Just uploading this edited version.
I've been painfully busy since first uploading this, but I've just started the next chapter. So keep your eyes peeled.
As of next chapter I'll begin doing general to most review responses again.
Please enjoy, and please review your thoughts, opinions, and suggestions. (Please don't be overly harsh on this chapter, I struggled a lot with my creative feel for it)
Chapter 15: The path of one to ten
Anko's honey brown eyes travelled up the sliver of light that ran from Naruto's bare navel to just below his right eye, as a result, of the thin gap in his bedrooms curtain. She'd been awake for the past hour and had contented herself to simply watching him sleep peacefully.
She had no trouble declaring in her mind that she was mesmerized by him just as much when he was asleep as when he was awake. And with every passing second of the rising sun outside the window she got to appraise another defined line of Naruto's impressive musculature.
"Mmmmm." The blonde hummed incoherently in the sleepy throes of awakening.
"Mmmhmmmm." Anko cooed back with a pout of adoration as Naruto's face contorted when the line of sunlight finally reached his closed eyelid.
Naruto desperately reached down his body in search of the blanket to cover his face with, but Anko moved quicker and fluidly straddled his hips in a manner reflective of how she had the evening before. She ignored the momentary thrill of feeling his equally nude groin contact hers, and carried on with her original goal of pinning Naruto's arms by his sides but leaving his face uncovered.
His eyes remained closed as he turned his head from side to side in a pathetic attempt to avoid the sunlight that Anko was taking advantage of. "Noooo, get off me, freak!"
Naruto's pitiful plead only inspired Anko to laugh, but as his eyes finally peeked open and he gave her his best puppy dog expression she couldn't deny her body's desire as she leant forward and gently placed her lips over his.
"Good morning, my little pathetic daisy." Anko smiled down to Naruto as their lips parted and she assumed a position over him that protected his face from the light.
"And good morning to you, my aggressive scary snake lady." Naruto teased back without the slightest care to the fact that she was still pinning his arms down, or that his manhood was pressed against her womanhood.
Anko smiled sweetly, and spoke in spite of his tease, "Do you know how long I've been wanting what happened last night, or this?"
Naruto slid his right hand from her grip and cupped his chin thoughtfully. "Well, you're a creepy paedophile, so probably since you first saw me when I was a kid."
Anko pouted playfully, and pressed her breasts together as a display to him. "And you've always had a thing for older women; I just read your desires back then."
"Have you been grooming me all these years?" Naruto knitted his brow together in an obviously over-dramatic fashion, "I feel violated, it's almost like I've been raped!"
"Excuse me!" The falsely flustered woman declared in an equally over-dramatic tone. "Who's the one who tied who up with ninja wire last night and fucked them over and over again?"
The blonde chuckled softly and took her moment of distraction to slip both his hands down to her waist. He lifted her up and rolled out from under her smoothly as he teased back, "So should I never play along with any fantasies of yours ever again?
Naruto didn't receive a verbal reply, so he continued on to his original goal of peeking out from his curtains to see how the exterior world looked. He cringed as he pulled the curtains open slightly and slipped his head between the folds of pressed fabric and the bright morning light assaulted his still sensitive pupils.
He quickly surmised that it was roughly eight in the morning from seeing the shop workers out on the streets unrolling the protective canvases that they put in front of their respective establishments every evening upon closing. A squad of masked ANBU flashed past his window toward the Hokage building at the apparent change in shift, and groups of smaller figures trundled through the streets in the same direction; obviously academy students on their way to their lessons for the day.
The thought of possibly working as an academy teacher for a short stint crossed Naruto's mind, but he quickly pushed the thought away. He was simply not suited for that line of work; he could lead, inspire, and teach, but not on the caring level that he believed the academy students needed.
Naruto answered Anko's gentle call with action instead of words, and turned to face the woman who had taken the role of his girlfriend. He halted immediately as his eyes fell upon Anko's rear and her exposed womanhood as she stood bent forward at the waist with her hands on the edge of the bed for support.
She glanced over her shoulder at him with a seductive smirk. "Still not going to play along with my fantasies?"
Naruto simply shook his head, his body had already surrendered to her effect on him, and his member was erect with his excitement.
"Good, because one of my fantasies is to make love to you in an open window, so open that curtain right now!"
Naruto's body reacted to her words before his mind could catch up, and he spun on his heel and ripped the fabric back to either side of the window frame and turned back to Anko.
She stood back up and strode forward confidently. As she reached him, she placed a soft kiss on his lips before slipping past him and pressing her bust up against the window. Once again she bent forward at the waist and spread her legs apart to give Naruto the most seductive view that she could of her excited core.
"Ohhh." She sighed out in surprised pleasure as she identified the feeling of Naruto's tongue gently circling her clitoris. "Not again, just make love to me… Naruto-kun?" Anko panted out a moment later.
Naruto eased himself away from his lovers' entrance before answering, "But I am making love to you."
"Haha," she chuckled shortly. "You know what I mean."
"I know what you mean." Naruto agreed as he righted his posture behind his lover until their hips were level. Anko allowed her head to dip down as she watched Naruto line himself up between her legs, the sight only served to arouse her further, and a moment later they each released matching moans of pleasure as he sheathed the head of his manhood into her excited core.
"Mmm, kami, I love you, Naruto-kun."
Reflective of the caring nature that Naruto had been showing to Anko, he gently slid his entire length into her and ran his hands from her rear to just below her breasts. Anko recognised his desire and arched back and turned her face as much as she could toward his.
Naruto raised his left hand to her back and swept her uncharacteristically let down purple locks over her shoulder and closed the final space between their lips. As their lip lock intensified, Naruto began long deep thrusts into his partner. He took note of the feeling of her fluttering heartbeat and strained ability to continue the kiss, and a moment later he drew back and planted a kiss at the base of her neck.
They both continued in their throes of passion, totally uncaring of the now awake world that was right outside their window in which they were on full display. They only sounds were their shared sighs and moans and the occasional slap as Naruto's pelvis met Anko's rear in particularly hard thrusts.
"Fuck, Naruto…" Anko sighed in a mesmerized voice as she arched her back toward Naruto more and reached her arms back until she was clasping his shoulders. "You're going to ruin all of my fantasies anyway. The moment that you start touching me, or looking at me, or talking to me, I forget them and can only think of you."
