Subject: [FFML] [Fanfic][Naruto] Suiren, Chapter 8.5: Green, Addendum...
From: "Eimii" <eimii@bresnan.net>
Date: 11/29/2006, 1:21 AM
To:

Disclaimer: The characters portrayed in this fic don't belong to me... 
though really, the ones i use the most are beginning to seem less and 
less like the characters they started as; i wonder if i can't get 
Kishimoto-sensei to perhaps look the other way just this once...

Spoiler and Continuity notice: The fic is still currently set in the 
middle of the Chuunin Exam. In fact, we may be here for some time to 
come...

Non-Yaoi Warning: We've got a few boys in this one, yeah, but most 
(read: all) of them are too busy tying to kill each other, or watching 
other people try to kill each other, to be bothered with things such as 
making out...

This chapter was originally part three of "Breath," but i've decided 
that it works better as the end of "Green" than it does as the new 
beginning of "Breath," so i'm making it an addendum to the version of 
"Green" i just recently posted.

Additionally, i have significantly modified/extended this version of the 
chapter, as compared to the original version that appears at 
fanfiction.net, and some of the changes will probably affect future 
revisions in some sort of freakish ripple effect that will totally 
change the story >_<;.

Hopefully, the changes are worthwhile, however. For those of you who 
have read the old version of the chapter, i'd be interested to hear what 
you think and, as always, general comments and criticisms are always 
welcome! Thanks for sticking with me this far, and please enjoy the 
show!

~Eimii





GREEN, ADDENDUM...

Despite Anko's prediction to the contrary, both boys were still standing 
when she returned, though Naruto looked to be in far worse shape. The 
orange-clad genin was standing a short distance away from his opponent, 
hunched over in concentration with his hands clenched in a seal.

*Huh, 'guess the kid's more than just talk,* Anko mused, claiming her 
seat beside her raptly watching 'student.' "Oi, what'd I miss?" she 
prodded, but the younger kunoichi simply ignored her. Even with the 
tough act Sakura was putting on, it wasn't hard to tell she was worried.

On the field below, the white-eyed boy shook his head in contempt. "Can 
I ask you one thing?" Neji queried with a note of sadistic finality, as 
if he were asking the condemned for last words. "Why do you fight your 
destiny so much?"

"Because..." Naruto growled, "I was called a loser!"

With a roar, the blonde boy exploded into a twisting tornado of 
wind-tossed dust and debris. A wild, malevolent chakra filled the air 
and Neji recoiled, his face reflecting a moment of horror.

Naruto's opponent wasn't the only one floored by this development. All 
around the arena, expressions of confusion and disbelief dominated the 
crowd, but the faces of many ninja echoed the Hyuuga prodigy's fear.

Turning back to the action below, Anko tensed in readiness as she peered 
at the shorter boy. She'd only felt such an aura of pure, primal evil 
once before. "This chakra... it must be..."

"The Kyuubi," Sakura finished for her. The kunoichi of team seven wore 
an expression of alarm, but Sakura didn't seem anywhere near as shocked 
or afraid as most of the others who had come to this same conclusion.

*She already knew,* Anko realized. *But how?* She'd have to ask Sakura 
about it later; all who knew of the creature sealed within Naruto were 
forbidden to speak of it, even amongst themselves.

Below, Naruto's swirling cloud of demonic chakra had settled some. No 
longer tearing at the air chaotically, it had collapsed around the 
blonde boy in a faintly visible corona of burning power.

"Here I come!" Naruto proclaimed, eyeing Neji warily for a moment before 
he shot toward the wall with a burst of chakra-enhanced speed to hurl a 
handful of shuriken at the older boy's back.

The battle had just been rejoined, but Anko's opinion of Naruto had 
already risen a little. *He's actually _controlling_ it.* That alone was 
impressive. Even with a seal to bind the beast and limit the flow, 
shaping borrowed chakra could be a harrowing ordeal, and there was no 
way the Kyuubi could be happy about being enslaved to the whims of a 
foolish, impulsive child.

Despite his obvious strength and determination, it soon became clear 
that Naruto's wits were no sharper for all the power that he was able to 
borrow from the demon. In his short exchange of ranged attacks with 
Neji, he made good use of his enhanced physical abilities, but it was 
still a futile gesture in light of the Hyuuga ultimate defense. 
Moreover, now he was closing for a head-on charge.

