AN: Sorry for such a late late late late late update, but August really kicked my ass! Finally, I've finished this last chapter of this very long, long fanfic. When I first started writing it, I didn't think it would be 45 chapters long but it was a fun process. As mentioned before, there will be a sequel but it won't be up for a while.
Some of you asked what an IUD was and it's a type of birth control. Here's a site if you would like to check it out. It can explain it way better than I can:
-Just delete all the double==
Thank you all for reviewing a reading (over 400 OMG)! I'll be lurking around, reading some other amazing stories on this site and will continue posting new one shots for "Parallels". Hope you guys read and REVIEW! A million, billion, trillion kisses and hugs to all of you! :MUH MUH:
In the dark
I can feel you in my sleep
In your arms I feel you breathe into me
Forever hold this heart that I will give to you
Forever I will live for you…Awake and Alive by, Skillet
Sasuke watched the rise and fall of Ino's chest, his head propped on his hand as he lay on his side. It was dark in the room, their private room. The others knew where they were, and the awkwardness of conversing with them was put on temporary hold. Besides, he didn't really want to talk to Ino's team. He didn't care much for Choji and Asuma, but Shikamaru…Shikamaru and Itachi were another matter. He had been watching them closely the whole time and saw that look. Wistfulness, joy, warmth, longing for a certain someone. But they know better, he thought with growing possessiveness, wrapping her long blonde hair around two of his fingers, dark eyes flashing. Reiko was proof enough for that, and if he got his timing right, another would join his family. After returning from the hospital, he made a very deliberate and thorough night for them. She was spent and so was he.
He had a hard time thinking that she didn't know that those two had some kind of romantic feelings for her. When he was in her memories, he felt her fondness for Nara, and then there was that incident with her and Itachi. He felt her attraction for him in her memories as well and instantly became wary of his older brother. She even admitted to him that she thought he was good looking. Despite rekindling their brotherly closeness, his jaw would tighten every time they talked with one another, or she smiled at him. He didn't know if she was deliberately trying to make him jealous. Sasuke would have to put a stop to their flirting. He didn't like that feeling. It was a hot emotion that Ino would masterfully utilize if she knew and he couldn't have that.
There was some shuffling just outside the door and Sasuke tensed breaking from his thoughts, reaching out with what little sensor skill he had to see if he recognized the chakra signature. He felt some warmth spread in his chest and he slipped quietly and gently from bed and opened the door. Reiko was leaning against the opposite wall in the empty hallway looking at his feet but when he heard the door open, he looked up quickly.
"Dad! You're dressed!" He said in surprise and Sasuke mentally smiled.
"Why wouldn't I be?" He asked, raising a brow.
Reiko flushed bright red. "It's just Karin said…and then I realized…and I thought that…Argh!" He glared at Sasuke's growing smirk. He enjoyed teasing his son and knew Reiko hated it when he or Ino made him flustered. "Is she awake? Can I see her?" He asked, folding his arms in front of him, lowering his chin into the high collar of Sasuke's old childhood shirt to hide his pout.
"She's sleeping right now."
Reiko's lowered his eyes, but Sasuke caught the sad disappointment in them. "Oh."
Sasuke frowned a little, not liking how down Reiko was. He knew that he and Ino were close so he opened the door wider and stepped to the side. "Are you going to come in or not?"
Reiko looked up at him hopefully. "Really? I can stay with you guys tonight?"
Sasuke jerked his head. "Come on, before I change my mind." He said dryly, and Reiko raced past him, leaving his shoes by the door just as quickly. In the darkness, he saw Reiko crawl next to Ino, settling on her left so that he would be in the middle of them. It was going to be a tight fit with Reiko sleeping with them now. Sasuke wondered if this was normal. He knew when he was younger, like five or so, he would sneak into Itachi's room to spend the night. But Reiko was ten, only seven years younger than them. Was it normal for him to be so clingy to Ino? He would have to ask Itachi about it in the morning.
The next day, after breakfast Ino settled herself in the main living room where everyone else was staying. Sasuke was going through some scrolls and Ino was on her belly with her legs carelessly swinging in the air. She licked her finger and turned a page of the book she was reading, only lifting her gaze once when the door opened. The others had gone off to resupply and Reiko had tagged along.
"Whatcha doing?" Reiko plopped next to her and looked at the page she was reading. "Preparing for the transplant? That picture looks sooo cool! Eyes really have those wormy looking veins in the back of them?"
Karin came and kneeled beside her, unhooking her cloak to get comfortable. "You're reading this? I read that book before, but I guess I should brush up on my knowledge."
Sasuke raised a brow. "You guess?" He pressed in a somewhat threatening tone. "You better do more than guess."
Karin flushed. "Sheesh." She muttered, pulling the book from Ino's fingers and stomping to the other side of the room. Ino sighed and got to her knees.
