Brushing delicate fingers across the rough fabric, marveling the red and white cloud design that had gained a negative reputation for almost two decades, a slender, platinum blonde woman scrubbed her blue eyes with her other hand, wiping away any and all tears that had started to form.

A small tugging on the back of the woman's black training pants brought her out of her reverie. Turning around she bent down to face the tugger. Placing a calloused and worked hand on the three year old boy's head, she smiled and said,

"Yuukei-chan? Is there something you want?" the boy stuck his hand in his mouth and said quietly,

"Mama…can I go play at Chiaki's house?" It took her a few seconds to decode what the boy said over his fist, but she smiled and said,

"Of course. Mama was just about to go visit Hokage-kun." Yuukei's face lit up instantly and he scrambled for his little courier bag.

A few minutes later found the woman and her son on a steady pace towards the large red building in the center of the village. The brisk fall did nothing but force her mind to wander off.

It had been over three years since Uzumaki Naruto had become Hokage, and over three years since he had proclaimed the holiday that she hated so much. Haruno Sakura had been her best friend since she was 8, and although it had drifted off for a few years, after both she and Sakura had attended the Chuunin Exams, it rekindled, and in the time before Yuukei was born, she hardly remembered a Friday not spent at the pink haired girl's house.

Uchiha Sasuke was someone she did not like. When she was younger, he was the cause of her and Sakura's fallout. Looking back, she couldn't comprehend why she held a crush for him. Actually, she did know, she just didn't want to admit that she was following the crowd.

By the time she had been placed on her genin team, her spark for Sasuke had all but been diminished. Sakura, though… she had hoped the pink haired girl would let it blow over as she had. No, it seemed that Sakura's affections for the raven haired Uchiha were genuine, and when he came back, she was the first to accept him back, other than Naruto, of course.

At least Sasuke wasn't so much of a bastard. He married Sakura within the first year of being back, and through his emotionless demeanor, she could tell that he indeed loved Sakura in return.

"Mama! We're there!" A small voice said excitedly. Blinking, the blonde looked up and saw that they had indeed walked the entire way to the Hokage tower. Giving Yuukei a weak smile she nodded and took the boy's hand.

"Halt! State your business." A tall ANBU said, his hand out to prevent her and her son from entering.

"I'm just here to see Hokage-sama. If he is busy I can come back later. My son has something he wishes to ask him." The ANBU paused for a second before opening the door for her.

A tall blonde sat at the desk scratching his head and writing on a few papers. The stacks of reports did not look like they were any smaller from last week, when she last visited him. Yuukei ran up to Naruto and tugged on the trench-vest he had taken to wearing lately.

"Nato, Nato! Where's Chiaki?" Naruto jumped. Looking weakly down at the black haired boy, he looked up at the entrance, where he waved weakly.

"Ahh…Ino! Um, Yuukei, I believe that Chiaki is in the next room with his Kaa-chan."

"No, he's right here." A soft yet strong voice said from the doorway that Naruto had pointed too. Ino looked over and saw the little blonde haired, milky eyed boy hide behind his mother's lavender coloured jacket.

"Ah. Hinata. What a pleasure to see you." Ino said. Hinata smiled kindly and gently pushed Chiaki towards Yuukei.

"Hinata-chan! Wanna skip out for some ramen? Ino! You're invited too!" Hinata clicked her tongue.

"No. I have to run a few errands, and I'm sure that's why Ino here brought Yuukei-chan to play with Chiaki-chan. If you watch the children, I will bring you back a few bowls from Ichiraku's." Before Naruto could protest, or agree, Hinata whisked Ino out of the entrance, and she was down the stairs that led to the road before she knew it. Turning to Hinata she said,

"Wow… you're fast for a pregnant lady." Hinata blushed and rubbed her rather large stomach.

"Ino…" She said. Ino laughed and Hinata couldn't help but smile.

"My my, Chiaki-chan is growing more and more everyday! Maybe now that he gets to eat something other than ramen everyday, he won't be a midget like his father was." Hinata grinned.

"I suppose. But look at Yuukei-chan! He's looking more and more like his father everyday, I'm surprised that Sasuke hasn't said anything yet." Ino stopped. Her blood ran cold. Hinata walked a few more steps before realizing that Ino had stopped. Turning, she saw that the blonde looked a slight shade of green.

"W-what?" Ino stuttered out. Hinata was quiet for a moment.

"I grew up the heir to the most prestigious clan in Konoha…since I could walk and wear a kimono Otou-sama took me to all of the meetings between clans, hoping, and succeeding to drill politics into me. I remember meeting with the Uchiha's many times before the massacre. Sasuke-san and I used to be playmates…Itachi-san had even babysat me and my sister on occasion. I am assuming that Itachi-san is Yuukei's father, as Sasuke-san is taken." Ino put her hand on her forehead and exhaled.

"No one knows this. I'd prefer to keep the fact that the love of my life was an S-ranked criminal a secret. I don't know what they would do to Yuukei-chan if they found out…" Hinata smiled gently.

"Your secret is safe with me. Besides, everyone assumes that Sai-kun is the father, according to the bath house, anyway." Ino couldn't help but laugh. True, the two tried dating when they were younger, but Sai lacked the passion that Ino needed, and they settled on friends.

"Well…I guess that isn't so bad…Hinata…I think, actually, that I need a long nap. Do you mind…?"

"Do I mind looking after Yuukei-chan? Of course not. He's practically my second son. After I run the errands, I'll be going back home, so just come to the compound to pick up Yuukei whenever you feel like it." Ino smiled and gave Hinata a quick hug before sprinting up the side of a building.

The jump to her apartment was a short one, but Ino loved every minute of the adrenaline packed soar over every space between buildings. She secretly wondered if the reason most people became ninja was to feel the wind as they jumped impossible heights.

Landing beside her apartment window, she opened it and silently crawled inside. Her apartment was not small, but nor was it large. Two bedrooms and a kitchen-living room combo. Taking her sandals off while still attached to the wall was tricky, but Ino had mastered it within months of first living in the apartment. She placed the sandals on a small shelf built specifically for when she felt like entering through the window and let her feet touch the worn wood floors.

Ino fingered the long and heavy cloak that hung on a coat rack in the corner of her room. Taking it off the rack, she swung it around her shoulders, glad that the musky smell hadn't faded too much over the years.

Ino remembered the first time she met the elder Uchiha. She had been 7, and she had stumbled upon the Uchiha compound.

"Ah! Little girl! Are you lost?" An old lady with a gray bun asked a small blonde girl. The girl blushed and twisted her hands into her shirt.

"N-no…a little…" The old woman laughed and Ino blushed.

"What's your name, dear?"

"I-Ino…" The old woman handed her a steaming bun and said,

"Here, freshly made. Tell me, Ino-chan, what are doing wandering the compound?" Ino bit into the bun and gave a small laugh.

"This is so good! Oba-chan, you're a good cook!" The old woman smiled and Ino continued through a mouthful of the bun.

"Mmphf, I'm rookin fo Fafgay-gun." The old lady let what Ino said register in her mind for a few seconds before saying,

"Oh! Sasuke-chan? He lives at the end of the road. The big house on the left. Oh! While you're going there, would you bring this to Makoto-chan? That's Sasuke-chan's mother. And this little one to Itachi-chan? That's his older brother." Ino took the bags and bowed a thank you before darting down the street.

Saying that the Uchiha main family household was large was an understatement. It was enormous! Two stories full of large traditional rice paper walls, and from what Ino could see, a small pond to the side, and a large lake behind it.

Ino suddenly felt intimidated. She slowly and quietly knocked on what she assumed to be the entryway door. A few seconds passed by before she heard the patter of feet running towards the door. The wooden door slid open with a small bang, and a boy her age with raven hair and onyx eyes looked at her while breathing heavy.

"Can I help you?" Ino smiled widely.

"It's me! Ino! From school!" Sasuke blinked and started to withdraw back into his house when someone came behind Sasuke.

