Oh dear God what I hiatus D: I was lost in a world of Hetalia, yaoi and Pokemon (with combinations of the first two, but thankfully not the third). Thankfully, I'm very capable of being a yaoi fangirl and a Sakura fangirl at the same time. Since the last chapter, I've gone up a school grade, visited Germany and become president of my school's anime club…again. I feel pretty good.

Thank you all for sticking around to read more of my work, however long it took to appear… So here I am, back doing the fanfictions that I'm known for.

Now, back to business. Sakura has found her last samurai, so it seems; he just needs recruiting. And identifying (LAWL). Because not many people call other people heathens these days. Or even in those days that this story is taking place in. And as for your chapter-ly Japanese lesson...I think the only word here is "hentai." I would find it pretty strange if you didn't know what that means.

April 2nd, when the night is very young

Beautiful. What a fucking beautiful town. People came here because they appreciated its beauty and all the beautiful things it offered for a quick swap of coin and pleasure. Lots of pleasure. Hell, lots of prostitutes—what a drinking game: Count the Prostitutes!

Tanzaku gave to and accepted anyone, even religions the general public would rather pretend weren't there. Tanzaku had one of three Jashinist temples in the world, disguised as a livestock slaughterhouse.

Having just returned from there, Hidan was in a damn good mood, a damn good mood. It was a long walk back to the inn, and right through the road where most of the other churches and temples were. He was in a mood almost good enough to not give a shit when people sat outside those whorish, false churches and praised gods that didn't exist. Such a fucking shame, losing perfect followers to gods like…like…how the fuck did you pronounce that? That wasn't even Japanese. Fucking foreigners should go back to the mainland, or wherever the fuck they came from.

Like that one. What a wretch, falling onto his knees for such a Carnival-trick god. Wretch. Stupid wretch. Stupid people. Fucking stupid! Hidan pulled the leather tie that held his scythe onto his back and prepared to do him a favor.

And Hidan did indeed do the guy a favor, and his dirty blood spilled out into the street and painted his scythe all the redder. One less faithless drudge, Jashin. One less.

But the guy wasn't dead yet, not with a ragged cut through his side, which probably should have punctured at least a lung, and definitely some big vein or something, since he was bleeding like a freaking stuck pig and screeching about it enough to raise hell. (Well, of course he'd raise hell, because worshipping as he was a moment ago, he sure wouldn't raise Heaven.)

Out of the kindness of his heart—yeah.—Hidan started a sermon for him. Maybe it was a weak spot, but he sort of appreciated guys who appreciated pain. And what a fucking deal he was making about his pain. Hidan just kept getting louder to talk over him, and people kept staring and pointing and oh, it was great.

"—and he declares all heathens will fucking die!"

The man screeched and began to cry. Jashin, what a waste. That'd be a great scream for a sacrificial rite. "Death to all heathens like you! This shit god you're crawling all over, what the fuck is it? A bird? Where's its freaking head? Your god is a headless bird? Jashin is a beast with horns stretching higher than mountains! His tail circles the entire world! You're in his shadow right the fuck now! Do you see?"

Scream, scream, flop, scream—dammit, Jashin wanted fun prey, not prey that flopped predictably like a fish. This piece of crap was done. Hidan raised his scythe and lowered his arm a little, curling the ends of his blue-nailed fingers. He held it playfully, almost like a bat—and reversed his hold suddenly, flipping the scythe in his hands, and brought it down like a hammer. The screams stopped and the wretch's blood sprayed sprayed sprayed spilled spurt ohh yes.

People who had been watching him in the street started yelling, and he heard hefty footfalls as a couple of them ran away. Most of them were just pointing. Hidan lifted his scythe again, and through the second and third blades he spied something pink. He hadn't seen any sorts of pink in Tanzaku today.

By whirling his weapon around a bit and holding it one-armed against his back he could see the pink was the hair of a girl a few years his junior, probably his senior in sexual activity and wearing the most god-fucking-hilarious outfit he'd seen in a long time. The clothes were offset by the blood on her cloth sandals, which was the wretch's; it had sprayed far, apparently, or she'd come close enough to be sprayed by it, or both. And shit, was she pretty.

"Sir! I need to ask you something important!" she called across the corpse separating them.

Hot and needy women could even ignore dead bodies these days. What the hell was the world comin' to? "Not really interested in sex right this moment, lady." He said, but gave a mixed message by staring at her anyway.

