A/N: Update time, after months of Sakura!muse not talking to me because she feels I am abusing her in this fic. :D

Many thanks to FallenCrimsonStar for betaing for me. :3

Sinuous muscles shifted and rolled under inky black fur as yellow-green eyes wheeling with panic darted about. The creature snarled, pacing the tiny cage-like room she had been confined to. Just when she had thought she had achieved freedom, she was once more caged by someone. A snarl ripped from a whiskered muzzle and the pacing picked up in its frenzy.

She had to get out of here! This place smelled wrong. There was no trace of any scent anywhere around here. Even the mate smell of the Strong One was absent; it was as if he had never touched her, and it made her nervous knowing that she was all alone in a strange place. There was no clean air, no water, no food...

A faint sound broke the creature's concentration, causing her to still and her ears to prick warily. Her head lifted slowly, and then the faintest of scents began registering to her senses.

Chartreuse eyes widened in alarm and the predator slinked away from the horribly familiar smell to crouch in a corner far away from it, growling a threat to an invisible enemy. She had experienced this before; she knew she could not escape. After a few minutes of breathing in the cloying scent, her frantic panting reduced to deep huffs, the tensed muscles of her body began to relax as they numbed, and her eyelids drooped heavily as her large sleek body began to curl in on itself.

A weak yowl was all she managed as she lay on her side, waiting for the inevitable.

Pain…that was the first and only thing Sakura registered as she began to regain consciousness.

Her mouth ached, her muscles were sore, and she...had no idea what had happened.

What was I doing?

The glint of steel in light.

Golden eyes and a flickering tongue.

Sakura went rigid as a board. Kabuto. Orochimaru. What time of day was it? Were they going to perform more experiments soon? God, her schedule was all kinds of fucked up and there was no telling when they would begin their torture.

Wrong, something inside her whispered.

Blood colored hair, intense blue green eyes; a warm body against her...anger, fear, and lust.

Realization slowly began to dawn on her. She'd been taken away from those two madmen hadn't she? If that was the case...she forced her eyes open and sat up slowly, surprised to find herself clothed in a simple hospital gown and covered by a thin blanket. She glanced around the room, noting the IV attached to her arm but the distinct lack of shackles that usually accompanied it. She put a hand to her throbbing temple and winced as her broken memory strained to fill in the blanks.

That's right...she'd been saved from Orochimaru and Kabuto by that Gaara fellow and his friends.

And then she'd...well, she's not quite sure what happened, other than anger, pain, and then darkness. As if conjured by the thought, another stab of white hot pain made spots danced across Sakura's vision. She groaned and clutched at her hair trying her best to ride out the sudden wave of nausea and disorientation. Her eyes squeezed closed as her knuckles whitened with the force of her grip.

"Fuck," she panted, chest heaving as she tried to catch her breath. That had been intense and beyond uncomfortable. Her knees drew up against her chest and she pressed her forehead to them, trying her best to ride out the pain as she buried her fingers into her pink strands-it wouldn't be the first time after all. She groaned, breath stuttering out unevenly as she rocked a bit to try and soothe herself.

"Easy," a male voiced said calmly, and Sakura startled at the feel of cool hands lightly touching her own, in order to gently untangle them from her hair. "You shouldn't strain yourself so soon."

Surprised, the pink haired woman forced her eyes open; and was met by the sight of a young male with dark hair pulled into a spiky ponytail staring at her with fathomless, concerned eyes. Where in the hell had he come from? With her hearing and sense of smell, she should have realized he was there a lot sooner than she had. Sakura pulled her knees tighter against her chest and stared at the stranger with unwavering focus bordering on hostility.


"Nara Shikamaru. Do you remember what happened before you woke up here?"

The chase, the fire in her body and soul, those eyes and that smell


"Where am I?" the pink haired woman asked in a low voice, her emerald eyes bright with uncertainty as she deliberately ignored the question.

Despite her best efforts however, a bit of her anxiety must have been showing in her voice, for the male carefully backed away from the bed and held his hands out palm up, clearly showing her the absence of any weapons or needles. "Don't worry we're far away from where you were. No one here is out to harm you or force you to do anything," he said firmly, trying to appear non-threatening while his dark eyes carefully watched her for a reaction.

