Behind the Mask
Rated: T for language and violence
Disclaimer: Naruto characters (c) Masashi Kishimoto
Summary: We all wear masks. But that only makes it harder to tell the difference between truth and lies.

Note:Thank you lovely reviewers and in particular TooManyMoons. Your review was very encouraging and I hope I can live up to expectations! In case there was confusion, this is not SasuSaku. Sasuke may have feelings for Sakura, but I can definitely say those feelings are not reciprocated.

4 reviews till next time?

021: 力量

Temari jumped, skidding over the water, the Tian Tang Jian firmly in her hand, her injured arm swinging by her side. Her eyes were glazed in front of her as she continued to jump blindly into the forest, her horse long forgotten at Tenten's compound.

She finally stopped on a rock overlooking a waterfall, its clear waters tumbling into an ice covered river. The wind blew silently past her and her grip tightened on the Tian Tang Jian. She stared into the water, her reflection vaguely noticeable. Temari looked down at the blade. A thin strip of crimson dotted the edge of the blade where she had cut into Sakura's thigh.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. She had ruined everything.

With an ear piercing scream, Temari threw the Tian Tang Jian away from her, watching as it crashed through the ice and sank into the icy waters below. Its white tassel was the last she saw.

Then Temari sank to her knees on the cold rock, her arms clutching her sides as she bent over, crying.

When Asuka awoke, she felt fresher and more alert than she had in days. But her posture was slumped and her chin felt damp with drool. She could even see that some had dribbled onto her lap. She scowled with disgust and attempted to wipe it when she finally realized her arms were restrained to the back of the wooden chair she was sitting on. With a grunt of anger and irritation, she tried in vain to free herself.

"Glad to see that you are awake." Said an unfamiliar voice. "You'll understand that the restraints are a precaution."

Asuka picked her head up and ignored the painful crick in her neck. She saw instantly that she was in the bedroom that she had been occupying for the last couple of days. The charcoal brazier was lit in the corner. Yet unlike before, the room was well lit with lanterns. A tall, lithe man sat in a high backed chair a little ways from her. He wore a green tactical vest and a forehead protector that marked him as a shinobi of Konoha. Yet it was his mask that unnerved her. Its' shape was that of a human face, completely white, save for a yellow triangle in the center of the forehead.

"I can sense your fear." Said the shinobi standing up. He was of average height for a male; a long blonde ponytail swung down his back. "Please, don't be nervous, I only wish to talk."

Asuka tried to keep her breathing and her heartbeat regulated. She was a shinobi, dammit, one who was supposed to put fear aside in the face of the enemy. Yet never before had Asuka encountered a situation where she was forced to be interrogated. She saw the Iwa interrogators at work, once or twice and she knew the techniques to avoid interrogation, yet all that seemed to vanish as she looked her interrogator in the face. She just had to be truthful; she knew that. She was not lying about Iwa's decision to start war with Konoha. Yet interrogation was more than about just finding the straight facts. They probed on a personal, psychological level and it was there that Asuka had things to hide…

"We have people like you in Iwa." Said Asuka, her voice flat. "Mind readers."

The shinobi cocked his head to the side slightly before giving a small shrug of his shoulders. "I'm sorry to say that my clan's techniques are hardly a secret, Eguchi-xiaojie. But that doesn't mean you should disregard them."

Asuka had no response to that.

"As I said, I only wish to talk." Said the shinobi after a beat as he pulled his chair in front of her. "And if that proves fruitless…" He sat down and shrugged his shoulders. "Well, there is always time for mind tricks later."

"My parents taught me to never talk with strangers." Asuka quipped.

Whether the shinobi was annoyed, amused or simply assessing her response, Asuka couldn't be sure. He was silent for a few minutes before speaking again. "Then I suppose I should say your parents did a good job in teaching you. You may refer to me as Rennai."

Asuka was perplexed, but she tried to not let it show on her face. Shinobi names were usually based off of animals, but this shinobi's name meant Patience.

"The…mind readers, as you say, of Konoha are named for ideals or traits rather than animals." Responded Rennai, as if he had plucked the question straight from her mind. "Please, worry not. Your body has been completely cleared of any and all toxins."

It was then that Asuka's heart started to accelerate. Whether her face had remained neutral in light of the shinobi's words or her emotions had betrayed her in a myriad of expressions across her face, the shinobi had seemed to know exactly what she was thinking without her saying or indicating anything. And the extent of his knowledge was starting to scare Asuka. She needed to get out of here.

