HI EVERYONE! okay, yes that's me yelling, but i am happy to see you all. i hope that some of you are still with me. i know that it has been awhile, but here it chapter 49! with that being said, there is only ONE more chapter left in this story! i have a mix of emotions about this too.

omg...this chapter is soooooo long. it's like over 15,000 words. i really want to cut some of it out. but i kinda feel like most of it is important to sakura's development in life. i hope you guys understand and don't get totally bored. also that it doesn't seem rushed. *sigh*

do you all know how excited i am about the mortal instruments movie that is coming out? i loved those books! if you haven't read any of them, go get them, city of bones is the first one. i want to have another little boy just so i can name him jace or alec or magnus. well maybe not magnus...but jace for sure!

let's see what else...oh on friday, i turn 40. yes 40...*head on desk* idk even know how to feel about this. geez where did my life go?

oh, i don't own naruto. at all. wish i did, but i don't. so recap...one more chapter, go buy/read/love city of bones, i'm turning 40, and i don't own naruto.

who do i need to shout out to...? of course my amelia, foca, tomking, nejisakukiba, oh geez, there were so many people. i blame my nearly 40 year old mind...i hope someone will be nice enough to help me cross the street.


CHAPTER FORTY NINE Always My Number One Girl.

Sakura sat in the office with her mother and Hiashi Hyuuga looking over the current ninja class at the high school.

"The Nara child is doing well," the Hyuuga elder spoke. The leader of the clan took over duties as the director of the shinobi training program since Jiraiya's passing.

"She's not as bright as Shikamaru, but that is a lot to live up too," the blonde woman skimmed over the paperwork.

"Hokage sama, Hyuuga san, I would like to talk about Inuzuka Samo." Sakura braved speaking to the two elder shinobi.

As the note taker for the meeting between the two, Sakura was expected to be quiet and efficient, but she saw something special in Samo.

"What did that child do now," her mother asked rolling her hazel colored eyes. She dropped the paperwork she was reading onto her desk while waiting for the report of destruction and mischief the Inuzuka was bound to have caused.

"It's nothing like that. I just think you guys should observe him." Sakura added quickly. She handed the two notes of the student's progress. "When I was at the school going over basic medical techniques, he showed a great deal of potential on his chakra control. I just thought it would be best if the pair of you watched him."

"Interesting," the hokage drummed her fingers on the counter. Her eyes went from the paperwork to look over to the head Hyuuga.

"An Inuzuka with the possibility of becoming a medic. It's worth a look into." Hiashi nodded in agreement. With a quick glance at his watch, he continued. "They should be just getting into class in the next ten minutes."

Iruka shifted nervously at the audience in the bleachers watching the class or junior and senior shinobi students. It wasn't often the hokage and the director of the program just dropped in, unannounced to observe the group.

"You're right Sakura, his chakra is very, very precise," her mother watched closely. Her chin rested on her interlaced hands.

With a quick decision she called out to the instructor, "Iruka, please have the students demonstrate the medical skills they have been shown."

Whispering among themselves, the hokage and Hyuuga elder were in agreement. Sakura was completing the notes that both had given her for other students they had also seen.

"Well, Sakura, arrange a meeting with Tsume and the boy's parents," she looked at her daughter. Pride that her daughter was able to spot such raw talent made Tsunade smile ever so slightly. "We need to adjust his schedule and yours to fit the additional training.

Confusion came over the apprentice's green eyes, darting between Hiashi and Tsunade.

"I'm sorry, what Hokage sama," she quickly asked. "I though I heard you say I would be teaching him."

"Good to see you are paying attention to me for once. Yes, you're going to mentor the boy." Tsunade stood, placing her hands on her hips.

"Um, mom, there's no way I can mentor him." The kunoichi stumbled over her words. Sakura began to gather the folders of the students they had brought with them. "I'm not anyone's sensei. I'm still learning from you. I can't teach a medic that's your specialty."

"And what, I'm suppose to stop all my hokage duties to do it? Do you want to sit in on all those boring ass meetings with those old codgers arguing about every idiotic thing they can think of just to hear themselves speak." Tsunade tossed her hands in the air and then straightened the lapels of her green coat. "I mean I will willingly let you sit in with the clan discussions, just so I can guide this child. Since you seem to have confidence issues."

"Mom, as one of your assistants, I already sit in on all those meetings, making sure you are not only awake, but some what sober. Plus helping assign missions, working at the hospital, filing reports, scheduling guard duty, and any other thing you don't feel like doing," Sakura clutched the files she had collected. Her facial expression not just irritated, but a mirror of her mother's.

"Well, looks like you got something else to do now doesn't it," the leader contemplated the bleachers, her four inch red heels, and balancing the two.

Hiashi watched the pair with amused eyes, extending his hand out to his boss to assist her down. Sakura was one of the few people that could give it to the hokage, as much as blonde dished it out. He was sure it had nothing to do with being the woman's daughter, as he had seen Shizune put the leader in her place quite frequently.

"And when am I suppose to find time for this and everything else?" Sakura looked at the elder ninja. The small arms barely wrapping around the massive stack of files, and she took ginger steps down the wooden seating.

"I don't know, you're smart, you'll figure it out," she turned back to look at the annoyed twenty three year old with a smirk. Her commanding voice replaced with a joyous energy. "Class what a wonderful performance today! Iruka gets to keep his job!"

Sakura huffed in anger at her mother's addition to her workload, while Iruka blinked in relief and slight shock.

xXxXxXxXx

The young Inuzuka panted heavily and rested for a brief second as he dodged another earthquake from the pink haired woman. She had effectively separated him from Thunder in her series attacks. Samo learned quickly how stupid it was to insult the hokage and her apprentice by implying medic nins and kunoichi were weaker. Not only was he suffering the wrath of the pink haired woman, he had barely survived his jounin mother and Inuzuka Tsume's lashings.

It had been three days since he began training with Sakura, and each day had consisted of her pounding him in the ground.

"Samo," her voice called out. "You never answered my mother. Which did you think were weak, women or medics?"

Her fist connected with the tree trunk he was hiding in, and caused him to fall in front of her.

"Neither, Sakura sensei," he yelped. He couldn't comprehend how she could be so strong and fast.

"You should just beg for forgiveness!" Toku shouted from the sidelines barely containing his laughter.

"Hurry up before she grabs you," added in the Nara heir. A smirk across his tan face.

Samo growled at the spectators. Dodging what Sakura was throwing at him, and not being able to land one single hit was bad enough, but to have Shino, Shikamaru, Toku, and Kiba there made his training miserable. Two other clan heirs, plus the beta for his clan, and the future alpha seeing him get beaten over and over was taking a toll on his confidence. Not to mention their un-welcomed commentary, jeering, and betting on how long it would take her to clean his clock, started to piss him off.

He paid for his moment of distraction, when Sakura's fist connected with his cheek sending him flying fifteen feet. A moment later, he heard Thunder howl as the medic delivered the same blow. Groans were heard from the sidelines.

His vision became clear, and the dreaded color pink came into view above him.

"I suggest, Samo kun, being in a village ran by a woman, and in a clan headed by a woman, you learn to watch your tongue." She placed her hands on her hips. "Next time, I won't be so easy on you."

With that said, she dusted off her hands and clothing, then turned to walk away.

"Oh, heal that mark on your cheek, by tonight's session," she commanded. In a poof of cherry blossoms, she was gone.

"How the hell is she so fuckin' fast?" Samo groaned sitting up and rubbing his face.

xXxXxXxX

Shikaku Nara stared at his son with pride. The young man's wedding day had arrived and Shikamaru had managed to muster enough enthusiasm to wake up on time, show up, and attempt to look like he cared.

The head of the Nara clan had spent the better part of the day trying to keep Sakura from killing both the bride, for existing, and the groom, for agreeing to marry her. Sakura and Ai made it no secret of their distaste for each other. Ai continued to test Sakura's patience, and Shikaku wondered how the younger version of the blonde hokage would react to Ai once she was Shikamaru's wife.

Currently the father and the pink haired woman were locked in an intense game of Go. Chouji was dressed the part as Shikamaru's best man and sat on the couch in the hotel room watching a cooking show on the television.

Ai had complained up until the bride's breakfast about Shikamaru forcing her to have Sakura as a brides maid. The black eye given to the bride by Sakura , as an early wedding gift, that Shikamaru' mother, Yoshino, couldn't or didn't want to block changed Ai's mind and closed not only her eye but, the subject.

