Chapter 1: Bleeding Hearts

Gentle notes floated across the field.

A simple yet appeasing tone created a trail of serenity along its way.

The simplicity itself spoke of an innate elegance that was currently radiating from the said individual.

Her soft humming subsided temporarily as her hands glided along her katana in skilled precision - from the roughened hilt of the sword towards the sharpened edge of the blade. The metal reflecting brightly against the sunlight, giving it an alluring glow. Dark lashes fanned across her cheeks as emerald eyes lowered in a contemplating manner. With a determined clenching of the jaw, the weapon was elevated to eye-level; arising from its initial position of resting against her bare thighs. It was indeed that of a beautiful craftsmanship. Sakura petals decorated the handle of the sword, giving it an almost feminine touch. Similarly, a silk ribbon was tied firmly at the end of the hilt; completing the weapon to the naked eye.

However, the ANBU medic knew for a fact that it would never be complete unless it was bathed in the deep colour of blood.

The deadly purpose that existed behind such a weapon of destruction...

The exquisite creation came to be perfected with every strike. It cried out to her during battles; screaming for flesh and blood. In all truth, it was a ruthless tool that relished in the metallic scent of death during every mission. It would never truly be satisfied unless it pierced the hearts of the enemies and tore the throats of the traitors.

And it was this very contradiction that Haruno Sakura simply adored.

It was a heartless tool that perfected her during missions. It was a cold-blooded tool that perfected the very foundation that the village of Konoha was built upon. Simply put, it was a tool that carved the very existence of the loved ones she strived to protect. It crafted the deadly character within her; exploiting every sort of opportunity in order to assist in the achieving and obtaining of the desired effect - deceive, attack, kill, and conceal. This was the very system that operated upon a code of conduct that would never be defined. The deceiving appearance in its delicate appeal would consequently result upon the demise of the presumptuous fool. The past was inconsequential. The only crucial component was that of the present in the world of the ninja. The origin nor the actual appearance of the weapon mattered not; just as the soft colours of pink and green held no importance in the battle field.

Her past faults, her un-ninja-like petite structure, her supposedly larger-than-normal forehead, as well as her humanly flaws and imperfections were of no relevance.

In all truths, such frivolous details and technicalities were insignificant in the realm of battles and assassinations.

All that mattered was of her usefulness - her input - during a mission that ultimately distinguished the strong from the weak.

And there was no doubt about the fact that the older, wiser pink-haired woman was an irreplaceable asset. She got the job done within the allocated time in all that of efficiency and effectiveness.

In the end, this was all she had needed to break free and flourish.

A delicate sigh escaped her ruby lips as a silent breeze slid past her pathway. It ruffled and played with the ends of her pink hair as well as the ribbon tied to the end of her katana. It was...comforting. Much like the way her proud father used to ruffle her uniquely coloured strands whenever she was close to tears from all the taunting and teasing. It made her feel naive again; like a child protected from all that occurred in this world.

Time sure did fly.

"Lazing off again, Haruno?" a deep voice pierced through; her daydreaming session evaporating instantly. "I might have to inform Shikamaru he has a bit of competition."

With a carefree grin, the quiet demeanor gave way to that of a sassy outlook as emerald eyes lazily stared back in amusement. Lowering her katana gently to the ground, the petite kunoichi resumed with that of maintenance - commencing with the task of polishing the blade. But amidst her relaxed posture, the initiation of an incredibly sharp mind proceeded.

"Stalking Shikamaru now are we, Hyuuga?" the medic taunted - never the one to miss the opportunity to initiate a battle of wits. "Unfortunately, you're just not his type."

"No, he's made it quite clear that it wasn't going to work out between us." An equally amused ANBU captain drawled out.

"So you're only visiting me to be both comforted and pitied?" Briefly looking away from her task at hand, emerald eyes widened in drastic exaggeration. "I'm hurt, Hyuuga."

"And here I thought the great ANBU captain was here purely for the sake of enjoying my company." A feigned pout spread across her features.

