Sasuke watched the soft rise and fall of Sakura's back with a breed of detached fixation. Up and down. In and out. It was so simple, common. Innocent. Her short pink locks were laying in soft waves, still a little damp from the shower she must have taken when he stepped out of his suite an hour or so before. From his position at the edge of the bed near her hip, he could see individual strands of pale blonde and deeper rose that diversified her signature pink mane. A cursory glance down to her uncovered legs told him that she'd healed her injuries from earlier. The bright blood had been washed clean from her pale skin and she looked as pure as anything he'd ever seen.

He knew without looking that his hands were still stained rusty red with Suigetsu's traitorous filth. Dark eyes narrowed to slits as he remembered the way the once ruthless shinobi had lain his life on the line to 'save' the girl sleeping quietly at his side. Sasuke's gaze trailed over the sleep-flushed skin of her cheeks and he acknowledged that it was Sakura's influence that had made it so. She was like a bright, cleansing light that drew people to her like moths to a flame. It was nerve grating, irritating, frustrating. She was annoying.

Standing swiftly from the mattress to his feet, facing away from the soundly sleeping girl, Sasuke was surprised to hear the linens rustle as her form shifted. Dark eyes stared over a lean shoulder and found the petite kunoichi had rolled onto her side. Her body was facing toward his back and her pale arms were extended, bent only slightly at the elbows, half splayed fingers and palms turned toward him. He lowered his eyebrows sharply. His movements had been nothing short of silent. That was fact. His head turned towards the bath chamber of the master suite once more as he dismissed the errant thought and continued on his way. It wasn't as if the girl had somehow subconsciously sensed his movement and attempted, in sleep, to follow him. That would be ridiculous.

He walked silently to the adjoining bathroom, leaving the door slightly ajar. The air inside was still damp and a little heavy with cooling steam from Sakura's earlier use. Long, slender fingers caught a drop of cold water on the tiled wall where it still clung. Cold moisture slipped over the calloused, scarred surface of his skin and lifted the rusty stains that had dried there. As the now rosy drop from Sakura's bath settled into his palm, he pondered the idea of sharing something as simple as a bath facility. The slowly evaporating droplets in front of him reminded him that it had been a long time since he'd been in continuous close contact with another human being. And it was by his own violation.

He was just thinking of shrugging off his oversized white top to shower when Sasuke heard a light knock on the door to the bedroom. Lean muscles tensed, frozen, as he heard a soft, sleepy exhale and feet padding toward the sliding door. Sasuke heard Sakura's thickened voice begin to say, "Who is-" in a delighted, harsh whisper, she squeaked, "Sui! How are you? Gods, I-"

The Konoha nukenin watched his eyes bleed red n the mirror as he continued to stand statically, waiting to discover his foolish teammate's purpose for visiting the medic ninja he'd specifically advised him not to.

Suigetsu laughed a little lowly, the sound rougher than usual. "Hey Pinky. I'm fine, really. Karin knew some medical jutsu and she patched me up pretty good. I just wanted to see you." Tomoe appeared, swirling dangerously as Sasuke continued to listen. There was a long pause, as if both were usure of what was to be said. Finally, the Mist shinobi asked a little nervously, "Umm, not to be a spoilsport...but has Sasuke been in here?" A predatory smirk lit the dark shinobi's features at that. Dear 'Sui' hadn't seen him return because he'd intentionally used the private entrance at the back of his suite. He'd half expected the nukenin to attempt to visit Sakura. And he had been right.

Sakura replied, "I'm not really sure, I was asleep until you knocked and-"

The white haired ninja interrupted worriedly, "Oh! If you're not feeling up to it, I can always come ba-"

"No! No, it's fine. Really. Come on in." Sakura's voice remained a strained whisper until she'd ushered Suigetsu into his quarters, where it raised a little in volume.

Their conversation was still passably soft as her companion shuffled his feet and began, "I don't want to be a bother, but...well Karin only knew basic medical care and the puncture wound I have is pretty tricky, so..."

A gasp and the pinkette rushed, "Oh! Of course! I'm so sorry I didn't offer earlier. Here, just take off your shirt and I'll have a look."

