This is a very, very, VERY unforgivably late birthday gift for BlueGreenApples, author of the AMAZING SasuSaku fic Color Theory. I worked really hard on this as BlueGreen is a very dear friend of mine. Twinneh, I do so hope you'll enjoy it, and so sorry again that it's so embarrassingly late! : (

Formally, I'd like to thank BlueGreenApples once again for inspiring me to begin writing Naruto and Sasuke x Sakura fics. Were it not for your inspirational fics, I wouldn't have written any of my Naruto works. So for the millionth time, THANK YOU so much.

Context: Set ahead of the current manga events; Naruto and Sakura are aware of Sasuke belonging to Akatsuki. Naruto leaves camp alone to gather his thoughts but a restless Sakura and Sai decide to follow after him, leading to a chance (or fateful) encounter with Team Hawk.

This takes place over 2 chapters but it is in fact a oneshot. It's just too long to fit into one chapter, hence the breakdown : )

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. BELIEVE IT!


By AngeLhearteD

She had always possessed a strong sense of intuition. Somehow she had known even before rising to search the make-shift camp area for him that Naruto had gone.

With apprehension weighing heavily in her gut, she approached the small group of young shinobi and kunoichi. They stood about beneath a great tree, which sheltered them from the fierce glare of the afternoon sun.

Familiar faces turned to greet her, and instantly read her silent question.

"He said he was going for a walk." Neji quietly informed her.

"Yeah, said something about wanting to be alone." Kiba added, petting Akamaru.

Hinata bit her lower lip anxiously and twiddled her thumbs together nervously, keeping her shy eyes fixed on the ground.

"But...Naruto-kun has been gone for a while..." She worried, voice trailing off softly.

Lee, always the first to step up when a lady was in distress, held up a determined fist.

"Let's go and look for him!"

An exasperated sigh met with his suggestion. Shikamaru walked toward the group, kicking aside a stray pebble.

"No." He frowned. "I know it's troublesome, but we have to have faith in him. We'll wait here as instructed and then..." The Nara genius broke off suddenly, eyes widening as a flash of pink took off toward the dense forest.

"Eh?! Sakura!?" Ino called after her friend in alarm, stepping forward to follow. But a light hand on her slender shoulder stopped her in her tracks.

"Sai." Kakashi's calm voice quietly stated.

The pale youth nodded in understanding, and hurried after his team-mate. Kakashi turned to the other faces of Konoha's future. One visible eye crinkled as his lips drew together in a pained smile beneath his mask.

"Let them go. They'll be alright." He reassured the group, for he had every faith in his young students.

They all watched in silence as the two soon disappeared into the forest.

Leaping nimbly from tree to tree, Haruno Sakura's brows drew together in focused determination. Her heart was pounding. She knew exactly why Naruto had left camp.

She knew his anger and his hurt, for she felt exactly the same emotions. But this time she would not let him face his feelings alone. She was still here. Team 7 still existed, even if their home village as they had previously known it no longer did.

But Konoha's essence would live forevermore in their hearts.

The soft rustling of leaves behind her alerted her to Sai's presence as he drew up beside her.

"We'll have to be quick if we want to catch up to Naruto-kun." He stated evenly.

She nodded. When he had first joined their team she and Naruto had despised the strange, detached and thoroughly unmannered young man. But much time had passed and Sai had improved, proving his worth in the many missions they had undertaken together. He still made crude and inappropriate remarks, but that was just a part of his continuously developing personality that had to be tolerated. She had long since dropped any initial dislike of him.

Now she was glad of his company.

As they made their way from branch to branch, Sakura reflected on the many dramatic events of the previous week. Undoubtedly the most significant had replayed in Sakura's mind over and over, haunting her, taunting her, tearing her heart to pieces.

She knew it was the reason behind why Naruto had ventured into the forest alone.

The others didn't know. She and Naruto had not yet found it in themselves to make it public knowledge, but it was only a matter of time before the truth would be revealed.

Four days prior, she, Naruto and Sai had seen him again for the first time in over a year; their long-lost team-mate, their childhood friend – Uchiha Sasuke. He had been alone, thrown into their paths once again by fate. They would have taken advantage of the fact were it not for the harsh reality that had hit them like an overpowering tidal wave, threatening to drown away all of their senses.

Shock and horror had run riot – for Sasuke had been wearing the cloak of the enemy. Worse, he had regarded them with such expressionless, such shameless eyes, as though he had not committed the ultimate betrayal to both village and comrades.

Sakura's heart, that she had spent years gluing back together, had cracked and shattered again in a thousand different places. The very will to breathe had escaped her lungs. Her shoulders had dropped and a terrible, icy numbness had overcome her.

