Evolution – An Itachi & Sakura story.
By: F.M. Wrights

Chapter One – A True Forest of Death

"Just a little bit further," Haruno Sakura panted out of pure frustration. Her soft, sea foam, green eyes narrowed as she gave the apple of her desires a death glare. Out of chakra, she had tried to hit the apple off the tree, but thus far, all her tries were useless.

She sighed slightly as she dropped the stick that she had been holding to scout her environment. The sun barely shone through the thick masses of leaves and trees, casting dark shadows over the tall grass. She couldn't hear a sound except for the wind that softly rustled through the tall grass and the beating of her heart.

This forest gave her the creeps; it felt like Orochimaru could be hiding anywhere and, ironically enough, it reminded her slightly of the Forest of Death; the forest where she had first met Orochimaru. She shivered as a cold breeze passed by. For some reason, her instincts had told her several times to turn back and find Itachi. She had shrugged them off as fear to meet Orochimaru surfaced again, and deep down inside, she was scared. They could murder her the minute she would arrive, or torture her to death. She had no reassurance whatsoever that they would keep her alive.

Her instinct however, was never proven wrong. She was either being watched, or walking right into a trap. Either way, she would be on her guard. Sakura couldn't afford any mistakes now; from this point forward, everything had to go according to plan. One failure and she would be killed; of that, she was certain.

Tentatively, she stepped forward as she grabbed a kunai from the pocket that was strapped on her back. There were no traps in the vicinity as far as she could tell. Encouraged, she took another few steps forward, checking the area again. Once she was satisfied, she started to walk calmly through the forest, ignoring the chill that crept up her body as she went in deeper and deeper. No matter what, she wouldn't back down like a scared animal and run. It had been her goal to reach Sasuke ever since she left Konoha, and she would not back down until she was reunited with him.

Inevitably, her mind started to wander off to Itachi, as she proceeded through the forest. She knew he was out there, hunting Naruto, but she had complete confidence that Kakashi and Jiraiya would keep Naruto safe. If Itachi was forced to face Jiraiya in a battle, surely he would have a hard time.

In spite of everything that had happened to her, she still didn't want to see Itachi hurt. She knew it was wrong and foolish, but the bittersweet farewell still stung. Half of her, the part that still believed in hopelessly silly and girlish notions, had hoped that he would have decided to stay with her, but she knew it was impossible. If Itachi had gone with her, and Sasuke had spotted them together, Sasuke would never forgive her. A self-depreciating smile graced her lips at the thought.

He would never forgive her if he ever found out what had transpired between Sakura and his older brother. And she would never forgive herself for losing Sasuke in such a matter.

A faint rustle in the bushes made her forget all about Itachi, Sasuke, and the tangled web she was caught up in. She whirled around, the kunai in her hand readied, as she attempted to focus on the unknown chakra.

"Come out," she demanded harshly. "I know you're there, there's no sense in trying to hide yourself."

Her eyes were narrowed as she watched the bushes rustle again, and a girl came into vision. Her coffee-brown hair almost touched the ground, and her deep-grey eyes looked menacing. It didn't take long for Sakura to recognize her.

Kin Tsuchi, the Sound-nin that had grabbed her hair in the second exam.

"What are you doing here?" Sakura asked incredulously. She knew Dosu had died, and that Zaku was unable to fight anymore since Shino had launched his attack on his arms. Sakura always assumed that Orochimaru had killed her; he wasn't one to tolerate fools.

"I should ask you the same thing, lollipop," Kin snapped.

Ignoring the insult, Sakura scanned Kin's body, something that she did automatically since she became a medic. It didn't take long for Sakura to see that one of her arms was broken and she had some serious wounds on her legs.

"You're hurt," she stated simply. Kin wasn't one of the people she liked, especially after their little rendezvous in the Forest of Death, but she was a medic. She couldn't just leave Kin banged up like that, as much as she would have liked to.

"What's it to you," Kin shot back. "Leave me alone. If you don't, suffer the consequences."

