Chapter 49 – Gone Forever

Her fingers grazed the thick page, green eyes narrowing fractionally on the paint. Usually he stayed away from colours, but for some reason, her book was full of them. Each picture stood out brightly, jumping from the pages and demanding all attention and it left Sakura wondering if there was a hidden meaning to it. There had to be, right?

"What's that?"

She looked up at the man standing over her. It'd been eight hours since their meeting and since then, Naruto had calmed down considerably, deciding to listen to her earlier warning by ceasing all arguments. Of course, there'd probably be more disagreements somewhere down the line, but she was better prepared to deal with them now. She felt much calmer. Clearheaded, even.

"A sketchbook," she replied quietly.

Naruto frowned down at her before crouching, getting a closer look. "They're good." She nodded and cracked a small smirk at his next words. "Maybe not something you'd hang in the living room, but they're good."

The picture they were currently looking at was mostly made up of red. Different shades of it to match the shadows and lighting. There was so much blood in the picture. It drenched the page, drenched the figures standing amongst it all.

There was so much blood.

"…Yeah."

Blue eyes focused on her face intently. She could feel them even though she wasn't looking back at him. "Then why're you looking at it like that?"

"It's our life in ANBU," she murmured, voice unable to go any louder than a whisper. Turning back to the first picture, she said, "This is our first meeting."

He laughed loudly. "You punched him."

"He was asking for it." She huffed in amusement, once more touching the picture. This time, fondly. "He called me names."

When he held out his hands, Sakura hesitantly handed the book over to him, watching closely at how he handled it. Sai's art was to be admired, but that wasn't why she was so protective of her sketchbook. It was because it was precious to him and her. The fact that he'd spent the time and effort drawing out their time together meant something – no, it meant a lot. It meant everything.

There was one particular picture that she loved the most. It was the picture of Sai handing over the painting of Ino and after that picture, there was a noticeable shift in his art. There wasn't as much red. The person she knew was Sai was smiling more widely, more genuinely and more often than not, his eyes were closed with happiness. It warmed her heart to see the change in his heart. At the same time, however, it scared her. It felt like the calm before the storm, almost.

"I like this one," Naruto said, breaking her out of her paranoid thoughts. "You all look happy."

"It's not that we never were," came her quiet argument. Green eyes went to the page, the pain in her heart increasing. "ANBU's serious, Naruto. We can't be all cheerful and smiley all the time, you know. One little mistake – even something as simple as speaking too loudly – can get you killed or can destroy Konoha."

As they came to the final page, Sakura couldn't stop herself from taking the book from him, snapping it shut as her gut twisted harshly. All the while three words, three supposedly simple words, kept repeating themselves in her mind.

Thank you, friend.


"Are you sure, Sakura-chan? You're on a mission right now."

Sparing a final, meaningful exchange with her summon, she set Katsuyu down on the floor. It was only a small part of her real body. Going any bigger would be pointless and would give away her position. "Please, Katsuyu-sama. I need you to use the reverse summoning jutsu."

"And speak with the Hokage, correct?" she questioned.

"I just need you to check up on something for me." Reaching into her pouch, she held out her sketchbook, frowning softly. "Please ask Hokage-sama to check on Sai – I know it's tedious for him, but…"

"Never ignore your gut instinct, Sakura-chan," Katsuyu reminded her. Bowing her head somewhat, she added, "I will contact Hokage-sama for you and will attempt to get word back to you without jeopardising your mission."

"Wait until I summon you again, just in case."

"Of course, Sakura-chan."

As soon as she was dismissed, the slug disappeared with a cloud of smoke and Sakura sighed, sitting back on her bed at the inn. It was another dingy place with ugly walls and questionable stains on the bed sheets and carpet. They weren't there for long, however. It was simply somewhere to keep their things, somewhere to run and recuperate in case of severe injuries. With a mission like theirs, it was difficult to predict what was going to happen, so it was imperative to have many plans to fall back onto.

Something wasn't right. She could feel it in the bottom of her stomach – her gut instinct. Gods, why hadn't she looked at the sketchbook sooner? It was probably nothing, probably just her overactive imagination, but she couldn't ignore it. Couldn't ignore Sai. Not if he needed her help. Damn it, why did she have to be on a mission? What if he did need her help and she wasn't there for him?

A single knock on her door had Sakura looking up, murmuring a quiet "enter" to the guest and when he entered, Sasuke did so silently, regarding her for a brief moment until he shut the door.

"He's not ready."

To the point as always. Watching Sasuke as he sat down beside her on the bed, she then rolled her eyes, shaking her head faintly. "He needs to be more serious about ANBU."

"But?"

