Same Night:

Mikoto sat on the windowsill edge in the second floor library room of the house. As long as she could remember, it was a place of comfort; to sit and watch the world through a window. Fugaku had built extension on all the windowsills that Mikoto liked to rest on. Time and childbirth had widened his wife's hips and frame, and if she couldn't break the habit and sit on a regular chair, Fugaku wanted to make sure she was as comfortable as possible.

The library room sill had been carved out of rosemary wood which matched the design of the bookshelves and the large pillows on both sides were handmade and decorated with red roses on a black background. Mikoto used one of the pillows to prop her back and the other under her thighs. She had a thick ball of cashmere yarn between her legs and two thin knitting needles in her hands, her fingers worked deftly in rhythm with one another on a simple pattern. She was about a fourth done with the dark blue scarf for her younger son. He would be needing it soon.

Fugaku sat at his large mahogany desk; he was rereading the same scroll for the third time. An internal investigation was being done into three suspected Uchiha families and nothing had turned up. He gritted his teeth and clenched his jaw. He grasped the red clay cup near him and attempted to drink but it was empty; it had been empty for the past twenty minutes. He hadn't noticed and out of sheer internal frustration, he threw the cup against the wall.

Mikoto looked up when she heard the shattering cup; her husband's eyes met hers for a moment. Then she settled her knitting down and went to pick up the pieces.

"Mikoto, dear, don't," Fugaku growled, already out of his seat. She shouldn't have to pick up his mess. "You're going to cut yourself."

His wife raised her hand to silence him as she took a handkerchief out of her back pocket, "Yes and if I cut myself, I'll put a band aid on it. If you cut yourself – we may be missing another wall in the house."

Fugaku settled back down in his chair, his elbow against the desk and his fingers in front of his lips as he tried to hide a grin. He watched Mikoto bend down and retrieve the pieces carefully. Most of his anger had already dissipated.

"I do not think I am as hotheaded as you'd like to believe I am," he said calmly.

"Mmm," Mikoto muttered placing the pieces carefully onto the silky clothe, "and I don't think you are as level headed and calm as you'd like everyone else to believe you are."

Fugaku chuckled softly; he had no reply to that. Reality was always more complex than appearances, he of all people understood that best and his wife understood him best.

She walked back over towards his desk and placed and the handkerchief on top of the scroll he had been reading.

"Fix it," she said pushing a few papers aside as she leaned on the edge of the desk, her arms folded and her face free of judgment. "What's bothering you?"

He lifted up two pieces of medium size that went together, his fingertips burned hotly and he carefully melted the edges together, fitting them like a puzzle.

"Another investigation, another dead end," he said picking up another shattered piece.

Mikoto sighed softly as she watched her husband work on the cup. "I haven't found anyone either."

Fugaku stopped and starred at the clay on the handkerchief, "that's the problem," he continued unmoved, "I would much rather believe an oracle has lied than believe there is someone who can avoid your detection."

The Uchiha female looked down at her feet, while his words had been meant to demonstrate his absolute trust in her they also poked at the possibility that maybe someone did found a way to avoid her tracking jutsu. It broke Mikoto's heart to think of that since the whole Uchiha clan relied on her and most importantly, her husband trusted her absolutely. She closed her eyes and searched the Uchiha compound and Konoha again as she had been for the past few months, every half hour, trying to find suspicious activity among the clan.

"Mikoto," he whispered, his hand on her thigh – the cup finished.

She opened her bright red eyes; the black pattern of the sharingan was spinning dangerously.

"Come here," he grabbed her waist and gently pulled her onto his lap so her back was against his chest. She blinked and her eyes were back to their deep dark orbs.

"If there is a traitor, it will be devastating to our clan," she muttered as she unfolded her arms and let Fugaku wrap his around her midsection.

"We will find him," Fugaku said, his tone was one of authority and arguing would be futile. So she leaned her head back onto his shoulder and he rested his chin on the crevice of her neck.



Same Night:

"You know," Shisui began as he leaned closer to the fire. It had been such a damp day, it may not have rained but he still felt like a wet muggy dog.

Itachi opened one eye from his meditation, "what?"

"Thought you were asleep," the older Uchiha said, looking slightly surprised, "you know, just talking to myself," he explained with a large smile.

"Hn," Itachi closed his eye again and attempted to find the relaxing state once more. Sai and Gemna were in as deep a sleep as they would allow themselves, Genma deeper than Sai. The younger member was still displaying signs of untrust and while that didn't bother Itachi in the slightest, it was noticeable.

"Though I was thinking, I could sure go for Sakura's white hot chocolate."

Itachi did not reply.

"It was so delicious and thick. It was really like drinking melted chocolate, mmmmmm," the Shisui ignored the growl his stomach gave. "Man, when was the last time we ate anything sweet," the older Uchiha sighed as he leaned his head back against the tree trunk, "when I retire, I'm going to own a candy shop."

