EDITED 2/1/2014


Chapter 2


It was the perfect time to act. The evening was late and a lot of the inn's guests were either drinking busily or had already turned in for the night. The servers, too, were similarly engaged with still a high number of customers. Through the curtain that separated the kitchen from the dining hall, the female took a peek and spotted her target. The man was still enjoying himself with alcohol while boasting loudly to his equally drunk companions.

Sasuke wiped her damp palms on her still immaculate white apron that came with the drab kimono uniform. Her long wavy brown wig obscured her face slightly and the right make up made her look plain. No one would ever guess that she wasn't who she appeared to be. She looked exactly like any ordinary young woman.

Taking a tray with a bottle of warm sake on it, the girl emerged from the kitchen, wove her way through the crowded floor, swerving past grasping hands, and went up the stairs that led to the guest quarters. The wavering light of the lamps that lined the walls of the long hallway revealed a dozen identical doors. There were no numbers for anyone to tell the rooms apart but fortunately she had managed to see her target emerge from his room earlier and so didn't have to enter and check every single one.

Quickly she moved to the fifth door on the right, listened to confirm that no one was inside, and grasped the knob with her free hand. It was locked. Glancing around, she assured herself that no one was coming then drew a pin from her hair and picked the simple lock easily. As soon as she stepped inside and closed the door she set the tray on the low table in the center of the fairly large room and began searching every drawers and the two large bags. She also rummaged through the hanging garments, checked all the pockets and looked for hidden ones, finding nothing of interest.

The only place she hadn't checked was the bed. Nothing was beneath the frame or underneath and inside the old, lumpy cushion. Behind the wooden headboard, however, were several folded letters and a small pouch of coins. Hastily scanning each page gave her nothing that she wanted.

It was another false lead, and Sasuke's fingers curled into fists at her sides as soon as she replaced the items back where she had found them. There wasn't a single thing mention about the organization she was after or any of its known members.

She had followed the man that rented this room only because she had obtained information that he had connections with a very covert group of outlaws. There weren't any confirmations, but there were suspicions that the Akatsuki was involved.

This had happened many times before, though. It seemed as if the Akatsuki was becoming more aggressive with their activities, and their name was gradually being whispered at different places in all the five great nations. A lot of those were merely rumors though, but she had told herself that it was better to be thorough than to have allowed important leads to slip away.

There was no longer anything left to look through in the room. She decided to make a quick survey to ensure that everything was exactly as she had found them and was heading toward the door when she heard a key turning the lock. Sasuke cursed under her breath. The man outside began rattling the key, trying to turn the lock that was already open.

Quickly, she made to escape through the window but it wouldn't open all the way and it would take to long for her to squeeze through. The knob was being turned. When the door swung open, Sasuke was by the table with the tray in her hands, appearing to have been in the middle of leaving the white sake bottle for the guest. She turned to him in innocent surprise. Yamashiro Kakuta was larger up close than she had initially realized.

"What are you doing here, girl?" he growled in a deep voice that slurred. "How did you get in? My room was locked."

"It was open, sir," she said meekly, bowing her head and avoiding his eyes in a polite, servile way. " I was just delivering the sake you ordered. I'll be on my way."

"I didn't—" he paused, looking her over from her head to her toes. "Never mind."

He appeared to relax slightly although it was obviously that he was still annoyed, muttering something about cheap locks. Yamashiro closed the door and crossed the room unsteadily. "Don't leave yet. It's a cold night. I could use a little warmth in my bed.

Sasuke dodged to one side as he reached for her. "Good night, sir," she said, hiding her slight alarm and irritation, and darted quickly towards the door.

"Not so fast!" He grabbed her by the waist and jerked her close to him. Pulling away, she fought the urge to kick him and blow her cover. Despite his flashy attire and seeming lack of grace, she felt the strong hard muscles in his arms and legs and recognized the callused hands of one accustomed to weapons. He was definitely a shinobi as she had suspected. But he had no connections to the one she was looking for, therefore she refused to waste any more time in his presence. Except she couldn't get away.

He pulled her into a tight embrace as he turned her to face him and she felt something hard strapped under his wrists, hidden by the sleeves of his coat. She instantly knew that those were concealed weapons. Sasuke forced herself to relax but kept her mouth closed tightly against the invasion of his tongue. He kept trying to force it through her lips clumsily and roughly but to no avail, although he seemed to be enjoying her disgust and the physical struggled she was attempting. One of his hands moved to her breasts as he took her sudden stillness as compliance. As if she would. She broke away as soon as he loosened his grip, making it to the door and out halfway down the corridor but he caught her again. "You're faster than you look."