Naruto had fallen deadly silent, trembling with emotion. Then he had exploded, and Sakura had been afraid for him, heart aching with their mutual pain. For he was no longer the same Naruto that Sasuke had known as a young boy; no longer the clumsy, loud-mouthed, shameless nobody. He was now Uzumaki Naruto, Jiraiya's student and the son of the Fourth Hokage. War and the harshness of reality had made him stronger, wiser. Unlike during their previous encounter at Orochimaru's lair, Naruto knew that talk would get him nowhere with Sasuke. He had been at full strength and all too willing to deliver righteous punishment to their treacherous ex-team-mate.

Sakura and Sai had been ready to give the blond any backup he needed.

But then Sasuke, who had scarcely spoken a word to any of them, had abruptly retreated. He had fled, as he always did. And for the first time since the day that they had begun pursuing him, they had willingly let him go.

Confused, betrayed, angry and hurt, they had informed Kakashi of what they had seen. Their sensei had remained silent for a long time, before instructing his young students to remain tight-lipped over the matter until they gained more information.

Tsunade was the only other person who knew.

As she hopped lithely onto another branch, Sakura supposed that they were still clutching desperately at straws; still foolishly hoping against hope that after all the time that had passed Sasuke was truly on their side; that this was all a big misunderstanding.

They still hoped, despite how unlikely it now seemed, that he had not forgotten the precious bonds their team had shared so many years ago.

Naruto had remained uncharacteristically silent and angry after the encounter with the youth he had come to view as a brother. Sakura had been reluctant to bring the issue up with her friend out of fear of the reaction she would receive. But she knew it was imperative that they talked the matter through; after all, they both knew they could not face the terrible reality alone.

They were a team, which is why they had to find him.

But the forest was vast. Sakura gave Sai a quick glance, deciding it would be best to temporarily part ways. She came to a brief stop on the branch of a tall tree, scanning the floor far below.

"Sai! We'll cover more ground if we split up. I'll cover the eastern range."

The pale youth nodded. "Then I'll look west."

"Right." Sakura agreed, preparing to take off once again.

"Sakura-san." Sai addressed her, causing her to turn back to him. "Take one of my ink-drawings with you. That way, I will be able to locate you more quickly."

The pink-haired kunoichi nodded, silently impressed by his quick thinking. Sai pulled out a scroll, brush and ink from his supplies pouch, and with a flurry of elegant strokes painted his chosen animal.

Setting the ink and brush neatly aside, he raised his hands and spoke the words that would breathe life into his art.

"Ninpo - Choju Giga."

A small burst of white smoke erupted from the scroll and from it fluttered to life a delicate black and white dove. Sakura raised a shapely brow. Knowing him, she had expected a rat of some sort. It was certainly an interesting choice of creature, but one that was small enough to remain discreet and light enough to keep up with her movements.

"I will transfer a chakra signal to this bird to let you know if I find anything." Sai added. With that he turned away from her and leapt westward.

Sakura stared after him, before taking a deep breath and moving in the opposite direction. The dove flew carefully behind her, expertly mirroring her movements to avoid any branches.

After continuing to leap from tree to tree with little success, the kunoichi soon spied a small clearing in the ground far below. She swiftly made her way down, and as soon as her feet touched the earth she stood deadly still, looking and listening for anything that might give her a clue as to whether or not Naruto had passed the area.

After a minute or two of tentative waiting, Sakura's brows furrowed together. An increasing sense of frustration began to bubble within her.

There didn't appear to be anybody else roaming the area. For a moment she desperately rued the fact that she wasn't a sensor type ninja. The ability to track chakra would have been helpful to her cause.

Why didn't I borrow Akamaru from Kiba...? She silently wondered, placing her hands briefly on slender hips. Turning back toward a tree, she stepped forward, ready to ascend once again.

It was at that precise moment that she heard the faintest rustle of leaves. She spun back around, kunai already in hand, the blood instantly rushing in her veins. She was ready to fight or flee, depending on what it was that came out of the bushes ahead of her.

A minute passed. Two minutes. Three and still nothing happened. Sakura's tense body slowly and cautiously began to relax. She was placing her kunai back in its holster when a sudden flash of colour caught the left corner of her vision.

Her head whipped around just in time to catch a streak of red. It gleamed momentarily in the golden ray of sunlight that had managed to break through the thick, leafy canopy high above.

She saw red – and black.

Her body froze. Those two colour combinations were notoriously unmistakable and meant only one thing.


Akatsuki. Them. Him. The phantom figure had headed northward from her current position. For a long moment, she wavered uncertainly on the spot. She could either choose to give chase, or head back to camp and let the others know.

The loud fluttering of wings to her right startled her, and she glanced over her shoulder to find Sai's dove perching on a slim branch, tilting its head as it watched her. She slowly released the breath she had not realised she'd held, then gave herself a mental shake.

