Itachi was panicking. It took a lot to make him show emotion, he was secretly proud of the control he had over his facial expressions. But the wound wouldn't stop bleeding. The blood just wouldn't stop, it just kept flowing. Sasuke had long passed out; from shock or blood loss he wasn't sure. His breathing had become shallow and he was paler than normal. The sounds of battle had long faded away behind him. Kabuto succeeded with the diversion, allowing them to escape.
The field dressing he had used to bind the stab wound was virtually useless, blood soaked through the bandages. He could feel it seeping into the back of his shirt, which means it had flowed around his armour. As Itachi felt the blood slowly spreading against his skin, he grew more and more desperate. He didn't dare remove the kunai. The hilt gave away what kind it was. He himself had a dozen on him. The hooks and jagged edges were made specifically to be difficult to remove. He needed a medic. But who could he trust with the life of his precious little brother?
Itachi dug out the list of people Kabuto had told him to contact. He would have to go to her first. She was the only one skilled and trustworthy enough for Sasuke. Lucky for him, Wave country was close, which meant the Hidden Whirlpool village was close. But he would have to be careful; the Uchiha would have sent hunter-nins after them.
A pang of sadness went through him. The Uchiha. He had already started thinking of them as something other than his family. He had always felt separate from his clan. Apart from them even at a young age. His father pushing him for excellence, his mother focusing on caring for the clan. When Sasuke came along, he was given something precious. He had someone to love and someone to protect. But protecting him became harder and harder with the new regime. He wanted Sasuke to have the childhood he never had. One filled with love and innocence.
When he joined the ANBU black-ops, even for his father's wishes, he found the family he never had. Kabuto gave him something he had unknowingly craved, acceptance and acknowledgment. He was one of the two main reasons he turned traitor to the Leaf. Kabuto and Sasuke…
Sasuke, he was the most important person in his life. To think of a world without him, it made him physically ill. He would do anything to make sure his little brother lived, and lived happily. No matter how foolish he was.
He burned the list, having memorized its contents. Holding his brother to his back a bit tighter, the now ex-Leaf ANBU set off through the forest.
"This is the place?" Nine asked, crouched behind a bush. Peering through the branches he observed the location their intel had directed them. They had travelled far from Iwagakure. Their search had taken them all over Stone country, through Bear country, across the border of the Land of Wind and into River country. Deciding to ignore the annoyingly obvious trail that their quarry had left for them to follow, they avoided going through Bird country and Rain country and cut straight to the end. They did not need unnecessary conflict, and Rain country was full of it.
Two weeks had gone by and they found themselves in one of the many valleys that ran through the small country of the Land of Rivers. The Village Hidden in the Valleys was located not far from where they were, meaning they had to avoid the look outs and sentries that were posted in various strategic positions throughout the country. A red tori gate stood in front what looked to be a cave covered by a gigantic boulder. A river ran through the area, covering the ground in water. Not knowing if the enemy had any sensor or water ninja with them, they waited on dry land.
"Yeah, there is a Five-Seal Barrier in place to protect the entrance." One said, crouched beside nine, his hand covering his left eye. Using his Third Eye jutsu, he was able to spy on the enemy base without them noticing their presence.
"They have someone with enough chakra to make one of those?" Nine asked, surprised. "The user has to connect their chakra to four different seals for the fifth one to create the barrier. And then maintain that chakra over a large distance for the barrier to remain stable. That's an S rank barrier jutsu; even Kurai couldn't pull one of them off."
"Stop admiring it and tell us how to deal with it, Sunshine." Four said, annoyance creeping into his voice. He was knelt on the other side of One.
"It's easy to deal with Melty. You have to remove each of the four surrounding seals at the same time, and then we destroy the object the fifth is attached to. My clones can take care of the four seals, which Sandy's Third Eye can find for us."
"So, what's the plan after we deal with the barrier?" Five asked his voice soft. "I assume since we have to destroy that boulder, normal stealth cannot apply."
