelings and warmth that was Temari Sabaku.

XoX

Tenten wandered down the halls of the hotel. She was on her way to see Naruto. Now that this mission was over, and with Chiho's words still ringing in her ears, she had finally decided that it was time she sat down and seriously spoke with Naruto.

The party was still going on outside; Sakura and Kakashi were still out there. Both of them were awfully popular. It seemed people had learned that Sakura was the one responsible for saving Kankuro. Meanwhile, Kakashi was popular with the ladies, who apparently wanted to see what was underneath his mask.

This mission had shown Tenten that she still had a long way to go. Throughout the whole thing, she hadn't contributed to the mission in any significant way. When Kankuro had been poisoned, it was Sakura who healed him. During the battle with Kisame, she had been told to leave. Naruto hadn't let her fight beside him against Deidara, and the one who defeated Sasori had been Sakura, not her.

I need to get even stronger.

The biggest problem was that she didn't know how else she could get stronger. Her kunai/shuriken throwing was already ten for ten. It wasn't possible to have an accuracy rate that was any better.

On a side note, her parents must have been seers to name her Tenten.

Of course, Tenten was also well-versed in close-range weaponry. She could use swords, spears, naginata, nunchaku, and many other weapons with the same proficiency as an expert, but she wanted to become even stronger. She didn't want to remain the girl who could only provide backup.

As she reached the hall that had Naruto's room, a loud noise caused her to freeze. It was a moan that echoed down the hall. Sensual. Sexual. Hot enough to make her blood boil. She didn't know who had made that noise, but Tenten's face felt like it was going to combust from just hearing it.

Ignore it, Tenten. Just ignore it. Pretend it doesn't exist.

However, she couldn't ignore it. The closer she got to Naruto's room, the louder it became. That could mean… it couldn't mean… could it?

The door to Naruto's room was ajar, and the noises were coming from inside. Tenten's breathing became stilted. She crept up to the door, opened it a crack more, and peered inside.

Her heart stopped.

Naruto and Temari were having sex. They were lying on one of the two beds, naked, and joined at the hip. Even as she stared, Naruto was thrust himself inside of Temari, who had wrapped her arms and legs around him, crying out, urging him on with her voice and words.

Before she could get too caught up in what she was seeing, Tenten jerked back and clamped a hand over her mouth. Tears sprang to her eyes as her tongue became lodged in her throat. Her heart felt like it had dropped into her feet, which became heavier than Rock Lee's leg weights.

Unable to remain in that place for any longer, Tenten ran away from Naruto's room and the moans that were coming from it.

XoX

It was early the next morning. The sun was still in the process of rising. Naruto stood before the gates to Suna alongside Kakashi, Sakura, and Tenten. Seeing them off was Gaara, Temari, Kankuro, and Baki.

Naruto had woken up that morning to discover Kakashi giggling at him from his bed. It had taken him a moment to realize what the jonin was giggling about, but then he remembered that Temari had sex with him the previous night, and she had still been in his bed when he woke up. Kakashi had not let him off the hook. After Temari had left, the jonin had grilled him on the details of their relationship. Actually, the copy ninja had really just wanted the juicy bits of his sex life.

Naruto had dealt him One Thousand Years of Death.

While Kakashi had yet to stop staring at him with knowing smirks, Tenten strictly avoided his gaze. Every time he felt her eyes on him, he would look her way, only to discover her looking at something else. She'd occasionally glance at him from the corner of her eye. However, she'd quickly look away, a conflicted expression crossing her face.

I'm not sure what's going on with her, but I should probably find some time to sit down and talk.

That would have to wait until after they went back in Konoha, filed their mission report, and informed the Hokage of what happened via a verbal report. Since Naruto had been placed in charge of this mission, that was his task.

"Are you sure you don't want to stay for awhile longer to recuperate?" asked Gaara. Despite having a tailed beast pulled out of him, he looked fairly hale. Naruto chalked that up to Chiho's sacrificial reincarnation jutsu.

"Yeah," Naruto began. "We've already spent a night here when we should have headed out."

"We need to deliver our report to Tsunade-sama," Sakura added.

"Speaking of, I have already sent a preliminary report with Takamaru," Baki said.

"I appreciate that," Naruto said, nodding at Baki before turning back to Gaara. "Anyway, I'll see you around. Maybe I'll be sent here during the Chunin Exams and you and I can grab a drink."

"I would like that," Gaara said.