*Well, the brat _might_ be able to overpower it; the Kaiten spreads 
Neji's chakra pretty thin. If Neji diverts him too much, though-*

Anko reflexively winced with the rest of the crowd as the two boys were 
violently blasted apart. Naruto hadn't come in sharply enough to cut 
through the Kaiten, but the force of his attack wasn't stopped 
completely by the Heavenly Spin.

Instead, Neji's defense had wrapped it around, sending Naruto shooting 
past while the white-eyed boy went spinning out of control. Both of them 
struck the ground with enough force to raise a huge cloud of dust, and 
when it cleared, Anko could see that they'd actually dug deep furrows in 
the hard-packed earth where they lay.

The Hyuuga was the first to recover. Pulling himself to his feet, Neji 
even had the audacity to walk over and gloat at the unmoving form of 
Naruto. *Feh, I can't see anyone that careless and making the cut,* Anko 
predicted, frowning in disdain. Neji's victory was hardly assured, since 
his opponent could just be playing possum. Even Naruto shouldn't have 
had any trouble with such a basic ruse.

The examiner's suspicions were proven a moment later, when the 
orange-clad boy burst from the ground directly under Neji's feet, 
catching him in the chin with a solid uppercut. "Aaaaaand that's all she 
wrote," Anko observed, crossing her arms and leaning back in her seat.

A blow like that to the jaw would probably rattle Neji badly enough that 
he wouldn't be able to stand, though Anko guessed that it was luck more 
than strategy. "What a pair of idiots," she mused, grinning over at her 
charge.





S   U   I   R   E   N





Sakura laughed as she watched Naruto prance around the battlefield, 
basking in the cheers of the crowd. The blond boy was grinning like a 
fool and loving every moment of it. *You deserve it, Naruto,* she 
decided, ignoring her 'teacher's' smart remark.

Looking into the faces of the people in the stands, Sakura felt good for 
her teammate. They were finally seeing him for who he was. For the first 
time, she was grateful for the dreams she'd stolen from Anko; without 
them, she wouldn't have understood what a special moment this was for 
Naruto.

Sakura had never been forbidden from playing with Naruto the way other 
children had. Her parents probably didn't even know about the conspiracy 
surrounding the Kyuubi's defeat; they'd moved to Konoha during the years 
of rebuilding that followed the demon fox's rampage, slipping in when 
the village had relaxed its immigration policies.

Unfortunately, being an 'outsider' had put Sakura in a poor position to 
go out and make friends. Before she'd met Ino, Sakura had suffered her 
own share of bullying and loneliness. The way she'd been teased was 
nothing compared to what Naruto had been forced to endure, though. Seen 
through Anko's eyes, the disgust and disdain that the adults of Konoha 
held toward Naruto was enough to make Sakura physically ill.

But now they looked on with admiring eyes, applauding the strength and 
determination that had brought him victory. Scorn had transformed into 
pride in a single moment of triumph. A cynical voice in the back of 
Sakura's mind railed against the fickleness of people's acceptance, but 
still, she hoped that things would at least be a little easier for 
Naruto from now on.

As her thoughts touched on her other teammate, however, Sakura started 
to grow worried once more. *Has Sasuke arrived yet?* Sasuke's fight was 
next, and the atmosphere in the stadium only became more charged once 
Naruto had left the field. It seemed like everyone was waiting with 
baited breath to see the legendary Uchiha clan in action.

*He has to be alright. Kakashi wouldn't have let anything happen to 
him,* she told herself, but her thoughts kept returning to the horrible 
mark that Orochimaru had given Sasuke. *'Sasuke-kun will seek me, to 
seek power.'* Sakura still wasn't sure what Orochimaru had meant by 
that, but the possibilities worried her. As she thought about it, her 
hand unconsciously drifted to her shoulder.

Frozen in confusion at this strange reaction, the cross-dressing 
kunoichi concentrated, wracking her brain for where it had come from. 
*Anko!* Whipping around, Sakura grabbed the lapel of her companion's 
coat and pulled it aside, revealing a mark identical to the one Sasuke 
bore, just barely visible through Anko's revealing mesh undershirt.

"What the hell are you doing?" the older woman snapped in surprise and 
irritation, slapping Sakura's hand away and pulling her coat shut.

