Asuma's shinobi sandals tapped behind the Akatsuki member sitting calmly on the stairs. He had been assigned to hunting and neutralizing, and if possible, capturing the Akatsuki with the squad of 20 shinobi of Konoha. The squad had been made by the Fifth Hokage, Tsunade, to eliminate the Akatsuki, and she had appointed Asuma as the leader of one of the four teams of the squad. Asuma had been a member of the Twelve Guardian Shinobi, after all, and was therefore plenty strong enough.

The Akatsuki member sitting on the steps was of average height, his head covered by a conical straw hat with small decorative torques and tassels, completely covering his head. A small amount of the person's dark blonde hair was showing through the white tassels and decorations. It was clear that it was tied into a ponytail.

But Asuma cared not. His job was to search and capture, alternatively destroy. And as for the unfortunate robed person in front of him, that spelled bad news.

The Akatsuki agent turned his head slightly, acknowledging Asuma's presence. He spoke, with a surprisingly husky, but somewhat high pitched, voice. "So, Konoha has finally decided to send someone with some decent skill after us? Took you long enough."

Asuma's eyes narrowed. He shouldn't be too surprised at the man in front of him identifying him so easily. What worried him was that he immediately identified him as a Konoha shinobi as opposed to just anyone.

But Asuma didn't hesitate for a single moment with throwing three shuriken at the Akatsuki in front of him.

What surprised Asuma, though, was that all three shuriken hit spot on.

But just before Asuma could realize the significance of hitting an Akatsuki member with mere shuriken, the criminal melted into a puddle of clear water.

He felt a sharp edge held against his throat, threatening to cut it open like a knife through butter.

But the kunai didn't even move. It took a moment before Asuma realized that it was because of Shikamaru's shadow binding technique that the man couldn't move.

Ducking under the knife, Asuma jumped backward to the sandy street in front of the building. Sure enough, Asuma saw that it was indeed Shikamaru that was responsible for the criminal's inaction.

Reaching behind him, Asuma grabbed hold of his chakra blades and was prepared to strike down the person in front of him.

But just before he reached him, Asuma heard a crash and cracking of concrete, and the shadow holding the Akatsuki criminal down let up, letting him escape Asuma's killing blow.

The man that had escaped his death via chakra blades jumped up and landed on the roof beside another Akatsuki member, one that wore a mask that covered half of his dark skinned face and had a white hood on that covered most of his head. An anomaly with the man was his eyes. What should have been white was red, and his irises were green with no pupil. He was also very tall, and on his forehead, proudly displayed, was a horizontally slashed headband with the symbol of Taki.

Asuma and Shikamaru stood on the dirty road in front of the building. Appearing in the distinct flicker of the shunshin technique, Izumo and Kotetsu arrived.

"That took you too long, Kakuzu," the Akatsuki outlaw said. "Collecting bounty money shouldn't take that long."

Kakuzu grunted in annoyance. "Shut up before I kill you and collect your bounty, Akira. And what do we have here? Some Konoha filth trying to kill us?"

Neither of Kakuzu or Akira broke their gazes from the four Konoha shinobi.

"Like you could kill me anyway. And yeah, these Konoha lowlifes are here to try and take our lives. Good luck, I say," Akira taunted haughtily.

None of the four Konoha shinobi were happy about the taunt, and they all readied themselves for some intense combat.

Akira walked forward and dropped off the roof, hitting the beige concrete with a small thud and tap of the shinobi sandals.

"Stay back this time, Kakuzu. I'll take care of them myself," Akira said confidently before righting himself up and stretched his arms a little.

"Do as you wish," Kakuzu scoffed. He proceeded to sit down on the roof to observe Akira's fight.

Tensing some more, the Konoha shinobi prepared for a battle against a single opponent.

Stopping just before he reached the steps, Akira pointed at Asuma. "You're Asuma Sarutobi, right?" he asked.

Asuma scowled. "What is it to you?"

Akira turned his head around and spoke loudly. "Hey, Kakuzu. Isn't that the name of that one guy that had thirty five million on his head?"

Kakuzu only responded with nodding.

With that Akira charged at the Konoha shinobi with blinding speeds, surprising even Asuma. Before Asuma could make a proper defence, he felt pain surge through his stomach, and was promptly sent off towards one of the wooden poles and through it, splintering the wood and snapping the cables wired to the poles beside the wrecked one on the road, sending small, harmless sparks off in a few short bursts of electricity.

Before any of the other shinobi could counter, they were sent flying by a few kicks, sliding on the rough terrain that was the ground and kicking up a bit of dirt on the way.

Akira righted his stance and began to stretch his legs, his hand still firmly holding the brim of his hat. "Come on," he said. "That can't be the best you can do."

Akira was keeping a careful eye on both Asuma and Shikamaru. Unbeknownst to them, Akira was a very good sensor, capable of accurately measuring the chakra capacity of just about anyone except those who actively held their levels down. And those who did so restricted themselves in the process too. He knew that Asuma was very good, it was evident from his high bounty, but judging from the effect Shikamaru's shadow technique had, he could also clearly say that Shikamaru was a clear danger as well, not in chakra capacity, but techniques.

