Chapter Five

Hinata was glad to just be able to focus on recovering chakra as she was held in Naruto's arms. She was also glad that the original held her, though she was unsure if it was because she was closest or not. Even with Ino's link active they had their own private thoughts. It was necessary for their sanity.

In her thoughts she heard Ino ask, "What do you think about the Kyubi agreeing to help Naruto? Do you trust him?"

"No. Not fully."

"Agreed. He may not be an enemy, and I do think Naruto really befriended him in the future, but they have not had the same experiences. We must remain vigilant."

"What did you all give Kurenai? It seemed like a lot."

"She was demanding, particularly once she learned of Asuma's death in the future. I gave her almost everything, including much of my training. It was only possible because you two were healing as I went and despite my best efforts, my memories will not perfectly slot in place. She must make them her own to really use things like the training. That will take a lot of practice, but I did all I could. I just worry she will try to go after Asuma's killer before she is ready, or without backup."

"Not if we kill him first," Hinata sent back fiercely.

"Can you prevent him from getting any of our blood?"

Hinata said mentally, "Controlling my own blood is easy enough. It is my chakra and water. You should be able to do the same with some effort. I could also just wash it away."

"Remember, if we want to kill him the easiest is to make him use his own blood in that ritual. It is what Shika did. I'll also settle for burning him until not even dust remains, or maybe infusing him with so much sage chakra he becomes stone and the shattering him. Really I'm not picky. Whatever kills him with the least risk."

Hinata agreed.

- o -

As they were running Naruto moved up to the side of Kakashi and whispered, "Itachi Uchiha and Kisame Hoshigaki are near our path. We can probably avoid them, though I believe Itachi saw my shadow clones."

"Great," Kakashi whispered deadpan. "How long until we get near?"

"Ten minutes at this rate."

Kakashi slipped forward to next to Sasuke. He said softly, "He is here."

Sasuke's eyes were suddenly much sharper as his Sharingan flared to life.

"Just a short ways away, with Kisame Hoshigaki. I am inclined to avoid them."

"Why?" asked Sasuke.

"If we fight and kill the other, then they are warned of us."

"They will be that anyway, once we fight in Kiri," Sasuke said.

"A valid point. What would you have us do?"

"Face them. I want answers."

Kakashi called a halt to everyone, "Uchiha Itachi and Kisame Hoshigaki are ahead."

Zabuza said, "So Konoha's most dangerous missing nin and that bozo. It has been awhile."

Kakashi asked, "Do you think there is any chance he might be convinced to join us? If not, we will have to kill him."

Zabuza shrugged. Haku looked on worried.

- o -

A shadow clone of Kakashi was the first to approach Itachi and Kisame where they had camped. Kisame started for his sword.

"No need. It is just a clone." Itachi turned to Kakashi's clone. "Tell me Kakashi-senpai, why are you here? Do you intend to collect our bounty. I think you will find that quite difficult."

"I came to ask Kisame a question."

The ex Kiri swordsman quirked an eyebrow and demanded, "What?"

"Would you join Zabuza in freeing your country?"

"From Yagura? We are already going to do that."

Itachi touched him on the shoulder, clearly reminding him to be silent.

Kakashi's clone asked, "Was Yagura always like this?"

"No," Kisame said quietly. "Now, are you done? We do have a mission to begin shortly."

"Have you ever wondered why a person could change like that? The only thing I can think of with such power is an incredibly powerful Genjutsu."

Itachi's eyes widened in realization. He said, "Even if your guess is correct, what business is it of the leaf's what we do in Kiri?"

Kakashi said quietly, "My team and I intend to kill any who refuse to join us."

"Do you now?" Kisame said sarcastically.

Itachi asked, "And do you believe you can win that battle Kakashi-sempai?"

"Yes."

Itachi said quietly, "We should be wary."

Kisame looked at him. "Your serious?"

The real Kakashi walked into the clearing. His clone vanished.

Itachi activated his Sharingan and looked around. "We are surrounded. Three of them are sages. The fourth's legacy is also there as well as Maito Gai, Asuma Sarutobi, Anko Mitarashi, several genin, and my younger brother."

Kakashi said, "Your mission is complete Itachi."

Itachi said, "I owe Kisame a debt that I must try to repay."

"This doesn't have to end in bloodshed. We simply want Kisame not to be our enemy. If he rejoins Kiri with Mei Terumi and Zabuza, that will be enough."

Kisame asked, "What makes you think you could trust me to keep my word?"

"Zabuza said your word was good, and we have other intelligence that indicates that it is good."

"Even if I wanted to give Kiri a shot, my current organization is not exactly known for its retirement program."

"We know. As long as Mei agrees, you may take any reasonable actions to protect yourself. If Itachi wishes, you could even remain his partner. We are flexible. Of course, it might be difficult for either of you to openly be Konoha Ninja, but we can work something out, particularly with respect to Itachi."

Kisame said, "I'm disinclined to simply give up without a fight."

Hinata walked forward, her eyes golden. "Then fight me." She activated her Byakugan. For a moment her focus remained on Itachi, before it returned to Kisame.

"You, little girl?" His sword twitched on his back. "Well, your chakra seems quite tasty at least."

"Be wary Kisame. I do not understand it, but she is a sage."

"And what would a little girl like you want to fight the monster of the mist for?"

"Your sword is attuned well to water. I want to see if I can become its master."

Kisame laughed. "You're on."

Kakashi said, "I shouldn't allow this, but everyone move back for now."

Ino's eyes glowed golden even as Naruto moved slowly to the other side of the clearing, his eyes never once leaving Kisame.

Sasuke moved closer to Itachi, but at a glance from Kakashi, remained back. He mouthed to Itachi, "I know."

Itachi gave him a single nod, seemingly unsurprised.

- o -

Kisame summoned a lake worth of water that covered the valley.