"And they are expecting us, so this is obviously a trap. I imagine the Five-Seal Barrier is to separate us, divide and conquer tactics." One murmured, still monitoring the river. "And if they have members with large amounts of chakra like Sunshine said, they will be difficult to face in head on combat."
"All we know about them is that they are a group of rouge S class ninja from various backgrounds. We don't know numbers or names or skills or anything else about them. There could be fifty, there could be five. Man, I wish Stone had the same level of intel as the Leaf." Nine sighed wistfully.
"So what's the plan?"
"I say one of us goes in; lead them into thinking we spilt up to deal with the barrier. That way, they are more likely to reveal information about themselves if they have a sense of superiority. Then One will then start struggling, if the enemy has the usual bad guy complex, they will spill their ace and their plans and we can use that to our advantage. But we need to remember our main priority is the scroll. We need the blackmail material on the old man."
"So retreat once we achieve our primary goal?" Five inquired.
"No, secondary goal is the information on Akatsuki, and if possible, destruction of the group. Only retreat if we are outmatched and heavy injury is unavoidable." Nine replied.
"My, that is a mighty fine plan," An unknown voice spoke.
The jinchuuriki stilled for a fraction of a second, before leaping into a defensive position away from the location they were previously occupying. Weapons jumped into their hands as the ex-Iwa nins faced the intruder.
"Oh, that was pretty quick. This might not be so boring after all," The man said. He was huge, standing the same height at Five, easily over six feet. Nine was instantly reminded of a shark. His skin was blue-grey and his eyes were small and round, just like a predator. Open scars, could they be gills, were beneath his eyes. A hitai-ate on his forehead identified him as a Mist shinobi, though the slash running through the village symbol told the ex-Iwa ninja of his missing-nin status. The mystery ninja smiled, revealing sharp pointing teeth. Yep, definitely a shark.
But what worried Nine most was the fact that none of them sensed the guy. He glanced sidelong at One. He was still surveying the valley, yet this man was able to avoid detection completely. His cloak, black with red clouds, identified him as an Akatsuki. That meant he was an S-class criminal. But every Akatsuki attack detailed there was always more than one. Which meant his partner was hiding somewhere. But he couldn't sense him either. The only thing that felt off in his scan of the surroundings was something that felt like a large snake was watching them. There had been no sign of a snake being there when they arrived.
Nine spun around, facing the spot that interrupted nature's chakra pathways. Silence fell, only to be broken by dark laughter.
"Ku ku ku ku, you are talented, aren't you jinchuuriki-kun?" A smooth voice said that raised the hairs on the back of Nine's neck. A man stepped out from the foliage. He wore the same cloak that the shark-man had, but instead of looking like a shark, the man looked like a snake. His deathly pale skin shone unhealthily in the sun. Serpent-like eyes were surrounded by black and purple marking, imitating the patterns of the reptile. His hitai-ate identified him as a former Leaf-shinobi. His smile was predatory. The vibe of the man screamed sadist. This was a person who enjoyed watching others in pain.
"Manji formation," Nine muttered. Instantly the jinchuuriki each faced a different direction of the compass, entrusting their backs to their friends. Nine faced the snake man, whilst One faced the shark.
"Ohhhh, this might be fun after all," The shark man said gleefully. Bloodlust practically oozing from him. "Which one are you? One, four, five or nine?" One gripped his kunai tighter and released his Third Eye jutsu. If they even knew what tails they contained, and still only sent out two people, he was going to need all the chakra he could muster.
"Oh number nine is right here Kisame." The snake man grinned, eyes locking with Nine. "I'd know that face anywhere. You look just like your daddy, Kyuubi jinchuuriki-kun."
Nine didn't let his guard down, even though his mind was spinning. His father? These people knew who his father was? But more importantly, they knew which beast he contained? Which beasts they all contained?
"We're not here to discuss their parentage, Orochimaru." The shark man said, still smiling but a warning tone entering his voice. "They're here to steal from us after all."
"Steal from you? I believe we are just retrieving what was stolen from us," Four said, not moving his head an inch. The slightest movement would give their enemies an opening, and they were too well trained to do something that stupid.
