A/N: Hey guys, long time no see. Sorry for the extreme delay in updating, this winter was super harsh, especially up north in Illinois. I can't even begin to imagine how extreme the weather got in Minnesota. Anyway, here's to summertime!

Again, a profound 'thank you' to everyone who favorited/reviewed Storm so far. It's those little (awesome) things that keep me going.

xx LCF


Chapter 10: Clash of Wills

"Uchiha Sasuke and his team have been seen passing through the border of Grass and traveling west several hours ago. No sign of Madara or distinct affiliation with Akatsuki noted." A bland voice broke through the silence of the night, causing the receiver to slow his step minutely as he ran his patrol.

"Copy that. Who is closest to the target?"He replied—voice succinct and bearing the same monotone that was common with Root operatives. Expressionless eyes lay hidden beneath the pale porcelain mask that hid the shinobi's features. He returned his pace to normal as his partner approximated their location.

"They're due southeast of you by thirty kilometers. If you come across him, kill on sight but return the body to headquarters. Leave no survivors."

"Understood." He veered away from his designated path.

His earpiece went dead.

Sakura started awake when she felt the weight of someone's hand fall over her mouth.

She was prepared to throw off her assailant when she opened her eyes and looked up to find Juugo hovering over her sleeping bag. The giant quietly settled a finger over his lips, urging her to keep quiet as he quickly looked over his shoulder. He gently helped her up from her position on the forest floor and set her on her feet. Once upright, Sakura was able to make out Sasuke and Suigetsu's dark silhouettes off in the distance. Both appeared to be inspecting the parameters Sasuke had placed upon their arrival.

Something—or someone—set off one of the trip wires or chakra sensors and alerted them to an intruder.

Ambush? She mouthed to Juugo for confirmation. He didn't bother to reply before returning his eyes back towards the forest.

There was a quiet rustle from a bush nearby, causing the men to tense as they awaited whatever laid there to reveal itself. Sakura held her breath as her hand flew into her pouch and took hold of a shuriken inside.

A squirrel jumped out from the foliage (causing Suigetsu to lower his throat cleaver and release a few choice curse words), running straight for Juugo as he reached down and extended his arm out to the small creature. The rodent ran up his arm, chattering loudly as it perched itself on his shoulder. If it were any other circumstance, Sakura might have thought the sight to be cute; but judging by the serious looks on everyone's faces, she figured cooing over a small forest animal would be frowned upon in this instance.

Juugo turned to address them. "A masked man was seen investigating the area; he was close to camp when he set off the chakra sensor whereupon he fled."

"Sounds like ANBU to me," Suigetsu drawled, his violet eyes sliding over to Sasuke. "It could be Root. I wouldn't be surprised to know they extended their patrol out this far given that Waterfall is only half a day's run from here."

Sasuke eye's narrowed before immediately flashing red. He drew Kusanagi from its sheath. "Suigetsu, you'll join me in pursuit. Sakura, Juugo; the two of you will clear the area before joining us." He turned to address Suigetsu. "We capture him alive. He shouldn't be hard to find, the sensor was set off five minutes ago."

Suigetsu nodded sharply before he made his way out into the forest.

Sasuke was close to follow, but hung back at the last second. He looked over his shoulder to meet Sakura's eyes. "Change it red. We will be interrogating upon his capture and don't need him recognizing you."

"I don't see how that could help." Sakura replied, a bit confused as to why the sudden need for her to use a henge right this moment had arisen.

"Do it, and ready yourself to begin healing." He ordered before running after Suigetsu.

Sakura stayed rooted to the spot, staring into the part of the forest where he'd disappeared to. Though she didn't like him bossing her around, she figured that it was the best course of action. While nobody had come in close contact with the entirety of Taka, Sakura was sure that the Allied Forces at least had a record of each of its members. Posing as Karin would only throw the scent off herself. She turned around to find Juugo burying the fire pit and made her way back to the campsite. Together they were finished in just moments.

