Never Turn Your Back

-A TayMor and Addicted-to-GazettE collaboration...

So MissMeep challenged me to write a Romance/Crime AU ItaSaku, and this is what I came up with after asking Addicted-to-GazettE for her help. For all your reading enjoyment! We know this chapter is a teensy bit slow, but that was a necessary evil. It will pick up speed, we promise!

Chapter 1: Bodies in the Bin

Konohagakure no Sato
4:35 am

The hum of a dump truck was the only thing that broke the silence of the warehouse district in south Konohagakure. The alleys between the warehouses were lined off with heaping bins of trash ready for recycling. A few stray dogs skulked in between the cans, searching in vain for something to eat.

Two men, in their early forties perhaps, walked together in companionable silence, slowly wheeling their large bins of industrial refuse towards the dump truck that was waiting for the load. Its arm and clamp lifted the heavy bins to deposit their contents inside the dump-truck's trash carrier. Having worked together for over ten years, neither man felt the need to speak, it being far too early in the morning for coherent conversation. They both moved with methodical, almost robotic motions; they didn't have to think to do their chore. It was one they were used to. An old ritual that they completed together once every month.

Their safety boots scuffed over the slightly cracked pavement with their motions as they walked, the usually low sounds exceptionally loud in the otherwise silent area.

Dropping the bins off with a nod to the driver, who tipped his cap back at them sleepily, they left the bins for the machine to take care of, and the two began to walk back for the next load. The shorter of the two men grimaced as he got closer to the next bin.

"Oi, Anari," he said, blinking blearily at the load. "That smell funny to you?" he asked, his voice low and lazy.

"It's trash, Koru," the taller of the two men said, dismissing his friend's question. "Let's just get this over with."

"No... it smells like something rotten..." Koru defended, his nose wrinkling as they got even closer to their destination. He put his gloved hands to his face as he approached the line of bins that were placed side by side against a warehouse and coughed. Anari had no choice but to do the same, groaning in disgust at the offensive smell.

"Okay... okay that's really bad," he agreed. "It's probably some dead stray someone scraped up for us to dispose of," Anari groused, "We're running a recycle business here, not a body disposal service." He followed closely behind Koru, shivering a little at the cold early morning air, and slammed into the shorter man who'd stopped abruptly.

"Oi... Anari... d-does that look like an animal to you?" Koru asked, his voice tentative.

"Huh?" Anari started, moving around his trash-collecting partner to look inside the garbage bin. What he saw made him forget what he'd been about to say. Koru's face went deathly pale before his skin started to take on a sickly green hue.

"Oh god, I think I'm gonna lose my breakf-" The rest of his sentence was choked off as he gagged when an ill timed breeze drifting through the alleys, wafted the smell from the bins directly in their faces.

3 Hours Later...

Haruno Sakura was having a terrible morning.

She'd woken up to find her water heater was broken, again, might she add, so she'd been subjected to freezing jets of aquatic torture rather than the relaxing warmth every woman should have in the sanctity of her own tiled oasis... and did she mention that this was at six in the morning? An entirely ridiculous hour to have to roll from one's bed, in Sakura's estimation, even if it was to get to a crime scene. Even if a nicely toasted shower came before said crime scene. Had she already mentioned the water had been arctic and had given her frostbite where no woman needs frostbite?

And don't get her started on the coffee shop fiasco her 'bright ray of morning sunshine' partner had caused. The same coffee shop fiasco that had resulted in her not getting her coffee. Needless to say, Naruto had ended up wearing the cardboard cup holder as a necklace. He had better steer clear of her temper for the rest of the day or she would have no issue adding him to the body count.

Sakura raked her hand through her bright pink hair as she stepped out of her car, slid her aviators over her eyes, and accepted a latte from an on-scene lackey. She loved on-scene lackeys. She decided this particular lackey deserved a raise and possibly a hug. Sadly for him, that wasn't her call - at least on the raise part.