"There's an easier way to say what you're trying to say, you know that right?" Naruto panted between his increasing thrusts. A moment later Naruto dropped his right hand down the front side of Anko's body and began the additional gentle process of teasing her clitoris as his left braced itself against her toned abdomen to support her weight more.
Anko's panted moans increased in response, and she clasped her left hand desperately into Naruto's hair and firmly grabbed his left hand with her right. "I love you so much, Naruto-kun. Please stop playing with me, I'm so close."
Naruto didn't respond with words. Instead, he once again began kissing the back of her neck as he continued his thrusts of his hips and the rubbing of his fingers. After a moment of his kissing Anko recognised his desire, and once again turned her head slightly toward his.
Again their lips connected, and on cue Naruto began thrusting with renewed passion. Suddenly Anko's core tightened up, and she moaned into Naruto's mouth, "Mmmmfffff."
The beginning of her own orgasm sparked Naruto's as he continued thrusting into her while releasing his seed. Even after the passing of Naruto's release he continued thrusting as Anko's whole body seized up in the final cascade of her pleasure. As though a switch had been turned off, Anko dropped her body weight trustingly into Naruto's arms that were once again around her waist.
"Dear kami… There's nothing about you that isn't perfect, Naruto-kun." Anko sighed blissfully, still not caring that they were still both positioned in front of the window.
Naruto however seemed to care about keeping the moment that he thought should be intimate away from anyone possibly seeing. He withdrew himself from her, and before the kunoichi could protest or ask what he was doing, he knelt down and put one arm behind her knees and the other on her mid-back before scooping her up into his arms.
Anko just resigned herself to smiling up at the blondes' whiskered face as he carried her the short few meters from the window back to the bed. Instead of dropping her, as she had suspected he would do, he perched himself on the edge of the bed and leant forward to kiss her once again.
Anko accepted his kiss openly, and wrapped her arms around his neck as she repositioned herself to be straddling his waist. As they drew apart the kunoichi smirked proudly, "I actually really never expected anything in my life would ever make me feel this happy-"
"-I'm in the same boat, Anko-chan." The youngest of the couple interrupted.
Anko's expression softened further as her brown eyes locked onto Naruto's blue ringed orbs. "Remember that conversation that we had in rain?"
Naruto nodded after a moment of thought, linking their current situation to various intimate conversations that they'd had whilst under the strained circumstances of their mission in Rain country. It had been on one of their most comfortable nights there when he had used an earth release technique to turn a sizable boulder into a hollowed out shelter.
"The one about if we were born at the same time." She clarified with her version of a nervous smile as one side of her mouth rose and the other fell.
Again Naruto nodded with his own gentle and accepting smile sitting firmly on his lips. "I want to make that happen…" Anko finished as her cheeks reddened from exposing her vulnerable side.
The young rinnegan wielder softly grasped Anko's athletic hips and pulled her as close to his body as she could go; only enough space remained between their faces for them to look into the others eyes, and Naruto punctuated his words with a kiss before he began, "Anko-chan, I love you, you know that. I'll go to the end of the world to bring you the happiness that you want."
Once again the snake summoning woman stared searchingly into Naruto's ringed blue gaze. After a minute of her searching stare Anko once again closed the space between their faces and attached her mouth to her partners as passionately as she was able.
XXX Several hours later XXX
"Shit!" Kakashi grumbled out of his usual calm manner as he quickly rolled to his left. He was showered with dirt as it fell from the explosion of rock and earth that Naruto had just caused from using one of his gravitational abilities to rocket a boulder that Kakashi had created himself as an offensive jutsu only minutes earlier.
"Haha, come on, Kakashi-sensei!" Naruto called in a mirth filled voice. "Stop fighting defensively, I want to fight Kakashi of the sharingan, the man who's copied over a thousand jutsu."
Kakashi stood straight and brushed himself down at the moment of offered respite; Naruto simply watched on with narrowed eyes and firmly set expression. Despite his displayed mirth, his manner was all business; beneath his mask Kakashi smirked, a part of Naruto's fighting style was psychological; he made it seem as his power was endless through his attitude, and his own confidence whittled his foes' confidence down.
"If you're this strong, why didn't you do more when we escaped from Rain?" Kakashi retorted in his closest rendition to honest concern.
The blonde initially smirked in response, he knew of Kakashi's considerable intellect, and it was obvious that Kakashi was playing the same game as himself. "We were in rain, and Jiraiya-sensei suspects that Ame is the home of Akatsuki, it would not have been wise to use anything big in case we attracted too much attention. Are you going senile in your old age?"
Kakashi frowned beneath his mask; it was as clear as day to him that Naruto was simply retorting in a manner that he thought would be effective, but Kakashi was secretly tender about his age around those of the younger shinobi generation. "But we all know that you like people older than you, Anko-san is proof of that."
"Are you insinuating that I'm attracted to you, Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto tipped his head back and chortled at Kakashi's weak attempt at a comeback.
Once again Kakashi frowned; he was very good at witty demeaning remarks, but only when they were few and far between, Naruto was practically walking all over him. "Fine then, if you want it that way… Water release: Water dragon jutsu!" Kakashi's hands finished the string of seals the moment that the final syllable left his mouth, and he leant forward at the waist whilst spewing forth a mass of water that swirled forth in front of him for a moment before taking the shape of a snake-like dragon.
The dragon seemed to grin at Naruto, and it sprang forward as though it were a real creature attacking a threatening presence. From the other side of the dragon, Naruto half smiled in concern. It looked as though his goading of his sensei had pulled through and Kakashi was indeed attacking seriously.
At the last second before Kakashi's attack was due to hit Naruto settled on the jutsu he'd use in return. His hands flew through the required seals, "Earth release: Mud wall." Similar to how Hiruzen's mud wall worked Naruto spewed forth a mass of murky brown muck that quickly took shape as a two meter high wall in front of him.
He was under no illusions that his wall could take the brunt of the water dragons attack, but it would serve as an adequate temporary block and diversion. Yet again the blonde shinobi strung a set of seals together. "Earth release: hiding like a mole jutsu."
As though Naruto were one with the earth, he sunk into its surface without an outward trace. As he vanished below the top layer of the soil, he felt Kakashi's water dragon destroy his mud wall above. He'd rarely actually used the hiding like a mole technique, so he felt a unique flood of senses in the form of odd vibrations from any and all movement above.
