-Set at the beginning of Shippuden, the Elders send Sakura off as a hunter-nin, wishing for her death as a way to weaken Tsunade's political powers. Sakura agrees to prove them wrong, but what she didn't know was that Orochimaru's involved! Oh, god… Just what did she get herself into?


Finally! A new chapter! Sorry I took since the end of September to update this fanfic but, as you all can probably tell, I cannot come up with any good ideas for this fanfic. I don't know what to do for it yet, and I've been really over-thinking this story. I can't come up with any good ideas. But, here's a better note. I've completed my Code Geass fanfic and I'm close to finish Top Girl and Sakura DOROPPUSU (but don't get your hopes up on that last one), so I might end up with more time on this fanfic. Right now, I'm really focused on finishing the ones that will soon be finished so that I have more time for these longer stories.

Some of you might be already familiar with the beginning half of this chapter since it's in Mirrorcle World's episode 11. I really tried to come up with something better, but nothing came to mind. Sorry.


Episode Fourteen

~Ino's sorrow, Kiki's Plan~

"Why was she crying so much?" Sai asked, dodging a kick from the Hyuga heiress. "It's been a few days since her sensei's funeral." He aimed a few punches. "And we've already caught the ones who killed him." But his fists were met with air as Hinata dodged. "Why is she still so sad?"

"Be a little bit more considerate, would ya?" Naruto almost yelled as he socked the boy.

"Naruto-kun!" Hinata scolded the blonde before going over to Sai to make sure he was alright.

"What did I say wrong?" the ANBU Root member asked, rubbing his now bruising cheek. He really didn't see why his words were "inconsiderate," as Naruto put it. He was only asking an innocent question, in his opinion.

Hinata shook her head. "There's nothing wrong with . . . with asking questions like that, Sai… But don't say something like that in front of Ino-chan, okay? You're right in that it's been a while since . . . since…" She sighed as she found out she couldn't bring herself to even speak about it, about Asuma's death. "People need time for the reality to sink in, and Ino . . . she has just started to mourn. With something like this, we can't rush her or anyone for that matter."

"I know that, but I still don't understand it…" Sai said. "She has so many people comforting her and seeing if she's alright. Why does it seem like she . . ."—He struggled to find the correct words—"like she's not feeling better? Like she's not getting any better at all?"

"Gee, we can only do so much, you know?" Naruto sneered which got him a slight glare from Hinata, her face covered with initial shock. Why was he being so rude to Sai? She had thought their relationship had gotten better over the past few months. It would appear she was wrong, however.

"Sai, when people find themselves in Ino's situation, it is going to take some time for them to heal those wounds. Everyone is different, and so everyone deals with it a bit differently. For Ino, it'll take a bit longer than the time she's had. Even with . . . with everyone and so many people around her, trying to help her, it's still going to take a while until she's fully recovered from the shock of it all. She might not even recover completely. All we can really do is give her the time she needs."

Sai sat on the grassy ground for a while. His silence told his teammates that he was thinking over what he had been told. During the months that followed their failed attempt to bring back Sasuke, he had been trying his best to get along better with everyone which meant that he had been trying to understand emotions and bonds more. It was a slow and tedious process, but Hinata and Naruto had enjoyed sorting him out, trying to get him to be more thoughtful and more understanding to people's moods and actions.

"So . . . it won't matter who's comforting her?" he asked after a while, his elbow propped up on his knee and his hand on his chin in a thinking position. "She'll still be so sad?"

Hinata didn't want to answer that question. She didn't want to think of such a possibility, the probability that Ino would feel so isolated and alone during her time of grieve and lament.

"What are you think about now, Sai?" Naruto gave him a questioning look, one that he usually gave when the boy was going to say something wrong.

"It's just a thought… But what if Haruno Sakura was to come back?" he asked. He still hadn't told his teammates about what went down at Orochimaru's hideout between him and Sakura. For some reason, he couldn't find the courage to tell them that small little fact. And he kept quiet, not because of devotion to the medic but loyalty and friendship to Naruto and Hinata. He did not want them to feel betrayed like they had when Sasuke almost tried to kill them. Plus, the threat she had given him would most likely be carried out if he let out her secret since telling those two the truth would hurt them. (And he had an inkling of an idea what she'd do after seeing Tsunade almost strangle Naruto for calling her old. In the back of his mind, he knew he was a bit afraid of what Sakura could do to him.)