"Did you guys eat again?" She asked suspiciously, smelling smoke and the sweet smell of meat roll off of Reiko's clothes. Choji just shrugged and grinned at the look she gave him.
"Of course. BBQ." Reiko grinned and rubbed his belly then turned to Sasuke. "So you're feeling better? Are you and Itachi ready to switch eyes?" He glanced up at Itachi. "But I don't get it. Since they got your eyes back when your other body was killed, why does Sasuke have to use those ones and not the ones in your head?"
Shikamaru had settled cross legged beside her to pack his bag and Ino instantly began helping him sort his things out of habit. "When we took them, it was an impromptu removal. The solution we stored them in wasn't the best and we're afraid they might deteriorate if we don't use them quickly." He supplied.
"We brought something better that will guarantee the longevity of Itachi's current eyes while they are stored." Ino said, separating Shikamaru's shuriken and kunai into two piles. "That is, if you want them saved." She said looking up at the quiet figure of Itachi. His dark eyes betrayed nothing of what he was thinking and some strands of his dark hair had escaped his ponytail.
"They will be useful in the future." He decided. "But their existence must stay between us. Tobi has collected many Sharingan eyes for a purpose unknown to me at this time. Whatever it is, it's not good."
"Itachi filled us in on Tobi's plan. The team talked it over, but we wanted to come to you to tell you." Asuma said, tall and dark skinned against the bleak looking white paint of their room. "Shikamaru will stay with you until you decide it is safe enough to leave them to heal after the transplant while Choji, Karin and I head back to Leaf to prepare for war."
Sasuke looked surprised and turned to Karin. "You're going to Leaf?" She flushed a little and just gave him a non-committal hum, not looking up from the book. Sasuke looked to her. "What did you do to get her to agree to that?" He raised a brow.
Ino smiled slowly, ruffling through Shikamaru's explosive notes. "I didn't have to do anything." She said in amusement. She could tell he didn't believe her from the skeptical glance he threw at the red head.
Reiko turned around and stared into her eyes with an eager look on his face. "Mom, Choji and Shikamaru said that we're going to do something special before they leave but they won't tell me. Do you know what it is?" She didn't. She didn't hear anything about it and peered up in question at Choji and Shikamaru. Asuma seemed to know what he was talking about because he had a small smile framing his lips.
"I don't, but they are going to fill me in on it aren't they?" She asked, arching a brow at them as if they had planned on keeping her in the dark. They looked at Shikamaru's sharpened shuriken spinning on her finger.
"It's nothing bad, I swear." Choji was the one who was quick to assure her. Asuma just chuckled.
"I guess I can show you this scroll now. I was going to wait until after, but I guess there is no point in keeping it a secret now that Sasuke has finally made up his mind." Sasuke didn't respond to Asuma's exasperated expression, only folded his arms and stared at him. Ino took the slim white scroll offered from Asuma's hand and unrolled it slowly. At the top was the seal of the Hokage. Her blue eyes widened the more she read. Lady Tsunade! She was alright! She came out of her coma two days ago and was the head honcho again. Relief and happiness swamped her and she sagged against Reiko. Sasuke had been reading over her shoulder and smirked when he finished.
"Kakashi would have been a terrible Hokage." He muttered.
"Can I show them now? Can I?" Reiko jumped from his place next to her and grabbed his bag from its resting place by the room door.
"Show us what?" Itachi asked, looking amused at his nephew's contagious excitement.
Choji scratched his swirly cheek in humor and gave questioning looks at the rest of her team. "Should he? I'm amazed that he didn't blurt it out as soon as we came back."
Ino, Sasuke and Itachi waited side by side for Reiko to show them whatever it was that was making him giggle and hold his bag close to his chest. Karin even dropped her book in her lap to watch.
"Go ahead." Asuma finally said and Reiko reached into his bag and pulled out what he was so intent on showing them. Ino's eyes widened when she saw the broken wax seal of the Hokage's office and she felt Sasuke stiffen next to her. Itachi was more relaxed but she could feel his mild surprise and curiosity.
"'By order of the Fifth Hokage, Tsunade Senju, I hereby initiate within the ranks of the Village Hidden in the Leaves, Reiko Yamanaka and grant him gennin level.'" Reiko read the little short note to them his voice rising in volume and becoming rushed with excitement as he read. His green eyes sparkled with dazzling exhilaration and joy. He dropped the note which in turn curled up into a paper cylinder again and dug back into his bag and pulled out two headbands. A standard blue and silver with Leaf's etching on it and a crimson and silver one that read 'Shinobi' in characters. "Isn't that awesome?! I didn't even have to go to the academy, I'm that good!"
"Reiko." Itachi shook his head, a crease in his eyebrow. "Remember what I said."
