I'm soooooo sorry for taking forever to write this! I know you must hate me!! Thanx for being patient though! Oh, and your guys' reviews-they make me happy, really happy!! Thank you, thank you! I'll cut right to the chase….

Last time: The girls are captured! But with Sasuke and Shikamaru on their side, maybe they can escape? What is Sasuke's and Shikamaru's plan? What has been the girls' plan since the beginning!? Which one is coming back as part of the deal?

Haha, don't you love my little last time things…


Iruka moved his hand towards the first female's mask slowly. Sasuke could feel the tension from everybody in the crowd building up. His body filled with a sudden surge of nervous energy. He took a deep breath. He noticed Naruto take a slight step forward in anticipation. Neji was clenching a fist, and his feet rustled slightly in the sand. Shikamaru's eyes were shut tight as he let out a deep sigh. Sasuke looked up to the front where the females stood side by side with Iruka and Tsunade close by. He tilted his head to the side and felt his neck muscles tighten. He was trying to stay calm. Thoughts of the plan ran through his head.

Iruka noticed his hand trembling a bit, and it was so quiet he could hear himself breathing. He could feel his heart beating faster. He wasn't sure if he was even moving his hand toward the female. It seemed to be moving but yet he couldn't make it to the female's face. He shut his eyes and took a deep breath. He knew it was all in his head. But his body was stiff and it seemed to take an enormous amount of effort to just raise his arm.

Iruka was terrified to look into the eyes of the murderers. And he somehow felt a huge responsibility of unveiling these females to all of Konoha. He couldn't explain the feeling in his head, but something wrenched at his insides that something was wrong.

"Wait," Neji said suddenly, startling the whole crowd. Everybody jumped as a combined energy of the crowd that was slowly building up had suddenly been broken. Iruka moved his eyes toward Neji, alarmed. He noticed he was still extending his arm and moved it back to his side slowly.

Neji walked up to the front where Iruka and Tsunade stood. He looked towards Naruto and nodded. Naruto stood where he was for a few seconds than jumped a little, as he remembered something. "Right…" He began, as he turned towards Sasuke. "Hey, we're gonna apologize. I mean, for not being able to…well, you know…I think everybody deserves to hear this, right?" He tried to keep his voice to a whisper. "You can come up if you want."

He turned around quickly and made his way through the crowd. A little ways up, Sasuke saw him stop at Shikamaru who he began speaking to. The crowd looked around, confused, but silent. Iruka looked towards Tsunade who just nodded, signalizing everything was okay. Neji waited.

Naruto soon made his way towards the front. Sasuke saw Shikamaru hesitating, which he himself was doing. He sighed, than slowly made his way towards the front, and passed Shikamaru, who sighed as well and followed.

The four were now in front, standing almost awkwardly in front of the crowd. "What's going on?" Iruka asked quietly.

"Ahh…yes…" Tsunade motioned for everybody's attention. "These four would just like to say something." She nodded towards them.

Naruto cleared his throat and stepped forward. "We just wanted to apologize…" he began, as he looked towards the ground. "I'm sorry that I couldn't follow through with my job. I'm sorry that I wasn't able to save them." He paused. He wasn't sure of what he was even saying but he knew he wanted to say it. "I could've done something more, but I didn't. I take full responsibility for-"

Neji put a hand on his shoulder. "We take full responsibility…" He paused. Naruto looked back towards Shikamaru and Sasuke, who both looked away. Shikamaru closed his eyes. "Yeah…we do…" Sasuke nodded.

Neji began again. "Well, what we're really trying to say is…is that we're sorry…" He stopped, trying to think of what to say. He wanted to apologize, but he wasn't sure how, and he didn't think that everybody would understand what he was thinking. He felt regret. He knew if he had done something differently, none of the four would be dead. He wanted everyone to blame him because he felt like it was his fault. He just didn't know how to say it.

"I told you that you didn't have to do this." Tsunade interrupted, as she stepped forward. "All of you did what you could-"

"No, I think we deserve to hear this…" a voice in the crowd was saying. "Yes, those four are dead because these boys didn't take their job seriously enough!" Another voice in the crowd yelled out. "I agree!!" someone called out. "You should've sent somebody stronger! They're only boys!" The comments kept coming. "Yes, if it had been somebody else, I bet those girls would still be alive!"

Shikamaru saw Naruto almost nod and it made him angry. Neji too stood up listening to every remark in shame. Shikamaru wished he could do something. They didn't deserve this.

"Stop!" Tsunade yelled angrily at the crowd. "If you want to blame someone, than blame me!!" She took a deep breath, and her voice was now calm. She chose her words carefully. "I had faith in them, and that's why I sent them. I know they did their best, and I don't believe that any of this is their fault…" She wanted to say much more, but couldn't find the words to express her anger. She let the feeling go and sighed.

