Naruto simply sat there, mouth partially agape as he took time to reprocess Ino's words. Surely, this was a good thing, despite him having accepted that he'd never see Sakura again, at least not in the flesh. But if what Ino said was true, then it was up to him to make sure that he did everything he could to make it happen.
"Seriously?" He asked, "How... would that even be possible?"
"Through a forbidden technique, most likely." She responded, "We would have to talk to Tsunade to see how we'd go about it, as well as to ask her permission. She was the one who taught me about revival techniques when Sakura and I were under her mentorship. Forbidden techniques like those usually have some kind of drawback, so it's not something that would be free of cost, easy, nor is it something that can be guaranteed to work in the first place."
Naruto slowly nodded. He figured she must be talking about jutsu such as the one Granny Chiyo used to bring Gaara back after what happened with the Akatsuki in Suna. His eyes wandered in thought for a while, "Well, whatever the case, we have to make sure we can do everything we can for her. I'd do whatever it takes to bring her back."
Ino hesitated with her next response, "Even if it possibly means you'd have to die in the process?"
Naruto lacked any hesitation, "Yes."
Ino simply stared him in his eyes for a short while. She could tell he was serious. She could tell he really cares for her best friend, which was something that they shared in common. His selflessness and loyalty to her were admirable, and she soon started feeling even worse about the things she threw at him and accused him of earlier. He was an orphan if she could remember correctly, so none of Naruto's flaws and downfalls were really his fault. It wasn't necessarily his fault that Sakura died, yet he still felt compelled to make up for it. It was admirable.
"I only asked you that because... it's a possibility. I don't know too much about seals and the afterlife like Tsunade does, but I do know that death is usually the only thing that can be exchanged for a lost life. Bringing her back would probably have that kind of price tag to it, so..." She explained to him, carefully watching his reaction. His look of determination never faded, however.
"I don't care. I say we do it, no matter what it takes. I could rest easy knowing that she'd get a second chance."
Ino just stared at him. She was about to speak until a sudden shock of pain from her abdominal area cut off any words leaving her mouth. With a pained yelp, she hunched forward with her arms folded over her stomach.
"Ino? Are you okay?" Naruto asked with concern, reaching to touch her shoulder. Ino took a second to respond, as the pain only seemed to grow stronger, making her tense up tightly.
"I-I don't know. The K-Kyuubi did something to me while I was... in your mindscape..."
Naruto narrowed his eyes. He was starting to realize that the Kyuubi was becoming more and more of a problem that needed to be addressed sooner rather than later.
"Damn... we should talk to Tsunade as soon as possible, Ino. We need her help."
The part-time gardener was in no position to disagree. With Naruto's assistance, Ino and Naruto left the flower shop and began to head back to the Hokage Tower.
On another side of Konoha, Anko could be spotted walking down the main road on her way to her home to tend to her evening routine before getting ready for bed. She was whistling a tune with her hands resting in her trench coat pockets, admiring the sun as it just hit peak sunset hours. It always loomed over the village quite nicely around this time.
The woman stopped walking as she spotted a certain scarecrow across the way. Always reading that damn book of his. She decided to approach him, placing her hands behind her head before calling his name.
"Yo, Kakashi! Let me talk to you for sec." She demanded, earning his unenthusiastic attention. Whenever Anko wanted his attention like this, it was always to talk about something that he'd wish he could run away from.
"Ah, Anko. Lovely evening we're having, hm?" He offered politely.
"Quite." She then stood directly in front of him, "But that's not what I want to talk about."
Kakashi's lone eye peered off to the side for a bit before landing back on his open book, "Er, okay. What is it that you wish to talk about?"
Anko smacked the limited edition copy of the latest series of Icha Icha Paradise out of the masked man's hand. It landed on the ground with a dull thud.
"Why the hell are you not keeping a better eye on your student?" She asked him, both her eyes digging into the one eye that was now looking at her, "Or better yet, why aren't you helping him get stronger? Faster? Smarter? Naruto is still a genin runt and he's been your student for how long?"
Kakashi only blinked before reaching down to pick his book back up. Anko's foot stepped on it before he could grab it, however.
"Leave the Goddamn porn alone for a sec, will ya? Answer my questions."
Kakashi stood up, seeing that Anko was serious.
"Don't underestimate Naruto, Anko." He told her, "He's quite the formidable shinobi. I have no doubts he'll someday surpass me. He's learned a lot from Jiraiya, and-"
"But what exactly are you doing to help him now?" She interjected, narrowing her glare. Kakashi sweatdropped from the interrogation tactic.