Reiko rolled his eyes. "Yeah yeah, an overconfident ninja is a liability." He recited. "But come on! I can't brag just a little? No? Jeeze you're so strict." He pouted playfully before holding up his two headbands to eye level to gaze proudly at them.
"Tch, you never said that to me." Sasuke muttered. Itachi just smiled a little and poked him in the forehead.
"It's never too late to learn."
"Look, here's yours mom." Reiko finally had enough of looking at his forehead protectors and slung them over his shoulder before bringing out another one from his bag. She took it from him, running her thumb over the 'Shinobi' etching. Ever since turning Chuunin, she never wore her forehead protected despite being a loyal Leaf ninja. The only time she did was when she was starting her S rank mission and had to be identified as a Leaf ninja so that she would been taken and saved for Orochimaru.
"Reiko has become a gennin. You know what that means." Shikamaru fingered his right ear lobe, twisting his silver stud between his fingers. Ino's eyebrows rose. That was right! So that was the surprise they were talking about.
"What does it mean?" Sasuke looked suspiciously at her. She could tell he had something dark on his mind and wondered if it was the fact that Reiko had been granted a ninja level.
Ino pushed aside that daunting feeling of trepidation and managed a grin, resisting the urge to kiss his furrowed brow. "It's a secret. You'll see later, after its done." She said, handing her headband back to Reiko. "So when do you want to do it?" She tilted her head to her team, an excited blush on her cheeks. "Tonight? Right now?"
Choji grinned. "Well, what do you think Asuma-sensei?"
Reiko hurried and stuffed the headbands back into his bag, before coming and standing in front of her. "What? What is it? Why can't you tell me?!" His green eyes took on that puppy dog look, wide and pleading and like always, everyone looked like they were falling over themselves to make him happy. While she has been his number one victim of his 'how-cute-am-I-? look that made her give in to his outlandish requests more than she cared to admit, she was glad to know that she was becoming wise to his tactics. She only melted a little.
Shikamaru mussed his sun kissed blonde hair. "Brat. Don't kill us with that look. We'll tell you soon."
Sasuke didn't know what to think when he finally saw what Ino and her team had done to Reiko. Itachi had told him about the Yamanaka/Nara/Akamichi family oaths when they had gone off to preform it and pierce his ears. He didn't like that at all. Reiko's surname was Yamanaka but he was also an Uchiha. Reiko participating in this oath felt like the Uchiha name was slipping away from him. He supposed it wasn't all up to him now, to revive the Uchiha now that Itachi was alive. But he still had his pride and he still had his responsibilities as an Uchiha. He understood why Ino had to give Reiko her surname and maybe it was safer for his son to keep it. For now. Later when this war was all over, it would change. He was going to make sure.
Another thing that was making him fume was the fact that the Hokage gave Reiko a rank within the Leaf Village. Reiko was too excited and happy to see that he was being manipulated. When he was reading his declaration scroll, he felt Ino's team's eyes on him to gage his expression and reaction to the news. They knew what Reiko's gennin initiation meant for him. It was just a way for the Hokage to trap him into returning to the village. Ino was a loyal member and Itachi was a loyal member and now Reiko was. He wasn't surprised by it. He knew, like the rest, that Reiko's skills were just part of the reason why he was promoted to gennin which only made him hate the village more. But a part of him had to admit that to Hokage's decision was a clever one. If the war didn't take away his family, The Village Hidden in the Leaves would and he would not let that happen. It left him in a conundrum on what to do now.
One thing at a time, he thought, relaxing his mind and body. He had to see what this war was going to do and then after, he had to think of something. Itachi had said that whatever he did, he would support him. Even if it meant leaving the village. So Itachi wasn't the problem, Ino was. Fuck, she always made his life so complicated.
"Nervous?" Reiko was standing over him. They were in a different room, quiet and dark, and he was lying on an uncomfortable plastic bed.
"Not even a little?"
Sasuke smirked and closed his eyes. He was a little, but trusted that Ino and Karin knew what they were doing. Itachi didn't look nervous at all, just laid on his plastic bed relaxed and calm. His even breathing was comforting to Sasuke, knowing that he wasn't going through this transplant alone. His skin prickled with a recognizable pleasant sensation when he first caught smell of her light, soft and warm smell and his heartbeat sped up a little the closer she got to him.
"Ready?" He heard her ask when she entered the room. "We're going to prep you guys."
"That means we're going to knock you out and take advantage of your defenseless bodies." He heard Karin say jokingly with a snap of her rubber gloves to punctate her remark.
