Categories > Anime/Manga > Naruto > For Him I Would Die

Chapter 3: Assumptions and Mistakes

by Lourdes 1 Reviews

Nerves are fraying, the rescue plans are crumbling, and soon Team Naruto will have to go up against those they never in their lives thought they'd have to fight!

Category: Naruto - Rating: R - Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama, Romance - Characters: Chouji, Hinata, Ino, Kakashi, Naruto, Neji, Rock Lee, Sakura, Shikamaru, Tenten, Tsunade - Warnings: [!!!] [V] - Published: 2007/04/24 - Updated: 2007/04/24 - 5517 words

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Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, Kakashi (sob) or any of the characters. I do this because I have an overactive imagination and a borderline obsessive love of anime.

Chapter Three: Assumptions and Mistakes


---

Tadashi pulled both his fists away from the boxes' walls. He wasn't scared of bumping his head anymore.

His box had moved; the mean men had carried it somewhere. It felt like riding in a cart, all bumpy and wobbly. He had hoped the mean men were going to let him out but they didn't. They had dropped the box on the ground hard and that made Tadashi yelp a little when he fell over. Someone had hit the lid and told him to be quiet, so Tadashi listened. He didn't want them to open the lid and hurt him again.

Thunder was booming outside of his little box again and Tadashi cringed, dropping the chalk he was still holding. When the thunders' growl went away he started looking for his chalk. He didn't want to lose that, too. He squinted hard for a long time and scared away the dark again, seeing his chalk by his foot.

He didn't have Kyuubi and the thunder was getting closer. He could see the trees outside of his box and they were moving a lot. Just like the big tree outside his bedroom window moved when a really mad storm came. His box was next to that little house now; he could see that there was a man inside of the house. He was just sitting there all still and boring and not doing much. There were bunches and bunches of weird looking sticks all around him. Tadashi didn't like those sticks, but he didn't know why.

He wanted to get out of this box. This box wasn't big enough to keep out the thunder. He wanted to go somewhere big, like daddy and Granny Tsunade's office. That place could be real quiet when Granny and daddy wanted it to be. Tadashi didn't like places where you had to be real quiet, but he really didn't like thunder.

He picked up his chalk again. It was getting crumbly from being in his pocket for a long time. Mommy would scold him for dirtying his nice clothes again with the blue chalk. But she always let him keep it. She smiled when he drew Neji's thing on his forehead.

And then Tadashi felt really, really smart.

Neji! Neji had that blue thing on his face that said he was smart and strong and brave.

Tadashi didn't have Kyuubi, like daddy, but he could have a blue thing, like Neji. The little boy began to scribble across his forehead, trying his best to make the same lines that Neji had on his face. His skin felt all itchy, so he knew the lines were there.

He pushed the crumbly bit of chalk into his pocket again. He felt brave. Very brave! And maybe he was stronger, too. He scared away the dark again and looked around. The mean men were all moving around really busy. Nobody looked at his little box anymore. Tadashi reached up and pushed at the lid, but it didn't move. Tadashi let the dark come back. Looking all around him was making his tummy feel a little sick. Daddy said whenever his tummy hurt he ate ramen, but Tadashi didn't have any ramen. Maybe after daddy came to get him they could go to Ichiraku together and eat some barbecued pork with ramen. Tadashi liked barbecued pork.

He wiggled a little. The wood was getting hard under his bottom. And then he saw a little flash of white. Tadashi moved again and the white came back. He held real still and the white stayed.

It was his sock. Tadashi could see a little piece of his white sock in the dark. The boy poked that spot with his finger, and then he could see his finger nail, too. There was a light, like when mommy left Tadashi's bedroom door open a little at bedtime and that little piece of light stayed on his bedroom floor.

He rolled over onto his belly and looked around until he saw a tiny line of light. Two boards had moved apart a little. Tadashi pushed at the little line of light with his hand and the light got fatter. He felt the wood move! Tadashi got excited and pushed harder. He could see dirt outside! Tadashi pushed very hard and the wood on one side of the light moved away some more. Cold wind came into the box with the light. The little blonde boy smiled for the first time in a long time.

Tadashi knew that the blue thing would make him super smart and strong, just like daddy and Neji!


---


The fifth hokage growled and barely resisted the urge to heave the object of her ire from her desk. And having an audience to her failure wasn't helping her mood, either.

"This is ridiculous," she muttered. Instead of acting on her ongoing desire for destruction, she bent to examine the scroll beside the orb once more. To her disappointment, the writing was just as it had been a minute prior, which meant that she already knew what she had to do. She just couldn't seem to get it right! Dammit!

