You are on page 1of 62

Posted originally on the Archive of Our Own at

http://download.archiveofourown.org/works/236240.

Rating: Mature
Archive Warning: Graphic Depictions Of Violence
Category: Gen
Fandom: Naruto
Character: Hatake Kakashi, Haruno Sakura, Uzumaki Naruto, Uchiha Sasuke
Additional Tags: Angst, Violence, Women Being Awesome
Stats: Published: 2011-08-08 Completed: 2013-11-29 Chapters: 6/6 Words:
26347

Freedom in the Eyes of Another


by Oroburos69

Summary

The Wave Mission is a failure. Team Seven is captured. Sasuke is gone. Kakashi is next.

Sakura has no choice but to be a hero.

Revised and added to on 29/11/2013. Original version available on my LJ and DW


accounts.
Chapter 1

When she woke, her side was hot and damp. Kakashi's fever had returned. "You aren't going to
die," Sakura whispered to the dark, a fervent promise that she couldn't quite believe.

Chains clattered from across the corridor. "Sakura? Are you awake?"

She considered pretending to be asleep and ignoring Naruto’s questions, then answered him out of
a perverse sense of guilt and comradery. "Yeah," she said, barely louder than a whisper. Sakura’s
throat was dry and sore, and her voice rasped like an old man’s.

"How's Kakashi?"

Sakura focused on Kakashi's panting breaths, on the way they shook his body and rattled in his
chest. She pretended that the moisture on her face was sweat. Shinobi didn't cry.

“Sakura?" A different voice, deeper, though no older than the first. Sasuke.

Sakura had read books on first aid. Several, in fact. She’d even read some of the medical scrolls in
the Academy library. Anything over 41 degrees needed to be brought to the attention of a medical
nin.

She didn’t have a clue how to tell if his fever that high. "He's fine."

Kakashi's head dropped closer to her shoulder, so close that his lips brushed over her skin, bare of
fabric and frighteningly hot.

"Did he wake up?" the first voice asked hopefully. Metal scraped across the stone floor. Naruto
was moving again, coming to the edge of his cage to peer into hers. He wouldn’t see anything.
They didn’t get light anymore, not since Naruto broke the lanterns.

Sakura dried her face with her hand, wiping away the sweat. "A while ago, when you were gone.
I think he's getting better." Kakashi was panting into her ear now, hot breath sliding over her
naked scalp, stinging at the cuts where the blade had sliced skin rather than hair.

"He'll get us out of here, right?"

"Did he say anything? When he woke up?"

Kakashi slumped over, draping across her body, his wet skin sliding over her open cuts. Sakura
bit back a gasp of pain as Kakashi pressed down on her twisted arm and his sweat slipped into the
places where her skin should have been. "He—he asked for some water," she choked out,
pushing him off and wiggling free, her chains clicking across the stone floor.

"That's good, right?" Sasuke said. "He's getting better."

Sakura nodded, even though they couldn't see her. "Yeah. It's a good sign."

"He'll get us out,” Naruto added, so full of faith that Sakura was shocked into jealousy.

She licked Kakashi’s sweat off her lips to ease the sting of salt. He tasted like things she didn't
know how to name and Sakura was pretty sure that he was dying. "He will," she said with the
faith of the desperate. "He's got to."

Sakura didn't know how the other two still had hope. Maybe it was because she kept lying to
them.

***

“Where is he?” Naruto yelled. His chains creaked, and she knew that he was straining against the
metal bolted into rock like his outrage was going to set him free. “Sasuke!”

Kakashi breathed, slow and peaceful at her side, and Sakura touched him, running her fingers
down his arm until she found the thick metal manacle around his wrist. It was as hot as he was, the
underside slippery and wet.

Naruto screamed at the trapdoor, furiously demanding things that the trapdoor was clearly clueless
about, and Sakura brought her fingers up to her face, sniffing them. Her hand smelled awful,
sweat and blood mixed with sickness, but she couldn’t smell the rotten sweetness of infection.

She checked his other wrist, sniffling until her nose was clear enough to breathe, but still couldn’t
smell a cause for Kakashi’s sickness.

The water bucket would be changed in an hour or two. Sakura dipped her hands in it, rubbing
them together until her skin felt clean. She washed up to the edge of her manacles, then started at
her shoulders and washed her way back down. The water that trickled under the metal stung.

Naruto had stopped shouting, and started growling instead, and Sakura wished he’d just stop. It
was hard to think when he made so much noise.

She didn’t bother washing the bristling remains of her hair, but the thought of it sent the tears that
had been collecting in her eyes streaming down her cheeks, and Sakura felt vaguely ashamed of
herself for crying over that instead of the far more important issue of Sasuke’s disappearance.

