Chapter 9

Team Hawk


Sakura swallowed as they continued up their path. Sojobo, the infamous daitengu. A demon that, above all else, disliked those who came into his territory uninvited.

She knew that sooner of later she would need to face a powerful demon such as him. But that did not stop the trembling in her body or the way her stomach dropped and heart clenched at the thought of fighting off such a strong monster.

She clutched Shoki's hilt, but he was, as he had been since her fight with Itachi, silent. It frightened her more than anything…to know that even her sword had forsaken her.


It was three days later that they finally met the infamous Sojobo. Three days of traveling uphill on Naruto's back. She wondered how uncomfortable it was for Naruto to remain in this beast form, but she had been unable to get an answer out of him when she'd asked. Just a small grunt and then he'd licked her cheek.

Her entire body ached, and any time she moved or bended a lancing pain shot down her spine. The worst times were when they stopped to camp for the night or to take a break and she had to get off of Naruto. She wouldn't allow anyone to carry her down, because she already felt like a burden enough without that.

She'd spent the last three days berating herself for her weakness. When she closed her eyes she played the moment over and over again in her head. She saw every mistake she made, how slow and unprepared she was. How was she going to be a hogosha that others could depend on if she couldn't save one village? Itachi's blows had made her realize how inexperienced she was.

When she slept, she dreamt of the moment. Sometimes Itachi stabbed her, sometimes she was torn apart by the demons in the village. Each time she awoke in a cold sweat, body aching, telling her that no, she wasn't dead, she was merely a failure who had gotten away by a stroke of luck.

No one spoke of her and Naruto's attempt to save the village. Kakashi remained silent as ever, and she was ashamed of the disappointment she felt from him. On the second day, Yamato had come up to her and ruffled her hair, and told her that the only way to learn was through making mistakes.

Sai was also quiet, but he didn't seem to be angry with them. He continued his usual insults and fake smiles, and it comforted Sakura in a way. It was a normalcy that she enjoyed. And she felt, strangely, that she and Sai were getting closer. With Naruto unable to talk in his fox form (or if he could talk, he chose not to) Sakura found that Sai was the only person she could have a conversation with.

Her body was healing, and she found it easier to sit up with each passing day. However, she knew that it would be at least another week before she could resume her training. She clutched Shoki tighter to her chest, and closed her eyes as she realized that it was still silent. No comforting tingle shot up her fingertips. He would remain silent forever, it seemed. Had he finally realized that she was not his rightful owner?

Maybe it was impossible for a woman to be a hogosha.

"You shouldn't think so hard, old hag, your face scrunches up and you look even uglier than usual."

"Eh?" Sakura blinked, looking to her left to meet Sai's cheerful smile. She frowned then, rolling her eyes. "Shut up." It ended in a mutter, as she buried her face in Naruto's fir.

"You are acting awfully cranky this morning."

"Don't you have to go and guard our rear or something?" She finally snapped out, not in the mood for the usual banter between them. She was hungry, tired, and sore. She just wanted to hurry up the mountain and continue on their way to the Doshaburi Shrine. The sooner she went there, the sooner she would be able to train.

Training would make her stronger. She wouldn't be a burden any longer. That was the only thought in her head at the moment, the only one she would allow. She needed to become strong, she needed to feel that familiar hum beneath her fingertips that told her she was the hogosha, that she was a guardian and a warrior.

She needed it…because during her time with Kakashi and the others…she had finally found a place where she felt like she belonged.

She would never be fit for any other life than that of a swordsman.

And that was her last thought before she went flying off of Naruto's back.

A blast of wind struck her, even as Naruto let out a howl. She fell to the ground, pain lancing through her body as she landed. For a moment she couldn't breathe. All she could think about were her broken ribs and the sickening feeling that one of them was poking through her skin. She let out a small cough—a gurgled sound as her vision swam, threatening to plunge her into darkness.

She felt more than saw Naruto transform back into his human form but as he called out her name and began running towards her—the others were coming as well, weapons drawn—a shadow loomed above her.

She blinked again and her blurred vision cleared—and she could only stare up in horror at the being standing above her.

