Disclaimer: I do not own anything about or of Naruto. And this applies to all chapters of this story as well. I hate writing this thing and forget it most times, so there's all my bases covered.
Just a few quick notes about the story concerning character age:
Sakura, Sasuke, Naruto: 24
Yeah I think the rest can be figured out based on that. Well, that's all, just a short little AN from me for once. Enjoy!
Two of Heart
The sand swirled lazily in an unseen breeze, twisting and turning in upon itself. Send twisters picked up here and there across teh landscape, holding for a few moments before collaspsing back to the ground. Emerald eyes narrowed as grit from one of them was flung in their direction. A slim hand tugged the wide hood of her cloak lower over her face, the kunoichi wishing she had worn the ANBU mask, no matter how stiffling it was in the heat of the desert. The wind knocked her canteen against her hip, the faint sloshing sound from within reminding the young woman how low she was on the precious liquid. With a growl of annoyance, the female ninja picked up her pace, making for the oasis she knew was hidden somewhere in the dunes up ahead.
With a grunt to the two other ANBU members accompanying her, the trio burst into a ground-eating lope. The scent of water was brought to the leader of the trio on the dry desert breeze. With another grumble of anoyance, the kunoichi pulled out her bone-white mask, shoving her cloak's hood back to tie the mask's strings securely behind her head as she fitted it into place. Vibrant pink hair streamed out behind her as the woman kept up the grueling pace. Along with the faint scent of water, had come the scents of animals and humans as well. One of her companions, a man with a flat mask adorned by three spiralling shurikens, moved up beside her as she struggled to gather in all of the all-to-conspicious hair back into her hood and assisted her. She nodded to him once before re-taking the lead and facing forward once more.
She made no other movement or sound until the oasis came into sight. A small settlement was in the process of being built it seemed along the southern shore of the fairly large pool of water. Large enough to be considered a lake, a strange thing to find in the desert. A decent wall had been built, containing a large number of tents and several houses. She paused, surveying the small village from her spot. As far as the kunoichi could see, the center of the settlement appeared to be a large bazaar or marketplace of some sort. Farmland dotted the fertile land surrounding the village up to the sand line and a few boats were fishing in the oasis. With a few quick hand signs, she sent her two teammates off to flank the village while she approached from the front, remaining unseen and undetected. She gripped the snarling muzzle of her feline mask, adjusting it one more time before her hands flashed in a rapid set of seals. Invisibility cloaked the woman as she raced towards the front gate of the village, skillfully dodging people as she drew closer to her goal. Adding a small additional amount of chakra to her feet, she leaped to the top of the gate, perching steadly in a croach on the wide arch over the open doors. She waited tensely, green eyes scanning the people coming and leaving and what she could see from here.
The earpiece crackled to life right on time. "ANBU Hawk in position."
A second's worth of pause, and it crackled again. "ANBU Shuriken in position."
Quickly the woman pressed her mic to respond back, voice rough and hoarse from whispering and disuse. "ANBU Leopard in position. Move in and search for targets, we have one hour. No one is to be seen, heard, or noticed. Two taps to the mic and codename for whoever finds them. When the call comes in, the other two are to retreat 2 kilometers due south of the gate and wait. Three taps to mic and codename if you need assistance. Move out."
Radio silence answered her. The ninja slipped one hand into a hidden pocket, withdrawing three small squares of patterned cloth. Strange kanji marked up one side on each, and it was to this side the she applied blood from her thumb after slicing it open on a kunai. Closing the hand holding the scraps of bloody material into a fist, she opened it again to allowed three multi-coloured butterflies fly out. With a thought, she sent the fluttering bugs off in different directions before beginning her own search. The young woman kept to what shadows she could, utilizing rooftops when possible. The mission had been given to retrieve two A-class missing nin from Konoha. There had been no details other then they'd been reported as missing nin for a week now, codenames Fox and Hyena. The pink-haired ninja silently cursed herself for not getting to know her fellow ANBU members better. She could only remember these two's masks in passing, nothing about them in particular. Granted, she barely even knew her own team's faces outside of their ANBU masks too.
