Welcome back, readers. I beg your patience through this chapter, which consists of several very important plot points but very little action. This is to be properly balanced out by Chapter Seven, which has already been written and contains copious amounts of gratuitous violence. I think I've supplied enough plot to make any violence tasteful, so I've let loose, but none of it is possible without Chapter Six providing the motive. So please, read on and enjoy the show. I'll post Chapter Seven shortly.

As always, pleaseleave me a review to let me know what I'm doing wrong. Even more importantly, enjoy the story.


Chapter Six: The Division

"Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things I am tempted to think there are no little things."

-Bruce Barton, American Congressman


The cry was so loud, one would wonder how the man shouting failed to tear his throat with the effort. The former Kazakage's family mansion shuttered with the sound. Shino was a light sleeper with excellent hearing, and so rousing him would have taken considerably less. The excessive noise and rudeness of his awakening meant that, surely, Uzumaki Naruto had found a way into the city. He stood and, angrily, left his allotted quarters for the main room of the large building.

Just as predicted, Naruto stood in the main hall of the mansion, holding shut the front door. On the other side of the entrance, half a dozen guards pushed and grunted, trying to get in and apprehend the offender. Also in the main hall was Hinata, apparently very shaken and bordering on tears.

"What are you doing here, Naruto-san?" Shino asked as calmly as he could.

"Kakashi-sensei tried to kill me!" Naruto thundered, his voice not at all quieter than it had been while summoning the Aburame. Shino, significantly less annoyed but very much afraid of this scenario, approached the door, pulled it open slowly, and held up a hand to order the guards to stand down. Reluctantly, they stopped their efforts and stood at attention. Naruto backed away from the door, but still stood behind Shino.

"Are you sure of this, Naruto-san? It was not an imposter, or some sort of genjutsu?"

"YES, I'M BLOODY SURE! I know my own teacher, Shino! This was Kakashi-sensei! He came to the outpost and told me to come with him back to Sasuke, and when I didn't he tried to kill me!"

Shino said nothing, but walked out of the building and started to head for the tallest building in the city. Naruto and Hinata followed, somewhat puzzled but not questioning their leader. A few awkward minutes later, they found themselves walking into the building they knew as the quarters of the Kazekage. The guards flinched as they walked by, but knew better than to question Shino. It was a long spiral staircase to the top floor, but it seemed no time at all to Shino. There was never enough time to think. He approached one of the smaller doors near the staircase and knocked loudly.

"Temari-san, please wake up. We have a problem."

There came no answer. Shino was about to knock again when Naruto actually kicked the door, the resulting boom echoing through the hollow building. "TEMARI!" he shouted, just to make sure she didn't sleep through Shino's mild voice. A door opened in response, but it wasn't the one they were facing. It was the massive doorway twenty meters down, the Kazekage's room. Temari stepped out, wrapped in a blanket with her long hair completely disheveled.

"What is it, Shino?" she asked, more than a little annoyance in her voice.

"Hatake Kakashi attacked Naruto-san at your ANBU outpost. Being so far within your county's borders, we must assume that Konoha ANBU could not have followed him. The very nature of your landscape is unique in making tracking by scent impossible. I am forced to assume that there is a spy within your ANBU ranks, working for Sasuke." Shino pushed up his sunglasses, worn despite the dimness of the building's torchlight.

Temari narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips. "Go get Rock-san and Tenten, then bring them here. I have preparations to make." She pushed her way through the three visitors into her own room, then shut and locked the door. Clearly, she was not in the mood for rebuttal.

Shino proceeded to do as he was instructed, closely shadowed by Naruto. Hinata, however, felt that something was wrong. She could sense chakra in the other room where Temari had, apparently, been sleeping, and it was not the chakra of a calm, healthy person. Cautiously, she walked to where the heavy door was closing by its own weight and peered shyly into the room. It was dark, but what Hinata saw was unmistakable. Kiba, exhausted, sat panting on the edge of a bed, his head hung lower than she had ever seen it and an empty sake bottle sagging in his hand. His other hand covered his eyes in shame.