He was terrifying, if Sakura had to describe him as anything. The power that emanated from him was…indescribable. His hair was white, as the legends said, glowing like silk in the sunlight, dancing in the harsh mountain wind. Red tattoos ran down his face, and his eyes glittered with power and anger and cruelty and—

"You have GOT to be kidding me!" Naruto yelled out. "The pervy sage is Sojobo!?!?!"

The man—who had been looming ominously over Sakura, turned to the kitsune with narrowed eyes. "Naruto…YOU IDIOT! You completely ruined the entire scene!"

"Scene? You were totally going for Sakura-chan! There's no way I'm letting a lecher like you touch her!" Naruto yelled back, crossing his arms over his chest. "…dirty old man…"

"Annoying brat."

"Prune."

"Half-demon punk."

"Idiot sage."

"Fucking—"

"Enough." Kakashi cut in, stepping between the two feuding men. "Jiraiya-san…what, praytel, are you doing on the top of this mountain?"

"You KNOW him?" Sakura and Naruto both yelled out in exasperation.

"Jiraiya-san is a respected head monk from my old shrine…and a known demon hunter." Kakashi explained, "And…he's also the artist of my favorite shunga prints!"

Sakura stared for a moment in silence. She blinked. Once. Twice. Then she did the only thing she could do.

She fainted.

"AH! Sakura-chan!" Naruto hurried over to her.

"She must have been overwhelmed by my majestic beauty." Jiraiya struck a pose.

"If she was overwhelmed by anything it was your smell!" Naruto snapped back. "How many years was it since you've BATHED old man!?"

"Don't talk to your teacher like that, boy!"

"Prune!"

"Half-demon punk!"

"Idiot sage!"

"Fucking—"

Yamato and Sai exchanged a look, before shaking their heads. This…was going to be a long day.


"So what you're saying is…there was never a real daitengu up on this mountain at all?" Sakura finally asked. It was hours later, and the group—plus one perverted sage—were sitting around a raging fire. Sakura wrapped her cloak tighter around her body as the man's lecherous eyes followed her every movement.

Jiraiya continued his earlier explanation. "This mountain…has been the birthplace of several important and powerful warrior hermits."

Naruto snickered.

Jiraiya sent him a glare and then continued, "When 'Sojobo' feels like he is ready to die he finds himself an apprentice and teaches him all of his secrets, to become the next Sojobo and the next guardian of the mountain."

"I see…but there was a real Sojobo at one point in time, wasn't there?" Yamato asked.

Jiraiya nodded. "Of course! That was how the myth began! (1) When the true Sojobo lived on this mountain, he was confronted by the great warrior Minamoto no Yoshitsune, who everyone knew in those days as Ushiwaka-maru or Shanao. He taught him the arts of swordsmanship and magic. One day, after Minamoto had become the great man that we all know of, he went back to this very mountain—to this very spot." Jiraiya motioned around the weathered rocky temple they were seated in. "And he found Sojobo, dying from a wound. A great demon had come and attacked him. So Minamoto took over the job as the next Sojobo, to carry out the title of his first master."

"I see…" Kakashi murmured.

Sakura raised an eyebrow. "I hadn't heard that ending to the story before…"

"That's because it probably isn't true." Naruto muttered, before Jiraiya reached out and smacked him on the back of the head. "OW!"

"Ungrateful brat." Jiraiya grumbled, taking a bite of his rice ball.

Sakura merely ignored them. "This means that our journey to Doshaburi shrine will now go unhindered. We should probably head out tomorrow morning, right?"

Kakashi and Yamato nodded, and Kakashi answered. "Yes, the sooner we get there to continue your training, the better."

"Training?" Jiraiya perked up at that, before he turned to look at Sakura once more. "I see, I see…you're…Haruno's child aren't you? Ha, the next great Haruno hogosha is a woman." And he grinned. "It's about time. But if you want training…I'm as good as any."

"Listen pervy sage, you're a good teacher and all when you're not peeping into onsens and drawing your smut, but she needs to learn hogosha techniques and well…your specialty is demons." Naruto put in. "That's how you helped me."

"I was a monk a long time ago, you know." He countered.

"Oh really?" Naruto snickered. "I just can't see you as someone taking a vow of celibacy, pervy sage."

Jiraiya coughed. "Well it didn't last very long…"

"You made a rather great impression at the shrine, if I remember correctly…" Kakashi mused.

Jiraiya gave a sheepish grin.

