Chapter 23

"Rasengan!" Jiraiya shouted while holding out his palms. Two large balls of energy swirled in his hands and he ran towards his student.

"Shadow clone jutsu!" Naruto called forth two clones that instantly set to work. Soon, a similar swirling energy ball was formed except it was surrounded by sharp wind blades. "Rasen-shuriken!" He ran forward to meet the older sage's attack. The jutsu collided, making a blast that sent both flying in opposite directions. They landed on their feet and ran at each other without skipping a beat with fists clenched.

Naruto got the first hit in but it didn't faze Jiraiya when his face was impacted with a fist. Instead, he focused on sending the blonde back so he could use some weapons. Not that he was bad at taijutsu, he just thought that the battle should be a bit more… Interesting. They did have an audience after all.

The kitsune dodged the attempted blow at his chest and leaped into the air, performing a few quick, familiar seals. Clones surrounded him and got ready to charge at the old man while the real Naruto took out a few kunai and threw them with wires attached; he had learned a few things from Tenten. Jiraiya repelled all the clones with swift kicks and punches and narrowly avoided the sharp weapons. His eyes widened when he saw the strings attached to them and jumped out of the way when Naruto sent chakra waves down the wire and into the ground.

The force of the chakra shook the earth beneath them and the man had to jump in the air to avoid getting unbalanced. Even his chakra wouldn't stick to the ground if Naruto's was pulsing through it. He was taken by surprise when he felt wind shooting up at him. He looked down, and saw that there was already a clone on the ground using wind blades.

"Asuma sensei gave me these. Since he's staying at home with a pregnant Kurenai sensei, he wanted me to have them and put them to good use," Naruto smirked. "I've been waiting to use them in a real fight."

"Lucky you. Those weapons are powerful and Asuma loves them," Jiraiya said, impressed that the teen could use them so easily. 'He's really advanced even more while I was gone,' he thought as he dodged a few more wind strikes. He landed on the ground, as did Naruto, and they ran at each other again, this time the blonde was equipped with the obviously activated blades that were glowing with the wind nature chakra.

Jiraiya performed a few seals again. "Thousand hair needles!" His long hair hardened and thin spikes shot out, launching over the wide field and at Naruto at the blink of an eye.

Naruto quickly spread chakra to the outside of his body, making it like a small shield to try to prevent the needles from penetrating deep in his skin. He managed to quickly spread it across his torso but the needles were too quick and shot and stuck in his arms and legs. He covered his head with his arms.

He tried to avoid the rest of the needles in the ground by jumping up again and summoning a few shadow clones to do a rasengan barrage on the ground to scatter and break them. While they were doing that, Naruto got rid of the needles in his skin and performed a few hand seals. "Sexy jutsu!" There was a poof of smoke that soon cleared, revealing a pigtailed blonde in a skimpy bikini landing on the ground (or by now, we should call it rubble). "Master Jiraiya," she purred, walking closer to him. If anything, Naruto knew his teacher's weak points never changed through the years. He summoned another few clones, all dressed in different 'fantasy outfits'. There was a schoolgirl, a French maid, a sexy neko and a nurse. Jiraiya's nose started leaking blood and he smiled creepily, forgetting he was in the middle of a battle.

"Oooh, pretty ladies," he grinned before falling over, his face red (from the blood and the effects of the jutsu).

Fukasaku watched the battle, intrigued at the awesome parts, but now he was shaking his head in shame. "He hasn't learned to block that out yet?"

The battle was over with Naruto as the victor. Jiraiya was face-down in a pool of his own nose-blood and the blonde transformed back to his one sage self, dancing around in victory. "Hah! I beat you Pervy Sage!" he bragged, though the man couldn't hear him from deep within his perverted thoughts in unconsciousness. "Did you see that?! I was awesome!"

"Even after all these years, he still loses against the sight of a pretty woman," the frog sighed. "But using that last move after wearing him out slightly was smart. You really know your sensei well."

"Hahah, yeah," the blonde scratched the back of his head and smiled, letting the natural energy seep out of him and returning to his normal form. They could see Jiraiya's beard disappear too and knew he had no natural energy left either. "Well, that was fun. I WON! WOO!" Naruto started running around with an extra joyful bounce in his step. "I've surpassed the perverted sensei! Believe it!"