"My, what bright red hair you have," the snake man, Orochimaru, commented to Four. "If I didn't know better I'd think you had Uzumaki blood in you. But fortunately I do know better, you must be Yonbi jinchuuriki-kun. All that lovely red hair, it almost looks like an ape's fur," The smile he wore sent shivers through Nine. The blonde's look of disgust didn't deter the creepy man though "And the walking boiler would be Gobi jinchuuriki-kun, as Ichibi jinchuuriki-kun has his daddy's eyes too."
"You talk too much," Kisame said to Orochimaru. "You know Leader hates when you talk too much."
"Oh but my dear Kisame-kun, what does a small chat matter when they will not be able to remember what we say once we capture them? Really, you worry about the silliest things," Orochimaru dismissed with a wave of his hand. The shark man's grin vanished as Orochimaru spoke. One noted this with interest.
The word was tapped on Nine's back in code. The sand tickled as it conveyed the message, but it was received none the less. The two people were obviously not used to working with each other; either that or they just didn't like each other enough to let it affect their work relationship. Missing nins were so unprofessional. But still, if it gave them a weakness, who was Nine to complain?
"You know my father?" Nine asked cautiously. He was proud of the control he had over his voice. It wavered just right with that smidgen hope whilst still sounding suspicious. He felt Four and Five stiffen at his sides. They exaggerated their movements, making it noticeable to the two Akatsuki members. Good, they knew what he was doing. One must've passed the message to both them and understood his plan. This is what teamwork was. Being able to understand your companions without needing to talk, and being able to know your role on how to help complete your mission, and they were the best team there was.
The snake man's grin widened at the sound of Nine's voice. He looked like a cat that had just caught a canary. Or more appropriately, a snake that just caught a rabbit.
"Oh yes, Kyuubi jinchuuriki-kun." Orochimaru cooed. "I know him personally in fact. Well, I suppose I should say I knew him personally. Past tense is required when speaking of the dead."
Naruto played his part with excellence. Allowing excitement to fill his face, before making it crumple with devastation. He even allowed his shoulders to slump slightly. Just slightly, he still held his battle ready pose. He wasn't so stupid as to allow his act to compromise them.
Orochimaru drank in his faked emotions with sadistic glee. Yep, he was definitely someone who enjoyed other's pain. These people were so easy to read, were they really S-class?
"Oh Kyuubi jinchuuriki-kun, don't look so sad. You are not the only one with a deceased parent. Why Ichibi jinchuuriki-kun's mother died giving birth to him." Although he couldn't see One's facial expression, Orochimaru did see the stiffening of his shoulders. Nine saw the satisfaction cross the disgusting man's had to strongly suppress the urge to grin.
"Orochimaru, I thought I told you to shut up. I hope you realise what you are doing by continually going against me." The shark man said, annoyance clear in his voice
"Relax Kisame-kun. What harm is there in them knowing that both of Yonbi jinchuuriki-kun's parents gave him up?" Divulged the talkative enemy. Four's face twitched visibly, but had less of a reaction than Nine or One. That was to be expected of the elder shinobi, the younger ones were meant to be inexperienced and gullible.
"What about Five?" Nine demanded loudly, falling into his part of the brash youth. Orochimaru looked confused before realization hit him.
"You are named after your beasts? Numbers are what define you? How… delicious." The snake man looked like he had just been given the greatest gift in the world. Not knowing he had just let slip vital information. If they did not know about their names, then that lead them to believe they had no information on them apart from their beasts and location.
Nine covered his triumphant smirk with an indignant outburst. "We are not just monsters! We are people too!"
"Orochimaru…" Kisame's voice had lost all signs of joviality and was pure warning.
"You should listen when your teammate tells you something Kisame." A bored voice commented. The two Akatsuki members froze. Nine felt sand against his back once again. Another man had appeared by the shark and was calmly walking towards them. One described the man as he approached.
Height: Five point seven feet. Weight: Sixty kilos. Age: late thirties. Hitai-ate: Leaf. Prominent features: Two scars, right side of face. Dark hair and goatee. Hair styled in spiky ponytail. Dark eyes, intelligent looking. Pierced ears. Clothing: Akatsuki cloak, animal skin jacket underneath… Deer?