"What do we have?" she asked as the under-enthused Hyuuga Neji walked up alongside her as she made her way to the cordoned-off crime scene. Naruto trailed after them like a dejected puppy, shoulder slumped and his neck still red from his earlier run-in with cardboard. He ran a hand through his gelled blonde hair and tugged on his dark suit jacket.

"Trash collectors found several bodies in the bins over there this morning," Neji said, his voice deep and strangely soothing. He tied his long hair behind him as he walked, the coffee brown strands falling back onto the shoulders of his suit with an ease Sakura envied. Her hair was slightly wavy by nature so it never had that kind of straight and silky gloss. She'd also cut the pink strands into a messy bob ending a little below her chin.

"Several?" Sakura asked, sliding Neji a green eyed glance as she swallowed a sip of her latte.

"Several," Neji clarified simply, his pale grey eyes flashing to her for a short moment. "Several meaning, say... four so far. Inuzuka and the cadaver dogs are still finding bodies," he continued.

Naruto cut in real quick, his voice carrying a certain whiney quality that grated on both his fellow agents' nerves, "Hey, Can I get a latte? Why does only Saku-" He quickly shut his trap when Sakura sent him a steely-eyed glare promising death. Neji cleared his throat pointedly before he continued speaking to Sakura as if the blonde hadn't opened his mouth.

"We spoke to the guys that found the bodies and we've already run them through the system. Apart from Hinamora Anari that had a shoplifting charge, nothing popped," the Hyuuga said, lifting the yellow tape and allowing Sakura to go under. He followed behind her, dropping the tape between himself and Naruto. The blonde scowled before following close after, muttering and grunting to himself about vindictive women and to 'never trust a man who took such care with personal appearance'. Sakura grinned despite his bad mood, sadistically enjoying her partner's complaints. Served him right, the brat. She took another sip of her latte... it was really good. She made a mental note to ask the lackey what flavor it was.

When they got to the alleyway, what awaited the three agents was something Sakura was long used to seeing. Same main content, just a new location and different faces. The photographers had already captured the bodies in their undisturbed states, so the coroners had laid the four discovered corpses out on white sheets on the ground. They were currently in the process of examining each body closely, testing liver temperature et cetera. The victims consisted of three males and one female, and going by appearance, all closely ranged in age from somewhere between late twenties to early thirties. They were all dressed in dark clothing; two in blue, two in black. One of the coroners kneeling next to the female corpse waved to the trio as if to gain their attention.

Placing a hand on Sakura's shoulder Neji said, "I'll go see what they need. You go ahead and get started over there." Nodding her assent to this plan Sakura smiled.

"Good luck with the Jane and John Does." Nodding to the pair Neji quietly excused himself, while Naruto and Sakura kept walking farther into the crime scene.

The alley wasn't too narrow, but the smell of four dead and decomposing bodies was rather strong.

Naruto pinched his nose with little preamble and announced bluntly, "Sweet Christ this place reeks." Sakura rolled her eyes at the obvious statement.

"Thank you Agent Obvious," she quipped back. Naruto, though, was far from done.

"Sa-ku-ra-chaaan," he bemoaned their fate woefully. "Why does it always have to reek? It smells like horse shit mixed with Jiraiya-jiji's sad attempts at beef stew." Sakura wrinkled her nose at the rather unappetizing mental image of horse dung and her partner's old mentor's cooking before pulling the lid off her latte to replace the stink with coffee scented steam. Was that a vanilla undercurrent she detected? She hummed thoughtfully and drained the last few drops in her cup.

Someone had gone through and lain small plastic numbered markers beside items of evidence, and Sakura silently applauded their quick work. She had to admit she loved working with Neji and his crew. They were always so scarily efficient, making her job a very nice and easy one to accomplish. So far, amongst the points of interest, Sakura could see one wallet, a cellular phone, a cigarette butt, and a Styrofoam coffee cup, each labelled neatly with their own numbered marker. Sakura looked up at the sound of a throaty bark from one of the cadaver dogs.

