Starting AN: Yes, I do realize I'm the world's most horrible author for putting this on hiatus through the entire summer. I have to sigh. I hardly have any time for myself at the moment, plus I'm lacking inspiration. (All this equals and extra late and crappy chapter.)
"Sasuke!" an ever-so familiar blonde boy called out. Naruto bounded right alongside his long-time friend, whom thought it best to fully ignore the child-like adult at the moment. This simply caused Naruto to contort his face into another one of those crazy expressions. "Sasuke? Hey, are you listening to me? Sasuke! Sasuke… Sa-su-ke. Saaaasuke…"
The Uchiha stopped in mid step and turned to face the man who was so bent on annoying the hell out of him. "Can you please to the world a favor and stay quiet for five minutes of your life?" That being said, Sasuke continued his journey up to his office.
Well, anyone who was anyone in the Uzumaki's opinion (meaning whoever knew him), surely knew it took more than just a subtle 'go away' to shake him off. So, going along with his predictable behavior, Naruto continued his never-ending string of questions. "So Sasuke, have you seen Sakura around? There's this party going on downstairs in the cafeteria tonight and man, I'm going to look my best. But so says Kiba, I need some help with my styling. Sakura's really good at that aesthetic crap. I am in desperate need! I can't have that mutt-head show me up! God, that will be the end of me if that happens!" There was a moment of silence once Naruto was finished his rant.
"You do realize I couldn't care less, right?"
The blonde put a fist to the left side of his chest. "That hurts. Right here, man." The two stepped off the elevator and onto the single office floor. "But seriously. I haven't seen her around in twenty-four hours. You think she left without telling anyone again?"
Sasuke's onyx eyes shifted towards the slightly shorter Naruto, then back ahead of him again. "I'm not her keeper. She can do whatever she pleases."
Naruto frowned. He let his friend into the office before following momentarily after. "Dude, you totally wouldn't have said that a few years ago. What the hell's been on your mind lately?"
The Uchiha seated himself on the over-sized leather chair behind his desk, and brushed some non-existent dust of its gleaming surface. He chose to ignore the question, and began to sift through some papers he'd been meaning to look at. Naruto cleared his throat, indicating he was expecting an answer. "I run an entire corporation myself; I have a lot of things on my mind."
The blonde sighed, running a hand through his unruly locks. "Damnit, this is what I worry about. Bro, you are totally one of those stereotypical workaholic dimbulbs that pile themselves behind papers until they kill themselves." Saskue looked up, giving one of his knowing looks. Naruto rubbed the back of his head and continued quickly. "Not that I expect you to commit suicide or something. I'm just saying. Alright, so I'm not getting my message across again but—"
He was cut off by a garbled noise that had begun emitting from the speakerphone. Both males gazed intently on the device's strange functioning, until actual coherent words were heard. "Hello Mr. President. It's me again. I've called to express my condolences about the latest victims to the diseases that seem to keep plaguing your corporation. You know, I have this one person in my contact books that is this superb doctor, specializing in—"
Neither of the two managed to hear the rest of the phone call, as Sasuke had pulled out the phone cord. He gave an irritable sigh, and continued reading over his papers.
Naruto looked from the now-destroyed phone cord back to his friend. It didn't take a rocket scientist to see the connection. "Oh. So that's it. That bastard Orochimaru's been bothering you a lot lately hmm? Seriously, I can't believe we haven't found him yet. He's probably got the best people to cover his tracks and…"
"Right. Sorry. That's not helping. You know what, though? Don't sweat it so much. There'll be a break in this nonsense soon enough and everything will be fine. You know what you need? A break. Do you remember what a break is?"
Sasuke sighed. Maybe there was a little truth in his friend's words. "Yes, I do remember what that is."
"Good. At least that's a start. Now, why don't you go find Sakura and take her out to dinner or something? It'll be a breather for both of you."
It was Naruto's turn to let out a weight-of-the-world sigh. "Come on. You need humanoid contact. Mainly female. It's good to keep the hormones flowing at times. What, you two didn't have a fight or something, did you?" There was simply silence for the next little moment, where Sasuke was expect to answer with an 'oh, of course not' (which never came). "Dude. You suck. How could you fight with her?"
Now at the edge of his patience, Sasuke set aside his paperwork and stared his friend down. "You're in no position to ask that. You're questioning my judgment. I know what I'm doing." That being said, he rose from his chair, and strode across and out of his office.