"What are you doing here?" Orochimaru seethed. All his good humour gone as the new Akatsuki member approached. Nine's interest was piqued at Orochimaru's reaction to his supposed teammate. If the teamwork between the two that were first present was any indication, Akatsuki wasn't much of an organization. Something else must be banding them together. Or more likely, someone else.
"Leader sent me out here to make sure you do your job properly. For some reason he thought you would get carried away seeing who the targets were," The new Akatsuki said. Oh, oh, OH. Nine thought gleefully, but keeping his face in his overconfident youth persona. This new guy was some kind of stupid! So much for the intelligent looking eyes. What a wealth of information from two measly sentences.
"One! Who's the new guy? Another animal freak?" Nine yelled. They needed some presence in the conversation. If they were too quiet, the enemy might catch on to their acute observation.
"What a rude brat," Kisame grinned. He had relaxed once the other Akatsuki appeared. "I have dibs on the loud one."
"Oh no. I have the Kyuubi jinchuuriki-kun, Kisame-kun." Orochimaru insisted.
"I hope you both remember we are not killing them." The unnamed Akatsuki said. 'Capture is the aim of our mission."
"Well who are you going to take then?" Kisame asked. "By my count, we are one short of an even fight. If Orochimaru has the loud one, I want this one, his eyes are interesting." The shark man nodded at One.
"I'm not as strong as you two. I'll take the Nine Tails. The loudest are always the weakest. Kisame you can take two of them since you are the tailed beast with no tails. Orochimaru, you have the One Tail."
"And who put you in charge?" Orochimaru snarled. His face contorted with rage, transforming the unnaturally smooth skin into something gargoyle. Nine was fascinated, as well as a little scared. The man was leaking blood lust as strong as any he had ever felt.
"Leader did. Unless you want to fight us as well as the jinchuuriki, I suggest you follow along. Your disobedience will not be tolerated, Orochimaru," despite the hard words, the unknown man's voiced remained in that bored monotone. Making it sound like fighting was the last thing he was interested in.
"Well if we are done bickering amongst ourselves, may we begin? Samehada is getting quite impatient," Kisame smirked in anticipation.
"This is such a drag." The unknown one said. "Let's get this over with."
The Akatsuki stuck.
Itachi paced, thoughts running a hundred miles a minute.
More than likely the Hokage would have been informed of his escape, with the Uchiha having such strong ties with the ruler of the Hidden Leaf village it would have been almost immediate. Which means he would be marked as a missing-nin sometime soon, so that ruled out finding sanctuary in any of the main ninja villages when the Bingo books get updated. Knowing his clan, they would refuse to look weak, and tell the Hokage they had succeeded in assassinating Sasuke. So he would not be in the Bingo book, but his father would send his own hunter nin. That's two hostile parties after them, and they hadn't been on the run for a week yet. Plus with Sasuke's injury… Not a great start.
"He's sleeping." A voice interrupted. Itachi whirled to look into tired, brown eyes. "He'll be weak for a while due to blood loss, but he'll be fine. If you got here any later, he may have lost the use of his arm. The damage in his shoulder was quite serious, but with enough physical therapy and training, he will retain full use of it."
"Thank you, Tsunade-sama," Itachi bowed, hiding the tears that formed with his gracious bow. Tsunade wasn't fooled.
"It is ok to show emotion, young Uchiha. Though I must say, it is a refreshing difference to see one of your clan so humble." The woman said with dark humour. Itachi straightened and schooled his emotions. Tsunade smirked.
"A stubborn Uchiha till the end I see. Very well have it your way. But as a doctor, I recommend you find someone to show emotion to. Being a stoic brick wall isn't healthy. Stress can do some serious damage to your psyche. One day you might snap and end up killing your entire clan or something."
"I assure you, nothing that extreme would ever happen," he replied calmly.
"You never know, your clan has had it extreme moments," she said drily. Itachi decided to not respond, his attention caught by a low moaning coming from the next room. He left the woman and went to the other room.
