TITLE: Truthspeaker

AUTHOR: fUnKyToEs

CHAPTER: La Morte Della Verità: The End

WORDS: 13, 685 words (41 PAGES BABE)

DISCLAIMER: I don't own Naruto, it's characters, or world.

BEFOREWORD: First off, I want to apologize for being late with this chapter. For obvious reasons, it was very emotional to write, and I've been dreading it (I won't go into details), plus I've wanted to put time and effort in, so I hope you'll forgive its' lateness.

Also… don't kill me. (just don't).

Anyway, regardless of how Truthspeaker ends, there IS a sequel! Any confusions, contradictions or questions you all may have will be answered/resolved in the sequel, so fear not.

Please enjoy last chapter of Truthspeaker!

ALSO special thanks to BattKattColourBlak for editing this.

Sincerely,

fUnKyToEs

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Sakura stood there, watching as Sasuke stopped as well. She glanced at the sleeping girl he was carrying. Grace… she thought, I guess… you weren't able to stop him after all…

"Sasuke," she began.

"Get out of my way," Sasuke said coldly.

Sakura paused. "That…" she trailed off. "What do—"

"What do you think you'll accomplish?" Sasuke asked, before continuing. When he was about to pass her, she reached out and grabbed one of Grace's arms.

Sasuke stopped, his eyes narrowing.

"Do you… really think… that Grace would be happy?" Sakura said, not looking at Sasuke. He voice was tight. "Do you really not know her? She…" Sakura trailed off. "You… don't you realize… this isn't what she wants."

Sasuke eye's moved to Sakura's hand, which still grasped Grace's arm.

"This isn't… what I… wanted…" Sakura began again. "I know… I know you have feelings for Grace—and I know those feelings are returned—but Grace's isn't the only one who…" She broke off, silently finishing her sentence.

"I know…" she began again. "All you want is for Grace to be safe—and happy—"

"You're wrong."

Sakura looked up in shock. "What?" she whispered.

"You said…" Sasuke said. "That all I want is for Grace to be happy—that's a lie," he said, pulling Grace out of Sakura's grip. "I don't care about her happiness."

Sakura stared at him. "What do you mean…" she asked, her eyes wide. "You don't care…"

"I don't care whether she's happy… unhappy… none of that concerns me anymore," Sasuke said. "All I care about… is that she's with me."

"But—that…" Sakura said, "But why would she want—"

"I said—her feelings don't matter," Sasuke growled.

"How can you say that?!" Sakura exclaimed. "How can you be so heartless? I thought—I thought you loved her!"

She backed away. "I thought…" She took a deep breath. "I thought…"

Sasuke turned to look her in the eye.

She backed up again, watching him in horror as he walked by. "Wait!" she called, grabbing him by the arm and stopping him. "Please!" she begged. "This… even if she isn't happy—doesn't that mean that you can't be happy? Knowing that she won't want to be with you anymore? Won't that be more painful to her than all those times she was hurt? The only reason she was able to survive those times is because she was surrounded by those she loves! If you take that away from her that she'll never recover!"

"Sakura…"

"Please Sasuke!" she begged. "Don't you… if it's your strength that you're seeking, you can gain it here—I know you can! Plenty of strong ninja came from here—and I know that if you stay—Grace will want to be with you—even I—I… I love you Sasuke…" she whispered. "I've always loved you. Even before Grace came, I've…"

Sakura leaned on Sasuke's back. "There are so many people here who want to help you gain strength, but if you leave—you won't just be alienating yourself, but Grace… You'll be killing her—it'll cause her so much pain—pain worse than… then when Gaara tortured her, or the wounds she received while on that mission… The wounds to the heart are…" Sakura's hand touched her chest, "Forever, Sasuke."

"Sakura…" Sasuke said, turning and looking at her with his sharingan activated, "I'm sorry."

Sakura blinked. The sun was shining brightly overhead.

"Are you alright?"

She sat up suddenly. "What is…" she glanced at the two ninja standing before her, paling as her senses came to her.

"Sasuke!"

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Sasuke continued walking, leaving the unconscious girl on the street. Someone will come by in the morning and notice her. That will give him plenty of time.

He glanced down at Grace, thinking over Sakura's words.

He knew they were all true. He knew… that Grace would probably never forgive—he knew that this would hurt her… but he couldn't take her with him if he cared about her feelings.

That's why… he can't care.

Grace shifted slightly in her sleep, and for a moment, Sasuke thought she might wake, but she merely adjusted her position, tightening her hold on his shirt. She whimpered a little before drifting back into restlessness.

Sasuke drew her closer.

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"Well, well," Sakon sneered, "Look who turned up late—at least you have the girl," he said.

Sasuke stopped in front of them. "So how's this going to work?" he asked, looking each in the eye fearlessly.

Sakon bit back a retort, knowing that however cocky this brat may be, orders were orders. The four of them kneeled in front of Sasuke, causing the young boy to frown in confusion.

"We were under orders," Sakon said, "To follow your lead once you joined. You're now… our leader," he said, not able to keep a trace of contempt out of his voice.

Sasuke said nothing, but nodded. "We should head out—it won't be long till they've noticed that we've gone missing."

The four nodded, and the moved quickly away from the village.

Sakon glanced at the sleeping girl. It was the first time he saw her up close. He wondered what it was about the plain girl that made Orochimaru desire her so desperately. It couldn't have been her appearance. He knew, from the conversation between Kabuto and Orochimaru before they left, it had to do with her DNA, and her blood being compatible with Sasuke's. But was there another reason? He thought. Orochimaru had mentioned something else.

Something that made this girl 'unique'.

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Shikamaru glowered after his mother as she left to answer the front door. "She's such a… Dad, tell me, why'd you marry such an angry women? All she does is boss us around."

Shikamaru's father took a deep breath and leaned back lazily in his chair, "Well, sometimes you're mother is sweet."

Shikamaru raised an eyebrow, staring at his father in disbelief. "That's it?" he asked incredulously, "That's the reason?"

Shikamaru's father shrugged, and would have continued if the dominant one of their relationship didn't poke her head through the door, announcing that Shikamaru was needed at the Hokage's office at once.

Shikamaru lazily, until physically forced by his mother, exited his family's house and walked down the street. I wonder what could be so urgent this early in the morning? He thought, yawning. I didn't even get to finish eating breakfast…

He knocked on the door to Lady Tsunade's office, stepping in, "Yo, I'm here—"

"This is no time to be acting insolent," Tsunade snapped, for once looking serious and alert behind her desk.

Shikamaru rolled his eyes, "Yeah, yeah—so what's the—"

"Sasuke has left the village," Lady Tsunade said, "Sometime last night."

Shikamaru's eyes widened, "What do you mean he left?" he exclaimed.

"Orochimaru convinced him to leave," Tsunade said, darkly, "But that's not the worst part. Sasuke has kidnapped Grace."

"Grace?" Shikamaru said, "Is he an idiot? What does he think he's doing?"

Tsunade shook her head, "I don't know his motives…" she said, darkly, "But I can imagine…" she trailed off, deep in thought. She had only seen Sasuke when she first came to the village—when she healed him, much like she healed Grace from the genjutsu…

But Grace…

Her hands tightened on each other, her eyes narrowing. "Shikamaru—this is a very important mission."

"Mission—oh no…" Shikamaru said, realizing his new predicament.

"I'm sending you as squad leader to a recon mission to bring not only Sasuke, but Grace back at all costs. However, as a member of the Hokage family, and with deep political ties with the Royalty of the five nations, it is imperative that Grace be returned—safe—and unharmed. This is more important than Sasuke's safety." She said, silently speaking Shikamaru's orders in case of the worst case scenario.

Shikamaru scowled, "I don't see why I have to be the one—"

"You're the only ninja above the Genin level who is available," Tsunade said, sighing and leaning back in her chair, "I know that it isn't desirable for your first mission—but beggars can't be choosers. Besides—Naruto's promotion to Chuunin hasn't been initialized yet—due to just returning from a mission. You're the only one for the job." She finished sternly.

Shikamaru nodded, sighing lightly, "Got it, got it."

"You have one hour to assemble your team," Tsunade said, "Go."

Shikamaru nodded, turning around grimly and setting out on what would be the longest day of his life.

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Naruto knew something was wrong when he woke up. The sun was shining brightly through the window, lighting up his face. Everything seemed calm and peaceful—like any other morning.

But something was still not right.

Naruto put a hand to his bare chest, searching for something. He couldn't tell what was wrong, but it kept nagging him relentlessly.

There was a knock on the door.

Naruto scowled, stifling it with a yawn, and proceeded to the door, he pulled it open to see Shikamaru standing there. "Shikamaru…" he said in awed amazement. "What are you doing up so early?" Naruto's winning smile faltered at Shikamaru's particularly grim expression. "What's wrong?" he asked, worry gnawing at his empty stomach.

