The Naruto franchise is the property of Masashi Kishimoto.

Chapter 1: Black Ops

Autumn had run its course and November arrived in its wake, bringing to Konoha the chill winds of winter. The ethereal ballet of snowflakes filled the air as they spiraled down from the heavens in sparkling pirouettes, eventually coming to a graceful rest upon the pristine earth.

Drawing back the ashen hood of her cloak, the nineteen-year-old medic paused momentarily in her walk to admire the season's furnishings. She shared a secret smile with the frosted trees – an expression that melted away as her emerald eyes caught sight of the first rays of sunlight peeking over the horizon. Hurriedly blinking snow from her eyelashes, she set off once more at a run, channeling chakra to her feet until they veritably skimmed over the undisturbed powder covering the ground.

No, no, no, no, no, she agonized, He's gonna kill me!

Birds and rabbits alike scattered, eager to avoid the wintry specter's fleeting course as she plowed her way through curtains of still-airborne whiteness, slipping through the gaps between trees with practiced ease.

I can get there in time. I can make it. I can make it! I can m–

"You're late."

She ground to a halt as she reached the clearing, wincing at the baritone reprimand. The shinobi before her rose from his meditation and exhaled slowly, the fog of his breath doing nothing to diminish the piercing regard of his quicksilver eyes, all-seeing and locked onto her own, as though he had been watching her all along.

"Haruno," he acknowledged smoothly.

"Sorry, Hyūga-san," Sakura offered weakly, "I got... lost on the road of life?"

A smirk canted Neji's lips.

"I hope you've learned more than negligence," he said, "Or this will be a very short sparring session."

Asshole, she scowled mentally.

"Big words, Hyūga," Sakura shot back, the hesitation in her voice evaporating. The rose-haired medic undid the clasp at her throat and her cloak slid away from her slender form to reveal the sangria vest and cream skirt she wore underneath. In the same motion, she drew her right glove on tight, the familiar sound of clenching leather eliciting within her the focus of battle. Not missing the determined set of her features, Neji adopted the jūken stance, thrusting an open palm before him and drawing the other back.

"When you're ready," he bade.

Before the words had even left his lips, Sakura was airborne, kicking one leg high before scything it down in rapid descent. Neji leapt back, only to find no stable purchase as the massive impact of Sakura's kick sent fissures spiderwebbing outward. He recovered instinctively, planting his feet into the shattered soil and infusing it with chakra to reinforce its structure. As Sakura streaked in with a savage left straight, he jerked right, feeling the very air burn as her fist scorched past his cheek. He transitioned the momentum into a fast pivot, simultaneously blasting chakra from his body.


Sakura was blown back by the whirling blue shield but managed to keep her bearings, turning a full backflip midair to provide leverage for the trio of shuriken she launched at the Hyūga prodigy in a high-low-middle configuration. While the first skipped harmlessly off of the ANBU captain's defensive technique, the second two caught him at the tail end of his spin, thudding deep into his calf and side.

Hell yeah! Sakura crowed. But Neji was suddenly two paces away, his injured bunshin disappearing in a cloud of smoke. Undeterred, Sakura withdrew two kunai from her thigh holster, holding them in a one-handed reverse grip.

This time, the twenty-year-old captain made the first move, plucking a previously-embedded shuriken out of the air as it fell and sending it humming forward. He followed closely behind it, gliding with phantom-like speed over the snowy terrain. With a sharp twitch, the younger medic deflected the projectile and whipped back around to intercept Neji's advance with cold steel.


Neji's kekkei genkai flared to life, tinting his vision a negative monochrome as the veins around his eyes bulged and his vision expanded to fill a full 360 degree range. Balancing himself fluidly, he caught Sakura's weapon hand in his right palm, whirling through to plant his left against her spine. He pushed and pulled in a coordinated motion, using the rose-haired medic's inertia against herself and forcing her into an unbalanced twirl. Knowing she was in trouble, Sakura wrenched herself away with brute force, throwing her arms out wide for balance.

"It's over."

Neji drove two fingers into Sakura's shoulder, closing off the tenketsu and numbing her right arm. As she retaliated with the left, he ducked under the strike, smashing his palm into her forehead. Foreign chakra exploded into her nerves and sent Sakura reeling down into black unconsciousness.

~o x o~

When she woke, Sakura found Neji once again in a meditative trance, his black ANBU uniform now illuminated by the tentative glow of the mid-morning sun. She groaned and clutched at her temple, taking a moment to heal the pounding headache throbbing through her skull.

"She's awake," the Hyūga said, his eyes still closed.

"About time, too, jeez," drawled a second voice. Nara Shikamaru stepped into view, somehow managing to look sloppily dressed even in gray ANBU armor.

"Troublesome woman," he complained, "I have to wake up early and then she gets to take a nap?"

He scratched the jaggedly untamed bundle of hair on his head lazily, then tossed a small scroll to Sakura.

"Congratulations. You passed," he said, sounding entirely unenthused, "You get to deal with the rest of the paperwork."

Yawning languidly, Shikamaru trudged away in the direction of the village, lifting one hand in a half-hearted semblance of a wave. Sakura glanced down at the scroll she now held, stamped with the smoky helix of Konoha ANBU. She frowned.

"How did I do?" she asked.

"You passed."

The medic shook her head, dislodging tiny crystals from her shoulder-length hair.

"How do you think I did?"

Neji's eyes fluttered open and he regarded hers for a moment. She matched his scrutiny unyieldingly, refusing to be intimidated by the prodigy.

"Quite... adequately," was his response.

An elated smile stole, unbidden, over Sakura's lips. She stood, stretching out one hand to the seated Hyūga.

"Back to the village?" she proposed cheerfully. Neji gave her a long, hard look before giving a small hn of consent. He stood, placing in Sakura's outstretched hand her folded cloak.

"Oh... thank you."

Another hn.

Sakura fastened the cloak around herself snugly, breaking into a light jog to catch up to Neji's retreating figure.

"You didn't have to hit me there, you know," she said, rubbing her forehead ruefully.

"Biggest target."

She smacked his arm and he responded with a smirk.

~o TBC o~

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