Summary: Kurotsuchi was content with disguising herself as Sasuke Uchiha while on missions; she looked just like him and people actually took her seriously, respected her, and even feared her. And she liked it. But there came a time when Kurotsuchi's days of conning would get her into serious trouble, and today was that day. Today, she would meet six people that wanted to kill her. Only one of them will choose to save her from her death. One-shot.

Warning: Contains violence, mild suggestive themes, and mild language.

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.

NOTE! Kurotsuchi and Deidara are NOT related by blood or family, at least not in this story. Also, this story does not essentially follow the Naruto Shippuden timeline. However, this story does contain a lot of action, some romance, romance, and elements of humor and horror. Read, review, and enjoy.

*Inspired by Naruto Shippuden episode 280*


She barely contained a smile of glee as a menacing group of thugs, all muscular men with shaved heads and scars on their faces, quickly scuttled by her with expressions of pure terror as she strode down the street. She even heard one of them squeal girlishly in horror as one of his massive, tattooed shoulders brushed ever so slightly against the loose material of her shirt sleeve. It took all of her willpower and concentration not laugh aloud at his amusing reaction of fear as she turned around and shot him a threatening glance, causing the trio of brutes to run away whimpering for forgiveness for their disrespect.

The villagers all around her gawked at her in fright, scurrying quickly in the opposite direction or standing frozen in terror as she passed by. An older woman carrying a large basket of apples stopped suddenly in fear upon seeing her and involuntarily dropped the load she was carrying. As red apples fell to the dust road in front of Kurotsuchi, the young kunoichi expertly lifted an apple with the toes of her foot and kicked the fruit upwards in front of her and caught it with her hand without breaking stride. She allowed a small smirk to grace her lips as she cleaned off the dust off the fruit with the front of her shirt and bit into the crunchy apple, enjoying the sweet flavor and satisfied responses of the fearful villagers.

Why were they afraid of her, of a mere kunoichi from Iwagakure?

Well, she didn't exactly look like a kunoichi, but rather like someone else. Kurotsuchi was disguised as the infamous rouge and youngest survivor of the Uchiha Clan, Sasuke.

It wasn't hard to create a convincing henge of Sasuke; she was practically his female counterpart. She looked just like him; short, black tresses that framed her round face, dark, mysterious eyes, fair skin, and a slim build. She hardly needed to apply chakra to the Transformation Jutsu, which made the jutsu practically undetectable, even to an experienced Jounin who could easily recognize henges by the discreet chakra signature that they produce while activated. To everyone she encounters while applying the henge, she is Sasuke Uchiha.

She discovered this perfect link between Sasuke and herself only two months ago.

Kurotsuchi sighed in aggravation as she began sorting through another stack of documents piled in tall towers of paper, brushing off dust that had formed in a thin layer atop the yellowing parchment.

She was sitting at large table with her grandfather, the Third Tsuchikage Onoki, and her teammate, Akatsuchi. They were all sorting through various files and scrolls in the Tsuchikage's office that had fallen off of the shelves where they were stored during an earthquake. When her grandfather summoned her and Akatsuchi for an 'A-ranked mission,' she never would have guessed that they would be doing this, organizing papers.

She sighed again in irritation. Her grandfather never sent her on a real A-ranked mission before; he hardly ever allowed her to go on B-ranked missions. She would try to tell him she was strong and adept to perform such dangerous tasks, but her grandfather would always shake his head and say that she was "still too young and naïve for such responsibilities." Kurotsuchi suspected that he was trying to protect her from the perils of the ninja world, but she wanted to be part of that world. She wanted to protect and fight for her village, for her grandfather's village. But instead, Onoki just made promises that he would send her on an A-ranked mission when she was more competent to handle such a task.

It had taken the three of them two hours to clean up the fallen documents, and now they had just begun sorting the papers. At this point in time, Kurotsuchi wanted to burn all of the documents so she could go home, get something to eat, and sleep since it was well into the night and she missed eating dinner. But she couldn't disobey her grandfather's orders to organize all documents until the office was returned to its original state, as unreasonable as it was. He was, after all, a Kage and she was one of his top assistants.

"Less complaining, more sorting, Kurotsuchi," Onoki stated, not taking his eyes off of the documents he was organizing. "The faster we get this project done, the sooner we can all go home."

Kurotsuchi grit her teeth. "I wasn't complaining! I didn't even say anything!" she retorted from across the table.

"Then you have no excuse to be working so slowly," her grandfather commented.

Kurotsuchi's rage flared and she abruptly stood up, banging her fists on the table, causing a few papers to fall off of their piles. "Damn you, old man! I'm not your maid! I am a ninja! Why don't you ever send me on missions of real importance?! I am certainly capable of completing A-ranked missions if you give me the chance-"

"Whoa, look at this!"

Kurotsuchi and Onoki both turned to Akatsuchi, who was examining a document that had fallen off of the pile of papers when Kurotsuchi slammed her fists on the table. He handed the file first to Onoki, who seemed uninterested in the document at first.

"Yes, what of it?" Onoki crossed his arms, handing the paper back to Akatsuchi while his eyes narrowed in annoyance as more time for sorting documents was being wasted on trivial matters.

"Lord Onoki, don't you think it looks like…?" Akatsuchi trailed off, casting an odd sideways glance at Kurotsuchi, who raised her eyebrows at his strange reaction to the document.

After a few moments of looking between the information on the paper and Kurotsuchi, the Tsuchikage suddenly lifted his thick eyebrows in surprise, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "Well, I guess he does look like…"

Both of the males were then staring at her strangely, making her feel uncomfortable. "What? Why are you two staring at me like that?" Kurotsuchi questioned, "What is that document about?"

She reached across the table and took the paper out of the stunned Akatsuchi's hands and inspected it.
But the subject of the document made her even more confused.

"What are you two so surprised about?" she asked, "It's just a page from a Bingo Book about the profile of Sasuke Uchiha of Konoha. It's nothing that interesting," she concluded, throwing the paper back down on the table in indifference.

"No, take a closer look at his picture," Akatsuchi said, sliding the profile across the table and back to Kurotsuchi. Said girl sighed and re-inspected the paper concerning the rouge.

After a few minutes of studying the young face of the Uchiha, Kurotsuchi shook her head. "I still don't see what you are talking about, Akatsuchi."

"You don't see it? You look just like Sasuke, Kurotsuchi!"

The young kunoichi felt her face heat in anger at his indication. "What?!" she exclaimed, "Are you telling me that I look like a boy, Akatsuchi?! How dare you insult me like that! I should punch your face in, you oaf!" Kurotsuchi cracked her knuckles threateningly, while her teammate defensively raised his arms, stuttering an apology for upsetting his friend. However, it wasn't the first time she was interpreted as being a boy. She lacked the curvaceous body of a woman and had a tomboyish attitude.

"No, he's right," Onoki interrupted the two, folding his hands on the table before him. "You do look like Sasuke Uchiha."

Kurotsuchi narrowed her eyes in displeasure at their remarks. "Don't think I won't fight you as well, old man. Just because you are my grandfather and have a bad back doesn't mean that I won't-"

"We are not meaning to insult you, Kurotsuchi," Onoki told his granddaughter, "We just see the physical similarities between you and Sasuke, a powerful ninja."

Kurotsuchi scoffed, but her eyes fell back on Sasuke's ninja profile. They did have the same hair… and eyes… and facial features…

Hell, she was a female version of Sasuke.

"What are you trying to say then, gramps?" Kurotsuchi asked him.

A sly smile stretched across the old man's face. "How would you like to go on some A-ranked missions as Sasuke Uchiha?"

She was opposed to his idea at first – still miffed at the thought of impersonating a male - but her grandfather insisted that she at least try one mission disguised at the Uchiha. He made her study all files Iwa had on Sasuke so she could replicate everything about him: his favorite foods, hobbies, clothing, and personality, everything she needed to know so she could become him. When she asked about how she was to imitate his jutsu and kekkei genkai, Onoki just waved her off, stating that no one would dare fight Sasuke; he was far too powerful for any foe to challenge him and come out alive. Plus, Sasuke was well-known in the ninja community; everyone knew him and either respected or feared him. People would be too scared to fight her; therefore, she would not need to use jutsu. But just in case, she was advised to train with the sword should a complicated situation ever arise.

Kurotsuchi trained for a month to perfect the henge until she was able to look like Sasuke, talk like Sasuke, act like Sasuke, and fight like Sasuke. She even sewed her own clothing to match the Uchiha's and replicated his sword. Her disguise was foolproof.

Onoki's reasoning for the implication of her Sasuke henge was genius. She would go into neighboring villages and either threaten or persuade businessmen to ally with Iwagakure. Using her Transformation Technique, she was able to get inventors and sellers of ninja weapons, architects, and medical specialists to commerce in her village, improving the quality, wealth, and power of Iwagakure. With most clients too scared to argue or question an Uchiha's motives, the process of converting their business to Iwa was rather simple.

But the increased prosperity and authority of her village was only an added bonus. Kurotsuchi most enjoyed the travelling and freedom associated with her missions impersonating the Uchiha. She could go wherever she wanted and do as she pleased. She truly felt alive, living the dream of becoming a powerful kunoichi and being assigned these important missions, no longer confined in Iwagakure with the restrictions her grandfather imposed on her. She couldn't have asked for a better way to spend her time.

Today's mission was like the rest; she was travelling to the bordering ninja village Takigakure and imitating Sasuke to convince a noble client to sell part of their estate to Iwa. The estate was possessed by a powerful noble family of samurai that was right next to the border of Iwa. This land contained several mines that had valuable metals, mines that the noble clan owned but never exploited. Recently, a war between rival samurai clans in Taki reduced the number of this clan to half, claiming the lives of several men, including the head of the clan. It was rumored that the land is now owned by the clan head's only child, Lady Atsuko. It was Kurotsuchi's job to sway Lady Atsuko to give her land to Iwa so they could use the resources of the mines for more weapons and buildings. But it was a bold move; Iwa would obtain part of Taki's land, and this could cause tension between the two ninja villages. So long as Kurotsuchi played the right moves, they should be able to obtain the land and bypass any conflict…

Her thoughts were interrupted as a cluster of young girls shrieked in excitement as they spotted her in the marketplace crowd. Kurotsuchi rolled her eyes in disgust at their familiar girlish actions and ignored their excited gossip as she swiftly passed them.

"Wow! It's actually Sasuke Uchiha!" she heard one of them gasp in glee.

"I wonder what he is doing in our village…?" another girl thought aloud, a noticeable blush on her cheeks.

"I bet he is here to court a young lady to be his bride!" This exclamation caused another chorus of high-pitched screams of uncontained joy from the adolescent group of females, making Kurotsuchi wince at the awful sound.

There were a few drawbacks associated with her henge as Sasuke Uchiha. Girls were constantly trying to flirt with her, or rather, Sasuke. She had to admit, he was a handsome guy, but his personality was a turnoff for her. He was always so cool and composed, but rude, arrogant and overconfident, as she learned from studying his files. She briefly wondered why any girl would fall for a guy like him.

But the benefits of disguising herself as Sasuke greatly outnumbered the disadvantages. Most importantly, people respected her. Normal Kurotsuchi was looked down upon (literally) and was not taken seriously because she was a girl. But the Sasuke henge provided her with power, respect, and freedom that she was long denied. If a few annoying fangirls were the drawbacks to her henge, it was well worth the trouble considering all of the benefits she gained.

Kurotsuchi took out a map from the pouch strapped to her hip and glanced over it again. According to the chart, once she passed through this village, she shouldn't be far from Lady Atsuko's palace. She should be able to make it there well before sunset.

Suddenly, a tall body collided harshly into her shoulder, causing Kurotsuchi to drop the map she was holding. She turned around to find that a boy walking in the opposite direction had bumped into her. He was a thin kid, only a few years older than her, with spiked brown hair tied back by a red bandanna.

