A/N: Sorry that this chapter took so long. My Dad has been in the hospital for the past few months and sadly he passed away a few days ago. Because of that I can't promise any faster updates for a while, but I did manage to finish this chapter, and it's a bit longer than the others to make up for the delay. Also, the order in which the jinchuriki were captured has always bothered me, but I'm trying to keep this story as canon as possible. (Despite the game, the manga and the anime all contradicting themselves regarding the Akatsuki timeline)

Thanks again for all the feedback.

All nine of the Akatsuki members gathered together. It was quite a sight to see. Lurking in the shadows, Sakura quietly observed the scene in front of her.

Despite the large amount of petty fighting, it was clear that the two-man teams worked well together. Even now they stuck to each other instead of mingling, with Sasori and Deidara bickering, Kakuzu and Hidan sniping at each other, Kisame chattering away to a stoic Itachi, and Pein and Konan standing in the centre of the room waiting for the noise to die down.

Out of the corner of her eye, Sakura noticed Zetsu emerge from the wall and skulk around, watching but not talking. It was a shame Sakura would never be more than a tool for the Akatsuki, she had a feeling she and Zetsu could have made good partners.

"Everyone settle down." Pein's voice echoed through the cavern.

He spoke at the same volume he usually did, yet immediately everyone fell silent. Satisfied that he had everyone's attention, Pein began his speech. Sakura listened in, just as curious as the members.

"Most of you already know about the true goal of the Akatsuki, and you have been incredibly patient as we collected our funds and resources. Now, at long last, we are finally ready to begin capturing the jinchuriki."

The reactions from the members ranged from excited to apathetic. The exception was Hidan, who just looked confused.

"Hang on, hang on." he spoke up. "I didn't sign up for whatever the fuck is going on right now! If this is some kind of cult where we all have to sacrifice a limb or something I'm out!"

"You don't have to sacrifice anything." Konan said calmly. "In fact, all it means is that you'll get to fight stronger opponents than usual."

"Really?" Hidan grinned. "You guys should have just said that from the start! Got me all fucking worked up for nothing."

"As I was saying." Pein said slowly, staring at Hidan until the man backed down. "After Orochimaru's attack on Konoha we were worried about the status of the Kyuubi, but Itachi and Kisame confirmed that the jinchuriki was not Orochimaru's target and that he is still in Konoha's possession."

Nine pictures were handed out, each with a number on them. Sakura had seen them all before the meeting began; her eyes lingered on Naruto's face and strangely, a boy who seemed around the same age as them.

"This is the Kyuubi twerp we're supposed to kidnap?" Hidan scoffed. "He looks ridiculous with all that orange. If you send us right now I guarantee Kakuzu and I will be back with him before nightfall."

Pein didn't even bother dignifying that with a response. Instead, he slammed his palm onto the floor of the cave.

"Kuchiyose: Gedō Mazō."

The entire cave seemed to shake with the arrival of Pein's summon, causing most of the members to tense. Shocked and angry muttering began when they realised that the creature that appeared was neither alive nor an animal. Sakura had seen Pein summon before, but she hadn't been expecting this. She had no idea how he could summon a giant, demonic looking, statue, but judging from the yells and hisses she wasn't the only one unsettled by this.

"Once we capture the jinchuriki, this is what we'll be sealing the Bijuu into, to create the ultimate weapon. There's a specific order that we're meant to follow, but I have it on good authority that we can take some liberties. However, the Kyuubi must be sealed last, otherwise the statue will break. Therefore, Konoha gets to keep their jinchuriki for a little while longer, understood?"

Hidan opened his mouth, but Kakuzu elbowed him to keep quiet, muttering that he'd explain everything later. Hidan huffed, clearly annoyed at being the only one out of the loop.

"What exactly do you mean by take some liberties, yeah?" Deidara spoke up, flinching when Pein turned to look at him.