"Anko, what does that mark mean?" the faux green-haired girl pleaded, 
again clutching her own shoulder as phantom pain pierced her at the 
sight of the seal. Anko caught on immediately, and Sakura didn't resist 
when the jounin grabbed her shirt, stretching the elastic collar check 
for the telltale mark.

Thankfully, only bruises from training and her fight with Ino decorated 
Sakura's tanned skin. "I can remember your pain," she explained, causing 
Anko to relax slightly, but only until she spoke again. "I... I've seen 
another like it. What does it mean?"

The brunette stared at Sakura silently for a long time, as if she were 
weighing the risks of what she might reveal. Finally, she ventured a 
cautious guess. "The Uchiha kid?"

*She knew!* While she was relieved that she wouldn't have to break her 
promise to Sasuke, Sakura was starting to get a little annoyed. Everyone 
else seemed to know what the hell was going on, but nobody had bothered 
to tell _her!_ Trying to calm herself, she nodded slowly.

"Orochimaru gave it to Sasuke when they fought in the Forest of Death. 
He fell into a terrible fever afterward, and when he woke up..." The 
young genin shuddered. "He... he was like a beast." Then Sakura's eyes 
widened in shock. "-Like I was, when I fought Ino!"

"...It changes you, the curse seal," Anko intoned gravely. She held 
Sakura's gaze for a moment before continuing. "It tempts you with more 
power than you can imagine, in exchange for your freedom. If you rely on 
it, you become a slave to your own worst nature. Even if you deny it, 
that monster is a part of you; it never completely disappears."

Her expression softened as she read the horror on Sakura's face. "It 
usually gets worse over time, but you don't need to worry about that. 
Hokage-sama rendered my seal inactive, and you were just dumb enough to 
invite a few of my demons into your head. Stay strong and you'll be 
fine- they might even go away," she added with a reassuring grin.

Anko's frown returned, however, as she peered at the field below, where 
the second match had yet to begin. "Uchiha Sasuke, on the other hand, 
has to make a choice. He can fight the power of the seal for the rest of 
his life, or try to find someone to remove it... or he can accept the 
power, and go to Orochimaru to learn how to 'control' it."

Neither voiced the possibility that Sasuke might be missing because he'd 
already made his choice, but it hung in the air like an omen. Lapsing 
into a tense silence, they watched the Hokage's bodyguard leap down to 
have a hushed conversation with the referee of the third exam.

"Ladies and gentlemen," the senbon-chewing judge drawled, sounding 
thoroughly disinterested in the complaints of the rowdy crowd, "one of 
the examinees for the next match hasn't arrived yet. Therefore, this 
match will be delayed."

"Delayed?" Anko muttered, her brow furrowing. "Being late for a fight 
should be an automatic disqualification."

Sakura frowned as well. "What could it mean?" she asked worriedly, but 
the brunette simply shook her head.

"You got me, kid. Sit tight, I'll go ask." With that, Anko formed a seal 
and vanished in a puff of smoke, though her young charge was close 
enough to feel the air move as the examiner dashed off, too fast to 
follow.

Unable to think of anything constructive to do, Sakura reluctantly 
settled back into her seat. *I hope Sasuke's alright. If they knew that 
he wasn't going to come, they would have just disqualified him, right? 
That means either they know why he hasn't shown up yet, or they're 
buying time in case he's just running late.*

Sakura suspected the former. Even if it was the most anticipated fight 
of the exam, she was pretty sure the Hokage wouldn't play favorites when 
it came to the rules; there _had_ to be a reason.

Tapping her foot impatiently, Sakura returned her attention to the 
developments below. The anger of the crowd was palpable when the sand's 
kugutsu user forfeited his match, leaving only the fan-wielding girl and 
Shikamaru to appease their bloodlust.

As the pair took the field, Shikamaru with a little 'help' from Naruto, 
some of the spectators took rudeness to a whole new level by tossing 
garbage at the prone boy. *What the hell? Even if he's not Sasuke, 
that's still no way to treat someone who's worked so hard to get here!* 
Leaning forward, Sakura scowled in disgust.

At least the people in her section seemed to be behaving themselves- a 
small blessing, she supposed. It was then that Sakura felt a presence 
appear beside her. Expecting it to be Anko returning, she looked up. 
Instead, she found a man in a brown cloak and a familiar-looking monkey 
mask standing over her.