To add insult to her injury, Sakura refused to heal the swollen purple and black bruise that closed Ai's eye. Ryu was in bride's quarters attempting to get rid of the wound as much as possible.

"Sakura chan," the elder Nara spoke. His voice was rich and deep. "I need something from you."

"Yes, Nara san," she wrinkled her brow at the game board.

"I want Shikamaru to be happy, but also live up to his responsibilities to this clan," he moved a game piece to block her. "I also understand how much you love my son."

"So but out," she interrupted, frowning at both his move and speech. Her next move selected.

"Not really," he grinned then moved his game piece. His hands rubbed the small beard on his chin. "She isn't like his mom, she's worse. I just don't want her to run you away. I know you push Shikamaru, and I'm sure he'll need you."

"Hai Nara san," she tossed up her hands trying to figure out her how to turn the game around. "I love Shika, but I want to make his life as easy as possible. If it would be better for him that I step out of his life, I will."

Before she could finish her sentence, or admit defeat, Shikamaru exited the bathroom in his clan robes. His hair down and the green accented his tan skin. He walked over to the board and countered his father's last move.

"Sakura's not going anywhere," he informed each of them, smiling as he watched his dad scramble to win. "She's still the most important girl in my life."

She relaxed at the words he spoke and felt him kiss the top of her head. She never wanted to admit to him or anyone else that part of her was jealous and angry. Ai was taking away her best friend. No, he didn't love his future wife, but there would still be a closeness that they would share that Sakura could never know. By getting married, Shikamaru would be pulled away from her. Only three months after losing her dad, it felt like another piece of her was being ripped apart.

Tears fell on her cheeks to hear him say those words.

"She's loud, rash, nosey, horribly bad at any game she plays, and completely troublesome, she will always be my number one girl," he made the game winning move.

"Thanks, king of the back handed compliment." Sakura turned her head to look out the window and away from the other two men in the room.

Shikaku cursed under his breath at this son's victory, then stood to give the pair privacy. Chouji with a small grin left with the elder man.

"Why are you crying?" Shikamaru asked pulling her to the sofa to sit beside him. He felt her her small frame settle into his arms, and she rested her head on his shoulder.

"Because you're getting married and leaving me," she admitted softly. "I won't be able to come over when I want or crawl in your bed to cry or bitch if I need to."

"I meant what I said, you crazy ass woman. Nothing, and I mean nothing, has or will change between us. You are still the most important woman in my life." Shikamaru rubbed her arm in comfort. "Ai and I have will have separate bedrooms, I still doubt Ryu would really like the idea of you climbing in bed beside me."

"What can he say, you're my best friend?"

Shikamaru kissed the top of her head again, "Exactly my point."

"Sakura," he began, his voice sad and rehearsed. "Could you keep an eye on Neji today for me? I already know how this is going to effect him, and he'll need someone to be there for him that understands."

"Yeah, I will," she snuggled back into him loving the warmth he gave her.

"Also, try not to beat the hell out of my wife. I want to get the wedding night done and over without her constantly whining," he sniffed her hair. Wrinkling his nose at the familiar jasmine shampoo that she used. Smiling he knew his request had a twenty percent chance of happening, and that is why he loved her.

"That I can't promise."

xXxXxXxXx

"Sakura sweetheart, do your really think it's a good idea? I mean are you sure you want to start taking missions again," Ryu asked from his spot at the kitchen table. His eyes lifted from the newspaper that originally held his attention.

Since her father's death, Sakura had removed herself from the active duty roster. She had also moved back into her mother's home to offer emotional support for the woman.

"You've been out of the field for three months, so why return now?" His voice was full of concern for the woman he loved. Green eyes focused on the woman at the stove.

Sakura flipped the pancake in the pan and turned to get more batter.

"It's time. If I don't go back now, when?" Removing the finished item from the skillet, she began to pour more bater into a circle.

"When, for what," her blonde brother asked, entering the kitchen and sitting at the table. His hair giving away the fact that he had just woke up.

Sakura was not only of the Uzumaki twins to move back home. Between his missions, Naruto had been sleeping at his mother's.

"A mission," she answered and then served the plate to her boyfriend. "Ryu's not too sure I can handle one right after, well right now."

The twins eyes softening at the memory of losing their father.

As quickly as the sadness came into the blue eyes of the elder, it was replaced by pure confidence. As if anyone in his family was unable to be anything but ready for a mission he snorted at her comment.

Sakura placed the plate in front of him. She couldn't help but kiss the top of his blonde locks.

"Thanks sis. Shit, this is my sister we're talking about. She kicks ass all the time." Naruto looked up with pride. The pancakes getting drenched in syrup.

"That's right," she smiled in agreement. Her green eyes moved to meet her boyfriend's. Her shoulders squared in determination that is normally only seen on the battlefield. "Naruto nissan and I are the children and Godchildren of the three legendary sannin and the current hokage. Nephew and niece of the 'white fang,' Hatake Sakumo and the fourth hokage, Minato. The cousins and students of the copy nin, Hatake Kakashi. Grand nephew and niece of the second hokage, Senju Tobirama, and great grandchildren of the first hokage, Senju Hashirama."

Naruto's chest filled with pride, when she named the who's who list of legendary ninja they were connected to through their family lineage.

"If there were ever any two people born to be shinobi it's us. I assure you that we are always ready for missions," she finished. She was unsure where the anger she was feeling came from or why it was being directed toward the man who was just concerned for her.

He had however, doubted her abilities for just a moment with the look he gave her, and that lit a fire in her. Well aware that a portion of it could also be from the announcement her mother made concerning Naruto leaving to begin his sage training soon. Her father was gone, and within the next few weeks her brother was leaving. It seemed almost cruel.

"Look Sakura, I'm not saying that you can't do a mission. I'm simply asking if you're ready for everything it contains." Ryu stood and began to move toward her. He had learned his lesson from their break up. Ryu wasn't worried about her physically, but how would she return emotionally. Would she be able to concentrate when she had not truly gotten past her dad's death.

"And what would you know of what a mission contains. The sacrifices that come with each time a shinobi steps out of this village," her voice rang with a high shriek on the border of tears. She tossed the dish towel she had been gripping onto the counter and stormed out, slamming the backdoor hard enough to shake the glassware in the cupboards.

"What the hell is wrong with her?" His green eyes turned to her older brother. "Doesn't she realize how much I care about her?"

"Being a kunoichi is hard, you know? Always being seen as a lesser verision of male shinobi. Sakura's always had a confidence problem, so she has this big ass chip on her shoulder. When she feels like someone is questioning her strength, she kinda explodes." Naruto shifted his stare from Ryu to the kitchen window. "When she was in Suna, a lot of people saw her as weaker because she wasn't born there. It's taken some time for her to see how great she really is and to own that feeling.

Ryu leaned back against the fridge, crossing his hands over his chest.

Naruto continued. "Mom being her mentor doesn't really praise her, just to keep her always wanting to become better. Dad's the one who told her how strong she was. Her self reliance may falter every now and then, but rest assured she's the strongest kunoichi ever to be born in Konoha. Stronger than our mom, and not just physically, but her chakra control and medic skills. It just sucks when the people you love don't believe in you. But hey, how could you have known she felt that way? It's not like it's something she goes around talking about either. You're lucky she really loves you like she does. When Shikamaru, Neji, or me make the mistake of questioning her she beats the shit outta us."

Ryu nodded at the grinning man that began pouring more syrup over his pancakes. The medic wondered how could someone as beautiful and smart as his girlfriend ever doubt herself.

Sakura sat at the top of the tree a little distance from her home. She felt guilty for blowing up at Ryu like that and knew that she needed to apologize pronto. Recently she had been on edge about everything. She needed more than just time at the hospital and her mother's office. The extra training with Samo was good to burn off the energy, but it wasn't enough. Given the opportunity to accompany Samo and his genin teammates on a mission, she jumped at the chance.

Her father's passing haunted her more than she was willing to admit. Sakura felt guilty for wanting to just get away from her family. Her mother was a shell was going through the motions of her life. No matter how Sakura tried to approach Tsunade about the subject, she was with a harden glare of hazel eyes. Naruto was not fairing any better. The blonde had increased his training regiment. There was a constant threat of violence in his voice when he spoke. Hinata couldn't get him to discuss anything that he was feeling. Kakashi spent even more time at the memorial stone since Jiraiya's name had been etched on it. The white haired man did not tried to hide his grief, but it tainted the way the performed his duties.

