Title: Strength

Author: ishala8

Genre: Hurt/Comfort/Romance

Rating: K (contains mild violence)

Word Count: 1399

Disclaimer: If I owned Naruto I would know what is going to happen next and wouldn't need to constantly check for manga updates. Sadly, I still need to wait patiently for updates like the rest of you.

Summary: An unexpected alliance.

Dedicated to: Storm Blackheart who possesses a brilliant mind and enough ideas to share with others. Thank you for putting up with me!

Last Revised On: 04/11/11

Interlude Two: Found

Akamaru showed no restraint as he jumped straight for the closest attacker's throat. He didn't have enough energy to fight and so his only chance stood with wounding them enough to hinder any attempt made to follow after him.

As the first enemy fell dead to the ground with no chance to defend against the feral attack a second got Akamaru from the side, throwing him hard against a tree. Dizzy and out of breath, the dog heaved his small body onto oversized paws and attempted to stand. He couldn't give up, not now.

Shaking his muzzle, the ninken made to attack again only to receive a kunai to the ribs while on midair. Returning to the ground with a jarring thud, Akamaru could do nothing but attempt to remain conscious as his attackers approached with ugly sneers.

His world was growing darker and he whined, sending an apology to his master for failing him. With eyes heavy and unfocussed, he didn't register the men surrounding him falling simultaneously, all of them dead before they even hit the ground.

The dog woke with a pitiful whine and searched around the room for his owner only to find that Kiba was no where to be seen. He had come to expect the empty room upon waking every morning but this time it would simply not do.

Jumping to all fours, Akamaru trotted outside in search of his partner. He needed the comfort Kiba's mere presence could provide. It didn't matter that Kiba was merely going through the motions of living as of late or that his comforting pats were simply mechanical, Akamaru neededhim and anything would do.

He found Kiba meditating in the clan's training field. It was a familiar scene that had greeted him daily for the past month and still it was different. Something had changed within the boy and it was evident through the confident set of his shoulders and the big smile with which he greeted the ninken.

Akamaru didn't know what had changed, but as he lay on the ground next to his partner he was content. Life was getting back on track and that's as it should be.

He woke pained and to the sound of unfamiliar voices. Scared, Akamaru whined pitiful, only for a steady hand to pat his fur gently. Turning his head painfully to the side, he suddenly locked eyes with world-weary sharingan pupils and froze, hypnotized by their intensity.

"Don't move or you'll reopen your wounds," explained the man in a soft timbre voice, lulling the ninken to a peaceful state.

"You do realise you are talking to a dog, right?" demanded a grating voice from the side and Akamaru acknowledged its owner's presence with a flick of his ears – moving hurt too much.

The owner of the warm, comforting hands and wise eyes, did not seem to notice the question but instead chose to inspect Akamaru's hitai-ate. The ninken huffed and turned his head away, uncomfortable with the invasion of privacy. However, he couldn't feign disinterest as the man started talking once more.

"You are one of the Inuzuka clan's ninken, correct?" A huff was his reply followed by a whine at the next question. "Where is your owner?"

The hand returned to smooth away the signs of distress as the man's partner looked on in distaste.

"Itachi, he is a dog!" he protested only to receive a glare from said Uchiha.

"We are after the group of men you were fighting against," explained the male – Itachi, Akamaru noted. "Would you be able to lead us to them?"

Akamaru gave Itachi a searching look even as hope blossomed in his heart. He had lost time, but maybe this way he could make up for it. He did not completely trust the male; of course not. Even he had heard the tales of the dreaded Akatsuki and the infamous Uchiha in their midst, but this was a transaction that would benefit the both of them. Surely even Uchiha Itachi wouldn't be heartless enough to take advantage of a helpless puppy. Then again…

"You and your owner will be set free," he clarified, but it wasn't his words that convinced the ninken. Rather it was the earnest light shining in the very depths of his eyes.

Even as his eyes threatened to close with fatigue, Akamaru gave a bark of agreement, sealing the deal and Kiba's fate.

"Thank you," he heard Itachi say as he gave into sleep. "We'll leave when you are feeling better."