She bristled like a porcupine, and his mouth curved up into a stupid smile, and then half-laughter, as she burst out indignantly, "I'm not a prostitute! I need your swordsmanship skills to help defend my village from attackers! I'm collecting samurai who will help me fi—"

"Why do you have a sword?" Hidan pointed at it, sticking out of the sash round her little waist.

"Because I'm a samurai," she replied proudly. "Like you."

Okay. Okay. Mouth shut. Let the little girl talk. Let—"Bhahahaaha! Learn to lie, stupid bitch!" he howled.

He cracked his eyes open to try and see her expression, and he had to commend her acting skills. The bitch looked genuinely mad. Hell, she actually looked good mad. His laughing subsided somewhat, and he realized she was talking. "—show you I'm serious, you stupid motherfucker!"

'Did she really say—?' Hidan thought, and couldn't decide if he was impressed or painfully amused. He stood up straighter, blinked, tried to take the situation in again. The girl, wearing a red, white-trimmed kimono that was way short—ah, shit, she had leggings or something underneath it, covering her practically down to the knees—had just pulled her sword up out of her sash. She lashed her arm like a snake had just bit it. Hidan started to erupt into another good fit of laughter when something thin and black burst into his vision and struck him in the face.

It forced him back a step and stopped his laughter in his throat…and hurt like a bitch. Hidan stood up again and felt the center of the pain was in his nose. With two fingers he pressed against the right side and pushed it back into place on his face with a goddamn satisfying crickk.

The pink girl glared at him like his bloody nose was nothing to her. Shit, it wasn't. She'd held her sword by the handle and lashed her arm out, whipping the sheath off and it'd spun over and hit him full-on. Cunning, lovely bitch. Just…bitch! He swung his scythe up and let it hover in the air a moment before bringing it back down.

He growled, "Start praying, you cunt!" and by the last word he was rushing towards her and hearing a crowd around him crying out and running.

She leaped forward too, making men behind her yell, and her sword clashed with the handle of his scythe. The blades cast long shadows over her and turned her striped her hair bright and dark with intervals of pink shadows. Pink, what the fuck was wrong with her? "What the fuck is wrong with you?" he said, thinking this.

"What's wrong with your filthy mouth?" she spat back. She pushed, one hand on the blade and one on the hilt. Hidan felt his feet slide back a few inches in the dirt. Fuck, she was strong. "Nothing's wrong with me. I'm here because my friends and my family are in danger every hour I spend not defending them. Nothing's wrong with me because I'm doing something that matters. What the fuck are you doing?" She pushed again, another few inches. Hidan ground his teeth.

What had she done to have this strength? What drug had she taken? Was she a witch? Jashin called his favorite female followers witches, but she certainly wasn't his follower. Something was wrong. No woman could have this caliber of strength. Something was so, so wrong with her. He strained his eyes looking her up and down to find it. Something hiding in her long sleeves? In the inner layer of the kimono? Something in the kimono was likely. Hell…maybe he'd lied before, maybe he was somewhat interested in sex as this moment.

With a quick exhale of not-quite-laughter he pushed back against her, too, and she was shoved back more than a few inches. In the space now open between them Hidan raised his great, red scythe and cast more shadows on the sword-wielding girl. She watched the weapon rise and her eyes went beautifully wide at it came to its highest point. Down it went.

Hidan caught a blurry glimpse of movement but really didn't give a shit. He kept the scythe going down, down, down, and wasn't even pissed when he saw she'd dodged it completely. Wasn't even pissed when she came around from his left and punched him flat on his jaw. Was in too much pain to be pissed when she'd practically made his mouth fucking concave and what the fuck was she.

Another quick punching motion, one he made himself, had his jaw looking less revolting. He sat up, staring at her, hating, intrigued. She panted and stared back. "You're on soldier pills, aren't you, you goddamn druggie! No tinyass girl does this shit to me, no man alive does this to me, you hear? You hypocrite, you think you're some kinda samurai when you do that shit?"

"Kami-sama, his mouth!" guffawed some douchebag behind the girl. Hidan's eyes hunted for him and found him: a towering shithead with hair long as a woman's, gauntlets on his forearms and eyes as bloodshot as a drunk. "Sakura-chan, don't take him. We'll find someone else. You know, if I lived in your village I wouldn't appreciate it if you brought me a fighter who talks like a drunk."

