はじめ まして 。

For my update reviewers:

Keele-san – Talk about reading in one sitting… I'm glad you think so, because it is not an easy job for any fanfic writer to preserve the character's original personalities. I hope your detective skills don't spoil too much of the plot for yourself because the suspense is part of the excitement. I hope this chapter won't disappoint!

faLLen-dreamz – This chapter would answer your question. I hope it gets you riled up for the development!

star's dreams – Did you happen to read my story before using a different username? Because it seems this was the first time you reviewed. I'm glad you're still following this story even though I was out for a long while… I hope you enjoy!

Domo! I wish to hand all who have read and reviewed my last update some cyber-maki, courtesy of me! Banzai!


Memories

Troubles of a Lazy Shinobi

Chapter Eleven : Wheels Are Turning

At the Fire-Wind Country Border

"Yamanaka-san sure is taking quite a while, don't you think so," a restless dark-haired chuunin was commenting as he was rummaging through his pack for the umpteenth time.

"Ryoko-san, you've been asking me that for the past four hours," replied his companion, sitting only a few feet away. "Can't you have a little more faith in her? She's our leader, after all…"

"I can't help it, Hana-chan… I still don't know if she's alright."

"Then you have no faith in Sakura-san, perhaps?"

"No, no! That's not what I meant! Sakura-san is-"

"-I know you place Sakura-san in high regard, Ryoko-san… I was just kidding. You are just too worried, that's all. Now I'm getting worried that you're getting so anxious… It's not healthy, you know…"

The shinobi turned around, a bit surprised. Without meaning to, Ryoko could not help but feel a slight blush creeping up his cheeks.

"Ryoko-san," came the question that shook him back to reality.

"Yes?"

"Your face is red all over… Are you sure you're feeling alright?"

"Nandemonai! Never mind that," Ryoko cried, embarrassed. "You should learn not to strain yourself too, you know…"

"Huh?"

"Ah! Never mind that… I better get going now," the still self-conscious shinobi had said as he began to stand. "I'd better explain the situation to the outpost commander so we won't get scolded… at least, not that much, I hope…"

With that, Ryoko headed towards the main tent for an update. Hana, in the meantime, was thinking over how strange Ryoko had just acted but thought little of it and decided to start checking through their equipment.

Just as Hana was putting back all the sets of kunais and scrolls back into different holsters, sound of a figure's footsteps was heard rustling against the branches of the trees in the darkness. Hana grabbed a pair of kunai with her hands and set her back against the nearest tall tree.

A kunoichi was spotted to have landed just nearby a small bush, and Hana immediately leapt into action. The hooded ninja, alarmed, bounded away nimbly and turned around to face her assailant.

"Hana-chan?"

The familiar voice did not register at first. Hana raised an eyebrow in suspicion.

"Hana-chan! Wait, it's me," the newcomer pleaded as she removed her hood.

"Sakura-san?" the kunoichi on the offensive asked unbelievingly as she lowered her weapons immediately and bowed.

"There's no need for that. If anything, I must commend you for always being on the alert, especially in times like these."

"I am honored by your praise, Sakura-san," Hana began apologetically, "but still… it was rude of me, turning on you like that without warning."

"Never mind that now. At any rate, how are the operations from this end proceeding? Tsunade-sama sent me to check up on things."

"Ah! Everyone's on edge but still dutifully tending to their responsibilities. I believe that a few teams have already been dispatched to the nearby Wind Country villages bordering our nation, but none of them have reported back yet."

"That is to be expected," the pink-haired nin commented, "but if we are to act soon, we must be able to gather as much information in the soonest possible time."

"We understand that, Sakura-san, but even we reconnaissance teams are having problems trying to cover all the areas, seeing that we are a bit strained in terms of resources…"

"Well, that can't be helped, I suppose. In times like these, we must stretch all our supplies until the logistical teams arrive."

Sakura began to scout the area, sweeping her eyes over the scene beset by darkness occasionally dotted by campfires, movement among the shinobi, and a few tents here and there.

"Why don't we head to the main tent for now, Hana-chan? I need to get a better idea of this outpost's current status."

The two of them began to make their way towards the tent of the chief of outpost operations, but their trip was interrupted by a commotion developing at the assembly area.