The boy also turned to her, an annoyed expression on his face. "Hey watch where you are going-"

His appearance quickly changed from aggravation to fear upon noticing who she was. He froze where he stood, stuttering stupidly as she just calmly stared back at him. "I-I'm s-sorry, Uchiha," he managed to say after much effort of trying to spit out a decent apology. "I-I wasn't looking where I was going! Please f-forgive m-me!" He picked up the map that she dropped earlier and offered it to her while bowing to her courteously, his body noticeably shaking in anxiety. A crowd had formed around them as people stopped walking to observe what she would do, their faces paled in fear.

Kurotsuchi concealed a smirk. She might as well have some fun with this unfortunate fellow before she leaves the village.

Hiding her amusement, she narrowed her eyes in displeasure and stared down at the boy before her. In one fluid movement, her hand reached behind her and unsheathed the sword on her back. As she brought the sword in front of her, she quickly aimed a vertical slash in the direction of the helpless male pedestrian.

The boy closed his eyes in fright as he saw Sasuke draw his sword and swing it in his direction. But as he waited for the pain of his death, he felt nothing, and tentatively opened his eyes. As he looked in front of him, he saw the map that he was previously holding was cut perfectly in half, one half of the parchment in each hand. Sasuke had just slashed the map with his sword, avoiding cutting him in the process.

"If you disrespect me again, I will promise to sever your head next time, boy," she threatened in a voice that was not her own, but rather the cool, dark voice of Sasuke Uchiha.

The boy nodded and crumpled to the ground as his knees gave in when he realized how close to death he was. "Y-yes, Uchiha…"

Kurotsuchi's dark eyes betrayed a glint of amusement as she surveyed his reactions before turning her heel and walking back towards the gate that lead to the exit of the village, the crowd willingly stepping aside in fear as she passed, afraid that they would become the next casualty of the Uchiha.

"You shall address me as Lord Uchiha," she called behind her to the crowd without turning around, "Or I won't hesitate to kill you for your insolence."

Kurotsuchi strode up to the front gate of the palace of Lady Atsuko as a light rain began falling from the skies. Before her was the grand palace, built with high towers and elegantly-curved pagoda roofs, lush gardens, and beautiful fountains, the estate bordered by a tall rock wall with iron gates. Strangely, Kurotsuchi spotted no guards of any kind patrolling the palace, not even the gate that she was standing on front of. She didn't want to appear rude and enter the palace uninvited; it could hurt her chances of getting Lady Atsuko to sign over her land to Iwa. So she just stood there awkwardly, her hair becoming matted down by the rain as she impatiently waited for someone to escort her in.

After a few minutes of standing in the downpour, she saw the red palace doors open to reveal one lone soldier in its entrance. The person was clad entirely in red-plated samurai armor and black undergarments. He also had a helmet that covered his entire head and carried a silver halberd that was at least two feet taller than him. He swiftly walked over to the gate to where Kurotsuchi stood and just stared at her from the other side of the iron-barred gate.

Kurotsuchi waited for him to say something, but he was silent, only glaring at her strangely from behind his helmet that covered his unseen eyes. After a few moments of uncomfortable staring, Kurotsuchi cleared her throat and began to speak.

"I'm here to see Lady Atsuko…" she stated, trying to mask her discomfort by appearing confident, as the Uchiha would do in this situation.

Without a moment of hesitation, the guard nodded while unlocking the gate and opened it for her. She had expected him to question her about her intentions, at least. After all, she was an outsider and was requesting to speak to their precious princess. While Kurotsuchi found his passive actions strange- as if he was already expecting her to be there although she arrived unannounced- she wordlessly entered the estate and followed the guard as he went inside the palace.

The place seemed even more eerie as they walked through the corridors of the manor. Not a sound was heard except for their footsteps against the floor and the rain hitting the roof from outside. They were in a palace, shouldn't there be busy servants and guards running around, attending the noble inhabitants? But throughout the whole escort, Kurotsuchi saw no one. Why was she getting a bad vibe from this place? But she disregarded her suspicions as being unease about the important mission.

The mysterious samurai suddenly stopped at a set of grand green doors and stood aside while he politely opened them for Kurotsuchi. Kurotsuchi peered inside the room to try to see what was in it, but it was poorly-lit. All that she could perceive were two flickering sources of light at the far end of the room and three dark shadows standing between them. A shiver involuntarily shot down her back as she stared at the room before her, but she walked forth anyway, not wanting to appear cowardly because of her fear for dark places.

As she strode into the dark room, the doors were shut tightly behind her, making her a bit more apprehensive, but she continued walking further into the large room, an uncaring expression on her face. It was moments like this when she wished she actually did possess the truly courageous qualities of the Uchiha.

As she walked further into the darkness and towards the far side of the room, Kurotsuchi saw that the two light sources were lit candles on ornamental pedestals and the shadowy figures were actually three people, two standing up and one kneeling. The two that were standing she recognized as guards, wearing the same red armor and masks as the samurai that had escorted her inside. The kneeling figure was between them, but their face was shrouded in shadows as their head was lowered and eyes closed. Kurotsuchi assumed that this person was Lady Atsuko.

As no one spoke, Akatsuchi tentatively sat a few tatami mats away from the three people, watching them carefully. This place was definitely had a cryptic quality to it, considering that no one here talked and the few people that did reside here were content with spending their day sitting in spooky dark rooms. Either this place was cursed, or everyone here was complete lunatics. Kurotsuchi settled for the latter explanation to this weirdness.

"Lady Atsuko," she began to speak, the familiar smooth voice of the Uchiha echoing through the spacious room, "I thank you for inviting me into your palace. It is truly magnificent," she complimented, wanting to appear charismatic to influence the female noble into signing off her land to Iwa. Swaying the young princess should be easy, especially as imposing Sasuke, using his good looks and wit to win her over. Because of his attractiveness, she never had to try to flirt with any girls for missions like this; they would naturally fall head over heels for the Uchiha's handsomeness and cool demeanor. Lucky for her, it wasn't in the Uchiha's personality to be such a playboy, so she never required to try to awkwardly seduce the same gender. She would only need to rely on his natural appeal to complete this mission.

Upon hearing her speak, the kneeling person lifted their head and opened their eyes, their hidden face suddenly exposed to the dim lighting. Kurotsuchi resisted gasping as the features of the person suddenly came to light.

Lady Atsuko was absolutely beautiful, and Kurotsuchi was almost jealous of her exquisiteness. The princess had long flowing golden hair that reached all the way down her back and glistened in the candlelight. The skin of her unblemished face was coated in a thin, but natural layer of makeup that colored her cheeks. Her lips were not full, but rather delicate and defined with a bit of red lipstick that matched the crimson kimono she was wearing. But her most striking feature was her eyes. They were a stunning dark blue, like the ocean on a sunny day. Kurotsuchi had always wanted blue eyes; they were much more appealing than her own dark eyes. Kurotsuchi found that she actually felt a bit self-conscious. Why couldn't she be as beautiful and perfect as the princess before her? If she was beautiful like her, then maybe she wouldn't be misinterpreted as a boy so often and could actually find a man that was attracted to her…

"Sasuke Uchiha," Lady Atsuko spoke in a soft and musical tone, interrupting Kurotsuchi's thoughts, "I welcome you to my estate. What is your business here?"

That's weird. I didn't tell her my name… Kurotsuchi thought. Although Sasuke was a well-known shinobi in all of the Five Countries, she never would have expected someone like Lady Atsuko to know who she was. Nobles rarely associated with anyone outside of their palace walls and never involved themselves in the affairs of the ninja; it could compromise their safety. But she waved off the princess's knowledge of Sasuke's identity as just being a rumor that she perhaps heard from one of her guards.

"Your property boarders Earth Country," Kurotsuchi started explaining, "So you must know that ninja activities are very close to your home."

Lady Atsuko calmly nodded to her statement, a reaction that Kurotsuchi was not expecting. Usually, nobles were extremely cautious and scared of shinobi. They feared the power of their jutsu and were always wary of assassination attempts by them, for it was not uncommon for nobles to be murdered because of their inequality of power and wealth. Either Lady Atsuko was really stupid not to be afraid of ninja, or she was really brave.

"I am here to protect you, Lady Atsuko," Kurotsuchi continued, "I have come to warn you that a band of rouge ninja from Iwa are going to invade your land by tomorrow. No army of samurai can save you from such a powerful l force, not even the ninja of Takigakure can defend you. But if you give me the contract to your estate, I can negotiate with Iwa and give them your land in exchange for your safety from the shinobi. Only Iwa ninja can protect land that is legally theirs; they cannot defend Taki's land because it is not theirs to guard."

Lady Atsuko seemed unfazed by the news as she stared blankly back at Kurotsuchi. The Iwa kunoichi tried not to express her confusion. Why was this girl not scared? Was her story not convincing enough? Nothing was quite making sense in this place…

Suddenly, a grin appeared on the delicate face of the princess before her. But it wasn't just a grin. It was a confident and wicked smile. The atmosphere of the room suddenly changed from eerily calm to hostile in a matter of seconds. The air seemed to become thicker, making it harder for her to breathe. Kurotsuchi began to panic. What the hell was going on?!

"I thank you for your concern, Sasuke, but I think it is you who needs the protection… protection from me."

Kurotsuchi was able to unsheathe her sword just as the two guards standing next to the princess suddenly launched themselves towards her, halberds directed at her torso. She was able to parry their weapons just in time before they attempted to stab her. She shakily tried to hold off both of their attacks as they combined their strength and tried to break her parry. Not able to hold them off any longer, she twisted her sword vertically, causing the two guards to lose their balance. Her counterattack gave Kurotsuchi enough time to execute a backflip away from them and survey her surroundings.

But the two samurai guards recovered far more quickly than she expected. As they instantly recuperated, they then flung themselves towards her once again. They were unusually fast for samurai equipped in heavy armor, she mentally noted before they attacked again. Kurotsuchi ducked as one of them swung his halberd horizontally and then attacked his legs from the ground, slashing both of his legs with her sword, severing them just below the knees and causing the samurai to fall to the floor.

Surprisingly, Kurotsuchi saw no blood gush from his severed legs, nor a familiar scream of agony from the intense pain it would have undoubtedly caused. In fact, the injured samurai wordlessly lifted himself off the ground andthen levitated in front of her. It was then that she noticed that the second samurai was also floating a few inches off the ground. What the hell were these things?! Ghosts?! No, they were defiantly not spirits, she felt her sword penetrate through the legs of the first samurai. But at least this explained their incredible speed; they were flying, literally!

Well, whatever they were, she needed to kill them. Kurotsuchi saw the second samurai guard swoop down at her like a hawk attacking its prey. But this time she was ready, matching his speed. She raised her sword and deflected his halberd away, then found an unarmored section on his right arm and cut off his arm that held the weapon. She watched as his severed, bloodless limb fall to the floor, still reflexively clutching the weapon with his hand. These warriors seemed to rely heavily on their weapons, so if she separated the halberds from their person, they should be considerably weakened.

From the corner of her eye, she saw the legless samurai fly towards her again. She grabbed the collar of the guard with the severed arm and threw him into the second samurai soaring towards her. The two bodies crashed into each other midair, their metal armor unpleasantly scraping against each other loudly. Their limbs became tangled together, and they both fell to the ground and suddenly became limp.

Kurotsuchi cautiously made her way towards the unmoving duo of flying samurai, sword defensively raised in front of her. Even as she neared their bodies until she was only a footstep away from their heads, they still did not move. Did she kill them? No, it seemed too easy. But for good measure, she was going to take advantage of their unresponsive state and cut off their heads.

The young Iwa kunoichi kneeled down and began to remove the helmet of the first samurai, for her sword could not penetrate through the armor. But as she detached the heavy headdress from the guard, she gasped in fear and recoiled at what lie underneath his helmet.