Before she could betray any more of her thoughts, Asuka hands ran through a rapid succession of hand seals from their place behind her back before taking in a huge gulp of air and spewing fire from her mouth. Fire quickly set to the wooden chair and the lanterns that hung in the room before spreading to the bed that Asuka had spent her nights sleeping in since she had been captured. Soon, flames and smoke began to engulf the room. Noticing that Rennai had quickly fled to safety and would no doubt be coming to subdue her soon, Asuka wasted no time.

She stood up, grateful that her ankles hadn't been bound and jumped toward the chair that Rennai had previously occupied. She used her foot to kick off her jump backward and used the weight of her landing to splinter and break the chair from underneath her. She felt a sharp pain in her wrist as the chair split with a deafening crack, but she paid it no attention as she flipped back to her feet and made for the closed door. With her arms still tied behind her back, Asuka jumped, molding the chakra into her foot as she bust through the door.

The door burst off its hinges and Asuka set one foot into the hallway when she felt someone grab her neck. Her eyes went wide and her heart jumped into her throat before the world dissolved around her.

Xiaojie - Chinese honorific, equivalent of Miss


Naruto sputtered as he felt ice cold water splash through the eye sockets in his mask and hit his face. He shot from his lying position on the ground and shook his head, shaking out the water. Blinking rapidly, he saw Yugito crouched in front of him.

"What the hell?" Naruto muttered as he stood up. He ran a hand through his hair and let out a yawn under his mask. Yugito stood up, her eyes following him. She had an irritated look painted on her face.

Naruto looked up at the sky and saw it was early, extremely early by Naruto's standards. By his guess, there was still an hour or so till sunrise as the sky was still black as night. "Goddamn it's early!" He cried.

Yugito crossed her arms. "You said you wanted me to train you? This is when I train." She ordered.

Naruto scanned the area. "No sleeping equipment?" He questioned.

Yugito looked untroubled. "No."

Naruto turned to her stunned. "Don't you get cold?"

"Cold?" Asked Yugito. "Psh," She said, waving her hand, "You don't have cold winters. This nothing compared to where I am from."

Naruto raised an eyebrow, impressed. "Sakura would love that then…" He said rather sarcastically.

Yugito spun toward him. "Who?" She asked.

Naruto blushed red under his mask. "No one. Let's start."

Sasuke opened his eyes slowly and he could see nothing but light at first. His head felt sluggish and his limbs heavy and stiff. He closed his eyes and reopened them and found that the light was from the sun reflecting harshly off the snow. Struggling, Sasuke managed to drag his arms into position and lift his upper body up into a sitting position. He dragged his legs forward and began to stretch out.

Sasuke looked around, gathering his surroundings. He was still in the forest. The tree that he had cut down was still laying there on the forest ground. Had he fallen asleep in the snow out in the open? Sasuke scratched his head. That didn't seem right. As his hand moved down from his head and toward his neck, he felt a slight sting of pain. Sasuke furrowed his eyebrows. Something had happened to him. There had been a man…speaking to him. Then his neck hurt and everything went dark.

Sasuke dragged himself up off the ground and onto his feet. The sun was high in the sky, dazzling the snow around him. Stretching out, he found that he felt good. More than good actually and better than he expected since he spent the night sleeping in the snow. Besides the slight stinging in his neck, He felt as if there were this new energy flowing through him. He felt…powerful.

Sakura felt stupid, beyond stupid. She had let Temari get away with the Tian Tang Jian again and now, it would be likely that they would never find her or the sword again. Sakura let out an aggravated cry and turned around, burying her head underneath her pillow. She ignored the continuous pounding on the door and Tenten's demands that Sakura come out and eat something.

She had seriously let Kakashi down. How could she have lost that fight to Temari? As she reasoned, she technically she didn't lose the fight. Temari already had an advantage going into the fight simply because she was using the Tian Tang Jian. The Tian Tang Jian was superior to all other weapons and therefore, Sakura had to rely on strategy to fight instead of strength or skill. Moreover, the fact that Sakura had actually won the fight but Temari refused to acknowledge it was what pissed Sakura off. She should have seen it coming. Temari was never one to play by the rules and Sakura should have known she wouldn't have given back the sword simply because she lost. Sakura should have just ripped the sword from her hands.