Akira himself had very large reserves of chakra and with control that would make any medic shinobi and doctor green with envy, so he wasn't going to run dry any time soon.

Asuma shoved a splintered log that was hindering his vision off his body and analysed the situation. "All right, so this Akira person is too fast to see. Almost makes me feel like fighting Guy, and he's not someone I want to fight. He uses kicks, at least initially, as a taijutsu style. Displayed knowledge of either a water based body replacement or a water clone. Likely water clone. Method of attack? Engage in long range combat, and if not possible, medium range. Stay away from close range."

Luckily for Asuma, he had quite a few long ranged and medium ranged techniques that required only a small amount of chakra and had decent results.

Flying through four hand seals – Snake, Rat, Snake, Tiger – he spat out a large cloud of ash imbued with his chakra. The cloud of ash enveloped Akira completely, showing only his silhouette through the thick ash veil. Asuma wondered if Akira was suicidal or wished to die – he doubted it – because he didn't move away from the attack. But Asuma wasn't about to look a gift horse on the mouth.

Snapping his teeth together, Asuma lit the ash cloud on fire, making it explode violently, shaking the ground and damaging a part of the building. Shikamaru and the two Chuunin were a safe distance away from the explosive ash.

"Fire Release, Ash Pile Burning!"

The fire glassed the sand and scorched the dirt, sending it flying into any and all directions.

Eventually, after a minute or so, the fire, smoke and debris fell down, revealing nothing that would indicate that anything living had been there.

"That is a dangerous technique, Asuma Sarutobi. You should only use it on stationary targets, though."

"Behind!" Asuma swung his hand behind him, still wielding his chakra blades, his cigarette leaving a trail of smoke behind.

Two kunai clashed together with flying sparks and a sound of steel hitting steel, and Asuma was pleasantly surprised because it seemed that Akira was lacking in upper body strength. "That explains the reliance on kicks."

Speaking of kicks, Asuma felt a foot lodge itself deeply into the side of his stomach. Asuma was sent careening into another tree, shattering it and sending him crashing into another.

Asuma coughed harshly. That kick had hurt like a bitch, and that was not even considering being sent through a tree.

Briefly Asuma wondered why the other three in the team weren't helping. A short glance told him that Shikamaru, Izumo and Kotetsu were already fighting, just they were against clones of Akira, one for each. He briefly worried about their survival, but he couldn't think about them when half a dozen kunai peppered his body.

Well, what would have been his body. With a quick use of the body replacement technique, Asuma had narrowly escaped injury by replacing himself with a log.

Asuma wasn't one to hold back against someone who could send him through a tree and was so damn fast, so with three ridiculously fast hand seals – Horse, Monkey, Bird – Asuma held his hands in a circle fashion around his mouth. Out of his mouth came a grey cloud, yet unlike the ash cloud, this one was much, much faster.

But despite its speed, it didn't even brush against Akira's robes as he jumped a couple of yards to the side, avoiding it entirely.

Asuma didn't hold the technique up. He knew that Akira would jump to the side, and performed a sealless shunshin, appearing right behind Akira with his chakra blade ready to hit his target.

Asuma did in fact hit Akira, tearing through the clothing and the flesh, marring the ground with a thin line of blood.

Asuma wondered why the blood was brown.

Asuma saw why it was a moment later when the Akira in front of him dissipated into mud and when he felt a sharp pain in the base of his spine. For a second Asuma thought his spine broke.

He was right.

The pressure on the spine was too great for it to hold itself together, the spinal cord snapping and the bones cracking.

Asuma felt unimaginable pain go through his entire body before he felt the loss of his legs. And if he couldn't use his legs then he might as well not be a shinobi to begin with.

His face smacked harshly against the grass and dirt, and he was certain he felt a rock scratch his cheek. How he was still conscious he didn't know, but he had to go through with his mission. To kill this Akatsuki, no matter the cost. If he lost the use of his legs, then so be it.

Asuma tried to push himself off the ground with his fists still clenching his treasured chakra blades. But it was in vain when he felt a foot hit his stomach hard, sending him off into the sandy road in front of the building.

Asuma had enough trouble breathing as it was, but the kick had sent him face down, making him struggle even more to take even a single breath that wasn't filling his mouth and nose with sand and dirt and whatnot.

Akira had dispelled the clones fighting against the three other Chuunin as he entered their line of sight. Shikamaru was staring in disbelief at Asuma's disabled body, blood seeping through his lips like a fountain, and only his upper body twitching wildly. Asuma was coughing so much it was actually making Shikamaru flinch.

Shikamaru couldn't believe it. Asuma was supposed to be an Elite Jounin. He wasn't supposed to die, not here, not now! How could it have happened? Why was this damned Akatsuki just standing over Asuma's body and not finishing it? Was he that sadistic?

The two Chuunin, Izumo and Kotetsu, had similar reactions.

Shikamaru wouldn't have it. Asuma might still be alive for all he knew.

