"I believe we are now screwed."

Sakura tightened her sweaty grip on the tree branch that kept her from plummeting to her death. Her head turned slightly and she gave her teammate the dirtiest glare possible, "Thanks a lot, Sai."

The ex-ROOT member tilted his head in confusion, pale face the epitome of blankness despite his own loosely dangling form, "Was my terminology incorrect, Ugly?"

The pinkette growled threateningly and threw a half-hearted kick in Sai's direction, but her current position thousands of feet above the ground quickly caused her to rethink her temper. Instead, she opted to heft herself closer to the splintery tree branch. She really wished her leather gloves had not been completely shredded during the fight.

"H-How's your chakra, Sai?" she panted through gritted teeth and squinted against the glare of the sun beaming down overhead, "I don't think I have enough left to boost myself—"

"Sakura-chan? . . . Hey, Sakura-chan!"

A beaming grin spread over Sakura's face at the realization that her other two teammates had also fared well against their half of the enemy—well, at least better than she and her infuriating but loveable ass of a teammate.

"Sakura-chan! Is that you? I can see your hair, dattebayo!"

"Alright, Naruto!" she shouted down the cliff at the vibrant speck of orange, "Now get us down already!"

His obnoxiously loud voice echoed up the cliff face and Sakura found herself hoping fervently that the enemy was truly out of commission, or else the four of them really would be—to borrow a term from Sai—screwed.

"Okay, just hold on, Sakura-chan! The Teme and I will be up there soon!"

With a sigh of relief, the pinkette turned to look at Sai, who was now alternating between arms to hang from. She winced as her left shoulder began to dislocate under the pull of her weight, "Looks like we aren't so screwed, Sai."

"I'm here, 'ttebayo!"

Small rocks and dust tumbled over the edge of the cliff as the rambunctious Jinchuuriki came to a jolting stop at the mountainside's crest; he carefully stepped down onto the lower ledge—plumes of smoke still rose from the dirt, a remnant of the enemy jutsu that had nearly blasted Sakura and Sai off the mountain. His blue eyes wide with worry, Naruto dropped down onto his stomach and reached out to take Sakura's hand, but she shook her head.

"Sai's hurt worse, Naruto. You'd better pull him up first," she insisted.

The seemingly emotionless shinobi blinked at her and allowed a pouting Naruto to yank him up from the tree limbs and back onto the crest of the mountain, "Thank you, Dickless. I am grateful, although I assumed Hag would be able to get back to the top. Is she not supposed to have perfected her chakra control?"

Sakura growled and hooked her right elbow over her tree branch in order to rest her left arm, "Well maybe I would've had enough chakra left to help us out if I didn't have to heal your reckless ass half a dozen times!"

A blood vessel nearly burst in her forehead when the only response she got from Sai was a creepy, placating smile.

"Sai, stop insulting Sakura-chan," Naruto elbowed Sai in his already bruised and exposed stomach. His favoritism was painfully obvious. "The most important thing is that we kicked those guys' asses!"

"And our client is alive," Sai added blandly.

"That too."

The cramp in Sakura's shoulders was growing steadily worse, and she was about to yell up at her two idiot teammates that she was still dangling, mostly depleted of chakra, when she suddenly found herself being roughly hoisted up by her right arm. With a gasp she attempted to land on her feet, but she instead collided with a firm chest covered in dark cloth. Her nostrils filled with the pleasant smell of heady soap, fire, and a faint trace of sweat. Once her feet were steadily balanced on the ground, Sakura reached up a shaky hand to push back her vibrant pink locks. Equally green eyes followed the form of her rescuer to take in the view of Uchiha Sasuke's face.

Light amusement danced in his dark eyes as a sharp contrast to his stoic facial expression. Only those who knew him best, such as his team, would be able to identify the slight difference, or appreciate the emotion the Uchiha allowed to show through his mask of usual indifference.

"Thank you, Sasuke-kun," her heart was beating incessantly, and she quickly looked away from his handsome face to hide the unavoidable reddening in her cheeks.

The Uchiha's eyes lingered on her form a moment longer before turning to inspect the state of Naruto's and Sai's injuries. The Kyuubi container was nursing several minor cuts and bruises, while Sai, pale as a cadaver, sported slightly worse wounds; he and his pink-haired teammate had been casing the area when enemy ninja overwhelmed them with an ambush. And Naruto and Sasuke had been left to urge their client to flee, before barging into the fight themselves. Unfortunately, Sai and Sakura had already taken a brunt of the damage.

Sasuke's gaze slid observantly to his very orange teammate, "I assume you were the one that sent Ikeda on to Tea Country unsupervised."

Sakura looked up in alarm, "What? Naruto!"

Naruto's eyes widened in fear of Sakura's rapidly heating temper and turned to his best friend for help, but Sasuke simply looked to the side, an arrogant smirk tugging slightly at the corner of his mouth.

"W-Well, Sakura-chan, Sasuke-teme was already fighting down the mountain and . . . and—he was totally getting his ass kicked! So I told that Ikeda geezer to go on ahead to Tea Country and that we would catch him on the road when we were finished."