Hinata held back tears as the bedroom door clicked shut. Then she let them out.

Sasuke glared at Kakashi. Kakashi glared back. Neji watched the jounin's eyes intently as his master spoke.

"You let him go," Sasuke said finally.

"No," Kakashi corrected, "he got away. I told you, it became quite clear that I was too out of practice to win the fight. I even used the Vine Snare technique, in the desert no less, and he got out of it without a second thought. If I hadn't sealed the Nine-Tails from the beginning, I doubt I would've gotten away."

Sasuke nodded and looked at Neji. Neji kept his gaze fixated on Kakashi's eyes. "He's telling the truth," he muttered.

Sasuke sighed. This mission may have been a total failure. "What sort of techniques did Naruto use?"

"That's the odd thing," Kakashi recalled. "He didn't use a single Shadow Clone or even attempt the Rasengan. He's learned the Fourth's teleportation technique, Body Flicker. He gets in close and attacks with strange sound-based explosions, triggered by snapping his fingers or cracking his knuckles. It would seem that their strength correlates to their volume."

"Is that all?"

"No. He got out of the Vine Snare with a technique that made him expand like a frog. It was typical of the sort of thing Jiraiya-sama would do, but if Naruto is using it then he's changed his style." Kakashi thought on this fondly. Jiraiya was a better teacher than he was.

"No, he hasn't. He's using brute force, as always. He's just as…"

"This wasn't a combat technique, Sasuke, and I doubt it could work against chains or prison cells. It certainly wasn't as advanced as the Akimichi expansion techniques. This was an application technique, designed for strange, desperate circumstances. When he was my student, all he cared about was destructive power. The old Naruto would have insisted the technique was useless and not learned it. It's hard to believe, but I think he's maturing."

"I see," Sasuke mulled. The Naruto's rate of growth seemed proportionate to his own rate of decay. Without the Sharingan, he'd likely never stand a chance against Naruto. "Sensei, this is unacceptable. Are you certain the Nine-Tails was sealed? Perhaps you didn't perform the seal properly."

"You know I did. You showed me the technique yourself, and my Sharingan hasn't failed me in years."

Sasuke did the math in his head. Even with his new political allies, his troops needed bolstering. The Hyuuga were unstoppable as a united force, under Neji's leadership, but he couldn't risk sending them outside of the city. Routine missions and city patrol occupied his loyal jounin, and the others unreliable and likely to abandon or, worse, rebel against him at their first chance. The rebels were constantly adding names to the casualty list of the ANBU squads. There were few chuunin left, most of them promoted to ANBU status to justify sending them on patrol to replenish lost troops. What few genin survived the revolt and food shortages would be of no value in combat.

What Sasuke needed were specialized shinobi, those that could match Kakashi in strength and did not belong to any village. A rare smile crept onto Sasuke's face as a familiar old name wormed into his mind. Such shinobi did, in fact, exist, seemingly custom-tailored to this specific purpose and, indeed, this specific enemy.

"Sensei, go with Anko and train until you remember how to fight properly. I have recruits to gather."

Shino returned to the quarters of the Kazekage with Lee and Tenten. Naruto hadn't gone to fetch them, choosing to stay behind to comfort Hinata, who had run down the stairs to him in a crying fit. The others simply followed the sound of her wailing, which wasnot at all consoled or dimmed by Naruto's attentive presence.

After several long minutes, Hinata finally calmed. She didn't really stop crying, but was able to control her breathing and was nearly as quiet as was typical. It was about this time that Temari, fully clothed, walked gracefully down the staircase into the main room, a look of quiet smugness about her. Hinata turned away, not willing to look at her. Whore.

"It has become obvious to me that the Resistance has effectively failed in its mission to retake Konohagakure from Sasuke."

Shino raised an eyebrow. Temari continued.

"Sasuke will only send Kakashi, and whatever other puppets he conjures, so long as you seek to overthrow him. Give up the crusade, become citizens of the Sand, and we will protect you from any further attacks until Sasuke no longer feels threatened. Let him rot away in his tower."