"Haruno-san," a blonde male in his twenties called, waving Sakura over. "They've found two more!" Sakura handed her now empty latte cup to the conveniently passing lackey and stalked off in the direction of the newly found corpse. There she found a rather familiar rangy officer with rugged good looks paired with messy just-rolled-out-of-bed-and-rockin'-it brown hair. His face lit up when he spotted the approaching pair.

"Sakura-chan," the Inuzuka dog trainer said, flashing a wolfy grin at her and giving her a not-so-discreet once over. He ignored Naruto completely. "You look great, as always," he continued, a saucy wink accompanying his compliment. His gaze dropped to her chest for a long second. Naruto bristled protectively as that second-long glance lasted a second too long in his book, meaning, of course, it shouldn't have strayed there to begin with.

"Get your eyes off my chest, Kiba-san," Sakura said sharply, but without too much bite. She even found a smile pulling unconsciously at her unpainted lips. Kiba was like her daily confidence booster, and no amount of chiding would lessen his good natured flirting... so why stop him? She wouldn't lie and say the more feminine part of her didn't enjoy the attentions, as long as he didn't go looking for more.

"I would stay longer, but Akamaru is pulling at his leash," Kiba continued. His voice dropped as he leaned closer to her while passing. "But I do have time to say that those jeans you have on make your butt look especially nice today." Sakura grinned and rolled her eyes, their emerald hues not hiding her amusement nor her enjoyment of what was becoming an age old game between the two of them.

"Get out of here, dog breath," she said playfully, swatting the back of his head and kneeling to examine the body on the ground. Kiba laughed and ran off with Akamaru, the large white dog pulling against his leash. Naruto watched the pair go; only relaxing his defensive stance when they disappeared from his over-protective sights. He pulled on a pair of white gloves, snapping the latex against his wrists while giving Kiba a parting glare.

"Man, this is one dead son of a bitch," Naruto stated unnecessarily, eyeing the newly found corpse.

"He's just as dead as the other ones, Naruto," Sakura mumbled, sliding a hand over her nose and mouth as she looked the dead man over. She waved over a photographer. "Ichirou! Over here!"

"Yeah...But do you see the size of the bullet holes in him? He's like a slice of Swiss cheese."

Sakura scowled darkly as they waited for the photographer to arrive, "What is it with you and the food comparisons today?"

"What can I say?" Naruto groused, watching the photographer take two more photographs of the corpses lined out on the pavement before turning to run towards them. "I didn't get my daily bagel. I'm hungry." A rather loud growl from his stomach backed up his statement.

The man slumped behind one of the dumpsters was young, probably about twenty-three years at the most, with cropped blonde hair and skin so pale it was obvious that even while alive he would be paler than most. He was dressed similar to the other corpses, with dark clothing and a pair of cracked aviators that were still hooked onto the neck of his shirt.

"That's what you get for living off cup ramen every night, ya lazy bum," Sakura declared, stepping out of the way so the photographer could get a good shot of the dead man.

Ichirou ran up beside Sakura, his red hair neat despite his hurried movements. He knelt and took several quick photographs of the man before giving Sakura curt nod and running off again. Slipping as easily into business mode as she had with the playful banter before with Kiba, Sakura slipped on a pair of latex gloves and gingerly unhooked the glasses from his shirt. They could possibly get some fingerprints off that.

Naruto quickly pulled a small evidence baggie from his jacket pocket in order to accept the glasses when she passed it to him. He then dutifully dropped the item into the plastic evidence baggie and zipped it shut, before labelling it clearly with a permanent marker he dug out of his cargo pants pocket.

"Hey, don't insult my eating choices. I say nothing about your addiction to ..." Naruto slammed his mouth shut at Sakura's glare. Oh he had better not say anything about her morning coffees rituals. So instead, he quickly changed what he was going to say, stumbling a moment over his words, before finding a good cover, "...flirting with Kiba. You know, you have horrible taste in men. Who knows where that mangy stray's been?"