"It's Sasuke," Shikamaru said, in a monotone but serious voice, "He's left the village."

Naruto felt his heart skip a beat—"What do you…"

"And he took Grace with him," Shikamaru finished bluntly. "I'm taking you on a mission to retrieve them." Shikamaru watched Naruto's frozen expression, waiting for a response.

To Naruto, he felt as if a large wall was crumbling. The wall that had been built slowly built over the months, protecting him, securing him, was slowly and terrifyingly beginning to waste away. Grimly, he shifted his eyes to Shikamaru, nodding his confirmations.

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Neji glanced over at the blond boy. He was uncharacteristically quiet. It wasn't like him. Naruto is always so full of energy—the wild boundless sort that always got on Neji's nerve, not this brooding darkness that seemed to emanate from him.

But he had a good reason.

Neji glanced up at the sky. It was a clear blue day—a beautiful day. Who would think that behind that azure paint lay the darkness that was their future.

"Looks like we're all here," Shikamaru spoke up. "Now, you've all probably know what's going on—and if you don't, well, I guess I should explain it just to clarify…" he trailed off, sighing. He really didn't feel like doing this. "Well—"

"I can do the explaining." A sharp voice interrupted.

Shikamaru turned around to see the Hokage step up behind him.

"Sure, whatever you want," he shrugged, "Doesn't make a difference to me."

Tsunade took a moment—a short moment, time was short—to survey the group of boys that Shikamaru had gathered. "Sasuke has left the village," she began, "And he has taken Grace with him… now you all know Sasuke as well as Grace, however—it is more important that Grace is returned to the village safe and unharmed than it is Sasuke. Is that clear?"

The boys nodded. Naruto's fist clenched.

"So," Neji began, "What you're saying is that if Sasuke resists—if it means binging Grace back alive than we should treat him as the enemy?"

Tsunade closed her eyes. She didn't like condemning a ninja of her own village to death, but some things had to be done, "Yes." She breathed, "Yes, I am saying that."

Kiba shuffled on his feet, before speaking, "I don't think…" he trailed off when Tsunade sent him a warning look. "Understood, ma'am."

"Yes, well," Tsuande said, turning to Shikamaru, "I'll leave the rest to you."

Shikamaru nodded. Then, he glanced at his group. This wasn't going to be easy. Tsunade practically ordered them to just treat Sasuke as the enemy—how can he lead a group of Sasuke's friends—including himself—against him? He sighed. "Well, looks like that's that. I'll begin with explaining the lineup—"

"YO!"

Shikamaru's mouth snapped shut in surprise at Naruto's shout.

Tsunade stopped, she was a few meters away now, and turned back to look at Naruto.

"I'll bring back Grace and Sasuke in one piece!" Naruto shouted, "Don't act like it will be the worst scenario! I swear that nothing will happen to them—and tomorrow, it'll be as if today never happened!"

Tsunade's face softened and she turned around without a word, walking away slowly.

"Anyway," Shikamaru said, knowing that right now, Naruto was his biggest obstacle. "I'll explain the lineup—" He felt the swish of air next to his ear, and grunted as a foot collided painfully with the side of his head, causing him to collapse onto the ground.

"Tenten," Neji said, glancing at the kunoichi, "What are you doing here?"

"Don't show any concern for me," Shikamaru grumbled as he stood up, rubbing the side of his head, "What was that for?"

Tenten folded her arms across her chest, stepping back to stand in line with Sakura, and she glared at Shikamaru with dark eyes, "Why is it," she snapped, "That with the exception of Sasuke, understandably, you're bringing every boy in the Rookie 9 and none of the girls?"

Shikamaru glared back half heartedly, "This is why," he said, pointing at his head, "You girls get too emotional—"

"Emotional—that is the most sexist thing—it's all about boys being superior—"

"What Tenten is saying," Sakura interrupted, "Is that it isn't fair that only you boys get to go on the mission and we girls don't. Grace and… Sasuke are our friends too." Sakura said, "We should be given a chance to go as well."

Shikamaru glanced from one girl's face to the other, and sighing for the uncountable time that day, "Look, when I say this, I don't mean any disrespect—but Tsunade already informed me that it was you, Sakura, that summated the report that Sasuke was missing—and that he took Grace. I also know that you tried to stop him, and failed. This means—that even if you did come with us, you wouldn't be of any use."

Sakura's eyes widened at these words.

"Hey," Naruto interrupted, "There's no need to—"

"No…" Sakura said, looking down so her bangs hid her eyes, "He's right. I failed already—there's nothing I could really do now."

"That's not true—" Tenten began.

"Sakura." Naruto said, "You heard what I told Grandma, right?"

Sakura looked up with red tinged eyes, "…yes?"

"Those words are true. I meant every single one," Naruto continued, "I will bring back Sasuke and Grace back together—and everything will be alright. You don't have to worry about anything. I promise—I swear on my dream to become Hokage—that I will save the both of them."

Sakura blinked away threatening tears and nodded, "I understand."

Tenten glanced at Naruto, and then at Sakura, before casting Shikamaru one last glare and then walked slowly with Sakura out of sight.

Shikamaru groaned, "Ok—so now that we have even less time than we had before, let's talk about the lineup, and no interruptions this time—I've had it." He crouched, "Alright, huddle up."

"What's the point of a lineup—we need to get going now!" Naruto shouted impatiently, now alive and teeming with vigor, "Alright, everyone, follow me!"

"Naruto," Shikamaru muttered, gritting his teeth, "Just shut up for once, will ya? Alright," he said, "I'll go over the lineup. I've been giving it some thought, and I think this will be the best format."

"Kiba," Shikamaru said, turning to face the boy, "You'll be the forward scout. Because of Akamaru—you can scout out the head—also, Akamaru's nose won't be distracted our smells."

"Hey," Naruto complained, "That was one time—"

Shikamaru rolled his eyes, ignoring him while continuing, "I'll go second, because I'm squad leader," he said, glancing at Naruto, "This will be a good position for me because I can give orders to everyone, but especially Kiba, according to the situation. Third will be Shino, he'll be forward-middle. With your bugs, you're a good middle-ground scout, you can scout the sides and protect us from an ambush."

Shino nodded, "I understand."

"Fourth will be Naruto. Naruto," he said, turning to him, "You're second-middle, you're job is to use your clones to back up the rest of us and assist us. The fifth will be Chouji . You're going to be the striker. The people in front will create openings which you'll use to your advantage. And last, Neji. Because of your byakugan, you can see enough to be able to guard us from all angles—and most importantly, from the behind. I'm counting on you to keep us from an ambush behind us."

Neji nodded agreement.

"Does everyone understand?"

Everyone nodded.

"Good. Now, the important things. You heard Tsunade—but she's not the squad leader, I am. Sasuke isn't a close friend—in fact I find him annoying most times—but he's still a ninja of this village—and we don't leave our comrades behind—nor do we let them be taken away." He paused, taking a deep breath, "Obviously, it's important that Grace be brought back alive and safe—but it's not just because she's the granddaughter of the Third, or because politically she's important—or any reason other than she's our friend and she's also a part of this village."

His squad members nodded their agreement, Naruto's firm and confident.

"Now, I need you all to follow my command," Shikamaru concluded, "As you're squad leader, I am responsible for your lives. No mission you've been on so far is as dangerous as this will be. You may lose your lives."

A slightly worried expression crossed Chouji and Kiba's faces, while Naruto seemed not to notice the warning and Neji and Shino's faces remained stoic.

"Alright, now that I've explained everything, I think we can set out."

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Sakon stopped, his companions stopping as well, and Sasuke also slowed to a stop, although he took his time to make sure Grace wasn't jostled too much. "Why did we stop?" Sasuke asked, his tempter rises slightly. The longer they took the sooner the drug will wear off. He wasn't looking forward to when Grace woke up—Sasuke hoped that they reached Orochimaru's hideout before the drug wore off—he didn't want to have to use genjutsu on her—and using the drug again within twenty-four hours wasn't the best choice, considering her physical state.

"Well," Sakon said, leaning back on a leg, "You see… there's something we have to do before we reach our destination. Something important."

"And what is that?" Sasuke asked.

"You have to die."

Sasuke immediately went into defensive mode, his feet moving apart in a stance, and his grip on Grace tightening, preparing to leap into action to bring her to a safe place if necessary.

"Don't get so hasty," Sakon laughed, "We're not going to harm you—badly—and the chick is not going to get harmed at all—trust us." He knew that wasn't something Sasuke would do—ever. Nor had he up to this point. "What I mean is—it's all about the curse."

"You're curse seal," Jirōbō continued for Sakon, "Is only at level one. Ours is at level two."

Sakon fumbled in a pocket for a moment, before drawing out a small bottle of pills. "These," he said, "Are Seishingan."

