Road to Jinchuuriki

A shadow passed over across her eyes breaking the soft light of the early morning sun. Sakura stirred in her sleep, a ninja is always supposed to instantly awake at the slightest disturbance but truth be told if she wasn't on a mission or had to report to Lady Tsunade she relished her mornings that she could sleep in. The morning, however, would not see fit to conspire to allow her that little luxury as she heard a soft tapping on window of her room followed by the almost imperceptible sound of the window opening and someone entering. She felt her bed shift as someone sat on the edge of her bed and puts a hand on her shoulder and shakes her gently.

"Time to wake up."

Still fighting being truly awake she rolls over and pulls her blanket over her head. This can't be real she thinks to herself, of course she still has hours left to sleep! The presence on the edge of her bed seemed to think otherwise and leaned forward until it was above her.

"Sorry pretty flower but your morning has been cut short."

Sakura finally surrendered to the inevitable and decided to see who was risking themselves waking her up early stilling thinking in the groggy part of her mind that it was one of her parents. But as she opened her eyes the face or a familiar young man was almost nose to nose with her. A flash of panic and almost fear raced through her mind and on instinct she pushed with her considerable might against him. He looked a little shocked when he crashed against the wall and fell to the floor.

"Ow! What was that for Sakura!" he growled as he furiously rubbed the back of his head while simultaneously trying to grab his back.

"What did you think sneaking into my room!" she replied holding a fist up to him menacingly while pulling up her blanket to her chin with the other. He had a small smile as he replied.

"Sakura we have been members of Team 7 for years now I have been in your room plenty of times over the years and you never had a problem with it before."

"That's because we weren't together before, let alone with me asleep in just my pajamas!"

"But you look so cute in your pink pajamas." Sasuke said he let his gaze linger on her.

Sakura blushed (somewhat causing her hair and attire to blend) but held her ground. "That's not the point and you know it Sasuke! What if my parents caught you in here and if I see a hint of a Sharingan I will put you through a wall!" Sakura knew his abilities couldn't actually allow him to see thru clothes but it's abilities to enhance details would not leave much to the imagination.

Sasuke stood and brushed off his uniform. "First ever since we told your parents we we're dating I'm pretty sure they they've set a date for our wedding the day after we're both of age so I'm pretty sure that if they "caught" us together they would be ecstatic. Besides I did think to check before I came in, both your parents left the house already. Second, he paused looking right in her eyes, I don't need my Sharingan to notice every little detail about my girl."

Sakura turned away determined not to blush. "Anyways why are you sneaking into innocent girls windows anyway?

"I seem to remember someone who didn't want to be so innocent on our last date."

"Sasuke!"

He held his hands up in apology. "We have a mission."

"Now?"

"No. It is supposed to be urgent but Hokage said we have time while we wait for a extra member of our team to arrive. It seems the mission will be dependent on his skills. I thought we would have breakfast together because who knows how long we will be out in the field. These secret missions can take forever." he said still holding his back.

Sakura frowned. "Come here" she commanded. He obeyed and crossed the room. She lifted the back of his shirt and her hand glowed as chakra flowed from her hand into him healing his injury. When she looked up at him he had one eyebrow slightly raised. She pushed him away (far more gently this time).

"Better?" she asked.

"Always."

"Good now get out so I can get changed or we'll waste our morning."

"It wouldn't be a waste."

"Out!"

"Okay!" but he paused as he climbed out her window and looked right into her eyes. "But you really do look beautiful first thing in the morning Sakura."

She couldn't help but smile. "Thank-" she froze as without warning, his eyes took on the appearance of the Mangekyō Sharingan and she heard a voice that almost seemed to roar through her mind and it said just one thing.

Remember!

Sakura had barely been able to get Sasuke out her room..this time because he had seen the look on her face and became concerned. Assuring him that she was fine and threatening bodily harm if he did not leave she found herself leaning against the door to her closest trying and failing not to shake. What was that? Had she just imagined that? Or was it some sort of genjutsu? But why would that even make any sense. Sasuke wouldn't have a need to use his Sharingan would he? A deep desire came came over her to just drop it. There was not a reason for anyone to use a genjutsu that didn't even seem to do anything after all. But on second thought just in case...