"Shadow clone jutsu!" Sakura said, holding the last hand seal. A small puff of smoke appeared, revealing a younger version of herself. "If you so much as touch her other than when positioning her, I will know and I will destroy you," she threatened the bruised and swollen Sai that was sitting on the ground, holding ice packs to his wounds.

"Alright, I'll be sure not to do that. Not that there's anything to tou-" He stopped talking when noticing what he was about to say and the clenched fist that was ready to be aimed at his face again. "Ok, got it," he rephrased.

"Smart boy. Now, I'll be off. Once you're done drawing her, tell her to dispel. She'll do it on her own," the pinkette walked off. "I'll be with Kakashi-sensei if you need me."

"Hm, Ino told me that Sakura likes me in a romantic way. Why hasn't she approached me nicely instead of hurting me every time we see each other?" he wondered while watching her walk away. The young clone of her stood next to him, staring off into space and not really paying any attention to what Sai was saying.

He started walking the other direction to his apartment with the clone following close behind. Once they got there, he opened the windows to let the warm breeze in. He took out his paint brushes and a blank canvas and set them up in his favorite place to paint: just a bit behind where one of the windows was. The little Sakura was positioned slightly after that. Once she was in the perfect stance with the right amount of light flooding around her, he told her to freeze.

Several paint brush strokes and colours later, he stepped back, only slightly pleased with his work. "Hmm, there's something missing," he mumbled. "Stay there, young Sakura, I'll be right back," he said as he spotted something outside. A few minutes later, he repositioned her to paint the background.

Once he got the last details in, he was extremely proud of his work, for once. "It's pretty," the clone smiled once she saw it.

"This might be one of my best creations yet," he smiled slightly, looking over every little stroke, not finding any mistakes. He then turned to the clone. "You can dispel now. Thank you for your assistance," he said. She nodded and disappeared in a puff of smoke. He then turned back to his painting. "Now what should I call it?" he wondered. He thought for a few moments before hanging it on the wall and writing under it. He found it a bit cliché, but it was the best title he felt he’d ever come up with.

‘In Bloom’


"So you really weren't kidding, huh?" Sakura raised an eyebrow, putting her hands on her hips. It was pretty much the same conversation that Kakashi had with Sasuke. The disbelief from one and slight offense from the other. "Alright, just don't kill her."

"I would never kill a magnificent creature such as this," Kakashi gasped dramatically, wrapping his arms around the walrus as much as he could. "She's my new best friend!" The rosette rolled her eyes and tried to think of anything better she could be doing while the albino left the water and started to dry off.

'Working at the hospital, visiting Ino-pig, running errands for Tsunade …' 'Inner' listed.

"Sasuke ran off before he got the chance to truly know this wonderful creature, so can't you take a chance on it?"

The medic's eye twitched. 'Stupid sensei... Knowing our weakness... Out of everything else there is, he just HAD to go with the low blow. He just HAD to give us an opportunity to be better than Sasuke.'

"Fine, I'll take care of the stupid walrus with you," she sighed.

"Her name is Maiya and she belongs to one of my friends," Kakashi smiled under his mask.

"Why in the world does someone trust you enough to take care of their pet?"

"Maybe because I'm so good with my summoned dogs," he shrugged. "Now strip down and play with her in the water."

"Hey! Why can't youdo that part alone?!"

"What? So eager to see me work without clothes? Oh, Sakura, you should already know that there is no need to be subtle," he winked. "You can just ask anytime and I would take off my clothes just for you-"

"Pervert!" Sakura yelled, punching Kakashi into the water where Maiya -once again- happily joined him.

"You kids these days... Even Sasuke did the same thing an hour ago," the masked Jonin fake-cried.

"You deserve it. Even if it's an opportunity to one-up Sasuke, I'm not putting up with this today," the strong kunoichi stormed away toward the hospital to do some work there, leaving the older man and the walrus alone in the lake.

He turned to Maiya. "I guess it's just you and me again," he whined, petting the happy water creature.


"So this is what you guys do all day?" Sasuke asked, laying down on the grassy hill.

