Duty Before Honor - Chapter 16
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
Rating: M for adult situations and themes. Please respect ffnet guidelines and read at your own discretion.

Birdsfoot Trefoil


"Where is this base?" Sasuke said as he stretched his atrophied muscles. Even after only a few days confined to a bed and crutches, he felt listless and lethargic. It disgusted him.

Juugo stroked a finger over the tiny bird's head, its beady black eyes watching him intently but trustingly. "There are several," he explained, red eyes never leaving the small creature. "The closest one is about thirty miles northwest of here. My friend tried to get here sooner to warn us about the chakra there."

"Chakra?" Ino said, thoughtful. "What kind of chakra?"

"...Unpleasant," Juugo said hesitantly.

She nodded. "It's not improbable to think that it sensed the extraction."

Juugo made a grunt of affirmation, and that was all the convincing Sasuke needed. "Fine. We're leaving within the hour. Pack your things."

Suigetsu had been lounging in the corner, uncharacteristically quiet for Sasuke's tastes, but he didn't raise the issue. It was always best to avoid sparking conversation with the ex Mist nin, lest it inevitably lead to some form of incorrigible taunting. And yet, as Sasuke should have known by now, whenever something could go wrong where Suigetsu was concerned, it would.

"So Juugo," Suigetsu said, a troubling glint in his violet eyes that usually preceded some lewd joke or other.


"How'd you get that birdie to run your errands? You bribe him or somethin'?"

Juugo blinked, turning his attention to Suigetsu. "No...why?"

Suigetsu grinned. "Oh nothing. Just seems kinda weird that you can order them around."

"I don't order them around," Juugo clarified. "I just ask for their help if I need it. Why do you want to know?"

Suigetsu shrugged. "No reason. But it seems kinda fishy that they'd do it for free. Will they do whatever you ask?"

Juugo took a moment to think about this. "Within reason, I suppose. That's what friends do."

Sasuke immediately became suspicious when Suigetsu's grin widened.

"Right, right," Suigetsu said, leaning toward the little bird still perched on Juugo's finger. "So, can you ask him to shit on someone's head?"

Ino tried to restrain a laugh as Sasuke resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Juugo looked uncomfortable.

So it starts...

"That's...not really a fair request," he said uncertainly.

"Sure it is! You kidding me? Birds crap like it's their job, dude."

Juugo crossed his legs. "Well, it's not that simple. They probably can't just go."

Suigetsu waved a dismissive hand. "Whatever man, birds are just bags of crap with wings. They shit all the fucking time, I'm not even kidding."

"It's not possible," Juugo held firm. "And I don't think he appreciates being called a bag of...um, with wings..."

"All right," Ino said, walking over to Juugo and Suigetsu and resting a comforting hand on Juugo's shoulder. "I think we've scared that poor bird enough for one day."

Juugo looked relieved to have her support. Suigetsu, on the other hand, just looked happy to see her. "Hey babe, I bet you could convince this bird to take a crap right this second. How 'bout it? Bet the Sharingan can't even do that."

"Suigetsu," Sasuke said, standing up. "Stop wasting time and get moving, or we're leaving without you."

"Oh ho! Someone's touchy this morning."

Sasuke didn't deign that nonsense with a reply, but he distinctly heard Ino whisper that she could, in fact, manipulate the bird into relieving itself on Sasuke's head if she so chose.

"Ino, time to pack," he said, indicating the doorway.

"Uh-oh, you're in trouble now!" Suigetsu teased.

Ino glared at him half heartedly and turned to follow Sasuke. As they exited the room, Sasuke had the misfortune of overhearing the last part of Suigetsu and Juugo's conversation.

"He's not mad at her, is he?" Juugo said.

"Oh yeah. Might even give her a good spanking—"

The kunai that Sasuke launched at Suigetsu sadly flew right through him and embedded itself in the far wall, albeit dripping water.

"Nice aim, Fearless Leader!"

Ino put a hand on Sasuke's back, a silent encouragement to just leave the room without destroying it in the process. He didn't miss the mirth in her blue eyes though. She swiftly closed the door behind him, and they didn't speak until they were safely in their shared room across the hall.

"You shouldn't encourage him," Sasuke said once they were alone. "He's bad enough as he is."

Ino waved him off. "He's funny. Somebody's gotta be."

Sasuke frowned, but let it drop. He didn't actually care either way. "Whatever."