"Would Ino feel better after seeing her?" he continued. "I mean, I heard that the two had been the closest of friends before Sakura-san's departure. Would her return help Ino recover faster?"

Again, Hinata didn't answer. She would most certainly hope that Sakura's homecoming would cheer Ino up, but she wasn't quite sure about it too much. After all, it would be uncertain the amount of time Sakura could stay even if she did come back. Her sudden and unwanted departure could break Ino again without even meaning to. And that was certainly not what Hinata wanted.

It was then that a laugh came from Naruto. "Sai," he asked, still gawking. "You don't have feelings for Ino, do you?"

"What's so funny about that?" Sai asked, a grimace on his face. He really didn't understand. "I thought you and Hinata told me that having concern for your comrades was a good thing."

Hinata just shook her head, a small smile colored her face. "Sai, what Naruto meant was… Hm…" She wondered how she could explain it without confusing him even more. "Well, having feelings doesn't always mean to be considerate. The phrase could also be used as—"

"Sai has a crush on Ino!" Naruto could barely contain his laughter. "Sai and Ino sitting in a tree—"

"We're not sitting in a tree," Sai pointed out, still very much oblivious. "And she's not even here."

Of course, at that statement, Naruto's stomach began to hurt as his laughter grew so loud that he fell to the floor.

✿。.:**:.。✿

Tsunade sighed, closing the report. Really? She couldn't help but wonder. Of all times, something like this pops up… She rubbed her aching temple. She really needed some sake right now.

"Tsunade, this cannot wait." Jiraiya explained, his face grim. "Since there's the possibility of war—"

"Yes, I know!" the ember-eyed woman snapped. She looked ready to punch him into the wall. "Do not rush me while I'm trying to think!"

If Jiraiya had not been use to Tsunade's irate tone, he would have winced, and the worry in the woman's voice would have gone unheard. But Jiraiya knew her—after all, she had been his teammate. He knew when she was stressed out and when she was as worried as anyone else would have been in her situation. And he also knew that she was trying to suppress these feelings. Why? You may ask. Well, the answer was simple. She was Hokage, the person whom everyone looked to stay strong and protect the village. If she was a nervous wreck, what would happen to the village? But Jiraiya only had the urge to shake his head at this. After all, the woman was only human. And humans needed to show their emotions most of the time.

"You know, you don't have to act so strong." he told her. "If you're worried, instead of pushing me away, confide in me with your worries. I'll always be here to listen to them, whether or not I can help."

Her eyes softened, and a smile almost tugged her lips. Almost. "Thanks," she said, the littlest hint of a smile disappeared. The possibility of war was too grave. She could not take it easy. "How's Sakura?" But nevertheless, she wanted off of the topic.

It was Jiraiya's turn to tense. He had not wanted to get on that subject this time around.

One of Tsunade's eyebrows rose. "Well? Anything to report?" she asked, a bit frustrated by the man's reluctance to answer her question. "How is she? She hasn't written to me in a while." Her eyes widened with worry then, and she stood from her seat, her hands slammed on her desk. "Did something happen to her?" she almost yelled the question, her voice rising up two octaves.

"What? NO!" Jiraiya almost screamed the answer out. "Of course not! I wouldn't dare let anything happen to your apprentice! I wouldn't allow it! She's fine! Perfectly fine! Safe as can be! Yep, she's perfectly and utterly safe! Why would you think something bad has happened? She's FINE!"

Tsunade only stared at the old man. She wasn't dumb. She had seen the way Jiraiya tensed. Something was up. Her suspicions were only confirmed when the man started sweating like crazy and spitting out whatever he said as if he were on fire.

"Jiraiya…" she said, her tone dark. If anything had happened to Sakura, she'd—

"Look," the male Sannin started again. He took a breath to calm himself. "Sakura has been doing well, but she hasn't been able to find a criminal from the bingo book for a while already. She's a bit . . . err, disappointed with herself. That's all. I don't know why I reacted the way I did to your question—perhaps I've really grown to fear you and your monstrous strength." He chuckled a bit, scratching his head. "Anyway, I guess I was just a bit afraid of your reaction. After all, you'd probably kill me if Sakura just cries once."