"Yes," Iruka now spoke. "Let's focus our attention on these four females here. It's these females here who did the killing, not them." He said while motioning towards the boys. "They did all that they could-"

"No…" Naruto looked up towards Iruka. "Everybody's right. You don't have to protect us." He turned his attention towards the crowd. "I don't expect anyone to forgive us."

Sakura wanted to yell. She wanted to defend Naruto and Neji. She hated what she was hearing. Tenten tried to stop shaking. Ino felt her heart sink. Hinata clenched her teeth and fists. They never meant to cause so much trouble. They especially never meant to get Shikamaru, Sasuke, Neji, and Naruto in this position.

Naruto slowly made his way back through the crowd towards Kakashi. Shikamaru and Sasuke followed. Neji nodded towards Tsunade before leaving, signaling to continue with the de-masking process. Tsunade stood for a moment, watching the boys make their way through the crowd. She watched as angry expressions were made as people looked upon them. She shook her head slightly and motioned towards Iruka to proceed.

Naruto got back to Kakashi, and soon Sasuke did as well. "Hey…" Kakashi began. "Its okay, Kakashi-sensei." Naruto looked towards the front.

Shikamaru ignored Chouji's and Asuma's sympathetic looks and shook his head. This all had become too troublesome.

Neji avoided Lee and Gai as he walked past them and stood towards the back.

Iruka stood a little hesitant. He waited until the crowd was focused and until he felt the tension lower a bit. He waited until it was silent.

He then slowly raised his hand. The same feeling was returning to him as before.

Tenten saw Iruka approaching her. She felt nervous and tense. She closed her eyes. Her body felt tight and she could feel a cold sweat as she gulped. She heard Hinata breathing hard next to her.

Shikamaru looked back towards Sasuke. It was now or never.

They both were thinking the same thing. Would their plan work?



"What?" Shikamaru began. "A Konoha gathering to unveil their identities?" He stopped, shocked.

Tsunade stood up from her desk. She wondered why Shikamaru was so surprised. "Yes…this is what is best, am I right?"

Shikamaru cleared his throat. "Well, yeah…of course." He looked down. This completely ruins the plan…

"I'm sorry I didn't announce it before," Tsunade began as Shikamaru looked up. "You're okay with this, right? I discussed it with Neji and Naruto." She looked to them. Neji, Naruto, and Sasuke stood behind Shikamaru.

"….when is this gathering going to happen?" Shikamaru asked nervously.

"In about three hours," Tsunade answered. Shikamaru tried to hide his shock this time and just nodded. He hoped she didn't notice him gulp, but it was almost an involuntary action.

"Well, then, I'll see you four there. I have a lot of preparations to make." Tsunade finished. "Please try to rest as much as you can until then." She motioned for them to leave and smiled as they left the room.

The four got outside and stood together. Naruto sighed. "I'll see you guys in three hours…" He tried to smile, but he was exhausted and still devastated. It showed in his face. His eyelids looked heavy. His eyes were blank and colorless. He slouched slightly as though it was hard to hold up his own body. He didn't make eye contact when he spoke. He looked away into the distance and his eyes always seemed to be lost in thought, in another place. He hardly ever did speak. And when he did his voice was quiet and slow.

He ran off and disappeared quickly out of sight. Neji watched him, than turned to Sasuke and Shikamaru and looked down.

"…so much has happened" he said quietly, almost to himself. He then looked up and nodded slowly. Sasuke and Shikamaru stood looking at him. Neji looked to Sasuke, than he looked to Shikamaru. His eyes then moved to the far off distance, just like Naruto's had. He closed his eyes and turned away slowly. He began walking and lifted his hand as a goodbye. Sasuke and Shikamaru did not watch him leave. They turned away.

"I hope we're doing the right thing…" Shikamaru muttered as Sasuke turned to walk. He motioned for Shikamaru to follow. They headed towards the underground prison.

Originally, the plan was to sneak the four out of the prison at night. Sasuke was to distract Kakashi and Shikamaru was to create a diversion. Hopefully the four would have enough time to escape. But now, with the meeting, they had to come up with an entirely new plan.

"I'm so glad you guys…." Sakura jumped up when she saw Sasuke and Shikamaru enter, but lowered her voice in caution "..are here."

"Yes…" Hinata began as she stood up. "They told us about what's going to happen…" she said quietly, her voice solemn.

"What are we going to do?" Tenten remained in her seated position. She was hugging her knees loosely and buried her face in them.

Ino stood up and stretched. She looked down and said nothing.

Shikamaru stepped forward suddenly. He brought his foot down hard which caught everybody's attention. They turned towards him. He had his eyes closed, but now he was opening them slowly.

He took in a deep breath and held it, than released it slowly.

