Am I Stronger?

Summary: Tsunade turned to Sakura with a hard expression. "Apart from improving your skill level, I'm doing this so that you can go after Sasuke before Naruto returns, and be strong enough to bring him back yourself. Naruto already has enough on his hands as it is – Now I don't can't about what promises he's been making to you about bringing Sasuke back himself – The Akatsuki are on to him and he merely needs to focus on just staying safe." Set during time-skip

A/N: Most of this Prologue will be written through Shikamaru/Ino's P.O.V. and a bit at the start through Sasuke's. Don't let that unnerve you, this isn't the first chapter and Shikamaru/Ino won't be the main characters – although it's likely that I'll use them in future chapters. If you can, review, but lack of reviews will NOT stop me from finishing this story! I AM GOING TO SEE IT THROUGH TO THE END, NO MATTER WHAT! AND IF I DON'T, THEN DAMN IT ALL! ^^ :D

This isn't Canon. And since this is set during the time-skip, Sakura will start off as weak, and build from there. Gotta have character development! Oh, and this isn't a romance story, it's an adventure story. ^^ :D

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or any of its characters – all rights belong to Masashi Kishimoto. The new plots (meaning the ones you don't recognise) and my OCs belong to me, but anything else Naruto related belongs to Masashi Kishimoto. I write and post stories free on as a hobby.

Prologue

Witten by 10ShizukaYuukiMistress10

Sasuke's P.O.V.

Sasuke was at Orochimaru's lair, training. He was by the waterfalls practicing Chidori over and over again – he'd already done several now, and considering that six was his limit, it was good progress.

Nevertheless, that didn't keep him from buckling over onto his knees, panting and panting, sweat rolling down the side of his face.

He felt like he was on fire, but – It's not enough! I need to be stronger…

Sasuke forced himself on to his feet again, this time walking towards the waterfall so that he could wash.

He was relieved when the icy cold water rolled down his skin, sending ripples of shudders down his spine. He splashed his face with water one more time, then got dressed and returned to his training, this time testing out his kunai-throwing skills on targets.

He was close to mimicking Itachi's complex technique, nailing down all his blind spots and hitting every target.

After throwing his last kunai, Sasuke saw that the moon was now rising, signalling his end of training. Tomorrow he would be aiming to do twice as many Chidori, and if he was lucky, he would be aiming to surpass Itachi's technique somehow.

Tomorrow would be another new day, and although Sasuke didn't like waiting, he was just going to have to in order to reach his full potential and get stronger.

Sheathing his katana and turning away, Sasuke didn't even notice the little owl that had been perched on the tree above him, watching him the whole time.


Ino/Shikamaru's P.O.V.

Ino opened her eyes and let out a loud whoop!

"I've found him. I've found Sasuke!"

Shikamaru let out an exasperated sigh.

"Ino, are you saw that you weren't just imagining it?" Shikamaru said sceptically. "… I mean, you were using Mind-Transfer jutsu for hours, it's probably taken a tow on you… and it's just that it seems unlikel– "

Ino cut him off. "I can show you if you want – Sasuke couldn't have gotten far, there's still time – come on!"

Before he could protest, Ino was already snaking a hand around his wrist and pulling him after her.

They moved around in the darkness for a few minutes, Shikamaru staggering behind Ino before she came to a sudden halt.

"I… I thought it was somewhere around here that I saw him?"

"What, tangled up in this thorn bush?" Shikamaru said in irritation, and winced painfully amongst the thorns. He didn't even need to look at Ino to know that she was in the same condition as him.

He sighed. "C'mon, let's go back. Even if you did see Sasuke, there would be nothing that we could do until the Hokage was aware of it, Ino."

Ino kicked something – and to Shikamaru's dismay, it turned out to be his ankle – completely unaware of how much pain she was inflicting upon him of late.

They made their way back to Konoha – it would be a whole day's journey, so hopefully they'd be back the next day by mid-afternoon, that is, if Ino could stop spotting Sasukes everywhere they went.

"…I suppose your right – my mother must be worried that we're so late in returning from this mission – but seriously, you should have seen his abs."

Shikamaru was used to this sort of banter from Ino, and tuned out her voice as he continued to move, up until something in particular that she said made him start.

"Wait – what?" Shikamaru spluttered, giving Ino an incredulous sideways glance.

"You heard me. I said I saw Sasuke naked by the waterfall. Hey, don't give me that face! I used to spy on him all the time when we were genin – it's not the first time I've seen him with no clothes on!"

Shikamaru shook his head, peering at the sliver of light casting down on them. It was now dawn time. Only a few hours to go.