Turning, he nearly ran into Ino suddenly standing right in front of him. She sported a much more sober, unreadable look in her eyes.

"Do we have to leave so soon?"

He wasn't surprised she was bringing this up. Their brief respite at the Okoshi Inn had felt surreal after the incident with Deidara of Akatsuki, like a dream. And then there was the trip down memory lane a couple nights ago...

Sasuke couldn't remember the last time he'd let himself break down in front of another person like that for the life of him. Waking up with Ino in his arms and a sticky feeling on his cheeks as evidence of the emotional overload had nearly been enough to make him want to get up and leave her behind, if only never to feel that way again.

But then he thought of his mother, whose face was as clear to him now as it had been all those years ago. He thought of all the words he could have, should have said to Ino to express the gratitude and catharsis that newly unearthed memory brought him.

Having never had much use for or luck with words, he settled for a kiss instead. Ino didn't move as he approached, slowly enough to let her know his intentions but without giving her much time to move away. She leaned into him, running her hands up his chest to settle on his shoulders, and he pulled her close. If he let himself dwell on it, he might start to wish for this. If he lingered, he might never find the time to leave. He might never accomplish what he'd set out to do.

The image of his mother's smiling face gave him the energy to pull away.


She kept her eyes closed for a moment and sighed. "I know," she said softly.

I don't have time for you right now.

"Let's pack up. I know how eager you are to get moving," she said with a soft smile.

She made to walk deeper into the room, but Sasuke grabbed her hand before he could fully rationalize the action.

"It'll be over soon," he said, more to himself than to her.

She looked at him, and he found himself unable to get a reading on her in that moment. "I know."

As she turned her back on him to begin accumulating their meager supplies, Sasuke began to wonder what lay beyond the end and why he suddenly felt cold thinking about it.

Racing through the trees, Ino kept her eyes steadfastly ahead. Sasuke jumped ahead of the group, having memorized the route Juugo had lain out on the map earlier based on the bird's intel. Ino, Suigetsu, and Juugo followed closely, but gave him enough space not to intrude. He was in a mood, more taciturn than usual, as his chakra roiled and fluctuated unnaturally. She warned the other two not to disturb him right now, and they didn't need to be told twice.

Their reason for coming together was finally looming just a few hours' run away.

"Lighten up, babe."

Ino spared Suigetsu a glance askance. "I'm light."

"It's four against two. We got this no problem."

"I don't think Sasuke will want our help," Juugo said, keeping his voice down.

Suigetsu rolled his eyes. "Whatever. We've been chasing these idiots for months, and I want some fucking payoff. I'm not gonna just sit back and let Sasuke get all the action."

Ino shook her head. "This thing with Itachi... It's way too personal. I don't know if he'd want our help with him."

Suigetsu frowned and sucked noisily on the straw of his water bottle. "He let you help him with that Deidara guy though."

"I didn't do anything but give him some warnings back then, and he would have been fine alone. He knows Itachi's fighting style already. He should have that advantage."

"Sasuke will win," Juugo said, eyes trained on their leader's back. "He's strong."

They were silent for a moment, the only sound that of their clicking heels on the trees and the rushing wind pushing them back from their destination to no avail. Ino counted the seconds.

"You think he can beat Itachi?" Suigetsu asked finally, eyes averted.

Ino watched as ahead, Sasuke's cloak flapped to reveal a new white shirt with the Uchiha fan emblazoned proudly upon the back. She didn't know, to be honest. She didn't know the extent of Itachi's power, nor did she care to find out. But after all this time, all the hating and suffering and blood had to mean something. Sasuke had an inner strength she'd never before thought him capable of, something beyond the empty quest for revenge he paraded for the world to see. It was in the memory of the boy he used to be and the tears he'd shed under her watch. And that was something she wanted to preserve and protect not for her mission, but for him.

"He has to," she said.

Suigetsu chuckled, but it sounded forced. "He better. The guy owes me a sword after all this."

Ino smiled a little sadly. "Yeah."

The cave was less than spectacular once they located it. Well hidden at the base of a cliff and covered in vines and moss, anyone could have walked by it being none the wiser.

"This is it," Sasuke said, dark eyes glaring at the weathered statue guarding the entrance. "Ino, do a scan."

Ino nodded and extended her chakra. If they didn't find anything at this site, they would simply move onto the next one on Juugo's map. The cave was a subterranean maze of natural tunnels, and her chakra wandered the passages in search of life. After a moment, she gasped.