A shinobi was supposed to be stoic. Sakura wasn’t. She didn’t think she’d managed to be stoic at
any point in her entire life, and being trapped in a root cellar wasn’t helping. She couldn’t even cry
properly, sobbing like a child when she tried to be silent.

The growling stopped, and so did the creak of metal chains. “Sakura?” Naruto called out to her,
soft and worried about her.

“I’m fine, Naruto,” she answered. Her voice sounded strangled but coherent enough, and Sakura
was as ashamed of not being more affected as she was for crying at all. She’d wept for hours
when they’d taken her hair, and Sasuke was far more important than that.

“Do you think...” Naruto’s question died off into silence. He sniffed loudly, and she imagined the
tears dripping down his face, pretending that she could see them. It was easy enough to imagine.
Naruto had always been a crybaby.

“He’s not dead,” Sakura said. “They’d have killed all of us when they won, if that was their goal.”

“Then why isn’t he here?” Naruto demanded, his voice cracking.

Sakura didn’t know.


***

She woke up in the dark, thinking Naruto was calling for her. “Naruto?” Sakura whispered,
stretching until her joints crackled like fresh snow. She was too hot, Kakashi’s bony back pressing
into hers, his sweat seeping through two layers of cloth and leaving her sticky.

Naruto gave a wheezing snore in reply, clearly fast asleep.

"Sakura." Her name was barely audible, almost lost to the darkness around them.

“Kakashi?” Sakura answered, crawling over him to settle on the ground in front of him, tangling
their chains together in a careless clatter. “You’re awake?” Hope rushed through her, curling her
toes and rising into her chest.

“You need...” Kakashi stopped, panting. His breath washed over her knees, hot and rancid. His
fever had not yet broken. “...you need to take his eye. Destroy it.”

Her hope died. “What?” Sakura protested. “I can’t.”

“You can. I promise, Sakura, you can do it,” Kakashi sounded sober, not delirious with fever, but
Sakura wasn’t entirely convinced that he hadn’t gone mad.

The trapdoor rattled, and someone laughed. The guards were coming. Sakura slipped her tongue
across her cracked lips. They bled. “I can’t,” she whispered.

Kakashi gripped her arm. Their chains chimed, metal ringing against metal. "They're coming. This
is your only chance."

Light spilled through the rough wooden slats of their cell in bars of light and shadow. Black
mould glistened along the floor, thickest where the water pooled in the hollows of the flagstone.

The ladder clanked as the guards dropped it through the trapdoor. “You have to hurry, Sakura.” A
bar of light crossed his face, and Sakura didn’t like it. Kakashi's eyes were closed as if he was
sleeping, and sweat slid down his face in shining droplets. He was helpless.

Sakura bit her lip, forcing the cracks wider.

Across the hall, Naruto stirred, crawling toward the deepest corner, the one furthest from the
corridor. He was alone. Sasuke had never returned.

“Do it!” Kakashi snapped, his eyes flying open. His scarred eye glowed garnet red in the rising
light for one long second before both his eyes closed, and the tension in him died.

Sakura choked down a sob and grabbed his shoulder, shaking him in an attempt to wake him.
“Kakashi!” she whispered, shaking him harder. He couldn’t just say that and--and--pass out.

Kakashi sighed softly, a thin line of drool shimmering in the lantern light as it dripped from the
corner of his mouth to the ground.

She held her breath until the tightness in her throat died and then she shifted her weight to her
knees and untangled their chains. He’d said she could do it, Sakura told herself. Kakashi said.
The guards climbed down the ladder. They were laughing. They always laughed.

Kakashi’s red eye was spinning-spinning-spinning in her memory. Sakura looked away from him
and dug her nails into the skin of her hands. They were ragged, but short, torn off when she’d had
too much to think about and too little to do. She hoped it would be enough.

The guard hung his lantern on a hook that was bolted into the ceiling. The shadow bars multiplied
and danced over the dirty, nasty, gross room, the bars of light so bright that they stung her eyes.

The bar across the door creaked as it was lifted out of position.

She tensed.

“Get the old guy,” someone said. Sakura didn’t breathe, listening for the sound of their
movements, watching their shadows through the gaps in the rotting boards that even she could
have broken through if her chains had been long enough.

There were only two today. (Kakashi said she could do it. He said. He said.)

The door squealed as it opened. It was Daiki—he’d given Sakura extra food, once. Her hands
shook, the chains attached to her wrists shifting link by link in a cascade of sound.

Daiki came closer, dismissing her with a glance.