"Just be gentle." Itachi said and Sasuke cracked an eye open and turned his head to stare at his older brother. "With my eyes." Itachi defended and his lips turned up in humor. Sasuke just snorted and shut his eyes again. He was beginning to sound a lot like his old self who would drop a joke or two unexpectedly on him. Before the whole Uchiha coup, Itachi was always laid back and nonviolent. Sasuke could see him slipping back into that kind of person again. Their father knew him well. Itachi really was gentle.
"Go and get Shikamaru and Choji for me." Ino shooed Reiko out of the room. She looked different to him in her white medic clothing and he watched quietly as she and Karin conversed in low tones to coordinate the transplant. Soon, her teammates arrived.
"Let's do this." Ino grinned and placed the tri lock scroll on a nearby wooden table. They gathered around it and Choji undid the first seal, Shikamaru the next and then Ino the last. It glowed blue before unrolling itself to show three summoning circles and a blank summon circle at the top. In unison, they bit their thumbs and then went through some summon hand signs before a small pop reached his ears. Then there, in two separate jars were Itachi's eyes floating in some kind of clear yellowish-brown solution.
"Thanks guys." Ino popped her thumb into her mouth to suck on her smeared blood.
"How long is it going to take?" Shikamaru murmured. Ino shrugged.
"Who knows? I've never done this before. Their recovering time will take longer than the transplant. Sure you won't get bored waiting?" She nudged Shikamaru with her elbow. With low sigh, Sasuke shut his eyes again.
"The longer you talk, the longer it's going to be." He said, trying to erase the irritation from his tone.
"I said I'll wait. Better get started before Sasuke starts getting moody." Shikamaru said in a dry tone. Sasuke let his killer intent carpet the room. "See?"
"Look at you getting so worked up. You should relax little brother." Itachi commented. He only made his intent icier and darker.
There was some shuffling of feet and then he felt her hands on his body. "You scared them away."
Kabuto stood in front of his lifeless puppets, looking over two in particular. Tobi had said that Itachi was alive and the only thing that popped into his head on how that could be true was an…interesting idea. He produced two control talismans and inserted them into their brains. When he stepped back, their eyes snapped open, but they remained immobile, staring at him with eerie looking eyes. He lowered the hood of his cloak, eyes slightly narrowed at the Asuma and Itachi bodies.
"So, let's start with introductions shall we? I'm Kabuto, master of this glorious perfected jutsu and you are?"
"Not where I expected to be." Asuma-corpse said.
Kabuto smiled and nodded. "Yes. It's understandable that you two are confused. Names?" He increased his control to get an answer. Their bodies shuddered.
"Giro Tendo." The Itachi corpse said in Itachi's ever calm voice.
"Shoji Eto." The Asuma corpse replied, a small smile curving on his lips. "It's so nice to see you out of the torture barracks Kabuto. I almost didn't recognize you without my blood covering your body."
Kabuto ignored his impudent tone, too pleased and proud of Ino to care at the moment. She said she would never use it, but it was too tempting to pass up. And she performed two of them, which was an astounding accomplishment. He had lied when he said he did the Body and Soul Exchange jutsu twice. He only did it once but learned his lesson the first time. It took so much out of the user he thought he was going to die too.
"So Ino did it huh? What was it like? To die in place of someone she cared for more than you?" He taunted cruelly. Asuma-Shoji didn't lose his smile.
"I would do it again if I had to."
"So would I. I don't regret it." Itachi-Giro replied.
"Ah, you're still under her Mind Surrender jutsu. I don't know why you would be. I removed those charms when I left you two to suffer in the torture barracks. But I see you two are still devoted to her. It's beautiful really, and pathetic." He was glad that she never used that jutsu on him. Even after he removed her hair charms from their pockets, Shoji and Giro still protected and died for her. He wondered why that was. That jutsu should have stopped when he took away her charms.
"Love is love. No matter how it is achieved." Itachi-Giro said stoically.
"Love." Kabuto rolled that word around in his head. "Of course. It's such an irrational emotion that can easily be turned to obsession and then to hate." He shrugged and folded his arms in front of him. "I never worked with bodies who had different souls, but I assume that both of you have the memories of Itachi and Asuma, ne? Answer."
"Yes." They said in unison.
"That's good. Madara and I have use of your skills."
"Madara." Itachi-Giro spat his name. "Is that what he's calling himself? You should be wary of Madara. He is more than what he shows. In the end, you'll be used. Just like Akatsuki."
Kabuto let a slow smile crawl to his pale lips. "He should be wary of me too. We all have our secrets."
Night had fallen when Ino and Karin finally emerged from the room where the transplant took place. He had worried that the inn keeper would find out about the operation happening in one of his rooms and do something about it. But no one came, no one knew what was going on. He was becoming aware now that being in Earth Country wasn't as nerve wracking as it had first been. His mom told him that it would be dangerous if a Leaf ninja was found secretly in another country besides Fire Country. But now that rival hidden villages were united under the threat of this new war, it wasn't so scary anymore. No, what was scary would be letting the allied forces know that Itachi was alive and Sasuke was with them. After all, Sasuke was still an international criminal and Itachi was supposed to be dead.
