Chapter Eight:

"Sasuke, duck!"

The young Uchiha dipped his head just in time as a windmill shuriken was launched towards the fake hunter Nin they were currently battling. Sensing the projectile, Haku twisted out the way and allowed the shuriken to pierce one of Naruto's clones that were trying to overwhelm him. Having discarded the porcelain mask, Haku was panting for air as he waited for Team Seven's next attack.

Sakura's sharp green eyes with several specks of purple glanced over quickly at her sensei. He was still trying to defeat Zabuza himself and already had summoned his ninken to turn the battle into his favor. Hearing the roar of the Uchiha clan's signature jutsu, Sakura watched as Haku tried to dodge Sasuke's flames while simultaneously taking care of several more of Naruto's clones.

Cursing under her breath, Sakura's eyes glowed purple for a second as she formed a two fingered hand sign. "Nibi: Blood" She whispered as her eyes dilated. She could see the major arteries in Haku's body and could see his rapidly beating heart. Sakura's hand closed in a fist and Haku froze as he grabbed his chest in shock.

Not even a second later and the young boy was enveloped in flames, leaving behind nothing but a charred heap of ashes and bits of cloth. Satisfied, Team Seven turned their attention to Kakashi who was fighting an enraged Zabuza, intent on avenging Haku's death.

Sakura reached into her holster and rolled her eyes. Of course now she'd be out of shuriken and kunai. "Naruto, lend me a shuriken." She ordered. Knowing now was not the time, Naruto handed over the weapon and watched as his sister figure cocked her wrist, waiting for the right moment.

"Give it up Kakashi. You're getting old and you are no match for me." Zabuza sneered, adding pressure to his sword. Kakashi was holding him back barely with a kunai, his Sharingan eye whirling rapidly. "You shouldn't get too confident Zabuza. It will be your downfall."

Just then a shuriken zipped by, slicing across Zabuza's eyes and causing some blood to splatter on Kakashi. Zabuza swung his sword around wildly, trying to dislodge the shuriken and screaming like a banshee. Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura watched as their sensei quickly formed hand signs, creating a dragon of water.

Its glowing yellow eyes centered on Zabuza and it let out a deafening cry before shooting towards the shinobi. "It's over! Dattebayo!" Naruto yelled and Zabuza, in a last desperate attempt, threw the bloody shuriken towards the sound. Naruto and Sasuke's bodies froze and Sakura shoved them to the ground.

"Sakura!" Sasuke yelled, causing Zabuza to laugh as the water dragon dragged him into the ocean. Kakashi pulled Sasuke and Naruto away from Sakura's limp form and checked her pulse after removing the shuriken from her chest. He glanced sadly at her anxious teammates and shook his head.

"It's all my fault." Naruto began to sob and Sasuke turned his head away. "No Naruto, it's both our faults."

Hiruzen Sarutobi sighed softly as he finally finished the last of the paperwork for the day. The stars were out as the kage lit his pipe and stared at the ceiling. Earlier today had been Sakura's funeral and almost the entire village had come.

It had amazed him to see how many friends the young genin had made and also saddened him that they had lost such a promising kunoichi. He felt bad for the Uchiha clan and the rest of the Rookie Twelve; both groups had been close to Sakura. Sarutobi sighed. He wished that his young ninjas never had to experience the death of a teammate, but sadly that was the result of the life they'd chosen.

So lost in his thoughts, Sarutobi didn't notice someone slip into his room until they shut the window with a loud snap. The Third Hokage jumped into a battle stance before his eyes widened at the sight of the small and dirt covered figure.


The small red bridge was silent. None of the usual sounds of Naruto yelling or Sakura's laughter were heard. Instead of the usual bright orange jumpsuit, Naruto trudged to Team Seven's usual meeting place dressed in drab black pants, a gray short sleeved shirt and black vest. Sasuke hardly noticed; both boys glanced at each other in greeting and waited for their sensei to show up.

For the first time since his students had known him, Kakashi turned up on time with no orange book in sight. He walked past the boys and they fell in line, no words being spoken. It was as if talking was taboo without Sakura around.

As they entered the Hokage's office, he noted their appearance and mentally sighed before rubbing his tired eyes discreetly. It had been a long night, a lot of paperwork and he knew he'd have a headache once he finished saying what he had to say.

"Kakashi recommended your team for the Chunin Exams which are taking place two weeks from today. However, in light of recent events, your team doesn't qualify to take them Exams." Sarutobi stated.

"You called us all the way here to tell us we can't compete?" Sasuke drawled. Sarutobi's lips curled up mockingly. "No Uchiha, I called you here to make sure you CAN compete."