"I'm coming in!" Shouted Tenten, breaking Sakura out of her thoughts. Sakura lifted her head up and heard a clicking sound, as if a key were being turned in the lock. With a grumble, Sakura grabbed her mask and put it on as the door swung open and Tenten entered, hands on her hips.

"Stop blaming yourself!" Tenten scolded. "You did your best! You looked for her even with the injury on your leg!"

Sakura merely sighed. "Even so, I let her get away with the sword in the first place." Sakura had pursued Temari; after she had sent her summon to give the message to Naruto and Kakashi and before even fully healing the cut on her leg. It had made Sakura feel slightly better that Temari was once again horseless as she had been in such a hurry, but Sakura still didn't find any trace of her.

Tenten sat down on the bed beside Sakura. "Ok, maybe it was your fault because you thought you could trust that traitorous woman. But you did everything in your power to stop her. I'm sure Wo Lang can understand that, right?"

Sakura shrugged. Tenten shook her head and grasped Sakura by the shoulders. "Listen, here's what we're gonna do…"

"We?" Questioned Sakura. "This is my problem, not yours."

"We." Tenten repeated firmly. "You said that Temari likes to cause trouble right?"

"She did practically destroy that restaurant…" Said Sakura. "And she really has no self-control…"

"Well there you go!" Exclaimed Tenten. "I'll keep my eyes and ears alerted for a similar case. If I hear anything, I'll let you know right away. Meanwhile…" She said, dragging Sakura up to her feet. "You need to get back to Peking and explain to Wo Lang what happened. I'm sure you can be of better use there then moping around here."

"Are you kicking me out?" Sakura asked wryly.

"Yes." Said Tenten. "For your own good."

Itachi was irritated, although it wasn't apparent by looking at him. He was perched high up in a tree, as the sun just dipped past its halfway mark. The rest of his police forest was scattered throughout the forest. They thought that Itachi was somewhere, among them. It would be easy for Itachi to slip back into the ranks once the time was right, but for now, he wanted his privacy. He scanned the forest, his ire growing as time passed by.

"Hey there, partner."

Itachi turned slowly toward the sound of the voice and saw Kisame, casually sitting a few tree branches away. "You're late." Said Itachi, his voice a deadly calm. "You didn't get lost did you?" If Kisame knew any better, he would have thought Itachi was being sarcastic with him.

"That would be impossible." Laughed Kisame. "I can feel your killer intent a mile away. I'm surprised the civilians down there didn't piss their pants yet."

"Then if you didn't get lost, then why are you so late?" Spat Itachi. "You were supposed to meet me at noon. Does it look like noon to you?" Itachi questioned, pointing at the sun.

Kisame looked up. "No, but I wasn't expecting you to summon me, so cut me some slack."

Itachi rolled his eyes. "Hn."

"What did you drag me out here for anyway? I told you I'd keep you posted if the Leader said anything new." Said Kisame.

"Do we have any knowledge on Orochimaru's whereabouts?" Itachi questioned.

Kisame frowned and scratched his head. "No…why?"

Itachi gritted his teeth and turned his head away. Panic was rising through him, but he did well to keep it under control. He was loath to admit to Kisame why he was asking, but as he looked at Kisame glancing curiously at him, he knew he wouldn't be able to keep it a secret. "My brother Sasuke is missing." He admitted reluctantly.

Kisame stared at Itachi for a beat and then started to laugh, completely ignoring Itachi's glares. "And you think that Orochimaru has him because of what I told you, right?"

"I'm only putting two and two together." Said Itachi defensively. "I know Orochimaru is in Peking."

Kisame tapped his lip, his eyes full of amusement. "Have you ever considered that maybe Sasuke just ran away?"

"Ran away?" Repeated Itachi, as if he were saying the words for the first time. "Why on earth would Sasuke run away?" The thought was troubling for Itachi. He had known that Sasuke was…displeased with his arranged marriage, but Itachi thought that his brother had enough sense in him not to pull something so childish and rash. Why couldn't Sasuke see that Itachi was giving him a chance to escape? A chance at a new life with a family that could finally let him forget the past.

But maybe he had failed his brother. Maybe he had failed him the day he failed to catch their clan's murder. Itachi was miserable at the thought, but he couldn't allow himself to think about that. He just needed to focus on getting his brother back.

"Maybe I'll poke around for you." Kisame finally sighed, as if he could see his teasing wasn't making Itachi feel better. "I'll be discreet. I wasn't partnered with you for nothing, you know."