The usually stoic male smirked at that particular comment as he noted teasing green orbs that dared and challenged him to continue with their little bantering session. The little minx...

"...Hanabi will be disappointed to learn that her legendary puppy-eyes has officially been beaten," he said wryly, slight humour in his voice.

Laughing out in pure delight, the pink-haired woman giggled uncontrollably; one of her hands clenching onto her tightened abdomen muscles as a thoroughly amused male ANBU captain stood gazing down upon the stunning picture in all that of satisfaction. There was something simply exhilarating about the idea that he had been the cause of her happiness. And the oblivious woman had no idea as to how enticing she looked; reddened cheeks due to the current exertion coupled with brightened emerald eyes packaged in all that of lean muscles and soft curves... Absolutely stunning.

Calmly plucking the personalised katana away from the giggling woman, the powerful ninja with proud silver eyes silently regarded his pretty teammate as he soundlessly positioned himself next to her.

"Childishness becomes you, Haruno." He dryly teased his companion; who was practically gasping to catch her breath.

Refraining the temptation to make her loose control of her inhibitions once again, the handsome captain gently brushed aside pink locks away from her eyes; his calloused fingers ever so softly sliding across soft milky skin. As widened emerald eyes regarded him in all that of curiosity and wonder, the Hyuuga prodigy could not help but allow his hand to linger a little longer as his thumb eagerly brushed against the contours of her cheek.

And almost automatically, the expressive pink-haired woman answered back with a heart-warming smile of her own.

It was such times that made her feel so alive...

As precious seconds stretched to minutes, she could not help but sigh in contentment as her eyes slid shut - completely trusting the young man who literally held her in his hands.

Innocence and naivety no longer held her back. Her instabilities no longer restricted her. Her weaknesses have been accounted for. But most importantly, her false conceptualisation of 'love' no longer suppressed her into the void of self-pity, depression and insecurity. Thank you, Sakura... The hoarse whispers of the past no longer haunted her. She no longer awoke in the middle of the night, only to cry herself to sleep. It had taken time. It had taken painstaking patience. But eventually, a life without Sasuke allowed her to see for the very first time all that had been in front of her. Her friends, her identity and heritage as well as her very own life... And inevitably, a life without Sasuke was all that she had needed - the cure that had awakened her from the deep slumber of falsification and deceit.

The abandoning of her childhood crush after 2 years of moaning had been clearly overdue.

His abrupt departure had left too much time on her hands and Sakura had been at a complete loss.

What was she supposed to do when her 'beloved Sasuke-kun' was no longer around to chase after?

She had ended up contemplating, examining, and analyzing her life; her identity, and her situation. She was a simple apprentice of the prestigious Tsunade-sama. She was a talented kunoichi with perfect chakra control.

But for some reason, that no longer held significant meaning. After all, what did this all mean when she still felt as lost as a newborn baby?

Hence, after much observation and deliberation - which involved a great deal of ramen consumption with her self-proclaimed older brother, Umazaki Naruto, as well as the endless destruction of the training ground - Sakura finally came to the obvious conclusion that the sole-Uchiha survivor had been a hopeless case. It was blatantly obvious, after taking a couple of steps back, that her affections had indeed been a mixture of admiration and emotional attachment. It had been a childish infatuation. It had been a silly old crush.

Chuckling at the very thought of her so-called 'childhood lover', emerald eyes gingerly slid open as they came into full contact with the questioning gaze of the other.

Shaking her head lightly - not wanting to belay her humorous thoughts just yet - the kunoichi responded with a mischievous smile.

His gentle touches soon slid down to form a comfortable grip around her shoulder blade as he raised his eye brows elegantly. Two can play at that game.

Ignoring the quickened pace of her pulse with those intense silver eyes gazing into her own - a mere glance already racking havoc in her internal systems - Sakura playfully stuck her tongue out as she resumed with her contemplation; knowing all too well how much her male companion hated the way she drowned herself with the thoughts of the past.

Indeed, Sakura no longer allowed them to overwhelm and consume her. Never again.