"NO!" Kiba's familiar voice shouted from the staircase. He jogged down the stairs, pulling his fur coat on with no shirt beneath it. "My clan is imprisoned beneath the city! There are ninety of them, and they're all counting on me! We can't just give up because it gets dangerous!"

"Gai-sensei must be avenged!" Lee added, not at all caring that his motives were thoroughly selfish compared to Kiba's.

"THEN WHAT THE HELL ARE WE DOING IN THE SAND!" Naruto shouted, furious at his companions' lack of initiative. "We should be storming Konoha, not hiding away and picking on patrolmen!"

"That's enough," Shino said, far more levelheaded than most would have expected. "Temari-san, your offer is kind but we are morally bound to decline. Kiba, do not act on behalf of your family. It is likely that few of them remain alive, and those who have lived this far will be those powerful enough to live through anything. Lee, your revenge can wait as well. You both must remember that haste will only bring further, unnecessary casualties. As for you, Naruto-san, I would remind you that there are exactly six of us, and an estimated three hundred fifty shinobi inside Konoha that are willing to support Sasuke. Attacking now would be foolish and wasteful."

"TO HELL WITH YOU!" All present looked to Naruto in surprise. This was extreme, even for him. "You think you're so great, calmly telling everyone how to live their lives. Who the hell are you? If we can get into Hokage Tower and just get at Sasuke, we can end this all in an instant! I could do it myself!"

"No, you could not. More than three dozen Hyuuga guards are stationed in or near Hokage Tower. Shikamaru designed a flaw in their shift changes and observation points, but it would take several men to take advantage of it. We have a plan, Naruto-san, if you'll only be patient…"

"No! Having a theory and an objective isn't enough, you've gotta act! You're afraid to confront Sasuke, so you're just killing off Konoha slowly until he finally gives in. That isn't right! You're hurting everyone but him! I could make it to the top of Hokage Tower, if I had some backup, and I could kill Sasuke in an instant!"

"No, you could…"

"SHADDUP! I won't run or hide anymore! I'll attack Konoha one week from now! Even if I have to do it alone, even if I'm bound to fail, I'm going to let Sasuke know I'm not afraid of him."

"And if you are killed?"

"Then I'll have died an honorable death rather than keeled over from old age and boredom."

Nobody said anything for a while. Naruto returned furious glares from Shino and Kiba. At long last, Lee broke the silence.

"Naruto-san…I'll go with you."

Tenten backed away from Lee, a look of disbelief on her face. "What? No! He…Shino…" Tenten just shook her head slowly, her mouth agape. Lee could not look at her.

"Tenten, I have to do this. Gai-sensei has been dead for almost five years, and his murderer walks free. My youth is leaving me, Tenten, I can feel it. I must avenge Gai-sensei while I am still able. I've wanted to face Neji for years. If Naruto-san needs backup, then I'll go, so long as I can face Neji. What he does with Sasuke is his own business."

"Lee, I will not be going with Naruto-san," Shino clarified, wanting to make sure Lee made an, if not intelligent, informed decision.

"Neither will I," Kiba added. He felt he had lost ground in the area of loyalty, and even if Naruto's plan wasn't suicidal he would work to gain that ground back.

"Lee, it'll just be the two of you," Tenten pleaded. "You can't do it. You're strong, stronger than anyone else I know. That is Gai-sensei's legacy, not his own life and not whatever revenge you have planned for Neji. Please…"

"Tenten, I'm going," Lee cut in sharply. That was it, and everyone knew it. Lee had made a promise long ago, to the very man who taught him about the honor of promises. He had joined Shino more to fulfill this promise than to actually bring Sasuke to justice for the hundreds of Leaf citizens slain by his regime. He had not planned on simply haunting the fields of Fire Country, his own group eventually rivaling Sasuke as the leading killer of Leaf shinobi.

"Me, too," an angry little voice declared. Naruto stepped to the side and turned around to let the rest of them see Hinata, her hands clasped tightly together in front of her and still shaking violently. Her eyes were red and swollen, her lips quivered as though she could cry at any time, and she stared at Kiba with more hatred than she had summoned in years.