Hinata simply stepped on the top of it, not phased by the change. She said softly, "Thank you."

Kisame was surprised when six whips of water lashed out, two of which successfully battered Kisame before he could absorb the chakra with Samehada.

"A tree hugger with some skill with water. Interesting."

Samehada burped.

Confused, Sakura said, "Your chakra is yours. Do not let it be absorbed. You know this."

"Of course."

A single additional whip of water shot out, froze, and lanced into Samehada, punching through it.

Kisame yanked his sword away and jumped back. "Impossible."

"No, there was no chakra in that attack when it met your sword."

Kisame formed several sharks of water and sent them at her. She turned to them one at a time, ripping them from his control and forcing them back at Kisame, who managed to again rip control of them from her when they were almost upon him.

Four water clones formed around him in Hinata's shape. He managed to destroy two of them with Samehada, but not before two of the others managed to disable several of his tenketsu.

"This is ridiculous," complained the nuke nin, even as he pulled on Samehada to heal his injury. "We are getting nowhere."

"It is vexing," she agreed. "Even with my control it is dangerous to fight you too closely, and while I might be able to beat you going all out, it is also likely that there is a limit to how much sage chakra Samehada can absorb. I would prefer not to kill that weapon."

"How do you think you could even wield Samehada?" he asked curious.

"It is a Kiri living weapon. It can adapt."

- o -

Nearby Itachi said quietly, "It is a stalemate."

"No," Kakashi said, "It has not begun yet."

Suddenly Hinata formed dozens of shadow clones, save these clearly used water as indicated by the brief absence of water below them. Kisame himself created dozens of water clones. And then it was chaos.

"Remarkable," Itachi said. "How does she coordinate them all?"

Kakashi didn't replly.

Her clones were going toe to toe with his clones and slaughtering them by a wide variety of tactics, from simple Jyuken, to slicing wind attacks, where a miss by one becomes a hit to another, to spears of water that acted much the same. In seconds it was just Hinata with most of her clones remaining and Kisame.

She said, "Copying me with clones is not very useful. Samehada cannot be copied. If you keep it up, even you will run out of chakra."

Kisame laughed. "I like you. Are you sure you don't want to be my apprentice?"

"No, I already have a master."

"Who?" he asked curiously.

"Tsunade of the sannin."

He laughed again. "All right. I agree not to start a fight with you guys. I may even help kick Yagura's but, but you do know there is a lot more to Akatsuki than just us. The others are far more determined."

Kakashi said, "We know. Come on. Let's get going. Itachi and you can lead."

Sasuke caught up to just beside his brother. "You have much to answer for."

"I know. I heard that Danzo is dead."

"He is. He was behind the decision. The Hokage admitted to planning to kill the leaders, but he didn't plan what Danzo ordered. Why did you obey his order?"

"I do not know."

"What do you mean you do not know?"

"I suspect I was controlled somehow. I talked with the Hokage previously that day. I even agreed to help do what was necessary, but I never agreed on women and children."

"Damn, so we have another enemy, unless it is Danzo."

"Yes. There is another Uchiha in my organization. I suspect he is involved somehow."

"Who is he?"

"He claims to be Madara, but he is too young, and does not act like the records say."

"Damn."

"You were meant to redeem us Sasuke. That cannot occur if people learn the truth."

"Fuck them. I may never forgive you for what you have done, even if you really were controlled, but the people behind it are going to die."

"Agreed, if what Kakashi says is true, then it seems that Yagura may somehow have been controlled by the same Uchiha, possibly the one in Akatsuki. I will attempt to rip the truth from his mind."

Sasuke said, "The Yamanaka may be able to help. I've heard things and seen things. She is very strong."

Itachi looked at him curiously. "That seems unlikely."

"As unlikely as what just happened?"

"The power of a sage is impressive. You should obtain our summoning contract. It is a difficult path, but perhaps you can survive it, that is, if they will accept you."

- o -

Mei was surprised when their party was lead into their camp. Her eyes goggled when she saw Zabuza, and they went really wide when they saw Kisame. "Ao, is this an illusion?" she asked.

Ao appeared to blink several times with his visible eye before he said, "I do not believe so."

"So they are all real, including Itachi, Kisame, and Zabuza?"

"Yes."

Mei said, "What the hell is this?"

Zabuza said, "It is good to see you too Mei."

"Explain," she said flatly.

Kakashi walked in, hands in his pockets. "Yo!"

Naruto, Ino, and Hinata walked in next. Hinata immediately focused on Ao, even as Ino and Naruto quickly each put a hand on her shoulders.

Hinata actived her Byakugan, pointed at Ao, and exclaimed, "Return what you have taken!" Neji was not far away, and he too activated his eyes and glared.

Kakashi said dryly, "We'll there went that introduction."

Ino said, "The one next to Mei has an implanted Byakugan."

Kakashi sighed.

Ao said without remorse, "I took it from a Hyuga in the last shinobi war. I assure you he no longer needed it."

Hinata said, "I challenge you."

Neji said, "Allow me."

Kakashi said, "I understand that this is an issue concerning the Hyuga clan. I request that you defer this until after we remove Yagura from power."

Mei said archly, "What makes you think I will permit this little drama even then?"

Kakashi said, "We'll with our help you should have no problem removing Yagura from power, but I'm less than certain I could stop Hinata-san and her friends from killing you, if you got in her way. She is the daughter of the clan head and she takes those responsibilities quite seriously. Also, as the eye you obtained is from a dojutsu clan of Konoha, I have a certain duty to see it destroyed or returned."

Kakashi sighed. "Or we could just start the killing now. Our mission would fail, but I think we could eliminate Yagura on our way out."

Kisame nudged Itachi and whisphered, "I like these guys. Were they this fun before you left?"

"Not as such, no."

Hinata, Sakura, and Ino's eyes glowed golden. Naruto's chakra levels started to spike. Killer intent started to saturate the area. Kisame smiled a vicious smile.