Sakura remained quiet as she stared at Kin; wondering what to do. Her instinct as a medic told her that Kin could die if she didn't heal her soon. Then again, Kin was an enemy, perhaps even sent to kill her. She sighed inwardly as she realized that her instinct as a shinobi was winning; Kin was an enemy, she could try to fight Sakura and seriously wound her, perhaps even kill her. But first things first: she needed to find out what Kin was doing there.

"If you tell me what you're doing here," she began. "I'll heal you."

"I could lie to you, and you would still heal me?" Kin answered sarcastically. "No thanks bubblegum. I don't need you, Orochimaru, or anybody else to help me again."

Kin's attitude was starting to get on her last nerve. Sakura opened her mouth to retaliate, but she closed it, as awareness dawned on her. Kin told her that she didn't need Orochimaru to help her again. Had she escaped Orochimaru? Was she injured because of that?

"Did you run away from Orochimaru?" Sakura inquired curiously.

"None of your damn business," Kin answered angrily, momentarily fumbling in her pocket, her efforts producing a few senbons. Sakura, simultaneously, grabbed one of her kunais and a shuriken. She had entered the Country of Field dedicated to continuing her journey to find Sasuke; she wouldn't back down now. She would fight and defeat Kin to obtain her goal.

"Don't do it Kin," Sakura warned. "You're hurt and your arm is broken. If you fight me now, you'll lose."

"I'd rather lose then have your sympathy," Kin retorted, her sharp eyes never leaving Sakura's. Kin could sense that Sakura was out of chakra; that explained why it took her so long to even notice Sakura being there. But even if her opponent didn't have a large reserve of chakra at the moment, Kin could tell that this girl was going to be a pest. Mentally, she cursed herself. She had just broken away from Orochimaru's cell and now she ran into this.

She couldn't afford to lose; if she did, not only would she lose her dignity; she'd lose her freedom.

It was Kin who made the first move; throwing three senbons in Sakura's direction. Using her kunai to deflect the senbons, Sakura crouched down, collecting the small remnants of her chakra in her right hand before running towards Kin. Grinning at her, Kin only threw another senbon. Again, Sakura deflected it without much care. But when she lowered the kunai to ready herself for an attack; Kin had vanished.

Confused, Sakura stopped quickly as she scanned the vicinity. She wasn't in any of the tall trees surrounding her, nor was she hiding in any of the bushes beside her. Sakura whirled around as she checked the shrubs behind her, but it was no use. She could feel Kin as if she stood right in front of her; but Kin was nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, a senbon flew towards her. She avoided it with ease, but missed a senbon that came from behind. She gritted her teeth in pain as the weapon punctured her ankle.

Damn it, a genjutsu…I've seen this before with Shikamaru, I know what she's up to.

Quickly, she formed the tiger seal and concentrated.

"Release," she shouted and as she opened her eyes, she could see standing on a lower branch in a tree. She was holding another bunch of senbon and seemed surprised that Sakura had released the genjutsu.

"Clever kunoichi, you released the genjutsu I had cast," Kin said, malice lacing every word. She hadn't anticipated this. Her original plan was to employ a genjutsu, allowing her to hurt the girl enough so she would faint, which would conveniently give her the opening to run away. But now that she had found out that this scrap of a girl could break genjutsus…well, this could last a bit longer than expected.

"I am no longer the weak genin you fought six years ago," Sakura countered with confidence.

"So I see," Kin shot back. "But don't think that you're going to beat me this time by cutting your pretty hair and using mediocre skills like the Kawarimi no Jutsu. You'll need more then that."

"I won't," Sakura replied. Once again, she accumulated all of her remaining chakra into her right hand. Kin might be expecting run of the mill ninjutsu and genjutsu, but there was no way of her knowing that Sakura was trained by one of the legendary sannin. This would give her the advantage in battle.

Quickly, she formed the seal for a Bunshin no Jutsu. Kin watched amusedly as two more Sakura's appeared and stormed towards her. She ducked as one Sakura tried to punch her and avoided the second's attack; but a third strike came from behind, the impact of which made her fly through the air until she collided with a tree.