"Is there a problem here... miss?" he asked, his voice confirming his 
identity.

"Huh? A problem?" Sakura blinked in confusion at the ANBU's wary tone.

This time, it was her own voice that triggered a jolt of recognition, 
and the not-so-anonymous ninja waited a beat before replying. "...I 
thought I asked you to give me a bit of warning before you started 
stirring up trouble again," the ANBU Torture and Interrogation 
specialist observed with a hint of exasperation.

"'Stirring up trouble'?" Sakura parroted skeptically. "I'm not doing 
anything right now! I'm not even pissing off Anko!" she protested. If 
anything, Anko was pissing _her_ off.

The ANBU sighed behind his mask, shaking his head. "Be that as it may, 
using genjutsu in the crowd while the exams are going on is definitely 
what I'd call suspicious behavior, and you seem to be disturbing your 
neighbors," he pointed out dryly.

Arching an eyebrow, Sakura took her first good look around since 
Naruto's fight had ended. Suddenly, she understood why her section 
seemed so quiet. Her zone of isolation had somehow expanded by a several 
seats when she wasn't looking, and the people on the edges of her 
personal fear bubble were eyeing her nervously.

*Oops... I guess getting upset when you're using an intimidation 
genjutsu doesn't exactly make you comfortable to be around,* she 
observed with a grimace. "Eheh, sorry. I didn't realize it was that 
bad." Releasing the technique, Sakura fought to keep from fidgeting in 
embarrassment.

The elite ninja simply shrugged. "No harm done, this time. Just please 
try to be more careful from now on." When the monkey-masked man turned 
to leave, however, Sakura piped up in alarm.

"Hold on a second!" Lowering her voice when she drew several curious 
gazes from those no longer mystically terrified of her, Sakura moved a 
couple steps closer, pinning the ANBU with a pair of worried violet 
eyes. "Maybe _you_ can tell me what's going on. Anko said that it was 
weird for Sasuke's fight to be delayed. Why wasn't he just 
disqualified?"

"Not the place to talk about it, kid," a familiar voice answered for 
him, and both ninja turned to see Anko standing behind them in the 
aisle. "C'mon, let's go outside," the examiner suggested with a nod 
towards the back of the bleachers. The dissatisfied expression on her 
face was not reassuring.

Once they were safely in the deserted hallway behind the galleries, away 
from prying eyes and ears, the ANBU was the first to speak. "Do you need 
me here, Anko-sama? I have to get back to watching the crowd."

"Just for a minute," the brunette assured him testily. "This involves 
exam security, so I thought you might want to hear."

Anko waited for the man's nod of assent before continuing. "It sounds 
like they still don't know where the hell Sasuke and Kakashi are; 'seems 
like the king of tardiness is trying to outdo himself this time. That 
stupid scarecrow didn't even send a message or anything."

Snorting indignantly, Anko crossed her arms and leaned against the wall. 
"Hokage-sama was just gonna disqualify the Uchiha kid, but he agreed to 
delay the fight because Kazekage-sama insisted."

Sakura couldn't agree more with Anko's assessment of Kakashi. *That's 
just _too_ damn irresponsible,* the younger ninja fumed. *It's almost 
like he's _trying_ to get Sasuke kidnapped!*

Of course, her team leader's behavior wasn't the only thing that didn't 
make sense. "If you knew Orochimaru was after Sasuke, why the $#%& did 
you let Kakashi take him out of the village?!" Sakura demanded angrily, 
glaring up at the senior kunoichi.

"It wasn't my choice to make, dammit!" Anko roared back, her lips 
curling in a bitter snarl. "He didn't tell anyone he was leaving, and it 
ain't like the #&$%ing once-in-a-generation genius _Kakashi_ comes to 
_me_ for advice!"

Seeming to sense the danger that he was in, standing between two 
righteously enraged women, the ANBU assumed a pose of careful 
consideration. "Kakashi-sama probably sensed that it would be safer for 
Sasuke to remain completely out of sight for the time being, and there 
are few people better suited to hiding him from one of the Three than 
Sharingan Kakashi," he pointed out.

Realizing that their ire wasn't nearly appeased, he quickly added, 
"Hokage-sama also seemed to think that the enemy would wait until the 
third stage of the exam before acting openly."