"It means that although nine must come last, one doesn't need to come first." Pein replied. "While it would be ideal to start by capturing the Ichibi, it's more practical to go after five and seven, since they are the least protected. Sealing them first won't break the statue."

There were no more questions, as the reality of what they were about to do sunk in. Looking around, Sakura could see that thanks to Pein's dramatic summoning nearly everyone had gained interest in this mission. Itachi was the only one who didn't seem the least bit excited, but Sakura chalked that up to concern over Orochimaru's apparent interest in his little brother. He had been distracted for a while now because of it.

But the rest of the members looked fired up, and Sakura understood why. Regardless of their motivation for joining, all of them were up for the challenge. If they succeeded in capturing all nine Bijuu, it would change the entire shinobi world, and turn the Akatsuki into legends.

They had been banished from their home villages and forced to hide in the shadows, but now the Akatsuki were stepping into the light. This bunch of freaks and outcasts were ready to make history, and Sakura would be right there beside them.

But only as a tool. Never their equal. She had to remember that.

They went after the Gobi first.

Sasori and Deidara were the ones chosen to capture it, due to their skill-sets and Deidara's connection to Iwa. Sakura was sent along for assistance, something Sasori was smart enough not to complain about this time. He stood in silence as Pein instructed them which hideout to take the jinchuriki to once they'd captured it.

"Take as long as is necessary, but don't fail." was the final thing Pein said before sending them on their way.

According to Deidara, the Gobi jinchuriki wasn't all that fond of Iwa and preferred spending his time in the nearby civilian towns. He would be difficult to track down due to his lack of a surname, but he was quite a frequent visitor at the hot springs so Deidara recommended they start there.

"That's it?" Sasori growled. "So, our plan is to go around visiting all the hot springs near Iwa asking for a man named Han, and hopefully we'll find him before word reaches Iwa that we're looking for him?"

"Yep!" Deidara seemed completely oblivious to Sasori's irritation; either that or he just didn't care.

"Do you have any real intel on this man?" Sasori hissed. "Does he even like hot springs or are you just guessing that because of his kekkei genkai?"

"Trust me a little, yeah?" Deidara snapped. "I wasn't close to the guy but everyone in Iwa gossiped about our two jinchuriki."

He turned to Sakura, hoping for support, but she kept her eyes on the road. So far it had been a few hours and she and Sasori had managed to ignore each other's existence completely. There was no way she was getting involved in this discussion now, especially since Deidara's plan really didn't seem that great.

"Who knows, yeah?" Deidara sighed. "Maybe we'll get lucky and find him in the first hot spring we search."

They didn't find him in the first hot spring they searched.

They also didn't find him in the second, or the third, or the fourth, or the fifth. Sakura watched as Sasori's patience grew thinner with every failure. She could sense a fight brewing if they didn't find a lead soon. Whether Sasori would lash out at her or Deidara, she wasn't certain.

She kept an eye on him as they strolled towards their sixth hot spring. This place was smaller and quieter than the others they had visited, but it made up for it with the beautiful flora surrounding the area. Sakura walked over to the entrance, her focus on the pair behind her. She felt Sasori tense, and unsure why, Sakura kept walking.

Right into something sturdy made of metal.

"Sorry." A gruff voice spoke from above her.

Sakura looked up. Then up some more. Then up a little bit more until finally she met the speaker's eyes, which were the only visible part of this incredibly tall man. He reminded her of Kakuzu except that instead of cloth covering his mouth he had red armour, armour that also covered the majority of his body…


"It's no problem, yeah!" Deidara's voice was unusually high. "Sakura's fault completely. We'll just be on our way now."

The man nodded, as if such nervousness was a normal reaction. For a jinchuriki as intimidating as Han, it probably was.