Knowing that leaving would be hard on them, it was what Sakura needed to do for herself. Tsunade had ushered Kakashi on a five month mission, and Naruto would be leaving for training with the sages. Time apart she thought could be just the medicine the family needed to begin to repair itself. Without Jiraiya, they would never be whole, but mended was definitely better than the devastation they wore so openly.

xxxxxxxxx

Two months later Sakura returned with the a sense of pride and the feeling of her father's ninja way guiding her. Sakura was exhausted from the journey, but was happy that she was able to spend so much time with her young student in the field. Samo had learned a lot by assisting her in the small village that had suffered with the hurricane. The Inuzuka had healed his first patient, and was a great help to get hospital there running again. The children of the village loved Crush, his canine, and Samo found himself very popular with the young ladies.

Walking through the village with her charge, Sakura was happy to be near her own shower and bed. The sky was dark and the weekend evening was in full swing.

"Samo, no training session in the morning," she instructed. "I've got to report in at the hospital."

"Hai, Sakura sensei," he replied with a tired smile on his face. "I kinda just wanna sleep in my own bed all day."

Crush barked in agreement.

"Meet me at the hokage's office at one, to give your report to my mom," she pointed out. "She'll want to see how far you've come. Now get home."

Deciding to stop in quick with her friends, she turned on her heel toward the bar they frequented. The door opened, and she scanned the room for her group. Tucked away in their normal corner, she smiled at Shikamaru. Cuddled beside Shino was Hinata's younger sister, Hanabi. Sakura's eyes fixated on Kiba, who had Nami by his side. Not a big surprise for the kunoichi. Nami had a possessive streak in her and wanted to accompany the Inuzuka heir wherever he went.

A spark of light caught her attention, and Sakura's green eyes closed in on the sight around Nami's neck. Placed perfectly there was the Inuzuka clan engagement necklace. As if on cue, the brunette Inuzuka woman met Sakura's stare and allowed a haughty, 'I win,' smile cover her face. The untrained finger of the engaged woman traced the article of jewelry to ensure it's meaning came across.

Sakura felt the color drain from her face, shock was replaced by white hot anger. A sensation she couldn't explain, nor justify washed over her. She felt betrayed by her ex, as if he didn't have the courage to propose to the Nami without Sakura around. That he had to do it by sneaking behind her back, while she was away from the village. That wasn't the only issue. Kiba had never wanted to marry her, but he had committed to Nami. He was engaged. Kiba was getting married, and they were truly over.

Her temper snapped, and Sakura stormed the remaining ten feet to close the distance. Her open hand pulled back, and she slapped him solidly on the cheek.

Kiba did not react to the action, but just held her eyes until she raced from the room. Neither Neji nor Shikamaru could look at each other. Though they were both married, their love for one another had not subsided. If anyone knew the harsh reality that Kiba's engagement signified to Sakura it was the former couple. Sakura was hurt. Kiba in some weird way felt the need to be punished by her.

With a simple nod to the group, Shikamaru left to comfort the woman.

xxxxxxxxx

Shikamaru and Sakura sat with Hyuuga Haishi and Tsunade in the her office. Shikamaru there in his father's place and to get away from his wife, made the occasional suggestion for the assignments. Not to Sakura's surprise, Hiashi often took Shikamaru's advice seriously. The two friends shuffled the papers back and forth recording the missions as Tsunade and Haishi deemed.

"This is an S ranked year possible eighteen month long recon mission." Tsunade began. Her eyes focused on the details of the report. "The Sayana clan needs to be infiltrated. We've had an eye on them for the past six months, but they are picking up momentum. There also is reason to believe they are linked in some way to the Akatsuki."

"The Akatuski," Shikamaru asked with a raised eyebrow. Thoughts of his fight with Hidan, and the loss of his mentor coming back to the surface of his mind. "How so?"

"From the report the shinobi was able to send back to Gaara, they are being used as flunkies for the group. Instilling fear in the border villages." Tsunade set the paper down and pushed herself away from her desk. Walking to the glass window that overlooked her village. "The ninja that was sent out from Suna was discovered and sent back piece by piece for two months to the Kazekage's office."

"What?" Sakura's head snapped up at the statement. Her childhood friends lived in Suna. "Mom, who?"

She couldn't bare to say the name she was thinking.

"No, Sakura, it wasn't anyone you know. Jungee, who was about six years your senior." Tsunade crossed her arms over her chest, sadly remembering the young man. "The best way Gaara and I have figured to get close is to send a kunoichi."

Sakura watched her mother closely. She could see the sorrow the woman was trying to mask. In her mind she wondered how much longer the elder Uzumaki woman could handle the role of her current occupation. The jutsu that was concealing her mother's age was working extra hard with the current state of the ninja world.

"This group is getting stronger. There are smaller villages allying themselves with this clan out of fear." Turning back to the other three in her office she handed the images that were sent of a small farming village. "This is a rural community on Wind country's border. We need to know their intentions, and their intentions on Konoha and Suna. A kunoichi will need to get in the good graces of the leader and get as much information as possible."

Shikamaru was busy writing the notes that the woman would need to know before leaving the village. Haishi sat silently thinking of the available kunoichi in the village.

"Tsunade sama, from these reports, this gang is ruthless. Just trying to come up with jounin level candidates will be difficult." Hiashi spoke. His pearl colored eyes showing his disgust at the actions the gurellia group was exerting on innocent people.

For a moment the room was quiet with the exception of Shikamaru's pencil scrapping against the paper with possible names of shinobi women to take the mission.

"I'll do it." Sakura spoke up meekly.

Shikamaru's eyes shot over to her and narrowed. The silence in the office was interrupted by the intake of Tsunade's breath. Her hands curled in a ball crushing the paperwork caught in her wake.

"What," the village leader stammered a combination of pride and fear present in her voice.

"I said I'll do it," she replied, finding her courage to look her mother in the eye. "I know my name is on that list Shikamaru is working on there."

Tsunade's heart skipped. For once Tsunade had wished her child was not so well trained. Her inner voice screamed there would be no way in hell her daughter was getting this assignment. This was essentially a suicide mission. It was too close to losing her husband for the sake of the village for the leader to send off her only daughter on a mission with very little hope of survival. Deep in the back of her mind, she could hear her husband's voice proud of his child for continuing the ninja way of their family. Green faced off with hazel, until the Hokage regained her composure.

"Fine then. Shikamaru, this mission is assigned to Uzumaki Sakura." Tsunade turned away from the group in her office.

The brown eyes of the jounin conveyed his total disagreement with his boss's orders. Defiance set in his face, and he laid his pencil down on the table. Tsunade outer shell of indifference was back in place, and her head tilted to the side with autority.

"Nara, you heard what I said, this assignment is for Uzumaki Sakura, a year to eighteen months. Sakura your briefing is at six am in the morning. Shizune and I will continue Samo's training. You're done here for today, go prepare and tie up any loose ends before you leave. I need you to be focused and not have anything worrying you when you leave, dismissed."

"Hai Hokage sama," she stood and bowed to the elders in the room before she left. Never once looking her best friend in the eye.

xxxxxxxxx

Standing in her room, Sakura placed her hands on her hips. She had already spoken to Ryu to about her early departure. What little details she could provide she did, and then left to prepare herself.

The pink haired woman was trying to decide on what to pack for her newly assigned mission. She needed to appear as a traveler whose village had been destroyed. The difficult challenge was being without weapons, which would give her away as a kunoichi. Lost in thought, she didn't hear the front door open.

"What the hell are you doing?" Shikamaru's voice rang through the bedroom. "Why would you volunteer for this mission! Are you crazy?"

Sakura jumped and turned to face the brunette. Her face frowned at the anger that was emitting from the Nara.

"Don't even try it," her tone trying to calm the male. A soft smile crossed her face. "Shika, we both know I would've ended up with this assignment."

"This is a fuckin' suicide mission," his voice grew louder not being pacified by the kunoichi. "God Sakura, I can't even believe you would do this!"

"Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I can handle myself," she snapped. Her green eyes clouding over with frustration. Shikamaru was one of the people she always felt knew her abilities.

"It's not about strength," his temper reacting to her lack of understanding of his feelings. "Were you not listening? The spy from Suna returned in not one but multiple body bags!"

"This is going to keep innocent people safe. It's my job, our job, if you haven't forgotten," she stormed passed him to grab her bag. "My life is far less important than the villagers being killed."

"Like hell it is! It makes me sound like an ass or the bad guy, but if I had to choose between your life and some other kunoichi's then I'd choose yours every time!" he raked his hand through his hair. Shikamaru could not believe that she didn't realize how much she meant to his life. "Can't you see that!"