"Sometimes I wonder about that." Itachi muttered. "You are the most conspicuous person there is."

Kisame grinned widely and shrugged. "I like to think of myself as the muscle, you know, the enforcer. The one who gets down and dirty when negotiations fail. The bad cop good cop routine. You should know all about that right?"

Itachi turned to Kisame and rolled his eyes. "Let me know if you find anything. I've had enough of your wit for today." Itachi turned and dropped to the ground, miraculously not hitting any of the tree branches.

"Punk ass kid." Muttered Kisame. "One day I'll kick his ass."

Sasauke jumped through the forest from tree to tree. The wind was whipping through his hair, the sun hot on his back. And he would be lying if he said he didn't feel invincible right now. Sasuke looked down at his hands in awe. What could be the source of this incredible feeling running through his entire body? Sasuke remembered a man visiting him the other day, a strange man. Hadn't he said he would give him a gift? Sasuke ran his fingers lightly over the back of his neck, but felt nothing.

Sasuke dropped to the ground, feeling like he was in familiar territory again. He looked to the east, knowing his home shouldn't be too far away. Itachi was most likely still out in the woods, searching for…dare he say it? His wife. A shower and change of clothes couldn't hurt. He was about to hop back in the trees when he heard his name called by a familiar voice.

Turning around, Sasuke saw Governor Feng mounted on a chestnut horse, his magnificent robes all splayed out. If Sasuke didn't know any better, he could have easily passed as a king. He was looking at Sasuke with a strange expression on his face. Sasuke's senses came back to him and he bowed before his father-in-law, ignoring the niggling feeling in the back of his mind that told him Governor Feng should be bowing to him.

Behind him, Gaara and a middle-aged male were sitting on their horses, waiting for Governor Feng's orders. Gaara was eyeing Sasuke warily. The resemblance between father and son was really uncanny.

Governor Feng turned to Gaara and the other man and waved his hand in a shooing manner. "I would like to speak with my son-in-law. Please excuse us." He said.

The man obediently bowed his head and reined his horse to move around Governor Feng. Gaara however, remained, staring at Sasuke. There was something about the look in Sasuke's eyes that Gaara just didn't like.

"Go on, son." Said Governor Feng, nodding his head.

Gaara gave Sasuke one last look over before turning away. "Very well." He said curtly. He reined his horse and moved to catch up with the other man. "Be…be careful father…." He whispered before moving away.

Governor Feng turned his attention toward Sasuke, a small smile gracing his face. "What are you doing in the woods all by yourself, Sasuke-hou?"

Sasuke did a mental once over of how his appearance must look to Governor Feng. He had leaves and twigs still stuck in his hair, his clothes were disheveled and wrinkled, plus he lacked a shower for two days straight.

"I was looking for my brother, honorable father-in-law. It seems that we got separated looking for my beloved wife." Sasuke made sure to sugar coat his words. He bowed his head humbly before Governor Feng.

Governor Feng looked down at Sasuke and then carefully dismounted his horse, holding the reins in his hand. "Let me ask you Sasuke-hou, something that has been troubling me ever since my daughter went missing."

"Of course, honorable father-in-law."

"How is it that she went missing? Itachi-gong informed me that you went to speak with him, shortly after entering the marital chamber. It wasn't until a few hours later, long after you returned to the marital chamber that you claimed my daughter went missing. How was it that she could have slipped past you without you knowing? Or, if it was how my son said and she was kidnapped, how could the kidnapper have snuck past you?" Governor Feng's eyes were calculating as he stared Sasuke down.

"I regret to say that I fell asleep." Said Sasuke, his voice cold. Was Governor Feng daring to accuse him of something?

"Fell asleep." Governor Feng mused. "I knew of my own daughter's view on this union, but Itachi-gong had assured me that you, however, were most eager for it. I am now beginning to question that."

Sasuke didn't speak. There was a strange feeling that had begun to stir within his stomach. The back of his neck started to prickle.

"I think," Continued Governor Feng, "That you let my daughter escape. She probably escaped on her own, most likely when you went to speak with your brother. It would explain why we still have not found her yet. There is no way she could have gotten as far if she escaped when you said she did. But with a few hours advantage…"

"And what does this prove?" Sasuke demanded, his heart beginning to race. He could feel the strange feeling spreading inside of him. Governor Feng was oblivious to the slow purple aura that began to leak from Sasuke.