"But I don't want him to lose that happy-go-lucky personality of his." Groaning with annoyance, Sakura fell back, staring up at the ceiling. "Naruto isn't Naruto unless he's going off about one thing or another. He's a big personality – a great character, even. I don't want him to…"

"To be more like us."

She shut her eyes and nodded. It was still odd to think of herself as similar to the others – to Itachi, Sasuke or Kakashi – but after hearing it so many times from others, she supposed it was about time to get used to it. ANBU had changed her and there was no getting around it or avoiding it any longer.

"It's unavoidable," he muttered, then surprised her by adding, "But Naruto's always been unpredictable. He'll probably stay the same just to piss everyone off."

She chuckled at that. It sounded just like him. "We'll have to wait and see what happens."

"Yeah."

Sighing, she tilted her head in his direction, reopening her eyes. "Is that all you've come here to say?"

"No." Pausing for a moment, Sasuke said, "We're going to partner up for the mission. Obviously, I've never been on a mission of this ranking before. I don't know if ANBU has different signals or codes."

Oh. Shit, she should've mentioned that to the team during the debriefing. It only went to show she wasn't truly ready to become a captain – there was still a way to go. "It's different for every team, I think."

"You think?" Sasuke repeated disbelievingly.

"Give me a break, Sasuke-kun. I've only been on two ANBU squads and that's including ours."

"Sakura-"

"Look," she cut him off firmly and sat up. "We'll use a code we're familiar with – temporarily, of course." Sakura couldn't help but roll her eyes at his expression of disapproval. "Then, when we've returned to the village, we can come up with a new one, one that only Team Seven can understand."

Sighing, since he knew there was no arguing with her, Sasuke nodded, muttering, "Fine. Also, I've come up with a new strategy."

A new strategy? While most captains disliked their teammates questioning their plans for the mission, she decided to go with Genma's approach – listening to what their teammates had to say, taking it all on board and then incorporating it with the original idea somehow. That way everyone was included.

"Go ahead."

"You said it's a big place." She nodded once. "If it's only you and Kakashi searching for information, then that's not going to be enough."

Sakura blinked in surprise, watching her friend and teammate closely. "Are you offering to seduce a possible target?"

There was a long pause and the hesitation alone told her that that wasn't what he was talking about. Still, it was funny watching him blush slightly. "If it comes to it. But that's not what I meant."

"What did you mean, then?"

"Shadow clones," he explained. "Since you're both more experienced in seduction, I suggest using shadow clones, giving them all different appearances and ordering them to spread out. It'll cover more ground that way."

That sounded pretty good, actually. "And then you and Naruto can stay with our real bodies. Since they're clones, they won't need ear pieces, either. They can just dismiss themselves and then all information will come back to us."

"Exactly. And if something goes wrong, it'll buy us time to escape, should we need to. I take it your clones are stronger now."

It wasn't a question and that made her happy. It was like Sasuke expected it of her. "Of course."

"Good."


They were all in position. After explaining the revised plan to Kakashi and Naruto, they decided to go with Sasuke's idea, thinking it to be the wisest and most time saving. Deciding to push themselves just that little bit further, she and Kakashi each made three clones, all different in appearances. They were all beautiful, in her honest opinion. Her own henge made her hair a warm chocolate brown, eyes changing to hazel. Her chest was bigger, waist slightly smaller, though she decided that her hips were fine the way they were. To go with her new appearance was a civilian dress that she'd recently bought for the sake of the mission, along with heels.

One of her clones had black hair, her appearance elegant as she stood tall and proudly. Another was blonde and the stereotypical girl one usually met in a bar, what with the huge chest, skimpy clothing and heavy makeup. Finally, her last clone had blue hair with even bluer eyes. That one was a risky one, in Sakura's opinion. While she would undoubtedly attract attention, there was such a thing as too much attention. At the same time, however, the clone would take any suspicion away from Sakura. It was almost a mixture of the other two clones – beautiful, elegant and dressed in a way that demanded a person's attention.

Kakashi's clones were equally attractive, although he certainly took all their breaths away as he stunned them by lowering his mask. He did it in such a nonchalant way, seemingly at peace like it was something he did all the time, despite it being their first time seeing him without his mask. His clones were nothing in comparison, Sakura instantly noticed, eyes widening a fraction. She had to stop herself from reaching out, from touching his face to be sure that what she was seeing, was real. Even Sasuke seemed wary about what he was seeing, his eyes flashing crimson for just a split second. Naruto, on the other hand, was suddenly on his feet and in Kakashi's face, eyes wider than they've ever been.

"After all this time," Naruto yelled, unable to calm himself. "That's all it took to get it off you? A freaking mission?"

