A/N: Due to the requests and reviews I've been seeing, I've managed to summon up some energy for another update. I'm so glad many of you enjoy it. Hope you guys enjoy this chapter!
As Anko handed her friend a fresh cup of lavender tea to soothe her anxiety, she heard another knock at her door. It had only been around forty-five minutes since Kurenai showed up, so it was quite unusual for there to be two knocks at her door in one morning back to back like this.
"Thanks, Anko." Mumbled Kurenai, a bit winded from her breakdown, "Go answer your door, I kind of need a minute alone anyway."
Anko nodded sympathetically and walked over to her front door. After opening it, she was greeted by a woman wearing a sleek ANBU uniform, and a cat mask over her face.
"Yu-chan?" Anko responded with a raised eyebrow, "Wow, long time no see."
"It has been a while, hasn't it?" Yugao Uzuki said, placing a hand on her hip, "As much as I'd love to catch up, I'm actually here to tell you that the Hokage has summoned you. She says it's urgent."
"Oh. Alright." Anko mumbled, turning back towards the Jounin sitting on her couch, "Kurenai, I'll be right back. Feel free to make yourself at home."
"Kurenai?" Yugao asked, taking her mask off and peering inside the apartment. Anko stepped aside and Yugao stepped in to see her long-time friend sitting there with multiple used tissues surrounding her. She immediately noted the lack of makeup applied and the bags under her eyes, frowning since she heard the news about Asuma just a few moments prior to arriving here.
Despite her lingering melancholy, Kurenai forced a smile. She hadn't seen Yugao in what felt like years, "Yugao... it's really good to see you."
The ANBU member gave a sad smile in return, "Yeah, you too..." Yugao then paused, as she felt the tug of conflicting responsibilities for just a moment, "Hey, I promise to talk to you soon. Right now, I have to take Little Miss Troublemaker here to see the Hokage."
Anko knew that wasn't a good sign, "Oh, I guess that means I'm in trouble?"
"Probably, considering I have to escort you." Yugao responded.
"Ah, shit." Anko sighed. This wasn't her first rodeo, after all; getting in trouble with the Hokage. On the account that she's had struggles with performing assault, giving malicious threats, endangerment of life, and even extortion if she was really being a bad girl, she'd been in and out of the Hokage's office on a semi-regular basis. Luckily, she'd been able to score empathy points with both the Third and the Fifth, seeing as she always found out a way to explain her reasoning for performing these crimes, as she could usually justify it as something the victim had triggered, which was usually the case. Or, she simply was good enough to cover her tracks. So she'd never seriously been punished, but knew that she'd been awfully close a handful of times, and had even gotten used to some of the lesser punishments, such as brief suspensions, community service, etc, when she did get caught. The worst part about this particular moment was that there was a long quiet streak where she hadn't heard from the Hokage in a while, despite no decrease in her run-ins with trouble, so it was hard to pinpoint exactly what this summoning was for. Needing to be escorted usually meant that it was going to take quite some effort to defend herself.
"I understand, Yugao. Anko, I think I'm going to take a nap, if that's okay." Kurenai stated as she laid down onto the couch cushions.
Anko nodded, "Go ahead, Kurenai. Let's go, Yu-chan."
After stepping out of the apartment square, Anko and Yugao walked side by side as they headed for the Hokage tower.
"As your friend, I think I should give you a heads up by warning you that the Hokage isn't particularly in a good mood today." Yugao said from behind her mask, "Apparently someone really got under her skin earlier this morning."
The Tokubetsu Jounin sighed and crossed her arms, "Great. Usually, I'm more prepared for moments like this, but I have to admit that I'm a bit caught off-guard."
The sensory specialist shook her head, "I would have assumed that you'd be used to it by now."
"I am. This time just feels different."
Yugao snickered, "Still the same Anko, I see." She then turned her head to her friend as she changed the subject, "How's Kurenai doing? I heard about Asuma..."
Anko frowned as she looked at the ground, "She's... going through the motions. I think you could do and say some things that will help her more than I can... you know, considering. I've never experienced what you both have been through."
Yugao huffed, "Yeah, maybe. Still, it's good that you're there for her. I haven't really been as good of a friend, seeing as it feels like forever since we last spoke."
"You've been busy. Don't beat yourself up about it."
"I try not to."
There was a brief silence between the two ladies as they continued walking.
"I'd really like for us all to be friends again, by the way." Anko stated simply.