Sasuke decided he'd waited long enough. He turned calmly, flinging the sliding paper screen between he and the pair open with a jarring rattle. Two sets of eyes, one green and the other grey, locked onto him instantaneously. Suigetsu's widened as he stuttered frantically, "Sasuke! I-I well, I mean Pin-Sakura is the-the medical nin and-"

The Uchiha absorbed the scene before him. The Mist nukenin's shirt was pulled almost completely off, only one arm remained through its designated slot and its yellow fabric bunched thickly atop his shoulder on the other side. Sakura's small hands were glowing their distinct green where they were pressed on the lower part of Suigetsu's stomach, below his navel. Raising his eyes from where the two were in contact, he intoned, "What did I tell you, Suigetsu?"

He blinked several times and backed quickly away from the pinkette as he shrugged his shirt back into place. "You said not to approach Sakura. But-"

Striding unhurriedly toward the swordsman, Sasuke asked, "And what are you doing now?"

"I just wanted her help! It's not like-" Suigetsu's explanations ended in a strangled gurgle as his superior moved with inhuman speed to catch him around the neck. As his feet were lifted from the hardwood, grey eyes rolled to stare pleadingly into red ones. Unmercifully, the Uchiha informed him, "I let you live." He flexed his grip and concluded, "I am beginning to think that I chose unwisely."

Sakura panicked as Suigetsu's face began to darken from a breathless red to a deeper purple. When she heard Sasuke's harsh reprimand, she rushed forward to her Genin teammate's side and broke in, "He won't do it again! Please! I told him to come! I-"

Sharingnan eyes didn't waver from their prey as he told her, "Do not lie."

The kunoichi flushed with embarrassment and nervousness. "I'm NOT! I told him to find me if he ever had any medical problems! His stomach wound needed attention! That's not a social call, Sasuke!" Grasping his thick wrist, she stepped as far between the two shinobi as she could. "Please? He won't-" She didn't have time to finish her plea as she was shoved behind Sasuke's broad back and Suigetsu collapsed, gasping to the floor. Green eyes peered around her roommate to the gasping man. She could hear his voice echo from deep in his chest as he said, "Leave. Don't come again."

A mere moment later, Sakura was left standing shell-shocked in the center of the room. Sasuke stalked cagily back to the door he'd entered from, still subtly agitated. The lines of his shoulders told her that. Deciding to try her luck, Sakura ventured, "I'll just get back to my suite then and let you-" She didn't get the chance to finish her hopeful statement as she was physically lifted and dropped onto the soft mattress she'd slept on only moments before. Bouncing slightly on impact, green eyes stared up incredulously at the Uchiha as he simply replied, "No."

Sakura gaped, unable to form words for a moment. At last, once Sasuke had turned once more toward the bath chamber, she gasped, "No? What do you mean no?"

The shinobi didn't turn, he simply grunted and muttered, "I won't repeat myself." He didn't allow for further argument as he disappeared through the door to her right.

The kunoichi sat haphazardly as she'd been dropped on the bed and crossed her arms tightly. Flopping back fluidly onto the pillows, Sakura stared moodily at the ceiling. What was his problem? Seriously. He had spent the vast majority of their childhood pretending that she didn't exist and now, years later, he thought he was the divine authority of her life? He had no place to dictate what she could and couldn't do. Even as rebellion and dissent rose in her heart and mind, Sakura didn't allow her hopes to rise. She knew what gave him rights. His sheer power.

Sasuke Uchiha had always been exceptional. Hell, it'd been one of the original things that had attracted her to him. He had a distinct presence when he walked into a room. Now that 'presence' had tangibly manifested into a hellish chakra aura. Green eyes darkened at the memory of his angry, roiling energy. It was like a physical representation of his killing intent. She could feel it resonating from him when he'd attacked Suigetsu both times. That night in the forest, however, was nearly incomparable to the more recent occurance.

The massive waves of feral blood lust and cool intent had been disorienting and nauseating in intensity. Standing next to an angry Sasuke was a lot like sitting in a canopy during a lightening storm. It was breathtaking to be so near such raw strength but still undeniably dangerous and foolhardy. The pinkette could remember the residual static charge in the very air around the Uchiha that night. The air was thin and dry as it virtually vibrated with latent electricity. This man, no longer a boy, was a force to be reckoned with.

Distantly, she remembered Yamato's comment when they'd seen Sasuke at the destroyed Sound base years ago. He was dangerous then. Now he was downright deadly. Her thoughts proceeded, mostly circling the same subject: Sasuke, for another ten or fifteen minutes. She absently noted the sound of the shower starting up, the soft sound of falling water filtering to her ears as a low hum. After some time, she began to shift restlessly. She needed to use the restroom. Badly. Growling peevishly to herself, Sakura worked up her nerve.