A twinge within her mind from one of her three spies had the pink-haired woman changing direction and dashing rapidly in its direction. She weaved between tents, half-built buildings, and piles of more building supplies towards the center of town, eyes seeking the bright jewel colors of her butterfly. She spotted it on the other side of the bazaar, floating above the heads of two cloaked figures who appeared to be purchasing something from a food stand of some sort. Summoning the butterflies back to her, she dismissed them while watching the two closely, tucking the three scraps of cloth the bugs and returned to into her pocket. Pressing into and melding with the shadows, the kunoichi waited until they had finished purchasing their items and left the area, silently trailing them.
Familiar laughter floated from one of them, followed by an equally familiar grunt. A scowl twisted the kunoichi's lips as she harshly turned on her mic and tapped it twice. "ANBU Leopard." It was all that would be needed to make her two teammates disengage from the village and head to the rendevous.
No longer masking her chakra, the woman stepped out into the open behind the two, who immediately stiffened and cautiously looked behind them at the sudden flare of angry chakra. "Sasuke, what's the date?"
The mask effectively masked her voice, warping it and hollowing it out. "A week since you should have been back." She snapped. "So, you two are the famed ANBU Fox and Hyena. I should have guessed it was you two bakas. I THOUGHT I told you NOT to force me to come after your hides again."
"Hn, baka. You said you would keep track of the days." Sasuke muttered, unknowingly fingering a spot on his jaw where the ANBU kunoichi had punched him last time. A glance to the side showed Naruto with an arm wrapped around his midsection, a remembrance of the two broken ribs he had received in their first scuffle with the female. They were fortunate the vicious female had recognized them this time instead of taking them as serious traitors or wanted nins from the bingo books.
"I don't know why the Hokage insists on sending me everytime to haul your asses home. Well, hurry up, you know the drill by now. This is what, the seventh time now?" She grated out, hissing.
"Sixth." Sasuke muttered under his breath, earning a glare from the feline ANBU.
She pointed one gloved finger behind her. "Go!"
Naruto stared at her, scratching the back of his head. "...uhh...?"
"ANBU Hawk and Shuriken are waiting for you. I have more pressing matters to attend to then babysitting you two dolts." She held back a cough as her throat turned scratchy from over-use, keeping a stern look on them. She didn't like the analyzing look Sasuke was giving her.
She had never told them, never told anyone that she had made it into ANBU. Only Tsunade knew the true identity of ANBU Leopard, and that was how Sakura wanted to keep it. ANBU was the real her, the one who didn't have to put on a cheerful facade, make chit-chat, do stupid girly things. That was the Sakura that they knew, the mask she portrayed to keep them happy. But it still wasn't her, hadn't been her since Sasuke had first left. Even after he had returned, three years later, the damage had been done and was set. The girl had trained constantly, under all sorts of teachers. Taijutsu from Lee, ninjutsu from Kakashi, tracking from Kiba. It all blended together in her memories, all of it leading up to what she was now. Cool, calm, strong, and leader of her own ANBU team, with no one the wiser as to who Leopard was. Not even Kakashi had recognized her when his team and hers had been placed on a mission together. It had been exhilirating, knowing that her ex-sensei would never link her new self to the old weak girl she used to be. And that he had treated her as an equal had been doubly nice.
Unfortunately, some aspects of her new self had leaked into her facade she presented to the world while maskless. Too many comments had been made to her of her lack of speaking, wounds that she shouldn't be getting from missions she said she was on, why she wore sleeves to her elbows even in a heat wave. She couldn't tell them her little secret though, that she was too comfortable in her role as the silent killer, the wounds were from A and S-ranked missions, that the sleeves covered her ANBU tattoo. It'll die down before long. She leaned her weight to one leg as she watched her two misguided friends sulkingly leave the village. You'd think two weeks of vacation would be enough to have them chaffing at the bit to get a new mission. She sighed, shaking her head a little before leaving the settlement herself. Those two would have no problem making it back to her team members and getting back home while she completed her second mission. Sakura briefly touched two fingers to one of the pockets in her vest, assuring that the scroll was still there.
The woman paused briefly upon exiting the village to re-fill her canteen and double-check on her main objective. "Hawk, are the targets in your possession?"
Yelling and the sounds of scuffling came through the earpiece. Along with a heavy sigh from her teammate. "Hai. And killing each other again. Shuriken, break them up."
She chuckled softly. "Good. Have a fun journey back. Breaking off radio now."
