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Fast paced excitement raced around Konoha as several blurs chased after their target at a speed which few would expect out of kids so young. The speed though, was necessary, considering that if they weren't travelling at this velocity there was very little chance they would catch up and thus complete the mission assigned to them.

"Are we in position?" shouted the leader through an intercom connected to his right ear.

"Ready and waiting," announced the voice on the other side of the line.

"Okay then," said the leader confidently as his scarf fluttered through the breeze. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a blunted weapon and tossed it to the right of the target, causing the creature to veer to the left and down the intended alleyway.

"Yes, we got him now!" shouted the leader in excitement, knowing that victory was in the bag.

After swiftly turning the corner however, he came to an abrupt halt as he saw who was standing in front of him. While most of his old teachers at the academy had grown tired of his antics, there was one instructor he feared above all else. The pink haired witch may have only taken over briefly while Iruka had been sick, but the aftershocks of the tremors she had sent through the classroom could still be felt to this day.

Twisting on the spot, the leader of the team had no qualms with abandoning the mission then and there, but he was too slow as a hand whipped out and grabbed him by the scruff of the shirt and lifted him off of the ground as if he weighed no more than a twig. "Let me go!" he shouted as he started to thrash around in the vice like grip, fearing for his life.

"Relax kid," said Sakura as she smiled menacingly. While her stint at the academy teaching may have been brief, having been one of, if not, the smartest kids in her class allowed her permission to drum as much information into the children's minds as possible. "Konohamaru, stop squirming already."

"Never!" declared Konohamaru as he continued to thrash around.

"You know," said Sakura in such a way that sent shivers down Konohamaru's spine. "I'm still waiting for that assignment on the Nidaime's exploits, Konohamaru."

"Umm about ate it..."



"You don't have a dog," said Sakura matter of factly before looking over her shoulder to see two more of her former students rounding the corner, one of them wrestling with a cat more ferocious than the shinobi she had fought in Suna. "Moegi, Udon."

"Hey Sakura," said Moegi in excitement, happy to see the one person who was able to put Konohamaru in his place at school. "How's it been?"

"Not too bad," said Sakura as she released her grip on Konohamaru, the boy subsequently landing on his ass as a result.

"Um, if you don't mind," said Udon as he held the feline within his grasp out of facial clawing range.

"Here, let me," said Sakura as she reached into her pocket and pulled out a single senbon and sticking it into the demonic creature's neck, the movements quickly becoming sluggish as the sedative did it's work.

"Wow, that's amazing," said Moegi in awe.

"You want one in case this one acts up again?" asked Sakura pointing a thumb at Konohamaru who couldn't help but shudder in fear.

"I promise I'll be good," he shouted in the hope that he wouldn't find some manner of poison flooding through his veins. Of course there was a very good reason for this; during one of his antics in class Sakura had brought him to the front of the room to be an example of what certain chemicals could do to the human body when administered in different fashions. That had been a lesson that Konohamaru would not forget soon if ever.

"That's good," said Sakura as Konohamaru scrambled to his feet and rejoined his team. "That sedative will wear off in thirty minutes or so but when Tora is reunited with his owner there is a possibility that fear will override the senses and he'll start acting up again."

"Thanks for that," said Moegi with a small bow.

"You're welcome," said Sakura as the trio of Genin ran off to complete their mission, the pink haired Chunin unable to help but feel a little nostalgic as the memories of chasing that demonic cat with her teammates began to infest her mind. Before she became sentimental she shook her head from side to side to clear away those thoughts. She had already thought upon multiple occasions how much she had changed since those days.

Standing a good foot taller than she had all those years back, the pink haired kunoichi had turned into a very determined and skilled warrior. In fact, she wouldn't be too surprised if it turned out that she was still taller than Naruto given how much of a runt he had been back then.

Sasuke's body had begun to develop into that of a man's… it was just a shame that she barely got to see it. In the months leading up to the Chunin Exams at Cloud, she'd felt that she seldom got to talk to her crush but now she was lucky if she even saw him.

It was to be expected, though. According to Kakashi, that's what being apart of the ANBU meant - to push away all those close to you in order to protect them. She wasn't quite sure if Sasuke felt that she was close to him, but all those moments they'd shared together had to count for something.

Sakura sighed a little. It was difficult feeling to swallow, to know that your love had fallen for someone else out of seemingly nowhere, but the pink-haired girl wasn't one to let a trivial thing like that get in the way of her affections. She bore no ill-will - or at least she tried not to - towards Tenten but she would still push the bun-haired girl out of her path if it meant that she could be with Sasuke.

That, Sakura mused, was one one thing that hadn't changed.

Pushing the thoughts of competing against Tenten for Sasuke's affection away from her mind, Sakura tried to think of something else. She supposed if there was one good thing that had come out of Tenten and Sasuke becoming somewhat of an item, it was that her friendship with Ino had blossomed stronger than ever over the years.