"Our original plan…" he said slowly, his voice low and quiet. "it probably wouldn't have worked anyway. We need to come up with something better this time." He raised his arm and rubbed the back of his neck.

"Now that we have more time…let's make this work…" He avoided everybody's gazes.

Sasuke stepped forward. Tenten stood up and took a deep breath. Hinata and Sakura moved in towards the group. Ino looked up and smiled. She nodded towards Shikamaru.

End Flashback


Everything seemed to be going in slow motion. Iruka could feel his arm growing stiffer and stiffer as the female stood in front of him, motionless. His muscle began to strain but still he extended it and soon he could feel the female's mask slightly at his fingertips.

He reached for the bottom of the mask, and grasped it suddenly to pull it off of her.

Shikamaru looked toward an anxious Neji and Naruto. He gulped. He knew that when he helped the four escape those two would probably suffer the most.

I'm sorry guys…

Sasuke was looking towards Shikamaru, waiting for a signal. Shikamaru nodded.

Iruka was breathing heavily as he began to pull the mask off. Tenten kept her eyes closed and waited. She felt her legs becoming weak.

She fell to the ground. Iruka felt the mask slip from his fingers as she fell. The crowd looked around to each other as Iruka looked to Tsunade.

Naruto looked around confused as he noticed something in the corner of his eye. He turned his head and saw Sasuke slipping away from the crowd.

Sasuke? Naruto tried to see where he was going, but the crowd was in his way. Suddenly he heard another gasp from the crowd and looked up to the front as the three other females fell to the ground as well. Everybody tried to move closer to the front to see what was going on, as Iruka backed away, unsure of what to do.

"Iruka!" Tsunade called out. "Stay where you are! Everybody, stay where you are!"

Shikamaru looked around carefully and ran off when he was sure nobody was looking.

"Something is going on," Tsunade said quietly to Iruka. She nodded towards the Anbu in the back as they quickly dispersed. "Iruka, check the bodies." He bent down slowly.

"They're not breathing," he responded.


Shikamaru found Sasuke as they hid behind a Konoha building. They watched the Anbu run across the streets and jump across the buildings.

Shikamaru sighed with relief. "Seems like everything's going according to plan," he whispered.

"Yeah…" Sasuke pulled out a small cylinder-shaped device out of his pocket. It had a red button on the top. He stopped and looked at it as it rested in his hand.

Shikamaru saw the hesitation in Sasuke's face. His eyebrows were furrowed and his eyes rested intently on the device. His hand was shaking very slightly. Shikamaru said nothing. He knew as well that going through with the plan would mean a lot of suffering to those who cared about Hinata, Tenten, Sakura, and Ino.

Sasuke looked up and turned towards Shikamaru, who now had his eyes closed, waiting. He looked to the distance as he saw the Anbu searching the area. He had to hurry or the Anbu might find them. He took a deep breath. He had no idea of her intentions, but yet he was helping her, even though it was causing so much trouble to the village.

But he knew that he could trust her.

He grasped the device, and slammed down on the button with his thumb. An explosion went off on one side of Konoha.


The crowd became frantic. Nobody knew what was going on, as they watched smoke rise from afar.

Naruto looked around through the crowd. He didn't see Sasuke and wondered where he had gone.

"They're not breathing? What happened?" Tsunade asked. She stood for a moment as some in the crowd began to scream. She looked around her carefully and thought of what actions she should take.

"Go check out the explosion," she motioned towards Gai, Kakashi, Asuma, and Kurenai who nodded and dashed off.

"Some of you calm the crowd and get them somewhere safe, and some of you take the bodies and come with me," Tsunade said next.

Naruto, Neji, Shino, Kiba, Lee, and Chouji knew she was talking to them as they came together, struggling to push through the crowd.

Naruto took the lead. "Me, Neji, Kiba, and Chouji will go with Tsunade. Shino and Lee will stay here." His voice was firm. He did not yell, but his voice was powerful against the screams of the crowd.

They all agreed without a word and separated. Naruto, Neji, Kiba, and Chouji headed towards Tsunade, as Shino and Lee ventured into the crowd. When the four got to Tsunade, she was speaking to Iruka.

"Stay here and help with the crowd," she was telling him as she motioned for the four boys to follow her.

They each picked up a body and quickly followed.

"What's going on?" Kiba asked. He adjusted the body, which he held on his back, Akamaru following closely at his feet.

"Who knows," Neji responded. "But I'm tired of all of this." He looked ahead, breathing heavily. The body seemed to weigh him down. He hated this person so much and he wanted to put her down quickly.

Naruto felt the same as he hurried alongside Chouji. He felt himself shaking with anger and he found himself wanting the throw the body down. He tried to suppress the anger and looked up as he turned to Chouji.

"Hey, did you see Sasuke at all?" he asked him.