"Man, I sure hope so," Naruto said to the empty room. He walked over to the large mahogany desk, and pulled open one of the drawers. In it lay a new phone cord. He connected it quickly and tossed out the damaged one.
"What to do today?" Sakura asked to the walls of her room. She tossed her getting-rather-lengthy pink hair behind her shoulders and grabbed a matching purse from the closet. She did a quick twirl in front of the mirror, and gave a nod to her reflection.
She hopped downstairs. There she found an interesting sight. Her mother was fast asleep on the couch, a thin blanket draped over her thin body. 'Strange,' Sakura thought, 'why didn't she just go to bed?' Perhaps she'd just been completely drained and ended up flaking out on the most comfortable surface within five steps of the front door. Then where had the blanket come from?
She stepped off the final step, which was located right beside the kitchen. She had happened to glance inside, and then quickly glued her back to the wall of the stairwell. Her father had his back turned at the time, hovering over the counter. She had no intention of dealing with him at the moment, and was thankful he hadn't noticed her presence.
Using her stealth that she'd acquired over the number of years, Sakura soundlessly shuffled by the kitchen and towards the front door. With the same quietness, she slipped on the closest pair of shoes, and left her house.
She hurried out of her yard and down the street before resuming a normal pace. There she let out a breath of relief and went into thought. 'Surely my father didn't put that blanket there. He's never showed any sort of compassion towards Mom and me, from what I can remember.'
She made a tiny 'tch' sound, and let her feet wander to no spot in particular. Before she knew it, they had brought her to the hospital doors. It seemed as if it was the only place that needed her. She entered the sliding doors and looked around. It seemed busier than usual, with a whole bunch of citizens milling around.
She decided her first stop would be the intern locker room, located on the floor below. She began to head for the stairs, until she noticed a certain someone coming in the opposite direction. Her heart instantly began to slam against her rib cage. Sai.
Sakura turned on her heel and opted for hiding behind a pillar. If she was noticed or not, she didn't know, but was betting on the fact that there were so many people about that he wouldn't have noticed.
After a few moments of waiting, a thought hit her. 'Wait… what am I doing? I'm not like some school-girl hiding from her crush, or something. I don't even like the guy. What happened yesterday… well I'll forget about it for now. I have to be professional about this.' Giving herself a silent and quick chant of luck, she removed herself from her hiding spot. Head up high, she headed towards the stairs.
"Sakura?" she head Sai's voice call out. Darn. She was hoping he'd gone about his business.
She turned around quickly, her pink hair hitting her face. But she gave a smile anyway. "Sai! Hey, what's up?"
The dark haired man shrugged and placed a hand on his head. "Just finished sitting in on a small therapy session in the trauma ward. I'm taking a break. Did you want to join me for coffee in the cafeteria or something?"
Sakura wanted to decline, knowing how that situation ended the last time around. However, she didn't remember agreeing either, but nevertheless, she sat at an empty table, waiting for Sai to fetch their cups from the vending machine.
He returned a moment later, and placed the paper cup down in front of her. She mumbled a 'thank you', and began to sip the caffeine-infested drink. They sat in awkward silence; it always seemed to be this way when they got together. Though, it was pretty obvious for the both of them to figure out what the other was thinking at this particular moment.
Knowing that Sai wasn't the likely party to start up the conversation, Sakura took on that liberty. "Look, Sai, what happened last night… well…"
Sakura didn't quite understand what was so funny about her few words, but she'd stopped when Sai began to chuckle. "You're still dwelling on that, hmm?"
She immediately got defensive, and her cheeks turned a pinkish tint. "No! Well, it depends what you mean by 'dwelling'. I just want to clear something up."
Giving a half smile, half smirk, Sai reached out his pale hand, and placed it underneath the girl's chin. "What? Want to tell me how much you enjoyed yesterday?" Sakura shrunk back into her chair, backing up enough so that the hand was no longer anywhere near her face. He let out another chuckle once again.
"No. I'm trying to be serious here, unlike someone. Please just listen to me for a second."
"You don't like me."
Sakura blinked, and stared back at Sai. He'd dropped that fake smile, and replaced it with his blank look. He was always dead on with these kinds of things. However, Sakura hadn't intended on saying things with such bluntness. "Oh… Sai, wait, I don't mean…"
As if not hearing her, he continued. "But you know, that's alright. I don't like you either."
"What I meant—wait. You don't?"
"Nope. Not at all."