"Like you don't look drunk, fucking blood-eyes!" Hidan screeched at him. "Why are you standing by her, man? Did she get you to do this shit?"

A blond kid in a red coat made this ridiculous thrashing movement behind him and was pulled backwards by a redheaded person Hidan couldn't see; he suddenly couldn't see either of them for the massively tall blood-eyed man.

"Of course." Blood-eyes chirped—chirped!—back. "What more honorable place for a true samurai than to defend a fine lady's honor and home? I hope you aren't the false sort that tries to call itself a true samurai?"

"I'm not 'the false sort.'" Hidan growled, glaring at him. "The only 'false sort' of samurai I can think of is one who hides behind a woman!"

Blood-eyes stared evenly back. No. Proudly. He would take no insult like that. He liked where he was. Hidan's eyes were drawn back to the samurai girl. The long-haired man liked standing behind her and defending her purpose. Had she given him some of her inhuman drugs? Was he a bodyguard? Shit, like she needed one of those. She and him probably just shared a drug addiction. Maybe he could get in on it. Maybe he could get in on her.

The girl had finally stopped panting and their whole group was just standing in the middle of the road, causing something of a traffic jam as carts and hopeless walkers meandered around them. Hidan's fingers tapped and danced on the handle of his scythe. "You know what!" he cried suddenly. "What the fuck ever. I'll come with, little girl. If you tell me how you're so goddamn strong."

Her face lit up like a New Year's lantern. Jashin,was the maiden ten years old? "Thank you! I'll absolutely tell you! Once we get there."


The redheaded person had stepped up again, and now it could at last be seen that this was a man, though with a more effeminate face and lean body than Hidan would be caught dead with. Perhaps he'd been starved recently. And this observation was if you ignored his freaking red, red hair. He was saying something to the pink samurai girl that made her look pissed off. Hidan eagerly watched her face and stepped closer to try and hear exactly what she snapped back at him, but she was done talking already.

The pink girl walked up to him. Close enough to touch. "My name's Sakura." She bowed particularly low. Respect, that was kind and humble and whatnot. She came up again. "And you?"

"'M Hidan." he muttered, staring at her again. She had green eyes, he noticed.

"My comrade over there says he recognizes you." Hidan could hear some hidden wariness in her pretty voice. "He claims you're part of some…some sort of cult, that, uh, sacrifices people."

"It's called religion. It's only intolerant shit like your comrade that say religions are just glorified cults." He spat. "I am a faithful follower of Jashin, who hungers always for blood and favors of flesh. Wherever he wants me to go, I go. Wherever I find some fresh hot blood, I give it to him." He paused and there was just enough space for her to insert her own comment.

"If you can wait a few days, I can give you plenty of fresh blood." She promised him. "My village is surrounded on all sides by bandits, and the men behind me have all vowed to come and help me drive them away. I have nothing to offer your or any of them except shelter and meals. Would you help me, knowing that?"

Since he was still pissed off Sakura's sheath-throwing trick, he paused and pretended to act like a lack of supplies mattered one ratshit to him, but the cold, fearful stiffness that started to enter her posture didn't really please him. Didn't like it at all, in fact. "Yeah, yeah. I just want you to tell me about your strength, seriously. So, come on. Spill."

"I told you, once we get there," she said, laughing a little. She began walking backwards.

"Is he the last one?" cried the blond kid in the red coat he'd noticed before. Sakura turned round to walk forwards again, and said something fast and upbeat to him. She shoved his shoulder playfully as she went by, and walked speedily down the road. The young blond followed her like a little dog.

What the hell was up with her being so happy? Whether she was a true samurai or not—and she probably…she abso-fucking-lutely was—it was unlikely she was as seasoned as the average male one. She couldn't possibly just ignore the fact that Hidan had disemboweled a man in the street. The disemboweled man was still lying back there, for Jashin's sake. What woman just left a scene like that…like that? A really happy one? A woman of lion's strength like Sakura? Sakura the lioness? The fuck.

Something was definitely wrong with her. 'Tell me, Jashin. Is she a samurai? A real samurai? How can that be? Come on! Tell me about her!' But as always, Jashin offered no immediate answers, and the realization that another sizable quest for answers lie before him brightened his spirit.

He probably would have shuffled irritably through his thoughts for a while more before the flash of pink caught his eyes again. She was turning around and walking back towards him. She appeared to change her mind about her pathway and started towards a lonely corner where they were out of the crowd moving in the street, and the dark of night and lack of lit torches on doorways concealed them from peering eyes all the better. They stood under a curving, extended rooftop, where stacks of empty crates and stone blocks the size of hunting dogs sat in neat rows.

