DISCLAIMER: I do not own Naruto. But that's all right. Masashi Kishimoto is doing a good job of it.
The Caged Bird
--Somewhere in the Land of Rain at the Akatsuki's hideout--
"This is stupid. Why do I have to be the jail keeper?" grumbled a blue haired kunoichi with a lip piercing, a white paper flower in her hair, and an Akatsuki robe on. She was carrying a tray of food to one of the deep dungeon cells in Basement 5.
The basement was cold and mouldy. It was very dimly lit and the hallway was covered with vines and creepers. She stopped in front of a steel door. She placed the tray on the floor, made some hand signs, and placed her palm on the door.
It creaked open. The candle was flickering weakly as if it was about to go out. A pale figure of a girl was huddled on the rusty bed. "You better eat the food or someone's going to come down and force-feed it to you. Understand?" The girl made no response but stared blankly ahead.
The kunoichi placed the tray on the table. She walked out and the door creaked shut. The candle flicked weakly one more time and then went out plunging the room into darkness.
Outside of the room, someone was waiting for the kunoichi. "Konan, how long do you think she'll last?" The question was asked by the Leader. He
had spiky orange hair and numerous face piercings. His eyes had many rings around the pupil.
"Pein, if you're going to use her, I suggest that you do it fast. By the looks of it, she's not going to last for long." "If Hidan and Kakuzu fail to retrieve her, we'll use her to lure Anaki out," Pein said.
"Even if Hidan captures the girl, he's probably going to kill her because of his stupid god. If not, she'll probably piss off Kakuzu and get killed," Konan replied with a snort.
"Don't think that the girl will be killed so easily," Pein replied softly.
"Whatever," Konan muttered. Her whole body started peeling away into countless sheets of origami paper that folded themselves into butterflies. They swirled on the spot until not a single sheet was left.
Pein walked off down the hallway alone and disappeared into the darkness.
--Three days after leaving from Konoha--
Neji, Anaki, Sakura and Lee were only about an hour's walk away from Sunagakure. Sakura took the time to explain about the chunin exam and Gaara.
"Wow, he sure sounded like a troubled kid," Anaki commented. "Well he's not like that anymore," Sakura reassured her. "He's become the Kazekage
and earned everyone's respect." She then started to explain the most recent meeting with Gaara, when he was kidnapped by the Akatsuki and how she, Naruto and some other members of Konoha had to rescue him. Anaki was looking forward to meeting this troubled, young Kazekage.
Meanwhile, the troubled, young Kazekage was ready to tear his hair out, scream like a little girl and throw a temper tantrum. The citizens of Sunagakure were very concerned about their great leader after the incident with the Akatsuki kidnapping. The assassination attempt seemed to have pushed them right over the edge.
The council members decided to assign ninjas to guard him at all times, without his permission, of course. When Kankuro had told him what they had agreed to do, Gaara was very pissed off. He liked being the Kazekage and receiving all the respect but this, he decided, was going too far. The ninjas crowded around him were getting on his nerves and he hated to be with other people for long periods of time. He was quite solitary after all.
"I can take care of myself," Gaara told his brother coldly trying to argue out of the ridiculous arrangement. "I know that but everyone's just concerned about you. Think of it as reassuring the village," Kankuro replied wearily.
Knowing that it was useless to continue the argument, Gaara moved onto another subject. "When are the Konoha ninjas due to arrive?" he said icily,
still holding some resentfulness at his brother. "Very soon," Kankuro said as he turned towards the gate.
The team of Konoha ninjas stopped outside the village. Baki and four other Sunakagure ninjas intercepted them. Baki recognized Sakura, Lee and Neji from the time that they rescued Gaara, but he did not recognize the new kunoichi.
He studied her carefully under a suspicious eye. She didn't seem to be a threat but one could never be too careful. He gave her one more scrutinising glare which she ignored completely. "Follow me," he said to the group. "Gaara-sama is waiting for you."
Anaki had never been to Sunagakure before. She had been aroud the Land of Wind but never inside Sunagakure. She really liked the village except for the large quantities of sand. Sand was one thing she did not like. It was gritty, small and got in your clothes, shoes and hair. Combined with sweat from the heat of the desert and it would stick on you like glue.
The outside of the Kazekage's office was heavily guarded by many jounins. They were admitted into the office. Barely. Inside was better. Only Kankuro and Gaara resided in the room which had a strange icy atmosphere.
Gaara greeted them warmly. "It's good to see you Sakura-san," he said. "Isn't Naruto-san with you?" "No," Sakura replied. "Naruto had another mission to do." "Next time you see him, please thank him for me from last time. Also, how is Kakashi-san doing? I heard he's bedridden right now."