"Some people enjoy the mystery of the mask," came him simple, noticeably quieter retort. "Unfortunately, this mission requires me to be at my best. If I'm wearing the mask, it's obvious I'm from a shinobi background."

His black hair and stunningly blue eyes had her inwardly pouting, as she wanted to see his real face. Wanted to see his normal eyes, his normal hair rather than the slicked back hairstyle he had going on. Hell, she wanted to know if the scar that was usually over his left eye, went all the way down to his cheek. At that moment in time, it was gone, along with any other distinguishing features he may have had.

"Ah." Kakashi chuckled sheepishly and scratched the side of his slightly tanned face. "I don't know whether to feel uncomfortable or flattered by your staring."

The face was the same shape, Sakura noticed, narrowing her eyes fractionally. Same forehead, same nose (size, at least) and his eyes were still kind of droopy, if you asked her. The clones surrounding him were all different in appearances – one taller, one brawnier and the last one a mixture of the two. Again, the details about those three didn't bother her. She was too into assessing Kakashi's features, trying to figure out if they were real or a henge, to care about them.

Naruto was still bouncing around, his own henge nothing special. With the brown hair and black eyes, he could almost pass as Kiba's double, if it weren't for the height and muscular differences, not to mention he had no face paint on. His whiskers were also nowhere to be seen.

Looking to her right, she critically assessed Sasuke's henge, unsure if it was such a wise idea to go with the long hair. It made him look more like Itachi and she knew for a fact that he was in all the Bingo Books. If somebody recognised him, it could cause trouble for their mission. Then again, his eyes were bright green, skin just as tanned as Kakashi's and there were faint freckles dusting his nose and cheeks.

"Keep your hair down, Sasuke-kun. That style is too similar to Itachi's."

Her words had Naruto snickering, his attention finally away from Kakashi, who instantly sighed in relief and allowed his head to drop low. "Tryin' to look like your precious big brother, eh?"

"I look nothing like him-"

"No, Sakura's right," Kakashi argued calmly and sat down on the edge of the bed, once more checking through their supplies. "It's the facial structure more than anything, however."

"You still look like an Uchiha," she added. "But with the long hair, you look like your brother more than anyone. You need to change it."

With a final glance of annoyance, he altered his henge, his nose becoming less sharp, cheeks rounder and his hair turned a dull ash brown shade. "Better?"

"Loads." Turning to face the mirror in her room, Sakura grabbed her chopsticks, twisting her hair expertly before sliding them into place. It'd almost become second nature now to wear them for infiltration missions, for she knew there was the off chance of needing to use her femininity to gain access to restricted areas. They were an extra precaution – no, double that, since they were now coated in a fast acting poison. "Do you remember the plan, Naruto?"

He nodded, brown, messy hair bouncing with the movement. "I'm guarding the real Kakashi-sensei and Sasuke's guarding the real you."

"Oi, what about us?" one of her clones demanded shrilly – it was the blonde one, Sakura noted with a roll of her eyes. At least the clone was getting into the character of a spoiled brat. "Shouldn't we be guarded, too?"

"You don't need guarding." It felt strange arguing with her own clone.

"You're as bad as him," another clone, the blue haired one, snapped and gestured to Naruto rudely. "He doesn't care about what he puts his clones through, either. I mean, have you even seen how he treats them?"

"Enough," Sasuke muttered. "If I'd known how annoying it would be to have four versions of Sakura in one room, I wouldn't have suggested my plan."

Sakura laughed at that, nudging him playfully. "Come on, Sasuke-kun. We're not that bad."

At her words, her black haired clone smiled sweetly at him, a sharp contrast to the two other clones who were currently seething at being called annoying. "You shouldn't say such mean things, Sasuke-kun."

Sighing, Sakura turned her back on the scene, already knowing what was coming. Just because the clone was acting and appearing elegant for the sake of the mission, it didn't mean she was.

The punch that had Sasuke flying backwards and yelling out in surprised pain solidified that thought.


It was equally impressive and crummy – depending on what part of the casino she was looking at. Tsunade had described the place as a bar, but Sakura believed it was more of a casino than anything due to all the gambling going on around her. Sure, there was alcohol (lots of it) and she plucked a dish from a passing waitress, chakra already breaking it apart before she'd even finished the sake.

"Is that a wise idea?" came Sasuke's drawl through her earpiece. No doubt he was still pissed off about her clone punching him. "Even breaking it down won't have much effect if you're drinking like that."

Had Sasuke always nagged like that? She couldn't remember. Ducking her head slightly in a coy gesture as she met the eyes of a possible target and making sure her lips didn't move too much, Sakura murmured in reply, "I hope you're not planning on nagging in my ear throughout the entire mission."

"Nagging?" he questioned with a scoff. "I'm being professional. You might want to try it."