Sakura backed away slowly, fully taking in the sight of this huge man they were meant to capture. Luckily Han didn't seem suspicious of them at all, but the surprise encounter had left all three of them floundering. It seemed to Sakura that neither Sasori nor Deidara had prepared for an accidental confrontation, probably expecting that they'd have more time to get some semblance of an attack strategy together.

Sakura bowed apologetically, then hurried past Han. Sasori followed, shuffling his puppet body along slightly faster than normal. Deidara went to move, but froze when Han's eyes narrowed onto his hitai-ate, the edge of the slash that signified his status as a missing-nin just barely peeking out from under his blond hair.

"Don't I know you from somewhere?"

"Me? No, no, I don't think we've met, yeah." Sasori visibly winced at the nervous pitch to Deidara's voice.

Han snapped his fingers, and Sakura drew a kunai behind her back.

"Now I remember! You were that prodigy from the Bakuha Butai! The Tsuchikage himself trained you because of your skill with explosions."

His eyes narrowed.

"Wait, didn't you go rogue?"

"Uh…" Sakura could almost hear the gears turning in Deidara's brain. "…no?"

"Fucking dammit Deidara." Sasori growled, whipping his puppet tail out.

Han turned to survey all three of them, his expression cold. Sakura tightened her grip on her kunai as he flared his chakra.

"I'm guessing this meeting wasn't accidental."

"Not exactly." Deidara admitted.

"And I suppose you three are here for this?"

Sakura's eyes widened as Han shuddered, a long white tale sprouting from his back. Instinctively, all three of his opponents took a step away from him. While the level of control he seemed to possess over the Gobi's chakra was worrying, Sakura couldn't help but feel relieved. It seemed that whatever evil in the Kyuubi's chakra that had caused Sakura's brain to have a meltdown wasn't something all the Bijuu possessed. Sakura had a feeling that nothing she would ever face could compare to the sheer terror and pain the Kyuubi's chakra had elicited in her.

However, that didn't mean that the jinchuriki in front of her wasn't a threat right now.

"You two stay back." Sasori ordered. "You've made enough mistakes today, let me handle the rest."

"I told you we could find him and we did, yeah!" Deidara shot back. "It's like you're never satisfied unless you're complai-"

Sakura jumped as a fist slammed into Deidara's face, sending him flying. She knew from research that Han was fast, but seeing it in action was something else. His steam armour boosted his taijutsu to incredible levels, and instinct was the only thing that made her duck in time as he kicked at her head.

Sasori didn't seem anywhere near as worried as Sakura. He merely sighed like this was all one big inconvenience and stretched his puppet body. Sakura heard the wooden insides rattle as he prepared for a serious fight.

"I knew this would turn out to be a babysitting mission." he growled.

For once Sakura didn't focus on insulting him back. She took off to where Deidara had fallen, her hands already glowing with healing chakra. If Sasori wanted to handle it alone she'd let him. Either he'd win and complete the mission or lose and tire Han out so that it would be easier for Sakura and Deidara to subdue him.

For Sakura both outcomes were equally appealing.

It was another busy day as Hokage, and once Shizune left the office Tsunade reached under her desk for her secret stash of alcohol. Things had been slowly and steadily growing worse for Konoha since Sarutobi's death, and although most of the villagers were blissfully unaware Tsunade didn't have that luxury. First the aftermath of the invasion had caused Konoha's strength to be questioned by the other powerful villages, and the death of the Third Hokage only added to people's doubts. Then they lost the last loyal Uchiha to Orochimaru and almost lost their jinchuriki too trying to get him back. Not a day went by where Tsunade didn't regret taking this job, but there was something about that damn Naruto child that had convinced her to do it, and she wasn't going to back down now.

"Long day?"

She didn't bother turning to the window, or bother asking how Jiraiya had bypassed the ANBU and gotten up there.

"What do you want?"

"A date?" Jiraiya grinned cheekily at her unamused expression. "No, unfortunately I'm here on business."

His expression turned serious and Tsunade straightened up, alcohol forgotten.

