Title: Vengeance
Date: May 26, 2014
Summary: Haruno Sakura was dead. Haruno Sakura was dead and Uchiha Sasuke knew that he shouldn't care. But he did anyway.
Pairing: Team7ness, Sasuke/Sakura, Naruto/Hinata
Rating: M
Themes: Angst/Mystery/Drama/Romance


Vengeance
NINE

"No. I won't accept that answer."

A scroll was thrown on the wooden desktop, already scattered with several documents, and caused one stack of paperwork to precariously tip, and a pile of messily-scrawled manuscripts to drop to the floor. But the chaotic mess was ignored as royal blue irises darkened angrily, blonde brows furrowing with irritation, and eyes narrowing into slits as they connected with an equally upset, dark-brown stare.

"Naruto–"

"No." His interruption was fierce, voice low and gruff as he shook his head, "You're right about a lot of things, Shikamaru, but you're wrong about this."

Left hand in his pant pocket and right hand scratching against the back of his head, Shikamaru sighed with aggravation, "The reports clearly said–"

Naruto stood up from his chair, slamming his palms against his parchment-covered desk – effectively toppling a heap of folders – and sneered, "Screw the reports! I told you, I'm not accepting that answer."

Shikamaru's brow twitched with irritation, "Sakura knew what she was getting into, Naruto. You knew what she was getting into – a mission above S-Ranked and classified only to the knowledge of the Council."

"Classified only to her and me," Naruto corrected, a growl laced in his voice, "Even you don't know what the specifics entail."

"The point is," The Shadow-User continued, patience running thin, "We were aware of her chances and we still permitted the assignment. After Kokumotsu Village was compromised, and we consequently lost contact with her six months ago, the percentile of success decreased to less than five. We should be grateful we even received those reports three days ago or Sakura would still be labeled Missing in Action."

"Where?" Naruto pressed, standing tall and straight as he crossed his arms over his chest in a challenging posture, "Where did you get these reports? Who told you?"

"Lee and his Genin squad heard the rumors on the borders of Fire and Rice Countries." Shikamaru waved a hand to indicate the scroll Naruto had thrown earlier, "As much as Lee wanted to see the scene of the battle himself, the safety of his Genin team was priority and he didn't want to subject them to any encounters with GO. However, he did gain a substantial amount of intelligence from other sources."

"Were they reliable sources?" Naruto argued, his lips pulled into a deep frown, "I don't doubt Lee's competencies of gathering information, but unless a Konoha ninja actually witnesses the location of what happened, then Sakura-chan's status will remain MIA."

Shikamaru's brows creased and he pinched the bridge of his nose, "You are one of the most stubborn…Alright, which resources do you want to utilize then? We can send ANBU team Delta to the site and they can give you a full report when they return."

Naruto scoffed, stepping away from his desk to walk around it and to lean comfortably against its front, a meter of space between him and his strategic advisor, "Now you are missing the point, Shikamaru."

Dark eyes regarded the blonde warily, "What are you talking about?"

"Why are you so quick to brush off that Sakura-chan isn't dead?" Naruto's question was low but firm, blue eyes staring through the messy spikes of his bangs, chin dipped downward in a posture of contemplation, "Why is everyone so quick to believe something by word of mouth instead of finding out the truth for themselves? Where's the proof?"

Shikamaru sighed, "…It's not about proof. It's about logic." He walked away, hands in his pocket, staring out the large windows of Naruto's office, viewing the beautiful, sunny afternoon day, and leaned his right shoulder against the wall, "…I tried talking Sakura out of accepting this mission. Ino tried talking Sakura out of accepting this mission. She's one kunoichi assigned to take on an entire criminal faction, under instructions that only the two of you know." He frowned with recollection, removing a cigarette from his pocket and absently fiddling with the white stick, "Given the lack of solid information, the chances of her success were slim–"

"You underestimate her–"

"And sometimes you have an unhealthy amount of optimism," Shikamaru countered, glaring, "That's why you have me as your advisor." He sighed again and slipped out a lighter from his other pocket, "I don't doubt Sakura's abilities but I'm also aware of a criminal ninja's behaviors. They're ruthless – and the moment Sakura agreed to this assignment I prepared myself with the fact that I might be losing a friend within the next few months." He lit the cigarette and took a long drag, "I'd do anything if it meant bringing Sakura back; if it meant Ino would stop crying; if it meant I could actually play a decent game of shogi with a woman I could call my sister – but those reports–"

"What did those reports say?"