"And what are those?" Sasuke asked.

"The pill will forcibly level you up to level two," Tayuya said.

"However," Sakon finished, "If we don't monitor you, you'll die. The level two seal causes the infection of the curse to increase dramatically, and you're body just genetically isn't made to withstand that sort of change and power—it needs to adjust. That's what you'll be dying for. Once you take the pills, and the transformation begins, it'll only be a few minutes until you die."

Sasuke's eyes narrowed slightly. "And what will happen—if I take these pills—and die?"

Sakon chuckled and walked over to Sasuke, and placed the bottle of pills on Grace's chest, "That's what we're here for. We'll place a barrier on you that will reduce the side effects of the curse. Basically, you'll be in a coma instead of being dead. A more pleasant outlook, huh?"

Sasuke's eye twitched as he looked at the pills, which now were stuck rather offensively in-between Grace's breasts. Sakon smirked as he saw that he had successfully managed to tick Sasuke off.

"You're barrier skills," Sasuke said, tearing his eyes away to glare warningly at Sakon, "Can I trust them?"

Kidōmaru stepped forth, energetically pointing at the Sound Four, "Look, we four are usually guarding Lord Orochimaru himself—if there's anything we can do it's barriers and seals—we even mad the barrier in which Lord Orochimaru and that Old Fart fought."

Sasuke thought about it, and then nodded, "But if I do that," he said, "Who's going to carry Grace." He gave Sakon a look that told the grey haired man that he was the last person to do it.

"I'll carry her," Tayuya said, stepping forth, "It's a fuckin' pain but it's better than having these dickheads do it. Put her over there, after we do the barrier, I'll get her."

"Tayuya…" Jirōbō scolded.

"Shut up, fat-ass!"

Sasuke nodded, and walked with Grace over to a tree.

Carefully, and tenderly, he laid her so her back was resting. Her breathing was still steady. She was sleeping so peacefully. He brushed a short strand of hair out of her face.

He couldn't die yet.

He grabbed the bottle of pills and walked back to the Sound Four, casting Grace one last look, but opening the bottle. He flicked one pill onto the palm of his hand, and swallowed.

What followed was the worst pain that he had experienced since Orochimaru's attack at the Chuunin Exams and Itachi's attacks. He glanced up and saw Grace, burning her image into his mind, hoping that it may save him from the pain.

The last thing he saw was her face.

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Sakura walked slowly back to the headquarters. The street was just starting to fill up, it was now mid-morning—hopefully they'd get there in time, Sakura thought.

"Sakura," Tenten said, a few feet ahead, "I don't think what Shikamaru said was true."

Sakura looked at her feet. "But it is true, Tenten, it's true because I couldn't do anything—all I did was let him slip away."

"But that was last night, that wasn't now—today—tomorrow—a month from now," Tenten said, spinning around, "You know as well as I do that as soon as Grace wakes up it's all going to be a different dynamic. I know that Grace wouldn't go with Sasuke willingly. He probably convinced her—or—"

"Drugged her," Sakura injected.

Tenten clenched her fist, "Either way, we're friends with Grace as well—it's unfair and unjust to just cast us to the side because we weren't 'first picks'." Tenten turned to look Sakura in the eye. "I'm going. Are you with me?"

Sakura stared at her brown haired friend in bewilderment, before determination cast away any clouded judgment and doubt.

"Hell yes."

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"KIBA! You caught any scent of them?" Naruto shouted.

"For the third time—No." Kiba shouted back.

"Kick him," Shikamaru ordered Shino.

"I'd rather not," Shino replied smoothly.

"Come on!" Naruto shouted, not hearing Shikamaru's snide remark, "Can't you pick the scent up faster?"

"You try!" Kiba snarled.

"Both of you," Shikamaru snapped, "Or I'll send you back."

"You wouldn't dare." The two team idiots chorused.

Shikamaru rolled his eyes. "Neji," he called back, "Do you sense any attacks?"

"None." Neji replied.

"Good." Shikamaru said, "Hopefully they don't know we're trailing them."

"It will only be a matter of time," Shino said, "The sooner we catch up the sooner they'll know—which means our only chance to catch up before they have a chance to prepare for the attack."

"Hn…" Shikamaru agreed, musing over possible attack plans. This was going to be difficult. They had high level ninja, most likely—who probably used forbidden jutsu that they've never even heard of, not to mention they're from the Sound Village which means they probably fight nasty, plus they had Sasuke—who is technically a Chuunin, although he hasn't been promoted yet, like Naruto. Shikamaru didn't know what Sasuke's motives where, but he knew that Sasuke wasn't someone who would just let another person kidnap him.

And he definitely would never let someone kidnap Grace. Not after what happened at the Chuunin Exams.

Which means… he wouldn't say it out loud, but Tsunade hinted at it plenty of times for that not to be necessary. Sasuke most likely, almost without doubt, left the village on his own free will. Plus, Sakura saw him—not his captives, and he had Grace with him. Sasuke isn't the type to be easily blackmailed, either. Shikamaru couldn't imagine Sasuke leaving—with Grace—because he wanted to hide a secret.

Actually, Shikamaru thought skeptically, if Sasuke left the village he would bring Grace.

Shikamaru didn't necessary like Grace, he thought she, like most woman, were bothersome, high maintenance, and clingy, not to mention just plain annoying. But… he couldn't deny that she was still someone close to his own friends—and, he thought, she could even become friends with him someday.

He had always thought he didn't like her, until that one day when she sat and watched the clouds with him. That was the first time he didn't think she was just some annoying woman.

Plus, he thought darkly, he didn't want that Sand chick to beat his ass to next year if he didn't succeed in this mission.

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Sakon lay, breathing heavily. It was the worst of luck that the Jonin team happened to be patrolling. He chuckled. They did leave the part about level two leaving you without any strength and stamina, when they were explaining it to Sasuke.

"Damn," Kidōmaru breathed, "Just our luck. We had to fight in level two form and loose all our stamina."

"It can't be helped," Tayuya said, also breathing heavily, "Those were Jonin—we would have been defeated if we fought them after performing that seal without being in level two."

"True," Jirōbō said, "But that doesn't mean that this isn't the greatest situation.

"Right," Kidōmaru said, glancing over at the sleeping girl next to him, "I don't know what drug Sasuke used on her, but I doubt it was a very strong one—I can already sense her levels returning to normal. It'll be a matter of a couple hours, maybe less, and the drug will be completely worn off. And she'll probably wake up before then—too."

"That will be one pain in the ass," Tayuya muttered, "Not only will we have those brats behind us, but we'll have to deal with an emotional, spoiled little bitch."

"Tayuya, you should really try not to speak in such a-"

"Aw, lay off…"

"Someone seems a little jealous at the attention this little lady is getting," Kidōmaru said, smirking at her as he lifted one of his hands and stroked Grace's bosom seductively.

Tayuya narrowed her eyes.

That idiot, Sakon thought, now I can't trust Tayuya with her.

Sakon didn't like girls. Tayuya was bearable, because she was masculine enough that he could sometimes pass her off for male. But… He glanced at Jirōbō. Jirōbō would have to carry the coffin that Sasuke was in, Kidōmaru was off limits because Tayuya might try to kill Grace—and for that reason Tayuya was off limits.

He frowned as he surveyed the two most immature of the group.

Looks like I have to carry her, he thought bitterly.

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Shikamaru signaled with a hand, and everyone came to a stop. "Neji," Shikamaru said, "Look and see if you can see them."

"Right," Neji said, focusing. The trees swished by as his vision focused farther and farther ahead. A small clearing came into view, and there, four ninja were resting, along with the coffin—and Grace. "I see them," he said, "They're resting—they look wounded—or it's a trap," he added. He focused his eyes on Grace, glancing at her body—and noticed that her chakra flow was jagged. She was drugged, he thought. "I see Grace as well—she looks unhurt—but unconscious. It looks like they drugged her."

"Those bastards," Naruto scowled, "They think they can get away with this?" No one wanted to mention to the blond that it was probably Sasuke who drugged her. "What about Sasuke?" Naruto asked, "Do you see him anywhere?"

"No…" Neji said, "I don't see him. It looks like only Grace is there." He looked at the coffin, "There is a coffin there though. It has a strong barrier that I can't see through at this distance. I doubt Sasuke's in there—but I won't be sure until I can get closer."

"A coffin?" Kiba asked, startled, "You think Sasuke…"

"I doubt it," Neji said, "They wouldn't go through all this trouble just to kill him—I was there at the Chuunin Exams," he said, "When Orochimaru gave Sasuke that curse mark on his neck. He wouldn't have done that if he was just going to kill him."

"That's true," Naruto affirmed, "I was there as well."