That statement seemed to mollify Anko a bit, but Sakura was still 
adamant. "When he shows up, can you protect him?" she questioned 
sharply.

The masked man seemed uncertain. "As we don't know how Orochimaru will 
attack, Hokage-sama deemed it most prudent to have units stationed 
throughout the village. Unfortunately, this means we're spread very 
thin. If a concerted effort is made to take him while we're distracted, 
we might not be able to react in time." He turned to the brunette. 
"Anko-sama, perhaps you could-?"

"I have emergency evac duty," the special jounin growled sternly. "_If_ 
Kakashi brings him back, then Kakashi can take care of him. Making sure 
that everyone else in the village is safe takes priority."

"Then I'll do it!" Sakura cried in exasperation. She couldn't believe 
they were being so passive about this- all she wanted was for someone to 
do _something_ to make sure Sasuke was safe! As far as she was 
concerned, Kakashi's credibility was at an all-time low, and on top of 
that, Anko's attitude was really starting to get on her nerves.

*Fine- I'll do it myself! Even if we're all alone, or we have to face 
Orochimaru again, I won't be a burden to you this time, Sasuke-kun.* 
Eyes hard with determination, Sakura looked from Anko to the 
monkey-masked man, challenging either one of them to say that she 
couldn't handle it.

To her surprise, neither seemed inclined to dismiss her. The ANBU just 
stared at her wordlessly, though Sakura got the feeling that he was 
sizing her up again.

Anko, on the other hand, held Sakura's gaze for a long, tense moment 
before a smirk broke across her lips. "Can you actually use that sword, 
Sakura-chan?" she asked in an appraising voice. "You said it was your 
dad's, right?"

"Grandpa's; he never taught me to use it, but I trained in the kodachi 
at the academy. I'll manage," Sakura replied tersely, though she was 
glad that she'd hidden some other weapons in her kimono. The katana at 
her side was a lot more sword than she was used to, and in careless 
hands, twice as much blade meant twice as much chance to hurt yourself.

Still, she mirrored Anko's smirk with a confident one of her own. "I 
don't intend on letting anyone _see_ my sword work, anyway."

Anko barked an appreciative laugh. "Hah, right! Just remember, if 
something happens, use your head." Leaning down to muss Sakura's already 
wild hair, she assumed a lecturing tone. "If you see a threat, get your 
ass outta there. If you can't get away, finish 'em fast- no playing 
around, like you did with your friend."

The jounin's face flashed a hint of worry, then, and she lowered her 
voice to deliver a few final, cautionary words for Sakura's ears alone. 
"Just... try, to stay calm and focused. Don't get cocky, and don't 
forget your mission."

Though she was sure the advice was meant to be reassuring, Sakura felt 
her resolve start to falter. *Dammit, that's not gonna happen to me 
again, is it?*

Sakura could still remember the joy and exhilaration she'd felt as she 
danced around Ino, slashing at her friend's pale skin to watch that 
wonderful, delicious red blood seep out. The thought that she was being 
cruel had never crossed her mind- hurting Ino was a little thing, like 
pulling the legs off of a bug, but the blonde's screams of pain and 
confusion had made it so much more fun.

The green-haired girl was beginning to feel queasy just thinking about 
it. She'd die of shame if her teammates ever saw her like that. *No! I 
won't let it control me, and I won't let anything happen to Sasuke!* If 
Sasuke could deal with the full power of the curse seal, then dammit, 
she wasn't going to lose it at the sight of a little blood!

Steeling her nerve, Sakura looked into her mentor's surprisingly 
ordinary brown eyes and frowned resolutely. "I can handle it," she 
declared, proud that her voice remained strong and unwavering.

Anko regarded her a moment longer before nodding in acknowledgement. 
Straightening, she stuffed her hands back in her pockets and favored the 
ANBU with a questioning glance.

After a shorter pause, the masked man nodded as well. "We'll try to 
provide whatever support we can, but hopefully it won't come to that." 
he replied, addressing the younger kunoichi.

"Good!" Instantly at ease once more, Anko glanced at the stairs down to 
the stadium entrance. "Now that that's all settled, I think I'm gonna 
see if I can't find something to eat. You wanna go back before someone 
steals our seats, Sakura-chan?"