Another long inhalation followed by a slow exhalation, "The scene of the battle was a war field. According to the mercenary shinobi who came upon the site, the landscape was rubble – clear indication of Sakura's physical prowess. Blood was everywhere. Her opponent was a kunoichi by the name of Nakamura Leiko – an S-Ranked missing ninja from the Land of Rain. Rumors have circulated that Nakamura emerged victorious over Sakura. These reports were confirmed with multiple sightings of this kunoichi in the Land of Rice, within the last two days, heading towards Ueda Village."

Naruto remained silent through the informal debriefing, right hand rubbing against his chin and blue eyes glaring into the wooden planks of the floor.

"No body?"

Shikamaru's jaw clenched tightly and he shook his head, "No. We believe Nakamura took Sakura's body with her in order to extract information. Our Hunter units are already preparing to track Nakamura and to bring Sakura back."

A wry smirk curled Naruto's lips, "So far so good."

Shikamaru blinked, "Pardon?"

"Was anything found?" Naruto continued.

"No." Shikamaru scratched his head as he opened one of the windows and flicked out his spent cigarette, "Our Rice Country contacts have already closed off the area until our Hunter units arrive. They'll perform a thorough sweep of the site and send back any discoveries through Hawk Communication."

Naruto shook his head and straightened from leaning against his desk, "No need. Retract the Hunter unit assignment."

Shikamaru frowned, "Wha–why?" He paused, dark brown eyes widening with realization, "You aren't thinking of–"

"Yes." Naruto interrupted knowingly, "I am." He moved around his office, grabbing his flak-jacket and the scroll sent by Rock Lee, "We've reached the pointI sent Sakura-chan on that mission. Sakura-chan is MIA. I am going to bring her back."

"Naruto, you can't just–"

"Yes, I can!" Naruto affirmed strongly, "Sakura-chan is my teammate. She's my best friend. She's my family. And, if I were in her position, she would do the same for me."

"She isn't the Hokage," Shikamaru pointed out, both incredulous and exasperated.

"And what kind of Hokage would I be if I left my friend to die?" Naruto retorted, shrugging on his cloak.

"How do you know if she isn't dead already?" Shikamaru wasn't trying to be the pessimist but he was trying to find a logical reasoning for Naruto's irrational positivity.

"I don't know." Naruto looked at the Nara seriously, "But I will know once I get a good look at that battle site. Sakura-chan…" Naruto paused before motioning Shikamaru to follow him out of his office, "I won't abandon her. Dead or alive, it's my job to bring her back."

"It's unnecessary for you to go, Naruto. Have Kakashi or Sai head the mission!"

"No. I'm not arguing this, Shikamaru. I'm going."

"Troublesome." Shikamaru sighed, shaking his head, "You are the most unorthodox Hokage ever."

Naruto grinned triumphantly, "I'm leaving you and Kaka-sensei in charge – I trust you both. Gather my team and have them meet me in an hour at the Main Gates."

"Your team?"

His grin broadened, "Hina-chan – she'll be my tracker. And Sai – he'll be my extra muscle."

"Two people?" Shikamaru looked dubious, "I don't doubt your strength, Naruto. But I'd recommend extra protection for someone of your specific position."

Naruto paused, rolling his blue eyes before waving a dismissive hand, "If Kiba's around then let him know. And get a hold of my cousin – she'll want to help."

"…Are you really sure about this?"

Naruto nodded without hesitation, connecting deep, royal blue with uncertain brown, "Until I see otherwise, Sakura-chan is alive." He smirked, "And you and I both know how stubborn I am when it comes to changing my opinion."