"Release!" she commanded calling forth her chakra and bringing her hands together.

She looked around the room. Nothing looked or felt any different. Maybe it had been her imagination after all she thought to herself. Her night wear fell to the floor as she began to put on her uniform. Reminding herself that she had just woken up she chalked it up to some leftover dream. Whatever it was it had reminded her of darker times back when Sasuke had been obsessed with revenge on Itachi. When she had first been added to Team 7 she had been ecstatic thinking she had just gotten all her dreams handed to her wrapped under a Leaf headband. Even the mysterious Sai being added to the team hadn't bothered her even though he had not been a member of the academy.

Sasuke had not given her the time of day at first and it was only after several missions that she started to get a clue as to why. She had only chosen to see the Sasuke she wanted to see. For her it had been like he was a collection of pictures that she picked out of a magazine instead of a real person. It never even really entered her mind that his entire family had been slaughtered by his brother. Sakura could only try to blame it on some sort of vanity for not even considering the pain he must have been in. But being on the same team had allowed her to spend real time with him and she had seen his pain. She was able to glimpse how lonely he really was and how hard it was for him to try and connect with people through all the anger and hatred.

So she had decided to put away her feelings for him and just try to be his friend. Between him and Sai she had been awash in emotionally disturbed teammates. Slowly it had gotten better though and besides becoming a excellent team under Kakashi Sensei's tutelage they had started to become real friends. At least it had been that way.

Until the Chūnin exams and Gaara...and Orochimaru.

It was the attack of the Sand upon the Leaf orchestrated by Orochimaru that reminded him of how far he had to go if he was to face Itachi and just how much he had allowed himself to be distracted by petty things like friends and contentment. As time past he started to become darker and more obsessed with gaining strength until finally he made a decision to leave the village and join Orochimaru in order to gain power. Sakura still looks back on the night she almost lost him with a sense of dread. A hair's breath is how close she had come to losing him.

Over three years ago...

She had known he would leave tonight. As he came closer the moonlight was the only light in the sky. From his body language you would almost believe that he had not seen her yet but she knew that was a lie. There was little someone blessed (cursed?) with the Sharingan did not notice but he didn't try to evade her. He just stopped within a few paces and locked a steady gaze with her eyes.

"It's the middle of the night what are you hanging around here for?"

"This is the only road out of the village."

"You should go to bed." and he began to walk around her. He paused though when she stepped in front of his path.

"I'm right where I should be." her voice becoming firm.

"What do you want from me Sakura?"

"I want you to tell me why your leaving?"

"I don't owe you anything." frustration seeping into his voice.

"Your right you don't," Sakura said averting her gaze and glancing down at the ground, "when we first became members of Team 7 I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world, like I could just fall into your arms and you would admit how you were madly in love with me." As the wind wind picked around her she hugged herself. "But you were so cold and angry and you called me annoying. I thought I had done something wrong and I suppose I did. I didn't really understand the real you Sasuke."

Her head lifted and she and again she looked him square in the eyes. "But I have gotten to know the real you Sasuke. I know how much losing your clan hurt. I don't think I can really understand it but I do know one thing. Your making the wrong choice."

He shook his head and walked past her. "You see Sakura that shows you have never really understood me. I'm an avenger, I have been since the day my brother killed everyone I loved. Revenge is the only path that has been open to me since that day...I...I thought for a time I could walk a different path like you and Kakashi Sensei but I was just fooling myself."

As he started to walk away he felt her hand on back resting on the clan symbol of the Uchiha.

"You told me once that the Uchiha were the protectors and police force of the village. Do you remember when Kakashi Sensei asked us out goals as ninja and you said you didn't have goals but that someday you were going to kill a certain someone and restore your clan?"

"Of course I do that's why I'm leaving to become strong enough to accomplish this."

"But this is where I know you better than you know yourself. If you take this path you might become stronger..stronger than if you stayed here even. But if you let this darkness take over you you might someday kill Itachi but you'll never defeat him, all you'll do is become him and your clan will be lost forever."