"Teaching him how to create a new original ninjutsu that was originally supposed to have been created by the Fourth Hokage. That's why we were in the training grounds the other day, remember?"
"Oh, right, right. You mean the dumb little exercise of finding out his chakra nature, something that should have been taught to him on day one?" Anko scoffed, "Give me a break, Kakashi. I felt bad for the gaki so I even gave him basic pointers on how to sharpen his aim with ranged weapons after you left. I understand why you favorited that Uchiha kid, but-"
"I do not play favorites with my students, Anko." Kakashi stated, "They all matter to me equally. Sasuke was my focus for that short time because I knew that Orochimaru was targetting him. I had to focus on getting him to know how to defend himself."
"Right." The snake summoner crossed her arms. She could have brought up what happened with Obito but she decided against it, "And look what happened. You got the kid even more power-hungry and still decided to side with Orochimaru, willing to be used by him. You don't think I remember the Chuunin Exams? Besides, last I heard, he managed to kill one of Danzo's guys. That means he must be pretty strong now, thanks to you."
It wasn't often when things hit a nerve with Kakashi, given his aloof demeanor. But man, Anko sure knew how to get a rise out of him internally. She just knew what buttons to press.
Nevertheless, he thought carefully about his next response. Anko's debating skills about certain topics were always a force to be reckoned with.
"You seem very up to date with the things going on with my team, especially Naruto." He speculated, holding his ground.
"Yeah, because I caught the kid trying to cop a feel on me in a bar, and I had to stop myself from hurting him... a lot. But I didn't because I care about him and I care about him because of who he is, and who he came from. You of all people should know all about that, considering who your sensei was when you were his age."
Kakashi simply paused for a second, "... Naruto tried to cop a feel on you?"
Anko started snapping her fingers directly in front of his face, "Focus, Kakashi. Stop avoiding the subject. More importantly, stop avoiding your student. I can tell you care enough to help him, but God, you work at a snail's pace. There must be something stopping you from really making a powerful shinobi out of him."
Kakashi put a finger to his chin, "Well, there is the fact that his last mission went to shit, and he's in a fragile state. I'm taking things one step at a time with him not only so he can heal, but because his seal is vulnerable right now. Doing too much could put others and himself at risk."
Anko nodded. She could admit that these were valid points.
"You could still be there for him a little bit more, though. The gaki needs it, Kakashi. I know what it's like to have to resort to having no one else except a sensei as a role model, seeing as we were both orphans." She explained, letting up a bit.
Kakashi nodded, understanding her point as well.
"I hear you, Anko. I do plan on getting closer to him soon. I plan on telling him about... Rin. You know that's not something I talk about with hardly anyone."
The violet-haired tomboy took a step back, removing the book from under her foot.
"I think that would be good. Nothing helps two people bond like shared trauma." She said with a grin, attempting to lighten up the mood with dry humor. It didn't work on Kakashi, of course, "But I know that's something that still burdens you, Kakashi. I think talking to Naruto about it could do more for you both than you think."
"I hope so." Kakashi sighed, trying to keep his emotions at bay. He prided himself at keeping his emotional mask as solid as armor, but Anko was always determined to find a weak spot. They were truly great friends and comrades that knew each other well, and have been since they were genin. The constant bickering was something that Kakashi just put up with for the sake of their friendship, but he always appreciated Anko's forwardness. She was no bullshitter, and Kakashi respected that.
Anko picked up Kakashi's book and handed it back to him, "I remember how much of a mess you were when it first happened, and how much you got off your chest to me. We were young, but I saw a side to you that I never thought I'd see from someone like you."
Kakashi took his book, "It's definitely not something I'm proud of."
Anko reached to grab Kakashi's wrist, stopping him from placing his book in front of his face. She looked him in his lone eye, staring into the depths of Kakashi's soul.
"Be proud of it, Kakashi. You allowed yourself to be vulnerable. More impressively, you allowed yourself to be vulnerable with me. I respect you for that as my friend, even if it was the only time I've seen it happen."
Kakashi simply eyed Anko for a moment before giving a light chuckle, "Well, I promise you won't ever see it again if you keep holding it over my head like that."
She shrugged, "Just sayin'. It's the reason why I decided to rock your world that night. I figured you could use it."