"Definitely troublesome," Shikamaru sighed, "…Okay, fine, we'll do it your way." Naruto beamed victoriously once more, walking in the direction of the nearest window for a quicker exit, "And Naruto?"

"Yeah?"

"…Bring her home."

There was no specification of what state she would be brought home in. But, in Naruto's mind, there was only one answer he would accept.

Blonde brows drew together in eager determination, "I will. Believe it."


Six Months Earlier

"The Hayashi Clan has proven a continuous problem for our village." Masaru ran a hand through his brown hair in a gesture of feigned apprehension, olive eyes darting routinely from his office window to Shadow to, finally, Haruno Sakura. His brows were pinched, jaw clenched as he contemplated his next words.

"For how long?" Sakura questioned, her tone laced with concerned curiosity. When Sasuke glanced at her, her green eyes were sharpened, swirling with well-concealed suspicion, yet her features was smoothed with simulated sympathy.

"Years," Goro answered readily, "Started just a few months after Orochimaru's reign on Rice Country ended." He sighed, crossing his arms over his chest in a posture of defensiveness, "We encounter them several times a month. They threaten our village; they pillage our shipments; they're a bunch of ruthless criminals."

Sasuke resisted the urge to scoff with irony, although an irritated scowl twisted his lips beneath the fabric of his dark mask.

Sakura crossed her own arms and Sasuke almost missed the twitch of her brow, facial features clearly wanting to display her disbelief in Goro's words, "And Leiko-san? Where is she now?"

"Several miles south – she's trying to lose her pursuers in the Matsuri Forest. According to her message, she's heavily outnumbered and will not reach Kokumotsu without help." He clasped his hands together and bowed his head, "I know it is too much for me to ask, Sakura-san, but please – please return her to us safely. She is a friend." He lifted his head to connect dark olive with bright emerald, "We've heard stories about you – with your help the Hayashi Clan may leave us alone."

Sasuke's fingers clenched as he listened to Goro's manipulative words with disdain before shifting his attention to Sakura, silently assessing her reaction. Her expression remained passive, green eyes steadily piercing through Goro's stare and lips pursed into a thin line. She was lost in contemplation but Sasuke already knew what her answer was going to be.

"…You understand that requesting for my help also suggests that you request for the aid of the Great Nations – we can seize Kokumotsu from your control by reason of unfit leadership." Her words were calm and careful and Sasuke could immediately sense Goro's sudden tension.

Masaru relaxed after another moment, before bowing his head further, "If asking for your help entails Leiko's safety – then I am more than willing to give up my position as Kokumotsu Village's Leader."

With Goro's head bowed, he didn't see Sakura's brows furrow with suspicion, lips pulling down into a deep frown in a moment of brief confusion, before smoothing out once again. However, Sasuke had witnessed it and he could already see the array of strategies playing behind Sakura's vivid green irises.

"I'll do my best," She finally answered, prompting Goro to lift his head, a grateful grin on his lips, "Though it will be by my standards." She focused her attention on Sasuke, "I only require the aid of Shadow. No others." Masaru opened his mouth to protest but Sakura was quick to interrupt with sharp command, "I will not chance a repeated ambush on my life with a multitude of ninja I hardly know."

Masking his disappointment, Masaru nodded, "Of course, I understand, Sakura-san."

Sakura turned to Sasuke, "I'll meet you at the South Gates in five minutes."

Without bothering to listen to a response, Sakura spun on her heel and left Goro's office.

"…Leiko's life is of no concern to me, Shadow." Sasuke switched his attention to Goro, whose confident persona had returned as he sat down at his desk, "Whether she lives or dies, the information she carries is far more valuable."

"What's the point of including Haruno in this mission?" Sasuke questioned, irritated, "I could have gone alone. You heard her – by requesting for your help you bring the Great Nations closer to your gates. If something goes wrong – if Haruno is injured or killed – there will be an investigation."