The other men Sakura had somehow hired gathered together, too, and shit were they a freakish crowd. The redhead slipped between carts and walkers like a goddamn fish to get to the rest of them and was carrying something on his back as big as a baby and hey, maybe it was. He ignored the blonde puppyboy and the blood-eyed douche to find…another blood-eyed douche with shorter hair and a more pissy face. And another blonde one. Another female samurai? Oh, Jashin, please let it be a woman, too.

"I just thought I should…finalize everything," Sakura said, leaning a hand self-consciously on the blunt end of her sword sticking up out of her obi. "I have a group of very capable samurai…" She went around and said everyone's names, making it a lot easier for him. His was said last. That was nice. "I honestly didn't believe I would manage to get this many. " She looked around at all of them. All of their eyes. "Remember that you're getting nothing but food and weapons from us. Places to sleep. There's no money for you at all."

"I don't need freaking money!" the puppyboy burst out. "This town is an awful example, but there really are samurai out there who just want honorable things to be done. Sakura-chan, I'll defend your village, on my life, and anyone who hurts you will have his face torn off!" He flexed a hand whose nails could have been an animal's claws.

The other six stared at the puppyboy's passion; Hidan became curious if such passion could be directed towards Jashin's will. The kid certainly had the charisma covered.

"Sakura, pay no mind to him." Said the dead-eyed Sasori. "If Naruto has yet to prove his worth in battle I doubt he ever will. I think we should leave as soon as possible. He will turn tail and fade into the wilderness once we're on the road to your home."

But Naruto heard. He whirled around and went right up to Sasori's face, who wasn't watching him like he was threatening or anything of the like. "What the hell is your problem with me? Just because I don't flash my pretty talents all the time, I'm not a samurai? That flimsy crap is your excuse? You name the time and the place and I could knock you—"

Before he could finish, Naruto was being lifted off the ground by the collar of his red cloak. Madara, who held it, thrashed his arm slightly to toss Naruto a few feet away. "Please close your mouth before your raging saliva lands on Sakura-chan," Madara said airily.

"Perhaps he will when you stop licking your lips at her, you disgusting hentai." Hissed his nephew. Hidan's eyes went joyously wide as he bore witness to what must have been a family feud.

It was bait meant to start a fight, but Madara was apparently too wise to take it. Unexpected, that. In the background, Naruto was growling something in a curiously dark voice, but Hidan's attention was caught by Madara's eerie smile, and rat's-blood eyes. "Well, if I do, so must you, Sasuke-chan."

The little lioness stepped deliberately between the three of them, and bean fiercely, "No one needs to—!" She was interrupted by someone pulling her far too gently to the side, out of the sunlight and farther into the shade of the extended canopy above them. The effeminate redhead. Oh, that one was subtly preying on her, no fucking doubt.

"Let them have their fight, Sakura." Said the redhead (his girly, blonde counterpart said something mean or bitchy but Hidan didn't really hear). "If one is beaten senseless, we will know he is unsuited to protecting your village. Sasuke, would you behead one of them?"

Why would he support the younger Uchiha instead of the one that was older and looked like less of an arrogant dick? Freaking weirdo and his freaking weird logic. Hidan called him out. "What the fuck are you supporting the little one for? Madara, behead your brother or the loud kid! I'll pay ya!"

"For the love of God, Madara, please do it!" Deidara called.

"Oh, he's my nephew, actually." Replied Madara. "And I don't want to behead either one of them so much as I want to make them just…go away." Madara said, and reached over with one of his freaking long arms and took hold of one of Sakura's wrists. She now had a samurai holding each one. The image was pathetically clear. The males' eyes, the grip of their hands, the distance of their bodies, Sakura standing so terribly innocent and awkward between them. Well, if Hidan wasn't mistaken, he'd bet they both wanted to fuck her blind, and eat her alive besides. Well, fuck if they'd ever get to.

"You guys gonna run away with her or something?" he said, pointing at them.

"Take one step with her and your severed hands will be on the ground before you can breathe."

