Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
A/N: My first Naruto fic...I hope you all like it somewhat. : ) Parts of the story are purely made-up; others are from the manga, I guess spoilers if you haven't read past the Sasuke arc. A/U, I suppose? You be the judge…
She stared blankly into her cup, watching the somewhat opaque liquid swirl gently as it settled. The passing young woman spared the younger female a brief glance before shaking her head and going back to her duties as a waitress at the Ichiraku Noodle Bar. She knew her customer well enough; she was, after all, their second largest source of income, second only to her teammate, Uzumaki Naruto.
Hearing that simple word - her name - startled the waitress, and quickly she hastened to obey. Yet she could not help but frown disapprovingly, even as she set down the cup in front of her patron, who mumbled her thanks, her head resting on the table. Ever since the pink-haired girl turned eighteen - and attained more than just the rank of Jounin - she had been drinking each time before she went on a mission. The larger the mission, the more Sake she consumed.
And this...was the most Ayame had ever seen her consume in one sitting.
In her life, the waitress had seen people respond differently to the alcoholic beverage. Most had passed out after the second or third bottle. There was one kid with some ugly bowl-ish haircut who had gone into a drunken fit after merely half a bottle of Sake - and effectively trashed half their place, too. There was one silver-haired guy (whom she secretly harboured feelings for) who could hold about two bottles or so. Then there was this other silver-haired guy, who was much older and would constantly pinch her bottom as she walked by; him, she used to constantly see around Naruto. She remembered he could handle at least five bottles before becoming piss drunk and needing the Hokage herself to come and drag him out of there by his ears. Herself, she could barely manage one and a half bottles before she became sick and intimately attached to the washroom.
Yet here was the Kunoichi in front of her, lifting her head off the desk and uncorking the bottle. A Sake bottle could fill five of their cups to the brim. Even as she absently watched out the corner of her eye, she saw the pink-haired girl pour herself another cup. Having kept a running total, this cup was her thirty-sixth.
Mentally, Ayame did the math. Then, she shivered.
It was amazing, in some sick way.
Haruno Sakura was on her eighth bottle - and she wasn't the least bit drunk at all.
Office. Ten sharp. The note had read. Alone.
The message was not signed, but it was obvious whom it was from. Tsunade-Sama had a very particular way of writing notes. Short. To the point. Brief. And very, very vague.
Sakura was not fooled though. With the tension still going on amongst the Hidden Villages, which had been going on for more than three years, the times where she actually sat down with her mentor for a mere talk was rare and few between. There was simply no time for such a luxury.
No, this was an assignment, and a major one at that. She could tell that by the unusual lack of words in the note. It was shorter than usual, which normally consisted of at least five words.
Hence the drinking. She didn't know what kind of a mission it was - but she suspected it was huge, and the most dangerous one she'd had in a while. The suspicion saw her at Ichiraku the moment it opened, drinking down as much as she could.
The thing about her, she realized, was that no matter how much Sake she consumed, she would never ever get drunk. She didn't know why. She simply could not. Unlike most others too, she was immune to the after-effects of the alcohol. The downside to that was that it did little to drown her sorrows, as it was reputed to do. All it did was numb her. Numb her to the point that thoughts faded and instinct took over, to the point that pain meant nothing to her; she could deal with and dish it out in the same breath, and it wouldn't matter. In a sense that was her "drunkenness", losing all semblance of emotion, with the capability of becoming a cold-hearted assassin, were the situation to demand it. The effect was temporary, but it lasted for a good long while, depending on the amount of Sake she drank. Obviously the more she took in, the longer her condition would last.
A far cry from the Haruno Sakura she used to be when she twelve.
But she supposed that was how she was able to become an Oinin. A Hunter-nin. From a branch of the ANBU, a Shinobi Hunter, one who specialized in hunting down missing-nins.
Missing-nins. That term brought to mind a certain teammate. No, a certain ex-teammate. A certain, black-haired, black-eyed -
She shuddered, reaching for the cup she had just poured. She didn't want to think about him. It had been nearly 6 years since he defected to Orochimaru, other legendary sannin along with Jiraiya and Tsunade, in his thirst of power. There had been a decree put up by the Godaime herself that he was to be executed on sight if he ever stepped foot into Konohagakure, issued as a result of the charred bodies of three jounins that had been found in the outskirts of town. All three were leaf ninjas barely older than her who had been killed, her one-time sensei Kakashi had grimly declared, by the famous Chidori that only he and one other knew.
There was a rumour that his body had become a vessel for Orochimaru, and that the teammate she once knew was no more. But she knew better.
Lifting the cup to her lips, she took a long pull, then set the cup back down on the table none too gently.
And in front of her eyes, the cup cracked.
A chill went down her back.
This...was not a good omen.
Tsunade rubbed her eyes in exhaustion, flopping in her chair and glaring out the window in deep thought. Not only did she have to endure three assassination attempts within the span of an hour, but she had just received news that the Tsuchikage had just been murdered by his top advisor, which threw the already tense state into further disarray. It was bad timing for this to happen, especially at this time, for it was only recently that the Hokage - herself - had been able to discuss possible alliances - tentatively - with the reclusive state. The assassination meant that talks with the Earth Country would have to be temporarily halted as the country went into mourning, and began the process of choosing the next Tsuchikage - and who knew how long that would take.
