Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or the characters contained therein, they belong to Masashi Kishimoto who is kind enough to let fans write fiction. I make no profit from this nor do I intend to.
A/N: I'm not dead! Just... busy. I posted this on the KakaSaku Archive a while ago. Originally I had no intention to post this here, but... since then I've changed my mind. Slowly over the next couple days I'll be posting all of my one-shots here. :) I'm starting with this one because it's one of my favorites and not in my usual style. :)
As for this one-shot, it was inspired by 'The Book of Lost Things' by John Connolly. I've always been fascinated by fairytales and their re-tellings, especially when they're told properly with the correct endings. That said, enjoy! :D
Annoyed, Sakura wandered a little further into the woods not too far from her house, looking for the perfect focus for her kunoichi class homework. Her new friend Ino had explained how important it was for all floral arrangements to have a perfect centerpiece and now she was looking for just the right one. Unfortunately no matter how many different kinds of wildflowers she found she was unable to find the perfect one.
Without realizing it she meandered deeper into the only partially familiar woods. Grumbling a little she moved from clump to clump of Queen Anne's lace to lilies of the valley to Johnny jump ups and any number of others she couldn't easily name – none of them seemed to have all the qualities she was looking for so the pink haired girl moved on further into the vegetation slowly leaving all things familiar behind her.
Finally, with a cry of triumph she stumbled upon the perfect flower in a sheltered glade strewn with several large rocks. Happily she plucked it her mind already working out which sorts of flowers would best complement and support it in the arrangement she would create. Sakura was thrilled to have at last discovered something she could work with and was more than ready to go home.
Glancing up to take stock of her surroundings for the first time the pink haired girl realized that she had inadvertently ambled beyond her familiar territory. Carefully she turned and took a couple steps back in the direction from which she thought she had come and paused, feeling greatly unsure of herself. With a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach she realized that she was lost.
Confidence waning she continued back to the edge of the glade directly behind her. Taking a couple deep and somewhat calming breaths she examined the undergrowth, trying in vain to remember which trees she had entered between. Unfortunately it seemed as though the forest was against her, there were several different sections of broken underbrush along the edge of the woods she was almost positive she had entered. The more she examined them the less certain she became that she had even come into the glade through any of the likely sections.
Unsure what else to do she sat down to think in the shade of a grouping of the large rocks. Somewhere at the very back of her mind she knew that she would be missed at dinner time, people would be sent to find her and that the best thing for her to do would be to sit tight and wait. But from what she could tell dinner was still a couple hours off and she was not particularly content to just sit and wait for someone to come and rescue her.
The longer she sat, trying to remember just how she had come to end up in the unfamiliar glade, the more uncomfortable she became. Unbidden, stories some of the older students at the academy had been telling about the woods surfaced in her mind. Several children had recently been missed in the forest, none of them had returned. There was talk of outlandish happenings involving a strange beast or man, depending on who was doing the telling, hiding in the woods making off with the unwary children who strayed from the paths.
After some thought about her situation, she came to the decision that sitting tight and waiting for rescue was just not going to work for her. Cautiously Sakura rose to her feet and took better stock of her surroundings. Thinking about it, the woods she had gotten herself lost in lay in a sort of easterly direction from the village – logic followed that if she were to set out in a westerly direction she should eventually come across something familiar. There were holes in her logic, but due to her mounting sense of discomfort at being alone in the woods for so long she chose to ignore them.
Just as the pink haired girl was about to set out – after carefully assessing her position in regard to the sun – a rustling in the underbrush caught her attention. Immediately she sunk back down to the ground against two of the large rocks. Slowly, in an effort to hide, she wedged herself in a crevice between them. Sakura begun to feel a real sense of fear for the first time since realizing that she was indeed lost.
A moment later the vegetation in the general area she thought she had entered the glade crackled and snapped as a large man carrying an axe emerged from the surrounding woods. She involuntarily shrank back a little further into her hiding place, frightened by the imposing man, inadvertently drawing his attention to her location.
