Chapter 35: Equivalent Exchange
"How's her condition?"
"Nothing's improved Tsunade-sama." Shizune paused to study Tenten's unconscious form. "Her vitals are steady. Aside from the minor scrapes and bruises, her physical condition is fine. Nearly perfect even." Shizune sighed. She was at a loss with what to do. "I don't understand why she's still not waking up. It's been more than a week."
Tsunade remained silent as she stared at the kunoichi's sleeping form. "I don't think she's unconscious because of any injury." Deciding that flipping through Tenten's medical charts was pointless, Tsunade handed the clipboard back to Shizune. "Whatever happened in the Valley of the End must be causing this."
Shizune nodded in acceptance. "But we still have no clue as to what has happened." She paused to gaze at Tenten once more. "Only she can tell us."
Tsunade released a sharp sigh in annoyance. "And Ibiki?"
Shizune shook her head. "He and Inoichi have done several attempts to break into her subconscious. But the results are the same. They can't penetrate through her mind at all. And every time they tried, they'd both be unconscious for at least 24 hours. So I've prohibited them to do any further."
Tsunade let out a growl of frustration. They seemed to be reaching a dead end with this case and she had already exhausted all her options. "How about the investigation?"
"We still haven't got anything." Shizune shook her head once again. "After all, even the most elite ANBU won't be able to find any clue if all that's left of the valley is a mile-long crater." Shizune paused to sigh tiredly. "Not even the statues were able to survive the destruction."
"And the other members of her clan?" Tsunade glanced at Shizune with a raised eye brow.
"The information from Tenten was correct. They lived at a remote house near the fire country's border. The report from the ANBU we sent stated there had been signs of a battle. They have been station there almost a week now but still the house remains uninhabited. They've search nearby villages as well, but still there were no signs of them."
Tsunade released a long, calming sigh as she folded her arms on her chest in contemplation. "What other options do we have?"
Shizune remained silent for a moment, unsure of what to answer to that question. "I guess… All we can really do is wait for her to wake up and ask her ourselves."
Tsunade sighed in resignation.
"By the way Tsunade-sama." Shizune paused to hang the medical charts by Tenten's bedside. "Team Kakashi and Team Gai are back."
"I've heard." Tsunade paused to glance at Shizune expectantly. "I'll expect a full report once they get out of the hospital." Turning around Tsunade headed for the door. She didn't know what exactly happened with those two teams but word has it they never even made it to Suna. Massaging her temples, Tsunade marched her way out of the hospital and back to her office. Things were spinning more and more out of control.
"What do you mean I can't see her?" Lee tried his best to keep his frustration from showing.
"I'm sorry, sir. But currently the Hokage is running some tests. It would be unwise to disrupt the process." The nurse kept her hand on Lee's chest to keep him from moving any further.
"Lee, leave it. You can visit after the tests are finished."
Lee glanced at the hand grasping his arm before releasing a sigh of mixed frustration and resignation. "I understand, Gai-sensei."
Gai simply nodded in response.
"The hospital staff says she hasn't woken up since she was brought here about a week ago."
Gai and Lee turned around to see Kakashi walking towards them, both hands in his pockets.
"But they say her injuries were minor. Just a few scrapes and bruises." Kakashi turned his attention to Gai. "Any ideas?"
Gai only shrugged in response. "I'm as clueless as you are."
"There you all are. I assume your checkups are finished?"
All three turned their attention towards the pale boy rushing towards them from the end of the corridor.
"Sai." Kakashi nodded his head in acknowledgement as he watched the former member of Anbu Root inspect them with a cautious eye.
Sai nodded, pleased with the seemingly good condition of the trio. "The Hokage has requested us to report to her office as soon as possible. Sakura and Naruto have already headed there."
With a sigh, Kakashi nodded his head. "Then we shouldn't keep her waiting."
"I still can't believe we bailed like that!"
Kakashi sighed once again, ignoring the screams of protest directed at him. No matter how many times he explained, Naruto just wouldn't let it go. The hyperactive boy was still obviously upset.
"Naruto!" Came Sakura's warning tone.
"I agree with Naruto-kun."
All eyes were on Lee.
"We shouldn't have given up like that."