She knew that the bird had relayed the information to Sai. It would only be a matter of time before her team-mate located her again. In the meanwhile, she had the option of simply waiting, or sneaking after the figure and trying to discover as much information as she could. Perhaps she would even be able to achieve her original objective along the way; finding Naruto.

Her brows furrowed together. With renewed resolve, she moved in the direction the figure had fled, taking great care to remain as silent and undetectable as possible.

She had absolutely no way of knowing that the person she was following was a tracker ninja and had long-since detected her presence.

Sakura clambered onto another branch and swooped down with a fluidity that she had always lacked during her younger years. Ducking to avoid a bigger tree limb that obstructed her path, she continued to run along – when the canopy to her left suddenly parted.

"...!" She gasped, caught off guard, the heels of her nin-boots digging into splintering wood as she came to an abrupt stop. Allowing gravity to pull her light body backward, she barely managed to avoid being clipped by the sharp edge of an alarmingly large sword.

Quickly regaining her balance, she hopped away just in time to avoid another swipe. Three additional attempts to hack her to pieces failed as Sakura manoeuvred into denser areas. She landed on a lower branch and raised her head, heart racing.

What she saw caused her stomach to form tight knots of dread. A pale, silver-haired young man who appeared to be about her own age stared down at her from the higher up branch that she had been forced to abandon.

He was dressed in an Akatsuki robe.

Sakura frowned slightly in confusion. She had never seen his picture in any of Konoha's archives; just who was he? Had Akatsuki managed to recruit new members – just as they had somehow managed to sway Sasuke to their side?

The stranger spoke, tilting a condescending head at her.

"You must be the little pest she detected."

Sakura's apple-green eyes widened as realisation settled in her mind. A sensor-type ninja had detected her chakra! She clenched her gloved hands into tight fists, ready to fight if it was absolutely necessary.

It was. The silver-haired young man's right foot shifted – and then he dove straight toward her.

Sakura gritted her teeth and leapt away as he sliced branch after branch, seeking to cut off any means of immediate escape. She realised exactly what he was trying to do and was determined not to fall for his trap. She kicked against the trunk of the tree behind her, creating a further distance between them.

She was surprised when she felt a sharp sting just below her right shoulder and turned her face in time to see another shuriken whistle inches before her nose. Her eyes darted, scanning her surroundings rapidly for the source, when she finally found it; a crimson haired kunoichi, also clad in the notorious crime ring's cloak, was standing on a branch to her far right.

Two of them! Sakura realised, as she landed unsteadily on the bough of another tree. She instantly knew that the male was the most aggressive of the pair; after all, the bespectacled young woman was keeping a cautious distance and opting for a more basic form of attack.

Fighting them both head on would be foolish. And the pink-haired kunoichi was most certainly not a fool. She caught a glimpse of black and white from the corner of her eye, and felt reassured. Sai's dove had registered the threat and she knew that the pale youth was making his way back to her as fast as he could; which meant that all she needed to do was buy time.

Taking a deep breath and dismissing the shallow scrape on her right arm, she leapt away from the bough, heading in what she hoped was the direction in which she had come.

The scarlet-haired kunoichi mirrored her movements, throwing more shuriken her way. Sakura whipped her kunai out from its holster, deflecting the sharp, incoming objects with relative ease. But the unfamiliar young woman did not relent, continuing to rain shower after shower of metal shards her way.

The silver-haired young man's voice sounded some distance away to Sakura's left. It was light, with a distinctive lilt to it.

"Quit wasting your weapons! Can't you see you're missing?!"

"Shut up and get her you idiot!" Came the snappy response.

"Heh. Don't get all touchy just 'cause your aiming sucks." He continued to taunt.

"I SAID SHUT UP, IDIOT!" Came the banshee screech.

If Sakura wasn't so apprehensive over guaranteeing her own safety she would have perhaps stopped to stare at them both in disbelief. What manner of comrades were they? What team argued in the midst of battle?

Unless...unless they were making the common, stranger's mistake of dismissing her as harmless.

The corner of her lips turned upward into a slight smile. They obviously did not know who she was, and she therefore had the element of surprise at her advantage. She dove beneath a denser canopy of leaves, gripping the kunai between her teeth as her hands rapidly formed seals.

The silver haired youth cut aside the greenery, to find vivid, intense eyes staring right back up at him. He felt his own lavender ones widen marginally in surprise; what was a Leaf ninja, especially one who looked as distinctive her, doing alone in a large forest?

Up close, the girl had one of the most startling and unusual colourings he had ever seen in a kunoichi; large, bright apple green eyes framed by long, contrasting dark lashes, soft cherry blossom pink hair and pale skin. She had a little button nose, small rosy lips and a heart-shaped face. Her stature was small, delicate and slender.