Sakura hugged herself at his words. She knew how much her friend loved her. Though with Kiba's recent engagement, she couldn't bare to be around the village at the moment.

"I can't be here. I just can't," she started to whisper and lowered her head, shielding her eyes with her pink locks. Slowly she toed the edge of the rug covering her floor. "That wedding can take place, and the furthest away from the village I can be the better."

"This is about him? Are you serious! All this is about him," Shikamaru's eyes narrowed, his anger toppling over. "And this is your solution, to throw your life away? Are you that heartbroken? What about Ryu?"

"Ryu," she whispered and regretfully shook her head. "I still love him, but Shikamaru this thing with Kiba. I just, I mean. It's Kiba, you know. I can't even explain how I feel. Hell, I don't even know how I feel, but I thought if anyone would understand it would be you."

Her arms squeezed her chest tightly, and she fought back tears that were coming from somewhere she could not explain.

"He's marrying her," she choked back. "I just thought there was always a possibility that we weren't finished, but he's engaged."

"Running away won't change it. I can't lose you, Sakura," he wrapped his arms around her. His chin rested on her shoulder. The tactician wanted to hold her there forever. "I believe in you, but come back safe."

The next morning before sunrise the kunoichi left the village determined to make her parents proud.

Two days later a weary Aburame and Inuzuka pair filed into the ANBU office to turn in the mission report. Shikamaru and Neji were walking to lunch, catching a glance of the returning duo. Before the Hyuuga could react, Shikamaru entered the office, and punched Kiba directly in the mouth. Quickly recovering, Kiba grabbed the shadow nin.

"What the fuck, Nara," he demanded with a growl, slamming Shikamaru's normally lazy body into the wall. His brown eyes narrowed, and he was nose to nose with one of his closest childhood friends. The dog nin trying to process what would cause the male to act so uncharacteristically.

Shino grabbed Kiba pulling him away from Shikamaru unsuccessfully. The ANBU officier on duty jumped across the table attempting to help the bug nin. Neji grasped the furious Nara, surprised at the fight his ex was putting up against him. Very few times in the Nara's life did he ever move so swiftly or with such passion. Chairs and one of the desks in the office were turned over in the scuffle.

"Neji, what is going on?" Shino looked over his glasses that were being pushed aside by Kiba's attempts to fight back. His insects beginning to crawl over his best friends legs' to drain the chakra and possibly contain him.

"It's your fuckin' fault she's gone! You and your damn pride!" Shikamaru shouted and jabbed his fingers to the canine nin, shoving Neji out of his way at the same time. "You couldn't just tell her you loved her! You had to get engaged to another woman instead of letting her know that you still cared about her!"

"Shikamaru, calm down." Neji jerked the other back toward the wall. He debated on closing a chakra point to help subdue the man.

"What the hell are you talking about?" Kiba tried to get past the two men holding him back. He wasn't quite sure why Shikamaru was so pissed, but the Inuzuka was never one to back down from a challenge or a fight.

"Sakura is gone," the Hyuuga answered. He felt Shikamaru slacken in his grip. "She volunteered for a S rank recon mission with the Sayana clan, twelve to eighteen months."

The words that came from Neji hit Kiba harder than Shikamaru. Each ANBU agent assigned to missions on the outside of Fire country were aware of the damage the clan was causing. The images of what had been done to the women and children of the small farms they had raided popped into his head. Sakura. She volunteered to spy on this group.

He released Shikamaru and bolted from the room. His nose following the faint trail of her scent.

"Kiba!" Shino shouted after him. "Damn it! How long has she been gone?"

Shino pushed the knowledge of how the clan treated women to the back of his mind in order to deal with the problem at hand.

"Two days." Neji replied. The heir could feel the anger and fear that was rolling off his ex.

"We've got to catch up with Kiba." Shino commented. "He'll do something stupid and get himself killed."

Shikamaru rolled his eyes.

"Fuck you Shikamaru. You might be pissed at him, but he's my best friend!" Shino stepped toward Shikamaru, anger rising. "And Sakura would never forgive herself if something happened to him because of her."

With a scoff, Shikamaru began to turn away. Shino's temper elevated at Shikamaru's indifference.

"Come with me or not, I don't really give a damn," the bug user's voice rose. "But he's also your friend."

The pair shared a hard stare with one another. Shino turned to the leave the room in chase of Kiba. Before he moved to follow, Shikamaru looked to Neji. Neji nodded in agreement and moved with the pair from the ANBU office.

Kiba flew through the forest, not caring that he didn't have permission to leave the village. His mind was racing, and he had no clue what he would do if he caught up to her. Four hours later the combination of a two week ANBU mission and pursuing her, his body gave way to exhaustion . Defeated he dropped to the forest floor.

The three pursued the canine trainer, but were no match for his natural speed. Finally, they landed beside the man with his head in his hands.

"She's gone. I couldn't catch her." Kiba admitted. He looked up to the bug nin, fear and worry etched on his face. "She's gone."

"She'll be fine." Neji commented. His words spoken not to just reassure Kiba, but Shino, Shikamaru, and himself. "She's more than capable. Tsunade sama would have never allowed her to go if not."

"True." Shino said after a moment of silence.

"Let's head back, dog boy." Shikamaru sighed. He offered a hand to help up the dog nin.

Kiba accepted it, and the nonverbal apology that came with it. The group of four moved back toward their home.

Sakura traveled for three days toward last known location of the Sayana clan. After arriving at the edge of their camp, the kunoichi watched the group for two more days. Since learning of her Godfather's experiments on her as a young child, Sakura had always felt a tad freaked out about how he had altered her use of genjutsu and chakra. For this particular mission though, she welcomed the changes. Better control over the genjutsu that she would need to change her appearance constantly, while it only used less than one percent of her chakra to maintain. Her greatest fear was dropping all the normal shinobi reactions that would be a giveaway. The trick in this was to be completely vulnerable and alert at the same time. Two complete opposite states of being.

Deciding her research was complete, she set off to begin her performance of a life time. Quick hand seals took her appearance from shoulder length pink hair, green eyes, and pale skin, to a slightly darker skin tone, deep brown eyes, and burgundy colored hair that ended at the base of her back. Stumbling into the camp, she collapsed before the two men on guard. Immediately she was grabbed and taken into the group the lion's den.

While continuing her unconscious act for nearly a hour, the woman listened to the voices surrounding her. She judge the chakra levels of each man that she heard and was relieved to find that none could be judged as shinobi trained networks. Making the choice to awaken, Sakura began to stir.

"She's waking up," a voice mumbled over her.

Blinking her eyes open, Sakura began to sit up and take in her surroundings. Playing the role she had decided on, she grabbed large stick and charged at the leader of the group.

"You killed my family!" Sakura shouted and swung the branch at the dark blue haired man's head.

The other men surrounding the head of their group tackled the woman to the ground, while she struggled against them.

"Let me see her," a cold laugh escaped the man who stood and walked over toward her.

The man holding her tiny form yanked Sakura to her feet. Sakura took in his full appearance. She had known he was the head of the group from her observations, but being this close to him gave her a better idea of her enemies size. Not as large as Chouji, but stocky with arms that resembled small tree trunks. His dark blue hair was pulled into a tight ponytail to reveal equally dark blue eyes. He was Sakura assessed a formidable foe.

"Honestly child, are you here for vengeance?" The large male leaned over her. He righted himself and gestured to the surrounding men with his hand. "When my ranks are as large as they are, you honestly think that you alone could hurt me with a stick?"

He let out a hearty laugh at her actions, to which his men followed in suit.

"You bastard! You killed my family," she spat at his feet and continued to fight against the man holding her back.

Had she truly wanted, Sakura could have easily broken free and snapped the neck of the leader. Her mission though, was to observe and learn how the group was intertwined with the Akatsuki. If the gang of guerilla had begun using smaller clans to become thieves and murders, the hokage and kazekage agreed that killing the current leader would only bring forth another to power. The only choice the was to destroy the entire group of men.

"Your family, eh?" His eyes traveled down the face and body of Sakura. The blue eyes rested on the charm that hung from her neck. Three fish leaping from the water caused his eyebrow to raise. "I see now, a child of the River country's Kawasuni clan. It really is a pity what happened to them. Now child, what is your name?"

The charm had been recovered from the clan massacred in the River Country village. Sakura and her mother agreed the kunoichi would play the role of sole survivor of the tragedy, bent on revenge against the Sayana clan.