"Haruno is recognizable – once the Hayashi Clan encounters her, they'll back off – better yet, the threat of competition will lower. If they think the Great Nations are involved, they won't think about stealing from us." Goro shrugged, "And, if they decide to confront her, it can end in two ways – she dies and Hayashi is connected to it or she helps obliterate a majority of our rival's best ninja." He grinned, "Best scenario is that they wipe each other out!" He pointed his right index finger at Sasuke, "Your job is to make sure she doesn't get a hold of the scroll Leiko has." He waved his hand, "Leiko be damned, she can take care of herself – if not, then too bad."

"You're playing a dangerous game," Sasuke growled – he wasn't concerned for Goro, but for his own personal involvement, "If she dies the Leaf will not be lenient. They will find out who was responsible."

They could find Sasuke.

Olive eyes rolled, exasperated, "Let me worry about that. You're a mercenary shinobi. I'll handle the politics. Your job is to follow my orders – now get that scroll."


"Matsuri Forest – two kilometers out and closing. ETA: eight minutes."

The static of his earpiece buzzed after her informing statement before tapering into silence. They were running at a mildly hastened pace through the flattened rice fields separating Kokumotsu Village and the forest Leiko was taking refuge in, both quiet and inwardly contemplating their next course of action.

Sakura hadn't spoken since leaving the village gates, failing to offer the most mundane of comments or the most rhetorical of questions. She ran several meters ahead of Sasuke, the expression on her face smoothed of emotion, only betrayed by the furrow of her pink brows, clearly displaying her deepened thoughts and obvious determination.

Yet those thoughts, and the reasons for her resolve, were lost on the Uchiha. Wariness coiled his shoulders, uncertain of her plans once they reached Masaru's most trusted lieutenant.

Without the watchful eyes of Goro's men; without the threat of harm to surrounding, innocent civilians; and without the walls of Kokumotsu surrounding her – what would Haruno Sakura do?

Would she attack Leiko? Would she attack Shadow? Would she leave? Would she take Hayashi Clan prisoners? Would she retrieve Goro's valued Scroll? There were so many possible scenarios to consider – and Sasuke disliked his inability to anticipate Sakura's next move.

"Closing in," Sakura informed calmly, slowing her pace just as they reached the towering tree line of Matsuri, "And destination reached."

The two stood on the precipice of the forest, staring up at the towering canopies as the wind shifted lightly, ruffling their cloaks around their ankles. The darkness beyond and the mysteries within caused tension to flex Sasuke's muscles, fingers tightening readily – it had been some time since he was involved in a difficult brawl, fighting amidst the trees, outnumbered, almost direly so.

He side-glanced Sakura – it had been even longer since he fought alongside her.

"Alright," the Leaf kunoichi sighed before she smartly lifted her hood and covered her recognizable pink tresses, "Leiko-san is our top priority." She looked at him as she fiddled with her collar and Sasuke inwardly commended her choice of pulling up a dark mask from around her neck to cover her nose and mouth, leaving only her expressive green eyes – he inwardly smirked with the knowledge that, already, one of Goro's plans was being thwarted.

As if reading his thoughts, Sakura's eyes narrowed into a mischievous smile, "A mask has its merits."

Sasuke fought his amused smirk and, instead, turned back to the forest's entrance, "Plan?"

"…We're uncertain of the number of adversaries there are," Her voice was muffled but still discernable, "And we are even more uncertain of Leiko-san's condition. We'll go in close – maintain radio contact – and scope out the area." She unsheathed her tantō, "We grab Leiko-san and leave. No death. No killing. We fight in self-defense by knock out. My purpose here is to not make enemies – this conflict between Hayashi and Kokumotsu is not my fight."

Sasuke nodded, "Understood."

Sakura scrutinized him for a brief moment before moving forward, "Good."


"Blood smears – seven meters ahead. Shattered branches – fifteen meters south. She's injured and leading her pursuers in circles."

Sasuke nodded as he landed on a sturdy bough, crouching low as Sakura's shadow swiftly moved beyond his location to settle on a wide limb several trees away.

