Story-line-wise, this is probably one of the more complicated things I've written. Lots of fun plot twists, and a lot of central characters. Speaking of which, we'll be seeing a lot of Kakashi, Anko, Orochimaru, Kiba, Hinata, Sakura, and Tsunade. Probably a dash of Kabuto and Sasuke in there as well. The pairings... well, I'm still debating that one myself. :P There are just TOO many possibilities.

But for what it's worth, I don't own Naruto. Enjoy! :D


"I want to remember this moment forever," Anko whispered, her head rested on Orochimaru's bare chest. Though her eyes were shut and she couldn't see, he gave her a slightly amused smile.

"That's a tall order," he hissed in her ear. "I've erased your memory once before, you know. How can you tell I'm not going to do it again?"

"You wouldn't do that."

Anko sighed and stretched, her silhouette almost artistic in the dying light of Orochimaru's candle. As she turned, she noticed the way he continued to gaze at her. His expression was expectant… and almost hungry. She raised an eyebrow, as though encouraging him to voice his thoughts.

"You're quite beautiful," her former sensei observed. "And strong, too. I haven't seen a woman of your caliber in quite some time."

"That's enough," Anko drawled, climbing back under the covers beside him. "You know you're forgiven, you can quit trying to win me over."

As he watched Anko rest her head on their shared pillow and closed her eyes again, Orochimaru almost regretted having to give her up so soon. She had trusted him again so easily it was almost endearing. Well, he'd admit that she fought at first. But he was able to reason with her, all the while playing on her every childhood fear and insecurity. In less than forty-eight hours, he had her truly believing that the curse mark had only been a test of her stamina and a way to mark her so that she might one day return to him.

It was remarkable how simple it could be to convince someone of something they wanted to believe so badly.

And it was too bad… yes, really, too bad… that her trust was so terribly misplaced. Their tryst would be long over by the sunrise…

Ch. 1

"I imagine you four have guessed why I called you here," Tsunade said. Her voice was all-business, as it tended to be when she was dealing out high-ranked missions. She fixed her steely gaze on each of the four ninjas sitting across from her in turn, finally settling on the sensei in charge.

"Kakashi, you're going to lead the mission, naturally, and Inuzuka Kiba will be your second-in-command."

The silver-haired jounin and the Chuunin-level dog trainer exchanged looks of mild interest.

"We've never worked together before," Kiba reminded Tsunade. "Are you sure it'll work?"

"It I weren't sure, I wouldn't have assigned it," Tsunade shot back. "And if you had taken the time to look around, Inuzuka, I'm certain you would have realized what I'm sure most of your team has already managed to put together: this is the ideal missing-shinobi search squad."

"She's right…" Sakura marveled, looking around at her assigned teammates. "The two in change both work alongside dogs – and are experienced trackers. Then there's Hinata - a byakugan user, so we can search dense areas without getting ourselves into danger, and then - "

Sakura paused, as though she had realized something she wasn't supposed to say out loud.

"Don't leave yourself out," Tsunade reminded her newest student. "I needed a medical ninja for this team as well."

"Medical ninja?" Kakashi asked softly. "What does that have to do with finding a mission person?"

Tsunade stiffened noticeably.

"The kunoichi in question was assigned a mission that should have taken her around a week to complete. She's been missing for almost fifteen days now."

"And you don't know in what condition we can expect to find her," Sakura finished softly, making it clear why she had neglected to call attention to herself earlier on.

Kakashi paled.

"Who are we looking for, Lady Tsunade?" he asked.

"Mitarashi Anko."

Kiba and Hinata exchanged a look. The former swallowed.

"Not to be rude, Lady Hokage, but Anko-sensei's pretty… badass," Kiba said. "Do you have any idea what could have delayed her for so long?"

"Several suspicions, but none that will be of any use to you," Tsunade replied curtly. "On a more official note, she left the village headed almost due East, delivering a set of documents to the Village Hidden in the Rain. I gave the mission to a high-ranked jounin because I'd heard accounts of several gangs camping out in the woods on the east side of the fire country."

"Do you think one of those took her captive?" Hinata asked softly.

"Not a chance," Tsunade replied. "Anko would have made quick work of any of those disorganized, non-shinobi thugs. Whomever - or whatever - is delaying her has to be one of our kind."

The four sat in silence for a minute or two. Kakashi finally took a deep breath and said what was on all of their minds.

"So are we searching for a live kunoichi… or are we on a mission to recover a body?"

Tsunade's eyes narrowed. Though she never would have admitted it, her anxiety and frustration resulted from the fact that she, too, feared for Anko's saftey. It would have broken her heart – both as hokage and simply as a kunoichi herself - to see such a gifted ninja cut down in her prime. Tsunade had seen it too many times before. And worse yet, she knew how Kakashi had changed since Rin's death, and she had a nasty suspicion that that would occur once more, on an even grander scale, if harm came to Mitarashi Anko. And that, Tsunade simply couldn't bear.

Shaking her head and trying to abandon such grim thoughts, the Hokage took a quick sip of the sake sitting on her desk.

"You're looking for a purple-haired kunoichi in a khaki trench coat and fishnets. The rest is up to you four – and her own dumb luck."

Kakashi sighed.

"Then I guess that means there isn't a second to lose," he announced, getting to his feet. "Kiba, Hinata, Sakura… let's get moving."

The four left the office in a numb silence, with Akamaru trotting along behind. When they were finally out the door, Tsunade took the opportunity to wipe her eyes on her sleeve.

That Kakashi better do a damn good job, that's all she could say…for his own sake.