"I want the satisfaction of hearing you say that you lied." Said Governor Feng. "Lied to me and your brother…"

Governor Feng was swept back off his feet by a powerful blast of aura that was emitted from Sasuke. Governor Feng landed with a thud in the snow, his robes swirling around him. His horse let out a whine and then quickly galloped away. Governor Feng lifted his head up, a bit dazed and what he saw was definitely not what he expected.

A powerful purple aura surrounded Sasuke, whipping furiously around him. Strange black markings were slowly moving from a place on his neck, just above his right shoulder to cover his face and was spreading down the skin on his neck.

"What…are you?" Governor Feng murmured, fear slowly spreading across his face.

Sasuke snapped his head up and opened his eyes. Governor Feng was greeted with a blood red stare, the likes of which he had never seen.

"Dear Gods…" Governor Feng whispered as Sasuke charged, laughing.

Hou - rank below lord

Gaara turned around, slightly jerking back the reins of his horse. Birds cawed, taking flight out of the trees. A faint howl whistled around them.

"Is something wrong…Gaara-gong?"

Gaara stared into the trees, peering as if he was going to find what he was looking for. "No, bofu. Continue toward the point that Itachi-gong directed. I think I have other business to attend to." He said, jerking his horse back in the direction they had just come from.

"But…" Said Yashamaru, looking at his youngest nephew with concern.

"Go on." Said Gaara jerking his head. "I'll be fine."

Gong - Chinese honorific, equivalent of lord
Bofu - Uncle

When it encountered the first sliding door, she thought it would stop. But a mere touch of the finger and the door slid open and she had no choice but to let out a scream. Here, her gaze was all encompassing but she could do little to stop it. She was just a mere spectator within herself and she was powerless to stop it – the abnormality, the disturbance, the anomaly.

It wasn't supposed to be here.

It had delved deep within her, touching things, reading things that were supposed to be hers. She tried to stop it, but for some reason, things crumbled at its touch. The hazy black fields that held little more than touches and sounds had been passed within a matter of seconds. When the images came, it slowed down a little. It was there that she tried to push it out, but its hold was strong. Plumes of smoke obscured her vision, the sound of splintering wood echoed in her ears. Finally, she had to back off when she saw the mask. She knew that mask once, but it had been painted red with the blood of the enemy.

She tried to move the door back, but it wouldn't budge. A door that had seemed so stable, so secure and impenetrable had slid open as if it had been presented the key. But only she had the key. It was treading more carefully now, as if every detail was of importance. She felt the finery of silk robes; she tasted the air, still tinged with smoke. She could see the Council of Elders, the Emperor. She saw him and she saw her standing at her side. When the hat was placed on his head, she saw a grimace on the woman's face before becoming unreadable.

At the second door, she thought she had it. There was a trick, a false opening leading back to start; if there was a start in a place such as this. But it was smart and it sidestepped the black hole. Pushing it out was no longer an option – she had failed once already and the farther it got, the weaker she became. The door opened, so she closed her eyes and covered her ears. She still felt them though – the feelings. Her father was scum. She hated him with a burning passion. She wanted to rip the eyes from his sockets. He had lied to her. She felt betrayed. She was crushed. All she wanted to do was cry. She wanted the truth. Why did he do it?

The emotions were torment as they flooded over her. It left her there on the ground when they were over. She let it leave – there was no use in following anymore. There were no more sealed doors. She almost felt peace when it had gone. When she had resealed the door, it returned.

"There's something missing."

"There is nothing missing." She retorted.

The blackness fell away from them. They were on the mountain and the sun was setting. The air smelled sweet with summer and the clouds were fluffy and pink from the setting sun. She could feel the warmth on her skin and the cool grass beneath her bare toes. She glanced around with wide eyes. Everything was so perfect that she was disoriented for a moment. This wasn't real, she had to tell herself. It was a hard concept to grasp, but she repeated it like a mantra. It was hard to think straight, with the scents and the touch of grass and sun on her skin, but with her eyes closed, it was easier to feel it; the disturbance in her mind. She reached her hand out and crushed the image and only opened her eyes when she heard it burn away and fall to the ground in ashes.

She was there. Her mother.

Her face was soft, and smooth, exactly as she remembered it. Her dark hair was pulled into a loose braid that hung over her right shoulder and her eyes were a deep brown – a brown so rich an inviting it brought tears to her eyes.