Around them, Mei's guardians readied their weapons. Violence looked about to commence when Mei said softly, "Hold." The feeling of impending violence reduced, but only a fraction. She turned to Ao.

Ao said, "Fine, if the loss of this eye is the price to pay to fix Kiri, then I will pay it. I request to pay it after Yagura is finished and the war is over. There is bound to be someone in the battle that can donate a regular eye. For that matter, I could die in the fight and make it all a moot point."

Kakashi said, "I believe we have the makings of a deal."

Several sighs of relief were heard before Mei broke in. "Now, I believe we need to talk. I will of course want an agreement before we begin. Kakashi-kun, I assume you are the leader. Why don't you come with me and have a drink."

Kakashi smiled and went off with the pretty rebel leader.

Anko snarked, "We will be lucky if he doesn't give away Konoha the pervert."

Asuma said, "Pervert he is, but he never lets it get in the way of his job. Besides, there would be worse things that Kakashi having a relationship with a potential future Kage."

Ao said sadly, "Maybe it would hurt less if you ripped my eye out now."

Hinata said sweetly, "I can arrange that."

Not far away Neji shivered. Tenten whispered to him, "I thought you said she was meek and cowardly."

"She was."

"Not any more."

Shikamaru said, "We'll as plans go, we could just send out shadow clones of whoever has a kekkei genkai and let them chase them all back here. For that matter, Naruto could probably henge his into various forms. Taunt them a bit. Make them stupid. We could kill them as they chased shadows. Someone is going to have to deal with Yagura though, and that is not going to be fun."

Itachi said, "I will face Yagura. If he is under the influence of the Sharingan, I may be able to free him. He has answers that I wish to obtain."

Naruto, Ino, and Hinata all took a step forward. Naruto said, "Your not going alone. Even with your sharingan, fighting an jinchuriki is dangerous, let alone one your trying not to kill."

Itachi said, "Aren't you still awfully young?"

Ino said, "Aren't you an odd one to say someone is young?"

Itachi nodded her point.

Sasuke said, "I want to be there."

Itachi asked, "Can you beat one of those three?"

"Probably not."

"Then you are not going to be in on this fight. You would simply be a distraction. Live. Grow stronger. Restore our clan."

Hinata said quietly yet clearly, "Itachi Uchiha, did you know you are dying?"

Itachi glared at her. "That is none of your business."

"We could perhaps help. I know those eyes of yours put a tremendous pressure on your body. What was the last time you saw a competent medic-nin?"

Kisame said, "Our organization has a lack of such a skill, though we do know a few. I seriously doubt you can help him. Other's failed."

Sakura said, "Others were not trained by Tsunade."

Sasuke said, "I don't know the details, but I saw Hinata and Sakura heal some kind of mental damage in another ninja. The Jounin there certainly trusted them to do it."

"Very well," Itachi said, "Hinata-san. Sakura-san. You may try."

Hinata directed him to lay down while Sakura moved opposite her. Ino simply stayed closed by and helped coordinate things. There was no need to add her or Naruto directly, though she could help interpret and meld Hinata and Sakura's vision and help with figuring out what is wrong.

Itachi watched them carefully when they worked.

After inspecting him with her eyes, as well as both of their mystic palm jutsu's Hinata said, "This is complex. We can heal the damage, but the interaction between your eyes and the rest of your body is troubling. From what I can tell it is increasing over time. There must be something you do with your eyes that is aggravating this."

Sakura said, "I agree with Hinata. We can heal the damage, but we would prefer to have you see our master before we try anything more extreme."

Ino sent mentally, "Swapping his eyes with Sasuke's might help, but we aren't supposed to know that. I assume neither of you are going to suggest summoning Tsunade here via reverse summoning?"

Sakura sent, "Why? He may be technically loyal, and we may be working with him, but he still killed his clan. I'm not willing to go that far for him."

Hinata sent, "Nor am I. I can see some of how the problem is occurring and guess at a likely solution, but pleading ignorance is enough for now."

Ino sent, "Agreed."

Itachi said, "Fine. Please heal what you can. I will consult with Tsunade-san when next I am able."

Hinata and Sakura worked like a well practiced team as they healed every part of his body they could find with an imperfection, including repairing all of the vascular damage to his eyes and the surrounding inflammation.

They then got up without another word and went to rejoin the others, with Ino following.

Sasuke approached his brother. "Did it work?"

Itachi blinked and then activated his regular Sharingan briefly before deactivating it. "Their work was without fault. They show surprising skill for their age, and equally surprising coordination."

"What do you mean?" Sasuke asked.

"Medic ninja seldom work together. It requires considerable practice not to interfere with each other, yet I know neither repeated a scan or attempted a repair the other completed. It doesn't matter. I can fight now without impairment. That is all that matters."

- o -

Kakashi returned from his meeting. He said, "Itachi, Naruto, Hinata, and Ino will be with me. We will stay in reserve until Yagura is found. Asuma you are in overall command of the others and will coordinate with Mei and her forces directly. Sasuke, Shikamaru, Shino, and Sakura will be under your direct command with Gai and his team. I suggest you spend some time discussing tactics. It is beyond rare to have more than one medic ninja join a fight. Sakura, I am declaring you the primary. Since you have somehow managed to become a sage I won't ask you not to fight, but you are to do your best to avoid injury, even if it means letting some live. Your team mates are also to insure your safety, so make sure they know when your really in danger. Got it? An uninjured medic ninja with the chakra to make the difference has often meant the different between everyone surviving and no one."

"I understand. Tsunade-sama stressed that often." Sakura turned to Hinata and asked, "Do you expect to require Lady Katsuyu?"

Hinata said, "It is unlikely. I can rely on Naruto and Ino's summons if it comes to that, though if you get into trouble you may call on us, and worst case you may summon me."