Suddenly, Sakura sat a little straighter as the pieces of the puzzle suddenly fell into place. Jiraiya, a sage…she blinked, once twice, and this time she didn't faint. Instead, she pointed a finger at Jiraiya accusingly. "You're THE Jiraiya?"

"Huh?"

"The shape shifting ninja!?"

Jiraiya grinned. "So you've heard of me, hm?"

Sakura shook her head, still dazed. "But…but…" And then she blinked again. "That means that the Tsunade we've been looking for is she…is she the Tsunade-hime?"

"So you've heard of my wife (2), eh?" Jiraiya's grin grew.

"You're married old man?" Naruto yelled back in shock. "Who would want to marry an ugly old fart like you, huh?"

"Hold your tongue, boy!" Jiraiya grumbled. "I'll have you know that my wife and I are very much in love."

"Where is she?" Sakura leaned forward in excitement, ignoring the twinge of pain the movement caused. "She is the only heir of the Senju clan, their hogosha! Please, I need to know where she is!"

Jiraiya's face became solemn and serious, something she didn't expect. "My wife…has been gone for many years."

"She just disappeared?" Naruto asked in confusion.

"My wife has dealt with much loss in her life…and with the curse of the Senju clan…she thought it was best to leave and finish her life in seclusion."

"The senju clan will lose all those close to them…" Sakura murmured. "I see…that was rather selfless of her, she didn't want anyone else to die."

Jiraiya snickered. "Oh don't think she's selfless. She's the most selfish person I know." His tone was a bit bitter now, and wistful. "She doesn't want to be hurt any longer so she causes others pain in her stead. That's pretty selfish don't you think?"

Sakura was quiet for a moment. "Jiraiya-sama…if Akumu were to be killed…do you think the curse of the hogosha would disappear?"

Jiraiya blinked in surprise, whether it was from her question or her calling him 'Jiraiya-sama' was unknown. "I suppose…why do you ask?"

"It's just that…if she were to help me kill Akumu…she would finally be able to be with you again."

Jiraiya snorted. "Don't worry about it, kid. You'll never find her. I may be able to shapeshift, but she holds one of the famous three artifacts(3). You won't find her if she doesn't want to be found."

"Three artifacts?" Sai finally cut in. He had been silent the entire time, and Jiraiya's eyes narrowed in suspicion before he spoke again. "Yes, they belong to Sojobo. When Tsunade parted from me I…gave her one as remembrance. I still hold one, but the other…"

"What was it?"

"I gave it to my former apprentice." Jiraiya's voice was even colder now. "I gave the sword of Kusanagi to my traitorous apprentice Orochimaru."

"The master of snake magic…" Sakura whispered.

"Eh?" Naruto blinked. "He doesn't sound that strong. Kind of like a pansy, if he used to be your apprentice, pervy sage. You're stronger than him, aren't you?"

"Naruto, haven't you ever heard the tale of Jiraiya and Orochimaru?" Sakura asked.

Naruto shook his head in confusion. "I didn't know the pervy sage was so great…"

"Orochimaru was his apprentice, but he specialized in snake magic, rather than toad magic. He was forever searching for eternal youth and immortality. And so he traded his soul to a demon to become a demon himself. But in order to become a demon…a contract had to be made."

"A contract?"

Kakashi continued where Sakura left off. "He had to also offer up several souls in exchange. He did this…by killing off Tsunade's younger brother and her first lover, a man named Dan."

"That's low!" Naruto hissed.

"I see." Sakura whispered. She pulled her cloak around herself and winced as a twinge of pain shot up her body. "Jiraiya-san…I would really like your aid." She gazed up at him earnestly. "So please Jiraiya-san…help us!"

There was a moment of silence, as everyone turned to Jiraiya. His face was uncharacteristically stoic. Sakura's stomach dropped, because she knew that look. He was about to decline. There was too much pain in his eyes for him to consider aiding them.

And then Jiraiya broke into a cheerful smile.

"Did you hear that?" Jiraiya grinned cheekily. "It seems that the amazing toad sage is needed again! And by a lovely lady no less."

Sakura rolled her eyes, even as Naruto leapt over the fire at him, hands going for his throat. "Don't leer at Sakura-chan like that you perverted old man! Argh!"

