This chapter is dedicated to LivesIn2D! Thank you for being such an awesome person!!!!! Hope you enjoy!


Chapter 17

XXXXXX

"He turned traitor, did he? Hm, what a shame. I was going to put his skills to good use once we gained Sand."

Kiken swallowed nervously but gave no outer sign of his anxiety. Faced with the Tsuchikage was intimidating enough, but to come toe to toe with him immediatly after arriving when he had just ordered yet another six death penalties was waning on his straight faced facade. In all honesty, he just wanted to go home and rest. Hadn't he earned it?

"Hai, Tsuchikage-sama. Bakudan was planning to retreat and inform the villages of your intentions."

The powerful man before him made a show of sighing and shaking his head in disappointment, though Kiken could see the menacing humor bleeding into his movements. "Well we can't have that, now can we? No, that wouldn't do." He smiled then and fixed his glittering grey eyes on the ninja before him. "But you stayed true to me, didn't you, Kiken? What a valuable shinobi you are to me."

Kiken felt his chest swell with pride.

"So loyal and devoted to me. If half my men were like you, I would have ruled long ago."

The Tsuchikage stepped down from his thrown and stood before the travel worn shinobi. Taking the scroll from him, he patted him gently on the shoulder with a smile. If only Kiken had known how much of a snake his leader was. How much of a coniving and evil man he truly was destined to be. But he didn't, couldn't fathom that his villages' leader could be anything but almighty and perfect. Harsh, yes, but it was all toward the overthrow of the other villages in which theirs would be the most powerful.

It would be better this way. That's what he believed, but how wrong he was.

"But I can't have anyone finding out about this mission. It would be bad for my reputation for the village to discover their Kage was smuggling maps from hidden villages for his own gain." He smiled serenely, and Kiken felt his heart stutter with fear.

Shaking his head, the shinobi promised under oath of the village of the Kage himself he wouldn't breathe a word.

"Oh, I know you won't, dear Kiken. I know you won't."

"Then why - "

"Am I questioning you're loyalty?" He guessed, finishing Kiken's sentence for him. When he nodded, the leader ran his fingers up from Kiken's shoulder to the exposed skin of his neck. Black eyes glanced down at the hand at his throat nervously and he gulped.

"Merely because not one person can know of this. And since you are the only one, there is but a simple solution to this problem."

"But sir! I wouldn't dare speak against you!"

A sharp pain shot through Kiken's neck and he staggered backward, one hand clutching at where the Kage's hand had previously rested.

"I was...." he hacked fiercely and fell to his knees as poison rushed through his bloodstream quickly. His glassy eyes gazed up at the Kage helplessly, only to meet cold grey eyes staring at him with disdain. The sting of betrayel hurt as he finally realized that maybe Bakudan had been right all along. Maybe he should have just abandoned ship when he had the chance.

But now it was too late.

Again he coughed, this time spitting up blood onto the stone floors of the Kage tower. All he had ever been dooing was "...following orders..."

Kiken's lifeless body collapsed and the Tsuchigkage rolled his eyes at the mundane tasks he had to perform to get to the top. Signaling for a cleaning crew to clear up the mess the dead shinobi had left, he stalked back to his throne with the maps clutched tightly in his greedy fingers. It was only a matter of time now. Very soon, he would have his greatest desire. He would rule and have an endless amount of shinobi at his disposal.

He could taste the sweet victory on his tongue and, oh, how satisfying it was!

XXXXXX

"Do you understand that this is simply a precautionary scouting mission? I can only afford to send four of you out at one time like this, especially since tomorrow morning a back-up squad of jounins will be sent out after you."

Tsunade's hard eyes stared into each of the empty masks in turn, fixing them with her impenerturable gaze. Not one shifted.

"Though this might not seem like an important mission, I want all of you to be on high alert. Trust your instincts and follow orders down to the last word. Any questions?"

One ANBU member in a cat mask stepped forward and bowed to the Hokage. "Tsunade-sama," she recognized Yamato's voice immediatly. "Is there anything imparticular we should be on the look out for?"

Tsunade steepled her fingers in front of her pursed lips. "Be wary of travelers or any shinobi from a different village. Anyone traveling alone, you avoid and keep a close eye on if they seem to be following you. The point of the mission is to look for suspicous behaviour."

Yamato stepped back into line, not uttering another word. As Tsunade straightened in her seat and prepared to dismiss them, the only female of the group stepped forward and bowed.

"Hokage-sama, with all do respect, sending out a team of ANBU soley on the impulse of... of suspicious behaviour does not seem very logical."

Tsunade narrowed her eyes on the long, purple-haired kunoichi. "A kunoichi will always follow orders, Yugao."