"Tracks," Sasuke reported lowly as he ran his gloved fingers across scuff marks on the bark, "A large group. I've counted at least fifteen ninja."

"Something seems off…" Her radio-static mutter was slightly whispered, her form jumping a few more trees ahead before alighting to the ground, "…These tracks seem too…planned. Too strategic."

Sasuke couldn't help but agree, scanning his dark eyes across the densely enclosed environment and noticing the marks of battle, scarring the tranquil scenery. Several times, he and Sakura needed to avoid traps of thin trip-wire or explosives.

"She seems to know what she's doing," Sakura offered sardonically, "…I've found a body. Dead."

The Uchiha grunted as he propelled himself forward and began his descent to the ground, landing several feet behind Sakura as she crouched low and inspected the unmoving heap at the base of a thick tree.

He was male, adorning an unorthodox beige and grey uniform that probably belonged specifically to the Hayashi Clan. His left hand was severed and laying a few meters away, clutching a copper-covered tantō. His hitae-ate was slashed across the symbol of Hidden Earth, askew over one wide eye which was darkened of life. The clothing at his collar was shredded and his neck was bruised and bleeding.

"Strangled," Sakura deduced with a frown, "Ruthless."

"She's psychotic," Sasuke murmured in explanation.

"Is she?" Sakura responded thoughtfully, "Or is that an excuse?"

Before Sasuke could reply, a sudden explosion shook the forest – quaking the earth beneath their feet – and several shouts began to echo around them, nearing in distance.

"Find that bitch, damn it!"

"Shiro and Ichiro are dead! Katsumi is still missing!"

"We aren't resting until that wench is dead! First Ashura-sama and now the Scroll – we can't let her escape; she's going to fucking pay!"

"Persistent little bastards, aren't they?"

The mellow voice was followed by a tired chuckle, though her amusement was still present. Sasuke and Sakura calmly turned and easily viewed Nakamura Leiko sitting languidly on one of the low boughs, swinging her legs impishly as she leaned her right shoulder against the tree's trunk.

Blood was smeared across her forehead – indicating a head wound – and her left leg's pant was torn, revealing the charred and bloody skin beneath. Her clothing was out-of-place from what Sasuke was used to seeing; instead of her usual, dark, skin-tight clothing she wore the Hayashi Clan uniform similarly found on the dead Hayashi Clan member.

Reconnaissance mission gone awry, perhaps?

"Took you long enough," Leiko drawled as she swung her manriki-gusari around in circles, "Though, you'll only get in my way."

"You're injured," Sakura pointed out, irritation laced in her tone, "And Masaru-san has made your return a top priority."

"Has he?" Leiko laughed, running her other hand through her ebony tresses, "What a load of bull – he just wants to ruin my fun."

Sakura frowned, "Fun?"

Leiko rolled her eyes, "Ah, apologies, what I meant was – I'm going to kill these ninja."

Sakura stepped forward, her grip on her tantō tightening, "Violence is unnecessary–"

"It is necessary, Leaf kunoichi," Leiko snapped, her grey eyes narrowing, "You are not a part of the conflict between their Clan and my Village. It is war between us – and the more of them I kill, the better off my Village is."

"That logic may make sense to you," Sakura argued, "But it will benefit no one–"

"What do you know?" Leiko sneered as she stood up, "The privileged little kunoichi protected by higher walls and even more bodies. Kokumotsu is not Konoha. Don't even try to preach shit like you Leaf brats are prone to do – this is a different world that you're in and if you get in my way, I won't fucking hesitate to take you out too."

Sasuke, silent throughout the exchange, inwardly shook his head as the dark-haired woman jumped off, deeper into the foliage. Nakamura Leiko was psychotic – and selfish. Her words put Masaru in a position that made them look vengeful and violent. Leiko basically admitted that she had no qualms striking Sakura down, if the chance presented itself.

"She's an angry soul," Sakura muttered, a little annoyed, "Heavily influenced by her emotions and thoughts." A wry smirk curled her lips, "However, I suppose, aren't we all?"

