Author's Notes: Thanks to all my reviewers! I know I take forever and a day to update and the fact that so many of you are still with me on this story is really appreciated. Huggles!

Much love to LeafyGirl for beta-ing for me (and so quickly!), as well as all the support she provides me with. Thanks to Animechick262003 for bouncing ideas well into the night on this chapter and also to my great friend Ang for helping me with working out the Kisame/Sakura scene over the phone at 2am.

Almost forgot the disclaimer, AFF had a feature that auto add's it for you now. I don't think there is anything bad in this chapter, but better safe than sorry:

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. I do not recieve monetary gain, and no harm is intended to the author and/or owner's of the Naruto series by this story. Some situations and language contained within this chapter may not be suitable for children under the age of 18.

Oh, and watch out for the cliffhanger at the end. XD You guys love me, bad puns & all. Chapter 6

Sakura was exhausted. Since the battle, they had not stopped to rest at all, covering as much distance as possible. Night had fallen hours before and still they pushed on at an insane pace. She almost didn't comprehend when the ocean loomed out of nowhere in front of them.

Although being on another boat signified more distance between her and Konoha, and this very fact alone should further alarm her, Sakura found that she was glad to see the landmass that was Mist, diminishing in the distance. Sakura was still irked at the way she had been treated and doubted she would ever hold any love for that shitty rock. The bastards hadn't even bothered to question, only attack. Thus far, her track record with Mist ninjas left a lot to be desired. Kisame ignored the dirty look Sakura sent his way.

Sakura huddled further into the warmth of her cloak as the spray of the ocean found its way to some exposed skin, chilling her. Itachi and Kisame were similarly clad in their cloaks. This boat was much smaller than the one they had taken to Mist; they were the only passengers taking this midnight ride. Sakura was surprised to see that Mist wasn't even out of sight before a new landmass became visible, a dark shadow among the shining waters.

The boat closed in on it at a steady pace. Sakura didn't know what country it was. She wracked her brain for what lay beyond Mist, but nothing was forthcoming.

This can't be good.

When they docked, Kisame spoke in a foreign language with a man on the docks. This really can't be good. The man gestured toward the right and Kisame spoke a few more words. Itachi guided Sakura after Kisame with an iron grip on her arm.

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The other members of the squadron sent by Konoha to Orochimaru's lair avoided Naruto as much as possible. The normally exuberantly, cheerful young man had started this mission in a sulk, but his mood had taken a drastic downward spiral when they came across the smoking and charred crater that was once Orochimaru's hideout. His expletives had left more than one of his teammates cringing.

The messenger sent back to Konoha found it no small relief to escape. Digging through the remains for bodies was an unpleasant task in itself, without the added stress of Naruto's foul mood hanging like a cloud over the entire mission.

When a small bird arrived, the other members prayed it brought good news.

Naruto disappeared into the trees with it. The silence that followed his departure was heavy. When nothing broke the silence after several minutes, the others took this to be a hopeful sign. They resumed sifting through the remains, searching for Orochimaru's body.

When a harried Naruto rushed back to the clearing, barking at the others to get out of his way, they scurried to do his bidding. An impossible amount of Naruto clones filled the crater. The other nins backed away as unobtrusively as possible while the shadow replications set to tearing the crater apart. Curses aimed at Orochimaru, Sasuke, and the Akatsuki littered the air, muttered from hundreds of scowling mouths.

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Sakura eyed the skuzzy motel room and sighed, sinking onto the edge of the bed. They were waiting for Itachi to get back. Kisame settled at the other end of the bed and pulled a deck of cards from beneath his cloak. He dealt himself a game of solitaire and began playing.

Sakura, with nothing else to do, watched him play. She saw a move that he was about to miss and he prepared to flip the next set.

"Wait," she said, pointing out the move.

Kisame glared at having someone interfere with his game of solitaire, but sullenly used the play she had pointed out. Dealing the next row, Sakura leaned in, and while he was looking to the left, she found a play to the right, reaching her hand to point it out to him. He swatted her hand away, scowling he said, "Solitaire is a one person game."