Its eyes were wide, pupil-less, and bulged disgustingly from its eye sockets. Its mouth had no lips and consisted of only of a set of teeth that clacked together unpleasantly. The face lacked any sort of nose or ears. These things that Kurotsuchi had been fighting were puppets.

Before she could further assess the situation, the hand that Kurotsuchi severed from one of the puppets that carried the halberd unexpectedly picked itself off the ground and flew towards her, weapon outstretched. She was able to detect the faint blue glow of a thin chakra string that was attached to the severed arm, the jutsu used to manipulate puppets from a distance. She didn't detect the chakra strings before because she never would have expected to be attacked by a damn puppeteer.

She was unable to counter in time as the tip of the pole axe penetrated deep into her right shoulder. A startled and pained scream escaped her lips as the sharp point of the weapon cut easily through the skin of her upper arm. Normally, a henge would break once the user of the jutsu was injured, but her skill level with the Transformation Technique allowed her to keep the henge even as damage was inflicted to her body. She clenched her teeth as she quickly pulled the halberd out of her body and threw it to the floor, the scent of her blood thick in the air as her wound began bleeding profusely.

Suddenly, one of the two puppets garbed in samurai armor dislodged themselves from the other puppet and used Kurotsuchi's moment of weakness to attack her. It flew behind her and wrapped its long wooden arms tightly around her torso, preventing her from moving her arms. Kurotsuchi bit back another cry of agony as the excessive hold of the puppet made her injured shoulder throb intensely from the pain. The puppet squeezed her even tighter, putting immense pressure on her lungs until she was gasping for breath. Her sweaty palms unable to grip the sword, her weapon slipped through her hand and fell to the floor. Now she was defenseless, unable to perform hand signs, use taijutsu, or her weapons in this position. She was at the mercy of her enemy.

Kurotsuchi cursed herself for her carelessness. She knew that something was unusual about this place and these people, yet she still ignored her instincts that warned her of the danger. She should have been more cautious entering this unknown area. Now she was going to pay the price with her life, murdered by the hands of a puppeteer. How could she be so stupid, to walk blindly into this enemy's trap?


Kurotsuchi looked ahead of her to see Lady Atsuko rise from her seated position and walk towards her, brow arched slightly in anger. She had completely forgotten about the princess while her guards were fighting her. The samurai puppet that held to her obeyed the princess's command and relaxed its grip on Kurotsuchi slightly so she could breathe, but not enough to allow her to escape. As Kurotsuchi began to regain a normal breathing pattern, the princess was already in front of her, blue eyes fixated on her own dark orbs.

Her red lips pouted slightly as the noble noticed the blood gushing from Kurotsuchi's shoulder. "I told you not to harm him, Sasori, just distract him. Now our fight isn't going to be fair."

Sasori? That named sounded familiar, but Kurotsuchi couldn't place where she heard it before. But her question was answered as a hooded figure stepped out of the shadows from a corner of the dark room as his name was mentioned.

"I was distracting him," a boyish voice retorted as the cloaked figure strode up to Lady Atsuko's side, one hand raised as blue chakra strings connected the tips of his fingers to the puppet that held Kurotsuchi, "I guess that I misinterpreted his skill level and assumed that he could handle the attacks of these simple puppets."

The person in the dark robes used his free hand to push back the hood of his cloak to reveal large brown eyes, a round face, and red hair. Kurotsuchi's eyes widened when she realized that this was Sasori of the Red Sand, an Akatsuki member. She remembered reading his file in the Bingo Book from data compiled by Suna shinobi. Although there was not much information about him, she knew that he was an extremely powerful puppeteer. One mere twitch of his finger could command his puppet to snap her neck. Kurotsuchi gulped in fear at the thought, but her expression remained composed.

The princess wore a thoughtful look. "Hm. I guess you were right. I thought the attacks were basic enough for someone like him to avoid. I guess he is not as powerful as all of the rumors say…"

Kurotsuchi's jaw hardened. They still thought she was Sasuke, referring to her as a male. But why did this princess and Akatsuki criminal want to kill the Uchiha? As far as she was aware, the only Akatsuki member that wanted to kill Sasuke was his brother, Itachi, and a princess should have no qualms with Sasuke either. What did these people want with him? Should she confess that she wasn't the rouge Uchiha? No, they would probably get angry and kill her on the spot if they realized she was not their target. But if she waited a little longer, she could reveal their intentions or come up with an escape plan.

"What do you want with me?" Kurotsuchi questioned her captors.

Sasori remained silent as Lady Atsuko smirked. "You are the brother of the Akatsuki member Itachi Uchiha," the female noble stated, "That bastard has been a longtime rival of mine. Ever since I met him, I have wanted to kill him. But the only person that Itachi is interested in is you, his little brother. If I want to gain his attention, I need to prove that I can defeat you, Sasuke. Then Itachi will take me seriously. You will be good practice for our upcoming battle between your brother and me. I will have time to see the results and perfect my jutsu before Itachi and I fight. I have always wanted to see how well my jutsu compares to the natural talent of the Uchiha and their Sharingan.

"If you are anything like your brother, and you probably are," the princess continued, "Then you would probably not want to waste your time fighting me either. So I created this elaborate trap after intercepting data that stated that you would be coming here to proclaim my land for Iwa. I won't question your intentions for your concern of the property of a rival village, although I am curious. But enough talk. It's about time that we fight, Sasuke."

Okay, so this crazy lady was set on killing Sasuke because she wants to fight Itachi, thought Kurotsuchi. Maybe she should tell her that she's not the Uchiha before the princess decides to kill her now.

But before Kurotsuchi could say anything, the redheaded puppeteer spoke first. "You should remove the henge first. You look ridiculous…" he muttered.

Kurotsuchi raised her brow at Sasori in confusion. How did he see through her disguise? She was masking her chakra and her henge was undetectable. Even her grandfather was unable to note any flaws in her Transformation Technique, and noticing her faults seemed to be a talent of his. And even if they knew she was not the real Sasuke, then why were they still calling her by his name?

But she soon realized that Sasori was not addressing her, but rather Lady Atsuko. "I think that it's a rather convincing henge. It seemed to trick Sasuke," the princess said, frowning deeply while flicking back her long hair at his remark.

Now Kurotsuchi was really confused. The princess was also using a henge? How did she manage that? Kurotsuchi didn't detect a chakra signature from her that signaled that she was using such a complicated jutsu, or even that she was a shinobi. Who was she to create such a henge that even fooled Kurotsuchi, someone who also perfected the Transformation Technique to the same extent?

Lady Atsuko lifted her hands together to form the Tiger jutsu seal to undo the henge. Kurotsuchi could only stare to see the true identity of who had deceived her.

But as the jutsu was deactivated, Kurotsuchi saw no noticeable differences between the previous Lady Atsuko and the person who stood before her now. They still had the same long blonde hair, blue eyes, and almost the same physique, except this person was slightly taller and had a slim and boxy figure. The person then used the sleeve of their kimono to remove some of the facial makeup and then removed the kimono entirely. Kurotsuchi gasped when she recognized the person standing before her.

The former Iwa terrorist bomber was wearing no shirt and only dark grey pants, exposing the strange marking on the left side of his chest that was his Ultimate Jutsu. After throwing the kimono to the side of the room and pulling some of his long blonde tresses up into his signature ponytail, even as his left eye was still curtained by his hair, he directed his cerulean eyes back in her direction and lifted his arms from his sides, a wide smirk on his face as he began to introduce himself.

"You may not know me, Sasuke," he began dramatically, "But I am your worst nightmare, your death. My name is-"

"Deidara?!" Kurotsuchi gasped aloud, cutting off the bomber's introduction. Said man stopped and stared at her in surprise, even his partner Sasori lifted his eyebrows in interest.

"Err, right…" Deidara stuttered, still shocked that Sasuke knew who he was. The Uchiha and himself had never met before, but the way Sasuke said his name sounded like he actually knew who he was for a long time… "I'm Deidara, the ex-Iwa Akatsuki member, True Master of Art, King of Explosives, yeah!" he continued, while Sasori rolled his eyes at Deidara's 'proclaimed titles.' "You must have heard of me through the fearful whispers of the public!"

Against her better judgment, Kurotsuchi began to laugh. How long ago was the last time they saw each other? Her last memory of Deidara was him exploding Iwagakure with his clay detonations that he deemed as art. He hadn't changed at all! He was still the same theatrical, impatient, hot-headed boy that she knew from her childhood. She wondered briefly if he remembered her. They did spend a few years at the same Ninja Academy and even went on some missions together before he betrayed Iwa and joined Akatsuki. He was the one who made fun of her for looking like a boy, and she was the person who taunted him for looking like a girl. Now they were meeting again, but with Kurotsuchi disguised as a male and Deidara as a female. She couldn't help but laugh at the irony of this situation.

Deidara at first was confused at why Sasuke was laughing at him, and then got angry as his hearty laughter continued. "Hey, don't be mocking me! You should be afraid of me, yeah!" he growled, shaking his fist in rage.

"I wouldn't be surprised if he was mocking you, Deidara," Sasori commented, the corners of his mouth raised slightly in amusement, "After all, you did dress up like a girl to lure him into this trap. Also, you still have some lipstick on your lips…"

"Shut up!" Deidara exclaimed to both Sasuke and Sasori while furiously trying to rub off the stained makeup from his mouth, but to no avail. "Sasori! Release this bastard! I'm going to kick his ass for his disrespect!" he proclaimed, pointing a finger at the Uchiha.

But before anyone could do anything, a loud crash echoed through the room as the wall to their left suddenly crumbled away from an external impact. Kurotsuchi closed her eyes as shrapnel from the broken wooden wall flew towards the trio of ninja. When the pieces of wood eventually stopped flying through the air, the Iwa kunoichi eventually opened her eyes to see what had happened. Sasori and Deidara were still in front of her, and they had just lowered their hands from shielding their faces from the unexpected explosion. They directed their attention to the barrier that now had a large hole in it, confused expressions on their faces. Kurotsuchi also turned to the wall to see what caused the impact.

As dust cleared away, four shadowy figures emerged from the hole that was just created in the wall. Only one of the people that stood in the opening walked through and approached Deidara, Sasori, and herself.

"Sorry to interrupt your little interrogation session," the person stated coolly, lacking any sort of pleasantry in his tone, "But I'm looking for someone. You might recognize him, he looks just like me."

All three of them gaped in pure shock as they recognized the person who had just entered the room. Sharp jaw, dark eyes, black tresses, fair skin, thin yet muscular build… it was Sasuke Uchiha. The Sasuke Uchiha.

Kurotsuchi could only stare at him in disbelief. They had personally never met before, but he was definitely far more intimidating than what she expected from reading his files. She could feel a dark and powerful chakra resonating from him, as well as another force she couldn't quite place. Was it his immense hate that he has harbored since his family was murdered by his only brother? Either way, she could feel his anger directed at her as their dark eyes locked. His eyes narrowed at her disapprovingly while she began to shake in fear under his gaze. What the hell did she get herself into this time?

Deidara's glare bounced between the Sasuke that he had just managed to capture and the Sasuke that stood in the opening recently created in the room. "What the hell?!" he shouted in irritation, addressing both of the Sasukes. "Someone better explain what is going on before I decide to kill you both right now, yeah!"

The three people that were standing behind Sasuke suddenly filed into the room, wanting to get a look at the Sasuke imitator. There were two males: one was short and had white hair while the other was very tall and muscular with spiked orange tresses. There was also a female with long red hair and glasses who was standing close to the Uchiha's side.

"Whoa, he does look just like you, Sasuke!" the boy with white hair exclaimed, flashing pointed teeth as he smirked at Kurotsuchi. She recognized him as a Mist swordsman from the giant blade he carried on his back and his sharp teeth common to most of the ninja in Kirigakure.