"What happened?"

"Who did this to you?"

"Has there been another attack?"

At the sounds of such cries, Sakura motioned for Hana to come with her and sprinted to the scene. It was not a good sight… more than a handful shinobi were injured, some of them even gravely wounded, drenched in blood.

"Move away!"

"It's Sakura-san! The rest of you, call the rest of the medical team immediately!"

"Help them get into the medical tent for treatment," yelled the Hokage's apprentice. "I will treat them there. Be careful with their injuries!" Then, she turned to Hana, saying, "I need you to report this to the chief. Tell him I'm here to help these people, but I would be expecting his status report right after I'm thru with things from this end."

"Understood," Hana followed. "Please excuse me."

With that, the two parted ways. Sakura entered the medical tent and immediately began to examine the injured shinobi. She began calling out for ingredients here and there, and then concentrated on focusing her healing charka on vital body points.

It was no small feat to injure about fifteen shinobi, but Sakura somehow managed to ward off deaths for now. She took a deep breath after all that hard work and took the seat of the medical officer in the meantime.

As she was browsing through the medical reports of some of the injured, two figures made their way into the lighted area of the tent right towards the medical officer's desk.

"Sakura-san, it's certainly a surprise to see you here," came Ryoko's greeting. "Doesn't Tsunade-sama need you back at Konoha?"

"Ryoko-kun! And where is the chief I asked to meet with, Hana-chan?" the weary kunoichi asked.

"He is still finishing his discussion of contingency plans with the tactical team, but he promised to meet with you the moment he is through with it. I hope that's alright with you, Sakura-san," Hana answered apologetically. "I tried to get him to see you sooner but it seems that his job is overwhelming that I could not even begin to imagine myself handling that kind of work…"

"It's alright… It seems that he's dealing with all this trouble rather well, I'd say."

The Hokage's apprentice continued to rummage through the files and photos. Sakura could feel the atmosphere was still filled with tension not just outside where shinobi were all hustling about…

"Was there anything else you needed, Ryoko-kun, Hana-chan?" she asked with a tone that sounded rather curious than impatient.

"Actually," Hana began, "we were wondering-"

"-if you know where Ino-san is right now. Did you send her away on a different mission?"

"What do you mean," Sakura asked from behind her desk, momentarily disturbed by this inquiry. "Isn't she supposed to be with you guys?"

"I knew it," Ryoko concluded. "I knew that she was planning something, but I didn't know she would actually do such a thing… and at such a time when everyone's preoccupied, too!"

"Wait, don't tell me-"

"She left, and she took us for fools," Ryoko cried, increasingly becoming infuriated. "That… that… that fool! Why won't she tell us anything? Why won't she trust us!"

"Calm down, Ryoko-san­, your anger won't help us solve anything…"

"I know that Hana-chan, but I sti-"

"She already told you to calm down, Ryoko-kun," Sakura started, her own anger beginning to show, "so don't make me tell you a second time…"

The irate shinobi began to take some deep breaths and finally managed to cool his head off.

"I'm glad you managed to listen, Ryoko-kun. You should know that you're not the only one deeply concerned about her; aside from me there's Chouji, you, Hana-chan, her family, and a number of other people you don't even know."

"So…" Hana bravely ventured after a short while.

"So what?" the calmed man followed up.

"So what do we do now? We can't just leave her on her own… We don't know what she would do… even less so, we don't know why she's left…"

Silence filled the room, and it got to the point where it was even quite deafening. But the senior kunoichi broke the quiet.

"I think I may have an idea…"

"You do?" Ryoko asked in surprise. "If you have, why didn't you tell us before? What is it?"

"Watch your temper, Ryoko-kun. I'm not sure if I should even tell you about it…"

"What do you mean! We're her comrades!"

"I don't even know if I even have the right to even begin talking about it…"

"Then why do you know if I presume you aren't even supposed to know about it yourself?"

"Now see here," Sakura indignantly cried as she stood up. "I wouldn't even be here if I wasn't even concerned about you two and Ino! Don't even think that I don't care how her troubles are beginning to agitate you… Take a look at yourself now!"