Sakura stiffened the first two fingers on her right hand, and shifted her weight until her feet were
under her, hidden by the dirt-brown rags she wore. Her legs shook so badly that she felt like she
might fall over—but Kakashi said she could do this.

Daiki reached for Kakashi. There was no time.

Sakura lunged forward, and Daiki flinched back, but not far enough. Her fingers stabbed into the
middle of his eye, bounced and slid to the edge of the socket where Sakura dug in, folding his
eyelid into his skull. She threw herself forward, knocking him to the ground and landing on his
chest.

He screamed, grabbing for her wrist and missing. Sakura scrambled for the short dagger on his
belt with her free hand and shoved in deeper with her other, driving her fingers deeper into the
too-tight space, squeezing into resisting flesh until it burst under her fingers, coating Sakura’s hand
with thick fluid.

Sakura choked back a sob, utterly repulsed, and hooked her fingers. He screamed again, slamming
his fist into her side, hitting old and new bruises. Sakura yanked the eye free and threw it as far
away as she could, then drove her new dagger through his other eye.

Daiki shook, mouth gaping in silent shock. He gurgled as he died, sounding like a gutter in a
rainstorm, and the pungent scent of fresh piss flooded the air.

The second guard—Kenta, his name was Kenta, Sakura remembered—edged toward her, knife
awkwardly held in his hand. Sakura scrambled off Daiki’s chest, barely avoiding Kenta’s first,
clumsy attack.

She slashed at him, the dagger cutting a bright line across his face, and he fell back a few steps,
holding his hand to the welling line of blood along his cheek. Sakura bared her teeth, acting more
on instinct than reason—a man’s eye was all over her hand, it was on her hand.

Kenta’s eyes were wide, flickering between Daiki and Sakura. Back and forth.

The stolen dagger warmed in her hand. It was sharp. She wouldn’t have to use her hand again.
She could do this. Kakashi said.

“Fuck this,” he cursed, clearly deciding against fighting her, and headed toward the door, kicking
over their water bucket as he backed away. It spilled across the already damp floor, darkening it.

Sakura snarled and lunged at him, bending herself around his swipe at her. She slipped inside his
guard, clamped her free arm around his knife hand to pin it to her side where it couldn’t stab her,
and hesitated.

Kenta made a soft, weak gasping sound, eyes wide and ready to be ruined. He looked something
like her father. Same age, same eyes.

She could not let him live. This was their last chance.

Sakura used the dagger, unwilling to jam her hand into the slick heat of his skull. Kenta yelled
something, jerking his head back, and she missed, drawing a thick red line just under his eyebrows
and hiding his eyes behind a curtain of blood.

Kenta dropped his dagger in shock—fool, a cold voice from deep inside whispered—and clapped
his free hand to his face. Sakura sobbed and drove the knife through his hand, angled to avoid the
bones. The blade sank deep, even deeper than it had in Daiki.

He dropped slowly to his knees, shaking like a leaf in the wind. She released his arm and he
clamped his now free hand to his face, a muffled whine rising from his throat like a wounded
animal.

Another sob shook her, terror, fear, guilt—Kakashi said, Sakura reminded herself sharply. You
have to. She peeled the guard’s other hand away from his face. The bleeding had slowed, almost
stopped. His good eye rolled wildly, but he didn’t fight her, his breath whistling through his teeth
and sweat glistening on his face.

Sakura dragged the dagger from his eye. The hand she’d pierced was stuck on the blade, flapping
limp and useless near the hilt. She overrode the horrified protests of her morals and sanity and
jammed the knife into his other eye, his hand slapping against his blood streaked cheek.

This time, Kenta sagged to the ground, almost out of her reach. He did it silently, mouth gaping
open in a silent scream, his ruined eyes painting his entire face red with blood.

Sakura pulled on her chains until Kakashi rolled over and gave her the extra foot of room she
needed to reach the dagger pinning Kenta’s hand to his face and pull the weapon free. Liquid
welled up through the hole in his hand, too thick to be entirely blood.

Her hands were covered in blood and eyes, stained all the way up her wrists. She closed her eyes
and bit her lip to keep from screaming. Sakura didn’t think she’d be able to stop if she started.
“Kakashi?” she said, proud of herself when her voice neither wavered nor cracked.

He didn’t respond. Sakura glanced back at him, her heart jumping frantically in her chest. His eyes
were closed, fever bright on his cheeks. Kakashi wasn’t awake. Sakura’s lips trembled and tears
spilled down her cheeks. She couldn’t do this. She couldn’t!