She was going to her suite. End of story. There was no way she was going to use the bathroom while Sasuke was showering in the same room. Absolutely, positively NOT. Breathing deeply, she rolled onto her feet. As her feet touched down on the smooth wood floor, she concentrated on keeping her footsteps as light as physically possible. If she could just make it down to her room, use the restroom and gather some clothes before Sasuke noticed her absence, she'd be home free.

Her inner ego cackled and jeered at that pipe dream. Ignoring the nagging voice, Sakura muttered mentally to herself. 'Light as a feather. Light as a feather. Light as a-YES!' A prideful smile lifted her lips as she slipped at last into the hallway. She made it a grand total of two steps toward her suite. In fact, her fingers were still touching the lacquered wood of the screen behind her, sliding it carefully closed when it was ripped nearly from its track.

A solid chest pinned her bodily to the wall behind her, dampening the thin fabric of her sleeveless shirt. Warm skin, still beaded with hot water, pressed against her arms. Jerking her hands up to push back against the force, Sakura inhaled sharply at the droplets that slid from her assailant's skin into the valleys between her fingers. As the water dripped up, over her knuckles and down the backs of her hands, she turned green eyes up to face the man who'd caught her.

Dark, dripping spikes of black hair stuck to her blushing cheeks as she lifted her head. Even deeper eyes stared back at her. Though the entrancing, swirling tomoes of the Sharingnan were not engaged...Sakura was hypnotized.

Sasuke's generally pale face was flushed with color from the heat of his shower and his shorter, jagged bangs hung in staccato formations over either cheekbones. The longer strands of his hairstyle were the ones trailing the thin skin beneath her captivated eyes. At this distance, Sakura could see a thin, black line that surrounded his almond shaped orbs. Almost like those that surrounded Gaara of the Sand's aquamarine ones. They gave him a tired, haggard appearance. But as she traced the bruise-like outline, the pinkette reconsidered her first opinion. The longer she examined them, the more the lines seemed to emphasize the oval, aristocratic form of his feline eyes. Her inner ego boasted that only Sasuke-kun could make exhaustion and insomnia look good.

Those predatory, hypnotic eyes were burning angrily into hers. The shinobi was silent as the girl studied his face, her lips slightly gapped as she breathed choppily. He felt a masculine sort of pride as he felt her chest rise and fall rapidly against his own. Placing a heavy palm on the slight dip of her clavicle, his thumb rested lightly against the hallow of her throat as his fingers skimmed the upper rise of her shoulder blade. Her racing heartbeat thrummed erratically under the heel of his hand. He could feel the short bursts of air over his lips as he dropped his wet forehead against hers and muttered, "Sakura."

Sakura's breathing hitched as his bare chest rumbled against her soaked front. Swallowing thickly, she found herself incapable of speech and instead hummed questioningly, her voice trilling sharply with her nerves. A smirk danced a faint curve on his thin lips and he waited a moment more. When she failed to verbally respond after another moment, the Uchiha dragged the sculpted tip of his nose down her short, pert bridge and gazed directly in her eyes. The kunoichi watched in exquisite detail as deep red pigment flooded into his iris and the pinwheel shapes of his Clan's secret technique formed. The commas spun lazily as he spoke, the abnormally warm flesh of his mouth just shy of touching hers as he murmured, "What are you doing?" Each word was punctuated by a short, antagonizing pause as he exhaled hotly onto her lips.

The pinkette couldn't find the strength of focus to string the words she wanted to use together. Her muddled mind fluttered with fragments of responses, but left her undeniably tongue-tied. Blinking rapidly and finally grasping a coherent thought, the green eyed kunoichi breathed, "I was...going to my suite?" Her light voice trailed upwards in octave as she finished, portraying the statement as a question. As if she were seeking his approval.

His low, grunted response made her oversensatized lips tingle. The short 'hn' was sure intended to be the opening to a point he was about to make when something interesting inturrupted him. Sakura reflexively wet her dry, cracking mouth. As her tongue darted out to dampen her lips, she froze. Her ingrained habit hadn't taken the shinobi standing so close to her into account when it had acted. Her upper surface had been attended without incident, however, when she'd pulled the muscle downward to catch her larger, lower lip, she'd contacted a mouth that was not her own. She had just...