"Yup. Cloud watching is the best thing ever," Shikamaru smiled, keeping his eyes on the fluffy white clouds that were dotted across the blue sky.

"And it's even more enjoyable with snacks, though that goes for everything," Choji took out a few bags of chips. "Do you want some, Sasuke?"

"No thanks," the Uchiha said.

"I have ketchup flavor."

There was a moment of silence before Sasuke reached out for the offered snacks, which the kinder ninja placed in his hand with a smile. They laid on the hill, relaxed and calm, with the only noise being the casual crunch of the chips.

"Hey, what's that?" Choji asked, pointing to a flying object.

"It looks like a messenger bird from Suna," Shikamaru squinted.

"I wonder if something's happening," Sasuke mumbled.

All three stared at the bird for a bit longer before shrugging and laying down again.

"If it's important, someone will tell us."

"There's no point in worrying. Too troublesome."


Sasuke took the cloud-watching time to think about how to get more information out of his mother. 'I know something's up with my brother and Ameji. She seemed too tense when I brought them up. She would tell me if they died, and unless it was an ANBU mission, she usually tells what kind of mission Itachi's on. Of course, if she didn't know then it would be pointless to ask, but she's not good at lying to me. They're hiding something.

"Hey, Sasuke," Shikamaru caught his attention. The Uchiha turned his head to look at his comrade (that he was seriously thinking of promoting to friend).

"Yah, what?"

"Whatever you're worried about, just let it go for now. If it's important, it will come back on its own."

"Hn. You're right, but my own mother lied to me and I want to know why."

"Well maybe she did it to protect you," Choji spoke up.

"No, she wouldn't lie to his face even if it was to protect him. The Hokage probably ordered her to keep her mouth shut. I wouldn't argue with it though since she knows best," Shikamaru closed his eyes. "You'll find out in time."


They then went back to watching the skies in peaceful silence.


"I feel terrible," Amejisuto fell backwards on her bed. "We killed an innocent man with a bunch of criminals."

"We joined this group, so we have to participate," Itachi reasoned, also drained and feeling guilty.

"We didn't even want to join though! Wasn't the only point of getting you to join to not have to fight against you when they go after Naruto and start wars?"

"Yes, but the more they use me while they can, the less work and strain they have to carry themselves. At least, that's why I think they're doing this to us. I don't mind that they use me for simple missions that the Hokage would send us on, but extracting a demon is completely different. Even if they use me, I don't want them to use you too," he took off his cloak and the wrappings on his arms and legs.

"I wish I wasn't so helpless against them. If I wasn't, we wouldn't be here right now. We would be having lunch with our family!"

"Our family?" Itachi smirked.

The brunette blushed and looked down. "Well once I marry you, they will officially be my family, but since I've lived with you for a while before we got dragged here, I had already thought of you guys as my other family. Your father still scares me a bit though."

The Uchiha chuckled slightly. "He scares most people, even me sometimes."

"You get scared?!" the Ishi seemed astonished.

"Yes, I may be an awesome Uchiha ninja but I still have my fears. Only a few though," the Uchiha joked, happy to distract her.

"What are they?"

"Well, my worst fear is harm coming to you, and then it's my brother getting hurt, and I'm slightly scared of my father but mother scares the crap out of me when she's angry," he joked. He looked at his fiancée's face and saw she was blushing even harder.

"Why do you always do this to me?"

"What do I do?"

"It's as if you enjoy seeing my face turn red," she looked away. "Always saying mushy and embarrassing things... It’s even weirder since it’s pretty new.”

"I don't say anything that isn't true unless it's an obvious joke," he smiled softly.

"I think you care too much about me," she mumbled.

"I could never care too much about you. You're the most important thing in my life-"

"That's exactly what I mean! It's weird hearing you talk like that and especially since it is about me."


"It always makes me blush and I can't take sweet things that well, if you haven't noticed. I can cuddle without shame but words just set off my embarrassment and stupid blushing," she ranted. She got pulled into a hug.

"So what you're saying is that I can be as cuddly with you as I can as long as I don't say any ‘weird things’?" he whispered in her ear.

"Y-yah," she stuttered.