Do it! Kakashi’s voice cracked like a whip in her memory, bringing back her resolve. It didn’t
make her feel courageous so much as it prodded her into terrified action, but it was something.
Sakura was frightened, cold, and she had no idea why Kakashi told her to destroy their eyes and
even less idea what she was supposed to do now, but she had orders.

She prodded Kakashi’s shoulder, hoping he would get up and do something. Like tell her what
needed to be done now that the eyes were ruined and the guards were dead.

He didn’t respond.

Sakura looked at the guards, studying the bodies, avoiding their faces, and tried desperately to
think. She was good at figuring things out. She should be able to figure out why Kakashi had told
her to take their eyes. Figure out his plan.

“Sakura?” Naruto’s whisper was so quiet. He didn’t sound like himself anymore. “What
happened?”

It didn’t make any sense. Why? The other guards would come soon, looking for Daiki and Kenta.
They'd see what she had done and punish all of them for it. Kakashi wouldn't have a plan like
that.

“Sakura?”

There were two sets of keys on Daiki's belt. The light from the lantern sparkled off the gleaming
metal. She lifted the rings of keys, her hands shaking and bloody-bloody-bloody—Sakura held her
breath until stars danced in the corners of her eyes.

"Sakura?" Naruto was louder now. He peered through the bars, as close as he could get, a dirt-
smeared face with bright blue eyes. Tear tracks had painted rivers of cleaner skin across his
cheeks, and his eyes were red rimmed. She had never seen such blue eyes. How had she never
noticed them before?

Why was she thinking about his eyes?

Sakura crushed the thought, terrified by it, shaken by the idea of the guards’ broken faces
becoming Naruto’s. Her hands had done that. She couldn’t think about Naruto like that. What if
they did it again?

One of Naruto’s hands reached toward her, pulling against his chains until she could see it
hanging between him and the anchor point. There was no blood on his hand, only on hers.

“I have the keys,” she told him. There were small silver ones that looked like they might be the
keys to their chains. The guards only brought those down when they were taking someone away.

Kakashi must have known, must have been planning an escape. Pity he’d passed out.

“Can you walk?” she asked Naruto. Her heart skittered in her chest. How was she supposed to get
them out if Kakashi was unconscious?

“Is Kakashi going get us out of here?” Naruto replied. There was so much hope in his voice and it
was all her fault. Sakura couldn't let him down again.
Sakura shook her head. “He’s asleep,” she said. “But he told me I had to do it.”

“If we try to get out they’ll hurt us worse,” Naruto murmured softly, fretfully, falling back, deeper
into the shadows of his cell.

Her throat tightened, tears close to spilling again. “If we get out, they’ll never hurt us again,”
Sakura promised him. She could do this. She had to. (Her hands, her hands.)

“But it’ll hurt so bad,” he said. “Are you sure Kakashi isn’t awake?”

Sakura skimmed her eyes across the guards’ corpses. They were dead. She killed them. “Our
escape attempt has already begun,” she said, her eyes drawn to the ruined mess of their faces. She
killed two men. Their eyes were on her hands.

“Sakura?” Naruto sounded scared. “You can just hide the keys until he wakes up, can’t you?”

They were out of other options. “Can you help me carry Kakashi?” she asked. “I don’t think he
weighs too much anymore.” Sakura tore her gaze from the dripping, trickling, oozing bodies.
Kakashi still hadn’t moved.

“Kakashi?” Naruto asked. He said Kakashi’s name like it was a talisman, and it was entirely
Sakura’s fault. She’d lied to make them stop trying to escape, to make them wait for the right time,
but there had never been a right time because Kakashi had never gotten better.

“Yeah.” She pushed the first key into the manacle on her wrist. It sank in, and twisted easily, the
metal latch inside unhooking, and her wrist was free.

"I think so," Naruto said.

Click—her manacles were gone. They clattered to the floor. Something—something poured
through her like water, flooding into her hands and feet, tingling along her bare scalp. Sakura
shivered, watching as her shiny chains turned dull grey, up to the heavy iron ring that connected
her to Kakashi’s bonds.

Her eyes flickered to her wrists. A red band wrapped around each of them, and she thought it was
the guards’ blood until she realized that it was her own. Her skin had rubbed raw under the chains.

Sakura wiped her hands on her pants and took Kakashi’s wrist. Her hands smeared dark stains on
his skin, not clean enough.

The first key she tried didn't work. Neither did the second.

"Sakura?" Naruto called.

"In a second, Naruto," she answered. There were only five keys small enough to fit into the
shackles. Sakura tried a third one. It didn't work.

The fourth got stuck in the lock. Sakura jiggled it, Kakashi's hand limp as Kenta’s had been.
Something clicked, and the cuff slowly opened, resisting like something had gummed up the
hinges. It slid off his wrist and fell to the ground, crumbling into grey dust on impact.