"I know."

Kakashi said, "Now, I'd like to talk with Ino and Team Gai about our little plan to catch their attention."

Kakashi vanished in a swirl of leaves. Team Gai vanished in more leaves while Ino vanished in a swirl of water.

- o -

They reappeared a few thousand feet away in a clearing. Kakashi waited a few moments for everyone to regain their bearings before he turned to Ino. "Can you initially coordinate between Team Gai and would doing so be a recommended course of action?"

Ino looked at them with a hint of uncertainty. She said, "We can try it." Then in a more dry tone she added, "If they can remain focused and refrain from thinking of youth."

Neji and Tenten looked at her curiously and even smiled a small smile, while Gai and Lee looked on with faint disapproval.

Kakashi asked, "How far would you have to be away from them? Does distance matter?"

"I could manage it at a distance, but I'd burn more chakra and experience just as much mental fatigue plus the results would be sub par. If I'm going to help, I need to be with them."

Gai asked, "You intend us to lure them out and young Ino to help in some way?"

"Quite simply yes. I need bait to get them out of their fortified positions, and I need it to be good enough for them to take, but not so good as to be suspicious about. Neji's dojutsu should get them running and you do have the more experienced team. Do you think you can do it?"

Gai said, "We can."

"Just remember, your goal is not to defeat or kill any of them. Your primary goal is to stay alive. Your secondary goal is to draw as many of them out as possible so we can kill them. Beyond that, take out targets of opportunity but don't get bogged down. Once the primary mission is done Ino will return to waiting for Yagura. Ino, if this works, I want you to be careful to ration your strength. Do whatever it takes to keep everyone alive, but no more. Yagura is likely to be difficult."

Ino said, "I understand. Now this is going to take about an hour or two to establish so as not to be a really bad idea. Can you give me that time?"

Kakashi said, "Sure. I'll have to delay the others a bit, but that is no problem. Do you need anything else."

"No, just quiet."

Kakashi nodded and left.

Ino walked over to TenTen. "For now I want you to watch my body and tell me which one of them is crazier."

Neji smirked as Gai and Lee looked slighly confused.

TenTen said, "You think I've figured that out?"

"Never mind." She turned to Gai. "I'm going to start with you. Please think about the top of the Hokage mountain overlooking Konoha."

Ino's spirit shot out of her body and entered Gai. She saw him standing and looking out over Konoha.

She said, "Take my hand. See as I see."

- o -

Gai took the young woman's hand and his vision suddenly was doubled. He closed his own eyes only to see that his view was slightly shifted and slightly more crisp and vibrant. He moved his hand, only to see it out of the corner of his eye.

Ino though, "Do not close your eyes. You must adapt to the multiple viewpoints. I will assist. Now, I want you to let go of my hand, but not let go of this new connection. Focus on that. You know how to do this, for I am with you and I know how to do this."

Gai carefully let go, only to have his vision remain doubled.

Ino created several generic monsters and sent them at Gai, even as she walked around to the other side of the room. Gai proceeded to pulverize the monsters. One started to sneak up behind him, but his extra set of eyes as well as the feel of Ino wanting to draw attention to that point easily allowed him to spot it.

Ino said, "Good, you know the basics. I'm going to move on to the next. Once everyone is in the link we can practice with the least time wasted."

Ino repeated her task with Lee with similar results. Both could be serious when there was need.

Neji was a bit more surprised when he entered the link. "Your vision is really quite different."

She grinned. "Mine is normal, though yes, I do envy Hinata's at times, but then if I had that, I could not do this."

"It will take some getting used to."

"True. It is not easy, even for me, and I've had practice. There is some difference in yours than Hinata's, but not enough to distract me. The challenging part will be filtering your vision so the others can use it without becoming distracted by it. I will have to filter your vision and send them only what matters. You will have to help with this as Hinata does."

Neji asked, "How does this help me? Won't doing this plus dealing with the extra eyes and such just distract me?"

"For that we need to be in the real world. You will see shortly."

Tenten's mind was actually fun, if you didn't mind a mindscape littered with every weapon in existence. She accepted the link easily.

Back outside Ino said, "Okay we have a primary link. The goal of me helping is to make sure none of you get killed. That will take practice. I'm going to do that in two parts."

Sakura, Naruto, and Hinata appeared beside her in swirls of leaves, air, and water.

Ino said, "First, I am simply going to coordinate with all seven of you. Initially I just want Team Gai to pay attention to the link as those three engage in a spar. Neji use the link as cues as to whether or not to activate your dojutsu. When Hinata is using sage chakra she has no limits to the time she can keep her dojutsu active, so your experience may be best used in calling attention to parts of her sensory data that are relevant."

Gai asked, "Your not going to take part?"

"No managing all seven of you with four new is going to give me enough of a headache. It is good practice for me, but not easy."

- o -

Tenten could hardly believe her senses as her brain scrambled to handle all these overlapping senses. The odd thing is it was working. She understood it all or at least enough of it. She understood that when Hinata pulverized Naruto that it was only a clone. She knew that without thought as she knew what Naruto was really looking at. She knew that when Sakura jumped up and shattered the Earth that she was mentally running through estimates of the damage and verifying that no one would suffer significant injuries. She could feel step by step on how carefully Sakura controlled her chakra when she punched, or even how Naruto did something similar. His control was no less impressive, but it was the difference between a large lake and and a small ocean that was constantly getting filled. Naruto was the Jinchurki of the Kyuubi. She didn't know that until she did. It didn't matter.

She felt Ino ask Naruto if she could try something. He agreed without question. Ino asked him to call up the Kyuubi's power. He did so. His whole body was glowing in gold fire. Great thick vines grew out of the ground and wrapped around Naruto before growing into tree branches. Ino asked, "You're not affected are you Naruto?"

Naruto easily burst out of the branches.