But most recently, a particular thought did indeed come across her mind more often than most; of apologising to the Uchiha for her past annoyance.

...If, he ever decides to come back home to his family.

But such thoughts, however, were turning out to be wishful thinking.

Reality was never so accomodating to one's hopes and dreams.

It was something that had taken this particular kunoichi particular hardship to learn and accept.

Her perception towards life changed dramatically as her ninja skills improved. After surpassing Tsunade-sama in medical jutsu, the striving kunoichi began focusing on combat at the age of sixteen. Her physical strength was beyond all that of logic in which a seemingly gentle tap could blast through walls without a fuss. But her desire to convert such destructive strength into a technique of swiftness and accuracy, led her to secretly experiment with different weapons that were stashed away in her mentor's office. The idea of transferring her chakra into another object had - for reasons still unknown - appealed to her immensely. And now at the age of eighteen, Haruno Sakura was one of the exclusive ANBU members who dedicated their lives for the safety of their hidden leaf village.

If Uchiha Sasuke did indeed return back to the village, he was in for a surprise.

Because after apologising to her old teammate for her past ways, she would promptly plummet him to the ground - sending him all the way to China and back - for making them worry.

Who would have known that the loud, Uchiha-obsessed young girl would finally mature?

"No need to pout, Neji." Snickering inwardly, the pink-haired kunoichi teased as she faced her disgrunted companion. "I must say, Hanabi could learn a thing or two from you."

"I'll behave once you do," But the next sentence that followed soon after was anything but humorous.

"Contemplating about the past again, Sakura?"

Hyuuga Neji, the ANBU captain of her squadron - the descendent of the famous Hyuuga lineage. Blessed with amazing abilities and yet, cursed with the forever engraving on his forehead. Her friend and teammate of many years who also happened to be one of the most sought-after bachelors in Konoha for many years.

He was still very much the calculating, stoic individual but underneath his cold facade; retained a very deep carying individual who never hesitated to put himself on the line for the people he cared for.

Presenting him with a small apologetic smile, Sakura expectedly awaited for him to hand back her katana. He always seemed to know what she was thinking.

And knowing him just as well, the pink-haired kunoichi was most certain she would never escape his piercing gaze. It would be a disastrous move on her part if she was to ever evade the topic at hand. It simply wouldn't get her anywhere.

"The past comforts me," she reluctantly admitted; soft words that were only meant for his ears. "It reminds me of how I have come to be."

"...And what is your conclusion?" he questioned - despite the fact that he already knew the answer.

"I am proud of the person I have become." No hesitation. No hint of uncertainty. The proud kunoichi declared.

Without another word, the young Hyuuga rose from his initial position - his lean yet muscled frame receiving the full glory of the sunlight. Emerald eyes followed his every movement as they warmed with that of her smile of gratitude. Momentarily, his breath caught in his throat as the sheer beauty of such a simple act trapped him in a spiral of promises and eternity. It stunned him, as to how strong his friend of many years had become. And the fact that she would continue to grow and flourish before his very eyes, exhilarated him beyond words.

Completely oblivious to his inner reactions, the young woman began gathering all her belongings generously spread across the grassy field.

And soon enough, a strong calloused hand lingered in front of her field of vision; his tall figure easily towering over hers as he offered his unconditional assistance.

A quick smirk was all the encouragement he ushered and it was all she needed to place her deceivingly soft hand on top of his.

Autumn had been indeed kind to the village bringing forth infinite warmth and serenity.

Sakura admired the fading fields one last time as both ninja sped off into the distance.

xXxXxXxXxXxXx

"No, you-good-for-nothing-annoying-little-brat!"

The usual serene atmosphere of the abundant season was undetectable as the entire village shook from the ferocity of their leader.

Gone was the patience of an experienced protector only to be replaced by the unstoppable wrath and fury of an angry woman.

"The mission is about stealing the scroll from the target without being noticed!" The curvaceous blonde-haired woman roared.

The unfortunate wooden desk was close to breaking down from the pressure of Tsunade-sama's confined chakra. It was struggling to escape and destroy the current source of a major annoyance.