That was more than enough motivation to snap out of his stupor and throw his hands into the Rat hand seal, channelling chakra through his feet and into his shadow. Shikamaru's shadow extended in an immense speed, shooting towards Akira.

Unfortunately for Shikamaru, the Akira that was standing right beside Asuma was just an earth clone.

Shikamaru didn't know that, though, and connected his shadow with Akira's. Normally he would have smiled and said something cheeky, like 'Shadow Possession Technique, success' or something like that, but now was not the time for pleasantries. This was an Akatsuki member he was against, and they were all S-Class or somewhere very close to that.

Izumo and Kotetsu, though, saw Akira behind Shikamaru. They didn't think about why he didn't just kill Shikamaru. Instead Izumo just shouted at Shikamaru. "Shikamaru, move!"

Shikamaru heard Izumo's call and turned his head.

Sure enough, Shikamaru saw Akira. He didn't see his face – it was covered by the straw hat – but the cloak was all he needed to see.

Dispelling his shadow technique, Shikamaru rolled forward and jumped back when he righted himself. He landed beside Izumo and Kotetsu, who had run up to meet Shikamaru halfway. Behind the three Konoha shinobi was the downed Asuma, still struggling to breathe with the intense pain.

Kakuzu scowled. Akira could have killed them all in less than a minute, but chose instead to toy with them. The head of a clan heir was worth 3 million ryo, and the two Chuunin – Kakuzu didn't care about their names – were just trash to be thrown away. What really puzzled Kakuzu was that Akira didn't even fully kill Asuma. Kakuzu's experience with Akira alone was enough to tell him that he was not sadistic in any fashion. In fact Akira loathed sadists, like that one crazy Jashinist they had been ordered to try and hire. He was too crazy and Akira just up and buried him alive after cutting his head off. Besides, the balance in numbers would be disturbed if they had recruited him anyway, or so had Akira justified himself.

Kakuzu had begrudging respect for Akira, and strangely, he'd be the first to admit that. Akira was the first partner Kakuzu hadn't had the urge to kill. If you discounted the start of their partnership, but Akira was wary of Kakuzu to begin with and had used clones. But after a couple of days, they had found common ground. They both loved money. Kakuzu loved having money, Akira loved getting it. It was a mutually beneficial relationship. Akira never did like keeping money. Akira was also quite the kleptomaniac, and just couldn't keep his fingers to himself when it was about money that wasn't on a friendly – or non-hostile, as the case may be – person.

And not only did Kakuzu like – yes, like – Akira, he also would admit – only to himself – that he would have lost in a full-out battle against him. Mainly because of Akira's affinity of using clones. Lots and lots of clones. If there was a clone technique chances were Akira had it mastered and perfected down to a t. And Akira had larger reserves than Kakuzu, had better control over it than Kakuzu, and was better at taijutsu than Kakuzu.

But if one were to ask Kakuzu about Akira, he would have said something along the lines of 'mysterious but reliable, one of the best fighters I've seen'. Kakuzu had not even once seen Akira's face or body. He was questioning even Akira's gender, but he was leaning at male because of the huskiness of Akira's voice. Although in the end, he didn't care.

Kakuzu couldn't figure out why Akira was always so sadistic when it came to Konoha shinobi. He was thinking it had something to do with a traumatic past, but Kakuzu wasn't one to pry about one's past, especially not when Kakuzu didn't even care about the Konoha filths' lives.

Akira was inwardly glowering. Akira disliked Konoha. No, not 'disliked'. Hated was a more appropriate word. Akira loathed Konoha. Ridicule, hypocrisy, discrimination, arrogance, self-importance, selfishness, vanity, contempt, scorn, hate, indifference. Akira did not have a good past with the supposedly 'strongest' village. Akira remembered the pushing, the yelling, the laughing, the leering, the groping, that incident. Akira hated it. Normally Akira wasn't sadistic, was not one to take pleasure in inducing pain upon others. But Konoha was the only exception. If Akira met a Konoha shinobi, that shinobi would not have a good time in any fashion imaginable.

So, therefore, Akira was standing stock still and waiting for the Konoha shinobi to make the first move. Akira wanted the Konoha shinobi to despair, to feel the sadness and anger they had caused. Akira wasn't petty, Akira didn't want Konoha or its people to be destroyed because of what they had done to Akira, but rather for what sadness, despair, pain, they had inflicted upon so many other people. The Fourth Hokage wasn't as noble and heroic in his killings of all those Iwa shinobi as Konoha's population might think. What about those shinobi's families? They would be grieving. No, Akira was not petty. Akira wanted to destroy Konoha for what they had done, did, and would do.

Fortunately for Akira, the Konoha shinobi did in fact make the first move.

Izumo made two hand seals – Ram, Tiger – and spat out a stream of thick blue syrupy water, splashing against the dirt and covering it. Kotetsu followed up by hastily unsealing a weapon from a scroll, said weapon being a ridiculously huge seashell mace, a chain going from the bottom of its long hilt and to the top of the seashell mace. Kotetsu grabbed onto the chain and pulled it behind his head.