"Sure, though I doubt that'll be a problem," Sakura predicted ruefully, 
following Anko's lead and trying to relax. "Since when do you have money 
for snacks, though?" she asked with a wry grin.

"Oh, I don't, but luckily, I've got a cute, generous student like you to 
treat me!" Anko replied sweetly, holding up a very familiar-looking coin 
purse.

"Wha-" The disguised girl took a moment to check her pockets before 
letting out an indignant squawk. "Hey! Give that back!" Lunging for the 
older woman's hand, Sakura snarled as Anko danced out of the way.

"By the way," the jounin interjected, evading Sakura's attacks with 
playful ease, "before I forget to ask, how did you know about the 
Kyuubi?" At this statement the ANBU, who had opted for a quiet retreat 
at the first possible opportunity, froze in his tracks and turned to 
stare at the girls.

"How did I know?" Sakura repeated. She paused as well, grinning hugely 
as she discovered an opening in her opponent's defenses. "I knew because 
whenever you dream about 'you know who,' you always remember the first 
thing that you admired about him," the cross-dressing kunoichi replied 
cryptically.

"Huh?" The mischief shining in Anko's eyes dimmed for a moment, her 
expression clouding in confusion. "Who?"

Glancing over her teacher's shoulder at the attentively listening ANBU, 
and making sure that Anko saw where she was looking, Sakura pulled down 
her scarf and gave her Anko a teasing smile.  "You know who I'm talking 
about. Who's the person you _reeeeeeeeally_ like, who doesn't act like 
all of the other ungrateful bastards in this village that treat Naruto 
like crap?"

A giggle rose in Sakura's throat at the look of shock that bloomed on 
Anko's face. "I'll give you one hint: it's not Hokage-sama. But then, 
who could it be? Why, could it be I- Ru- KaaaAH!?" Sitting down hard 
when the brunette frantically lunged forward to cover her mouth, Sakura 
reached out to snag her coin purse as it tumbled from Anko's fingers. 
"Gotcha!" she exulted, grinning in triumph.

"I don't know who you're talking about, Sakura-chan!" Anko declared 
woodenly, hauling the smaller kunoichi back to her feet. "You little 
creep! That was dirty!" the red-faced woman hissed under her breath, the 
veins around her eyes bulging.

"Dirty?! You're the one trying to steal from your own student!" Sakura 
shot back sarcastically.

"You owe me!"

"For what?!"

"It's because of you that I have no money!"

"Oh, for cryin' out loud- are we on _that_ again? How old are you, 
four?!"

"Um.... am I interrupting something?" ventured an eerily familiar voice.

Glancing over her own shoulder, Sakura was shocked to find her double 
standing at the entrance to the galleries, wearing in her usual red 
dress and black shorts and looking rather bemused. "Wha- what the hell 
are you doing here?!" the green-haired girl shrieked, trying to twist 
out of Anko's grasp.

"Ino came to get me so we could watch Sasuke-kun's match together," the 
clone replied. "Apparently _somebody_ had a 'talk' with her..." Both 
Sakuras turned to peer suspiciously at Anko.

"What?" Letting go of Sakura's kimono to make a final, unsuccessful grab 
for her wallet, Anko frowned in annoyance. "I just told her the truth. 
Isn't that what you wanted?"

Sakura returned the frown with interest. "When did you get a chance to 
do that?" she pressed.

"I saw her leaving the stadium when I went to the bathroom, so I stopped 
her," Anko replied testily. "Why are you giving me that look? You and 
her are good now, right?" She peered expectantly at the clone.

The pink-hared Sakura grimaced, but nodded reluctantly. "Yeah, she said 
she's not mad anymore, and that you told her weren't going out, but 
she's still... I dunno." The doppelganger fixed Anko with a laser-beam 
stare. "Are you sure you didn't say anything weird to her?"

"I swear, I just told her what we've really been doing. I didn't say 
anything that wasn't true." Lacing her fingers behind her head, Anko 
leaned back on her heels and gave Sakura a flat look. "She was all ready 
to blame me for everything, anyway, so you can stop stressing about it. 
She's still your friend; she just needed to calm down a bit."

Looking into Anko's eyes, Sakura finally allowed herself to breathe a 
sigh of relief. "I- well... t-thank you..." she mumbled awkwardly, 
turning away to hide the flush on her cheeks. It was as though a 
terrible weight had been lifted from her chest. She didn't know if she 
could have felt better if Sasuke himself had walked in the door and 
confessed his love to her, right at that moment.