"That's a dream for a pedophile," Itachi deadpanned.

"I'll save some cookies for you," Shisui offered.

"Bakeries have cookies, not candy stores."

"It'll be a bakery candy store. I'll put candies in my cookies and cookies in my candies."

Itachi found that too stupid to reply to.

"I'll make rainbow candies and rainbow cookies. There will be cookies shaped like bunnies and kitties and boobies."

"Shisui," Itachi snarled.

"And cupcakes and muffins and –,"

Itachi threw a kunai straight at Shisui's head. He flickered out just in time, and reappeared sitting comfortably a foot away. "Chocolate cakes and chocolate bars and –," Shisui flickered away again as he continued to tease Itachi.



By morning, Sakura had completely recovered. A medic on call did one last temperature check before granting her release. He informed her that the Hokage wished to see her, Sakura thanked him and looked over her own chart after he left; her fever had reached a maximum of 105 with two hours of constant shivering. Depending on how she looked at it, it was either fortunate or unfortunate that she could barely remember the night before.

The intern from the exam had walked in while Sakura was taking out the I.V.'s and monitoring tape.

"Hey, Sakura" he greeted her by the door, his arms stuffed in the pockets of his blue pant-scrubs.

"Hey – you," she replied back. She never got his name.

"Everyone calls me Jai," he said, stepping inside.

"Sorry, hi Jai," she said reaching down the collar of her shirt to pull on the wire holding the tape on her heart.

He looked away, a small blush crept across his cheeks, "so…are you okay?"

"Yeah," she looked up at him when she finally peeled it off. He was still looking away, finding some interest in the poster about proper nutrition.

"That's good," he commented, still looking at the cartoon squirrel holding up a food pyramid.

"Are you okay?" Sakura asked, swinging her legs over the bed. She didn't see a point in the conversation. She had a slight fever, it broke, and there was no need to visit her as if she was on her death bed.

Finally, he looked at her. Now she had time to really examine him beyond the brown hair, brown eyes, and medic band around the arm. He was tall and obviously reached puberty early; his unshaven face had stubs around the jaw line, making him look older. His innocent oval shaped eyes took attention away from his bushy eyebrows. He had broad shoulders and she could tell he worked out by the visible muscles of his forearms. She wondered if he was trying to become a field medic.

"Ye-yeah, I'm fine. I was just checking up on you."

"Well, thank you," Sakura said, still perplexed why he was there. She was never very good at socializing with new people. Ino introduced her to all the friends she made in the academy, and outside of the institution, she found very few people she could hold a long conversation with.

"You were pretty awesome."

"I'm very grateful for your help."

"I was wondering," he paused and licked his lips nervously, "would you want to work together? Maybe teach me a thing or two?" He asked, shifting his weight to his left leg while burying his hands deeper into his pockets.


"Well," he looked away again, "there's no doubt you're going to be one of the best medics."

"I….I don't know what to say," the thought of her teaching someone never came to her. She was always the one being taught.

"Well, medic classes are still going on every morning. Maybe you can stop by?"

Sakura had taken a few medic classes, but she remained in her team making her attendance sparse. Plus Tsunade and Shizune worked with her at an accelerated rate making the case studies and experiments during the intern-rounds obsolete.

"If I can, I will," she answered, smiling at him. She still couldn't believe someone was asking her to teach them something. Her head rushed with the implications and her inner-self was already imagining Sakura dressed in a teacher's uniform instructing a lecture hall of students.

"Sounds good," he smiled back and hesitated a moment before adding: "well, I'll see you around?"

"Yeah, have a good day," Sakura replied getting off the bed.

He waved goodbye and walked out.

The kunoichi exhaled and brushed her bangs behind her ears as she walked towards the bathroom. She splashed cold water on her face and examined her appearance in the mirror. Water dripped down her pale skin and she noticed the dark bags under her eyes, however, Jai had placed a thin smile on her face which made her appearance less horrifying.

Suddenly, her stomach growled in annoyance while her fingers went around her cheek looking for zits. She couldn't remember the last time she ate.

She quickly washed her face and hands with soap and dried them off with a paper towel. After a final weary glance at the mirror, she slowly made her way towards the cafeteria. Sakura overheard the indiscernible hushed whispers of a few medics who were eating before their morning shift. Their darting eyes and discrete nods told her that they were talking about the kunoichi. With a slight discomfort she grabbed the largest cup of plain yoghurt and a bowl of fruit and quickly got in line to pay for it. After the cashier offered her a spoon and Sakura asked for a brown bag for her food, she quickly left – she had no intention of staying there. The passing judgments were something Sakura wasn't prepared for at the moment.

Sakura understood they were probably talking about her medical exam, but she didn't want to hear their congratulations or questions of inquiry. The pride she felt in passing was overcome by the disappointment she felt in her using the complicated techniques for an exam. She had really thought she saved a man's life and it gnawed at her brain when she remembered that it was all planned.