As Juugo and she followed Sasuke's path, Sakura couldn't help but notice that a lot of the wildlife was running away from where they were headed. A small bird flew by, which Juugo caught easily. It struggled in his grasp for a moment, chirping relentlessly until he released it.

"What did it say?" Sakura asked.

Juugo frowned. "It's saying that they're fighting animals."

"Animals?" Sakura frowned. "A summons, perhaps?"

"No," Juugo replied. "They don't know what it is. But they're saying that there are many, and they explode when Sasuke and Suigetsu land an attack."

Sakura came to a halt on the following branch, Juugo landed beside her not a moment later. Together the pair looked to the scene of a definite skirmish. Blade marks marred the trunks of the trees, and several branches were broken and cracked. Dark splotches were everywhere, and had the all-too familiar coppery scent of blood permeated the air. Though it seemed a bit off. She jumped down onto the forest floor, cautiously reaching out to dip her finger on the liquid that coated a patch of grass.

Definitely not blood; the substance was too runny, almost like oil. It also gave off a barely traceable scent—one that she was familiar with.


Sakura's heart immediately jumped to her throat, and she could feel her heart beating relentlessly in her ears. Could it be? She briefly wondered, before she quickly set off without bothering to wait for Juugo. Ignoring the older man's cries of confusion, the kunoichi followed the random spatters of the dark liquid and the broken branches. If her guess was right, she'd need to intersect Sasuke before he came across him.

She had to reach them before they killed each other.

It hadn't taken Sasuke and Suigetsu long to catch up to whoever set off the sensor. In fact, they made contact with the masked nin just minutes into the pursuit and it didn't take Sasuke long to realize that Suigetsu's deduction had been right. A wave of excitement had washed over him at the sight of the ANBU mask the Root wore. He was so close; so close to revenge he could taste it. All he needed now was to get his hands on him. All he needed was to get him to talk, one way or another, and get to Danzou.

It was the only thing that mattered.

Suigetsu jumped ahead of Sasuke, heaving his throat cleaver and barely missing the shinobi by a hair's breadth. The force of his swing caused the pale-haired man to slide off to the side, leaving Sasuke a window of opportunity. Hands flew through familiar seals as he took a deep breath. Pumping chakra through his lungs, Sasuke unleashed the fiery jutsu his family had been known for.

The masked male jumped onto a higher oncoming branch, pushing off as he did so and launching himself further into the air. The scroll in his hand unfurled and he quickly pulled a brush from his vest and scrawled on it. A large bird suddenly emerged from the scroll, but instead of attacking Sasuke or Suigetsu, the shinobi merely leapt onto its back before gaining altitude.

No you don't. Sasuke thought viciously, chakra violently surging to his eyes. His right eye snapped shut as he concentrated his left with all his effort. He felt the familiar ribbon of blood make its way down his cheek as he brought forth Amaterasu. Instantly, the ink bird disintegrated, causing the rider to plummet back to earth.

Sasuke surged forward, both eyes open and Kusanagi drawn. Chakra coursed through his legs as his body flickered forward, easily closing the distance between them. The other shinobi must have sensed him, as he drew a tantō from his pouch and effectively parried his strike.

Both men leapt back, metal shrieking against metal as they drew away. Sasuke took a moment to observe him, knowing that he'd be unable to see his face but was also unable to shake the strange sense of familiarity that his jutsu and fighting style evoked.

"It's been a long time, Sasuke-kun." Came the muted voice from behind the mask. The Root affiliate widened his stance, weapon at the ready. "I don't suspect you'd remember me. After all, our only encounter was more than three years ago."

Sasuke remained silent as he regarded him, unable to keep his words from making him think. When in the past four years had he come across a Root operative? During his time with Orochimaru? Before? He couldn't recall, but it didn't matter. He had him now, and there was no way he was leaving without divulging Danzou's whereabouts.