The water touched the still quiet and motionless Akira, making him stick to the ground. Akira was confident in his abilities. He most certainly knew that he could easily break through the water's sticky hold over his feet. He just wanted these Konoha scum to realize that against an S-Class missing shinobi, they had absolutely no hope, especially not when their strongest fighter has been taken out.

Akira's confidence was warranted when Kotetsu charged at Akira and swung the heavy mace at him. The mace did in fact hit Akira, it was just that Akira dissolved into lightning and electrocuted Kotetsu so much that his hair stood up and on end, and his skin charring in places.

Kotetsu, like a tower, collapsed onto the syrupy water, unconscious, scorched, but otherwise fine.

After all, Akira wasn't done with him.

Akira was behind Shikamaru and Izumo, both of them not happy in the slightest. Izumo, being the more experienced shinobi, heard the slight ruffle of Akira's Akatsuki robe, and therefore turned around with a kunai in hand, ready to block any attack coming for him.

He didn't expect a kick to the family jewels.

The kick was so hard that he was actually lifted off the ground for a couple of feet, and the pain was so intense that the moment the pain was registered, he lost consciousness.

Akira wasn't done with him either.

Just as Akira was about to deal with Shikamaru, he found out that he couldn't move at all.

Akira cursed. How could Akira be so forgetful as to forget Shikamaru's shadow possession technique?

Shikamaru didn't grin at all when he finally captured Akira. Instead he manipulated his shadow and began to use the shadow-neck binding technique. He deemed Akira too dangerous to catch.

It quickly became apparent that it wasn't just Akira that was temporarily forgetful.

A hand – of all things, a detached hand! – streaked towards Shikamaru, and hit him in the jaw. The resulting hit removed the shadow's hold on Akira.

Akira was not like most other Akatsuki members, and Kakuzu realized that. He also realized that he actually wanted Akira to stay alive. Highly unlike him, if it were not for the money situation and the respect he had for him.

And then there was the fact that Akira wasn't as arrogant as most would expect him to be.

Akira used shunshin to appear on top of the steps, where Kakuzu had relocated himself. "Thank you, Kakuzu," Akira whispered. While Akira was not arrogant, he definitely didn't want anyone to think he was weak and needed help either.

Kakuzu merely grunted in response. He wasn't one to hold a temporary weakness on someone, especially not one like Akira. Akira could, after all, beat him. Sure, Akira would die, but only after the battle had taken place.

Shikamaru realized that he was in a pinch. He was the only shinobi in the immediate vicinity that could still fight. Asuma was out of commission, and Izumo and Kotetsu were both unconscious.

Even Shikamaru's genius mind realized that these two were too strong, and that they had been unprepared for them, even with Asuma on their team.

Shikamaru slowly stood up, so that he wouldn't alarm the two Akatsuki outlaws. He knew that if he tried to escape, they'd capture him before he could get a meter away, much less if he tried to flee with Kotetsu, Izumo and Asuma, all three of which couldn't do it themselves.

Shikamaru knew that being knocked into unconsciousness would only last for a few minutes, five minutes tops. So Shikamaru devised that if he were to have any chance of escaping, he'd have to stall until either reinforcements arrived, or until the other two Chuunin awoke.

"What do you want in the Land of Fire, Akatsuki?" Shikamaru inquired.

Shikamaru couldn't see Akira's mocking amusement, but he could damn near feel it. "What we want in the Land of Fire? Well, let's see. There's money, and there's the Jinchuuriki. And I'm sure your pathetic excuse for a Hidden Village would be very cooperative with us when they discover your corpses," Akira stated, his hand still holding the rim of the conical straw hat.

Kakuzu's eyes crinkled in mirth. "I don't think this Konoha trash even knows the importance of money or the Jinchuuriki."

Akira chuckled. "I tend to agree with you too often, Kakuzu, but I always see the logic behind your words. So I'll just agree this time too-"

"Human Bullet Tank!"

A huge red ball stormed through the side of the building, distracting the two Akatsuki members and making them jump away. They both landed on the roof of the building, but there were already two Konoha shinobi there laying in wait. Raido Namiashi and Aoba Yamashiro. Raido had his black blade Kokuto ready and Aoba had a kunai in hand.

The two Konoha shinobi were prepared even for the coming barrage of kicks and strikes, blocking with their limbs or their weapons.

The two Akatsuki, however, did not expect a hand as big as they were tall hit them on the side, sending both of them flying for a good twenty feet before they found ground to fasten themselves to.

Akira growled angrily. "And they just keep crawling out of the woodwork, don't they?"

Kakuzu was inclined to agree with his partner, and grunted. "One of the reasons I hate Konoha is because of their annoying affinity for teamwork. As if they think that quantity is quality. Disgusting and degrading."

Akira just sighed in response as the regrouped Konoha teams revived both the unconscious Chuunin, making them combat ready in just a couple of moments. "I think that you should take the two strongest while I take the other five. I'm better at fighting multiple opponents at once."