"No, Hinata-san," Shino protested. "I can let Lee go because I know he can defend himself, but you are far too…"

"Quiet, Shino!"

Even Hinata was shocked at the rage in her voice and the audacity of her actions. Kiba returned her stare, obviously wounded and relatively sure that he deserved it.

"I followed you for years because I thought you needed me." Few present actually grasped that she was no longer speaking to Shino. Kiba was one of them. "Well, you don't need me and I sure as hell don't need you. I'm safe with Naruto-kun. When I'm with you, the whole world is darkness and danger. I'm safe now…stop trying to…" Hinata sobbed a bit, then gathered her courage and stood up again. She radiated defiance through her red eyes and wet cheeks. She walked angrily forward, up the first few steps to where Kiba was standing. She slapped him, her eyes never leaving his face. "I hate you," she lied through gritted teeth.

"Sasuke-sama!" Neji's voice called urgently from the door to the Hokage's office. He knew better than to walk in uninvited, but the news he brought was pressing. He knocked for the second time, stopping when he heard slow, calm footsteps from within approaching. He straightened his shoulders and stood at attention.

"What is it, Neji?" Sasuke asked, the door only open a crack. He stood in a sort of relaxed slump, his eyes half open and his robe simply held closed with his free hand. Neji could see the light of candles within, but didn't have time to consider what might be happening.

"Sir, Shikamaru has fled the village. My search parties have scanned the entire city and surrounding area. He's certainly abandoned us, sir."

Sasuke straightened up. "Are you sure he's not gone on business? Last year this same thing happened, and he came back a few hours later with some new samples for Ino to study."

"Ino-sama says she knows nothing of his whereabouts. I'm sorry, but I could not find Sakura for questioning. Nobody saw her leave the building…"

"Sakura, did you ask Shikamaru to go get anything for you?" Sasuke called back into the room.

"No, Sasuke-sama," Sakura answered weakly. Neji resisted the urge to raise an eyebrow.

"Well, there you go. Shikamaru's gone. Have you sent out ANBU to retrieve him?"

"No, Sasuke-sama. That's why I came to you. Do you think it'll do any good to send ANBU out to get Shikamaru?" Neji's eyes lowered a bit as he spoke.

"What? I thought you usually made that call. I've never been bothered to dispatch ANBU before."

"Neither have I, sir. Shikamaru usually did that."

Sasuke's face took on a look of annoyance. It was just like Shikamaru to make his defection troublesome.

Kiba wasn't depressed. He hadn't just convinced himself that he wasn't, he honestly wasn't. He was angry and disappointed and afraid, all for himself. He had always been morally unsteady, finding wrath and gluttony and drunkenness a quaint way of life, but his protective nature had always overridden whatever destructive desires he would have. First he had Akamaru to protect, then Hinata. When neither of them were around he got to see his true self, and he didn't like it one bit. His true self had slept with Temari the first chance it was given.

Temari watched him pack from the doorway to Gaara's bedroom. There wasn't much to packing when you're a shinobi, especially if you specialized in wilderness survival. A few token weapons, a change of clothes, a few blank maps. Still, she watched, with a loving sort of satisfaction.

"Do you have to keep looking at me like that?" Kiba finally growled.

"I don't have to, no. There are a lot of things I could be doing right now. Any requests?" Temari stepped into the room, letting the door slowly close.

"Bother somebody else," Kiba offered, walking to the other side of the room and looking out from the balcony. Temari followed him, pretending not to notice that her proximity was unwelcome.

"KIBA!" A voice sounded from the bedroom door, vaguely familiar but consciously alien. After a moment or two of drifting, the scent of its owner washed into the room, and Kiba's eyes shot wide open.


Problems forgotten, Kiba turned and leapt over the ornately large bed to embrace his friend. Shikamaru didn't quite expect this and was rather unprepared, but acted like he was okay with it.

"What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be pouring Sasuke's coffee or something?" Kiba joked, releasing the startled Nara.

"Yeah, probably, but Chouji's taking over for me in Hokage Tower. With Kakashi back on active duty, I don't think my efforts would go unnoticed any longer. No more inept ANBU attacks, no more convoy raids, no more secret messages. I have to do some real field work for once."