Kakashi was running in the wake of his dragon to try and ensure that Naruto had not escaped, and despite his knowledge that Naruto was very capable of using all of the elements, he did not know specifically what techniques his former student knew.
Kakashi's speedy advance came to a sudden halt as he tripped forward. His gaze immediately fell to the hand that had emerged from the earth and was grasping his ankle. His immediate thought was to activate his raikiri, but in a flash of irony he changed his mind, and a softball sized rasengan spun to life in the palm of his hand.
He thrust his hand wielding the rasengan into the ground next to where Naruto's hand was, and smirked in satisfaction as yet again the training field suffered another explosion of soil, and both he and Naruto were sent tumbling in opposite directions.
Naruto was the first to roll back onto his feet, and he jabbed an accusing finger in his sensei's direction, "Kakashi-sensei! Since when do you know the rasengan?!"
Kakashi grunted as he rolled back to his feet at a more leisurely pace, and reacquainted his gaze with Naruto. "You're not the only one who knows that technique."
Naruto frowned in frustration; he had taken the rasengan much further than his father had, and, in a way, had turned it into his own original technique, but he was yet to have his own personally unique technique that didn't stem from his ocular jutsu, and other than Jiraiya also knowing the rasengan, he had classed it as his special jutsu.
Teacher and student stared each other down for a minute, each trying to gage the others next current power and likely next move. Kakashi was aware of Naruto's considerable power and ability, and he would put them on the same skill level, but the elder of the two jounin knew that his superior experience gave him an edge over the younger, but in the same hand he also knew that Naruto had a few specific skills that he would have considerable trouble keeping up with.
Naruto suddenly smiled smugly, and Kakashi frowned beneath his mask in response. The last remaining member of the Hatake family line knew that Naruto had practically followed his exact line of thought, and he sent a surge of lightning chakra through his muscles as he dashed forward; his raikiri searing to life around his right hand at the same moment that Naruto drove his own hand into one of his pouches.
Naruto's much smaller movement finished first, and he retrieved a dozen marked kunai before Kakashi had even closed half the space between them. With a deft flick of his wrist, the blonde sent the kunai flying around the field. The sharingan wielding man skidded to a halt and tracked each of the thrown kunai and once again sprang into action; running toward the closest one that was imbedded in one of the craters that the pair had made in their fight.
He knew that he wasn't able to keep up with the Naruto's speed with the hiraishin, but he also knew that in a fixed position he could defend himself. Naruto smirked yet again, and invigorated his muscles with lightning chakra in the same manner that his sensei had, and he flashed forward.
Kakashi grunted in pain as Naruto impacted his back like a cannon ball, and his instant reaction was to swing his leg around in a spinning kick as he fell. The blonde aggressor was the next to grunt in pain as he took the impact his Kakashi's follow up kick to the side of his head.
In the back of his mind Kakashi was glad that Naruto had promised that he wouldn't use sage mode, Kurama's chakra or any of his more destructive ocular abilities; both his well-trained right eye and sharingan left eye were already straining keeping up with Naruto's lightning chakra enhanced speed.
But as the elite jounin focused his eyes back onto Naruto he growled in annoyance; one moment Naruto was there, the next he was gone. Kakashi spun on his heel, seeking out all of the kunai that his student turned opponent had thrown earlier. He gritted his teeth as he caught blinks of black clothing as Naruto skipped from one kunai to the next in a random pattern.
Kakashi jumped back as a kunai thudded into the dirt at his feet, only to feel an elbow strike his mid back. He gritted his teeth and formed a ram hand seal, producing three clones into existence around him. Three was a stretch for Kakashi to manage at once, but he saw no other option while fighting a hiraishin user.
All four of the Kakashi's crouched and peered across the field, trying to find their fleeting opponent. One of the Kakashi's exploded in a plume of smoke as a lightning clad fist drove through its chest; bringing all three remaining Kakashi's about face to focus on their finally still opponent.
The two silver-haired clones touched their hands together and closed the small space between them and Naruto; a lightning cable stretching between them. As the cable was about to touch their foe he exploded in a blossom of fire, bringing the clones down with him.
The original Kakashi was sent tumbling back from the unexpected explosion, and as he moved to roll back to his feet a weight crashed onto his back; pinning him helplessly to the ground. "I'm surprised you didn't see through that one, Kakashi-sensei."
The experienced jounin's brow crinkled; he agreed with his student, he should have seen that move coming, but he was finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with Naruto's skills, as from one week to another Naruto favoured one particular skillset over another.
"So am I." He conceded as Naruto took the pressure of his knee off his back.
"Next time we're going to see how well you do against sage mode." Naruto smiled as his second sensei turned to face him with a critical eye. Any semi-intelligent shinobi who knew of sage mode was aware that anyone who entered sage mode was suddenly in a league above most others in the world.
"Not unless you want to die." Kakashi taunted back in a cheery uncaring tone to match Naruto's.
The young sage grinned broadly at the man who he'd forever call his sensei; he knew what Kakashi meant, that the only way for him to combat sage mode would be through the use of his mangekyou sharingan, which would either severely injure or kill Naruto if he landed a hit with it.
"Hey! Kakashi-san, Naruto-kun!"
Both males turned from their small stare-off to look to the approaching Anko as she called to them from the village side of the training field.
"Yes?" Both of them asked in perfect curious sync to the special jounin approaching them at a brisk pace.
"Tsunade-sama asked me to bring you to her office, she seemed pretty stressed…" Anko answered strictly. It was clear to the two men that it must be something serious if Tsunade's stern mood had passed onto the ever gleeful Anko.
Anko quickly turned back in the direction from which she had come and began her quick walk back, Naruto and Kakashi made a hop-skip each to walk by her side. "Did she call for anyone else?" Kakashi queried with his one visible and still scuffed up eyebrow raised in curiosity.
"Uhh," Anko looked to Naruto to her right, as though he already represented the hokage's authority to speak. Naruto shrugged at her, his approximation of a go ahead. "Pinky-winky is already there, and she sent someone to get Gai and his brats and that Tayuya chick, and Yamato."
"Tsk, what a bad team…" Naruto mumbled in thought. He could already foresee problems between Tayuya and Sakura during their mission, or between Tayuya and anyone for that matter.