Kakuzu growled slightly, but could see Akira's logic. Akira was not calling Kakuzu weak. Akira just said that Kakuzu was not as good as Akira at fighting many enemies. But he just couldn't get the notion that Akira was mocking him out of his mind. He knew it was just his pride talking, and thus grudgingly abided with Akira's short plan. Besides, Akira just told him to take the two strongest. "Fine, but you'll pay me at least half a million after this."

Akira just waved Kakuzu off. "Whatever."

With that they both charged at the Konoha shinobi so fast that they almost couldn't perceive them.

Kakuzu detached both of his hands and grabbed onto Aoba and Raido, Aoba on his neck and Raido on his ankle. With his hold on the two he ran, dragging the two Special Jounin a fair distance away, creating small, shallow trenches in the dirt road.

"Aoba, Raido!" Chouji Akimichi shouted in concern for his fellow Konoha shinobi. But he didn't see Akira's leg connect with Ino Yamanaka, who was in hiding and waiting for the perfect opportunity to use her mind-body switch technique on one of the Akatsuki members.

Yeah, he didn't see it, but he heard it alright.

Ino managed to see Akira, and was even able to make a proper defence against Akira's kick.

It would have been effective had Akira not been such a hard kicker.

The kick broke both of Ino's forearms, eliciting a loud scream of pain from her, and sending her from in between the many trees and beside Chouji, Shikamaru, Izumo and Kotetsu.

Ino was gasping for air and from the pain shooting through her broken forearms, but she could fight through the pain, and briefly thanked all deities that she knew about that she was proficient enough at medical ninjutsu that she could mend her broken bones within a couple dozen minutes.

Akira, still holding on the rim of the hat, exited the wooded side of the road. "You can't be serious," he said mockingly. "You're supposed to be Chuunin, yet you don't even know about hardening one's own skin, muscle and bone with chakra? I learned that when I was a Genin. How much has Konoha let its arrogance get to its head?"

Chouji growled, "Shut up, Akatsuki! You don't know anything about Konoha!"

For a reason Akira's five opponents did not know, those words sent him into silence for a few seconds.

Akira slowly reached for something behind his head, fumbled with something for a second and brought it for the Konoha shinobi to see.

What they saw was not something they had expected.

It was obvious that it was a forehead protector, judging by the metal plate and the navy blue colour of the cloth the metal plate was sown onto. The forehead protector had a long, horizontal scratch marring its otherwise flawless surface.

That was not what sent them into a short state of shock.

"I think I know more about Konoha than you might think, you waste of air."

The symbol that the scratch tarnished was the symbol of Konoha.

"Y-You're a Konoha missing-nin?" Kotetsu stammered, his surprise shared equally with his fellow Konoha shinobi.

Akira nodded, the straw hat still not revealing anything about his face. "And because I know about Konoha's inner workings and some of its darkest secrets, I'm pretty sure that your Hokage didn't send you after us to deal with Akatsuki, but more to deal with me."

Shikamaru grunted. "I don't see a reason to believe you, Akatsuki. You might be from Konoha, you might have been a Konoha shinobi, but I won't forgive you for what you've done to Asuma and Ino."

Akira tied the forehead protector to his forehead again, sighed and shook his head. "Oh, I'm so scared. What are the four of you going to do against me? I've killed people much stronger than you. Dozens, in fact. What do you have that they didn't?" he said, mocking the four still conscious and able shinobi.

Shikamaru smirked. That question was one of those he was just waiting to answer. "We have teamwork. That's-"

Akira began to chuckle. The chuckle was enough to make Shikamaru stop talking about Konoha's philosophy for combat. Then Akira began to laugh loudly, slapping his knee and clutching his stomach in false pain.

"Teamwork?! Really? Is that what you Konoha scum think your Hidden Village is focused on? Is that what you think Konoha loves the most?" Akira managed to taunt through his insulting laughter.

Chouji's gritted his teeth in anger. Chouji was not going to have this Akatsuki criminal mock his Hidden Village when he could do something about it. "Shut up, Akatsuki!" he shouted, made two hand seals – the Ram hand seal and the special hand seal that was usually associated with the Akimichi clan's techniques – increased thrice in size and began to roll forward with quickness that belied his size.

But Akira did not move when Chouji reached him. He did not even dodge Chouji's attack, just standing still.

Chouji rolled on, but when he reached Akira, the Akatsuki member spun around and performed a roundhouse kick on the rolling Akimichi, sending him crashing into the building.

Akira had already expected the three other Chuunin to use Chouji as a visual cover, running against him speedily. Even without his acute sensing, he would have expected such a novice strategy anyway.

Kotetsu's seashell crashed down onto the ground where Akira had been, said Akatsuki member dodging the humongous mace by a humiliating margin of two yards.

Izumo followed up by performing six hand seals – Rat, Tiger, Dog, Ox, Rabbit, Tiger – and spat out a volley of small fireballs, aimed directly at the Konoha missing-nin. "Fire Release, Phoenix Sage Fire technique!"

The fireballs were very quick, but definitely not quick enough to hit Akira. Akira, without using any gestures whatsoever, created a water wall, drawing water from the very air around the shinobi. The water rose to protect Akira from the many fireballs, and the fire connected with the water, making the water steam harshly, veiling Akira.