"And who would you suggest I flirt with, Neji?" Sakura scoffed, using her pen to lift the hem of the corpse's shirt. Sure enough, a gun was stuck between the waist-band of his dark pants. She gingerly removed the weapon and handed it to Naruto for bagging. "He doesn't exactly act receptive, if you know what I mean," she grumbled. It was a pity. Naruto's expression turned painful.

"...I'd rather I didn't know what you mean." A full body shudder wracked his muscled frame. "God, Sakura-chan, don't go desperate on me for a guy with a tree stuck up his ass. I have other very nice friends you know."

"And what did you mean, Sakura?" Neji's smooth tone floated over Sakura. Her eyes widened. Caught off guard by the unexpected third party and flustered, it took her a moment to respond.

"Uh... that you... have better taste in women?" she said, but the lilt at the end turned the statement into a question. She bit her lower lip to contain her mirth.

"You bet I do," Neji smirked, knowing he'd caught her. "Maybe if you put a little more effort into your appearance, I might be more receptive... though I guess I should be thankful that you at least shower..." Naruto, though, was unruffled by the other man's sudden arrival.

"Oh come off it, you stick-in-the-mud. I've seen you check out Sakura-chan's legs even more than Kiba some days," Naruto commented, grinning, and then scowling when he realized what he'd just said. Neji scowled at Naruto's prompt removal of the upper hand in his possession. He raised a brow.

"Hn," Naji grunted. "Did you find anything worth finding?" he asked, changing the subject. Sakura grinned at his deflection and sent her partner a mental high five with her eyes.

"Yeah, I got a pair of sunglasses with possible prints and a handgun. The coroners can have him now." She stood and stretched. "Let me go see what else Kiba and Akamaru dug up," she added, rolling her shoulders and walking off in the direction of Kiba and Akamaru. Naruto grumbled and sent his retreating partner a look that bespoke of much suffering.

He sighed and called after Sakura, "I think I'll go see if any of the other coroners need my help with that second newly found present. I've had enough cock-blocking for one morning, thank you." With that rather succinct declaration, he made a rather dramatic and pointed show of moving as far from Kiba's location as he could get. She chuckled to herself but kept walking, shaking her head at her partner's antics. Never a dull moment with that one.

Kiba stood and watched Sakura's approach. Her entire approach. His wolfy grin did not even falter when she approached him and punched his shoulder.

"Kiba, do you have to do that?" she complained, scowling at him. He chuckled.

"When you stop looking like that, I will try." He continued talking before she could respond, "Lookie what Akamaru dug up," he added, pointing to the seventh, and Sakura hoped, the final corpse.

"Seven is our lucky number?" Sakura asked as she fished a string of keys from the belt of the latest find. She dropped the keys into a plastic bag and handed it to Kiba for labelling.

"Can I have your number?" Kiba asked bluntly, ignoring her question. It was another of their flirting rituals. He would ask for her number after a good find, and her answer would always be the same.

"No. You're not that lucky." She grinned and knelt by the body, scanning it with her sharp green eyes. She had a feeling about this one.

"You wound me," Kiba sighed dramatically a hand over his 'broken' heart. "This is what, the ninth time you've rejected me?"

"Yeah, yeah, so you always say," Sakura chuckled. "Aha! Now this is what I was looking for!" she declared, going on all fours to reach below the dumpster to grab her prize. "You know, Kiba, you could help me reach it."

He hummed and watched, fascinated as her bottom wiggled back in forth in her struggles, "Nah, you're doing just fine."

"Kiba, I can feel your eyes on my ass," she grunted, trying not to get too dirty. It took a few tries and a little inventive stretching, but she managed.

"Mmm, yeah?" Kiba murmured absently, his appreciative gaze not wavering for even a moment.

"Take them off, please," she demanded, sending a glance behind her. Where there had been only one pair of legs behind her, there were now two.