There were only a few candles in the room, casting shadows over the prone form that was lying in the centre. Sasuke lay on a futon, his lower half covered by blankets and his upper half covered in bandages. Sweat covered his brow and he was shivering. His eyes, barely open, were darting around furtively.
Itachi stepped into the dim light and Sasuke's eyes zeroed in on him.
"Aniki!" Sasuke lurched up and Itachi hurried forward and put a strong hand on his little brother's uninjured shoulder. He gently forced him to lie back, murmuring reassurances. The young Uchiha had no strength and allowed himself to be put back onto the futon, but his eyes remained firmly on his brother.
"Aniki, what happened? Are you ok? Where are we? Where is Kabuto? What –" He was cut off as Itachi placed his finger against his lips. He stared up into his older brother's now very serious eyes.
"Sasuke, you need to calm down. Firstly, you were hit in the shoulder with a specially designed kunai. I am perfectly fine. We are in the Land of Waves Hidden Whirlpool village. Kabuto is fine and currently completing his mission. Secondly, if I was a genjutsu cast by an enemy shinobi, or Leaf interrogator, you would have just given them vital information if I had let you continue. Do you understand? Until you know all the facts, do not release any information that could put you in danger."
Sasuke's shoulders slumped and his eyes filled with realization and shame. Itachi sighed, his brother needed to realise that nothing was more important than his life, and he should do everything that ensured he continued to keep living. He sighed and gave into the strong urge that had been gnawing at his insides since he saw his little brother was alive and conscious.
Tsunade walked into the room and stared at a sight she never thought she'd see. Smiling to herself, she left and closed the door behind her. Everyone knew how the Uchiha prided themselves on their emotional control. And heck, she even liked the stoic youth who had brought his injured little brother to her. So she decided to leave the Uchiha siblings that were hugging each other fiercely alone. Looked as if the man had someone to express emotion too. She would only use the fact they were both sobbing when she needed black mail material.
Nine glared at the bored Akatsuki that stood a few feet away from him. He debated keeping up the loud, hot-headed persona, it was a great way to gather information. But information was not a priority, getting to the scroll was. And right now, the scar-faced man was in his way.
"I guess you're at a slight disadvantage, I know who you are but you don't know who I am." The bored man said. Nine narrowed his eyes. What was this guy up to? The sound of crunching leaves drew the jinchuuriki's attention to behind the Akatsuki member.
"There is no one within hearing range. Zetsu is observing Orochimaru, I assume due to his constant disobedience." Nine blinked as he beheld the glorious sight of a stag walking towards the scarred man. The magnificent beast's shoulder was at the same height as the man's head and where his antlers should have been was a crown of sharpened swords. Around his neck was a Leaf hitai-ate.
"You were louder than normal, Shika." The man commented.
"I thought it best to announce my approach. The fawn over there is so tightly strung that if I had not put in the effort to make noise, I would find a kunai flying towards me." The stag's voice was deep and calming. The man nodded.
"And where is Enma?"
"I am here, how else would you know for certain that the surrounding area was safe?" A gruff voice stated. Nine stiffened. He had not sensed anyone else in the area. The fact that he missed one, and possibly two if what the stag implied was correct, was alarming.
A giant monkey dropped down gracefully from above to stand next to the Akatsuki member. Its body and tail was covered by white fur that protruded from its sleeves and pants. The monkey had long white hair that reached down to his back and long sideburns and a goatee. It wore a black suit with mesh armour underneath, over which a sleeveless, kimono shirt with white, fur trimmings and markings reminiscent of tiger stripes on it was is held closed by a sash. On its head was another Leaf hitai-ate.
"Is he the one?" The monkey asked, nodding in Nine's direction
Two powerful summons. This man was not one to be taken lightly. Nine tensed, readying himself for whatever may come next.
"He is. Nine, I believe you are called?" It seemed a response was not expected as the Akatsuki kept on talking. "I shall introduce myself first. My name is Shikaku Nara, and I am a spy for the Hidden Leaf village."