Before Akira could act on the hiding, though, Izumo grabbed Kotetsu, Chouji barrelled towards Ino and grabbed her and Shikamaru took hold of Asuma's immobilized form. They began to flee.

None of the Konoha shinobi liked retreating, but they simply didn't have any chance to defeat the Akatsuki, especially when both of the Akatsuki hadn't revealed their entire hand. The Akatsuki were simply far too strong for them as they were.

Akira sighed when the steam let up. Akira hadn't expected the shinobi to retreat, but it shouldn't have been a surprise. Truthfully, in Akira's mind, Konoha shinobi had always been extremely cowardly, arrogant, and all the negative connotations applicable.

Akira heard – and sensed – Kakuzu walking at a leisurely pace towards him.

"I still think that you should just have finished them before they had a chance to recuperate, Akira," Kakuzu complained, his voice having a gravelly quality to it. Although Kakuzu didn't complain about Akira's methods, he complained about Akira's 'reluctance' to kill Konoha shinobi before making them suffer instead of trapping them and then torture them.

Akira sighed and fingered the edge of the straw hat. "And you know what I say to that, Kakuzu. Personal business stays personal. Personal stories stay personal. Anything personal stays the fuck personal."


"Two Tails will be next after Three Tails has been sealed. This will take six days. Be ready."

Those were the words of Akatsuki's ominous and mysterious leader, who was only recognized among the organization's members as 'Pain'.

"Any questions?"

"Just one," Akira spoke up. "I haven't been told why we are gathering so much money. We have enough to fund a major Hidden Village, why do we need even more?"

"We need the financial backing to essentially become the blood of one of the Elemental Nations' countries. If we are to keep a steady income we are to have a lot of missions coming in, and we have to maintain a cheap service, making more and more clients and robbing the Hidden Villages of their own. What we are doing will make the smaller Hidden Villages cut their ties and depend on us, and we will form another Hidden Village, stronger than any of the Five Great Hidden Villages. In the beginning, this new Hidden Village will be the cheapest and most efficient. Once word spreads around, more and more clients will depend on us, taking them away from the other Five Great Hidden Villages. This will instigate wars that will further boost our economy and cripple theirs. And if it doesn't invoke wars, then we will use the Tailed Beasts to make wars. We will eventually have a monopoly on war. Even the biggest and most powerful Hidden Villages will collapse, and the Five Great Countries will be forced to turn to Akatsuki. And then we will have achieved our true goal. We will be in control of the entire world. Nothing has changed, Akira. Our goal is still in sight."


Tsunade was having a bad day. Still, she had to admit that it could have gone much worse. She had already been in an intensive care operation room, operating on Asuma. He had received extreme trauma to his spine, but Tsunade had been pleasantly surprised to see that it was not irreversible. Asuma could still be a fully functioning shinobi once the operation and rehabilitation was complete.

But the operation itself wasn't what had made her day really bad.

It was the news about the identity of one of the Akatsuki members. It was someone she personally knew, and could sympathize with.

Akira.

"Akira. You're sure that the Taki missing-nin said Akira?" Tsunade inquired hastily.

Shikamaru was slightly surprised from Tsunade's eagerness. Shikamaru fought through the surprise easily, though, and nodded.

Tsunade sighed and began to rub her forehead. "Akira..."

Izumo and Kotetsu were getting some rest after the intense fight, Ino was in the hospital getting her forearms properly treated and Raido was also in the hospital after almost having his neck and several bones in his body broken, so the only other ones there to report what had happened was Chouji, Shikamaru and Aoba.

Chouji leaned slightly forward. "Is this Akira person someone you know?" he asked politely.

Tsunade nodded, and resigned to the fact that she couldn't ignore Akira's defection and crimes against Konoha any longer. "Yes. I was Akira's psychologist before the abandoning."

"Psychologist?"

Tsunade nodded again. "Yeah, Akira didn't exactly have the best of lives, what with being ridiculed for certain... physical appearances. Akira basically didn't have a proper childhood, either, both having an uncaring mother and an abusive father. When Akira joined the Academy... things just got shot to hell. The first incident happened when Akira beat up some bullies and had to be held back by two teachers. That was when Akira was five years old. Three days later, graduated on top of the entire year. Six months later, promoted to Chuunin. One and a half years later and Akira was a Jounin. Two years after becoming Jounin, ANBU instatement. Akira became ANBU Captain with just a year in ANBU service, something even Itachi Uchiha didn't manage to beat. But during those six years of ANBU service, things got increasingly bad for Akira. Ridicule, bullying, singling out, leering, jeering, being laughed at, pushed around."

Tsunade shook her head, making her pig tails sway slightly. "And then the straw that broke the camel's back. That incident."

"'That' incident?" Aoba asked, but was very wary on asking about someone's tragic past.

Again, Tsunade nodded. "Yeah. Remember when I said that Akira had an abusive father? He didn't exactly take too kindly to Akira's many hours out of home. After six years of... tolerating... Akira's continued absence, he just snapped. And then did something very, very bad. Something Akira killed both parents for. The day after that Akira just up and left the village, scratching the forehead protector and forever becoming a missing-nin, declaring utter hatred for the village."