Sasuke struggled against him as he tried to carry her back to his room. She was able to free her arm and it gave her the opportunity to elbow his face blindly. It hit him right on his eye. He dropped her, she began to run again.

However, escape was elusive. The man was heavilly inebriated, but it wasn't working in her favor. Yamashiro's right foot hooked behind the other as he went to chase her. He caught her again as he stumbled forward and they went down together with him on top of her.

Sasuke's eyes widened as she gasped for breath. He was more than twice as heavy and he pinned her to the wooden floor with the weight of his body, never giving her the chance to recover her breath or her wits.

Roughly hands pulled her kimono down to her waist. The cold air made her shiver as it touched her bare skin. She felt her nipples harden instantly and cursed her body while his lecherous grin made her want to curl in disgust. She was trapped beneath him and they both knew she was physically unable to overpower him. He forced her legs open with his knees, chuckling drunkenly as he did so.

"Much nicer than I expected." She saw him lick his lips. Her face twisted in anger as she watched him look down at her with drunken desire and she decided then that she would kill him before the hand squeezing her naked breast could find the kunai strapped to the inside of thigh. While he was distracted with kissing her she carefully reached for it.

A fingertip just felt the cool metal handle when the heavy weight suddenly disappeared and she could properly breathe again.

"The young lady doesn't seem interested," said a cool, slightly cocky voice. Sasuke looked up to see the tall, brown-haired man pinning her assailant to the wall. His back was to her so she couldn't see his face. He appeared to be exerting little effort and pressure but Yamashiro was unable to break free despite his larger size.

"I never want to see you near her again, got that?" his low, dangerous voice whispered so that only the other man could hear him. Yamashiro grunted in response and the man released him. The outlaw looked like he still wanted to attempt a final strike but smartly thought better of it. He glared down at both of them as he stumbled back to his room, banging the door to his room loudly as he closed it. She heard the lock turn.

"Are you alright, miss? "Her rescuer turned to her as he asked. Instantly, Sasuke stiffened in recognition as she saw his face. The man was in his early thirties, his handsome face grinning down at her. She knew him as the referee during the Chuunin exam finals. She did not know his name. Even though he wore plain clothes and had a toothpick between his lips instead of a senbon, she didn't have any doubt that it was him indeed. His appearance had changed little, and although she'd encountered him only briefly that one time three years ago his face had remained quite distinctly in her memory. A lot had happened that day. She had been late for her bout and had fought with Gaara from Sunagakure, and other more unpleasant things with great repercussions. She forced the memories from her mind in favor of concentrating on the present situation.

Her heart raced from nervousness and fear. She had on a heavy disguise, but maybe she hadn't changed enough, and for the first time in a very long time genuine fear pulsed through her and she couldn't make herself move despite that her mind screamed at her to do so. She cannot go back to Konoha, she refused to.

She resolved to fight against this man with everything she had and planned to whip out her weapon in a surprise attack and stab him as soon as he moves to grab her.

But moments went by, and he did and said nothing. That was when her panic subsided and she could once again think calmly. By looking at his face, she could tell that he didn't know or suspect anything. He did not come for her. He could not recognize her at all with the wig and all the make up coating her face.

Genma watched the young girl staring up at him with her wide blue eyes. Several moments had already gone by since he had pulled that lecherous drunkard off of her but in her shock she still had not moved from her spot on the floor. Knowing that he should act with caution lest he scare her even more, he chose to smile kindly instead and studied her covertly as he waited for her to calm down.

Her face was very plain while her hair was dull and unremarkable in color, but her body pleased him. Very lovely, he thought as he fought to keep his gaze on her face and not on the very exposed breasts. Knowing that he had given her enough time to recover by then, he held out his hand and she almost cringed away but accepted it hesitantly and allowed him pull her up. As soon as she was on her feet he patiently allowed her to turn away so she could fix her clothes. He saw that her shoulders were still tense and he couldn't blame her. He let his gaze fall toward the door where the bastard had gone in to and glared at it.

