Naruto, Sakura, and Jiraiya had headed out immediately after the mission to the Sand village. That mission had been a success, they had saved the Kazekage, Gaara, from the Akatsuki. During their mission, Sakura had battled Akatsuki member Sasori. He had given her some very vague information about Orochimaru's whereabouts. "Since you defeated me, I owe you information. Find a village shadowed by mountains where the water runs into the sky. Orochimaru, being the snake that he is, is hiding in the depths of those mountains. Find my spy amongst the villagers, who also works for Orochimaru, and you will know that you are in the correct village."
It wasn't much information to go on, but Naruto and Sakura had wanted to set out right away. The Fifth Hokage, Tsunade, would not let them go, until they had a team leader. Their usual team leader, Kakashi, was in no condition to travel. He had over used his new eye technique, the Mangekyou Sharingan, and had drained his body and chakra. So, since everyone else had been on other missions, Jiraiya had been assigned. Plus, when it comes to finding out hidden information, there was no one better than Jiraiya.
Time was running out to get to Sasuke before Orochimaru transferred himself into Sasuke's body. Finding villages shadowed by mountains wasn't difficult. In fact, there were too many of them. The harder part was trying to figure out the "water running into the sky" reference. "Where the hell does water run into the sky!?," Naruto had yelled out of frustration at one point. Now, they were checking in at the local inn at the fourth village in two weeks.
"You better not come back drunk this time," Sakura was warning Jiraiya.
"Now, why would you say such things?" Jiraiya just grinned.
Naruto shook his head and checked in. "Two rooms, please."
"What name for the rooms?"
"Uz-u-ma-ki." Naruto looked at the inn keeper,. He is pretty old, maybe he is hard of hearing. However, there was something familiar about his face.
"Is there a problem Naruto?" Sakura asked.
"No, no problem miss, I just haven't heard that name in awhile."
"Naruto, have you been hear before?"
"No. My legend must be growing!" he said with a big grin.
Sakura hit him, "You're such an idiot!"
"Everything set?," Jiraiya came over.
"Yeah, just don't be out all night. You're terrible to travel with when you're like that.
Jiraiya waived them off and left. Naruto and Sakura went to their rooms. All the while, the inn keeper was watching closely.
Naruto and Sakura had been going over all the information they had. "So when we finally catch up with Sasuke, Orochimaru will be there with him too." Sakura stated worriedly.
"Don't worry, I'm sure we're more than a match for him now, especially all three of us."
"But you heard the Hokage, we're not to engage. We're just out here to get information and report back."
"We won't let him go."
"We won't let Sasuke go again!"
But Sakura was still uneasy. She had had a foreboding feeling since the last town. She wanted Sasuke back, but…
"It's getting late." Naruto's voice snapped her out of her thoughts.
"Yeah." So they said their good nights.
Naruto was thinking about Sasuke. He couldn't understand Sasuke anymore. Sasuke's ultimate goal was to kill his brother, Itachi. Did he think Naruto and Sakura wouldn't stand by his side? There was a knock at the door, but Naruto barely heard it, he was lost in his thoughts. Another knock.
Oh, it must be Sakura. There's no way Jiraiya would be back yet. Naruto opened the door and was surprised to find the innkeeper.
"May I come in?"
Naruto stepped aside and the innkeeper entered. Naruto couldn't shake the feeling that he had seen his face somewhere before.
"So what's your name?"
"Naruto Uzumaki. Is there something wrong?" Naruto was puzzled. Why was this innkeeper so interested in his name.
"You can call me Old man Uzuki. It's been awhile since I've heard of someone from the Uzumaki clan."
"The Uzumaki clan…"
"I used to know the clan very well." The innkeeper was softly smiling at him.
Naruto's head was spinning. Uzumaki clan? What is he talking about? I'm the only one. There is no clan. It's not like the Uchiha's or the Hyuga's.
"No, I'm not."
"But there's never been such a clan, I'm just by myself. You're lying!"
The innkeeper walked over to Naruto, reached up, and placed a hand on his head. Even though Naruto was taller than the innkeeper, it made Naruto feel like a little kid. "I'm not lying. There's been so much kept from you. I can tell you, I can show you. I can reveal to you the family you've never known."
Naruto sat down on the bed. A family? Me? A family.
"I'll come back in the morning. You think about what I've said." The innkeeper closed the door behind him, Naruto's head was spinning.
In the morning, Sakura had come to Naruto's room and brought breakfast. "So he hasn't come back yet?"
Naruto didn't answer. He was starring at his food.
"Naruto?" Sakura has never known him to be quiet. Did something happen during the night. "Hey! Naruto are you listening to me!?"
"What's it like to be from a clan?"