For some reason, Sakura found herself wanting to believe the man. Her tense form relaxed a bit and she took a deep breath before glancing around with much less panic than before. That's right...this place couldn't possibly be Orochimaru and Kabuto's little lair. It had that same sterile smell but without that underlying hint of blood, sweat, and fear staining it. Even the musky odor of snakes, which Orochimaru exuded like some cheap perfume, was glaringly absent.

"We're currently in an underground shifter hospital on the outskirts of Suna. When we're sure you can handle it, we'll try to take you out and see if we can't jog your memory a bit."

The pink haired woman frowned. Suna, what, or rather where was that? Though her memories of her life were blurred, Sakura had no problems remembering random bits of trivial information and locations. But she had never heard of this Suna before.

Narrow onyx eyes stared at the pink haired woman with hidden intrigue. This Sakura was a mystery and Shikamaru always did love trying to solve a good puzzle. Despite his aversion to complicated situations, he had to admit, this one definitely took the cake.

On one hand, you have a woman of unknown origin with highly coveted genetics is taken by a power-hungry shapeshifter and his genetically engineering subordinate and given unknown enhancements for the sole purpose of breeding. On the other hand, you have a previously feral shifter male known to have been bred for and experimented on for half of his life contained in the same facility.

Obviously the goal here is to breed the two, but for what purpose, simply a powerful child? No, genetics were varied enough that the chances of them producing a child with the X gene wasn't guaranteed. There was also the fact that there had been other males in the vicinity vying for rights with the woman, but that could have been just for show.

It was quite possible and highly likely that the snake man had probably altered something very important in this woman.

The calculating look in the Nara man's eyes was making her nervous. Sakura tensed, her sore muscles sluggishly responding as she unwound her hands from around her knees; warily, she shifted her back to the wall and subtly bent her feet to ready herself for a quick exit from the bed. She didn't like this at all. There was no hint of Orochimaru and Kabuto, but there was an unknown male with unknown intentions alone in a room with her and eyeing her like one would a lab rat, after she'd been fighting in a life or death battle for mating rights not all that long ago.

She would kill this man only if she really had to, of course; there was no way she would leave one madman's hands and go willingly into another's. Her green eyes slitted and a low, almost undetectable growl was given to the calm young man who was watching her like an insect under a magnifying glass.

Thankfully, the burning heat of the pheromones and drugs Kabuto had pumped her full of seemed to have left her system; there was no embarrassing neediness or arousal. All she felt right now was unease and slight anger. Tentatively, her nostrils flared as she gave him a light sniff...

...only to recoil in disgust and surprise at the sheer foulness of the odor the male before her was giving off.

How had she not noticed him before? It was so horrible. Like the sickly sweet smell of decaying flesh piled with the sulphuric tang of rotting eggs and strange herbs. The pink haired lycanthrope eyes watered and she felt her lungs constrict painfully at the stench as she coughed in a weak attempt at clearing her nose and lungs of it. The unease hovering on the edges of her mind flared and the shadows of the poorly lit room seemed to darken. Oddly enough, some of them seemed to slither and waver towards her. Sakura's heart began to race and her eyes darted to the door, carefully judging the distance she'd need to make it there.

"Troublesome," the man murmured, and suddenly the air was a lot less oppressive. "You really are one of them," Shikamaru muttered, making Sakura blink in confusion.

Perhaps he could sense the confusion, or maybe she was just too easy to read; either way, the Nara man shook his head and grumbled, "You shifters all act like I'm going to kill you once you get a good whiff of me. Then again, my kind isn't exactly known for being nice guys."

"Your kind?" Sakura echoed, watching the pony tailed man with wide eyes. "You're not...human or shifter?"

"Yes and no."

When no further explanation was given, Sakura glared. Shikamaru rolled his eyes.

"Women," he muttered before holding out his hand.

Curious, Sakura stared warily as the man's opaque gaze focused on his own palm. After a second, the air grew cold, almost foreboding, and a small, pinprick of inky blackness began to mold and form. The small ball seemed to suck all of the shadows from around them and began to spin in the air compressing the darkness tighter and tighter.

Stunned, the pink haired woman shivered at the aura of icy malevolence that choked the air from her lungs, her green eyes wide and frightened. Her instincts were screaming at her to fight and flee; the contradiction was making her already smarting headache turn into a full blown migraine.

A low whine spilled from her lips without her consent or notice.

"Enough," a distressingly familiar voice snapped harshly from the doorway, breaking her frightened trance. "Are all males idiots or something?"