He smirked. She was certainly a far prettier catch to the countless other ugly opponents they had recently encountered; it seemed almost a shame to mar that smooth, porcelain skin...

A low curse escaped his lips as his sword swiped through a log. The girl had used the Body Replacement technique. How could he fall for such a basic jutsu? He looked up, scanning the expanse for her real body and cursed again when he realised that she had already almost closed the distance between herself and his (very reluctantly, he acknowledged) team-mate.

Sakura felt a triumphant thrill as she flew toward her target, knowing her simple yet effective plan to delay the silver-haired shinobi had worked. She closed in on the red-haired kunoichi, figuring that she could attempt to knock out at least one of her enemies before making her escape.

That would make one less Akatsuki member to worry about.

She channelled chakra into her arm, feeling the familiar, burning sensation as it pumped through her veins. The bespectacled kunoichi's eyes widened as she spun to face the threat she had detected far too late.

"Oh shi-!" She broke off as Sakura tore a smaller branch off its tree mid-flight and with a shout hurtled it at the space between them. The Akatsuki clad kunoichi yelped as she scrambled back to avoid the incoming object but Sakura could see that there was nowhere for the young woman to jump to in time. Anticipating a direct hit, she landed on the bough, lunging forward and channelling more chakra into her right arm, ready to execute her disabling attack.

It was at that precise moment that the sharp-toothed youth intercepted, appearing before Sakura so suddenly that she faltered, forced to switch from attack to instant defence as he swiped at her yet again.

As she hopped three steps back, she mentally berated herself. She had misjudged his speed! He was certainly faster than the heavy sword made him appear to look.

The silver-haired youth was now regarding her with an appreciative, toothy grin.

"You're fast. And you've gotta be a vicious little minx to make her tail it like the bitch she is."

" stupid FOOL!" The outraged female's voice spluttered indignantly behind him. "Just get rid of her!"

"What's the rush? Just because she's totally showing you up as the weakling you are?" The shinobi enquired casually.

The scarlet-haired kunoichi bristled, turning a furious shade of red as her right hand shot up to her glasses.

" take that back before I KICK YOUR ASS!"

"Heh." The lavender eyes returned to Sakura, and he looked her over curiously. "Say, what's a Leaf girl doing out here all by herself, anyway?"

Behind him, his team-mate's jaw dropped. "Wh...wha?! What the hell does that even have to do with-?!"

The silver-haired young man's head whipped around to send a hateful glare her way.

"Why are you still here? Why don't you just run away and let me handle this?"

She released a sharp laugh. "And let you take all the glory? I don't think so!"

Sakura stared at them incredulously. Their bickering was a hundred times worse then hers and Naruto's combined.

The young shinobi turned an irritated face back to Sakura.

"I was kinda hoping you'd break her goggles, but he's always spoiling my fun."

He? Sakura remained on guard, ready to punch his teeth out if he made any move toward her. Her body tensed further as she heard the female's voice snap back again in response. In contrast to Sakura's relatively light and spirited tones, this kunoichi's voice was velvety and dark. Ruby eyes stared contemptuously at Sakura from behind black framed glasses.

"Idiot!" The red-head snarled at her team-mate again. Then her voice became sickly sweet as she simpered, "There's no way he'd let anybody harm me – especially not some pink-haired freak!"

The silver-haired youth snorted derisively as he glanced back at her again. "More like you're too weak to defend yourself, you slutty whore."

"Wha?! Why you stupid, stupid-!"

Sakura saw her opening. Now was her chance! Retreating was the only sensible thing to do. Giving no warning whatsoever, she pivoted on the spot and bolted, making her way back down to the forest floor where running would be easier and at the expense of less chakra.

The two broke off their arguing at that and Sakura heard the silver-haired youth's voice call out after her.

"Whoa! Hey! Not so fast!"

Don't engage in battle. Don't engage in battle, Sakura silently pleaded, but of course, she knew they were not going to let her go freely. She had gotten herself into this predicament, and she would have to manage alone until Sai arrived on scene.

She silently wondered what on earth was taking him so long. She knew the dove was still following her movements, keeping camouflaged between the leaves. Yet she couldn't help but feel anxious, for she was unaccustomed to facing battles solo. Even against Sasori, she had at least had Chiyo's expertise to call upon. Angrily, she quelled her doubts. She was the great Tsunade's apprentice; a medical ninja and her evasion skills were second to none. She had trained for years to reach this point, and now her true test was finally staring her in the face. She had to believe she could handle it, for without self-belief she would lose everything she had worked so hard to gain.