"If you want to know another's name it is only proper to introduce yourself first!" Sakura snapped indigently at him.

A collective gasp was heard among the men surrounding her, expecting her death to be swift. Surprising them, their leader laughed out loud once more.

"Yes, I do remember my mother teaching me such a rule," with a slight nod of his head he bowed before her. "I am Sayana Tatsuo."

"Kawasuni Aiko" she swallowed and returned the gesture as best she could while being held by the henchman.

"Well, Aiko now that the pleasantries have been exchanged, I must say, it would be a shame to have such a beautiful girl as yourself killed over mistaken identity." Tatsuo rubbed his chin between his index finger and thumb. "We were in your land, however we are not responsible for your clan's death. They were dead before we arrived."

"LIAR," she yelled back and pulled free from the blonde restraining her. Once more she charged at Tatsuo, only to be held in his clutches.

"I do not lie child," he picked her up and held her at his eye level. The scent of dirt, sweat, and blood dominated the man's body.

"But I am intrigued by such a fighter as yourself," again his deep blue eyes raked over her form.

Sakura did all she could to hold the bile down that was rising from her stomach, at the man's scent. Time spent in the woods sweating and traveling gave him an odor that was sickening.

"You'll do nicely in my tent tonight," a smirk covered his face. Slowly his tongue dragged across his lip, and he inched toward the nape of her neck.

"I am no one's whore," she pulled her foot back and kicked him square in the groin. Her body tossed onto the ground harshly as he swore. "Especially someone smelling as rank as you!"

Sakura was surprised to see his dark blue eyes clouded over with lust, and an even larger smile take over his face.

"My natural scent does not appeal to you, eh? Well then, you shall give me bath to ensure when I take you this evening, I am up to your standards." Tatsuo turned to walk away. He paused several feet away from her, a snarl creeping across his face. "No one touches that flower. She has such a strong spirit, a lot like my mother's. I look forward to breaking her in."

For the next six months Sakura's life became one of servant, slave, and bed partner to Tatsuo. The kunoichi learned much from the leader and sent messages home to her mother when possible. She felt she had grown the trust of the male, being able to prepare his food and sleep at his side more often than the other two girls he had traveling with him. Two young women, which Sakura's heart truly felt for.

Kou was sixteen, with long blonde hair and purple eyes. She reminded Sakura of Hinata in many ways. Quiet and aiming to please, while withholding her own feelings or thoughts. Sakura could almost feel the repulsion the young woman had at being touched by Tatsuo.

Ume had blue hair a lighter shade that Tatsuo, with eyes so light blue, they resembled ice. She was more defiant than Kou, but silenced quickly with the back of Tatsuo's hand. As much as Sakura tried, she was unable to bond with Ume as she had with Kou. She couldn't help but feel that Ume was slightly jealous of her good grace with Tatsuo.

Watching the interaction of Kou and Ume, it was clear that Ume desired power over the other. It wasn't a shock to Sakura to learn the blue haired girl had been daughter of the village head before her home was destroyed. Ume carried herself with a sense of nobility, not hiding her disgust and unhappiness, while Kou's rice farming upbringing humbled her.

One thing for sure the kunoichi vowed, was to keep each of them out of Tatsuo's tent as much as possible. For Tatsuo pain and pleasure were one and the same. Time spent with him resulted in bruises, cuts, bite marks, and verbal humiliation. Perverted and cruel as he was, she knew she was far better trained to deal with the consequences of sex, both physically and emotionally. Both were spoils of war as Tatsuo liked to call them. Yet watching him or the other men in the camp beat or degrade the young women was a test for Sakura's own self control. The beatings she could handle, but neither of the teenagers were trained for such. In the tent the three shared, Sakura tried her best to comfort and give hope to the young women.

When Ume or Kou returned from Tatsuo's tent and fell into deep slumber, Sakura would secretly pump her green chakra into their bodies to lessen the pair and scaring. The emotional damage she could only try to help them with by talking to the pair.

While Tatsuo trusted her, his cousin Masaru did not. Frequently she could feel his dark blue eyes on her. Shorter than his cousin, Masaru, with short cropped blue hair did possess an ability to pick out chakra usage, which was handy when they traveled to avoid shinobi. It also limited the time Sakura could use her healing ability on herself or the other young ladies.

Tatsuo was generous with his cousin as opposed to the other men within the camp. Their leader instructed the men of the camp in need of companionship to seek it anywhere they desired with the exception of Kou, Ume, or Sakura, who they knew as Aiko. The leader would allow Masaru to indulge in the one of the women he had laid claim too. Masaru would rarely choose to spend time with Sakura, and that annoyed her. She needed to be in his good graces in order to keep his suspicion off her.

Masaru often bragged about his detection of the Suna spy and his long torturous treatment of the man once discovered. Hearing how he ordered the shinobi kept alive and dragged along while the group traveled slowly hacking off a finger, or his foot and sending it back to Suna, made Sakura's blood boil. Yet she could not help but feel that Masaru was directing this bit of information toward her. Almost warning her of what her future held. The added result was how the story affected Kou and Ume. Kou tried to stay out of his way and tent, but the man insisted on humiliating her and exerting his power as second in command with a cruel joy. Ume didn't particularly care for Masaru, but aligned herself with him seeing the possibility of him leading the group at a later time. This kept Sakura more aware of her actions around the girl. There was any assurance that Ume wouldn't feed information back to Masaru.

Even with this knowledge, Sakura was fiercely protective of the two. More than once she accepted being beaten in their place or stood up to the men in the encampment for mistreating the pair.

Eight months into her mission, Sakura was called to Tatsuo. The group had made camp on the outskirts of a larger village in southern portion of River country bordering Wind. She was relieved they had stopped traveling for the last three months. Tatsuo was kind in several ways to the women, by sending them away from any battle or raiding that the clan was involved in. His belief that women should not be warriors, but the spoils of war kept the untrained Ume and Kou from being harmed. Which was ironic to Sakura since she deemed the battle each of the women faced was with him or Masaru.

"Aiko, we will have visitors arriving soon," he spoke. The large man was standing at the edge of the encampment looking into the thinning forest with the small brook that curved around the bend.

It was the first time that Sakura had observed the man nervous. If anything, his confidence equaled that of her brother's, but it was evident in his actions that whoever was coming held power over him. Even Masaru's normally arrogant mouth was quiet. The situation was tense in the least.

"Hai," she answered. Her eyes darting between the two men, measuring their actions. "How does this involve me? Am I not correct in that your guests will be sleeping at the inn in the village?"

"It would be wise to hold your tongue until Tatsuo nisan was finished speaking," snapped Masaru at the woman. He crossed the space quickly, and his hand swung to connect to her cheek. "A woman should know her place and to keep silent until her master orders her to speak."

"Masaru otouto calm down. I don't want her bruised for this evening!" Tatsuo ordered. He waved his hand at the man he thought of more as a brother than the cousin which he was.

Sakura bit her tongue, not flinching and refused to acknowledge Masaru's presence. An action she had learned irritated him more than any other. Those who craved power as he did, desired the attention that went along with it.

Tatsuo's blue eyes turned again to the brook. Sakura could tell he was working to calm himself.

"Our guests will require attention of a woman. I would like to you and Ume to see to their comforts. They should arrive within two hours, be quick in preparing yourselves. We leave for the inn in one hour." Tatsuo spoke minutes later. His large hands clasp behind his back.

"Hai," she agreed and began to turn away.

"You know nisan, I think that instead of sending Ume and Aiko, we should send Kou and Ume instead." Masaru suggested. "I think our taller guest would appreciate someone with a little more height and demur that Kou possesses."

Sakura knew too well that Masaru enjoyed being merciless with his treatment of Kou. Her gentle spirit angered him, and he continually took pleasure in demoralizing the blonde teenager. Sakura on every occasion defended Kou, to suffer the beating from Masaru's hand. She could only imagine what type of person they were sending the girl to.

Though she could also see through his plan. If the visitors that were meeting them were so important as Tatsuo's attitude suggested, there was no doubt that Masaru wanted to send Ume in to secure his own place in the line of power. The act of loving cousin to Tatsuo was only partly true of Masaru. Sakura would bet her life that Masaru would slit his cousin's throat given the opportunity. She just wondered how aware the group's leader was of Masaru's pending betrayal.

"You are meant to say that you would like to keep Aiko for yourself this evening," a chuckle rocked Tatsuo's chest.

Masaru's face cringed at the suggestion.