"Sasuke…who's at the door?" The boy, taller than Sasuke by a few heads, had bags under his eyes, and an aura that suggested danger. Sasuke jumped and turned.

"Nii-chan! Don't sneak up on me like that!" Ino realized that this must be Itachi and her secondary mission kicked in.

"U-um…Itachi-san? The old lady at the bun stand just up the road told me to give this to you…" Ino held out a small bag and Itachi reached over his brother to take it. Itachi's fingers brushed Ino's and she blushed. Itachi opened the paper bag and peered inside. Looking down at the small blonde girl he gave her a rare smile.

"Who's the second bag for?" Ino paused; her finger gravitated towards her lip in thought.

"Uhmmm… Ma-…Makoto-san? Yea! Makoto-san!"

"Ka-chan?" Sasuke said. Itachi turned and said,

"Sasuke, escort her to Ka-san…I have to see Tou-san." Sasuke stuck his tongue out at Itachi's back and grabbed Ino's wrist.

"C'mon! Ka-chan usually hangs out in the kitchen!" Sasuke dragged the poor blonde through a short hall before stopping in a large and old fashioned kitchen, where Makoto was indeed, doing dishes.

"Ka-chan! Oba-chan brought us something!" Makoto paused and turned her upper body to face her younger son.

"O-oh! Who's this adorable little girl?" Sasuke shrugged and Ino said,

"A-aa...I'm Ino… The old lady said to give this to you…" Ino held out the larger bag and Makoto, still holding a wet plate, took it with her free hand. Placing it on the counter, she deftly opened it with her one hand and peered inside.

"Well, it looks like Oba-chan made us some buns for the week!" Sasuke made a little noise of glee, he loved his great-aunt's buns.

"Thank you Ino-chan! Is there another reason that you came here today? Or is that everything?" Ino paused and looked at Sasuke, who tried to avoid looking her in the eye. Feeling rather deflated, Ino deftly shook her head.

"Mmno… That's it. Sorry to bother you…I'll just go now." As Ino turned to leave, she bumped right into Itachi. Sasuke jumped again and said loudly,

"Nii-chan! Stop that! Just because you're ANBU doesn't mean you can sneak up on us!" Itachi smirked and Makoto said in a kind but stern voice.

"Now, now. Boys… What did I say about fighting?" Itachi looked away; a slight dusting of rose graced his cheeks. Sasuke looked at the floor and mumbled,

"To take it outside… Sorry Ka-chan…" Makoto nodded her head and turned to the dishes.

"Sasuke, Tou-san wants to see you." Sasuke stiffened, but nodded and turned to go down the hall. Itachi made as to walk away, but Makoto piped up.

"Itachi, would you please escort Ino-chan to the entrance of the compound?" Itachi turned and said,

"Of course, Ka-san." Makoto smiled, but inside she felt sad that her son addressed her with such formality.

Itachi held his hand out to Ino and the blonde girl took it with a blush. Walking out into the street, Itachi didn't let go of her hand, so Ino didn't ether.

"So… Ino was your name?" Itachi asked. Ino nodded slowly.

"What's your family name? Do I know them?" Ino hummed and said,

"Yamanaka…You probably do. I met Sasuke-kun when your father came over once." Itachi nodded.

"So Inoichi-san is your father?" Ino squinted in thought.
"I-I think so. Mama just calls him Ino." Itachi nodded. Ino squeezed her hand out of reflex, and jumped when Itachi squeezed back. Looking up at Itachi, he was staring straight ahead, but his lips kept twitching, almost as if he wanted to smile. Ino narrowed her eyes. This meant war.

Ino squeezed his hand as hard as she could, and although she would realize years later, that Itachi held back, she thought he was doing the same. It wasn't until Ino burst out into giggles did she stop squeezing.

"Ok! Ok! You win! Happy now?" Itachi turned to her and said, matter of a factly,

"Why yes, yes I am." Ino burst out into laughter again and Itachi let a full grin creep onto his face.

The gates came into sight a lot faster than Ino would have wished. Itachi turned to her and let her hand go. Ino regretted the loss of warmth and comfort.

"I guess I will see you later then… Next time your Oba-chan needs a delivery, tell her to call me." Ino smiled warmly and Itachi said,

"I will." He placed his hand on Ino's head and mussed her blonde hair up. When Ino stopped protesting and started glaring, he said,

"Be good, now, Ino-chan. I'll see you later." Itachi gave her a grin before turning and walking back into the compound.

Ino stood at the entrance, watching her new friend walk away. She waved when he looked back, and much to her delight, he waved back. Turning to go home, she smiled at the warm feeling the older Uchiha brother gave her when he smiled.

Three days later, Ino had tried to visit him, but was told off by the police force. Ino was greatly confused. She asked her father what had happened, and was mortified to learn that Itachi had murdered his entire clan, except for Sasuke. For the next few years, she could never decide between hating him and trying to understand his actions.

Ino puckered her bottom lip. The cloak served as a comfort item that she held close when she was feeling bad. Sitting up, she put the cloak on properly, amused at how the sleeves always fell past her fingers, although the bottom of the cloak only reached her ankles.

Ino thought back to a time when Yuukei was still a newborn and he wouldn't stop crying, no matter what Ino did, she had henged her hair and eyes black, took eyeliner and drew bags under her eyes. She pulled the cloak on and fiddled with the red beaded necklace that she wore everyday under her shirt. The smell of Itachi calmed down Yuukei rather easily, and when Ino saw herself in a mirror, she almost laughed, fancying herself Itachi's Orioke no Jutsu. She then promised to put Naruto's head through a wall for inventing such a stupid jutsu.

Walking into the kitchen, she brewed a cup of tea and sat down to drink it at her kitchen table. Thoughts of Itachi always eventually brought her to tears. It also brought her fear and shame for that fear.

She feared that someone would find out about her relation with Itachi and take away Yuukei, so she had hidden all traces of Itachi, except for the cloak and the necklace. Although the cloak had a neat genjutsu that Kurenai had taught her when Ino was babysitting her son one day. It hid items by making them look like something similar, but more ordinary. The only people who could see through the genjutsu were people who knew the truth; that was a twist that Ino had invented herself.

She was glad that Hinata had promised not to tell anyone, as if she had let Naruto know, he would have been forced to take action. Her shame came from having to hide her relationship and encourage the rumours about Sai.

It was the shame that led Ino to let all of her association with Sakura slowly fade away. She was afraid that if she let Yuukei associate with his cousins too much, Sasuke would recognize the features that the boy inherited.

It was from shame that Ino would not let Yuukei know about his heritage. She knew eventually he would activate his Sharingan, and a whole sea of questions would arise. She was preparing herself for it everyday.

It stung her each and every time that Yuukei called Sai "Papa". It stung even more that Sai had never once objected, but he had thrown Ino a questioning glance once.

It stung, but she knew it was for the best if Yuukei grew up thinking that his father was a respected ANBU captain, and that both his parents were personal friends with the Hokage.

Sipping her tea, she found that the cup was empty. Sighing, she felt a yawn come as she made her way back to bed. Sprawling on her stomach, Ino heaved a sigh. Her eyes drooped and Ino slowly fell asleep, she dreamt of how she and Itachi met after the massacre.

"Ino! Slow down! Stop being reckless!" Shikamaru called after her. Ino angrily rolled her eyes and gritted her teeth. Ever since Asuma died, Ino had been nothing but a moody ball of anger. This mission happened to fall on her 16th birthday, and it was bloody hot out. Shikamaru, Sai, and herself, of course, were hired, along with another team of three chuunin that Ino did not personally know, to scout around a small village in different directions, keeping a look out for Uchiha Itachi and Hoshigake Kisame, who had been spotted in the area.

Despite Shikamaru's warnings, Ino did not slow down. She wanted the patrol to end so she could enjoy the rest of her birthday in peace and shade. A large snap sounded behind her, and Ino looked back. Shikamaru and Sai were gone from her vision, which made her worry. Ino moved to slow down, but her foot hit nothing but air.