"No, this is necessary," Jiraiya was surprised that in a time like this he should be the one to think rationally. Tsunade had been doing so well these passed ten years. To see her cracking under pressure once more was unsettling and - right now - unaffordable.

"I'm doing everything just as his damned records say!" She huffed, slapping a palm against her desktop loudly. A calming sigh and a moment with her eyes closed allowed her to return to her study of the instructions before her. "Open the chakra, keep a clear picture of the subject in my mind-"

"It is a high ranked jutsu," Iruka suggested, "even you may need to fail a few times before you get it right." The steely glare that met his words was enough to silence anymore helpful ideas he had. Tsunade muttered something under her breath that only Shizune seemed to hear, judging from the little 'oh' her mouth formed.

"I feel like I should be wearing some idiotic outfit covered in spangles and purple gauze." The hokage grunted softly and returned to the orb.

"Some people would pay good money to see that, I think." Her old teammate replied with his signature inappropriate timing, yet for once, incredibly, Tsunade failed to retaliate against his quip. Her eyes narrowed, widened, and then a sly smile creased its way across her face.

"Got him! He's in a crate... sealed in; you'll have to disarm the seals to get him out..."

"Which way?" Tenten's excitement grew; though the quelling look Kakashi gave her reminded the woman that she would not be accompanying the secondary team either. Sometimes the silver haired man could be so cruel!

"He's surrounded..." Tsunade either hadn't heard Tenten's question or was too involved in her imagery to answer, "though some of them don't appear to be Akatsuki. Hired thugs maybe, though that's not the group's style. I don't get it."

"That doesn't matter right now," Kakashi dared boldly, "just tell us where we have to go." He was away from the wall, his posture telling everyone that he'd be gone from that room the very second he knew their destination. For a man who could sometimes lack the emotional range of a stone carving, Kakashi's care for Naruto and the blonde man's son was as clear at the moment as rainwater, Tenten observed.

"East... then veer to the south slightly..." Gondaime shuffled through the papers on her desk and then produced a small map of the area. Her head swiveled between the orb and the map until, with absolute confidence, she dropped her pen to paper and marked a place deep within the forest. "Here."

The three men bent to examine the map, but Kakashi raised his hitai-ate and after a single glance announced that they could go now.

"Show off." Jiraiya smirked and followed the Copy-nin from the office with only a backward wave to the two women as he departed. Tenten could hear Iruka loudly questioning Kakashi as the trio hurried down the hallway. The marksman turned wide eyes upon the hokage after a second's pause.

"You're not going?" Gondaime frowned. She wasn't upset with the question, just the answer.

"Not unless things go wrong."

"You're the fail-safe?" The younger woman dared to push for more information. She wondered how Shikamaru had been able to explain certain details of the mission to the hokage without everyone else in the room overhearing. It certainly seemed Tsunade knew far more than Tenten, and the marksman had been there the entire time as well. Then again, Tenten wasn't a key player in this mission. She wasn't even back-up this time around.

"No," Gondaime's face was grave as she leaned back in her seat slowly, "more like damage control."

Tenten attention was drawn in to the streak of black and red upon Tsunade's lap. It puzzled her at first, to see the Kusanagi lying there, when it should be with the team or locked safely away beneath the mountain. But Tsunade's fingers trailed along the sheath, proving the hokage was perfectly aware that the sword was there; that it was supposed to be there.

Tenten put the pieces of her mental puzzle together. She understood why the hokage had the sword here, with her. Tsunade wouldn't be going into the fight to help save her friends, the young woman figured out. If the hokage went in at all, it would be to slay the Kyuubi. To control the damage its release would have brought on.

Which meant that Naruto would have to already be dead!

Oh, Shikamaru, you can't be serious!


---


They were coming. He could sense the presence of great chakra drawing closer and closer. Eight points, it seemed. A wicked smile spread across his face. He had known all along that the bumbling hero wouldn't know how to act on his own. He'd hidden behind that supposed strength of friendship, when in reality it was simply the benefit of the unparalleled skills of his fellows. A well constructed, massive team if ever there had been one.

But this time only one skill would matter. /MY skill/. With that skill their numbers meant nothing; their skills meant nothing. With his singular ability and a plan he could have kicked himself for not devising sooner, the threat of Naruto and his team of elites would be quashed at last. Anyone that would follow that team would be decimated with ease. The entire world would be nothing compared to Akatsuki.