Sakura flinched as the blond woman responsible for her "rescue" strode into the room, bringing with her a fierce wash of energy that left her reeling in shock. The sheer difference in the woman's heated energy from the coldness of the shadows was like a slap in the face and it made her swallow thickly, as if she were trying to clear cotton balls from her throat.

But at least she could breathe now.

The blond and the dark haired man eyed each other, one with a tense vibrancy, and the other with almost perfect blankness. After a moment though, the Nara man's face softened the slightest bit and the shadow ball dispersed into nothingness. The room seemed noticeably brighter afterwards.

"Troublesome woman," the man called Shikamaru sighed before lazily making his way to the door, well aware of the experimental shifter's distrusting gaze on his back.

The blonde woman grunted in response before rolling her eyes at his retreating back. She was watching the Nara male as well, although with none of the fear and wariness that Sakura was displaying. In fact, her bright eyes fairly gleamed with poorly hidden annoyance. "Who let you in here anyway?"

"I was asked to determine if she was a threat and eliminate her if she was," the apathetic man said in a disturbingly offhand manner. "She didn't wake up craving my blood or trying to snap my neck, so I'd say she's fine."

The blonde sneered, giving Sakura and the indifferent male a flash of sharp canines in the process. The sight gave the already confused and perturbed Sakura even more reason to be wary.

As if sensing her unease (and maybe she could, Sakura wasn't sure), the woman turned perceptive teal eyes on the quietly observing experiment.

The flinch Sakura gave made something soft and almost regretful flicker through her hard eyes. And then it was gone as if Sakura had only imagined it.

"Do you know what you are?" the woman asked contemptuously.

Unconsciously, Sakura bristled. From the sound of the woman's tone, it was clearly implied that whatever she thought Sakura was it was less than pleasant.

Emerald green eyes narrowed on foggy teal that looked oddly familiar.

"Like you," she finally answered with a frown after a considerable amount of time. Pink eyebrows rose in silent challenge to the blonde's immediate scoff.

"Lycanthrope," the blond spat in distaste. "You're nothing like me. I don't know why my brother dragged you along, but you nearly killed-"

"That's enough, Temari," a low rough voice rasped from the doorway.

The familiar sound sent a bolt of recognition through her body. The hairs on Sakura's neck bristled even as she jumped in surprise and swivelled her head to see piercing aquamarine eyes narrowed dangerously through a curtain of crimson hair at the woman that had been confronting her. Somehow, even with their sensitive hearing and noses, the man who had been on Sakura's mind since awakening had come into the room without either woman noticing.

She was getting sick of people sneaking up on her, but at least this time it hadn't been just her, she mused watching the other woman's brief start.

"Temari leave," he ordered calmly, not even looking at Sakura's reaction to his sudden appearance. His arms were crossed as he leaned against the open doorway and his intense gaze was settled on that of his sister who looked mutinous at the order he'd given her.

"But Gaara-"

"Leave," He rumbled impatiently, straightening from his deceptively lazy lean to clear the doorway for her.

Sakura watched tensely as the blonde's lip curled in a silent snarl baring many sharp looking teeth, her teal eyes flashing with some repressed emotion before the redhead's own bright eyes met hers in challenge.

"Fine," she snapped after a long look at Sakura's huddled form. Temari gave the pink-haired lycanthrope a final parting sneer before striding gracefully from the room, her stiff posture clearly broadcasting her displeasure.

For a moment, the room was completely silent save for the hum of the machines and the sound of her own awkward breathing, but finally, Sakura gathered her courage and raised her head from the floor and parted her lips to speak to him, only to jolt in surprise at the intense aqua eyes unflinchingly meeting her own. The redhead stalked closer with his signature predatory prowl, making her stiffen uncertainly before she clenched her jaw and stubbornly held her ground. If they had wanted to kill her, they would have already done so, or simply left her at Kabuto and Orochimaru's mercies.

To Sakura's dismay, a warm, familiar sensation tightened something low in her body as the male stopped inches away from her, his impassive expression contradicted by the animalistic fire in his eyes. Only this time, there were no drugs to blame for their reactions and they were both fully clothed and aware of what was going on. She watched his nostrils flare and knew without a doubt that he was scenting her just as surely as she could feel herself doing the same.

That incredible scent was still there, just muted without the benefit of adrenaline enhanced senses and Sakura's eyes darkened as she gazed silently up at Gaara. Her tongue flicked out to wet her dry lips nervously and her present company watched the motion with undisguised interest, making her extremely uncomfortable but she continued to stare at him.

