Time passed quickly. In one month, Naruto had relearned almost all of his jutsus. He had become very strong. He learned and mastered every jutsu he had been shown. It seemed there was nothing he couldn't learn. However, it had been decided not to teach him the shadow clone or Rasengan.
Then team training started. His team was made up of Kakashi, Sakura and Hinata. Tsunade was undecided on if she was going to add another team member. "Hinata and Naruto can almost be counted as one person., but not at the same time. Let's see how the team training goes. Then I'll make my finale decision.
Team training went fairly smoothly. There were times when it seemed as though one of the personalities was trying to surface, but each time it happened, Naruto pushed those memories and feelings further and further away.
Because of the connection between Hinata and Naruto, they never had to exchange words. This made Sakura feel a little left out, but Naruto never forgot that he was part of a team. Actually, it seemed as though team Kakashi was functioning better than ever, but the team just didn't feel the same.
The time had now come for the new team to begin their missions. They were in Tsunade's office, waiting for final approval.
'I will leave the team as it is. With the work load we have, reducing another team is not practical. Besides, I hear you all work very well together." She looked over all of them. Naruto seemed odd standing there wearing his orange pants, black sleeveless shirt, and his forehead protector around his upper left arm. "Why are you wearing the Leaf insignia like that?"
Naruto shrugged. Hinata: "It feels better this way."
Everyone had gotten used to Hinata answering for Naruto. Most could even tell the difference when she was speaking for herself and when she was speaking for Naruto - her voice always went a little flat.
Tsunade looked at him. So much like Naruto, yet so much not. I wonder how things would have gone if he had never run into Kabuto. She thought back to the Chunin exams. To how Naruto said that he pushed all memories away. Well, no more what ifs. It's time to move ahead. "Alright! I'm starting you off on a C Rank mission. I want to see how well your team works in the field."
Naruto made no reaction. Usually, he wouldn't accept C Rank missions. But now, he did what he was told.
Once they had left on their mission, Tsunade stared out the window, a single tear cascaded down her check. So much like him, but so much not. She knew the village would never feel the same.
Each mission was a success. Team Kakashi worked their way back up to A and B Rank missions. Whenever they got close to the Village Hidden in the Sand, they stopped to see Gaara.
Time passed, two more months went by and a forgotten threat was ready to make it's move.
Team Kakashi was setting up camp for the night. They were heading back to Konoha after their latest successful mission. Naruto and Hinata were together, as always. By now, everyone almost thought of them as one person.
Hinata didn't seem to mind. She was just happy to finally be so close to Naruto. Her Naruto. No one knew him like she did. At times, he reminded her of the old Naruto. But to her, his memory was fading. At first, this bothered her. But then she realized it was because the new Naruto had buried all the memories to become his own person. As he accepted himself, so did Hinata. She knew everyone was waiting to get the old Naruto back, but she was happy having him the way he was.
Naruto had just started getting the firewood, when he suddenly stopped. He looked over to Kakashi who nodded. They were being watched. Everyone went into formation.
They heard menacing laughter coming from all around them. "You didn't think we forgot about you, Naruto Uzumaki?" Out of the shadows came Kisame and Deidara of the Akatsuki. "We got all of the tailed-demons. Now it's your turn."
Damn! I forgot about them coming after Naruto. I wonder if they realize the nine-tailed fox no longer exists. Sakura thought.
Naruto stood ready to strike. At the sight of Deidara, old memories stirred. Gaara. He once hurt Gaara. This made him angry, but it didn't cause him the pain that it used to. He had long since learned how to keep the vague memories under control. It was the thought of someone hurting Gaara that was making him angry.
"Ha. Ha. Ha. I love the look on your face boy! You look ready to kill. Let's see how good you've gotten in our absence." With that, all hell broke loose. Akatsuki members were coming out of every where.
I never realized how many members they had. Kakashi thought in between exchanging blows.
"Do you want to play tag again, Jinchuuriki?" Deidara taunted as he stretched out his right arm. "Look, I've gotten my arm back. I won't go as easy on you this time around." However, he could tell that Naruto didn't recognize him. I know what will set him off. "I've heard that Gaara was revived and is still the Kazekage. We can't have one survivor, I'll have to take him out again. It'll be a new experience for me, killing someone twice."