"Alright," Shikamaru said, "For now, we'll assume that Sasuke is still alive. Now is when we have to proceed with caution, we can't get ahead of ourselves. Let me think up a battle plan, and then we'll attack—we should attack in groups. Neji and I will be in a group together, Kiba—you can be with Naruto, Chouji, your with Shino."

"Got it." Naruto said.

"Now," Shikamaru continued, "Let me go over the plan."

oOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoO oOo

Shikamaru peered through the bushes. At this distance, he could see them all clearly—as well as Grace. He glanced at her. She seemed to be breathing—and Neji was right—she seemed unhurt. There was something strange about her, though, that seemed to confirm Neji's thoughts that she was drugged.

It was going to be difficult. How will they be able to fight while keeping Grace out of the line of fire? Not only is she a civilian, with no ninja skills or powers, but right now, she's practically in a coma. She won't wake up even if they try to make her do so. This means… not only will they have to make sure that they are able to fight the sound ninja, but they have to get Grace away and to a safe place. He narrowed his eyes as he saw a bug crawl across her forehead and inter her hair. It looks like Shino accomplished part one. Now they'll at least know where Grace is. And where Grace is, Sasuke won't be far from.

"Sasuke's in the coffin," Neji whispered.

"Is he dead?" Shikamaru whispered back.

"No—I don't think so," Neji replied quietly, "I still can't see very well—but I still doubt they'll kill him. It looks like he's in some sort of coma state—he's almost dead."

"What are they doing…?" Shikamaru pondered, "Why do they have him in there?"

"Who knows," Neji replied, "I'm not too keen to find out."

"We'll find out eventually," Shikamaru muttered.

"True." Neji said.

There was a moment of silence as Shikamaru surveyed the enemy. The four ninja looked young, perhaps only a few years older than they were. He recognized them from the Chuunin Exams attack, before he left and went with Sakura and Naruto.

He clicked his tongue lightly. If only Grace were a ninja—and wasn't a captive at the moment, they'd have the real advantage. Grace always seemed to know what was going on—such as with the Chuunin Exams. It'd be helpful is she had any tips for them.

But he can't wish for the impossible. He knew that.

"Neji," he said, "What is your relationship to Grace, anyway?"

Neji turned to him, "What do you mean?"

"I mean, you went on a mission with her, right?" Shikamaru asked, "When she went to visit those people—whatever that was?"

"Yes…" Neji said, "What is your point?"

"Well, ideally this would be a question for Naruto, but for now you'll have to do," Shikamaru sighed, "But what do you… how do you think she'll react?"

Neji blinked at him and then looked at the girl in question. "We'll want to make sure that she's away from here when she does wake." He said, "She'll…" he trailed off, before continuing, "She won't react very pleasantly to this," he said. "It will most likely be traumatizing for her."

"I can imagine," Shikamaru muttered sarcastically, "This is such a pain…"

He glanced back at the ninja. It looked as if they were still resting. He couldn't tell how wounded they were—it looked more like they had no energy and were filled with fatigue rather than actually wounded. Kiba did sense blood a while back. They must have run into some trouble. They seemed completely unaware of his team. That wasn't good. He need them to take the bait. He glanced at Neji, "Do you think Shino's done?"

"Yeah." Neji said, "He just signaled.

"Good." Shikamaru said, he reached up and flicked a small wire. "Time to the games to begin."

oOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoO oOoOo

Kidōmaru felt a small twinge at his finger. He opened his sleepy eyes with a start, fully awake. He glanced at the hand in question, and narrowed his eyes. So they found them. He glanced at Sakon out of the corner of his eye, and then at Grace.

It would be a matter of seconds.

There was another twinge and two more. It looks like there were six of the little buggers. What a pain in the ass.

Sakon stood up and threw a kunai with an exploding tag attached to it. "Shi…" He and Neji threw themselves from the scene, out into the clearing as they fell rather painfully on their sides.

The Sound Four were all standing at this point, "Looks like these are the first little bugs to come out to play," Kidōmaru said, "Why don't you're little friends come out as well?"

"Look," Shikamaru said, brushing himself off, "We're here to negotiate, not to fight you!"

"What do you mean by that?" Sakon asked, "Negotiate? What could you possibly negotiate about?"

Shikamaru glanced at Grace, "What are you planning to do with her, once you get back to your village?"

"It's not a matter of what we'll do with her," Sakon said snidely, "It's a matter of what Lord Orochimaru will do with her once we get her there."

Neji narrowed his eyes, "And what would that be?" he asked.

"Why would we tell you?" he sneered, "It doesn't concern you." He waved to the eight armed man next to him. "Bring the rest of them out."

The eight armed man grinned and with a few flicks of his hands, Neji and Shikamaru's companions flew out of the threes and landed uncomfortably next to them.

"Shit," Naruto mumbled, "It looks like they found us."

"It looks like that indeed," The eight armed man said, smirking. Now that he no longer had to keep his web attached he went over and picked Grace up, slinging her over his shoulder and using his of his many hands to hold her in place. "What do you say, Sakon, should we just kill them now, or make them suffer?"

Naruto growled, "Let Grace go!" he ordered.

Sakon raised a pale eyebrow, "You all seem to be rather concerned with this girl—aren't you worried about Sasuke at all?"

"Sasuke…" Shikamaru said, glancing at the coffin, "We already know the whereabouts of him—and there's no need to ask, because whatever is going on in there, it's probably better if we don't know. The only thing you need to know is that you're going to…"

He stopped speaking when he realized that his body had frozen. "Wha…" he began.

"HA!" Naruto shouted, "Good work, Shikamaru!"

Shikamaru smirked at the now startled enemy. "As Shino always says, you need to keep an ace up your sleeve. You guys are rendered completely useless."

Sakon smirked. "You really think you're pitiful little technique can work on us? Don't forget who you're dealing with."

Shikamaru's smirk faltered slightly.

"Shikamaru!" Neji shouted, a warning tone in his voice.

Shikamaru glanced up, bringing his arm up to block two shuriken from his face. He grunted and winced as they cut into his skin.

"Looks like you're not the only one with an ace up his sleeve," Sakon said, stretching his arms as Shikamaru's jutsu dissolved.

Shikamaru narrowed his eyes, "How…"

"Too late."

The larger ninja clasped his hands together, slamming them onto the ground.

The effects were similar to a small earthquake. The Leaf Ninja prepared themselves for the tremor, the ground uprooting around them as they were flung from their standing positions. By the time they gathering their bearings, they were enclosed in a large sphere of rock.

"Damn…" Naruto growled.

oOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoO oOoOoOoOoO

Jirōbō stood up. "That will keep them for a while." He said.

"Looks like they're nothing but babies…" Sakon chuckled. "It's a good thing Ukon detached himself at the right moment—it looks as if we won't have any trouble with them anymore."

"Regardless," Jirōbō said, "It's better if I stay behind and deal with them. After that—I'll join up with you guys."

Sakon nodded. "Kidōmaru , you take the coffin—I'll take the girl."

"Sure," Kidōmaru said, walking over the Sakon and plopping the girl in the two headed man's arms. He then proceeded to pick up the large barrel like coffin.

Sakon ignored Tayuya's threats to Jirōbō to stay alive or she'll kill him, although she said it in a much more unpleasant way. He glanced at the girl in his arms. "Alright, let's get going."

They jumped into action, leaving Jirōbō to deal with the kids trapped within the large mound.

Jirōbō turned to glance at it. Looks like they're struggling inside. Too bad there's no escape for them.

oOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOo

"DAMN IT!" Naruto shouted, banging on the seemingly impenetrable dome of stone, "What the hell? We were so close, damn it!"

"Naruto, get out of the way!" Kiba shouted at him, preparing for his jutsu.

Shikamaru ignored the two as they attempted to break the wall, as he contemplated the situation. What had happened back there? He knew that there was another person—could it be that there were five of them, actually? It didn't seem… Perhaps they made clones of some sort. But Neji didn't sense any chakra increase that would have occurred if one of them used a jutsu. This means that there was a fifth member. The odds were not what Shikamaru liked.

Not to mention this wasn't how he intended their ambush to go, either. They ended up being the ones ambushed. And now Grace and Sasuke were getting farther away with each second.

He had to think of something, fast.

His winced as he felt a familiar sense of fatigue.

"Our chakra—it's getting sucked dry," Neji said, startled.

"I guessed as much," Shikamaru said, sitting, feeling drained.

"Shit," Naruto muttered, slumping, "None of our techniques are working, either."

"At this rate," Shikamaru said, "We won't have any energy to even fight."

"No…" Neji agreed, "Looks like we're running out of options."

"We can't…" Naruto breathed, "We can't just… sit here… he have to do something…"

Shikamaru narrowed his eyes, glancing around the wall. There were still some holes from when Kiba used his technique. But… he narrowed his eyes. Some of the holes were recovering faster than others.

That could only mean… he glanced at Neji.

Neji nodded.