Ino though, "That sucks. I knew it wasn't the real thing, but I expected something."

Mokuton. No, it was not that. She could feel the effort Ino made as she finely wove earth, water, and yang chankra into her construct. She was faking a Kekai Genki on pure skill alone. That was impressive.

"We will deal with it. At minimum I should be able to buy time and keep him distracted."

Hinata shot a stream of water towards Sakura only for her to retaliate with a stream of fire. Naruto wove air into the fire until the water was nothing but vapor.

Tenten felt a bit sad as she felt Hinata, Naruto, and Sakura leave their link. After that Ino let the rest of their link drop one by one. Sakura ran over to check Ino, even as Hinata started on TenTen.

Ino said, "You should all be fine, but it is additional mental stress. We need to monitor it. Does anyone have any other medical conditions no matter how minor that will affect combat?"

Sakura quickly finished up. "Your fine." She went over to Lee.

Gai said, "I have a knee injury. It is nearly healed."

Ino walked over to him and quickly checked and repaired his knee while Hinata finished with Neji. When she was done Ino said, "Thanks guys. Now, how about we spar. I'll reform the link with only team Gai. Hinata, Sakura, and Naruto will be your opponents. My focus is still going to have to be on helping your coordination. Once we get you up to speed I can contribute again."

Gai asked, "Do you really think those three can challenge us with you helping?"

Ino smiled. As she brought up the link, they could hear her bell like laughter in their minds. Naruto created two dozen Shadow clones, Hinata created six, while Sakura created as many Earth clones.

Team Gai was wary as the clones started forward. Lee attempted to kick one of the Naruto's in the head, only to have a Hinata clone nearly take his head off. He dodged out of the way only for a Sakura clone to almost pull him into the Earth.

Gai thought, "They are coordinating. How? Ino is here, and it is the clones, not just their originals."

Neji's thought, "There is a seal on their backs that is active now. I suspect that is related."

Tenten asked, "How does that help us?"

Neji thought, "If I can disrupt the seal on the originals it might disrupt their coordination."

Ino's though chimed in, "Well then, Naruto-kun will just have to fix that when he gets a chance. He planned to do so anyway, but this mission came out of the blue. Touch one without chakra and I'll tell them to act as if it was disabled."

Gai thought, "Agreed. Are these seals something we could also use?"

They continued to spar, even while the conversation continued. Ino thought, "The Hokage is considering them for general use once a few more issues are addressed. They take more time to train than we have now. I can reduce that. I copied a bunch of Naruto's memories to get us up to speed fast, just as I'm indirectly doing with you for this method, but there are limits. I'm near the point of causing you brain damage now and your mind is not as resilient as Kurenai's. For now, my own skills are superior, at least for such a small group. What Naruto did was quite clever. It quite frankly gives me a headache when I try to understand it all. It is not, however, a living mind."

Gai punched Naruto knocking him into a tree. He thought, "How are you unaffected then?"

"Most is genetic. Some is secret. Having med nins for friends really rocks when your a Yamanaka. I can and have healed my own brain from time to time, but I try to avoid it. Healing your own brain is dangerous."

Tenten thought, "No kidding? I can't imagine how difficult that would be."

"You just have to be very sure what your fixing won't affect your control of the jutsu. Either way, I think I've got us mostly synced up. It is time to kick it up a notch or ten. If we are going into the fire, we sure as hell better be ready for it."

She called out, "I'm ready to go all out. I'll establish secondary links in a second. If I give a command, you will execute it, since I'm only going to do so when someones life is risked."

Hinata smirked. "It is about time you finished Ino. Are you getting rusty in your old age?"

Ino glared at her, even as Sakura whistled and Naruto looked confused.

Ino established the links and began to pull in natural energy, even as Sakura and Hinata did as well. Naruto began to tap into Kurama's power.

- o -

Tenten said flatly, "Oh crap," even as she felt the link taken to another level entirely. Ino kept shooting vines all over the place trying to slow down her opponents, even as Neji tried but failed to land a single blow on Hinata. She just flowed around it all.

A plan formed in her mind, and for the life of her she couldn't tell it was her plan or not. She knew exactly moment from moment where the blind spots were on Hinata, Sakura, and Naruto.

She realized that the two green members of her team were still wearing their weights, only for the very thought to lead them to taking them off.

She saw that Naruto had difficulty keeping up with the new speed, particularly when Gai and Lee double teamed him before Sakura could again relieve him from some of it. His Biju boosted body took the hits without pause. He tried using coordinated clones and when that was only marginal he signaled one. The clone channeled all its remaining chakra into his best emulation of a Tsunade style punch shattering the earth and allowing him breathing space.

Hinata sped up, straining her best to get inside her cousins range where she launched a flurry of attacks, disabling dozens of tenketsu. She then shot a ball of wind in front of her and disengaged.

Tenten saw how Sakura was getting fed up. Constantly having to bounce between smacking her down and keeping Lee at bay must be draining on her. Her next move flat out surprised her. She chakra sliced through her bindings on her breasts right in front of Lee. He was momentarily out of it, allowing her to prepare to lay him out with an overpowered punch before he recovered and smacked her into a tree.

Ino surrounded and swarmed Sakura with vines, tying her into a bundle. She said, "Don't forget, I'm here too. Cheap shots don't work with me around."

Tenten saw that Sakura was busily healing herself. She thought they were beginning to win when Naruto and Hinata jumped away, only for a cyclone of wind and water began to level the area.

Kakashi's voice was heard over the storm. "Enough!"

The cyclone collapsed in on itself and the water splattered all over the ground.

Kakashi walked into the now flatter yet slightly muddy clearing. He turned to Gai, "How goes it?"

"It was a most youthful sparring match!"

Kakashi looked around, "Any injuries?"

Ino said, "Everyone was careful. Sakura was the worst and she will be recovered in less than a minute."