"Although, I feel that Aiko here is just a bit more experienced at what our guests require," his tongue ran against the edge of his mouth. There was a small glint in his blue eyes that implied he was very well aware of his younger cousin's true intentions. "You can understand that, and I am sure Ume would be fitting for your needs, correct?"

"Of course, of course," he conceded to Tatsuo's request. A flicker of anger passed over the man's face, but he pulled himself together. "She'll have to do, and I am sure Kou will be more than sufficient."

Brown eyes from the genjutsu that changed her appearance, looked into Masaru's blue ones. The smirk that covered his face clued her in to the savagery that Kou would soon be facing. Like many other times during her mission, Sakura talked to herself down from slicing the necks of both the males in front of her and talking off with the two young women. The physical aspect of the mission she had been presented was easy compared to the mental toll it was taking on the kunoichi.

Even with Tatsuo sending them away from any confrontations or raiding they encountered, Sakura had seen more than one woman or even child murdered or traded into some form of slavery, only after being used by the men in the encampment. Part of her felt neither her mother nor Kakashi had prepared her for the emotional ass kicking she was taking being with this group. Often she felt useless and wanted to release her own fury against the group to stop them. The guilt haunted her dreams. In the back of her mind she knew, that if this clan was linked to a larger terrorist organization, this group of thugs would only be replaced by another one. With that thought and her father's voice in her mind, she held back, observed, and reported back to the hokage.

An hour later the sun began to set and the mood around the camp was quiet. Each member of the group of thieves was aware of the approaching guests, and Sakura found it a curiosity of how they appeared to be so scared. Men that she had seen on previous occasions fear no one, were stoic when Tatsuo and Masaru left with Sakura and Kou.

In the small receiving room of the inn, Sakura sat with Kou beside her. The sound of bells jingled in the air, and Sakura lifted her head to the doorway. A feeling of dread started at the pit of her stomach with the sensation of a familiar chakra registering.

"Oh my God no," she whispered and clutched the fabric of her kimono.

"Aiko san are you okay?" Kou's soft voice spoke, looking at her friend.

"Yes, Kou I'm alright thank you," she placed her hand on top of the blonde's small one.

Both men in the room stiffened with the sliding of the door. Sakura's eyes took in the nin sandals and slowly looked up toward the black cloaks with red clouds. Her stomach knotted in more ways than one, and her previous battle with Sasori of the Red Sand flashed into her mind. Willing herself to calm down, she dared to look up quickly to the men that entered the room. One male she knew before he entered, the other she took in the blue skin and massive height. The vast amount of chakra that flowed in the shark like man scared her, but not as much as the man that stood beside him.

She need not look at the forehead protector with the scratched out Leaf Village symbol to know that Uchiha Itachi was the second male to enter. The mentor that instructed her on every aspect of using her genjutsu was there before her. Her one question was if he could see through hers. Did he see past the mask of tan skin, burgundy hair, and brown eyes that hid her true identity and loyalty to Konohagakure no sato? Memories of her senior year spent with the man before her and Kurenai sensei practicing over and over techniques that would enhance the genjutsu abilities that had been enhanced by the experiments conducted on her by her Godfather, Orochimaru. Uchiha Itachi knew every weakness she held with casting genjutsu, and she knew beyond anyone else in Konoha how much of a master he was with this ninja technique.

The group of men conversed, and Sakura kept one ear on the men, while holding tightly to Kou's hand. The possibility of Kou being taken by either worried Sakura a great deal.

"Please Kou, be strong tonight. Just remember take your mind away from this, okay, and I'll be there for you in the morning." Sakura reassured her.

"Hai, Aiko san," murmured the shy girl. Panic laced her voice and from holding her hand, Sakura could feel the racing of her heart.

A quick squeeze reminded the younger woman to be strong.

"Kou, Kisame san is waiting for you." Tatsuo ordered.

"Hai," she bowed to the ground and stood quickly to leave

Sakura's fist clutched at the malice that was etched on Masaru's face.

"I believe the beautiful cherry blossom Aiko is with me," the calm voice of the Uchiha filled the space after Kisame left.

Trying to keep her own emotions in check, she rose to her feet refusing to meet Itachi's eye. She followed him toward the room they would share for the evening. Anxiety for the kunoichi was high when she closed the door behind her. The room was considered a deluxe suite with a private bath, small living area, and of course a bed.

Sakura felt just a bit guilty at not being able to worry for Kou anymore. Having Uchiha Itachi before her forced the woman focused on self preservation. He had openly called her a cherry blossom, the first hint that he may have an idea of who she truly was.

"Uchiha san, may I prepare a bath for you," she asked demurely. Her eyes focused on the floor.

She could feel his gaze focused on her and heat slowly crept up her body. Years of training and modest confidence in herself was threatening to crumble. The man that had murdered all but one of his clan within a night. The man that was considered one of the strongest shinobi to ever live was there in front of her. Able to place her in a genjutsu beyond any that she could even imagine.

Silence filled the room longer than she would like, but she maintained her stance.

"You remind me of someone," he spoke. The timber of his voice was all knowing. He crossed the room with the natural grace of a shinobi and sat in the chair near the large window. Removing his hat, he placed it on the small table beside him.

"Brown eyes and burgundy hair are very common, Uchiha san," she whispered, with her eyes still boaring into the floor.

His calloused finger tip circled on the top of the wooden table. With a light snicker, the Uchiha mumbled, "Pink hair however isn't, am I correct?"

Sakura tried her best to keep the shaking of her hands.

"I would have to agree with you Uchiha san. I don't think I've ever met anyone with such a brightly colored hair. I will prepare your bath for you. I am sure you are tired from your travels." Sakura stood to move toward the bath. She could hear his laughter from the other room.

Steam filled the bathroom, and she exited, walking toward the man reclined in the chair. Kneeling before him, she removed his sandals, still avoiding eye contact.

Allowing her to proceed, he commanded softly, "Release your genjutsu."

The woman kept her composure enough to answer, "I'm not sure I understand what you are asking of me, Uchiha san."

Standing, he did not reply to her and moved toward the bathroom.

"I can bath myself, but please have a meal prepared for me," he asked removing his cloak and paused before he entered the bathroom. "Are you familiar with preparing Hi no Kuni style tea ceremony?"

"I am afraid I do not, Uchiha san." Sakaru replied. Hi no Kuni tea was a basic tea service every properly bred woman of Fire Country was familiar with, seeing as the style was named for the country of her birth. Of course Sakura could prepare the tea, backwards and blind folded if necessary, but her cover was as a young woman from River Country.

"Pity," he looked at her pensively with his coal black eyes.

Mentally she cursed herself for looking into his eyes.

Itachi exited the bathroom in a soft white robe the inn provided. Sakura moved quickly to serve him tea. Silently he ate his meal while looking out into the evening sky.

Sakura waited for his nod to remove his plate, and his next command of her. The former Leaf shinobi moved toward her. His index finger trailed down the side of her face.

"There are many things that I remember from my former life as a shinobi. I was a teacher with many students," he started speaking to her. His finger was underneath her chin lifting her head to look him in the eye. "So many memories of instructing future Leaf shinobi. Do you have any memories of your life before being taken by this group."

Sakura could feel the teasing in his voice, as he had been doing the entire time they had been together. In her mind she was confident he knew of her true identity, especially when she felt his left hand touch the spot that held her curse mark seal.

"I try not to think of my life before this," she whispered.

"That is probably a wise choice," he leaned in close to her. His index finger moved from her chin to the back of her head, gripping the bun that was held together by a several pins.

The warmth of his breath tickled the crook of her neck.

"One thing I miss most of all is the gentle touch of the women of my village," his voice softened into her ear.

Swallowing she held her breath, waiting for his next move. Somewhat surprised she could feel his lips connect to the side of her face and making their way toward hers. It wasn't an aggressive kiss that touched her lips that she felt from Tatsuo, but gentle and needy. Slowly he pressed his mouth again to hers. The smooth feeling of her kimono rode up her back when his left hand wandered from her side to her back, rumpling the fabric out of the way to get to her skin. Pins holding her hair in place were removed, and the weight of the hair was felt on her back.

His mouth asked for entrance a third time and with a not so subtle pull of her hair she granted it. The passion of she had hidden away was drawn from her by the S class criminal. Sakura wanted to scream with desire at the sensation he caused in her. Images flashed before her mind's eye, that she was sure were placed there by the Uchiha. A moment with Ryu, but even more so were the memories of Kiba. The desire for the canine trainer exploded and tears threatened to fall from her eyes.