"That's strange, he's not emitting a lot of chakra for using a Transformation Technique…" the girl commented, adjusting her glasses as she studied the Sasuke duplicate. Kurotsuchi assumed that the girl was an expert Sensory Ninja by the way she could read her chakra signature even though it was masked.

The tall man that stood behind Sasuke was silent, his gaze rotating between herself, Deidara, and Sasori, as if waiting to see if they would attack. To Kurotsuchi, he seemed to be acting like a bodyguard, waiting to strike down his opponents if instructed.

"Silence," Sasuke commanded to his comrades, who instantly obeyed his order. The Uchiha then directed his gaze at the blonde bomber. "My quarrel is not with you. I am here to kill my impersonator, not to trifle with you people."

His statement made the bomber's face flush in anger. "Don't talk to me like that! I am your superior!" he barked, "I am Deidara, ex-Iwa Akatsuki member, True Master of Art, King of-"

"Deidara," hissed the redhead puppeteer, interrupting his partner, "I think this is the real Sasuke. Not the one we apprehended."

Everyone in the room suddenly directed their gaze at Kurotsuchi, hostility present in their expressions. Kurotsuchi flinched under their glares. If looks could kill, she would have died six times at the same time, if that was even possible. If she was going to get out of here alive, then she needed to flee.

The Iwa kunoichi began to chuckle nervously, earning a few raised eyebrows from the cross crowd. "How did you find me, Sasuke?" she asked, stalling for time while she tried to formulate and escape plan.

Sasuke didn't seem entertained at all by her reaction, but answered her question anyways. "I intercepted information from Iwagakure when I heard rumors of myself being present around the nations boarding the village, even though I was obviously nowhere near there. Once I infiltrated the village and got ahold of assignment files that had my name on it, I found that you, my impersonator, was going to be here on this day for a mission."

Kurotsuchi inwardly sighed. Deidara found her mission details the same way. Iwa was really going to need to increase its defensive powers before all of the other Nations know what they are planning…

"I have a few questions for you," Deidara hissed through clenched teeth, piercing gaze focused on Kurotsuchi. "Who the hell are you, and why are you disguised as Sasuke?" Everyone stared at her, waiting for her to answer the questions that they were most curious about.

Kurotsuchi wasn't sure is she should answer his questions. If she told Deidara her name, he might not kill her because he knew her from their childhood. But he also might not remember or care who she was and would kill her anyway. And Sasuke was definitely going to try to kill her, no doubt about that. If she did manage to escape, the Uchiha would know her true identity and use the information to track her down. Now only would she endanger herself, but Iwa as well.

Kurotsuchi remained silent as she processed her options. Unfortunately, Deidara was not patient enough to wait for an answer. He came up to her and grabbed a fistful of the hem of her shirt, their faces inches away from one another as he began to scream at her in anger. "Do you take me for a fool?! I have already been humiliated by you once, and will not be disgraced a second time! Tell me who you are!"

"Enough," Sasuke commanded loudly so he could be heard over the exclamations of the blonde, "Unhand him. He is mine to question and mine to kill."

Deidara spared a sideways glance at the real Sasuke. "Don't think you can order me around, Uchiha," he stated defiantly, "I'm not you dog. So step in line and wait your turn like a good boy. You can have his mangled corpse when I'm through. Then, when I'm done killing this bastard, we can fight."

Sasuke unsheathed the sword on his waist and held it in Deidara's direction. "Why don't we fight right now then, if that is what you wish?" he stated, his brow furrowed in anger at being mocked.

Deidara smirked slightly and unhanded Kurotsuchi at his proposal. "Very well. Let's end this, yeah!"

The blonde then turned towards the Uchiha, his hand reaching inside one of the pouches attached to his hip. Kurotsuchi's eyes widened. He was going to use that jutsu, the Explosion Release. The jutsu that Deidara used to level almost half of Iwa before he left the village. As she predicted, he withdrew his hands from the bag and was now holding white clay. He clenched his fists and began kneading the malleable substance with his hands in preparation for his explosive jutsu.

Being in the same area while Deidara was performing his explosive jutsu was extremely dangerous. He could be a loose cannon when he gets caught up in his 'art' and becomes unaware of anything around him, including people. Kurotsuchi needed to leave now if she wanted to keep all of her limbs intact.

Kurotsuchi struggled against the grip of the puppet, but this action only made the puppet squeeze tighter on her torso. She heard a rustling of cloth to her right to see that Sasori moved to her, his hand still raised as he controlled his puppet.

"I suggest you keep still and watch the fight," he stated, eyes on his partner while he completed the molding of his clay, "Deidara doesn't want you to escape. He wants to kill you for making a mockery of him. So I'm going to guard you until this battle is over, and then he will test his explosive jutsu on you to see how it might fair against Itachi."

"Guard me…?" she found herself whispering.

Sasori nodded and glanced at the trio that accompanied Sasuke. Instead of watching the fight, they were staring at Kurotsuchi, their glares hard. "Deidara is not the only person that wants to kill you," the puppeteer stated, "I suspect that Sasuke's company are going to try to capture you so he can kill you himself. The Uchiha seems very upset that you are flouncing around impersonating and disrespecting him. But now that those four are involved, this simple mission is far more complicated than it should be. But once Deidara gets an idea in his head, he cannot be swayed otherwise…" Sasori sighed.

That's true… Kurotsuchi thought, mentally rolling her eyes.

Sasori shot her a sideways glance. "There is only one reason why I am not killing you now and saving us the trouble of this brawl. Personally, I am quite curious to see your true form. For someone to deceive two Akatsuki members with such a skilled Transformation Technique is quite commendable. You should die with some dignity knowing that."

Kurotsuchi narrowed her eyes at his last sentence. "Thanks," she muttered dryly to her captor, but Sasori was unfazed by her sarcasm.

Sasori briefly looked her up and down. "Why don't you release the henge now? We all know that you are not the real Sasuke," he questioned.

"I think that it's better if I remain anonymous…" she stated carefully, trying not to reveal her intent of escaping.

But the puppeteer chuckled briefly as he saw through the meaning of her words. "You think that you have a chance of fleeing, so you don't want us to know who you really are if we pursue you," he stated, "Well, even if you somehow manage to evade me, you still have five other people that want your head."

Kurotsuchi sighed in defeat. He was right. Her chances of getting out of this palace alive were diminishing by the second. How the hell was she supposed to escape when six people wanted her dead?


The Iwa kunoichi's thoughts halted abruptly as she looked up just in time to see Deidara raise his hands to complete his explosive jutsu. A clay form that he fashioned into a small bird suddenly took wing and launched itself at the Uchiha, who raised his sword as the bird neared. Kurotsuchi closed her eyes, bracing herself for the explosion that was about to occur. Memories of the detonations set by Deidara when he attacked the village many years ago flashed behind her closed eyelids. Her body shook in fear in preparation for the explosion, just as she did when she watched her city crumble and burn when she was a child.

But after a few tense and fearful moments, Kurotsuchi heard no explosion. She tentatively opened her eyes to see Deidara staring at Sasuke, dumbstruck. Kurotsuchi too turned towards the Uchiha to see what stopped the bomb.

The clay bird lay in two pieces on the floor, cut in half by Sasuke's sword. Although the bomb should have been triggered by the impact of the sword slicing through its body, Kurotsuchi saw the cause that made the clay missile fail to explode as she inspected his sword more carefully. Blue electricity crackled around the metallic blade, twitching wildly for a few seconds before disappearing completely. Sasuke inserted lightning chakra into his blade to counter Deidara's deadly earth-style bomb, deactivating it. Lightning chakra nature trumps earth chakra nature.

Sasuke gracefully flicked his wrist and spun his sword before sliding it back into its sheath. He then crossed his arms and stared at Deidara, a bored look plastered on his face.

"For someone who talks so confidently, your jutsu is lacking the same… aggressiveness. In fact, I find it completely unimpressive and pitiful for someone of your status," Sasuke stated, which made Deidara grit his teeth in anger, "Even if you are Akatsuki, you are not worth my time. Juugo, Suigetsu. Take the impersonator and let's conclude our business here."

Without hesitation, the white-haired male that was standing next to Sasuke reached into his pocket and pulled out a small round object. He then threw the sphere forcefully on the floor, causing it to burst and release a thick, foggy smoke that filled the entire room in a matter of seconds. Kurotsuchi coughed and closed her eyes, the smoke bomb making it hard to breathe and stinging her eyes.

Behind her, the puppet suddenly released its grip on her at the same time she heard a noise that sounded like the splintering of wood. Still unable to see, Kurotsuchi took this opportunity of confusion to try to escape, stumbling about the room as the smoke impaired her senses.

However, she didn't get far. Someone behind her forcefully grabbed her shoulder and turned her around. Kurotsuchi found herself staring into the scarlet eyes of the tall man that was on Sasuke's team, and he looked pissed.

"Suigetsu, I got him. Let's go," he stated simply. Kurotsuchi noticed that the white-haired boy was behind him, his sword drawn and a crushed puppet lying on the floor. The Iwa kunoichi realized that this swordsman, Suigetsu, was the one who freed her from Sasori's puppet by attacking it with his sword. Speaking of the red-haired puppeteer, where was he?

Her question was answered when Sasori suddenly jumped out of the fog and launched himself at the tall man named Juugo that was holding her, a kunai in his hand. As Juugo spun around to defend himself against the puppeteer, his arm suddenly changed. His skin faded into gray and his arm expanded to twice its normal length, irregular bumps forming on his skin until his arm turned into something that looked like the forearm of a beast. Still forcefully gripping her shoulder with his free hand, Juugo protectively raised his creature-like arm as Sasori neared.

The redhead also raised his kunai and sent a vertical slash at Juugo's arm, but the tip of the kunai broke as it made contact with his skin. Kurotsuchi realized that Juugo's jutsu was like armor, impenetrable to mere weapons. After the massive man countered Sasori's attack, he quickly swung his deformed arm at the puppeteer, who barely avoided his attack by flipping backwards. Sasori once again retreated into the smoke, but Kurotsuchi was sure he would strike again after finding another weapon to attack with. Puppeteers did not usually succeed in short-distance battles anyway.

Juugo also saw this window of opportunity. He picked up Kurotsuchi and slung her body over his shoulder, earning a stifled cry from the surprised Iwa ninja as he manhandled her injured body.

"Put me down!" she demanded, but of course Juugo ignored her request.

"Suigetsu!" Juugo called to his comrade again, gaining his attention while ignoring Kurotsuchi as she uselessly began kicking and hitting his back.

The Mist ninja turned around and ran up to his partner and their captive. "Oh good, you got the copycat! Let's get outta here before the Akatsuki regroups and attack us again!" Suigetsu stated as he led his partner through the smoke, Juugo still carrying Kurotsuchi on his massive shoulder.

The exited the room and ran down a series of hallways. Kurotsuchi struggled against Juugo's grip, but the man was strong, and he was only holding her with one arm. She uselessly tried to fight off the brute until the trio of ninja finally came to a halt and ducked into one of the rooms of the palace.

Kurotsuchi was then practically dropped on the floor, her captors eyeing her carefully after closing the door to the room they were in. As soon as she was freed from Juugo's grip, she tried to stand, but Suigetsu pointed the gigantic sword he was carrying in her direction, making her pause.

"Don't even try to escape, Sasuke-copycat," he commanded, smiling a toothy smirk at her, "Or I will fillet you like sashimi."

Kurotsuchi did as she was told and sat where she was, crossing her arms and staring irritably at her new abductors. This was getting annoying. She managed to escape from one enemy by being captured by another enemy. How the hell was she supposed to flee when everyone here was looking for her so they could kill her?