Drinking while on a mission was frowned upon, she accepted reluctantly. She simply didn't see it as the same as when others did it, since they weren't capable of breaking the alcohol down so that it didn't give them the full effect. Yes, Sakura would admit that it tasted great – better than great, in fact – and she was enjoying the buzz, but like hell she'd get wasted when she had a job to do. Tsunade had recommended she tried their homemade sake (which was risky, but definitely worth it), so she was trying it. Plus, it'd be suspicious if she didn't drink.

Not giving him a response, she offered another smile to the man standing at one of the tables, her hazel eyes drifting to the side in another shy gesture, like she was unable to keep their eyes connected for long. It had the desired effect. Like a moth drawn to a flame, he placed down his empty sake dish and made his way over to her.

Other than the gambling tables to allow people to see what they were doing clearly, the casino didn't offer much light (she supposed it added a strange mysterious effect to it all). Her eyesight was great, however, so Sakura noticed that the man had dark chestnut brown hair and it was spiky, framing his rugged, tanned features. Definitely a shinobi – she could tell just by the feeling of his chakra. It was powerful, but nothing she couldn't handle.

"Yo," he said, voice husky. She supposed it was pleasant, possibly even attractive to some women, but in her honest opinion, it had nothing on Itachi's morning voice. Just recalling how his voice sounded when he was first waking up made a gentle shiver run down her spine, so she tried hard not to remember the way he would nibble her earlobe and whisper in her ear. "I hope it's not too forward to say I've been watching you since the moment you walked through the door."

Still thinking of that morning with Itachi, a soft blush came to the surface of her cheeks. "I didn't even notice," she replied timidly and pushed a stray lock of hair behind her ear. It was mostly pinned back with the use of her chopsticks, but the shorter bits wouldn't stay up.

A long finger tapped the side of his nose, bringing her attention to the strange shade of his eyes. Were they green? Blue? A mixture of the two? Was that a fleck of orange in the middle? No, amber? "I'm just that skilled."

There was a scoff in her ear and Sakura held back the urge to roll her eyes. So far, the guy came across as nothing more than a peacock. "Oh?" she asked, feigning intrigue as her eyes widened slightly. "You're a shinobi?"

He nodded and stepped closer, fingers trailing down her arm in a way that reminded her of how Kakashi had done it not too long ago. The guy's touch wasn't as gentle, though. It didn't make goosebumps break out on her skin. Also, his hands were softer, telling her that he either spent a lot of time taking care of his skin or he didn't do much work as a shinobi. Her own hands were probably rougher than his, scarred by the many battles she'd been in, calloused from her countless hours of training.

"My name's Airi," she told him, smiling.

"No surname?"

He didn't seem overly suspicious – just curious. It wasn't unusual for people to not mention their surnames, though they were mainly shinobi. Her smile grew coy once more. "I was disowned by my family for not being…"

That got his attention and in the back of her mind, Sakura smirked. Men were so easy. "Pure?"

Again, she blushed. "Is it that obvious?"

"It's the way you walk," he told her, the hand once running down her arm coming up to her face. It was a conscious effort not to flinch at the feeling of his fingers brushing her throat. "Like you demand everyone's attention with just a sway of your hips."

"Anything else you noticed?" she asked in a lower voice.

He was encouraged by her actions of running her fingers along his bare arm, spurred on by the seductive tone of her voice. "I noticed that you're not as innocent as you look."

"You just said that," Sasuke snorted in her ear.

Oh, she was going to beat that boy when the mission was over. How was she supposed to stay professional when he was continuously making snide comments? Now she wasn't even sure how to reply to the guy. "What's your name?"

"Kohaku," he said. Apparently he had no surname either, not that it truly mattered just yet. If she pushed too much, he would get suspicious.

"Kohaku," Sakura repeated with a warm smile. "Meaning amber?" He nodded once. "Like the flecks of amber in your eyes."

"I guess so."

"Find something else to talk about," came Sasuke's quiet mutter. This time, he was serious. "His body language says he's uncomfortable."

Tragic past, more than likely. Then again, who didn't have one? "How about a drink?" she asked, still smiling.

His previous demeanour returned as a large grin split his lips. "Now you're talking."

The casino was decorated lavishly towards the centre and not a single table was unoccupied, tens of people surrounding each of them, waving their money or calling out excitedly. It was like being surrounded by a mass amount of clones of her shishou. A lot of them were drunk, others refusing to touch a drop until they'd won some money, wanting to keep their heads clear.