She could feel him trembling under her touch but he did not turn toward her.

"And how can you know where my path will lead?"

"Because I don't know how you feel about me Sasuke but I love you and even even you never love me back you have to know you will never be alone. Sometimes being alone can be the most painful thing in the world that's why it can so often lead you to darkness."

Sasuke looked back at her and had a faint smile. "You know your still annoying." With a burst of speed he was behind her and he whispered into her ear. "Thank you Sakura."

Sasuke walked up the hill still bathed in moonlight and he came upon the sound ninja four. He looked upon them with disdain as they bowed before him.

"We've been waiting for you Sasuke."

"So what's with change in attitude?"

"It had already been decided that when you abandoned the village that you would become out leader. Please forgive the rudeness we displayed earlier." the sound ninja replied.

Sasuke walked in between them. "Like I care," Sasuke turned to face the still bowing ninja, "since I decided not to abandon the village."

"How dare you!" shouted Jirobo the large ninja being the first to his feet.

"Those who defy Lord Orochimaru will die!" Tayuya joined in.

"Be still Tayuya! Those are not our orders!" Kidomaru commanded. The six armed ninja rose and addressed Sasuke. "But I don't understand Sasuke why come out here alone if you don't want more power. You had to know we would defeat you and take you bound to Lord Orochimaru?"

"What can I say I was set to join you but a friend reminded me of something. My path isn't chosen for I me I chose it and what kind of person I will be at it's end. And I chose to not be the person my brother wants me to be. I chose not to be alone."

"Pointless we'll still take you bound and gagged to our master." The ninja began to spread out to capture the genin.

"Are you guys deaf or just that dense? I said I chose not to be alone."

At his words the earth exploded around the Sound Ninja Four who found themselves encircled by several members of the ANBU Black Ops. Appearing to each side of Sasuke was Kakashi and Guy Sensei. Within moments the enemy ninja were bound and subdued.

"We'll never reveal anything to the Leaf." yelled Kidomaru.

"Oh I don't know about that, I'm sure we can glean a few useful facts about your master and anything else we need." replied a voice from the shadows as Ibiki Morino walked toward the captured ninja. The four visibly paled realizing they were now being held by the Leaf's famous interrogator. As they were being led away Captain Morino turned toward Sasuke. "Good work If you had displayed such control during the Chūnin exams you would have easily passed." With that he vanished into the night with his prisoners.

"Don't listen to him Sasuke!" Guy practically shouted as he pounded Sasuke on the back in congratulations. "You showed the sheer power of your Youth tonight! Why when you next take the Chūnin you are sure to pass after such a splendid victory!"

"That would put two attempts ahead of you wouldn't it Guy?" Kakashi cut in. "Or was it three."

"Ah. Well. The Chūnin exams just couldn't handle the overwhelming strength of my passion!" Guy replied.

"Of course Guy." said Kakashi. "Why don't you go with Ibiki and make sure our prisoners don't escape? I want to talk with Sasuke for a moment."

"It brings a tear to my eye seeing a proud teacher with his student. Well I'm off!" Guy said and he left the hillside. The quiet that surrounded the two ninja was stark contrast to a moment before.

"So he's your best friend huh?" asked Sasuke.

"Guy can be loud and...energetic. But he has been as loyal a friend as can there can be." replied Kakashi. "So when did you make your choice?"

"What? Oh what I said to the Sound Ninja? That was just a act to fo-."

"Sasuke." Kakashi tone would allow for no deception. Sasuke looked at the ground in shame.

"So how did you know Sensei?"

"I've been your teacher for some time Sasuke. I could sense the sincerity in your voice and I have been worried about you for some time. Also I did see that Sakura had been crying." He gestured toward the young girl awaiting near the bottom of the hill."

"When you both came to us she refused to stay behind it was like she was afraid to let you out of her sight. Did she have something to do with your change of heart?"

Sasuke smiled looking in her direction. "Pretty much, she reminded me that there was more for me than revenge. The Uchiha were protectors of the village and preserving that legacy is more important than revenge on Itachi." Sasuke captured Kakashi's gaze. "I need to be clear Sensei someday I will have to face my brother I just want to try and be wise enough to keep my soul when I do it"

Kakashi put his hand on the young man's shoulder. "And I swear I will do everything in power to prepare you for that day."