Tsunade held her stare—her eyes now held a bit of disbelief in them. When her butt met with the soft cushion of her chair, she still didn't take her eyes off of her old teammate, almost as if she were watching him for any sudden movements that would give away whatever he was hiding. And when she opened her mouth to say something, Jiraiya could only brace himself for the worst.

"Well, you got that right."

"Yes, I know, and I'm—wait," Jiraiya stopped in mid-apology and could only stare back at the woman with wide unbelieving dinner plates. "Come again?"

"If Sakura were suffering, of course, naturally, I'd blame you." the Hokage explained. "It's in my nature, after all. I trained her, so I've become quite close with her. I was horribly shocked when she was made hunter-nin, and I'm still in shock, but I'm coping with it better each day, though it's still hard to do so. However, I count on you to give me weekly or even daily reports on her so that I know she's okay and so that I know I haven't failed her as a mentor. I know I take a lot of my anger out on you, but I didn't realize I could actually strike so much fear into your heart as to cause you to hide even the littlest bit of information from me. For that, I am sorry."

"Oh, it's no problem, Tsunade." Again, the old man scratched his head, chuckling slightly. His laughter almost sounded forced, and that didn't escape Tsunade's ears. "I overreacted. No biggie."

The Hokage gave a small smile. "That's good to hear. So anyway…" she sighed, placing her hand on top of the report she had just recently read. "Since Sakura has no leads on any criminals and since she has nothing to do, I'd like you to pass along the message that it'd be nice if she could check this little problem out for us."

"Oh, that? Well, erm… I'll see what I can do, but she . . . she's a bit further away from that place, and it might prove to be a small problem… But um . . . Oh! Would you look at the time?" he asked, changing the subject a bit too quickly. "I really must get going—gots lots of research to do, you know?—but I'll pass along your message the next time I see her! Ja ne!"

"Oh, wait! Also tell her to write to me soon!" Tsunade yelled after him as he jumped out of the window.

When he landed on a nearby rooftop, he turned back to see the Hokage looking at the report again. She looked a bit grumpy—whether it was because of his sudden departure or because of her soon-coming migraine, he didn't know. Well, at least, she doesn't know yet… He gave out an exasperated sigh. Sakura, you sure really are something… How you wound up in Oto as an "honored guest," I'll never know… But Tsunade's definitely not hearing it from me. That's for sure…

✿。.:**:.。✿

When Sasuke came into his room, he saw the pinkette sitting crossed-legged on the bed, Kiki in her lap and a letter in her hand. Sakura was so focused with whatever was written on it that she didn't even notice the Uchiha coming into the room. But Sasuke didn't question it. Whatever she did wasn't his business . . . except the times she went through his closet trying to find something to wear. (Yeah, he still had to find the time to get her new clothes.) But when he heard Sakura sniffling, that "his/her business" nonsense went flying out the window because he knew she'd be much more annoying if he didn't ask what was up.

And yet, when he saw her hands shaking as it clutched onto the letter, he couldn't bring himself to speak a word. It was even worse when she brought a hand to her mouth, trying to stifle her cries, as tears ran down her face. Kiki began barking then, wondering what was wrong with her owner.

"Asuma-sensei . . . he's dead…" was all that managed to come out of Sakura's mouth before a wail choked the rest of her words. "Oh, Ino…"

"What happened?"

Sakura gasped when she met Sasuke's gaze. She really hadn't noticed him but, when she did, she quickly put the letter down to wipe away her tears. "Akatsuki… That's what." She sighed when she realized new tears would replace the ones she would wipe away. She hated crying in front of her ex-teammate. "I feel . . . so bad for Kurenai-sensei…"

The Uchiha couldn't help but raise an eyebrow. If he remembered correctly, Kurenai was Hinata's genin sensei. Exactly how would Asuma's death affect her?

When Sakura saw his close-to-confused expression—because, hey, an Uchiha never showed emotions—she decided to clarify things for him. "Kurenai is pregnant with Asuma's child."

"Hn…" That was the closest thing to an "Oh…" for the Uchiha.