"Lee." Gai's stern voice reproached.
"It wouldn't have ended well if we acted on our own." It was Sai who spoke this time. He understood their desire to help a friend, but he couldn't fathom how they could throw all reason to the wind and just act on their impulses.
The sound of the door opening silenced all six shinobi. "Tsunade-sama is ready to see you." Shizune moved to one side to allow them entrance.
"It's nice to know all six of you are well." Tsunade nodded in approval as she scrutinized each of them. "Now that I am assured, Naruto, Sakura, Sai, Lee." She paused to glance at each. "You are dismissed."
"W-What!" Naruto looked at Tsunade incredulously. "But there are some things I want to-!"
"Then we'll be taking our leave, Tsunade-sama." Sakura began dragging Naruto out of the room, followed by Lee and Sai. The whines and protests of Naruto fell on deaf ears. Sakura watched as Shizune closed the door wordlessly. She knew they would be discussing matters the rest of them weren't allowed to hear. She knew Kakashi and Gai were hiding something from them the moment they ordered a retreat without a single explanation. She sighed as she continued to drag Naruto further away from the Hokage's office. She couldn't tell why exactly but she there was a strange gnawing feeling in her chest.
As the door to her office closed, Tsunade nodded towards Gai and Kakashi. "Your report?"
Kakashi nodded. "Halfway through Suna we were ambushed by six ninjas from the Hidden Sound. It was almost as if they knew we were coming." Kakashi paused to gaze at Tsunade meaningfully. The equal number couldn't have been a coincidence. "We managed to get pass them with minimal casualties thanks to Sakura." Kakashi added. "But that wasn't what forced us to turn back."
Tsunade raised in eyebrow in silent inquiry. It was Gai who answered her this time.
"When we reached the gates of Suna, we were denied entrance."
Tsunade failed to hide the surprise on her face. "Denied entrance?" She reiterated in clarification.
Gai nodded. "Outside the gates were mixed forces of Suna and the Hidden Sound. Give or take there were about 50 of them." He paused to get a scroll out of his holster. "We showed them the request letter from the Kazekage regarding our aid. But still we were denied entrance."
Tsunade narrowed her eyes. She had a bad feeling about this.
"I asked for the letter to be delivered to the Kazekage for verification. But no one would take it. " Kakashi continued, his gaze never leaving Tsunade. "When I started asking questions regarding the presence of the Hidden Sound in Suna, we were told to leave the premises. If not, we would be detained."
Tsunade folded her hands under her chin in contemplation. "So you left." She stated with finality.
"We didn't have a choice." Gai answered in defense. "There were over 50 trained ninjas. We were only six. Furthermore, fighting against the ninjas of the Sound and Suna, and forcing our entrance would have sparked a war between our countries."
Tsunade sighed. She already knew that. "And what are your thoughts on this matter?" She shifted her gaze between Gai and Kakashi.
Both Jounins exchanged a look, before Gai nodded his approval towards the copy ninja.
"I think you already know our answer Godaime." Kakashi paused once more, his gaze stern. "It's one of two things." He held up his fingers to emphasize his point. "Suna has been invaded by the Sound. Or Suna and Sound have formed an alliance."
"Can't I visit her yet?"
The nurse released a tired sigh. "Lee-san. Although the routine checkups have been finished, she's still on strict orders. No visitors allowed for the time being."
"Then I'll go."
Lee glanced at Sakura walking towards him. She was dressed in her medical attire. "I'll see how she's doing then tell you about it. How's that?"
The nurse was about to interrupt but Sakura beat her to it. "Her vitals are checked every hour, am I correct? Bed positioning and hourly medications…" Sakura paused to tap Tenten's medical chart on her hand. "Are written clearly on this piece of paper, am I correct?"
The nurse nodded in reply. "But the nurse in charge is-"
"I've talked to the nurse assigned to her ward. I'll be taking her shift for now." Sakura stated with finality. The nurse could only nod in acceptance once again.
"Thank you Sakura-chan!" Lee stated with unveiled gratitude.
Smiling, Sakura simply nodded in acknowledgement.
"Let me know any progress okay?" Lee egged on, still notably perturbed.
Sakura placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "I will. Don't worry too much ok?"