"She's psychotic," Sasuke repeated.

Sakura hummed and sighed before directing her gaze southward, towards the rising smoke and the origin of panicked shouts. Clutching her tantō tighter, Sakura moved forward, intent on joining the wayward criminal kunoichi.

"…You're going?" Sasuke questioned, surprised. After Leiko's speech, Sakura had no reason to stay – she could leave the woman to die if she wanted to. Leiko made her choice to stay and slaughter. Why would Sakura join her?

"As much as I hate to admit it – she's right." Sakura adjusted her hood to better cover her pink tresses, "I did grow up with privilege and I don't fully understand her reasoning – it comes from an experience that I cannot empathize with. I was involved in a war yet I grew up quite comfortably. Leiko harbors strong hatred in her." She shook her head, "I don't condone what she's doing – I find vengeance a very self-destructive response to already difficult situations – but I suppose that's who she is. Who am I to change that?" Sakura shrugged, "If I could help her quell that anger, I would; but she doesn't seem very willing to accept any help I could give."

Sasuke didn't respond. He couldn't help but feel like her words were a generalization – from personal experience – and he didn't want to even think about analyzing that.

"Besides," The shouts were getting louder and Sakura tightened the bandana over her mouth, "I still have a mission to complete."

As she disappeared into the underbrush towards the source of the explosions, Sasuke couldn't help but question – complete the mission given by Masaru or complete her own personal agendas?


"Shadow, on your right, twenty degrees!"

His radio earpiece cackled and Sasuke ducked, missing the long blade by inches before spinning low and imbedding a kunai into his adversary's left thigh. Using his off-balance as an opportunity, the Uchiha sprang up and connected his elbow with his opponent's head, effectively knocking him out.

They moved with – surprising – fluid synchronization. They kept in parallel pace, covering each other's blind spots – although Sakura made sure to keep Shadow in her peripherals – running through Matsuri Forest and knocking out enemy ninja with teamwork Sasuke could almost describe as flawless.

"Crazy bitch!" The distant, angry yell was filled with fury, "Where is Ashura-sama? What did you do with him?"

Sakura ducked under the horizontal slice of a tantō before bringing a paralyzing, green-glowing hand to his back, causing the shinobi to crumple where he stood into a temporarily motionless heap. She wasted no time jumping to the higher canopies, stealthily creeping along several long boughs until she came to a high perch that viewed the clearing below. Sasuke settled a few feet beside her, suppressing his chakra just as she did, and quietly witnessing the interactions below.

Leiko was surrounded by at least eight shinobi. The fact that Sakura was failing to announce their presences intrigued him. Studying her narrowed gaze, it seemed her focus was simply to examine Leiko and her actions.

"Don't you worry about Ashura," Leiko amended with a smirk, "He is of no concern to you any longer."

"Witch!" A kunoichi hissed with distaste.

"Ah, what a compliment!" Leiko breathed in, reveling in the destruction around her as she casually swung her weapon in circles, "Are you all ready to die now?" Her smile was sinister.

"Kill her!"

Leiko's mouth dropped open, a low laugh falling passed her lips as she crouched low, each hand taking each end of her manriki-gusari and spinning it in anticipated readiness. All eight ninja charged towards her, each carrying a weapon and intent on running their blades clean, through her body.

Sasuke and Sakura leaned forward, watching with critically narrowed eyes.

And then Leiko moved. Her speed was incredible. It didn't match Sasuke's but it was still significant. Her movements, while not as graceful, were sharp and filled with power. She ducked and swung her chained weapon with skilled precision, twisting it around her body, arms, and neck in spinning pitches, causing the blunt end to crack against skulls and the sharp end to slice easily across skin. She knew her body well – long black hair flowing but never getting caught in her weapon – and limbs flexible in movements that had her bending under, and spinning over, her opponents with practiced ease.