God, why are you moping? Her inner-self lashed out as she walked down the corridor.

Well? Why?

Sakura ignored the question, but her inner-self was not going to be silenced.

You keep wanting to progress, you keep wanting to prove yourself. You just passed the pre-jonin medical exam.

Sakura continued past the pediatrics wing, her eyebrow twitched.

Oh boo-freaken-who. Grow up. Her inner-self snapped.

Are you going to start pouting like Sasuke too?

She really was brooding similar to Sasuke when he'd get all self-depreciative over some illogical reason.

Damnit. Sakura cursed at herself.

The pink haired girl smacked her forehead with her palm; a passing male nurse looked up from his chart and raised his eyebrow. The kunoichi ignored him. Her inner-self was right. She had just passed an exam and proven her worth – that was real. It was just the situation that was fabricated.

Why do I let it all get to me? All the damn time.

Sakura sighed and her inner-self answered: You have set an indefinable standard, you idiot.

The more Sakura thought about it, the angrier she got at herself. What were her actual goals?

To be stronger.

But what did that mean?

What is stronger?

"Ugh," she moaned to herself.

She needed to figure that out but first…

The pink haired girl turned the corner and made her way towards the staircase and went down two floors to the basement. She used to visit her mother every day, but as time went by Sakura was able to let go more and more. However, when she didn't see her for a while, Sakura's insides turned with regret.

The coma patients' ward always smelled of degrading flesh and medical supplies. Sakura crinkled her nose and went straight to her mother's room. There were no doctors or medics here since there was no need. A nurse only came round at the end of the day to change I.V.s and waste bags. Sakura grabbed a small red stool from the far end of the room and brought it to her mother's bedside. She sat down and watched her mother's chest rise and fall for a few moments before speaking.

"Hi mum," she started and paused again, noticing a few new gray hairs by her temple.

"Soo….I passed the pre-medical jonin exam. That means I'm eligible for low-rank jonin missions if they are in need of a medic. I'm happy about it," she didn't sound happy, "well, I'm happier now. It's hard being a ninja. I remember when I enrolled in the Academy you told me that after I graduated you'd talk to Mr. Yamakawa about trying to get me a job at the bookstore. That big old bookstore…"

Sakura reached her hand out and placed it on top of her mother's. Her fingers were chilly and wrinkly with protruding veins. "It's funny, no matter what we plan, life is always changing. I wonder if you'd be proud of me, we never talked about me having a ninja career. Well, now, I'm sure it's what I want. I just wish –," the girl sighed and stopped, pulling her hand back and stared at her mother blankly.

She opened her mouth again to speak, but nothing came out so she closed it and narrowed her eyes. Shaking her head from side to side she opened the yoghurt container and poured it into the fruit bowl. She had no more words for her mother or for herself.



Sakura was ordered to meet the Hokage as soon as possible, but she lolled around more than usual. She walked around the hospital, shuffling her feet. She was no longer emotionally upset, but she didn't feel exceptionally happy. At the moment, she was satisfied acting like a ghost without a purpose. While normally she'd see her free time in the hospital as a prime opportunity to visit the patients on bed-rest and keep them company; now, she saw that as too much work. So she continued to float about, hallway to hallway, looking into doors, glancing out windows, and trying to find an inner peace within herself.

She liked watching the families and friends interacting with one another in the hospital. A grandson visiting his grandfather, sitting in the middle of bed, telling an over exaggerated story, throwing his arms left and right in animated explanation. The husband sitting beside his wife as the doctor took a family history, his face completely supportive as he silently squeezed his lover's hand, his eyes gave him away, however, they were filled with fear and worry as his mind drowned in worst case scenarios. A mother rocking her crying daughter in her arms, cooing her with soft words and humming rhythmically as she reassured her that the shot was necessary and she was being a very brave little girl. A young teenage boy sat in a wheel chair as his friends took turns signing his cast with colorful markers, one of the girls leaned over to give him a kiss on the cheek and the injured boy's face glowed with suppressed embarrassment and happiness as he tried to ignore the "awwwwww"s his friends teased him with.

Sakura couldn't help but smile at the interactions. The love of family and friends melted her heart and give her a feeling she couldn't identify. It felt good.

"Hokage office!" Tsunade's voice echoed in her head.

"Oh," Sakura's eyes bulged slightly; the Hokage had used the calling jutsu on her. She was enjoying her people-observation so much she had forgotten about her meeting.

However, she couldn't resist looking into one more room.

There was a father holding onto young twin girls, a routine checkup. Each girl sat on one of their father's thighs and were playing a clapping game while the father answered questions posed by the doctor. There was something very cute about a man spending time with his children.

She pressed her fingers together and flickered out of the hallway in a puff of smoke.



Sakura fixed her hair with her fingers quickly before knocking on the door. She didn't have a chance to shower yet and the sweat from the night before had made her pink locks uncomfortably oily and sticky.