Kakashi sighed, and Yamato shook his head sadly. Sakura and Sai shared a blank look before Sakura put her hand to her mouth to cover her laughter, shoulders shaking as small giggles erupted from her lips. Finally she threw her head back, holding her stomach.

"Ah! Ugh this…h-hurts! B-but I can't stop l-laughing!"

Naruto and Jiraiya broke into proud grins, and Yamato gave a small chuckle. Kakashi centered his gaze on Sakura's face, seeing a smile there where one had been absent for days. For once she was acting like a girl again, and it was nice.

Sai noticed Kakashi's thoughtful gaze, but his eyes remained on Sakura. Something stirred in his chest and it was uncomfortable. What…was this feeling?

It felt like butterflies were flying around in his stomach. This was a dangerous feeling, he surmised. That night, yes…he would rectify this later.

This feeling could not be allowed to continue, not if it was a threat to his mission.


"I'm hungry." Hanabi grumbled as she sat down on the mat, pouting. The hotel room was small, but comfortable. Still, she was cold and hungry, and she felt really dirty too. Maybe she could ask Sasuke-san if they had a bathhouse she could use?

"Hn." Sasuke slid the door to the small closet open, placing his traveling pack inside. He stood slowly, tiredly, as if his entire body ached. Hanabi watched curiously. She supposed he was pretty tired, since he'd carried her the entire way there on his back.

Her frown became a guilty one as she looked down at the frayed hem of her kimono. She hadn't been of much help at all in their journey. All she'd done was complain. She tugged a lock of her brown hair and looked back up at the Uchiha boy who had walked to the door just as a soft knock sounded.

A maid bowed at the entrance, holding onto a tray. "You wished for some food, sir?"

"Hn." Sasuke nodded, taking the tray from the girl, who looked up at him with a bright red blush. She fumbled with the door as she slid it shut.

"Oi! Food!" Hanabi chirped, jumping up and rushing towards the tall man holding the steaming tray.

Sasuke looked down at her with slight annoyance before placing the tray on the small table that they had pushed against the wall. He then headed for the door once more, as Hanabi snapped her chopsticks apart and loomed over the assorted rice, beef strips, and pickled radishes.

"Where are you going?"

"Out." He muttered as a way of explanation, and ignored her pout. He didn't explain himself to anyone, so she should have been grateful for that much. He walked into the hallway, seemingly oblivious to her loud, whining complaints as she called after him, but didn't follow.

He wanted to roll his eyes at her foolishness but stopped himself from doing so. That would be childish, and he wouldn't allow himself to stoop to her level. Instead, he slid the door closed and continued down the hallway on his own, his sword securely at his waist.

He didn't have far to go to get to the front of the inn—it was a small one, fitting for such a small, out-of-the-way town. The innkeeper was sitting behind his desk, hand moving deftly over a page as he continued his calculations. A soroban (4) sat to his right, and fingers moved the beads almost too quick to see. He stopped only to push his glasses up his wizened, wrinkled face. He didn't seem to notice Sasuke at all.

Sasuke frowned, before clearing his throat slightly.

The old man blinked, looking up at him fully now. His eyes went from his face to the sword at his hip and back again. "Yes?"

"I will be leaving this establishment tonight, do not expect me back."

The man blinked owlishly from behind his glasses—the lenses made his squinted eyes seem much larger than they actually were. "I see." His voice was filled with confusion. Why would Sasuke buy a room for the night and then leave without sleeping in it?

"The young girl that I brought with me, she will be staying." Sasuke continued to explain, noticing the man's confusion. Hadn't he noticed that Sasuke hadn't brought the young girl with him?

The innkeeper still didn't seem to get what Sasuke was implying. Sasuke gritted his teeth in annoyance and continued. "Keep her here as long as she needs to stay. Someone will be coming by to pick her up."

"Mmm." The man hummed, pursing his lips. "I suppose my wife can look after her."

Sasuke placed an oban(5) down upon the table, and at the sound of the gold coin hitting the wood, the innkeeper stilled. He looked down at the coin in surprise. For a moment all he could see was the gold coin, before he gave a grunt, cupped it, and then went back to his calculations.

"See that she is taken care of." And then Sasuke was gone, walking out of the inn and down the street.