"Hn." Was Sasuke's only reply as he surged forward, chokutō slicing through the air with ease. The masked shinobi leapt back in time to avoid the strike, making sure to keep his blade drawn and ready to use. So far he'd only used it to parry Kusanagi, further proving to Sasuke the fact that they had in fact crossed paths before. He knew how to avoid most of his strikes—knew when to parry and when to retreat, and when to change tactics and go on the offensive. Sasuke charged his blade with electricity, easily disintegrating the giant ink tiger that had come for his head and rendering to nothing more than a puddle of ink. More animals had been drawn, but Suigetsu had taken care to get rid of them so that he'd be able to focus solely on the shinobi in front of him.

He flickered forward again, and managed to land a clean hit on the shinobi. But instead of blood, ink poured out, and it soon the ink clone disintegrated before him. Sasuke turned on his heel, his Sharingan searching for sign of him.

"Shit!" came Suigetsu's sudden cry, before he made a strangled sound and fell to the floor. His fall revealed the masked shinobi that stood behind him, the tantō he'd used to incapacitate the white-haired male still in his hand and drenched in blood and something else. More ink. Sasuke charged forward with every intention of ending the battle right then and there.

Suddenly there was a rustling in the brush near then, and out came Sakura in her henge, eyes wide as she looked between the two of them.

"Sasuke stop!" Sakura yelled, causing the masked Root to falter slightly for a fraction of a second.

It was all the opening Sasuke needed.

He thrust his lightning-covered blade forward, slicing through the tantō which the masked nin sloppily attempted to parry with. The tip of his sword easily pierced the armor, and Sasuke's chokutō drove into his shoulder deeply; the electric current it was charged with was enough to numb his nerves and render his arm useless. It fell in dead weight as Sasuke withdrew his sword, preparing to deal a secondary blow when his attack was impeded by a sudden wall of solid rock that shot up before him.

His charged Kusanagi burst through the rock, but the power behind his strike was spent in dealing with the thick stone and lost most of its driving force.

Furious red eyes snapped up, but his anger gave way to momentary surprise when he caught sight of Sakura with her hands still slammed on the ground from where she released the jutsu.

She has an earth affinity?

As Sasuke continued to stare after her in silent anger, the kunoichi stood and immediately made over to the fallen shinobi. Her steps were soft and hesitant, and the anger already stirring within Sasuke flared at the sight. The Root agent did not move; his masked face was glued to Sakura's approaching form. Sasuke's grip on his chokutō tightened, ready to buffer any attack should Sakura be too stupid to realize just how foolish she was being.

The irritating woman stopped before the prone figure, dropping to her knees unexpectedly in a show of emotion. Her chakra was spiking off the charts, signaling the inner turmoil she didn't attempt to hide. She raised a shaky hand to the bone-white mask, her fingertips brushed against the polished surface before they grasped the edge of its chin. With one swift tug, she pulled off the clay mask and the dark hood to reveal a familiar pale face.

"It is you," she breathed. "Sai."

The tears that had threatened to choke her up before definitely surfaced now, and she couldn't be bothered to try and hide it. Sakura immediately brought her stunned teammate in a bone-crushing hug, her body wracked with sobs as she clung to him with every ounce of strength she possessed. Sai for his part had remained frozen for several seconds before he, too, much to her pleasant surprise, wrapped his good arm around her awkwardly and returned her embrace. They remained that way for several moments.

"Sakura?" he asked, as though he couldn't quite believe she was there in front of him. She nodded through her tears. "Where have you been all this time?"

Sakura fought back the wave of relief and sadness that simultaneously washed over her. "I'm sorry, Sai. I'm so sorry."

"I know, Sakura. We all knew that something wasn't right; that Dan—" Sai suddenly cut himself off as a fierce tremor ran through him.

"Is it the seal?" Sakura asked, her chakra already sweeping through his system as she tried to find any signs of paralysis. There were none.

Sai merely nodded, taking a deep breath. "It's still in effect and he's done several changes since his inauguration. I'm no longer able to speak his name freely. In fact, there's not much of anything I can say; all I know is that..." He trailed off as his eyes rested warily on Sasuke who lingered just out of earshot.

"It's okay, I understand." Sakura replied before giving him a watery smile. "It's just so good to see you."