"… ah well at least I came out of this mission with benefits – although, would've been better to see him in person instead of from the side lines... ya know what I mean? To get a closer look," Ino giggled girlishly, leaving Shikamaru looking quite flustered.

A few more hours of jumping, and they'd finally reached the village gates, albeit looking very battered thanks to the uneventful thorn bush.

"Hey, you two OK?" Asked one of the gate guards, eyeing their thorn cuts. "… 'cause ya both look terrible. Tea shinobi giving you a hard time, are they?"

Ino shrugged off the comments rather easily, muttering something like, "So what, at least I'm wearing my makeup!"

Villagers eyed them curiously, and Shikamaru was sure that he'd heard one of the children who'd pointed at them, say something like, "… Oooo they must'a gotten ina real scrap. See that one with 'ineapple hair? Yeah, he looks like he got his ass kicked real bad!"

Shikamaru tried to shake off the comments as easily as Ino was managing to – and why she could do it so easily, Shikamaru didn't know – because he on the other hand, he could only relax when Ino asked him to stop by for ramen.

"I'm starrrrrrrrving!" Ino complained as she half-led, half-dragged Shikamaru, and he had a vague idea of just who would end up paying the bill for them.

When they got inside, when Shikamaru thought he could finally have a break from all the stress and whispered comments about them –

"OI! Over here! HOLY COW! What the heck happened to you two? Did you two get attacked by a cat or something?"

And of course, Konohamaru had to shout it out so loud that Shikamaru could've sworn the whole village had gone quiet, as if listening in on them hopefully.

Ino waved her arm dismissively. "Oh, it was nothing, Konohamaru. Nothing, really…"

Despite the fact that Ino wasn't being very convincing, Konohamaru didn't seem suspicious at all and just shrugged, finally going back to eating his noodles.

They ate their food together, all the while Ino tried to talk to Shikamaru about the mission they'd in a hushed tone, describing certain… 'things'to him in more detail.

He quickly lost his appetite.

Once they'd finished their ramen, they left and paid and headed to the Hokage to tower. For some reason Ino exploded, telling Shikamaru off for some reason, complaining that he shouldn't have bought her ramen in the first place, that she was on a diet and he'd spoilt it somehow.

Women…

Shikamaru tried his best to stay calm and not just Shadow Possession jutsu her and walk away.

They reached the Hokage tower and entered the office. The Hokage was sitting at her desk, sorting through a number of documents.

"Hokage-sama!" Ino said politely and bowed.

"Yeah, 'Kage-sama," Said Shikamaru after Ino, lazily inclining his head. "We've just completed the B-Rank mission on escorting the Tea village princess to the Tsuki festival – it was a success."

The Hokage didn't even look up at them, and simply grunted, "Good work – go, then."

Ino jumped forward. "H-Hold on – wait!"

The Hokage didn't look up but raised an eyebrow. "What? Was there a problem?"

Ino shook her head quickly. "No, no! But I – I saw… I saw Uchiha Sasuke!"

The Hokage's head immediately snapped up, but this time she was addressing Shikamaru. "Is this true, Nara?"

Shikamaru was slightly taken aback, and spluttered indignantly. "How should I know? It was Ino who said she saw him! Not me…"

"Well," Said Tsunade, flicking away a stray document, then getting up from her desk to look at the village.

"… I want you to tell me every detail of what happened, Ino. Don't leave anything out," Continued Tsunade, not seeing the worried glance Ino was exchanging with Shikamaru. She couldn't tell her 'that' now, could she?

"Go on, I don't have all day Yamanaka. Can't you remember?"

Ino bit her lip. "OK, I'll tell you everything."

And so Ino did. She told Tsunade about how they'd just finished their mission and how Ino had decided to secure where they were one last time, and swapped minds with a passing owl, unknowing where it was going to land, and what it was going to show her…

After that the Hokage thanked them, and had called in three Anbus. The Anbus had appeared out of thin air and immediately, Tsunade barked out orders so fast that Shikamaru couldn't hear a word she'd said.

The Anbu, however, they heard her perfectly fine because they were already bowing and disappearing in poofs of smoke.

"Well done, Ino, Shikamaru. With this information, we may be able to sniff out that snake's location, and better yet, Sasuke." Tsunade finished, her voice laced with great distaste.

"… you may both leave. You've earned yourselves a week free of missions. It's time to put that Sakura to work now, I think. The Anbu are already off to explain her new mission to her at this moment."

Then, Tsunade added, "And I have a feeling that she'll like it, too."

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A/N: How was that? Next chapter will be in the main P.O.V. which is basically Sakura's P.O.V.

Any suggestions? Constructed critism? ^^ :D