Hidan curiously looked at the mouthy blonde, and cocked his head again when he saw some sort of change in his eyes. He couldn't tell what it was because the boy was moving forward too fast for him to get a good look. Deidara told him something to the effect of, "calm down," but it didn't appear to make much of a difference. Only when Sakura wrested free of the twos' hands, almost headbutting Naruto, did he slow his advance. And when she did headbutt him, he stopped altogether and stepped back with a hilarious little whimper.

"Kami-sama, stop! Everyone—" she whirled around and grabbed one of the stone blocks off a stack and slammed it to the ground. "stop!" Hidan's feet skittered back of their own free will and his body absorbed the shock of its vibration. It was a pile of fragments and shards now.

"Hey, he was—"

"Shut up! I don't care!" People in the street were looking over into their corner now, peeking their heads over the stacks of blocks and crates. And the wiser ones were moving along faster. And Sakura ignored them. "Here I thought giving everyone to chance to formally meet, and, and socialize would be good! I don't know what's gotten into all of you, but it needs to be finished right now! We're leaving! Please follow me!" She bowed so quickly it was comical, and then began walking briskly up the street.

He was shivering from head to toe.

Such ferocity and power in the fairer sex! Unprecedented, unknown! O ye faithful disciple, capture that lion in My name, and claim it in thine.

Hai, Jashin-sama.

It took somewhere around half an hour to find one of three gates leading out of the walled city, and by that time it had to be an hour to midnight, he estimated. Hidan had a flash of memory of the things he loved about the place: the maddeningly hot and expensive beauty of the place, the hideous diversity and…and…and he couldn't remember. All he cared to remember now was the young woman walking in front of him, and all he cared to think about was how she would react to Jashin's will. Was her judgment good enough to realize that it could only do her good to step into Jashin's great shadow with him?

When only a flat field and an empty dirt road stretched in front of them, she turned back slightly. "We will follow this path another few hours." Her eyes made no secret of studying them all. "Around that time, we will pass a valley filled with wild horses. We will camp there, and after waking, turn west and Konoha is nearly a straight path from there. Is this all right with all of you?"

"I will find us a suitable camp for tonight whenever you request." announced Uchiha Sasuke.

A high-pitched voice behind him mocked, "I will find us a suitable camp for tonight whenever you request!"

Sakura whirled around and faced them all. It wouldn't have been quite a lie to say her left foot stomping into the ground creating an echo. "Who was that!" Six samurai chose to say nothing and look innocently away, or appear righteously irritated. "I apparently have a petty five-year-old in my group of samurai. I wonder who it is. Was it you, since you think you're so superior?" She took two wide strides and was suddenly in Sasori's face, and his mouth parted with a sort of startled awe that changed his entire face.

"Or you, since you're certainly not above being a child?" she spat at Naruto, who held his arms a little closer to his sides. It seemed clear who the alpha was there.

"Or why not you?" she whirled again and glared at Hidan, but did not approach him. "Being as gossipy as some fluttery girl. I see something in every one of you that's—that—" Sakura's fists shook in the wide confines of her red sleeves, her eyes burned, and gods, did they burn—but then the lioness behavior began to melt, and something sheepish and even horrified took its place.

"Do you feel all right?" someone said, but Hidan couldn't care to acknowledge who. Sakura was scared.

"Excuse my outburst," she said, and bowed again. It did not look nearly so amusing as the first one had. "I'm sorry. I don't deal with…stupidity very well. I ask only that you all act your age, and you will get the respect you deserve from me." No, not nearly so amusing, and only desperate. Why did she maintain the mentality that without her acting so nice, her samurai would up and leave?

"I don't deal with stupidity well, either." Murmured the littler Uchiha. "Even minor stupidities. Like this excessive apologizing, Sakura. Stand up and speak to me as you are. Your typical attitude is not going to prompt me to abandon you or this mission."

A silence followed Sasuke's statement, wherein a bird cawed ear-piercingly somewhere above them, and six samurai began to form a mutual, unspoken thread of hatred for Sasuke Uchiha.

"My typical attitude can get a little violent," Sakura mentioned and fingered the side of her sword hilt with adorable nervousness.

"Preferable to acting like a servant." Sasuke replied, and walked forward. He had almost passed her by when he added, "Return to smiling as though you mean it. It suits you far better."

He walked past her on the right side and her eyes strayed halfheartedly in that direction before meeting the rest of her samurai. The scared Sakura flowed away. The proper one, the beautiful one, returned. "Then I won't act like a servant. Let's go! And if we come across any dark characters in the road, don't be merciful." She turned on the heels of her sandals and ran.