The look on Naruto's face told Deidara that he hit a nerve. "Come after me if you think you can stop me." Deidara said as he took off through the underbrush. Naruto took off after him.
"Naruto wait!" Kakashi yelled, but he was already gone. "Sakura, Hinata!" They were involved in their own battles. Damn it! They planned this well. Now, Naruto is isolated.
Sakura had seen Naruto chase after Deidara, "Hinata!" Sakura looked over to her. Hinata nodded. They knew that they had to get to Naruto and fast!
Naruto chased Deidara through the underbrush, but Deidara pulled ahead, out of Naruto's sight. Naruto sped up and soon came into a clearing. He was confused at the sight in front of him. Deidara was being held up by the collar of his cloak by a dark haired boy around Naruto's age. Naruto paused, and took a defensive stance.
The boy looked past Deidara shoulder. "So you survived."
"DO YOU KNOW ME?" Naruto had forgotten that without Hinata, no one could hear him. The boy that addressed him was still holding Deidara. Naruto could see three figures hidden in the shadows. The boy's allies. This seems like a trap within a trap. But who is the prize? Naruto's gaze shifted from the boy to his shadowed allies, to Deidara. He never dropped his defensive stance.
"What's the matter Naruto? Where is all of your usual posturing? Aren't you going to start telling me how you are taking me back to Konoha?"
Why would I… Suddenly, Sakura and Hinata were at his side. Hinata placed her hand on his arm. They looked at each other and nodded. Hinata: "Are the two of you alright? Where is Kakashi-sensei?"
Sakura, however, was staring at they boy in front of her. Her rage was growing. "SASUKE!" Sakura growled as she walked towards him. "You! This is all YOUR FAULT!"
"What are you…" Sasuke didn't have a chance to finish his sentence because Sakura landed a punch that sent him flying. Deidara was freed from Sasuke's grip, so he fled.
Hinata: "Sakura? Do you know that boy? He seems familiar."
"Don't think about him, Naruto. He's not worth the effort. Come on, Kakashi-sensei is waiting for us." Sakura wanted to pound Sasuke into oblivion. But she knew that the old Naruto would not have wanted that. That's not why he sacrificed himself. She spun around and started walking away, but suddenly someone was grabbing her wrist. "Let me go Sasuke."
"Do you think I can let you attack me without a response. I…" Now, Naruto had grabbed a hold of Sasuke's forearm, hard. Hinata: "If you know what's good for you, you will let Sakura go."
"Hinata, do you really think you can take me?" Sasuke said in surprise.
She looked at him fiercely, but said, "Hinata is not the one talking to you. I am. Now, I will tell you one more time to release Sakura."
Sasuke was confused. Hinata was the one who had spoken. He looked at Naruto's face. "Why are you so quiet?"
An orange chakra formed around Naruto's hand that was holding onto Sasuke. It burned his skin, but Sasuke stood his ground.
Hinata: "I said release her!"
'It's alright Naruto. Don't get worked up over him." Sakura said in an angry voice that was touched with sadness.
"Naruto? But Hinata spoke." Sasuke was very confused. "What's going on?"
"Like you have any right to know! You left the village and left us behind, remember! You cut your ties with Naruto. Why do you care what's going on with him?!" Sakura was getting ready to throw another punch at Sasuke.
"This is the boy from the picture?" Hinata's voice asked in a surprised tone.
Sasuke turned to Hinata, "You know who I am."
"I do! But Naruto doesn't remember…"
"Hinata!" Sakura's voice cut her off. "Don't reveal any more! Sasuke doesn't deserve to know what's going on." Sakura landed her second punch.
However, Sasuke was prepared this time. He released her just before the punch landed, pushed away from Naruto and was able to build his chakra enough to lessen the blow. He looked at the three of them.
Sakura was breathing hard, she looked like she was trying to fight back tears. Naruto looked at him with a stoic gaze, no signs of recognition in his eyes. Hinata was holding onto Naruto's right arm, with a look of hatred on her face.
These people are different from who I used to know. Although, they would probably say the same thing about me. Sasuke thought as he stood up.
Sakura again, turned around, "Come on guys. Let's go." And she started to walk away.
Hinata: "Sakura wait. He's a rouge ninja, right? Should not we take him back to the village?"