"How about this: I'll keep saying those things and I will keep in physical contact with you as much as possible so it's a win-win," he smirked.

"What? No fair!" she protested before he grabbed her and pulled her onto the bed, holding her close.

"Just as a favour to you, I will only do these things when we're alone. Is that better?"

"Of course it isn't!" Itachi smiled and held on tighter to her as she tried to squirm out of his grasp before sighing and giving up. "Fine, do whatever. You will just owe me big time."

"For what? Making you react a certain way that I can't prevent?"

"You can prevent it by not saying anything! So in order to pay me back, you have to… Have way more chores than me when we're married! And when we have kids, you have to be the one responding to their screaming in the middle of the night," she listed from the top of her head. When he stayed silent, she ran through the last sentence in her mind before turning bright red again.

"Planning our future already, Ameji? I bet you're envisioning a house filled with hyper children and us sitting on rocking chairs with me reading the newspaper and you feeding the newest baby," he teased.

"Oh shut up!"

"Now, now, that's no way to treat the future father of your children," he poked her cheek.

"Gah! I didn't mean it that way!"

The door burst open, revealing a grouchy Kisame. "Will you stop being so lovey-dovey after ten please? I'm trying to get some rest.”

"Hey! Ever heard of knocking?" Itachi threw a pillow at the criminal. "Go back to the blue man group and leave us alone." Ameji was amused to see his comment turning the shark man's face red. 'How does that even work?' she wondered, laughing. They heard someone else snickering from the hall.

"Who knew the serious Uchiha was secretly funny, yeah," Deidara appeared and turned to his partner. "But he's right. You should go back on tour and stop bugging everyone."

"Shut it Blondie," Kisame snarled before walking off.

"You know, if he wasn't so touchy when people made fun of him, I think he and I could be good friends," Amejisuto thought out loud.

"What?! Be friends with fish face?! Why, yeah?" the bomb enthusiast asked, wide eyed. Itachi's expression was the same, but he kept quiet to listen to her answer.

"I don't really know... I feel like he would be a fun person to joke around with. Kinda like a reckless brother or something," she shrugged. "It's hard to explain."

"You are one weird chick," Deidara shook his head, smiling. "Well I'm off to bed, yeah. See ya!"

The two Konoha-nin stared at each other for a moment before Itachi pulled Ameji down, trapping her again with a sly grin. “Now, we were talking about your compliment intolerance?”

"You two are an extremely cute couple," Konan interrupted, startling them. They had yet another visitor.

"Thanks I guess?" the brunette mumbled, unsure of how to respond.

"I just came by to tell you that Pain and I are going on our mission. Orochimaru and Kakuzu are in charge, but if they hurt you at all, they will perish. Do not try to escape. You may use the training grounds, but Zetsu will have to supervise," she listed the rules as if they were children and she was their mother.

"We understand, Konan," they both answered. The woman gave a small smile.

"Good. I will see you all in a few days," she closed the door and they heard her footsteps slowly fade.

"Well, it's getting late. We should sleep," the Uchiha suggested.

"Okay," the brunette took off her cloak and bandages. They both took turns changing in the bathroom and getting ready to sleep. Itachi turned off the light and hopped into the vacant bed, putting his arm over his fiancée as he usually did. She turned over so they were face to face. "I have a question for you," she said, breaking the silence that had barely settled since the lights turned off. "And you have to promise to be honest, no matter how much it could hurt me."

"I promise," he reluctantly agreed. He didn't like the idea that the answer would result in her pain.

"How do you truly feel about leaving everything behind just to go after me?" she fidgeted nervously.

"The only thing that saddens me about this situation is that you seem to have no faith in us getting out of here. I do miss my family, but even if this happened again, I would still choose to go after you no matter what. Like I've said, you're the most important person to me," he brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes before cupping her cheek softly. "I love you more than anything."

She smiled softly at his response, her eyes closing slowly as she started to fall asleep. "I love you too. But I gotta ask… How have you managed to hide it from me for so long?"

"It wasn't easy, but once you get trained with the ANBU, it's less of a challenge.” He looked down at the now-sleeping girl and kissed her forehead before giving up his consciousness as well.

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