"Still no news on Iwa's missing jinchuriki?"


She waited but he didn't elaborate, choosing instead to stare at the portraits of the four former Hokage.

"Never thought Orochimaru would one day kill sensei, what's even worse is that none of us saw it coming. Makes me wonder what other poisons he's got hiding up his sleeve."

"Get to the point Jiraiya." Tsunade said tiredly. "If you're not going to give me information about the jinchuriki kidnappers then why are you here?"

"If I had solid intel I'd give it to you. As it is, the scraps and theories I have are useless to you right now."

"So then what can you do for me?"

"Naruto." Jiraiya answered immediately. "Let me take him away from the village for a few years. I'll hide him, keep him safe and train him. If this jinchuriki kidnapping becomes more than a one-time thing I'd rather not risk losing ours while he's so young and vulnerable."

"Interesting." Tsunade mused. "All the other villages with jinchuriki seem to have a similar mindset. The older, more experienced ones are getting extra training while the younger ones are being hidden away. This latest development has caused a power shift between all the villages, but despite Naruto's genin status I don't think we're the easiest target."

"Taki and Suna."

"Exactly. Both those villages are running scared, and they're taking completely opposite approaches. Taki is sheltering their jinchuriki completely, while Suna seems content to let theirs climb the ranks and publicly demonstrate his strength. I think Naruto's safest bet lies somewhere in the middle."

"Shelter and strengthen him at the same time, I understand. Is that your way of saying you'll let him leave with me for a few years?"

Tsunade looked down at the report from Iwa still lying on her desk. It had been sitting there for days, and she had yet to form a satisfactory reply. What could one say to a village that lost their jinchuriki? While there had been kidnappings and slip-ups before, no Bijuu had ever vanished completely like this. It was an unprecedented situation, and Tsunade was not confident enough in her ability to pick the right response to this attack.

"Take him and keep him safe, but I expect regular updates, not your usual seasonal hey-I'm-alive check in."

"Got it." Jiraiya made to leave, then paused and turned back. "You're doing a good job you know. Sensei would be proud."

Tsunade barked a laugh at that, but didn't bother pointing out all the reasons why that was complete bullshit.

"I'm fine Jiraiya. Just focus on protecting Naruto."

"Trust me." Jiraiya's usual playful demeanour was completely gone, and his eyes were filled with steel resolve. "No one's laying a finger on my godson."

They went after the Chōmei next.

It took much longer than Sakura expected, but apparently Pein had anticipated the paranoia once the first jinchuriki was captured, so he was incredibly patient even as months went by with no progress.

Being a small village nowhere near as strong as the big five, Taki was the obvious next target. They knew it too, which was why as soon as they got news of Han's disappearance the security around their jinchuriki tightened, and soon the tenuous leads established by the Akatsuki had dried up.

No one they interrogated knew where the jinchuriki was being kept, and no one saw her leave the village either. Deidara offered to just bomb the entire place to the ground but Konan reminded him once again that they couldn't risk killing their target.

So they resumed their usual missions of collecting funds and resources, and despite the panic over the Gobi none of the villages were reluctant to do business with the Akatsuki. Whether it was because they didn't suspect any involvement in the kidnapping or because they just didn't care due to the low fees, Sakura wasn't sure.

The hype over the hunt slowly died away as time passed, and Sakura began to think that this was all just an unrealistic pipe dream. Of course, she never told Pein that, but she could sense that she wasn't the only one feeling that way.

Then, almost a year after the abduction of Han, Sakura woke up and noticed that something had changed.

When she was summoned to the briefing room, she expected another ordinary mission. However, once she got there, she was immediately caught off guard. Pein and Konan were waiting for her as usual, but something about Pein seemed… off.

It took a moment for Sakura to realise that he looked excited. She hadn't thought him capable of such trivial human emotions, but today his eyes had more life and fire in them than Sakura had ever seen before.