How would she go about seducing the target without actually touching him? No matter what, she was a shinobi first – she understood that perfectly. However, Sakura absolutely refused to be unfaithful. She and Itachi had overcome so many obstacle in the years they'd known one another. She loved him too much to jeopardise all that they'd achieved together. She cared for him too much to hurt him like that. So, what was she supposed to do? Well, in future, there would be no more seduction missions, not even if she was the only one who could do it. She'd offer her deepest apologies to her Hokage, but vehemently refuse to accept any more. It simply wasn't fair on Itachi and could possibly create a strain on their relationship. She couldn't risk that.

The guy certainly wasn't a lightweight, Sakura quickly realised. He knocked them back without hesitation, without much of a reaction. It got to the stage where she had to call for the stronger stuff, the stuff Tsunade told her to avoid while on a mission. It took longer to break it down. Took more chakra to counter. Damn it, she'd hoped it'd get him drunk quicker. She couldn't try to keep up with him. She needed to be professional.

"Slow down."

Hopefully her clones weren't drinking much. If they were to disappear before sobering up, it would hit her hard.

While his ability to handle alcohol seemed on par with her shishou's, that was where the similarities stopped, for he won a crazy amount of money as she hung on his arm. Dragging every bit of information she could from him, taking advantage of his elated mood, she supplied him with more and more alcohol, proving both hers and Sasuke's suspicions correct that he wasn't all that. He was nothing more than an average shinobi overselling his skills.

It was around two hours after meeting him that she was helping Kohaku to the inn he was staying at. Somewhere behind them, Sasuke was close by. She couldn't sense him but she knew he was there. The sun was already setting, darkening the streets and making it harder to see in her tipsy state. Fortunately, the cold evening air sobered her up somewhat when combined with her chakra constant working at the alcoholic substance. She still had a show to put on, though.

"You're such a bad in…" She snickered, slurring her words and putting on a hiccup. "I-Influence."

Under different circumstances, she supposed she could have come to enjoy Kohaku's presence. Yes, he was cheesy and used cliché lines, but she was pleasantly surprised to find she'd being laughing genuinely at his jokes. He reminded her of Naruto. It was a shame that, for now, he was nothing more than a target. Possibly her enemy.

She found herself hoping it was a false lead.

"Not much," he said as they stumbled into his room at the inn, gesturing to the space.

"For shinobi, I s'pose it doesn't matter, right?" Sakura questioned curiously. "Don't you move around a lot?"

Finally, she released him, swaying over to the windowsill. To Kohaku, it appeared as though she was simply admiring the view (not that there was much to see – it was nothing more than buildings and drunks), but really she was looking for Sasuke. He was good at hiding, though. She couldn't see or sense him. While it should have had her feeling proud of her teammate's skills, it made her stomach twist. To make matters worse, he hadn't said anything for a few minutes. She was starting to miss his smart remarks.

Green eyes glanced over her shoulder, watching Kohaku closely as he clumsily removed his shoes and shirt, flopping down on the bed. There was no grace that usually accompanied a shinobi's movements and it had her inwardly frowning. The guy wasn't that drunk, was he? Or had he been trying to hide it?

"C'mere," he slurred, hand stretched out towards her.

Shit. What was she supposed to do?

"Oh?" she replied with a smirk. "And here I was going to dance for you."

He became more alert at that, his strangely coloured eyes opening a little wider like that would help him see through his drunken haze. "Who am I to turn that down?" Kohaku asked, returning the smirk. "Dance for me."

Usually, women started with taking their hair down, allowing it to frame their faces and whatnot (done correctly, it looked sensual), but it was imperative to leave her hair up, just in case she needed to use the chopsticks in self-defence later. Instead, her fingers slowly trailed down the collar of her dress, following the v-shaped neckline as she teased it lower. His eyes didn't leave her hand for a second.

"You have such strange eyes," she murmured softly and her hips began to move gently, the swell of her hips and the dip of her waist instantly capturing his attention. "Like none I've ever seen before."

They were beautiful, no doubt about it. But she was serious when she said she'd never seen a shade quite like his. Every time she looked at them, she could've sworn they were a different colour. Was it the light? Was it a trick? Genjutsu?

"Everyone in my clan has 'em," he grunted, shifting in his seat when the straps of her dress slipped off her shoulders.

"Clan?" she repeated, impressed. "I've always wondered what it'd be like to be part of a clan. Seems so united." She giggled. "I sound silly."

He chuckled once. "Kinda."

The sound of movement on the other end of her radio had her breathing out a silent sigh. Sasuke was okay. He probably understood that she really needed to concentrate now and was staying silent for her.

"What's it like, though?" asked Sakura and she added a bigger sway of her hips. "Having a big family like that?"