"Well now, what do we have here?" he asked in a jovial voice, and though he was obviously curious he made no attempt to draw closer to her.
Uncertain what to do she stayed where she was, trying to pretend that he hadn't noticed her, but feeling marginally better for the fact that the man hadn't made a move toward her.
Undaunted the man held his ground and continued to speak to her. "You know, you shouldn't be out in the woods all by yourself. This forest can be a dangerous place. There are all kinds of bad things that can happen to little girls who are alone." He paused and eyed her again, waiting for some sort of response.
Sakura stayed where she was, unsure what to make of the apparently friendly man with his axe shining in the afternoon sunlight lecturing her on the safety of the woods. Her eyes remained as though fixated on the glinting metal of his weapon.
His smile didn't miss a beat as it slowly dawned on him that she wasn't going to respond, instead he shifted the axe a little as if to try and hide it from the frightened girl. "Come now, why don't you come out of there and let me take you home. It's dangerous for you to be out by yourself in these parts." He made an aborted step toward her before stopping himself, knowing that she would either flee or dig herself deeper into her little hiding space between the rocks if he tried to get closer to her and he wanted for her to do neither.
Starting to get a little irritated he transferred his weight from one foot to the other, changing his position and stance enough for a new glimmer of silver to catch Sakura's indecisive and frightened eye.
Disbelievingly she blinked at the new shiny metal the man with the axe had inadvertently revealed, it had a scratch running through it, but she could still recognize the symbol of her home village. With a little cry she wiggled her way out of the crevice with every intention of going to the man with a damaged Konoha headband sewn into the shoulder of his shirt. He was a shinobi from her village! She was saved! Sakura paused to turn as her shirt caught in the rocks, and missed the slow predatory smile that spread across the woodsman's face. A moment of wiggling extra vigorously she managed to free herself and take a couple steps toward her savior who was smiling and obviously waiting for her to approach him.
All of a sudden the woods around them erupted as several black and gray clad ninja with animal masks flew into the space between Sakura and the shinobi with a damaged headband. Alarmed she froze, unsure what to do – the man she hoped would bring her home was now separated from her by the scary masked warriors.
In the moment of her immobility she found strong arms encircling and pulling her back to a firm chest. Panicked she struggled and the arms tightened around her before a low voice ceased her struggles, but only served to escalate her fear.
"Stop that. We're the good guys."
Cautiously she glanced behind her and up into the face of the man holding her. Immediately she was sorry that she had. He was, like the other black and gray clad warriors, wearing a white animal mask – his was that of a fierce canine, a wolf or a dog. Unintentionally she tried to shrink back from the frightening visage and squeaked when his arms tightened and lifted her a little from the ground preventing any thoughts of escape but still not stopping her renewed struggles.
Irritated with the girl's refusal to cooperate he sighed. "We'll take you home once we're finished." As he spoke the other black and gray clad shinobi sprung into action against the woodsman, the fighters turning into blurs of movement and flashes of metal.
She stopped struggling and looked up once again, pondering his statement, uncertainty and suspicion written all over her face. Sakura could hear the sounds of fighting and became even less sure of what was going on and what would happen to her. Vaguely she contemplated trying to wriggle out of the man with a mask's grasp and make a run for it.
Sensing her mistrust he made another try. "I've already told you, we're the good guys. You're lucky we got there before that pervert could lay his hands on you." He looked at her seemingly for the first time and shook his head. "Kami, you're just his type too…" Annoyed with her naiveté, regardless of the fact that she was certainly of an age to be allowed to be naïve, he pulled her a little closer to him as he retreated to the edge of the glade, out of the way of his teammates. "You're in the academy, you should know better than to talk to strangers."
She opened her mouth to protest that she hadn't spoken to him, but closed it realizing that the man in the mask was also a stranger. Instead she glared at him, not understanding why they had prevented her from going to the man with the axe – he had a Konoha headband, he might be a little careless in letting it get scratched, but that didn't automatically make him a bad man.