"Dobe," Sasuke snorted.

Placing a lid on her anger, Sakura turned to Sai, "So, what now, team captain?"

The ANBU nin's eyes narrowed slightly in brief thought as he analyzed the main road that spanned from the ocean's docks—where they had come from—and deeper into Tea Country, the home of civilian weapons-specialist Ikeda Hachirou.

"Our mission," Sai replaced his short blade into the sheath strapped to his back, "is to escort Ikeda-san home from Konohagakure," he ignored Naruto's pouting face and brushed passed him to head down the mountain. "We must meet up with him before he reaches his home and sends a complaint to Tsunade-sama."

Naruto grumbled about Sai and his "uptight, equipment-obsessed ass" and reluctantly turned to follow him. Sakura prepared to allow Sasuke to go ahead of her—it may or may not have been a trick to observe any injuries the Uchiha sustained during battle. However, he was not moving.

The pinkette looked up from the tattered remains of her gloves to find Sasuke looking straight down at her. Waves of heat rushed to her face and she could not even begin trying to disengage eye contact. Several minutes elapsed until, finally, Sakura realized that he was in fact waiting for her to walk down the trail first.

"Hey, Bastard!" Naruto's hollering voice bellowed loudly up from further down the mountain face, "I know you're slow, but what's taking you so long?"

"Tch," Sasuke cast a dispassionate look over the ledge and turned to regard his pink-haired teammate again, "Sakura. Come."

Her eyelids fluttered, "W-What?"

His eyes narrowed at her behavior; she was not usually so easily flustered around him, "Let's go."

"Oh . . . Oh, right." the pinkette rushed passed him and practically flew down the mountainside, using her remaining chakra reserves to keep from falling on her face. She inwardly berated herself for being so embarrassed by Sasuke's presence.

The both of them ignored the fact that when they passed each other and their arms brushed, streaks of searing heat ran up the length of their limbs.

Terribly confused and hungry for ramen, the blonde Jinchuuriki leaned towards his best friend and muttered, "Hey, Teme, how long do you think this is gonna take?"

"Hn," Sasuke gave a noncommittal shrug of his shoulders and glared back at Naruto with a look that the Kyuubi Container knew translated to an annoyed "Quiet the fuck down, Dobe."

And so, with a heavy pout, he sat back down between Sasuke and Sai and looked on as Ikeda Hachirou paraded around his lavish courtyard with their only female teammate on his arm.

Naruto twitched.

The Uchiha watched his long-time rival from the corner of his eye, preparing himself for the impending outburst that was sure to come. Really, they knew each other much too well.

"She looks miserable," Naruto muttered. The frown on his face deepened considerably under the sounds of amiable chatter and drunken singing. "I don't know why we have to be here anyway," he elbowed Sai not-so-subtly in the ribs. "I mean, it wasn't in the mission scroll, was it, taichou?"

Despite his teammate's heavily layered sarcasm, Sai merely blinked in consideration, "No, Dickless, it wasn't. But Tsunade-sama ordered us to stay until Ikeda-san's party is finished. The rogue nin from earlier may still attempt to steal his weaponry designs."

Naruto threw his head back with a dramatic groan. His arms flailed in distress, one orange-clad elbow knocking into the side of the raven-haired ex-rogue beside him. Sasuke roughly backhanded Naruto so that he fell backwards and off of his stool, "Tch. Idiot."

The last Uchiha shot Sai a glance before rising from his seat and leaving his sake untouched. Not one of the three males had taken a drink from their ceramic cups, as it was extremely bad form to indulge in alcohol while on duty during a mission. Especially an escort mission.

Sasuke was also anxious to get out of the expensive civilian home and head back towards Konoha. He leaned a shoulder against a bamboo dividing wall and watched as Ikeda pulled his pink-haired teammate around the room, bragging to his party attendees about "the four magnificent Leaf shinobi that single-handedly intercepted what must have been thousands of blood-thirsty thieves."

He was just turning to head back to the table, when the atmosphere in the dining hall changed suddenly, and Sasuke's head whipped around.

Sakura's chakra had flared in desperation and every synapse in Sasuke's brain came alive with a violence that alarmed him, but he ignored his incredible reaction time and searched through the crowd to find his teammate. She was looking right back at him, one arm reluctantly hooked—not through seventy-year-old Ikeda's arm, but through the arm of his young nephew, who seemed to be parading his recent promotion to jounin if the vest and hitai-ate he donned were of any indication.

Only when a pain shot through his molars and the tendons tightened unbearably in his neck did Sasuke realize just how harshly he was clenching his jaw. His heart pounded in his chest as he watched Sakura maintain eye contact with her deep verdant irises.

Help me! she mouthed.

The raven-haired Uchiha may have been fixated by the beckoning movement of her soft, pink lips if it weren't for the fact that anger was coursing through him like shocks of electricity.