Good. That meant he might be right. He just had to test it. "Yo!" he shouted. "You guys out there! I need to negotiate!"

Jirōbō frowned, his hand still pressed against the exterior of the stone dome, drawing chakra from within. "Negotiate? There's nothing to negotiate. Besides, what would you do?"

Shikamaru paused, "I'll stop chasing after Sasuke and Grace—the Sound Village can have them." He said, "Just let us out."

Jirōbō gave out a short bark of laughter, "And what makes you think that I'll just let you all out?"

"In that case," Shikamaru said, "Than just let me out."

Naruto's head snapped to face Shikamaru, his eyes bulging, "Wha… what the hell are you talking about?" he shouted.

Kiba stood up, and Chouji also looked shocked.

Only Shino, whose face was masked, and Neji, had no expressions of surprise or shock.

Jirōbō frowned, "So you're telling us that you're giving up on Sasuke—and that you'll sacrifice your team for your own safety? That's a sick joke," he said, "Someone like you doesn't deserve to be a leader."

"Shikamaru!" Naruto shouted, advancing on him, "What the hell is this bullshi—"

Neji stopped him with a hand, "Hold on." He said, quietly.

Shikamaru stood up, smirking, "Neji, look over there," he said, pointing to where Kiba's holes were still visible.

Neji nodded and activated his byakugan.

"Is it what I thought?" Shikamaru asked.

Neji nodded again, "It looks like it's true."

"Will you just spit it out already I'm tired of waiting for all this bullshit!" Naruto shouted.

Shikamaru stood up. "When he spoke—he spoke from that direction," he pointed at one side of the dome. "But when Kiba made those holes with his drills, they stayed longer on that side," he pointed to the other side of the dome, "Which can only mean that the chakra flow that he's using to encase us in here is less potent on that side."

"Meaning…"

"We can bust out with the right about of strength," Chouji grinned, cracking his knuckles. "Ok, get behind me, guys."

"What is he going to do?" Naruto asked as Neji grabbed him and yanked him over to where everyone else was.

"Something you're not capable of doing." Neji snapped.

"What is your problem, twinkle toes?" Naruto asked, choosing to use Grace's nickname for the long haired boy.

Neji's eye twitched.

"Ok, Chouji!" Shikamaru ordered, "We're all out of the way!"

Naruto gaped as Chouji used his expansion jutsu, it seemed so unreasonably impossible at this close distance, and smashed into the inner wall of the dome, causing it to shatter all around them. The ninja crouched, protecting their heads until there was an opening for the to leap out of.

Jirōbō first reacted with alarm when he felt a strange tremor travel up his arms, and then there was a large crack and boom, and the large clay dome began to collapse. He narrowed his eyes as the six ninja landed in front of him.

"HA!" Naruto shouted, "TAKE THAT!"

Neji was about to point out that he didn't actually do anything, but kept his mouth shut. There were more important things to worry about right now than fixing Naruto's brain waves.

"I'm impressed that you were able to free yourself." Jirōbō said, "It looks like you managed to get out. But this doesn't mean that you're safe to go. You still have to go through me first." He glanced at Shikamaru, "What will it be, little man? You're still planning on deserting your men in order to ensure your own safety? What a cowardly freak. I don't know how you became a leader of squad of babies, but then again, I suppose that only makes sense. A foolish gang will always be lead by a foolish leader."

Shikamaru took a deep breath. "Alright," he said, "Guys? We're losing time. At this point, they might be getting closer to the border—and we don't have permission to cross. We've got to get going quickly. Neji? You'll be substitute leader—I'll take on—"

"Shikamaru?" Chouji said, darkly, "This guy—is mine."

"Wha…?" Shikamaru began, startled, turning to Chouji, "What are you talking about, man?"

"This guy," Chouji said, turning up to glare at Jirōbō, "I'm going to take him. You guys go on ahead and rescue Sasuke and Grace. I'll be fine." He reached into his weapon pouch and took out a small pouch. "These are food pills—you guys square them off."

Shikamaru's eyes widened. "Wha… Wait a minute, Chouji—"

"You're the leader," Chouji interrupted, "The rest of us won't be able to do anything if you're not around to lead us. You guys go on ahead. I'll be fine. Besides—I have that final weapon up my sleeve."

"You mean…" Shikamaru said. "That? Chouji—" he was silenced with a look. "Fine," he said, "But you better catch up to us."

Chouji nodded, grinning. "Aye, captain."

With that, five boys left, leaving Chouji and Jirōbō standing in the clearing.

oOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoO o

"Are you sure that we should just leave Chouji like that?" Naruto asked, "I mean, is that a safe idea?"

"What do you mean safe?" Shikamaru asked.

"I mean—out of all of use he's the only one who didn't make it past the preliminary rounds—and when we were in the Academy he didn't exactly get the best of grades."

"Neither did Shikamaru and he was made Chuunin," Kiba pointed out.

"Hey!" Naruto shouted, "I'm a Chuunin too?"

Kiba blanched, "Are you serious? I don't believe you!"

"It's true," Neji said, "Neither Naruto nor Sasuke have been promoted yet, but both of them have achieved the 'rank' of Chuunin. I suspect that Naruto will receive his full promotion after this mission."

"That is the biggest bullshit I've ever heard—Shikamaru and Naruto Chuunin before the rest of us?"

"There's nothing to complain about," Shino pointed out, "After all, they worked hard to prove themselves during the exams."

"But that's what I'm talking about!" Kiba snarled, "You, me and Sakura didn't even get a chance to prove ourselves!"

"True," Shino agreed, "But there's nothing we can do about it."

"Like hell there isn't," Kiba muttered.

"We need to kick up the pace!" Shikamaru shouted to them, "We're falling behind them! Kiba, you take the front again, try to sense how fast their moving!"

Kiba nodded and bounded to the front of the group, while Neji automatically slipped to the back, activating his byakugan.

"I can smell them up ahead—we've got a little ways to go, but I think if we increase our speed a little we can catch up in a few minutes!" Kiba shouted.

"I agree," Neji said, "They're not too far."

"Good." Shikamaru said, "We're almost there."

oOoOoOoOoOoOooOoOoOoOoOooOOo

"They're gaining on us." Kidōmaru said.

"They got Jirōbō?" Tayuya asked, startled.

"Looks like it," Sakon said. "We'll have to pick up our pace."

"We don't have the energy," Tayuya pointed out, "We weren't able to fully recover from our last fight."

Sakon frowned. She was right, of course. The only way to ensure that they got both Sasuke and the girl to Lord Orochimaru in a timely manner would be to separate again. But this time… who would it be? And there was the girl to worry about… he glanced down at her. Her eyebrows began moving a few minutes ago. It would probably be no longer than an hour before she woke up.

They had to get to Lord Orochimaru before then—or at least get rid of these pests before then.

Sakon wasn't the only one who noticed this.

"What are we going to do with her when she wakes up?" Kidōmaru asked.

Sakon raised an eyebrow, "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it—although there's not much the wretch can do. She's completely defenseless against us."

"We should just knock her out," Tayuya said, "I personally don't look forward to hearing her bitch and cry all the way back."

"Me either," Sakon said, "But Lord Orochimaru won't be pleased if he hurt a hair on his head," he said, quoting Kabuto's words to them before they had left.

Tayuya rolled her eyes, "She has no purpose except to keep Sasuke happy—why is Lord Orochimaru going through so much effort to get her?"

"He's not the one who's going through all the trouble," Kidōmaru said, "We are."

"I am," Sakon corrected, "Besides, although she was one of the main factors Sasuke agreed to go, that's not the only reason Lord Orochimaru wants her."

"And what would the other reason be?" Tayuya sneered, "I didn't realize Lord Orochimaru swung that way."

Kidōmaru chuckled.

Sakon ignored the immaturity of his two companions and continued to speak "She's useful for when Sasuke's body eventually dies. With her, Orochimaru can have more bodies to inhabit."

Tayuya made a face. "That's gross."

"But then again—I doubt Sasuke will object to his role in the matter," Kidōmaru pointed out.

"You're a fucking pervert," Tayuya muttered.

"Will the two of you shut the fuck up?" Sakon snapped. "She'll wake up if there's too much loud noise—or do you want to deal with that yourself?"

The other two promptly shut up.

"Someone's coming," Kidōmaru said, "Fast."

Sakon and Tayuya prepared for the incomers, but stopped when they saw it was only Jirōbō.

"Looks like you made it by the skin of your teeth, fucking pansy," Tayuya said.

"Yeah," Jirōbō said. "But I beat him anyway."

Tayuya narrowed her eyes.

Jirōbō ducked as a kunai flew over his head. He flipped onto a branch, standing there while staring at the girl. Then he smirked, his form quickly disappearing into the form of Shikamaru. "How'd you know it was me?" he asked.