A brief moment of panic followed as Ino swung her head around, only to black out.

When she woke up again, the only thing she was aware of was the horrible pounding that was supposed to be her face. Ino tried to blink, but one of her eyes wouldn't open. When she tried to sit up, a sharp pain in her left leg almost made her scream.

For nearly ten minutes Ino laid on the ground trying not to writhe around in agony. Her arms seemed to work painlessly enough, and she used them to delicately feel out how badly she was hurt.

Her nose was definitely broken. It was sitting at a slightly off center angle, and the right side of her face was swollen. It had swollen her right eye shut. Ino groaned at how she must have looked. The dry crusty stuff that covered her chin and chest was most definitely blood. The thought of having to clean her top made Ino groan again.

Feeling her arms, she was relieved to find nothing more than scratches. A small gash on her stomach had already crusted over. Her leg was a different story. She had hoped that she was merely torn open…maybe a branch had impaled her leg. Those were easy to deal with. Ino felt her leg and was extremely dismayed to feel that her thigh bone, the hardest to heal, was cleanly snapped in half, leaving her leg sitting at an odd angle.

Ino finally managed to sit up and she took in her surroundings, which startled her at first. She had either fallen right into someone's camp, or someone had found her and dragged her to the area. Looking down Ino noticed that she was sitting on a rolled out sleeping bag.

Ino looked around, but noticed that no one was around. She couldn't sense any chakra nearby, but that wasn't a big surprise, considering her face. The blonde stared at the fire while mentally running through the various medical techniques she had learned over the last three years. She didn't dare try to fix her nose, she would need a mirror for that, and she didn't want to try and fix her leg without someone's help.

A quick scan of the bone showed Ino that the break was clean and would easily be set, but she didn't want to try it without someone holding her leg straight. She instead settled for healing the bruising on her face. It took much less chakra, and after a few minutes, Ino was able to see out of both eyes again.

"My, my. The little girl is awake. What are we to do now?" Ino jolted, and jarred her leg painfully, but she barely felt it as ice flooded her veins. Two figures entered the camp area, one of them stomped in while the other held more grace.

Ino's mouth gaped as she took in the large black cloaks decorated with red and white clouds. One man, a rather large one at that, had eerie blue skin and resembled a fish… no a shark, Ino finally agreed on.

Itachi on the other hand had hardly changed, except that his face seemed harder. His jaw was sharper, and the bags under his eyes had grown larger. At the moment, his eyes were the black she remembered them, but according to the bingo book she had, he usually had his Sharingan activated, turning them crimson in colour.

Ino held Itachi's gaze for a few moments before he turned away. Ino, master of deciphering human emotions, was half surprised to see surprise and sadness looking back at her.

She was about to question him, when Kisame shifted, dropping two unconscious teenagers on the ground. Neither so much as groaned, and Shikamaru had blood smeared across his face. Ino stifled a gasp.

"Well, these two stumbled right into my trap! How great is that! They'll be out for at least a few days, eh Itachi? What do we do with her?" Itachi gazed at Ino again, before saying in a cold voice,

"Just leave her. She won't be going anywhere on that leg. We can get some information out of her, now that we can use her friends here as leeway. Kisame frowned and loudly protested, but Ino wasn't paying attention. She was far to busy absorbing every detail of the man that stood in front of her.

"Please…Let me help my team…" Ino asked when night had started to fall. Shikamaru had given a single twitch so far, but Sai hadn't moved.

"Let me make sure they are dead, for god's sake!" Itachi didn't say anything, but when Kisame looked over at him, he gave the fish man a curt nod.

Ino let out a breath of relief and crawled, rather painfully, towards her fallen teammates. A quick scan showed that neither of them were hurt terribly, Sai's worst injury being his split lip, and Shikamaru's being a fracture to his brow that Ino had easily fixed. She didn't know why they were still unconscious, but she suspected that it had something to do with Itachi.

"Where's your big blue friend?" Ino said, after crawling back to the sleeping bag. Itachi stopped staring at the woods and reverted his gaze onto the blonde Yamanaka, but didn't say anything. Ino pouted inwardly and Itachi turned his head back towards the forest.

"You still look the same you know." She said, but Itachi just continued to gaze at the forest. Ino knew he was listening because his neck had tensed slightly.

"You just look… older, you know? And tired. You look really tired. Do you ever sleep?" Itachi blinked, and said, without looking at her,

"Do you ever shut up?" Ino flushed in anger and crossed her arms. Glancing back at the eldest Uchiha, she swore she saw the twitching of his lips.

It turns out that Itachi, did, in fact sleep, just not very heavily. Kisame's low rumblings constantly had the Uchiha tossing and turning on his small pallet. Ino couldn't sleep at all. She found it difficult to do so in the presence of two S-ranked nukenin.

When she finally did get to sleep, she awoke to a rather unpleasant sight. Itachi was no where to be found, Shikamaru and Sai were still unconscious, and Kisame was gutting a rabbit. A piece of red meat was hanging limply from the blue man's mouth, and three skinned and gutted ones had already been skewered and were roasting on the fire.

"Oh! Little lady! You're awake! Did you sleep well?" Kisame said. Ino could hear the sneer in his words. Ino resisted the urge to stick her tongue out at him, and ignored him instead. Or at least, she tried. Kisame was covered in blood up to his elbows.

"E-err…Where's Itachi?" Ino asked cautiously. Kisame paused and looked at the blonde girl.

"Scouting. Why? Gotta a problem with me?" Ino's eye twitched. This man had the nerve to ask her if she had a problem with being held prisoner!

"Do you have a mirror? I'd like to fix my nose. Even if you guys end up killing us, I'd like for my body to at least look decent." Kisame frowned at the girl before digging a pocket mirror from his discarded cloak and throwing it at her. Ino caught it nimbly and held it up to her face.

"Uggh…" Was all she said. Her nose was set slightly to the right and half of her face was either purple or green. A large cut ran across her cheek, and the dried blood did not make her look better at all.

"This…is gonna hurt." Kisame looked up in time to see Ino place her nose between her palms and crack it back into place. The shark man wrinkled his nose and snorted before going back to his rabbits.

It took ten minutes for the pain in her face to fade, and another twenty for the tears to go away, but when she looked in the mirror, her nose was straight and that was all that mattered.

She healed most of the bruising on her cheeks, but she was still too tired to summon enough chakra to heal her nose all the way. Ino instead pulled out a small container of cream that she had hidden away under the flap of her skirt and applied it to her nose and to the cut on her cheek. The cream cooled her skin and tingled as it started to heal her cut.

Tucking the cream back into her pocket, she reminded herself to thank Hinata if they ever got back.

"Hungry?" A voice said, breaking her out of the small relief the cream gave her face. Ino looked at the large man and then at the stick he was holding out to her. Ino reached out warily and took the rabbit.

Glancing over at Kisame, she watched him tear a chunk out of the cooked animal and eat it. Cautiously picking a chunk off of the rabbits back, she nearly moaned with pleasure when she placed it in her mouth. Ino hadn't realized how long it had been since she had last ate, but it was all coming back to her in one moment.

Ino snarffed the food back so fast that she had choked a few times along the way. Kisame was laughing at her as she finished and this time, she actually stuck her tongue out at him. Kisame only laughed harder.

A snap of a branch cut Kisame's laughter and Ino's sniggers off sharply. Itachi waltzed into the camp noiselessly and regarded the scene before him.

"Kisame, it's your watch." Kisame nodded and grabbed an extra rabbit before donning his cloak and tromping away. Itachi sat down and picked up the second to last rabbit. Looking at Ino he said,

"You have rabbit on your face." Ino blushed and quickly wiped her face with her hands.

After a few hours of silence Ino finally piped up.

"Itachi… can I ask you a question?" Itachi looked up from his book. His onyx eyes regarded her for a few moments before saying,

"Wrong questions can get you killed." Ino sucked her breath in.