Lee nodded as he watched Sakura disappear along the hallway.
Sasuke pushed himself through the window pane, his gaze shifting towards the bed. Dropping inside the room, he made his way towards the bedside. Sensing a familiar but faint chakra signal, he scoffed at the sight before him. "Idiot."
Sasuke sat himself by the edge of the bed, his eyes never leaving Tenten. Placing two fingers atop her forehead, Sasuke activated his Sharingan. After a few moments, he pulled his hand away. It seems the hidden scrolls at the Uchiha compound were right. "Such an idiot." He reiterated. After all, how often could it be that a sharingan user gets trapped in genjutsu? He narrowed his eyes. But then again, this genjutsu wasn't done by just any Sharingan user.
In the blink of an eye, Sasuke activated his Mangekyo. There was only one way out of the purgatory she was trapped in. Forming several hand seals, Sasuke placed both his hands on the sides of Tenten's face. His eyebrows were scrunched in concentration. He felt her stir slightly beneath him as a bead of sweat travel down his temple. She'd been trapped for so long he wasn't sure if he was still capable of pulling her out.
"You don't seem surprised to see me."
Sasuke stared apprehensively at Madara's form standing on the lake a few meters ahead of him. He stood up from the edge of the rickety wooden platform, saying nothing in reply. The full moon gave Madara an eerie glow, making seem more menacing than ever.
"You knew I was alive." Madara stated with finality, a strange look of surprise on his form. He didn't expect anyone to be aware of his existence after the war.
"If you can call what you are as living."
Madara couldn't help but chuckle at the reply. Young Uchiha's always seemed to have that strange arrogance. "Regardless." He paused to glance at his decaying body. The Edo Tensei served him well despite everything that's happened. "I have a favor to ask you."
Sasuke raised an eyebrow. "I don't take orders from anyone."
"Like I said…" Madara's tone remained the same, but a strange threat seemed to hang from his words. "A favor."
Sasuke swallowed involuntarily. He knew he had no chance against the Uchiha founder. But he would be damned if he wouldn't try.
"I'm not here to fight. All I want is a favor." Madara chuckled again at the expression the young avenger gave him. "It's for my daughter, you see."
Sasuke couldn't hide the surprise on his face. He was silent for a whole different reason now. It couldn't be.
"She's… trapped." He paused, as if looking for the right words to explain. "I placed her in an illusion. And she can't seem to get out." He paused again, a strange look of melancholy on his features. "She's too distraught to realize that for herself, you see."
"Tenten…" Sasuke's silent whisper was almost drowned by the steady night breeze.
Madara nodded. "Tenten."
A strange silence followed afterwards.
Madara allowed himself a small smile. In that one word, he understood all the things the young Uchiha wanted to ask him. "Wake her up and maybe you'll know the answer."
Sasuke gritted his teeth. "She's been in a coma for almost four days now. Not even the Hokage knows what her illness is."
Madara shook his head. "That's because she has no knowledge of it."
Sasuke furrowed his eyebrows in confusion.
"The answer lies in the hidden scrolls." Madara stated vaguely. "If you're a true Uchiha, you would know what I'm talking about."
Sasuke narrowed his eyes. He remembered his father and Itachi talking about the secrets of the clan, and how his older brother would be the next one to shoulder that responsibility. "Only the eldest son of the main family is entrusted with that knowledge."
Madara smirked mockingly. "Then I guess you'll never know the truth then."
Sasuke clenched his jaw in annoyance as he watched Madara's form slowly dissipate in black flames. "If you find the scrolls, maybe you can find out the truth as well."
(End of flashback)
Sasuke felt his fingers stiffen in exhaustion. He could feel the steady trail of sweat on his temples. He knew he wasn't the best at chakra manipulation, so he needed to focus on this technique if he wanted to save her.
Tenten was stirring slightly beneath him now. Sasuke could feel it. She was almost out. Just a little bit more. He could feel her consciousness slipping back. But before he could do any further, he was pushed back against the wall with a force that knocked the wind out of him. Forcing himself up from a crouch position, he cursed as his eyes landed on white irises.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, Uchiha?" His voice sounded almost like a whisper, but his tone was livid.