Another strong swing and Leiko's manriki-gasuri twisted around her neck, blunt end deflecting against an approaching kunai and sharp end twisting to decapitate one kunoichi's head. Blood spurted in different directions, painting the clearing dark crimson, with limbs severing, and bones breaking, around the S-Class criminal's dangerous dance.

Three remaining shinobi grunted before jumping a safe distance away, holding bloodied limbs and eyeing their fallen comrades with disbelieving eyes. She, herself, was not unscathed. Blood trickled in steady rivulets from shallow cuts and deep gouges, but the wounds didn't seem to affect her. Leiko accomplished another spinning flourish before halting in a self-satisfied pose, right hand bringing up the sharp-edge of her weapon and tongue darting out to lick the blood off its shining blade.

Her grey eyes darkened as she smirked, "Yum."

"Demon," One ninja growled; he raised his good arm before pointing his sword towards her, "Finish her!"

Smirking with glee, Leiko ran forward, into the fray of assaulting weapons, unfazed by the blades sinking into her skin, hurtling her manriki-gusari forward and swinging it around with wild abandon as maniacal laughter escaped her lips, "DIE!"

"It's like she doesn't suffer from the sensation of pain…" Sakura whispered as she watched the ebony-haired kunoichi take a kunai to the bicep without flinching, responding only by wrapping the chain around two necks and pulling savagely until two, simultaneous snaps sounded, "Her movements are…unpredictable."

Leiko dropped the bodies with a chuckle, gathering the chain of her weapon and stepping over the lifeless corpses towards her final opponent, "One left."

The last remaining ninja quivered under her dark grey gaze, clutching his bleeding left temple with one hand and his tantō in the other. Leiko's movements were slow and predatory, her entire body covered in blood, tongue poking out to lick the crimson off her smirking lips.

"How shall you die, little ninja?"

"…I-I…I s-surrender!" He dropped his weapon and fell to his knees, bloodied palms out and above his head, "P-Please!"

Leiko laughed, her countenance darker – satisfied – as she tilted her head to the side, "Oh well…That's not how this works."

"B-But…"

"Time to die," She swung her manriki-gusari in continuous circles, gaining force with the constant motion.

"Bitch," Sakura hissed. Her chakra flared to life as she jumped down from their high perch before any kind of protests could fall from Sasuke's lips, "STOP!"

Leiko's attention shifted. Her grey eyes darkened into pure black, and a menacing grin curled her lips. Once Sakura landed on the grassy floor, Leiko spun, pitching the sharp-end of her manriki-gusari towards the Leaf kunoichi with deadly intent. Sakura scowled, swiftly bringing up her tantō to deflect the assault and trapping the chain by twisting it around her blade. Leiko frowned, trying to tug her weapon back, but Sakura held firm.

"Stop this," Sakura growled, "He's surrendered. Return to your village." Green eyes narrowed to study the dark-haired kunoichi, and even Sasuke, from his high post, could comprehend that Leiko was not herself. She was consumed – blinded – by bloodlust.

"Stay out of this!" Leiko snarled. Without warning, she pulled on her chained weapon, using Sakura's firm stance to propel her forward, determined to strike the Leaf ninja head-on.

In response, Sakura glowered, pumping blue chakra into her right fist and cranking her arm back for increased intensity. Leiko cackled as she hurtled her blunt-edge forward, forcing Sakura to twist her body to avoid the assault and consequently causing the grip on her tantō to slacken. Grinning, Leiko whipped the sharp end, wrenching the tantō away and consequently freeing the bladed tip to backlash across Sakura's face.

'Sakura!' Sasuke stepped forward, heart jumping in his chest as he watched the fierce exchange from above. Sakura's head had snapped to the side, pink hair falling over her face as she stood completely still, breathing heavily. Leiko was grinning with satisfaction, caressing a forefinger against the fresh blood that now coated her knife's edge.

Sakura turned her head, blood trickling down a long cut on her left cheek, and her black mask severed in half and utterly useless. Her green eyes were hard, pink brows furrowed steeply as she cracked her knuckles.

"Is the Leaf kunoichi mad?"