Sakura panted hard; it took all of her remaining chakra and strength to give Kin a punch of that magnitude, and if she was still conscious, she would have a huge problem on her hands. Fortunately, Kin didn't rise to strike back. Cautiously, Sakura stepped towards the unmoving body.

She looked unconscious; her breathing had steadied and she looked more peaceful then she had ever looked when conscious. Fighting against the tiredness that had suddenly washed over her, Sakura squatted next to Kin.

She sighed heavily. Her medic's instinct kicked in and told her to set the bone that Kin had broken, now that she was unconscious. She had been running away from Orochimaru, living in the forest for what seemed quite a while and had to fight Sakura afterwards; she deserved it. Clenching her jaw in concentration, she began to work on Kin, using the last of her chakra to make it as painless as she could.

Minutes later, she looked at her handy work with a sense of pride. Kin's arm had been set and Sakura used some of her last bandages to use as a splint for Kin's arm. Satisfied, she stood up and smiled slightly before grabbing her backpack and walked away.

She never noticed Kin opening her eyes and smiling haughtily before she ran off in the opposite direction.

Cold, calculating Sharingan eyes followed the movement of the Nine-Tails Demon as the four of them set camp. He knew that one of the Hyuuga clan was close; which would bring him in danger of being exposed. And he acknowledged that he wouldn't be able to handle the Copy-nin and all of his companions.

He inwardly sighed; getting the Kyuubi was easier said than done. Either Jiraiya travelled with him, or he had an entire team to travel with him. Getting rid of Kakashi would be no problem for him, but handling Genma along with the rest of their little group and the others that were most assuredly on their way would be quite the obstacle.

Retreating would be the best option.

Without a sound, he jumped back on a branch and dashed through the forest; masking his chakra. It wouldn't be good if the others discovered him now; he would just have to wait for the opportune moment.

His eyes were fixed now, he could use them without worrying too much about his eyesight; but if he had to use the Tsukiyomi on seven shinobi just to capture one, his eyesight would deteriorate fast. He didn't like that idea.

He would take the opportunity to capture Naruto next time; when he would be alone with Jiraiya. Jiraiya would give him quite the fight, but he was certain that he would be able to win. Kisame could fight the Kyuubi in the meantime.

With ease and certain grace, he jumped from branch to branch; his Akatsuki robes billowing in the wind. The bell that dangled from his straw hat made an eerie, peaceful sound whenever he landed on a branch and the loose strands of hair that hung in front of his eyes moved slightly whenever he jumped back up.

A lot of things had happened in the past few weeks, both wanted and unwanted. He had never felt more confused in his whole life.

First of all, he had taken care of Sakura when she was his hostage; protecting her from the ANBU that hunted her, even kissed her several times. Secondly, he felt emotions when he saw Deidara kiss her. And it was the first time that he wasn't included in a mission which required Kisame. He figured that it was because of the fact that he still hadn't captured one of the bijuu, as Kisame had.

Slowly, the image of Kisame disappeared and was replaced by Sakura. The only pink-haired kunoichi he had ever seen. Faintly, he wondered if she had reached his brother already. It had been several hours since they had separated from each other.

Itachi sighed inwardly. He was acting out of character since Sakura had been captured and it was a good thing that they parted ways. He needed to regain his composure. He was a shinobi; one of the deadliest in the world. He wasn't about to let his mind wander off to less important things. Emotions made a shinobi weak.

He couldn't afford being weak.

"Can you see anything suspicious Neji?" Gai asked his student. He watched as Neji formed the seals and activated his Byakugan. Neji remained quiet as he scouted the vicinity for enemies.

"Kakashi and his team are setting up camp near the border," Neji replied, still focused on the area. His eyes widened for a split second as he detected another presence in the bushes. The enemy was wearing an Akatsuki robe; he recognized it from his battle with Kisame years ago. But this one wasn't Kisame; this Akatsuki member instead had a striking resemblance to Sasuke.