"We are friends, dummy."
Yugao grinned underneath her mask, "Okay, Anko. We'll all be better friends."
A few minutes later, Anko and Yugao arrived at the door leading to the Hokage's office. Just as Yugao was about to knock, Anko swiftly grabbed a hold of her wrist to stop her.
"Now just hold on a sec..." Anko murmured rubbing her chin, "You said that she wasn't in a good mood, right?"
"On a scale from 'mildly annoyed' to 'extremely freaking pissed', where would you say she's at?"
Yugao shrugged her shoulders, "Um... when she told me to get you, she said, and I quote, 'Tell Anko to bring her ass over here. It's time that I've dealt with her crap too', so..."
Anko hummed to herself, "Hm... that doesn't sound too bad. Still, I'll have to be on my A-game." The young Jounin then took a deep breath and forced a nice big smile before barging into Tsunade's office with her hands casually placed behind her head.
"Yo, what's up, Fifth?! I hope your day is going well!"
Yugao then entered the room, shaking her head.
With her head still facing down at the paperwork on her desk, Tsunade's eyes leered up at the woman who just gave herself a loud and unnecessary entrance into her office.
"You knew you were in trouble, so you decided it was a good idea to barge into my office like this...?" Tsunade grunted.
"That was definitely her idea, not mine." Yugao quickly offered as a defense.
"Yugao, get outta here!" Anko said in a hushed tone, sending a quick leer back at the other violet-haired woman.
"Actually, Yugao will be staying right here. You're the one that messed up, Anko." The Slug Queen declared, pushing her paperwork to the side and leaning forward on the desk to look Anko right in her eyes. Anko nervously held onto her friendly demeanor as a sweatdrop slid down the back of her head.
"I plead the fifth!" She stated, raising her hands innocently. A smirk then touched her lips, "Get it? Fifth?"
As Anko shot Tsunade with a pair of finger guns, there was a long and pregnant pause filled with silence... up until a short snicker was heard from a short-haired woman in the corner of the room.
"Sorry." Apologized Shizune, holding a hand in front of her mouth to stifle further laughter, "I just got it."
With that, Shizune left the room, leaving Anko, Yugao, and Tsunade as the only occupants.
"Anko, cut the bullshit. I need you to take this seriously since you broke a serious law in our village. I'm liable to have you locked up for a long time." Tsunade explained to her, doubling down on the level of strictness in her voice.
Anko sighed and decided to face her punishment like a big girl, sitting in the chair across from Tsunade's desk.
"Alright, alright. On what grounds am I faulted for?"
Tsunade crossed her arms, "Aside from the pending things just waiting to go on your record, your most recent screw-up might definitely be the biggest one thus far."
Anko gulped, "Which is...?"
Tsunade blinked twice as she took a breath and rubbed her forehead, "Anko... why on earth did you tell Naruto about his parents?"
Anko cursed mentally. She thought she might have had more time with that one, "Dammit, I specifically told Naruto not to tell you about that."
"I'm well aware of that, Anko. The good news about that is that Naruto has actually been a man of his word in that regard."
"Huh?" Anko raised an eyebrow, "So how did you find out?"
Anko felt a hand being placed on her shoulder. The Jounin in fishnet slowly turned her head to eye the Neko mask staring back at her. It was then that it dawned on her.
"I've secretly been keeping tabs on Naruto since he returned from his last mission, with Yugao's assistance. I know everything from that night in the bar to your little pretend date at the barbecue shack." Tsunade explained. Anko almost hadn't heard her, as she was still cursing her 'friend' out in her mind, hoping she had enough sensory ability to sense the hostile intent growing in her.
"Shit... well, if you truly know everything, then you know Naruto was going through some turbulent emotions at the time. I was only trying to help him feel better." Anko explained, shrugging Yugao's hand off her shoulder in mock disgust, "Besides, the gaki didn't even believe me when I told him."
Tsunade shook her head, "Anko, do you even realize how much more complicated this can get once Naruto starts realizing that it's true? It's bad enough that we have the Akatsuki hunting after him, but if word gets out and the other countries learn of Naruto's heritage, then we'll not only have to worry about them too, but they might even see that they have a common interest with the Akatsuki!"
Anko lifted her hands defensively, "Now just wait a minute, Fifth, let's not go to extremes here. Naruto learning about his parents may not be as bad as you think. I'm sure if we tell him to keep it on the hush note then everything will be fine. You even said he's a man of his word."
