Author Note

Hi there and welcome to another chapter of Cursed Eyes.

Not much to comment and not any reviews to answer, so let's get going. There are a few scenes that I shall not write in full, because it happened just as canon.

Please enjoy.


Cursed Eyes

Chapter 29 – Red Clouds on the move

Beta: Scheffinator


News traveled fast after what happened in Konoha, despite Jiraiya's humongous efforts to run damage control.

It was indeed a blessing that Danzo had opted to destroy all records of his organization's actions throughout the Elemental Nations, or else Tsunade would have quite the headache having to explain everything to her fellow kages and even some of the feudal lords. However, it's not to say that the village came out unscathed in this mess called Shimura Danzo. The very next day, without ROOT to run their usual shadow missions, there were many skirmishes reported around Fire Country that Tsunade had to coordinate a response to.

The usual ROOT ANBU operatives were handed over to her regular ANBU forces to whittle out the ones heavily loyal to Danzo and those who were merely there, because of the old warhawk's control, which later was revealed just how the man kept his subordinates in line.

Appalling methods of servitude, quite cruel indeed…effective, but cruel.

Still, it took some time for Tsunade to handle the backlash and resume some level of control over the security of the areas near Konoha and even in the rest of Fire Country, as the Fire Daimyo, cowardly, basically delegated the country's security to Konoha. While the hidden village had performed some assignments for the Fire Lord's benefit, usually the country's overall security was handled by the Capital. Of course, the funds kept coming, so that was one less headache to deal with and it kept her shinobi quite busy with quick C and even B-ranked assignments here and there.

For the leader of the village, everything resulted in one forceful migraine most days afterward that was doused with heavy doses of sake and her cursing both Naruto and Jiraiya's very existence.

It was already late at night and Shizune had to control herself from sighing at the umpteenth time that she had to handle a drunk Tsunade.

"Tsunade-sama, please, we are almost done here…just a few more reports you have to check." Tsunade responded the usual way, waving her one hand haphazardly and holding her sake with the other.

"Ahhh…just leave me alone Shizune…I will take a look at it tomorrow." The black-haired woman loved Tsunade to death, hence why she had been with her since the tragedy that happened with her uncle and Tsunade's fiancée. But sometimes…just sometimes, Shizune just imagined Tsunade choking on a bottle of sake and passing out from the lack of air for a minute or two. Though that particular thought comes and goes, her never-ending patience supersedes and allows Shizune a couple of more minutes of fortitude to handle the Sannin Hokage.

"Tomorrow, more reports will come and it will only pile on, we had discussed this many times." Her eyebrows ticked at the groan that escaped from Tsunade's throat.

"Huh, if I knew you'd be this nagging, I would have assigned you some days off, jeez."

Despite the verbal fight, Tsunade stamped the last report of the night, before Shizune gathered all with a relaxed sigh, knowing the job was done for the night.

However…

"Wait, you just called me nagging…Tsunade-sama…I don't nag…!" Shizune's complaint was quite humorous and Itsuko, being a part of the ANBU detail in Tsunade's protection that night couldn't help but laugh at the scene. Her filling extra hours allowed her and Naruto-kun some nice vacation time by this very time tomorrow. Of course, considering her status as an ANBU and her boyfriend an important member of the Hokage's Rescue unit, the most time they were able to get was a couple of days and even then, there was the possibility of cutting it short in case of an emergency.

Tsunade, for her part, just showed a thin-line smile with her eyes closed and a saucer of sake on her hand as she commented.

"Sure, you do…good luck catching a man with that attitude." Shizune gagged at that comment, while Tsunade messily got up from her chair, heavily intoxicated by the amount of alcohol in her system.

"Oh and where do you think you're going?" Tsunade's eyes of derision and laughter only served to infuriate Shizune further, as she obviously didn't even know she was doing it yet again.

"To a nice little bar, where else…it's not like I had enough, yet."

Shizune deflated at that, knowing that her job still wasn't over for the night, having to babysit her boss. However, her luck improved by a great margin, when a figure walked inside.

"Ho, Tsunade, still drinking I see…how's it going Shizune?" Jiraiya came inside the office with his usual grin, though he found it strange when Shizune pushed Tsunade towards him with a beaming look on her face.