Akamaru woke with a start in the middle of the night, the scent of wood smoke in his nostrils and warmth of pale hands on his back. For the first time since the dreams begun he didn't seek comfort in Kiba's arms, instead opting for the woods.

The scent of pine and full moon above triggered hazy memories of comfort, laughter and friendship. Itachi… The name sounded like music to his ears. Yes, Itachi was what had been missing since their return to the village.

Coming to a stop deep within the forest bordering the Inuzuka compound, Akamaru pondered his next course of action. It was obvious that Kiba had still to remember what it was that he was missing – the friendship and warmth they had found in Itachi's company.

Akamaru doubted that Kiba would believe him if he was to say anything. If he hadn't felt the strong emotions that accompanied the dream or seen the hypnotic glow of those wise eyes, he would not have believed the truth either. No, he would wait for Kiba to realise on his own. In the meantime he had more important things to do, like bask in the memory of a faded smile and ponder why Itachi had allowed his mate to live him.

Akamaru growled a warning as the shark, Kisame as he had come to know him by, attempted to make a comment. He didn't want to hear it now or ever. Yes, he was mad at the nukenin and was simply looking for an excuse to attack.

It had been twelve days! Twelve entire days since Kiba's capture and they were still no where close to finding him. It was all Kisame's fault and because of that Akamaru felt that his dislike of the shark-like shinobi was justified.

Three days after Akamaru settled the deal with Itachi, the group had been ready to go. Akamaru wasn't exactly sure if he should blame himself or Itachi for that delay, so he let it rest. Obviously, he had been too wounded to move and could hardly track his owner from the arms of another, so they had waited for him to heal. Itachi had been the one to insist upon the wait despite Akamaru and Kisame's avid protests, so the ninken was not happy with him either.

Once they had set out, Kisame had protested to Akamaru's way of tracking and insisted that he follow the sent of the missing-nin rather than that of his owner. A few good whiffs at bloodstained clothing, day-long treks through the forest and five abandoned corpses later Akamaru had snapped. Lips drawn back and fangs revealed, he had growled and refused to move until Kisame agreed to stop making him sniff at dead men's clothes.

Annoyed at the shark-nin but excited over the new trail he had picked up, Akamaru bounded through the vegetation as the two Akatsuki members followed through the canopies above. This was it! He was sure he had the right trail this time and they were getting closer. Almost there…

Breaking through the trees and into a spacious clearing, Akamaru came to a sudden stop. It was empty. Why, how could it be empty? A forlorn howl sounded through the forest, startling the dozing wildlife.

Rushing around with his nose to the ground Akamaru fought to pick up a new trail of where Kiba could have headed towards. It was hard. The entire clearing was bathed in his blood and the stench of unwashed bodies.

As Itachi and Kisame broke through the trees after the ninken, they too were surprised at the remains of an obviously large and recent encampment. Kisame swore, while Itachi activated the sharingan to search for clues in the rapidly darkening landscape.

"Don't worry," he reassured the dog, "we'll find him."

And for some reason, Akamaru believed him.

A Few Things to Clear Up:

Dog Colourblindness

I make an effort to avoid describing colours when using Akamaru's point of view to avoid confusion. In case I forget or haveforgotten that fact and start referring to Itachi's sharingan as being 'golden' here is the explanation:

Dogs do not see in shades of grey. Instead they are capable of seeing the world in grays, blues and yellows. To them red translates to a dark yellow, somewhere between yellow and gray, if that makes any sense. ^^;

Akamaru and Itachi

There is nothing romantic in that relationship people and I sincerely hope that it did not seem that way. Akamaru admires Itachi for his strength, wisdom and ability to take charge and care for those weaker than him. There is friendship involved but no weird fetish. Just to clear that out for all the sick-minded people out there (myself included considering I even thought the problem might arise, arg!).

Author'sNote: I received my first flame today and as such had to disable my anonymous reviews. I hope that's fine with everyone… Still, give me some love people, I'm miserable here!

On another note, exam block starts next week so I doubt I'll be posting an update till the 20th at the earliest. Sorry! *pouts*