He didn't have to go far to reach his next destination. The open-air stall was quiet, and the man leaning against the counter was a grisly fellow with a curved nose and suspicious eyes. At the sight of Sasuke, however, he grinned, showing off several missing teeth. "What can I do for you, sir?"

"I have two messages that I need to have delivered." Sasuke murmured softly, pulling out two scrolls. "This one is to be sent to Konoha to the Hyuuga compound. The other is to be sent to Otogakure to the Seven God's Inn."

The man took the thin scrolls and nodded, looking back over his shoulder at the cages that lined the back wall. "How soon do they need to be sent?"

"Immediately, and with your fastest birds." He handed the man his money before pulling the hood of his cloak up and heading back into the nearly deserted street. There was much he needed to get done before he arrived in Tea Country.

He wasn't worried about Hanabi. Once Lord Hyuuga had the message and her location he would come and get his daughter. Sasuke hadn't needed to be a genius—but he was of course—to figure out that Hanabi was the Hyuuga Lord's youngest daughter. He had been the son of a Clan Lord himself, after all. So she was taken care of, and she would be safe. Not that he cared, of course. He hated little children, especially spoiled ones.

Still, he needed to get to Tea Country quickly. The messenger hawk would take a day or so to reach Otogakure. There, his companions would read it and head to the designated town in Tea Country. They were closer than he was, and would reach it in two days.

He had four days worth of travel before he got there, and that was an annoyance he wished to quickly remedy. The sooner he began his journey again the better. The fact that he had to make this detour and regroup with his old companions was an irritant all in itself. He was not fond of them—he wasn't fond of anyone, truly—and they were the type of people he had tried to forget as soon as he left.

They probably still weren't too happy with how he had snuck away in the dead of night several years earlier.

But that was a small matter. They hadn't been needed anymore, not after he'd gotten a new lead on Itachi without their aid. But now, with Akumu stirring and demons running through the world again…he would need them, even if only to deal with the others while he took his brother down.

He hadn't wanted them with him, but he would live with them if it meant having good trackers to find Itachi.

And Team Hawk were the best trackers he knew.


Hanabi woke in the middle of the night, snuggled up in the large blanket the maid had left for her. She blinked sleepily, her head resting on the little table, not sure why she was sleeping there and not on the tatami mat that was spread out comfortably in the middle of the room.

Her brow furrowed, before she remembered that she'd been waiting up for Sasuke's return. Her eyes widened in concern as she scanned the room and noticed he was nowhere in sight. From the looks of the half-eaten food on the plate—her doing—he hadn't come back, either.

She ran to the closet, tripping over the blanket she was cocooned in and falling to the floor with a loud thump. She whimpered, because she'd hit her nose and it was sore now. It would probably bruise. She rubbed it with a sniffle before making it the last few steps to the closet and sliding the door open.

His traveling pack lay where he had left it. Releif flooded through her, before she noticed that there was something different about the pack. She reached towards it hestitantly—and picked it up. She dropped it as soon as she'd done so, as if burnt.

Tears filled her eyes and she sniffled again—it hurt her nose when she did that—and she reached out, grabbing the pack and bringing it to her chest.

It was empty.

He had left her.


Sakura gave a small yawn as she blinked sleepily. The cool night air was refreshing as she sat on the old stone steps of the deserted temple, looking out at the forest that surrounded them. She wrapped her cloak a bit tighter around her body to keep off the chill, and let out a slow breath. The air condensed, mist issuing from her lips. She smiled softly as she watched it drift into the darkness.

Behind her she heard Naruto mumble something in his sleep as he turned over. Jiraiya was snoring loudly, body strewn out against their traveling packs haphazardly.

Yamato was lying further inside of the temple, head resting on his own traveling pack, an arm flung over his face. His chest rose and fell rhythmically, and Sai had watched him enough to know that he was truly sleeping and not faking it.

Kakashi was leaning against the wall, head bowed, hair shielding his face from view. His staff was propped against one shoulder and from this vantage point, Sai couldn't tell if he was asleep or not.

Instead, Sai shifted from where he sat beside Sakura, looking out into the darkness. The fire had long since died, mere glowing embers. He examined his blade in the hard moonlight. He'd found that imperfections on steel seemed to show better with moonlight, and so he always took these opportunities to check his blade.

"Do you think that if I get to the Doshaburi shrine and train…that I'll be able to beat Akumu?"