Sasuke couldn't relax completely even though he did not seem to recognize her. She knew she was being paranoid. Her mind told her that he couldn't possibly put her twelve-year old face and her disguised one together. Taking a deep breath, she relaxed visibly, although inside there was a chaotic flurry of alarm bells ringing.

Keep calm, she told herself mentally, and turned back to face him.

"Thank you very much for helping me, sir." She knew she shouldn't stick around any longer, and had no reason to either. It was dangerous to stay because if one Konoha shinobi was here, there was a high probably that others were in town with him. Without waiting for a response, she hurried down the rest of hallway toward the corner to the stairway.

"Wait!" Genma called out, grabbing her wrist. "What's your name?"

His grip only tightened when she tried to pull away. "Aya," she said automatically, not looking at him and hiding her face with her long hair.

He bent down to her height and watched her, amused by her timidity and found it cute. Reverting to an air of polite detachment, he said, "Get a good sleep then, Aya-chan, and forget about tonight."

"Yes, sir."

Relieved that she could go and wasn't even suspected, she sighed quietly and hurried away. Finally, she thought, and then bumped her nose into someone's chest as she rounded the corner. Again Sasuke cursed herself for being clumsy and careless, apologizing to the person automatically as a servant would.

"No, it's my fault," the newcomer said, and then their eyes met when she glanced up.

Not again, she thought and nearly groaned aloud. She grunted quietly instead as she froze momentarily.

Hyuuga Neji's eyes narrowed as he peered down at her. He was one of the worst people that could have seen her. She cursed her luck, and cursed the male too just for existing. They stared at each other for a long minute before she became aware of her expression. Her eyes had become so wide with surprise and her forehead creased with worry. She ducked her head immediately upon realizing this and struggled to neutralize her expression, telling herself that he couldn't possibly recognize her, not after three years, not under all the layers of her disguise.

After what seemed like an eternity he finally moved around her and walked towards Genma who had watched it all happen. She scurried away, acting frightened, exactly how she supposed a girl who was almost raped would act.

"Take care, Aya-chan!" Genma called out, watching the poor girl running away. Turning to his seventeen-year old companion, he raised his eyebrow at the thoughtful expression. "What is it?"

"It's nothing," he answered, even though Neji thought there was something unusual about that girl just now. She looked like any ordinary girl, but somehow there was something familiar about her. He couldn't let go of the expression she wore when their eyes had met. It had seemed at first that she recognized him too, but apparently he was mistaken. Setting aside his irrelevant thoughts, he turned his full attention to the team captain. "Did you find anything?"

"There was a little incident just before I could get to that." Genma recounted what had occurred minutes before his arrival and Neji decided the girl was just frightened of a repeat episode.

Putting the girl away from both their minds, the two shared a look and turned towards Yamashiro's door. The senbon wielder cracked his knuckles and smirked as he broke through the door, shocking the man on the bed awake.

"You again! What are—!" Genma's fist silenced him while the Hyuuga began to search the room for any evidence linking him to the Akatsuki organization. They found the letters hidden behind the headboard but it contained only correspondence with a drug dealer about certain safe locations to meet buyers . There was nothing else remotely relevant in the room. It became very clear that they had followed a useless lead.

After they confirmed the sighting two weeks ago their team had been made a temporary reconnaissance group focusing on the whereabouts of the notorious fugitive group. So far the following three leads, including tonight's, were false, and if it continued then the group would cease operations. Not that Genma minded seeing as Akatsuki hadn't been as active in the last few years as they had been once.

The two Konoha shinobi reported Yamashiro to the police before they left to go back to their camp in the forest, having decided earlier to sleep outdoors that night since they hadn't received their group allowance yet.

Unbeknownst to them, Sasuke watched them as they left the inn. Tonight wasn't the first time she had encountered a Leaf-nin and so decided to ignore the foreboding feeling that crept into her heart.

She had waited for them downstairs, of course still in disguise and hidden within shadows, having suspected that they might be after something or someone in town. Apparently it wasn't her as she'd initially feared and declared to herself that they must have already disregarded the existence of 'Aya' from their minds. Instead their purpose here was the same as hers and they both had found that it had been a futile chase, which she was very frustrated with. If only she'd gone upstairs earlier she probably wouldn't have crossed paths with either Yamashiro or those two but anyway in the end it all went quite well. As she left the town, she decided it was coincidental that they had followed the same false lead, and convinced herself that she would not encounter them anymore.

She found out how wrong she was three days later.