Ignoring the outraged cussing from the obnoxious Uzumaki behind him, he wound a path through the chatting civilians and the rare ninja as they ate and enthusiastically spoke about Ikeda's return to Tea Country. And before Sasuke knew it he was standing threateningly in front of Ikeda's nephew, his body acting as a barrier between the jounin and Sakura. He heard the young medic release a pensive gasp behind him.

The jounin, whose shoulders noticeably rose in a show of offensive stature at the sudden invasion of his space, was taller than Sasuke and appeared to be skilled—he was a jounin after all. The Sand emblem glistened proudly on the metal of his hitai-ate.

Despite these things, Sakura could not help but think him to be the biggest fool in all Tea Country; granted, it was indeed a possibility that he was not aware of the notoriety concerning the younger man in front of him.

Feeling smothered by the growing tension, Sakura reached up and placed a gentle hand atop Sasuke's left bicep, "Sasuke-kun," she murmured softly, "let's just get back to Naruto and Sai," a nervous and mostly humorless laugh burst from her mouth. "They've probably killed each other by now."

Ikeda's nephew suddenly turned away from staring daggers at Sasuke and looked down over the Uchiha's shoulder to focus on Sakura's face, "Oh, don't go just yet, Sakura-san. My uncle wishes for me to introduce you to everyone here. They've all heard of your amazing medical prowess."

"No," Sakura countered softly, "I do need to tend to my teammates, Toru-san."

Sasuke frowned at the soft blush that settled into the pinkette's pale cheeks.

He released the tightening in his closed fist and instead placed an alabaster hand onto the small of his teammate's back. She glanced up in alarm, the red in her cheeks darkening until she looked as if all the blood in her body had rushed to heat her face. Her heartbeat hasted when a ghost of a small smirk quirked the corner of Sasuke's mouth. But it vanished like a vapor, as quickly as it had appeared, and he turned coolly to confront the uncomfortably persistent Suna nin.

"Excuse us," the chill in Sasuke's tone was evident, and Ikeda Toru seemed to reconsider the young man's presence.

And when Sasuke turned to lead Sakura back to their two bickering friends, the unmistakable flash of the Uchiha clan crest on the back of his dark shirt left Toru behind, stunned and slightly struck by the fear that he had been so close to the last living Uchiha.

The devastating ocular powers of their bloodline were widespread throughout every region, and the young Ikeda made a rapid, inner effort to erase his fascination with the young pink-haired kunoichi from his mind altogether.

"Ugly," Sai murmured in welcome.

Sakura glowered, but gratefully accepted the soldier pill proffered by her socially awkward team captain. She stared down at the miniature energy booster lying in the center of her palm and quirked a light brow, "I am exhausted, but what's this for?"

Naruto answered for Sai, making a show of folding his arms behind his head. Subtly removing his hand from Sakura's back, Sasuke snorted in mock amusement at the smug aura that practically exuded a stench around the blonde Jinchuuriki.

"Sai-bastard and I decided that we're heading home tonight."

Sasuke pushed his hands into the pockets of his standard-issue, jounin pants, "Exactly which one of you idiots came up with this brilliant plan."

"The ambush by the enemy cost us precious time. We were due back in Konoha several days ago to help with security for the upcoming Chuunin Exams," Sai clarified. "It is important that we return as soon as possible."

Despite Sai's calm demeanor and explanation, Naruto frowned at Sasuke's dry sarcasm and aimed a wild punch at his shoulder—only to miss and stumble to the floor, for what seemed like the hundredth time that night, when the Uchiha simply sidestepped the hit.

Sakura sighed and popped the soldier pill in her mouth; when Sai offered one to Sasuke, the stoic ex-rogue shook his head and yanked Naruto's whining ass up off of the floor. His eyes darted back to the center of the courtyard, where Ikeda and his nephew were speaking animatedly with the rest of their guests, motioning often in the direction of the four Konoha shinobi.

When he made eye contact with Toru, he allowed his growing anger to reflexively activate the three tomoe stage of his Sharingan as he reached onto his vacant stool to retrieve his tattered and slightly bloody jounin vest, "Let's go."

Sai used his scrolls and ink to scribble a brief departure message to the elder Ikeda and joined his team as they passed several guests and headed towards the exit gates of the expensive compound.

"Will we head north to get back to Konoha?" Naruto asked excitedly.

Sakura eyed him jealously, although she really felt nothing but fondness for the bright and loud Uzumaki. It seemed like that boy never ran out of energy. Then she turned to Sai to wait for his answer.

When setting out for this first mission together without Kakashi-sensei, she had been anxious as to how they would cooperate as a group with the ex-ROOT member as their leader.

They were dysfunctional for certain, but it had quickly become obvious that they were well in sync when teamwork mattered the most—usually in the heat of battle or during their more lighthearted conversations, while they set up camp or scouted the surrounding area for traps and enemy presence.

"Yamato-taichou has been dispatched here many times, and he warned me of bandits in north of Tea Country. So we should return the way we arrived. By ship."

"Ships?" Sakura asked. "This late in the night?"

Sai nodded and turned to Sasuke, "You know of hidden ferries from your travels as a traitor?"