Kohaku scoffed, surprising her. "Family… A clan and a family are two entirely different things." His eyes were piercing as they left her hips and met hers, like there was a deeper meaning to his words than she was taking in. "You can be a part of the strongest, most noble clan in the world and yet all you feel is loneliness. Whereas some people can count their family on one hand and can admit, without hesitation, that they've never felt a day's loneliness."

The alcohol must have loosened his lips for her, Sakura realised belatedly and she came to a stop in her languid teasing. "Is your clan like that, Kohaku-kun?" she asked softly. "Big, strong and noble, but lonely?"

His head fell back onto the pillows, eyes shutting with resignation. Shit, had he lost interest in her? Was he growing annoyed? Shit. What was she supposed to do?

"S'pose."

What clan was he a part of? None she'd ever heard of. There were a number of clans that held strange eyes, but the only ones that came to mind in that moment were the Hyuuga and Uchiha Clans. Nagato's face also flashed through her mind, but she knew his eyes weren't from his clan because Kushina was also an Uzumaki and she certainly didn't possess the Rinnegan.

"But I'm outta there now," Kohaku continued with a sigh and dragged himself into a sitting position, watching her closely. "Now, I'm with you. My clan doesn't matter."

Shit. She had no choice. Smiling coyly, Sakura looked down at her hands, briefly hesitating before she was unbuttoning her dress, allowing it to fall to the ground, pooling around her feet. It left her standing in her underwear, which weren't anything special, but still a nice set.

"Beautiful," he mumbled.

He said it so genuinely, like he truly meant it and it had her meeting his eyes once more, smiling. It was probably something he said to every woman he slept with, but it was still nice to hear. It was nice to be appreciated, even if it was only appearance-wise. Yes, Itachi appreciated every part of her now and yes, he more or less worshipped her body when they made love, but… It was hard to explain. It was just different. It was nice to feel beautiful.

Kohaku stood to meet her, his hands running gently over her skin, eyes staring down at her intensely and making her bite her lip. She was scared. She had no idea how to drag more information out of him or how to stall him. At that moment, sex seemed inevitable. Like it had to happen to get what she wanted. That was what scared her. She didn't want to break her promise to Itachi. She'd promised to protect his heart. Sleeping with some guy she didn't even know for the sake of a mission wasn't protecting his heart. It would break it. Crush it, even.

She needn't have worried, though. Just as his hand cupped her face and tilted it back, just as his face lowered to hers and his eyes shut, there was an angered yell on her radio, followed by a sudden explosion to their right, prompting Kohaku to snap his eyes open and spin them, shielding her body with his.

What the hell was happening?

His skills were slightly better than she'd given him credit for, because when five masked shinobi burst into the room with their weapons drawn, Kohaku was quick to react, already holding his weapons and keeping her behind him.

"Sorry 'bout this, Airi-chan," he murmured and lowered himself into a defensive crouch, eyeing the enemies. "These guys have been a pain in my ass for so long. I thought I'd have just one last night left, though." Scoffing, he shot forward, preparing to strike. "Oh well."

Wait, what?

Her eyes snapped back to the group, taking in their masks with pure horror.

Kiri-nin.

So Kohaku wasn't–

Instinctively, she caught the hand suddenly reaching for her hair, grip unyielding as she stared up at the mask in front of her in shock. Everything felt… dull, in a way. Like she wasn't actually experiencing it for herself. She was just a spectator. Genjutsu, maybe? It was strong whatever it was. Frustratingly, that feeling only worsened as the Kiri-nin made quick work of killing Kohaku, leaving him in a pool of his own blood until one of them knelt beside him, beginning their role of being a hunter-nin and extracting all secrets hidden within his body. The blood was draining out of him, drenching the floorboards and quickly making its way closer to her.

There was so much blood.

She'd gotten him killed. An innocent man who simply wanted out of his clan, possibly his village, for a new start. To rid himself of his loneliness. If it hadn't been for her giving him one drink after another, dulling his senses and leaving him to stumble several times during the short battle… Would he have won? She wasn't sure. She couldn't make a judgement. She didn't know him well enough. But from what she did know, he…

He really had been a kind person.

He had saved her life during that explosion.

He had been genuine when he called her beautiful.

The hand in her grip was mercilessly crushed, but Sakura paid no attention to the scream of agony from the man who was now kneeling before her, trying desperately to take back his shattered hand. He was begging her to release him, begging her to have mercy. Two others suddenly grabbed her, putting her in a secure lock and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't fight back. Whether it was the last traces of alcohol still in her system, or the horror and despair that she'd gotten an innocent man killed…

Where the hell was her teammate?

"Must be with the others," one of the Kiri-nin spat hatefully. "Take her to headquarters. Taichou will know what to do with her."

The man she'd injured cried out pitifully into the floor, clutching his now free hand to his chest. "S-Senpai."