Pearly teeth dug harshly into her own lip as the green eyed female realized what had just taken place. She realized with increasing distress that the calm, even breathing that had been fanning her face had arrested completely. Sakura had just mustered the courage to look into Sasuke's face, she felt a jolt in her abdomen. Before she could even completely raise her head, she'd been pulled with epic speed back into the chamber she'd only just escaped.

Niether saw the red haired figure standing frozen at the end of the hall.

A carrier hawk screamed in the quiet of early morning. Pale, blonde hair streaked sleekly through the boughs of an enormous tree as the slender form of a kunoichi alighted at one of its highest branches. Baby blue eyes narrowed, studying the bird of prey. Pressing a hand against the device in her ear, Ino Yamanaka said briefly, "Looks like a message from Konoha, Captain Kakashi. Proceed?"

The elite ninja's lazy voice crackled back, "Yeah. Sure. Let me know what it says."

Her blonde head nodded as she gave a short affirmative before standing, extending an arm from the leafy cover of her perch. As the hawk alighted, Ino slipped the scroll from its thin leg and watched silently as the bird took again to wing. Skimming her pretty eyes over the dark scrawl on the surface of the missive, she engaged her radio once more. "Captain? It looks like it's sealed for the mission's leader. Should I bring it back to camp or wait outside just in case?"

A breezy, "Nah," was her answer. Feeling generous, The Copy Ninja added, "Bring it on in. We're not on that high of rank mission, Ino-chan."

The blonde narrowed her eyes at the older man's humor. She'd been doing overtime duty with observing protocol after her little outburst in the civilian town. She jabbed a finger into the device in her ear and hissed, "Yes, Captain. Returning now."

A moment later, she was on the forest floor and pumping chakra into her legs as she jogged back to the small settlement she and her teammates had set up the night before. Hebi's team had gone cold. A frustrated frown marred her features as Ino reached the camp, tossing the sealed note toward Kakashi's lazing form. The man didn't even raise his regard from his little orange book as he plucked the flying scroll from the air one-handed.

He paused, presumably finishing his line before forming a one handed seal and pressing his pointer finger into the intricately inked circle on the message. There was a brief puff of smoke as the chain-like lines that had once wound tightly around the scroll's exterior receded and the parchment unfurled. Kakashi lifted the long train of paper to his face and read it leisurely at first, but with each line, his dark irises hardened. As he finished the letter, he crumpled the parchment and destroyed it with a simple fire jutsu.

Standing abruptly, the Captain approached Shikamaru's reclined position and told him shortly, "I'm needed in Konoha for ANBU business. That is all I can say. You're Captain until I return. Don't engage Hebi. Trail if you catch up to them and I'll find you as soon as possible. Be carefull and don't make stupid decisions." That said, the oldest shinobi of the group disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

Ino strode over to her teammate and newly named Captain, standing over him where he was sprawled in the grass. "What was that about?"

The shadow wielder frowned at the clouds floating by in the light blue morning sky and sighed, "I'm not completely sure." He trailed his dark eyes over to his blonde companion's concerned face and crossed arms before saying, "But I'm almost positive it has to do with either Sakura or Sasuke."

Ino's delicate features tightened in distress. Toeing the bright grass at her feet in nervousness, she uttered, "Or both."

Nodding and exhaling tiredly, Shikamaru allowed, "Or both." His spikey ponytail flared out beneath his head as he let it fall back to the earth below, his mahogany eyes breaking away from his kunoichi companion's gaze. He had to explain to Sai, who was refilling canteens, and Naruto, who was still dozing after his late watch, that Kakashi had departed. Scrubbing a hand over suddenly tired eyes, the genius nearly groaned. The blond's reaction was going to be noteworthy, that was for sure.

As the Nara clansman watched puffy, dawn stained clouds drift by overhead, he wondered what his team would do if they caught up to Hebi. Would they do as Kakashi had advised? Or would emotion get the better of the shinobi and kunoichi? Dark eyes traced the outline of a nimbus as he pondered the rhetorical thought, deciding that only time would tell.

Wow, sorry this one's a little late guys. / I had some school work that crept up on me, but here you have it. The next chappie! :3

I know I said I'd post Fealty's next installment first, but the muse just couldn't get going while 'Alvin and the Chipmunks' is playing in the background. XD Adorable, squeaky voices do not equal the angst required for that particular fic, lol. If you'd like a sneak peek to tide you over, though, check out my LJ page. It's under the 'Homepage' option on my Bio.

As always, thanks for reading and please review!