"One of the Akatsuki is hiding in the bushes near them," Neji reported. "It looks like he has the Sharingan and he looks exactly like Uchiha Sasuke. He's not making a move yet, just observing. The others don't know he's there."

"… Itachi," Gai whispered quietly. "Double-up speed; if Itachi is fighting them, they'll need all the help they can get. Get your gear ready and get ready for an intense battle."

"Not necessary," the Byakugan-user answered. "He's going away. He's too far for my Byakugan to spot him."

Gai remained silent as he pondered over this. Itachi was a smart man; he would undoubtedly know that Kakashi's group wasn't the only group on the road and called it quits. It was even more suspicious that his partner didn't travel along with him. Perhaps they all travelled alone now? He made a mental note that he should talk to Kakashi over this matter. Their mission would become even harder if they'd have to fight any of the Akatsuki.

"Gai," he heard Shikamaru call out. He turned around slightly, signalling to Shikamaru that he had his attention. He waited patiently until Shikamaru spoke again.

"Why is Akatsuki after us?" Shikamaru asked quietly. He knew Akatsuki had fought Naruto, Jiraiya and Sasuke years ago, and a couple of years back, they fought again. But nobody had told him why they were fighting with Naruto's group. He had a suspicion though, that it had something to do with Naruto. He just hoped he wasn't right.

"I can't tell you about that yet," Gai answered after a pause. "Although, if you want to know more about the situation, you should talk to Naruto. I'm in no position to tell you anything at the moment."

And he meant it. Every adult knew about the Kyuubi that had been sealed inside of Naruto, and every adult was bound by law to fasten their lips; to never speak of such matter ever again. Gai was aware that Naruto had somehow learned about this information years ago, and that he had told Sakura about it too. Apart from her, he strongly doubted that Naruto had told anyone else about the creature that inhabited him.

If Naruto wanted anyone else to know, it was his right to make that decision.

Shikamaru's brains worked overtime after that bit of information. Gai obviously knew, but didn't want to tell him. Either he would have to ask Naruto himself, or he could try to figure this out by himself.

He tried to puzzle all the information together: Naruto had told Gaara that there was a monster inside of him too; Akatsuki was hunting Naruto, of that he was certain; and Gai didn't want to tell him about whatever was going on and told him to ask Naruto. Either Naruto was the one being hunted, or he played a huge part in all of this.

Temari had told him that Gaara had been hunted and killed by Akatsuki as well. Although Gaara was alive at the moment, they had still extracted the demon that inhabited Gaara. Suddenly, his eyes widened as he finally found the answer to all of his questions.

That's it!

Akatsuki was hunting Naruto, because Naruto had a demon inside of him, like Gaara had. Both were vessels for demons; Gaara had told him so when he tried to murder Lee and Naruto had shot back that he had a monster inside of him too.

At that moment, he didn't really think much of it, as he was struggling to keep himself and Naruto alive. And he hadn't really thought about it afterwards when they left that room, even though Naruto practically confessed that day that there was something inhabiting him.

Although he was happy that he had found the answer, fear slowly crept into his mind.

There was an immense possibility that Naruto would be killed if he were captured. Gaara, ironically, was living proof of that.

Over the years, Naruto had become one of his closest friends. Naruto, Chouji, Neji, Kiba and Shikamaru had all been on the mission to save Sasuke, and since that time, they had only gotten closer. He gritted his teeth in pure frustration.

He swore that it wouldn't end up like the last time, when he'd almost lost his best friend. He wouldn't lose Naruto like he almost lost Chouji. He would never forget the pain and agony of standing there in the hospital, waiting for good or bad news. After Tsunade had told him that Chouji was going to be fine, he made a silent promise to himself.

He would protect his friends, no matter what. Even if he had to give up his own life, he would do it gladly to save one of his friends.

Sakura collapsed on the ground as soon as she left the forest. Her chakra was gone, she hadn't slept for twenty-four hours, and she hadn't eaten a thing except for one measly apple. But she was there; she had finally reached the Country of Field, and would soon find the Hidden Village of Sound.