The man felt a pang of shame… all anger left him immediately and was deeply mortified by his words and actions. He backed away a few steps and allowed himself to calm down completely once more before speaking up again, this time with more respect.

"Sorry about the way I acted, Sakura-san. I… didn't know, and completely crossed the line. I was too selfish and too caught up with my own worries to not have noticed your concern. I… Please forgive me."

"But still," Hana pursued bravely after a brief moment, "can't you tell us a bit of something about what's troubling her? Don't you owe us that much, at the very least? We won't get over our worries if you know something we don't which could inevitably help us understand her…"

The pink-haired kunoichi sighed heavily, deliberating the matter seriously. But who was she to deny these two even a slight hint about her past? Aren't the two worth it, after all that they had done for her best friend? As she pondered upon these thoughts, she gave one heavy sigh yet again… She has decided to tell them.

"Does the name 'Nara Shikamaru' ring a bell to you guys?"

Ryoko scratched his head, and it was apparent that he knew nothing about the guy. Hana noticed this and gave him a reproving look before turning to their senior.

"Nara Shikamaru. Jounin. He became the only chuunin at the time he took the examinations with notable village ninjas such as Uzumaki Naruto, Uchiha Sasuke, and Hyuuga Neji. He was assigned to lead a group of genin to retrieve the Uchiha, but failed. Still, he's one of the most brilliant shinobi of the Leaf."

"I'm glad that at least one of you knows at least the basic things about him. Do you know about the incident that lead to his… well…"

"Ah! Now that you mention it, weren't he and Chouji­-san her teammates way back when they were genin?"

"That's right."

"And wasn't he the one who… oh…"

"What? What happened?" the ignorant shinobi asked, getting more and more embarrassed but curious by the minute.

"He… he…"

"It's alright, Hana-chan," Sakura interrupted, "let me take things over from here. But first, would you mind calling one of the chief's messengers around? I would need to have him bring something to Tsunade-sama."

"Is it something about… well, Yamanaka-san?"

"We can't just ignore this, you know. I would need to consult Tsunade-sama about her disappearance. You can't proceed with the mission as it is…"

"Can't we keep this to ourselves in the meantime, Sakura-san," Ryoko pleaded. "I must admit that it would not be the same without Yamanaka-san and that we might not be as efficient as though she were here, but…"

"…we would not be able to control the situation and help Yamanaka-san out if Hokage-sama knew," Hana added. "Can we please keep this a secret, at least for now? When the time comes that things go out of hand then we would not be able to help it and just tell the truth. Please, Sakura-san? For Yamanaka-san's sake, onegai?"

The kunoichi felt that things were getting out of hand as they were, not to mention the major troubles that their village is facing. A headache was slowly building around her temples, but she chose not to soothe it with her chakra at the moment.

"I told you to call for a messenger… I won't be dissuaded; this matter cannot wait!"

The two began to object at first, but the pink-haired medic raised her finger to silence them. Ryoko stepped back to the side and Hana began to make her way towards the entrance of the tent as they both sighed in defeat.

"I'm writing a letter," Sakura addressed them both, "telling the Hokage that I won't be back anytime soon… I would be joining a certain reconnaissance unit to assist them with their intelligence duties for the time being…"

The two's faces lit up and turned their heads towards her.

"After all," she continued, "the Yamanaka intelligence team cannot operate without three members, right? I'll be helping you out for now. That is all, just to let you know."

Small tears began to well up in Hana's eyes, while Ryoko tried hard to control his own.

"Arigatô gozaimasu, Sakura-san," the two cried sincerely.

"Well, get to the chief immediately, Hana-chan, while I share the past with this ignorant little fool here. We can't afford to waste any more time."

"Hai," Hana cheerfully responded as Ryoko blushed with embarrassment.

"Don't forget to call in the chief!" Sakura called out as Hana continued to run past the tent opening. "He's been keeping me waiting for a long while now!"

The pink-haired kunoichi smiled to her self. She realized the trouble that she was getting herself into, but then again it was all worth it… now that it meant having her best friend back.

"Now where were we, Ryoko-kun?"

In a country relatively far from Hokuni

"Have you heard?"

"Yeah, can't say I believe it completely, though…"

"I understand what you mean. Kaze no Kuni is one big country with a rather sizable force that I can't even imagine how they fell so easily."