Compared to /him/.

Only a singular thought pulled his attention from the impending victory. He was still debating about the boy absently, whether to kill him or to save him for later; to rear him as a protégé. Yet that could prove dangerous. Orochimaru hade nearly lost everything at the hands of that Uchiha boy. True, the little boy outside had talent and would undoubtedly prove to be like his father and grandfather; and such strength could prove very useful later. But then again there were no guarantees.

No. Better to kill the Uzumaki child then risk having someone alive who could carry the potential of undoing all of his hard work. If the boy did indeed prove to be like his father he would undoubtedly possess that same penchant for trouble and rebellion.

Ignoring the sounds of the gathering storm outside, he stood and exited the tiny hut. The men without paused in their activity to grant the man their full attention. Dark eyes fell upon the box to his right. The boy inside the sealed crate was playing with his stick of chalk again. That particular detail would have to wait. Those eight chakra points were coming up fast now and the Konoha shinobi could not be allowed to reach this place.

"Set the traps," he announced loudly, "and then go to greet our honored guests."


---


Ino could remember a time when she would have paid good money for Naruto to be absolutely silent for hours on end. Hell, once upon a time she'd have given up her diet for an entire month just to get the blonde kid to shut his trap for a few hours.

In the here and now, Naruto's silence was moving into its sixth hour, and Ino didn't know if she should be nervous or pissed.

She also felt that she couldn't handle Hinata's silence. Pulling words from Hinata had been like wrestling the last bite of dinner from Chouji throughout their lives. Hinata always had been a quiet little person. But now, watching that jet wave of hair flowing out ahead, Ino knew that this was completely different from Hinata's usual silence. This was like when Itachi died. Like when Naruto had been in the hospital. This was a silence that Ino despised; because it meant that Hinata was either two seconds from a break down or a slaughter-fest. Seeing their sweetest friend in either state was something Ino would gladly give up.

Thunder crashed, closer now than it had been earlier, and Ino was startled out of her brooding. The winds were also picking up, moving the leaves and branches around them, making it difficult to watch for human movements in their shadows.

"Perhaps we should move to the ground," Lee's voice crackled to life through the transmitter in her ear, "the trees are becoming a bit too unsteady beneath out feet."

"What's the matter, Lee," Ino snickered teasingly, "nervous?" She needed something to snap her out of this mood, and tormenting Lee was always a good time. Bonus that it annoyed Sakura at times also.

"Most certainly not!" It was so easy to get the man to rise to her bait, the blonde woman silently praised herself. At least some teammates could be counted on to let her feel normal.

"No, Lee's right," Shikamaru broke in, "let's head down. Better on the ground than-"

Naruto stopped moving ahead and it was obvious from his stance that he was not paying any attention to his friends' exchange. Hinata drew up beside him, her profile pale against the darkening forest around them.

"Naruto? What is it?" She reached out and gently touched his shoulder.

The effects of Neji's Byakugan spread across his face, yet there was nothing ahead of them; nothing to either side. Certainly nothing that should have captured Naruto's attention so fully. The Hyuuga man relayed this to the others in a voice that was barely a whisper. No one moved closer to the blonde after that. They stood a still as the wind and swaying trees would allow and waited.

"Naruto?" Hinata's pale fingers squeezed his shoulder a bit tighter still, and she watched as her husband's eyes clouded over, his brow wrinkled.

"Don't you her it?" His head cocked slightly. "No, you can't, can you? He's in my head."

"What?" Alarm bells were going off in Sakura's mind. "What did he say?" She'd had enough experience with people crawling in and out of each other's minds. Even Ino's Shintenshin no Jutsu now provoked a feeling of revulsion in the pink haired woman where it never had before.

He said that I am in his head, Sakura. I know that you heard him the first time.

Sakura gasped and reeled back, Lee's strong grip on her arm prevented her from falling from her branch. "He's in my head! Someone's in my head!" Green eyes rolled wildly, though her voice was low.

"Who is in your head?" Lee's question was echoed three times over within her transmitter by others. Sakura shook her head.

"I don't know. Someone. A man. His voice sounds familiar, but I can't place it."

Yes you can.

"No, I /can't/." She answered the unheard statement, and Lee's mouth dropped open as he watched his love converse with her mind. "Who are you?"

He's not cooperating with me; your Rokudaime. He's arguing, asking that same pointless question. With the exception of his wife, who I know will not listen to reason, you are the closest to him. You know him better than anyone. You can convince him.