The Uchiha glared at Sai but his eyes glossed over in thought.

Sakura's heart warmed and reached out to him when he finally answered, almost shyly—as shy as possible for Sasuke— "I do recall one."

Without having to be instructed to do so, he took the lead and led his three teammates in a winding path through the darkness until the moon shone dimly down upon them and the lapping sound of waves cresting the night shore became dominant in their sensitive, trained ears.

They paused where the docks converged, which served as a large pier for the local fishing boats. Even through the rapidly increasing darkness, the four travel-weary ninja could see that everyone was returning to shore, both to escape the tumultuous, deep blue waves and the incoming darkness.

The moon gloomed high in the black expanse, reflecting down into the rippling ocean that was just as dark, and just as large.

Sakura observed the foamy crash of the seawater underneath the cracks in the dock's bamboo planks, wondering where Sasuke was leading them, and shivering at the implications that he became so involved in criminal realms during his secession from their home.

The group came to a halt in front of a wide vessel with high masts of bamboo and sails shaped like the outstretched wings of a flying insect, their interwoven skeletons obviously crafted by hand. Ten men were visible on the surface of the boat. They unfurled fabric made of a coarse material and threw it over various sized bulks of cargo.

Suspicion spiked in the four shinobi as they looked on, silent and observant.

Sasuke approached the boat and one of the men met him on the dock, dressed in what looked like shinobi gear from an unidentifiable nation.

Watching the other men's weapons with wary green eyes, Sakura leaned closer to her team captain, "I really don't think this is a good idea, Sai," she whispered.

He responded without taking his own eyes from the shadowed vessel, "It is very important that we return by morning. But it is important we stay aware."

The pinkette gave a grudging nod in response. She looked on as the seafarer said something to Sasuke.

The Uchiha's voice, while quiet, carried clearly over the raging winds, "Four of us."

The sailor turned to look at the other three, eyes noticeably lingering on the lithe form of the medical kunoichi. Naruto moved to shield her from the man's shifting eyes just as Sasuke stepped in like a blur to cut off the man's view of his teammates, particularly a certain one with short rosette hair.

His words were rough and threatening, "We will pay you a suitable sum. If you leave us to our devices and act only as a temporary means of transportation."

The middle-aged man was silent for several tense seconds before he nodded slowly and stepped aside to motion the Leaf nin down onto his boat. Once they were settled on the opposite side of the vessel away from his men, he stepped onto the boat himself, only to be yanked back by a crushingly powerful hand.

He came eye to eye with blazing Sharingan.

"You have something to say to me, Uchiha. I know of your reputation, but remember that this is my ship. And that my men are very loyal."

A muscle in Sasuke's jaw twitched and when the bandit turned to glance back at the other Leaf nin, the Uchiha roughly tugged on the hitai-ate around the bandit's neck, the scratched out insignia on the metal glistening under the moonlight.

Sasuke brought his other hand up to wrap threateningly around the man's neck, "And I've heard of you," he growled low in his throat, "But if you don't tell your men to leave her be, I'll shove a fist of lighting into your heart."

He shoved the man away and brushed passed him to join his teammates near the right of the boat as it sailed farther and farther away from the docks. His already racing pulse heightened when he saw Sakura's verdant eyes grow alight upon seeing him.

"Where were you, Sasuke-kun?" she murmured.

He leaned against the railing beside her, "Scouting the cargo. I know them; they deliver illegal weaponry to various groups of missing nin throughout the five nations."

Naruto stiffened on the other side of Sakura. His frown was uncharacteristically serious, "I don't trust them, Sasuke."

A glance at Sai's face proved that the ex-ROOT member was also very edgy, maybe even more so than the blonde Jinchuuriki.

The raven-haired Uchiha nodded in agreement with his two male teammates, "You shouldn't."

"Wake up, Sakura."


"Get up. We need to get out of here."

Sakura's emerald eyes flew open in alarm to see Sasuke running a warm hand up and down her arm. Chills rose overwhelmingly on her pale skin, but the pleasurable sensation went largely unnoticed at the sight of Naruto urgently gathering their bags over Sasuke's shoulder.

And behind the panicky Kyuubi container, Sai was fighting off several of the sailing bandits. Two of his ink lions roared and leapt repeatedly at other rogues, jaws snapping to devour as they leaped back and forth to avoid being struck by the enemy.

Paying no mind to the outrageous tossing of the boat on the angry waves, the pinkette was up and wielding the nearest weapon within reach, which happened to be an average-sized axe for chopping wood.

The darkness behind her lit up in a brilliantly blinding flash of light. And by the sound of it, she knew Sasuke had unleashed his Chidori on one of the unfortunate bandits.

She ducked a roundhouse kick from the enemy at her right, spinning on her ankle and whipping a poisoned kunai into the burly man's stomach when the momentum sent her spiraling back towards him. With her other hand she raised the unfamiliar weight of the chopping weapon and surged a good amount of chakra—the same chakra she used for chakra scalpels—into the heavy metal.