Her mind raced as she ran, fully conscious that they were giving chase behind her. If anything happened to Sai's dove, she would be in trouble. She couldn't risk that. Determination fuelled her veins. She would have to distract the strangers away from her plan as much as possible. After all, none of them knew of her identity; none of them knew that she was one of Konoha's most intelligent residents. They did not know that she had trained under the Fifth Hokage herself.

She chanced a look over her left shoulder to find the silver-haired nin gaining ground. Was he the leader of this unlikely two-cell unit? It seemed ridiculous, given the way the red-haired girl had snapped at him. Sakura decided that it did not matter who the head honcho was; she had to remain focused on her strategy.

A shadow fell over her and she looked up just in time to catch the male ninja somersault over her. Alarm filled her as she was forced to skid to a brief halt, dust rising from the earthy ground beneath her feet. How had he closed the gap so quickly?! He landed in front of her, taking a relaxed swig of water from one of the sacks he carried, before turning his attention back to her.

She watched the liquid droplets drip from his chin. A tiny suspicion presented itself in her mind as he leaned casually against his huge sword.

"Hey, what's the rush? Let's get to know each other a bit."

Anger flared. In response, Sakura surged forward, her chakra-charged fist drawn back, ready to knock every last jagged tooth out of his mouth.

"Get to know this!" She yelled.

But her knuckles connected with nothing but cold, gooey liquid, passing cleanly through a wall of water. Her apple-green eyes widened in surprise as she quickly drew her dripping arm back. Her suspicions had been almost instantly confirmed. He was a water type and had dematerialised into a shapeless mass of his element at a whim. The water circled around her and she felt nauseous. Only lightening would score a successful hit and she did not have a predisposition for that particular element.

The silver-haired youth materialised again before her, grinning widely at her failed attempt to smash his face into a thousand pieces.

"That punch looked dangerous. I'd hate to get hit." He drawled.

"Suigetsu!" The red-haired kunoichi positively screamed down at him. She had remained in the safety of the trees, but now hopped to join him on level ground. However she still chose to stand a careful distance away. "Stop goofing around and finish her off!"

"Ah, shut up already." He waved her demand off dismissively.

Suigetsu. So that was his name. She stored the identity in her mind, ready to report to Tsunade and the others later. But first, she had to think of a way to lose them.

As she watched him take another gulp of water, a question formed in her mind. Was there a link between his apparent need for hydration and his ability to effortlessly adopt a liquid form? If so, all she needed to do was to keep him busy long enough to make sure that he could not refuel his body. She wasn't going to get far if she just ran. Besides, she would only make Sai's search for her harder if she continued to run. So she would just have to hold her ground as best she could, now that she had established that the silver-haired shinobi was the only real threat out of the two.

Deciding to test out her hypothesis, Sakura changed direction. She would go for the kunoichi again. If she guessed correctly, this 'Suigetsu' would move to stop her.

She was right. As soon as she skirted back and attempted to go around him, Suigetsu made to obstruct her attempt. He skidded around her, tilting his head playfully.

"Gotta get through me first, remember?"

The blatant lack of respect he was showing her was beginning to grate on Sakura's nerves. Gritting her teeth, she charged at him again. He chuckled, shaking his head as he remained calmly in place, arms folded arrogantly across his chest.

"C'mon, you've just seen that that won't work on me-" He abruptly broke off, eyes widening in realisation as she completed the Body Replacement jutsu hand seals. The female figure before him disappeared in a puff of smoke and he spun in time to see her true form racing away from him, straight toward the most vulnerable member of the fight.

She really was a fast thinker and mover. For a split second, as his eyes skimmed over the circular symbol on her back, Suigetsu curiously wondered which clan it was that she hailed from. But that was a musing that had to be saved for a later time, as he took off after her.

The crimson haired kunoichi's eyes widened at the incoming threat. There was no way she was going to let this little girl get the better of her. Never! Not when she knew that he had just arrived and was now watching from his concealed spot in the trees behind her.

But a spark of self-doubt and worry filled her as her ruby eyes fixed on the pale, pink haired girl racing toward her, kunai raised in the tight grip of a small right hand. Her personal strengths lay in tracking and chakra-depleting healing. She was not the confrontational type, but she knew a few scattered jutsus that had previously ensured people kept their hands off her.

But something about this opponent and her chakra were different. This girl's eyes were one of the brightest she had ever come across; a brilliant shade of mint green. Her legs were not as long as the bespectacled kunoichi's, but they were slender, toned and shapely. Her slim form was not as curvaceous as the red-head's but she knew many shinobi appreciated smaller, more delicate builds. Her attractive figure, coupled with her striking eyes, pale skin and outrageously uncommon hair-colour were certainly eye-catching. She was not so ordinary that she could not be committed to a shinobi's memory.