"Come in," Tsunade said stoutly and the girl obeyed.

Sakura walked into the Hokage's office, her desk was cluttered with paperwork and there were a few large scrolls on the floor. The older woman got up and grabbed a cup of sake from her table and walked towards the young girl.

"Drink this."

Sakura, without thinking, accepted and took the shot. It prickled her mouth like needles, burned down her throat like fire, and suddenly warmed her entire body with a hot shiver. It was her first taste of alcohol. She didn't find it pleasant but it wasn't terrible either. She looked down at the empty cup, not sure where else to look.

"You've come a long way," Tsunade said standing in front of the girl, stroking the top of her head in a maternal way. She suddenly flicked the young girl's forehead with her index finger, "I'm really proud of you."

Just like that Sakura found the energy to smiled back, all her anger and resentment melted away. However unfair it was to manipulate her, the kunoichi would always forgive her mentor even when apologizes weren't said. She had to resist the urge to hug the Hokage in a tight embrace and ask her to never do something like that again, because the first action was inappropriate and the second was impossible. She would do it again, and again, and again. That was just something Sakura was going to have to accept.

"Now then," Tsunade began, her tone changing to one of business, suddenly her figure appeared to almost be looming over her, "Sasuke and Naruto are scheduled to return tomorrow night with Team Ten and Kakashi's mission has been confirmed a success…he just likes to take his damn time returning. After tomorrow, all four of you will be sent on a B+ rank mission with A rank priority. Go home, sleep, practice, eat, water the plants…whatever," she waved her hand to exaggerate her meaning, "My office an hour before sunrise for the day after tomorrow. Understood?"

"Yes, ma'am," Sakura nodded with a mellow joy as she was dismissed.

"Oh and pack for a very cold winter," the blonde added before the girl disappeared.



After a much needed shower and bath, she resisted the temptation to go to the training ground, and instead headed towards the flower shop owned by the Yamanaka family. Entering, she was engulfed with the mix of sweet and earthy smells that gave her goosebumps. She found Ino working behind the register; she was busy filing down her unpolished nails.

"Hey Ino," Sakura said kindly and Ino appeared to almost hesitate in looking up, as if it may have been a greeting from a ghost.

"Forehead!" The blonde's face widened into pure delight, "Come here!" the girl hopped over the counter in one fluid motion and engulfed Sakura in a tight and powerful hug.

Sakura hugged back and when Ino loosened her grip, she did not. She needed this friendly affection, just for a little bit.

"I've missed you," Sakura whispered into the girls shoulder.

The botanist rubbed her back, "I've missed you too….Jeez, your hair is getting so long," Ino gently tugged a fistful of it, "I can't remember the last time you had it this long."

"Yeah," the pink haired girl agreed, chuckling softly. She had yet to decide what to do with her hair and maybe a best friend could help her figure that out.

The hug ended, and they both held each other's hands. If they were children, they'd most definitely start swinging their arms side to side.

"You okay forehead?"

"I'm okay, though, I could sure use a friend right now."

"Well, I'm glad because so can I," Ino smiled back, squeezing Sakura's fingers gently, "let's go in the back, I have some chocolate and we can talk. It's been suuuuuuuuch a slow day."

When they began talking, Sakura spoke abstractly, her words were broken down and fumbled with; nothing followed a linear path. She would never have a career as a bard, but Ino understood as much as she could and offered the perfect amount of empathy. The pink haired girl had done a good job of keeping her eyes free of tears; however the pain showed in her face when she spoke of subjects that only her inner-self was privy too.

Ino, too, had her own bout of problems. Her parents were ragging in the midst of a bitter separation, both tugging right and left for their daughter. Ino also admitted her embarrassment during the Chunin exam, and worse, during the ambush she was completely paralyzed with fear for a good three minutes. She was ashamed and no matter what anyone said about how others froze as well, she took it to heart. "You know," the blonde said, "you always thing somehow, when push comes to shove, you'll do the right thing." Sakura nodded in understanding. Ino also told her that she had been training with her father in secret; her mother didn't know. Asuma even offered to work with her when he saw she was finally getting more serious.

"Next year I'll be the top chunin!"

"Damn right you will be," Sakura agreed, popping a piece of milk chocolate in her mouth and smiling supportively, "you sure as hell have the skills. All you need is practice and you'll be unstoppable."

"Kick your ass, that's for sure."

"Hey, I wouldn't go so far…" the pink haired girl teased.

"By the way, I was thinking about trying to get an internship at the hospital, you know to get better chakra control," Ino added suddenly, it even shocked Sakura, "maybe you could put in a good word for me?"

"The best word I can," the medic promised. After their afternoon together, Sakura stopped by the hospital to talk to Shizune about trying to get Ino enrolled in the medic classes.