"Even if you were a hundred years old you would not have enough experience to fight him."

Sakura blinked, before giving a small smile. "I see." It was a typical Sai answer, degrading as usual. But for some reason, it made her more at ease.

"But I suppose if you were one hundred you would be one hundred times uglier than you are now, hag. Maybe he would look at you and his heart would stop."

"Baka!" Sakura scolded, reaching out to smack him on the head. She stopped, however, noticing him tense subtly. She put her hand back in her lap. She supposed Sai had never been one to deal with other siblings and friends, and so he had taken her action as a threat. She wouldn't be surprised if she'd gone through with hitting him, if he'd pinned her hand to the ground with his blade that he was so carefully inspecting.

"…Sai?"

No response, but he looked over to her and waited for her to speak.

"Do you think…do you think sometimes that I'm not really a hogosha at all? Like, maybe a female can't be and that one of my cousins is the real hogosha?"

"They are probably better swordsmen then you are." Sai concede with a nod of his head. "They wouldn't give us so much trouble with their female emotional tendencies and they'd follow orders much easier."

Sakura's shoulders drooped.

"But I suppose if it had been any other member of the Haruno family, they would have been killed by Akumu's minions by now."

Sakura's face lit up with a bright smile. "Thanks Sai. I needed that."

"If insults truly make you happy, I'll try harder next time."

"You're exasperating." Sakura rolled her eyes in annoyance, before she gave a small sigh. "Well, I think…I think I'll go to sleep. Can you keep watch alone?"

Sai blinked. Up till this point, none of the others hard trusted him enough to leave him alone. They'd never let him keep watch without another there as well. And any time they had to go somewhere he constantly felt as if he were being watched by them. In fact, he couldn't remember a time when he had been allowed awake with just Sakura or Naruto on watch. Kakashi or Yamato had always been with him, except for the one time that Sakura and Naruto had both stayed up for watch with him—and they'd seen how that worked out.

This was a symbol of trust, a truce between the two of them as she gave him another small smile and merely curled up into a ball at his side, her back facing him.

Sai could have told her that she wasn't allowed to slack, that they needed both of them to keep watch. Instead, he leaned back against the stone wall and sheathed his blade, leaning it against his lap.

It wasn't long before his eyes drifted to Sakura's sleeping form. She was curled into a ball, and with each inhalation he saw her shudder in pain. Her ribs were either bruised or broken—he would have been able to tell instantly if they'd have let him check her, but they didn't trust him enough not to stick a dagger in her if he was that close—and the pain, while less after so many days, was still enough to make any movement uncomfortable.

She was shivering slightly, from both pain chills and the high altitude air. Usually it wouldn't have bothered him. He hardly cared if someone was cold. They were weak if they couldn't stand this little bit of weather.

Besides, she was his target, and he knew, especially because of his worry for her, that she was a threat to Danzou-sama's goals.

A threat that needed to be eliminated.

He placed his blade down, shifting on the balls of his feet, crouching but not quite standing. If someone else were awake, they'd see his shadow against the wall if he stood. He half-shuffled the few feet between them, and knelt down next to her shivering form.

He barely made a sound. Then again, it was his job to be as silent as possible.

He reached forward hesitantly and froze just as quickly as Sakura let out a small sigh, turning over onto her back in her sleep. As she did so, he saw her face twist at the pain the movement caused. Then her entire visage relaxed and she exhaled slowly, eyelids fluttering in her sleep.

His hands reached out, fingers drifting towards her neck. Calloused fingers touched smooth skin, and he was amazed by the feeling. He couldn't understand the softness. He wasn't used to that feeling. He was used to the roughness of brothel women, the splintering texture of a dojo floor. The only smoothness he was used to was a tempered blade, and that was a deadly slickness.

This…this feeling was undefinable. His brow furrowed a bit in confusion and wonder. No, he remembered the feeling…there was something about it…

His brother's breath. The same warmth spread through him as he touched Sakura's skin as it had when he was a child and his brother kissed his forehead before he walked out the door for work.

His fingers stretched until they wound loosely around her neck. Her breathing didn't change, nor did the peaceful smile that lifted her lips.

She shivered again, and his fingers tightened ever-so-slightly, so that they brushed against that soft skin again.

Warmth spread from his fingertips.