"Does Shino know you're here?"

"Yeah, he and I already spoke. I'll be going with you three to the Mist."

"Mist?" Temari echoed, a little confused. "You…aren't going back to Fire Country?"

"Hell no!" Kiba piped in. "Shino says we need to lobby the Mist for support. They might have some troops to lend now that we don't have Lee and Hinata."

"…and Naruto," Temari offered.


A brief, awkward silence followed. Kiba looked blankly at both Temari and Shikamaru, as if daring them to repeat the name.

"Well, we're all ready to go, Kiba, so head downstairs soon as you're done chatting up your girlfriend." Shikamaru shot a malicious smile at Temari before turning for the door. "Oh, and Kiba?"


"Loose lips sink ships."

Kiba blinked in slight disorientation. He looked around, but only saw Temari looking at the door with distaste. What did Shikamaru have against her? She was hazardous and possessive, certainly, but she obviously wasn't their enemy.

"Stubborn jackass," Temari muttered, grabbing Kiba's pack and throwing it at him. "Go on, your friends want to leave. I'll be here when you return. Don't keep me waiting."

Kiba resisted the urge to laugh. She didn't even realize what a mistake she had been.

Sasuke had left his office door open, a rare sign of confidence on the Hokage's part. Neji stepped inside cautiously, spotting his leader staring out of his window. A smile, even rarer than an office door unclosed, had crept onto Sasuke's lips. From the back room, Sasuke's quarters, came a soft sound like crying that Neji chose to ignore.

"Sasuke-sama?" he prompted. Sasuke looked back from the window and took a few steps toward the door.

"Shh. Keep quiet, Neji. What is it?"

"Two of your guests have arrived, sir. They were headed for the Water Country when we picked them up."

"Did they resist?"

"No, sir. When they heard you were leading Konohagakure, they were enthusiastic about coming to see you. They appear to hold no grudge, but we've kept them under close guard the entire time."

"Very good, my friend. Take me to them."

Neji's eyes opened slightly wider at this display of kindness from Sasuke, his quick mind doing gymnastics trying to decipher this apparent good mood. Sasuke followed Neji down the long, wide spiral staircase to the ground floor of Hokage Tower, then across the street to the ANBU head office. There, on their knees, were two men in black cloaks. They were not forced to bow, but knew better than to show anything but the utmost respect for Sasuke. They had seen him in action before, and feared him desperately.

"Rise," Sasuke commanded. Even this order seemed to be light of tone, a fact lost on neither the ANBU that filled the hall nor the two visitors.

"Sasuke-sama, it is an honor to see you again." The taller of the two spoke, though his thick accent and strange voice made his words seem to gargle in his mouth. "I hope you feel no ill will toward us with regards to our last encounter. Please understand that we only fought you for our own preservation."

"Of course, Kisame-san. It was only natural, and it seems to have turned in my favor. I'm glad that my men have found you so quickly." He turned to the shorter of the two men and raised an eyebrow. After a moment of halfhearted study, Sasuke stuck out his hand. "I don't believe we've met."

"I'm sorry, I don't shake hands…yeah…" the short man said with a shrug.

"Oh, please excuse Deidara," Kisame said quickly. "He'd like to shake your hand, I'm sure, but he has certain…oddities…that would make the experience less than pleasant for both of you."

Sasuke blinked, then smiled. "I see. Well, Kisame-san, I had you brought here because I have two favors to ask of you."

"I'm honored," Kisame responded with his typical toothy grin.

"First of all, I'd like to know where the other five members of Akatsuki can be found."

"Five?" Deidara echoed, looking confused. He turned to Kisame, who shrugged. "There are seven others, yeah. Akatsuki has nine members. Always has."

Sasuke narrowed one eye in suspicion. "But…you had nine, then Orochimaru-sensei quit, I killed Itachi and the two of you are here. That leaves five."