Immediately after her came Deidara, the phoenix painted onto his coat billowing impressively after him, and even more blatantly: "I'm not five years old, un!"

April 3rd, as the sun rises

Whenever the sun rose, Sakura was sitting up and waiting for it. This morning its light fell on a happier, more hopeful body than it had in months.

Sasuke had indeed scouted ahead and found them a pleasant hollow between hills, protected from wind at the sides and open to the sky. Here the samurai had lain themselves down for the night. Naruto and Sasuke had spent the first half hour of lying down staring at each other over her shoulder, and she was immensely glad they and the others all slept now, and she was alone in the world of the conscious. More immensely than that, she was grateful, and shivering with fierce optimism.

Tsunade would think she was blessed by some god when she came back with six willing and incredibly able samurai, and six pretty ones to boot. Perhaps she was blessed. She and Tsunade had been taking turns reaching out to samurai around the land since February with no results at all. What luck to have all that reversed now! The bandits would be cut down at last, and they'd burn in hell for the torture they'd put innocents through.

The young woman observed a pair of birds flying together from one tree to the next, nearly hopping. Creatures of such plain, good heart. Exactly, yes, exactly, like the residents of Konoha. Moving through life so perfectly, so innocently, deserving all good things that came upon them. People she knew to have good hearts like Lee, like Kakashi, like Konohamaru, like two hundred more…

And these people burning. Bleeding. Inoichi and Maka. Ebisu. Children: Udon and Yura and more. Unless those demons were struck down and bled out, this black horror would continue. Gods, she would bleed out every single one herself if she could, but she never could. Too many. Too many filthy faces and hands with crusted blood, and hands pulling at her kimono and feet viciously stomping on her villagers, the filthy beasts—!

Her fierce and familiar loathing for the bandits was calmed, to a degree, when she noticed Madara was awake and watching her, lying on his back and balancing his torso on his elbows. It was difficult to not notice when he watched. Madara appeared to be a warm and affectionate soul, but he had demon's eyes. He was either a good person with unfortunate eyes, or an undisguised liar. She had yet to find out which.

"You're awake very early this morning," he said, not sounding like an undisguised liar in the least.

"Every day." She corrected, forcing a little cheeriness into her voice. Would he realize it was false? That she was wary of him? "It's something people in my village think is funny. Not many others are early birds. People who sleep in…like that—" She flicked her eyes to Naruto, who'd rolled very close to her in his sleep and was snoring a bit. "I just don't get the appeal."

"Even if your mission didn't require you to sleep less and travel more, you'd wake at this time?"

"I'd have run half a lap around Konoha by this time!" she said a little proudly.

"Well, I'm afraid I can't relate, my dear. I do love sleeping." His eyes crinkled just a little, the way eyes did when the rest of the face was smiling. Sakura felt herself rather prompted to think it was genuine. Madara's eyes slid away to her right, where Sasuke lie on his side, using his arm as a pillow. "Sasuke-chan might relate, though. Little brat just glares at the moon half the time. Sasuke-chan, open your eyes! You can't fool me." Sasuke did open his eyes, but only to look far, far to his right. Lying on his side as he was, this only served to let him look up at the sky.

His uncle looked up at the sky as well, and his overly confused expression made Sakura grin. Towering, crimson-eyed Madara was quite funny. "That would be the sky, yes. And that would be the ground. And that would be some grass—"

As Madara went on naming things, Sakura suddenly understood the possible significance of Sasuke's curious staring. She looked behind him—one hundred and eighty degrees to his right, where he had tried to look—and her eyes came upon nothing but a grove of trees, growing excellently green in the mid-spring. But that could not be all. She scanned further, readied her hands to grasp her sword. It would be needed within the minute. Yes. There.

In the thickest branches of the nearest fir tree crouched a man in dappled grey robes. Perfect clothing for blending in with the pale light of twilight…or dawn. Far too perfect. Sakura stood fluidly up and ran up the hill.

"Wake up! A spy! Follow him!" she shouted again and again behind her.

Both the Uchiha were at her heels already; Madara had grabbed one of his arm gauntlets and Sasuke was already beginning to run past her. How could he be so fast? No one but Lee could outrun her! She clenched her free fist and tapped her reservoir of chakra: instantly her legs pumped faster and harder and Sasuke was getting father and father behind. This man couldn't be allowed to escape. In the worst and only case she could manage to imagine, he was a part of the bandits, and was running back to them to tell his fellows that the village they were victimizing was bringing in warriors. That alone made her speed after him.

