Monochrome. Adj. having the images reproduced in tones of gray: monochrome television.

A black-and-white image, as in photography or on television


Monochrome


Only the dead have seen the end of the war.

--Plato


The dark cavern was silent, save the far off sound of dripping water that echoed in the expansive place. Six shadowed figures stood in a circle, only two of them being solid figures. The other were hazy images, looking, for all intents and purposes, like holograms.

Hoshigake Kisame, one of the only two present that were actually 'there', gave a grunt as he shifted his large sword on his back. He looked impatient, but said nothing, as Leader-sama's gaze fixed upon him in warning.

Kisame almost winced. He already knew that his two spies had failed to do their job during Konoha's last Chuunin Exam, and Leader-sama was less than pleased with the fact. The only one who seemed remotely unaffected by the fact that Uchiha Sasuke was still alive—and a threat to their capture of the Kyuubi—was Itachi. Kisame suspected this had something to do with Itachi wanting to kill Sasuke himself. He'd kept him alive after murdering his entire clan, after all. It seemed like the only logical reason.

"Cloud and Mist have begun to amass delegates for a treaty with Konohagakure." Konan finally spoke, breaking the silence.

"They couldn't even do their damn job." Kisame grunted.

"They were supposed to weaken Konoha's defenses enough that getting the Kyuubi would be easy." Zetsu's light side mused. "And they failed." His other half finished harshly.

"Tobi thinks maybe Leader-sama has a plan?" Tobi asked cautiously, and his gaze went to their piercing-laden leader. A message passed between them, unnoticed by the others save for Itachi, who's eyes narrowed at the sight.

Then, Pein spoke.

"Cloud and Mist did what we expected of them. While the Raikage and Mizukage were in Konoha we managed to capture the six-tails Jinchuuriki, and that was our ultimate goal."

"Without our usual number of members, the extraction process took too long." Konan continued softly. "Our chakra reserves cannot withstand it that much longer."

We will be unable to extract the other three tailed beasts without more members.

The statement hung above them, unsaid but understood.

"I have already come up with a plan." Pein announced, "But you need not know it yet. Now, Zetsu, report."

"For the past two months I have been watching Konoha, as you asked." Zetsu began.

"The damn Kyuubi and his team haven't left Fire Country since it was attacked. They're keeping him safe within Konoha's borders."

The others nodded, and Zetsu's lighter half continued.

"They've been going on several c-rank missions, though Uchiha Sasuke's Team snake has been kept mostly inside the village. Uchiha Sasuke has been traveling with his old Team."

"Lot's of missions, huh?" Kisame grinned, before turning to Itachi. "You're brother's planning on taking the Jonin Exams, isn't he?"

"Hn."

"We have one month to make the necessary preparations." Pein announced. "Dismissed."


"One more month!" Naruto whooped. "One more month till the Jonin Exams!"

Sakura merely leaned back against the wall, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. However, a small smile threatened to appear on her face. Naruto's attitude was contagious, as always. But she managed to keep her emotionless mask on without much trouble, reaching up and running a hand through her hair. It was starting to grow a little longer, and it was in that annoying stage where it couldn't be pulled up but looked bad when hanging loose. She would have to cut it again soon.

"Che. Dobe. You're so annoying."

"Eh?" Naruto whirled around, blue eyes blazing. "What was that teme!?"

Sasuke smirked at Naruto's flustered, defensive glare. Instead of answering him, he kept silent, knowing it would annoy the blonde more than a response would. So, he merely looked over at Sakura, from where she was leaning against a tree, talking with Sai. As he did so, he couldn't help but think about her sudden change in wardrobe, and how the look fit her.

She had begun wearing her Konoha vest permanently, in order to carry all of her scrolls and poison antidotes—and poisons themselves, mostly likely. Underneath her vest was a sleeveless, black, skin-tight turtleneck that ended just below her breasts. Not that he saw it often, of course—seriously, he didn't look when she sometimes unzipped her vest for training or anything... She had a black skirt, with mesh leggings beneath, and her trademark black boots and black interrogation unit gloves. A red bandana, much like Asuma's, hung around her hips. The white circle of the Haruno Clan shown out brightly against the deep red. She wore no Konoha headband, saying that it wasn't really needed, everyone knew she was the Hokage's apprentice. Not many people in the world have pink hair, after all. Pink hair that Sasuke truly found attractive in all its dishevelment. Actually, it gave her a I-just-rolled-out-of-bed-after-a-night-of-hot-sex look which was…quite appealing, in Sasuke's opinion.

He seemed to be having more of these thoughts concerning Sakura as of late. Maybe it was the fact that she was being passably kind to him, ever since their talk that morning two months ago. Not quite nice, but he didn't sense any open hostility. She was still wary of him, and stiffened anytime he came near her.

That was making his plan of making her his a bit difficult. How was she going to heal him after his fight with Itachi if she didn't even want to be near him?

"TEME!"

Sasuke almost sighed this time. Naruto had tried to hold in his annoyance and impatience as long as possible, but—this being Naruto—that hadn't been long at all. When his friend hadn't responded he'd begun to get frustrated, and had been waving his hands in front of Sasuke's face for a minute or so.

Speaking of Naruto…Sasuke let his eyes drift to the place that Naruto now stood, whining to Sakura about how Sasuke was 'being a stupid bastard' and 'could she maybe punch him into a few trees so he'd get the stick out of his ass again?'.

Naruto would always be Naruto it seemed…and his obsession with orange was still present, even with his new outfit. It was the traditional Konoha outfit, with the green vest and the black shirt underneath…and a pair of glaringly orange slacks. Sasuke almost winced, as Naruto began fiddling with his headband, grinning sheepishly as Sakura chastised him calmly for his insulting of Sasuke.