"Everyone's missed you." Sai said. "Naruto and Ino-san especially."

The mention of her friends stirred something in her she'd tried long and hard to bury, but in the presence of her comrade she couldn't swallow the lump easily. "How is everyone? How's Naruto?"

A dark shadow passed over Sai's face then, and he looked over her shoulder to where Sasuke stood. But before he could get anything out, Sasuke walked over and grabbed Sakura's upper arm before he hauled her away from him.

"Let me go!" she frowned. "Sasuke, let me go!"

She managed to wrench free of his hold just in time to see Sai's body crumple to the ground. Behind him stood a weary Suigetsu that leaned heavily on his throat cleaver, looking haggard.

"That's what you get for trying to poison me. Asshole."

Sakura tended to Suigetsu's injury with a cold professionalism she hadn't had to use in a long time. The former Mist-nin easily picked up on the fact that she was angry at him. She was sure he was aware it was for 'knocking out the shinobi' as he'd put it.

"C'mon Kitten, you can't be that upset. You know it's what we had to do." Suigetsu supplicated seeing as she'd refused to use chakra to heal his injury.

"Can't be upset? Are you kidding me, Suigetsu?" she snipped, wrapping the bandage around his thigh tighter than need be. Suigetsu winced at the pressure. He opened his mouth to complain, but was cut off when Sasuke's sharp tone filled the air.

"Enough. Sakura, heal him and we'll continue what we set out to do."

The kunoichi rolled her eyes as she tied the bandage off, ignoring Suigetsu's indignant yelp, and picked up the soiled dressings and bowl full of murky black water. She walked away from both men, needing to get away from them and dump out the water. She should have known she wouldn't be lucky enough to get away with it, and was unsurprised to find Sasuke making his way over to her.

She crouched on the ground, circulating chakra through her fist as she gently pressed down with her knuckles. A semi-deep hole opened up and she quickly spilled the contents from the bowl inside. Sasuke's shadow fell over her just as she began patting dirt over it. Once it was sufficiently covered, she stood and faced him. Sasuke stood before her, arms crossed over his chest as he scrutinized her.

"You're angry." He deadpanned.

"Obviously," she replied, as she tried to push past him. He wouldn't let her.

Sasuke frowned. "You are aware that it's foolish to be. You knew what the plan was when we set out."

"Actually, no, I didn't." Sakura fired back. "I knew that we were in pursuit of Danzou, I knew that we were heading to Waterfall. What I didn't know was that you planned on kidnapping someone from Root—someone who coincidentally happens to be my friend, by the way—and using them as a way to get inside!"

She pressed on before Sasuke could get a word in. "Why can't we just let him go? Use your Sharingan on him; make him forget he saw us. We can find someone else."

"We can't let him go," Sasuke bit back scathingly. "If we release him, and he finds out what happened, what we're planning, he'll head straight for Danzou before we get to him, and all this would have been for nothing. We have to strike now if we want to permanently dispose of him."

"You mean because you want to dispose of him."

Sasuke glowered at her. "I was under the impression that you wanted to get rid of him just as much."

"No," Sakura denied. "That's what you thought. The only thing I want is to go home. I know that can be a bit of a foreign concept to you, but not everyone enjoys being forced to stay away from their loved ones."

"Sakura, don't be stupid." Sasuke glowered.

"I'm done talking to you." She bit back before she gathered her things and walked back to camp and took a seat besides Sai's resting form.

She was so angry. Angry at Sasuke, angry at their predicament, angry at the circumstances that brought her here. She didn't wonder for the first time since joining his team if jumping off that cliff three years ago was the best choice she could have made. But as angry as she was, she knew it was. If she'd let Danzou capture her, who knows where she would be now? Sakura frowned. No. She'd made the right choice in doing what she did. Still, it didn't mean that she had to be happy with how things were going for her at that moment.

Her thoughts were interrupted when Sai began to stir beside her. Dark eyes opened slowly, as if dazed, before clarity returned to them. Sakura expected a little bit of confusion in there, and there was some when he caught sight of her. She realized a little belatedly that she'd kept the red hair throughout their entire reunion.