When the day after tomorrow arrived, Sakura was still feeling mellowed out from the experience. She had lost a bit of the childish excitement but the morning was looking brighter than the last. She had spent the entire free day reading through scrolls, transcribing notes, and skimming passages of interest. She didn't lift a finger to practice and didn't leave her apartment either. If the ANBU Uchihas were back, Shisui would most definitely disturb her studying session. That was the only way she was going to go to the training grounds. The kunoichi decided that it wasn't depression that she was feeling, but she accepted that she was stuck in some sort of funk.

When she arrived to the Hokage's office an hour or so before the sunrise, she was startled to find Kakashi already inside.

"He's not early…he just came back," Tsunade said narrowing her eyes at the male ninja as she opened his report scroll.

He just shrugged, not even acknowledging Sakura's entrance.

The Kunoichi remained silent with her hands behind her back as she waited for the rest of her team to arrive.

Naruto and Sasuke came in ten minutes later, both out of breath – no doubt racing up the stairs. Her lips twitched into a slight smile. She had missed them, and she noticed the brightening of Naruto's eyes when he saw her, even Sasuke's face seemed to soften – a little bit.

"Sakura," Tsunade began and everyone's eyes remained on the Hokage, "create a web barrier please."

Sakura nodded and did the hand symbols Mikoto taught her and the jutsu took effect, looking as if they were trapped within a chakra web.

"Woah," Naruto first said looking around, he had learned the simple (boring) securing techniques from Jiyara months ago and while the old sage offered to teach him more, the young ninja just wasn't interested. Now, he wordlessly decided, that this one was pretty cool.

Sasuke and Kakashi remained unmoved and silent. The pink haired girl, too, stared intensely at Tsunade, looking for some sort of approval for the technique's execution.

"Good, now," the Hokage ruffled some papers as she took turns looking at each shinobi, "there are rumors of a planned assassination at the next inauguration ceremony in Ice Island. Sadly…there have been multiple, undisputable reports of these rumors from various trusted sources…and since Ice Island is one of our oldest allies we have sent a team out there to make sure nothing happens. But then another problem occurred because nothing can ever go smoothly in this world." The blonde woman sighed, grabbed a shot of sake from beside her and held it in her hands for a few moments before gulping it down, "The scroll for inauguration was stolen a few days ago and reports have it in the land of Mist. There's more information for you in your mission statement. After you get the scroll make your way to Ice Island and be there by the thirteenth of next month. I'm going to repeat this again, this is a two part mission, once you've retrieved the scroll, you are to return it to Ice Island's government and then with another team comprising of Kureni, Hinata, Shino, and Ino. With them, you will all make sure the event goes as planned. Understood?"

"Yes ma'am," everyone said at once. Even Naruto didn't complain.

Tsunade tossed a scroll at Kakashi's face, he reflexively caught it with his hand much to the Hokage's disappointment.

"Information is in there…Ice Island has given you four passes of military diplomacy so get rid of anyone who acts suspiciously…don't bother with questions unless absolutely necessary. They want this taken care of silently and quickly. Now get out," she was already pouring herself another cup.

Sakura dismissed the jutsu while everyone teleported out.

"Well performed, Sakura," Tsunade said and Sakura smiled a close lipped smile at the compliment and she, then, too teleported out and appeared back in her room. She took off her dark blue t shirt and grabbed her white hooded tank top and pulled it over her head. Over that she put on a dark red sweater. She tugged on the sleeves as she looked for one of her general scrolls inside the closet. She found the one she prepared and threw it on the bed.

Then she grabbed her beige cargo pants from a hanger and pulled them up after taking off her black shorts. When she finished redressing in an outfit that would work for traveling through the fall and winter seasons, she tied her medical pouch to the back of her belt and her canteen and whip to opposite sides of her hips. She lifted her leg up on the bed and began to tie her weapons pouch to her right thigh. She quickly stopped by the bathroom and grabbed a hair band and put her hair up in a pony tail. Ino said she looked better with a long braid but Sakura didn't have the time.

She walked back into the bedroom and opened her general scroll and double checked its contents she had packed the night before. She had placed her jacket, scarf, hat, winter gloves, extra clothes, extra herbs, two bags of rice, a bag of beans, a bag of chickpeas, and bathroom supplies inside. She had no idea how ninjas survived before supply scrolls and she had splurged the extra money she had on one of the advanced ones that could carry more. Satisfied and unable to think of anything she may have forgotten she folded it and tucked the scroll into the flap of her side pant pocket.

She snatched her fingerless gloves from the edge of her bed and then teleported to the gate.

She was putting on one of her gloves when Sasuke appeared. The Uchiha had changed into long black pants, and put on a white long sleeve shirt under his normal blue one. He also added a wakazashi sword to his back and his weapons pouch seemed fuller than usual.

"How was the mission?" Sakura asked as pleasantly as she could. She really wanted to have a stable relationship with him. She wasn't looking for good or friendly, just stable.

"We practiced pretending to be statues," Sasuke replied.

"Sounds fun," she said half heartedly and the male shot her a look. He obviously hadn't enjoyed the mission too much.