"Jiraiya-sama, how glad am I that you're here. Tsunade-sama was just on her way for some drinks and she could use the company. Bye!" The inebriated Tsunade just went with the flow of the push, while Jiraiya tried catching her with his only arm, while watching Shizune just walk away, not even knowing if he was there for something else instead. The perverted Sannin just sweat dropped as the brunette medic was gone before he could ask anything. Then, looking at his teammate, Jiraiya deflated, seeing as he was tagged with the mission of keeping her company for the night.

The ANBU detail had already bolted from the office at this point, as another team would be responsible for following the Hokage around the village.

Itsuko was already on her way towards Naruto's home to join in with him for some nice rest and recovery as tomorrow they had some packing to do.


===At the Bar===

Contrary to what Jiraiya thought, Tsunade's behavior became more sobered once they reached the bar.

It's not to say that they had forgotten the usual sake bottle, but at least now they ordered some dinner as well. And with food in her stomach, the liquor had less of an effect on her overall state, allowing Jiraiya to at least discuss what he actually came to discuss, while in Konoha. That being, of course, Akatsuki and surprisingly so, Orochimaru. The snake Sannin had been quite absent these last few years, after the Sand/Sound invasion and with Danzo's mission, the perverted Sannin took the blame for not focusing much on his former teammate. His regret allowed Orochimaru to pretty much do his own bidding, unimpeded.

Even if Jiraiya couldn't do much to stop it, it doesn't take away the guilt.

"So, you're saying that Orochimaru had succeeded in taking over someone's body, then." Jiraiya nodded, while looking down at his sake saucer.

"Yeah and the news isn't pretty, Tsunade…he didn't possess just anyone." Her eyes were now focused as Jiraiya's serious tone reached her ears. "One of the members of his crew is the last living member of the Kaguya Clan."

"Don't tell me…" The perverted Sannin nodded at Tsunade's look of surprise.

"Indeed…Orochimaru on his own is already an S-ranked shinobi. To top it all off, he now has control over the clan's bone manipulation and the most fearsome taijutsu techniques known in the Elemental Nations."

Tsunade then massaged her forehead, while pondering for a while. She knew a thing or two about the Kaguya Clan. Angry maniacs the lot of them, with many clansmen dying by the member's own hands on most occasions. However, she also knew that a few members of the clan, at least those who didn't die on the field or by the clan's own hands, ended up perishing because of a fatal disease, which, according to not proven assumptions, usually came with the kekkei genkai. However, Orochimaru had proven himself quite the scholar, even if he wasn't a medic-nin and Tsunade remembered that he had a sidekick that has proven to be quite skilled in the medical field as well.

"That's troubling news, indeed, though I can't tell which foe to choose from, Jiraiya…Orochimaru or Akatsuki?"

The Gama Sennin concurred, it was indeed tough to choose which was worst, though considering that Orochimaru was a member of the Akatsuki and was kicked out, made Jiraiya believe that perhaps the snake Sannin would enjoy going against the organization or at least not stand in Konoha's way as they tried dealing with the S-ranked members wearing black robes with red clouds.

"Hmm, has Kakashi returned yet from his reconnaissance mission I sent him to?" Tsunade nodded as she accepted a tray of chicken breasts.

His report was the only one she was interested in reading tonight.

"He has and you were right…the same two-man team appearing in seven different locations in five neighboring lands. They had yet to cross Fire Country, but it's only a matter of time." Jiraiya was afraid of that. If Akatsuki is coming to Fire Country, then that means that they are gunning for Naruto. After Itachi's defeat, the Organization went dead silent. Now, they are on the move and not only Naruto is, but the rest of the Jinchuuriki, in danger as well. Pretty soon, his spies will report the captures of the other Jinchuuriki, one by one.

What irked him, as well, was that so far he didn't know about the identity of these two new members.

"Do you think he's ready, Jiraiya?" The perverted Sannin realized that he was caught thinking and turned to look at his teammate's worried eyes.