"No, Naruto. If Sasuke stepped one foot in the village, he wouldn't make it to the second step. And, out of respect for a friend's final wish, I must keep him alive."
Naruto nodded. He and Hinata followed Sakura, leaving Sasuke behind.
Once they were out of Sasuke's view, Naruto put a hand on Sakura's shoulder. Hinata: "Are you alright, Sakura?"
Sakura paused. "Yeah, I'm fine. Would you mind doing me a favor. Please don't mention this to Kakashi-sensei, or anyone else."
Naruto and Hinata nodded. Naruto didn't understand all of what was going on. All he knew was that Sakura was very upset and he wanted to do anything to help her.
Hinata had an idea what Sakura was going through. I feel bad for her. I wish I could help.
They walked back in silence.
They decided to stay where they originally had made camp, since night had fallen. "We will take shifts standing guard. I'll go first." Kakashi said. "Everyone stay alert."
Naruto took second shift, half way through, a strange fog rolled in. He didn't like the feel of it. He walked over to Hinata and tried to wake her, but couldn't. The same with Sakura and Kakashi. Naruto created three of his white snakes with flaming red eyes. He sent one to each of the sleeping members of his team. They coiled protectively around each one. Then he walked out, searching for the presence he felt.
"So, it's you, not Naruto," a voice said seemingly from everywhere.
Naruto stood ready for an attack. It's that boy again. If I do this right, I can take him back to Konoha. I will make sure he is not harmed. That way the village gets back a rouge ninja and Sakura can keep that promise to her friend.
"You are playing a good act. I didn't think you had it in you, Orochimaru." Sasuke dropped down in front of Naruto. Sasuke stood between him and his sleeping comrades. Sasuke was prepared for a fight as well. "So, do you still want me as a vessel, or do you just want to see who is more powerful now?" Sasuke asked in a tone that sounded disinterested.
Naruto shook his head slowly, never taking his eyes off of Sasuke. So he thinks that I am this Orochimaru. Why? Again, vague memories came to him, however, they no longer caused him pain.
Still won't talk, huh? That's fine with me. Words just get in the way of fighting." Sasuke said, but he was still confused. He doesn't act like Naruto or Orochimaru. If I hadn't seen the snakes, I never would have realized it was Orochimaru.
Sasuke glanced over his shoulder, "Maybe we should take this elsewhere. I don't want to be interrupted."
Naruto shook his head. That could be a trap, plus I want to keep on eye on everyone. I want to make sure they stay safe. Naruto took out a shuriken and threw it past Sasuke at his three sleeping comrades. The shuriken hit a now visible barrier and flew into a tree. Then the barrier disappeared.
"I don't remember you having that jutsu. Well, it doesn't matter. I will take you down. Now." Sasuke drew his sword and gathered his chakra.
Alright, I can do this in one blow. Naruto prepared himself. He started making hand signs when a voice come from above them. "Alright. That's enough."
Kakashi dropped down in front of Naruto, facing him. He put a hand on Naruto's shoulder. " I don't think your ready for that jutsu yet. You haven't learned enough chakra control." Kakashi's eyes went downward and Naruto's eyes followed. At Naruto's feet the grass had been burned away and the ground was scorched. "Hit him with that and even with your barrier, Hinata and Sakura will be hurt."
Naruto let his chakra fade and looked at Kakashi apologetically. "Don't worry Naruto, you'll get the hang of it." Naruto nodded.
Sasuke looked over his shoulder, one of the snakes was now protecting a log. A replacement jutsu. I should have known. "Since when did the Hidden Leaf Village start protecting Orochimaru."
Kakashi turned around. "This isn't Orochimaru and I wasn't protecting him. Your skills must have really diminished if you can't sense how much chakra Naruto was getting ready to throw at you."
This made Sasuke angry, until he too looked down at Naruto's feet. When did you get so strong. Sasuke thought both surprised and annoyed.
Kakashi turned to face Sasuke. "Sasuke Uchiha, meet Naruto Uzumaki, sort of. Naruto Uzumaki, meet Sasuke Uchiha. He used to be our teammate."
"What do you mean sort of?" Sasuke asked, a hint of concern in his voice.