Something tore the branches from a tree off to her left. A flash of yellow. Naruto and the fox-beast inside him? "Danna! I'll circle around him!" Deidara yelled.

The noise behind her grew moderately quieter. The man in grey remained hardly a hundred feet in front of her and he was tiring now. Yes, good! Tire and trip and fall and die! Sakura stilled her sheath and brought out her sword, holding it in her left hand whilst the right was held outward for balance.

So close now! She could hear him panting now, the frightened little beast. So he deserved! She widened her stride, felt the glorious pull of her muscles, and let the sword fly. It buried itself in the man's right shoulder and his scream was music like justice in her ears.

Moments later, something massive and square came from behind her and struck the man on the leg. It took her a moment to get over the surprise and realize Madara had thrown his gauntlet. The man was tripping and tumbling now. She jumped, preparing to kick down at his face as she went over—and her leg was grabbed.

"M—aaah!" Sakura was pulled from mid-air and slammed back-down onto rock-hard tree roots. The man tore a mask away and revealed a face she could scarecely see, reeling as she was from the drop to earth. She could see what may have been a tiny knife clenched between his teeth. This he took in his left hand and heaved forward towards her.

One good kick to his torso made him groan and rear back. She pulled back her other leg and was startled out of her mind by two blades clashing together and the mysterious man's head flying over her shoulder. She looked up, vision clearing, and saw Hidan in his strange and pastel-colored priest's robes, his massive red scythe held all-too-precariously against the spy's back.

"Hey. Hey! Was that you or me?"

A glance to the side showed that Sasuke had approached the man's other side and held his flat-ended sword in a similar position, if nearer to the victim's neck. Instead of answering Sasuke tossed his sword lightly behind him, where Sasori stood and caught it for him one-handed. Sasuke himself meandered over an especially large room and crouched by her.

"Thank you for actually understanding me. I knew Madara would do nothing but play with me as though I'm a toddler." He glared accusingly at his uncle who stood moodily under a nearby tree. "Clearly I'm serving someone who's not an unbearable idiot."

"I'm sure she's immensely attracted to your belittling your family." Madara said caustically. As she let Sasuke take her hand and pull her up to a standing position, Sakura made a point of saying and doing nothing at hearing that.

Such comments had popped up quite frequently among these samurai, and it was more confusing than anything. A dark joke between them. She certainly wasn't above saying her swordsmanship wasn't attractive. It damn well was, and if they were admiring and respecting that, then all the better.

"No, actually I must sit." She told Sasuke and gently took her hand from within his. She sat down next to the man, paused—some respect for the dead? No. Not for this.—and pulled at the pockets of his robe. One held a water container, another a cloth bundle of dried fruit—"Sakura, put that down! If you want something to eat, don't take that!"—and with a roll of her eyes at Deidara's silly, wrong impression, felt underneath the obi around his waist. A single paper. She unfolded it and read through the shadows of three heads leaning over hers to read with her. Only a few characters. Messy and written in haste.

Follow her. Report on return trip.

"Your return trip or his?"

"Hers, of course, baka."

Their voices became very quiet in Sakura's mind, and only her thoughts made any discernible noise. Why would they follow her this time? She and Tsunade had left the village many times in search of help. Never had the bandits bothered themselves with it at all. They cared enough now to send someone who would find out what she was doing…or how long she was doing it. How long she was away and how long Konoha would be that much more helpless.

"They're beginning a final attack." She said aloud. Madara and Deidara quieted to hear. "They could only care why or how long I'm gone if the village's lack of defenses was of greater concern to them than before. And that could only mean they will take advantage of it this time." Taking advantage. Again. She tore the paper and dropped the scraps onto the corpse.

"Shall we run?" suggested Naruto.

"Exactly," she said, grateful for suddenly having those words taken out of her mouth. "If we're all on a steady pace, we can be there this afternoon. And maybe save Konoha from being over…overrun!" She leaned down and all but tore her sword from where she'd dropped it and broke into a wildcat sprint before she could stop herself.

The next several hours passed quite literally in a blur. Sakura's mind blossomed with pictures and living, moving memories of faces that could be bloody messes by now, and the trees and roads and tiny villages that went by were mere splashes of color impeding on the world of memories that mattered far more to her. Occasionally one of the samurai would try to speak to her, and she once managed to tell Hidan to back off, but for the most part the only noise was feet pounding on dirt and on grass. A sound of progress.