There was another long silence. During that time, Sai simply just looked on amusingly as Sakura's facial expressions changed every so often. Puzzlement, uncertainty, anger, disbelief. What was there to say in response to that? "Um, alright… great?"
Sai gave a small and quiet laugh to himself, and shifted his gaze to somewhere behind Sakura. "I can't really explain my actions earlier. Maybe I just wanted to know what it felt like to kiss Sakura. But you've been acting unusually lately. And like I said, despite the fact I'm doing art therapy, I do understand the human psyche."
The girl blinked, processing the words. She was still quite uncertain of what had just happened. However, she had managed to figure out that Sai was simply worried on her behalf. Only, he had a strange way of showing it. Very strange. "Is that you're way of saying I can come talk to you about my problems?"
There it was again. Sakura once again felt like punching the guy. Sort of like how she usually felt. Perhaps by talking to Sai, it really had made her feel better. With a cross between a laugh and a sigh, Sakura managed to come up with one word. "Thanks."
The main reason why her reply had only been a word long was the fact that another person had begun calling her name. Both pairs of eyes looking in the direction of the voice, and found Yamanaka Ino racing over. She was waving around a slip of paper.
"Sakura! Sakura! Guess what, I have the greatest news ever!" the blond then noticed Sai, and gave a quick apologetic nod. "Sorry, that's a little rude of me. I didn't know you were busy."
Sai simply gave another fake-smile. "It's not a bother, Miss Beautiful. We were just finishing up."
Ino had blushed at the nickname she'd just received, but it was Sakura who spoke next. "Hey, easy there Tiger. This one's already married. Now shoo you prick. I'll see you later." She gave a smile and waved, while the dark haired man looked as if he wanted to childishly stick his tongue out in process. However, that would have been horrendously out of character, so Sai simply substituted it with a wave of his own and went on his way.
When he was gone, Ino spoke again. "Oh wow. Was he the 'Midnight Romance' guy?"
Sakura snapped her head back (for she was the one who had childishly stuck out her tongue at his back). "Sai? Ew, no. He's just a coworker."
Needless to say Ino didn't look thoroughly convinced, but decided to go back to what she'd been saying earlier. "Whatever. Anyway. Good news. Today I got an email from Shika! Look, look!" Ino pointed repeatedly to the sheet of paper she'd printed from the computer. "I'm so glad he wrote. He says life's boring, which means everything's going well, and that he doesn't miss the noise, which really means that he misses Mikoto and I super huge ton."
Or, Sakura figured, he really didn't miss the noise. Though, she decided to keep that opinion to herself. Instead, she simply smiled and replied, "That's great Ino. At least he hasn't run off with another woman yet, since he's courteous enough to write you."
Ino's face immediately turned cold. "If he dared to cheat on me, he knows he'd be castrated." Sakura blinked a couple times, wondering if her friend was joking. It didn't really seem that way. "Anyway, I didn't come to talk about myself. Well, not fully. There's a part here for you too. I don't really understand it but whatever."
Sakura took one of the sheets of paper from her friend. On it lay a few simple sentences.
Give this part to Sakura: I have an appointment. Check your schedule.The pink haired girl stared at the page for a little while longer. "I have an appointment?" she read aloud.
Ino shrugged. "He's a little strange. Look, I'd love to help you figure it out, but this kind of stuff just isn't my style. And Mikoto is probably getting fed up with daycare again, so I'll bring her home to, I don't know, build a motor or something. If you ever figure the thing out, call me. Maybe I'll start understanding my husband a little better when I can decipher what he writes."
And as abruptly as Ino had come, she left with the same haste.
Sakura didn't feel much like sitting like a loner in a hospital cafeteria and decided it was her time to leave as well. All the while, she stared at Shikamaru's message. Why did it seem like she was missing something?
About half way between the hospital and her house, it hit her. She turned on her heel and ran toward the train station.
The phrase had been locked away in her memory for some time. Mainly because since those old times (old being about five years back), she hadn't had a reason to remember it. Back in her high school days when she and Shikamaru ran the information club, the phrase had been a part of their overly long password.
So, simply translated, it meant he had something for her. Checking the schedule was probably literal rather than some kind of metaphor, so she ran back to the train station and hopped on the train back to Sharingan. She'd been lucky one was there when she arrived. Some poor employee was going to be missing their lift. Oh well. Sakura knew it was for the greater good of the company.