"Skill wise, I believe so. However, Akatsuki works in pairs, Tsunade. In a one on one fight, he would have better odds, like his fight against Sasori. Danzo was not aiming to kill him, but rather to subjugate and have the fox and the Mangekyou Sharingan to himself. If he were, Naruto's fight would have been harder." The medic Hokage shivered at the memory. Just the mere thought of Danzo using Uchiha Shisui's eye to control Naruto was enough to send anyone over the edge. That man's machinations truly knew no boundaries and if it weren't for Itachi's thinking ahead, then they would have lost and Danzo would surely take control of Naruto.

However, at least, that fear is history now.

"What's important now is what shall we do with Akatsuki being in Fire Country, Tsunade?" The Hokage merely acknowledged the situation, while Jiraiya continued. "We can't afford to wait for them to come here, at the very least, we need to keep track of their whereabouts and perhaps engage." At that, the woman snorted.

"At this moment, nothing short of the elite Jonin we have that can hope to make a stand against Akatsuki, sending regular scouting teams would be just sending them to the slaughter, Jiraiya."

The pervert smiled, already seeing the wheels inside his teammate's head work.

"True…but at the same time, letting them walk around unimpeded, is ill advised."

"I have a plan already in motion and Shizune is going to work on it by tomorrow. Though I can't state that there won't be casualties, at least the leaders shall know what to do in case one of them finds Akatsuki."

"Oh…how many teams are we talking about?"

"Eight or ten teams, composed of a Jonin and three Chuunin." Jiraiya hummed in wonder, considering everything. "Shikaku has devised the teams and the areas they shall cover, allowing us to scout all of Fire Country in the span of two or three days." The perverted Sannin scratched his chin with a knowing smile, not finding any flaws with that plan. Of course, he would be hard pressed to find a loophole when it comes to Nara Shikaku, the Jonin commander and perhaps the most intelligent man he knew.

"Well, then, at least we can start getting ahead of them, for once." Tsunade nodded, as the two Sannin teammates continued their chat. "Do you think it's wise to let Naruto travel now of all times, though?"

Tsunade's heavy sigh was answer enough.

"No…I do not. But, considering who he is and what he represents, I just don't think he's ever going to have a breathing moment. The Sharingan alone places a lot of stress on the mind and Naruto has been through a lot, already."

"Huh, still overprotective of the lad, I see…" Tsunade snarled at the comment, before Jiraiya smiled. "I am as well and indeed, the mind must be taken care of, just like the body sometimes. At least, he won't be alone."

"Worst comes to worst, he has his summons, who could provide cover for him, better than any security detail we could provide for him." Jiraiya saw first hand how vicious the tiger summons can be, in their mission to rid Konoha of the ROOT ANBU division. While neither of them grew to become giant fighters like the toads, that didn't mean that they were any less dangerous. So, Jiraiya had faith that at least the kid would be safe until they returned from their little trip.


===Next Day===

The next day, Izumo and Kotetsu were stuck with guard duty for the meantime. Just this morning, the two had sent their farewells to Itsuko and Naruto, followed by a large group of orphans and a large group of tiger summons to escort them towards a nice inn that Itsuko knew, close to the border between Wave and Fire Country. They had to spend a lot of their savings to fund the trip for the orphans, but it was worth every penny to see their happy faces, chatting, having fun and at least getting to know them anywhere but Konoha.

After Danzo's situation, Itsuko and Kasumi had discussed that it would be nice for Naruto to have this little time away from his duties.

The Hokage was reluctant at first to agree, but she understood better than most how damaging it is to one's mind to keep on going without periods of rest and recovery.

Izumo and Kotetsu had even teased Itsuko repeatedly to see her in casual clothing, instead of the usual ANBU gear, composed of a long purple skirt, white long sleeve buttoned shirt and long leather boots, of course with a long katana strapped to her waist. Naruto, for his part, dressed in jounin black style pants and a clean gray shirt with bent sleeves.

While his sword wasn't visible, it didn't mean it wasn't with him.

After that, nothing else of interest happened and the two Chuunin were quickly dozing off.

However, Izumo soon noticed when someone appeared on the horizon, running fast.

When said person approached, it became clear that it was one of the shinobi monks from the Fire Temple.


===At the Hokage's Office===

Said ninja monk was soon taken to talk to the Hokage in her office, together with Shizune and Jiraiya. The ninja monk had a big scar on his head, but aside from that, he both dressed and looked just like the other residents at the temple. What he had to report, however, caught both Tsunade and Jiraiya by surprise.