When the clone nodded in agreement and also offered her mumbled thanks, 
Sakura suddenly realized that she had no reason to hide anymore. "If mom 
thinks I'm watching the tournament with Ino, then I can go talk to her. 
Switch places with me," she ordered, moving toward her double.

The pink-haired girl took an involuntary step back. "W-wait! Can we 
really switch places when you're like that?" she sputtered defensively. 
"How are you going to explain to Ino why you suddenly look like a 
miniature pine tree?"

"I'll think of something," Sakura dismissed. "Better yet, I'll just tell 
her the truth. I've got no reason to lie to Ino."

"That's true, but..." Slumping, the clone stared at the ground 
dejectedly. "I- want to talk to her some more. I want to make sure 
everything is really alright."

Seeing herself like that brought back the look of desperation that 
Sakura had seen in Anko's eyes when the copy of her in Anko's body had 
thought she was 'losing' herself, but Sakura forced herself to stand 
firm. "So do I," she insisted calmly. "I want make up with Ino myself; 
you understand, right? If you do it, I'll be like it's someone else 
doing it."

"Nuh-uh; that's not how it works," Anko corrected slyly, though there 
was genuine warmth in her smile as she looked from one Sakura to the 
other. "She's a perfect copy of you, even closer than a Kagebunshin 
because she's bonded to you by blood. All of her memories will become 
_your_ memories when the technique ends, so it'll be like you did it 
yourself."

"Really?" Blinking, Sakura stared at the clone with newfound respect. 
"That's pretty incredible, but..." She still wanted to talk to Ino so 
badly it almost hurt.

"Please," The clone pleaded, grabbing Sakura's arm, "if it's true, then 
it'll be just like when we possessed Anko. I just want to stay like this 
for a little longer. You know how scary as it is, not- not knowing..."

*'...not knowing if you're 'real' or not,'* Sakura finished silently, 
pondering the words that her double couldn't say. Unfortunately, she 
knew that feeling all too well. "...Dammit. Why am I so screwed up?" she 
wondered aloud, shaking her head. "Fine. We can stay like this for a 
little longer."

"Thank you," the pink haired girl whispered, giving Sakura's arm a 
grateful squeeze. When she let go, the clone's eyes drifted to down to 
her free hand, and Sakura noticed that she was carrying a small brown 
paper bag. "Um... here, I brought this for you," the Sakura who was not 
Sakura offered, looking a little embarrassed.

Accepting the 'gift' with some small trepidation, Sakura received yet 
another shock when she reached inside and pulled out the stylized fox 
mask that as yet unnamed the ANBU interrogator had given her right 
before she'd made her 'escape' from the Torture and Interrogation 
center.

"There's no way that stupid disguise is gonna hold up if we're both 
here," the clone explained hastily. "Also, I thought of it after you 
left, but that intimidation technique really makes you stand out. 
Somebody´┐Żs bound to stare at you long enough to recognize you if you 
keep it up, and this will hide your face lot better than just a scarf."

"Yeah, but can I even wear this?" Sakura wondered, turning to the two 
ANBU present.

"I don't see why not," Anko replied, shrugging. "The design definitely 
suits you. Maybe you should call that trick of yours 'Kitsune-Tsuki,'" 
she suggested with a nasty grin.

"It should be fine," the monkey-masked man agreed. "You've already 
volunteered to help with exam security, and no active ANBU has worn a 
fox mask in thirteen years, so it's not like we'll mistake you for 
someone else."

Pausing for a moment, he tilted his head to the side in an almost 
comically monkey-like pose. "'Kitsune-Tsuki:' Fox Possession?" he 
queried curiously.

"Umm..." Sweating a little, Sakura darted a questioning glance at Anko, 
but the special jounin seemed to have realized that she'd said something 
that could potentially be embarrassing to _her_, and was giving Sakura 
eyes that screamed, 'Watch your tongue or I'll kill you!"

"Well, Ino's waiting for me, so I'd better go!" the clone Sakura 
squeaked, scurrying back down the stairs. "See you later!" she called.

*Traitor!*

"Come to think of it, she mentioned something about possessing 
Anko-sama, just now, didn't she?"

*%$#&@!*





To be continued...


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