Fighting to get up, Sakura leaned against a tree to keep her balance. With a small smile, she could see the faint lights of a small town in the distance.

She could regain her strength there before she moved on to find Sasuke. If she were to encounter anymore shinobi in her current state, she would be killed without even putting up a fight.

Using the very last of her chakra, she gathered it all in her feet and made a sprint towards the town using the last energy sources that she had.

Sakura reached the town within minutes and stopped running just outside the gates. Her knees buckled as she gritted her teeth and stumbled forward. Managing to regain her balance after a couple, desperate gasps for air, she focused on the ground and took a few, small steps.

She knew people were watching her; it wasn't too often that you would see a shinobi in this state. All the same, she didn't care and tried to walk towards the inn she had spotted. It was only a few feet away, but her knees collapsed once more, and this time, she lost her balance.

She was unconscious before she even hit the ground.

When she opened her eyes again, she was lying in an unfamiliar bed. The room surrounding her was entirely white, just like the honeymoon suite she had slept in with Itachi. She turned around, mildly hoping to see Itachi next to her, but he wasn't there.

Instead of Itachi, there was an older lady sitting next to her bed. She was bandaging Sakura's wound on her ankle and smiled as she noticed Sakura staring at her.

"You're awake," she remarked.

"W-Where am I?" she asked quietly in a hoarse whisper.

"You're in the town of Eiyo, in the Country of Field," the woman replied. "You fainted right in front of my hotel, so I brought you in and tried to fix you up a little. I've also mended your clothes."

"Thank you," Sakura answered softly. "I feel better now."

"That's good to hear. You've been asleep for two days," the woman smiled. "My name is Junko. If you need anything, just ask."

"Yes, I will," Sakura replied as she tried to sit up straight. "Can I ask you something, Junko-san?"

"Yes of course," Junko answered, the smile still plastered on her face.

"Can you give me directions to the Hidden Village of Sound?" Sakura asked bluntly.

The smile that Junko had given her quickly faded after that question, and for a moment, it almost seemed like Junko was mad at her. Sakura remained quiet as she waited for an answer.

"Why do you want to go there?" Junko finally replied, suspicion in her voice.

"The man I love is there," Sakura answered her question. "I've been searching for him for over six weeks. I need to find him, and if I had to search for the village on my own… It would take even longer. That's why I need your help."

"I see," Junko replied quietly. She sighed heavily before nodding. "Leave this town on the north side. Continue until you see a large hill, surrounded by pine trees. From there, carry on to your right and you'll arrive at Sound."

Sakura nodded gratefully. Thanks to this generous woman, she had recovered fairly well from her injuries and was now well-rested. All that was left was to eat, get something to drink and she would be on her way.

"How long does it take to reach Sound?"

"One day for the normal folk, but I'm guessing it would be half a day for a shinobi," Junko answered simply. "I must warn you though; after you've reached the hill, be on your guard. There are a lot of Sound shinobi there, and they aren't too fond of other shinobi."

"I know," Sakura sighed. The prospect of fighting already tired her.

Junko smiled softly before she left the room to get some food for Sakura.

After a good meal and some coffee, Sakura stood next to her bed, where her gear resided. She strapped on her shuriken holster, before putting her sandals on. Checking her gear and bandages one last time, she took a quick glance in her mirror, she smiled as she strode towards the door; her backpack in her hands.

"Today is the day," she spoke quietly to herself. "If I'm lucky, I'll get to Sound by nightfall."

She had been waiting for this moment and now that she had arrived in the Country of Field, everything felt surreal to her. She couldn't believe that she was this close to achieving her dream; to see Sasuke again.

Encouraged by this thought, she stepped out of the room and padded off the stairs towards the main hall of the Inn. She waved goodbye at Junko, thanking her for all that she had done, before stepping outside. She shivered slightly; a cold breeze passed by.

She looked up, reflexively, to inspect the weather and to her dismay, the sky was swarming with ominous, grey clouds. Feeling the first raindrops fall on her cheeks, she swore softly.