"We have a lead." His lack of a greeting was normal enough to reassure Sakura that it was definitely him.

"A powerful Taki jonin who we know was in contact with their jinchuriki recently turned rouge, so you and I are going to track him down." Konan explained.

She didn't seem anywhere near as enthusiastic as Pein about all this, but Sakura hadn't expected her to be. Pein may be powerful, but it was his conviction and drive that made him such a suitable leader. As far as Sakura could tell, Konan didn't share his passion. Sakura still didn't know their history but it was pretty clear to her that Konan was here out of loyalty more than dedication to Pein's cause.

"Get what you need and meet Konan outside the tower as soon as possible." Pein instructed her.

Sakura nodded and left, hurrying to her room to gather extra tools. She had no idea what this mission would entail. Was it an interrogation? Would they be tailing the man? She wasn't sure, and she definitely wasn't going to ask Pein when he was acting so different from his normal cold, stoic self.

Konan was already waiting when Sakura reached the bottom of the tower. She turned and walked towards the edge of the village, with Sakura hurrying behind her.

They walked in silence, Sakura calmly following Konan as they crossed the water surrounding the village. She was confident that Konan would tell her what she needed to know when it was necessary, and right now she could enjoy the pleasant stroll without worrying that the person next to her would snap and attempt to kill her.

It was almost sad how rare those kinds of missions were, but Sakura didn't mind too much. Being constantly on edge had made her reflexes incredibly sharp, and after all these years surrounded by constant danger it would be stranger if she actually felt completely safe. It wasn't a pleasant way to grow up, but it had made her more aware of the harsh realities of life, and her paranoia had served her well so far. The world was dangerous, and if she had grown up feeling safe and coddled it would only have made it worse once the illusion of peace came crashing down.

Sakura told herself this again and again anytime life began feeling too harsh. She still wasn't sure if she believed it.

"We're here." Konan's voice drew her out of her thoughts.

The path they were on lead into a small village. Brown brick houses blended with the dirt roads that ran between them, while the green trees surrounding the village provided a barrier of sorts between it and the elements. Sakura felt a pang of nostalgia hit her as she walked past the trees, but for what she couldn't say.

"The disgraced jonin who went rogue is reportedly hiding out in this area." Konan explained. "His name is Shiro, and he's tall with brown hair and tanned skin. His most distinctive feature is a scar that cuts across his left cheek. We'll split up and search the bars. If you find him engage him in a conversation and see if you can get the location of the jinchuriki. Taki trains their jonin well so we're much more likely to get an answer if he gives it willingly instead of torturing it out of him."


They spilt up. Sakura went straight for the nearest bar on the right-hand side of the road, while Konan went left, wandering down the street.

It surprised Sakura how little attention she drew in the bar. The confused glances shot her way had been growing less and less frequent over the past year, and Sakura wasn't sure what to make of it. She was aware that she was growing up, but it hadn't really clicked that her appearance was changing enough for people to treat her differently.

It made her a little worried. She relied so often on her harmless, childlike facade to fool her target that without it she felt like part of her fighting style was missing.

She didn't stay long at the first bar, once it became clear that the man she was looking for wasn't there. Sakura slipped in and out without any fuss, and made her way to the next likely venue.

There was no sign of her target here, but once again no one looked ready to kick her out, so she decided it was safe to ask questions. The barman was friendly and kind, and he had no problem helping her out.

"Saw a guy like that a couple of hours ago. He came in, sneered when he saw the prices and left soon after. If you ask me he's probably at the cheapest bar in town, drinking the piss they try and pass off as beer."

Soon she was on her way to the cheapest bar in town. She got a couple of leers as she entered, but that was expected. Weirdly enough they seemed to be leering at specific parts of her, which was different than usual. It didn't matter though, because sitting on a barstool looking like he'd already had more than a few pints was her target.