She stared at the Mist ninja and the brute, sizing them up. She would surely lose in a taijutsu match against Juugo; he was far stronger than her. And the Kiri shinobi had that intimidating sword, and he was sure to use it against her if she tried to attack them. However, she might be able to use ninjutsu if she timed her attacks right…

"You are in a lot of trouble," Suigetsu stated as he lowered his blade and leaned against the wall, "The Uchiha is pissed that you are mimicking him, Sasuke-copycat. He is going to kill you for tarnishing his reputation."

"I know!" Kurotsuchi snapped at the white-haired boy, "Everyone here wants to kill me! And stop calling me a copycat!"

Suigetsu raised his eyebrows, happy to get a rise out of his enemy. "And what are you going to do about it? You are in no position to fight us, copycat."

"Suigetsu, stop harassing him and be quiet," Juugo interrupted his teammate, "Our enemies have probably recovered by now and are looking for us. As soon as Sasuke comes, we are leaving this place."

Suigetsu pouted and crossed his arms. "You're no fun, Juugo. Why should Sasuke get the honor of killing this impersonator? I mean, we were the ones who caught him, right? I say we spare Sasuke the trouble and kill this copycat right now…"

"Save your bloodlust for another time, Suigetsu," Juugo muttered, leaning against the closed door of the bare room they were in as he listened for any approaching Akatsuki members outside.

"Well, aren't you one to talk about bloodlust-"

"Quiet! Someone is coming!" Juugo suddenly hissed, lowering into a fighting stance. Suigetsu instantly shut his mouth and raised his sword, both of them ready to attack the approaching enemy. Even Kurotsuchi held her breath in anticipation, not wanting to be in the middle of a skirmish between the two groups trying to kill her. The only sound that could be heard was the light footsteps of a person walking swiftly down the hallway. As the footsteps neared the small empty room they were hiding in, the person stopped walking. The ninja trio waited and listened, not making a sound and bodies tensed in preparation for a fight.

Unexpectedly, the person outside knocked on the door. Although Juugo raised an eyebrow in confusion, he still kept the same crouched position as opened the door.

"Juugo! Suigetsu! How dare you leave without me!" a female voice scolded.

In the doorway, Kurotsuchi saw the female with the glasses that was from Sasuke's team. Great, now she had to deal with another one of the Uchiha's lackeys.

"Hey Karin!" Suigetsu exclaimed in aggravation, "Don't sneak up on us like that! We thought you were the Akatsuki! I was ready to kill you! Not that I would protest to your death…"

"Shut up, Suigetsu!" Karin snapped, shaking a fist at him, "It took me forever to get out of that room! Next time you activate a smoke bomb, give me a little more warning, idiot!"

"You did have a warning! Sasuke told us to get the impersonator! It's not my fault that you have the reflexes of a dead cat!" the Mist shinobi retorted.

From the corner of her eye, Kurotsuchi saw Juugo shake his head as the two began to quarrel. From his reaction to their squabble, she assumed this to be a recurring situation among Karin and Suigetsu. But now that they were all distracted, this was a favorable moment for her to escape.

"Where is Sasuke?" Juugo asked Karin, but she shook her head.

"Last time I saw, that blonde-haired Akatsuki member tried attacking him again."

Kurotsuchi sighed. That impulsive Deidara would try to kill the real Sasuke after he mocked his art…

"You didn't help him?! Some teammate you are!" Suigetsu scoffed.

Karin's face flushed in anger. "I would have, but I couldn't see anything! Besides, you didn't help him either!"

"That's because we were capturing the Sasuke-copycat!"

"Do you know where our enemies are now, Karin?" Juugo interrupted again.

The redhead female adjusted her glasses. "I'm afraid that I don't. It is hard to tell where everyone is; I cannot sense our chakra networks without being in close proximity since everyone is masking their chakra, including the Akatsuki and Sasuke. I think that they are taking advantage of this unknown area and are going to attempt to ambush one another."

"We should go help Sasuke!" Suigetsu piped up, "I want to fight these guys!"

"No, we stay here," Juugo stated, "Sasuke told us to regroup back here after we capture his lookalike. We obey his orders."

The Mist ninja sneered again. "To hell with his orders! I want to kill someone!"

All three of them began arguing again on what they should do in this situation. Kurotsuchi rolled her eyes and began subtly performing hand signs as she took advantage of this team's dysfunction. Once she completed the last hand sign, Karin suddenly stopped talking and turned to her, sensing her unmask her chakra.

"Stop him! He is using chakra!" she managed to gain the attention of Juugo and Suigetsu, who turned to Kurotsuchi, ready to attack.

But they were too late. She had already completed the jutsu that she had learned from Akatsuchi, Earth Release: Golem Technique. Kurotsuchi opened her mouth as earth rushed out, forming the shape of a golem. The rocky creature then came to life and launched itself at Sasuke's teammates. While the Earth Golem was usually used for defense, it was ideal to match against Juugo's strength, plus it seemed to scare Karin, who shrieked in terror and ran from the room as the humanoid creature stomped towards them.

Juugo tried fighting the Earth Golem using his deformed arm, while Suigetsu tried hacking at it using his sword. But the golem was resilient to their attacks and had an extraordinary amount of strength to fight both of them off. While Juugo and Suigetsu were locked into an intense battle with her golem, Kurotsuchi turned around and jumped out of the opened window in the room.

Kurotsuchi concentrated the chakra flow to her feet and began running up the wall of the palace until she reached the balcony of the third floor. She climbed over the elegant railing and briefly surveyed her surroundings. The light drizzle of rain that was present earlier in the day transformed into a thunderstorm with heavy rain and strikes of lightning.

Kurotsuchi turned towards the courtyard, prepared to make an escape. But as a flash of lightning lit the dark night sky, she saw two figures walking around below. The Iwa kunoichi ducked behind a pillar and surveyed the duo below her.

As another flash of lighting illuminated the area, Kurotsuchi noticed that one of the figures had red hair. She bit her lip to suppress swearing aloud. It was Sasori and one of his samurai puppets, patrolling the courtyard to catch anyone trying to leave the palace. He would surely find her if she tried to exit through the gardens. Damn that pesky puppeteer… she inwardly cursed. Why every time she attempted to escape this accursed place, someone was always there to stop her? Fine, she would just find another way out of this damn palace…

Kurotsuchi once again masked her chakra and silently entered through a door on the third floor. Unlike the second floor of the palace, the third floor had no lights on at all. As Kurotsuchi turned into the room she was in, she was greeted by complete darkness. She involuntarily shivered in fear as she stumbled blindly through the darkness, her heartbeat racing.

She cursed herself at her fear for the darkness. Why the hell did she, a warrior, have to be so afraid of the dark? She was a freaking ninja! She was the darkness! But no matter how many times she told herself that, she had always been scared of the shadows ever since she was a kid. It was her terror, her weakness. And she hated herself for it. But she could only silently shake in fright as she made her way through the dark room.

A strong, disgusting odor suddenly was thick in the air around her, making her want to vomit. What was this awful stench? It was familiar, but with her senses still slightly impaired by the smoke bomb, it was hard to tell what it was. Kurotsuchi covered her nose with her hand and began to walk faster through the darkness, wanting to be out of this horrid room in this godforsaken palace. But as she increased her pace, her feet suddenly hit something hard and she fell harshly to the ground.

As she scrambled to her knees, her hands were covered in a warm, sticky substance. Kurotsuchi wiped the stuff on her clothes and began to stand. A rumble of thunder and flash of lighting stuck from outside, lighting the room briefly through the windows. But as Kurotsuchi's vision was temporarily restored by the lighting, she rather wished it hadn't.

In that brief second of illumination, she saw everything. In the room, there were multiple bodies of red-armored samurai lying on the floor, arms and legs twisted in awkward positions. Kurotsuchi was experienced enough on the battlefield to know that they were all dead, murdered brutally as she surveyed the amount of blood that covered the entire floor. How many corpses were packed in this room? It seemed like an impossible amount. Some were piled on top of each other, others leaning against the wall. But in the middle of the room, the bodies seemed to form a circle around another person lying dead on the floor.

Another flash of lightning. Kurotsuchi froze in fear as she unwillingly stared in fear at the body lying face-up in the middle of the room. It was clearly a woman by the softness of her facial features and the small physique of the body. Her light hair was long, spilled onto the floor around her, and her skin was pale. The robes she was wearing were blue, but Kurotsuchi noticed a large patch of crimson staining the clothing on her chest. Her cerulean eyes were wide but unseeing, a clear sign that death took her quickly and unexpectedly.

Kurotsuchi froze as she stared into the lifeless eyes of the girl before her.

It was Lady Atsuko.

The death around her was too much to handle. Kurotsuchi let out a scream of pure terror as she absorbed the scene before her.

It all made sense. Deidara and Sasori had to dispose of the palace's inhabitants in order to set up the trap to lure her into this place. The guards tried to protect Lady Atsuko from the Akatsuki invaders, but they were powerless against their jutsu. They mercilessly cut down the noble's entire army, slayed innocent servants, and killed the princess, all so Deidara could murder Sasuke.

Kurotsuchi felt hot tears stream down her face. Why?! Why have you changed, Deidara?! When did you become a ruthless murderer?!

"I've finally found you."

Kurotsuchi looked up to see that someone had entered the room. Although she could only perceive a shadowy outline of the person standing in the doorway, his voice was all too familiar to her ears.

Sasuke strode coolly into the room, unfazed by the death the area contained as he avoided stepping on the corpses, his eyes only directed at her.

Kurotsuchi clenched her teeth anger. Damn Sasuke Uchiha, and damn Deidara too. How could they be so thoughtless about death? Sure, they were ninja and were trained to kill, but their morals should be based on protection, not the slaughter of innocent people to achieve their own desires.

Sasuke stopped a few feet away from her and in front of Lady Atsuko's body, staring down at his impersonator, analyzing her.

"You are crying. Do you fear death?" he asked her, tilting his head slightly to the side, some of his dark locks falling in front of his abyss eyes.

The Uchiha then lifted his hands from his side. "Look around you. This is your fault. These innocent people died because of you."

Sasuke then lifted one of his legs and turned Lady Atsuko's face in Kurotsuchi's direction using his foot. The Iwa ninja wanted to scream at him for disrespecting the body of the dead girl, but all that came out was a strangled growl from her throat.

"Look at her," Sasuke demanded, referring to the slain princess, "Her life was cut short because the Akatsuki knew that you were going to be here. You were the indirect cause of her death. Her blood is on your hands."

Kurotsuchi stared into the lifeless blue eyes of the princess. Lady Atsuko's expression showed traces of the fear she experienced moments before her death. Sasuke was right. This was all of her fault.

Her rage and depression clouded her mind. She could neither stand to face him or speak a single word. All she could do was stare at the Uchiha, her body trembling in fury and distress and eyes burning as the last of her tears fell from her eyes.

"You truly are pitiful," Sasuke continued speaking after receiving no answer, his expression unreadable, "What ninja is afraid of murder? Someone as weak as you should embrace it as your eventual demise, especially since you are going to die this day by my hand."

"Bastard…" Kurotsuchi eventually choked out, her voice cracking in anger.

Sasuke narrowed his eyes, unimpressed. "You are right. I am a bastard. But I am a stronger warrior because of it. Stronger than you could ever hope to become. And you have attained –or rather, stole- my power by impersonating me, but I am going to put a stop to your sick charade. Weaklings like you don't deserve to live if the only way they can obtain authority is by mimicking another great ninja."

Kurotsuchi could hear his voice rise in anger as he ended his sentence. Through the shadows, she saw his sword gleam slightly and hear the scraping of metal as Sasuke partly unsheathed his sword. He was going to kill her. But she didn't want to die. Not here, not like this.

Sasuke was wrong. She didn't fear death. She had always imagined that she would die on the battlefield, fighting for Iwa, her home. But to give up and face her death now… it would be disgraceful. She would be abandoning her dreams, her family, and her village. She still had so much left to give to Iwa. She wasn't going to die now. She would fight Sasuke, even though her chances of living were close to zero.