"Convince Naruto to do what?" Sakura watched the Uzumaki man's back carefully. He hadn't moved; hadn't made a sound. Whatever arguments he was putting up, it was obviously all within his mind. Hinata was speaking to him quietly, yet whatever she was saying was having no effect. Sakura wasn't going to be so silent. The others needed to at least have a clue as to what was going on. They had to be ready for whatever was coming.

Tell your team all you want; they'll find out soon enough anyway. The man within said knowingly and Sakura learned quickly to guard her thoughts. Just get your friend to give me what I want.

"I can't do that." She argued, her eyes meeting with Lee's pointedly. "You're in my head, so you know that I can't do such a thing. If I convince Naruto to surrender the Kyuubi he'll die. I could never ask that of him." Further behind Lee three of the team Neji, Chouji and Ino, were fanning out and scanning the area for their unseen visitor.

Who said I was asking him for the demon?

"You're..." Sakura's mind tripped over itself and it took her a moment to recover from the revelation. "If you don't want the Kyuubi, what do you want?" The others who had been listening to her end of the conversation were taken aback. Shikamaru whispered a disgruntled epithet.

That is not your concern. You simply need to tell him to cooperate.

"Listen to me," she gritted, "I trust Naruto. I trust him with my life. If he's fighting you right now, knowing that you still have his son, he's obviously got a good reason to put up an argument. I'm not going to question that. You want help with Naruto you'd better find someone else, because none of us here will do it."

"Naruto," Lee called without tearing his eyes from his fiancée, "what are they asking of you?"

You'd better tell your little boyfriend to keep out of affairs that don't concern him.

"He wants full access to my mind." The hokage replied before Sakura could repeat the warning. "To my memories. To the places in my head that even I don't know about."

Sakura ignored the invader's warning for a moment. "What do you mean? He's got full access to my mind already? How can he not have access to yours?"

"I've had this happen before, remember. With Ino's help I figured out how to lock people out a while ago."

Bet THAT has your panties in a bunch. Sakura smirked as she taunted the man within her mind.

No response.

"You still there?" She asked, and from the far away look in her eyes, Lee gathered she wasn't speaking to any of the team. "I think he got sick of me. I'm not getting-"

Her eyes rolled back into her head and Sakura fell from her branch.

"Sakura!" Lee leapt after her, enveloping her into his arms and saving her from a landing that could have done her serious injury, or worse. "She is unconscious!" The tai-jutsu master called from bellow and Shikamaru swore once more.

"Get to the ground." He ordered hotly. "He could get any of us next." The three scouts abandoned their efforts and followed the others to the forest floor. In a flurry of orange and black, Naruto was crouched beside Sakura, checking for signs of life.

Do you feel like complying now, Lord Hokage? The sinister voice echoed within the blonde man's mind. Tell me, are you familiar with Tsukuyomi? Though I don't have the Mangekyo Sharingan like you, I've managed a version of that genjutsu that I am quite proud of. It requires telekinesis instead of a Mangekyo Sharingan and what it lacks in physical damage it makes up for in range and stamina. My version took quite a while to develop, but luckily I have plenty of patience.

"Dammit!" Naruto's fist collided with the ground between his feet. "Let her go!" Kakashi had once been trapped within Itachi's Tsukyomi, Naruto recalled. And though the stoic jounin had never even hinted to what he had experienced there were times, at the mention of Itachi's name, when Naruto would see a shadow pass over Kakashi's eyes.

The closest he'd ever seen Kakashi come to expressing true fear.

Oh very well. Truth be told, I'm just dying to hear what she thought of my little world.

A second later and Sakura's body convulsed in Lee's arms, green eyes wide and arms flailing. "Stop it! Let him go! Kami, stop! LEE!!"

"I am here, Sakura!" He ignored the beating the powerful kunoichi was inflicting on him at the moment and instead pressed her closer to his chest. "I am here, see? Sakura, calm down." And finally the writhing form in his arms stilled.

"Oh..." she choked, "oh gods, Lee. You were covered in blood. I was on this wrack and it hurt so badly and you were... there were these... things... beasts... you were screaming..."

"An illusion, Sakura," Lee said quietly, "that was all."

So it was a success then? Naruto's mind reverberated with the sickening glee of their tormenter. What a relief. So much effort; it would have been a shame if it all would have been for naught.

"I'm gonna rip your arms off when I find you, you sick son of a bitch." Rokudaime growled dangerously. There was what sounded to be a sigh within his mind.