"…Why?" Itachi looked at her, his eyes bore into Ino's skull. Ino was just about to look away when Itachi said,

"They were corrupt. All of them, down to the last one, except for Sasuke. He was still young enough to be saved. Their ideals were wrong, and I knew that if they lived, they would corrupt my brother. But it doesn't matter now; I tried to make Sasuke hate me so much, that he wouldn't want anything to do with me, thus learning the value of family. It seems that I was wrong and Sasuke became the very thing I tried to steer him away from. I don't expect you to understand. I know that the adults use me to scare children, and that I'm hated as much as Naruto-san." Ino shook her head.

"No! I do understand! I was afraid of you for a while…but all I had ever seen of you was kindness, so I was mostly confused. I never hated you… Now that I know why, I actually…I actually kind of admire your goal. But you're right; Sasuke is way out of our reach now. Naruto is trying, but it's been 3 years. Sasuke won't come back." Itachi looked at Ino, surprise was all Ino could see in his eyes.

The blonde stared at Itachi, waiting for him to say something, but when he didn't she started to talk again. Anything to get rid of the silence.

Hours passed, but Ino's mostly one-sided conversation made the time fly. Ino was cut off by large stomping foot steps in the woods and Itachi looked over his shoulder.

"You've grown, Ino." Ino was just about to answer when Kisame stomped in and cut her off, so she settled for an incredulous glance instead.

"Yo, Itachi. It's your shift." Itachi gazed in the wood's direction before saying,

"No, Kisame, our job is finished. I got the information about Konoha that I needed. Let's leave." Ino's eyes widened. She'd been used, and she hadn't even realized it. Anger flushed her face and she said,

"You… you used me! How dare you!" Itachi disappeared and Ino's eyes widened as she felt cold, sharp steel press against her throat. Itachi leaned in and said,

"I'd suggest you be quiet and behave if you want your friends to ever wake up." Ino gulped, and Itachi placed his hand on her shoulder.

"Good night, Ino." Pressing hard, Ino blacked out.

"Ino! Ino! Wake up!" Ino's eyes fluttered a bit. She remembered where she was and sat up quickly, shouting,

"Itachi!" The said man was no where in sight, but she was instead greeted by a worried looking Shikamaru, and a stoic Sai.

"A-are you all right?" Shikamaru asked. Ino smiled and said,

"Shikamaru! You're alright! You guys didn't move for more than a day! How did you get caught in Kisame's trap?"

"Err…actually, I don't know. All I remember is jumping, and then black. When I woke up, I was lying beside Sai, and you were a bit a ways. You're hurt though… a lot worse than ether of us…what happened to you?" Ino bit her lip and told them the whole story, excluding Itachi's reason for the massacre. That was something she was going to use for herself.

Ino woke with a jolt but sighed when she sensed nothing around her. Looking out the window she saw that it was night already.

"Shimatta!" She swore, tossing Itachi's cloak on its rack, Ino quickly pulled her sandals on and tossed herself out of her window.

By the time she reached the large Hyuuga compound, Ino was slightly out of breath. She walked through the entrance, where two unnamed branch members stopped her.

"Can I help you, miss?" The shorter one said. Ino bowed slightly and said,

"I'm just here to pick up my son." The guard nodded and pointed to the far end of the courtyard. Ino bowed again and silently glided towards the section of the compound used for dining and entertaining important guest. Ino had heard from Neji that Naruto used it as a recreation room.

Knocking softly on the wooden frame of the paper doors, the soft murmur of chat stopped, and the door opened to reveal a teenaged Hanabi. Her long brown hair was braided and thrown over a shoulder, and her lavender eyes stared up at Ino.

"Hello Hanabi-san. I'm just here to pick up Yuukei-chan. Is he here?" Hanabi nodded her head and stood back, allowing Ino a view of the room. Naruto and Hinata sat at the shorter far side of the square black table, Hiashi sat by an empty seat, Neji turned to face her, sitting at the side closest to her, and Chiaki and Yuukei sat beside each other, flicking peas at each other. Yuukei looked at the door and shouted,

"Mama!" He stood up and ran into Ino's legs, tugging on her sweater.

"Oh! Ino! You're just in time, join us!" Hinata said pleasantly. Naruto looked up from his examination of the scrolling on the chopsticks and gave her a foxy grin.

"Yea! Come eat, it's really good." Ino raised her hands and said,

"O-oh no! It's ok…" Hinata shook her head and said,

"Nonsense! We've only gotten our food. I can easily have another plate served to you." Ino reddened slightly and Hanabi swiftly sat down beside her father. Neji turned to face her better and said,

"Hinata-sama's right. Besides, it's pork. Isn't that your favourite?" Ino frowned and resisted the urge to break Neji's face.

"I suppose I can, considering that you haven't started…if it really isn't too much trouble…" Naruto waved his hand in front of his face and said,

"Pfft. It's nothing. Just sit down and eat!" Ino smiled and bowed before taking a seat beside Neji, making sure to pinch him hard and make a point. Neji rubbed his arm and glared at the Yamanaka. Ino smiled sweetly. Hiashi frowned and Hinata shook her head slightly, while Hanabi just stared at her cousin, silent amusement dancing behind her eyes.

Ino sighed as she hefted her sleepy son so that he was sitting better on her hip. The dinner had been an hour of delicious food and subtle teasing between Ino and Neji before Yuukei had wandered sleepily over to Ino's lap and fell asleep. Chiaki hadn't even bothered to find a parent, and had dozed off beside his empty plate. Even Hanabi had been looking a little tired. Ino had said her thank yous and goodbyes when Hinata had asked Hanabi to take Chiaki to bed.

Ino looked at the fading summer sunset and let her mind wander back to the second time she had met the ever elusive elder Uchiha.

Ino puckered her lips. This was her first mission as a jounin, and for once she was glad that she wore her flak vest. Her team, out of the several scouting groups of pairs, consisted of herself and Hinata, whose Byakugan proved very useful.

Ino shivered slightly, and wished that she had packed better clothes. She knew that they were heading north towards rice country, but since the fire country was a relatively warm place all year round, she hadn't anticipated how cold it would be. Thankfully Hinata packed an extra oversized, yet extremely warm and comfortable jacket. It was her legs that were bothering the blonde kunoichi. She was wearing her shorts, and her toes and knees were already losing feeling.

"Hinata! I think we need to stop for camp! I can't feel my feet!" Ino yelled over the wind. Hinata glanced at Ino before nodding and activating her kekkei genkai.

"Over there!" The indigo haired heiress pointed to the left, and Ino dropped in behind her. Hinata started to descend into the trees, and Ino, scaring herself with an almost slip on a branch, used the shot of adrenaline to briefly refocus her chakra.

The cave that Hinata had led Ino to was fairly spacious for two people with plenty of room for a nice warm fire that the Yamanaka craved. Hinata spied some dry wood and Ino lit it afire with a small katon jutsu she stole off of Sasuke before he left the village. When the fire had warmed the cave, and the tingling in Ino's feet went away, Hinata spoke up quietly.

"S-so… How are th-things with Sai-san g-going?" Ino looked at Hinata, silently envying how her long hair managed to stay perfect in it's long braid, even after a long journey in frigid winter wind. The blonde scoffed, kicking the dirt.

"It's not going very well at all. I enjoyed the challenge of helping him with his emotions and working with his mind, but he lacks passion." Hinata rested her chin on her knees and gazed at Ino.

"Oh?" She said, implying for Ino to continue.

"It's not that he doesn't try, but it's too obvious that he does. I mean, I've been working with him since I was 16, but I'm getting nowhere. I'll break it off soon." Hinata nodded silently, but she didn't miss the malicious grin that curled onto the blonde's face.

"What about you and Naruto?" Hinata didn't move, but her face instantly filled with colour.