Kisame chuckled. "You know half the story, then. We aren't stagnant in our membership. We let others join when our numbers permit. We've lost several members since our founding and all of them have been carefully replaced. Itachi was a difficult loss, since he was our senior member until you exacted justice upon him, but we've found a suitable substitute nonetheless. Our number is nine, as it has always been."

Sasuke nodded in approval. "Excellent. Well, I'll expect you to tell me how to contact them, and I'd like you to join my forces as shinobi of the Leaf."

Deidara and Kisame looked at each other uneasily. "That could be a problem, Sasuke-sama," Kisame finally sighed. "Akatsuki exists with a specific purpose. If we are not…"

"I'm currently trying to capture the man who holds within him the Nine-Tails. We expect that Gaara will be joining him soon."

Deidara's eyes lit up. Kisame stopped talking and smiled wider. "Where do we sign up, Boss?"

Camp was exceedingly quiet as soon as night fell. Naruto sat and stared at the fire, trying to remember anything about Konoha's design that might provide him some method of entry other than walking in the front door. It had been eight years since he had last been there, so alternatives seemed vague in his mind. Reluctantly, he posed the question to his comrades.

"How should we get into the city?" he asked solemnly. "If we go through the gates, we'll be killed right off. Is there another way in?"

"There was, but not anymore," Lee responded. "There was a secret exit that led into the mountain, then down into the streets. It was useful because it opened right in the forest, where nobody could see further than ten meters ahead of them. Sasuke clear-cut the forest for ten kilometers around the city as soon as he took over so he could see enemy forces advancing. There's no way to approach without being spotted."

"Shino said something about a flaw in the guard system. What was that?"

"Shikamaru designed a subtle flaw in the observation range of the guards. He left one blind spot that would appear once a month at a specific spot for about half an hour. It won't come around for about three weeks and, even then, I don't know exactly where it is. Do you, Hinata?"

Hinata didn't speak, but shook her head. The men noticed for the first time that she was staring into the fire, teary-eyed, but said nothing about it.

"If we can't burst in without dying, and we can't sneak in, then we'll need a distraction. Unfortunately, there are only three of us, and you two are only trained for hand-to-hand combat. I suppose I'll have to be the distraction, then. If I get you into the village, Lee, do you think you can take out Sasuke?"

"No," Lee said, completely earnest. "I've thought about this a lot. Neji will come out to face me, and whether I defeat him or not I will be unable to continue to fight. Somebody else will have to kill Sasuke."

"What about you, Hinata-chan?"

Hinata looked up for the first time since the fire had been lit. "Me?" she asked, unbelieving.

"Yeah. Could you get him?"

"That's a bad idea, Naruto-san," Lee interjected. "As a Hyuuga, Hinata-san has a very wide range of vision. Avoiding eye contact with Sasuke will be impossible, even if she managed to get to the top of Hokage Tower. That's why we had Kiba."

"Right, right," Naruto groaned, rubbing his head. He didn't like hearing that name. "Well, then Hinata will back me up, and I'll get to Sasuke myself. I'll have to rely on Shadow Clones to get that far, but I've beaten more difficult opponents. As long as…oh, shit…"


"When I fought Kakashi-sensei…" A long silence. Naruto placed his hand on his stomach.

"Naruto-san, what is it?" Lee looked around, as if some present threat had been detected.

"Kakashi-sensei used the Five-Element seal on the Nine-Tails. I don't have my usual power reserves. All I have is my own chakra, and then that's it."

Lee looked at Naruto and raised a thick, black eyebrow. "Nine-Tails?"

Naruto let out his breath and plastered on a smile. "It's nothing. Don't worry. I haven't even used it in a year or so. I doubt it'll be necessary as long as I have you two as backup." Naruto's nervous laugh fooled no-one, but Lee knew better than to press with doubtful questions. He doubted he had the confidence he would eventually need, but knew better than to shatter that of his comrades.

"Naruto-san," he said finally. "How did you and Hinata-san know where to find Shino the night Kakashi attacked you?"

Naruto chuckled sincerely. "We didn't. I just started checking the big, expensive-looking buildings until I found him. I woke up two rich families and a barracks before we figured out where he was."