The question took Sakura by surprise. Is he thinking about Sasuke? That would explain his demeanor this morning. "Well a clan is a big family. You have your immediate family: mother, father, siblings. And then there's the clan, it's everyone else who you're related to. It can be it's own community. Everyone pulls together and…" She stopped there. I wonder if I'm making him feel bad. Naruto had kept his head down the whole time she was talking. He looked so serious. It always worried her when he got like that. "Naruto…"
There was a knock on the door. Naruto got up and let in the person who had knocked. Sakura had expected it to be Jiraiya, but it was the innkeeper. "Have you made your decision?"
"Yes." Naruto had his head down this entire time but now he looked up, right into the innkeepers eyes. "I'll go with you."
"Naruto, what are you doing? Where are you going?"
"Sakura, you stay here and wait for Jiraiya."
"No, I'm coming with you."
"Girl, this has nothing to do with you," the innkeeper growled.
Naruto looked over his shoulder, his eyes were filled with mixed emotions. He smiled, but it didn't go to his eyes. "It'll be ok. I'll be back." And with that, he left.
Sakura had a very bad feeling.
The innkeeper led him to a secluded room. They sat down and the innkeeper looked at him very fondly.
"I'm sorry, it's been so long since I've met anyone from the Uzumaki clan. They are very dear to me."
"You still don't believe me."
"You're the first person who has ever said anything about a clan, not even anyone in my village."
"Your village!?" The innkeeper seethed with hate.
Naruto, however, smiled and grabbed his forehead protector. "Yeah, I'm from the Leaf Village."
"That's not your village."
"What?" Naruto's face fell.
"The Uzumaki clan belongs to no village. They had established themselves in several villages, even becoming Kage at different times. But the clan came first. When warring would break out between the villages, the Uzumakis would withdraw so as not to fight each other."
"They abandoned their village?!"
"No, they stuck to the clan. Villages do things in their own interest, most times by the whims of whoever happens to be in charge."
Naruto's face was full of confusion, "But…"
"Listen Naruto, the Uzumakis were highly respected and feared for their talents. But since they would not swear absolute loyalty to one village, hatred started to grow. The clan went into hiding. But for those who feared their power, hiding wasn't enough. The Uzumakis were hunted and rumors were started that they were dangerous."
Naruto wasn't sure how to react. He didn't like the fact of not being loyal to your village. But to be hunted because of who you are. His thoughts went to Haku and Gaara. Confusion clouded his eyes.
Old man Uzuki went over to Naruto and placed a hand on his shoulder. "It was a long time before you were even born."
Naruto looked up and the old man smiled, "I thought they had all been wiped out. Seeing you is like looking into the face of the past and it gives me hope. To know that there is one left…" The old man smiled again, his eyes filled with tears. "Now, let me teach you the secrets of your clan."
Naruto nodded, "Let's get started!"
Sakura waited in Naruto's room all day. It was dark now. What was he thinking! What if it's a trap! What if the enemy is trying to separate us! The door opened, Sakura spun around, and saw Naruto. "Where have you been. I've been…"
Naruto looked exhausted. He walked to his bed and fell into it.
"Are you alright!" Sakura went over to him. He had scrapes and bruises all over him. "What happened! Were you attacked!?" She started her healing techniques.
"Then who?" There was no response. "Naruto?"
He was fast asleep. Now Sakura was really worried.
The next morning Naruto was gone and Jiraiya had yet to return.
I'm not going to just wait here again! Sakura was fuming. "Do you hear me!!" She yelled to the empty room. Since no one responded, she left to go explore the town.
The town was really nice. Sakura stopped by several shops. She even picked up some sweets for Naruto. As she thought about him, she got really sad. What is he up to? Why won't he tell me what's going on? Why does he train so much. But she knew the answer to that. Naruto always wanted to improve and show that he was going to be the best Hokage ever. Plus, if they were going to get Sasuke back, they would need power. Why am I getting so uneasy. I should be glad that we are getting closer to Sasuke, but…
But something just wasn't right.
Out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw Jiraiya, so she ran after him. "Jiraiya!"
He looked over his shoulder and then looked away. This made Sakura very mad. She ran faster. He turned a corner and thought she had lost him. When she turned the corner, someone grabbed her and covered her mouth. She was getting ready to fight when her restrainer spoke.
"What's up? Why are you here?"
Sakura stopped struggling and faced Jiraiya.
"What's going on! Where have you been?! Why can't you at least stop in to let us know what's going on!" Sakura was fuming!
"Listen, I'll explain everything…later."
"I'll be back tomorrow night and then we'll talk."
"Tell him to be patient, but I have to go. Wait here a few minutes and then leave."