"Jirōbō doesn't tolerate Tayuya speaking in such a foul manner," Kidōmaru smirked. "That's how we knew."

"It looks like I messed up then," Shikamaru said. "Too bad this part of the plan wasn't important."

"Shit," Kidōmaru said. "Well, Tayuya?"

Tayuya looked at him at the mention of her name, and blinked as Kidōmaru tossed her the coffin. "Wha—"

"You two go ahead," he said, "I kill off these buggers."

"Right," Sakon said, "Let's go, Tayuya."

Tayuya nodded, slowly turning and then jumping off after Sakon.

Kidōmaru turned to look at Shikamaru. "Looks like it's just us, huh? Too bad I won't fall prey to your shadow jutsu again. You're going to go through hell before I finally kill you."

Shikamaru frowned, "You're rather irritating." He said, "When you're the one who is going to die."

oOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoO oOo

"Are you sure those two can handle it?" Naruto asked.

Shikamaru nodded. "Neji and Shino are both good at fighting—and their styles will come in handy. Besides, the eight armed guy probably thinks Neji is me—which means he will think that the rest of us are around there as well—when really it's just one. Now all we have to do is make sure that the other two don't know we're onto them and then ambush."

Naruto nodded—but he still didn't like the uneasy feeling. He didn't know whether it was concern for the two or whether it was from Neji's words to him before Neji and Shino left to distract the mutant.

It almost seemed…

"Make sure you bring Grace back," Neji had ordered him. "I'm trusting you with that."

Naruto shook his head. Nah.

"It's just the three of us against two of them—which means the odds are with us," Shikamaru said.

"Four of us," Kiba corrected as Akamaru barked.

"Right, right, sorry, four of us against the two of them—I like those odds even better!" Shikamaru grinned. "It looks like the closer we get to their destination—and the longer it takes—the more desperate they are. You can guarantee that when we catch up and try to ambush—they'll just split off again. Except this time, it'll be harder—because there will only be one of them—and there will be the coffin and Grace to carry."

"But they'll still split," Kiba pointed out, "I mean—they seemed pretty desperate before."

"Yes," Shikamaru said, "Which means we have to decide who gets to split from us. He turned to Naruto, "I want you to go on ahead for the final blow," he said, "After all, you're the one who I can trust to change Sasuke's mind—and who can rescue Grace, most likely. Which means it'll have to Kiba or I who will have to split off."

"I'll do it," Kiba said, "I've been itching to fight. Besides, you're the leader—you're the most needed. And Naruto's such an idiot that he won't know left from right without you around."

"Hey!" Naruto protested.

Shikamaru nodded. "Alright then." He said.

oOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOo

"Shit," Tayuya spat, "What was spider boy doing, letting three of them go like that?"

"I don't know—but these little bugs are starting to really piss me off," Sakon said. Besides the fact that Grace started to move in her sleep, the drug almost worn off and now she was kept quiet by actual sleep, didn't make it easy either. He had to be careful how he moved, making sure he didn't wake her up.

This day was quickly turning for the worst.

"I'll kill them," he muttered to Tayuya, "I'll just go right now and destroy them."

"What about the girl?" Tayuya asked.

"You take her."

"I can't take her and the coffin," she pointed out.

"Hoist the coffin over your back and hold the girl," Sakon snapped.

Tayuya bit back a curse while she complied. "Just kill them," she said, as Sakon dumped Grace into her arms. "I'd rather not have to fight as well as have to carry these two shitheads."

Sakon merely licked his lips as he came to a halt.

oOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoO oOo

"How does he look?"

Sakura came to a stop in front of Chouji. "Not good, but it doesn't look fatal." She said, "What about him?"

"He's dead," Tenten said, checking the pulse on the Sound ninja. "Looks like Chouji won—impressive."

"But he still needs some care," Sakura said, crouching, "I think I might be able to do so bandaging with what I have."

"Ok," Tenten said, "Afterwards we should probably try to catch up."

Sakura nodded. She bandaged Chouji quickly, before standing up. "I think that will do it for now. Medical ninja will probably be on their way." She said.

"Right, let's get—"

"What are you two doing out here?"

The two girls stopped and turned around to see Shizune, standing behind them.

"Shizune!" Sakura exclaimed, startled, "What are you doing here?"

"That's what I should be asking you," Shizune said, "I was on a mission—but we were attacked—by these guys." She gestured to Jirōbō. "I'll take care of Chouji."

"Wait—you mean you'll let us go?" Tenten asked, surprised.

Shizune raised an eyebrow, "They'll need all the help they can get—plus I need someone to bring more of the injured back. I've called for a medical team, but who knows when they'll get here."

Sakura nodded. "You'll probably see us later then—if need be."

Shizune nodded, and the two girls quickly leapt into the trees.

"I have to say—I'm not keen on the idea of just helping out with the medical team," Tenten muttered.

"But it's just as important—if it means saving a life," Sakura pointed out, "Besides, what can we do anyway?"

"You're sounding like—" Tenten stopped speaking as she sensed something up ahead. "Sakura, I think we're nearing some more people."

"That's was soon!" Sakura said, "How far away?"

Tenten shook her head, "I don't know—but I can see that many people have traveled down this way. If we keep going we can meet up with them—or find them," she said.

Sakura nodded—hoping no one else was injured.

After a few minutes, they came across a tree that was entirely scorched. Many of the trees were like that around it, and the farther they went, the worse it became. "Looks like there was some sort of battle—but I can't imagine what kind of weapon or jutsu did this," Tenten said.

"Yeah, me either," Sakura said.

They came to a stop in a clearing. "Shino," Sakura said, startled. She hurried over to the boy, attempting to brush some of the bugs off of him before she realized that they were healing some of his wounds.

She spun when she heard a strangled cry. "Tenten—oh!" she exclaimed.

It was Neji.

Sakura's eyes were wide as she took in Neji's appearance. He looked dead—and looked as if he should be dead. She had never seen someone so injured up close before.

"Is he…will he be alright?" Sakura began, not wanting to say the word.

Tenten tore her face away and looked at her, "I… I don't know…" her voice was small and horrified.

Sakura thought Tenten looked as if she were about to cry. She probably is—Neji is her teammate, after all. Tenten sniffed and the stood up, gingerly picking Neji up, "I'm going to take him back—he needs immediate care."

Sakura nodded. "I'll go on ahead. Tell Shizune that Shino's here. I don't think his injuries are serious, though. It seems that his bugs are taking care of most of it."

"Alright," Tenten said, "Good luck."

Sakura nodded and watched as Tenten began walking back. She then turned and continued on. She had to go quickly—from the looks of it, she had a long way to go. She just hoped that everyone else was ok, as well.

She heard them before she saw them.

Creaks—She was about to hide when someone came up suddenly from behind and fell into place. Glancing, she said with a start, "Temari!"

Temari grinned at her, "Looks like you snuck off, eh? Tsunade told me," She said.

Sakura grinned wryly. So the Hokage knew about it, huh? "But what are you doing here?" Sakura asked, "I didn't know you came to the village!"

"Yeah," Temari said, "We were completing a mission that ended in the Leaf Village—and volunteered ourselves as soon as we heard."

"'Ourselves'?" Sakura asked, "You mean…"

"Yeah, we came too," Kankuro said, appearing on her other side.

Sakura glanced over to him, "Is Gaara here too?"

"Yes."

Sakura shivered as she glanced over her shoulder. "So the three of you, huh? That's good. I'm glad I'm not alone now!" she chuckled sheepishly.

Temari smiled, "So, we saw Neji—that looked serious—I just hope the rest of them aren't in such a bad condition."

"Yeah—it'll make our life harder." Kankuro agreed.

"If you have such an uncaring opinion about this mission you shouldn't of volunteered your time," Temari snapped.

"You volunteered our time." Kankuro accused.

"It's good for Leaf and Sand relations," Gaara interjected.

"Speaking of Fire and Wind relations—did you know Grace might marry the Wind Daimyo's son?"

"What?!" Kankuro said, blanching, "That's…"

"She's lucky," Temari said, "The guy's hot."

"I know—I've seen a picture of him," Sakura said, "But on the topic of Grace—we need to make sure she gets back safe."

"I heard that you were the one who saw Sasuke and Grace before they left, what exactly happened?" Temari asked.

"Well," Sakura began, "Sasuke left the village—obviously, and brought Grace with him. Except I don't think Grace knows."

Temari raised an eyebrow.

"What do you mean, you don't think she knows?" Kankuro asked.

"I mean, I don't think she's aware—she was drugged," Sakura said, "Which was probably the only way Sasuke would be able to get Grace to Orochimaru. Otherwise… she would have resisted. And who knows what would have happened."

"Right," Temari said. "Well, I guessed most of that already."

Sakura nodded. "That's pretty much all I know." She left out the part of Sasuke telling her that Grace's opinions and feelings didn't matter to him. Those weren't things that were needed to be told.