Tsunade didn't look up when she said the next few words. "Just thinking about the pain Akira goes through every day remembering the incident. I can't even imagine it."

Tsunade had had enough of explaining Akira's past to them. She was already beginning to choke on tears. Not wanting to display them she swung her seat around to face the windows and gave the three shinobi present a wave. "Asuma will be fine. The surgery will take seven days, and the rehab will take another seven. After that he will be fully active again. Dismissed."

The three Konoha shinobi nodded and promptly left, Akira's dark past being pictured in their minds. What had 'that' incident been? Why had Akira been harassed?

Those were but few of the questions running through their minds.

All the while Tsunade was letting only a few tears run past her cheeks.

"Akira... why didn't you let me help you?"


Kakashi had been ordered Tsunade to meet up with her in her office. Kakashi had been on time, surprisingly. Well, it would have been surprising if the messenger didn't hand him a slip of paper, that had a name that Kakashi was all too familiar with written on it.

'Akira'.

That name brought forth far too many bad memories.

"You called, Lady Hokage?"

Tsunade was looking sullenly at the desk, her hands folded in front of her mouth. She didn't make eye contact with Kakashi, but Kakashi was understanding in that regard. It was without a doubt about Akira. "Yes. I want you to be the captain of Team Ten."

Kakashi was surprised with the order. "Why is that?"

Tsunade sighed solemnly and locked eyes with Kakashi. "Akira is an Akatsuki member."


"Team Ten. Your new captain is Kakashi Hatake. Follow his orders as you would Asuma's. Your mission hasn't changed. Search and capture, alternatively destroy, Akatsuki members in the Land of Fire. Akatsuki members Kakuzu and Akira are assumed to be headed for Konoha itself. They are doubtlessly targeting Naruto. Search and capture, I repeat, search and capture!"

"Yes, Lady Hokage!"


"Kakuzu."

"I know."

Akira and Kakuzu were walking at a relaxed pace through a dead forest, showing no signs of distress or awareness of being watched. The forest's trees grey and lifeless. It served as a good spot to do some training with devastating techniques. The only place Akira could come up with that would have been better would be a heavily sealed room that simulated terrain and many other factors.

But neither of the Akatsuki members were concerned about training their techniques when they knew they were being spied on.

And it wasn't by a civilian, a mercenary, or even a shinobi – at least not directly, anyway – no. It was by a bird.

"C-6?"

Kakuzu nodded.

The two Akatsuki criminals turned to walk behind a tree, obscuring the flying creature's view for only a few moments before it found them again, continuing its observation.

The scouting continued for a few more minutes before the bird gained back the control of its own body.


Half a kilometre away Ino regained consciousness and immediately began to report the two's position. "They're ten minutes to the north, advancing slowly towards Konoha."

Kakashi nodded, uncharacteristically determined. "Then let's start hunting."


A black shadow crept slowly towards the two strolling Akatsuki outlaws. They appeared to be completely unaware of the creeping shadow, walking at a speed a civilian would have found casual.

The shadow was reaching towards Kakuzu first. The shadow hugged the trees and any cover it could use.

But just before it touched Kakuzu's shadow both the Akatsuki members jumped far forwards, escaping the shadow technique.

The Akatsuki members jumped backwards repeatedly, dodging and weaving away from the rapidly accelerating shadow.

Looking up Akira sensed a chakra signature that was recognizable. It was the Konoha Chuunin, Shikamaru Nara. He had just let go of a pair of chakra blades that the Jounin that had attacked them perhaps a week ago had. Akira immediately noticed that they had explosive tags.

But Akira, having channelled chakra to the eyes, saw that they were complete duds. They were missing a key component.

Akira spun around and roundhouse kicked the chakra blade, sending it on a collision course for the chakra blade aimed at Kakuzu. The blade hit its twin with a clang, and made both careen towards a tree close by.

Kakuzu and Akira both snapped their attention to Shikamaru. He was standing a bit of a distance in front of them both, looking far too confident than the situation dictated, his hands casually planted in his pockets.

"Akira," Kakuzu grunted.

"Three others. One behind tree diagonal-up-left. Other two behind tree direct-back."

Kakuzu nodded, because he knew that even if Akira couldn't see them he could sense them. Akira's sensing was just so acute that it could even be considered a Byakugan, although the eye had the advantage of actually seeing instead of sensing. Sensing only found location. Byakugan saw everything, from weapons to skin colour, from eye colour to clothing. That's where sensing was inferior.

"I'll take the one behind tree diagonal-up-left. You take the other three," Akira murmured so low that only Kakuzu could actually hear it.

The statement was somewhat surprising for Kakuzu, actually. Normally Kakuzu was the one to target single targets, not Akira. And normally Kakuzu was the one giving orders, not Akira.

Unless...

Yes, that could be it. "Very well then. G-5?"

Akira nodded. "G-5," he responded.

With a burst of speed the two Akatsuki disappeared with a visible flicker of light, startling Team Ten a bit.


