"Wonderful," she says with a smile. "I didn't realize that you had a team with you, Sasuke-kun. This will make things much more interesting."

His eyes narrow. "You are overconfident. 'More interesting'? I should just let Karin take care of you."

Soft peals of mirth weave through the air; it takes him a few seconds to realize that she is laughing.

"But Sasuke-kun," she chuckles, "this is all one amusing game to me. I have played it over and over with so many people that when you up the stakes, it makes it so much more entertaining."

"You think you can take all of us?" the red-haired girl behind him sneers. She pushes her glasses further up her nose with a slender finger.

"Not at all," the other girl replies, her smile widening. She gestures with a graceful hand, and only then does Karin realize that there is blood on her neck, flowing freely from a tiny cut above her jugular. The other girl holds up a bloodless kunai.

"When – "

"I would say that I know that I can take all of you, but that would be so cliché," she sighs. "But you travel with Sasuke-kun, so I hope that you will provide more fun than the others."

It is then that he sees what he has missed. The quiet melody of her laughter is laced with malice, and there is smugness dancing almost invisibly around the corners of her smile. Her voice fluctuates between a too-sweet tone and a bittersweet tone; her eyes are emeralds that have dulled to jade over time.

With a wordless cry of rage at being underestimated, Karin leaps forward. He gives a start and tries to restrain her, but it is too late.

There is a tiny movement on the other girl's part, and the redhead's lunge misses. The other kunoichi watches Karin's momentum carry her past but does nothing; merely observes passively, detachedly.

She does not seem surprised when a projectile is aimed at her head. Again, there is a slight movement, and it misses.

Her lips quirk upward in a tiny smirk. After being underestimated for so long, she is not about to underestimate anyone else.

"Stop." There is a single, firm command in a voice barely loud enough to be heard, but in an instant, Karin is behind him again and at attention.

The other girl cocks her head curiously, but he sees her eyes glimmer knowingly. "Yes, Sasuke-kun? Would you like a turn?"

He looks at her levelly; she meets his red and black gaze without flinching. "We are not here to fight you."

"Oh?" Again, the head is cocked. "Then why are you here?" She already knows.

"You know where Itachi is." It is not a question; it is a statement.

"I know where Itachi is? Ha!" The short bark of laughter is dry and mocking.

He glares at her impatiently. "Well? Where is he?"

She sighs and reaches into her pouch, pulling out a small, black-painted scroll. She tosses it to him and turns to leave. "Come after me when you're ready, Sasuke-kun," she calls over her shoulder with a catlike grin.

He does not like her expression and proceeds to open up the scroll as she disappears. Karin jerks backward and her mouth opens in a silent scream as Sasuke withdraws his hand, clutching a bloody object.

His lips tighten. He is holding the severed head of Uchiha Itachi.

She is traveling away from them when she hears her name "Sakura!" called by his voice. She smiles, knowing that he has discovered her present.

Now he will track her down for ruining his revenge, but it doesn't matter anymore. He will never underestimate her again.