A/N: I said this in the profile, but I'll repeat it here, just in case.
AloryShannon = The Sneak. This is my old (obviously now-unused) account, from...well, I won't say how long ago.
So no angry or indignant notes or reviews about how 'OMG "My Point of Weakness" is by AloryShannon, this story isn't yours!' Okay guys? I'm reposting it here, not on my current account, for various reasons. Please don't make me regret it.
Twenty-two-year-old Haruno Sakura leapt quickly from rooftop to rooftop, swiftly making her way towards the front gates of Konoha village to meet her team for her first mission in months. The cool early-morning air felt good on her face; it contained a lingering dampness that would no doubt be burned away when the sun rose in a few hours. She bit back a yawn as she bounded from building to building over and across the silent, deserted streets—no sane people were up this early. She was actually grateful for this fact, however, since it meant she didn't have to wear her mask until they left Konoha.
"Why a cat?" Naruto had asked the first time she had shown it to him, squinting at it almost distrustfully.
"Why a fox?" she'd replied, playfully snapping the strap of his own ANBU mask and smirking at the yelp that it elicited.
"You know very well why mine's a fox," he'd said a bit huffily, rubbing at his forehead. "But why's yours a cat?"
She'd just shrugged in response. "Well, it couldn't very well be a cherry blossom, now, could it? Besides, I like cats."
One gloved hand unconsciously moved to brush the white-and-red mask that bumped gently against her hip with each stride, and she smiled faintly. She'd been accepted into ANBU a little over three years before, but the thought of her distinctly feline mask still made her grin with pride at her accomplishments.
She had excelled in her training as a medical ninja, and was now second only to Tsunade herself; she had significantly increased her skill in her abilities with genjutsu; and with her mastery of Tsunade's trademark "monstrous strength" technique, her taijutsu skills had also increased exponentially. No one who knew her at all well had really been surprised that she'd made it into ANBU, though they had questioned her reasons for joining.
"Because I can," she'd said with a cocky grin that was vaguely reminiscent of a certain old teammate of hers. "It's where I'll be most useful—there, and in the hospital."
It turned out, however, that a significantly larger amount of her time would be spent working in the hospital rather than going out on missions. Sakura had found this to be slightly disappointing at first, though after giving it some thought, she decided that truthfully she was rather relieved that things had been so calm as of late. She only hoped that the recent lapse in attempts to overthrow Konoha, kill the Hokage, abduct the Kazekage, and/or forcefully tear Kyuubi out of Naruto wasn't the forerunner of some dire new difficulty looming on the horizon; but knowing their luck with these sorts of things, it probably was. What with both Orochimaru and the Akatsuki's sudden lack of activity, it was just too quiet. She was counting down the days until the appearance of some new, ridiculously powerful S-class criminal and his organization of crazed psychopaths.
But somehow despite the lack of serious enemy activity, the hospital was still constantly bustling, and after several long months of being continuously on-call, and receiving no missions whatsoever, Sakura had finally gone to Tsunade to request a change of pace.
"Perfect," the blonde woman had said with a smile as Sakura stepped into her office. "Just the person I wanted to see."
"Naruto's coming?" Sakura had exclaimed excitedly when Tsunade first mentioned that she did indeed have a mission for her, and that the hyperactive blonde would be going as well; it had been too long--nearly a year, in fact--since they'd last been on a mission together, and the pink-haired kunoichi looked elated that that was about to be rectified.
The Godaime smiled at her apprentice's jubilant reaction and gave a little shrug. "Well, since we have no idea what might be out there, I thought we might as well meet that wildcard with our own."
"Tsunade-shishou….please don't use gambling references when talking about missions…it makes me nervous."
Actually, the fact that Hyuuga Neji (one of the most powerful ANBU members), Nara Shikamaru (undoubtedly the brightest), and Naruto (the aforementioned "wildcard") were all being assigned this mission was what made her nervous; it was quite a powerful group, and with herself along as medic and genjutsu expert (and she was no weakling either), they were probably nearly an unstoppable team. Any mission that required that much power in such a small cell had to be something serious.
That's why she'd been so surprised when Tsunade told them the following day…
"Yes, you heard me correctly, Sakura. This is solely a recon mission." Sitting back in her chair, the buxom blonde surveyed the four ANBU members standing before her. "We have received several reports that 'something strange' is going on along the border at the Land of the Waterfall…a few of the villages in that area have sent messages with both complaints and requests that the situation to be examined." She met each of their eyes in turn. "Orochimaru has been uncharacteristically quiet of late, and I don't like that. It makes me suspicious enough to think that these disturbances might have something to do with him. Therefore, I decided that you four would be the ideal cell to investigate this little mystery."