"There's someone down there," she breathed. "They're masking their chakra, but it's there."

Suigetsu and Juugo shared a significant look, and Sasuke drew up before her. "Just one?"

"Just the one."

"It may not be Akatsuki then. They always travel in pairs."

"Do you want us to check it out?" Juugo offered.

"No. Ino, you're with me. I don't want this guy to know we're coming. You two," he addressed Juugo and Suigetsu, "stay here. If it's really Itachi, Kisame might be waiting nearby, and I don't want any interruptions."

Suigetsu didn't need to be told twice. He reached up and brought Kubikiribouchou down, cleaving the ground with the tip of the thick blade. "I'll be ready for him."

Sasuke nodded, satisfied. "Let's go," he said to Ino before heading to the entrance.

"I'll be in touch," Ino said, tapping two fingers to her temple.

"I'll come running if Sasuke gets his ass handed to him," Suigetsu said, grinning.

Ino didn't say anything to that, but deep down she was prepared to call on them for backup in case this was really Itachi down there and Sasuke was in over his head. He couldn't die yet, she reasoned.

I haven't even gotten the chance to secure that backup plan just in case...

But she didn't want to think about that right now. If Sasuke survived, then there would be no need for such abominable deception. In any case, it was too late now to worry about it.

The trek into the subterranean cave was a steep one. The stone walls were damp with condensation, leading Ino to believe that there was a water source nearby. If so, that could be a problem in a fight. To engage in battle underground like this would be suicide, and she wondered briefly if that was the point.

"Which way?"

Sasuke was waiting for her at the bottom, his voice barely above a whisper and yet deafening as it echoed against the stone walls. She stepped up beside him and peered deeper into the gloom.

"About five hundred feet northeast of here. That way." She indicated a tunnel that branched off to the right.

Sasuke stepped forward and drew Kusanagi. "Whatever happens, stay behind me and out of sight. Am I clear?"

She nodded. "Yeah."

Dark eyes lingered on her for a heartbeat longer before Sasuke walked steadfastly down the indicated corridor. Ino followed wordlessly. Twice she had to redirect Sasuke before he took a wrong turn. Deciding which passage to take proved a bit more challenging than expected, since the path to the source of unknown chakra was not a linear one. But eventually, they came upon a high-ceilinged room that was clearly man-made.

"In there," Ino said, initiating the mind link.

"I'm going. Tell Suigetsu we found the target."

Ino watched Sasuke disappear around the corner and swiftly communicated the information to Suigetsu, who reported that things were quiet above ground.

"So, is it Itachi?" he wanted to know.

"I don't know."

"What do you mean, you don't know? Get in there and see!"

Ino bit her lip. She didn't want to disobey Sasuke's orders, but if it really was Itachi, then she wanted to make sure she could be available to help him should he need it. And if it wasn't Itachi, then there was no harm. Not one to second guess herself, Ino boldly crept around the corner and into the large room, keeping to the shadows.

"Who's there?" Sasuke's voice boomed in the spacious cavern. "Show yourself."

A dark figure stood with his back to them at the opposite end of the room, too obscured by the gloom to see properly. Ino forgot to breathe as the anticipation of a successful or failed search hung around them in the air, unsure which option was the more attractive one.

The figure turned, but she still couldn't make it out. "It's me."

Sasuke remained silent, and Ino was tempted to reach for him to gauge his thoughts, but in that moment the unidentified figure, a man, began walking toward them. It was at that point that Ino made out what appeared to be a crow or raven perched on the man's shoulder.

A spike in Sasuke's chakra felt like a punch to the stomach, and all of a sudden the glow of the Sharingan appeared through the darkness. "Itachi," he spat.

If Ino had a mirror, she'd guess that all the color drained from her face just then. The man stepped closer, stopping several yards away, but from this closer distance she could recognize the frame of the brother in Sasuke's memories, from the thick Akatsuki robe to the smoldering Sharingan identical to Sasuke's. She swallowed.

"It's Itachi. Itachi's here," she relayed to Suigetsu.

"No shit. We're coming down there now," Suigetsu said.

"You've gotten taller since I last saw you," Itachi said smoothly.

"You haven't changed at all, especially those merciless eyes," Sasuke shot back.