The atmosphere was filled with conversations and gossips about the Wind Country and Sand Village's rather quick downfall. Everyone in the taverns, inns and restaurants all over the village continued to make their own theories about it. The people thought that it happened so quickly that it would have only been so if the Kazekage himself surrendered his village entirely. Then again, none of the Kages of the great countries would even think of doing that, so how did it come to be?

That was the prevailing topic of discussion for everyone nowadays… that is, of course, save for one seemingly lost and out-of-place figure walking down the street under the blazing sun. The hooded person had been journeying for days now, hopping from one village to the next asking questions and investigating matters no other person cared much about. Who could this person be? The people only knew that this person was a stranger, a foreigner… but then again nobody cared.

The mysterious figure entered one of the local taverns and lowered down the hood to reveal a light-skinned woman who had blonde hair tied up in a ponytail. Everyone in the pub turned around and got the chance to sight quite a beauty, though she shied away to the table at the bar at the side as she tried to redirect the unwanted attention she was getting.

"The lightest wine you have to offer, please."

The blonde tried her hardest to ignore the persistent inkling she was having. Some of the guys in the place were back to their own conversations, but there were still a lot who were curious about this newcomer.

"There you go," said the bartender as he handed the drink.

The newcomer began to sip the drink, not completely trusting the bartender just yet, but when she finally accepted that nothing was amiss she drank it as quickly as she could.

"So," the bartender began, "what brings a rather fine lady like you to this part of the country? It's not like there's anything interesting going on around here."

"I'm just… looking around."

The bartender was silent for a while but spoke up once again, "Shinobi of the Leaf, eh?"

At this, the kunoichi grew alarmed and moved herself a bit away from the table she was leaning on.

"Heh, you are a sharp one," she admitted. "I knew I should've chosen another tavern…"

"Don't say that… it's just that your protector was showing right under you hood… see," he said, pointing to the forehead protector that the kunoichi had worn around her neck.

"Fine, fine… Mind if I ask you something, then," she asked in a whisper a bit irately.

"Hn? Fire away… oops, pun not intended…"

"Not funny, but since I'm here to ask, I suppose I should be… kind and everything…"

"Oi, I said- never mind."

"Just to let you know, I'm a Yamanaka so you better be careful… I'm not the type of person who goes easy on anyone."

"I get the picture."

"Good. So you have any news about something rather unusual lately?"

"Well, there's the Wind Country-"

"Don't give me that old hat of an issue; I don't care about that."

"You don't? Really… well, let me see now…"

The blonde kunoichi turned her head to the side to find some of the guys giving her suspicious looks. She could feel her anxiety building up by the second and she was beginning to regret even coming to this village. She began to arise from her seat but the bartender intruded.

"I don't know if this is anything noteworthy, but…"

"Well, out with it."

"I've heard that there's some sort of underground organization moving around various countries."

"The Akatsuki?"

"Heck no. I haven't heard about them in the past few months. I'm talking about something different, something more… mysterious."

"Drop the exaggeration."

"I'm not exaggerating. There haven't been any official reports confirming its existence, but there are rumors flying around that this group is a rather secretive organization with a sizable force, comparable to our nation's. No one knows what they're called nor who their members are, though…"

"Well, that was useful…"

"Hey!"

"But I must admit, it might be something worth checking out. Thanks for the-"

"Hey there, pretty little lady… What brings you to our humble little village?"

The Yamanaka was forced to turn around from her seat by one muscled guy, and she spotted that there were about ten other men who had surrounded her. Not to be intimidated even though she was very anxious, the kunoichi stood up.

"Is this the way you treat strangers? You grab people by the arm and harass them?"

"Oi, who said that we were harassing you? We just wanted to know why a beautiful woman is in this tavern."

"And how is that any of your business, huh?"

Weak sounds of "ooh" resounded all over the place.

This is not good… I don't want any trouble, but I can't let them have their way… I might find myself in a sticky situation if I stick around any longer… Then again, they may be part of that secretive organization the bartender was talking about.