Her normal tactic was to go up with teary eyes and tell him she was lost, but today she felt curious and decided to try something different. Sliding onto the stool next to him, she signalled the bartender over.

"One glass of whatever he's having."

The bartender bustled away without protest, which pleased Sakura. Apparently growing up had its advantages, either that or this place was sleazy enough that they would let a toddler down a bottle of vodka if they could pay for it.

She'd caught Shiro's eye, and he turned to look at her suspiciously. She smiled back at him as non-threateningly as she could.

"Rough day?"

"You could say that."

His tone was cautious, but she could tell he was curious. She moved closer and noticed how his nostrils flared and his eyes wandered down her body.

Oh. That was unexpected.

Sakura's only experience here with situations like this came from an old mission where she had to attract a paedophile's attention, but even then, all she had to do was look innocent and defenceless. This was unfamiliar territory, but Sakura wasn't one to back down from a challenge, especially not when so much was at stake. So what if she was probably only fourteen years old? If she had to seduce this man for information she could.

"In that case, let me buy you a drink."

She tried to imitate the women she'd seen standing outside brothels. It seemed to work alright, since he didn't laugh at her and accepted the drink.

"I got fired." he told her, and Sakura gave him a sympathetic smile as she sipped on her beer.

"Ouch. That's always rough. Guessing it wasn't a pleasant break up?"

He gave a bitter laugh, chugging back the drink she'd bought him.

"I work, or I mean I used to work as a bodyguard to this real important little girl. It was a tough job, but I protected her from all sorts of nasty people for fourteen years. My boss got real paranoid recently so we've been hiding her in this one specific place for months, but I didn't complain about how boring it is because I'm a fucking professional. Then one day I'm a few minutes late to my shift and my boss fires me, just like that. He even tries to send me to jail, but I said fuck that and ran away. Got a bounty on my head now thanks to that ugly fucker."

"Well shit, there's no way my bad customer stories can beat that." Sakura chuckled, swallowing the last of her drink. "If it helps you don't look like a criminal to me. What kind of fucked up place were you working that would have allowed you to go to jail for a simple mistake? I'm pretty sure the laws in this country are a little fairer, even though the economy is pretty shit."

"Where I lived was… a messy place." He sighed at that. "Honestly my relationship with my home is complicated. We may hate each other now but I'm still loyal, not some backstabbing scum who'll sell them out. Look, I don't really want to get into it right now. I came here to forget about my troubles for a while."

Sakura leant closer, trailing her fingertips along his arm.

"Then why don't you let me help with that?"

He looked at her with hunger in his eyes, and she knew she had him hooked.

Shiro took her back to the inn he was staying in. She giggled as he tugged her along, acting drunker than she really was. When he pulled her into his room and kissed her, Sakura realised that she had no idea what she was doing.

In theory, it was simple enough: Have sex with him and when he was vulnerable get him to tell her the location of the jinchuriki he had been guarding. In reality is was a lot more nerve-wracking. She wasn't supposed to feel just as vulnerable as him, but as he gently peeled her shirt off Sakura realised she was scared. She didn't want to do this, especially not with an older man she wasn't the slightest bit attracted to. But Pein needed that information, and backing out now would ruin all the progress she'd made. If she screwed up this lead Pein would surely kill her.

He was naked now, and Sakura felt like crying when he ran his hands down her back. She tried to seem like she wanted him the way he wanted her, but his rough kisses made her want to vomit. None of this was right. Didn't he realise she was only a teenager? Or did he just not care? She hoped he was just dumb, and not a creep.

He pushed her onto the bed, and the lump in her throat grew.

Breathe. She told herself. It's just a mission, stop getting emotional.

He lay down on top of her, hands moving towards her chest. She swallowed, trying to relax and enjoy it.

The door burst open, and a flurry of paper surged towards Shiro, pushing him off Sakura and slamming him into the wall. Sakura jumped off the bed just as Konan stormed into the room, looking furious.