"Well…" Kakashi debated on how much to tell him. I'm sure he doesn't know about the Nine Tail. Kakashi sighed, "After Naruto performed the jutsu that sealed Orochimaru, he stopped being the Naruto you knew. The chakras inside of him combined and wiped out all of his memories.: Kakashi studied Sasuke's face carefully, but he showed no emotion.
"So is he Naruto or Orochimaru?"
"He is both and neither."
"I don't have the patience for your riddles and vague answers."
Kakashi sighed again, "The Naruto you knew no longer exists. Any grudge you may have had with him ended that day." Kakashi sounded calm, but he was preparing for Sasuke's attack.
Sasuke was trying to decided what to do. None of what Kakashi said makes any sense. How can he be both and neither. Sasuke was still deciding on what to do when he saw Naruto reach out and tug on Kakashi's sleeve. This made Naruto look like a little kid.
He pointed at Sasuke then at Sakura with a concerned face.
"Yes. She once cared very much for Sasuke. At one time, both of you were devoted to bringing him back to Konoha."
Naruto's face had a frustrated look, like that of a child who almost gets an idea, but not quite understanding.
"I thought they might have run into you. Sakura was acting strange." Kakashi said calmly, but he never lowered his guard. "From what I've heard, you wanted to cut all your ties to Konoha. Well, consider it done."
"That's fine by me. It just means that you will stay out of my way while I go after my goal." Sasuke sheathed his sword.
Naruto once again tugged on Kakashi's sleeve. He again pointed to Sasuke, then to the forehead protector that he now wore around his upper left arm.
Kakashi shook his head. "We have bigger problems to worry about than brining home one rogue ninja." Actually, there was an ANBU squad out looking for Sasuke. I'll tell them all about this incident when we get back. I don't think Naruto needs this right now.
Naruto looked defeated, but nodded.
"I know you don't understand all of this. But trust me." Kakashi once again put a hand on Naruto's shoulder.
"So you can understand him?" Sasuke asked.
"Not like Hinata, but we've been working together for months. You start to learn each other. Don't you remember what that was like?"
Sasuke shrugged, "None of that is important to me. Just keep him out of my way." With that, he was gone.
Kakashi could see Naruto's frustration. "Listen. I think all of you have been through enough lately. Adding Sasuke to the mix will just complicate things." Kakashi hadn't realized how protective he had become of Naruto until that moment. "Are you alright?"
Naruto nodded. He was confused and felt bad for Sakura. He looked over to her.
Kakashi followed his gaze. "She'll be ok. She's strong." Kakashi looked back to Naruto. "Do you want to finish your shift?"
Naruto smiled and nodded.
Sasuke joined his three allies, who never came out of the shadows. "Did you catch him?" Sasuke asked in a monotone voice.
"Of course." Came a rough voice as Deidrara was brought in front of Sasuke.
Sasuke looked at him, "I have a proposal for the Akatsuki."
"What can you possibly offer us?" Deidara hissed.
"I'll give you Naruto Uzumaki in exchange for Itachi Uchiha."
"Like you can really deliver. We've been after the Jinriki for awhile. Do you really think it'll be that easy?"
Deidara laughed. "You're going to try to capture him and you don't even know what he really is!"
"It doesn't matter who or what he is. I'll bring him to you… for the right price."
In the morning Team Kakashi was clearing camp. Sakura was avoiding everyone. Then they started back to Konoha. They heard a voice call out to them. It was Might Guy and his team of Neji, Lee and TenTen. They too, were returning from a successful mission. The two teams walked back to the village together. At midday, they took a break at a river crossing.
Naruto and Hinata were refreshing everyone's water supply. Sakura was helping with the food when Lee came over to her. "Hey, Sakura. How are you?"
She tried to smile, but found that she couldn't. She had a lot on her mind and had been quiet all day.
"I don't think I can do this anymore, Lee. It's not Naruto, no matter how much we want him to be. Sometimes I wish…" She put her head down.
Lee walked up to her and put both hands on her shoulders. "Do not give up on him yet. I know it seems like it has been a long time. But, then again, how long have you both waited for Sasuke." Lee was smiling, he meant it as encouragement, but it just made Sakura feel worse.
Yeah, three years that I could have shared with Naruto. Three that I'll never get back. If he hadn't made me that damn promise, he would have trained in the village instead of leaving with Jiraiya.