Sakura could swear she felt waves of sarcasm coming her way from the direction of the four as she plucked the earpiece and mic from herself and slipped them into one of her several pockets. With a faint smile still twisting her lips, she pushed up from the ground and began to run once more, this time to the northeast of the village and its oasis. Towards the Suna, the Hidden Village of Sand. With the wind now at her back, the kunoichi was making good time, good enough to possibly reach the village by nightfall if luck held out. And if no sandstorms decided to kick up and force her to take shelter. Of course, even if that type of storm kicked up, she would most likely continue to press onward. That oasis had been the last water stop before Suna in the direction she was travelling in, making it a necessity to arrive in the hidden village on time.
No clouds rolled across the still sky, the sun beating mercilessly down. The land warped and twisted slightly to her vision as heat waves floated from the sand, that same heat leaking through her sandals and burning the soles of her feet. Eyebrows drew together in frustration at the thought of needing medical attention possibly before she could return home. Oh well, no way around it but to go faster and hope it doesn't get too bad. If all else fails, I'll just heal myself. The wasn't the top medical nin of Konoha for a reason, though healing herself took twice as much chakra then it did for others. Something with the chakra circulation system that caused it to not be as effective on herself. And with the chakra she was currently burning to run faster, it may mean she would have to stay in the Suna village an extra day if she had to use her last bits towards healing.
Sweat rolled down her neck as the sun continued its progression through the sky and the young female continued to run, shoving her mask to rest on top of her head. The thing was too hard to breathe in, in a heat like this. I should have traveled by night, but then that would just delay me even more. It was too late now anyway to contemplate what she should have or should not have done. The pink-haired woman instead focused her attentions on the shifting sands and listened for any signs of danger while watching the sun progress through the sky.
It was late evening by the time the Village of Sand was revealed beyond the sand dunes. Unlike with the settlement though, Sakura approached the city openly, slowing to a brisk walk as she drew close enough to see the two guards posted at the entrance. They tensed, kunai and shuriken readied in their hands as the female ninja halted several paces away from them, keeping her hands out to the side and in plain sight. No need to spook the enemy nins into an attack. Moving her left hand slowly and as non-threateningly as possible, the woman retrieved the mission scroll from its pocket and showed the two the seal of the Hokage on it.
"I bear a message from the Hokage to the Kazekage."
Muttered words were exchanged between the two Sand ninjas before one motioned for her to follow him, the other returning to his post. Sakura nearly sighed in relief as her escort led her through the winding streets towards the Kazekage's tower silently. The last time she had come to Suna on a mission, her escort had babbled needlessly on about nothing and pestering her with questions. It was worse then Naruto almost, and ranked up there as one of her most-hated missions to date. The two stepped inside the tower just as the last sliver of sun descended behind the horizon.
"If it isn't my favorite, lovely Leaf kunoichi come to pay me a visit!"
Sakura groaned to herself as a large, rather round accountant of the Kazekage waddled quickly over to her, arms wide for a hug. She side-stepped him lithely, green eyes rolling behind her mask in annoyance. "Sorry Akira, nothing for you this time. I'm here for the Kazekage."
The man pouted, waving a hand to dismiss the ninja that had escorted her here. "Alas, my forest blossom has forsaken me for someone younger and stronger I see. Well, follow me. He should still be in, knowing him."
Younger? I'm surprised, I thought all Kage's were old. Well, except for the Fourth Hokage. Hmm, maybe I should have kept up an eye on foreign politics and less on medical research. Pfft, yeah right. They stopped outside of a large mahogany door, Akira pounding on it twice.
Sakura started, muscles tensing at the voice. I know that voice! But from where?! She racked her brain for the answer, not liking the nervousness that came from the tone of the voice. "Messenger from Konoha here to see you."
The door creaked open, swinging inward to reveal a dark room covered in shadows. A body stood beside one of the numerous windows of the office, staring out of it and down to the sprawling village below. Akira bowed, backing out of the room with a wink and smile of encouragement to the young woman. The kunoichi stood stiffly where she was as the door clicked shut softly behind her. It wasn't until the man motioned for her to come forward that she moved to place the mission scroll on his cluttered desk, steps brisk and straightforward. Behind her mask, she tried to see through the shadows to find the details of his face, looking for that last clue to place who he was.