"Sakura! What do you think you're doing?"

Fuck, fuck, fuck. The mission was ruined.

"I was getting information!" Sakura tried to sound angry, but she knew she just sounded desperate.

"Don't you remember what Pein said? You never need to take it this far, no matter the circumstances!"

"I wanted to do this!"

"No." Konan's voice was low, and angrier than Sakura had ever heard her. "No, you didn't. You have no idea what you were getting yourself into."

Shiro let out a muffled yell as the paper covered him from head to toe, effectively immobilising him in mid-air.

"I just…" Sakura had tears in her eyes now, and she hated herself for being so weak. "I didn't want to disappoint Pein-sama. I'm his tool, so why shouldn't I use my body to serve him?"

Konan's glare softened fractionally.

"I think you found out tonight why it's not that simple."

"But what about the mission?"

The paper wrapped tighter around Shiro, and he cried out.

"I'll take care of it. By tomorrow morning we'll have the information we need, but for now you need to rest and recover from this. Go back to the room in the inn that I booked and wait for me."

She wanted to protest that she was fine, and that Konan was making a big fuss about nothing, but she could tell that Konan didn't have the patience for anymore lies. So instead Sakura nodded meekly and turned to walk out the room.

"One last thing." Konan said, and Sakura anxiously whirled back around. "I'm making it an official order that you are not have sex with anyone, no matter the circumstances. That is not the kind of work you do for us, and I'm certain Nagato would agree with me on this."

"Understood." Sakura whispered.

The more she thought about the situation as she walked back to her room, the more embarrassed she felt. Konan was right in saying that she hadn't been ready. Looking back there had been plenty of other options, but Sakura had gotten caught up in the thrill of something new and it had made her act foolish. There would surely be consequences for her when they got back to the base.

The next morning, they set off. Sakura kept quiet on the journey back, despite her curiosity to know what had happened to Shiro. It was clear Konan was still angry about what had happened yesterday, and Sakura felt too nervous and ashamed to break the tense silence.

They reached Ame before sundown, and Sakura listened curiously as Konan gave the mission report.

"Undercover didn't work so we switched to forceful persuasion. We were right to assume he was well trained. He wouldn't give up the jinchuriki's location no matter how I tortured him, but eventually he let slip that she would be participating in the next Chunin Exams."

"I see." The unsettling excitement was still present in Pein's voice. "We knew they couldn't hide her forever. There's no point having an untrained jinchuriki, so this was a risk they had to take. Send Hidan and Kakuzu to capture her."

"I'll let them know once we're finished here."

"Excellent. Were there any complications regarding our informant?"

Sakura tensed.

"None at all." Konan lied smoothly.

"Good. Sakura, you are dismissed."

She flickered away, letting out a breath she hadn't even realised she was holding. She didn't fully understand why Konan had covered for her, but she certainly wasn't going to ask about it. As far as Sakura was concerned this mission and all the stupid mistakes she made never happened.

A paper butterfly flapped over to her, and reluctantly Sakura opened it.

Take some time to rest and get ready. Once Hidan and Kakuzu finish their mission Nagato is sending you with Sasori and Deidara to Suna to capture the Ichibi.

Sakura remembered the picture Pein had shown her, of the serious looking, red-haired teenager who was apparently the Kazekage. For some strange reason, Sakura had been drawn to that picture. This jinchuriki intrigued her almost as much as Naruto, although she wasn't sure why. It could have been the similar age, but he and Naruto weren't the only two young jinchuriki. If she had to guess she would say it was his eyes that interested her. Even in a picture she could see that they were heavy and haunted, and there was something about the darkness in his green eyes that resonated with her, but she couldn't explain it as anything other than a feeling of connection.

Whatever it was about this Gaara that caught her attention, it left Sakura feeling almost excited to meet him. It would be nice to interact with someone her own age who was actually similar to her.

You know, before they kidnapped and killed him.