Suna: Part I
"I can't believe it's already been three years." Shikamaru said looking at his lap, but no one replied.
The Konoha rookies, although no one could call them rookie anymore, along with their senseis, Kakashi, Asuma, Kurenai Gai, and even Iruka, Tsunade, Jiraiya, and Shizune were sitting around a table at Ichiraku's. In the past few years, the small ramen shop had expanded to a large restaurant and today was one of their busiest days. October 10th. For those who were closest to the Uzumaki, and even some who only knew him by name, it was tradition to congregate at the famous ramen shop in honor of their favorite blonde on the day of his birth. The first year they had gathered on the anniversary of his funeral, but for almost all of them, it was just to painful, so it had moved to only his birthday.
"The meal is on the house tonight guys," Teuchi walked by and placed a hand on Jiraiya's shoulder for a moment.
"Thank you," Sakura said with out looking up and the elder man gave a quick nod before turning to leave.
The food on the table remained untouched, even Choji's. This was normal; no one has an appetite to eat. There wasn't much socializing at their table or anyone else's. The whole restaurant remained silent for the most part.
"I miss him," Hinata said as she started to cry.
Shikamaru clenched his fists in his lap as his mind flashed back to the memory of Naruto's funeral.
It had been a few days after Kakashi had returned with Naruto's body, and after a quick autopsy by Tsunade herself, a funeral was held for the young blonde on top of the Hokage tower.
Iruka was standing next to Kakashi and with Konohamaru on his right. The young boy was crying and Iruka was trying to calm him down, but with no prevail. Unknown to most everyone, Iruka had taken Naruto's death the hardest, as Naruto was like his little brother. Since Iruka was a Chunin and an academy teacher at that, he needed to be strong in front of the younger generation. Kakashi placed his hand on Iruka's shoulder, showing his support. Iruka just looked up and gave a slight smile to Kakashi as a thank you.
One after another, each person in attendance placed a single white rose on the table in front of Naruto's coffin, as a sign of respect.
Tsunade told the whole village that Naruto was to be regard as a hero who saved the village from wrath of the Akatsuki and that he will be avenged.
A little later, as everyone left the Ramen Shop, Jiraiya asked Tsunade to speak with him.
Shikamaru walked alone to the cemetery. He walked in silence until he reached Naruto's grave, which he visited only two days a year: Naruto's birthday and the day of Naruto's funeral. Any other day, it was just too painful. Before Naruto's death, Shikamaru had grown very close to Naruto since Sasuke had left the village. No one knew how hard Shikamaru had taken Naruto's death, except for Asuma.
Naruto's grave was full of flowers and memorials from those who had visited him earlier that day. As always, Shikamaru was the last to visit.
"Hey, Naruto," Shikamaru started, "As I tell you every time I visit you, I wish you were still here helping us fight the Akatsuki. Although there weren't be much to do since they haven't made a move since that day. Did you know Sakura was made a Jonin last month? I guess your still the only one from our class who is not a Jonin now."
Shikamaru smiled slightly as he felt the hot tears start to roll down his face. He had struggled all day to hold them in, but standing in front of the grave made all his walls break down. He couldn't hold them back any longer.
"I miss you Naruto…" Shikamaru continued through his sobs.
"I knew you would be here," Asuma had placed a hand on Shikamaru shoulder.
"Why?" Shikamaru sobbed as he dropped to his knees, "Why did it have to be him?"
"I don't know, Shikamaru. Maybe it was fate or destiny," Asuma responded squatting behind him patting his back. Asuma wondered momentarily if the younger was referring to Naruto's death, or his feelings for the blonde.
"Its not fair…" Shikamaru mumbled.
"I know," Asuma said, "Nothing is fair in our world."
Asuma wasn't sure how long they had been there, but after what seemed like a life time, the younger stood up and without so much as a glance, he walked away leaving Asuma standing in front of the Naruto's grave.
On the other side of the village, Jiraiya and Tsunade walked in silence back towards the Hokage tower, with Shizune following silently behind them.
"What did you need to speak with me about?" Tsunade asked quietly, almost a whisper.
"They're making a move," Jiraiya said staring ahead, his face blank.
"What?" Tsunade came to a complete halt; Jiriaya had stopped walking as well and turned to face her.
Since the day Naruto gave himself up to protect the village; the Akatsuki had stopped all movements. Even though they weren't making any movements, Jiraiya still kept an eye on them, so when this day came they would be ready for them.
"A few members have been spotted around the Hidden Rain Village and around the Fire Country," Jiraiya said, "My spies have indicated that they are going to collect the tailed beasts in order. Starting with the one tail."
"That means they are going to start with Gaara, the Kazakage." Tsunade said, "We have to warn them."
"I already have. I sent a messenger pigeon to Gaara a few days ago. He responded saying they have men positioned out side of the Sand Village about 3 days out so it will give us enough time to send reinforcements if need be." Jiraiya said in a monotone.
"It's time they pay for what they did." Tsunade snarled.
"I agree" was the only response.
They went their separate ways.
"Are you ready to leave?" a voice called out from the shadows.
"Yes," Another voice responded.
"It's been three years. Your training is complete. You should be ready to take them on."
"Then lets go.
A few days after Jiraiya told Tsunade that the Akatsuki were making their move, Shizune receive a messenger pigeon from the Sand Village asking for reinforcements. The Akatsuki had arrived.
"Tsunade-Sama!" Shizune called as the burst through the door.
"What is it?" Tsunade looked up from her paper work.
"Here," Shizune handed Tsunade the paper as she reached the Hokage's desk.
After reading the paper, Tsunade's eyes widened.
"Summon them. All of them. NOW!" Tsunade yelled, "and tell them it's an emergency!"
"HAI!" Shizune responded rushing out the door to retrieve the ninja the Hokage had requested.
Tsunade sat at her desk with Shizune behind her to her left and Jiraiya to her right. In front of her are the Konoha rookies, Gai, Asuma, Kakashi and Kurenai. She summoned this many people because they were facing very dangerous foes and they are protecting one of Naruto's closest friends. Tsunade would do anything to protect what Naruto held most precious.
"Good you are all here…"Tsunade started but then trailed off.
"You said it was an emergency, Tsunade-sama?" Kakashi said.
"Yes, the Akatsuki are making their move." Tsunade said coldly.
"What?" A unison response came from almost everyone in the room.
"Yes, they are heading to the Hidden Sand in order to capture the One Tails in Gaara. He has asked for reinforcements. I am sending you all. Kakashi you will be the leader."
"The men who are heading to Suna are Sasori a missing-nin from the Sand, an unknown and Deidara, a missing-nin from the Stone. "
You can almost see the tension in the room raise. Just the name Akatsuki made those in the room grit their teeth and clench their fists, especially when it came to those involved in Naruto's death.
"Do not let your emotions affect the mission! Understood?"
"Hai!" They all responded.
"HEAD OUT!" Tsunade said standing up and pointing towards the door.