"Yes, to an extent. You saw how eager he was to ask about them when you were out with him. You even had to practically force him to promise not to say anything."
Anko quickly turned to the woman beside her, wishing she could burn a hole in that mask with her own two eyes, "God, Yu-chan! Did you have to tell her everything?!"
"Yugao was doing her job, Anko." Tsunade interjected quickly, "You, on the other hand, are the one that knew the repercussions of breaking that law, and did it anyway. I wasn't even aware that you knew about his heritage, to begin with."
"I hate to break it to ya, but it's a tad obvious if you give it any real thought, Hokage-sama." Anko admitted, "I mean, Kami, you can pretty much see the resemblance if you compare Naruto's face to the Fourth's on the monument behind us. And the law mostly revolved around talking about the Kyuubi, which he apparently already knew about, more than it did about talking of his parents, so..."
The blonde's leer hardened, "Quit trying to find loopholes and excuses. You knew that it was a risky thing to do. The Third made it so that not many people knew of Naruto's lineage, including Naruto himself, and for a good reason."
Anko's frustration came to a head as she was backed into a corner. She quickly stood up from her seat and placed her hands on Tsunade's desk, meeting Tsunade's leer with one of her own.
"Alright, fine! It's not the first time I broke the rules and it probably won't be my last! I did it because I felt the gaki deserved to know, as if the poor bastard hasn't had it rough enough already. So if you're going to lock me up for it, then let's just get it over with!" Anko dramatically stated, pushing her wrists out in front of her to prepare for the handcuffs.
Tsunade only stared at Anko, analyzing her, "...You must really care about Naruto, huh?"
"I do." She answered, "He's this village's hero, you and I both know that. You wouldn't even be sitting in that chair if not for him, I'm sure. I keep up with his records more than I care to admit."
The Godaime took Anko's point well enough as a small grin touched her lips, "Put your hands down, Anko. I'm not locking you up."
"Whew!" Anko quickly huffed, "I admit that I was kinda bluffing there. You honestly would have had to catch me."
"And it would have been a fun, yet brief, chase for me." Yugao commented. Anko sent her a look.
Tsunade rolled her eyes. Oh, how she wishes to have that youthful and rebellious streak in Anko that she once had, "In any case... you're still not in the clear, Anko. I can pardon you for what you did, but you do have to realize that stuff like that can have a domino effect. You could be making my job a lot more difficult for me."
"I could also be making it easier, if you think about it." Replied the Special Jounin, throwing a bit of reverse psychology into the mix.
"Oh, you will be making my job easier for me after today." Tsunade crossed her arms, "So here's what you're going to do for me, in place of me not locking you up for breaking the law. Since you seem to have a connection with Naruto of sorts, I'm going to assign Yugao's task to you. I want you to keep tabs on Naruto's behavior and report anything I should know about him over to me."
Anko had to admit that the idea of that was not something she was immediately receptive to. Hanging out with the kid was one thing, but constantly spying on him, clocking his every move, and spilling any info that he trusts with her and her alone? There was a reason Anko didn't enlist in the ANBU forces; there just wasn't much freedom in it for her, especially when the missions were internal.
"I don't know, Fifth. Naruto has enough supervision on him as it is, considering he has Yamato and Kakashi. Why would I need to be a part of that?"
"For multiple reasons. One of them being that it's an order from the Hokage, so it's not optional. I see that you have earned a lot of Naruto's trust with how you handled him at his worst that night at the bar, so now you can get closer to him, as I can tell he means a lot to you. I'm assigning this to you to test your loyalty to both him and the Hokage, seeing as you're so willing to break rules for him."
It was rare for Anko not to have a response to something. Tsunade noted the Jounin's silence and continued.
"I also already know about the truth of what happened with Sakura on his mission, and how he told you, Yamato, and Kakashi to withhold that information from me. While I don't blame him for it, the fact that he wasn't honest is why I need a trusted confidante to keep me up to date with what's actually going on with him. Kakashi and Yamato are doing well enough, but he's opened up to you rather quickly. So that's why I need you to be another crucial piece in that plan."
Anko sat there, staring at her lap in deep thought, until, "You know, he was just scared. The Kyuubi caused him to kill his comrade, which would be traumatizing for anyone. I don't blame him for not telling you, he probably just needed time to process."