Back when she had first made Genin, Sakura had never thought that she and her fellow Chunin would ever be able to enjoy going out on several missions together as friends. It had been an unfathomable thought, a small, burning desire hidden deep in her soul to return to her friendship of old with Ino but it had kept growing until they were even closer than before.

The rest of the Konoha Twelve had been fairly well too. While nobody really saw Sasuke and Tenten too much because of their ANBU duties, the rest - with the exception of Naruto who was still on his training trip - regularly gathered together to catch up. Neji often tagged along with Hinata, who after a year and a half of hard training, had finally become a Chunin not too long ago and Shikamaru and Chouji usually found themselves dragged towards their meeting place by the steady grip Ino always had on their ears.

Shino, who was looking forward to soon taking the Jonin Exams, surprisingly still went out of his way to show up to their little meetings even though he was probably the most silent member of them. He and Kiba had developed a strong friendship which Sakura couldn't help but compare to that of Naruto and Sasuke's; they probably pushed each other harder than anyone else in the group.

Of course the exception to that, unsurprisingly, was Rock Lee, who was still easily one of the strongest members of the group. She wasn't sure how Sasuke or Naruto would stack up to him after all their years of training but the bushy-browed boy was pushing for a promotion to Special Jonin for good reason. The similarities to Gai-sensei were as unnerving as ever for the Konoha Twelve, but he'd become a much loved powerhouse within the group despite all his eccentricities.

Looking over towards the Hokage monument, Sakura couldn't help but smile knowing that she couldn't have been any happier with her life.

A fountain of blood erupted violently from the man's throat but he did not scream. Paralysing senbon had been launched into his body seconds ago, ensuring that he could do nothing but watch as a shadowed figure struck with its sword.

Sasuke gave a quiet grunt of approval as he gestured for Mongoose to switch with him. Being the one with the Sharingan, it was probably best if he was the one on the front lines just in case the enemy had chosen to lay traps. It was unlikely but if something went wrong, he would undoubtedly be the fastest in their entire squad to react.

Naturally, though, his fellow ANBU operative had ignored his orders and pressed on. He sighed to himself from where he was standing before leaping up onto a rooftop and attempting to monitor the situation.

Sasuke had never thought that the ANBU involved themselves in assassination missions - at least not outside of Konoha. But he only realised how naive he had been a few months after he had become a Chunin. Still, Sasuke had attempted to reason to himself, the ANBU probably only targeted those who were a direct threat to Konoha.

How wrong he had been.

Mongoose was recklessly charging ahead to dispatch an extremely wealthy man that Konoha owed a considerable amount of money to - or at least that's what had been in his briefing - in a similar fashion to the man she had killed just moments before. Since Suna's botched invasion of Konoha, business had been prospering and Sasuke didn't doubt that Konoha could easily pay off their loan - hell the amount they owed the man wouldn't even make a dent in Sasuke's own family fortune - but as he had learned over the past few years, there was always a cheaper option.

In this case, it was assassinating the man. Normally, a simple assassination case like the one they were carrying out would find itself hard pressed to land up on the doorsteps of the ANBU headquarters but their target wasn't just some wealthy merchant who lived in the Land of Fire. No, he lived reclusively in the Land of Lightning, a small ways away from Kumo and not too far off from Iwa either. Both of which he was a much-loved and influential figure within. Without a doubt if they were to get caught, it would spark an international incident on the level of the one that had kickstarted the Third Shinobi War.

There was no question why the Hokage had chosen to delegate the mission to the ANBU and Sasuke's squad - as they had been doing with every second mission for the past year - had eagerly taken up the responsibility of carrying it out. With a cautious eye, he kept watch, looking for the slightest sign that anything had gone wrong. If even the slightest word got out, the consequences would be catastrophic.

A loud scream came from the opposing compound as the Uchiha smirked. He made sure to keep watch for any indication that anyone else had heard but after a few minutes passed, he couldn't help but shake his head slightly.

Mongoose was terrifying with a blade in her hands.


Tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, Hinata stood outside of the clan compound with a basket woven of straw held firmly in her grip. Like the rest of her friends, Hinata had grown into a powerful Konoha shinobi willing to do everything that was instructed of her. After having attained the rank of Chunin, she had decided that she was content with that for the time being lest she trigger something villainous in nature that she had thankfully been able to stay well away from for the past year and a half. Thankfully the Hokage respected her decision in this regard and ensured that the missions she took part in were relatively stress free so that nothing could go wrong.

"Wait for me!" shouted another voice causing Hinata to turn her direction towards the front door to see her younger sibling charging towards her.