He watched as her expressive face turned dark and a small part of him had to admire her spirit, as misplaced as it was. Suddenly his attention was pulled back to the fight in front of them. Hastily he moved them once again as the blurs of fighting shinobi neared their location and he cursed softly, having hoped that the fight wouldn't take too long, and a small part of him really wished that he could join in to take the S-class child molester down.
As he watched the fight progress he realized, after one of his teammates scored a direct hit wounding and slowing the pervert down, what was coming probably wouldn't be appropriate for the young girl to watch. His teammates had been quite explicit in what they had planned to do to the criminal before allowing the sick man to die. Even though he knew the girl in his arms was attending the academy and at her probable age he had already passed the chunin exam with blood on his hands, he was certain there were some things better for her not to see until she was older… and castration with a dull kunai would definitely be one of them.
As the black and gray clad warriors circled in for the final blow he shifted the girl enough to free one of his hands and roughly covered her eyes just before his teammates drew in for the kill.
Only barely able to prevent herself from screaming she struggled when the man with the wolf mask covered her eyes, too frightened to even want to draw more attention to herself by putting voice to her fears. She could hear that the fight had wound down and the man with the axe seemed to have lost, he was now making some of the most awful sounds she had ever heard. Somewhere at the bottom of her stomach she wanted to feel sick. She didn't understand what was happening but on an almost instinctive level she knew the shinobi with the damaged headband was dying, and by the sounds of it very slowly and very painfully. Just when she thought she couldn't handle hearing it any longer the noises faded until the glade was once again silent.
In her horror of what she was hearing she had stopped struggling and once the sounds stopped she didn't feel as though she had it in her to continue with trying to win her freedom from the man with the wolf mask. Instead she waited to see what would happen. As she listened, someone approached and when the hand removed itself from her eyes she was able to see that it was one of the other black and gray clad warriors. The man looked down at her seemingly with little interest.
"Leave her, I'm sure she'll be fine now that we've dealt with him," the apparent leader gestured over his shoulder where the remaining team members were doing something with the other man's body. "Her parents will probably be along for her and we still have to locate the pervert's hideout and clear it… might even find a live captive, it hasn't been too long since the last little girl went missing…"
"No. She's one of ours."
He raised an eyebrow and looked a little more closely at her. She squirmed a bit not enjoying being spoken about as though she wasn't there. "You sure?"
"Positive… I've been told that she's likely to be… one of… mine…"
"Well then, you can take her back – you picked her up, she's now your responsibility." The leader turned to join the other black and gray clad shinobi. "Rejoin us after you've left her with her parents… Kunoichi or not you would probably do well to do something about…" he paused seeming to remember that Sakura was present and listening, "what happened here. Otherwise it might get messy later."
"Right," the man with the wolf mask nodded.
She felt him shift his grasp on her slightly before lightly lifting her up and securing her over his shoulder. Once she was comfortably positioned he took off through the trees. Uncertain of what was happening and lacking the strength to struggle in the strong man's grasp she gave up and hoped he was indeed as he had said, one of the good guys.
Faster than she would have thought possible she found familiar territory flying by her eyes. Once they reached the edge of the forest he stopped and set her down on her feet but did not let her go.
Cautiously Sakura looked up at him in askance, uncertain as to what she should expect. Desperately she wanted to run to the safety of her home and never leave her room, but one of the shinobi's hands lingered on her shoulder. Hastily she glanced away from the frightening mask, sensing that he was studying her and contemplating his next move. A small part of her optimistically hoped he would just let her go and she could forget the nightmare experience she had just been through. All her thoughts of her kunoichi homework were long forgotten along with her perfect flower which had slipped from her fingers when the man with the mask had grabbed her.
After a moment's thought he brought his other hand up to her chin to turn her face back up to look at him.
Sakura gasped in surprise, he had shifted the wolf mask aside. Though he still wore another mask, she could now see his eyes, one a dark gray almost black and the other a funny red with three strange comma shaped pupils and a long scar running through it.