"We're getting to close to them," Kankuro said, "I can sense someone fighting."

"Right." Sakura said, "Should we all go in or—"

"It's just three." Gaara said, suddenly, "I doubt it's all of them. One of us should stay behind and assist them. The others should go ahead."

"Yes," Temari said, "After all, part of mission was to make sure the kid that Gaara beat during the exams is ok."

"Lee?" Sakura blanched, "You're kidding—he came? But he was in the hospital—he was getting ready for surgery! What is he doing going out on a mission?"

"That was the Fifth's reaction," Temari said, "Apparently she isn't too pleased—he just got out of surgery, I think."

"Jeez—what's with him?" Sakura muttered, "Why am I always surrounded by idiots?"

An awkward silence ensued.

"Uh…present party excluded," she added, breaking the tension.

"Here's where I say goodbye," Kankuro said, "I'm going to help with this fight—you three go on ahead and assist them."

"Stay safe," Temari called as Kankuro shifted his direction and quickly disappeared. "We should probably steer away from this area—and go in a circle. Gaara's sand will keep us safe from most ambushes, if we stay close to him." Gaara nodded.

"Alright," Sakura said. She still felt uneasy being around the red haired boy—but she assumed that if he had agreed to go on the mission, then he couldn't be a threat.

"The next person—I'll split off," Temari said, "After all, you'd be the best to get Grace, Sakura."

"Right," Sakura nodded.

"Gaara will also go with you, to make sure that you're safe and that the rest of them are safe." Temari added.

Sakura glanced at Gaara. She was a little worried, but Temari wouldn't leave him with her if he wasn't trustworthy. She was just worried about what Grace would do when she saw him. Grace still had some nightmares about it, she remembered.

"There's more fighting up ahead," Gaara noted.

"Jeez—you Leaf Ninja sure know how to make life a pain," Temari muttered. "Can you tell who it is?"

"No." Gaara said.

"It's probably Shikamaru or Kiba," Sakura said, "Since Shino, Neji and Chouji have already been found. I doubt that Naruto would stay behind—like me, he's the best to go after Sasuke and Grace."

Temari smirked, "On the half chance I get to rescue the half assed idiot, I'll go now," she said.

"Be careful!" Sakura called.

Temari waved before hoisting her fan higher and dashing off.

"She sure likes to make fun of Shikamaru a lot, doesn't she?" Sakura asked, grinning at Gaara, until she realized who it was and glanced away sheepishly.

There was some silence as they continued on.

"Are you worried about them?" she asked finally, "Your brother and sister?"

"No."

"Oh…" Sakura said.

"I'm not worried—because I have faith that they won't die." Gaara said.

"Oh," she said again, "I guess… that's a good reason."

She sort of wished that it was Gaara who had left, not Temari. There was such an odd silence between the two ninja.

"Grace," Gaara began, "How is she…"

"What?"

Gaara looked away, "Not including her current predicament, how is she?"

"Oh…" Sakura said, "Well… you mean—from after the Chuunin exams?"

"…Yes," Gaara said.

"Well, she has to walk with a brace—and she always says her foot hurts from…" Sakura trailed off, feeling suddenly guilty at Gaara's face. Perhaps… he's feeling guilty?

Part of her wanted to think that he should feel guilty, while the other part said that he's changed.

She shook her head. There was no time to think about that now. What she needed to do is focus on the battle up ahead.

"There's someone heading in the same direction as us," Gaara said.

"An enemy?" Sakura asked.

Gaara paused. "They don't seem to be a threat." He said, "Nor have they noticed us."

"Good." Sakura said. With any luck it'll be Lee. "I think we're getting close, I can hear Naruto's voice."

Gaara nodded.

For once, Sakura was glad that Naruto had such a loud and obnoxious voice.

oOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoO oOo

Kimimaro quickly moved through the trees. He held the coffin, and on it laid the girl.

Kimimaro glanced at the girl lying on the coffin. So this is the girl who will make Lord Orochimaru's plans come true.

And the boy within… that's Lord Orochimaru's new vessel.

He frowned as the girl stirred. If he wasn't careful, she'd fall—if she woke. He slowed and stopped, in a large field. Placing the coffin on the ground, he lifted the girl and placed her on the ground. Her eyes moved under her eyelids. Her eyelids fluttered for a moment before she opened them clearly. She blinked for a few minutes, moving sluggishly into a sitting position.

She slowly turned her head to face him, still blinking sleepily as she gained consciousness of her surroundings.

Her eyes widened in fear and surprise as she saw him—and he knew that she recognized him from something.

oOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoO oOo

I could barely feel myself lifted, strong arms carrying me, before I was placed on something hard—the ground. It prickled me, so I suppose it's on dry grass of some sort.

I fought to open my eyes. Everything seemed foggy—my brain wasn't thinking straight. Where am I? What happened? I opened my eyes a little, and saw nothing but long strands of grass. I need to sit up. I managed to push myself to a sitting position, looking around. I was right; I was in a strange field. It was empty, it seemed like… except for…

I looked over to see a strange looking white haired boy. A very distinctive looking white haired boy.

After a moment, everything came flooding back.

I let out a small scream as I leapt to my feet, falling backwards. My legs felt like they were asleep. I crawled backwards away from him.

"You're body is still recovering from being drugged," the boy said, "Don't overexert yourself."

I was breathing heavily, and found that words came difficultly, so I just swallowed and looked around wildly until I saw the coffin.

No… I thought, my heart racing and my stomach plummeting, It couldn't be…

"I need you to cooperate," the boy said, "We're running out of time—we need to get Sasuke to Lord Orochimaru soon."

I shook my head—"No!" I said, "I won't! Let Sasuke out of that!" I shouted, pointing at it.

"He'll be out soon," the boy said, "And then he will be able to take you. For now, I need..." he stopped as I stood up, rushing over to the coffin.

"Sasuke!" I cried, pounding on the wall of the coffin, "Sasuke wake up!"

"Don't," the white haired boy began.

I was pounding on the wall of the coffin so hard that I felt a burn on my fists where the skin was scraping off. I knew I would bleed soon, but I didn't stop.

When I did, it was only because I felt something shudder inside.

"Sasuke?" I said, hopeful. The tears that threatened moments ago returned. "Sasuke—can you hear me?" I clawed at the top, but it wouldn't budge.

"You're only hurting yourself," the white haired boy said, "This coffin has a seal on it, it won't release until Sasuke is ready to come out."

There was movement inside.

"GRACE!"

My head whipped around to see Naruto appearing a few meters away. "Naruto!" I cried.

"Grace are you alright?" he asked.

"I'm…" I began. I was not alright! I wanted to say. "I'm ok," I said, "I can't get Sasuke out of here!"

"Don't worry!" Naruto shouted, "I'll get you and Sasuke safely out of—"

A strange smell began to rise from the coffin—it smelt of fire. The top began to leak a dark smoke.

"What…" I said.

The white haired boy appeared next to me, grabbing me and pulling me out of the way.

The moment he did, there was a loud explosion.

I gave out a terrified shriek as the coffin blew into a thousand pieces.

"Sasuke!" I yelled as I saw his form standing in the midst. My voice caught in my throat. There wasn't something wrong—that thing wasn't Sasuke.

It didn't even look like him.

I saw whatever it was recede until what was left was Sasuke himself. "Sasuke…" I murmured. The tears were back.

Sasuke merely stood there. I don't think he heard me.

"Sasuke!" Naruto shouted happily, "Come on! What are you doing with these guys? Let's go back now!"

A low chuckle could be heard from Sasuke. My eyes widened. That wasn't Sasuke's voice. That couldn't be Sasuke's voice. That voice was evil—it was…

I felt my heart skip as Sasuke disappeared, and reappeared next to me. Within seconds, he was holding me and moving quickly across the field, towards the trees.

"GRACE!" I heard Naruto yell, before we disappeared into the woods.

I clutched at Sasuke as we moved. I felt like I was going to fall out of his arms and plummet below. Did I ever mention I don't like heights? Sasuke's arms tightened on me, holding me close.

He didn't speak. He didn't look at me. He merely looked on ahead. He looked determined.

"Sasuke!" I said, taking his face in my hands and attempting to force him to look at me, "Sasuke stop this!"

He didn't respond.

"Sasuke…" I whimpered.

"Grace!" I heard a yell from a ways away.

"Naruto!" I cried, leaning back so I could see back Sasuke's arm. "Naruto, I'm here!"

I heard a low growl come from Sasuke's throat, and he picked up the pace, holding me so tight that I let out a gasp.

"Wait—Sasuke—Don't…" I looked behind to see Naruto gaining on us. Please, please Naruto! I thought, desperately, Please catch up to us!

I felt the sun on my face and turned to see where we were going. There was a loud continuous noise ahead. It sounded like… a waterfall?