A shuffle of movement drew her attention away from Sakura and Leiko smirked as the Hayashi Clan member stumbled to his feet and began to retreat.

"Not so fast!" She swung her mariki-gusari.

Sakura stepped forward, "Leiko, no–!"

Sasuke's eyes widened, noticing the spark of red and orange just as Leiko's blade sunk into the Clan member's back. He jumped down, landed beside Sakura, and grabbed her wrist before she could move to help, "Haruno!"

Leiko's dark eyes watched as the blood splattered across the clearing when she yanked her chain back – and she watched as his body twisted, revealing the exploding tag he hurled towards her in his final act of retribution.

"Get down!" Too close to jump away from the blast, Sasuke enveloped Sakura in his arms and pulled her into a crouch, using his body as a shield just as a considerable blast shook the clearing. He grunted, feeling the heat singe into his cloak and against his back but he maintained a firm and protective hold around the woman in his arms.

For several moments they knelt in silence until a sharp pain across Sasuke's back caused him to exhale with suppressed pain.

"Are you alright?" The Leaf kunoichi pulled away, staring up at him with clear concern as she pushed her pink hair from her face. Blood from her cut was smeared across her skin, but she didn't heed it, standing up and shuffling around him to inspect his back, instantly pressing a healing hand to his burned skin, "You…" She sighed softly, "…Shadow…Thank you."

Sasuke said nothing. He only closed his eyes and allowed his body to relax in the warmth of her chakra, seeping soothingly into his skin. It was a strange moment – to suddenly feel so at peace after so much bloodshed – but it was the most normal that they had been. It was almost like old times – when he once protected her from harm and when she once hovered over him with genuine worry and care.

Almost.

A weakened cough interrupted the moment and the warmth of her chakra was immediately extinguished. Sasuke looked over his shoulder, regarding Sakura just as she stared across the clearing to the unmoving body at its center.

Without a second thought she began to move towards Leiko's supine form, walking beyond heaps of flesh and puddles of blood, as the smoke, from the explosive blast, slowly cleared. Sasuke slowly followed her, observing the carnage around him with an unsettled frown.

"She's still alive." The medic was crouched beside the dark-haired woman, healing the most serious of Leiko's wounds for easier transportation, "…I wish I could say the same about everyone else…"

Sasuke stooped low, behind Sakura, and picked up the forgotten roll of parchment that had left Leiko's possession. Reluctantly, he pocketed it within the confines of his cloak. His dark eyes examined Leiko – bruised, bloodied, burned, and unconscious – and he frowned reflectively, "She's psychotic."

"Psychotic or not, she's still impressive," Sakura sighed, "If she had been trained properly, she would have been labeled a genius. She's strong."

Sasuke scoffed, "You're stronger."

Sakura blinked, turned her head to stare at him, and raised a curious brow, "…?"

Berating himself for his involuntary compliment, Sasuke crouched down and slung the criminal kunoichi unceremoniously over his right shoulder, "Come on. Let's go."

Sakura nodded, although a small smirk played on her lips as she readily trailed after his long strides, "…Right." She brought a hand to her cheek and traced the throbbing cut before healing it with a flick of her wrist, "Hmm…Mission accomplished."

The double entendre was not lost on Sasuke.


A/N: Yay! New chapter is out! I actually had time to write today and I feel pretty accomplished! Now I have to work on The Curse

And Naruto made his appearance! Did he seem okay? In character? Shikamaru too?

Don't worry, Sasuke and Suigetsu should be in the next chapter. Karin, Hinata, Sai, and Kiba should make an appearance soon too.

Do you guys have any theories or speculations? Concerns and/or questions?

BTW: I also wanted to show how opposite Naruto's and Sasuke's thought processes are. Naruto thinks she's alive and Sasuke thinks she's dead. Who do you think is right?

What'd you think of Leiko?

Hope to hear from you guys! Thank you for reading!

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and Company. Only Leiko, Katsuo, and Goro.

You guys are the BEST!

Len