That left her back at square one, with Konoha's only ally as the Wind country, ruled by the Godaime Kazekage of eighteen years, Sabaku no Gaara, who was currently in the village with his siblings Kankurou and Temari.
War was on the horizon, and everyone knew it.
However, that wasn't the most pressing thought on her mind. Not only anyway.
This morning she had checked the papers with her lottery ticket in hand...and realized, to her horror, that she had won.
This would make it twice in a row.
Both within the past week.
She, Tsunade, the Legendary Sucker, had struck big within the past week twice.
...if that wasn't as good a sign as any, then she didn't know what was.
Something colossal was about to break loose - but she didn't know what. The sense of unease floating in the air had been picked up by even the youngest of the Academy. Kakashi had been right when he said, "it was only a matter of time before news got out about the possibility of war".
And with the Tsuchikage dead, it seemed even more probable. She frowned at the direction her thoughts had taken her. The other Kages were either undecided, or completely unwilling to take sides; the Raikage belonged to the former, the Mizukage to the latter. She suspected, however, that both were in support of Orochimaru, for reasons unknown.
And if that were to be the case...
She sighed, running a hand through her hair. On top of it all, Jiraiya was nowhere to be found. He had completely disappeared; even Naruto did not know where he had gone.
It wasn't the fact that he had disappeared; oh no, he did this often. It was the fact that he was missing right now.
Tsunade cursed. "Where the hell are you, Jiraiya?" She slammed her fist on her desk - only to have a line form cleanly down the table where she hit it, so that it fell apart in a mess of dust and wood. The Hokage groaned aloud in frustration. Not again!
"There goes another table." The dry voice came from the door. Tsunade glared irritably at the speaker.
"I'll get another one."
"Isn't that unfair to the trees, Tsunade?"
Harder glare at the lack of honorifics. "What happened to the days where you actually treated me with respect?"
Half-hearted shrug "Dead and gone."
Her guest did not reply, merely leaning against the wall. "I got your note." She said, gesturing at her pocket.
Tsunade nodded. "Yes. You've probably already guessed it's a mission."
Sakura nodded, her face neutral. The crack in the cup still lingered in her mind.
"And you're the only capable Oinin for the job."
A chill ran down her back. This wasn't praise; more matter-of-fact. She waited.
"But...your past makes me wonder if you're up for it."
The eighteen year old bristled. She, incompetent? Inner Sakura, who still resided in her but cropped up less frequently, began raging furiously.
"How old are you?" The question was innocently posed. Sakura frowned.
"Eighteen, as of March."
"Both alive, doing great." Her frown deepened. What was Tsunade trying to get at? She should know the answers to all these - pointless - questions.
"What rank are you?"
"How old am I?"
"Old enough." The questions were becoming more and more bizarre.
"And do you still love Sasuke?"
That question was way off-topic, off-limits, and it caught her off-guard. She stared, speechless.
"What...kind of a question is that?"
Tsunade compressed her lips into a thin line.
"Sakura. We can't have emotions complicating things up."
The pink-haired girl straightened, eyes blazing. "Tsunade-sama - "
"You, above all, should know that a ninja should never show his or her feelings, nor let it interfere during a mission."
" - I won't accept it!"
"Sakura - " The Hokage's temper was slowly rising.
"I won't!" The Oinin shouted.
"You can't!" Tsunade roared, rising in frustration, and Sakura faltered a little. Her eyes still raged though, and she could not stop trembling.
She could handle other any job. Any other job. But not this one. She simply couldn't.
Tsunade forced herself to sit back down, calming a bit. "I'm sorry. You just can't not take it. There's no one else as experienced as you who can handle the job..."
"But - "
"...simply because there is no one left who can take the job."
A shocked silence. Sakura could not believe her ears.
"You're lying," She finally whispered, even though deep in her heart, she sensed the truth in her teacher's words. And even though a part of her was terrified at the implied assignment - oh, she knew exactly what it was - another part of her...twinged excitedly at the thought of seeing him again.
The real Sakura was scared. Inner Sakura was thrilled, and was shouting enthusiastically, pumping her fists into the air, saying something akin to this being "fate" that they should meet again.
Tsunade seemed to sense this though. "Haruno Sakura, listen to me. He is not the boy you once knew. He won't hesitate to kill you without a second thought, and you mustn't give him the opportunity to even have the first strike."
Sakura jerked a nod, trying to recover her lost composure. "Fine." Then turned to leave.
Tsunade leaned back into her chair, a bit apprehensive. "So you know your assignment then?"
The pink-haired girl reached for the knob, her fingers closing on the cool metal. "To bring - him back here." She replied coolly. She couldn't even say his name. "That -"
"No." The word cut through the air icily. Sakura's hand froze on the knob. Did Tsunade just say no? She must not have heard correctly. Slowly, she turned back to the Hokage, who was scrutinizing her closely.
"I did not ask you to bring him back here, nor do I want him to be brought back here." She slowly said, watching the girl's reaction, noting the slight trembling of Sakura's lower lip.
"Then?" Her voice was steady; for that the Godaime gave her points.
"Your assignment," She said after a brief pause. "is to kill Uchiha Sasuke."
If you liked this, if you want me to continue this, please review! NO FLAMES!