Shikamaru raised a hand. "May I?"
"You said that these people reported seeing 'something strange,' so...what exactly is their definition of 'something strange'?"
The Godaime smiled. "Like to know what you're up against, eh?"
"Yeah…it tends to help."
Tsunade chuckled. "Well, I'm afraid I can't really answer your question very specifically. The messages from the villages mention lots of dark figures flitting about, random bursts of flame, and other 'strange' things of a similar nature. It sounds like ninja activity, all right, but that information is deplorably ambiguous…which is why I'm sending in a special cell of ANBU operatives, not just a team of jounin." Her expression suddenly became quite stern. "But let me make one thing perfectly clear to all of you right now: regardless of what you find out there, you are not, I repeat, are not to engage any enemies other than in self-defense; you are merely to discern what the trouble is, gather what information you can, and get the hell back here with it as quickly as possible, with your team in one piece. And if you can do all that without being seen or detected, more's the better," she said, looking pointedly at Naruto, who flashed her an impish grin.
"Any more questions? No? Alright then, you're to leave early tomorrow morning. Go ahead and decide the specifics amongst yourselves, but I'm appointing Nara Shikamaru team leader, so you'll have to run your ideas past him."
She looked at each of them once more, her gaze lingering a bit on Sakura and Naruto. "Good luck. Dismissed!"
Well, reconnaissance may not be the most exciting type of mission, but at least I'm getting out of Konoha for a while, Sakura thought as she ran lightly along a rooftop. Swinging herself over the building's edge, she landed softly on the ground below and slowed her pace to a brisk walk; the shadow of the massive gate loomed ahead, and she was a good fifteen minutes early.
On reaching her destination, Sakura found that she was the second to arrive at their designated meeting point; the tall, slim form of Hyuuga Neji stood slightly outside the open gate, his shadow slicing a long, dark gash in the fading moonlight that poured in through the huge stone arch.
She had known that he would be there first; he always was. She had toyed with the idea of masking her chakra and attempting to sneak up on him, but she knew that it probably would have just irritated him, never mind the fact that it was also quite unprofessional. Besides, it was far too early in the morning to try to be cute.
Arms crossed over his chest, his pale eyes regarded her with a close, careful deliberation as she approached, but he remained utterly motionless, save for blinking and, she assumed, breathing.
"Good morning, Neji-san," she said, bowing as she stepped into the pale oval of spilt moonlight.
"Haruno," he inclined his head slightly in return as she came to stand by him.
She and Neji had been paired together as recon buddies for this mission. It made sense if you thought about it (and Sakura had of course): Naruto was without a doubt the most powerful member of the group--anyone who had him for their partner would be fine, and since Shikamaru was the least combat-oriented of the group, he was the one who wound up paired with Naruto. Neji and Sakura, who were both quite powerful in their own right, also made ideal partners, their combined strengths making them a daunting force to deal with; also, they had worked well together on a few previous missions, so they already knew that they made an efficient team.
Sakura turned her head slightly to look up and over at the tall Hyuuga. His eyes were focused straight ahead of them, so she allowed her gaze to linger, studying him.
His ANBU uniform fit him well, she decided, though it still seemed rather strange to see him in anything other than the more traditional style of clothing that he wore these days; it was odd to see him in pants, she thought with an inward giggle. His ANBU mask was strapped to the side of his left shoulder, and his well-toned arms were still firmly crossed over his chest. His hair, long and rich shadowy-brown, fell to the middle of his back, though it was tied back loosely to keep it out of the way during their mission.
The moonlight spilled over his pale skin, almost seeming to make it glow faintly blue, and her eyes moved up a bit more to focus on his face. His features were delicate—his eyes striking and fringed about with dark lashes, his lips thin and shapely, his nose straight—and in that he reminded her somewhat of another proud member of a prestigious clan, one who had left long ago, though Neji's face had a more classic, aristocratic beauty to it…
"Haruno," he said without even looking over at her, "it isn't polite to stare."
With a deep flush she realized that she had indeed been doing just that; thankfully Shikamaru shuffled up at just that moment, saving her from having to respond or attempt to explain herself to the softly smirking Hyuuga.
Their team leader merely grunted at her rather overenthusiastic greeting, looking sleepy and generally displeased at being up at that hour, muttering something about how troublesome this mission was already turning out to be. He, too, was dressed in the ANBU uniform, and like Sakura, his mask hung at his hip.