Clenching his fists, Sasuke glared back at the Hyuga prodigy, his Mangekyo blazing with anger. "You stupid. Fucking. Hyuga." He replied slowly, his tone equally livid. He knew the ANBU captain was one of the people in charge of his surveillance and yet he was careless enough to let his guard down.
"I'm going to have to ask you to come with me to the detention hall." Neji demanded, his stance remained, ready to attack the Uchiha whenever necessary.
Sasuke felt something within him snap. He was done playing nice. Konoha. The Hokage. Madara. The idiotic Hyuga. Fuck them all! They could all die for all he cared! Konoha wasn't his home. It was his prison. It always had been. All those restrictions imposed on him. All the surveillance assigned to him. He was a criminal in the eyes of every single one of those bloody fools! He would never be free.
In one swift movement, Sasuke pulled out Kusanagi from its hilt and charged towards Neji. Neji narrowed his eyes and shifted his stance slightly. The Uchiha was an idiot to challenge him in a close-ranged battle. Both prodigies were poised to kill when suddenly; they felt themselves flung against a wall, suspended a few inches above the ground.
Neji struggled against the invisible hold to no avail.
"What the fuck?" Sasuke cursed, unable to move his body.
Naji furrowed his eye brows in confusion and alarm. How on earth could they be pinned against a wall? His Byakugan could see nothing. No chakra strings. No strange techniques. No evidence of an enemy at all! How-
Neji's eyes widened at the silhouette before him. Even in the darkness he knew that form all too well.
Sasuke stared at Tenten's form on the bed right in front of him. The moonlight creeping through the window did nothing to soften the haunting figure before him. She was sitting upright now, her hair falling in waves all the way down to her waist. Her eyes seemed vacant and unfocused, her face was expressionless.
Before either of them could speak, they were flung against another wall, both grimacing as the thick concrete gave way. They couldn't bring their bodies to move as they slowly descend towards the hospital's lawn. Both prodigies landed face first against the dewy grass.
"Just what the hell…" Sasuke muttered to himself as he forced himself up. For some strange reason, his body felt like lead.
Neji clicked his tongue as he gazed at the hospital window. Tenten was staring eerily at the full moon before turning around and walking away.
Neji watched as Sasuke jumped up towards the hole on the wall to go after Tenten. To his surprise, the Uchiha prodigy seemed to have hit a something solid. He stared at the hole incredulously. Again, his Byakugan could see nothing.
"Just what the fuck?" Sasuke cursed once more as he landed on his feet. It felt like he hit something. But his Sharingan could sense nothing.
Tenten walked slowly towards the door only to pause midway as she heard rushing footsteps towards her room.
Sakura forcefully opened the door, slightly out of breath from running. "Ten-" She stared speechless at Tenten's conscious form. "You're awake-" Her gaze immediately shifted towards the broken wall. "What happened?!"
Sakura made her way towards the hole, unable to hide her surprise when she saw both Sasuke and Neji five stories down on the lawn with blood limits activated. "Just what-" She spun around to see Tenten heading out the door.
Sakura rushed as the door slammed shut. "Wait! Tenten where do you think you're-" Grasping the handle, she screamed in pain. Staring incredulously at her burned, blistering palm, she turned her attention back to the door. The knob had melted. "What the hell?" Sakura narrowed her eyes in utter confusion. She didn't understand what the hell was happening, but she'd be damned if she let Tenten walk out the hospital in that state.
Kicking the door open, Sakura hurried out the room only to be met by a secluded hallway. She glanced towards both sides of the hall as she cursed. She couldn't sense her at all.
Sasuke rushed towards the entrance of the hospital only to stop when Neji stepped in his way.
Neji watched indifferently as a spark of lightning coursed through the Uchiha avenger's body. "Uchiha Sasuke. This is as far as you go."
"I'm not in the mood Hyuga." Sasuke replied through gritted teeth, Kusanagi still at hand. He was beyond pissed. If the Hyuga didn't get out of his way, he wouldn't think twice about killing him.
"You think is this a game?" Neji replied, his Byakugan still activated. "You've breached protocol. You need to be brought in for questioning."