The woman stiffened but refused to step back. "A Hokage will not keep certain secrets, ones like this, from the very shinobi hired to protect the village. We deserve to know what we are protecting it from. You can not just send us out blindly."

Tsunade raised an eyebrow as the other ANBU members stared through their expressionless and blank masks at the woman between them. She was crazy to insult the Hokage like that. It was unacceptable and rude, not to be tolerated by someone as high a rank as Yugao. She should know better. Yet here she was staring down the Hokage defiantely and demanding an answer.

Sighing, the blonde Hokage stood and fixed them all with a hard stare. "I am sending you out based on my intuition. If you haven't learned to trust me yet after all these years, then I suggest you turn in your resignation effective immediately."

The tension in the room was thick enough to choke a person.

Yugao hesitated, considering speaking again before dropping the thought and bowing stiffly to the Hokage and stepping back in line. At her dismissal they disappeared, immediatly leaving the blonde to her own thoughts.

Sitting back down at her desk, Tsunade sighed heavily and stared down at the clean wood of the stable structure. It was her duty as the Hokage to protect the village and its' people. She had to do whatever was necessary to keep them safe. But it was damn hard to do that when you were just acting on nothing more than a bad feeling. Though she knew it was right, something told her not everyone else would see it that way.

The ANBU members would follow her orders faithfully, but that didn't mean they didn't doubt her. She doubted herself. There was no solid evidence to base her intuition off of. It was just her logical instincts and she would heed them rightly. After all, every born shinobi and kuniochi are repeatedly lectured and having the lesson beaten into them to never, under any circumstances, second guess your instincts. They are your lifeline.

Tsunade rubbed her temples and shut her eyes tightly. It was obvious to her that something was brewing in the near future and was going to overtake them. And soon. But what? What was going to happen, who was going to do it, and what is the reason for it all? These were the questions that were continuously and painfully pounding themselves against her skull, giving her a headache that set her teeth on edge.

Wretching open one of the drawers on her desk, Tsunade pulled out a half-empty bottle of sake and a small shot glass. The next few minutes were spent with her deftly filling her glass one after the other as she bent - frustrated - over the paperwork on her desk whilst planning and strategizing over the possible outcomes of Konoha's future and how to counter act any harsh attacks against them.

XXXXXX

"That was careless, Yugao."

The purple haired kunoichi pointedly ignored the man at her side. His bear mask stared blankly at her as they jumped from branch to branch that led them further and further from the village. Her skin crawled as his eyes refused to look away from her. Finally, fed up with his staring, she abruptly halted and whipped off her mask. Her warm honey eyes blazed and sparked at the man that had been lecturing her since they exited the Hokage building.

The rest of the ANBU team paused next to them, watching quietly as their teammates glared at one another. Slowly, the man pulled off his own bear mask and narrowed his eyes on the younger woman.

"You should have shown more respect."

"I know that!" she snapped, taking a step toward him. "Don't you think I know that?! She's the Hokage, I get it, okay! But sending us out just because she has a feeling doesn't make any sense! I was simply telling her so!"

The older ANBU crossed his arms over his chest, pinning his grey eyes on Yugao. "You're young and have a lot to learn."

Yugao glared harshly at the man. "And you're old, you think you know it all."

His lips formed a thin line. "Know your place, woman."

"Know your's, old man. I'm second in command of this squad under Tenzou, you will follow my orders or you will leave. Now fall back."

"That order can only be passed through the Captain."

A rustling broke them momentarily from their heated glares as a body landed soundlessly between them. A calm and warm voice spoke from behind a glinting porcilean mask. "We can't waste time, move out."

At the Captain's words, the members forgot their quarrel for the moment and lept back into the trees, heading toward the border with silent precision. After an extended amount of time, Tenzou fell back a few paces and matched his stride with Yugao, who had her mask tied to the side of her head. He was reminded of how his senpai used to wear his mask like that and almost smiled.

"He had a point."

Yugao sighed and looked at her feet as they leapt onward. "I know," she admitted reluctantly. "But you know you felt the same way, I was just the one that said it."

He nodded and untied his own mask and let it slip around his neck. "I did. But maybe sometimes it's better to let things alone."

"So you're saying that you would have gone out here, not knowing what we were being sent out for, just because Tsunade said so?"

"I would, because I am a tool at her disposal. A shinobi will always follow the Hokage's demands because it is what's best for the village."

"That's bull and you know it."

Yamato turned to her in surprise. Her piercing eyes locked on him.

"You, of all people, should know better. You worked with Kakashi for chrissake! I know for a fact he told you that we are not only tools." she said, her nose wrinkling in disgust on her last words.