Sakura turned at the sound of Sasuke yelling, only to receive a shallow slash to the upper arm as a shuriken went whizzing by. It would have struck her in the center of her back, had she not turned in time.

A senbon charged with a deep blue energy embedded itself deeply in the back of the offending bandit's skull with a sickening thwack.

The pinkette recognized that the fizzling chakra was of Naruto's wind nature. He was grinning at her from across the deck, dangling a nearly limp sailor from an unforgiving headlock.

An image flashed in the reflection of Sakura's axe, and she spun just in time to raise her temporary weapon and block a downward slash of an enemy rogue's katana. Quick reaction enabled her to deliver a chakra-enhanced kick to his knees before he could attack with a counter swing of the sharp blade, and he collapsed on the drenched deck, screaming in agony at his shattered kneecaps.

"We need to jump!" Sai's voice carried briefly over the roaring winds.

Sakura's hair slammed over her face when she turned with a sudden movement in search of her seemingly emotionless captain, who just so happened to sound very, very panicked at the moment.

He was motioning urgently to her, Sasuke, and Naruto as well. His eyes were wide as his hands indicated manically to the cracking floor of the small ship.

The combined force of several jutsu and the sea storm had been too damaging for the old vessel. She wondered why Sai could not summon an ink bird to airlift them away from the damaged boat, but was answered by the crackling of the growing thunderstorm overhead.

Rain pelted the faces of the four Leaf shinobi as they stood frozen, cautiously watching both the ship's floor and the remaining three bandits; two stood, barely injured and watched as the shattering division in the bamboo planks seemed to grow with every vicious toss of the ocean's surface.

The other sailor lay crumpled on the deck, nursing his leg wounds. He glared hatefully at the pink-haired kunoichi, who also regarded the state of the vessel with great worry.

They were essentially afloat in the middle of the large strait separating the Tea Country peninsula from southwestern Konohagakure.

"Now!" Sai yelled the signal his three subordinates had been waiting anxiously for.

Thunder sent deep vibrations rattling throughout the terrain and into the ocean's depths. Lighting seemed to shatter the black skies overhead, providing a brief but bright source of light that was reflected greatly upon the waters. When the electricity lit up the sky again, all the shinobi had leapt off of the vessel and into the water, except for two.

One last bandit remained, damaged knees forcing him to stay on board the ship, his hands squeezing powerfully—fueled by pure, bitter hatred—around the kunoichi's throat, "You little bitch!"

Another flash of lightning provided a glimpse of visibility, revealing his wide, murderous eyes and the violent gritting of his teeth as he applied more strangling strength.

Sakura gasped and choked against the suffocating pressure. Adrenaline thrummed deep within her and she summoned a plethora of skillfully molded chakra into her right fist, the power of which she sent reeling straight into the seething criminal's temple.

There was no way he could have survived such a direct hit.

The soaked pinkette stumbled to her feet, only to find that the boat had already been submerged to the point where water swirled around her calves.

Through the loud thunder and sounds of the storm, she swore she heard someone calling her name.

She turned around frantically, trying to peer into the darkness, and was shocked to see Sasuke perched upon a large eagle summons that she had only seen a few times before.

His hand was outstretched as he leaned so far off of the animal that she thought he may fall. Without even thinking she grabbed onto the proffered limb and allowed him to hoist her exhausted body to sit in front of him. Even though he was even more drenched than she was, having jumped directly into the water, the warmth of the Uchiha's body towered over and around her as the grand bird flew them away from the wrecked ship.

The graceful eagle in all its grandeur strength—made of actual flesh and powerful instincts—was much more capable of withstanding the destructiveness of the storm.

Sakura yelled desperately into the wind, hoping with mounting worry that her teammate could hear her, "Naruto and Sai. Where are they?"

Sasuke tightened his arms minutely as they settled around her waist; his eyes were shining red with his bloodline limit, peering attentively through rain as it tumbled down and into the flaring white foam on the ocean's surface. Warmth radiated up Sakura's spine upon the sensation of his chest pressing closer into her back. His hot breath warmed her right ear when he leaned forwards, intent to speak more directly once close.

Strangely enough, the proximity made the young medic aware enough of her long-time teammate that the scream of the wind and the roaring of the outraged waters below seemed to become drowned out entirely.

And all she could hear was the striking tone of his voice and the smooth eloquence of his words' sounds as they rolled off of his tongue, despite the statement's undertones of urgency, "Sai painted a large sea-turtle. They should be approaching land now; we'll meet them there."

Why the hell were these feelings always so inconvenient?

The pair watched eagerly from their secure perch on the back of Sasuke's contracted avian summons. Nevertheless, all attempts to locate their other two teammates were futile and they came within view of the lush, green lands of Fire Country's terrain before spotting either Naruto or Sai.

The Uchiha's peaceful countenance was the only reason Sakura was not having a mental breakdown in the midst of worrying about her two reckless boys.