"So, they even got Chiriku, huh?" Tsunade's overall comment as she eyed the kneeling member of the Fire Temple nod in exasperation.

It caught them by surprise, since Chiriku was supposed to be at the Fire Capital, running the Fire Lord's security. Aside from that, whoever did this, destroyed the Fire Temple and killed everyone in there.

"Ah, I was out on patrol…by the time I arrived, it was too late. Chiriku-sama happened to be there for a quick meeting with the head monk."

"Most likely, it was Akatsuki." Shizune commented. "They are probably going one by one to locations in the Land of Fire." Jiraiya nodded and then turned to Tsunade as both nodded.

"Shizune, we won't let them free reign in Fire Country. Gather the teams, immediately." The brunette medic nodded and ran along to call the teams as per Shikaku's plan.

Meanwhile, Jiraiya figured that Tsunade had everything in control, so he opted to leave the premises for the time being.

He had other businesses to sort, after all, namely keeping tabs with Akatsuki's target. No matter if Naruto had Itsuko and the tigers, when it comes to Akatsuki, they could never be too careful.


===With Naruto===

One Uzumaki Naruto chose to simply take a quiet seat on a bench close to the hotel they were staying at as he quietly and peacefully observed Itsuko and little Misao having fun together with the group of children from the orphanage.

The weather close to the shore was nothing but peaceful with gentle ocean breeze and clear skies.

This was perhaps the first time he has ever taken time off from either training or going on missions. The concept of a vacation was truly alien to him, but he found himself quite enjoying some peace and quiet for once….no training…no missions to go to…no one that needed saving…just plain old rest and recovery moment, with nothing to do except to relax and free up his mind.

Of course, that was easier said than done, for one who has the accursed Sharingan Dojutsu.

Still, as he quickly learned to do, the Sharingan can also imprint joyful memories in his brain…memories of his girlfriend peacefully sleeping…of the mock angered look in Kasumi's face when Kakashi does something wrong just to spite her…and now seeing the orphaned kids playing and laughing with one another, thanks to his and Itsuko's efforts. Hopefully, those memories shall be imprinted in his mind, forever.

"What are you thinking about, Naruto-kun?" The blond looked up to his girlfriend approaching and the ray of sunlight illuminated the bang that fell over her forehead.

"Just appreciating the sight of them enjoying themselves and you as well, apparently." Itsuko smiled and took a seat next to him, as she shared the view.

"It's a nice view, indeed." She smiled when she turned and saw it. "It's quite a view to see you smiling so peacefully." Something that she had noticed right after the Danzo removal assignment, how his shoulders were much looser than before.

"Yeah, the torment in my mind…the nightmares of the Uchiha massacre no longer haunts me to sleep. It's like the Sasuke and Itachi inside of me became vindicated and were allowed to move on, if that makes any sense to you." That last part came with humorous laughter and Itsuko joined in with a nod.

"It does…thanks to you, their spirits can now finally rest. And I hope you get some rest as well."

"…if only that was possible." The ANBU knew that his life wouldn't get any easier, despite Danzo no longer being a threat.

As a Jinchuuriki, her boyfriend is still targeted by the strongest nuke-nins in existence, but she at least has faith they will manage to get through this together.

"Hey, please don't lose that smile…at least not for the duration of this trip." He looked sideways at Itsuko as she turned to the orphans this time, though her hand remained on his thigh. "For now, let us forget the troubles at home and just enjoy the now. I happen to know that little Misao wouldn't want to see her big brother sad." Naruto chuckled as he eyed the black haired girl who was trying to keep the others in line, however she was failing miserably. Right now, she was about six years old and already begging the orphanage matrons to enlist her into the academy to start her kunoichi classes. Seeing everything unfold…the kids playing…Misao complaining to them…Itsuko laughing at their antics…if Naruto ever wanted a full picture, he wouldn't be able to find a better one than this for his Sharingan to record.

"Thank you…for everything" Itsuko turned to see that serene smile once more and nodded with a smile of her own, before cuddling close to him.

"Always!"