"N-Naruto-k-kun? W-what ab-bout us?" Ino saw through her failed attempt at innocence and said,

"I heard he asked you on a date. How did it go? I know you've liked him since forever." It didn't seem possible, but Hinata's face darkened a few more shades.

"It w-was n-nice… He t-took m-me t-to a t-takoyak-ki stand… F-forever? Really?" Ino tilted her head and smiled.

"Yeah, everyone did. You did a horrible job of hiding it. The only one who didn't notice was Naruto-baka himself." Hinata let out a gasp and seemed to struggle for more air.

"E-every-one?" Hinata looked about ready to faint and Ino held her arms out to steady the girl when a large crack sounded over the whistling wind at the entrance of the cave. Both kunoichi froze. Ino quickly glance over at Hinata, and then over at the entrance. Hinata gave a small nod, her blush had all but disappeared from her face, and veins were already starting to rise as she pulled out a kunai. Ino silently unsheathed the wakizashi her father had given her for her 17th birthday and held it with practiced ease.

Ino, being the leader of the pair, led as she and Hinata slowly and silently stalked out of the cave, scouring every visible area, looking for the cause of disturbance. Hinata raised her hand and pointed straight forward. Ino nodded and the two dashed smoothly over the dead forest floor.

When they had finally reached the source of the noise, Ino stared for a moment.

"A man?" Hinata mouthed. Ino went to reach for his shoulder to check if he was still alive, but Hinata stopped her. The blonde looked at the Byakugan wielder quizzically and Hinata mouthed,

"Let me check for a trap." Ino nodded and slowly withdrew her hand, but she was still solely focused on the person lying in front of her. A few moments of Hinata closely scanning the surrounding area, looking for anything that resembled a genjutsu or a manual trap, and the dark haired Hyuuga nodded to Ino.

Ino pressed a point on the man's neck and let out a breath she didn't know she had been holding. His pulse was weak, but steady. Turning him over carefully, Ino blanched.

Hinata didn't recognize the man on the ground, but it was obvious to her than Ino did. She started to heave the man onto her shoulder and after Ino snapped out of her daze, she helped with the other shoulder, and the two carefully dragged him back to their cave.

Hinata set him down beside the fire and Ino quickly scanned him over for any injuries. Withdrawing her hands as the green fire that had engulfed them disappeared; Ino sat back and wiped her forehead.

"He's not seriously hurt just a few bruises and a hit to the head. He must have passed out from the cold and the concussion he most likely received from that wound." Ino dug in her pack, and took out a roll of gauze, just as a clap of thunder struck, rattling Ino and Hinata to their bones.

Hinata peered out the cave entrance and sighed.

"It's going to rain, no, probably snow soon. The wind picked up. Looks like we won't be moving anytime soon. There goes our mission…" Ino gave a short, mirthless laugh as she started to wrap the man's head up and pile on extra clothes in an attempt to warm him up. After her job was done, Ino sat back and stared at the man's slightly feminine face.

"Ino… D-do you know him?" Ino looked up at Hinata and paled.

"U-uh… No. I don't." Hinata stared at Ino and the blonde started to cold sweat.

"I-I don't! Really!" Hinata activated her Byakugan and said,

"I can tell you're lying. Nothing can get past my eyes." The fact

that the shy girl didn't stutter once made Ino extremely nervous. She looked down at the man and sighed.

"Alright, I do… Hinata, what do you know of the Uchiha Massacre?" Hinata's eyes widened and she looked down at the man.

"I-is this…I-Itachi?" Ino didn't say anything, but she shouted when Hinata tried to put a kunai in his heart. Stopping the blade with her hands, Hinata glared as best she could at the blonde.

"S-stop! Just listen to me before you go about killing helpless people!" Hinata hesitated before withdrawing her kunai. Sitting back, Hinata crossed her arms and said,

"You have some explaining to do." Ino sighed and said,

"Please, just tell me what you know of the massacre." Hinata thought for a few moments before saying,

"When Sasuke-san was about 7, Uchiha Itachi butchered his entire clan save Sasuke-san, for unknown reasons, leaving Sasuke-san mentally tortured and unstable, which ultimately resulted in his desertion of Konoha." Ino shook her head and looked at Itachi's face. Even unconscious, he looked tired, but he also looked softer, more vulnerable.

"I knew Itachi as a child. Briefly, I met him once, but he showed me nothing but warm kindness." Hinata looked up at Ino, her face was emotionless.

"I fell into a trap last year on my birthday, well; actually, I had missed the trap, but knocked myself out on a tree trunk while watching Shikamaru and Sai get caught. When I woke up, I was dismayed to learn that I was being held captive of Hoshigake Kisame and Itachi, but I decided to make the best of the situation and I tried to talk to them to distract them from any thoughts of killing me." Ino glanced at the raven haired man once again before continuing.

"I asked him why he killed his clan so few days after I had become friends with him. He told me that he did it to save his brother. He said the clan was corrupt in the ways they valued fighting and family. He had hoped that by killing them he would make Sasuke hate him so much, that he wanted nothing to do with him, but Itachi was too late. Sasuke had already been influenced by the Uchiha clan, and fueled his hatred and discrimination with the goal of killing Itachi." Hinata shook her head.

"How do you know t-that he wasn't t-telling you a lie?" Ino shook her head and rested her hand on the pile of clothes over Itachi's stomach.

"I could see it in his eyes. I'm a professional at reading minds; you know very well that I aim to be on the interrogation unit. He wasn't lying. He also regrets his choice, probably because he realizes that he didn't save Sasuke." Hinata shook her head again.

"It's hard to b-believe…" Ino nodded.

"It's harder for you because you didn't know him." Hinata watched as Ino gazed at the elder Uchiha, plucking leaves and burs off of his rather plain dark brown civilian cloak.

"I-Ino… Is it p-possible…? Do you have f-feelings for Itachi?" Ino paled and then flushed. Glaring at Hinata with intensity enough to make the Hyuuga shied away, Ino said,

"What?! No! I just understand where he's coming from!" Letting out a loud noise of frustration, Ino sat back and closed her eyes.

"He won't be waking up for at least another day, and with the storm outside, I doubt we'll find anymore wandering souls. I know that you're just as exhausted as I am, so why don't we just forsake watches and both of us get some well deserved rest." Hinata glanced at Itachi, who still hadn't moved, and at the cave entrance, which was now starting to build up snow and slowly nodded. She rolled out her pallet and turned so her back was facing the fire. Ino rolled out her pallet as well, but laid facing Itachi tracing the contours of his face with her eyes. Both kunoichi were asleep before they could count to ten.

Ino woke and sat up quickly. She had had an odd dream, but she couldn't remember it anymore. Glancing over at Hinata, she smiled at the blush that decorated her face. It was a small wonder about what she was dreaming about.

"I trust you slept well." A voice said and Ino started. Turning to the back of the cave, she reflexively reached for her kunai, but relaxed when she saw that Itachi was just sitting against the wall.

"I did, considering that we're in a cave." Looking to the entrance, Ino sighed, it was completely covered in snow and debris. She'd have to clear some out so they could get some fresh air.

"I'd like to thank you for this." Itachi tapped the bandage softly and gave Ino an almost smile. Ino felt her face heat up but waved her hand.

"It's nothing." Adjusting how she was sitting, the mind specialist gazed at Itachi before asking,

"So… care to tell me how you ended up unconscious in the middle of rice country in the dead of winter?" Itachi stared at the fire.

"I was attacked, Kisame was killed, and I wandered for hours looking for some place to hide and recover. I saw the smoke from your fire before you started hiding it, but I blacked out." Ino nodded.

"Yea, you snapped a stick when you fell, and we heard that." Itachi nodded and remained silent. Ino looked at the fire, which had suddenly become interesting. Hinata stirred, but didn't wake up.

"Your companion, a Hyuuga?" Ino nodded, Itachi continued, "I've only met a few Hyuuga since I left. Is she a branch member?" Ino shook her head.