Their captain turned his back on them, sending an awful shiver down her spine as he muttered, "Get rid of him. Weakness makes me sick."


What…?

Bleary eyes opened, weakly fighting against whatever was trying to keep her unconscious. When she'd fallen asleep, she wasn't entirely sure. Sakura couldn't remember much. But she didn't question it for too long, for it made sense to knock the captive out, that way they wouldn't know where the hideout was. It was common sense, really.

"You're awake."

Gods, her head felt heavy. Like the worst hangover she'd ever experienced. Still, Sakura fought on as she lifted her head, looking around the bright room with squinting eyes. It was way too bright for her liking. The lights were too harsh, reminding her of the hospital and everything was white. Pristine. It hurt her head. Much to her relief, however, her boys were there, too. Okay, she was a little disappointed they were there, because who the hell was supposed to rescue her stupid ass now, but she couldn't hold it against them. The Kiri-nin were wiser than they'd anticipated.

"Thank the Gods," Naruto breathed out a deep sigh, blue eyes shutting with relief. "You haven't moved in ages, Sakura-chan."

Unlike the three men, who were all tied to the walls, she was suspended from the ceiling and was in the centre of the room. Whereas both their hands and feet were tied up, hers were not. That was a fatal mistake on their enemies' part. Her kick was just as strong as her punch – something they would soon figure out. They–

Her eyes went wide and she tugged on her chains, forcing herself to stand up straight.

Why couldn't she summon her chakra? Was her henge still active? The others' were. Shaking her head slightly, she was glad to see not pink hair, but brown. They couldn't know her identity, it was just asking for trouble.

Like he could read her mind, Kakashi murmured, "They have a highly skilled sensory type, it seems."

Shit. They picked up on the Kyuubi's chakra, which was their reasoning behind restricting all their chakra. It was hard to miss for a beginner, so she couldn't imagine how quickly their position was given away with a highly skilled sensory type. Saying that, her boys were all still disguised, meaning their identities hadn't actually been discovered. That would work in their favour. He could just be a boy who'd had part of the Kyuubi's chakra sealed within him. It wouldn't just be a problem, it would be devastating for the Kiri-nin to know they had not just any boy, but the Yondaime Hokage's son in their cell.

Her clones had been dispatched of at some point, she noticed belatedly, only just receiving their memories and experiences now that she was conscious. One of them had stumbled across a Kiri-nin – the elegant one. For a while, she'd had him eating out of the palm of her hand, but when the alarms were raised, she'd given away her position.

Damn it.

"Calm yourself, Sakura," Kakashi ordered quietly. "They'll know you're awake now, so they'll come back. Remember your training."

Don't give anything away.

Protect Konoha and its secrets.

There were no windows in their cell. Only a single door that she was already facing. It opened without pause, without hesitation, but it was only one man who entered. The man from the inn, she realised and upon remembering his face, she remembered Kohaku. Remembered how he'd tried to protect her despite not knowing her. To him, she was just a civilian who needed protecting.

She should have helped him.

Gritting her teeth, she tightened her hold on her restraints, wrapping them around her hands to steady herself. Gods, she wanted to hurt him. Perhaps hurt herself, too. After all, it was her fault Kohaku was dead. She'd chosen the wrong man to interrogate. She hadn't thought it through before deciding to focus on him. Going to the first shinobi she saw was… It was stupid. Ridiculous. And now an innocent man was dead because of her foolishness.

"Finally," the giant of a man said.

Ignoring her teammates telling her not to, Sakura used the rope as leverage to lift herself, kicking out at the man who'd murdered Kohaku. He was still dressed in full uniform, still wearing his mask. It didn't matter to her. And when he caught her left leg, she put as much strength as she could into the right, smirking to herself when she managed to shatter his mask.

He was a plain man. Nothing special. Nothing to remember. Sakura was guessing that he was around mid-thirties, possibly early forties. She didn't have much time to take in his features because he was grabbing at her legs, trying to hold her still.

"Get him," Naruto yelled, fighting against his restraints. "Kick him where it hurts!"

Oh, she was so tempted. Especially as one of those hands reached a little too high. They hadn't dressed her before bringing her to the cell (not that she expected them to, but it would've been nice if they had – she might've held back once she was free), so she was wearing nothing but her underwear and heels. Thankfully, none of her boys made comments about it or did anything to make uncomfortable about it.

When his large hand grabbed at her ass, she growled warningly, her anger drowning out the others' warnings to the man. She didn't hear Naruto screaming at him to get the hell off her, didn't hear Sasuke muttering threats at him, didn't even hear Kakashi chuckling darkly, warning the guy that he was going to regret touching her. Her body was on fire, heart in her throat as she fought against her restraints – they were only rope, but it was laced in chakra and tied to something on the ceiling. It was still breakable, though. That much was proven as the contraption began to give way beneath her slowly returning strength.

