And I'm here again. Because my dad won't let me on the Internet…

- - -

"ASUMA!!"

Shikamaru screamed again, wordlessly, as his cigarette-smoking mentor's body fell. Kabuto looked surprised, but that expression quickly changed to one of sneering indifference.

"How touching," he said. "That's one more Konoha member I've killed so far; just like that fat boy I killed yesterday." Shikamaru seemed frozen with Asuma's body in his arms.

"Ch-Chouji is dead…too?" he asked disbelievingly. "No!" Asuma coughed up blood and whispered in his ear quietly. Shikamaru nodded slowly.

Kabuto fell forward, Sakura's own set of knives in his back. "That," she snarled, "is for all of the pain you've caused!" On pretense of retrieving her knives, she stooped next to Shikamaru and murmured, "How would Ino feel if I told her that her mentor and one of her best friends are dead, and that the last person she has refuses to see her? I don't want to do that." Without another word, she stood.

"It must have been him I sensed out in the hall," Tenten said regretfully. "If I'd looked harder, none of this would have happened…" She shuddered.

Sasori shook his head. "We should all have been more alert," he told her. "It wasn't only your fault."

Sakura turned to Tsunade. "We will give Shikamaru time to think about our offer wile we take care of the bodies Then we will be back." Bowing, she took hold of two of the bodies, including Kabuto's, and left. The others followed suit.

"D-do you th-think h-he will c-come w-with us?" Hinata asked as Itachi disposed of the bodies by burning them.

"He'd better, for Ino-san's sake," Tenten said worriedly. "She won't last long without him."

"He will come with us," Sakura said grimly. "I've made sure of it."

"You haven't threatened him, I hope," Sasori replied. "Or Ino-san."
Sakura's eyes narrowed. "What kind of person do you think I am?!" she exclaimed angrily. "Of course not! Well, not physically, anyway. But there is no way he can refuse as long as he loves her."

"The bodies have been disposed of," Itachi announced as he rejoined the group. "We must go in now."

- - -

"The bodies have been burnt, and all that is left is ashes," Sakura reported stoically. She glanced at Shikamaru, but Tsunade cut in hurriedly.

"First, before Shikamaru answers, I want some questions answered!" she demanded. Sakura nodded for her to go on. "Give me one good reason that we shouldn't attack them," she nodded to the others, "and free you and Hinata?"

"As Kabuto noticed," Sakura pointed out calmly, "Konoha is in no condition to be fighting anybody, much less Akatsuki. Also, it wouldn't be polite to attack us since we just saved you all." Her eyes grew troubled. "Well, almost all. I'm sorry that we weren't fast enough to save Asuma-san."

"Why do you keep speaking as if you're all Akatsuki?!" Naruto burst out, unable to contain himself any longer. "You and Hinata-chan act like you're with them!"

Tsunade nodded. "Tell us," she urged.

Sakura looked at Hinata, then back at Tsunade and Naruto. "Hinata and I are part of the Akatsuki." She and Hinata held up their hands, displaying the rings that glimmered there.

Tsunade stood so fast that her chair fell over with a bang! "No!" she shouted. "Why?!"

Sakura smiled an empty smile. "Hinata has been with us ever since she was left for dead – " Naruto looked away " – and I joined for my own reasons."
"Are you treated well?" Tsunade demanded.

"Hinata-chan is treated very well, un!" Deidara said defensively, pulling Hinata close to him. Naruto bristled.

"Get your hands off of my Hinata-chan!" he shouted.

"She's not – " Deidara began, but Hinata drowned him out.

"I'M N-NOT YOUR H-HINATA-CHAN, I'M H-HIS!" Then she blushed the deepest red yet and buried her face in Deidara's chest with a squeak.

"Always knew that would happen," Sakura remarked. "As for me – "

"Sakura-chan is my second-in-command," Itachi said as he placed his hands on her shoulders. "There can be no doubt that she is well-treated."

"I've been promoted, it seems," Sakura muttered to him. "Not that I mind," she added hastily when he raised an eyebrow.

Tsunade seemed to be too shocked to speak, so they turned their attention to Shikamaru, who had carefully and gently put Asuma's body aside.

There was no emotion in his face whatsoever as he turned to the Akatsuki. "If I come with you, neither Ino nor I will be harmed, and Konoha will be left alone?" he addressed them, eyes on Sakura.

"Correct," she nodded affirmative

"And if I refuse…?"

Sakura saw him stiffen as she shrugged. "Then… You will not be harmed and Konoha will be left alone."

"And Ino?"
She shrugged again. "She'll be taken care of physically, but she'll probably go into depression. We'll do our best to comfort her, but there's no substitute for someone you love."

She jumped as she felt Itachi's cell phone begin to vibrate through the back of her clothes. They both stiffened – members only called Itachi when there was an emergency.

"Shikamaru-san. I'm afraid I must ask you to make your decision, and then we must leave," the Akatsuki Leader said. "Now."

Shikamaru turned to Tsunade. "Tsunade-sama… I know that it's painful for Konoha to lose so many members at once… gomenasai. I have to ask you to let go of one more." He looked determinedly at Sakura. "I accept your offer."

That got an uproar out of Konoha; under the cover of the chaos, the Akatsuki slipped out the door, one by one. When Tsunade finally got her group under control, only Sakura was left.