That only left Naruto, but it was still a few minutes before the time they'd set for their rendezvous.
Naruto. Sakura thought of him and smiled. He was always able to make her smile, it seemed, ever since she'd gotten over her initial annoyance with him. He'd grown up into a tall, undeniably handsome man, as well as an incredibly strong ninja; but what she was the most proud of was the fact that he had grown up into a good man as well. Though he was still too loud and obnoxious sometimes, and though he still played the occasional practical joke, he had matured, but he was still every bit as kind and tenderhearted as the twelve-year-old boy who'd cried over the death of an innocent, dedicated enemy on their first mission; it was clear that as he had grown, his heart had grown with him.
And if he continued as he had been, he'd be inaugurated as the next Hokage within the next few years.
Finally he would achieve his life's dream.
(And if someone had told Sakura that back when she'd first met the blonde, she would've laughed until her knees buckled.)
How had he done it? Sakura had found herself wondering, and more than once, too. How had he, once the biggest loser in the village, managed to eventually surpass them all? Why was it that he seemed to be able to do anything he set his mind to?
Sometimes she thought he just managed to do things because he wanted to badly enough--that at times he quite literally willed himself into being able to do whatever it was that needed to be done. Take the tree-climbing exercise Kakashi-sensei had set them to during their first real mission. Naruto had made it to the top of the highest tree in the whole forest, but she knew for a fact that her chakra control was still a dozen times more refined than his.
Of course, it had to be, or she'd be out of chakra before Naruto had even warmed up.
It wasn't fair, really, that she had worked so hard and had still been so weak—mediocre at best—and that he had clowned around in or slept through class, and what did he have to show for it?
Well, an ANBU tattoo and uniform for one thing.
But then again, so did she.
Even so, regardless of that slight, lingering resentment of his having so easily surpassed her back during their childhood training days, they still had an unbreakable bond of friendship and trust that served them well on their missions as adults, and had resulted in them being paired together for missions quite often. It had been a while since her last mission, however, and it brought a special levity to her heart to know that she was once again going on a mission with Naruto, even if they weren't partners this time...
Speak of the devil.
She scarcely managed to get out a bright "Good morning, Naruto-kun!" before finding herself enveloped in a warm hug that was so enthusiastic, it was practically a tackle. She gave a little chuckle and returned his embrace, drawing a quiet hum of contentment from the tall blonde.
"I missed you, Sakura-chan!" he exclaimed after a moment, pulling back slightly to beam down at her.
"Missed me?" she laughed up at him. "You saw me yesterday, silly!"
He blinked, his blue eyes widening a bit as if only now remembering that fact. "Oh, yeah!"
"So, I heard you had a date last night," she teased, sneaking a quick look at Neji out of the corner of her eye as she did so.
Naruto had been dating Neji's cousin Hyuuga Hinata for a while now (one night Sakura had finally gotten fed up with her constant blushing and stuttering around Naruto as well as his total obliviousness to Hinata's feelings, and had burst out, "She LIKES you, you idiot! Now DO something about it!" At which point the two had just stared at each other, both slowly turning red, until Sakura growled in irritation and left them alone to figure things out for themselves. She found out the next day that things had apparently gone very well, and that Naruto and Hinata were now a couple…as well as a popular item for gossip.)
…Gossip which apparently was true, judging from the way he was now nearly dancing with her, grasping her wrists and spinning them both in circles as he babbled on, relating the success of his date the previous night.
"Save your energy, Naruto, you're going to need it," Neji reprimanded the ever-exuberant blonde, though the Hyuuga sounded neither worried nor severe; he knew as well as the rest of them that Naruto always seemed to have plenty of energy, regardless of how liberally he used it.
Sakura had always thought that he'd grow out of his hyperactive tendencies, but once he had left his teen years behind him and still showed no sign of slowing down in the least, she'd determined that he was cursed to be hopelessly twitchy for the rest of his life and resigned herself to dealing with it.
"Well, what are we waiting for?" Naruto released his gentle grip on Sakura's wrists, and spun to a stop facing the tall, pale-eyed Hyuuga, bouncing a bit on the balls of his feet in anticipation. "We're all here, let's go!"
All three of them looked at Shikamaru, the team leader, who nodded once, snapping his mask into place; Sakura and Neji followed suit.
"All right!" Naruto whooped, not bothering with his own mask, as per usual.
With that, the blonde took off, the rest of his team close on his heels.
The journey to the border would take a day and a half at top speed, and Sakura reveled in it; it had been far too long since she'd been able to release energy like this. She easily kept pace with the other members of her team, playfully cutting Naruto off every now and then when she thought Shikamaru and Neji weren't looking.