Tsunade nodded, "I know, and you're right. However, this village runs on truth and efficiency. As empathetic as I am toward Naruto and his situation, I still have a job to do. Which is why, between you and I, I'll wait for him to come clean on his own with no repercussions coming to him. I think that's what he was going to do earlier this morning, but I sent him off to handle something else. I need your help in keeping tabs on him in the future, for the village's and his own sake. Can you do that for me, Anko?"
Anko took a deep breath. She really didn't enjoy the idea of Tsunade's proposal, as something about it just made her feel a bit ill inside. But she did have some valid points, and it wasn't as if she could say no, regardless.
"Fine. I'll do it."
Ino wasn't sure how much time had passed since it all started. The process of this sickly essence breaching into her body was slow, and it was difficult to have a sense of time. Not only was it painful, but she could also feel every bit of foulness that this chakra was emanating, feeling it pulsing inside her own body. It even burned, to a degree, as if it were a lava-like substance, making it a very unique kind of pain unlike any other. She just wanted it to stop. She had tried again and again to release her jutsu and return back to her own body, but it was futile. She was stuck.
"Ino?!" She just barely heard from beyond the Kyuubi's dark laughter. The laughter ceased, and amidst the dark space she was in, suddenly, she was face to face with something, no, someone emanating with pure white light. With her wrists and ankles bound by chains, Ino creaked her eyes open to see her blurry vision focusing on this luminous figure. Once her vision adapted, any pain that she felt was just briefly forgotten about as she saw who was looking right at her.
"S-Sakura...?" Ino murmured, confirming those emerald green eyes of hers. Sakura stared back at her with concern, before turning to the figure in the cage that was angrily glaring at them both.
"What are you doing to her, you monster?!" Sakura demanded, clenching her fists, "Leave Ino alone!"
The beast inside the cage growled ferociously, "You little runt... How is it that I have not been able to catch you yet?!"
Sakura didn't care to answer that question, as she turned back to Ino. As foolish as it may have seemed, she listened to the intuition that was telling her to grab at the unknown essence seeping into her friend through her stomach as if it were solid and pull it as hard as she could. The red, boiling substance made Sakura grit her teeth as it burned her hands, but she was determined to stop this process however she could.
"Grr, stop! Don't meddle in with my plans!"
The demand went unheard as Sakura gathered all her strength, and succeeded in pulling this strange chakra out of Ino as if it were a hose. With a loud and feral roar, more of the substance had risen up from within the cell, in the form of a large tidal wave coming straight for the two girls. As the large wave passed through the bars and towards Sakura, with a knowingness she could not describe, she took a deep inhale of her breath and stood there as the chakra crashed and submerged the two girls under it.
Kurama's predetermined victory went unheeded, as she saw a light translucent bubble surrounding the two girls, protecting them both. The Kyuubi's essance faded away, and Sakura opened her eyes to give the beast one last glare. She turned toward the bound kunoichi behind her, and broke the chains holding her with strength that made it look effortless. Ino passed out as she was released, and Sakura caught her before placing her gently onto the floor below.
"I'm not sure if I can pull this off the way you showed me, but it's worth a shot. It's not safe for you here." Said the spirit of Sakura before flipping through the memorized seals. She then placed two fingers on Ino's forehead and called out the word, "Release!"
With a bright flash of light within the protective bubble, Ino's spirit left the realm they were in.
"You'll pay for that." The demon now taking after her animalistic form behind bars promised, "I don't know how it is that you've managed to elude me like this, but I'll figure out a way to devour you as I've originally intended."
Sakura had no verbal response. She simply sent the demon one last challenging look before forming a tiger seal, releasing her own spirit from the area as well.
With a sharp inhale of air, Naruto quickly jerked awake and rose his torso up from his position on the floor. He breathed hard as he gathered a sense of where he was, able only to remember the fact that Ino had used her Shinrashin no Jutsu on him. He turned to his left to see Ino still unconscious next to him.
"Ino?" Naruto called out, lightly jerking her shoulder. He continued calling her name and slowly increasing his force to shake her awake, but to no avail. He placed two fingers on a vital sign under her jaw and was relieved to feel a pulse. Still, it wasn't good that she was still unconscious. If it was her technique, then surely she would return to her body at the same time he did, right?
Not entirely sure of what else to do, Naruto scooped Ino's body into his arms and laid her down gently onto a nearby bench inside the flower shop. He took a seat in a nearby chair and decided to just wait until she was conscious again. He wasn't entirely sure about what happened after Ino used her technique, but he just had this gut feeling that something wasn't right.