Sasuke clenched his jaw as he watched a steady group of spectators surrounded them. The world just wouldn't give him a fucking break. He spent days trying to locate and interpret those scrolls and now that he'd finally woken Tenten up, she disappears right in front of him! He was still no closer to the truth than when he started. "Don't think I'll hesitate to kill you Hyuga."
"Try it." Neji challenged as he assumed his stance. There was no arrogance in his tone.
Sasuke shifted his hold on Kusanagi. He knew what the Hyuga was implying. An attempted murder on a resident of Konoha would be enough to throw him back into the life of a missing nin. He scoffed. "You think I'd stay in this shithole if I had a choice?"
Neji watched as Sasuke charged towards him with the intent to kill. He was still challenging him to a close-range battle? Neji narrowed his eyes. This would be the last time an Uchiha would dare to look down on a Hyuga.
Just as both clan prodigies were about to exchange blows, they were forcefully pulled apart.
"Let go." Neji tried to stay calm but the hint of annoyance was notable in his tone. Gai and Lee were holding both his arms in restraint.
"Get off me." Sasuke growled in anger as he tried to pull Kusanagi out of Naruto's grasp. He placed the arm around his neck in a vice grip in an attempt to get the copy ninja off his back.
"What the hell are you two doing?!" Naruto screamed in reproach.
"Why would you challenge each other at a place like this?!" Lee added as he directed his gaze around the spectators. He didn't fail to notice the people in the hospital now peeking out their windows to see what the commotion was all about.
Sasuke allowed a strong surge of electricity to course through his body, forcing Kakashi and Naruto to withdraw their hold on him. Without another word, he disappeared in wisp of black flames.
Neji moved to follow suit but was stopped by both Gai and Kakashi.
"I'll deal with him." Kakashi assured. After all, he was also in charge of his former student's surveillance.
Neji stared at him through veiled eyes. He couldn't tell where the copy ninja's loyalty stood. But something told him he could be trusted. Neji nodded in resignation as Lee and Gai simultaneously released their hold on him. "Then I'll brief you of the details."
Shizune turned her attention towards the door at the unexpected knock. It was half pass eight in the evening now. No one would usually visit Tsunade's office at this hour. Walking towards the door, she pulled it open slowly.
"Who is- Tenten?!" She stared in shock at the brunette in front of her. She was still clad in hospital clothes. "What are you doing out of the hospital?!"
"I need an urgent audience with the Hokage." Tenten replied, her tone neutral and quiet, her face emotionless.
Shizune placed both hands on Tenten's shoulders. "I'm sure whatever it is, it can wait. We need to get you-" Shizune felt both her arms drop down to her sides. She couldn't move them no matter how hard she tried. "Tenten what-?"
"The Hokage, Shizune-san." She reiterated, her gaze empty but oddly threatening.
Shizune swallowed involuntarily. "What you're doing right now is-"
"Madara is alive."
Shizune felt her mouth fall open, unable to hide the utter shock on her face.
"If you understand, then please grant me audience with the Hokage."
Shizune felt both her arms relax. Wringing one hand around her wrist to return the feeling back, Shizune nodded in understanding. "Tsunade-sama is currently in a meeting with the heads of ANBU and the council of Konoha."
Tenten nodded in understanding. "All the better. Take me."
Shizune was silent for a moment, unsure of what to do. But news of Madara being alive was a far more pressing issue. "Alright. I will." Shizune nodded.
Just as Tenten was about to turn around, she felt a hand on her shoulder.
"Perhaps a change of clothes would do you well." Shizune stated without inquiry as she headed towards her side of the office. Pulling out a plain white yukata, she handed it to Tenten. "Stepping in front of the village leaders in hospital wear will do nothing for your credibility."
Glancing at the cloth, Tenten simply nodded her acceptance.
"So here you are."
Sasuke closed his eyes to calm himself. "I'm giving you ten seconds to leave this place."
Kakashi sighed as he glanced at the eerie surroundings of the abandoned Uchiha compound. Never in his life would he have thought this place was where Sasuke hid himself to escape surveillance. Kakashi allowed himself a small smile as he watched his former student sitting quietly by the edge of a worn-down wooden platform, staring at the still waters before him. He looked younger under the full light of the moon. He seemed almost harmless.