Kakashi quickly looked around before speaking to Anko in a hushed tone, "You promised me you'd never speak of that again."
"Oops." Anko teased, placing a hand on her hip, "You know you enjoyed yourself. I sure did."
Kakashi tried his best not to turn red, although he was failing miserably, "This conversation is over."
"Don't be scared of the past, Kakashi. They're only memories." She stated, sending him a seductive wink.
Kakashi immediately disappeared in a puff of smoke, leaving Anko by herself. She then started chuckling, shaking her head.
"Ah, man. It's fun teasing him."
In the Hokage's office, two ANBU members took their leave after bringing in a blonde woman with a long ponytail dressed up in Kumogakure attire. She was handcuffed with her hands behind her back and grimaced as she stood face to face with The Fifth Hokage. Her assistant Shizune was accompanying her, but she was hardly noticed as the other two occupants of the room had a stare-off. The door to the office had shut close, and Tsunade wasted no time getting to the point.
"I'm glad to see that your wounds have healed up quite nicely in these last few days. I hope that you understand why you're being restrained."
Yugito Nii simply nodded, not breaking eye contact, "I do. I understand the importance of caution."
"That's good. Understand that you are not in a position of danger. We wish you no harm, respectfully, as The Two Tails' host." Tsunade responded.
Yugito narrowed her eyes, "So then why am I still here?"
"You're here due to the concept of caution that you just mentioned earlier." The Slug Queen quickly responded, "Do you know anything about those people who nearly killed you?"
"Those guys with the red clouds on their cloaks? No, not really." She admitted, "I'm assuming you do?"
"Indeed I do." Tsunade nodded, "But before I tell you about who they are, I need you to understand that, right now, it is imperative that you don't run into them again. They know that you're here, and will-"
"I can fend for myself." Yugito stated proudly, "I need to get back home. I can handle my own from here to Kumo."
Tsunade leaned forward on her desk, "Yugito, respectfully, I understand your strength as The Two-Tailed Demon Cat's tenant, as Konoha is the home to a Jinchuuriki in our own ranks. But what I'm expressing to you is important, otherwise, I wouldn't have summoned you here so we can have this conversation face to face. Right now, you need to be guarded. The Akatsuki, those guys that attacked you, is an organization of very powerful shinobi. We have lost many of our own ranks fighting against them, one of whom was the son of The Third Hokage. He was also the leader of the team sent out on the mission to save you in the first place."
Yugito stood there, letting the words marinate. She felt a bit of something at hearing this story, but she reminded herself that these were Konoha-nin. They couldn't be trusted. The Raikage always made that much clear to her.
"I'm sorry to hear that. But the point of the matter is that I want to go home. I do not wish to be here."
Tsunade nodded, "I understand. Our two villages have been... at odds over the recent years, but understand that we don't wish to keep you here. We just need to figure out the best way to transit you to Kumo without you running into the Akatsuki again."
If Yugito could cross her arms, she would have by now. She took a deep breath. The idea of simply making a run for it was convincing her more and more that it would be a good idea. These Konoha-nin weren't making it easy for her, though. They were being very respectful and civil from what it seemed. She was even treated well in the hospital, better than most of her experiences in Kumo. But Yugito knew a thing or two about façades. This could all just be some sort of plan to get her comfortable. A criminal organization of strong shinobi that she never heard of? Targeting Jinchuuriki? It could all be some ploy to keep her here and harness her Two-Tail's chakra for themselves.
Nevertheless, Yugito decided to indulge them. There's no need to escalate things just yet, "What exactly is the Akatsuki, and why have I never heard of them?"
The Hokage leaned back into her chair, placing her hands in her lap, "The Land of Lightning is a very 'self-sufficient' country that doesn't interact much with other lands unless absolutely necessary. The Akatsuki have recently made their appearances as a small knit organization that have taken in nearly a dozen very powerful shinobi from all different countries through initiation. Their purpose, as far as we know so far, is to capture Jinchuuriki and extract the beast from them."
Yugito wasn't liking how well thought out this plan was, if it was one, "A small knit organization of about twelve shinobi from all different villages, except Kumo, who are trying to harness the Jinchuuriki's power..." She reiterated it with a suspicious tone. She recalled the crossed-out lines over the headbands of the shinobi she encountered; one was from Yugakure and the other from Takigakure.
"Why on earth would already very powerful shinobi want to take our power?" She asked, "And again, more importantly, why hasn't Kumo had any run-ins with them till now?"