"I know you will Sensei."

Kakashi gestured toward Sakura who ran to Sasuke's side. "Are you okay?"

He nodded in reply. "Better than I've been in a long time actually." Sasuke took her hand and Sakura's heart skipped a beat. He held her hand to his chest. "Thank you Sakura."

Kakashi looked back and forth between them and held back a small smile. "I want you both to know I'm proud of both of you. You both were there for each other like true comrades. And with information we glean from the Sound Ninja we should be able to deal a major blow to Orochimaru's power base."

Both ninja had turned and were listening to their Sensei with serious intent looks on their faces but in truth Sakura wasn't hearing a word.

Sasuke was still holding her hand.

Sakura smiled at the memory. That had been a turning point for the both of them but still it had been almost 3 years before they got together. Sasuke couldn't really heal overnight after all. In truth she had a lot to growing up to do to. She knew the road would be hard. Kakashi had been right that the information they had gotten from the prisoners had been invaluable. With it the Leaf had eventually taken apart the Sound Village and much of underground network that Orochimaru had built up but he was still out there. According to their best Intel he was still after Sasuke as well since he was still one of the best options for a host of that man's dark soul. Also while revenge on Itachi no longer drove Sasuke they way it used too everyone assumed a confrontation was inevitable. As such she had decided she must grow stronger so she could protect Sasuke when the time came. So when the great Sannin Jiraiya had brought Lady Tsunade to be the Fifth Hokage Sakura had become her apprentice. Sasuke under Kakashi and later Jiraiya's tutelage had grown far stronger as well. Even Sai who had been so emotionless and closed off had opened up under the gentle prodding of his teammates. Team 7 had become one of the more formidable groups in the Hidden Leaf.

Now fully dressed in her uniform she headed toward her window in order to have breakfast with the one she loved more than any other. But still she was having difficulties ignoring the vision she had seen and she tried to convince herself it was just some sort of lingering dream.

Joining Sasuke outside Sakura almost believed it.

"You sure your okay?" Sasuke asked one more time as she joined him outside. "You looked pretty spooked there."

"That's what happens when you don't let a girl finish her beauty sleep."

He just shook his head. "Okay then where do you want to have breakfast?"

"How about Ichiraku Ramen?" she replied after a moments thought.

"You never want to have ramen."

"Most of the time it's way to fattening but if we are going on a mission I can treat myself."

Sasuke just nodded in reply and they both lapsed into silence and they sprang across the rooftops. He still tended to break into old habits when they were out in public or on a mission. Sakura had learned to accept that unless they were alone he was almost always going to be way too serious. Sometimes she just wished he would relax and have some fun with the friends he had worked so hard to obtain. But this was a part of Sasuke's nature she suspected she would have to learn to accept. They both landed about a block away from the Ramen noodle shop and without words walked together into the shop.

Sasuke held the curtain back for Sakura to enter and she found they were not the only couple that decided to come here this morning. Sitting at the booth were Hinata and Rock Lee quietly talking and laughing amongst themselves. Sakura smiled at the sight. The Chūnin exams had been a hard ideal for the both of them. Hinata had been nearly killed by her cousin Neji all the while mocking her for lack of strength. Rock Lee had come to her defense himself having to endure Neji's mockery as he pursued his own ninja way. Things hadn't gone well for Rock Lee later however when he fought the Jinchuuriki Gaara who had left him broken and being told he would never heal enough to be a true ninja again. Hinata had fallen into a deep depression and some even feared she may take her own life. For these reasons both Genin had been staying at the Leaf hospital together. Rock Lee had seen the young girl who had been trying so hard to overcome everyone's expectations of her and decided to leave his own depression behind and had stayed by her side night and day until she started to believe in herself again. Later when Lady Tsunade had arrived and became the Fifth Hokage she had performed a risky surgery to heal Rock Lee and Hinata had been there for him throughout the procedure and the recovery process. Besides the experience cementing the two as a serious couple Hinata had also gained a love of medical ninjutsu and became another apprentice of Lady Tsuande. While she had not mastered the physical combat aspects of the Hokage's teachings her Byakugan had turned into a wonderful tool allowing her to fine tune chakra for healing techniques. Many now believes she would possibly be the greatest healer the Leaf or any of the Five Great Villages had ever known.