"You are right, Sasuke," Kurotsuchi muttered, slowly standing up as she fought off the weak feeling in her knees, "I did want power. So I took it from you by creating this henge. I pretended to be you so I could be respected and feared. But you are wrong about one thing. Power isn't just determined by your physical strength or how smart you are. It depends on how you overcome your faults and use your will for something more, something greater than yourself. But your ethics are shit, Sasuke. You will never achieve greatness if you use your strength for unjust reasons. I used your power –even though unjustly- to better my village. You use it to terrorize and kill. Your hatred blinds you, consumes you. It makes you weak!"

Sasuke's brow crinkled in displeasure at her statement. "You sound just like one of my old teammates," he sneered, a noticeable hint of bitterness in his tone. Without warning, Sasuke fully unsheathed his weapon, pointing the tip of the blade in her direction. "Fine then. Let's see how your morals compare against my hatred!"

The Uchiha dashed towards Kurotsuchi, sword aimed at her chest. It was probably a bad idea to provoke him, thought the Iwa ninja as she shifted her weight to the balls of her feet and crouched into a defensive position, I don't have a weapon to defend myself with and my chakra is almost used up from the henge and Earth Golem.

At the last possible second before Sasuke would penetrate her abdomen with his sword, she dodged his attack by flipping to the left. But the Uchiha was quick, as she had expected. He readjusted his grip on the weapon and sent a horizontal slash in her direction immediately after she dodged him. Luckily, she had quick reflexes as well and avoided his attack a second time by handspringing to the left.

However, as she tried to recollect a defensive position, she tripped over one of the bloody corpses on the floor and fell on her side. Kurotsuchi rolled to the side and scrambled to her feet just in time to see an outline of Sasuke launched itself towards her again. Kurotsuchi cursed her predicament as she heard Sasuke's sword stab through the wood flooring where she once lay. There was no way she would be able to successfully defend herself in these pitch-black, weaponless, chakra-less conditions. Sasuke clearly had the upper hand in this battle; he had a sword, chakra, and could see through the darkness by using his Sharingan to trace her locations by visually detecting her chakra network. There was no way she was going to win this fight, not until she evened the playing field for her.

Through her research about Sasuke, Kurotsuchi noted that he had a dominate fire chakra nature due to his heritage. If she could get the battle outside, his fire jutsu would be weakened by the pouring rain, and she would be able to use the lightning from the thunderstorm to see. Even though an outside battle would definitely be more beneficial for her, would she still have a chance of winning this fight?

She had no time to process her thought as the Uchiha began attacking again from the shadows. Although Kurotsuchi was managing to evade his sword despite the darkness, she could not see his taijutsu attacks. While the sword reflected a bit of light due to its metallic surface, she was unable to see his leg extend and kick her squarely in the stomach, knocking the wind out of her and sending her crashing back-first into the wall behind her.

The Iwa kunoichi spat a small amount of blood out of her mouth after she bit down on her tongue from the impact. It was far too risky to continue this fight without a weapon. She would be hacked to pieces before she could even make it outside. Kurotsuchi scanned the room for any weapon to defend herself with as she caught her breath while the Uchiha moved closer to her.

Another flash of lightning lit the room for a brief second. A few feet away from her, Sasuke was stalking towards her slowly, eyes glowing crimson, staring at her as if she was his prey. Kurotsuchi felt her heart drop in fear under his gaze, but she forced herself to look about the room for something to defend herself with. A soft glowing object to her left caught her eye. From what she could see in those brief few seconds before the lightning stopped, it appeared to be a broken halberd that the samurai of the palace had been using. But as darkness claimed the room once again, she could no longer see the weapon, or Sasuke.

She took in a deep breath. She would have to run across the room and blindly grab the halberd, avoid being killed by Sasuke, and jump out the window to get outside.

No time to even consider another escape plan, she dashed though the darkness and towards the window. She felt herself step on the dead bodies lying across the floor, but still managed to keep her footing. Without breaking stride, she reached down and grabbed what she suspected was the broken halberd and managed to squeeze through the small window of the room. A slight gust of air at her back told her that she barely managed to avoid getting her head severed by the Uchiha's sword.

Kurotsuchi was greeted by cold rain and strong winds on the balcony as the storm intensified. She also remembered that Sasori was down in the courtyards, so she and Sasuke would not go unnoticed if they fought on the balcony. The safest place for the two to fight uninterrupted was the roof of the palace.

The Iwa ninja swiftly and quietly started scaling the side of the palace wall just as she heard a crashing sound below her as Sasuke bust out of the room. Luckily, the loud bang of splintering wood was masked by the deep rumple of thunder, hopefully preventing Sasori from noticing them.

Kurotsuchi quickly climbed onto the top of the large red pagoda roof of the palace and moved toward the center where she could balance on a wooden beam at the top of the structure. But as soon as she regained her footing, the Uchiha was standing a few feet away from her, sword drawn and frustrated expression on his face.

"Stop running away and fight me!" he hissed at her.

Despite herself, Kurotsuchi grinned and raised her hand, beckoning him towards her. "Fine, come and get me!"

The Uchiha let out an irritated growl before sprinting towards her, crimson eyes locked on his prey before him. As he approached, Kurotsuchi parried the head of the broken halberd with his sword, sparks spitting out at them as the metal blades clashed violently. Kurotsuchi could feel his strength as they pushed their weapons against the other, hoping to break through the other's defenses.

Realizing that Sasuke was physically stronger than her, the Iwa kunoichi prematurely broke their parry by rotating her weapon vertically, causing the Uchiha's sword to do the same. The sudden action caused Sasuke to drop his blade as his sword was twisted out of his grip and fall down the steep roof. At the same time, Kurotsuchi's halberd broke a second time as the flimsy blade snapped under the pressure. Kurotsuchi briefly huffed at the poor manufacturing and tossed the broken pieces of metal away. Well, at least Sasuke was now weaponless too, even if that meant losing her own.

But Sasuke was unfazed. As soon as his sword slid down the roof and fell, he began performing hand signs to execute a ninja spell. But instead of conjuring fire as she predicted, he thrust one of his hands before him as it began to glow blue and an audible chirping noise rang through the night sky. Lighting that was emerging from the sky suddenly aimed towards the young Uchiha as if he was a magnet. He was using lightning ninjutsu, consuming natural energy by attracting the power of the storm towards his body.

Kurotsuchi felt her heart drop as the air around her suddenly charged with electricity. Even though the Uchiha had a genetic affinity for the fire chakra nature, he also mastered lightning ninjutsu. Powered by the lightning storm, his jutsu may be three times more powerful than it was before. This miscalculation may just cost her life.

Before she knew it, Sasuke was charging towards her once again, as quick and as powerful as lightning himself, his hand holding the very essence of the storm.

Kurotsuchi felt herself forming hand signs as well, even though she was not intentionally trying to cast a jutsu. Although her mind was still and her feet rooted to the spot where she stood, she felt the last of her chakra activate as she unconsciously finished a hand seal.

Another Earth Golem emerged from her mouth as Sasuke neared, barely three feet away from her, lightning hand raised above her. Kurotsuchi closed her eyes as the intensity of his jutsu blinded her.

She felt a force crash violently into her left shoulder and could only assume that it was Sasuke's jutsu as it easily ripped through her skin. But the force suddenly halted, as if restrained, and the chirping noise of Sasuke's Chidori ceased.

Kurotsuchi tentatively opened her eyes to see Sasuke standing less than a foot away from her, right hand extended towards her shoulder. But his arm was held by the remnants of the Earth Golem's arm, which gripped the Uchiha's wrist tightly and stopped his jutsu from advancing and absorbing most of the attack. To her right, she saw that a nearby tree had caught on fire due to the lightning jutsu. Her Golem buffered part of Sasuke's attack and deflected the other that set fire to the tree. It sacrificed itself and saved her life by acting as her shield.

Sasuke easily pulled his arm back and out of the Golem's grip, which crumbled completely into dust at his movement. Kurotsuchi backed away from the Uchiha before her knees buckled beneath her. Seeing that his doppelganger was no longer a threat since she lacked chakra and was injured, he coolly strode up to her.

"That was an impressive jutsu," he praised her, although his voice lacked any interest, "But it wasn't enough to stop me." The tall tree that had caught on fire suddenly snapped and fell onto the palace roof, causing part of the structure to cave under its weight. Charred pieces of wood flew everywhere, catching parts of the roof on fire. The hearty flames ate away the wood and spread about the building, engulfing everything in its path with the angry red fire. Not even the pouring rain could wane its power. It was only a matter of time before the entire palace would be turned into ashes.

Kurotsuchi hissed in pain and clutched her bleeding shoulder, but never took her eyes off her opponent. Her Sasuke henge suddenly deactivated as she depleted the last of her chakra, which did not go unnoticed by the Uchiha. He would finally be able to see the identity of his copier. He stopped as he stood in front of his kneeling imitator and forcefully lifted her off her feet by pulling her upwards by the hem of her shirt. Kurotsuchi bit her lip to suppress a scream as a pulse of pain spread through her body by his rough action. She tried to fight off his grip on her, but her arms were immobilized due to her injuries in both of her shoulders from Sasori's puppet and Sasuke's jutsu.

"Now, let's see who you really are…" Sasuke mused as he waited for a flash of lightning to strike so he could see the true face of his copycat.

Lightning flashed, lighting up the sky for a brief moment. Sasuke gasped slightly in surprise when the face of his opponent came to light.

"You are a female…" he stated half bewildered and half indifferent as he stared wide-eyed at a round and girlish face. "Yet you look just like me."

Kurotsuchi managed a smirk despite her condition. "Don't act so surprised, Uchiha," she taunted. "It's not that hard considering that you look so feminine to begin with."

Sasuke scowled at her remark. "You shall mock me no more," he growled at her. "I don't care if you are a girl. I shall show you no mercy. You will pay with your life for disgracing my name," Sasuke stated darkly as he raised his free hand again, lightning crackling in his palm. As if on cue, the fire around them intensified and rose several feet into the air, forming a wall of inferno around the duo and making the scene far more terrifying.

But Kurotsuchi sighed and stared defiantly at the Uchiha, preparing for her death that she could not escape from. So it all ends here for me…

"Finally, I found you two!"

The Iwa kunoichi raised her head when she heard a familiar voice. A few feet behind the Uchiha, a man jumped through the flames, avoiding getting singed in the process. He raised his chin confidently, flicking back some long blonde tresses that curtained his blue eyes.

Deidara raised an index finger in their direction. "So, you have decided to do battle without me, yeah? Well, that is quite rude of you two!" he stated insultingly.

Sasuke turned his attention towards the bomber, but did not release Kurotsuchi. "Deidara…" he hissed, his voice low and menacing. Kurotsuchi could tell that he was angered that he was interrupted from killing her. "You couldn't have arrived at a more inconvenient moment."

Deidara lazily waved him off and then smirked. "Actually, this is more opportune for me. Now I can kill two birds with one stone, yeah!"

Kurotsuchi would have face-palmed if she could move her arms. Deidara still thought that she was his enemy. But if she could get him to recognize her from their childhood, then maybe, possibly, he would assist her. She would rather take her chances with the Iwa rouge than have to defend herself against two enemies in this state.

"Deidara!" she called out to him through the booming thunder of the storm, "It's me! Kurotsuchi!"

The blonde's eyebrows arched in confusion as he peered through the darkness and flames. "What? Kurotsuchi? Impossible…"

She sighed in frustration at his response. It would definitely take more convincing than that to make Deidara believe her. The Iwa rouge had a thick skull as was more stubborn than a mule. She knew from experience. "There are no white birds in Iwa!" she called out to him again, repeating a past statement that she would say to him during their academy days together.