Ino looked really tired, but please and stripped off her medical clothes, letting out her long blonde hair from under the white beanie like hat. He sprang from his chair.
"How did it go? Are they okay?"
Ino tossed the clothes in a pile on the floor. "They're alright."
"Sleeping like cute murderous babies." Karin said, running her fingers through her red hair. "Something I'm going to do. Don't wake me up."
Reiko watched her exit the inn through the tall door and disappear from sight with her medic apron slung over her arm. "When can I see them?" He asked, turning back to his mom and following her out of the small living room and into the inn hallway. "Is it safe just to leave them by themselves right now?"
Ino sighed. "Reiko, they're asleep. They'll be fine." They arrived next door to their own room. "Where are the others? I'm hungry."
"They went to gather the last of their supplies. I told them to bring you back something to eat."
She sank onto the floor where her sleeping bag lay with a groan. "That's good. I'm just going to close my eyes for a bit…"
In five seconds and four breaths later, she fell asleep too. Reiko frowned. He wanted to talk to her and she just fell asleep! He unfolded a nearby blanket and draped it over her shoulders. After, he removed her shoes and covered her legs. For a few minutes, he just watched her sleep, his chin on his knees as he cradled his legs close to his body.
He was excited for his dad and uncle. This transplant was going to unlock a power that only a handful of past generations of Uchiha possessed. With Sasuke and Itachi secretly fighting against Tobi and his forces, this war was going to be interesting and he had faith that they would be very useful in securing a victory for the allied ninja forces. But, underneath all of that, he was a little apprehensive. Ino told him that he was going to stay with Sasuke and Itachi while they healed. Which meant that when she and Shikamaru left back to the village, he was going to be separated from her.
With Tobi finding out about him and his connections to Sasuke and Itachi, they all felt it was safer for him to remain with them. Even her team agreed. She assured him it wasn't going to be a very long time, but it still left him saddened. He hated that day he was separated from her when Tobi had captured her. Even when he was being raised in the summons realm, he never really missed her because he could feel her all around him. It was weird to explain, but he would go to this special tree with beautiful purple blossoms on it and just…feel her there. He knew it was her too. The Earth sprits said it was because that when she was branded by Earth, that tree sprouted the day she received her mark. All the trees in the Earth Summon realm had some kind of connection to an outside person who had been branded in the past and there were thousands!
Whatever it was, he was always connected to her somehow. He shouldn't feel so anxious, he reasoned with himself. He was just worried for her going into this war. Her team said that they would look out for her and he did feel comforted by that. He trusted that Shikamaru, Choji and Asuma would make sure she was alright.
There was a knock at the door and he turned to see Shikamaru enter with a brownbag of food. "I see that they have finished. Eye transplants are not easy things to do." He sat the food down on a corner table with a single vase on it. "Make sure you eat before you go to bed okay?"
Reiko nodded and crawled next to Ino. For now, he was going to spend as much time with her as possible. The others were going to leave tomorrow afternoon and Ino and Shikamaru, three days after so that his mom can keep an eye on his dad and uncle. He had four days to be with her.
"Are you guys sure you're alright to move like this so soon after the surgery?" Ino asked for the third time as they continued to walk through the forest.
"Ino, quit worrying." Sasuke instructed, his eyes hidden behind layers and layers of bandages like Itachi's were.
"It's safer to be in Fire Country until we are fully recovered. We stayed in Earth Country long enough. Tobi and Zetsu don't know where we are now." Itachi said. Both he and Sasuke maneuvered effortlessly through the trees like they still had use of their eyes which impressed Reiko to no end. The dark clouds in the sky threatened sleet and snow and the air was chilly with a bite of cold.
"The safe house is the best place for them to be at." Shikamaru said ducking under a low hanging branch, dressed in a white snow cloak. His nose and cheeks were rosy red, making him look younger. "Choji and I stocked the cabin before we came to find you."
Ino grinned. "You're always thinking five steps ahead of everything." She complimented him.
Shikamaru smiled and shrugged. "And you think I have my head in the clouds all the time."
"How far away is this place from the village?" Sasuke snapped. Some light died from Shikamaru's brown eyes and Ino sent a little glare in Sasuke's direction even though he couldn't see it.
"Far enough." Itachi said for her. "I've been there before."
Sasuke was a broody patient, Ino thought. Why couldn't he be more like Itachi and take it in strides? She and Karin had told him that their recovery time would be a few days, maybe even a few weeks and that instantly peeved him. She also told him that she couldn't heal him like he thought because his body had to heal and adjust to Itachi's eyes on its own with made him even more irritated. He's so impatient, she thought, trudging ahead.