"Why don't you come with us? We'd like to show you around…"

"Thanks, but no thanks," snubbed the now impatient woman. She began to make her way towards the door as she said, "I know my way around, so-"

"Hey, we said that we would like to show you around. No one ignores me…"

"And no one harasses me. So if you'll excuse me-"

"Why you!"

At this point, the bulky man made his way to grab her arm, but the kunoichi was keen enough to spot his action and leapt away.

This is bad. I better get out of town quick.

She forced her way through the nearby window, shattering it into a hundred pieces. The group of men followed her through the streets. Ino found herself gaining some distance from the rough ruffians of the tavern as she leapt from rooftop to rooftop.

She thought she was safe after a few minutes, but she spotted fifteen different people – shinobi, she thought, from the suits they wore – who came from out of nowhere. She found herself surrounded by these guys who distanced themselves about ten feet from her, so she thought hard and tried to come up with a plan quickly.

"No one harm her," cried one of them. "She is not to be touched until the captain arrives!"

"Oi," the Yamanaka yelled, "who sent you?"

She waited for a response, but none of the fifteen shinobi answered.

Darn it… I didn't know those ruffians from the tavern had some backup… Or maybe…

She began to form some seals inconspicuously for a very short while, and then she put her plan into action.

"Shinranshin no jutsu!"

The blonde kunoichi caught two enemy shinobi by surprise, and so their confusion kept five others busy at the moment. It left her an opening, and she took the opportunity as she sprinted away. The rest of the enemy decided to chase her, and so they all ended up running through one alleyway to another.

Ino was too busy maneuvering through the clotheslines across the buildings that she did not notice the binding technique one of her seekers was preparing. Once the shinobi was complete, the jutsu summoned the nearby ropes, making their way to the escaping kunoichi's legs and tied them together as the ropes turned to metal wire as tough as steel. The Yamanaka was forced down to the ground pretty roughly, and she felt a piercing pain in her legs and left arm which she fell on.

Ugh… How did I get myself into this mess? I wonder how I could manage to get out of this one…

"Do not struggle any longer," one of the shinobi called out as they managed to catch up with her. "We really do not intend to harm you."

"Really? And what do you really intend to do with me?"

There was that silence yet again.

"Well, I don't intend to give myself up to you guys! Just… let… me… go," she cried as she struggled against the tightly bound ropes.

"I spotted her! She went this way," came an increasingly loud call from just around the corner.

"Kuso," one of the shinobi cursed. "Let's fall back for now… We can't let anyone spot us!"

"Chotto," the tied kunoichi called out, "aren't they with you guys?"

"Those ruffians?" the man answered in disbelief and disgust. "We would never even consider teaming with those people."

"Then let me go! Untie these ropes!"

"I'm sorry but I can't do that… Once they tie you up they won't come loose until after a few hours."

"Great. I manage to get caught by a bunch of imbeciles who can't even undo their own jutsu… I said wait!"

But the mysterious shinobi had already disappeared from her sight. Just as they did, the men from the tavern appeared and saw her.

What am I supposed to do now? Kuso

"Oh good, she's tied down like a good little girl," the bulky man from earlier said maliciously. "Now we can have our way with her!"

"Don't you DARE touch me!" she tried to cry threateningly as tears of fear were beginning to show from her eyes. But it did nothing to stop the men from closing in on her.

The Yamanaka sat up and tried to back away. Unfortunately for her, she soon found her back against the wall. Her mind was racing wildly now… There was nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

"Somebody! Anybody!"

Alas, there was no one nearby to even hear her desperate cries for help. The tears openly flowed from her eyes now, and her vision was beginning to blur.

Somebody…

Anybody…

Help me, please…

Shikamaru-kun, where are you! I need you!

And with that last desperate cry, everything turned black.


A/N: How was it? Did you feel all the tension towards the end? Do you think I'm improving? I hope I am, because I was thinking that it was getting too tense for comfort, even for me. Also, I tried imagining the latter part with some sort of tense music, and it felt so right.

At any rate, my classes are about to resume very soon, but expect at least one more update before our pairing's birthdays. I think I might be able to update a bit more frequently this time around, but I'd have to say that the new chapters would be posted more sporadically. I hope you don't give up on me just yet!

Liked it? Hated it? Share your comments in your review! Dômo arigatô gozaimasu!