Tiring of that little game after just a short time (she didn't want to annoy him, after all, just mess with him a bit), she let her mind wander a little.
It was still strange to think of herself as ANBU sometimes; if someone had told her ten years before that she'd one day join the Black Ops, she would've told them they were crazy...but then again, if someone had told her about all the other things that would happen between then and now, she wouldn't have believed that either.
So much time has passed…so many things have changed…
Off to her right, she saw Naruto cut Neji off, chuckling when she heard the blonde's stifled snigger and the Hyuuga's quiet growl over her earpiece.
…And some things haven't really changed at all.
Because the past few months had been so slow (in terms of missions, anyway), it was only when she stopped and took a step back from it all that Sakura realized how insanely busy she had been the past ten years. At first she'd been focusing on her training all the time, working to make herself useful, determined to be strong; now that she'd attained that goal, she worked a regular shift in the hospital (and sometimes more when she could get away with it), and when she wasn't helping people recover, or figuring out ways to surreptitiously spend more time helping people recover, she was off on ANBU missions, sometimes for months at a time.
She shook her head. Had it really been ten years since Sasuke had left? It certainly didn't seem like that long.
Sometimes she wondered if a part of her still loved Sasuke even now, but she always pushed the thought away with disgust. She would not allow herself to cling to a memory; she would not allow herself to become pathetic, pale, and withdrawn by pining for the past--something that she hadn't even had, just something she'd wanted in the past. She would go strongly forward to face and embrace whatever it was that life had for her now, and since that obviously didn't include one Uchiha Sasuke, she was better off just not thinking about him.
She had loved him once, and despite all that had happened, she still cared for him deeply, but…she wouldn't call that caring "love" exactly. At least, not the same type of love (or, rather, mindless devotion) that she'd had for him before…as much as a twelve-year-old girl could love like that, anyway. But ten years was a long time to pine away after someone who'd decided that it would be a smart move to ally themselves with the most blatantly evil ninja around in order to become stronger, the eventual cost of it all be damned.
And it was difficult to love someone who'd turned their back on you a long time ago, someone you hadn't really seen or interacted with for years, other than the odd five-to-ten-minute-long encounter here and there where you both seriously tried your hardest to kill each other.
Thus, painfully, she'd moved on. It had been hard at first to give up all hope of him ever coming back, but Naruto and Tsunade, and surprisingly Ino and Kakashi, had all been there to give her support in their various ways (Naruto though his constant buoyant presence and his refusal to leave her alone to mope, Ino through plenty of shopping, makeovers, and general pampering, and Tsunade and Kakashi through lots and lots of painful extra training).
Time had passed. She'd recovered her sense of balance. She'd had fun again, had found that, yes, wonder of wonders, she could enjoy life without Sasuke. She'd dated. She'd been kissed. She'd kissed back. And though she often bemoaned her apparently permanent single status, she knew the reason for it well enough: she just hadn't found that perfect someone yet…though it certainly wasn't from lack of trying.
But it wasn't like she'd had a lot of free time to look for Mr. Right, either. Tsunade had seen to that, and while Sakura was proud of the significant amount trust her shishou had placed in her, a little time off would've been nice every now and then. She'd been so ridiculously absorbed in busywork at the hospital, she hadn't had a date in months—she would come home to her small apartment after work, wearily wash away the day's sweat, blood, and grime, then collapse into bed where she slept like the dead until it was time for her morning training session…after which she headed right back to the hospital.
It had been getting rather tiresome.
So now that Tsunade had sent her out on her first ANBU mission in months, it almost felt like a vacation.
She snorted to herself. You know you REALLY need to take some time off when the idea of a recon mission seems exciting. Sakura made a mental note to bring the subject up with Tsunade as soon as she returned to Konoha.
…But then again, maybe she wouldn't. She was in constant demand as a medic-nin, and finding a boyfriend really wasn't the highest thing on her list of priorities; it couldn't be. As nice as it would have been to have one, Sakura was practical enough to know that her focus had to remain on her life as a kunoichi first, and as a woman second. Her loyalty was to her village, even if it meant she had to betray her own feelings a bit.
She let out a small sigh, bringing her focus back to the mission at hand. Funny how far one's mind could wander even while leaping through trees at high speed. She was rather relieved that she hadn't slipped or tripped or done anything else equally embarrassing while her body had been on autopilot. After all, as the only female on this mission, she had to do her best to represent her sex—which meant constantly proving to her teammates, and to herself as well, that kunoichi were just as fast, and strong, and alert, and countless other things as well, as their male counterparts.