At first, Deidara still seemed wary of her, but Kurotsuchi noticed a glint of recognition in his eyes as he processed her statement. How long ago did she tell him that saying? How many years has it been since they last saw each other before Deidara joined Akatsuki? "No way… it really is you…" Deidara exhaled, eyes locked on the girl trapped by the Uchiha. Kurotsuchi couldn't help but smile at his dumbfound expression. Memories of their childhood experiences resurfaced in her head.

Before either of them could react to what was going on, Sasuke spun around to face Deidara, dragging Kurotsuchi along with him until her back was pressed against his chest. He wrapped one arm tightly around her neck into a chokehold and his other hand gripped her jaw firmly. Kurotsuchi could only wince, still defenseless.

"I don't know how you two know each other," Sasuke muttered coldly, staring at the Akatsuki member before him, "But it seems like you two just shared a sentimental moment. If you want this girl alive, Deidara, then you shall do as I say, and maybe I won't snap her neck."

Deidara seemed lost for a second, as if he didn't understand what was going on. Then his facial features arched into a scowl and he crossed his arms, appearing exasperated. "And what are your demands, Uchiha?" he questioned, eyes narrowed.

"I was set on killing you," Sasuke responded, voice composed, "But I have recently decided that you would serve a better purpose to me alive. I want you to tell me everything you know about my brother, Itachi. We are destined to fight in the near future, and let's just say that I don't want him to get cold feet about our upcoming battle. If you want your girlfriend to have her head remain intact, then I suggest that you tell me about his whereabouts."

Deidara immaturely stomped his foot on the ground, face flushed in embarrassment and anger. "She is not my girlfriend!" he hissed through clenched teeth.

She wanted to strangle him. If only she could move her arms. "That's not the point!" Kurotsuchi yelled at him. Deidara was being rather childish in this extremely delicate situation. Her life was on the line, after all.

"Then if she is of no importance to you, I shall dispose of her," the Uchiha stated.

Kurotsuchi looked at Deidara with pleading eyes. Would he save her? Sure, he was an Akatsuki murderer, but he was once loyal to Iwa. They used to fight side-by-side as Genin. They may have hated each other as kids, but he wouldn't let her die because of mere childhood bouts… right?

Deidara looked unfazed, his gaze landing on Kurotsuchi for a brief second before turning his attention back to Sasuke. "Do whatever you want to her. I don't care," he shrugged.

Kurotsuchi felt her face heat in rage. "What the hell, Deidara?!" she exclaimed, practically spitting in anger.

Deidara smirked slightly. "Sorry Kurotsuchi," his voice carrying a hint of amusement, "Think of this as payback for all of those times you insulted me when we were kids."

She will kill him. "Damn you, you arrogant, selfish, impulsive, cocky bastard!"

Well, if Deidara wasn't going to save her, then she might as well save herself.

Using the power of her newfound fury, she thrust her head backwards, striking the Uchiha square in the face with the back of her skull. She heard Sasuke grunt in pain and surprise as he released his hold on her and stumbled backwards. Kurotsuchi distanced herself from the Uchiha and turned to face him, crouched into a defensive position, bloody arms hanging limply at her sides.

The Uchiha was clutching his nose, which was bleeding profusely as he pulled his crimson-stained hand away from his face. It was the only injury he obtained from this entire battle, given to him by an injured girl that could not use her arms. He flashed his teeth as his lips curled into an animalistic snarl, blood streaming into his mouth. "Damn you…"

Suddenly, three other people jumped through the flames behind Sasuke. Kurotsuchi noticed that it was his three comrades, Juugo, Suigetsu, and Karin, looking a bit weary and beaten. They must have finally defeated her previous Earth Golem, but not without putting up a fight.

Karin immediately ran up to Sasuke's side, offering to heal him, but he pushed her away, never taking his gaze away from Kurotsuchi. The other two males stood on either side of their Uchiha leader, prepared to fight.

"There is no escaping your death now," Sasuke jeered at her, staring her down with crimson eyes.

Kurotsuchi exhaled, preparing to combat again. "I know," she replied, voice strong. This battle would be tough though, considering that she couldn't use either of her injured arms, lacked chakra, and had to fight four opponents.

Suddenly, someone stepped in front of her, shielding her from the four ninja.

Kurotsuchi's eyes narrowed in irritation. "Get out of my way, Deidara, or I will fight you too!"

Deidara glanced back at her for a moment. "You get riled up so easily, it's amusing," he commented, his usual smirk gracing his lips, "Don't you know that you can't win this battle, yeah?"

The Iwa kunoichi lifted an eyebrow in confusion. "What do you care if I die here tonight? You practically offered Sasuke to kill me!"

"That's not entirely true." the bomber replied to her before focusing his attention back to Sasuke, not giving Kurotsuchi an opportunity to question him further. She did however realize that Deidara had taunted her into saving herself from Sasuke by making her angry and giving her the energy and incentive to break away from him. Only someone who knew her so well would have been able to play on her emotions to help save her.

"As much as I would love to stay and fight, Sasuke," Deidara explained to the rouge Uchiha, "I am afraid that I have to attend to some more pressing matters. Until we meet again, Uchiha."

Without warning, Deidara suddenly scooped the young Iwa ninja into his arms. Kurotsuchi let out a gasp of unappreciated surprise as he tightly held her in his arms. She tried to fight him off, wildly kick her legs, but he did not yield.


But before anyone could react to this bizarre situation, the young Akatsuki member jumped off the roof. Kurotsuchi screamed as they rapidly fell. There was no way that they were going to survive this high fall without landing on some kind of-

A large white object suddenly flew out of the night sky and Deidara expertly landed on it. But although they stopped falling, Kurotsuchi still felt as though she was moving as the cold night air blew past her limbs.

She tentatively opened her eyes that she hadn't realized she closed. She found two people sitting next to her; one was Deidara, and the other was a familiar redhead.

Kurotsuchi tried to distance herself from Sasori, her legs flailing about uselessly, but Deidara held her still.

"Stop thrashing about or you are going to fall off, yeah!" Deidara hissed at her.

"You two are trying to kill me! Why should I be still?!" Kurotsuchi responded, still kicking her legs wildly.

"We are not trying to kill you anymore! I just saved your ass, idiot!" the bomber scoffed.

"I think that it would be quite amusing for you to fall off this bird. It would make for an interesting death," Sasori commented quietly.

Kurotsuchi stopped kicking for a moment. "Bird…?" she responded to the redhead's remark.

It was then that she realized that they were in the air, storm clouds dissolving into small rain clouds that spat out a light rain. As Kurotsuchi glanced to her right and left, she saw two large white structures that resembled wings flapping up and down. She was sitting on top of a giant flying white bird. She suddenly tensed up as she peered down below to see a burning palace shrinking in the distance. Deidara was taking her away from Sasuke, from her fight.

"Where the hell are you taking me?!" Kurotsuchi exclaimed to Deidara, eventually prying out of his grip.

The rouge Iwa ninja shrugged. "Away, I guess."

"Deidara, get me off this bird! Now!" she demanded, voice cracking slightly.

"You heard the lady," Sasori interjected calmly, "Push her off the bird."

Deidara ignored his partner's badgering to kill Kurotsuchi. "You are not going anywhere. Not without answering a few questions."

"Only if you answer my questions first," she retorted, "Where the hell are we going, and why did you take me away from my fight?!"

Deidara released an exasperated sigh. "You can be so insufferable, Kurotsuchi…"

Said girl sighed as well, trying to calm herself down in this chaotic situation. All she was doing was taking a leisurely ride atop a giant bird with two deadly Akatsuki members that were earlier trying to murder her…

"We are not going anywhere specific," Deidara began explaining, "So long as you are far away from Sasuke, since you are in no condition to fight. And speaking of the Uchiha, why the hell have you been impersonating that prick?"

"I was doing it for Iwa."

Deidara scoffed critically. "That's your reason for doing this? Your duty to Iwa? If you ask me, it's not worth it."

Kurotsuchi's expression became hostile. "What would you know about loyalty?!" she exclaimed, "You betrayed Iwa!"

Deidara matched her expression. "At least I know enough when someone is using me as a pawn! What the hell were you thinking, imitating the Uchiha?! Do you know how many enemies that guy has? You almost got killed by six different people today, including myself! You almost died!"

Kurotsuchi's expression suddenly sobered. "I thought you didn't care if I lived or died…" she muttered bitterly, casting her gaze downward.

Deidara felt his rage dissipate as he looked at her sad face. "Like I sad earlier, that wasn't entirely true," he stated quietly.

Surprised by his remark, Kurotsuchi perked her head up in his direction. "What do you mean?"

Deidara wore a thoughtful look and opened his mouth as if to say something, but then shook his head. "It's… nothing. Just promise me that you won't do something as stupid as that again."

Kurotsuchi nodded. It would be unwise to continue impersonating the Uchiha, considering that he was a murderer magnet. "Thanks for saving me, Deidara."

Deidara smiled at her and nodded as well, remembering their childhood days together as he stared at her familiar face. They had gotten into so much trouble as kids, graduated from the same academy, and started their ninja career together. They were once rivals, both determined to become the next Tsuchikage and gain the respect of the village. While he strayed from that path, perhaps he would see his dear friend lead Iwa into greatness. She definitely had the qualities of a great ruler; she was strong, determined, beautiful, and courageous. Iwa was lucky to have her on their side.

Kurotsuchi met his gaze. "Why are you staring at me like that?" she asked the bomber.

Deidara blushed slightly, embarrassed that he was gawking at her. He laughed lightly, running a hand self-consciously through his hair. "I must admit, you really do look just like that Uchiha bastard!"

Kurotsuchi smiled at his remark. "Yeah, I know. And you look like a girl."

Deidara continued laughing despite her remark. It felt good to laugh, and Kurotsuchi always seemed to have a way of making him happy, even when she was insulting him. "Yeah, I haven't heard that before…" he commented sarcastically.

Suddenly, Kurotsuchi felt her eyelids droop as she became dizzy and lightheaded. She experienced too much blood loss.

Deidara noticed her grimace in pain. "Kurotsuchi? What's wrong?" he asked, but his voice seemed foggy and distant in her ears.

"Home… I want to go home…" was the last thing managed to say before she blacked out.

A young girl of age nine walked out of the stuffy Iwa Ninja Academy and into the fresh air of the academy's playground, warmed by the high afternoon sun. It was nice to have a break after working so hard on her studies. If she could master the Transformation Technique, shadow shuriken, and doppelganger jutsu, then she might be able to graduate this year and become a Genin.

She walked through the fenced area that was deemed to be a playground. It consisted of nothing more than a few small trees, wooden benches, and dirt. Lots of dirt.

The young girl ignored the hateful stares of her classmates as she passed them. A group of boys that were playing with a ball stopped their game of catch as she passed, sticking their tongues out and making faces at her. She simply lifted her chin higher, unfazed by their idiotic manner.

Kurotsuchi was not a very popular person at the Ninja Academy because she was the granddaughter of the Tsuchikage. It was rumored that she was allowed to enter into the academy at an earlier age because of her grandfather's status. Although this rumor was indeed true, she was still targeted by her peers. She was taunted for being younger, for looking like a boy, for being a 'spoiled brat.' For being different. But she hardly let them affect her. Someday, she would earn their respect by showing them how great of a ninja she would become.

But sometimes, she did feel rather lonely.

She about to start practicing her taijutsu when she spotted a hunched figure in the shade of one of the trees. Although the person's back was facing her, she could easily tell who it was by the long blonde ponytail that reached halfway down his back.

It was Deidara.

Out of everyone in her class, Deidara was hated by all of his classmates, more so than she was. Like her, he was mocked for looking like the other gender. He was also rather peculiar, speaking only when required. He spent most of his time sketching in notebooks and daydreaming and was constantly getting in trouble. Mostly just for trivial things, like drawing on the academy desks or forgetting to do his homework.