Kakashi turned to Gai, "When will your team be ready to go?"

Gai turned to Tenten and Neji. Tenten said, "Could I have a half hour?" Neji said, "I should be fine by then."

Gai said, "Give us an hour. We will leave our weights here, so Lee and I will easily be recovered by then."

Kakashi turned to Ino, "Are they ready to go?"

Ino shrugged. "Short of waiting another day, yah?"

"Was all that really necessary?" he asked.

"Yes. I had to have them practice a complex battle situation to get stuff right. Look, it wasn't as dangerous as it looked. I was in control. The danger will be worse when its real."

Kakashi nodded. "You all have a go in one hour. Is all of your equipment up to this?"

Ino said, "Mine is." She turned to Naruto, "Can you spare Tenten a scroll worth of your special Kunai?"

Kakashi whistled. "Those are the ones that are primed with a bit of chakra and detonate on impact?"

Naruto scratched the back of his head. "Well I have four scrolls full, with each sealing a hundred. I suppose I could donate a couple of the scrolls, but you have to use them carefully."

Kakashi said dryly, "Perhaps you should explain that."

"They are fine, you just need to throw them right after you prime them."

"How right after?"

Ino said, "Immediately. They won't necessarily explode on their own, but they are somewhat unstable from that point on. It is a side effect of the amount of chakra locked in there. Get hit by an enemy jutsu after they are primed and we probably won't need to bury you."

Naruto held out the two scrolls. Ino took one and Kakashi took another. He absently unsealed one Kunai from the seal, flashed a bit of chakra into it and threw it at a tree several hundred feet away. The kunai exploded on contact, removing the tree from existence.

Kakashi said, "We still need to talk to you about the definition of reasonable, don't we? Okay, what about regular chakra flow?"

Naruto said, "Better not try it. Wind chakra works though."

"I can work with that." He unsealed another kunai and handed it to Tenten.

Her eyes widened. She said, "You want me to waste it?"

"Yes. You need at least a little practice. I assume you aren't confident in wind chakra streaming?"

"No," she said bitterly.

She targeted a tree almost a thousand feet away and used a chakra enhanced throw with a minor flare to the kunai at the last second. The kunai flew true and removed one more tree from creation.

Naruto hesitantly handed her a full scroll which caused Tenten to giggle and pat it fondly.

Kakashi asked, "Anyone else?"

Neji said, "I have some regular, and probably much safer tags."

Lee said, "I couldn't use them."

"Gai?" Kakashi asked.

"Give me six. I'll seal them in a separate scroll just in case."

Kakashi passed him six of them. He then asked, "Gai, was it wise to give Tenten a full set of one hundred?"

Tenten was still faintly giggling.

"I'll let you know."

Kakashi said, "Naruto, make sure you recover any of these Tenten doesn't use. She can speak with the Hokage about obtaining more. Demolitions grade tags are restricted for a reason. Also, make sure you send the Hokage the bill for the materials used on this mission. I'm assuming either Ino or Hinata's family paid for them originally.

"Both," he said quietly.

Naruto then pulled out another scroll and from it he unsealed four sets of ear plugs and handed them out. Ino pulled out her own set and showed them to the others briefly.

Lee asked, "What are these for?"

Naruto said, "Those mostly block explosions. You can still hear, but your ears are protected."

- o -

Ino ran, doing her best to fake a stumble here or there as her and Team Gai lead what seemed to be a fast retreat from the Kiri forces. At least half the Kiri forces were following them. That would not do. She created an Earth clone and did a seal less replacement with it, even as she moved well ahead.

The Earth clone hopped up on a rock and bent over and mooned them before turning to mud after a Kunai landed in a painful place. She was quite glad she didn't use a shadow clone. Gai sent, "Was that really necessary?"

"They seemed to lack motivation. Look, more are coming."

Ino was right. Another two dozen of their shinobi forces were piling out of Kiri. She sent vines to snare them, but her efforts were token at best. Now they thought they had another Kekkei Genki user. They were really inspired.

Ino thought, "This is what is left of Kiri's elite?" She absently dodged another kunai that she saw coming her way thanks to Neji's vision.

Neji thought, "Perhaps we should just start killing them?"

"No," Ino thought, "We'll, maybe in a minor way. There is no point in taking risks. I'll give everyone regular kunai paths. One will be on target, the rest will be in places they would dodge."

Ino used every ounce of info she knew to select her first target. The jounin off to the side that seemed to be hanging back looked the most likely threat. She threw the Kunai right at his heart, while the others covered every possible way to dodge. He took a kunai to the neck courtesy of Neji. One of his companions briefly stopped to confirm the death before running harder.

They continued this tactic, picking off one after the other every fifteen seconds or so. Unfortunately they were running out of regular kunai with almost three quarters of their opponents remaining. They were about thirty minutes away from their ambush zone.

Ino thought, "What do you think Gai?"

"They are apt to get more ambitious if they think we are out of weapons. I'd rather not take them on directly. It is a needless risk. Ino I want you to try to clump them together with your vines. Others can assist as possible. Tenten begin selective targeting with the explosive kunai once they are grouped. Everyone else, stick with shuriken if you have them. I want them to think only Tenten has those kunai."

Through their combined field of vision she focused on the a group off to the side. Vines shot up just ahead of where they were running, tripping them. Tenten's kunai shot out fast and hit right in the middle of the group, removing them from existence and staggering many nearby.

Now they were quite angry. Unfortunately they were also quite scattered. They ran, while waiting for their opponents to regroup.

Before they got to the main ambush they had taken out four more groups. Once ther main group surrounded them half surrendered, while the other half continued to fight until they were eliminated.

Kakashi motioned Ino and Gai over away from the others and up to where Mei and Ao were waiting. "Ino, I need you to go try to find out where Yagura is. Are you up to it?"