I am not a foolish man, Lord Hokage. I am willing to admit when I am up against a wall. For instance, I concede that I can't kill your son. If he dies I lose the upper hand. If I follow through with my threat I admit fully that my unpleasant demise would follow; at your hands, no doubt. You have me cornered there and we all know this.

But tell me, Uzumaki Naruto, how do you think Tadashi would fare against my Tsukuyomi? Against hours and hours and hours of living in a world not unlike the one Sakura just visited. Against days of it? I have great stamina, Lord Hokage. What of your son? How long do you think his child's mind would last in that Hell?


Naruto stopped breathing. He couldn't will the air into his lungs anymore. It felt as if there were a steel band constricting tighter and tighter around his chest. Not his boy. Not his Tadashi. Not his precious, precious little boy.

"Don't do that," he breathed, "please don't. Please." Hinata didn't know what that man had just said to Naruto, but she was certain it involved their son. Naruto wouldn't have worried about anything else so much, she was certain.

"What, Naruto?" She cupped his face in both hands when he failed to respond. "What is it?"

"I've... I've got to give in." Those bright blue eyes that smiled almost by reflex normally were now so full of terror Hinata almost broke into tears. "He'll put Tadashi in that place if I don't. He'll leave him there. I can't..."

"That place?" She knew when his eyes trailed over to Sakura, and the medic's mouth hung agape.

"He... he can't." Sakura sputtered. "Tadashi would... it would be too much for him. He's just a boy, for gods' sakes!"

Have you made your decision?

"If you find what you're looking for, do I get my son back?" It was a weak, pitiful plea, but one that Naruto could not help but make.

"Naruto, no! You can't know what you're agreeing to!" Shikamaru was positive he'd be the only one to argue. The others weren't thinking this out fully. They weren't considering the full force of the dangers that could be involved. Naruto knew things that even he wasn't aware of. He had given up the secret of his father's seal four years ago, when Sandaime had been thought to have taken that secret to his grave. Obviously there was something of great import buried in the man's brain of Akatsuki was going through such trouble just to get into his head.

"I'm saving my boy from something that would destroy him, Shika!" Naruto shrieked. "I'm doing my job as a father! You guys are here to protect the village, but I'm here for Tadashi. Got it?"

The Nara swore, but a scathing glare from Neji and the resolved words Naruto had spoken told Shikamaru that arguing was pointless. Dammit, why did things always turn into a major pain in the ass around him?

Naruto's focus returned inward. "You never answered my question. Do I get Tadashi back if you get what you're after?"

You'll have the boy in your arms before the end of the day today just as long as I find what I'm looking for.

"The end of the day." Naruto relayed to Hinata, who nodded after a moment. What choice did they have, after all? "Fine. Take what you want. I won't get in your way."

"Son of a bitch." Shikamaru hissed and reached into a specific vest pocket.

Naruto staggered slightly in his crouch and plopped down onto his knees, his eyes vacant and expressionless. Hinata supported his shoulders and watched his face closely.

"Ino, can you get in?" Shikamaru said softly. "Can you watch for what it is this guy is after?"

"I'm on it." Ino replied and thrust out her hands and consciousness in her signature ninjutsu while Chouji acted as her personal sentry this time.

It seemed an interminable time to wait. Sakura was tired of not being able to touch her enemy; of not being able to fight them with her fists. She wasn't cut out for this whole thing of fighting within the mind. She was a medic and physically strong. Her world revolved around the real world, not this.

Perhaps that's why she and Lee were such a good fit. They were both physical beings. Tricks of the mind, of things beyond the normal workings of a body, did not sit well with either of them.

Let them pummel their enemy to a bloody pulp. Let him fight with unrivaled strength and speed and let her heal their wounds when it was over. Give them a battle in the physical world any day.

Anything other than this.

Naruto's eyes came back into focus and he blinked rapidly for a moment. He stared dumbly down at his hands for a moment, as if trying to reacquaint himself with the real world once more.

"Is everything alright, Naruto?" Hinata asked. "Will they give us Tadashi now?"

Naruto didn't answer. He frowned and pushed himself to his feet, cerulean orbs locking onto the tactician.

"Why did you send her in?" He demanded. "She almost ruined everything."

"We need to know what it is Akatsuki is up to, Naruto. You're the one who pointed out that you're here for Tadashi and we're here for Konohagakure. I did what was necessary to protect the village."

"Hey, if it's over why isn't Ino awake?" Chouji broke in. The fair-eyed woman was still entranced against him, her eyes closed, her face placid.

"I told you, she almost ruined everything." Naruto replied.