From the distance, they could hear Hinata's voice call out for Naruto, "Hey! Fuzzy brow! Can you give us a hand with this water?"
Lee looked past Sakura and smiled, "Yes! I will be right there!" He looked at her again and nodded, then he took off to help.
But that's not him. Sakura thought as she went about helping with food. She had never realized how much she had gotten used to Naruto being around. It felt like there was a huge void that an imposter was trying to fill. Yes, there are times that he acts like Naruto, or says things that Naruto would say, but…but it's all wrong. It's as if this new person saw and heard Naruto and is trying to copy him. Sometimes I think it would have been better if he would have just died.
This thought stopped Sakura in her tracks. She felt terrible for thinking it. She felt terrible for feeling it. But she felt even worse pretending that Naruto was still alive. She looked over her shoulder at him. His smile was so familiar it just made her heart ache. She turned around and went back to her task.
They reached the village at dusk and went to report to the Hokage. Team Kakashi went last. When they were done with the debriefing, Sakura took off before she was dismissed.
Hmmm. That's odd. Tsunade thought. She dismissed Naruto and Hinata, but asked Kakashi to stay. "What's up with your team?"
"I think Sakura is having a harder and harder time with this as he gets less and less like the Naruto we knew."
"Damn Kabuto!" Tsunade paused, thinking. "Maybe I should change your team around." She mulled it over.
"Sasuke showed himself."
"I think it was just a chance encounter. He's still after Itachi, but he was curious enough about Naruto to make a midnight visit."
"What do you mean?"
Kakashi filled her in.
A couple days latter, Team Kakashi was out on a new mission. They were still the same team members, since all the other teams were already deployed.
They traveled most of the day in silence. Naruto and Hinata didn't seem to mind, they were walking hand in hand and Hinata giggled occasionally. Sakura was growing more distant, she was walking separate and barely interacted with anyone."
Kakashi was going to say something when he realized the they were being watched. He signaled to his team and they all became alert and went into formation.
Naruto was trying to get a fix on who was watching them when the world around him changed. He was back in Konoha, but it was different somehow, darker. As he looked around he saw the Hokage monument, but it only had four figureheads not five.
I am in a genjutsu. How did that happen, I did not see my opponent.
"Your not the only one whose gotten stronger." A voice came from the sky.
It is that boy again.
"Yes. I am Sasuke Uchiha, you opponent. Your voice sound like three voices talking at the same time."
Why are you doing this?
"I have my reasons."
The scene changed. Naruto was watching a younger version of himself. He was on the monument, cleaning off graffiti while Iruka looked on.
"Your not going home until you've cleaned off every single drop of paint."
"So what! It's not like there's anyone waiting at home for me."
A new scene. Naruto was even younger this time. He was sitting alone on the swing outside of the ninja academy, crying as everyone walked away.
"Didn't I tell you to stay away from that boy!"
"But why? He seems really nice Daddy."
"Just do as I tell you."
Another scene change. It was the first day of training with Kakashi.
"Class clowns are usually the weakest links. You can safely ignore them. Lowest scores, losers."
Why are you showing this to me?
"I want to show you that you are living a lie. These are not your friends and comrades."
That is not who I am any more.
Another scene change. Now Naruto was in a dark place where a gate was standing wide open. There was a huge flame inside the gate, burning orange. However, in some places the flame was a different color. Red, black or blue were visible in spots.
"Is this who you are?"
Yes! And soon nothing will exist of those other memories. I will be completely my own person.
"Is that what you really want."
Now, scenes started flashing rapidly. Scenes of friendship and laughter. Struggles and accomplishments. Sadness and tears.
"Are you sure you want to forget all of these?"
These were not my only memories. They caused me pain and confusion. They also worried everyone around me. I made the decision to bury them all.
"Are you sure you buried them?"
More scenes were coming faster and faster. They were starting to cause Naruto pain again.
THAT IS ENOUGH! I know who I want to be! I am crating my own memories! Naruto began to build his chakra and fight back against Sasuke's genjutsu.
Meanwhile, everyone was fighting off Akatsuki members. Sakura looked over to Naruto, he was just standing there, but even stranger was that none of the Akatsuki were going near him.