"But how can we take part in the Exams with only two people?" Naruto asked. Sarutobi glanced at Naruto and almost shuddered. There was almost none of the young mischief making boy left in him, all that was there was a cool, calculating young man. Sarutobi didn't know whether to be relieved or saddened that Naruto had grown up.

"Simple Naruto. You will be assigned a new teammate."

All three males froze and Sarutobi was amazed to find that the temperature of the room had dropped. "So what you mean to say is that you're replacing Sakura?" Kakashi asked casually, but there was a hint of a threat behind his words.

"Sakura will never be replaced." Sarutobi said firmly, "However, you can accept your new teammate or be content with remaining genin and completing D-ranked missions the rest of your careers."

Team Seven conceded and Sarutobi summoned a nervous Chunin to fetch their new member. The large oak doors opened and all eyes were on the girl that entered.

Immediately their breaths caught when they were met with familiar green but their surprise morphed into hatred for the imposter. Her eyes were a dull emerald unlike Sakura's bright beryls, and her stringy brown hair pulled into a ponytail on the side of her head was nothing like Sakura's long pink mane.

"Ohayo, my name is Natsumi and it's nice to meet you." She said timidly. Sakura was a ferocious lioness who'd tear their little mouse apart. Yep, Sasuke concluded, she was nothing like their Sakura.

"Wow," Natsumi panted, "That was a hard workout!" Naruto glanced at her sharply. "Get used to it." He hissed, enjoying the look of hurt that crossed the young girl's face. Kakashi reprimanded the blond but both commended him. She was not Sakura.

The team walked to Ichiraku's, ignoring Natsumi's attempts to start a conversation. Ino and Hinata were already at the ramen stall, quietly talking until they noticed the new girl. "Naruto-kun, who is that?" Hinata inquired curiously. Naruto spared his girlfriend a soft look before they narrowed on Natsumi's small form.

"Our new teammate." He spat. Ino and Hinata glared at the cowering girl but Ino was particularly angrier. How dare she try to replace Sakura? "You will never be a part of the Rookie Twelve or Team Seven. Never." Ino growled, her knuckles turning white.

"I only wanted to be friends." Natsumi said, her eyes filling with tears before she ran away, much to everyone's satisfaction. Only Naruto felt guilt eat away at him because he knew they were being unreasonable but Sakura's death still hurt. 'Sakura, why'd you have to go?'

The next day, Naruto sighed as he walked over to Natsumi, who was stretching a little ways away from them. She looked down, waiting for the string of insults. "Natsumi, I'm sorry for everyone's behavior. You didn't deserve it." Naruto said tersely.

"Dobe, why are you apologizing to her?" Sasuke asked him angrily. Naruto whirled around to face the Uchiha, tears streaming down his face. "Shut up Sasuke! You know Sakura would kick our behinds if she knew how we were acting! It's not Natsumi's fault that Sakura is dead!"

"Sasuke. Naruto is right." Kakashi said quietly, and Sasuke gave a choked laugh. "Neither of you know anything about Sakura!" He yelled. Naruto punched Sasuke in the face, much to Natsumi's horror. "You're not the only one who loved her Sasuke! She was my sister too!"

Sasuke got off the ground and tackled Naruto, both throwing wild hits and scratches, trying to release their pent up emotions on each other. Kakashi didn't even realize he was crying until after he had separated the two from each other.

Sasuke took off, not wanting to stay in their presence any longer. He ran through the village, jumping over carts and running blindly into people on his quest to the only person who could fix everything.

Itachi was just entering the gates from a month long mission to Kumogakure when his otouto barreled into him and buried his face in his stomach. "Sasuke, what's going on?" Itachi asked and Sasuke looked up at him with tear streaks on his face.

"Please Aniki!" Sasuke begged hoarsely, "Bring her back! Please!" Itachi's heart sank as he realized what Sasuke meant. "Oh Sasuke," Itachi began but he shook his head and nearly screamed at Itachi.

"You can do anything Aniki! Please! Bring Sakura back! I'll do anything but please!" Sasuke bawled. Itachi wrapped his arms around his little brother, even as his own eyes began to sting.

"I'm so sorry Sasuke. So very sorry."

Im so very sorry to each and everyone of you. Words cannot express how sad it made me to be away from this story for so long. This is why I'm going to try and be more diligent in posting. This story only has so many chapters left and I already came up with an idea for my next one. Life, school, sickness in my family and work have kept me busy and I will try my best to update more. Thank you to all my reviewers and angel897 who kept pming me and motivating me to continue. Please continue to stay with me as I love and appreciate everyone's comments.