I've won fifty times.

He's won fifty times.

So that makes this match the tie breaker, Sakura decided, crouching into position. Her partner faces off against her, eyes narrowed in determination. Neither one will let this slide. Not a chance. And Sakura knows this. Her opponent is determined to prove that he can beat her. He has, fifty times to be exact.

He makes his move, and quick as lightning, Sakura also moves. She sees only a flash of blue before he's behind her. There's nothing new to this; Sakura has seen this time and time again. She ducks, aiming a kick at his feet, but he jumps, aiming his sword down. Sakura easily dodges this, her fighting style almost like dancing. A punch comes up for Kisame's head, and he's… hit? Sent flying, even. Sakura watched as Kisame hit the far wall of the cave, and slid to the ground. Not moving. Lifeless.

She stood there, waiting. Eventually, Kisame opened one eye, watching her.

"Oooh, ooh, Sakura, it hurts!" he groaned, holding his ankle.

"Oh, shut up; admit that I won that one." Sakura said, placing her hands on her hips. A slight breeze fluttered the black, short skirt, a beam of sunlight illuminating the red clouds upon it. A black top with the same pattern was pulled on over a mesh shirt with fishnet sleeves. Sakura had taken the time to redesign the Akatsuki outfit. Surprisingly, it was much easier to move in then the cloak.

"I can still fight!" Kisame said, trying to stand up, but he winced and sat back down. "Okay, maybe not… you win."

Sakura smiled. "That's win number 51 for me." She said proudly, starting to walk away. However, she ducked as Samehada flew past her head, crashing into the wall with a tremendous bang.

Kisame frowned. "Sasori taught you well."

"Yep. I know just about every trick of yours." Sakura said proudly. "I mean, 100 fights and you start learning every trick in the-"

"Sakura…" Kisame said, stopping her by the tone in his voice.

"Yeah?"

"It's been a while since you joined the Akatsuki. In fact, it's been three whole years." Kisame said. "You've got to realize that Sasori isn't… well, he's not like he was when you first met him."

Sakura raised an eyebrow. "What are you getting at, Free Willy?"

"I mean, he was just a kid back then. I'm sure he's matured now."

Sakura remembered the day in the forest. Was it really just yesterday? "Yeah, right."

Kisame slowly stood up, and Sakura helped him. "No, I really think so."

"How would you know? All you do is follow Itachi around…"

"I just know things." Kisame said. "Anyways, don't act like you have a vendetta against Sasori. You really should try and be friends with him. See you at the ball."

And, picking up his sword, Kisame left. Sakura stared after him, and then smiled.

"I'm finally in the lead! Yes!"


Sakura made her way down the tranquil path of the forest. Birds chirped happily, and the forest seemed to be alive with their music. Sakura had always enjoyed the songs of the bird best. It was better then any song a human could sing… the art of nature. At first, it would seem to be crazy, and out of sorts. But, if you listened quietly, the tunes were very much in harmony.

Sitting down by the base of a tree, Sakura noticed that someone had used a kunai knife to carve a heart into the tree. It was fresh, but it was only a heart… no initials. Sakura found herself disappointed, that she couldn't learn of two lover's names, or at least a hint at who they were. Perhaps the creator had been rushed, and had to leave before he or she was done. Sakura traced the shape with her finger, feeling every crevasse in the wood.

Hearing a snap of a twig, Sakura instantly jumped into the tree, watching from below. Her breath quickened, but she kept calm. If it was an attacker…

It was Sasori. Sakura let out a small breath of both annoyance and relief.

"Sasori-san…" Sakura said, hopping down from the branch. He started a bit.

"Ahh, Sakura-chan."

"Don't call me that!"

Sasori rolled his eyes. "Sakura-san… why are you out here?"

"Taking a walk." Sakura replied. A thought formed in her head. "Sasori-san, did you make this heart?"

Sasori glanced at the tree. "That? No."

"Hmm… I wonder who did…" Sakura said, glancing at it. "Whoever it was, they didn't put their names in it."

"What are you talking about? They did. See?" Sasori said, pointing at it. "JB + AS..."

Sakura looked at it. "I don't see anything."

Sasori glanced at her. "I see…"

"What?!"

"I didn't think the rumours were true."

"WHAT?!" Sakura nearly screamed.

"You see, there are rumours about this tree, which if one cannot see the names carved in a heart on the tree, then they are denying that they love a person."

Sakura scoffed. "Yeah, right. I bet you just made that all up!"

"I didn't. Honestly." Sasori said. "A puppet never lies."

"Ever heard of Pinocchio, dumbass?"

"Who?" Sasori asked, looking quite confused.

"Never mind." Sakura said, pushing past him. "I'm going back to the cave."