Hinata suddenly cried out, went down to her knees and grabbed her head. Kakashi had to block an attack from hitting her.
Kakashi looked over and could see orange chakra surrounding Naruto. "Itachi."
No one knew it was really Sasuke, since he was just out of sight. With Naruto fighting back it was getting harder to maintain his genjutsu. "Hurry!" He said in a strained voice to the Akatsuki around him, blood flowing from his eyes.
The Akatsuki made their finale move. Before Naruto's comrades could reach him, the Akatsuki surrounded him, made hand signals and they all vanished.
Sakura stopped, stunned. "What happened? Where did they go?"
"It was a transport jutsu." Kakashi said. Damn it! How did we get so careless!?
They all just stood there stunned.
Once bank in the village, Kakashi filled in Tsunade. She then called a special meeting of all of Naruto's friends and explained the situation.
"So the question is, what is our next move?" Tsunade posed to the crowd of Kakashi, Sakura, Hinata, Shikimaru, Choji, Ino, Neji, Lee, TenTen, Shino, Kiba and Akamaru.
"We go after him, of course!" Kiba said. Everyone in the room nodded, that is everyone except for Sakura.
"But it's not Naruto." Sakura said quietly. "The person we knew is gone."
Everyone turned to looked at her in disbelief.
"What! How can you say that!?" Kiba growled.
"Because you don't have to be around him all the time! Looking at a ghost and imposter!" Sakura's face reddened. She felt terrible for what she was saying. "I can't pretend anymore!" She put her head down.
Neji walked over to her. "I can understand how you feel, but this isn't about just saving Naruto. It's about helping someone in need."
Sakura lifted her head, eyes wide, "Someone in need?"
Neji nodded. "It has been difficult seeing someone trying to be Naruto, but the way to keep our Naruto alive is by upholding his values and beliefs. Our Naruto would never turn his back to someone in need."
That's right. Our Naruto…My Naruto wouldn't let the Akatsuki take anyone! Sakura smiled and nodded.
Tsunade was going to say something when a voice came from outside the window. "Plus, this can be our chance to give a blow the Akatsuki." Jiraiya said as he dropped in from outside of Tsunade's window.
"Jiraiya what…oh, never mind." Tsunade shook her head. "Alright, this is going to be a volunteer mission. These are the most dangerous enemies that we have faced in a long while. I want everyone to be clear on the risks, some of you may not make it back. So, if anyone's doesn't wish to go, please leave the room now."
She waited a few moments, but no one moved. Just as I thought. A slight smile touched her lips. "Ok! Jiraiya and Kakashi you are co-leads on this mission. Everyone will answer to you two. Now, how are we going to find them."
"I can lead you to him." Hinata had been quiet this entire time. She had been holding her head in pain. Now she had a very determined look on her face. "I can feel him. He's in a lot of pain right now. I don't think he can hear me, but I can tell where his thoughts are coming from."
"What is he saying?" Tsunade asked.
"To stay away and not to risk ourselves for him, but it's mostly just pain."
Tsunade nodded, "Well, he doesn't have a choice about it. Alright, everyone, move out."
They took two days to prepare, checking with Hinata to see how Naruto was doing. "We need to hurry. The next morning, everyone set out.
Tsunade watched from her office. "Shizune, contact the Village Hidden in the Sand. Let them know the situation and ask if they would be willing to be back up."
"Contact the Sand?"
"Yes, they reached out to us when the Kazekage was taken. Granted, Naruto isn't a Kage, but…"
"You want to let Gaara what is going on."
"If he doesn't already."
Shizune nodded and left Tsunade, who continued to watch out of the window.
For Hinata, the days dragged by. Each day the pain was worse and Naruto felt more and more distant. I wish Gaara was here.
A week went by and everyone was getting concerned. Gaara was already gone by this point. Sakura thought.
Hinata lead them to the mountain range that made the border of the Lighting Country. She walked around as if searching for something. "Here! He is on the other side!"
Another mountain, huh? Thought Jiraiya. I think I've had my fill of mountains. He thought back to all those months ago when he was helping Naruto find Sasuke. He should have listened to me. I told him that he should have forgotten about Sasuke. Jiraiya shook his head. What's done is done. I need to focus on the here and now.