A stressful day later, they arrived at the cabin early in the morning. "We're close to a water source." Sasuke observed. "I can smell the wet dirt and hear the swishing current."
Reiko was still impressed. "You're right. There's a small creek nearby. You guys have to show me how you do that."
"Come on." Ino rolled her eyes and opened the door for them. It was neat and tidy and the beds in both small rooms were made up with clean linens. The cupboards were filled and there were emergency candles in a pile on the small kitchen counter. "I hate to just leave you guys when we just got here, but Shikamaru and I have to get back to the village to see what's going on. We'll send word to you later."
When she caught that sad look on Reiko's face, she instantly gathered him in her arms and dragged him close. "It's just a little while baby, okay? You have to be brave and look after your dad and uncle. We'll keep in contact as much as we can. In the meantime, I want you to listen to them and train. You're a ninja of Leaf now. You have to be brave and be the best you can be." She whispered to him, against his cheek and ear. She could feel his soft hair tickle her forehead.
"I will, I promise." He whispered back, hugging her hard before he stepped away. "You have to promise you'll be safe though." His almond shaped green eyes were glittering brightly.
…you have to do something for me…
The echo if similar words at the chunnin exam hit her and he looked up to see Sasuke facing her. Did he remember that too? Ino smiled and nodded. "I will."
"You have a lot of secrets Kabuto." Tobi's low baritone voice floated to him in a ghostly echo and Kabuto looked up from his work. He was on one of the rooms where Tobi granted him use. Right now, he was mapping out formations and teams he was going to use with his undead army of elites.
"If you say so. Tell me, what kind of secret did you find out about me now?" He had to keep his nerves from jumping to his skin. What could have Tobi found? He didn't do or say anything to cause suspicion that he knew of. They had been apart, working respectively at preparing for the war for a good week. Did he use some of that time to spy on me?
"Your base. The one in Grass Country. Zetsu found something very interesting there." Tobi's orange mask caught on to the shadows of the candle light, making him look like an ominous pumpkin.
"You have to be more specific. There are a lot of bases in Grass Country."
"The one working on the clones."
Kabuto nodded, hiding his unease and surprise. They found that one? "Ah yes, the clones. It's purely experimental. None of them have survived so far."
"That's not true. There is one in particular that is surviving. You're taking a great deal of effort in keeping that one alive. Why are you going after that girl when you just have a backup one?"
Kabuto tilted his head back. "Originals are the best. That clone might not make it, and if it does, who's to say it will be like her at all? Who's to say that it will think and talk and move like a real person? I'm not holding my breath that it will survive after it's taken out of its growth pillar."
"What do you have planned if it does survive?" Tobi folded his arms, leaning back a little to regard him.
"Mm, who knows? There are a lot of possibilities." He wouldn't tell him that so far, only Ino survived his cursed mark. There had been many, many, many others who he tried to sync with his seal, but they all died in the process. What was it that made Ino so special? He had taken his findings from the Kimimaro Project and tweaked them into growing adult clones instead of infant ones. But it was still experimental, like he said. Trial and error. The Ino-87 clone was doing well so far, but once he infected it with his seal, he didn't know if it would survive. He would have to see. But if it did survive…no, no. He calmed the bubbling excitement at the prospect. He didn't want to get his hopes up just yet. "Is there a problem with that? I don't see why there would be."
Tobi was quite for a second. "No problem. Not yet anyways." He finally said, unfolding his arms and walking away.
As soon as she stepped into the village, she could see that so much had changed since she left three week ago. There were dozens and dozens of new buildings up and she could see where they were going to put up new neighborhoods. Some stores were already open. Some were still unfinished.
"Wow, it's changed a lot since I left." She marveled. "It looks so different. I'm going to have to relearn all the roads and districts again." They walked down the busy roads, dodging out of the way of some construction workers carrying 2X4s over their shoulders.
"Over there is old man Himo's place. H got some new toys in if you want to see them." Shikamaru motioned to the right, down a narrow street. She spotted some familiar faces of the elderly of Old Leaf. They were making a nice niche for themselves.
"Later. I want to get home and talk with my dad. Tell me again, how mad was he?" She was a bit nervous to see him again without Reiko.
"Extremely. Approach-with-caution-mad." Shikamaru warned.
She winced. That was pretty mad. He was waiting for her when she got home. Shikamaru had wisely left her at the corner of the street, saying that he was going to see Asuma, Kurenai and their baby girl. When she got in, the first thing he did was stare hard at her. With that stony, blank look she often saw him sport when he was interrogating someone.
"Dad…" Ino swallowed hard, her hands behind her back to hide how bad her fingers were trembling.