"I'll come with you." Sasori offered, making his way alongside her. "I like your outfit."

Sakura didn't reply.

"Did you win against Kisame?"

No reply.

"Silent treatment, huh?" Sasori said, looking slightly put off by this. "Fine, whatever."


When they got back, the place was eerily silent. Sasori frowned.

"Something's wrong."

"I knew that, dumbass."

"So you're talking to me now."

"For god's sake… I'll go in. You wait here."

"You make it sound like you're a better fighter."

"Yeah. Your point?"

Sasori sighed. "Fine. Go in…"

Sakura crept in, eyes searching wildly for any sign of attackers or traps. Her hands clenched into fists, and she heard footsteps behind her. If this was supposed to be a sneak attack, the person was careless. She whirled around, fist launching forwards.

"Sur-"

BAM!


"I am so sorry!" Sakura enthused, placing a small ice pack on Hidan's face to reduce the swelling.

"Holy fuck! I knew this shitty party wasn't a good idea. I just knew I was going to get smacked in the face, somehow…" Hidan grumbled, but he gave a weak smile.

"Anyways, thanks for the party. But, really… it's not that big an occasion."

"It's been three years, to the date, since you joined the Akatsuki. It's a big occasion." Kisame said. "Before you got here, it was pretty much chaos."

"Shut up. It's just another opportunity to break out the sake!" Hidan crowed happily, grinning.

There was a pause. "Agreed." All the others said. Sakura laughed, and then looked around for Sasori, to see his reaction, but he was nowhere to be found. Neither was Tobi, or Konan. Sakura gave a small frown, but it vanished as a small glass of sake was shoved in her face by Kakuzu.

"You better drink all of this, I paid good money for it!" he said, though his voice was cheerful. "No, seriously. Drink all of it."

Laughter rung throughout the corridor, as the sun outside fell down below the rolling hills. The red gate outside cast a shadow among the party-goers, and finally vanished all together. For a second, it was dark.

"Damnit, where's Tobi with those lanterns?" Hidan hissed. Suddenly, the room blazed to life as each lantern was lit, one by one. Tobi turned to face them, breathing hard.

"Sorry! Tobi is sorry! A little late. Tobi was getting the other guest!"

Sakura's eyes shot open as light footsteps entered the room. The others, who were chatting, fell silent. Pein stared at them, eyes showing no emotion. They finally fell on Sakura, and then he walked towards her.

"Three years, hmm?" Pein said slowly, and Sakura forced her voice to be strong and not tremble. Sakura had had only a few encounters with Pein, and he intimidated her every time.

"Yeah." Sakura said, giving a weak smile. "Seems like a while, huh?"

"Indeed." Pein said, and Sakura noticed that he was trying to be conversational. "Well, I-"

"How about some sake?" Sakura said, handing him the glass. Pein glanced at it for a second, dumbfounded, then gave a small smile and downed the whole glass.

He gave a long, hard stare at Sakura, and raised a pierced eyebrow.

"You're on!" Sakura said, and downed her glass. The others cheered happily. The party would continue.


It was early morning before the party was over. Hidan was out cold on the floor from too much sake, and Kakuzu had taken an early night, not being the type to drink. Kisame was sleeping on a couch, arms wrapped gently around Itachi's sleeping form. Sakura couldn't help but give a gentle smile at how peaceful they looked. Deidara, Tobi, and Pein were the only ones awake, though Pein didn't look so good.

"You going to be okay?" Sakura asked, glancing at Pein. He had turned green around his various piercings, and his face was as white as freshly fallen snow. Apparently, he wasn't used to drinking, and was now feeling the after effects. He gave a small nod, and then placed a hand over his mouth, closing his strange eyes as he forced down bile.

"Go get some rest." Sakura said. "We'll clean up."

Giving her a thankful glance, Pein made his way back to his room. Sakura sighed, running a hand through her hair and glancing at Deidara and Tobi. Deidara was playing with a clay owl he had created, making it fly around and around, while Tobi watched.

"What a night." Sakura said, walking over to them. The owl flew down, perching on Tobi's head.

"Yeah, un." Deidara said, voice horse, eyes half closed in a fervent attempt to keep himself awake. "Let's do it again tonight, un."

"I don't think you could handle it." Sakura mused. "Have you seen yourself yet?"

"I don't want to, un." Deidara said, running a hand over his cheek. "Eurgh. And with the dance tonight…"

"The dance!" Sakura gasped, and Deidara winced in pain. "Oh, sorry, Deidara…"

Tobi glanced up. He didn't even have to say anything. Sakura could almost feel his pleading stare from beneath his mask.