Kakashi had sent Neji, Lee, and TenTen to look for any signs of traps since they had experience with the Akatsuki traps when they helped to rescue Gaara. Half an hour later they reported back. There was nothing in the immediate area.
"That means they've saved everything for inside. We will need to be twice as careful." Jiraiya said.
Kakashi was going to respond when Hinata groaned in pain and grabbed her head. Sakura went over to her. Hinata gave her a weak smile. "I'm sorry. His presence is fading quicker. We are running out of time."
Hinata was becoming more and more demure, back to her old self.
Jiraiya looked at her, then turned to Kakashi, "It seems that as the Akatsuki draw out the Nine Tailed's chakra, the influence over Hinata is lessening. I wonder if Gaara is going through the same thing?"
Kakashi nodded, "We need to move and take the offensive. However, we need to cover a lot of ground with one shot."
"Do you have a plan?"
"Of course." Kakashi gather everyone to him. "Alright, this is how we are going to proceed…"
Inside the mountain, members of the Akatsuki took notice of the activity outside.
"Damn! How did they find us so fast? We still have a long way to go with the Nine-Tail." Kisame remarked.
"Don't worry. We can keep them at bay while we finish." The leader of the Akatsuki spoke, all you could see of him was his outline and his eyes. "Besides, we have someone very special to fight them off. That is, if he wants his reward."
Sasuke stepped out of the shadows. "I'll do what ever it takes. Just remember, I get Itachi at the end of this."
The shadowy leader nodded. "Everyone, back to concentrating on the Nine Tail."
"Wait for my signal." Sasuke spoke to his allies who nodded, also from the shadows.
Kakashi had made four teams that fanned out around the base of the mountain. They were waiting for Kakashi's signal to proceed. The teams were set up in three person teams. Physical strength would go in first, second, those who can paralyze the enemy, and third attack. So the teams were set up as : Team 1 - Sakura, Shikmaru, Kakashi. Team 2 - Lee, Ino, Jiraiya. Team 3 - Choji, Shino, Neji. Team 4 - Kiba & Akamaru, Hinata, TenTen.
"Hinata I know you don't have a paralyzing jutsu, but your defense Byakugan, plus you work well with Kiba." Kakashi said when Hinata asked what she should do.
The plan was to punch a hole into the chamber where Naruto was, then freeze the initial attack, and the third member would initiate an attack in the confusion.
They were all in formation and waiting for the signal.
You better wait for us Naruto. Sakura thought. Come one Kakashi-sensei. She looked over her shoulder at him.
He was gathering his chakra so that he could use his Manuko Sharingan. He opened his eyes and gave the signal.
They went in as planned, however, they met no resistance. As the dust settled, they took in the sight in front of them and regrouped.
Standing on what looked like giant stone fingertips were members of the Akatsuki, some were solid, others looked like shadows. There was a huge stone idol with nine eyes, eight of which were open. It's mouth was open as chakra flowed into it from someone suspended in the air.
"NARUTO!" Sakura called out. Is this what happened to Gaara?
The teams fanned out, getting ready to attack.
A voice came from one of the shadowed figures. "You are too late. Once the ritual is started, it cannot be stopped. The Nine Tail's power will be our soon."
"Not if we have anything to say about it!" Jiraiya said, walking forward.
A few of the Akatsuki members came down from their positions. Itachi Uchiha being one of them.
"Damn you Itachi! What Sharingan trick did you use to get Naruto? Jiraiya yelled. After all of my training, the old Naruto would have been able to handle him.
"What makes you think I am the one who captured Naruto?" Itachi asked in a cold tone as he looked down to a figure below him.
"I'm the one who handed Naruto over to the Akatsuki." Out of the shadows stepped Sasuke.
This startled everyone and then them made them angry, especially Sakura. "WHY!? Why Sasuke? All Naruto ever wanted was to protect you! Why would you.." She was so angry that she couldn't finish her sentence.
"It was a way to get to Itachi. Nothing more, nothing less." He drew his sword as he spoke He charged it with Chidori and prepared to attack.
"Akatsuki stay back. Let Sasuke handle this…if he can." The shadowy leader said.
No one had noticed that the idol's ninth eye opened half way, then cracked.
"Sasuke's mine! No one else touch him!" Jiraiya growled.