Now back in her room (a good couple hours later, of course), she removed the computer from her closet chock full of worn and unworn clothes. She cursed the creators of computers to having them take so long to start up. The anxious teen was back in her spirits. In a way, it felt refreshing.
Once her laptop was ready, she opened up her virtual agenda. Under the previous day's date, she found a message in the 11 PM time slot. It had a hyperlink with a few words beside it.
Don't know how much use this is to you. People here seem to like it though. Hopefully they don't mind if you use it.Rubbing her hands together excitedly, Sakura clicked on the hyperlink. It brought her to a dull-looking SFTP site. None of the folders were named, simply numbered in order. She clicked on the first one, and the expected password box came up. As usual, she used Shikamaru's trusty code, which had yet to fail.
The contents of the folder were rather dull. She skimmed through what looked to be telephone logs. Some were from the same number, yet most were different, and looked as if they'd come from different parts of the world.
Sakura wondered why he'd put that in. However, knowing Shikamaru, he'd probably want her to do some deciphering on her own. It was, simply put, too much effort to show the conclusions.
The second folder, much like the first, were simply a bunch of IP addresses. Perhaps she'd gotten her hopes up. She'd really hoped that someone inside the Akatsuki would have access to several sources that would help the people of Sharingan. So far, that dream seemed to be slowly deteriorating.
The third folder contained only an executable file. Right underneath the link, Shikamaru, or whoever had put the directory together, had left a set of brief instructions: Enter number or IP address.
Sakura lazily opened up the application, which turned out to be a simple white box with space for text. Maybe she'd humor the author of the program and enter in one of the telephone numbers from the first folder. When Sakura entered the number, another small information box popped up, giving the latitude and longitude of the location of the call.
'Well that's nifty, if you ever wanted to stalk anyone,' Sakura thought dryly, and entered the second number on the list. Much like the first one, the coordinates of the call location materialized. At first she didn't think much of it, but right before closing it, she did a double take. Those coordinates looked strangely familiar.
Sitting up straighter on her chair, she began to enter the next few numbers (and IP addresses as well) into, what she now called, the stalker-application-of-doom. After going through what Sakura considered a fair percentage of the lists, she came to one firm conclusion; all of the calls and emails were sent from the exact same location.
Well, she thought in a somewhat frustrated manner, perhaps Shikamaru could have mentioned that somewhere, instead of having her sift through two long pages of seemingly useless information.
The next page looked much like the employee roster of Sharingan she kept safely on her computer. There were no pictures, just a few employee names, their job descriptions, and some background information. If she was following this pattern that was starting to make itself known, she assumed that all these people were actually just aliases of one person.
The next folder seemed to be a sort of miscellaneous area for other pieces of small facts. Small little snippets of company financials, and little blurbs on the CEOs. Skimming though some of them quickly, one name jumped out at her.
Orochimaru.She frowned. Hadn't that been the name of that pesky person always finding ways to call straight to Sasuke's office? Of course she was always going in and out, and didn't know much about his intentions; though, it was clear, it wasn't anything good.
Sakura continued scrolling through the pieces of information. So, the Akatsuki was investigating Orochimaru as well. She wondered why. He must have been something special (meaning serious bad news) if they were looking into his corporation.
At the very bottom of the miscellaneous folder were a few of picture files. They were rather low quality, as if they were taken by some camera that had been hidden in glasses. Or something of the sort. The first picture was that of a small café. Perhaps this was a meeting point, as the next picture had a man with light brown hair in the center of the screen. The third picture was a close-up of the man's face, as if he were sitting across from whoever had been taking the pictures.
Sakura began to study it, memorizing every detail she could retain about the picture. Ocher hair, slim face (no more than 25 years old?), deep brown eyes, slightly hidden by gleaming glasses…
Sakura sat up straighter, if that was possible, and then leaned closer to the screen. Something had the bells and whistles in her head going into overdrive. She had seen this person before. Scrunching her eyes tightly, she went through, one by one, all the people she'd ever had a conversation with. Photographic memory could be useful sometimes.
After a moment, she snapper her emerald eyes back open, and stood up from her chair as if electrocuted. "I know where I've seen him. Son of a bitch."
AN: Yes, I do realize it's a cliffhanger. I have to apologize beforehand, however. I don't know when the next chapter will be coming. I need to find sufficient time, and like I said earlier, something to inspire me. Hopefully it'll come soon because this is just depressing. -does long sigh-. Anyway, any comments on this chapter, as usual, is greatly appreciated.