"I'm a little tired, and we might yet have to fight a Biju if everything goes pear shaped. Mei, can your people at least point out someone worth wasting the chakra for a shintenshin on?"

"Unfortunately," Ao said dryly, "there seems to be no one important left. Just how many did you kill?"

Gai said, "About half. We targeted the ones we thought were most dangerous."

Kakashi said, "Don't bother then. Save your strength. Mei and her people can begin asking using more traditional methods. I didn't want to have Naruto waste a bunch of chakra, but he may be our best bet for finding him now. Worst case we accept our victory, and live to finish this another day."

Itachi walked up. "We are too late. I found where Yagura was living. He is not there now, and I don't think he ran."

"Damn," Kakashi said. "Akatsuki?" he asked.

"We probably missed a white zetsu clone. I'm assuming Tobi warped to him, disabled him somehow, maybe in his sleep, and warped away with him. That eye of his does something like that. I am, however, only guessing."

Tobi appeared in front of them. "Itachi-senpai has been a bad boy."

Kakashi shot an explosive kunai at him. It went right through, ending up in one of the prisoners, deleting him from existence and ripping into one of Mei's people. Sakura was already running to help.

Tobi whistled. "That could have hurt Tobi!"

"That was the general idea," Kakashi said dryly.

Suddenly Ino's spirt blasted out of her form and impacted and connected with Tobi.

- o -

Ino's body flared with silver fire as she yanked in natural energy using her connection to her body. Her spiritual avatar appeared in the Uchiha's mind scape with her eyes closed.

"Tobi wanders what a Yamanaka is doing here?"

"Killing you."

"With your eyes closed?" he asked curiously.

"I can see well enough." She then exerted her will and his mindscape literally started ripping itself to pieces.

She continued to pour on the power as she used her mental skills to not just damage a psyche but to destroy it bit by bit utterly. The Uchiha screamed even as his world dissolved around him.

She continued to pour on the power until not even form remained and all was as nothingness before she snapped the connection and rejoined her body. She then slammed water, earth, yang chakra, and power into a verdant rage as she forced vines to pierce through his body ripping him apart and destroying him body, eyes, and all.

Mei and Kakashi finished him off with Lava and fire before Itachi added some kind of black fire. Nothing remained but the black fire that everyone moved away from.

As the ashes began to cool Tenten said, "Remind me to not make you mad."

Ino shook her head as a headache of monstrous proportions took her. "I'm still not sure I shouldn't have tried to get information, but he was just too dangerous. I couldn't risk it. Even if we lost Yagura, this was a successful mission."

Itachi said, "I would agree." Ino found herself having difficulty focusing as she tried to grab a hold of Kakashi who was closest. He reached down and caught her, letting her down easily.

Sakura was immediately there with Hinata only a second later.

Sakura said, "You start. I can't work deeply as easy." Hinata nodded as she immediately started to work on her friend.

Naruto was there as well. Kakashi said, "Naruto, make a bunch of those eagles. Try to find Yagura." Naruto quickly created the ram seal only for a few hundred eagles to take flight into the air and scatter.

They all looked down as Hinata worked. Hinata was a perfect picture of focus as she worked minute after minute until nearly an hour passed. When she was done she said, "Sakura, please check my work."

Sakura immediately started her own efforts even as Hinata stood and moved away from Sakura so as not to disturb her. She approached Kakashi and said, "I fixed most of it, but I want to take her back to Tsunade. I think she did something forbidden. I have not seen the like. I'd like to bring her back to Konoha. Tsunade and her clan need to see her. These things are best addressed quickly."

"Understood. How urgent is it?"

"The sooner the better. Sakura may be able to tell us more."

He turned to Gai, "When Sakura is done, I want you, Lee, and Hinata to make best speed back to Konoha with Ino." Switching to Hinata he asked, "Can you keep up?"

Lee said, "I could carry you."

"No, with natural energy I can keep up. I may have to rest for days after, but I can keep up. I'm just glad I learned how to pull it in while moving."

Sakura finished ten minutes later. "I touched a few things up, but this is beyond us. She needs to see Tsunade."

Kakashi said, "I've already arranged for Gai, Lee, and Hinata to take her back, unless you think you would be better."

"No, her endurance is higher than mine." She turned to Hinata, "Do you want me to top off you chakra? Mine should be compatible now."

Hinata hesitated. "Still too risky. Change it purely to medical chakra. I can run with that."

Sakura held out a brightly green glowing hand that Hinata took. Sakura seemed to wilt under the contact until half a minute had elapsed and Hinata let her go. "Thank you Sakura, That will help."

Gai picked up Ino in a fireman's carry and just started to run. Lee was on his tails and Hinata was on theirs.

- o -

Two hours later Gai ran up to the gates. Tsunade was waiting there with Inoichi. Gai gently handed the young woman to Tsunade even as Lee and Hinata caught up. Tsunade vanished in a swirl of leaves, followed by the rest of those that were waiting. A few seconds later everyone was gone.

Ino was soon put through an elaborate scanning machine and then laid on a gurney. Tsunade handed a copy of the results to Inochi. "Can you explain that?"

"It is the result of using a forbidden jutsu. It should have been fatal. I'm unsure how to treat it."

"Can you do what Ino does?"

"Yes, though perhaps not as well."

"What about you Hinata? Can you help?"

She was still heaving breath after breath. She said, "Let me grab some pure oxygen and I'll be fine, at least for eyes. The rest of me needs days of rest and healing."

Inochi asked, "Are you sure it wouldn't be better to wait for Hiashi? He is supposed to be coming."

Hinata said, "No, he can't see as well as I can, and he doesn't have practice with this. Just gotta catch my breath enough to recover sage mode. I need its enhancement to compensate for my state."