A small smile played on his lips and he looked ahead of them. "He taught me many things."

"I know that in a way I was wrong to call out Tsunade like that, but I was right in demanding an answer. She isn't a cold hearted leader so she will give us legitimate reasons, which she did. In her own way."

Yamato reached out and squeezed Yugao's shoulder gently. "Roku was wrong, you don't have much to learn. You have much to teach."

As she watched her Captain speed up and lead the group toward their scouting posts, Yugao tied back on her mask to hide the blush that was creeping over her cheeks and warming them to a bright pink. Her shoulder tingled where he had touched her, and it took several minutes for her to get her mind back on the task at hand.

She could already tell this was going to be a long and difficult mission mentally and physically. And not just because they were scouting for the unknown, but because she could feel butterflies fluttering frantically in her stomach.

Yugao sighed heavily. It was going to be a very, very long mission.

XXXXXX

Anko did not want to wake up the following morning. She had never been so at ease, so comfortable, at any point in her life and it was too good to give up so soon. And it was so warm and safe in this place, it made her feel like - if she felt the urge - she could get up and stretch like a lazy cat. It left a soft smile tugging on her tired lips and fingers curling into small, relaxed fists. There had been no nightmares that night and it seemed like a miracle. It was peaceful.

But, to her dismay, she began to wake up in the early hours of the morning despite her many attempts at forcing herself to fall back asleep. She was not quite ready to let go of the bliss she had discovered during the night and groaned helplessly. It was at that moment that Anko realized she was not where she had orginally thought she was when a very solid and very there body shifted beneath her own.

It had not registered to Anko that she wasn't in her own bed, since upon waking she was too groggy to comprehend she had spent the last couple of nights with Kakashi. She was used to waking up at her own home and following her own routine, not finding herself wrapped up in the arms of a man in a strange place.

Anko was splayed on top of him.

She almost bolted and attacked, but something stopped her just in time and she slowly relaxed. His smell, strong and safe, seemed to be physically caressing her skin and lulling her tense body to calm. The scent was warm and the only word that she could find to even begin to describe it after contemplating it for a few moments was woodsy. He smelled like he had run for hours and hours in the woods and rolled around on the forest floor. But it was so alluring she found herself fighting back the urge to press her nose into his skin and breathe him in.

She did, however, situate her legs so that they were falling on either side of his own and pressed herself more fully against him. It was hard not to allow her yearnings to have full reign, the need to just give herself over to him seemed to have taken control of her and it was gnawing at her insides. What could it hurt?

Anko mentally shrugged. It could ruin the relationship that they already had, but it was his fault for smelling so damn good. Yeah, she decided. It was all his fault if things soured between them.

With that last thought in mind, Anko shifted once more, slowly extending her hands to tangle her fingers through Kakash's silver locks. His fingers flexed momentarily against her waist and she wondered if in his dreams he was enjoying this. She knew she was certaintly enjoying it being awake.

Probably more than she should.

Shrugging off her worries, Anko raised her head close to his, allowing her nose to brush Kakashi's jaw from his earlobe to his chin, grinning softly at feeling the slight stubble scratch at her. Her almond eyes slipped closed and she breathed in deeply and quietly. Her stomach did an amazing flip and she forcefully had to stop herself from pressing her lips to his skin and tasting him. Instead, a heedy moan sighed almost silently from deep within her throat and her tongue danced behind her lips.

Her skin dampened in the slightest and she pressed down more fully against Kakashi, trying to release the growing tension in her body that was threatening to consume her. Her fingers curled into fists and she watched with half-lidded eyes as his neck was exposed to her. Her lips parted and she felt the blood pounding in her ears, her breath coming faster. If it hadn't been for his hands gripping into her sides as if for a lifeline, she would have snapped.

Anko blinked repeatedly, staring down at the man below her in confusion. And then anger built up in her chest and she moved away from him quickly. The needy, burning feeling that was bubbling so close to the surface only a few moments previous chilled in her viens and Anko stood abruptly from the bed and turned from the room, exiting with a cool and upset air.

Kakashi's eyes opened slowly and he stared up at the ceiling after he heard the door click into place. His chest moved imperceptibly faster and his skin seemed to be on fire. He couldn't have been more grateful for her leaving at that moment because if she had hesitated one more second, she would have seen the burning lust sparking in his mismatched eyes with an intensity that would have shook her to her core.

Kakashi heaved himself from the bed and rubbed his face, still able to feel her skin pressed to his body so intimately. To his frustration, his body had acted accordingly to her touch and he tilted his head back to glare at the ceiling with a groan.