An illusion! It had to be. It wasn't real, it couldn't be real. She pushed, but her mother was still standing there. "Could you show it to me?" Her mother asked simply.

It was her mother's face, yes, but not her mother. She was too tall and too well built and her clothes were more befitting of a Konoha male rather than her mother. None of it mattered though, only the sight of her mother's face, the touch of her skin, the smell of her presence.

"Show me." Her mother said simply, invitingly.

She nodded her head yes.

It was buried in the back, away from the other memories where it wouldn't be as easily found. The air smelled musty and it was easy to see this area was seldom visited. The darkness enveloped them, but when she flipped a switch, an image came out of the darkness, like an old movie reel sputtering to life. Her father was kneeling before her, his hands on her shoulders. He was telling her that her mother was dead.

Her mother was shaking her head. The image was wrong, and her mother seemed to know. She reached out to touch the image, but quickly recoiled as if something burned her. It was a trap, for those who dared to come this far, for those who were able to come this far. She knew to leave it alone, yet she couldn't. She had to show her mother. She had nothing to hide from her.

Reaching out, she pulled the scene away and it fell like tumbling blocks, shattering all around them. The image left a door in its wake, one more sturdy and heavily padlocked unlike the others. She brought out a key, a gold and shiny one, not more than a few years old that reflected off some unknown light source. The padlock fell away into the darkness and the doors slid open.

The scene that unfurled was darker, gloomier, yet unexpectedly vivid. Her mother and father were the centerpiece; she only a bystander. She hid in a darkness that resembled their surroundings as her parents shouts reverberated around her. She was hidden, forgotten, her presence unknown to her parents. They spoke of things that she had not understood at the time: treason, betrayal, a brokerage of peace with a Hidden Village that had only been previously known as the enemy.

When the memory ended, they stood in silence. There was something akin to understanding between them now. It was confusing. Her mother simply nodded her head before turning her head away. When she turned back a split second later, it wasn't her mother's face that greeted her, but a white mask with a single yellow triangle.

Asuka screamed, but the abnormality vanished from her sight.

"Slaboumnyĭ! You're doing it wrong!" Naruto received a furious shove which sent him stumbling backwards into the snow.

Naruto growled and jumped up, brushing snow off his clothes. "What the hell was that for?" He yelled.

Yugito crossed her arms over her chest. "That isn't the way to do it. You're not trying hard enough to burn off your own chakra."

They had moved farther south as Naruto had attempted to spend the better half of the morning searching for Temari. They were now standing in a clearing, surrounded by a dense foliage of trees. The sun had moved way past its halfway point. Yugito had been trying to teach Naruto how to take control of the Kyuubi and have better access to the Kyuubi's chakra. She had wanted Naruto to use up his own chakra first, in order to have better access to the Kyuubi's so he could learn how to rely solely on the Kyuubi's.

"The point is to take advantage of the Kyuubi's chakra." Yugito explained. "You're too afraid to do it aren't you?"

Naruto crossed his arms over his chest and looked away.

Yugito scowled. "The Kyuubi won't be able to take over your body, even if you try to use his chakra."

Naruto bit his lip uncertainly. "How do you know?" He asked.

"How you think I do it?" Yugito sighed, exasperated and walked over to Naruto. She put a gloved hand on his shoulder. "Listen to me, ok? The Kyuubi, like all Bijuu, come in two parts." She said, indicating with her other hand. "They have chakra, and they have will. Neither can come without the other."

"So…you're saying that if I try to use the Kyuubi's chakra, then I'll also get some of his will…will that will try to overpower me?" Naruto asked.

"Da." Said Yugito nodding.

Naruto gave her a confused look. "Then if I try to use the Kyuubi's chakra, he will try to take over my body. I can't control him!" He said, exasperated.

Yugito shook her head exasperated and gave Naruto a shake. "The point is, this," She said, hitting him on the head, "And this," She said, punching him in the chest, "Will need to be strong." She shook her fist. "Only then can you separate will from chakra."

"So in order to use Kyuubi's chakra, I need to have the stronger will…" Said Naruto thinking.

"Da." Said Yugito nodding. "Mostly, learning control is mental exercise. You are afraid of the Kyuubi because you have limited contact with him. But let me show you something."

She bent down, and lifted up a protesting Naruto's shirt up. Naruto blushed red under his mask. "Mold your chakra." She commanded.

"What?" Asked Naruto.

"Mold it!" Shouted Yugito.