"Oh, umm…" Sakura said. Well, it wasn't like anyone else would mind if she took Tobi. And it wasn't a dance, either, it was a mission, and she would need to choose someone who could compliment her abilities.

Then again, he did have a double personality. And he was an Uchiha (maybe? Sakura wasn't sure if that was a joke or for real) and even just the last name of her previous love interest sent shivers down her spine.

Tobi waited, patient.

"Yeah, Tobi, I didn't get any other-"

"Yay!" Tobi cried, and Deidara looked about to faint from the pain the shout brought. Kisame gave a small snort, then went back to sleep. With that, Tobi dashed down the hallway.

"I… HATE… that brat… un…" Deidara said, massaging his temples.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Deidara. Here, lemme see if you guys have any aspirin."


"It's like taking care of little kids…" Sakura mused, gazing at the early morning sun outside the cave. All the Akatsuki members were sleeping off their hangovers, or had been moved from the couch to their beds. All except one.

"How was the party?" came a gentle voice beside her ear. Sakura jumped, not noticing the red haired teenager sneaking up behind her. He gave a gentle smile. "I passed by Pein on the way here."

"I never knew he was so…"

"Non uptight?"

"Nice." Sakura finished. Sasori shrugged.

"Yeah, he's okay." Sasori said, sitting down on the couch next to Sakura. Surprisingly, Sakura didn't shove him away.

"And there's a dance tonight…"

"They'll recover quickly. It's not like this is anything new to them." Sasori said. "By the way, I made you this."

Sakura took from Sasori a small doll. It was beautifully crafted, and very ornate. However, she noticed the pink hair, the teal eyes…

"It's me." Sakura said. Sasori nodded.

"Do you like it?"

"It's… beautiful." Sakura whispered, in awe. Every detail, even a small Akatsuki cloak. It was so realistic.

"Of course it is. It's you." Sasori said, his smile wider as he looked at it. Sakura looked at him. It wasn't lecherous, like all his other disgusting come-ons. This was actually… nice.

"Can I keep it?" Sakura asked, smoothing the tiny Sakura's hair.

"Of course, it's a present." Sasori said, closing her fingers around the doll.

Sakura opened her fingers, afraid she would break it.

"It's okay. It's tough… I ran it under a rotating blade and it still came out okay." Sasori said, chuckling. Sakura blinked.

"Really?"

"Yeah." Sasori said, and then glanced at her. "Who are you going to the dance with, anyway?"

Sakura blinked, and found herself suddenly feeling very, very guilty. Perhaps, if she didn't say anything…

There was a long, uncomfortable silence. Sakura felt her face heated up with embarrassment. Sasori had given her this wonderful, wonderful present, and she… was already going, with Tobi.

Sasori seemed to finally catch on, and glanced at the ground. He didn't say anything.

"I am sorry, Sasori, really, but Tobi asked me first and-"

"It's okay." He said, getting up. "I understand."

She, too, got up. "Sasori, I love the present, I really do…"

"No, really, it's okay." Sasori said, but his face said otherwise.

"Sasori… if there's anyway I can make it up to you…"

He shrugged. "Tell Tobi you're going with me."

"But it would make him so sad!" Sakura pleaded. "Isn't there anything else?!"

Sasori frowned. "Not that I can think of. Nothing you'd agree to."

He started to walk away. Sakura bit her lip, unsure of what to do. There was something. Something big, but she'd do anything to get her and Sasori on good terms again. Anything.

"Sasori!"

He stopped, turning. "What?"

Sakura walked up to him, pulled him close, and gently touched her lips against his. She had expected it to be cold and hard, but they were warm and soft, like any other human's lips. They were gentle, too, and she could feel his fingers intertwining in her hair. There was no tongue, or passionate kissing, but it sent shivers down her spine, and she was pretty sure Sasori felt the same way too.

They broke apart, finally, for air. Sasori seemed dumbfounded, unable to speak, as he took his fingers out of her hair. Sakura hugged him closer, just a bit, before releasing him.

"Thank you. The puppet… it is really is beautiful." She said, watching the blank expression melt away into a tender smile. She hadn't seen him smile like this before… but she liked it. She knew Sasori was older then how he looked, but this smile almost reminded her of… of… Sasuke. Sasori swallowed, forcing down the lump in her throat.

"You're welcome." Sasori said, and then turned, vanishing into the darkness of the cave. Sakura watched him go, and sighed, leaning against the wall. Then, she let out a stream of curses that would've made Hidan proud.

"Damn, my life is screwed up." She finished.


Whoa! This chapter was all over the place!

I've been noticing that my word counts have been getting longer each chapter. Perhaps I'll reach 3000 next chapter? Who knows? It'd be nice... I've never had that many words...

Anyway, see you next chapter.