Wonderful. What a great way to start this perfect day.

She grimaced as she accumulated her recovered chakra to her feet and dashed through the village towards the northern gate. From there, she would have to run until she saw a hill surrounded by pine trees and then she would have to veer right. She had memorized the entire description and smiled slightly as she set off towards the hill. Using her chakra, she ran towards the north while doubling her speed

The rain was still falling down mercilessly, while being accompanied by the strong wind. Nearly freezing to death forced Sakura to find shelter under one of the bulky pine trees.

She sighed contently as she sat down. The long journey had worn her out since she had been rapidly racing for well over half the day. She pulled her old Akatsuki robe from her backpack and draped it over her frozen body.

She knew she should have burned it the first chance she got; such a garment being discovered on her would bring a multitude of questions that she rather not answer. Not to mention a possible trip to the Torture and Interrogation Unit. But she always knew that it would come in handy in a situation such as this one.

Touching the soft, warm fabric with her fingertips, the memories of her time together with the Akatsuki members surfaced and she inwardly smiled when she thought about the first time she had met Deidara. At first, she thought he had been a girl, but when he opened his mouth, she was proven wrong. Very wrong.

Another memory she was fond of was the time that he had hold her in her arms while she well asleep. She'd never forgotten how the soft, warm cocoon of his arms felt. She had felt safe in his arms; safer then she had ever felt since she had become a missing nin.

Kisame was another one who had proven her wrong. She had him cut out as a ruthless idiot that just followed Itachi's orders without hesitation. Sakura was right about that last part, but Kisame certainly wasn't an idiot.

Ah well… Perhaps he is an idiot at times… I wonder if he ever gotten the soy sauce stains out of his Akatsuki robes.

She giggled, as her mind turned to Itachi. Uchiha Itachi; he had surprised her most of all. In her mind, she had always pictured him to be quiet, brooding and whatnot. What a surprise when Itachi turned out to be one of the most polite Akatsuki members she had met. An even bigger surprise, and the understatement of the century, was the fact that he had kissed her; several times in fact.

Unconsciously, she touched her lips. She remembered their last, sincere conversation on the balcony. Itachi had told her that Sasuke would just use her as a tool to revive his clan, and although she had told Itachi that she didn't care; in reality she did. It had hurt her when he had told her that, and for a couple of minutes, she actually thought about aborting her mission and staying with Akatsuki.

She regained her senses quickly though; even if Sasuke would never love her, she would love him, and always be there to support him. He was her team-mate, classmate, fellow shinobi, and above all, the man she loved.

She had become a missing-nin for him, survived Akatsuki, several assassinations, and escaped from his deadly brother; fighting constantly to reach this moment. Even if he would never love her back, nobody could ever take this moment away from her. She was proud of herself for having this much strength to go on a seemingly hopeless mission, and still be alive.

What the…?

Sakura narrowed her eyes as she looked in the distance. She was fairly certain that somebody walking in the distance, but the rain was clouding everything, and all she could see was the outline of whoever was walking towards her. Although, through a barely discernable lanky body and broad shoulders, it seemed that this figure was male.

Suddenly, the shadow faded and Sakura sighed with relief. She couldn't sense a chakra level nearing her; so it must have been just her imagination.

The rain isn't stopping anytime soon.

She groaned as she stared at the sky; arriving at Sound, completely wet and frozen wasn't her ideal entry, but it seemed that she didn't have another choice. She folded the Akatsuki robes and placed it back into her backpack. Standing up, she checked her clothing and gear, making sure nothing fell out of her pockets, when she abruptly felt the overwhelming sense of chakra.

She whirled around to counter the punch that was sent in her direction. Her attacker was hiding in the darkness of the pine tree, so distinguishing who it was, was next to impossible. Gritting her teeth, she gathered all of her chakra into her right leg and tried to kick her attacker.

She missed, and without missing a beat, her attacker seized the opportunity to grab her ankle. White-hot pain seared through her frozen ankle as she realized her opponent was using a medical jutsu to cut the tendons in her muscles.