"Come on, Anko, this is an academy exercise," Kakashi insisted, feeling a right fool in his own home. His arm was bent, his elbow resting on a table. Anko was in the same position, sitting opposite him and clasping his hand in hers.

"You have to get the basics back if you want to move on to the more complex stuff. I promise we'll advance quickly, but you have to start at the bottom and work your way up." Anko reveled in holding Kakashi's hand for hours on end but said nothing of it. That he was, for once, neither angry nor bordering on schizophrenia was a treat as well. "Ready?" she patronized.

"Ready," he groaned.

"Go!" In an instant, the tabletop cracked. The force of their two chakras, colliding in their hands as they arm-wrestled, was an immense weight on the nearby objects. A blue light began to swirl around their clenched knuckles as Kakashi slowly overtook his instructor, finally pinning her wrist. They relaxed, and Anko shook out her arm.

"There. Now can we do some real training?"

"Not at all! You have far more chakra than I do, Kakashi-kun, but you took at least twenty seconds to pin me! That's a disgrace! We'll try again. We're not moving on until you make it in three seconds. No arguments."

"This is ridiculous," Kakashi insisted. He pushed the table away in anger, stood, and moved to leave the room.

"You wouldn't want me to tell Sasuke-sama that you gave up on your training, would you?" Anko called in a singsong voice. Kakashi froze, then turned and fell back into his chair with a sigh.

"You'll be the death of me, woman." He put his arm back onto the table.

"I'll bet you say that to all the girls." Anko grabbed his hand.

"No, Anko, I can honestly say that you are the only woman I have ever said that to."

Slowly, the sand from the Country of Wind faded, and the green plains of the northern border of Fire Country opened before the remnants of Shino's rebellion. When the Sand's ANBU had faded from view, Kiba moved to walk within speaking distance of Shikamaru.

"Hey," he said quietly. "What's wrong with talking in front of Temari?"

Shikamaru sighed. Shino really was the brains of the outfit. "Kiba, think about it. How would Kakashi know where to find us?"

"He…um…well, he must have been tipped off."

"Good. Now, who could have tipped him off?"


"Yes, but think about it. Sunagakure keeps its ANBU tightly regulated. It's very militaristic compared to Konoha. If the ANBU were to betray us, somebody would have had to give the order."

"Yeah, but why would that person be Temari? There are a dozen people that give orders to Suna's ANBU squads."

"True, but we have been searching for you guys in earnest for years now. You've been to Sunagakure a hundred times. Why would they supply that information now, suddenly? What's changed?"

"We had Naruto," Kiba offered intelligently.

"Yes, but that isn't a change in the command chain of Sunagakure. We've been looking for you guys, remember? Naruto is just icing on the cake."

"Well, Gaara and Kankurou are gone, too."

"There you go." Shikamaru looked strait ahead, as though the conversation were finished. When Kiba didn't go away, he simplified the logic further. "Gaara and Kankurou were the only things keeping the informant from ratting you out. Temari was in charge when the informant revealed your location to Sasuke, and so she either allowed the betrayal or, perhaps, ordered it herself."

"That would mean that Sasuke knows about Naruto, Lee, and Hinata leaving our rebellion, and that you've defected to our side, and that the four of us are going to Mist for help."


"…Then, didn't we just give away our hand?"

Shikamaru smiled. "This is what we call counter-espionage, Kiba."

Kiba shivered. "Then, I slept with a woman who was planning to stab me in the back?"

"Yes, but that's unavoidable for any man." Shikamaru stopped for a moment and looked back at Kiba. "Wait, Temari slept with you? I mean, really?"

Kiba wrinkled his forehead, looking slightly offended. "Yeah, why?"

"No reason," Shikamaru lied. "That's just an odd move for her to make."

Kiba cocked an eyebrow at Shikamaru. "Excuse me?"

"Politically, I mean."

End Chapter Six

I'll post Chapter Seven once I decide that this chapter has been out long enough to be read by all those wishing to keep up with the plot. Don't forget to review, as I'm still taking suggestions for the next chapter as well as those to come. Thank you for your time.