Time had not completely healed the wounds between the two and Neji. While he too had grown since the Chūnin exams and freely admitted his mistakes the rift between them had not closed. Sakura hoped in time the they would overcome the memories of the past. She wondered if they should eat somewhere else so as not to intrude when Hinata turned and saw them entering.

"Sakura-chan! Sasuke-kun! Please come and join us!." said Hinata when she saw her friends. Rock Lee nodded in agreement.

"You guys sure we're not intruding?" asked Sasuke.

"Of course not!" replied Lee. "Your my eternal rival after all! Who knows when the fiery passions of youth will lead us to our next glorious challenge after all!

Sasuke sighed. "You know Lee just because Kakashi and Guy are rivals does not mean we have to waste out time with silly challenges."

"They are not silly! The are scared tradition passed down from our Sensei and it is our duty and honor to continue it." responded Lee.

"Sure whatever you say Lee." Sasuke sat down at the counter and began glancing at the menu.

"Besides your just upset that I'm currently ahead." continued Lee.

"Actually I'm ahead by one. 17 to 16 if I'm not mistaken." countered Sasuke.

"I won the last race around the perimeter of the village!"

"And later I won the kunai target practice challenge."

"Well.."

"And after that I won the rock paper scissors contest last week."

Lee's face went blank. "I forgot." he replied sheepishly. "But no matter that just means I have to challenge you right now so I can pull ahead. Sasuke I challenge you to a Ramen eating contest!"

"Technically you would only be tied with me but bring it on!" Sasuke said with a grin. Both boys stopped short though when they felt a ominous chakra radiating behind them. Sakura stood behind the both of them with a dark expression on her face and was cracking her knuckles.

"I am not going to waste my last real meal before a mission watching you two go at like children. The four of us are going to sit down and have a pleasant meal. Do I make myself clear!"

Rock Lee was petrified. "But...he's ahead..."

Hinata took his arm and leaned her head on his shoulder. "I agree with Sakura-chan Lee lets eat together, you can always defeat Sasuke later."

Lee hugged her back. "If you insist my love but he will be defeated."

"I know he will Lee." she said assuredly with a small blush on her face. She had grown more confident over the years but she still couldn't completely handle public displays of affection and with Rock Lee for a boyfriend that could be a problem. As Sakura sat down by Sasuke Lee took the moment to lean over and whisper to his friend.

"Sasuke sometimes your girlfriend can be kind of scary."

"I know Lee, but I'll tell you something I wouldn't change one single thing about her." he whispered back.

Sakura smiled. Sometimes she wished he would show how he felt about her more openly like Lee but in the end he always let her know he cared.

Together the four friends laughed and ate and parted ways when it was time to meet Lady Hokage for their mission briefing. Sakura silently gave thanks for the friends in her life knowing how badly things could have gone had a different path been taken.

Tsunade looked over the members of Team 7 and prepared her thoughts. This missions would mean the younger members of the team would have to see the darker side of their village and she hoped they were ready to face it.

"All right Team Kakashi the mission you being sent on is a S ranked mission so listen up!"

Sakura looked at her Sensei and was worried. She had been Lady Tsunade's apprentice for several years now and had learned her moods and she could see fear underneath her normal disciplined face. What kind of mission was this. And why was a member of ANBU here?

As if in answer to her question Tsunade continued. "Before I go into details of this mission let me introduce you to a temporary new member of your team." She gestured for the ninja to step forward.

As he did he removed his mask revealing a very serious face. Though he did smile as he glanced around the team. Sakura noticed both Kakashi and the new ninja seemed to know each other.

"Since real names are forbidden while being a member of ANBU you will know him as a code name of Yamato."

"So that's what you go by now?" Asked Kakashi.