The flame-haired young woman's brows knotted together. The little nuisance before her looked like a fragile doll, all bubble-gum hair and soft features. She had caught the appreciative look in Suigetsu's eyes. This girl was from Konoha, the same village her team leader originated from. What if he knew her? What if he was noticing, too?

Determination filled her. No. He wouldn't. The pink-haired little girl was no match for a real woman. She'd make sure that all her brooding team leader saw was red.

The rosette-haired kunoichi flung the kunai straight at her, and the ruby eyed girl smirked. Had she really succeeded in tearing a branch from its tree just a short while prior? What a weak, childish attack she was resorting to now.

Avoiding the incoming weapon with ease, the taller female raised her hands, preparing the seals needed for an attack that would surely catch the Leaf girl off guard. But she was outraged when Suigetsu intercepted once again.

"Geez, do us all a favour and just disappear." He taunted. "Then I won't have to waste any energy digging your ugly ass out of trouble."


She broke off her seals, for distraction and vanity were among her most serious flaws. " fool!" She snarled at him, glaring daggers into his back. "Just get out of the way! I can handle her!"

"How about avoiding that kunai first?" Her team-mate casually suggested.

"Huh?" She blinked stupidly, and then jumped as flame erupted to her right. Realisation quickly sunk in and her cheeks flared red with fury and embarrassment. How had she failed to notice the explosive seal attached to the kunai?

"Why you little bitch! I'll-"

She broke off, for their opponent had picked up a stray, fallen branch and hurtled it straight toward the two.

The lavender-eyed shinobi raised his sword, cleaving the limb into two. His team-mate remained wisely behind him, body tensing at the display of power that had literally been thrown at them.

"That's a big branch for a little girl to throw." Suigetsu grinned at her. But his toothy smile faltered at her instantaneous reaction. She had already picked up an even larger tree limb and proceeded to throw it at them. It spun loudly through the air, reflecting the terrible force that propelled it forward.

Suigetsu charged his sword, ready to hack it to pieces, but realised his error too late. The kunoichi had used the body of the incoming object as a shield, hiding her from his line of sight.

"Up there!" The red-head screeched behind him.

Slicing the branch to clear his view, his eyes widened as he sensed a shadow fall over him. Raising his face to the heavens, he saw her lunging straight toward him, soft green chakra flaring wildly from the heel of her right nin boot.

What kind of chakra is this?! He wondered, finding no other alternative than to throw his body out of the way. Maybe not taking the girl seriously enough hadn't been such a good idea.

Sakura landed with a resounding crack, the ground splintering from the sheer intensity of the power behind her kick.

The crimson-haired kunoichi swallowed thickly. This stranger's chakra and level of control were certainly higher than the average. But she couldn't just stand back and be useless. Not when he was watching the fight.

The Akatsuki female stepped boldly around her team-mate, her own fist drawn back. Sakura hopped away, easily avoiding the attack and preparing her own. But she misjudged the other girl's speed, receiving a jab to her left side as a result. Discomfort flared in her ribs and she ignored it, moving quickly to avoid a follow-up kick from the red-haired kunoichi. She knocked the taller girl back, charging her fist with chakra again, when the sound of a swiping blade forced her to shift her focus.

She jumped back, barely managing to avoid Suigetsu's biting sword in time. Gritting her teeth, she was forced back further still as the silver-haired youth went on the offensive again. She managed to evade three swipes but the fourth clipped her just beneath her left shoulder. Sakura released a low hiss of pain, wincing as she felt the warm flow of blood trickle out of the wound. She deemed it another shallow injury; one not in need of instant healing. She knew that she couldn't afford to waste any chakra if she wanted to hold out in one piece.

"Her chakra isn't normal!" The scarlet kunoichi informed her team-mate. "But I can't quite place its nature!"

So she's the sensor-type? Sakura silently wondered of her female adversary.

"We'll just have to find out." Suigetsu grinned, lunging toward the pink-haired kunoichi once more.

Sakura braced herself for the attack, eyebrows knotting together as she concentrated on timing. He drew closer, blade drawn back, and at the last instant she side-stepped out of his path. The weight of his sword pulled him forward, and she had split-seconds in which to act. She kicked out with her left leg, catching the blade and pushing down against its edge with her chakra charged foot. The focused pressure forced the tip of the sword to sink into the ground.

Wasting no time, she drew back her right fist. Suigetsu tugged in vain at his disabled sword. He met her fierce green eyes and realised that he had little choice but to temporarily revert to liquid form again.

As her fist passed through water, Sakura allowed a small triumphant smile to grace her lips. Perfect! She yanked the sword out of his significantly weakened grasp and jumped away, skidding back as he regained solid, human form once again.