Her drenched boots squelched as she scrambled onto the shore strewn with rounded pebbles of varying blue-gray hues, "What if they got separated and they're all alone?" Sasuke turned to her panicking and shivering form, "Or—or what if they got to land together on Sai's turtle and they're arguing? You know they always argue! What if . . . what if they murder each other before they meet us at the rendezvous point? What if—"

"Sakura," the last Uchiha interrupted her sternly, mostly for the sake of calming her down.

He knew she was bound to worry herself to death. It was just in her nature: to be caring.

And sometimes even annoyingly so. In fact, he would be lying if he himself claimed to be unaffected by the several ambushes his team had suffered during what was supposed to be a simple—yet, admittedly risky—escort mission.

With a reassuring glance at Sakura, he tugged off his soggy black jounin shirt and began ringing out the water with strong, chilled hands.

He blamed himself for much of their current ordeal, actually.

In retrospect, Sasuke knew he should have convinced Sai that being unacceptably late was much more favorable than boarding a questionable ferry run by bandits. He could admit that he certainly had not made the most wholesome acquaintances during his time as a missing nin.

As he walked deeper into the forest and towards an area of overhanging rock that would shield adequately from the rain, he watched the pinkette from the corner of his eye and marveled at how much he had changed. Years ago, as a revenge-driven twelve-year-old, he would have frowned upon being unpunctual in returning from any mission.

He realized he certainly had changed; so much so that it was difficult to comprehend, even for a prodigious mind such as his own.

And hell, so had Sakura.

Sasuke turned away abruptly and began kicking debris to the center of the makeshift canopy of rock, trying desperately not to think of Sakura's curving shape as she walked around surveying their temporary shelter and shivering in the clothes as they clung to her fair skin.

Sasuke leaned down and ignited the mostly dry leaves and branches with a brief rage of flame from his family's signature katon.

Rounding the cliff side and entering their discovered rock shelter, Sakura leaned against the wall and inwardly praised the Uchiha at being so proficient on missions. Considering her freezing form, she was sure she would not have been able to find solace from the night so quickly.

She gazed into the quickly growing fire then turned to observe her dark-haired teammate as he leaned his Kusanagi against the opposite wall, "Do you . . . really think they're alright, Sasuke-kun? Will they meet up with us at the rendezvous point?"

He looked up at her briefly and returned to straightening up the temporary shelter so that it would be suitable for a semi-comfortable night's rest, "They're fine, Sakura. Those two idiots were already near shore when I realized you were gone."

The slightly abashed kunoichi looked down at her boots, feeling smothered beneath the feeling of guilt and failure. Her stoic teammate seemed to sense her distress and shot her a considering look, "It could have been any of us. The storm put us at a disadvantage."

Sakura managed a small yet thankful smile and stretched, the movement seemingly communicating her resignation and growing comfort under the realization that they were safe. All four of them.

"I feel guilty for saying this, but," she pushed away from the wall and stripped off her weapons pouch and the soaked bindings that protected her bare skin from the pouch's leather strap, "I'm kind of relieved that I can get some rest without listening to their bickering. Honestly, they can't go five minutes without insulting each other."

Sasuke smirked and moved to finally sit and rest before his campfire, which had consumed the kindling as if it was eager and starving, flames stretching more than five feet upwards. Plumes of smoke rose to the top of their overhanging rock cover; it meandered along the makeshift, bumpy ceiling until it reached the entrance, where it rose out and over the lip of the shelter top and up into the air.

The young medic nin sat next to Sasuke before the fire, sighing as the swirling heat began drying her damp clothing and hair. Her skin tingled pleasantly under the drastic change in temperature.

Silent and feeling tranquil under his ebbing adrenaline, the raven-haired Uchiha watched his teammate's serene profile. Her cheeks were flushed with an attractive rosette hue as her soft peach skin gradually lost its pallor and began to glow with its familiar tone.

And as the sun-like blaze before them expelled flaring embers into the night air, Sasuke found his heart racing almost imperceptibly in the core of his chest—to him, a young man unused to portraying passion in any form other than his long-abandoned hatred, it was as if his heartbeat was thunder and hot lightning was coursing up and down the length of his spine.

He almost felt as if he should look down at his hand in paranoia, to see if he had unknowingly summoned lightning into his palm.

And when he turned to look again at the pinkette settled on the ground with her thigh pressed against his for warmth, his breath froze chillingly in his throat.

A molten mixture of jade and emerald illuminated in the reflection of the fire's flame, her eyes were ablaze with heat and a hidden emotion Sasuke had not seen directed towards him in a long, long time.

Overcome, Sakura moved closer and laid her head on his shoulder; she hesitated at first, but in a sudden swell of courage pressed her cold cheek against Sasuke's warming neck. He stiffened subtly, then began to relax under the pleasing sensation of her curved body pressing against the firmer, more angular contours of his own.

The hot exhale of her breath was tantalizing against his heavily sensitized skin, and when she spoke and shattered the comfortable atmosphere that had been silent except for the crackle of the bonfire, her voice was soft in his ears and oh-so-lilting.

Like the most sensual of musical strains echoing against his senses.