He lifted his hands as if burnt, and his usually emotionless face twisted with annoyance. This needed to be done. She was a threat. His hands itched forward once more. A hesitation. And he finally gave a small sigh, his breath issuing from between tightly compressed lips, and tucked her cloak tighter around her body.

She stopped shivering.

He lowered himself completely to the ground, his thigh pressed against her back, and breathed in deeply. Then he reached for his blade and placed it in his lap.

There was no point in waking her up anyway. In a few hours he'd switch watch with Yamato and Naruto. He might as well let her sleep. She was wounded, so she needed more sleep than he did anyway.

And with that, he resumed guard, peering out into the chilly mountain forest that surrounded them.


(A\N: So? I'm sorry this chapter took so long to get out but…it's my Spring Break so I've finally had time to write. :D The school year is coming to an end, so that's always good news too, right? :D I hope you all enjoyed it.

Anyway, on to the chapter. Of course Sasuke knew that Hanabi was the Hiashi's child. And whether he wants to admit it or not, he wanted to make sure she was safe before he left her alone again. Awwww. And yes…Team Hebi-turned-Hawk will be entering the story soon! Mostly because I wanted Juugo and Suigetsu in it. Karin is well…I'm indifferent with her, but she's fun to write about. She ads spice. :P

Sasuke will not be meeting up with Sakura and the others for a while, I'm afraid. Let's see…the next chapter…Sakura arrives and Doshaburi Shrine, Sasuke and his team meet, Itachi will make another appearance, and a look into Akumu and his followers…:D

Excited yet?

Sincerely,

Lady Hanaka)

(1) Sojobo: Sōjōbō (僧正坊, Sōjōbō?) of Mount Kurama is the daitengu that who they will meet, going through his territory, etc.

Sōjōbō is perhaps best known for teaching the warrior Minamoto no Yoshitsune (then known by his childhood name Ushiwaka-maru or Shanao) the arts of swordsmanship, tactics, and magic in the 12th century. This relationship serves as the basis of many Japanese woodblock prints, including one by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

(2)Jiraiya (児雷也 - literally "young thunder"), the title character of the Japanese folktale Jiraiya Goketsu Monogatari (児雷也豪傑物語, "The tale of the gallant Jiraiya"), is a ninja who uses shapeshifting magic to morph into a gigantic toad. The heir of a powerful clan in Kyūshū of the same name, Jiraiya fell in love with Tsunade, a beautiful young princess who masters snail magic. His arch-enemy was his one-time follower, Orochimaru, who mastered snake magic.

(A\N: I decided that for my story, I would mix the folklore with the actual Naruto characters, so that is why Tsunade and Jiraiya are married and Orochimaru is Jiraiya's apprentice.)

Orochimaru (大蛇丸), featured in the Japanese folktale Jiraiya Goketsu Monogatari, is the arch-enemy of the ninja Jiraiya. He was once named Yashagorō (夜叉五郎) and was one of Jiraiya's followers, but he was overtaken by serpent magic. Having changed his name to "Orochimaru", he gained the ability to turn himself into a giant serpent. He attacked Jiraiya and his wife Tsunade and defeated them with his venom (only for another follower to save the couple's lives afterwards). The kanji (大蛇, usually pronounced daija) literally mean "giant snake" or "serpent".

(3)ancient three artifacts: A Japanese myth says that the first member of this Imperial family was the grandson of Amaterasu, the Sun-Goddess. Sent down from Heaven to establish order in Japan, he brought with him three precious gifts from the gods--a curved jewel, a sword, and a sacred mirror--the Emperor's regalia. (A\N: In the Naruto world, there had been hints of this with the jewel (the necklace that Tsunade gave Naruto) the sword (the weapon Sasuke carries, or kusanagi of Orochimaru) and the mirror (I'd forgotten that it was mentioned with Itachi's Susanoo attack in the manga, thanks for reminding me guys).

(4) Soroban: the Japanese form of an abacus.

(5) Oban: a golden coin used in the Edo period and earlier before it was replaced by the yen. was primarily minted to be used for rewards and gifts. This is made clear by the fact that its value of "Ju ryo" (ten ryo) and the mint master's name and his signature "Goto" on the obverse were all written with Indian ink, which easily faded away. They could be rewritten if a commission was paid.