Itachi merely observed the brother he'd molded into the relentless avenger with mild curiosity. Then, to Ino's utter horror, his gaze shifted to look directly at her. A chill ran down her spine at the vacuous look about him, and she suddenly remembered what that bounty hunter had said about there being death in Itachi's eyes. As though he'd heard her thoughts, Itachi addressed her directly.

"You're the mindwalker, the Yamanaka from Konoha. I suppose I have you to thank for making our reunion possible."

Sasuke shot Ino a look over his shoulder, clearly not pleased that she'd been discovered. But Ino was not about to shrink away and let this man intimidate her. She was here to support Sasuke, not cower in fear and wait for him to save her.

"That's right," she said, taking a step forward so he would know he was dealing with both of them.

"Tell me, why would Konoha offer help to a rogue ninja? What do you seek?"

"Sasuke's still a Leaf shinobi," Ino said, guarding her tone. "The Hokage believes his vendetta is justified and necessary, so offering aid was an obvious choice."

"Is that so."

Sasuke suddenly appeared between them, blocking direct eye contact. "This is between Uchiha. Konoha has nothing to do with it."

Ino watched as Itachi's eyes flickered between the two of them. He blinked, and something in his expression changed. His mouth relaxed into a small smirk, as though he'd just realized something interesting. He returned his attention to Sasuke then, but Ino got the eerie impression that the crow on his shoulder continued to stare at her through its own Sharingan eyes.

"Of course," he said. "Aren't you going to scream and charge me like last time?"

"Hmph. You really don't know me at all."

In the blink of an eye, Sasuke had teleported directly behind Itachi. Kusanagi crackled with building electric currents as Sasuke lunged forward, meaning to jab Itachi with it. Itachi turned and stepped out of range of the attack as Ino watched on, marvelling at the brothers' speed, but at the end of the day Sasuke was right. Itachi didn't know him at all.

It was why he didn't predict that Sasuke could extend the lightning through Kusanagi and beyond the reach of the sword to impale him through the stomach.

Shock and pain warped Itachi's expression as Sasuke narrowed his eyes and lifted Kusanagi high into the air, Itachi's body helpless to resist. The crow on his shoulders squawked and flew at Sasuke, but it disintegrated when it made contact with his forehead.


Itachi's body hung high in the air, suspended by a blade of pure lightning.

"You don't know the hatred in my heart," Sasuke said from below. "You don't know how strong it's made me. You know nothing about me!"

The lightning blade split into many veering parts, literally tearing Itachi apart from the inside out. Ino faintly heard him wheeze as he fell to the ground in a bloody heap. Alarmed, she ran to Sasuke's side and they looked down on Itachi's fallen form. He coughed, and dark blood dribbled from his mouth as he stared up at the pair of them.

"You've gotten so strong, Sasuke," he whispered to an astonished Sasuke, and Ino couldn't help but think he sounded sad despite the ghost of a smile hidden beneath all the blood.

Unbidden, an image of a younger Itachi apologizing to Sasuke in a similarly melancholy tone appeared in her mind's eye. Blue eyes fell at the sight of this man before them now, and she wondered what Sasuke really thought about the idea of ending the life of his last living relative. She didn't have time to dwell on the thought, however, because Itachi suddenly disintegrated into an entire flock of crows.

So it was a genjutsu after all...

It was at that time that Suigetsu and Juugo burst through the entrance of the cavern, skidding to a stop at the sight of the black swarm all around them. Itachi's voice echoed all around them as if in a dream.

"Come to the Uchiha hideout alone. We'll end this there."

The crows squawked and shrieked all around them, and Ino vaguely heard Suigetsu swear behind them. Shadow feathers fell about them like black snow. The illusory birds melted into the gloom after a moment, and Team Hebi was alone in the cave.

"Didn't I tell you two to stay outside?" Sasuke said, turning to Suigetsu and Juugo.

"When we knew it was Itachi down here, we weren't about to let you steal the show without an audience," Suigetsu said, approaching their leader.

Juugo hung back, but he was peering around their surroundings for signs of any other presences.

"Whatever. We're leaving," Sasuke said dismissively.

They were back outside in a matter of minutes, and Ino was thankful to be back in the sunlight.

"Sasuke, do you know where to find that hideout?" Juugo asked.

"Yes. It's a few days' run from this area and I want to make good time. We're picking up the pace."

Juugo nodded, satisfied, but Suigetsu rolled his eyes at the thought of a more strenuous travel pace. "Better refill my water bottle for the marathon ahead."