"I really missed you, Sasuke-kun."

He pulled away briefly to gaze into her warm and verdant eyes with his own eyes, which were rapidly beginning to darken.

They shined darkly, like nighttime, but Sakura found that rather than the chill they usually evoked, with their hidden power and masked feelings, Sasuke's eyes held an emotion both reassuring and affectionate; including something else intensely unidentifiable that made heat swell within the depths of Sakura's abdomen.

"Why. Why are you saying this now," Sasuke murmured, brow quirked slightly. But he was not questioning her. He knew the answer, and the ever-perceptive kunoichi knew that he knew.

But she answered nevertheless, "We, Naruto and I, told you so many things before and after you returned. But . . ." she looked deeper into his eyes, hand unwittingly clenching onto the front of his drying shirt until her knuckles became ghostly white and her nails dug through the fabric, bruising her own skin, "I never told you that I just—I missed you. So much, Sasuke-kun."

His eyes softened significantly and they grew impossibly deeper, deeper and blacker and darker than midnight, " . . . I see."

All the nerve endings in Sakura's body, which were already stimulated by the contrast of her still chilled clothing and the heat of the fire, burst to life when Sasuke's fingers ran lightly through her bright hair. He smoothed the rosette locks down, keeping his eyes glued to her face as if he were trying to take in every smooth, pale slope and delicate angle.

"Sasuke? Sasuke . . . kun."

The Uchiha felt his already relaxed muscles unwind and his inhibitions fall, allowing his carefully smothered emotions to push to the forefront of his consciousness, face drawing closer and closer to Sakura's.

His eyes seemed to hush her and he turned until his chest pressed against the heaving swell of her breasts.

"Hn, Sakura?" he breathed softly, eyes becoming hooded and heavy.

Her pink lips parted to exhale a breath and form a response to the Uchiha's behavior, but she only managed a muffled moan underneath the assault of Sasuke's mouth.

They were both inexperienced but ardent, grasping desperately at each other with a passion that guided them along in their colliding desire.

"Sasuke," Sakura gasped when he pulled away and redirected the onslaught of his lips to her jawline.

Her short rosy locks went flying as the heat of Sasuke's laving tongue caused her to toss her head back with a violent jerk. Neck exposed and hands gripping Sasuke's shoulders, she groaned and allowed herself to be pushed onto her back until she was resting on the ground of their hideaway.

Like a starving predator he crouched over her. He tore off his shirt and dug desperately into Sakura's hips, fingers scrabbling for purchase on the waist of her medic's apron.

The sound of tearing fabric echoed dramatically throughout their enclosure.

Sakura gasped his name. Sasuke's skin was so, so unbearably hot against her shivering body. Every contour pressed sinfully against her, and every beat of his strong heart seemed to resonate within her own chest. He was kissing her so hungrily and with a desperation that frightened her, so much so that she barely heard the sound of the panting Uchiha unzipping her violet shirt.


She threw her head back against the earth when Sasuke covered a beaded nipple with his hot mouth. The slide of his tongue was pure torture, causing the enraptured kunoichi to wrap her legs urgently around his thin waist.

Her hips tilted up towards his. A whimper sounded in Sasuke's ear when her wet, clothed core pressed wonderfully against his hardening arousal.

A luster of sweat covering his chest and neck, he tore his mouth away from his lover's breast with a pained groan.

Shocks of pleasure ran violently up his spine at the delicious friction, and all at once he was grinding his hips harshly against Sakura's, panting and grunting wildly into her pale neck.

His mouth moved to assault the skin of her neck, drawing moans from her sweet mouth with each playful nip and lick of his tongue.

Arousal taking over, Sakura snuck a hand down between their bodies and gently began to stroke Sasuke through his pants. A guttural groan echoed from the young man above her and she suddenly found her hands pinned by her head and a heaving Sasuke shedding her of all remaining clothing. His forehead was pressed against hers while his hands worked, one of them running up and down the curve of her breasts and over her hips.

His eyes were closed and his breathing was the most labored she had ever heard it. As they inhaled and exhaled, their chests and lips brushed against each other with every strained movement.

"Sakura," the Uchiha breathed.

And then his fingers were inside of her, pumping deeply and curling within her until she thought she was going to go insane. He groaned at the feeling of her wet womanhood as it clenched around his fingers.

"Sa-Sasuke—ah!" her screams and moans reverberated around them until Sasuke slowly slid his fingers out of her slickened heat. Sakura groaned at the unpleasant sensation of feeling empty, but was reassured by the feeling of having Sasuke pressed so closely against her.

She shivered when he opened his eyes, and it felt as if they had never been so close, and could never be closer.

Sakura would soon find out how wrong she was.

Because in one swift movement, Sasuke's throbbing manhood was sheathed to the hilt inside her core. An unintelligible yell was torn from her throat.

"Ngh! Sasuke! Oh, Sa-Sasuke-kun!"