"You know how to get home from here?"
Still not wanting to speak to a stranger she nodded, unable to look away from his strange eye.
He sighed as though relieved. "Good. Don't go wandering alone in the woods again. You might not be so lucky next time."
Unsure what was going on she nodded, her eyes wide and still fearful. As she nodded something strange started to happen with the man's red eye, the pupils seemed to move, to slowly rotate – fascinated she found herself unable to look away.
Quickly me muddied her memory of what had happened, leaving enough to convince the girl that it was unwise to go wandering in the woods alone, but not enough for her to remember him or any of the other shinobi. While she was momentarily disoriented he melted back into the forest to rejoin his team and finish the mission.
"Well you already know your team will comprise of Naruto Uzumaki and Sasuke Uchiha, which just leaves adding a kunoichi." The third hokage eyed the elite silver haired jonin in front of him, gauging the man's reaction. Kakashi was at the top of his game, at the highpoint of his career and had been pulled for what amounted to be a likely several year long babysitting gig. He had been given a couple years to acclimate himself to the idea, but the hokage was still wary of the generally stoic man's reaction as so far there had been none.
"Right… the last time someone mentioned this to me there was a pool of candidates. I'm assuming it has been narrowed down since then?"
"Yes. It's down to these," he handed two files to the Copy Ninja, "two girls."
Kakashi accepted and opened the two files.
"They both have their strengths and weaknesses, but either will round out your team nicely. Both girls are highly volatile and unfortunately head over heels for the Uchiha. The blonde is vain, but has the makings of a," he coughed a little as though clearing his throat, "good kunoichi skills specialist. The pink haired girl has quite the temper, but is very intelligent and has above average chakra control."
The Copy Ninja flipped though both files, apparently comparing statistics though he already knew he wanted the pink haired girl.
With an inward sigh he found himself once again tuning out the young kunoichi as she prattled on and on about their dark haired teammate. Sakura had been on about him non-stop since they had split up to scout an area of woods ahead of the caravan they were escorting and he was beginning to regret his decision to pair himself with her.
Just when he thought he couldn't take anymore a slight sound in the underbrush alerted him to the presence of enemy shinobi. Not having the time to warn his student he grabbed her arm and pulled her back flush up against him and into the thick undergrowth just before several kunai whizzed through the space she had just been occupying. Startled she stiffened a little and glanced up at her sensei, whose hand had automatically covered her mouth to prevent her from making any noise.
He cursed softly, judging from the trajectory of the kunai the still unseen shinobi were of some skill and he would have to be careful in making sure his student didn't get hurt. As he waited for their enemy to make another move he loosened his grasp on her only slightly, not wanting her to distract him while he as assessing the situation.
Sakura gazed up at her sensei in surprise. She had expected him to let her go once they were out of sight. As she searched his inexpressive face for an answer the pink haired girl experienced a strong sense of déjà vu and a fleeting flash of memory from the time she had once gotten lost in the woods and it puzzled her. She had eventually found her own way out of the forest after nothing more harrowing than a couple hours lost and in a complete panic… Yet, the sensation of being held firmly against a much larger male shinobi's chest in the woods while something dangerous was happening still struck a cord within her. Feeling confused she pulled her gaze from him and did her best to focus on what was going on around them.
"I really don't like this…" the pink haired young woman started for what was probably the tenth time that day. Nervously she adjusted the red cloak she had been given to wear and looked up at her teammates with concern clearly present in her eyes.
Her blonde comrade grinned and nudged the two men sitting next to him. "Aw, don't worry about it Sakura! Kakashi, Sasuke and I won't let him get you!"
Stubbornly she shook her head; she didn't like being used as bait, especially not for an almost S-class sex offender. "I don't' know Naruto, I just have a bad feeling about it…"
"You'll be fine Sakura." The silver haired man reassured her with one of his signature eye creases. "We'll be right there to make sure to stop him before anything happens."
