Hello! Glad to hear from me? ^^ I had fun writing this, it really flowed on its own, and aren't we all glad when that happens? Hopefully, the next chapter will be as easy to write; I intend to start on it soon, and have it already planned out, so while I won't make any promises, you should hear from me again before long. By the way, check on my profile, I've put up a new poll (the details are explained at the end of the chapter, so be sure to read them before you vote; I just don't want your answers to change).

To my dear reviewer who wished this could be a manga, sorry, but I'm no good at drawing, so this won't come from me and won't happen unless someone really motivated decides to do it in my stead. If anyone feels it's their cup of tea, do go ahead.

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Sakura hummed gently to herself, flexing her fingers. The puppet parts responded well, all things considered. She had to work on her aim when handling weapons, and she still couldn't see a single thing, but things were getting better. Slowly.

She desperately tried to get in a better mood, to put behind her all that had happened to her, and to get on with her life. How many months of her life had she lost, locked in her own mind?

She shook her head. Negative thoughts didn't get one anywhere and she did not want to let them poison her like they had the Sasuke of her original timeline.

She let herself look forward to returning to Myou and seeing her apprentice once again. Satsuki, too, should be doing well. Toranosuke, Satoshi...she hoped their relationship was still strong and healthy. All these people...they had become her family, people she kept close to her bosom, people she dearly missed.

She tugged on Kisame's hair to get his attention. His head turned slightly in her direction, sign that he was listening. She lightly swung her feet, hitting his chest in cadence, and, leaning on his head, cushioned her chin in her palm.

"Ne, ne, Kisame-kun...When are we getting to Myou? I'm looking forward to seeing my village again."

"I'll bet," he replied with a smirk at her enthusiasm. "Give it a few more days. Since you're now riding on my shoulders, we can go much faster...Maybe three days?"

"Fine, fine. Can we stop for the night? I'm hungry and I need to have my bandages changed."

It was Itachi who answered. "I'll go ahead and look for a suitable place to make camp."

She smiled in response.

Less than an hour later, they stopped near a hot spring. Makoto took care to change Sakura's bandages while Itachi built a fire and Kisame hunted something suitable for supper. Gaara observed the medic with insistence while he changed the bandages and disturbed him in his task, though Makoto really tried his best to not let it matter to him.

It appeared that Sakura was healing nicely. The stitches were red, but there was no pus and the skin around them was only just pink. Nothing was wrong, and it was what Makoto told Sakura, who looked pleased at the news.

Soon, she would be able to go about her day normally. The simple thought of it made a smile bloom on her face.

-:-

Satoshi sipped his tea while looking over various reports. He supposed, all things considered, that things were going well. The village was prospering, though he acutely felt the loss of his mistress.

A knock at the door disturbed him in his work. Putting his teacup down, he called out, "Enter!"

With a little smile, Satsuki opened the door and came in, carrying a pile of scrolls. At his disgruntled face, she chuckled lightly.

"Isn't there ever an end to this paperwork?" he sighed as she put the scrolls on the corner of his desk.

"You should know better," she replied with a snort. "The day there isn't any more paperwork is the day this village dies. Anyway, I didn't come here just for this."

Intrigued, Satoshi lifted an eyebrow at her in inquiry. "Oh? Pray tell. At this point, I'm willing to accept any excuse to escape this paperwork, if only for a minute."

Nodding, she sat down on the other side of his desk and looked at him seriously.

"Some people are causing a ruckus in a teahouse downriver. I noticed as I went by. They are nuke-nin, and I think they're the same who tried to establish a headquarters of sorts here to enjoy the neutrality of this village, a month ago."

"Them again? Hadn't we made it clear they had to be on their best behaviour or leave?!" he exclaimed, enraged as he rarely was. Myou was a precious jewel that had to remain untainted and pure, worthy of Sakura when she returned—for she was just too stubborn not to. He would not let some callous people ruin it! "Maybe they did not understand the message and need to be reminded," he said bitingly.

-:-

Momiji cowered behind the counter as five men ransacked his little teahouse, brawling and breaking things. He closed his eyes tightly, too afraid to try and make a break for it.

Can't the heavens have pity on me?! he prayed fervently. I'll burn a hundred incense sticks to whichever deity helps me right now, before I lose everything I own! This little teahouse is all I have!

Huddling against him, his daughter trembled in fear. He hoped that whatever happened, she wouldn't be injured.

All of his clients had left, except for one who, even now, drank calmly. One of the nuke-nin approached the loner as the same time that another, looking for the pretty waitress, jumped behind the counter and grabbed Momiji's daughter by the arm. Hauling her behind him, he crowed to the others about his find. Horrified, Momiji leapt after him, trying to stop him, but only managed to get kicked in the gut and crashed against the wall, unconscious.

Meanwhile, one of the nuke-nin, irritated that the last customer was blatantly ignoring him, yanked off the calm person's straw hat. He whistled as a pretty face was revealed to his suddenly lecherous eyes.

"Hey, guys! Look at this! Seems like we'll have another gal to play with!"

The roars of approval only lasted long enough to echo in the small room before blood sprayed across the room and the man who had been harassing the female customer sank to the floor, beheaded.

"What the fuck?!"