Once she rolled out of her memory-world and looked about her true surroundings. Deidara and Hidan were on her left and everyone else was on her right, in varying stages of tiredness and alertness. The sun told her it could only be slightly past noon. The flat, green ground dotted with trees told her they had come even farther than she'd dared to hope; the village of great trees and leaves, an island of trees in a land of flatness and grass. This was the fertile land of Konoha. Her heart began to race. Madara must have heard something curious in her breathing, as he asked if she was all right. His warm voice and his hellish eyes helped her to answer properly.

"I am! I'm all right because we're almost there!" she gasped. Both the blondes and Sasori were looking ahead a bit apprehensively. "Ready your weapons. We'll be running straight through the bandits' right flank to get to Konoha! We'll push right through!"

"Yes!" roared Naruto. "I'll show those bastards they should never have hurt Sakura-chan's home!"

She was really beginning to like Naruto's passion. It was charming, and here it was useful. Her memory world was fading now and she could focus more on the world around her. She could focus on the problem before here. That problem would appear within sight in under a minute. And she could shed more of the hellhounds' disgusting blood. Any minute now. Any minute now! There they were!

They were a dark and pulsing mob, just like they were up close. Close to two hundred, at least right now. A fair number, considering how many would come and go randomly. At her side, Naruto made some noise of surprise, and Sakura didn't blame him. Few gangs of petty thieves arranged themselves in near-perfect lines to attack, or had captains sitting on black stallions, or bloodstained ribbons tied to their spears.

"Those are soldiers," Sasori said almost confusedly.

"They're trained." She replied. "They're—they're fighting! They're moving forward towards the gate!" They were here with only minutes to spare. The bandits' captains were urging them loudly on to the lone little archway that marked the entrance to Konoha, a structure wide enough for a wagon to pass under, but would stand about as much chance of surviving that storm as the villagers would. The first cottage in Konoha stood hardly more than a stone's throw away from it. And standing directly underneath this archway was a delightfully familiar head of long, blond hair.

"Tsunade-samaaaa!" Sakura all but screamed.

Tsunade visibly jumped and looked over the crowd of bandits to see her student, a mere speck in here vision now, come running behind them with six men in tow. She grinned and unsheathed her old and faded katana, and shouted something none of them heard over the bandits' zealous yelling and war chanting.

Sakura copied her sensei and unsheathed her weapon. Around her, she could hear her samurai doing the same. With all their power, they would win. The bandits would meet the fate they deserved. They came closer and closer until one of the men at the back turned and saw a group of warriors approaching. He screeched something that had half the army turning with him and then their true size became apparent.

They were more than they had numbered when Sakura had left home three days ago. The senior captain Kakuzu wasn't riding his grey stallion. More men had helmets. Perhaps they were soldiers. She didn't care, and if the samurai rushing up by her side to attack with her were any judge, they didn't care, either.

Sakura leapt high as a man's head and landed on the shoulders of her first victim. She slammed her sword hard into his collar bone and heard the crack and crunch. His death was the first in a long path they would have to carve themselves towards the archway.

Safety waited there. Tsunade-sama, and hope, waited there.

Now that's what I call a long chapter. I thought that'd be a good way to win back some favor from people who know I haven't updated a thing since…what, February, March? Here I am, okay? Brick me. I acknowledge the ridiculousness of how much I deserve it.

Well…in relation to the story, all the samurai are gathered here under Sakura and at last at Konoha. I had a little trouble with Hidan's POV section in a way I can't quite describe but hey, he's here! I tried to infuse a bit of a gossip into his persona. He likes to watch what other people do and be all, "Oh, it's on now, bitch! Check iiiiiiitt." Plus he's the first to call Sakura a lioness, a concept I carried over straight from another story of mine, "The Greatest Gladiator." And he started out thinking she had such great physical strength because she was on drugs. Lolz.

Another aspect of her we learn in this chapter is her rather black-and-white, intense love and respect for good people like Konoha residents, particularly her dear Tsunade-sama, and her hatred of bad people like the bandits, as well as the fact that she completely supports killing people on their moral level. I mean, I hope you picked up on her killing intent in the second half of the chapter. She's too busy fantasizing about killing bandits to realize she has half a dozen weirdos fantasizing about her. c: I hope to see you next chapter, and I'm glad to be back in the Naruto world!