"Kakashi-sensei is already up and about. Tsunade-sama says otherwise and wants him to not go on missions for a short time. Also may I present one of our newest Konoha members? Anaki Jiiku-san," said Sakura as she stepped to the side.
Anaki wasn't there. No one seemed to have notice that she had stealthily changed positions so that she was now staring out at the widows behind the Kazekage's desk.
"Sorry," she said as she turned around casually to confront the gazes of several pairs of eyes. Neji and Lee admired the way for how Anaki was standing up to Sakura's death aura. If they were in her position, they would have both melted by now. Not that they ever would do such a rude thing. Lee adored Sakura too much to disobey her and Neji would never do such a thing because that wasn't the way Hyuugas should act.
"I didn't mean to be rude," she said as she came back around the desk and faces Gaara. "It's just that I happened to notice an extraordinary amount of ninjas guarding this building and I just wanted to take a closer look."
"There's no way you would have known that," interrupted Kankuro. "They're all mostly jounins and I made sure that they were to blend in with the civilians."
"It was kinda obvious, though," Anaki shot back. "I could feel them boring their eyes into me as we were walking in. And some of them weren't looking all that casual."
Kankuro stilled looked a tad suspicious. "Well, shall we move onto the details of the mission?"" Sakura said hurriedly. Gaara turned towards the Konoha ninjas. "The attack happened five days ago. Whoever it was, they would have had ample time to escape." He then turned his gaze specifically to Sakura. "It was a two man team. They hid themselves while fighting very well but the interesting part was I was sure I had fought with one of the attackers before. Of course, the strength was much more incredible than before." Sakura looked puzzled.
"At the chunnin exams, in the third exam, well, I think I know who I'm talking about." Gaara said. Sakura stiffened as she breathed out a single word. "Sasuke-kun..."
After a few hours of preparation, the Konoha ninjas were ready to go. Sakura knew that Naruto, Yamato (associate of Kakashi-sensei), Sai (the emotionless boy) and Ino(the pig) had gone to the Heaven and Earth Bridge to meet with Sasori's spy. She had so dearly wanted to go but because of last minute changes, she was replaced by Ino. Now, here was a chance to track down Sasuke and maybe even run into Naruto and his team along the way. After all, Sasuke was probably with Orochimaru or Kabuto at all times and Naruto's team were tracking them down. It was perfect.
Anaki knew the way to the Bridge so she was to lead them. "If we push ourselves," she said to the Konoha ninjas. "We might be able to get there in three, four days."
"That'll take too long," Neji argued. "I know," Anaki replied with a grin. "So that's why we'll take a different means of transportation."
The group trudged out of the village. "Could everyone please stand back for a bit?" Anaki requested. She bit her thumb, made several hand signs and placed her hand on the ground. There was a large poof and... a huge eagle of magnificent plumage appeared. It was slightly smaller than Gama Bunta but it had a sharp beak and dangerous-looking claws that gleamed wickedly in the sunlight. Its savage golden eyes scanned the scenery. Anaki jumped down to the three ninjas.
"Meet Harukisage. Call him Haru though."
"Anaki," screeched the huge eagle. "Have you summoned me again to get to places? I refuse to be used as a method of transportation!"
"You know that I rely on you all the time," Anaki pleaded to the eagle. "We're on a critical mission and I need your assistance. We all do."
"Will there be fighting?" he screeched. Anaki contemplated the question. "We need to capture the enemy alive and I don't think you can do that. You usually kill your opponents."
"I won't give you a ride then," he said stubbornly.
"Fine. As long as you downsize and promise you won't kill or maim them permanently, you have my word you'll get a piece of the action."
"Hop on," said Anaki to the slightly awestruck ninjas. "Oh, don't pull out and of his feathers. He'll probably kill you for less."
They clambered on gingerly and made themselves as comfortable as they could on the back of a giant eagle.
Haru gave a mighty screech and lifted off into the air. Anaki yelled instructions down to the eagle on top of his head and clambered down to the back. "We'll probably get to the bridge in about less than a day now," she explained.
"This summoning takes up a lot of my chakra so I can't keep Haru out for more than a day. I won't be able to fight when we get there. Is that all right with you?" she asked Sakura.
"It's either this or running, right?"
"By all means then, it's all right with me. Besides, this eagle's pretty comfy."
Haru turned his head slightly to Sakura and gave an ear splitting screech. "I am not a pillow!"
A/N: I just finished reading Naruto manga chapter 398 and OMG, the story actually had some progress! Anyways the action's coming up and for some reason, I have a feeling everyone's going to be able to guess what's comin up nxt. Reviews are always welcome!