"Why the hell not, old hag?" Boardering on that of bravery and foolishness, the head-strong ninja remained firm on his stance. "I say we charge in, kill the dude, steal the scroll and go our merry way."

As the usual screaming competition fired off between two of the most stubborn individuals ever to inhibit this planet, the rest of the occupants simultaneously heaved a sigh as yet another familiar scenario unfolded before their very eyes.

Logic and Naruto never was all that compatible.

Twirling a lock of pink hair; Sakura observed the remaining others - most looking just about as bored as yours truly. Tenten seemed to be contemplating whether to drive the kunai into the blonde fox boy, Lee-san appeared to be enthusiastically doing squats to pass the time, Kiba and Shino were interacting with their close companions - the former making his fury friend do 360 degree turns using its tail as the chasing point while the latter whispered things to his insect friends, Neji twirling a shuriken with a dangerous glint in his eyes (most probably conjuring up painful methods of torturing the so-called future Hokage during training); only Shikamaru looking comfortable and at home as he leaned fully against a chair allowing his body the full leverage to stretch and relax. Lazy bastard.

As round one ended with Tsunade-sama smashing a china cup into an unidentifiable mess using just a pinky; round two resumed as both commenced throwing insults that no longer had anything to do with the mission at hand.

Grunts and groans emitted across the room.

It was always the same. It was all too predictable - a distinctive routine that persisted like a pebble in a shoe.

It would all start with Tsunade-sama giving them a mission. They were usually the higher up mission such as that of assassination. But whatever the objective, it would be followed by loud protests from Naruto. It was as if the annoying brat purposely picked and poked every little detail just to spite Hokage-sama. And the unfortunate reality was that he succeeded everytime.

Sure, this could be interpreted as one of their many deviant and freakish ways of bonding - using that of the famous Freudian analysis.

And yet, her sensei was looking all too eager to mangle her former best friend into a pretty little corpse; their abnormal method of interaction just couldn't be healthy.

The possible demise of the self-proclaimed future Hokage seemed to be not all that bad taking into consideration the pros that consisted of;

(1) No more ramen advertisements in the middle of the night (what the hell was he thinking? She seriously needed to dissect his so-called 'brain' one of these days!)
(2) No more 4am in the morning calls whenever Naruto and Hinata-chan have their little love fights (so very annoying!)
(3) No more money-consuming habit of buying him ramen
(4) No more saving his sorry little ass
(5) Finally, no more Naruto!

A look of much consideration was blatantly evident in the pink-haired kunoichi. Is Tsunade-sama trying to climb over her desk? Shrugging at the normality of the entire situation, she continued tapping the window sill as she continued forth.

But taking into account the very basis of the judicial system revolving around the fairness of conductivity, Haruno Sakura - the epitome of a law abiding citizen - faithfully decided to ensure that both the positive and the negative points would be correlated in the equation that would result upon the destined fate of her fox friend. The very foundation upon which their society was built upon was that of consistency and fairness, after all. Who was she to discard such fundamental values notwithstanding the fact that the current list of positives sounded aboslutely divine.

Racking her enormous brain to squeeze out a few of the supposedly unfortunate consequences of the annoying ninja's demise, the cons appeared to consist of;

(1) Nothing.
(2) Absolutely nothing.
(3) Zero.
(4) A blank piece of paper.
(5) Man, the list looked pitiful.

There was simply no competition. The negatives were not even worth the effort. With a satisfied grin due to that of the scientific justification that backed her hypothesis, the green-eyed medic would simply sit back and enjoy the show.

Sure, it would all too brutal and grotesque knowing her mentor of many years - for Tsunade-sama would make it her upmost personal mission make his death a painful one.

But nevertheless; one could not argue against that of critical thinking and logic!

Thus, it seemed that Naruto's death was inevitable. She would be sad and somewhat distressed for a couple of days, that much was certain. But the infinite supply of happiness, serenity, and calamity would be worth it.

Planning her best friend's funeral with great vigour, Sakura was about to get the details of her heart-broken speech when the clock struck twelve - the loud tolling of the bells thundered across the village.