Sakura started to object but Jiraiya quieted her with a look. "I'll explain LATER." And then he left. Sakura was mad and confused. She went back to the inn.
Sakura went to her room, full of thoughts. Why won't anyone talk to me? Why am I always out of the loop. She heard a noise from the room next door. Naruto! She ran over, but paused before she entered. Again, thinking it might be a trap. We'll, I guess I'll have to take my chances. She knocked on the door. When she got no response, she opened it a little.
There was Naruto lying on his bed and the innkeeper standing over him.
"Who are you, what's going on?" She demanded.
The old man looked at her, "He's a natural, he's caught on so quickly."
"What are you talking about?"
But he just smiled. There is something so familiar about that smile.
The innkeeper walked past her and then out the door.
Sakura went over to Naruto. He was even worse than yesterday. What kind of training are you doing? Why are you so wiped out. She knelt down and started healing his wounds. I know that he'll heal quickly on his own, but… But right now that was all she could do for her friend.
The next morning, Sakura awoke to an empty room. Damn, I thought if I stayed here, I could catch him before he left. She found the sweets she left out eaten with a note saying "Thanks." She smiled, Well, your welcome. As she was thinking about it a strange memory came to her. It was the innkeeper taking Naruto. They turned to see her getting up. Naruto smiled, did an odd hand sign, "Sleep Sakura." That was the last she could remember.
Well, that had to be a dream. Naruto doesn't have that kind of jutsu. So she got up and went to her room. We'll, I guess I'll go get supplies. If Jiraiya keeps his word, he'll be back tonight and then we will leave tomorrow. We can get on the road quicker if we have everything tonight.
A wave of uneasiness came over her again. Somehow the thought of setting out gave her a foreboding feeling. This is ridiculous, either we will move to the next town or head back to the village. She shook her head. She bathed and headed out.
This time she didn't bother looking for Jiraiya. She just got what they would need, plus more sweets for Naruto. She seemed to be noticing his habits more. Well, we are friends and we are on missions together all the time. Of course, I would start to pick-up on his habits.
She went back to the inn, checked in Naruto's room first. He still wasn't back, just as she thought. So she went to her room and waited. She packed her things, twice. She was going out of her mind. So she went back to Naruto's room and packed his things, not that it was all that hard this time, he never really unpacked. Jiraiya never had much. Then, she just waited.
By the time Naruto and the innkeeper returned, it was early evening. The innkeeper was carrying a practically unconscious Naruto.
"Why are you in here, girl?"
"Naruto is my friend. I'm worried about what are you doing to him!" Sakura shot back with barely contained fury.
Surprisingly the old man smiled, "Maybe he was right about you."
This took Sakura by surprise, "What are you talking about."
But the innkeeper just laid Naruto on his bed, turned to walk away. This time Sakura grabbed him before he could leave. "I want some answers. Who are you, how do you know Naruto and what have you been teaching him?"
Again the old man smiled, "You'll see." And then he left.
That smile, why was it so familiar, and then it hit Sakura, it reminded her of Naruto's smile. That's odd since there was no one who smiled like Naruto. I must be seeing things. She walked over to Naruto. Here we go again. Once again she started healing.
It was getting late and Jiraiya still hadn't come back and Naruto was still out. Sakura was looking out the window, when she heard a noise behind her.
"Hey Sakura, what are you doing here?"
"Idiot, I've been worried about you! What have you been doing?"
Naruto's stomach let out a big growl. "Maybe after I eat."
Same old Naruto. This thought made her smile. Never change Naruto, please.
"Oh, great! More sweets! Thanks Sakura, you're the best!"
Sakura smiled at him and for the first time in days it felt like everything was back to normal.
Several hours later Jiraiya came back. Naruto had been evading Sakura questions. She was ready to kill him, so Jiraiya provided a new target for her to take out her frustration. "Where have you been!" she yelled!
"How much money did you loose this time." Naruto chimed in
"Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, what's going on?" Jiraiya looked from Sakura to Naruto. Sakura was boiling mad, but Naruto looked oblivious as always.
That was the last straw for Sakura, "As if! Both of you just leave me here and then neither of you will tell me what's going on! I've had it! I better get some answers or I'm going to start hitting things!"
Sakura had unbelievable strength, which thanks to the Fifth Hokage had been honed into something very scary.
"Alright, alright. Naruto your first, what have you been up to."
"Ok, well I…"
"OK! THAT'S IT? OK! He's been coming back every night bruised and bloody and he passes out before I can talk to him and …"
"But that's normal Sakura." Stated Jiraiya.
"I guess you've never been around him when he's training. He keeps at it until the point of exhaustion, recovers quickly and then does it all over again."