After play time was over, it was dinner time for everyone and everyone was treated to a full banquet, before going to sleep, quite satisfied. The couple also got to put on some silk robes and share a pleasant slumber together. Naruto allowed himself one last look outside, knowing that any time now they would go back to their routine…but at least for now he could allow himself to forget about it all. Outside their room, a small green toad was watching the scene and inside the toad, one Jiraiya was as well, with a smile on his face, despite the looming situation they were about to get in.


===With Asuma and Shikamaru===

One of the teams happened to be composed of Naruto's former team, with Nara Shikamaru acting in Naruto's place. Tsunade had used this formation many times in the past and she didn't see any reason to disband them.

The team vanished quickly towards the assigned gate, but not before Asuma stopped by the roof close to Kurenai's apartment, while taking a cigarette from the packet and lighting it. Seeing the beautiful ravenette Jonin inside her apartment, casually reading a book, calmed his nerves. Still, Asuma reacted quite strongly when he heard of Chiriku's death. The man who became more like a brother in arms to the Sarutobi heir, while they acted together to protect the Fire Lord. For him to be defeated, sounded alien to Asuma.

"Asuma-sensei, shall we go?" Asuma hummed, before releasing the gathered smoke from his lungs.

"Yep, let's go." Team Asuma then vanished, just as Kurenai turned her attention from her book and looked at the window, only to see nothing out there. For some reason, though, a slight chill crawled up her spine.

'Omen...?'

Kurenai was experienced enough to understand that this feeling was not new. She had lost her fair share of loved ones throughout her experience as a kunoichi and couldn't help but wonder what would happen…however, all she could do right now was pray and hope that whatever that feeling was, wasn't what she was dreading it would happen.

With Team Asuma, the Ino-Shika-Cho Chuunin team were flying through the trees, while waiting for Asuma's directive. Shikamaru, though, caught on quickly considering his geography knowledge.

"So, we are heading straight to the Fire Temple, then." Asuma hummed, not overly surprised.

"Yes…we can track their possible steps from there."


===At the Fire Temple===

In little less than half an hour, the team arrived at the stairs that led to the now in ruins Fire Temple.

Once there, they had met with the Fire Temple's Head Monk and saw by themselves, the carnage to the place and the amount of caskets lined up, Akatsuki's victims.

"Kami, this is awful…" Ino was frantically placing both her hands to cover her mouth. Chouji was sweating at the never-ending number of caskets.

Shikamaru, for his turn, was looking straight at Asuma, who then turned to the head monk as well as the Head Monk's aid.

"Where is Chriku's casket?" The Monk looked down in sadness, just like the Head Monk.

"Actually, we have been unable to find Lord Chiriku's remains." Asuma and Shikamaru looked at one another at that precise information. For what reason, could Akatsuki want the body of a ninja monk? Normally, shinobi villages are interested in collecting the bodies of powerful shinobi from other villages, in order to research their skills, in hopes of using it against said village. However, Akatsuki had never shown any sort of inclination towards that interest. They were composed of S-rank missing-nin.

"Ah, why would they be interested in carrying his body, around?" Shikamaru turned to Chouji's question and pondered.

"If they are not interested in the body for research purposes, then there's only one more reason for them to still be carrying the body, instead of disposing of it." Asuma hummed in compliance.

"For the bounty, then." Shikamaru nodded, before pulling the bingo book for the price.

"It makes sense that a rogue organization is also in need of funds…huh, it seems there's a bounty of 30 million for Chiriku's head." Ino then turned to Asuma.

"So, if they are carrying the body, then they must be heading to a bounty's office to collect the reward." Asuma concurred and turned to Shikamaru.

"Shika, do you know the location of the Bounty's Offices in Fire Country?" The Nara genius nodded and opened up a book with the record of bounty offices around the Country.

"There are five offices in total, around Fire Country, Asuma-sensei."

"Ok, Ino, send a message to the other teams to check on them, we shall choose one and check it out." The Yamanaka heir nodded and placed the now gathered intel inside a scroll, attached to five white doves that spread in different directions, towards the other teams and one who went straight to the Hokage for the updated info. Asuma urged everyone to leave immediately, but not before the Head Monk offered a prayer for them, since they were about to engage in a fearsome battle once more.

After receiving the prayer, Team Asuma vanished once more.