Feeling a little reassured with the elite jonin's words she nodded and finished fidgeting with her clothing. The pink haired woman was still a little nervous, but less so than before. "Do I really have to wear this?" she asked almost plaintively, gesturing to the red hooded cape and childish little dress.
Naruto laughed. "What's wrong with it?"
She sighed with exasperation. "I look twelve!"
"So? I think you look cute!"
"Naruto, girls my age don't want to look cute…" She blushed as she realized what she had just said.
"Cute or not it doesn't matter." Sasuke interrupted before his teammates could continue to squabble. "All that does matter is what the pervert likes, and from what we've learned he likes his girls young and innocent."
Sakura flushed, once again deciding that she really didn't like the mission. "Alright, alright…" she straightened her shoulders, took a deep breath and nodded. "Fine, lets just get this over with…"
The younger men took off into the trees to scout further ahead, leaving her with her former sensei. He eyed her for a moment, sensing that she still wasn't comfortable with the mission. Almost absently, he felt a vague pang of guilt for accepting it in the first place. It hadn't occurred to him that she may react badly to the mission that so closely mirrored the first time they had met, not that she should be able to remember it.
Carefully he reached out to ruffle her hair a bit. "It'll be okay Sakura. I'll make sure of it." He smiled and quickly bounded into the trees, leaving her alone on the path.
Again feeling marginally better after receiving reassurance from her former sensei she cautiously set out down the path, hoping to lure the dangerous child molester out from hiding. There had been reports from the villages in the area that little girls had been going missing, only to turn up dead and obviously abused, several days or on one occasion a couple weeks later.
Pushing those thoughts form her mind she continued along the path at a leisurely pace, stopping here and there to pick flowers, making sure to wander further and further from the path each time she left it. Slowly over the course of a couple hours she gathered a large bouquet. Dawdling longer than she should over a clump of tiger lilies she pondered her options, she had almost made it to the other side of the woods. Either the pervert wasn't interested in her, which was possible, or he wasn't around, which was also possible.
With a sigh she figured that whichever was the case, she had just wasted several hours wandering in the woods dressed like a little girl. For appearances sake she plucked one last flower and made her way a little more determinedly than she had been moving back to the path, with every intention of making her way out of the woods and into more age appropriate clothing.
Just as Sakura was about to step foot on back on the path she sensed another presence. As innocently as she could, she took stock of her surroundings, feigning surprise upon finding a ranger or woodsman standing in the forest on the other side of the path.
"Oh!" she exclaimed as she let one of her hands fly to her chest in her apparent surprise. "You startled me!"
He smiled, and her skin crawled a little. He might be average in every way but there was something about him that just wasn't quite right and made her feel extremely uncomfortable.
"My apologies young lady, I didn't mean to frighten you."
"Oh, that's alright." She giggled a little. "No harm done." Carefully she stepped onto the path and tried to continue on in the direction she had been going, only to find that he quickly sidled in front of her.
"Where are you rushing away to so quickly?" the man asked with a smile.
Hesitantly she retuned his smile. "Um, I'm on my way to see my grandmother. She hasn't been feeling well and I thought I'd go cheer her up." She took a couple steps around him to continue along the path.
Without a pause he turned and joined her. "Don't you know these woods are dangerous? It isn't safe for a young girl like you to be walking around alone. Aren't you worried?"
Sakura increased her pace just a little without realizing it. "No… so long as I stay on the path I think I should be safe."
He chuckled a little too darkly for her, and she wanted to bolt, knowing that he was gearing up for whatever it was that he did to his victims. She didn't have to wonder how he had duped so many innocent young girls, to all outward appearances he was completely harmless to anything other than the creatures of the woods and he exuded a kind of complete competence that spoke of a thorough knowledge of the forest.
Subconsciously she hastened her pace once again in hopes of putting a little space between herself and the creepy pervert.
"Are you trying to get away from me?" the man striding next to her asked with a smile belying his words.