Kakashi sighed tiredly. "I'm not here to fight Sasuke."
"I'm not here to take you to detention as well."
Kakashi walked along the rickety platform, before stopping to stand right beside Sasuke.
Kakashi sighed once again, realizing he had only one thing left to say. "So you found out she's an Uchiha."
Kakashi shifted his glance towards Sasuke only to be met by blazing red orbs. "You knew?" Sasuke's tone was bitter and resentful.
Kakashi shrugged. "Just a few hours ago."
As if the answer calmed him down, Sasuke directed his gaze back to the lake.
"The Hokage told me." Kakashi clarified. "She thought it was necessary that I knew about it." He chuckled a bit. "She was right."
Sasuke remained silent.
"You can't just mess around with her Sasuke." Kakashi paused as he remembered the report the Hyuga prodigy had given him. "You know you're still under surveillance."
Sasuke offered Kakashi a challenging gaze. "I don't care."
Kakashi sighed. "I know you're feeling-"
"Don't even start with that shit." Sasuke glared at Kakashi as he cut him off. "You don't know the first thing about how I feel so don't go acting like you do."
Kakashi raised eyebrow at the sudden defensiveness. "Then how do you feel?"
Kakashi grinned at the response. "It's amusing how much curses you've learned to say over the years."
"How much do you know?"
Kakashi shifted his gaze back to the Uchiha prodigy. He was staring at him with stern eyes. "What do you mean?"
Sasuke didn't answer, only hardened his gaze.
"About Tenten?" Kakashi raised an eyebrow in inquiry, taking Sasuke's silence as affirmation. He sighed once again. "Not much. Only that she's an Uchiha and she has the Sharingan. That was all the information the Hokage was willing to divulge."
Sasuke stared at Kakashi's form in scrutiny.
"Think I'm lying?" Kakashi chuckled.
Sasuke said nothing as he stood up to take his leave.
Kakashi turned to watch Sasuke's retreating back. "If you really want to get the truth from her, why not work on making her trust you first?"
Sasuke paused midway from the platform to give Kakashi a look of incredulity.
Kakashi couldn't help but chuckle at Sasuke's incessant drive to ignore the fundamental values that construct human relationships. "You've tried the forceful approach." He paused to give his former student a meaningful look. "And how far did that get you?"
Kakashi watched as Sasuke turned his gaze down before turning around to leave. He said nothing in reply.
Tsunade paused in the middle of her speech to glance at Shizune's frantic form. "Shizune what is the meaning-"
"I apologize but she has important news Tsunade-sama." Shizune clarified as she stepped aside to allow Tenten passage.
"Just who do you think you are to interrupt this meeting?"
Tenten shifted her gaze to Koharu Utatane, one of the two elder councils of Konoha. This was the first time she's ever seen her in person. She looked older than what she expected. Then again, she had been the third Hokage's teammate, and had served under the second Hokage's squad.
"This conference is only for the leaders of Konoha. You have no place here."
Tenten turned her head towards Homura Mitokado, the other half of the elderly council. He too had fought alongside Hiruzen Sarutobi, under the command of Tobirama Senju.
Tenten glanced around the room noticing the presence of Genma, Anko and Ibiki. ANBU was well represented.
Ignoring the earlier protest of the elderly council, Tenten directed her gaze on Tsunade. "Madara is alive."
A suffocating silence followed suit.
"You're… kidding." Anko whispered more to herself than to Tenten.
"We fought at the valley of the end." Tenten added before pausing to look down. "I… Can hardly remember what happened."
Tsunade let out a slow sigh. "What did he want?"
"I…" Tenten looked Tsunade in the eye. She shook her head. "I don't know."
Tsunade placed both hands under her chin in contemplation. "What do you remember from your encounter with him?"
Tenten blinked, her eyes still emotionless. "He killed all four of my guardians."
Tsunade failed to hide the surprise on her face. No wonder they couldn't be found anywhere.
"He has a plan." Tenten paused, her eyes glazing over in thought. "He didn't say it specifically, but something tells me he's planning something big."
Tsunade narrowed her eyes in desperation. All the pieces of the puzzle were fitting together. "A fifth shinobi world war." She stated silently in a whisper.