"Did you pass the medic exam?" He asked, his voice held no curiosity.

"Yeah," Sakura replied, hoping he wouldn't ask about it.

"Good," the dark haired boy nodded. It almost appeared to be a compliment, but Sakura wasn't sure – she never heard Sasuke compliment anyone….except his brother but since he revered Itachi as a demigod that didn't count.

"I think tha –," Sakura broke off mid sentence when she noticed the bright yellow flowing locks in the corner of her eyes. It was Sunshine. She was walking towards the entrance check point.

Sasuke didn't ask her to continue but his dark orbs followed her distracted green ones to the tall lady. Lady was the only word to describe her. She wasn't a girl nor a woman, and her walk was too graceful to be anything short of aristocratic. However, as evident from the simple garments, she was not rich.

"I'll be right back," Sakura said quickly pulling her second glove over her other hand as she made her way towards the disabled ninja.

Sakura caught up to Sunshine and the blonde stopped and signed hello with a gentle smile. In the light, Sunshine was just that – a pure ray of warm sun. She was breathtakingly beautiful up close with skin that looked like perfect porcelain and eyes like an ocean trapped in glass. Sakura likened her to a muse of the ancient artists.

"Hi," Sakura signed back with her hands, "How are you?"

"Good," Sunshine didn't appear surprised at Sakura's improved ability to sign, "How have you been?"

"So, so, I've been," her hands paused and she racked her brain for the gesture of practice. She couldn't remember.

The blonde female remained patient while Sakura tried to articulate how she'd been practicing sign language.

"Studying sign language," she finally gave into the easier verb.

"You're doing really well," she complimented; her hands moved with perfect fluidity, "are you going out on a mission?"

"Yes we're going to," she paused. She had no idea how to explain the mission in sign language.

Sunshine seemed to understand Sakura's struggle and reached her hand out, palm up. The pink haired girl placed her rough callused hand on top of her smooth delicate one.

"Sorry," Sakura mentally apologized.

"It's alright. Are you going on a mission with your team?"

"Yes, we're going to visit Ice Island. I've never been and I'm really excited about it."

"It sounds cold."

"I brought a jacket."

"That's good."

"Have you heard from Itachi or Shisui?" Sakura didn't mean to ask that, but Sunshine was in her head, where there were no teeth to bite her tongue with to keep from speaking.

"They're in Earth Country right now," she replied and didn't say another word.

Physically, Sakura noticed Sunshine's eyes sadden and the solemn expression. She thought she must have been missing Shisui very much. Even visibly upset, Sunshine still appeared to embody the essence of beauty.

"Of course," Sunshine agreed to the thought, "things are changing around here and it would be nice to have Shisui around."

"Things are changing?"

"SAKURA!" Naruto called for her, and she accidently moved her hand and broke contact when she looked over at her teammate.

When she returned her attention to Sunshine, the lady signed: "It was a pleasure seeing you, Cherry Blossom."

"It was nice to see you too," Sakura signed back, "I hope to see you," she paused again. She didn't know how to say "soon" but Sunshine had already turned around and headed towards the checkpoint.

Sakura jogged back to her team. Kakashi and Naruto had joined Sasuke in the wait.

"Let's go!" Naruto squeaked. He was as enthusiastic as ever to work as team seven again. While he could be dense at times, he hadn't missed the slight shift that occurred when Sakura slept with them. He couldn't wait to see the new paradigm at work. Plus, this was almost an A-rank mission! Their first! Naruto prayed they got ambushed. He had some kick ass techniques he wanted to show off, to both Sasuke and Sakura.

Kakashi got out his book and followed his students out the gate. While they all tried to seem mature, he could tell each was excited for this mission. It appeared that those who had something to prove always sought out danger. Those who had already proven more than their fair share wanted nothing but peace and quiet.

And a little bit of hentai.



They settled for the evening, a good 30 miles east from Konoha. The wind was crisper out there and the air, colder. However the trees surrounding the forest kept the howling winds from invading their rest.

"My mother taught you that technique?" Sasuke asked as they began preparing dinner. They were going to use the noodles that Naruto brought and the vegetables Sasuke brought since they were the most likely to perish.

Sakura nodded to his question as she set up the pot over the fire, "your mother is amazing."

"She is," he agreed, "I've never seen anyone else use it." Of course his mother taught it to him too, but he never had a need for it before.

"We should probably cast one over Naruto, his loud mouth would never get us in trouble again," Sakura teased and Sasuke broke an almost smile as Naruto loudly began to complain about how he wasn't that loud.

The evening was one of the most pleasant nights she had with her team, they all talked to one another – including each other in every conversation and Naruto and Sasuke behaved…for the most part. Sakura wished to freeze the moment in time and to always be able to come back to it because she wasn't sure how many more they'd have. A peaceful tension.