===Near the Bounty Office===

The information reached the other teams quickly and each of them chose a different bounty's office to check them out. However, the teams found nothing of mention, despite finding built structures meant for a bounty's office. While neither found the presence of Akatsuki, it did not mean that they wouldn't come here eventually, so the teams opted to be positioned into key locations around the bounty offices, in case they spotted the enemy's approach. Team Asuma, for his part, soon reached one of the Bounty Offices, located in a desolate place. An abandoned selection of small shops from the looks of things, surrounded by energy cable towers and a large street path.

Asuma was at this point hiding behind a thick tree as his eyes spotted a lone figure, taking a seat on some stairs.

His eyes could figure the foe's black clothes with red clouds. Collecting his breath, he then turned to his team and signaled them to move further, in order to try and identify the enemy.

Asuma didn't need to check on his teammates to see where they were positioned. He just moved ahead and tried to gain more information about the Akatsuki member sitting on the stairs. As soon as he stepped foot on top of the rooftop just above the stairs, saw the foe more clearly. Gray hair, nonchalant, complaining to whoever wanted to hear about a guy named Kakuzu…there was a tri-bladed scythe strapped to his back, a strange weapon for a shinobi to use. Still, for an S-ranked shinobi, Asuma surely wondered why the nonchalant attitude. There was simply no concern from this guy regarding his surroundings. For instance, Asuma could attack him with plenty of different strategies and this guy wouldn't know any better.

"Oi…Kakuzu, what's taking you so long, damn it…counting money, still. I'm getting quite bored, over here." Asuma had to control himself from snorting at this buffoon. However, Chiriku fell victim to this foe, so either Asuma was seriously underestimating the enemy or this Kakuzu foe actually did all the work against the ninja monk. Asuma saw Shikamaru, Ino and Chouji positioned themselves in different places, when the door opened and steps were heard.

"About time, you finished…geez, why bother about money, anyhow." The foe grunted and Asuma now took a good look at the new arrival. Contrary to the gray haired guy, this guy had definitely earned the status of S-ranked shinobi.

"Hmmm, we went through this again and again, Hidan. Now, let's go."

Kakuzu made one step forward and stopped. Asuma had less than a second to get the hell away from his hiding position, before this foe Kakuzu appeared next to him with his arm turned black and smashed the building into pieces.

Asuma soon stood in front of the two enemies, while the man named Hidan smirked.

"Oh…so Konoha decided to come hunting after us. Quite entertaining for me…you shall provide a nice sacrifice for Lord Jashin, you heretic." Asuma cursed himself for being sloppy. Right now, he couldn't afford to engage these two.

"Hmm…Asuma Sarutobi." The smoking Jonin looked surprised at being recognized. "Well, how lucky am I to see you here…your bounty is higher than the monk." Hidan snorted as he released the scythe from his back.

"Jeez, quit it Kakuzu…with that bounty crap. He shall be mine to sacrifice." Kakuzu wasn't interested, however.

"You be quiet, Hidan." Asuma instantly signaled the rest to attack at the same time. Hidan and Kakuzu then saw a giant boulder like projectile rolling towards them at high speeds, before they evaded. Shikamaru's shadow extended at almost the same time they tried landing on the ground, but Hidan used his scythe to escape the shadow, while Kakuzu merely used a doton ninjutsu to move the land and thus move the shadow away from their landing position. Still, the bounty hunter observed Chouji and Shikamaru and only smirked in glee.

"So, an Akimichi and a Nara…no one I recognize, so no bounty to speak of. Now, where is the Yamanaka?" Asuma moved hopefully one second faster than Hidan, when Ino tried attacking from the blind spot and blocked the scythe that would have sliced Ino in half. Shikamaru and Chouji moved also and grabbed her out of the way, before Kakuzu used his fast agility to use his strong punch against the Ino-Shika-Cho trio. When his punch met the ground, it was like seeing the aftermath of Tsunade's punch.

"Oi Kakuzu…let me have them…I will give you the money myself." Kakuzu merely looked backwards to his strange partner and hummed.

"Very well, but don't be hasty…or you'll end up dead." Hidan snorted and then placed his scythe in front of him to face the leader of the bunch. Asuma, in the meantime, gathered his team for their strategy, their only viable one at this point.

