Despite protests from the remaining members of the team (mainly Temari), it was decided that all members of Konoha; injured or not, would return to the village immediately, by the order of the Fifth Hokage herself. The reason she gave was that it was much easier and less time consuming to make one, big trip; rather than having intelligence and specialists travelling to and from the lands, which, she thought, would make the whole situation a lot more complicated than it already was.
They all knew she was right.
Neji had told nobody of his dream, and he was desperate to confide in somebody. Therefore, when told they were to leave the very next morning, he was partly relieved. Konoha had spread the message for any of the village's ninjas who were on missions nearby or returning and would be passing Suna, to help the journey.
A total of 12 showed up.
One of them was a large, extremely tanned, muscular kunoichi by the name of Maruko. She was twice the height of Neji and probably twice as wide too. She spoke in a loud booming voice, with a thick accent which Neji could not quite define. Kiba winced every time she opened her mouth to speak, and Akamaru drew the line at disappearing every time she walked into the room. However, she was extremely helpful. Maruko could easily carry Lee in her arms and run at the same time.
The rest, however, had to resort to being carried by two men at a time. The remaining people carried supplies; and a team of 6 had been formed to encircle the group and act as protectors and guards.
By now, Sakura and Shikamaru had turned sickly pale, almost vampire like. Their skin was cold and clammy, while their lips had turned a shade of dark, purple-red. Sakura became fully unconscious early in the morning before they were due to depart, and Shikamaru also fell soon after.
"Promise me you'll save him." Temari whispered to Neji as he prepared to take his first step away from Suna. He gave her a sturdy nod, and the journey began.
Meanwhile, under the dark, moonlit grounds of the Hyuuga complex, two shadowy figures swept past the bushes and quietly crept behind a tree. They looked towards a house. It was midnight now, and the house was dark and quiet – only a single window on the second floor remained bright. Slowly, she activated her Byakugan and looked in.
Matsuo was working at his desk. Inside the house, his wife and child were asleep, and a young servant girl was writing in a diary in her bedroom.
Hinata signaled to Naruto, and the two crept up under the window. Silently, they counted to each other in a secret, soundless code.
And then they attacked.
It was swift, silent, and near perfection, but Matsuo must have heard them before they reached him, as he suddenly shot up from his chair and turned to face the window. However, by then, it was too late. Naruto lunged; carefully whipped a flat palm sideways into the crook of his neck, and Matsuo gave a muffled cry before he fell. Hinata caught him.
Somewhere in the other room, a baby began to cry.
Neji had had a lot of time to think during his silent journey back to Konoha. As he sat outside the Hokage's office, he went through his thoughts. By the time he was summoned in, he had made up his mind.
The room was warm as the summer air blew in from the windows.
The Hokage closed her eyes as she listened to his story. When he finished, she opened them again, and stared intently into his eyes.
"And what do you propose to do?" She asked quietly.
"There is nothing else I can do." He said. "Except…"
She closed her eyes again as he continued.
"I want to know where he is."
The Hokage was silent; her breathing steady. There were dark circles under her eyes. However strong the youth-enhancing jutsu she had used on herself was, it seemed it had worn off slightly over the past few days. He realized how the fifth was now paler, jaded, and he had some good ideas to the reasons behind.
For a moment, Neji almost thought she had fallen asleep, until she suddenly opened her eyes again.
"To be honest with you, Neji" she sighed. "I have no idea where he is."
"You mean to tell me he isn't in the village anymore?" he asked testily.
"I mean to tell you I have no idea." She repeated. "The last time I saw him, he was in the forest west of training ground number 7. I told this to Sakura, and now I tell you the same." She looked away.
They were silent again, for a very long time.
"I must find him." He whispered.
The Tsunade gave him a hard look.
"Neji," she started. "It's about time…"
"I won't give up." He said sternly. "Thank you for your time, ma'm. I will see you soon."
"Neji!" Hinata's muffled voice came from the other side of the door, and he suddenly remembered – he had more pressing problems.
He sighed. After the conversation with Tsunade, he had returned soundlessly to his room. He was sure nobody, not even a maid had seen him. How Hinata found out he was back, he had no idea. She was the last person he wanted to confront at the moment, which was one of the main reasons why he had decided to return unnoticed. He knew she cared a lot about that Naruto boy, who, in turn, cared a lot for the person he was about to pursue, to an extent he almost felt guilty with what he had decided to do.
"Come in," he said, tossing away the towel he had used in the shower.
The door almost slammed open, as Hinata staggered in, with the blond boy close behind her. Both of them breathless, flushed, but somehow, seemingly pleased.
"What have you guys been up to?" he ordered, persuading himself that the first thing that had popped into his mind was definitely not what they had been doing.
"We kidnapped Matsuo!" she squealed.
Tenten knew, even before she entered the room, that Ai was angry.