Waves of her past she shook away, forcing the genjutsu he had cast to dissolve. Itachi grinned from his spot in the chair at the kunoichi, never having moved from his spot.

"Interesting. Once more, I instruct you to release your genjutsu." Itachi he crossed is arms at his chest.

"Uchiha san, I am sure I don't know what you are talking about." Sakura denied. Her hands pulling down the back of her kimono. Grabbing the plates she wanted to have something to do, and settled on clearing the table.

"Do you honestly think I would forget one of my students?" His head turned to the side slightly. "Especially one who has practiced her craft so well. Defeating Sasori san, was impressive. I am very proud of you Sakura."

The name on his lips caused the tableware to tumble from her hands. She could hear his hands forming seals, and she cracked the plate into two pieces to give herself some form of a weapon. Her instincts to fight kicked in, when she felt him move from his spot. Her eyes noticed the color in her skin return to it's natural pale, and the locks of the burgundy hair began to fade, with the color lightening to it's pink hue.

"Fuck," she gasped. Even at her most confident, she was sure that she would be unable to fight and defeat Itachi.

"Leaf village's one and only cherry blossom." Itachi pulled her up by the hair. "Now what could you be doing here with this group?"

Not saying a word, she began to bring the sharp edge of the broken plate to his eyes.

"Tsk, tsk," he blocked the move and turned to slam her body against the wall. "You were always a fighter, but your confidence is faltering like before."

"I don't know what the hell you think you're doing, but I will find a way to stop you," she grunted against the wall. She prayed her voice sounded more intimidating than the empty threat she uttered.

"That is what I like to hear. Strength and determination from the kunoichi that I have left the village entrusted to," he pressed against her.

His breath splayed hot against her neck and fear trickled down her spine.

"I am going to let you go, and I expect you to listen to me." Itachi instructed her.

Releasing her, he stepped back not sure whether she would attack or be smart and listen.

"I am on your side. Consider tonight a night off Sakura," he watched her reaction to his words.

When she was silent, and doubt clouded her eyes, he continued. "First things first, I am sorry to hear of Jiraiya sama's death. He was a tremendous mentor to me, and I am still sadden by the lost of him."

The medic continued to stand and watch his movements, too scared to make eye contact for fear of being locked in another genjutsu.

"You need to listen to me if you hope to survive while carrying out this mission. I was unable to warn Jungee san before they discovered him, however you are more precious to me, as you were my student. Your survival is a testiment to the strength of our village."

Sakura could not believe the words coming from his mouth. She was unsure whether or not the ninja could be trusted. Standing there she waited for the man to continue and explain himself.

Hours later, the kunoichi sat on the bed with her former sensei. She had showered and was relieved to have her guard down. It was like charging her battery again, and the encouragement and advice he provided to her reinstated her confidence. News of the Akatsuki's plans would cause Tsunade and Gaara to put both villages on high alert and prepared for war. Sakura knew she had to hurry and wrap up this mission, then return home to help her village.

"Itachi sensei," she began trying to wrap her mind around the information he had shared with her. "Thank you for tonight. This mission has by far been the hardest for me. These animals don't value life at all. I don't know what to do. I've let people die! I'm a medic! I'm suppose to save lives, not allow people to die!"

The man beside her wrapped his arm around her. Itachi tried to let her feel his strength and help her through this, but he himself was having a hard time keeping himself together.

"Sakura, I completely understand." Itachi's voice was full of regret. "There have been things that I have seen that I wish I could have never known existed. Things that I have done that keep me awake at night. I do believe that this mission is going to save more lives than you can imagine. Loss is never easy to handle, but it is a part of the life we have. We have to remain faithful to the belief that we are doing this to protect those in our homeland that are unable to save themselves. You will get stronger after this. I have faith in you."

Sakura nodded her head at his words, thinking back to some of the atrocities her mother, father, Kakashi, and even Baki sensei had told her of. Things she didn't think she could stand to live through or experience, but here she was in the middle of the biggest mission of her life and barely on the edge of keeping her mind from snapping.

"I know this is more difficult than you ever imagined, but you have to see this through," he pulled her closer to him. As comforting as he was to her, Sakura didn't realize how much Itachi was receiving from her. Being within the group of the Akatuski was a comprise of his own sanity. Seeing someone from home that reinforced the secret war he was fighting was worth it. The generations to come would benefit from his and possibly her sacrifice.

Death lingered a mere heartbeat away for the pair of them with their undercover assignments.

"Let's sleep for the night," he suggested, moving down under the covers. "Tonight, we can sleep in peace and worry about tomorrow when the sun rises."

Sleep overtook the pair, and in her sensei's arms she felt safe and wasn't plagued by dreams of terror and blood.

Placing her genjutsu back in place, she looked at the black robbed shinobi.

"Thank you Itachi sensei," she smiled. Her hand placed on his elbow. Ready to continue her facade with the murderous clan.

"Remember what I've told you," he reach down and squeezed her hand. "Your mother needs to get that information, but also you need to know that running away from your issues won't help you either."

Her eyes instantly went to her feet, unable to speak.

"I won't give your a big lecture about personal relationships since I am by far the last person that can say they've maneuvered one successfully." Itachi grinned with a sadness that broke Sakura's heart. Lost love was written all over his face.

Quickly he changed his expression and smiled a genuine smile.

"We will win this war, even if we become casualties of it," he hugged her and kissed the top of her head. "Thank you for last night. I needed a reminder of my home and the people I am fighting for."

Leaving him was harder than she realize it would be. Sighing she left the room behind him, and joined Tatsuo. Her heart plumped seeing Kou coming toward her.

"Do not worry about her." Itachi murmured. "Kisame isn't interested in hurting women that pose no threat to him, nor is he interested in anything sexual. At most she had to bath him and serve him dinner."

A sigh escaped her and her now brown eyes met the blonde's. Relief in the young woman's face in seeing Sakura safe as well. Tatsuo wanted to shuffle the pair off to the camp while discussing business with the Akatsuki members, however Itachi insisted the pair be there to serve lunch, giving Sakura a chance to gather any information to report to the Leaf Village leader.

Sakura was more aware of Masaru on Itachi's advice. The second in command of the clan was more power hungry and ready to strike in order to ensure his place in the good graces of the Akatsuki. Masaru was also leery of the undercover kunoichi. Hearing the conversations between the four men put her life in additional danger. She was confident Masaru was waiting for the opportunity to kill her.

What did keep her chances of being discovered was Tatsuo's preference to the woman. Her ability to stand up to the leader of the group was a turn on the man. A game of cat and mouse, power and submission between the pair. He also loved what he considered to be dominating her. As long as Sakura kept herself useful to the leader, and kept the leader in charge, she could survive.

Her mission had drawn on for twelve months, and she was being to think she would never see her home again. The group was near the boarder of Earth Country and what was known as the Hidden Stone Village. They had traveled through the land of Rain, and she was struck with a sadness as memories of her father plagued constantly. Her mind and dreams on the man that had been taken from her too soon. It was reassuring to have his voice there reminding her to continue to make him proud.

The men were in battled with a group the Akatsuki had declared be eliminated. As usual, the three women were being sent away from the danger, Sakura felt the chakra of a pair of shinobi that she knew as well as her own name. Masaru was fighting, and Sakura was able to search for chakra usage in the area to help keep her and the girls safe.

"Kou, Ume, please go ahead with the horses," she instructed the two young women. "I'll be right there to make sure we weren't followed."

Kiba and Shino rested on the branches of two trees. Both were well aware of the fighting that was taking place less than a mile away. ANBU gear in place hid their identity.

"Anyone we know?" Shino asked. His insects could not detect a familiar chakra, but wanted reassurance from his best friend's nose.

"No," he shook his head and was ready to head toward home, their mission complete until the breeze chanced the man's mind. "Wait, it can't be. It just can't be."

"What?" Shino stopped before leaping from his post. The apparition appeared before him. "Oh my God."

"Kiba, Shino, you need to leave this area immediately," she warned. Fear kept her from releasing the genjutsu that changed her appearance, but she was smart enough to know that Kiba's nose and Shino's insects would recognize her.

"Sa-," Kiba began. He scanned the person before him, noticing the bruises and cuts that marred her skin. Protectiveness inched it's way into his mind. The scent of another Konoha shinobi was heavy on her body too. A feral growl began to seep from the clenched jaw line.

"No, don't say it. I don't trust this place, but this needs to be taken," she held up her hand to stop Kiba from speaking. Then tossed the scroll disguised as an apple to the ANBU clad nin. In his hand it transformed from an apple to a kunai, something more appropriate for an ANBU member to carry. "Let her know that both crow and I are fine."