"Bitch." He swore, breathing heavily. "You're smarter than you look."

Neither he nor his team-mate spied the small, barely visible smirk that graced one corner of their hidden team leader's lips at that very moment.

His insult prompted Sakura to verbally respond. Her voice was light and feminine, but it trembled with undertones of anger.

"We'll hunt down every last one of you criminal scum!"

Suigetsu's eyes widened in shock as the pink-haired kunoichi hefted his heavy sword up with little difficulty. It then became clear to him that it really had been foolish to write her off as fragile and harmless on first glance. He shouldn't have held back, even if his team leader had ordered them not to seriously injure the girl. But her delicate appearance obviously deceived.

"Until there are none of you left!" She shouted.

Stunned, Suigetsu could only stare dumbly as she began to swing the blade around, building speed and momentum. How was it that she was able to carry the sword so effortlessly? Where did she get such focused power from?

Realisation kicked curious questioning aside. She was going to throw the damn thing straight at him!

"Oh shi-!" He began to curse, when with a great yell she hurtled it with all her might. The kunoichi behind him yelped in surprise, stunned at the raw, destructive power the stranger before them commanded. Suigetsu dove, throwing both himself and his team-mate out of the incoming sword's lethal, slicing path. It smacked into a tree trunk, hacking off a great chunk of bark, causing wood and debris to fly into the air. Suigetsu scrambled back up, seeking out his abused weapon. He was amazed to see that his sword had withstood the damage, but knew that he couldn't afford to let the stranger get her destructive hands on it again.

Whipping his head around, he stared incredulously at the meddling girl. He was more alarmed than angry at her flinging his own weapon right at him as if it didn't weigh a thing. Grown men couldn't lift it. Just how strong was she?

Not many things impressed him, especially when it came to women; but the pink-haired kunoichi appeared to be one of a kind in more ways than one.

Behind him his ruby eyed team-mate got back to her feet, straightening her glasses. She then pointed angrily at the pink-haired stranger, unleashing the fearsome force of her temper. Not only was this girl giving them a hard time, but she had the nerve to show off about it too!

" crazy bitch! I'm going to tear every last strand of freaky pink hair off of your head!"

Suigetsu resisted the overwhelming urge to roll his eyes as he quickly retrieved his sword.

"Hey, crazier bitch, why don't you leave this to me and quit embarrassing yourself?" He demanded, and she turned on him instantly, waving a threatening fist.

"Shut up you freak of nature! You almost got us cut in half by your own stupid sword!"

"Grrr..." He growled, glaring death at the red-head. "Maybe I'll cut you in half right now, to save me the headache!"

"You idio-," She broke off suddenly, gasping. "Oh shit-!"

Suigetsu turned his attention back to the pink-haired kunoichi before him – only to find that she had disappeared again.

Damn! He internally cursed. The sound of rustling leaves above him alerted him to her position – she had leapt over him and was directing another chakra-charged kick straight at his team-mate.

As she fell into descent, Sakura concentrated chakra flow into her right leg, ready to deliver a devastating lunge kick to the bright red-haired kunoichi below. She expected the odd looking girl to attempt to move aside, or to counter.

The sudden blur of red and black that appeared before the ruby eyed girl beneath her caused Sakura's heart to leap. A third member! This individual's features were hidden beneath the hood of their cloak, but something about the long, thin sword in the person's grasp tugged at her memory. She discharged the chakra in her leg and landed on the narrow face of the sword, instantly somersaulting off it and landing with her feet on the ground once again.

There was no doubt that he was their leader. She sensed the silver-haired youth behind her. Before her were the kunoichi and the hooded-figure; she was surrounded.

"You sure took your time. Can I take her out now?" Suigetsu drawled behind her. Sakura's body was painfully tense as she tried to anticipate what they would do next.

She noticed the scarlet-haired young woman's body instantly relax. When she spoke, her voice took on a completely different lilt.

"This bitch was tailing me! I could've taken her, but that moron Suigetsu had to get in the way!"

Behind Sakura, Suigetsu snorted. "Like he's gonna believe that. Quit trying so hard. He saw you being a complete weakling."


"Whatever, bitch." The silver-haired youth muttered dismissively and then turned his attention back to their self-appointed leader. "This chick's from Leaf. Or whatever's left of the Hidden Leaf. That place is totally trashed now thanks to Pain-"

Sakura read his words to be a mockery. Her village had been torn apart because of their organisation's twisted ideals! Fury and hate filled her, and without warning, she turned on the sharp-toothed nin behind her, chakra flaring in her fist more brightly than before.