"T-That's impossible!" Koharu interjected as she shook her head in disbelief.
Homura was in deep thought. "Tsunade's right. It's possible."
"But the fourth ninja war just ended a year ago! No country would have enough resources to risk going into war." Ibiki argued, obviously disturb by the idea.
"Kirigakure is in shambles after the attack by the Hidden Sound. Sunagakure seems to either be controlled or is in an alliance with the Sound." Homura paused to pull a paper out of the hidden pocket of his yukata's sleeve. "And now this." He passed it onto Tsunade.
Tsunade scanned the poor writing on the piece of parchment before gazing at Homura incredulously.
Homura nodded. "It seems Iwagakure and Kumogakure are at war."
"You gotta be fucking kidding me." Anko muttered under her breath.
"But the Raikage and Tsuchikage approved the peace treaty themselves! How can they be at war against each other?" Koharu was incredulous, her demeanor incredibly perplexed.
"All our contacts seem to have been lost." Homura began. "This was the last letter from either of the two nations. It arrived minutes before this meeting commenced."
Another suffocating silence enveloped the council hall.
Suddenly, a long exhausted sigh resounded throughout the room.
Anko glanced at Genma in irritation.
"So we have an incapacitated Mist, controlled Suna, and two warring nations." Genma summarized, the senbon on his mouth bobbed lightly as he spoke. "So where does this leave Konoha?"
"If it is indeed Madara who is behind all of this, then we can expect Konoha to be his next target." Homura replied with finality.
"Then we better prepare for the worst." Koharu nodded in understanding. "We have to prepare as if a war is coming."
Tenten shifted her glance towards Homura. "Is there any chance you would know Madara's whereabouts?"
Tenten shook her head lightly. "No."
"Is there anything else you wish to say?" Homura inquired further.
Tenten shook her head.
Homura nodded as he voiced his thanks. Directing his hand towards the door, he motioned for Tenten and Shizune to step out of the conference hall.
"Why did you let her leave?"
Homura glanced at Genma's knowing gaze as he allowed himself a small smile. "I think you know why." Homura shifted his gaze towards Tsunade. "Madara clearly wants his daughter back. And if the battle at the valley of the end is an indication, it seems she will be playing a crucial role in Madara's plan."
Tsunade nodded. Homura simply spoke what was in everyone's minds. "What do you suggest?"
"She can't be allowed to leave the village. She has to be kept safe and out of Madara's grasp." Homura concluded.
"I don't think that's possible."
All eyes were on Ibiki.
"There isn't a place that Madara wouldn't be able to infiltrate. He could be listening in on this conversation this very moment without any of us knowing." He paused as he glanced at each member of the council. "He is the master of illusions. I don't think it would be possible to for us to hide his daughter somewhere he can never find her."
"Then what option do we have left?" Koharu replied, desperation notable in her tone.
"With her guardians dead, the only people who know of her true identity are all of us in this room." Genma began, tossing the senbon from one side of his mouth to another. "It may not be possible to hide her, but perhaps establishing a security channel for her would be the most practical approach."
A few heads nodded in approval.
"It may not even work but it's the only option we have." Ibiki concluded as he folded his arms on his chest.
"We're not the only ones who know."
All eyes shifted to Tsunade's contemplative form. She sighed tiredly. "Sasuke has been informed of her Uchiha descent." Tsunade glanced at the surprised faces before her. "He found out first hand. He saw her Sharingan for himself."
"How the hell was that possible!?" Anko interjected in disbelief. She thought that Tenten girl was the cautious type. How could she have been stupid enough to slip up in front of the last remaining Uchiha?
"It doesn't matter how it happened." Tsunade gave Anko a firm glance. "All that's important is that he knows and he obviously wants the truth. As for what he's willing to do for it, we have no clue."
Homura sighed as he scratched his temple. Would the young lad side with Madara? Or could he be trusted as a loyal shinobi of Konoha? Would the avatar eventually be lulled into Madara's cause? Or would she be one of Konoha's unprecedented saviors? Homura released a long sigh. "The Uchihas are difficult variables to predict."
"So what are we planning to do?" Genma stared at the silent forms of the members of the council. He sighed. It seems they didn't have a plan at all for this one.