"I think Naruto wants me to go back to Konoha to comfort Ino," she added, looking back at the letter. She knew Sasuke would be apathetic to Naruto's cause, but she just wanted to talk right now. "He's practically screaming it in his writing. What am I going to do…?" She scratched Kiki's ears when the dog began to whimper. She couldn't leave Oto at the moment, and she couldn't get a letter out to Tsunade or the Elders requesting to return to at least pay respects to Asuma. How was she to comfort Ino if she couldn't make it back home?

It was then that there was a knock on the door, and in came an Oto nin. "Orochimaru wants to see you, Sasuke-sama."

"I'll be there shortly," was the Uchiha's answer.

"He also wants to see the Konoha kunoichi."

I have a name, you know! Sakura wanted to scream that at the random ninja but decided not to. She had other things on her mind, and one of them being why Orochimaru would want to see both her and Sasuke. Did he find out about their meeting with Jiraiya?

✿。.:**:.。✿

Sakura didn't know whether or not she should be grateful or just annoyed. On one hand, she got new clothes. On the other, however, she was stuck—on a mission—with Sasuke—for Orochimaru. Hm… There's nothing wrong with that, now is there? she thought sarcastically. She tried to look on the good side of things—she would be out of Orochimaru's hideout again, she could spend more time with Sasuke (even though she had quite enough already), and she could enjoy the company of people other than the Oto nin—but it was very hard to think happily with what the mission entailed.

Kiri's ninja were disappearing along the border of the Land of Fire. That, in itself, was already bad enough. Orochimaru hadn't been worried about that, however. Apparently, in the group of missing nin, there had been someone he had been waiting for and needed. And he wanted Sasuke to retrieve that somebody (whom Sakura was not told the name of) and Sakura was only to accompany him for medical reasons. Now, that was a bit weird for the Sannin. Why would Orochimaru send his ex-teammate's apprentice along when he never anticipated any troubles? And if that wasn't strange enough, the Snake Sannin was sending the two to the Land of Waves and not to the border of the Land of Fire.

I wonder why… Perhaps he knows more than he's leading on.

A loud knock on her door shook her from her thoughts. "I thought I told you five minutes, Sakura," the gruff voice said in its ever-so impassive tone.

"Almost done!" she called back as she began to strip off her dirty old clothes. She had forgotten why she was in the changing room in the first place.

✿。.:**:.。✿

The Uchiha had been ready to leave the pinkette there in the store. He had specifically told her five minutes, no more and no less. He even waited an extra five minutes for her, and still she wasn't done. Exactly how long did it take a girl to change out of her tattered old outfit into a brand new one? Perhaps it was only Sakura who took this long. She was, after all, annoying in a sense.

His body became stiff once his ears alerted him about a coming threat—or rather, threats. It wasn't exactly a life-threatening situation, though. It was just one, or a few, that he rather not deal with at the moment . . . especially if they were giggling so loudly and ready to swoon over him at any moment. Luckily for him, however, Sakura came out of the dressing room then.

He smirked. Oh, she'd pay for making him wait so long that the fangirls decided to come nearer. He walked over to the unsuspecting ex-teammate of his who was looking in the mirror still and probably wondering if her outfit was appropriate for shinobi duties.

She let out a squeal when Sasuke wrapped an arm around her and pulled her closer to him. "What took you so long?" he keeps his voice low.

She managed a forced smile. "What's up?" she asks, and he gestured his head to the group behind them. When Sakura saw the group of girls, she almost rolled her eyes. Fangirls… Of course… "Let's go, dear." That last word was forced but loud and insisting enough to make the fangirls gasp. And with that last word, Sakura squeezed Sasuke's hand hard because she knew he was only using her.

✿。.:**:.。✿

The trip, from then on, was a silent one. Even Kiki was quiet as she rode along in Sakura's backpack. The little doggie was wondering why the trip took such a sudden turn. Weren't the two just chatting with each since leaving Oto? Why were they so . . . tense now? Kiki didn't like this at all. It had only been a week since they made up on that last mission where they met up with Jiraiya. Why were they fighting again?

"We're here."

Kiki wasn't able to see the nostalgic look on Sakura's face nor was she able to see Sasuke watching the girl, but she made up her mind. Once the mission started, she was going to hook—them—up!


Eh… Short crappy chapter…

Oh, I'm debating whether or not to make this into my Top Girl's format cuz that's a lot easier to update especially since it crosses into Mirrorcle World. Don't be surprised if the next update is really short.