"How are you feeling?" she asked, hands already flaring with chakra as she held them over his chest.

"Sore." He grimaced. "You healed me, didn't you?"

Sakura nodded. "It's the least I could do." There was a moment of silence between them as she continued running her scans. "I'm surprised you trust me enough to do this."

Sai looked to her, slightly confused. "Sakura, we might not have seen each other for the past three years, but you're still you. You're still one of the few people I'd trust with my life."

"I don't deserve it." She smiled sadly. "Not with everything that's happened."

Her dark-haired teammate shook his head. "It wasn't your fault. We know it's not."

The pair remained silent for another moment. It seemed to become a recurring theme between them.

"You're leaving, aren't you?" Sai stated as he looked towards the fire and back to her.

Sakura had the decency to look somewhat ashamed, but did not deny nor confirm his thoughts. She took a seat beside the restrained shinobi, placing a comforting hand on his arm. "It's not that I want to, Sai. You have to believe me when I say that going back is the thing I want most in this world."

She was surprised to find a clear frown marring Sai's features. "Then why have you joined forces with Sasuke? You're not stupid. You know that working alongside a traitor will do nothing but damage your chances of returning. Once Danzou catches wind that you're still alive, and that you're working alongside Uchiha Sasuke, he won't hesitate on reinstating the bounty on your head, war or no."

Unable to bear the sight of him, she focused her gaze on her lap. Sai seemed to take this as an opportunity to go on.

"We miss you, Sakura. Don't endanger your chances of coming home because of him."

Sakura shook her head. "I don't know if this is Danzou's seal talking or not, but it's not that simple and you know it. Tell me; have any of you seen or heard from Tsunade-sama this entire time? Has anyone tried to dig up anything at all, or did you just sit by complacently while he carted off her comatose body to some unknown location that only he and those of his inner ring are privy to?"

Her voice had escalated during her rant in her growing ire and gathered the attention of her travel companions. Sakura ignored all of them, including Sasuke's intense gaze as it bore into her back in favor of facing Sai head-on.

"Damn it, Sai. I won't apologize for what I have to do, and I can't explain myself further to you for obvious reasons. It's not that I don't trust you, but with the seal I can't trust that you'll do nothing." Chakra flared in her fingertips, bringing Sai's attention to the hand that rested on his arm.

"Sakura—" Sai was cut off, dark eyes flying wide as she pumped her numbing chakra through him and shut off every nerve in his body. He would have fallen flat on his back had it not been for her gently taking him in her arms and laying him down on the ground. His limbs were slack beneath her touch.

"I'm sorry, Sai." She whispered. A single green-glowing hand settled upon his forehead, closing his eyes in the process as she gently urged him to sleep. Sakura pumped more chakra into his system, simultaneously sweeping it for any injuries she might be able to heal and to make sure that he would be able to regain complete mobility once her jutsu wore off.

Silently she stood, not meeting anyone's eyes. "He should be out for the next three hours." Sakura promptly turned on her heel and stormed off into the forest.

Sakura found herself a good ways away from the campsite, going through her katas in a meager attempt to get rid of her anger. It wasn't working. Still, it was enough to keep her somewhat focused, and with that came the sweet bliss of not having to have her mind completely consumed by just how messed up her life had become. Sakura should have known that it wouldn't last given her track record.

She felt more than she saw Sasuke's arrival. I just can't catch a break today, can I?

"I'm in no mood to talk." She snipped before turning on her heel and completing the next set of steps.

"Neither am I." He replied before stepping out of the shadows, he crossed his arms over his chest and reclined on a nearby tree. His eyes, sharp as always, were scrutinizing her form.

Sakura rolled her eyes. "Then why bother coming out here?"

He didn't leave her alone, but thankfully did remain quiet. Sakura finished her kata with ease, and went to strap her medic pouch back on when his voice rang out.

"You storm off when you're upset and leave yourself vulnerable to attacks."

"I can handle myself." She bit back.