Somehow he should have seen this coming. Maybe not this exactly, but this was Anko and in some form or another he should have expected her making life difficult for him in some way. Shutting his eyes closed and pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and finger, Kakashi slouched to the bathroom to relieve himself of a very...straining...problem.

XXXXXX

They had reached the woods late last night and had already set out the following morning to tramp through the forest Konoha-bound. Matsuri's wide eyes took in the view of the large trees and numerous plants around her with a childlike wonder, amazed by the fact that there could be so many. It had been a long, long time since she had walked through a forest and growing up in the desert limited her knowledge on plant life. She felt almost superior to the kunoichi back in the village that had yet to have this experience.

"We should be at the village by noon tomorrow, don't you think, Gaara?" Temari asked as she stretched her arms over her head and sighed tiredly.

Gaara bit back a yawn and nodded. "At the rate we're going, yes. Though if we picked up pace we might get there ahead of time."

"You can say that as much as you want, but that isn't going to make lazy boy's ankle heal up any time soon." Kankurou smirked, glancing behind him at the Leaf ninja leaning on Matsuri's shoulder - limping.

Shikamaru gave a lazy glare. "If someone wouldn't have decided to test out their chakra strings in the dark, I wouldn't be in this position."

"If someone wouldn't have been sneaking around the camp last night to sneak into another someone's sleeping bag, a certain someone wouldn't have had to use their chakra strings to stop a potential enemy." Kankurou snapped, frowning sharply.

"I told you I wasn't - "

"Oh, would you two cut it out! I've had enough of the both of you!" Temari shouted, cutting off Shikamaru mid-sentence, a slight pink blush settling over her cheeks - going unnoticed by her traveling companions. "Can't you stop arguing for five minutes!"

"No." They both answered blankly shooting quick glares at one another.

Matsuri shifted the shinobi's weight on her shoulder and mentally fumed at the schedule they abided by to pass Shikamaru around due to his injury. She knew Kankurou was purposfully giving her a longer time so that his own packing time wouldn't last long. If they had a medical ninja traveling with them, a sprained ankle would be no problem. Then again, if Shikamaru and Kankurou could just get along, they wouldn't need one in the first place and would be arriving in Konoha ahead of time.

Sighing, she trudged along behind the sand siblings while deftly avoiding any upturned stones or potholes littering the ground path.

The sun glowed softly on the path they followed as the hours went by slowly, seemingly taking forever for the day to pass. No problems occured and no further injuries delayed them, of which all were more than grateful for. However, when the sun situated itself dead center in the sky and blazed down on their shoulders scornfully, a splash of color caught Gaara's attention and he halted in the middle of the trail, numbing shock and anger that festered like an infected wound settled itself deep within his bones.

"Gaara? What's the matter?"

Matsuri's head snapped up at Kankurou's worried tone and her eyes flitted from one brother to the next. Gaara stood a few yards ahead of them, standing completely still with hands hanging limply at his sides. Kankurou was watching him carefully as Temari stepped back and surveyed the area, looking for any type of danger.

"What's going on." Shikamaru whispered quietly and Matsuri shook her head. She didn't know.

"Gaara?" Kankurou tried again, slipping his scrolls from his shoulders.

Matsuri became alarmed when Gaara suddenly sprinted away from them and kneeled down in the bushes. Thinking he was running after enemies, she released her hold on Shikamaru and drew out her kunai and bolted after him. Shikamaru - having anticipated Matsuri letting him go - leaned against a tree and formed hand signs for his jutsu.

Temari's and Kankurou's cries of alarm rang out as Matsuri leapt to Gaara's side and abruptly stopped. Not long after Matsuri dropped her weapon with a dull 'thud' did they- helping along a limping Shikamaru - come up warily beside her. Looking down at their brother crouched on the ground, a cold feeling of dread settled in the pit of their stomachs and Temari's lips formed a thin line.

Shikamaru pushed off of Kankurou, eyes wide with horror and shock and fell on the ground beside Gaara in crumpled heap. After pushing himself up from the dirt, his sharp eyes settled on the body lying under Gaara's hands. Gaara's breathing was hard and ragged, his eyes too bright, too wild. For a moment, Shikamaru was reminded of the chuunin exams those years ago when he saw the man before him for the first time. It was like being flung into the past against his will and he suddenly felt nauseous.

Gaara's fingers clenched harshly into the fabric under his hands. His chest constricted and his teeth grinded together as he managed to choke out a single word.

"Naruto - "


So how was that? I made it a long chapter and I think it came out pretty good. Full of good stuff, I felt like. Anyway, let me know what you thought. Sorry for the long waits for updating but there is a LOT of stuff going on here on my end. Please be patient with me! Thank you for reading!