Sakura scowled back and leaned against the wall sulking. Kisame resumed his game in silence. After several minutes, Kisame made a sound of displeasure, scooping the cards up, and reshuffling them.

Sakura couldn't resist goading him, "if you would have let me help, you might not have lost."

Kisame glared, "fine, you think you can beat me?"

"Yeah, I do."

"Name your game."

"Spit," she responded with a devious look in her eye.

Kisame dealt the cards in silence and the game began. The tension in the air from the competitive nature of both players almost palpable, the only sound the swift click of the cards and the squeak of the bedsprings from the force as they slammed the cards down between them.

Both paused as no more plays were available, "Spit!" Sakura yelled and the both flipped cards from the draw pile, resuming game. In another flurry of movement, cards were slapped down as the game resumed.

"Well, would you look at this?" Sakura heckled. "I've only got the cards in my hand left, but you have that who-o-ole stack over there."

Kisame smiled maliciously and in a flurry of movement slammed down card after card, not allowing Sakura to place even one. Sakura eyed the cards in her hand, frowning, because they were so far apart. She held four, while Kisame only had two remaining after his last play.

Both paused, neither able to play again, and Kisame taunted, "I thought you were doing so well over there, kunoichi, what happened? You haven't even played a card in the last few minutes."

"Spit!" Sakura yelled in displeasure, flipping from the draw pile. Kisame quickly flipped the card on his side and playing resumed. Sakura slammed a card viciously onto the left pile, while Kisame slammed a card on the right pile.

"One card, Kunoichi. Ooooh, whatcha gonna do?"

"Shuddap," she scowled. "Spit."

Sakura laid two cards while Kisame was unable to move.

"Spit."

Neither could move.

"Spit."

"AH!" Sakura screamed throwing down her last two cards. Her feet slammed into the bed as she proceeded to do a little happy dance, taunting him all the while.

Kisame glared, and scooped up the cards, jumping around her moving feet and said, "again!"

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A lone figure stood in the shadows, watching and waiting.

Itachi appeared before the shadowed figure, his nod of greeting was returned before the shadow spoke. "For what purpose have you called me here, Itachi?

"I am in need of a trustworthy research team with someone who is versed in advanced bloodline techniques."

"When?" the shadow asked.

"Two days."

"How long?"

"As long as it takes."

With a curt nod, the shadowed figure turned and disappeared in a swirl of his cloak.

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Sakura stared at the large mammal in front of her with some trepidation. It was not that Sakura didn't like animals, quite the contrary. She loved life and every beauty it represented. Was there anything more breathtaking than a new mother cradling her first babe? More serene than the sound of water pattering on leaves as it rained?

No, what bothered her was the idea of getting on it's back. Sakura had seen it done; she had even seen Naruto do it, but had never done so herself.

Itachi swung up into the saddle with practiced ease as if he had done it hundreds of times before.

Show off! Sakura inwardly shook her fist at him.

He held a hand down to her, but she backed up a step to bump into the solid mass that was Kisame. She glanced up at him over her shoulder. He was giving her that smile, the one she hated.

"Not scared of a little horsey are you?" Kisame taunted.

Before Sakura could form a reply, he grabbed her around the waist and plopped her in the saddle behind Itachi. She stuck her tongue out at his back and he responded by flipping her the bird without turning around.

Sakura quickly found her attention shifted as she was jerked backwards when Itachi kicked their ride into motion. She sought for anything to grab onto to prevent herself from falling. Not liking her options, her arms clutched to Itachi's midsection with a death grip, her face buried against his back.

Once she got over the initial shock of inertia, Sakura slackened her grip on Itachi, embarrassed that she had been clutching to him like a fearful child. Her intimates were pressed a little too intimately against his backside, but she had no room to shift away. She leaned slightly to the side to see around him, and the wind caught her full in the face.