Kakashi appeared detached as he sat away, reading the same novel for the third time that month. He preferred this to the last few missions. His team really appeared to be growing up.

Soon they won't be needing me anymore. He thought with a lazy shrug. Maybe he could finally retire, find a wife, get a house dog, maybe even have a kid. He chuckled silently at the thought.



(Mid December)

Three days later, they reached Water Country territory. Kakashi told them to walk at an average pace on the path as to not draw attention to themselves since they would have dozens of eyes on them if they had chosen to run. Walking with weapons was apparently considered less conspicuous than running. Sakura didn't see the logic in that but she didn't question it either.

Kakashi continued reading Ichi-Ichi Paradise and Sakura fell into place in front of Kakashi and behind Naruto and Sasuke as she took out a tiny journal that she used to rewrite all water jutsu tips and historical information that she picked up from her teachers and the scrolls in her new collection. There was nothing new or especially breathtaking inside the scrolls, but Sakura would never reject learning something, no matter how mundane it seemed. Plus since she didn't have a photographic memory it helped to reread the information.

She looked up from her notes, Sasuke and Naruto were ignoring one another due to a dispute she had missed but it was evident that they were trying to walk-race one another. She smiled despite herself and looked back down and continued reading.

Halfway into the chilly afternoon, they were finally greeted by an enemy. Well overdue, in the two young boys' opinion.

A thick mist appeared around them.

"Sakura?" Naruto whispered stepping back towards the kunoichi as he got into battle position.

"Not mine," she whispered out taking out her leather whip as she made the hand movements of water release; dispel. It was the hidden mist technique.

Naruto looked around when the mist vanished, "Where's Kakashi and Sasuke?"

"I don't kno- Naruto watch out!" Sakura said shoving Naruto out the way into the bush along the forest to avoid a foreign blast that came straight at them. Instantaneously she manipulated the water from her canteen to shield her from the onslaught of the foreign water. She wasn't capable of stretching out her water to protect two while retaining its defensive power – she needed more practice and skill for that. The enemy's water rolled violently off Sakura's protective barrier.

When the jutsu subsided, it formed a large puddle of crystal clear liquid around her. She kept her own water out as she squatted down and touched her enemy's – he or she had released their chakra from it and it was harmless. She called her dragon from her canteen water. Her heart was beating loudly in her throat and she was fumbling with her thoughts. She had never fought against someone with a water affiliation.

"Naruto?" she whispered in the direction she had pushed her partner at but he wasn't there anymore. She heard a groan and a shout in the distance and she was unsure if it was her teammate's or not.

Suddenly, Naruto came flying from the depth of the forest, his body scrunched over – he had been hit in the solar plex and had the wind knocked out of him. He flew past Sakura and his body was stopped when his back hit the thick trunk of a tree. Sakura had immediately switched places with a water clone and was currently on a branch nearby, hiding behind the thick bark – the leaves had fallen off a long time ago.

Her heart ached to watch her teammate in pain and his groans echoed in her ears. She tried to control her breathing since her hot breath created a visible fog around her. A tall thin man with sickly blue skin and long flowing purple hair approached Naruto. Sakura's clone rushed to the blonde's aid and took on a defensive position, protecting the boy.

"Oh, now this looks like a party," the man said with a widened smile.

After a moment's hesitation, she sent her dragon and clone on the enemy as she jumped from the branch back into the makeshift lake. She placed her medical palms on Naruto's chest, discovering the paralyzing jutsu and quickly reversing it. "Come on, Naruto," Sakura muttered as the blonde nodded gratefully and lifted himself up but then Sakura felt a sword dig into her back through her organs and come out through her stomach. She hadn't noticed that her water dragon was defeated.

And so easily defeated.

"SAKURA!" Naruto screamed; his eyes widened in horror.

The pain caused a loss of concentration of her water jutsu and her clone fell into the water with a splash. She cursed at herself; if she hadn't been so overwhelmed with Naruto she could have easily blocked or evaded the attack. In that instance, she had just failed all her room thirteen practice. However no training could have prepared her for the tunnel vision she would receive when a comrade was injured. It was the first time she had to heal during a battle.

Naruto jumped in front of her and did the hand signs for the best jutsu Jiayara had taught him for the situation. It was his turn to protect her and he swore he would not fail. He couldn't believe he even let that jerk paralyze him! With a growl, he placed his hands together and summoned a wind release jutsu: Slashing Tornado. Two large tornados appeared, causing whirlpools to form in the water around them. They both headed straight for the blue-skinned enemy.

"How adorable! A medic that knows some water jutsu, and a brat with wind release….you'd both be worth a pretty penny," the man cackled, his rib cage showed with every breath he took. He didn't seem to be in the least bit worried about the attack as he dodged it playfully. He was like a cat that had his prey cornered, but refused to make the killing blow and allowed the little mouse to believe it could escape for entertainment.