Finally, he looked away first; his brilliant eyes shuttered by his lids as he drew a deep breath and blew it out once more. Even his tensed stance had somewhat relaxed.

"My sister is...overprotective of her pack mates," he said, making Sakura blink in surprise at the suddenness of the apology.

"So that's your-"


"I don't think she likes me very much," Sakura admitted her pink brows furrowed in bemusement.

The redhead shrugged. "She doesn't trust you. You're an unknown, unmated female and you're in our territory."

The pink haired woman looked away, unwilling to comment. It wasn't as if she had planned on invading their territory. If she knew who she was, then she wouldn't be in this predicament. For the millionth time, Sakura wondered why exactly she had been the one chosen by Orochimaru and what sort of life she'd led that she didn't have any family or friends who had come for her like Gaara's had.

It was sort of depressing.

To Gaara, the look on Sakura's face was pitiful enough to warrant some kind of action. The helplessness he was feeling at not being able to help her cope was annoying. But what could he do for the female? Maybe if he knew her a bit better, it wouldn't be such a problem, but they were virtually strangers and Gaara was not one to be too terribly social in the best of circumstances.

What would Naruto do? He wondered.

And the answer came to him: swift, short, and simple.

"I'll help you," Gaara's low voice came from her side, startling Sakura out of her gloomy thoughts. Judging from the half-startled, half-sour look on his own face, he hadn't exactly been planning on saying that out loud either.

Sakura gave him a hesitant nod, emerald eyes brighter and her lips curled into a soft yet grateful smile.

The redhead merely looked away, his body uncomfortably hot and his face contorting into irritated surprise at his own impulsiveness.

Why had he said that?

What did it matter to him whether the strange female was returned to wherever she belonged or not? He wondered, baffled at his own words and his unusual reaction to her gratefulness.

Hours after his conversation with Sakura, Gaara found himself wandering a few miles from the shifter hospital and aimlessly wandering in the pale light of the crescent moon. Night in Suna was most often unbearably cold, but shapeshifters were creatures that were notorious for being able to adapt to almost any environment, so long as they had enough resources available. He himself was well known for having unfathomable endurance, even for a shifter, as an obvious side effect of the "legacy" his father had left him.

Given that the moon was out-even if only partially-he felt the need to just run, but his thoughts were much too jumbled and off balance to even consider the idea right now. If he pushed it back and tried to ignore them, then he'd only end up waking up tomorrow with a flood of repressed irritation; there would be an inevitably snapped comment at one of his well-meaning siblings and then he'd have to spend an unnecessary amount of time trying to repair the damage of hurt feelings. For people that Gaara had initially had no regard or concern for other than when they would allow him to feed, Kankuro and Temari's opinions and approval had become nearly sacred to him. They had saved him from Orochimaru's greedy hands, taken him in when others in their pack had called for his exile or execution, and they had put up with his feral mannerisms and general rudeness in a tireless effort to socialize and tame him.

Gaara would be eternally grateful for having those two as his siblings.

But who would be there for the mysterious Sakura? A tiny vaguely Naruto-like voice whispered in his mind. She had no one-that they knew of anyway-and she was just sort of drifting around as she recovered, trying to find herself.

Stupid conscience: it had no right guilt tripping him into this.

Growling to himself the shapeshifter looked into the sky his teal eyes rapidly swirling into a hazy gold. His eyes narrowed as he thought of the pink haired woman he knew that he would be seeing a lot more of. Their first meeting had not been ideal-in fact, it had been something out of a bad horror film that-but something about Sakura had simply appealed to him. Her scent especially made him feel as if he'd regressed back into that feral, attention starved experimental mutt with an enormous chip on his shoulder.

He never wanted to go back to being that unwanted creature ever again.

From his sitting position, the tall male leaned over, his back arched and fingers spread wide.

Paws touched down in the desert night, and a scrawny somewhat aggravated jackal shook itself with a grunt, shifting the grains of the dune where a lean tall human male had been seconds ago.

The sandy-furred mammal gave a huff, his golden eyes peering around in annoyance at the freezing breeze sending stinging sand into its eyes. Bright teeth gleamed in a grimace before the jackal padded off toward the horizon at a low trot, never once looking back.

Weaknesses like human emotion had no place in an unforgiving environment like the desert after all.