Chouji looked to him than looked away for a moment as he thought to himself. "Sorry, I didn't really notice. But come to think of it, I have no idea where Shikamaru went as well."

Naruto looked away. "Hm…" he said quietly to himself.


Kakashi examined the explosion site, and looked to Asuma. "What do you think happened here?"

The explosion had come from underground, and as they looked down into the hole it created, they saw the underground prison, exposed.

"They escaped?" Asuma turned to Kakashi.

"Looks like it," Kurenai answered.

"But who were the four we saw earlier today then?" Gai yelled from below as he examined the prison.

"Copies?" Kurenai asked. "Maybe," Kakashi answered. "But I'm sure copies would've disappeared."

Gai climbed out from the prison and dusted himself off. "Well, we already sent the Anbu out to look for them. They couldn't have gone far."

"How could this have happened?" Kurenai asked herself quietly as she shook her head.

"How could we have let it happen," Kakashi responded, as the other three turned to him. "Look at Naruto today. He felt horrible. And I know Sasuke must feel the same as well."

Asuma looked down. "Shikamaru has been acting different lately."

"And so has Neji. He doesn't speak much, but his whole presence is different than before." Gai rubbed the back of his neck.

Kakashi, Asuma, Gai, and Kurenai stood together and gazed down into the prison.


Tsunade led the boys to an open, empty grassy area. The boys set the bodies down and sat.

"Are…they dead?" Naruto asked.

"Seems like it," Tsunade responded. "But it doesn't make any sense."

"Nothing's really made sense lately," Naruto looked down. Tsunade saw him clench the grass between his fingers.

"Well, let's try to make sense of it," she said as Naruto looked up. "We'll be the first to know." She reached for one of the female's masks.

She grabbed it and pulled it off of the female's face slowly.


Sasuke and Shikamaru ran back to where the crowd had been, but only found a few Konoha officials inspecting the area.

Lee ran up behind them and Shino was close behind.

"Where….were….you two?" Lee breathed heavily, his body tired from running.

"We were just looking around where the explosion happened," Shikamaru responded. "What happened to everybody?"

Shino spoke from behind Lee who was still catching his breath. His hands were in his pockets and he was looking off to the side where smoke was still rising. "We helped the people hide in some buildings and houses until everything calms down. Tsunade and the others took the bodies somewhere."

"Oh, thanks," Shikamaru responded as he ran off with Sasuke following.

"Where are you goooiing?" Lee called out after them.

But they didn't respond. Lee and Shino watched Shikamaru and Sasuke disappear in the distance.


"Ah, there they are." Sasuke pointed when he saw Tsunade.

They ran to where she was, but stopped when they saw the expression on her face. Her eyes were wide and blank as she sat on the grass motionless. She seemed frozen.

They looked around and saw Kiba sitting, covering his eyes with his hand, his teeth clenched, Chouji with his head toward the ground closing his eyes tightly, Neji standing off in the distance, and Naruto far off by a tree with his face buried in his hands.

The four females were lying in the middle of Kiba, Chouji, and Tsunade. Their masks were still on.

"Chouji, what happened?" Shikamaru went to where he was, bent down by him, and put a hand on his shoulder.

Chouji shook his head and said nothing. "Chouji?" Shikamaru said to him, but he still didn't respond.

Sasuke walked to where Naruto was sitting under the tree. He was crying furiously.

"Naruto." Sasuke said firmly.

Naruto didn't move. "Sasuke…" he responded. "It…she…"

Sasuke stood, and waited.

Suddenly, Naruto lifted his head and stood up to face Sasuke.

"It was Sakura-chan!!!" he yelled as he fell and sat down again as he suddenly grew weak. It seem as though it took all of his strength to yell those words. "It….was….Sakura-chan…" He covered his eyes and continued to cry.

Sasuke looked away. The plan had worked.

Waaah, I'm sorry if you're confused about the plan. I didn't mean to make it confusing, but I guess I kinda did. But, no worries, I'll explain it in detail next chapter.

Anyway, I looked back at the reviews and I'll kind of respond to them in general:

-Sorry about the cliffie! Most of you hated it. Haha
-I'm sorry that lots of you are confused! It'll come together in the end!
-Ooh, lots of you said there was lots of suspense. I'm glad that I'm keeping you interested!
-I guess I'll keep the title. Most said it's already been this for so long.
-You'll find out which girl stays next chapter!
-Oh yes and CowsGoMOOO informed me that Neji could see through the girls' masks with his Byakugan, and I actually did think of that but, this is what I thought: Neji doesn't actually see people's faces or like their skin or anything, he just sees their charka points. I thought that if he did see faces he would probably see their bodies and then he would see people naked! But somebody correct me if I'm wrong b/c I don't want a plot hole there and I'll try to address the problem

Okiees, please tell me what you think! Sorry again for the wait!