"Just like you did when Juugo and Suigetsu found you?" Sasuke challenged.

"You did what you had to do to survive. No one can begrudge you of that."


Sakura let out a mirthless laugh, and somewhere deep inside her, a dam broke and all she'd suppressed for the past few years began to rush forward with unstoppable force. "It's so easy for you to say that. You walked away from us like we were nothing. I didn't leave out of desire; I left because the alternative would have been imprisonment or sure death." Sakura waved around to the forest around them. "And look where that's brought me! I'm working alongside an internationally wanted criminal, I'm plotting to kill the Hokage, though unwanted he may be; and I'm living my life skulking in the shadows as opposed to being out on the battlefield alongside my comrades."

"I went and knocked out Sai! I betrayed his trust in order to meet my own selfish goals—in order to keep my promise." Sakura took in an agonizing breath; her entire frame trembled in despair and anger. A choked sob burst from her throat quickly followed by anger and shame.

Of all the people in the world to see her right now, it had to be Sasuke. It had to be the one person who would forever think her weak for allowing her feelings to get the better of her. She could imagine it now, the sharp tone of disapproval, the unmoved stare as he waited for her to gather her wits.

"You're a fool," Sasuke began, causing Sakura to physically recoil as though struck; this did nothing to deter him. "If you can't deal with the pressures of being a nukenin then you don't belong. You've never belonged, Sakura."

Sakura looked up in shock. Despite what she liked to think, his words still hurt every bit as much as they did when they were younger, and for a moment Sakura was briefly transported back in time; back to when she was a twelve-year-old girl without a single care in the world save for gaining the attention of the boy of her dreams. Anger welled up at the memories, of the times when she would go home with disappointment settled in the pit of her stomach and all-too familiar moisture clouding her vision—for all the times he had made her feel so insignificant for loving the things she had cherished and believed in.

And now, all these years later, Sakura still found herself on the bitter end of his dismissal. She had grown so much as a shinobi—come so far from that shallow, weak little girl she used to be; but even now, he saw her as nothing.

She moved before she could stop herself.

Sasuke evaded her punch easily, his head ducked to the side as her fist sailed harmlessly past his head. He didn't seem surprised by her outburst, instead he pushed her further. Sakura watched as he pulled his sheathed blade from his hip, letting it fall to the ground with a quiet thud. Unarmed, Sasuke widened his stance as he waited for her next move.

She charged forward, chakra thrumming through her arms as she punched wildly at him. He successfully dodged each and every one of her attacks. She nearly caught him as she drove her knee up and towards his abdomen, but he'd blocked it before it could land before he quickly reversed his grip. His hand hooked beneath her knee and pulled her further towards him as he swept her other foot off balance. Sakura took hold of the front of his zippered shirt as she fell, raising her free leg up to his stomach and using the fall to her advantage. She rocked back, dragging him with her, and fiercely kicked him, launching him overhead and sent him into the forest.

Sasuke managed to land on his feet, and quickly pushed off the trunk of the tree he'd landed on and back into their pseudo ring. He charged her this time, giving her no opening to get in an offensive attack. He kept her on the defensive for several minutes, his barrage of attacks never-ending as she fought to keep any of his hits from landing. However she was a second too slow to block one kick, and ended up sprawled on the forest floor. She didn't try to get back up. Seeing that all the fight had left her, Sasuke slowly walked over to her.

Green eyes looked up and froze when she saw his extended hand.

Sakura stared at him momentarily before slowly accepting his hand, allowing him to help her to her feet. Once she was up, he promptly released her, though he made no move to return to camp. It took her a brief moment to realize that he was waiting on her.

They walked back to camp in silence. Sakura, caught in her thoughts, completely overlooked the fact that Sasuke had stopped walking until she was jerked back quite suddenly by a hand that caught her wrist, causing her to stumble back and nearly crash into the unyielding body which it belonged to. She looked up to find Sasuke startlingly close, his dark gaze boring down on her impassively. He still held onto her wrist, his hand surprisingly warm despite his normally icy disposition.