Within moments, the little teahouse turned into a murder scene. Amid screams of pain and terror, blood sprayed across the floor, the walls, the ceiling. The four remaining men didn't stand a chance.

Sidestepping the corpses, the woman approached the terrified waitress. Her pupils were blown wide, her breathing was ragged, there was an unhealthy pallor to her cheeks, but overall, she was fine. Crouching, she spoke in calming tones. "These men will not bother you again. Farewell, now. I will be on my way."

The waitress could only nod dumbly as the woman left the room.

-:-

Satoshi, accompanied by a few of Myou's permanent ninja who made up the village's police, marched down the street with purpose. His face was twisted in unhappiness, and the people who accompanied him knew better than to talk to him when he was in this mood. Only Toranosuke, maybe, would have been able to calm him down, but as he had not accompanied them, there was nothing to do but let things happen as they would.

Surprisingly, as they approached the teahouse, they found the street empty, as if everyone had deserted it in fright. Even the surrounding shops were silent, like prey animals falling silent when a predator approached. Furthermore, as they got closer to the teahouse, sounds of battle reached their ears, stopping barely a moment later. Skidding to a halt as a person left the shop, they prepared their weapons in case the female intended to fight them too.

However, the woman only looked at them passively and nodded to them in acknowledgement.

"It isn't so easy to find a place to relax and enjoy a drink and a good meal in this world," she said. "Forgive me for the mess I caused; I only wanted peace to finish my tea before getting back on the road. I have no intention to fight you."

With that said, she walked off, putting her hat back on.

Satoshi felt torn between stopping her and checking the teahouse, but once he looked back at the street after glancing at the teahouse, he saw that the woman had mysteriously disappeared. No sign was left of her presence, no footsteps in the snow to indicate where she could have gone, but he wasn't sure he would have followed her anyway had she given him any hint of where she was headed. His choice having been made for him, he merely sighed and waved at his people to follow him.

Indeed, there was carnage inside, the walls had been repainted red, a red that would never completely leave and would give the wood a slightly reddish tint forever, and there were a few tables upended or otherwise broken, but it appeared that the owner and his daughter were unharmed. All in all, it could have been worse, but now he had two traumatized people to deal with.

-:-

Upon reaching Myou, Sakura felt something intangible pierce her bosom. Wincing, she lightly rapped Kisame on the head to get his attention and told him she wanted to get off.

"You okay?" he asked as he took her by the waist and put her down on the snow-covered road.

Everyone, noticing they had fallen behind, stopped for them with curiosity, waiting for an explanation from either one of them.

"I...How far are we? From Myou, I mean?" she asked the tall man.

"I can see it, but we can't hear it yet, 'cept for the waterfall," he said, looking into the horizon.

"Close enough...everyone, go ahead. I'll stay here for a while," she decided, much to everyone's surprise.

Puzzled glances were exchanged. As usual, Itachi was the one who addressed her when put in front of emotional matters. Per tacit understanding, he was the one who understood most and acted more appropriately when she was emotionally distressed or they simply didn't understand her, which was not really surprising, given they were all more or less emotionally damaged. He was, at the very least, more diplomatic and knew how to handle her.

"Why? Is there a reason you want us to go ahead?"

She walked around, looking for a boulder to sit on. When she finally stumbled upon one and got rid of the snow covering it, she sat down on it calmly and gave them her attention once more.

"Before going there and being observed by everyone, I'd enjoy having a moment alone with myself. To prepare myself, if you will. Go ahead, tell my apprentice I'm coming, and when things die down, come back and get me. By then, I should be calm and ready to face everyone. Could you do that for me?" She hoped she didn't sound too desperate, but she was deeply unsettled at the idea of being back in Myou, when it had been a dream for so long. An almost unattainable one, too, for she had been trapped in her own mind, a worse prison than any she had ever been in. Now that the village was so close, however, she felt unsettled. How would people react? She was not the same person they had known. Somehow, she felt…reduced. She wasn't quite ashamed of her state, but she wasn't all that far from it.

Kisame kicked some snow unhappily. "I'm not sure I'm happy about that. What if something happens?"

"This close to Myou? Doubtful. We're in the neutral zone. Besides, if anything happens, I'll simply channel chakra into my tattoo and reappear in my cave, so y'all, don't worry so. Go ahead without worries."

Arguing for a few more moments, they finally did Sakura's bidding when it became clear she would not change her mind. Gaara had to be almost dragged away, but he fortunately didn't lash out violently and followed the rest of the group with growls and grumbles, looking back once at Sakura to see her waving cheerily at them. Reassured, he bit the inside of his cheek and continued on his way without turning back again.

Left alone, Sakura let her tension leave her body with a sigh. She didn't know if she was ready to face her village in the state she was in.

"Pretty useless, I am, eh? Have to work on that properly..."

"Before that, care to accompany me?"

"Who's there?" she asked, whirling around at the high-pitched voice.

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As usual, read and review! By the way, I have a new poll for you guys! I've been wondering whether to take this in a dark (and I mean dark, as in people may die, there will be carnage and unhappy stuff, etc.) or go with something a bit less dark (that doesn't mean less adventures, if you were wondering). I look forward to hearing from you!