Needing more weight now that he was holding her up, trying to hold her still, Sakura slammed her head forward, shoving away the wave of pain and dizziness that accompanied headbutting someone. Instead, she focused on kicking him away and yanking on her restraints, not listening to Naruto's encouragements as it finally gave way. Though her hands were still tied up, she was able to move more freely. She wasn't as vulnerable.

Or so she thought.

"You want to have some fun, eh?"

The Kiri-nin moved faster than she'd anticipated, knocking the breath out of her as she was thrown to ground. A stab of fright shot through her at the position they landed in, with him pinning her down, body uncomfortably close to hers.

"Sakura-chan!" Naruto exclaimed, blue eyes wide with fear.

Idiot, she wanted to scream at him. Instead of doing so, she stared up at the man daringly, a smirk pulling at her lips. It threw him off, made him second guess his choice, but she knew that was partly due to Naruto blurting out her name. She decided that there was no point in keeping up with appearances and let her henge go, the others following her example. Short brown hair grew longer, turned pastel pink and her hazel eyes changed to hard green.

"Some fun?" she questioned softly, voice sounding almost like a purr. Her eyes narrowed, smirk widening at his horror. "But I don't think you can handle my kind of fun. I like playing rough."

Before any of them could react, Sakura snapped her knee up to his groin, though didn't waste any time to watch as his face grew red and his eyes widened from the pain. While he was stunned, she bucked her hips and headbutted him again, throwing him off her and was quick to follow up her assault by launching herself at him, her legs wrapping around his neck and squeezing.

"Told you so," she stated sweetly, mere seconds before she snapped his neck with a single jerk of her thighs.

Hoisting herself to her feet, she looked amongst her teammates, ignoring Naruto's horrified shock. The other two were more understanding, knowing full well what direction the man's course of actions were taking.

"We don't have long," Kakashi warned them, thankfully changing the subject.

"Take the chopsticks from my hair," Sakura ordered and knelt before him. As soon as they left her hair, she felt it fall around her shoulders. "The ends are sharpened and they're laced with poison, so don't catch your skin."

While their former sensei freed himself with one chopstick, she took the other, deftly severing the rope binding her hands together. Once done, they passed them on to the two men, already thinking of strategies.

"What do you think?" he asked her.

She narrowed her eyes fractionally, watching as her boys cut through the rope. "Whoever they had on that team was capable of sensing the Kyuubi's chakra," she murmured thoughtfully. "If we were to escape this cell, I don't doubt we'll be captured again."

Kakashi nodded in agreement. "So, we wait."

"Seriously?" demanded the blond with clear agitation. "That's all we're gonna do?"

"There's no telling who's out there," Sasuke muttered, the ropes once binding his wrists falling to his feet. His eyes were fixated on the chopstick, the one they knew was his gift to her. He'd given them to her after finding out she was in ANBU. "There was a mixture of Kiri-nin and Kumo-nin."

What? Kumo-nin, too? What the hell was going on? Why were they teaming up? Just thinking of the possibilities filled her with dread, especially considering the fact they'd tried stealing their forbidden jutsu.

He was scowling, about to argue, but Sakura cut him off firmly, stating, "Kumo have two jinchūriki, Naruto and those jinchūriki are in complete control of their tailed beasts. We can't take a gamble here. If they manage to capture you, especially now that you're in control of the Kyuubi, that leaves Konoha considerably weaker. It also leaves the risk of them taking the Kyuubi and training someone to control its power."

"She's right," Kakashi said, interrupting Naruto when he once more looked ready to argue. "You're too great an asset to the village, Naruto. If you want to remain in ANBU, you need to understand that the village is your number one priority. We must prevent anything that could weaken or put Konoha at risk."

Sasuke's dark gaze settled on her and, after a few moments, he handed over one of the chopsticks, soon removing his shirt and handing it to her, too. "That includes you, also. Only two of our medic-nin are capable of fighting on the front line. Should anything happen to the village, you or Tsunade will be able to heal hundreds while fighting at the same time."

Solemnly, she nodded. Even if it cost the rest of the team their lives, they had to ensure both herself and Naruto returned the village.

However, she would never return without her boys. Screw ANBU. Screw the rules.

"Good thing I can't die in battle, right?"


A/N - I'm so sorry this took so long to get out guys. I'm usually way ahead of the chapter that's being updated just in case I get writer's block, so that I can keep the updates constant for you all, but obviously I didn't do that this time. I'll probably come back and edit this chapter at some point so it's not as rushed, but at the minute, I honestly don't have the energy.