But for some odd reason or another, the realisation of hunger regarding that of lunch brought forth feelings of uncertainty; continually nagging at the back of her mind. She was missing something...something excruciatingly important and crucial. What was she-

...Wait a minute.

Hadn't Naruto babbled on about free ramen coupons last night? Something about a packaged deal... Good Lord, free lunch!

Widened emerald eyes frantically swept towards the train wreck that would soon commence and her mouth hung open in horror as the crystallised scene left nothing to possibility nor the imagination.

Tsunade-sama's hands were glowing!

Sakura needed to act now and she had to do it fast!


"I must say," the lazy genuis drawled out with a menacing smirk spreading across his ramen-filled mouth. "Never knew you carried a spare jar of sake in your bag. Is this a woman-thing or just a Sakura-thing?"

Slurping loudly at the end of his sentence, Shikamaru looked down upon the last portion of his freely obtained ramen in satisfaction.

This particular daily routine was something that he could definately get used to besides that of cloud watching and napping.

The Hokage would try to skin Naruto alive using only her fingernails while Sakura somehow managed to halt the gruesome process for yet another day. This would all end with free ramen from the young man who almost met his doom.

"A bit of both," she replied with practised ease. "A woman has to stay prepared. But more so in times of saving a certain idiot's ass!" A murderous gaze swiftly moved towards the direction of a certain someone.

"You mean saving Naruto's ass whenever he has those free ramen coupons, right Sakura-chan?"

Kiba's final remark resulted in the eruption of chuckles and laughter throughout the entire interior of the restaurant, effectively concealing the loud protest from a certain blonde ANBU member.

Smirking at the familiar atmosphere as well as the repetitive activity of teasing the energetic blonde, the stoic ANBU captain leaned against his part of the booth all the while observing his relaxed comrades.

Naruto was currently pouting excessively but it soon enough switched to his usual easy-going grin. He was very much the same young boy who had literally knocked some sense into the once fate-obsessed Hyuuga; he was still and forever would be the symbol of hope that would continue to hold everyone together during challenges and hardships. Shikamaru, the natural genius, the strategist, the bloody amazing planner and tactician; Kiba, who excelled in scouting and following the trails of their targets and missing-nins; and finally, Shino, with his irreplaceable sensitivity with the help from his insects; were all currently betting on as to exactly when their medic-nin would punch the blonde few feets under the ground. Shikamaru would win, as always. Tenten - the markswoman who never missed the target even from great distances - was desperately trying to hold back an infuriated Sakura - the only ANBU member with the specialised healing ability. Lee was as he ever was; eccentric and obsessively determined in just about anything he engaged in - even the way he ate his ramen was distinctively singular.

This was the mixed up, disfunctional group of ninjas that held the highest success rate.

But most importantly, this was Neji's family. His friends and close companions who completed him as their leading captain.

Initially, they had been specifically chosen for their unique talents as soon as they reached the level of jounin to contribute as the deadly forces of Konoha.

They marked the second largest group of ANBU in the hidden-leaf village; the other being the old ANBU group consisting of their previous mentors. Despite the fact that they were much younger with less experience, they made it up with ambition and determination and it was all they needed to perfect every mission handed to them.

And Neji was going to make sure they stayed this way for many years to come.

"Lazing off again, Hyuuga?" Sarcasm was practically dripping off the melodic voice of an enticing kunoichi as he felt her glide towards his side.

A wisp of lilies and she was instantly situated on the seat next to his own. From the corner of his eyes, he noted an unconscious blonde twitching on the ground and a positively glowing Shikamaru who was counting through a substantive amount of cash. Seemed like the bet had finally come to an end.

"Being naughty and contemplating, are we?" That sounded particularly familiar. "How very hypocritical of you, Neji."

Those who say routines are unbearably boring and pointless had another thing coming when they hung out with this witty woman.

Taking a last swig of the hot ramen soup, the young Hyuuga mentally prepared himself for round two.

The mission could wait.