Tenten stood atop the Hokage Mountain feeling detached. The quiet streets of Konoha basking in the moonlight did nothing to fill the empty hole on her chest. For the first time in years she felt disoriented. Confused. Lost. Completely and utterly alone.
She blinked. She could see the silhouette of the little boy walking on air despite the cold misty night. He was urging her to come with him. Tenten blinked again. He was telling her to jump off – to come and try to catch him. Tenten took a step forward. She could feel the mountain crumble at her feet, little pieces of soil rolled down over the edge. Their descent to the ground was not heard.
The little boy appeared again. He was running now, a hand up in the air still urging her to come and catch him. Tenten raised another foot up as she positioned to step on air alongside the little boy. She would go after him. She would catch him. Tenten closed her eyes as she felt her foot slowly descent into nothing. She felt the wind slowly caress her form, throwing her hair in array all over her face. She was falling. She was-
"What the hell do you think you're doing!?"
Tenten opened her eyes to stare at dark onyx orbs. She blinked.
"Are you seriously trying to kill yourself?" Sasuke stared at the deranged brunette before him, his hand still on her arm even after he had pulled her to safety. As hazel eyes slowly began to gain focus, Sasuke could only stare in annoyance when he was met with a glare. "A thank you would suffice."
Tenten pulled her arm off the Uchiha's grasp, taking a few steps backwards for added measure. "What should I thank someone like you for?" Her tone was silent, but menacing and cold.
"Saving your life would be one." Sasuke stated with conviction. Frankly, he couldn't care less if she died as long as she told him what he wanted to know. As far as he was concerned, having the Sharingan didn't merit her as family. He stared the plain white yukata she was wearing. With her hair falling down to her hips in messy waves, she looked like a vengeful spirit under the eerie light of the moon.
Tenten scoffed. "As if I would try and kill myself." To add emphasis, Tenten twirled the staff on her hand before slamming it forcefully on the ground.
Sasuke stared with mild surprise as the staff revealed wings. He didn't realize she had been holding onto the contraption the whole time. He's never seen anything like it. But judging by the way it was covered with wings, he was guessing it could fly.
Just as Tenten was about to jump off into the night air, Sasuke moved to close the gap between them.
Tenten stared at the hand on her wrist with disdain before glancing up at the Uchiha prodigy. "Let go."
Sasuke didn't fail to hide the surprise on his face as he eyed the Mangekyō staring him in the face.
Tenten narrowed her eyes as Sasuke's Mangekyō now mirrored her own. "Fine. This fight has long been overdue after all."
Sasuke released a frustrated sigh. "I'm not here to challenge you." He said it through gritted teeth, as if trying his best to hold back.
Tenten blinked, allowing herself to scoff in amusement at the irony of it all.
Ignoring the amused expression he was given, Sasuke loosened his grip on Tenten but never fully released her from his grasp. "I have a proposition for you."
Sasuke felt his grip on Tenten release as his hand was brought down forcefully on his side. He groaned in frustration. It was happening all over again. He didn't know how the hell she was doing it without putting him under a genjutsu.
Tenten turned her gaze back to him as his mouth clamped shut. Sasuke glared at down his lips as he struggled to speak. He watched as Tenten turned her attention back into the silent streets of Konoha, ready to jump off into the horizon.
"I'll teach you!"
Tenten snapped her head back towards the immobile Uchiha, his mouth now bleeding thanks to his forced attempt at speaking. "What?"
Sasuke spat out the blood from his mouth as he glared at the woman before him. "You have the Mangekyō, don't you?" He paused, still breathing hard at the attempt to break the hold Tenten had on him. "But you haven't the slightest clue how to use it." He was smirking now at the look Tenten was giving him. He was right. She may have one of the most powerful eye techniques under her belt but it was useless if she knew nothing about it. Sasuke felt the hold on him loosen.
"Just what are you trying to say?" Tenten watched through narrowed eyes as Sasuke wiped the blood of the edge of his lips. Both their Mangekyō continued to blaze at each other, neither willing to back down.
"An equivalent exchange." Sasuke stated as he eyed Tenten sternly. "The truth about the Mangekyō in exchange for the truth about you."