"She's the heiress to the main family." Itachi pursed his lips. Ino moved to reach for her bag and Itachi glanced at her hand, or, more like past her hand. Ino looked behind her bag, but nothing was there.

"Do you see something?" Itachi shook his head and left Ino slightly confused. Digging in her bag, she pulled out two of her rations packs and handed one to Itachi. Itachi stared past her hand before taking it and nodding his head in thanks. Ino bit into the jerky and watched Itachi do the same. There was something in the way he moved that seemed vaguely off. It took her a few minutes, but it finally clicked in her mind.

"Is something wrong with your eyes?" Itachi paused mid-chew and looked up at the blonde girl. Ino noticed that while he was gazing at her, he wasn't making direct eye contact. His onyx eyes gleamed from the fire and Ino felt another blush heat her cheeks.

"I'm going blind. A drawback from using the Sharingan too much." Ino blinked.

"Blind? How far has it progressed?" Itachi gazed in her direction again before quietly saying,

"You're distinctly fuzzy, but I can still make out your features. Like someone is holding a scratchy piece of glass in front of my eyes." Ino's fingers tingled and she fidgeted them to ease the odd feeling. Itachi stared in the direction of her fingers and said,

"Is there something you wish to say, Yamanaka-san?" Ino bit her lip and tried to push her blush back down.

"C-can I take a look at them? I mean, I'm a medic nin, so I might…uhm…" Ino trailed off and looked down, her face almost as red as Hinata's had been a few hours earlier. Itachi gazed at the fire, watching it crackle every few seconds.

"If you wish." He said. The blonde nearly jumped but settled for staring at the elder Uchiha. Ino moved to her knees, and her hand, lighting up in a blue chakra which was used for examining delicate areas, she slowly reached towards Itachi, who had closed his eyes.

"I-Ino?" Hinata called. Ino bit her lip and released her chakra, pulling away from Itachi. Straightening the flap over her shorts, she looked over at the heiress who was rubbing her pupil-less eyes.

"Good morning, Hinata." Ino said sweetly. Hinata nodded and looked over at Itachi, who was staring at her.

"A-ah..! I-Ino…? Has he been any trouble?" Itachi rolled his eyes and Ino shook her head.

"No. He's been as meek as a lamb." Itachi shot her a glare and Ino almost laughed. Hinata just watched the exchange, forming questions and theories in her mind.

"I-Ino, we have to l-leave soon. What should w-we do with Uchiha-san?" Ino bit her lip and looked at Itachi. He was resting his head against the wall, his eyes closed. Ino shrugged and said,

"Last time, when the situation was reversed, he didn't harm me. He just left me at the campsite. I say we do the same. But we can not include his presence in our report, alright?" Hinata tightened her lips. Nodding quickly Hinata quickly repacked the clothes that they had used to warm Itachi back into her bag. Itachi had folded them neatly and Hinata was secretly surprised. She didn't expect an S-class missing nin to be so…neat.

"I'll go k-kick out the ent-trance and scout the area t-to see if anyone intruded on us. P-please extinguish the fire, Ino." Ino nodded and finished packing her bag. Itachi didn't say anything but Ino felt him tense up.

Hinata finished kicking the entrance in, and Ino, wary of Itachi's sudden tensing, started kicking dirt on to the fire. Once Hinata had left the cave, Itachi reached out and grabbed Ino's wrist.

Ino blanched. She hadn't expected this, and she figured it was too late to do anything about it. Itachi drew his face near hers in a motion would have suggested he was about kiss her, but passed her lips and moved to her ear.

"Why did you spare me?" he whispered. Ino's face was a blazing red but she managed to breath out,

"Why did you spare me?" Itachi paused by her ear for a second before letting out a small breath that Ino took as a chuckle. Raising his other hand, Ino flinched slightly and Itachi paused before running his hand behind her ear.

Letting go of the blonde's wrist, he sat back, and sighed. Ino sat back, rubbing her wrist, and trying to make her blush go away. Shooting small glares at the Uchiha she finished putting the fire out, and quickly left the cave, only sparing the raven haired man one last glance.

Hinata met Ino just outside the entrance and said,

"There's no one here but us. Shall we go?" Ino looked into the woods and nodded. Hinata jumped into the trees and Ino brushed her hair behind her ear. Something poked her finger and the blonde started. Pulling the object out of her hair, she looked back at the cave. The object was a piece of paper. Unfolding it she quickly read a messy scrawl.

If a raven taps your window, open it. Ino frowned and tucked the paper in her kunai pouch and quickly caught up to Hinata.

The stairs to her apartment were something she didn't use very often. She much preferred window to civilian means, but since Yuukei was sleeping soundly, she didn't have much of a choice.

Ino slowly made her way up the stairs to her apartment, tapping the railing as she went. The tapping reminded her of Itachi and his ravens.

Tap tap tap. Ino smiled and put down the wet dish she was rinsing on the counter of her small apartment. Sprinting to her window, she lifted it open and a large black raven hopped in, giving a caw before perching on the back of the chair she kept by the window specifically for the bird.

"Good evening, Kagen-kun!" Ino said sweetly, offering the raven a cracker. Kagen ruffled his neck feathers and fluttered to Ino's shoulder before gently snatching the cracker out of her fingers.

"So what message does Itachi have for me today?" Kagen tilted his beak back to swallow the rest of the cracker and said in a low crackly voice,

"Itachi said that he would be doing a mission near the Fire Daimyo's village. An assassination, I think. He asks if you would grace him with your presence." Ino smiled and nuzzled the raven. Kagen gave a quiet caw, but didn't mind the affections.

"My, such flowery words from such a handsome raven. I suppose you'd like some more crackers? Water too maybe?" If birds could smile, Ino was sure this one would. Kagen hopped from her shoulder onto her counter and waited for Ino to unwrap special bird crackers that she saved especially for him.

"So when and where does Itachi plan on meeting me?" Kagen tilted his head so he could look at Ino, and said around a beakful of crackers,

"Mm…He said…nn…Something like two or three days from now. He also said that he'd send you a note on your way there so you could meet." Ino nodded and stroked the black bird while he ate.

When Ino had received the note from Itachi on the cold winter night 3 years previous, she had prepared herself for some sort of subtle signal, a book with a raven on the cover, maybe, but she had not expected Itachi to actually summon a raven just to deliver a message. The first time Kagen was sent to her he was smaller and louder. So loud, actually, that the landlord had received a complaint. She passed it off saying a bird crashed into her window and got stuck.

The first few times Kagen had showed up at her window, it was to deliver messages and long letters between the two. Kagen complained, as anyone would, but a steady supply of bird treats quieted him down to the point where he seemed eager when he arrived at Ino's small apartment.

Itachi liked to write. He had small, neat printing that was easy to read, and the way he wrote always reminded Ino of reading a book. Maybe he was writing a book. She'd have to ask him that when she saw him next.

They didn't start making efforts to visit each other until Ino had run into him on another, solo this time, mission. That had been a week before she had turned 18. Since then, whenever Itachi sent her a message signaling that he was either safely hidden for the time being, or close to Konoha, she requested a mission that would take her near the area.

She remembered once, Tsunade had asked her about her interest in certain missions, Ino felt she did well in coming up with an excuse.

Tsunade watched Ino for a few moments. During the past 6 months, she had requested to take certain missions in certain areas, even going so far as to take a C-ranked escort when she held the title of Tokubetsu Jounin.

"Ino… Can I ask why you would want a mission to this village? I heard it was a horrible place." Ino looked away from Tsunade, out at the Hokage Monument, and said,

"I know it is, but my mother's birthday is soon and there is a certain type of flower that grows there that she loves. I wanted to get some bulbs for her garden. But don't tell her, please…" Tsunade looked at Ino, who had turned her gaze back to Tsunade and said,

"Are you sure? It's a C-rank, but only because of the distance. The client is in no danger, and just wishes to have a shinobi guide to prevent getting lost or attacked by animals." Ino smiled sweetly and said,

"I'm sure; Ka-san is worth a boring trip." Tsunade shook her head and stamped the paper.