"When you became a chuunin, you became an adult. I expected you to come and talk to me like an adult, not steal off into the night like a sketchy criminal." He said, leaning forward on his sturdy wooden chair, his chin resting on the tips of his thumbs as he glared at her. "You seem to think that you can handle all that is happening on your own, or maybe you think that I'm not enough to help you."
Ino shook her head, tears threatening to fall from her eyes. "It's not—"
"It's not? Then what is it? You don't trust me?" He demanded. It hurt her heart to hear him sound so insulted and wounded. She never wanted to make him feel this way!
"I didn't want to get you in trouble!" Ino blurted out. "I never wanted to make you have to choose between me and your duties as a ninja."
"That's not your decision to make!" He roared, standing up so fast that his chair fell back and hit the floor with a loud clatter. His sage green eyes were hard like glass and his jaw was tight with anger.
Ino cowered back. "Daddy…"
"What makes you think that I would ever put anything above you and Reiko? The village is important, but not as important as my family! Don't ever second guess me again do you understand? Don't ever leave this village without telling me again. Don't go off by yourself, don't make decisions by yourself. Don't do this all on your own when I'm here! Got it Ino?"
She nodded, wiping her nose with the back of her hand. "Okay." Then, she felt his strong arms around her shoulders and he pulled her close, resting his chin on top of her head. She hugged him back, biting her lip to keep from crying.
"I missed you." He murmured.
His words always made her feel so warm and loved. She always felt like daddy's little girl when he hugged her and kissed the crown of her head. "I missed you too."
"Reiko? Is he okay?"
"He's with Sasuke and Itachi. He's okay." She felt him stiffen and she pulled away to see why.
"I-Itachi?" He asked.
Ino nodded. "Dad, there is a lot I have to tell you."
Getting back into her duties was harder than she thought. A job was never static and Lady Tsunade had all of her ninjas moving around from place to place to help with the war efforts. After her long talk with her dad and talking with her team, she felt like she was on sturdier grounds with them again. She had to tell them everything that happened while she had gone after Sasuke. Her dad was still bewildered about the Itachi thing which was understandable. He was shocked even more when she told him about Tobi and Rei. She wondered if that ever changing person was alright, if he was still alive. What would Tobi do to him and that other guy, Torune?
"Ino?" Ino spun to the soft cajoling voice to see Hinata in the food storage tent. She was currently directing people to move and organize the food supplies.
"Hinata!" Ino squealed and rushed to hug her.
"It's nice to see you too. When did you get back?" Hinata asked in a breathless voice when Ino released her.
"Yesterday. Lady Tsunade has me making up for leaving the village. How have you been?" She perched her clipboard on her hip.
"Busy. Everyone is working hard to prepare for the war. Naruto…" Shadows descended into her pastel purple eyes when she looked down.
"Yeah. I heard that he went off to train with that jinchuriki from Cloud. Did you manage to say goodbye to him?" Ino asked softly, with an encouraging smile.
"Y-yes. H-he gave me a flower." Hinata blushed and her pointing fingers pressed against one another shyly.
"Really? How cute!" Ino gushed. Finally! Naruto! Do you see now? Do you see who's always been your secret cheerleader?
"Oi!" they both turned to see Tenten enter the building. "Here you guys are! Do you guys want to catch some dinner tonight? Ino's back so it's time for all the girls to get together!" Her mahogany eyes sparkled with warmth. Ino and Hinata exchanged looks.
"Sure!" They both said in unison.
"Great! There's this new place that just opened. We'll meet there!" Tenten said excitedly and waved goodbye after handing Hinata the address.
The day moved faster after that and soon, evening was shoving the lingering sunlight away. She dressed in her usual ninja attire and yelled to her dad that she was going out. She made her way to the BBQ place Tenten had reservations for and stopped dead in her tracks. When Sakura saw her, she stopped as well. For a long moment, they just looked at each other. When the others arrived, she told them she would meet them later, after she talked with Sakura. The girls gave them curious looks, but processed inside the restaurant.
"Ino…" Sakura began in an emotional voice but Ino held up her hand to stop her.
"Sakura, why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you tell me that you still had feelings for Sasuke?" Ino asked quietly so no one who passed them could hear.
Sakura blinked back her tears. "I couldn't. I felt so…so confused that I couldn't let him go. When I found out about all the things he had gotten himself into, I just couldn't stand back and watch him fall into darkness. He would have taken you down with him too."
"You didn't trust me enough to handle him?" Ino asked.
Sakura shook her head. "It was taking so long and you were avoiding the whole situation like it would get better on its own."
Ino couldn't deny that. Even Shikamaru and Choji had to point that out to her. "Killing him wasn't going to change anything. He would have killed you with no regrets."