"You're missing the point, Naruto." Kakashi cut in over his former subordinate. "Tsunade-sama has assembled the two most powerful teams in Konoha at the moment, with the addition of Anko and Yamato, this must be something important."
XXX Amegakure: One day later XXX
"Well?" Sasuke asked flatly to the orange mask-wearing man in front of him in the dimly lit chamber that he'd been ushered into by a petrified Rain shinobi minutes earlier.
The single visible sharingan eye beneath the older Uchiha's mask simply glared back at Sasuke; beneath the mask and the persona he wasn't entirely sure what he expected from Sasuke. To him, and his life of experiences, Sasuke was as easy to read as a single paged child's book, but beneath all of Sasuke's poorly thought out rationality there was some form of burning desire that was similar to what he had once fostered.
He mentally slapped himself on the wrist to refocus his mind on the purpose of Sasuke being here, and he simply repeated Sasuke's questioning word. "Well?"
The skin over the bridge of Sasuke's nose crinkled in his immediate expression of anger, "Well are you going to tell me this truth of yours?" he bit out harshly.
"Hmm. The truth of the Uchiha clan, or of Itachi?" The man continued to tease his guest.
Sasuke directed his gaze to the floor and allowed his chest to fall in a slow and controlled exhalation in an attempt to forego his waning patience. The man who claimed to be Madara was no doubt testing him, reading him, and attempting to unsettle him; that thought alone calmed Sasuke down, he refused to lose to such a simple taunt.
"All of it?" The younger of the two Uchiha asked back, this time in a much more controlled manner.
"Well, where does it really start?" the masked nin asked as he looked beseechingly into the cold stone ceiling. "It could be said that it started back with the Sage of Six Paths, and his two sons. One son founded the Uchiha clan, and the other founded the Senju-"
"-Is this going to go anywhere?" the raven haired avenger cut in snidely with his arms crossed over his chest.
"I would have thought three years serving Orochimaru would have taught you more patience, little boy. Your old teammate even took your eyes, because he was patient enough to learn how." Madara chastised back cruelly.
Sasuke's frustration reared its head again, and his eyes narrowed while he sneered in disgust. Once again he controlled his yearning emotions, and looked back at the single visible eye. "Fine then, tell me everything from the start."
As though the Uchiha antagonist had predicted that Sasuke would say just that, he continued speaking as though he had never been interrupted. "Down the generations the Uchiha and the Senju always fought, and resented one another. Until Hashirama and I became friends for a short while, but even then, the fighting continued, and he and I respectively rose to be the heads of our clans. It was not long after that when Hashirama convinced me that peace would be the best option, and together the Uchiha and Senju formed Konoha."
The masked shinobi paused his reflection of history to observe Sasuke more closely; whilst he was still sporting his impatient expression, there was a gleam to his eyes that had not been there before as fresh information was being factored into his mind.
"But it would seem that after generations of hating each other that things would not be so easy. Hashirama did his best, and there was relative peace and fairness for some time, but the village was ruled by the Senju, and the Uchiha had less and less say in any happenings, so I defected from the village after my clan would not follow me in rising through the village. Finally, Hashirama and I fought, and I escaped being thought dead." Once again the man halted his recounting of history; Sasuke was visibly more interested now, his frustration having cleared from his face, and his eyes narrowed as though analysing the information.
"Under the rule of the second Hokage the Uchiha clan became more isolated within the village, and the compound was walled off from the rest the masses. The second Hokage gave the clan the task of being the village police, but over time that only served to make things worse-"
Sasuke tapped his foot impatiently on the onyx tiled floor loud enough to make his educators lone eye focus back onto him, "I know this stuff already, it's n-"
"You know the surface!" Madara growled angrily. "I'll make it short then. Over time, the Uchiha became more discontented about their lack of clan power, instead of integrating into the village like the other clans had, their greed brought them to plan a coup. Both Itachi and Shisui Uchiha, who were loyal to Konoha above their own clan tried constantly to make the clan try peaceful means, but in the end Itachi was forced to wipe out the clan for the sake of his village. No one has the right to judge Itachi for what he did; he is a perfect shinobi who the Hokage would have bowed to."
This time Sasuke was completely and entirely still, the only sound that he emitted was a shaky breath. 'The clan was planning a coup? That must have meant father was in charge of it… And Itachi tried to make them stop.'
"Itachi loves you more than anything in the world. Even more than that troublesome student of his," Madara added as a snide afterthought. "He could have let someone else wipe out the clan, but that would have meant you as well, and he would do anything to save you."
Sasuke shook his head, not in denial of Madara's words, but in a lame attempt to clear the emotional fog rolling throughout his troubled mind. "But why would Itachi have told me the things he did back then!?" Sasuke asked heatedly in his mounting confusion.
"Itachi couldn't be there to make you stronger, but he wanted to inspire something in you so that you would become strong anyway." Madara declared with an air of finality. There was nothing more he could say to prove to Sasuke that Itachi's intentions were indeed lovingly driven, even if in his eyes they were grossly mislead.
"I intend to create a world free of any pain and suffering, like the kind that you and your brother have suffered."
Sasuke nodded slowly to Madara's words, he could see that world in his mind, but before it was made, those who had caused him and his brother suffering had to pay.
XXX Four days later: Wind country XXX
Naruto wanted to shout and curse in frustration as team Gai, Yamato, Kakashi, Sakura, Tayuya, Anko and himself sped from tree branch to branch back in the general direction of Fire country after their departure from Suna. Upon hearing of Gaara's capture by Akatsuki, the Konoha nin assigned to aid Suna had made record time in reaching Suna, but their subsequent pursuit of Akatsuki had been delayed as Sakura unveiled her considerable medical skills in healing Kankuro.
Naruto had no argument with the matter, what he did have an argument with was that his commanding officer for the mission, Kakashi, wouldn't allow their squad to move on without Sakura. Not that he was undervaluing Sakura's skills- in his opinion at least -but he simply couldn't see Sakura truly being of any combative help against their exceptionally capable enemy.
As well as the fact that they now had Chiyo -an aged but very well respected and skilled Suna medical shinobi- within their ranks. Naruto knew of her history in basic detail that she was also a master puppeteer, but he, like many others, didn't have a working understanding of the art. In the back of his mind, he compared that matter to fuinjutsu.