Gaara held out his hand, and Naruto, grinning like a loon, accepted the hand, shaking it firmly. Behind him, Kakashi eye-smiled while Sakura looked on with a warm smile of her own. Tenten still seemed to be ignoring him, but even she seemed warmed by the friendship they were displaying.

The group was preparing to leave. However, just as Naruto had turned around, Temari called out to him.

"Naruto!"

Naruto turned around.

"Yes—mph!"

Temari grabbed him by his jacket and pulled him into a searing kiss. She pulled away before he could actually respond, taking several steps back and winking at him.

"That was a good luck kiss for your journey home," she told him, winking.

"Heh… if you say so," Naruto replied. "I think it's just so you have something to remember me by on those lonely nights without me."

"You wish."

Everyone around them were staring at him and Temari with varying expression. While Gaara appeared relatively calm about the display of affection, Kankuro looked ready to shit a brick, and Baki was rubbing his eyes as though trying to figure out if what he saw was real or a genjutsu. On the other hand, Kakashi was giggling perversely, Sakura's eyes had bulged from their sockets, and Tenten? She looked away with a grimace.

Naruto narrowed his eyes.

I see. So that's the problem.

Yes, he really did need to speak with Tenten soon.

After the shenanigans brought about by Temari's kiss, the four Konoha ninja who formed Team Naruto left, traveling through the desert as quickly as they could. While there was no need to rush anymore, no one wanted to remain in that desert longer than necessary.

"I had no idea my pupil was such a ladykiller," Kakashi giggled.

"Can it, sensei."

"There's gonna be quite a few girls in Konoha who will be disappointed."

"Are you planning to tease me the whole way there?"

"Only until we reach Konoha."

"…"

Naruto could only sigh. Life as a shinobi of Konoha was fraught with all kinds of peril.


This is the last chapter I've written for this series. It'll probably be awhile before I updated again. As you can see, this ending was pretty much cannon. Outside of Itachi being dead, nothing really changed overall. The next arc is going to be an original, since the series will be diverging from this point on. A lot of the canon storyline is being discarded in my fic, since I started writing this long before we even learned that Tobi was actually Obito. I hope you guys will enjoy it.

I know it's probably annoying some of you, but I'd like to add that I have several original stories that have been published. If any of you guys and gals would like to support me, you can buy the books I publish from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and various other online retailers. Here's a list of the books I have so far. Once again, thank you everyone for reading, and a special thank you to the people who've supported me!

American Kitsune series

A Fox's Love

A Fox's Tail

A Fox's Maid

A Fox's Family

A Fox's Vacation

A Fox's Mate: Not exactly a triumphant return home.

Kevin and Lilian, along with their family and friends, return home after their disastrous spring break vacation. Kevin tries to come to terms with the not-so-shocking knowledge that the yōkai world isn't all humor and tropes. While Kevin is dealing with this newfound knowledge and the loss of his innocence, life returns to normal—what passes for normality when living with a family of kitsune.

But when lightning strikes, it likes to strike twice. Too bad for Kevin, the world of yōkai is the same way. He and Lilian will soon learn that the yōkai world isn't prepared to let them go just because they want to live the life of normal high school students.

A Most Unlikely Hero

Volume 1: A story for fans of To LOVE-RU and other harem/ecchi series.

Being a hero isn't a walk on Mars!

Alexander S. Ryker dreams of becoming a hero, but dreams are hard to achieve when you've caused several million credits worth of property damage. Being expelled from the Mars Police Academy isn't helping his case. Crushed, Alex encounters a girl named Gabrielle Angelise in a meeting that will change his life forever.

Gabrielle is an alien! She's also on the run. Alex wonders if this is the chance that he's been waiting for, the chance to finally become a hero. Opportunities like this don't come often, or ever, and so Alex steps up to protect Gabrielle and make his dream a reality. He will become a hero—if the strain from living with an alien bombshell doesn't kill him first!

The Executioners

Succubus: Christian is the Catholic Church's best executioner. Dedicated. Devout. Deadly. Ever since the Church saved him from the decimated ruins of his hometown, his commitment to their cause has been unshakable.

Then he's sent to execute Lilith, who lives in Seal Beach, California. He's baffled. Lilith is afraid of men. The Church believes she's a succubus, but he just can't see it. Yet the way men—both human and monster alike—act as if they've been possessed whenever she's near is disturbing.

With lustful men attacking Lilith and monsters attacking him for being near Lilith, Christian must uncover what's really going on, and soon, or innocent blood will run through the streets—as will his own.

Love. It can kill a man.