With an exasperated sigh, Naruto put his hands together and molded his chakra, his body emanating a light blue glow. Yugito looked down at his stomach. "See?" She asked, pointing. "Keep molding your chakra and look."

Keeping his hands together, Naruto peered down to look at his stomach. What he saw was an elaborate seal painted on his stomach, over his navel. "I never really noticed that before…" Said Naruto puzzled.

Yugito put his shirt down and Naruto released his chakra. "I have something similar. All Jinchuriki need one. It's a seal and it what keeps the Kyuubi inside you. So he can't break out."

"Hm…" Said Naruto thinking.

"Of course," Continued Yugito. "All seals break down over time, but I'm sure that you can deal with it when it comes."

"Gee, thanks." Muttered Naruto. "Something to look forward to."

There was the sound of flapping of wings and Naruto looked up to the sky to find a white crane with long legs land gracefully in the snow.

"Kuren!" Said Naruto surprised. "What are you doing here? Did Wu He send you?"

Kuren looked up suspiciously at Yugito before giving Naruto her message. "Ah…yes. Xiaojie told me to tell you that she fought Temari and lost. Temari has escaped with the Tian Tang Jian."

Naruto's face fell upon hearing the news. "Oh shit…" He sighed. "Is Wu He hurt? Is she ok?" He asked desperately.

Kuren stretched her wings out before refolding them. "She was hurt, but I think it was a minor injury. Shouldn't be anything that she can't handle."

"That's good then…" Said Naruto in relief as he scratched the back of his head. "Does she want me to come get her? Where is she?"

Kuren shrugged. "I just spoke to Sifu Wo Lang recently. He wants you to go back to Peking."

Xiaojie - Chinese honorific, equivalent of Miss
Sifu - Master

When Inochi finally emerged from the spare holding room where they had put Asuka, Kakashi immediately pulled a chair out for the older man. Inochi gratefully slumped down into the chair, and it was apparent how exhausted he was just from his body movements. Inoichi removed the white mask from his face and passed a hand over his eyes, rubbing his forehead as he pushed the spikey blond hair away from his face. His blue-green eyes were cloudy, as if they were still stuck in some faraway place.

Kakashi patiently waited as Inoichi collected himself. Although he was not capable of the same techniques as the Yamanaka were, he was no stranger to what they could do, or the toll such techniques could take on the mind afterward. As talented as Inoichi was, even he was not immune to the side effects that could take place when dealing with someone who possessed both a strong will and a strong mind. And Kakashi had no doubt that Asuka had both.

As Inoichi sat silently, Tsunade arrived wordlessly, a pot of steaming tea in her hands. She set it down and sniffed at the air, her eyes narrowed in confusion. Kakashi hid his grimace. The air still smelled of smoke and burning wood as a result of Asuka's attempt to escape. Tsunade would likely be pissed at the damage but Kakashi was hoping he could salvage some of the room before she found out.

"Thank you, Tsunade-furen." Said Inoichi finally as he accepted a cup of tea from Tsuande. "It is good to see you again."

"And you, Inoichi." Said Tsunade as she was momentarily distracted from the burning smell. "How is your little girl?"

"Not so little anymore." Inoichi sighed. "I wish I had the energy to make small talk but, alas, the girl's mind was more difficult than first anticipated."

Kakashi waited for Inoichi to speak again, his hands unconsciously gripping the edges of his seat.

"She was telling the truth."

Kakashi felt as if some sort of collective breath that he had been holding was suddenly released. He immediately regretted it and felt angry with himself for being…what? Relieved that Asuka was telling the truth and not lying to him? He didn't want to feel relieved. He didn't want to feel anything.

"Her reasons were personal." Inoichi continued. "I can see why she did not want to tell you."

"I suppose she would have to have strong, personal reasons, to betray her village." Tsunade murmured. "Please continue."

Inoichi nodded his head, his age suddenly woefully apparent on his face. "Her mother-"

Kakashi stood from his seat and turned away from Tsunade and Inoichi before passing a hand over his own face. He was listening to Inoichi's words, but he didn't want to be. He didn't like what he was hearing. For weeks, he had been demanding that Asuka tell him what her end game was in all of this, that she explain to him why she was so willing to betray her village to help them. And now that he was finally learning her reasoning…he couldn't bear to hear it.