Sasuke groaned deep within his chest and hid his face against his lover's sweaty neck. He pumped his hips harshly against hers, his already engorged cock growing harder as she screamed her pleasure, no qualms about being loud whatsoever. His ebony hair stuck to his forehead and he collapsed onto his forearms, unable to hold himself up when Sakura's velvety walls encased him tightly within her, nearly pulling him back in each time he pulled out only to slam into her again with a ferocity that slightly alarmed him.

Sasuke spoke so fervently against her neck, passionately and without inhibition, some of his words nonsense, and some of them absolute filth that made his lover blush and tighten delightfully around his hard length.

He loved the way she writhed beneath him and anchored her body to his with her arms slung around his neck and her ankles locked at the small of his back. The sound of her voice, a sound he absolutely treasured, begging and pleading for him to plunge deeper and harder nearly made him lose control.

She climaxed beautifully, mouth open in a silent scream as she raked her nails unforgivingly down his back and over the muscles that flexed impressively beneath his alabaster and lightly scarred skin.

Her womanhood began to spasm tightly around him and Sasuke felt as if he was drowning under the smothering sensation. His sharp mind could not even begin to function enough to describe the overwhelming onslaught of pleasure.

It was just good.

So damned good.

"Fuck, Sakura," he cursed and pressed his mouth against hers, more so to silence himself rather than the panting woman in his arms.

In a final act of desperation, he lifted one of her legs over his shoulder and slammed harshly into her slightly widened heat until he came, grinding their hips together to prolong the ecstasy for the both of them; the heat of his seed filled her upon his release.

Exhausted but completely sated, Sakura whimpered and allowed Sasuke to let the entirety of his weight fall onto her.

His manhood was still entrenched deep within her, but she could not find it within herself to be disturbed by the wet heat that connected them so intimately.

The Uchiha's head lay against her shoulder, and she ran a placating hand through his sweaty black hair. His chest pushed against hers with his every breath, and she could feel the delicate brush of his eyelashes against her skin every time he blinked.

With a kiss to his forehead, the kunoichi closed her eyes and began to catch her breath, reveling in the warmth of the fire and Sasuke's heated body atop her.

But when she turned her head to look at her lover's face, she found he was already asleep. A tired but blissful smile spread across the pinkette's face; he looked so innocent when vulnerable.

How wonderfully deceiving.

Lips pressed against his ear, Sakura soundlessly murmured the words she would be sure to repeat out loud whenever they awoke in each other's arms.

I love you, Sasuke-kun.

And as she drifted off to sleep, Sakura found herself anticipating the next time she could feel the exhilaration of being ambushed by such a passionate Sasuke.

Propped comfortably on his pillows and shuriken-print comforter, a certain orange novel gripped lightly in one hand and a stack of four unrolled scrolls in the other, Hatake Kakashi chuckled as he read over his team's mission reports.

They were very . . . intriguing, to say the least.

When the four had gone on the dangerous escort mission while he was detained in bed with a Mangekyou-induced illness, the Copy-Nin had understandably been more than a little worried.

But he certainly had not expected them to shuffle through the gates of Konoha, carrying with them a ridiculously awkward silence and a return-date that put his own late record to shame.

And then there was Sasuke and Sakura. They had been unusually tense around each other, as if they were aware of the other's presence more than usual, and wanting desperately to be alone.

Kakashi reached up to scratch at the short stubble through his mask.

However, now that he thought about it . . .

Neither Sasuke nor Team Kakashi's only female medic had accounted for their whereabouts directly following the storm.

He dropped the mission reports, shrugged, and sat back with a lackadaisical yawn. A rather nasty giggle erupted from his mouth when he opened Icha Icha Tactics to his most favorite section, and pondered over how Jiraiya had drawn the anatomy so perfectly when the illustrated couple was writhing in such a complicated position.

What on earth had those two been up to anyway? It was unprofessional to lie on official documents . . . not that he ever completed his own papers in the first place.

The scarecrow turned the page with a knowing smirk.

That was okay; he already had a pretty damned good idea.


Ah, the image of Sai and Sakura dangling over a cliff by a tree, while bickering immaturely, was much too amusing an image to pass up. And then of course there's the Sasuke and Sakura interaction . . . which speaks for itself—or at least I hope it does. I was inspired by the literal and metaphorical contrasts between the cold and heat, as well as the unexpected passion of love when it, in a sense, ambushes you with its intensity.

And, well, that's kind of the vibe I get when I think about SasuSaku.

The entire time I was writing this, I was thinking to myself, "Hmm. Under what circumstances would Sasuke willingly release his pent-up hormones?" . . . Not sure I found the answer, but what do you think?

It's the sexiest piece I've written so far; I guess I could have made it smuttier, but I tend to think that the powerful emotion is one of the sexiest parts.

Thank you so very much for reading this oneshot. I hope it was emotional, I hope it was passionate, and I hope you were as amused reading the Team Kakashi interaction as I was while writing it. These particular characters are pure gold, and so I couldn't resist giving Kakashi-sensei a little cameo at the end. He's a horrible teacher, but I love his character to death!

You all are amazing!

Please, do review!