"How so?" Shikamaru didn't like this. Naruto wasn't-

"Shit. We've got incoming!" Neji cried, his kekkei genkai picking out the darkly robed figures that were currently moving their way - and fast.

"She discovered what Akatsuki was looking for. She's pretty quick, that Ino." Naruto went on, ignoring the impending battle. "So I had to put her somewhere. You know, so she couldn't warn you."

"Oh gods..." Sakura breathed, watching as Hinata backed away from her husband slowly, "you're not Naruto." Kami, not again!!

"The demons were always a goal, but not our primary one." The hokage went on as though Sakura's words had never been uttered; as if they were common knowledge. "They were the back-up plan. Something for the other members to work at while I concentrated on our true goal. A nice distraction to keep the world from knowing what we were really looking for."

"How many, Neji?" Shikamaru whirled on the Hyuuga man.

"Seven incoming. With whoever is inside of Naruto and Ino out of commission we've got eight against our six."

"We've gone up against worse." Chouji was ever the optimist, something that Shikamaru was quietly grateful for. Too bad Chouji was failing to admit that things were going to be a lot harder than normal; especially if they had to fight Naruto himself!

"What's the true goal?" Shikamaru demanded of Naruto's newest inhabitant. "You brought it up, so what is it?"

"It isn't obvious?" The haughty tone of Naruto's voice melted into a voice that triggered something in the back of Shikamaru's mind. Sakura had been right, they knew this guy!

"You're right, you do know me. It's been a while, though, so I won't take offense that you can't remember me right off."

Sakura's mind was churning; the incoming enemies temporarily forgotten.

This bastard's idea of Tsukuyomi had been taken from Itachi, no doubt. Yet Tsukuyomi did not grant the ability to speak to another person's mind. And it certainly did not grant a person the ability to take over another's body.

Sakura could think of only one thing in the world that was capable of the feat.

"Fushi Tensei." She said softly. "That's what you were after; the Fushi Tensei. Naruto would remember that technique, just as he remembered the seal Yondaime had used to seal the Kyuubi. Both techniques had been used on him in the past. Even if he didn't know it, Naruto remembered them both."

"Well done, young lady." Narutos' inhabitant praised her this time. "I suppose that means Miss Ino can be released." The blonde woman sputtered to life with a bodily thrash and choking sobs, Chouji doing his best to calm her quickly.

"Who are you?" Sakura demanded, moving to boldly stand only a few inches from her best friend's body.

Neji roared and rushed passed the team, meeting the first of the invaders with his Juuken. Chouji released Ino and followed Neji into the fray, clashing against the second enemy to arrive. Yet Sakura did not as much as blink. She stared into blue eyes so bright and clear and wondered where her friend was within those eyes.

"You seem to think learning my identity matters more than learning my goal."

"I figured out what you were after." The cherry blossom barked. "Now who are you?"

"No, you figured out the tool I needed to obtain my goal. That's all." That was enough to stop Shikamaru cold. Such a revelation would not have been made unless the man within knew it was already too late.

Oh shit...

"What are you after?" He dared to breathe. "What's this goal of yours?"

"Isn't it obvious by now?" Naruto's eyes gleamed brightly and Sakura watched as the man battling against Chouji melted to the ground, and then as Chouji turned slowly back to the team. His face was cold and impassive; something Chouji could never be, even if he tried.

He's not there.

And Sakura knew before Naruto's mouth formed the words.

"You are our goal," the man within said smugly, "though we didn't know it was you until just a few years ago. Team Naruto: the greatest shinobi of our time! No one has been your match for nearly seven years. The very name of your team is enough to drive even the fiercest opponents from your land. With you, Akatsuki will bring the world to our knees. Or perhaps I should say your knees."

And Sakura screamed when a pair of arms gripped her from behind and jerked her from her feet.


---


A/N

Wow, writing in between nausea spasms is a lot harder than I thought! But things are beginning to ease up a bit and hopefully they'll continue to get better from here on. And if that happens I'll be able to pick up the pace with my writing again. YAY!

I've had this plot in my head for a while, but I was worried that the beginning of it would sound too much like "Promise" at first. I had to figure out a way to shorten up this part of the plot so that I could get passed the similarity to "Promise". That way you readers could see that this is not going down a path already traveled. So if parts of this chapter seem rushed at least you know why.

As always, comments, suggestions and any other little tidbits you'd like to write are more than welcomed - they're downright required! LOL!

You guys are great. Thanks for sticking with my work!
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