"Naruto, slow down a little!"
The skin over the bridge of Naruto's nose wrinkled in annoyance at Kakashi's called order. He turned his head to his right slightly and looked back over his shoulder to find that he was indeed quite ahead of his squad. He let out a frustrated sigh and heeded the order.
Naruto understood the virtues of patience, and the wisdom in staying calm, but with so few Jinchuuriki left he couldn't bear to allow any more of them to become victims to Akatsuki. As he once again fell into the equally paced ranks of his teammates, he caught the concerned expressions that both Anko and Sakura were giving him.
Anko was the first to voice her concerns as she drew slightly closer to her blonde partner, "I know that you must be worried, but we'll get Gaara back."
"Alive or dead?" Naruto asked back snidely, loud enough for Kakashi and Gai to hear.
Anko frowned, and made to reply before Kakashi spoke over her, "Naruto, I know that you're strong, and we all have faith in your strength, but the one that Gaara fought was strong enough to level a whole village, and that Sasori has been near the top of the bingo book for years. We can't tell who else might be with them, so you shouldn't underestimate them."
"Naruto, listen to your comrades. As much as I hate to see the bijuu being taken and used as weapons like this, you probably can't match up to all of Akatsuki by yourself."
Naruto externally sighed at Kurama's stern addition to his comrades' words, and he gave Kakashi a firm nod of agreement. Kakashi kept his mental focus on Naruto out of the corner of his eye; he was far from believing his former subordinate. Anko and Tayuya were of similar mind except they displayed their concern in opposing ways.
Anko was sure that if Naruto got too fired up that he would slip up, and it could likely mean his death or capture. Whereas Tayuya relished in the idea of seeing Naruto get in too deep and truly let loose on whoever happened to be in his way.
"Slow down! I can sense someone up ahead!" Tayuya called out unexpectedly.
Naruto extended his senses and mentally slapped himself as he easily sensed the two intimidating feeling presences beyond the grove of trees that they were hopping through. It was another fact that only added to his slightly annoyed state, the irony of being annoyed about being annoyed brought a slight twitch to his lips as to laugh at himself.
Yet again Kurama spoke within his seal to re-steady the spirit of his friend. "Centre yourself, Naruto. You are worth more than to be angered by such small details."
This time Naruto did fully heed the words that were spoken through his mental and spiritual connection with Kurama, and with a long exhalation he slowed his heartbeat back to its normal calm pace. Though he, like Tayuya, resharpened his senses to try and glean at least a little information about their still unseen foe.
His efforts were met with no helpful information, other than the fact that both had higher than regular chakra capacity, with one of them having quite a significantly higher than normal chakra presence. Unconsciously, as his training dictated, Naruto slowed his pace slightly and fell into a much closer formation between Kakashi and Anko.
Respectively Tayuya and Sakura went to Kakashi's left and Anko's right, with Yamato trailing behind Naruto. Team Gai had taken a similar formation several meters in their wake. Typically, Naruto was the first to break through the final line of trees between the Konoha nin and their unidentified enemies waiting in the clearing.
A strangled gasp broke through Naruto's lips as his eyes immediately fell upon the young Uchiha man who had guided him in the earlier years of his adolescence. The brief meeting that Naruto had with Itachi years earlier had affirmed his expectations of his sensei, but over time doubt had again formed and he had formed a more realistic opinion on his first sensei.
Itachi did indeed fit the title of 'perfect shinobi', and Naruto knew that neither he nor anyone in Konoha had the right to judge Itachi for his actions, but it was his personal choices that were colouring Naruto's opinions. Despite Itachi's own outstanding love for his village -which Mikoto had once said was what made Itachi so strong- he had overlooked the importance of that emotion, and had instead fostered hate in his younger brother.
"Well, well, well," Kisame chortled from Itachi's side as Naruto and his immediate team came to a halt just shy of the trees in the clearing. Team Gai had taken a standard tactical approach and were crouching in the trees to their rear; despite knowing that Itachi and Kisame could likely sense them.
"It's the kyuubi again, there are no buildings around for you to use me to break, so it looks like I have the advantage here." The tall shark-like man laughed out sarcastically.
Naruto couldn't help but smirk as he remembered his short exchange with the large ex-Kiri nin. He was just as aware then as he was now; he knew that he had been lucky on that day. Kisame had vastly underestimated him, and that left massive openings for Naruto to use what he had grasped of his rinnegan powers to their full extent at the time.
He was sure that if Kisame had prepared himself for that then he could have outclassed and overpowered him, but now that wasn't so likely, the variables were different on both counts. "I guess I'll just have to use you to clear the forest." Naruto shot back with his own confident grin to match the shark mans.
"Naruto don't provoke them too much. They are both extremely powerful shinobi." Kakashi advised sternly.
To Naruto's right both Anko and Sakura nodded in agreement with Kakashi, but Naruto continued speaking regardless. "What about you, Itachi…. Sensei? Will we be fighting?"
All of the Konoha shinobi snapped their collective gazes onto Naruto, and then to Itachi, and repeated the cycle a few times. Kakashi, Anko, Sakura, and Yamato all knew that fact, but to hear Naruto tempt the Uchiha man with it was another thing that they had not expected.
"Whatever the outcome of this fight, you cannot kill us, we are using a forbid-"
"Shut up, Itachi! Don't make it easier for them!" Kisame shouted uncharacteristically over his pseudo comrade.
Itachi turned an uncaring sharingan eye to meet Kisame's own cold orbs for a moment before looking back into Naruto's ringed gaze. "We are copies of ourselves, and not at our full power. I'll test how your latest teachers have done."
Naruto smirked as his body flashed golden with a billowing chakra haori in an instant. Itachi hardly had a moment to move into his own defensive stance as his open palm intercepted Naruto's punch. Itachi, like many, if not all shinobi, was thinking and wishing that his body could keep up with his mind, as he watched Naruto move to kick his flank, but his body simply couldn't keep up with Naruto's kyuubi enhanced speed.
Instead of sending his sensei crashing into the ground as he had expected, Naruto grunted in pain and discomfort as his leg impacted something solid, and he felt a large portion of his chakra simply leave his body. He looked down and found that his leg was pressed against the strange bandaged weapon that Kisame carried. Though the weapon was not as it normally was, much of the bandage had shredded away to the strange metallic blue scales rippling underneath.