"This is a better look than before, Sakura-san," Neji said bluntly, a rare grin on his lips as he joined Kiba in his perusal of her behind. Kiba, head cocked to the side, eying her and making a camera gesture with his hands, nodded in agreement. Sakura gaped, still on all fours with the cellular phone she'd found in her grip. Before she could get her reeling mind to stop spinning, Naruto stalked over clapping his hands loudly.

"Alright, Alright! Break it up, break-it-up! Nothing to see here, people." He didn't sound happy to have been pulled inadvertently back into his guard dog role.

"Naruto... are you calling that ass 'nothing'?" Kiba asked in a flat, disbelieving tone. "I'm beginning to worry about you."

Naruto grimaced, "Not around the dead bodies, you deviant cur." He scowled darkly at the second shot. "Dude, she's like my sister. I don't know where you were raised, but I neither pick up chicks at murder scenes, nor do I ogle my baby sister's backside!" He shuddered for good measure, wholeheartedly disturbed by the thought of checking out his partner in that manner.

"Deviant cur?" Neji mimicked, eyeing Sakura as she stood. "Where did you get that? Been watching late night historical TV series, eh, Naruto?"

Sakura thought about interrupting this rather odd masculine display but sighed. Shoulders dropping as she gave up and went about bagging her findings, she tried to ignore the fact that they were discussing her butt as if it were something hanging in a museum. She walked off, successfully leaving them to their 'man-talk' and avoiding further perusal of her body parts. Naruto was unsuccessfully trying to defend himself against Neji's pointed comments and Kiba's brasher ones as she moved away, and she grinned to herself, smothering a chuckle.

Boys would be boys, no matter the time or place.

1:05 pm

"Have they found anything off the prints yet?" Sakura asked impatiently, leaning back in her chair and taking a sip of her third coffee for the day. What could she say? Some people smoked, some drank... she had coffee. French, italian, latte- hot or iced... beautiful coffee. Seated at his desk a few feet away Neji grunted; though he was more patient than his pink haired co-worker, he himself was also growing weary of the wait.

"No, nothing is flagging," Neji, his eyes dropping back to the screen that was currently showing rapidly changing fingerprint patterns as the system matched the fingerprints of the victims and their effects to those in the ROOT database. "These guys have no priors, it seems," he added, scowling in annoyance.

"What about the casings we found in the walls? Anything back on those yet?" Sakura asked Naruto who walked out of the mini-kitchen with a steaming mug of coffee. She dropped her gaze to her own half finished beverage, pursing her lips. Should she get up and get a refill or wait?

"They should be done in a minute," the blonde replied. "They had better be done in a minute, dattebayo," he added, scratching his head. No sooner said than done. The telephone on Sakura's desk jangled loudly.

"Agent Haruno," she answered, holding the receiver in place with her cheek and shoulder while she reached blindly for the muffin on her desk. Naruto watched her take the muffin and ducked his head, praying she was too preoccupied to notice the bite he'd already stolen.

"Agent Haruno, this is Iruka from the lab... we have something on these shells and casings," the ROOT lab worker said without preamble.

"Alright, we'll be down in a minute," Sakura said curtly, hanging up. "Well guys," she said, eyeing the muffin suspiciously. Had she already taken a bite? She shrugged mentally, before continuing. "The lab has results for us. Let's go." She took a healthy bite and grabbed her jacket. As Sakura glided from the room Naruto deflated gratefully and went to grab his own jacket. Neji sent him a flat look.

"Lucky you, Muffin Stealer." The blonde curled his lip in response, scowling.

"Shove it, Closet Perv."

"You walk thin ice for a thief." Naruto paled at the hidden insinuation in his frenemy's tone.

"You wouldn't..." he whispered, voice hoarse with betrayed disbelief. Neji merely shrugged and trailed after the pinkette a smug air of satisfaction coating his figure. Naruto scowled and hurried to catch up. Damn that Neji, he'd get his someday.