With that she was gone, and Shino and Kiba sped off to report what they had just encountered to their boss.

Seeing his former girlfriend was still alive made him rest easier on his way back to the village. Secretly he hoped the scars that she wore were part of the genjutsu she had casted. Knowing that her mission would be over in less than three months, he could deal with the flood of emotions he felt upon seeing her. His engagement was set and in ten months he would be married. Though he wondered if it was the right choice based on the ache his heart felt.

A month later the group packed up their supplies and began to head toward the border of the Land of Rain. Sakura held her pack on her shoulders, processing how many days into their journey before she would make a break from the band of thieves to head home. Her mission was complete, and she was prepared to fake her own death. The knowledge of the Akatsuki's plan to attack Konoha and their use for the jinchuuriki's that still lived meant the five great nations were looking at the possibility of war. Faking her death was the best option of not arousing suspicion that she was a spy or where she was from.

Calculating the time and a place of her plan occupied her mind. The sound of the river that ran parraell to the path helped distract her until she realized she was alone. Her pace had slowed enough that the caravan was far ahead. She knew that Tatsuo would soon send someone after her if she did not catch up to the group. The last thing she wanted was to cause suspicion when she was so near the end of this horrible life.

Moving quickly she rounded the bend. There to greet her was Masaru with Kou in his grip. Several of his loyal followers were along side him.

"Seems as if you have something on your mind, Aiko." Masaru looked at the image of Sakura. A calculating and nearly sinister grin covered the man's face. "Would you care to let us in on what has you so pensive."

"Nothing at all," she began to walk along the path. It was this moment that Sakura knew he had discovered she was not what she seemed.

"I disagree. I finally convinced my cousin to allow me to investigate my theories," he continued. His hand tightened around Kou's delicate arm. "I would say you are almost contemplating something, and I for one am curious to see what it is."

"Again, I would have to say you are wrong," she pushed past him, and tried to pull Kou along with her.

"No, no, I believe I'm perfectly right," he jerked the blonde back and away from Sakura's grasp. "Allow me to share my thoughts."

Sakura turned toward the man. Her sole desire to wipe the smirk from his face.

"I think, that you are not quite who you say you are," he chuckled. His blue eyes beginning at Sakura's feet to slowly move up her body.

"I believe you are paranoid based on the company that you keep." Sakura snapped. Her eyes narrowed at the man. "Now, if you don't mind letting Kou chan go."

"See, that's what I mean. You're so defiant, outspoken." Masaru countered. "Someone who's probably very good at protecting herself and those around her. I think maybe even someone that has been trained to do so."

Sakura tilted her head to the side refusing to answer. She had worked so hard through so many obstacles on this mission. She couldn't afford to blow her cover at the finish line. She had to see it through no matter what challenge she faced. Though with the current situation she would be under constant surveillance and not just from Masaru. If he had planted the idea in his cousin's mind that Sakura was a fraud, Tatsuo could and would make life difficult for her. The chance meeting with Kiba and Shino was a blessing in disguise. It gave her an opportunity to send intelligence to her mom no matter how her current predicament ended. Knowledge of the clan and the Akatsuki's plans was vital.

Regardless of his horrid crimes. Tatsuo was like any other leader and valued loyalty above all else in those that served him. Just a minor feeling of distrust in her would place Sakura in a very vulnerable position. Judging the perdicament she found herself faced, she decided leaving now and quickly would be her best choice. The stream beside the path they followed would not be strong enough to carry her far, so the best that she could do was run for it.

"How would that make you feel Kou," he asked turning her toward him. "How would you feel knowing that all this time you knew Aiko here could have protected you or rescued you from this life?"

Confusion crossed Kou's face, and she looked at Sakura. Thoughts of the many nights Sakura had instructed her to be strong or that they would one day be free had comforted her. Kou could never understand how the woman she knew as Aiko could be so sure of herself, strong at the the times when is called for it. More than once Kou looked back to feel secure and safe with Aiko around. The woman she looked at like an older sister always had the right remedy or touch to help her with an illness or sooth the wounds they had been given. Kou's mind clicked, and her eyes began to recognize and agree with the words Masaru spoke. Hurt started to cloud her features.

"He's trying to divided the strength we has a friends. Don't listen to him. Kou chan he doesn't know what he's talking about." Sakura defended. She would do anything to remove the feeling of betrayal that the younger woman held.

"I don't think so. I think you are a kunoichi in disguise," he shoved Kou down on the ground pulling a sword from his side and held it at her neck. "Kou, your friend here could have taken you away from all of this torture and pain. To maybe her little village hidden in the Sand. Though after their last attempt I'm sure their Kazekage learned what happens when spies are sent into our midst."

"You are insane!" Sakura shouted. She moved a step forward, only to hear Kou scream in pain when Masaru yanked her hair at the roots.

"Oh, maybe it's the Leaf village, that meddlesome bitch of a Hokage," he waited for a reaction from the woman glaring at him.

Expecting a verbal attack on her mother, Sakura gave no reaction to the taut.

"I guess it could be Rock or Cloud or maybe even Mist, though their level of shinobi isn't quite what would fool my trained eye. Where are you from?" Masaru shouted.

"Like I said, you are crazy, now let her go!" Sakura demanded. The urge to release a large amount of chakra and rip apart every man in her line of vision was barely contained behind the facade she projected.

Kou could be heard crying when he push her face into the dirt path.

"Aiko, please help," the teenager pleaded.

"Which village do you represent?" He bellowed. His blue eyes began to look frantic to be proven right.

"None, I am who I say I am," she ground out. Her eyes never leaving the young woman.

She could smell that blood that was leaving the small cut Masaru gave Kou.

"Reveal who you are, and I may let her head remain attached to her shoulders," he ordered. Madness covered his face in a rage that bordered insanity.

The soft voice of Kou cried out against the trees. The mission be damned, Sakura moved her hand to release the jutsu that hid her identity for over a year. A slip of her pinky and instead of the pink locks or her natural color, she reveled herself as a dark haired girl with red eyes. An illusion with the in the illusion.

Masaru's decision made long before Sakura's, and his sword slice through the blonde's neck. The action was fast and agile. Kou's body slumped to the ground. Her blue eyes lifelessly looking up toward the kunoichi in fear. The teen dead before she realized she had been cut.

Rage took over her entire body. Sakura shouted to the trees in grief. Swiftly, she pushed the emotion to the back of her mind. Gripping the stones that were in the path, hurled them effectively at the murderous group. Chakra laced in each knocked out a few of the men. Since the group had discovered she was a kunoichi, she had nothing holding her back from using some of her chakra. Still trying to conceal her village of origin, she was unable to use her true chakra strength. A petite woman able to rip a crater the size of a house would be a dead give away to the Leaf's hidden cherry blossom. Itachi had made it clear that not linking herself back to the village was important in keeping the village safe from attack.

"Get that bitch!" he commanded the other men.

Sakura turned from the dirt path and entered into the forest. Her eyes scanned the trees, hoping to take to them and quicken her escape. The branches that would take her out of reach of her pursuers, were not strong enough to support her weight. Cursing, she continued to try and out run the men. Over a year without any physical training left her at a disadvantage, and she could hear the men closing in.

She could hear the shouts of the men fanning out to surround her. Her determination to remain undercover until she escape kept her from shattering the earth. Skidding to a halt she stopped fifteen feet from the waterfall that flowed into the river she had just traveled along.

"Looks like you have nowhere else to run," the confident voice of the Masaru chuckled.

Before she could react Sakura turned to hammerhead mallet that was on a quick path to the side of her head. The pain was more intense than she imagined. White stars flashed before her eyes when it connected, and she stumbled backwards, over the cliff. Blackness came over her, and she plummeted to the freezing water below.


that was a cliff hanger, eh? i truly hope you guys enjoyed that. i know, i know there was no kibaxsakura moments BUT like i said all the way up there at the beginning, there is only one chapter left, so there has to be kibaxsakura stuff in that right? YES, YES there is! so don't give up on me yet.

also, i have decided that even though i hate sasuke in the manga, i like reading GOOD sasuke x sakura stories. anyone got some recommendations? i will tell you i prefer completed, multi-chapter stories, so any good ones please let me know. i would appreciate it.

i think that's it. love to all of you! thank you for your support!

~earth.

*fingers cross this doesn't suck and get slammed by 'this chapter sucks' reviews*