Furen – Chinese honorific, used for women of high rank

Sasuke gasped, air flooding his lungs as he lifted his head off the ground. He groaned, rubbing at his head. It was the second time he found himself lying on the forest floor. Pulling himself up, he felt…strange. The back of his neck stung, but Sasuke didn't pay it much attention. His hands felt…sticky, as if they were covered in film. He couldn't see much in the darkness of the night, so he held his hands up to his face, trying to use the moonlight to his advantage.

What he found wasn't pleasant. Both of his hands smelled strongly of something rusty and metallic. As the color reflected off the moonlight, he found that his hands and forearms were caked in a thick layer of dried blood. Gasping in shock, Sasuke stumbled back, tripping over his feet and he fell to his butt on the cold, snow covered forest floor. Looking down, Sasuke even saw blood spattered on his already disheveled clothes.

He put his hand to his head, trying desperately to remember what the heck had happened. Why was he having such a hard time remembering things? He didn't seem to be hurt, so the blood couldn't be his own. Bringing his hand down, he sniffed the air. The faint smell of rotting tinged the air. Furrowing his eyebrows, Sasuke stood to his feet and took a few hesitant steps forward, looking for the source of the smell.

The sight was repulsive and Sasuke quickly doubled over and clamped his hand over his mouth to stop from throwing up. Among the trees, Sasuke found Governor Feng's mutilated body. His eyes were open and there was pure terror written on his face. Blood was spattered everywhere, on the trees, and staining the snow. Grimacing, Sasuke couldn't be sure exactly what had happened to Governor Feng. It looked like his entire insides had been ripped out and laid to rot on the forest floor. Even Governor Feng's neck had been twisted toward the side, as if by force.

Sasuke looked toward his own hands, as if he had suddenly realized where the blood had come from. He had done this.

He had killed Governor Feng.

And he had been completely conscious of what he was doing. At first he had only meant to shake the man up a little, make him regret the words that he had said to Sasuke. Sasuke remembered coming up to him with speed so incredible Governor Feng hadn't couldn't have stopped him. Sasuke had twisted his neck toward him. That's all he meant to do. But then, he felt it. The incredible energy burning within him. And Sasuke knew that he had to use it.

He felt his chakra molding, releasing out of him in incredible spurts. The back of his neck had started to burn. He felt the electricity crackling. And then, before he could entirely think about it, he had just done it. It had just seemed like he put his hands into Governor Feng, as if he were nothing but jelly. The blood, everything, had been warm on his skin. And then he just pulled. The pain on the back of his neck was so intense at the time, that Sasuke's memories were a little hazy. He must have stumbled away and passed out from the pain.

Sasuke looked at his hands once again in awe. A small smile pulled up at the corners of his mouth. He had done this. He had just ripped into a person and pulled out their insides as if they were nothing. No ordinary person could have accomplished such a feat. Sasuke started to laugh. So much power at the tip of his fingers, more than it would have taken him a life time to accomplish, and all because of one simple gift. Sasuke touched the back of his neck. The man said to take it for a test run and Sasuke was definitely appreciating the rewards. As Sasuke stood laughing, his hands bloody, he knew he was ready for more.

Character Corner

Name: Orochimaru
Shinobi Name: Yin Cang She
Age: 59
Height: 5'11''
Specializes: Ninjutsu, Taijutsu, Genjutsu, Fuuinjutsu, Kenjutsu
Orochimaru was abandoned by his parents at a young age. At the age of 7, he acquired a Jounin instructor and two other teammates. His teacher was the soon to be Third Hokage and his teammates were Jiraiya and Tsunade. A couple years after the Amegakure War, the Third Hokage found Orochimaru killing others in order to complete his forbidden jutsu. The Third Hokage forced Orochimaru to leave the village and Orochimaru later found and joined Xiao. He was partnered with Sasori, but was quickly forced out of the organization soon after. After the Third Great Shinobi War, Orochimaru planned an invasion only a year later, knowing Konoha was in a weakened state. It is unknown exactly how he bought the legendary Kyuubi with him, but together they destroyed Konoha. Orochimaru killed the Fourth Hokage, but not before the Hokage sealed the Kyuubi inside Naruto.

Orochimaru has always been a power hungry and sadistic individual. As a child, he was often praised for being better than his teammates and as an adult, he aspired to learn every Ninjutsu. Realizing his goal was fruitless if he died, he aspired to be immortal. He has tried to steal the Tian Tang Jian on many occasions but has always failed in these attempts. His shinobi name means Hidden Snake.