"Don't worry Hanabi, I'm not going anywhere without you," said Hinata with a smile as Hanabi screeched to a halt by her side. "You do know that I'm just going to pick up some flowers, though."

"I know that, but I never get to spend time with you anymore," said Hanabi placing a hand on her hip. "It's either I'm on a mission or you're off escorting a caravan somewhere."

"That's the life of a ninja," said Hinata as she began to walk down the street with her younger sister by her side.

As the two of them began to chat about the smaller things in life, Hinata couldn't help but think about how much Hanabi had changed over the past few years. When she had returned with her team after the Chunin exams in Kumo Hanabi had cried upon her return and spent the next week sharing the same bedroom as her older sister, not truly caring how undignified it was. While many of the elders cried at this outrage, Hinata was thankful that her father had made no attempt to separate his two children, who had not shared such a bonding experience in years.

"Hey sister, I heard that we're going on our first C-ranked mission soon," stated Hanabi clearly excited about the occasion.

"C-ranked, huh? That's going to be something special," mused Hinata.

"What was your first C-ranked mission like?" asked Hanabi.

Hinata paused midstep as she cupped her chin in her hand, raking at her memory to try and remember the specific mission. "I remember Kiba, Shino and I were so excited," said Hinata after a few moments, a smile gracing her face. "We had to escort a businessman to a small town where he was going to be doing some transactions of a risky nature. I remember when we completed the mission Kiba was so upset and he kept complaining that C-ranks were boring."

"Are all C-ranks like that?" aske Hanabi as the two sisters began to walk once again.

"I remember Naruto told me about his first C-ranked mission," began Hinata, remembering that the pair had talked until dawn one night when they were preparing for the exams at Cloud as Naruto had enthusiastically recounted the tale. "While it seemed ordinary at first there were a few people who didn't want the mission to succeed."

"Did they get through it fine?" asked Hanabi, unable to hide the fact that she was a little worried about her upcoming mission.

"I'll tell you later, we're here," said Hinata as the two sisters arrived at their destination, the elder sister immediately recognising the person behind the counter. "Hello Ino."

"Hinata, what are you doing here?" asked Ino as she suddenly became alive at the sight of her friend, the flower shop having not been too busy that day.

"Just picking up a few things," said Hinata as Ino leaped over the counter to greet her former classmate. "I want to brighten up the dining room a bit."

"Okay sure, I'll get you sorted. Now enough about that," said Ino, quickly becoming disinterested at the prospect of selling flowers. After having spent the better part of the last six months running the shop, it was becoming to get old fast. "Spill girl, have you heard anything yet?"

"Heard anything?" repeated a confused Hinata. An equally inquisitive Hinata quirked her eyebrows up a little bit.

"Yea, you know, about him?" said Ino knowing that this could be the juiciest piece of gossip she had heard in a long time - not that it would be hard to beat two elderly women checking out men across the street as they admired the dandelions in the store. Having somewhat understood what the blonde had been asking, Hanabi looked up at her sister also wanting to know the answer to the question. Knowing that there was no real way out of it, Hinata remained calm and composed as she gave her answer.

A silver-haired man cursed, foul words pouring out of his mouth at the same speed sweat was accumulating all over his body.

"Calm down you fucking shithead," spat a woman to his right as she held a hand to her inflated belly. "The desert… the fucking desert. Can you remind me why we chose this shithole instead of some place in Kumo?"

"Because we're S-ranked missing ninja?" asked Hidan rhetorically. "At least this place is still rebuilding after losing its Kage, they'll know not to ask too many bloody questions."

"And if they say otherwise you'll feed them to that stupid god of yours, right? You fucking cultist…"

"It wouldn't fucking work here since the sand would absorb all the blood before I could even start the ritual, it's why I chose this shithole so that I couldn't praise Jashin in a place where you or the baby could be killed 'cause of me."

"Oh, how fucking sweet of you."

"Shut up bitch."

"Go fuck yourself," said Tayuya as she spat again, shielding her eyes with a lone hand from the sun. "The bloody sun is making me feel like rolling over and dying, I feel as fucking thirsty as a camel."

"Why don't you go back to working for that snake instead of complaining about the fucking heat to me you cunt?"

"Because the sex just barely makes roaming around with you from shithole to shithole than serving that piece of shit," answered Tayuya with a shrug before grunting. "I swear if this baby kicks once more I'm going to shove a knife in there and rip out its spinal cord!"

"Stop being such a crazy bitch," said Hidan as he raised a finger. "Off in the distance, there's the entrance gate so quit being such a lazy sack of shit and hurry up so we can get out of this fucking heat once and for all."

"You picked a fucking desert, there isn't going to be any escape you bloody moron!"

As they continued to curse at each other under the blistering sun with the entrance to Suna in the horizon they paid little attention to the two figures miles behind them, cloaks coloured red and black swaying from side to side in the wind.

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