Were Sakura the girl she once was, she would have been concerned about her hair tangling in the wind. Her younger self would also have been concerned that the salty, damp wind would ruin her delicate complexion. But Sakura was no longer that girl, and she found that she enjoyed the feeling of the wind whipping her hair into a frazzled mess and the cool, damp air rushing against her face, and making a thunderous noise in her ears. In those uninhibited moments, she could almost pretend that she was there by choice and the hardened muscles pressing against her were those of the man who she had chosen to ride double saddle with.

And then a slight falter in the horse's step had her clutching to Itachi for dear life again. She could swear she heard a chuckle over the sound of the roaring wind, but his back remained solidly unmoving and she had no way to tell if it was her overactive imagination or not.

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Sai faced Tsunade's desk in a rigid militant stance. Shizune stood next to the Hokage listening to his report.

"What do you mean you lost her trail?" Tsunade's voice carried a hard edge that only the foolhardy would ignore.

"We found traces of her in the hotel, which my messenger bird relayed. We followed the trail to a costal town outside of Konoha where we lost the trail."

"You already said all of that," Tsunade said impatiently. "Did they take a boat?"

"Indeterminate," came his curt reply.

"Well, what do you know?" Tsunade slammed her hand against the desk making everything including Shizune jump.

Sai paused for a second; when he spoke, his voice carried some of the emotions, which he had previously hidden. "I know that my teammate and friend is gone. I know that we lost her trail and cannot pick it up again." Sai's voice increased in volume as his level of agitation rose, "I know that the villagers of that crappy little town know more than they are letting on, and I suspect that Sakura was taken to Mist."

Tsunade eyed the young man before her and released a pent up sigh, seeming to deflate. All the things going wrong right now were not his fault.

"Mist, huh?" She paused, seemingly lost in thought for several seconds before refocusing on the young man before her. "Thank you, Sai, you are dismissed."

Sai bowed stiffly before exiting her office.

"Shizune?"

"Yes, Tsunade-sama?"

"Who is our best diplomatic emissary?"

Shizune walked over to a bookshelf and pulled down a fat tome. Flipping through the pages until she found the one she desired. She ran her finger down the page, stopping on a name.

"Hige Nobuko," Shizune murmured, tapping the page.

"Nobuko, huh? Send for him immediately. He is taking a trip to Mist."

"Yes, Hokage," Shizune said, returning the book to its rightful place before bowing slightly and departing the room.

Tsunade sat behind her desk, steepling her fingers together. A messenger had arrived earlier from Naruto explaining that there were no signs of Orochimaru.

There was a pyro on the loose who had yet to be caught; they had lost three buildings in the past two weeks, one of which was last night. Absolutely no progress had been made on Sasuke's condition, which was frustrating to no end. Three failed missions had reported back, one of which had casualties. She hadn't even finalized a quarter of that morning's paperwork, and had a meeting with a Rock Country emissary in the afternoon. And now this. A pounding headache was beginning to form, and the day was only half over.

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Sakura stumbled gracelessly when her feet hit the ground. Her inner thighs felt like jelly -bruised jelly. Since the battle in Mist the day before, she had only caught catnaps here and there, leaving her in a foul mood.

Itachi and Kisame both dismounted gracefully; neither seemed affected by the lack of sleep. This only served to further sour Sakura's mood. Damn men! Make me ride that stupid smelly mammal for half the day! I'm gonna put laxative in your soup next time I make dinner. That'll show you assholes!

But even the inner ranting which normally helped to relieve some tension didn't help. She wanted to lay down in a soft, cushy bed and sleep, preferably with an ice pack on the raw meat that her inner thighs had become.

Instead, Sakura slumped down on the hard rocky ground against a large boulder and fell into a light doze immediately.

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A shadow momentarily blocked out the sunlight falling on Sakura's sleeping eyelids; she came up swinging. Kisame caught her chakra-laden fist by grabbing her wrist. Sakura paused. Why the hell am I following them so docilely? As if I were waiting for Naruto to save me? They still have yet to explain what their intentions are. For all I know, they will kill or rape me when we get to wherever it is that we are going. Shouldn't I be making this as difficult as possible? Yet here I am treating them as if they were teammates. Screw this!