"Shikamaru, Ino and Chouji, fall back and await an opening. Shikamaru, the moment you see an opening, use your shadow and bind him. I shall use this to attack him." Shikamaru looked at his leader in surprise.

"Oi, that's a bit risky, we don't know much about him." Ino and Chouji were focused on the enemy, while Asuma chuckled.

"Stronger than me, that's for sure. Now, follow the strategy I devised. Ino, support Shikamaru from a distance and Chouji, keep focusing on the other guy." Ino and Chouji focused on the tall man with the covered mask and red eyes. Being a sensor, Ino had turned sweaty and tense at the amount of chakra these two possessed. She was focusing on them, trying to measure them up against the likes of Akatsuki, while fearing for Naruto, if they ever got to him. Despite knowing her former teammate to be in a league on his own nowadays, these guys were up there as well.

"Let's go!" Asuma screamed as he charged Hidan, while Shikamaru kneeled on the ground and used his hand sign pose to extend his shadow to run interference.

Hidan's scythe versus Asuma's wind laced trench knives dancing and grinding with each other, while Hidan had to dodge the shadows at the same time. Asuma noticed the pattern of the scythe followed by the cable that Hidan used to propel himself away from Shikamaru's shadow. Still, the man was keeping himself at long distance from Shikamaru, but still in ample distance for Asuma's long range ninjutsu. Running towards Hidan, Asuma threw his trench knives and made them spin while he made some hand seals.

Katon Haisekisho (Fire Release: Ash Pile Burning)

Asuma expelled the smoke cloud and Hidan went right into it, before Asuma ignited the smoke. Shikamaru, Ino and Chouji all cheered, while Kakuzu merely snorted.

"Ah…that hurt, you know." When the smoke cleared, Hidan's skin turned dark from the blast, but it didn't look like he was injured at all as he vanished towards Asuma's position once more, who had to block the scythe with his trench knives.

Still, Asuma had the superior agility and managed to pierce Hidan's body, while extending the reach of the wind chakra. Still, the enemy only grunted at the pain, in mocking fashion, before Asuma backed up a little.

"Damn it, are you immortal? I hit one of your vital spots." Hidan once more grunted.

"Of course, you heretic. Now, enough playing, it's time for the ritual and your judgment." Asuma saw in surprise as the man began to draw a strange symbol on the ground, with the blood from his own body. It was a circle followed by a triangle inside the circle, but before Asuma could ponder on it more, Hidan was already inches from his position, having increased his agility to do so. Shikamaru's shadow kept the man on his toes, however, allowing Asuma to block the strike from the scythe. However, Asuma flinched in pain as one of the blades badly drew blood from his cheek. Kakuzu merely hummed and Hidan smirked in self-satisfaction, before recovering his scythe and licking Asuma's blood, earning a shiver from Chouji and Ino.

"It's time for your judgment now, mortal." Asuma became surprised when the man's skin turned black as he stepped on the symbol he had drawn previously. "Now, allow me to begin!"

Hidan then grabbed a spike from his holster and slammed it in his thigh. Asuma flinched immediately at the pain, wondering what the hell happened, since this foe had attacked himself and yet he was the one who got injured instead.

"Asuma-sensei!" Ino and Chouji screamed at the same time in frantic, while Shikamaru cursed. His mind was going a mile a minute, trying to understand what happened. Everything was processed…literally everything. The man's words…his apparent religion named Jashin…the three bladed spikes…the symbol drawn on the ground…the so-called ritual or judgment that this guy said would happen to Asuma-sensei. For certain, everything was connected, but to what extent, he was uncertain. It was clear that somehow this madman made a connection to Asuma. The Jonin, for his part, observed as Hidan once more moved to strike the spear into himself, no doubt for a move that would reach a vital point, one that would be the end for him.

"And now for the final moment…the moment of coronation…the moment of judgment!" Hidan was cackling like mad at this point.

"Shikamaru, Ino, Chouji, prepare to escape." Before Hidan could make the final strike, Asuma went through hand seals and positioned both hands open around his mouth.