Kisame himself grinned happily as his chakra absorbing weapon channelled Naruto's purified tailed beast chakra into his own body. Itachi followed up next with a swift uppercut, Naruto pulled himself from his surprise a moment before Itachi's fist would have connected with his chin, and he rolled to his left to escape both Itachi's strike and any potential follow-up attack from Kisame.
"Nice move, shit for brains!" Tayuya call at him snidely. "These douchebags could have killed you then!"
"Heh heh, I like that one the most." Kisame mockingly chuckled excitedly.
"Tayuya is right, Naruto, be more careful." Kakashi barked in an authoritative voice. "Yamato, try and restrain the big one, everyone focus on him, even you Gai!"
"What about Itachi?" Anko asked worriedly.
The silver haired jounin commander of the mission spared a brief glance at Naruto before refocusing on Kisame. "Naruto can handle him."
That seemed to be the signal for Yamato to make his move as his arms twined forward like an angry vine toward the Kiri man. As the branches neared Kisame he simply swatted them away with his heaving sword as though it were nothing. Yamato was sure that Kisame must be thanking his innate shinobi senses, above all else, as he instinctively ducked under two green clad legs belonging to Gai and his equally eccentrically dressed student.
Naruto sighed in pent up frustration as he allowed Kurama's chakra to flood back through his seal. He didn't want to use such a powerful source of chakra against Itachi in the event that it prompted Itachi to unleash some form of Uchiha unique ability. As it stood, Naruto wasn't sure if Itachi truly was an enemy or not, even though he knew that Itachi had been the source of all of Jiraiya's gathered intelligence of Akatsuki.
"So you have tamed the kyuubi?" Itachi asked in an off-handed tone.
"We're friends now; I learnt that care is the key to strength in this warped world of ours."
Itachi raised both of his narrow dark eyebrows; being unfamiliar with Naruto's unamused disappointment. "I –"
"No, sensei. I know why you did what you did, now you have to answer for the issues that you've made." Naruto interrupted. The young blonde couldn't hide his disapproval of his first sensei. He had been forced to take away the thing that Sasuke saw as his greatest weapon in the hope that it would make the young avenger reconsider his former posturing's, and Itachi was the one who had emplaced such posturing's in his younger brothers mind.
"Naruto-kun, I have no words that you have not thought of yourself, seek your resolution."
Naruto nodded in agreement with Itachi's words to end their conversation. He spared a brief glance back in the direction from which he and his comrades had come. Loud crashes and explosions shook the forest as the Konoha nin threw all that they had at the lone Kiri man.
Naruto knew that he had been foolish in his initial strike against Itachi; he had accidentally given Kisame a sizable amount of power to utilize. Suddenly Naruto found himself on his back skidding along the ground wheezing for breath. He became immediately aware that he really shouldn't have expected Itachi to fight on fair terms.
A purple shroud suddenly engulfed Itachi, and on instinct Naruto flashed into his Kurama empowered state. His instinct proved to save him as a skeletal fist wrapped around his body and hefted him high into the air. The blonde cried in strain as the fist seemed to clench harder in an effort to squash him.
In response, Naruto focused on his somewhat newly mastered chakra arms, and the Susuno grip loosened as the golden arms gripped around the skeletal fingers and pushed outward. When Naruto found enough breathing room, he slipped from the grip and flashed toward Itachi encased in the Susuno ribcage.
Itachi didn't need to be fast enough to keep up with Naruto, and he knew that as Naruto impacted the ribcage with a sickening crunch. Despite the lack of damage dealt, Naruto struck again undeterred. This time his strike created a crack in one of the ribs. Itachi grunted in effort to as he tried to enforce his Uchiha unique ninjutsu to combat Naruto's overwhelming force.
Both of the skeletal arms descended onto Naruto, and were once again resisted, this time by a lasso of black chains that swung out like an angry viper and encased the arms, writhing up to where they joined the body with crushing power. Both Naruto and Itachi were themselves physically still with their hands held into seals as they poured effort into strengthening their respectively doujutsu unique powers.
Naruto, however, seemed to be coming out on top as his rinnegan chains were amplified by his Kurama mode, and with a crack resembling the shattering of a glacier both of the Susuno arms were wrenched beyond the physical limits of their sockets. Itachi instantly dropped his Susuno and sprung backward, leaving the black chains grasping nothing but air.
Naruto was quick to follow his sensei's example and discarded his rinnegan power. Both eyed each other for a moment to attempt to anticipate the others strategy, and once again in sync they began a set of seals. "Fire release: Majestic flame destroyer!"
"-Fire release: Great flame wall!"
Both of them spewed a massive stream of fire at the other, each seeming of equal size, and yet again in the wake of finishing their techniques they flashed to new locations to avoid the splashback for the overpowered clashing techniques.
"You can't keep up with me sensei!" Naruto called defiantly, half in an attempt to convince himself that Itachi couldn't.
Itachi went on staying silent and simply prepared himself to defend against whatever came next as he held up a hand to shield the side of his face from the still enraged heat of the aftereffects of his and Naruto's previous fire jutsu.
But he knew that his time would indeed be limited as a rain of kunai fell around him. Naruto was in no way inaccurate, and he would never purposely miss his enemy unless there were some plan for it, so Itachi almost immediately concluded that all of the kunai must be marked with his hiraishin seal.
True to his predictions he suddenly caught flashes of black clothing as Naruto skipped around him from kunai to kunai. Obviously Naruto was looking for the best opening and place to strike. Rather than prepare any ninjutsu, Itachi opted to lower himself to the ground in a guarded taijutsu stance.
His elected course of action seemed to be an invitation for Naruto, and he was suddenly within Itachi's guard with a swinging right hook. Itachi instantly intercepted it and moved to strike his own fist into Naruto's throat, but before his strike could land a long wickedly jagged black blade shattered through his chest cavity with enough force to lift him off the ground.
The Naruto that he'd been about to strike smiled sadly before dispelling into a cloud of smoke, while Itachi became aware of the real Naruto's previously invisible presence lifting his blade higher, and thus raising Itachi himself higher into the air.
Itachi coughed out a mouthful of blood, yet smiled happily. Naruto had defeated him, even though he wasn't at his full strength, but Naruto wasn't fighting at his either. "Naruto-kun, please end all of this as soon as possible. Don't let Madara succeed."