Tsunade decided to answer the first question first, "As I said, Kumo likes to stay to itself. Furthermore, Kumogakure has two Jinchuuriki. Almost every other country has been betrayed by the Akatsuki within a relatively short span of time to take their Jinchuuriki and I'd assume that they would try to save the only country with two Jinchuuriki for last. Konoha has had its run-ins with them, and they nearly captured our own. As for why they want that power, it can be for many reasons that involve abusing that power. The exact reason hasn't been revealed to us just yet."
Yugito sighed. To her, the story sounded more and more full of crap as it progressed. But nothing else, aside from the story in question, was signifying signs to be suspicious about The Hokage herself, which was ultimately the reason why she hadn't busted out of her cuffs yet. But the itch was there, and it was becoming harder and harder not to act on it.
Tsunade could see that Yugito wasn't convinced. She decided to change her game plan.
"Alright. You think I'm making it up?" Tsunade stood up from behind her desk, "What would it take for you to understand the importance of what I'm trying to tell you? You know, aside from nearly dying at the hands of the Akatsuki themselves?"
"You could just let me go." Yugito stated simply, "You guys owe me nothing, and I most certainly don't owe you anything."
Tsunade frowned. This girl was making it hard for her. Given her last two encounters with conflict today, she was running low on patience. It was now growing dark, and all Tsunade really wanted after tonight was a stiff drink. She loved her job, but she also couldn't hate it anymore due to the stresses of it all at times like this.
"I just told you why I can't do that." Tsunade responded, calmly.
"Because you're trying to protect me?" Yugito stated with an eye-roll, "You know... you could have just paid those guys to attack me. Maybe have them disguised with cloaks and the headbands of fallen shinobi of other villages? And then made it seem like Konoha 'saved' me from this so-called organization while baiting me with a story about a sacrifice when all you want to do is take my power for yourselves." Now that Yugito said it out loud, her version of the story sounded a lot more believable. She waited to see the Hokage's reaction before making her next move.
Tsunade stood there momentarily, just before collapsing back into her chair. Her hand rushed to her head, rubbing it as she let out a dramatic sigh.
"I swear that I am just trying to do my best to fulfill my duties as a LEADER of an entire village... WHY is everyone making it difficult for me today?!"
As Yugito and Shizune both sweatdropped at Tsunade's loud complaint, the door to the room opened as two more blonds burst through.
"Tsunade! Ino and I need your help!" Naruto declared, holding a barely conscious Ino up to stand on her feet. She was hunched over with her hands over her abdomen, her knees shaking as the pain made it hard for her to stand, or walk.
Tsunade and Shizune's attention immediately shifted over to them and, within that instant, Yugito made her silent and swift escape. Not a sound was heard as she left.
The Fifth Hokage grit her teeth. Tonight would have been such a good night to drink... if everything had all gone smoothly.
"Shizune, I want you and every ANBU member surrounding the place after her! She's fast, and strong, and probably won't go down without a struggle!"
"Hai!" Shizune nodded, quickly exiting the room. Naruto's attention was so caught up on Ino, he didn't even see who it was that escaped.
Tsunade crossed her arms, clearly not in a good mood. But her expression softened as she saw Ino in a lot of pain, "Naruto, what's going on? Why did you barge in here like that?"
"Ino needs help. She used the Shinrashin on me and she crossed paths with the Kyuubi and now... she's like this." He explained the first priority, "And about Sakura... you need to know the truth of what happened."
Tsunade nodded, "I know more than you think. But your timing was just a little off today, so we'll discuss that later. Go to the hospital, check Ino in, and wait for me. I have something I need to take care of first."
Naruto nodded, and with Ino gathered in his arms, they went straight to the emergency department of the Central Konoha Hospital.
Still lingering in the room, Tsunade pinched the space between her brows. She scolded herself for not following her instinct to surround the building with more ANBU, even as she had a dozen of them carefully positioned. Two of them were even outside the room, keeping it sealed. She noted that Yugito must really be swift and silent if she was able to sneak past them so easily without getting grabbed. However, she was starting to see how her command to her ANBU squad to always grant Naruto access to her if it was important may have possibly backfired in this situation. But she let it go and digressed. Timing in general just wasn't on her side today. Some days are like that.
"If she leaves this village, we might have another dead Jinchuuriki on our hands." She reminded herself before heading for the door, "If The Raikage would just respond to our messenger birds then this wouldn't be happening."