Fuuton: Fuujin no Jutsu (Wind Release: Dust Cloud Technique)

The amazing cloud of dust left Asuma's mouth straight towards Hidan, who cursed as he placed both arms in front of him. The pain was immense from the blow, which ended up transferring to Asuma himself. However, the technique had the desired effect of creating a diversion fast enough, allowing Chouji to grab the hurting Asuma and Ino the tired Shikamaru, before everyone quickly escaped the vicinity. Kakuzu merely looked at them escaping and then looked at his teammate, coughing like crazy from the dust cloud.

"Hm, I told you not to be hasty. Now, look at you…huh pathetic. You made me lose my bounty." Hidan visibly exploded at his partner.

"Oi asshole. You didn't do anything, so shut the hell up, already."


===In Konoha===

Not knowing what happened to his former genin team's Jonin sensei and still in high spirits, the couple formed by Naruto and Itsuko casually walked towards the path that led straight to home. Everyone was in high spirits in fact as many of the kids had never left the village or even came close to knowing another city or another country. When everyone crossed the gates to the village, both Naruto and Itsuko went on high alert, considering the tension in the air. Not a second later, Genma morphed in front of the couple, with hands inside his pockets and chewing his metal senbon.

"You took your sweet time returning, Naruto." The Uzumaki narrowed his eyebrows at that. His squad captain's tone was controlled and tense, despite his usual carefree attitude on the outside.

One look at his girlfriend was enough for Itsuko to nod, in understanding that he was being called upon and quickly ushered the protesting orphans away.

Naruto and Genma merely observed and Naruto sent a quick nod in appreciation to Itsuko, before turning to Genma.

"What happened?" The squad captain turned to his protégé subordinate and hummed.

He considered telling Naruto what happened to his former teammates, but in the end, thought against it. All his questions would be answered by the Hokage.

"Suit up and meet me at the Hokage's Office in five minutes."

Naruto looked surprised at that, before nodding and leaving in a quick shunshin to stop at his house and gearing up for a new assignment.


===At the Hokage's Office===

Once he arrived at the Hokage's Office, Naruto caught up to Shizune's report about Asuma's condition. Genma was already there, together with Kakashi. While Shizune's report indicated that despite Asuma's injuries, the medics managed to stabilize his condition, all Naruto heard was that his former sensei got injured…after facing the enemies that were after Naruto.

"What happened to Asuma-sensei?" Tsunade expected the urgent tone in his voice, despite expecting a better level of control from a Jonin.

"Akatsuki happened, Naruto." Tsunade's eyes were narrowed as she explained everything that happened, while intertwining her hands beneath her chin. "Considering the reports of Akatsuki's crossing the border to Fire Country, I had personally deployed teams to run reconnaissance….to see their whereabouts. If they came here, we needed to know in advance." The blond Jonin nodded, while Tsunade continued, this time with her hands on the table. "All of the teams found nothing, except Team Asuma, who apparently found the enemy leaving one of Fire Country's Bounty Offices…their order was never to engage, but when it comes to Akatsuki, you just can't hope to escape, without putting up a fight. Shikamaru paired up nicely with Asuma, but still he had chosen the best course of action to escape."

After the quick report, Naruto breathed easier.

"Ok, so Asuma-sensei is fine, then." Tsunade nodded, however she wasn't done.

"The fact remains that these foes are still in Fire Country and we need to go and hunt them down, hence why I asked Genma to bring you here as soon as you arrived." Naruto narrowed his eyebrows and immediately got into mission mode.

"Understood, what's the order?" Tsunade turned to Kakashi and Genma.

"You three are to head straight out and engage them, but first head to the Hospital and meet up with Asuma and Shikamaru and catch their report. They have intel on the enemies."

Kakashi and Genma nodded, before all three jounin vanished.


===At the Gates===

After getting everything from Asuma and Shikamaru, the three Jonin marched straight to the gates.

Meanwhile, as the three Jonin passed by the gates and vanished towards meeting up with Kakuzu and Hidan, a green toad was on the trees, merely observing.


Author Note

Ok, that's it for now.

Well, this shall be quite interesting. I bet that some of you thought I would maintain canon and kill Asuma, huh?

Now, who shall face Kakuzu and who shall face Hidan? What will happen? This is quite exciting, indeed.

Please tell me your thoughts.

Next update: Nidaime no Sairin