Sakura was stunned. Does he really work THAT hard.
"So have you improved?"
Naruto smiled, "You'll see."
Sakura was so reminded of the innkeeper that for a moment she thought that they could be related. She shook her head at this though. That's ridiculous.
Now that Sakura had calmed down Jiraiya felt it safe to continue. "Now, to tell you what I've been up to…"
The sun was just rising as the trio walked out of the village. Sakura and Jiraiya exchanged nervous glances. Sakura was the first to speak. "Naruto, shouldn't we head back to the village? I mean the Hokage said…"
Jiraiya and Sakura looked at each other. This time Jiraiya tried. "Well, we could get some extra help. I'm sure Kakashi would…"
"No!" This time Naruto stopped and turned to look at them. "If we wait, Sasuke and Orochimaru will move again and we will have to start all over again. If you guys want to go back, I won't stop you, but I'm not going to let Sasuke go again." His eyes were almost blazing.
"Alright, alright." Jiraiya knew that once Naruto got like this nothing in the world would sway him.
"But, Naruto…" Sakura was worried.
This time Naruto smiled, the biggest smile he could muster. "It's time I kept my promise. I'll bring him home for sure this time."
Sakura smiled weakly. I want Sasuke back, but then…but then why do I feel so guilty when Naruto mentions that promise.
As they continued Sakura thought back to the day when Naruto made that promise to her, the promise of a lifetime. She had begged Naruto to bring Sasuke back, told him that he was the only one who could get through to Sasuke. That her only wish was to have Sasuke back.
She looked at Naruto's back. He has grown so much in some ways and none at all in other over the past three years. He can do it. I know he can, Naruto can get through to anyone. But she didn't feel convinced. Not that she doubted Naruto, she knew better. But something was nagging at her. What? What is it? If I could just figure it out…
She went over and over all of the information, but it was the village they just left that kept coming to her. Naruto's training. Jiraiya's mysterious contact. It all made her uneasy. She thought back to last night when Jiraiya filled them in on what he had been doing.
"I know that I've been gone awhile, but my contact…"
"You just didn't want us to know how much money you lost," Naruto said.
"No Naruto, and if you want to know then be quiet. As I was saying, my contact has been very secretive. He needed to be sure that I was the only one he made contact with. That's what was going on the other day Sakura. I'm sorry I couldn't go into more detail at the time. I still think he doesn't trust me, but I was able to get him to talk. Orochimaru and Sasuke are in the hills after the next village. They won't be there long. He knows because he works for Orochimaru and was in town for supplies.
"Are you sure the information can be trusted?" Sakura asked worriedly.
"No, but it is the only information we have gotten in days. Plus, the name of the village is the Sky Village. They sit at the foot of the mountain, that has a waterfall. It's the closest match to the information Sasori gave to Sakura. We should go back to Konoha and …"
"No, we need to go after them."
"Naruto…" Sakura tried
"No, if we let him go, we might not be able to catch up again in time!"
"Naruto…" Jiraiya tried this time.
"Hey, Sakura, are you ok?" Naruto snapped her out of her thoughts.
"Yeah." They all fought all night long, but Naruto wouldn't be swayed. She had hoped Naruto would have been more reasonable this morning. She should have known better. Naruto was even more determined than last night.
They walked most of the day in silence. The next village was only a day away and the mountains another half day. They reached the village at night fall. This time Jiraiya registered the inn room.
Once they were in the room, Naruto went right to the window while Sakura and Jiraiya divided the room.
"I don't know why I couldn't have my own room like before." Sakura complained.
"Well because, daughter dear, what good father would let his daughter all by herself." Jiraiya smiled mischievously.
"What was all of that about any way and why did we need to take off our forehead guards?"
"Sakura, I thought you were the smart one."
"What! Why you…" Sakura fumed.
Jiraiya sighed, "If Orochimaru is really this close, then he would be alerted by anyone coming to this village with the leaf village emblem. So we need to disguise ourselves. Fake names, no signs of who we really are."
Sakura became quiet. This is getting serious. She looked over to Naruto. He was still looking out the window. She walked over to him and looked out the window also. They had a perfect view of the mountains.
Naruto hadn't moved since they had entered the room. Sakura looked at him sideways. Naruto was completely focused on the mountains. She could tell that he was thinking about Sasuke. He's not going to let Sasuke go this time. "Naruto…"
He turned and gave her an encouraging smile. "We'll do it this time. We each tried separately, but Sasuke won't be able to do anything against the two of us."
Naruto. Sakura smiled, but her uneasiness was growing.
"Ok, let's go over the plan." Jiraiya called to them. They both went over to Jiraiya and planned for tomorrow.