But unlike her, he was feared. There came a day when Kurotsuchi noticed that he wasn't in class for a full week. It turned out that he was suspended for beating up another child that was taunting him. Although no one saw this happen, it was rumored that the other kid was sent to the hospital because his injures were so severe. Deidara never got into serious trouble for that incident because he was an orphan and had no parents to discipline him.

After that, no one openly mocked him again. Although he seemed distant and lazy, he was actually a very good fighter. Kurotsuchi had only seen him battle once in a spar against another classmate, and the match was over in a matter of seconds after Deidara knocked out his opponent with a swift kick to the head. His opponent had a concussion after that incident.

No one dared mock Deidara if they wanted to walk away unharmed. He was respected because he was feared. Kurotsuchi needed that kind of respect if she ever wanted people to believe that she was a great ninja and not a spoiled brat.

And what better way to gain the respect of her peers than by challenging Deidara?

Although she too feared the blonde boy, she widened her stance and marched towards where he was sitting. If she was beaten by this boy, then it would do little to harm her already botched reputation. But if she was able to defeat him, then she would undoubtedly gain the admiration she needed.

No one was paying any attention to her as she stood behind the boy, arms crossed in front of her. "I challenge you to a fight!" she proclaimed, although her knees were shaking slightly in fright.

The blonde stopped whatever he was doing and turned halfway to look at who had challenged him. But as he noticed who she was, he sighed in disinterest and turned away from her. "Go away. I don't fight girls, even if they do look like boys."

Kurotsuchi's cheeks flushed and she stomped her foot on the ground before walking in front of him. "So what if I'm a girl? Plenty of girls are ninja and can fight and kill their opponents just as well as men! Besides, who are you to say that I look like a boy when you yourself look like a girl!"

Although Kurotsuchi could see his facial features arch in irritation, he remained seated. "I said, go away," he stated again, but with a hint of malice in his voice.

She was about to provoke him further until she noticed what he was doing. Deidara had a stick in his hand, drawing images into the dirt with them. Kurotsuchi could depict many cloud-like shapes and a bird-like creature in the center.

Kurotsuchi unconsciously knelt down next to him, her previous rage dissolved. "Wow, that is really cool," she breathed, admiring his artwork.

"I thought you wanted to fight me?" Deidara muttered.

Kurotsuchi blushed slightly. "I still do! Does that mean that I can't compliment your skills?"

Deidara smirked at her agitation as he finished the last details of the bird's wings. "I guess not," he pointed to the drawing, "It's a giant white bird flying over Iwa."

Kurotsuchi raised an eyebrow at him. "What do you mean, a white bird? There are no white birds in Iwa! Everyone knows that!" There were many explanations to this strange phenomenon, ranging from curses of Sky Spirits and poor habitat conditions. But the most logical explanation was the fact that white birds did not camouflage well with the dark stone landscape of Iwa, so they were constantly being killed by predators that could easily spot them in the contrasting background. If there was ever a white bird in Iwa, it would be dead in a matter of hours.

Deidara seemed unfazed by her declaration. "I know. And I don't care. Who are you to say that I can't believe in something impossible?" With a violent sweep of his hand, he brushed away his artwork, erasing the picture from the earth.

"Why did you do that?" Kurotsuchi asked him.

The boy shrugged. "True art is spontaneous. It becomes more appreciated when you perceive it only for a moment before it disappears completely, never to be seen again."

Kurotsuchi inwardly sighed. This kid sure was weird. "Whatever you say. Now can we fight?"

Deidara glared at her. "Why do you want to battle against me?"

Might as well tell him the truth. "I want to be respected, like you. I want people to take me seriously. I want to be a great ninja."

Deidara laughed halfheartedly. "I am not respected. I am feared."

"What's the difference?" she retorted, "I don't care if I am respected or feared so long as I am important in the eyes of others!"

Deidara's half-smile faded. "Why care what others think of you?" he said, his voice harsh, "People can think whatever they want about you, true or false, and either way it doesn't matter. Their perception of you won't make you a better ninja, only you are in control of that. If you ever let insignificant things like that cloud your judgment, how can you ever become a great shinobi?"

Kurotsuchi was stunned by his words. It sounded to her like he was also troubled by the fact that his classmates hated him. But at some point in time, he decided that their hate wasn't worth it. But would she be able to ignore how her peers thought of her and look past her desire for respect?

"What is your name?" he asked her.

She blinked her dark eyes a few times before answering "Kurotsuchi."

Deidara suddenly stood up and looked down at her, his expression calm once again. "I see that you are still debating on what you think is most important, Kurotsuchi. When you are ready to disregard your wish for acceptance, then I will agree to fight you. Until then, I will be waiting."

And with a turn of his heel, he walked back towards the academy, ignoring the way the other kids parted in fear as he passed them.

Kurotsuchi winced as bright rays of morning sun shone on her face, waking her from her deep slumber. She blinked her dark eyes several times, but the world around her was blurry. But she was only disoriented for a few moments as her eyes adjusted to the merciless morning light.

As the haziness of sleep eventually wore off, Kurotsuchi found herself in a familiar room. Pale blue walls were all around her, a closed white door to her left. To her right was an opened window with thin white curtains that rustled in the gentle breeze. She was lying atop a small bed covered in white sheets that covered her small frame. She was at the Iwa Infirmary. Deidara took her back home, as she asked.

She tried to sit up, but her entire body was aching in a dull pain, forcing her to slowly curl back into her original horizontal position. Damn that Uchiha… she inwardly cursed as she laid her head back on the pillow. Kurotsuchi began inspecting her injuries to see how much damage Sasuke and the others have caused.

She first saw IV's in her arm, but they contained a clear liquid. The doctors must have already given her a blood transfusion when she was unconscious and were now focusing on rehydrating her. She also saw that she was wearing blue hospital attire and both of her arms and chest were thoroughly bandaged from the wounds she sustained from being stabbed by Sasori's puppet and Sasuke's sword. She slowly twitched her fingers, testing her mobility. Although it sent intense waves of pain up her arms, she was still able to move them, if only slightly. But other than her blood loss, chakra exhaustion, and gashes in her arms, she would be able to heal and return to the battlefield to fight another day.

Kurotsuchi jumped slightly in surprise when she heard a loud and deep breathing next to her. To her left, she noticed a large boy sitting on a chair and head drooped downwards. It was Akatsuchi, sleeping. Kurotsuchi smiled as she observed her dear friend. He must have stayed up all night to make sure she was okay.

Not a moment after, the door to her hospital room burst open, effectively waking the slumbering Akatsuchi, who quickly jumped out of his seat and removed a kunai from his holster. The stout man that had forcefully opened the door swiftly entered the room towards Kurotsuchi's bed. Kurotsuchi raised her eyebrows as he entered. Her grandfather had an uncanny sense of perfect timing.

"Sleeping on the job, Akatsuchi," Onoki clicked his tongue cynically at the boy, "When you are supposed to be guarding my granddaughter?"

Akatsuchi holstered his kunai and hung his head in shame. "Forgive me, Lord Onoki. I had only closed my eyes for a moment." The hefty man suddenly turned to monitor his friend, only to find that she was awake. "Kurotsuchi! You're alive!"

He suddenly embraced her, and it took all of Kurotsuchi's power to stifle her cries of pain. "Of course I'm alive, idiot! It takes more than a few stabs to kill me!" she managed to choke out, "And can you please let me go? I'm not exactly in 'hugging condition'…"

Akatsuchi quickly withdrew his arms from her. "I'm sorry, I am just so happy to see that you're alright…" he sniffed, a small smile on his face.

Kurotsuchi smiled as well. "It's okay. I'm glad that you are here to protect me," she stated.

Onoki suddenly interrupted them. "Mind explaining what happened, Kurotsuchi?"

Said girl turned to her grandfather, smile faded. "What do you mean, old man?"

The Tsuchikage scowled at her. "You leave the village yesterday morning, and you were supposed to arrive back in Iwa by yesterday afternoon. Akatsuchi and I waited for you to send some word about your absence, but when the sun set, we knew that something must have gone wrong on your mission. By the time I was able to organize a search party for you, I hear word from the village gate guards around midnight that multiple smoke bombs were suddenly activated by the entrance to Iwa. When the smoke had finally cleared, they found you, lying unconscious on the ground and with multiple cuts on your body. You were immediately taken to the hospital and your injuries were treated. No one was able to give me a straight answer for how you got here and what had happened."

Onoki crossed his arms as he glared at her, waiting for an explanation. Although his expression showed that he was angry at her, she knew that he was truly worried and scared about what his dear granddaughter had endured.

Kurotsuchi sighed. How should she explain this? "Well, I got to Lady Atsuko's palace, but she wasn't there. Instead, there was an ambush waiting for me."

Akatsuchi gasped. "An ambush? Who was it?"

Kurotsuchi bit her lip. Should she tell them the truth, or should she lie? "It was… Sasuke. Sasuke Uchiha. And some of his teammates. He was upset that I was impersonating him, so he tried to kill me. But I managed to escape from him, but not before we battled first. After I fled, he did not pursue me. For some reason, he burned down the palace."

"How did you get back here with those injuries?" Onoki questioned.

"I don't know. The last thing I remember, I was almost at the entrance to Iwagakure when I fell down and passed out. Someone must have saw me and brought me to the village."

Kurotsuchi released a breath. She didn't tell them the whole truth, but she didn't lie completely either. She figured that it was best not to mention running into the Akatsuki. Her grandfather would've had a conniption if he found out that Deidara was there, plus he would have completely removed her from the active roster, fearing that the Akatsuki now had a personal grudge against her.

Onoki scoffed as if he didn't believe her, but didn't question her further. "Well, your hero certainly went through a lot of trouble not to be known. You are lucky that he saved you, or you might still be face-down in the dirt somewhere."

Kurotsuchi's thoughts drifted to Deidara. He had cared enough to bring her home. Even if he was now a ruthless Akatsuki criminal, maybe, deep down, he was still the same boy that she used to know. "Yeah, I am lucky…"

"Well, I have to say that I am proud of the fact that you were able to fight against the infamous Sasuke Uchiha and come out alive," her grandfather complimented, "But you are no longer going to impersonate the Uchiha. I forbid it. It is far too dangerous for you to continue doing so, especially if he is still looking for you."

Kurotsuchi felt no need to protest. "I agree with you completely," she decided, earning a few confused glances from the males in the room. It was not every day that she settled with her grandfather's verdicts.

Onoki cleared his throat. "Um, right. For now, you should get some rest. You won't be going on any missions until you have completely healed up."

Concluding with that, Onoki and a hesitant Akatsuchi left her room while they gave her some time to recover, leaving her alone with her thoughts in the quiet hospital room.

Kurotsuchi leaned her head back down and turned to look out the window at the deep blue sky. She suddenly remembered the childhood memory she dreamed about earlier.

"I see that you are still debating on what you think is most important, Kurotsuchi. When you are ready to disregard your wish for acceptance, then I will agree to fight you. Until then, I will be waiting."

Deidara was right. She didn't need to use her Sasuke henge to gain false respect. It wasn't going to make her a stronger, better ninja. She needed only to be herself, to accomplish her goals instead of worrying about what others thought of her. Why couldn't she have realized that sooner? If she did, then maybe the person that she secretly admired the most might still be in Iwa with her instead of serving the Akatsuki.

I know what I value now, Deidara. I am waiting to fight you again, and we will see which one of us is the stronger shinobi. I am waiting. Come and find me.

Kurotsuchi watched as two blackbirds flew side by side in the sky from outside her window. Suddenly, a third bird approached the other two careless birds. Wait, was it white?

A/N: My first one-shot. I worked so hard on this to get it done before my exams, plus I needed a temporary distraction from my other story, Blood-Stained Cherry Blossom. I hope that you guys enjoyed it.

Thanks for reading! Reviews are highly appreciated.