The young Uzumaki frowned, but nodded firmly as the temporary life granted through the forbidden technique passed, and Itachi's likeness was replaced with that of another man; the man whose life had been selected as the sacrifice to extend the reach of Itachi's power in the name of aiding Akatsuki's cause.
He turned his head back toward the forest to see all of his comrades emerging; each of them soaked to the bone, and all sporting new cuts and bruises. But each held a firm expression. Their encounter with the enemy seemed to have reminded them of how real this was, of how much they needed to fight this threat.
Kakashi pointedly directed his gaze to the man who Naruto had left his broad black and jagged sword speared into, and then looked back to his student. "Naruto, I'm giving you permission to proceed with this mission at your own pace, we'll be right behind you."
The younger shinobi half smiled in appreciation. It seemed as though from the brief encounter with Kisame that Kakashi had realised how dire Gaara's situation must be, and in honest recognition of Naruto's impressive speed he knew that Naruto getting intelligence on their enemies' location and movements first would give them an edge in what they were all sure would amount to physical conflict.
Naruto gave a thin-lipped smile to his comrades in appreciation of their presence, and then flashed a brilliant gold. A moment later and he was gone, tendrils of golden chakra dissipating into the air from where he had been.
XXX Several hours later: Outside the Akatsuki hideout in the land of Rivers XXX
Naruto smirked victoriously as the massive boulder baring entrance into the Akatsuki base rolled aside, as a result, from the combined efforts of the members of Team Gai and Yamato. With a surge of his chakra, Naruto summoned forth a dozen clones to move in tandem with him in charging through the opening and into the cave.
On instinct he, and all of his clones dropped their heads to avoid the surprising overhead passing of a large white bird swooping over them and only just squeezing through the caves opening. Kakashi's uncovered sharingan eye caught what Naruto's swirling blue rinnegan had missed as the false looking avian creature beat its wings and drove upwards into the sky.
"Naruto! That's one of Deidara's birds, he's got Gaara with him!"
Each Naruto froze in place, and then took off after the bird; one of them already spinning up a rasengan in preparation to be thrown like a missile. Deidara's keen eye, and obviously well informed tactical mind, caught a brief glance of the Naruto's bellow transforming the rasengan into a wind-based throw-able variant, and he and his expanded clay bird fell into a sudden barrel roll before once again beating its massive wings and swooping yet again higher into the sky.
The real Naruto swore in frustration under his breath at Diedara's tactic. As simple as it was, it was effective against his rasenshuriken. Naruto had no way to pinpoint his attack on a flying target.
"Don't let your guard down! There's still one of them in there!"
The warning belonged to Kakashi, and Naruto dispelled all but one of his clones who kept a watchful eye on the now distant speck that was Diedara. "You don't need my help with that guy, do you?" The blond jinchuuriki asked offhandedly.
Kakashi had barely started to shake his head before Naruto flashed into his golden cloaked form and rocketed up into the sky like an unearthly creature on the hunt.
"Anko, Tayuya, follow him and help as best you can, I'll help Sakura and Chiyo with Sasori here." Kakashi ordered stonily.
The two women who were emotionally closest out of the group to Naruto needed no more prompting, and they, alike to how Naruto had, albeit a lot less powerfully, launched off in the direction of their flying foe.
Tayuya fell into perfectly synchronised step next to Anko as they sped from the tops of one tree to the tops of another. The red-headed former sound nin spared the purple haired Konoha jounin a brief sideways glance before retraining her eyes onto the golden speck soaring ahead of them.
"When the fighting starts, don't get close unless Naruto-kun looks like he's losing," Tayuya directly advised. She was quite sure that she had seen Naruto in action far more than Anko, and was well aware of the destruction that he could cause. Along with him being matched up to fight against one of the most widely-scaled destructive men from the bingo book.
"Don't you dare tell me what to do!" Anko bit back aggressively.
Tayuya didn't need to see the expression on Anko's face to know that she was angry, but she held firm in her previous statement. "Naruto-kun and that guy fighting against each other… They'll bring a big chunk of this forest down to molten slag. If you care for him then you'll stay out of his way."
Once again Tayuya didn't need to see Anko to be sure that she was frowning, but Anko's lack of verbal response was more or less the voice of agreement. Each of the women suddenly honed all of their senses toward Naruto as they were met with a distant screeching sound.
And as per the sound usually signified; the air around Naruto's distant golden form warped from the rotation of his ever expanding rasenshuriken. The growing technique was suddenly launched enthusiastically toward the now not so distant clay bird.
The screeching technique overtook Diedara in an instant and exploded in front of his bird. The explosive wind technique sent Diedara's clay bird plummeting toward the ground in a manner which clearly spelled that the explosives using shinobi had no control over his construct.
Naruto's success in obstructing Diedara's escape did nothing to slow either Tayuya or Anko as they finally closed the distance between themselves and their current captain. Naruto began to turn from his precarious perch atop an unusually high branch that stuck up above the tree's canopy to meet his approaching comrades.
His turn was never completed, however, as a speeding black blur smashed into his golden form and sent him plummetting through the trees in a similar manner as to how Diedara's had moments earlier. Anko and Tayuya, still being a few seconds away, both cursed at the arrival of another new threat, and they each pre-emptively fell through a gap between some trees to help Naruto fight both their new enemy and Deidara.
The two women hop-skipped from one branch to another in perfectly synchronized and precise steps, and were soon met with the sight of Naruto standing guardedly in a clearing, his golden form still flaring in readiness, and his two foes standing equally guarded across from him.
Naruto made a minute hand gesture that his two compatriots recognized immediately, and within moments they were flanking him from the rear. Each of them as ready as Naruto to spring forward and strike at the two Akatsuki, one of whom –the latest arrival- had moved forward to defend the cursing Diedara and his still action less passenger.
"Uzumaki Naruto, Jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi, ranked at medium to high in the bingo book, Hokage candidate, and target of Akatsuki for your bijuu, surrender so we can seal you." The masked Akatsuki man stated flatly with his green eyes blazing in what the two Konoha women internally shivered at as they identified it as a sense of hunger.
"Kakuzu of Takigakure, it's a good thing that I came across your name in my studies of the history of the first Hokage, if he could wipe the floor with you, then so can I!" Naruto declared firmly with a quirk of his lips.