Kakuzu appeared behind the two Chuunin. He knew they were clan heirs, so he would have to take extra care to make sure none of them got too mutilated in the process.

Kakuzu shot his left hand out and grabbed hold of Ino's neck, applying so much force that if Ino hadn't clutched onto Kakuzu's hand she would have had died from a broken neck.

Kakuzu retracted his hand, bringing Ino back with him. Chouji was only taken aback for a moment before weaving his hands through a few hand seals. His hair wrapped around his balled form, and he began to spin viciously.

With an explosion of speed Chouji shot forwards at Kakuzu. Chouji knew that he wouldn't hit Kakuzu to begin with, so he was confident that Ino would survive.

He was right, because Kakuzu jumped up with Ino tightly held in his hand, sticking on one of the trees.

Shikamaru ran past the tree Ino and Chouji had hid behind and saw the predicament Ino was in. Making a quick decision Shikamaru ran to Chouji's side and began to perform a couple of hand seals, putting chakra into his shadow as Chouji used his clan's partial multi-size technique to increase the size of his arms. Chouji's massive arms slammed into the side of the base of the tree, making it topple to the side that Chouji hit.

Kakuzu was unperturbed by both Chouji's technique and the tree falling. He jumped and landed on another tree, and proceeded to squeeze Ino's neck harder. Ino gasped as a result and tried vainly to get him to let go of her.

Chouji ran up the tree, and hadn't let up on the Akimichi technique. Chouji was about to throw a punch when Kakuzu threw Ino at Chouji, surprising him.

Chouji disabled his multi-size technique to grab Ino.

He hadn't expected Kakuzu to use Ino as a distraction, and thus felt pain shoot through his stomach, and was promptly sent into the ground, kicking up a lot of dust and debris.

Kakuzu shook his head. "Amateurs."


Kakashi and Akira were both standing on a tree branch, facing each other. Neither looked as if they were about to attack each other, but it certainly was obvious that they were both very tense.

"You joined Akatsuki, then," Kakashi began. He stuck his hands in his pockets, but his entire body was tense.

Akira didn't move the straw hat to look Kakashi in the eye. "Yes."

"Why did you join Akatsuki instead of coming back?"

Akira shook his head and chuckled. "You expect me to go back to that hell-hole? I joined Akatsuki because it was for the best."

Kakashi was quiet for a minute before responding. "The best for whom, exactly?"

"Everyone," Akira replied without hesitance.

"Everyone?"

Akira shook his head again. "Let me rephrase. Everyone that matters."

Kakashi lowered his eyes to stare at Akira's feet. "What happened to you, Akira? Why did you even brand yourself as a missing-nin to begin with?"

Akira's fists clenched tightly. "You know what happened, Kakashi. My father and mother... they did terrible things to me."

"I know that, but what?"

Akira took hold of the conical straw hat and pulled it off.

Akira's bright green eyes looked directly into Kakashi's, the Jounin having looked back up. Akira's eyes were sad and traumatized, but angry at the same time. Akira's very feminine face was only covered by a dark blonde strand of hair running down Akira's nose and brushing against the chin. "My father..."

"He raped me. My mother didn't care."

Kakashi's eyes widened in surprise, his tenseness slacking. "What? Why didn't you get help from anyone then?"

Akira's gaze was averted. "I didn't want to trouble anyone. You, Tsunade, Jiraiya, none of you deserved to be burdened by my sorrows. Besides, Konoha only saw me as an object to begin with. Someone not worth listening to."

Kakashi took a step forward. "Akira, you know that's a lie. You know that you would never burden us to begin with. Tsunade, Jiraiya, I, we all cared for you, still do. You haven't committed any crimes against Konoha that gives you any kind of severe punishment. You can still come back."

Akira's eyes hardened. "You're lying. No one cares about me. The only one who cares for me is myself. Besides, you see me as a sex object too. I know you can. Every man sees me like one. They began to look at me like that when I was six and a half, when my breasts began to grow. The looks, the groping, everything. It was bad enough that I was stared at pervertedly, but Konoha's secrets, their actions. Unacceptable, unforgivable."

Kakashi sighed. "Akira. Things change. Far from everyone sees you as a sex object. Jiraiya knows that you're sensitive about your curves. He won't perv on you. Tsunade can understand your problem. I won't look at you lecherously. You know I'm not that type of person."

Akira's bright eyes narrowed. "Why do you spout such lies, knowing I'll see through them?"

Kakashi shook his head sadly. "Because I don't lie, not to people I care about."

Akira scoffed harshly. "You're a piece of shit, just like every other man on this miserable excuse of a planet."

"My mission is to search and capture. I'll bring you back, even if I have to break every bone in your body."

"You're welcome to try."


Author's note: Yeah yeah, I haven't updated Tales of a Dimensional Travelling Gutsy Ninja for I don't know how long. The only "excuse" I have is that I don't really know what to write. Or that I've lost interest (temporarily). Dunno.

But here's a new story. Don't really know about the title of the story, but it could be taken as if it's Konoha's power corrupts itself. Yeah, yeah that could be it.