With a little flush she stopped and turned her head to look at him directly. "Oh! Um…"
As she was looking for something to say he chuckled again. "That's okay, I understand. Pretty girls like you don't usually want to be seen with plain men like me." Casually he pulled a flower from nowhere and presented it to her. "Let me give you a flower for the privilege of allowing me to walk with you."
Without thinking she reached out to accept the flower, missing the predatory glint in his eye.
Just as her fingers were closing around the stem, a strong arm looped itself around her waist and pulled her backward into a broad chest. The harsh jerking movement caused her to cut a finger on one of the flower's thorns. Surprised, and feeling a bit hazy, she looked up to find her former sensei's unsmiling face focused on the man they were now certain was the sexual predator they were after. Blinking drowsily she turned her attention to the man on the path and was unable to prevent her body from relaxing a little in the safety of her former sensei's arms. The woodsman's face was twisted in an expression of disbelieving anger. Before he could react, Naruto and Sasuke emerged from either side and converged on him.
The fight should have been brief as the man in question wasn't supposed to have had any kind of formal training. Unfortunately, he seemed to have at least spent a little time studying some of the dirtier tricks of close combat and was therefore able to put up a bit of a struggle. As the skirmish progressed, the criminal putting up a valiant, but still losing fight, it was only a matter of time before he lost.
Groggily she watched, now completely supported by Kakashi's arm around her waist holding her close to his chest, unable to do anything else. Quickly he moved them as a couple stray senbon peppered the area. With foggy surprise she looked back up at him again, feeling the strangest sense of déjà vu, but not quite able to put her finger on it. While she was studying his expressionless face Naruto or Sasuke scored a direct hit – the sounds of a dying man pulled her attention back to the fight and increased the niggling sense that she had experienced something similar before but couldn't quite pin it down.
When the sounds stopped her eyes slowly slid shut as she was unable to keep them open any longer and her body relaxed almost entirely, drooping in Kakashi's grasp. Vaguely she heard her teammates approach and felt herself being shifted and lifted over the silver haired man's shoulder.
"Aw, Kakashi! If you're going to carry her like that, give her to me! Geeze, she's our teammate, not a sack of turnips!"
She felt the jonin sigh and shift her back down and around until he was cradling her to his chest instead of holding her over his shoulder.
"That's better!" She sensed the blonde man drawing closer though couldn't be bothered to open her eyes to look at him. "She is gonna be okay, right?"
"She'll be fine once whatever it was that he used to drug her wears off. He wanted his victims alive after all. Come on let's find some where to set up…"
The rest of his words were lost as whatever the flower had been laced with finally claimed her.
Hours later, consciousness slowly returned to her. With a soft groan she cracked her eyes open. Sakura felt as though her head was going to split in two, aftereffects from whatever it was the pervert had used to drug her she assumed.
At her slight sound her blonde teammate hurried over to her. "Hey Sakura! How are you feeling?"
She eyed his concerned face and swallowed her sharp retort, he had obviously been worried about her and didn't deserve for her to snap at him. "I feel as though someone has been beating on my head with a very dull kunai." Carefully she shifted herself into a sitting position, feeling a little strange talking to him while she was lying on her bedroll on the ground.
"Oh… well… at least we did as we promised! We didn't let him lay a finger on you!"
She nodded and smiled a little at her eager friend. "No you didn't, thank you." Her eyes drifted from him to her other teammates silently sitting by the fire. Even though they didn't appear to be interested or even listening, she knew they were.
He laughed happily. "Yeah just like the woodsman came in at the last minute and saved Little Red Riding Hood from the wolf we swooped in and rescued you from that pervert!"
Something about his words struck her as wrong and she furrowed her brow trying to remember. Her eyes drifted back to her former sensei and something seemed spark in her memory just a little, enough for her to start to see the elite jonin in a slightly different light. "Actually… I think that, sometimes, it's the wolf that saves the little girl from the woodsman."