Sasuke ignored him and approached Ino. In a low voice so that the others wouldn't overhear he said, "I told you not to get involved."

"I wouldn't have, but he talked to me."

Sasuke watched her, an unreadable look in his eyes. "I saw what you were thinking down there. Don't. That's the man who killed my mother." He looked away from her. "He's not what you saw in my memories."

Ino's mouth hung open in surprise. "I wasn't thinking about it like that at all. Sasuke." She grabbed his hand in her own, prompting him to look at her again. "We've been through this. I'm on your side."

A flash of something passed through those depthless eyes, and it made Ino nervous. Not for the first time, she wondered if he had any idea of the original reason she'd appeared before him.

But things are different now...

"Let's go," he said softly, pulling away and breaking their contact.

As they took to the trees once more, this time heading due north, the feeling of foreboding that had been building since the day she received this mission began to fester within her. The end was in sight.

Hatake Kakashi sat hunched over a topographic map of the area, squinting in the light from a crackling campfire as he traced their progress. In the past few days of travelling, they'd made it out of Fire Country and into Grass Country, where they'd been tracking Team Hebi with a fine-toothed comb. Kurenai's old team was proving to be excellent backup in this endeavor, from Kiba's nose to Hinata's eyes to Shino's chakra tracking. They were also an excuse to keep his own team close by until any action came up.

And there would undoubtedly be some action, the Copy ninja thought grimly.

After the Hokage had explained the details of Yamanaka Ino's mission to him, he'd gone home and taken a good look in the mirror. Sakura and Naruto would be crushed when they found out, he just knew it. But telling them, or anyone else, was strictly forbidden until such time as Ino was safely in their custody once more. That is, if she were even still alive after the incident with Deidara of Akatsuki was reported.

Naruto and Sakura didn't know about that, either.

He felt awful about not being frank with them. They weren't his students anymore. They didn't need to be sheltered, nor should they be. As far as Kakashi was concerned, Naruto and Sakura were his equals in rank and station. They were friends, and Kakashi had always had a hard time coming by those in his life.

But now, as one dark eye travelled across the map to the possible current locations of Team Hebi, he knew he was stuck. His only consolation was that they would find out soon enough, and ideally from Ino or the Hokage herself. He sighed, weary of all this. If only Sasuke would come home before he did anything stupid...

"Hey, Kakashi-sensei," Sakura said, taking a seat on the log next to him.

"Sakura, you know how I feel about that title."

She grinned. "Sorry, habit. Besides, you are getting old."

"Gee, thanks," he said, smiling tiredly.

"So, what's the scoop?"

Kakashi glanced at his former student out of the corner of his visible eye. After all this time, he knew better than most the struggle Sakura had gone through getting over Sasuke. It had been a decision that he'd questioned her on, not wanting her to settle for anyone less than what she truly wanted. Seeing her with Hyuuga Neji, as stiff as the man was, had actually been a relief for the members of the former Team 7. He was fairly certain that whatever feelings she held for Uchiha Sasuke were memories of an old friend lost down the wrong path. Five years was a long time, and while none of them were ready to give up on their wayward teammate, he was happy that Sakura had finally decided to let that childhood crush go and settle for someone real and present in her life. Of all people, she deserved that, he thought.

"There've been sightings of a group of shinobi matching the description for Sasuke and his team in the area. It seems they were based here for a while performing ninja work."

"Then we might be getting close?"

"Well, I suppose we're closer than we were back in Konoha," he said, smiling.

Sakura rolled her eyes. "I'm serious."

"So am I. They can't run forever. We'll find them sooner or later."

Hopefully sooner, before he finds Itachi.

The information they'd amassed thus far was all somewhat dated, definitely older than the fight with Deidara. It was still possible that they were all dead and this was a wild goose chase.

"I wish Shikamaru's team could have come with us like they usually do," Sakura said suddenly, looking into the fire. "But I guess Ino's still away on some mission."

Kakashi kept his expression carefully schooled, but on the inside alarm bells went off. Sakura may be over Sasuke and interested in Neji romantically, but even he didn't know how she might react upon learning the truth of Ino's mission. They were best friends, and he'd watched them grow up together, but teenage girls were tricky when it came to boys.

"Well, I'm sure she'll be back soon enough. I know how you girls can't seem to get enough of talking about the same things over and over."

Sakura shot him a glare. "And people wonder why you're still a bachelor."

"Who said I was looking?"

"What're you looking for?"