She grabbed an oxygen mask and turned it up even as she forced herself into a hasty meditative state. Less than a minute later she turned the oxygen down but kept it on. Tsunade handed her what looked like a oddly colored vial of liquid. She downed it without tasting it before replacing the mask and nodding to Inochi who placed a hand on her neck and another on Tsunade's.

Hiashi arrived with the Hyuga healer to see Hinata looking like death warmed over but with haunting amber eyes. He activated his eyes and gasped at what he saw. "Daughter, you should be resting."

Tsunade's assistant Shizune said, "She knows. She is trying to help Ino before this becomes permanent."

- o -

Hiashi watched as Tsunade worked diligently without a single wasted motion as she carefully used her very delicate and surprisingly accurate medical jutsu to repair and regenerate cells deep in the Yamanaka's brain. He looked closer at his daughter and realized that her focus was perfectly on that same area. It barely even looked like her daughter was breathing.

The medic beside him was equally amazed as they worked. They were at it for almost two hours before Tsunade let her jutsu go. Hinata immediately dropped out of sage mode and passed out, only to be quickly attended to by the Hyuga doctor.

His scan was quick and efficient, with his eyes rapidly assisting his work. Tsunade looked on blankly as she recovered from having to focus at such a high level for so long. The Hyuga doctor said, "She is dangerously exhausted, but with care she should recover. She will have to remain here."

"You will remain with her," Hiashi commanded.

"Of course,"

Tsunade said, "I think I got it all. It is good you got her back so quickly. Sakura and Hinata's initial work wasn't bad, but this required a more skilled touch to really get right. She might still have some memory loss, though there is enough redundancy, she might not. I don't know." She turned to Inoichi and said, "Without you and Hinata, I couldn't have done that half as well. Thank you."

"I just wish I hadn't let her find that jutsu. Come to think of it, I'm sure it is still sealed. What was she doing that she risked that one?"

Gai was resting in a chair to the side. Lee was next to him passed out. "She killed one of the people in Akatsuki that was able to become intangible. From the Sharingan, the mask, and what the Hokage has discussed with me, I think he may have been the one that released the Kyubi on us."

Tsunade said, "Gai, I know your exhausted. I'll get you a room next to this one, but do you think you have enough chakra to form a Henge of the guy once I dig up a camera?"

"Yes, though that is about it for me."

"Did you use the gates?"

"Both Lee and I used the first gate towards the end. I honestly don't know how Hinata kept up. You should get someone to look at Lee too. I don't think I took any damage, but I'm not sure I could tell right now either."

"Great, Shizune and perhaps Hiashi's friend should be able to patch you up."

Moments later Hiruzen was there. They had also acquired a camera. Gai shifted, and before the flash could even be taken Hiruzen said, "That was him. I was near enough that day. I remember that mask. We'll have to look at your memories to know for sure, but that is enough for now. Get some rest. I got a message back via the Monkey's. All is quiet in Kiri. I'm having them remain for now and help restore order."

- o -

Later that day Jiraiya read a note handed to him by the toads. They had probably lost a biju to Akatsuki, but they had taken three of them out of action, and better yet his agent was healed and now working somewhat more openly for Konoha. It did seem that his healing may not be permanent, but perhaps Tsunade could do something about that.

It also looked like the one they killed was the one they most wanted. He wondered who that Uchiha was, or if they would ever know. That information wasn't in Ino's memories. He would later learn from Hiruzen that it was almost certainly the Uchiha that had freed and controlled the Kyubi to nearly destroy Konoha.

He himself had found the identity of two more of them. He hoped that Nagato and Konan could be reasoned with and he hoped they could eliminate the other members of Akatsuki without too much fuss. Those were jobs for another day though. Dying once, even if he didn't remember it, was once too much for him.

It was true that all the battles were not won. There was always another battle. The price of civilization was eternal vigilance and they had a great deal more work to do, but for once he truly saw the possibility of them getting it all done. In the previous timeline Naruto had been his student. Jiraiya planned for him to be so again. In the previous timeline Naruto had in the end, been the chosen one, though not in the way they foresaw. He had been the one with the power and set of skills required to give them this chance. They just had to not screw it up.

The real problem was the toads assured him that the prophecy was still in force. Was Naruto still the center point? He did not know, and that was what troubled him. He also really didn't like it that Ino chose to risk her own death to end that Uchiha. The job was not done. If his guesses were correct her help would be required in the future, to say nothing of those that would mourn the troublesome Yamanaka's death. For now his job just became far more important. Much of the intelligence Ino brought back was becoming less and less useful. He needed to be on his A game. He needed to get Konoha the information required to prosper. No one had said it, but he knew that he had failed in the previous timeline. He must not fail in this one. There were no more second chances.

They really needed a plan to unite the shinobi world and the first step in that was to address the issue of Suna. Rasa should still be alive. Perhaps he could collect Naruto and his team and make a trip to Suna. One genin team, even with him as the temporary leader should still be allowed in. Rasa would not want to appear so weak as to refuse that. Once there perhaps he could offer to look at his son's seal. If he worked it out right, he thought he could get some additional wind mastery training out of it for them, and even that would be a front for teasing them with Konoha's strength.

Should he try to see if he could orchestrate a situation where Gaara lost control and the troublesome three subdued him? He didn't like doing such things, but it could underline why they were not to be messed with. That message, above all, must be sent.

He briefly considered if perhaps he could get Rasa to admit the three should be promoted. Rasa's words did not mean the Hokage had to promote them. In fact, he rather suspected he would not in favor of them decimating the upcoming exams. Word, however, would spread, particularly if he helped it, and that would be useful.

He realized it was possible that Konoha beginning to show its strength would draw out some, and perhaps even the mysterious threat he still thought was out there, but it was necessary. Their only shot at peace was first being strong enough that the other great countries wanted to ally with them enough to create something that had meaning. Peace could not easily be won through war. The cycle of vengeance was not easily broken, but perhaps they had a chance now, in that brief lull in the endless waltz.