"Sakura… please… I don't want to lose you too!" Tsunade reached out imploringly. Sakura only smiled sadly.

"Connections remain. We will always have our memories, shishou. Sayonara." Then she too slipped out the door. Tsunade stared, unseeing, at the closed door.

- - -

"Zetsu, is that you? Zetsu?" Itachi demanded, but all he got was silence. "We're going to take the back streets."

"Kuso!" Sakura swore under her breath. "All right." She took Shikamaru's arm and led him through the twisting alleyways.

Itachi dialed Zetsu as they ran. "Zetsu, did you call me?"

Zetsu sounded surprised. "No! Why? Did you get called?" But Itachi had already hung up and was calling Hidan's number.

Suddenly, Sakura stopped. "That's Hidan-san's ringtone!" she cried anxiously. Veering sharply left, she stumbled. Looking down, she found herself staring at a cloaked body.

"Sakura, what did you – oh, my God." Tenten clutched at Sasori's arm, horrified.

"Kakuzu-san!" Sakura screamed quietly. She stooped and placed a finger on his neck. "He's dead."

"What happened?" Shikamaru asked, blanching at the sight of Kakuzu's body. Hinata reached down and gently closed Kakuzu's eyelids.

"Th-they w-weren't c-careful enough in antoher g-gang's t-territory" she replied softly. "N-now wh-what?"

"We will try to recover Hidan's body – if he is dead – and then leave," Itachi said grimly. "It is not safe to remain here."

"Found it," Sasori called. "They hid it behind the dumpster. "He and Tenten carried it over, laying him beside his partner.

"He's not dead yet!" Sakura exclaimed. She fumbled in her pocket before placing a small red pill into his mouth.

Violet eyes flew open and Hidan swore loudly. Sakura helped him sit up, petting a vial of liquid to his lips.

"Drink," she instructed. "What happened?" As she spoke, she nudged him. He limped along beside her with his arm around her neck. Sasori picked Kakuzu up and slung his body over her shoulders.

"Ah!" Hidan hissed as the liquid took effect. He waited until the pain subsided before answering. "We were surrounded, and the damn temes took out Kakuzu before I could react! I'm going to hunt those fu – " Sakura slapped a hand over his mouth.

"Shh… They're coming! No more talking, Hidan-san; I'm going to have to carry you, okay? I know it hurts, but try to keep still," she muttered. He nodded, grimacing, and she slung him over her shoulder, never minding the fact that he was almost a foot taller than her.

"Going somewhere, missy?" someone sneered. One lone figure blocked her path – it should have been easy to take him, but her hands were full with Hidan. Just as the man lunged, she felt the weight on her back shift, and a foot that was not hers connected with the attacker.

"I may be half-dead, but I'm not useless," Hidan mumbled along with a string of curses as Sakura began moving again.

"Not yet, anyway," Tenten remarked as she and Sasori caught up. "The others will meet us at the hideout."

Sakura nodded, tightened her grip on Hidan and sped up.

- - -

Finally the dark alleyway came into sight. Sakura sighed in relief at the sight of the dark-haired man in front of the door. As she slipped inside, he nodded to her. She gave him a thumbs up, grinning wearily, as Hidan stood.

"Hey, Itachi-san. Could you hand me those bandages?" She quickly bandaged Hidan up and sent him to his room to rest. Kakuzu was cremated, his ashes put in a box and given to his partner.

Then they went to check on Ino. Sakura took a deep breath and pushed open the door.

"How are you, Ino?" she asked as she nodded to Zetsu, who left at once. She inspected Ino's side and smiled slightly in satisfaction at the strong, healthy skin.

Ino cocked her head. "Back so soon?" she asked, her voice wavering a little. "Sakura?"

"Kakuzu is dead," Sakura told her.

"And why are you telling me this?" Ino demanded, cocking her head.

"You're a member," Sakura replied casually. "So you should stay informed about the status of the gang."

Ino's eyes widened. "Does that mean – "

Tenten shoved Shikamaru inside. Ino shrieked in delight and choked Shikamaru half to death.

"Welcome to the Akatsuki," Sasori said from the doorway. "Tenten and I will show you around."

Crying in relief, Ino stood and clutched onto Shikamaru's arm. They followed Sasori, who pulled Tenten to him before moving. Hinata had already been whisked away to Deidara's room to be petted and cuddled to death.

Sakura smiled as she observed them all, leaning against Itachi's firm chest. He wrapped his arms around her.

"How happy…" she whispered softly. "We're just like a family."
"If you say so, Sakura-chan," Itachi replied just as quietly. His arms tightened around her.

"What are we, Itachi?" she asked suddenly.

"Nani?"

"Like Tenten said," she repeated. "What are we? Leader and subordinate? It doesn't feel like it."

He nuzzled her hair, gently blowing in her ear. "It does not matter. We are in love."

There was a silence. Then Sakura broke it. "That has got to be the cheesiest thing I've ever heard you say," she giggled.

Itachi chuckled. "But it's true."

"Yes," she agreed. "It's true."

As she stood in his arms, watching her family, she thought of Tsunade, and Konoha. And she smiled.

Allegiances may fade and loyalties may change, but our connections remain forever.

End Connections.

- - -

Finally, I'm finished!!!! Haha… Expect some oneshot songfics soon… When I decide to type again!!!!