ROOT HQ: Computer Lab

Sakura breezed through the lab's automatic doors with an air of a woman who was expecting good news. With no ceremony or wasting times with hellos, the impatient woman cut to the chase.

"What you got for us, Iruka-san?"

Iruka smiled, his face lighting up with the action, and said, "I think you're definitely going to like this."

Sakura moved closer to where he had the casings, lined up neatly under a row of microscopes, and peered through the lens of one of them. Once satisfied that she'd gotten a good look, the lab tech gestured for the three field agents to follow him, leading them toward his computer station. After making sure their attention was focused on the display monitors, he began typing quickly on the keyboard, fingers flying over the buttons with the ease of long practice.

"If you'll see here," he said, pointing to the grooves on the enlarged images of the casings that were displayed on the computer screen. "... all the grooves on these casings were made by a similar type of weapon, namely..." A three dimensional image of a large caliber gun popped up on the screen. "... this baby here. This is a custom weapon, made and distributed by the Akatsuki..." he paused for effect.

"Gang activity?" Neji and Naruto breathed at the exact moment. They scowled at each other, not liking the harmony the action had showed. Their silent and childish rivalry was promptly ignored by the other two in the room.

"Then why did none of the names raise any flags?" Sakura asked, frowning. With perfect timing, another voice joined those in the room.

"Well, because they aren't from Konohagakure, and half our vics aren't Akatsuki either." Sakura turned to face Rock Lee, one of the workers at the ROOT coroner's office. He was, as usual, wearing his eyesore green signature coat. "And get this," Lee continued. "There are bullets here that don't match the Akatsuki guns. Someone else was picking at these guys."

"There was an eighth shooter?" Sakura couldn't keep the excitement from her voice. This information was imperative. It meant that there was someone alive out there with answers. Someone they could hopefully find. Green eyes gleamed with cat-like ferocity. These answers were something ROOT not only needed, but would love to get their hands on.

"Apparently," Lee went on. "We were not able to reconstruct the bashed in phone, but we did manage to hack the one Haruno-san found under the dumpster. It's a burner phone, but we managed to get the last call, one that, based on the call log, didn't get to go through." Lee handed Sakura a sheet with a list of numbers.

Neji and Naruto crowded closer, peering over each of her shoulders, to view the content as well.

"This is the Amegakure area code," Neji stated. "So eight people end up in a shootout, some are Akatsuki, and some are unknown entities... no one has priors... one person tries to make a call to an Amegakure number but dies, and another escapes." He frowned. "What is this mess?"

Naruto scowled hands fisted, "So we still have 7 dead, and no answers. Just more riddles. Gah!" he scrubbed his hands through his hair making its already messy do spikier. "I hate riddles! Can't they just shoot each other and then graffiti their names on the wall? 'HI! My name is...'?" Once again Naruto was promptly ignored while the adults in the room continued to pore over the number list.

"I think our best bet, in regards to finding out who the shooter is and what the bigger picture is, would be to check out these numbers." Neji tapped a finger on the page thoughtfully while Sakura nodded along to his deductions. She looked up at Rock Lee.

"Do we know who these numbers belong to?"

"No, but we can run them through the system," Iruka said, taking the paper from them and rapidly punching the numbers in. The small group turned to the computer and watched as the speedy system worked it technological magic.

"Uh... guys," Naruto said softly when the computer finished processing and searching the numbers. "I know I have seen that name before," he said, pointing to the third name on the list. Pushing Iruka out of the way, Naruto leaned in front of the computer, explaining as he typed with one finger. Iruka's eye twitched at the blonde's slow type-picking, but in deference to the room's atmosphere, he remained silent.

"Back when I was in Narcotics, I pulled a drug case that led me to Amegakure," he said as he entered his search in the database. "And this name came up from... the Sound Syndicate. They make the purest, most expensive crystal cocaine I have ever seen..." He leaned back and pointed to the screen. "Minamoto Kikira is just another name for a woman named Tayuya... who I know about, but also know no one has ever managed to catch her. This one is as slippery as an eel." His face was grim, "In the underground they refer to her as the Crystal Snake because of it. If she's involved it's definitely not good news for us."