"Whoa, hold on, wait!" Suigetsu raised his sword in alarm as she ran at him, but a flash of black and red intercepted yet again. Sakura felt cool fingertips wrap firmly around her slender right wrist, jerking at an angle that caused her to lose balance. Her breath caught in her throat, as a calm and painfully familiar voice addressed her over the sound of the gentle breeze.

"Sakura. Stop."

Her apple-green eyes widened, becoming as large as saucers. It couldn't be – it couldn't be – no, there was no way that for the second time in under a week –

She stopped, if not from the authority of the command then from the pure shock that froze the very blood in her veins. No. It was just too cruel, too twisted to encounter him alone, much less with his new team; her, Naruto and Kakashi's replacements, in tow. Without warning she jerked her arm back, tearing her wrist out of his grasp with surprising force.

Breathing heavily, her eyes slowly crept from the individual's sandaled feet, up, up, to the sculpted jaw-line. He had now removed his hood. Her eyes followed the straight, aristocratic nose, the fine, chiselled cheeks, the ends of wayward strands of straight, silky, raven hair.

The deep, fathomless, heavy lashed eyes; eyes so black and bottomless; eyes that had sucked her in again and again, so long ago. They were on her now, as intense and unreadable as they had always been.

She had drowned beneath that gaze when she had been a child. Now she was suffocating all over again. Truth grasped her by her throat, its hold choking and merciless. She had seen him in the cloak once before, but had desperately wished that it had been a cruel figment of her imagination. She had desperately hoped that it had not been reality.

Standing before him and being, for the first time since that night so long ago, the sole focus of his attention unnerved her beyond anything. Without Naruto or Kakashi or even Sai to draw his attention away from her, Sakura found that she was unable to speak, unable to do anything except stare back at him, wide-eyed and tongue-tied. Her heart pounded. Her legs felt as though they would cave beneath her at any moment. Her mind reeled and her entire being shook.

He had spoken her name the same way he always had back when they had been Genin. She had often since yearned to hear his distinctive voice again. So much had changed and yet her foolish heart couldn't help but pine for long-lost, carefree days, even when she now knew for certain that she could never have them, or him, back again.

Suigetsu's voice cut through the tension-filled silence.

"Sakura, eh? Figures. You know her or something?"

The crimson-haired kunoichi snorted derisively. "Like Sasuke-kun would associate with something like that." She sneered. To her surprise, the object of her infatuation spoke up, instantly silencing her.

"Karin. Enough."

The ruby-eyed young woman frowned, but obeyed.

Sakura blinked. Karin. This girl whom Sasuke had protected; her name was Karin. Sakura's chest constricted painfully. She stepped back, clumsily, almost tripping over a raised ridge of earth behind her. Her eyes lowered, staring at the dusty ground in disbelief.

Fate couldn't be so cruel as to taunt her with condescending memories of her younger, weaker self.

She could feel Sasuke's eyes following her movements. She glanced up again when she sensed him hold out his left hand, but it was not toward her.

"Give me a shuriken." He instructed, and she thought with an aching heart that his voice sounded marginally warmer than it did when he had addressed her.

"Of course, Sasuke-kun." Karin simpered, pleased that he was asking her for something as she produced the requested item from her small supplies pouch. Sakura saw the way her fingers lingered when she placed the small weapon in Sasuke's palm.

She understood instantly. Watching the red-head's actions was like a horrible state of déjà vu. Sakura could see her old childhood self reacting in exactly the same way. Both sympathy and sadness overwhelmed her. Had she truly been like that? No wonder Sasuke had called her annoying on various occasions. She remained alert, body tense as she waited to see what Sasuke would do with the shuriken. Senses completely focused on the stoic Uchiha before her, her usually sharp mind failed to anticipate what his course of action would be, tensing as he raised his left arm and swiftly hurtled the sharp weapon to his left, without lifting his eyes away from Sakura's face.

She heard a distressed flutter of wings and then the distinctive sound of metal indenting into wood reached her ears. She tore her eyes away from Sasuke's face, glancing to her right, just in time to see the last few wisps of smoke and ink scatter into the air.

Her heart sunk in realisation. Her blood turned to ice. He had taken out Sai's animated bird without even looking. He had arrived on the scene and instantly eliminated her only immediate hope of receiving backup.

Alarmed green clashed with aloof onyx as Sasuke's silky monotone addressed her once again.

"You won't need that anymore."

Author's Note

Mwaha, cliff-hangers are fun! That's part 1 up! To BlueGreen, I do so hope you enjoyed it! I've checked it a million times over for any spelling and grammar errors so if I've over-read any I'm really sorry. And see what I meant about it being HUGE?! It's over 7,000 and that's only like, half of it XD

To everyone else who reads this, please let me know your thoughts on characterisation etc so far. I'd appreciate it. The next part should be up really soon; I've just got to polish off the conclusion. Thanks for reading!