Since Sakura had been behaving herself lately, both Itachi and Kisame had relaxed their guard more around her. Samehada lay next to Kisame's pack, propped up against a boulder.

Sakura allowed her expression to relax into one of recognition and gave all outward signs of the fight having gone out of her. When Kisame released her and turned to walk away, she was on him in an instant.

Itachi watched the scene unfold from several meters away, and didn't have enough time to react before Kisame was slumped unconscious. He's not going to be happy when he wakes up, Itachi internalized even as he reacted.

Sakura was ready for him, and had formed hand seals behind Kisame's body as he fell, so Itachi only caught part of the technique. His sharingan followed the complicated swirling chakra patterns through her internal coils as he quickly tried to ascertain what jutsu she had used and how to counter it. She watched him watch her with his swirling sharingan; in reality it was only a few seconds before Itachi reacted.

He came at her, and Sakura kept her face impassive. She feigned left and moved to the right, but he predicted her movements and was there already. Sakura's fingers brushed the back of his neck as she spun away, but he was faster and landed a crippling blow to her side, breaking several ribs. Sakura went down, gasping for breath, and Itachi stood over her impassively, but frowned at her pained smirk.

"Checkmate," she whispered.

Itachi froze as he felt foreign chakra in his system. His mind quickly realized the small touch to the back of his neck had allowed her chakra entry. An odd sensation of being disconnected from everything overcame Itachi and he felt the compelling need to walk toward the cliff. His body had already begun to move of its own accord.

He turned toward the cliff in front of him and began walking towards it. He found the edge so fascinating. Rationally, he knew this was her jutsu at work, but he had no control over his body. It was like she had turned him into a puppet. But he had watched Sasori enough times, there had been no chakra threads connecting her to him.

Another footstep closer. At least he was able to slow the technique by resisting, perhaps buying some time. He was about ten feet from the edge but the desire to continue was just as strong.

Sakura watched grimly as her jutsu took form, it almost seemed unreal the way he had played right into her trap. She could see him resisting from the rigidity of his muscles. If he managed to break the jutsu, he was going to definitely want retribution.

She used chakra to numb her side, which eased her breathing slightly. And then she set the worst bones using chakra to reinforce and cushion temporarily as she had nothing to bind them with.

This was one of those times where she wished that chakra would knit the bones as well. Unfortunately, there were limits to what she could do. A skilled medic could expand and shrink blood vessels to promote blood to flow to certain areas to facilitate the natural healing power everybody had. They could also impede the electrical current to nerves to numb an area, and even solidify chakra inside the body to grab onto something without having to make an incision. However, healing was not magic and could not instantly knit bones and tissue back together.

She glanced at Itachi; something akin to guilt flashed through her. There was no doubt that he would die from that fall. The face of the wall was rocky, and it stood far above sea level. Without control of his body, he would be unable to protect himself from the impact.

Finished with her field patch, Sakura noted Kisame was still unconscious and quickly released the horses, sending them running. She grabbed some provisions from the packs next to Samehada, and with a last glance at Itachi who was less than five feet from the edge, she took off.

Itachi looked down; he was about than three feet from the cliff edge and the wind caught his hair and cloak, causing them to billow around him. He was calm despite the fact that he was about to die. How many times had he stared death in the face? It was bound to happen sooner or later.

The sea was far below; an uneven rock wall tapered into it. Jagged rocks would slow his descent, no doubt.

He had heard Sakura's departure. It had been several minutes since the horses had let out shrill whinnies before bolting, the sound of their hooves diminishing in the distance. Had his situation been less dire and aggravating, he may have been amused that she had chosen to go on foot rather than ride. Now the only sounds were the sea, the wind, and the scrapping shuffle of his feet moving across the rocky cliff.

The view was better now as he was at the edge. One more step would send him plunging to his death. All of his attempts to break her jutsu had been in vain. A small thrill of exhilaration filled Itachi as his foot stepped into air and he found himself falling forward.

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