"Your client will meet you at the entrance of this building in 20 minutes. Pack for a 6 day journey there, and a relatively quicker journey back." Ino smiled and clapped her hands, happy to be getting what she wanted without suspicion.

"Ino, can I have that water now?" Kagen asked, his grating voice snapped the blonde out of her thoughts. Ino flushed in embarrassment and quickly poured him a bowl of water.

A loud cry echoed from her window and Ino half sprinted and stuck her head outside. A large golden eagle circled around in the sky before giving another great cry. Ino bit her lip.

"Kagen-kun… I have to report to the Hokage, that was a serious message. Can you tell Itachi that I might not be able to make this one?" Kagen nodded, cawing when he accidentally spilled some of the water. Ino tugged her sandals on and strapped a cloak around her shoulders, despite the warm spring weather. She didn't know if she would have any time to come back if she was being sent on a mission.

Jumping clean out the window, she sailed through the air, and with practiced expertise, landed with a roll on the shorter building next to her. Brushing the dust off of her cloak she continued to bound across the various roofs of Konoha, occasionally snatching glances of other Tokubetsu Jounins making their way to see Tsunade.

The top floor of the Hokage building was one large room with a lot of windows and a single desk. When an emergency meeting was called, the windows were thrown open, and Tsunade, Sakura, and Shizune waited at the desk. Most ninja preferred windows rather than doors, as it was a faster and quieter way of entering and exiting a building.

Giving her legs a final boost of chakra, she sailed across the evening sky and stuck to the wall of the red building just above the window. Climbing silently inside, she was glad that she wasn't the first to arrive. A fair number had shown up, including her sensei, Ibiki. She was faintly surprised to see Naruto there as well. He was usually stuck in the lower offices studying and doing paperwork as training to take over for Tsunade as Hokage.

Walking over to Naruto she quickly blended into his mostly one-sided conversation with Sai. She returned Naruto's brief welcome, but as he returned to complaining about paperwork, Ino watched the entrance for Tsunade.

More and more ninja arrived, and the large room started to get loud with the buzz of conversations. The only door in the room creaked open and instantly, all talking stopped.

Tsunade walked over to the desk, followed by a frantic Shizune and an annoyed looking Sakura, both whose arms were piled with paperwork. Tsunade waited until the women deposited the papers onto her desk before saying in the loud and commanding voice that Ino wished she possessed,

"Three days from now, the leader of the organization known as Akatsuki is going to attempt a coup on the government of Amegakure. We are going to make sure they don't." Ino felt, rather than saw Naruto stiffen. Thanks to Itachi and Sakura, she knew why the group affected the loudmouth blonde so much.

"The remaining members planned an organized assassination of the current leader of Amegakure. We need to get there as fast as possible, to prevent this from happening. Ame's leader has asked this of not only us, but Sunagakure and Otougakure, who as you all know has a new leader that has firmly held a strong alliance with Konoha." Ino shifted. Itachi hadn't mentioned a coup. If she saw him, she'd have to have a word with him about this.

"For those who haven't been involved with Akatsuki, the remaining members are Konan, who specializes in origami jutsu, Uchiha Itachi, who specializes in katon jutsu and to those who encounter him, avoid eye contact at all costs. Zetsu, nothing is known about this person. He hails from Kusagakure, so we can safely assume he has access to earth and possibly plant based jutsu. Finally, Tobi and Pein. Absolutely nothing is known about either; save that Pein is this "god" that missing nin in Amegakure talk about." After Tsunade finished a quiet murmur rose and Tsunade raised her hand.

"This mission is ranked as S-Class. No mercy is to be taken on the Akatsuki members or any attacking nukenin. I have further mission details on these sheets; please take one from each pile. Also please take one of the red cards; each one has a number on it, that's your leave group. We can't have all of Konoha's Tokubetsu Jounin leaving at once, so group 1 leaves in 20 minutes, and group 2 leaves 20 after that, and so on. Head straight for Amegakure and don't stop. We need to be there by morning." Most of the nins saluted before dispersing.

Ino was one of the first to jump out of the window. As she sailed form one building to another, she desperately hoped that Kagen was still rummaging through her food looking for snacks.

Landing on the wall outside her window, she swung in without pausing to take a breath.

"Kagen-kun!" Ino looked at the counter, but the black bird wasn't there. A piece of paper with a horribly messy scrawl that said what Ino thought was 'Arigato' sat on her counter. Ino cursed.

Picking up her bag she shoved some dried rations in along with another cloak. She'd have to make due with the same clothes for a few days. Swinging the cloak onto her shoulder, she locked her doors and windows, and silently left the building, heading for the gate entrance.

The gates of Amegakure appeared before Ino after a good 6 hours of running. She had used most of her chakra to get here as quickly as possible, and hope with all of her heart that she could find Itachi before the others arrived.

A swooping noise was the only thing that alerted her before she felt a few pricks on her shoulder. Holding in a scream, Ino stumbled, but rolled to catch her fall. Sitting up she winced in pain and touched the long gash along her calf. Molding what little chakra she had left, she made the gash scab over so it didn't bleed everywhere.

The swooping noise sounded again, and Ino swung her head around. A small black raven descended onto the ground in front of her, and shook its feathers, flinging droplets of water away as the rain pounded on them mercilessly.

"Itachi-sama said that I have ta' lead you to him! This way!" Ino blinked as the small bird talked in a high pitched voice, before realizing that the raven was probably still very young.

"Please fly as fast as you can, I need to get there as soon as possible, it's very urgent." The young bird nodded and took flight. Ino struggled to keep up with chakra exhaustion setting in, but she managed to keep the bird in sight.

Finally arriving at a small house right in the middle of the city, Ino almost smiled at how well hidden it was. The small raven fluttered in front of the door before poofing out of existence. Ino knocked on the door and winced when a bolt of lightening cracked across the sky.

The door opened and Ino was pulled inside by her wrist. Letting out a muffled sound of surprise, she was hit with a wave of warm, and realized how cold she was. She closed her eyes and let the warmth surround her until a pair of strong arms enveloped her in an embrace that was even warmer than the air. Looking up, she gazed into crystal clear onyx eyes and smiled, remember how she had healed the chakra damage in them a mere year ago.

"Itachi…" She murmured, snuggling closer to the Uchiha. Itachi rubbed her arms and said,

"Ino, kami-sama, you're freezing! Here, you need to get out of those clothes as soon as possible." Ino giggled and Itachi sighed.

"I'm serious, you'll get really sick." Ino let her eyes droop as she unbuttoned the cloak and let it drop to the floor with a disgustingly wet splat. She was halfway done undoing the pins that held her top together when she remembered why she was here. Her eyes snapped open and she turned to Itachi who was hanging her cloak in front of the fire.

"Itachi! Why didn't you tell me you were planning a coup?" Itachi paused and turned to look at her.

"…What? We're assassinating the son of the leader, and then we're leaving!" Ino shook her head and rushed over to the taller man.

"No! Your leader, Pein, he plans to assassinate the leader of Ame, but the leader called on reinforcements! From Konoha, Suna, and Otou! I got out of Konoha as fast as I could, but by morning, this place will be crawling with shinobi!" Itachi gazed into Ino's eyes for a second longer before swearing.

"Kuso! I can't exactly run now…" Ino grabbed his shirt and said,

"Yes! You can! I'll go with you! We'll find another place, another village and we can live there! I don't want anything to happen to you!" Itachi gave the blonde another look before bending down to kiss her. Ino melted against his warm lips, but after a moment she stiffened again. Pushing away she shook her head.

"N-no! Please! Itachi, if anything happened to you…I'd-"

"You'd mourn for a few months, and then find a nice man who isn't a criminal, settle down and have a family with him." Ino bit her lip and tried to blink the tears out of her eyes. Burying her face into his chest she started to sob. Itachi sighed and pulled the sobbing blonde off of his chest.