It wasn't lost on her that this was the closest they'd ever stood with one another, the only other time being when he had concealed their presence from the fleet of shinobi that had nearly come across them. But that time had been out of pure necessity, bringing them closer together made it easier for him to seamlessly shift the air around them as his genjutsu took root. There was no reason for the close proximity now, and Sakura couldn't quite help but pick up on that fact. Her heart quickened its pace, fluttering slightly in her chest and she wasn't sure whether to let out a disbelieving laugh or scream and cry.

This isn't fair, she thought fiercely. It's not fair that he can do something like this; something that he knows will confuse me. Surely he has to know what this does to me. He can't be stupid enough to think that I—even after everything.

Sakura opened her mouth, ready to reprimand him and snatch back her wrist, but Sasuke beat her to the punch. Letting her wrist go, he gazed down at Sakura with a brief flash of something that was not complete apathy or rage or obsession.

"Don't sell yourself short."

He walked past her then, pushing past the foliage as he walked back into camp. Sakura could vaguely hear Juugo's and Suigetsu's greetings, thrown as she was from what had just happened. She rubbed her wrist gently, and for a moment she could have sworn that she could feel a small crackle of electricity rush through the appendage. Green eyes followed the path he had taken, barely making out the three figures of the men of Taka as they prepared to leave.

Sakura took a deep breath alone in the darkness, willing her heart to calm its fluttering and regain her composure before she followed suit.

Taka remained hidden in the shadows for a long time. They stuck to the ground, the canopy of the trees overhead providing them perfect cover as they tailed the inky blotch in the sky as it soared westwards. Team Taka and Sakura all regulated their chakra steadily, making sure to keep from being detected by the recovering Root member. They had tailed him for nearly two hours, all of them had been running at full speed to make up for Sai's airborne advantage.

Despite her reasons, Sakura couldn't help the guilt that gnawed away at her for deceiving Sai. Though it was a necessary evil she still couldn't get past the look of complete and utter surprise at her actions against him.

What would Naruto think if he saw me now? She thought bitterly.

"He's gaining altitude." Came Juugo's low voice.

"Aa." Replied Sasuke before he pushed on faster. Within moments he was a good twenty meters ahead of them before disappearing from their sight altogether.

"You'd think he'd be considerate of a few wounded allies." Suigetsu griped as he too pressed forward. Sakura and Juugo kept their pace, following Suigetsu's lead. Before long they managed to escape the confines of the forest and into the awaiting expanse of grasslands. Sai was gone and Sasuke was no bigger than a speck in the distance. From her spot at the top of the hill Sakura could see on the top of a large gorge that bisected the grassy plains like an angry scar.

Before long, the trio came to abrupt halt once they caught up to Sasuke. He stood motionless on the edge of the gorge, his gaze caught to what lay below. As Sakura and the rest of Taka neared, she caught a glimpse of a river that cut down its center—nearly as wide as the gorge itself—and there at its beginning was one of the largest waterfalls Sakura had ever seen. Ships and sailboats alike travelled up and down the current, those going into the village cut through the curtain of water that led straight into Hidden Waterfall.

Sakura tore her gaze from the scene below, chancing a glance at Sasuke who continued to stare at the giant waterfall below. He didn't notice when she took a step beside him, but it seemed as though he was made aware of her scrutiny before he promptly turned about and marched to where the others awaited. Sakura hung back for only a second, her eyes trained on the entrance of the hidden village before she too turned to rejoin the others.

"We find cover and make camp for the night while we rest and gather supplies." Sasuke said. His eyes locked with Sakura's.

"At dawn, we begin."

A/N: There it is! I hope you enjoyed it.

I did take some liberty with the location and terrain for Waterfall. I am not an avid watcher of the anime aside from the episodes that directly derive from the manga, so if there's already been some manifestation of Waterfall know that I have not seen it.

I'm glad to say that I've got a decent enough head-start on the next chapter. I know, I know, I always say that, but please have faith in me!

Please feel free to leave a review, and thank you for reading!

xx LCF