It was a constant challenge, she had to admit, especially considering her current team of two geniuses (albeit one of which was rather lazy) and a ridiculously strong, hyperactive prankster.
Sakura grinned behind her mask. She loved a challenge.
It had been a long night, and they'd seen no one since they'd parted ways with Naruto and Shikamaru three hours ago. As they leapt easily from tree to tree, Sakura often found herself casting glances over at her partner, the silent Hyuuga. He was almost as quiet as Sasuke had been, she thought, and he had the same air of power and superiority as the Uchiha heir. Pausing for half a moment to readjust her radio earpiece, she cast another fleeting look at Neji as he leapt noiselessly past, and she wondered what he was thinking at that moment; his hawk-faced mask hid his current expression--not that he was one to be overly expressive of most of his emotions even without it.
He really is quite handsome, Sakura thought absently, her mind recalling how the fading moonlight had lit the Hyuuga's striking face and features the previous morning when he'd caught her staring at him; she was suddenly glad that her own mask hid the quick blush that the memory brought to her face. She shook her head at herself; she was supposed to be focusing on searching for whatever was causing the disturbances in this area, which could by all rights be the most evil and disturbed ninja she'd ever encountered, and here she was thinking about boys!
How old are you again? she thought ruefully as Inner Sakura raged at her, you haven't been this distracted on a mission since that stupid loser Sasuke ran off almost ten years ago!
Once again she paused on a branch and sighed, slipping a hand beneath her feline mask to rub her face. Why did everyone remotely interesting always have to remind her of Sasuke?
"Something wrong, Haruno?" Neji was suddenly crouching on the branch above her, and his position and the hawk mask made him look like a raptor ready to swoop down on its prey.
Sakura felt an acute stab of embarrassment that he'd had to stop and ask. What was wrong with her? "No, nothing's wrong. Sorry, Neji-san…I'm just having trouble keeping my mind on this mission."
Mask still in place, he stared down at her wordlessly for a moment, and she wondered if he was using his Byakugan on her…and if he really could somehow read minds with it. She hoped not. At last he nodded. "Try to focus, then. We still have a lot of ground to cover tonight—"
"—And we can't afford any delays. I know…I'm sorry. It won't happen again."
Neji nodded again, and together they leaped off through the dark boles of the dusk-shrouded trees once more.
Almost an entire hour had passed when Neji suddenly stopped abruptly. He'd been constantly sweeping the forest before them with his Byakugan, and until now, he hadn't seen any signs of human life.
"See something?" Sakura whispered to him over the headset; apparently she'd noticed him stop.
"There's something on the ground ahead…someone, I think." He adjusted the setting on his earpiece to the cell's shared channel before muttering, "Alpha, this is Beta. There's someone here."
"How many?" Shikamaru's voice snapped back tensely.
"Just one," Neji turned his gaze back towards the forest floor, "and he isn't moving. His body is in an odd position--looks like he collapsed. I don't think he's lying in wait for us."
"Can you get a visual confirmation on where he's from?"
"Not from here. We're going to check it out, Alpha. Stand by."
"Roger that, Beta. Be careful."
Neji turned his head to look up at Sakura, who was perched on the branch directly above his. "This way."
Within moments, both were crouched side by side high in a tree over the small clearing. Squinting and pushing up her mask, Sakura could make out a pale figure sprawled on the ground below, though she couldn't make out any defining characteristics: the body was too far away, and was cloaked in the deep shadow of the moonlit forest.
"Sakura." Pulling his mask aside, Neji caught her bright green eyes with his pale ones, holding them with his usual intense stare; she hardly even noticed that he'd used her given name, not her family name, addressing her much more familiarly. "I'm going to check it out. Stay here, and be ready to call for the others." He nodded at the dark figure below. "He's alone, and I don't see anyone else in the vicinity, but it still might be a trap." His mouth tightened slightly as he looked back over at the kunoichi beside him. "Just be ready."
Sakura nodded wordlessly, her hand drifting to the hilt of her standard ANBU-issue katana as Neji disappeared in a whirl of leaves.
About half a minute of tense waiting later, Neji's soft voice floated up from below: "Sakura, get down here."
Wondering at the urgency in his tone (and a bit worried by it as well), she teleported quickly to forest floor to find her partner kneeling beside a pale-skinned, dark-robed body.
Her heart seemed to stop for a long moment, and she dropped to her knees beside the still figure as she found herself looking down into the handsome, ashen-hued face of Uchiha Sasuke.