"Like I'll let you touch her!" Naruto shouted creating hundreds of his clones around them – the slashing winds of the tornado continued to rumble both the air and ground. The blonde was pissed – how dare he injure Sakura, and he was also angry with himself – how dare he let Sakura get injured.

"Oh…hehehehehe, ," The man continued chuckle as he stopped his running and let the two tornados come at him. He bent his back leg, opened his palm and in one fluid motion, leaning forward, shifting weight to his front leg, and extending his arm – he stopped one tornado with a loud sonic bang. He repeated the same action with the other.

"Sakura, are you okay?" Naruto asked stupidly as he bent down beside her, he had no idea what to do. Seeing your partner with a blade through the middle really caused a panic within him and the stream of blood that flowed out of her injury was causing his heart to palpitate. He couldn't accept the fact that Sakura may be dead soon.

"Get the sword out of me…so I can," she coughed up some blood. It splashed into the water which was already turning a light shade of pink.

Naruto obeyed, his mind whirling with possibilities, ignoring the fact that his clones were soon going to be gone. He grabbed the hilt from behind her, pressing his foot on her back and slowly began to pull it out. The pain was complex and intense but she didn't scream. Any moment she felt pain, she thought back to when she was nearly burned to a crisp and it no longer seemed as terrible. Nothing could ever compare to that ungodly pain she experienced in the ambush. Not even this.

Besides, ninjas didn't scream. Itachi had said so.

Sakura flooded the wound with more chakra than she should have, but it was between spending too much chakra or passing out and she had to take her chances.

She heard the continued pops of Naruto's clones disappear, and when she looked up through her blurry vision she saw Naruto and his clone creating the Rasengan.

"Shit," Sakura whispered hoarsely as she felt the water around her begin to move unnaturally. The ninja was reclaiming it with an unseen jutsu. Before she could tell Naruto to stop his attack, he was already running towards the ninja. Then the volcanic water irrupted under him and caused the young boy to lose his balance and miss his aim. The ninja then summoned a wave jutsu and attacked Naruto from every angle, anytime he got a footing on the water it disrupted his chakra and turned to an unstable liquid causing him to stumble and fall onto another attack. All the blonde could do was dodge and avoid getting pierced by the deadly water formations.

The man roared with sadistic laughter.

"Damnit," Sakura muttered as she stopped healing herself and pressed her palms on top of the water – her dragon and clone had fallen into his water and her blood was in the mix as well which meant that her chakra was still in there…she just had to multiple it and overpower his chakra. She had read about it in one of the papers published by some academy teacher in some school that she didn't care to remember at the moment. He claimed that the reclaiming of an elements required more chakra control than affiliated jutsu skill and if there was something she was even remotely good at – it was chakra control.

Surround the water…just like drowning the guy…surround it like manipulation…surround it like water release technique….you can do it….you can do it.

As hard as she imagined it was going to be, it wasn't. She couldn't believe how easy it was for her to reclaim control over the large body of water and the attacks on Naruto suddenly stopped. The man looked extremely confused and for a moment the sadist joy escaped his eyes. The blonde attacked him with all the taijutsu skill he had. Kicking, punching – attempting to severely injure the man. However he was taller, more skilled, and held a plethora of experience over both teenage ninjas and only needed one hand and one leg to block all of Naruto's attacks. When he glanced at the girl he thought was down for the count, he saw her surrounded by a cave of his water and realized that the water was completely under her control. He hadn't even noticed his jutsu being dispelled. Her emerald green eyes seemed to sparkle like water under the hot sun. It was the first time she had relative control over her dojutsu, and she didn't even know it.

She was too focused on having to win this fight.

"Naruto! Now!" She shouted, hoping Naruto knew that she needed him to use Rasengan to finish him off. A huge wave appeared behind her and went straight for the man. With her unlocked power she did not need hand jutsu for such a simple maneuver.

"Nice try!" the man said and moved intense amount of chakra into his hands as he performed his own water release to stop her waves, but his temporary moment of concentration was perfect for Naruto who moved behind him and he prepared the Rasengan. The spontaneous plan that both partners had agreed wordlessly upon was that Naruto would send his Rasengan through the man's back and Sakura would send her blast of water into the man's chest. However, he managed to perform a water release which stopped her attack but Naruto was still able to connect his to the man's back. It launched him forward a few feet.

The skill of the strange blue man's counter technique overwhelmed and disabled her. Her dojutsu disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. The heavy force of water that had early been a cave barrier of protection came tumbling down on her unexpectedly and caused her to fall face down on the ground. She didn't have the energy to get up; it was more from blood loss than chakra depletion.

She never heard Naruto screaming her name for her to wake up.

A/N: Next chapter will explain the attack - they did not fight Kisame.

A little plot progression and a dash of battle - I hope you enjoyed this chapter! Thank you so much for reading. I appreciate the reviews so much, they encourage me to work harder on this story!


Thank you for Chibi Oro for catching a word ommision and Kaze and Kiba for the word misuse. :)