"I'm ready for you." Sasuke replied with no emotion.
As everyone moved forward to attack, Hinata cried out and collapsed. At the same moment, the chakra flow suddenly stopped and everyone watched as Naruto fell. He hit so hard that he flew back up into the air and fell again.
Sakura was horrified. As she ran over to Naruto, she could hear Hinata, "His presence is gone! I can't…I can't hear his voice any more! He's gone!" Kiba had gone over to her to try to help.
Sakura reached Naruto's body and tried using her healing jutsu. Nothing! No! Not again! Please Naruto… Her words came back to haunt her: "Sometimes I think it would have been better if he would have just died." I'm sorry Naruto! I take it back! Please… Tears were streaming down her face.
The crack in the idol grew, causing it to shift and bring some of the ceiling down. Sakura protectively covered Naruto's body with her own. After the debris stopped falling, she looked up.
The Akatsuki were is chaos. "What happened?" "We were no where near done with the Nine Tail!" "Why did the idol crack?" They were all talking at once.
So, they have no idea what's going on? I wonder… Sakura suddenly felt a hand touch her face. She looked down in shock. There were Naruto's blue eyes wide open and he was smiling at her.
"Hey Sakura why…why are you…crying?" His voice was horse and dry.
Sakura didn't know what to think. As she sat back, Naruto sat up, started rubbing his head and looked around.
"The Akatsuki? What are they…doing here? Sakura…" He looked at her puzzled.
"NARUTO!" She flung her arms around his neck and cried harder.
"Sakura, I…" Naruto was going to say something silly, but he could tell how upset she really was. "I'm fine Sakura. It's ok."
Sakura's voice had drawn everyone's attention.
"What's he doing alive? Go get that BOY!" The shadowy leader barked. But as the Akatsuki started to move, the idol cracked more and more of the ceiling started to steadily fall.
Naruto wrapped an arm around Sakura and rolled with her to avoid the falling ceiling. She never let go of him.
"Sakura…I'm not sure what's going…on, but we need…to get out of here. Ok."
Sakura nodded and released her grip. Naruto started to get up, but his legs were stiff and he fell back down. Sakura got under his right arm, "I've got you." She smiled at him.
Naruto nodded, but as he looked up, he saw… "Sasuke!" He started to move towards Sasuke, but Sakura's grip on him tightened. Naruto looked at her , she shook her head. "But…" Naruto started in a confused voice.
Jiraiya jumped down in front of them.
"Pervy Sage! Where…where have you been."
Jiraiya smiled at him and couldn't help reaching out and messing up Naruto's hair. "You had us worried kid."
"Hey, stop! Us?"
Jiraiya pointed to all of Naruto's friends who were fighting back the Akatsuki who were trying to get to Naruto.
"When did…reinforcements…get here?"
The idol cracked wide open this time. Chakra came pouring out of it in different colors and different sizes. Eight in all.
"I guess the tailed demons are free now. Come on, let's get going before this whole place comes down on us." Jiraiya said as he got under Naruto's left arm.
Naruto looked towards Sasuke again, he had stayed out of the fray. This time, Sakura looked too.
Sasuke had been watching everything with what appeared to be very little interest. When Naruto looked at him the second time, Sasuke recognized the look, that pleading look of lost friendship.
Sakura, however, had a quite different look. Sasuke turned to leave, a slight smile on his face. I get it Sakura. I'll stay away from Naruto, just keep him away from me. I'll get Itachi another time and in another way. The smile left his face, he signaled to his allies, and they left.
The Akatsuki retreated, as did the Leaf shinobi.
Once outside the mountain everyone come running over to Naruto, but no one knew what to say. Hinata came close to Naruto, smiled and blushed.
"I'm alright, really. Just a…little confused. Kakashi-sensei, will you…tell me what's going on?" Naruto's voice was still strained, but it was getting easier for him to talk.
I guess that's what happens when you don't talk for almost four months. Kakashi smiled to himself. "Let's get back to the village, then we can fill you in."
"Naruto!" Jiraiya said in a voice trying to be harsh, but not quite pulling it off. "Do you understand that enemies are all around us!? Are you trying to give away sensitive information?"
Alright, alright, shheesh."
But Jiraiya smiled. That's the Naruto I know.