Sakura nodded. "Do-does he still think like that?" She asked in a watery voice. "Does he still hate Naruto and me?" Her wide jade eyes had so much raw emotion in them Ino felt some of it weigh heavily on her own shoulders.
Ino sighed. "I don't think he wants to kill you guys anymore, if that's what you're asking. But I don't think that things will ever go back to the way they were with your team. Sasuke is different."
Sakura sniffed and wiped her eyes with her fingers. "I see that now and I'm sorry. I should have trusted you would handle him. I want to say that I'll stop loving him, but I can't right now. C-can you give me some time for that?" Her shirt bunched at the bottom where she was twisting her fist in the fabric. It was something that Sakura often did when they were younger and she was extremely nervous.
Ino smiled and folded her arms. "Only a little time. Sasuke is mine." She said in stubborn playfulness, feeling better now. "And I don't share."
Sakura gave a hesitant giggle behind her hand. "What about Itachi? Think he and I would make a good couple? We could be sister-in-laws!"
Ino linked arms with Sakura and started for the entrance of the BBQ restaurant."Tch! Who said I want to marry Sasuke?"
"Now now, you have make things right! Its first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage!"
Ino laughed. "We totally screwed that one up didn't we?"
"They're mobilizing into units right now. Mom said that she is in the Special Unit, Fifth Division under some samurai guy named Mifune." Reiko read the latest message from Ino to Sasuke and Itachi. "Naruto has been sent away to keep he and the other jinchuriki safe from Tobi. She doesn't know where he is right now."
"It's best to keep the remaining jinchuriki in lockdown." Itachi murmured. They were all seated around the small dining table, having their afternoon tea.
"I bet they lied to the blonde idiot to get him to comply. Naruto would charge head first into war without thinking of the consequences." Sasuke muttered.
"So this is really happening huh? What's war like Uncle Itachi?"
Itachi's lips thinned. "Pain. Sadness. Death. Hell." He downed his tea and said nothing more.
"We're almost ready. May I ask where you are going?" Kabuto asked Tobi at the mouth of the base entrance.
"To get my eyes back from Nagato." Was all Tobi said before disappearing in front of his eyes.
Kabuto frowned. "The Rinnegan?"
Ino penned her last message to Reiko, telling him that she wasn't sure when she would be able to write again. Sitting at her desk, she leaned back in her chair and sighed. It had been a hectic two weeks since she left him with Sasuke and Itachi but she was glad that she was able to keep in contact with him. Sasuke and Itachi were healing gradually, but Reiko reported that the two brothers could already feel the change in their eyes.
"Another letter? You have to be sending at least two a day." Ino turned to see Karin enter with little Mamoru in her arms. When the toddler saw her he graced her with a slobbery smile.
"And Mamoru has been glued to your side since you were released from TI." Ino shot back. Karin just shrugged.
"I won't get to see him after tomorrow and I want to spend as much time with him as possible. Ouch! What's with you pulling my hair kid? Kimimaro was never so mean." She muttered, setting the toddler down on the ground.
"Where will you be placed?" Ino asked, watching in amusement as Mamoru began yanking her books from the bookshelf and tossing them to the floor.
"Medic tents under strict guard. Guess they found some use for me after spilling my guts about Lord Orochimaru and Tobi." She shrugged. "As long as I'm out of that cell, any place is fine with me."
Ino stood. "Are you ready for what's coming? I've never been in a war before."
"They're horrible and if you live through them, the scars of it will never go away." Karin sank to her knees to put the books back on the shelf now that Mamoru discovered her sliding closet door and was slamming open and close. "But I've seen worse at Lord Orochimaru's bases and so have you. We'll survive."
Survival. This was wasn't just about survival for her. It was about protecting Naruto and putting an end to Tobi's mad scheming. Of keeping Reiko safe and helping Sasuke and Itachi redeem themselves in a way.
"After the war have you thought about it?" Karin asked, using her finger to push her glasses back on her nose. Her magenta eyes locked onto Ino's ice blue ones.
Ino frowned. "About what?"
Karin rolled her eyes. "About what you're going to do with Sasuke. He won't come back to this village and you know it."
And Ino did know. "I've thought a million times about it." She admitted.
Ino shook her head. "I still don't have an answer." She didn't know what was going to happen but she had a strong feeling that this war was going to make the decision for her. If she faced the truth, there was a possibility she could die. Then what?
Karin stayed a little while longer before Mamoru started throwing a fit, signaling that it was waaaayyy past his nap time and they left.
Ino looked at the paper on her desk and picked up her pen again. She tapped the end of it on her paper, mulling over the idea of writing a PS. Could she really say those three little words to him over a letter? Her heart thumped hard in her chest.
"I'll tell him after the war." She whispered to herself. She was going to make sure she stayed alive to tell him. Instead, she wrote something else.
Make sure you guys take care of yourselves. You matter to me…