She gasped as the man flipped a switch on the well next to him, blindingly bright light flooding the office immediately. Forcefully, she made her eyes open against the stinging light filtering through her eye slits, focusing her blurry vision on the man now standing at the desk, casually breaking the seal on the scroll to read it. Years of strict training and discipline was all that prevent the second vocalization of surprise from escaping her throat. Emerald eyes swept over his form in shock, comparing the current sight with the memory of him when he was younger, noting the obvious changes. His hair had grown longer, still unruly as before and the same shade of red. He towered over her by at least a head now and he had filled out with more muscle, though the man stilled had that slightly-too-slim look to him. Where his face had once been boyishly round, it had sharpened to high cheekbones, defined features, and a fatally handsome face to most women.
Gaara. And I thought Kakashi was handsome! This is a whole new level though. She frowned at the though and moved her eyes determinantly away from his lips to his eyes, receiving another shock. They weren't dead and emotionless this time, there was life there and more importantly, sanity. Dark rings still circled them, but even those had diminished a tad. She was blatantly staring and glad her mask hid it as several emotions chased through those eyes. Annoyance, curiosity, and lastly amusement. And when his lips curved ever-so-slightly into a smile, Sakura had to applaud herself for not fainting dead away.
Oh, that smile is dangerous.
"Like what you see?"
His smiled curved up a bit more to see the female flinch at his question. He didn't need to see her face to feel her stare on him. And from the information on the scroll, it was natural to assume this particular woman had been staring. Still, he couldn't place this obviouisly dangerous ninja in his mind, as being the same pink-haired genin that had failed to beat the Chuunin exam so long ago. He flicked his wrist, tossing the scroll towards and watching as a hand snapped up to snatch it, quicker then he could follow. "It says you should read it if I agree to the Hokage's request. Which I do."
Just as Sakura had been fascinated with watching the emotions flit through his eyes, Gaara found himself similarily amused. Especially when the shocked outrage caused her hands to tremble. The man swore he could pratically feel the waves of murderous intent spreading out from the kunoichi. She clenched her fist, the scroll crumpling slightly and she hissed her displeasure. How could Tsunade do this to me?! Eyes scanned the piece of paper once more, just to be sure she had read it correctly.
I am pleased to see by your last response you too recognize the situation as well. The alliance is being strained between our shinobi. I have sent this message with one of my top kunoichi, best medical ninja, and my personal student. I request a trade-off for the period of a year. My nin will remain there as a token of our good intentions, and you send one of your top nins here. Hopefully the presence of one of our nins in the other's village will give our individual villages the time to adjust and get to know about the other and strengthen your ties. You had also mentioned possibly asking for the aid of one of our medical nin coming to Suna to train your own medical staff there. Sakura can adeptly perform such a feat. If you accept my proposition, send your reply back with the ninja meant to be staying in Konoha and allow Sakura to read this.
P.S. Duck when she looks up from reading this.
Her eye twitched spasmically. What's that mean, to duck?! She leveled a glare up at Gaara, who immediately crouched down as the scroll went whipping past him, a kunai lodged in its center. The sand-user smirked before rising again. "You are displeased?" A chill went up his spine, making him quite sure she was doing her damned best to glare him into a bloody, painful death.
"I am not happy with this." Came the hollow voice. "But I must respect the wishes of my Hokage."
She is different. Gaara mused to himself. Jade eyes looked to the clock on his desk, annoyed with the late hour. Everyone but a few cleaners and secretaries would have already left. He'd have to take the woman himself to where she would be staying. "Come. I'll show you where you can stay."
AN: Aye, first things first. I know, horribly OOC, but I'm trying to write this as if they were older and had changed dramatically. So, Sakura is more like Gaara now, where he's become more talkative. Just a little bit though, don't worry. I won't ruin Gaara's name or his lovely personality. So yeah, tell my what you thought about it, where I need to touch up my writing at. I accept all criticism gladly as it improves my writing, except for things on such stuff as: Pairing, stupid grammar errors I make once or twice in a chapter between its and it's. It's really pointless to show that one to me, its the same stupid word just with no ' in one of them. And I also don't need one's that just say, "Such-and-such would never do that. Horrible story." That isn't constructive or productive to me in anyway. So, that said, I really hope you enjoy reading this. I'm loving writing it. Ja ne! Lena