Are we that close?!

"NARUTO!" I screamed, trying to dislocate my arms from Sasuke and reach for the blond boy behind us.

Sasuke uttered a curse and turned in mid-air, balancing me awkwardly as he performed a hand seal, before blowing out a large bout of fire at Naruto, causing the boy to yelp and fall back. The trees engulfed in a large yellow rage as the crackled.

Sasuke's grip once again tightened, and he continued towards the waterfall.

"Stop!" I yelled, resorting to hitting his chest, since I couldn't get my forearms high enough to hit his head.

We broke free of the trees and he dashed over the large open space between the two cliffs, landing safely on the other side. For a moment, he just stood there, holding me, before moving me so my feet touched the ground. If he had let go, I knew I would have sank to my knees, but he held onto my waist and kept me from falling.

"Why?" I asked him, "Why are you doing this?"

"He would have followed if I didn't," Sasuke said, shortly.

"I don't just mean that!" I exclaimed, gaining the strength in my legs and stepping away from him, pushing his hands off me, "I mean—why are you going!?"

"I told you," Sasuke said, "You can't stop me."

"But why are you taking me with you?" I asked him, quieter this time.

He gave a pitiful look, and I suddenly remembered last nights events.

"Sasuke," I said, "I understand how you feel about me—but that's no reason to act this way! I mean…" I trailed off, trying to find the right words to say. "I just… Why can't you just stay in the village?" I begged, "Why do you have to leave?"

"I can't get what I need in the village." He said.

"But you have me," I said, "If you take me to that—that monster's place you'll lose that! Do you have any idea how much I—" my words were cut off by my throat clenching. I was going to cry—I knew it. If I spoke anything more, the tears threatening would come out again. I didn't want Sasuke to see me cry.

"Please," I whispered. "I don't want to go there! I—I'm scared, Sasuke! I'm scared of what you're becoming! Of what you will become!"

Sasuke didn't say anything, only look at me with that emotionless face.

"I… you never let me say what I wanted to say before," I said, "Last night, you said what you felt towards me, but you didn't let me tell you how I feel!" I said, "Sasuke," I took a deep breath. "I love you too, and I've always loved you—I was just too stupid to realize it—and I always misinterpreted it as the wrong kind of love—but now I know!"

Sasuke didn't seem to react. He was still staring at me, although now his expression seemed somewhat strange—as if he were having a hard time understanding what I was saying.

"I just…" I said, "I know that last night I said I loved you only in a big sister sort of way—but that was just a lie! I was… I guess I was just afraid of what—I mean, I know it's weird, because I'm older—but that was just because—you know, well, when someone who's older and—"

I wasn't able to finish my sentence. My sentence was suddenly cut off when Sasuke moved towards me in a blink of an eye, his face coming so close that I had to close my eyes from going cross-eyed, and he pulled me into a kiss.

For a moment, I tried to keep talking, but soon I gave up and melted into him. He placed his hands on my hips, drawing me closer, and I moved my hands to his shoulders.

When we broke apart, I blinked stupidly at him.

"HOLY SHIT."

I blanched at the loud noise, and glanced over Sasuke's shoulder to see Naruto on the other side, staring at us with an open mouth.

"N—Naruto!" I yelped, leaping away from Sasuke. "This isn't—well, it is, but…"

Sasuke turned around and glared at the blond boy. "It looks like the fire didn't keep you as occupied as I thought," he said, loudly so that Naruto could hear.

Naruto frowned, and leapt up into the air to land a few meters away from him. "Sasuke," he said, "I don't know what's gotten into you—but I'm going to defeat you and get you and Grace back to the village."

Sasuke have a large bark of laughter, grabbing me by the arm and drawing me closer, before pushing me behind him. "You really think you can do that? With this new power? I've had enough of you," he snarled, his amusement gone, suddenly.

"Wait—" I said, stepping away from him, "You should think this through…"

"Get back here!" Sasuke snarled.

"No!" I said, "I told you—I don't want to leave! I want to stay in the village with Sakura, and Naruto—"

"With Naruto?" Sasuke said, finally loosing it.

I took a step backwards, closer to Naruto, "Yes…" I said, fear gripping me, but at the same time, I felt anger at the threatening tone in his voice, "Naruto cares about how I feel!" I shouted, "Why wouldn't I want to be with him!"

Sasuke's head whipped down to face the ground, his shoulder's twitching. "I…" he began, "I was going to let you come to the realization yourself that you should come with me… but now…" he looked up, and my eyes widened as I saw red marks of the curse seal growing. "Now I'm just going to take you whether you want it or not!"

"Hold on!" Naruto said, stepping in front of me, "This is stupid, Sasuke! Why are you talking like this—"

"Get away from her!" Sasuke shouted, his curse activating as he charged Naruto.

Naruto's eyes widened at the strange form and he grabbed me, pushing me out of the way in time to block Sasuke's attack.

I let out a scream as I stumbled and fell flat on my face, quickly turning and looking as Naruto and Sasuke began battling.

This… This wasn't how it was supposed to be.

"Sasuke! Naruto!" I yelled, getting up and running as fast as my brace would allow. I had to catch up to them, and quickly. I yelped as I tripped and landed on my face again. Damn it! Why am I so clumsy?

They were a ways off now, neither wanting to get me caught in the cross fire. But I had to get to them. I had to stop them somehow. They wouldn't fight with me too close—it'll be too dangerous—I might get caught or thrown off the cliff—or I might be injured somehow by one of their weapons or jutsu. I knew the dangers of interrupting an intense fight, but I had to go anyway.

I had to stop them before it was too late.

I stood up and began running again. My foot began to ache something terrible and every step made blood pound in my ears. I wish I had taken Ebisu's training seriously—at least then it would be easier to cover this distance. Ninjas move so fast it's not fair when a normal person is trying to catch up.

"You guys!" I yelled, "Will you two stop it—I'm getting pissed off!"

The two obviously couldn't hear me, and were too obsessed with their fight to notice me approaching.

There was a large blast of hot air that lifted me off my feet and slammed me on my back. Rubble shot blew past me and I covered my head protectively, trying to keep the dust out of my eyes and mouth. I coughed, rubbing at my eyes, and when I was able to see and breath clearly, I glanced up. There was a large red haze where Naruto and Sasuke were fighting.

Don't tell me—Naruto was using the Fox's powers?

Damn… I stood up and continued running towards them. It was taking too much time; I couldn't waste any of it! The longer I take to get to them the more likely that one of them might—I couldn't think of that. I had to stop them.

"You guys!" I shouted as I neared, but neither noticed.

I saw lightning gather in Sasuke's hand. The Chidori. He charged at Naruto, who had activated his Rasengan. I managed to throw myself onto the ground in time as the ground shuddered at the impact. I grabbed at a plant to be kept from moving, holding time until the wind stopped.

Why was it so hard to get their attention? Both of them, now that I could see them clearly, seemed entirely emerged in their fight. They didn't even seem to notice that I was this close.

I stood up for the uncountable time and began to run, my legs feeling like they were being ripped. I could feel the brace on my foot becoming loose. Soon it'll come undone and then I'd be in trouble. I knew I should stop and fix it—but I was too desperate to get to them to care about my own pain.

I heard the chitter of the Chidori. Sasuke must be—

I was blinded by a flash of blue light, not even able to scream as pain shot through my body for a split second. I felt wind ripping at my clothes, and saw the cliff and sky drawing away from me at an alarming rate.

I was falling.

I closed my eyes.

This is it. I'm going to die.

"Grace!"

I opened my eyes to see a hand reaching for me, a hand that belonged to Sasuke. He was falling too, reaching for me. "Grab my hand!" he shouted, stretching it out towards me. He looked panicked, the fear growing in his eyes. I could see him leaning closer.

I reached for it, our fingertips touching.

A look of relief washed over his face. He hooked his index finger with mine, using it to draw me a little closer. I couldn't breathe, but if I did, I would have sighed a sigh of relief and cried. He had me.

My heart didn't even have time to skip a beat as, with a snap, our fingers separated. Sasuke's face filled with horror as he desperately attempted to move closer. His eyes grew in horror as he—

oOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoO oOo

It was the worse sound he had ever heard.

It caused every cell in his body to scream.

He landed on the rock bank, breathing hard, ragged breaths.

He didn't hear Naruto's yells.

He didn't hear the raging water around him.

He didn't hear anything.

He didn't see anything.

Anything, except her.

He sank to his knees, feeling like he had been the one crushed. His breathing hitched, his body trembling as he grasped her mangled form, drawing her close to him.

Holding her close to him, his eyes unable to focus on anything but blank space, he felt his world collapse, as he felt her heart slow to a deafening halt.

THE END

Check out my profile for the sequel to Truthspeaker, Bunaíodh de Luíonn