"Back?" Tenten asked nonchalantly.
"Karasu just told me something very interesting." She sneered.
Tenten had no idea who Karasu was. She knew of her, Ai always spoke of her, as if she were her partner in crime, but physically, Tenten had never seen her. Apparently, she was in charge of obtaining information. She realized that people under Orochimaru liked to work under aliases. Although Ai's real name was Aoki Ai, she consistently referred to herself to "Arisa", and refused to accept to be known as otherwise whenever they were alone in the room, and this also seemed to be what she was known as in her Orochimaru community. Tenten guessed that "Karasu" must also be some sort of alias as well.
"What did she tell you?"
"Stupid dumb bitch…" Ai replied. Tenten had no idea whether she was referring to herself or her partner.
"Always crying, always sobbing. I keep telling her to stop being such a…"
Ai stopped and turned back to Tenten.
"I was going to meet master, that's why I left. Your people must've found out, because they decided that going on an assassination mission would be a good idea. What fools!" she shrieked out a laugh.
"W..what?" Tenten choked.
"Karasu easily realized what they were planning. She informed our master immediately."
"Hn… I guess she is good for something." Ai continued, ignoring Tenten's questions. "Two of your friends are now at the brink of their death. If your little boyfriend doesn't bring us Sasuke soon, it'll be too late." Ai gave her a chilling smile.
"What do you say, eh?"
"No…" Tenten whispered. "Who is? What have you done to them?"
Ai gave another laugh.
"You know, beautiful," she whispered, running a finger across her chin.
"You can easily put your boyfriend out of his misery and guilt if only…"
"I TOLD you! We don't know where Uchiha fucking Sasuke is! Why don't you guys listen?"
Ai moved away from the bed immediately, and Tenten felt a sharp pain in her head.
"Shut up." Ai ordered, and Tenten realized she could not speak.
"Somebody is coming."
Indeed, a few seconds later, there was a quiet knock on the door.
"Come in!" Ai chirped in her sweet voice. The door crept open, and a beautiful girl with long, flowing dark brown hair stepped in. Tenten recognized her; she was Kasumi Sano, the girl whom Neji trained and worked with. Her parents had died years ago, like her, and Tenten always felt a sort of sympathy, even a connection with her. Tenten had lost her parents when she was born – she did not have to suffer the pain of loss of love, but Kasumi had to.
Ai clicked her tongue in annoyance.
"I told you not to come to the hospital!" she said.
"I…I'm sorry." Kasumi stuttered, glancing over at Tenten.
She did not understand. Why was Kasumi here, and how did she know Ai?
Ai rolled her eyes.
"Well, what is it?" she asked, annoyed.
"I think Neji has decided to find Sasuke."
A faint grin hinted at Ai's lips.
"He should've done that a long time ago, shouldn't he?"
"Yes, but Arisa!" she exclaimed. "Do you think he'll be able to do in time? Sakura and Shikamaru are close…"
Arisa? Kasumi was calling Ai "Arisa", the alias she used in her Orochimaru community?
Suddenly, a sharp realization hit Tenten painfully in the chest. Could it be…
"Why would you give a shit about them!?" Ai whispered dangerously. "You do remember where your loyalties lie, don't you, Karasu?"
That was all the confirmation Tenten needed.
There was a sort of stunned silence in the room as Neji braced himself, prepared for what might be coming; a punch, a slap, a kick…maybe even something life threatening. He knew he deserved it, and he would have done the same.
But nothing came, and he watched as Naruto stared intently at the ground, any sort of previous excitement had disappeared.
"H…how could you!?" Hinata whispered hoarsly.
"After what Naruto has done for you… he helped me help you, Neji!"
Neji remained silent.
"This is how you repay him, by proclaiming to kill his best friend?" Hinata stepped up to face Neji.
"Sasuke is all he's got left in the world, Neji! How COULD YOU!"
By now, Hinata was screaming, as hot tears began to roll down her face. Neji had to admit he was stunned. The words stung him, but it was Hinata's reaction which triggered most of his guilt. He had never, ever seen her so raw and passionate with emotion before.
"I should never have helped you, Neji!"
Both Hyuugas turned to look at the boy who had spoken. He put a hand on her shoulder, without looking up from the ground.
"Neji is right." He said quietly. "If it weren't for Sasuke, none of this would be happening."
"But Naruto kun…"
"Tenten would not have been attacked and lying in bed…" he said, ignoring Hinata's interruption. "Matsuo would not have had the chance to plan a rebellion; Sakura and Shikamaru would not be in the hospital dying…"
There was a long silence between the three people. Only the sound of Hinata's sobs rang through the room.
"Thank you." Neji finally said. "You are a good man, Naruto."
A/N: ABOUT TIME YOU UPDATED, EH, XHOLICX?