"Really, Naruto, if you're going to insult him, at least do it well."

Sasuke did sigh this time.

"So, dickless," Sai pushed himself off of the tree he had been leaning against and turned to the kyuubi container. "How many more missions do you think he needs until he's ready for the exam?"

Sasuke's eyes narrowed a bit, knowing that the 'he' mentioned was himself. Sai never addressed Sasuke directly, opting for ignoring him when they were in a group together, like now. Sai seemed to have an innate dislike for the Uchiha, and the sentiment was wholeheartedly reciprocated. Sai had been his replacement…but why the hell was he still there? Sasuke was back, so the boy really should just leave.

He was annoyinng, after all.

"Don't talk about Sasuke like he isn't there, Sai." Sakura drawled, her eyes closed, arms folded over her chest. She seemed to be meditating—or trying to—as Naruto and Sai bickered and Sasuke glared at the other dark-haired member of their team. "And he only needs one more mission to be eligible, as long as it's a-rank."

Sasuke and the rest of Team 7 had been on countless missions in Fire country since the Chuunin Exams. It was all to give Sasuke enough mission requirements for the Jonin Exams, of course, and since they wanted to take the one in a month, that had given Sasuke only three months to get as many missions under his belt as possible. He'd probably done more missions in a week than most Chuunin did in the span of five.

The council had forbidden Karin and Suigetsu from taking the Jonin exam for at least another year, since they were both ninja originally from another village, and not to be trusted. Of course…Sakura had made the offhand comment that she didn't see how them being from another village would make them any less likely to betray them than Sasuke—the comment was meant to help their cause, really—and that they were already Chuunin-thanks to the earlier mentioned council--so they could probably do some damage anyway. But the Elder council had said that Sasuke was allowed to take the exams so that the sooner he rose in Konoha's ranks and killed his brother, the sooner he could begin rebuilding the Uchiha Clan.

"Then we have to go talk to baa-chan NOW!" Naruto wailed. "We've worked so hard to get Sasuke ready for this thing! If he can't take it with us we can't take it at ALL. We go as a team!"

"We have a month." Sai answered with his usual fake smile. "We'll get a mission by then."

"We have to have our registration in three days before the exam at the very latest." Sakura murmured. "And a-rank missions usually take a long while, at least two weeks. We'll be cutting it close as it is." She, personally, wouldn't have minded that they wait until the next Exam in seven months. But it seemed that the others were anxious to move up in the ranks.

Really, their ranking was hardly important. They could, after all, kill most Jonin-level shinobi anyway.

Sakura opened one eye to look at Sasuke, only to see that he was watching her. She merely closed her eye again, giving a shrug and leaning back a bit more on the tree behind her. She knew why Sasuke was doing it. The sooner he became Jonin, the sooner he would be allowed off of his probation…and the sooner he would be able to hunt down and kill his brother. Amazingly his plans and the council's coincided perfectly.

Sakura inwardly scoffed…before opening her eyes and looking over at where Sasuke stood. They had all seemed to have gotten a change of outfits, but Sasuke's was the largest difference, in her opinion. He wore a pair of dark navy slacks, and his usual sandals. His top consisted of a vest-like shirt that hung open, showing off his chest—not that she looked or anything—half of which was wrapped in bandages. His wore the armbands that she remembered from their childhood days, and his hair hung in his face, the long bangs rustling with any movement at all. She was just thankful he'd gotten rid of that god-forsaken purple ass-bow that Orochimaru had been so obsessed with.

Sai's outfit was different as well, consisting of a jacket—with his trademark different length sleeves—a mesh undershirt, and black slacks. His scroll hung across his back casually, the hilt of his blade peeking out from behind it.

Team 7 had changed their look…because they had changed themselves. Sakura knew that somehow, they were becoming a team again. After countless missions with Sasuke…Sakura had begun to realize that he had changed since the Chuunin exams. It was hardly noticeable to anyone who couldn't read him, but she'd been capable of doing so for a long while now, so it came easily to her. But his change in attitude hardly helped the way she felt in his presence. She still resented him—it wasn't possible for her to forgive easily, after all—but now, mixed with that small anger…was a flutter in her stomach that she hadn't felt since her genin days. She berated herself for it…she wasn't a weak little fangirl anymore, dammit! But it never seemed to matter. She couldn't help but remember the time he had kissed her…or the time he had been drunk and she'd almost taken up his offer to sleep with him.

She sighed softly. Things were getting complicated, and she hated it.

"You're spacing out, Sakura-chan!" Naruto grinned down at her--he was quite a few inches taller, after all, "We have to hurry and talk with baa-chan about another missions and--"

That was when Kakashi appeared out of nowhere, his orange book in hand.

"You're late!" Naruto yelled, but Kakashi merely put his book in his pocket. "You have a mission."

"Eh?"

"Sasuke, Sakura, and Naruto." Kakashi nodded at them gravely. "Head to the Hokage's office immediately."


(A\N: so…there's the prologue! This was mostly to get you guys descriptions of what the characters look like now, etc…yes, I know I drew a picture of what their outfits on my DA account but I changed all of their outfits—at least a little, in Naruto's and Sai's cases—so the only one in that picture that is accurate is Sasuke's. Sakura's outfit is the new kickass one that has been her outfit in all of my latest drawings. Seriously…she looks kickass with a Konoha vest. Anyway…I hope you guys liked the prologue, and I hope you'll like the first chapter even more, lol.

Sincerely, Lady Hanaka)