The new arrival narrowed his eyes in anticipation and suspicion as Naruto suddenly multiplied into ten perfect copies of himself. Each of them stood perfectly still for a moment as a familiar orange pigment formed around their eyes. "Hashirama handled you without sage mode, so let's see how you can handle mine!"
The nine sage mode clones that Naruto had made dashed towards Kakuzu. The former Takigakure shinobi's posture changed in an instant as both of his arms extended gruesomely and lashed toward his impending foes like whips. Each of the Naruto clones managed to dodge the initial attempted strikes against them, but were immediately put into defensive postures as the arms continued their sickeningly inhuman assault.
Though Naruto knew that with his clones mastery over sage mode that Kakuzu would have to do something truly gruesome or spectacular to get them by surprise.
The original Naruto didn't have the patience to watch and understand Kakuzu's technique as his fixation on Deidara intensified to the point where he shot toward the explosives using man. Deidara let out a chortle of manic laughter and spat out a mouthful of clay globules toward Naruto.
The clay detonated into man-sized clouds of fire the moment that Naruto entered their midst, but the explosions did nothing to slow Naruto's advance as his sage mode empowered state shook off what would have hurt any ordinary person. Deidara grimaced slightly at the realization that his attack had done zero damage to his opponent before throwing more clay constructs.
Naruto quickly linked his hands together in a set of seals in preparation for the clay explosives after his quick mental analysis of the clay explosives. "Lightning release: Electromagnetic murder!" Everything in front of Naruto suddenly lit up in a web of electricity, bringing Deidara to his knees from the intense jolts of pain that it sent through his body.
He realized his situation again too late as he looked up just in time to see the heel of Naruto's shoe crack into his face. Naruto's kick carried enough force to cleanly collect Deidara from the ground and send him crashing through several trees and deeper into the forest like a ragdoll.
Before Naruto had a chance to turn toward Anko's call a set of arms wrapped around his middle and hefted him into the air. On instinct, he threw his head back and was met with an impact against his assailant's nose. He dropped onto his toes and quickly spun to regard his newest attacker, and was surprised by the sheer uniqueness of this latest threat.
Before him stood a purely white man with off-yellow eyes nursing his obviously damaged nose and another two versions of him in the background engaging Anko and Tayuya in impressive displays of taijutsu prowess. "You should surrender Kyuubi jinchuuriki. More of us will come." The strange man said in a nasally voice; obviously from the damage of his broken nose.
Naruto scoffed at the dull threat before sending a spike of lightning chakra through his muscles and charging straight at the latest arrival. The strange white plant man obviously wasn't fast enough to counter Naruto's speed as the young shinobi's open palm strike transferred enough kinetic force to completely crush his ribcage.
Naruto was given no reprieve, however, and was once again put on defence as his clones memories all surged to him at once. Despite the thrashing that Hashirama had given to Kakuzu in the past, the fact that the Taki man was still alive today and was a member of Akatsuki was fact enough that he was indeed powerful.
None of his clones memories included seeing what Kakuzu had done to end their temporary lives, but it became clear to Naruto as he saw small holes in the ground behind where his clones must have been positioned.
Naruto ducked under a swinging arm that was intended to collect him by his forehead, and followed up with dropping his body and sweeping his legs. Kakuzu instinctively jumped over his opponents kick, not knowing that Naruto could manipulate the chakra emanating from his body.
With his legs still in motion, a clawed hand shot up off Naruto's hip and forcefully grabbed at Kakuzu's leg. It found purchase on the broad-shouldered man immediately, and without any semblance of mercy flung him into the ground like a ragdoll. Kakuzu impacted with a shower of dust and dirt as his body imbedded in the ground as though it were not made of flesh and blood.
But Naruto couldn't find it within himself to care about any of his foes as his ringed eyes settled on Gaara's head peeking out of the remains of Diedara's bird. He shot to his friends' side and ran a lightning coated kunai down the length of the clay construct. The remains of the bird fell open and Naruto quickly retrieved his friend.
Naruto's training kicked in immediately, and his fingers found the spot that would have held Gaara's pulse had he still been in the world of the living. His eyes narrowed as his fears were confirmed at not feeling any pulse.
The blonde Konoha shinobi immediately hefted the deceased Kazakage up into his arms, sparing the recovering Kakuzu a brief glance, before giving his two comrades an equally brief gesture to follow him. Anko and Tayuya also eyed Kakuzu suspiciously, but it quickly became apparent to them that the former Taki shinobi had no current interest in fighting any of them as he slowly back out of the clearing in the direction in which Deidara had been kicked.
"Nar…" Anko trailed away idly in calling Naruto's name as she caught his figure flashing out of the clearing back in the direction from which they'd come.
Tayuya was the first to act on Naruto's previously given brief gesture as she sprung after him. "Naruto-kun, the guy's dead; what's the rush?"
Anko visibly flinched at Tayuya's called words. Despite it essentially being the same thing as what she had planned to say. Tayuya's words seemed to only spur Naruto on to move faster as his feet barely seemed to touch the branches beneath him.
"Sakura is the student of the greatest medical kunoichi in shinobi history, and she's with that kunoichi's greatest rival. If neither of them can do anything for Gaara then I might need their support for something I might be able to try." Naruto cited matter-of-factly. He didn't seem at all deterred by the doubtful way in which Tayuya had asked, nor by the negative feelings that he could feel emanating from his two comrades.
"And what about Kakuzu and the other one? Or those weird white guys?" Anko called in an equally concerned voice as Tayuya's. She knew Naruto well enough to know that if he was not overly panicked about Gaara's situation then that meant that if his option A's in Sakura and or Chiyo didn't save the Kazakage then his hinted at option B was definitely going to work. She pushed the thought to the back of her mind that his back up sure to succeed option was his back up for a reason and focused on the most imminent threat.
"If Deidara isn't dead then he's unconscious, and not enough of a priority to care about right now, and Kakuzu knows that he's not powerful enough to fight me on his own. Kakuzu will retrieve Deidara, reunite with their other close by comrades, and plan another attack on us soon." Naruto's inner tactician answered.
Both Anko and Tayuya nodded in understanding at Naruto's precise description and decided to follow in his example and continue on in silence to their more than apparent destination.