"Well, on the bright side, at least we have something to tell Tsu.." A horror soundtrack interrupted Sakura's sentence. "Speak of the devil," she said, grinning. "Tsunade-sama," she answered cheerfully, pressing her cellular phone and squelching a grin.

"Sakura," the ROOT captain's voice blared over the phone. "Please say you have something on this case! The mayor is already up my ass about it!" Even those that didn't have the phone to their ears could hear their captain's yells and grimaced at the mental images.

"We have a lead... a very strong lead, but there are several really blaring questions that need answering," Sakura responded, raking a hand through her pink hair. "There are still important aspects missing to the puzzle, and they're too big to overlook. We need a little more time..."

"You can't get a little more time!" the captain yelled. "We need answers yesterday!"

"In all fairness, Tsunade-sama, we only had a few hours..." Sakura mentioned, her tone a little placating. She heard Tsunade huff over the line and could picture the buxom blonde reaching for her flask of sake.

"Fine, I will see what I can do. In the meantime, get your ass to my office and show me what you have so far," Tsunade demanded, hanging up before Sakura could respond.

"Okay then, Tsunade-sama," Sakura said cheerfully, not really wanting to reveal that she'd been hung up on... but the deadpan expressions on the faces of the other occupants in the room told her she should not have bothered trying to hide the fact.

"She hung up on you, didn't she?" Naruto said plainly. Neji coughed softly into his fist, while the remaining two suddenly found the ceiling to be quite fascinating.

"Oh, shut up, Naruto," Sakura growled. "Print all this for me," she demanded of Iruka. "Lady Tsunade is waiting."

Konohagakure Airport
8:25 am

Sakura hauled her luggage behind her as she made her way down the chute to the aeroplane that was leaving for Amegakure in a few minutes. Some of her suitcases were already on the plane. She was beginning to wonder if maybe it would have been best to take a bit less clothing and gear, but she truly had no idea what she would have left behind. There was also the fact that she didn't know when exactly she would be coming home. She already missed her bed.

After explaining what they had found so far to Tsunade, the ROOT leader had decided that the most efficient way to get more information was to actually go to Amegakure and dig around. Tsunade had also said that with Sakura gone, she could tell the mayor and the press that 'her best agents were currently working the case'. Despite Tsunade's sometimes brash exterior, the captain had given Sakura a one armed hug and had successfully convinced Naruto to stay in Konohagakure. Sakura honestly didn't know how she would manage with her partner there, so for that, she was extremely thankful to Tsunade-sama. She did have to admit that she'd miss the Blonde terror, though. He had a way of making anywhere feel like home. She wouldn't, however, miss his smart mouth...much.

Letting the heavy bags rest at her feet, Sakura began digging her ticket from her purse to hand to the creepily smiling stewardess. Why was the airport staff always so disturbingly chipper? It was a great mystery to the pinkette, especially since it was hotter than hell in this building. Had they never heard of air conditioning? Mopping her sweaty forehead with a handkerchief, she waited somewhat patiently as they checked her ticket.

Sakura got to her seat, after the stewardess gave her a parting smile, and turned to the next person. She found herself seated beside a particularly good looking male. She gave him a small grin as she hefted her carry-on luggage into the overhead compartment, shaking her head when he moved to help her, and then sat beside him. He returned her smile with a dazzling one of his own, and Sakura thanked her lucky stars that she wasn't placed next to some squalling kid or loquacious old lady. She'd been stuck with that combo one too many times on one too many flights. It was a very welcome change and helped uplift her souring mood.

Ignoring the safety message she'd heard plenty of times before, Sakura leaned her head back and prepared herself to enjoy the flight.

So that is it for chapter 1! Yes, we know there is no Itachi, but we promise he will be there next chapter! You already know what to do, but in case you aren't sure... REVIEW! Haha Tell us what you think!