They looked up to see Naruto plopping down on a log across from them looking a bit dirty and tired.

"I'd say a shower," Sakura deadpanned. "Who dragged your face through the mud?"

Naruto scowled. "Kiba, that bastard. Thought he could take me one-on-one, but then when he said Akamaru would be helping I told him "that's not one-on-one, more like two-on-one," and he got all pissed and called me a pussy. So I beat the crap outta him, obviously."

Sakura sighed in exasperation and Kakashi simply smiled. Some things would never change, and that was certainly a good thing.

"So how much longer until we find that idiot?" Naruto said, stifling a yawn.

"Hard to say," Kakashi said, glancing at the map again. "But we have a definitive trail now, so it's only a matter of time."

"Good. He's gonna get a piece of my fist."

"Don't you mean a piece of your mind?" Kakashi corrected.

"Nah, my fist. Both of them."

"Hey, ladies first," Sakura said, smiling a little.

Kakashi looked between his two former students, feeling both inexplicably melancholy and a little happy. They'd come so far since that bell test so long ago, and over the years they'd come to terms with Sasuke's defection. Never wavering in their determination to bring him back, they bided their time getting stronger and improving their teamwork while somehow remembering how to live.

They're so much stronger than I ever was at their age.

"Seriously though, Naruto, you better hose off or something. I'm not letting you into our shelter if you smell like an earthworm."

"Aw that's so mean, Sakura-chan! What'd I ever do to you?"

Sakura turned up her nose. "It's your choice. Practice basic hygiene or sleep outside, cold and alone."

Naruto looked like he would burst into tears at any moment. "You wouldn't dare make me sleep outside by myself! There's like opossums and bugs out here!"

Kakashi shook his head as they got up and casually made their way to the river, where Sakura probably intended to throw Naruto in fully clothed. Talented Jounin though they were, it never ceased to amaze him how Naruto was a little terrified of harmless creatures of the night.

"Senpai," Yamato greeted, taking a seat.

"Tenzou," Kakashi called him by his old code name, looking up. "Anything to report?"

"Yes, actually."

The younger ANBU, who was also made privy to Ino's undercover mission, had been accompanying Shino, Hinata, and Sai on a scouting mission earlier that day beyond the border of Grass Country, the intention being to cast as broad a net as possible. Tsunade had stressed urgency in this matter as long as they didn't know whether or not Ino and Sasuke had survived the fight with Deidara.

"Let's hear it," Kakashi said, scooting closer to the man so that they wouldn't be overheard.

"We split up, and Sai and Shino made it to a small town on the edge of Earth Country to the north, near the sight of Deidara's suicide bomb. They got a match for Sasuke's description from the innkeeper there. Seems like they left this morning early."

Kakashi blinked as he processed this new information. "So they're alive," he breathed. "This is great news. If they left this morning, they can't be too far from there."

"We might be able to pick up a trail if we hurry."

Kakashi stood. "We'll go first thing in the morning. Everyone will need a good rest before we catch up to Sasuke's team."

Yamato nodded, but he seemed troubled by something.

"What is it?" Kakashi asked.

"Nothing, just that Shino was asking some questions. He said the innkeeper told them the girl with Sasuke was blonde, not a redhead like his original tracker. I think he and Sai might be suspicious."

Kakashi sighed. "Well, they're not who I'm worried about. This will all be over soon anyway, so it won't matter I suppose. The important thing is we know Ino and Sasuke are alive."

Yamato nodded. "Anyway, that's all I've got to report. I'll take the first watch."

"No it's fine, I'll take it. Get some rest."

Yamato excused himself and Kakashi was alone again. He mulled over this new development. With confirmation that Sasuke and Ino were alive, he felt less anxious about this retrieval mission. Now, all that was left to do was find them ideally before they found Itachi. He wasn't sure if they'd make it in time, but he was sure as hell going to try.

He'd failed Sasuke once. He wasn't about to do so all over again.

Author's note: I'm back! Yay! If you haven't checked out my profile already, I'm making it my personal goal to update all my Ino stuff this month (and perhaps work on/upload some Ino stuff I have in the works). I'm truly sorry for not responding to the reviews from the last chapter. I've been busy applying to grad school and starting a new job among other things, so RL has been hectic. I promise I will get back to replying to everyone starting with this chapter. I sincerely appreciate all the feedback this story has gotten. You guys are awesome, and you keep me going. THANK YOU.