"Yes and I would appreciate it if you don't mention the other name for the duration of this mission Kakashi." Yamato replied.

"If you insist but it's good to see you again."

"You too."

"If we're done catching up?" interjected Lady Tsunade. The team was silent.

"Very good. Now Shizune if you would hand out the mission briefings?"

"Yes Lady Tsunade." With her usually efficiency she handed out five manilla envelopes to the team.

"Now to make sure we're all on the same page can you tell me what you know about the Tailed Beasts and the Jinchuuriki?"

Sakura immediately answered the Hokage but inside she was startled what could their mission have to do with something as big as that? "The Tailed Beasts are demons distinguished by the number of tails each one posses. The more tails a Beast has the more raw power they posses. The most powerful of the Beasts was Kurama the Nine Tailed fox who was stopped by the Fourth Hokage. In order to contain the Nine Tails it was rumored that the Hokage sealed the beast into a human host otherwise known as a Jinchuuriki. It is said that each of the Hidden Villages posses at least one Jinchuuriki though some may have more. The Hidden Sand Village used their Jinchuuriki to attack the Hidden Leaf but was...barely...stopped by Sasuke. No one is aware of the current status of the Nine Tales Jinchuuriki...at least publicly.

Lady Tsunade nodded at the explanation. "Very good Sakura. Though you have made one mistake, though through no fault of your own."

"What mistake was that that Lady Tsunade?"

"The fate of the Nine Tails Jinchuuriki is generally known to the Leaf."

"That doesn't make sense My Lady." Sasuke interjected. "If it was public knowledge then wouldn't we be aware of it?"

"In this case no. Let me explain. When the Fourth Hokage managed to subdue the Nine Tails he had no way to kill the Beast and only so long in order to seal him. So in order to protect the village he sealed him in the only host available...his newborn son."

"How horrible." Sakura whispered. She felt Sasuke move closer to her their shoulders touching, a small but welcome gesture of support.

"Very much so Sakura. The boy lost both of his parents that day and was left with one of the most evil creatures in existence in his body. In order to give the boy a chance at a normal life the Third Hokage decreed that none of this knowledge would be told to any the children of the village."

"I bet that didn't work." said Sasuke. Sakura looked at him question clear on her face.

"It wouldn't matter if the kids were told or not. The parents would make their feelings clear enough and their children would follow suit. I remember similar things happening after my parents died. You always feel like everyone is looking at you with judging eyes and most people just saw me as the victim...I bet it was hard for him."

"I wasn't around then," Tsunade said, "but from what I understand you have the right of it Sasuke. Part of the reason Team 7 was chosen for this was because you and Sakura know him."

"Know him My Lady?" Sakura asked.

"Yes his name was Naruto Uzumaki. I believe there is a recent picture of him in your file"

The name struck a chord that resounded through Sakura and with a feeling approaching terror she opened the file. There was a picture of a young man about the same age as her and Sasuke looking at her. His blonde hair was unkempt and he was wearing a black uniform with crimson highlights that still somehow reminded Sakura of a prisoners uniform. His face was what held her gaze though. He looked up at her full of hate and anger twisting his appearance making him almost...demonic. She might have stared at that face forever.

Sakura...

She looked up into the face of her Hokage and saw the Mangekyō Sharingan peering back at her.

Remember...

A vision overtook her. She found herself kneeling in a field with a young man's head cradled in her lap. Tears ran down her face. She looked into the boys face and saw the same man she had just seen moments before in the picture. Only it was not the same. This Naruto wore a Orange and Black jumpsuit that looked natural on him. On his forehead a Leaf headband was proudly displayed. Her medical eyes assessed his injuries and she knew there was nothing life threatening or beyond her skills. Still he was unconscious and she somehow knew he may never wake up. Once again it was his face that captured her attention. How could the same face be so different? This was a face that had known true sadness but seemed to have spent as much time possible laughing and happy. This was a face she knew she would trust with her life if need be.

This was the face of a friend.

"Naruto?" she asked not expecting him to respond. Suddenly his eyes opened and his striking blue eyes seemed to drill into her mind with as much power as the Mangekyō Sharingan had a just before.

Then the world went dark.