"Let's drop this for now. You need to get out of those wet clothes or you really will get sick. I've got some spare clothes you can wear until these are dry." Ino nodded solemnly and let Itachi unfasten the rest of the pins on her top.

Ino sat up with a start, sending blankets and a disgruntled raven flying off of her chest. Beside her was an empty place in the bed where Itachi should have been. Tears welled up in her aquamarine eyes. Glancing down at the raven, who had managed to right itself, she said,

"K-Kagen-kun?" Kagen made a noise that Ino assumed was a snort. A cool breeze raised goose bumps on her chest and Ino blushed. Pulling the blankets over her bared torso, Kagen said in his scruffy voice,

"Itachi left. He said that he felt his brother's chakra signature. He also said that the box on the table is yours." Kagen disappeared with a small pop and a puff of smoke. Ino looked over at the table and saw the small box that Kagen had mentioned.

Tears rolled down her face as she rose out of bed, letting the cool air touch her skin in almost something like a penance for letting Itachi go. Picking the wooden box up, she admired the engravings of ravens and tomoe that decorated the sides. Flipping the top open the hinges were well greased and silent. The box was velvet line and smooth to the touch. Inside the box was a note, and the red beaded necklace that Itachi always wore. Ino put the box down and fastened the necklace around her neck. The beads were heavier than she had assumed and pressed down on her skin as a constant reminder of the elder Uchiha.

Fingering the note, she debated opening it, but curiosity got the better of her.

I want my necklace and cloak back. I love you, Ino.

Falling to her knees, Ino couldn't contain it anymore. Itachi signed it like he was expecting to die. Crying freely, she barely managed to contain the screams she desperately wanted to let out.

Crawling to the edge of the bed she gripped the black, red, and white cloak. Burying her face in it, she stayed like that until her sobbing stopped.

Wiping her face, Ino steeled her self and frowned. Underneath the cloak was a warm shirt and pair of pants. Dressing herself, she tucked her necklace under her shirt and folded the clouded cloak so that it fit nicely into her bag.

The Village was strangely quiet as Ino walked through the streets. Most of the shops were closed, and Ino even noticed a lack of birds. It was still raining, but Ino had heard that it never stops in Amegakure.

The faint ding of metal hitting metal sounded in the distance, and Ino froze, straining her ears. Hitching her backpack higher, she crept towards the battlefield and gasped when she stuck her head around the corner of a large building.

Death was everywhere. She saw bodies of fellow Konoha nin; thankfully she didn't see anyone she was particularly close to. She recognized sand nin vests on a few of the bodies as well as the still fighting ninja, as well as another set of vests that she assumed was from Kumo.

Ame-nukenin were everywhere, outnumbering what was left of the opposing forces. Atop a rock stood the Akatsuki's leader, Pein, with his arms raised above him calling the rain harder and harder down. Behind him stood a blue haired woman holding a bloody shoulder and lacking most of her clouded cloak. At their feet laid a member that Itachi had warned her about many a times. His orange mask lay in pieces and his Sharingan was glazed as death set in.

Ino shivered and withdrew. Rubbing her arms, she pulled her cloak around her. A splash behind her made her twist her torso, but before she could do anything, blackness engulfed her vision.

Ino shivered. Goosebumps raised on her skin as she let her fingers brush against the large scar on her shoulder. It turns out that Sasuke, who hadn't been seen in a while, found out through a tapped network in Suna that Itachi was going to be in Ame. He raced through the village with an active Chidori, and grazed her shoulder. He had later apologized to her and claimed that he hadn't seen her.

Frowning, the blonde hefted her son again and felt her pockets for her keys. The jingling of her keychain made Yuukei stir, but as soon as she had them inserted into the lock, he fell silent again. Ino stroked his black hair and smiled.

Swinging her door open, Ino paused before entering, checking for chakra signatures. She felt a spider under the fridge, and a moth on her window. An odd feeling crept its way up her spine, but she dismissed it, as it was rather cold. Laying her son down on the couch, she piled a few blankets on top of him. Hot chocolate and a movie sounded nice to her at the moment.

Flicking the light in the kitchen on, Ino tried to scream, but a large calloused hand covered her mouth. Ino's vision doubled in a frantic panic as she looked all around for a weapon. She tried to reach around but the man locked her arms to his side and said,

"If you don't scream, I'll let you go. We don't want to be waking the boy." Ino nodded and the man let her go. Ino stumbled backwards into a protective stance over her son.

"Who are you, and what do you want?" Ino demanded radiating all of the killing intent she could muster. Yuukei started to stir, but Ino ignored him. Mixed emotions flittered across the man's face as he raised his hands.

"Y-you… You don't remember me?" Ino blinked. The man had short hair, shorter than Sai's, but just as black. His eyes were a dark colour, but Ino couldn't tell very well because of the light. His face seemed brimming with energy, and a scar peeked out from the turtleneck he was wearing. Ino stared at him harder and almost jumped when a look of love flittered across his eyes.

Dropping to her knees the man rushed over and put his hand on her shoulder. Ino shrugged it off and fell forward.

"H-hey! Ino!" Ino blinked. A man was staring at her, his face mere inches away. Still not back to her senses, Ino said the first thing that came to mind.

"I-Itachi…?" The man pulled back and Ino sat up.

"I missed you." He said. Ino's right eye twitched.

"Y-you… You're dead!" She said, raising her voice. Itachi shushed her with his finger.

"Shh… The little boy is still sleeping. I see he looks a bit like that black haired kid Kisame caught in his trap all those years ago. He even looks like the strategist here… Whose kid is that..?" Ino shook her head.

"I-Itachi… y-you… You left me alone! FOR FOUR YEARS!" Itachi didn't move as the blonde yelled at him. Instead he frowned, sorrow written all across his face.

"Sasuke missed. I faked my death so that I could give him happiness. It seems to have worked, I saw him earlier today with that pink haired woman who was teammates with Naruto. Their little girls seem lively." Tears had clouded Ino's vision.

"F-four years… I was so alone…" Itachi frowned.

"Aren't you married? Whose boy is that?" Ino shook her head violently.

"No! You bastard! He's yours!" Itachi sat back, his eyes wide. He glanced at the boy who was just starting to wake up. The boy looked at him, and then at his mother, who was still half sitting up in front of Itachi.

"…Mama?" Ino looked at her son and smiled.

"It's ok, Yuukei-chan. Are you hungry?" Yuukei shook his head and Ino stood up. The boy carefully made his way over to Ino and circled his arms around one of his legs. Looking at Itachi, and then at his mother, Ino said,

"Yuukei-chan… This is your real Papa, Uchiha Itachi." Yuukei looked down at Itachi again and hid further behind Ino's leg.

"P-Papa? Uchiha? Like Izayoi-chan and Oboro-chan?" Ino nodded.

"Yes, those are your little cousins." Yuukei wrinkled his nose. He didn't want to be related to the two black haired girls. They pulled his hair and bit him every time they saw him.

"So I'm not Yamanaka, I'm Uchiha?" Ino leaned down and smoothed the boy's hair back.

"You're both, love. But Papa isn't your Papa, this man is." Yuukei stared at Itachi and the older man felt a bit uncomfortable.

"You're very smart for a 3 year old…" Ino nodded and stood, turning back to Itachi.

"So what now. How can you expect to just waltz into my life, like nothing happened?" Itachi stood up, still snatching glances of his son.

"I would have come back sooner, really, but after I healed from Sasuke's blow, I went on a journey."

"A journey." Ino said, not sounding very happy.

"Yes! A journey!" Itachi stepped forward and clasped her hands. Ino internally sighed in comfort.

"We can go! Leave! I found a place that hasn't even heard of Akatsuki. Let's go, right now, no notes, no nothing." Ino paled. She reflexively let her hand drift towards her necklace and after a moment, she smiled.

The End.

Please review ;D I had to throw another ItaIno story into the very small puddle of them.