Something invisible rose, tasting of storms and hot tea, feeling like summer heat on winter bones.
Sakura’s hands stopped shaking.

“Sakura!” Naruto sounded slightly desperate.

“I’m coming,” Sakura said, prying open the other cuff. It crumbled into dust, too, and the warmth
doubled, accompanied by lazy reassurances and surprised laughter that came from her memories.

Kakashi’s breathing deepened, losing its frantic rhythm. Hope unfurled in her chest, and Sakura
would have broken into tears, had she the time.

He was too heavy for her to carry, so she wrapped her arms around Kakashi’s chest and dragged
him out the still-open door, closing it behind her so Naruto couldn’t see what she had done.

“Where are the guards?” Naruto asked, peering into the darkness of her cell. Shadows were so
much harder to see into than to see out of.

Sakura shook her head, not looking at his butterfly-blue eyes. The bar across Naruto’s door was
made of scrap metal, twice as strong as the door. There was a bright shiny scratch down the side
where Sasuke had attacked a guard with a rock.

It had been days before he could walk again.

She lifted the bar out of the way, setting it on the stone floor as quietly as she could, then unlocked
his door. “Is Kakashi alive?” Naruto whispered to her when he caught sight of their teacher lying
sprawled and bloodstained on the floor. He should never sound so scared, Sakura decided. It
wasn’t right.

“He’s still breathing,” she replied firmly. The Academy had taught them that breathing meant
nothing if they never woke, but she doubted that Naruto remembered that. “And he was awake
just a few minutes ago.”

“Why does he never talk to me?” Naruto asked plaintively, shuffling away from the door so she
could open it. “He never....”

Guilt twisted in her chest. Kakashi had almost never been awake. Sakura had lied to them because
she couldn’t bear to see them hurt and they hadn’t been willing to listen to her. “His voice was
very weak,” she said.

“But you could have—”

Naruto’s shackles burst into dust before she could even get them off. A wave of heat rose from his
skin, like the shimmering air over hot pavement. Sakura’s hair stood on end, prickling her half-
healed scars. It felt like home—forests and creeks and moss-covered stones.

“What was that?” Naruto’s voice was hushed.

“I don’t know,” she whispered. It felt almost like it had when she’d taken Kakashi’s cuffs off, but
stronger, so much stronger.

“I think maybe the chains were suppressing our chakra,” she said after a moment’s thought.
Sakura had never been able to feel chakra before. Or maybe she had always felt it, and only
noticed its absence once it had returned.
“What’s on your hands?” Naruto asked, staring at the gore on her fingers.

Sakura giggled, then clamped her lips shut. She did not say eyes. “Nothing. We have to go,” she
said, pressing Kenta’s dagger into Naruto’s hand, keeping Daiki's blood-slick blade for herself.
“Help me carry Kakashi?”

“I thought he would look different,” Naruto said. It took her a long time to realize that he was
talking about Kakashi’s face. He glanced at her when she didn't respond, and his pretty eyes were
so empty that she nearly cried.

“We have to get out of here,” she said, repeating herself. Sakura swallowed hard, scared that
maybe Naruto was too broken to help.

Naruto snuck out of his cell like he expected to be hit, but pulled Kakashi’s arm over his shoulder.
“He’s hot,” Naruto murmured anxiously. “Is he okay?”

“It’s just a fever,” Sakura reassured him, taking Kakashi’s other side. His warmth poured through
her like safety and shelter, and she straightened her back, filled with new determination. Kakashi
had said that she could do this, and so she would.

She could do this.

"What are we doing?" Naruto asked, softly.

"I don't know. He said--we'll see," Sakura said, grateful that Naruto seemed unable to pay
attention enough to realize what an answer that wasn't. Freedom, she thought, the word rattling
through her bones. She didn't say it, just kept it in her heart like a secret she'd pinkie-sworn to
hold, but it was there nevertheless. Freedom...
Chapter 2

The trapdoor had lead to a room filled with half-empty bottles of beer, empty chairs, and half-
eaten food. It had been abandoned and recently so, from the condensation dripping down the sides
of the bottles.

The smell of food had been too tempting to resist, and Sakura had allowed for a detour, setting
Kakashi in the corner and standing guard while Naruto ate the half-eaten food scraps left on the
plates. He’d stopped after eating from half of the plates, silently taking her place and urging her
toward the food.

Sakura ate as quickly as she could, drinking down a third of a bowl of soup and the ends of
several sandwiches, gripping them through a discarded napkin to keep the blood on her hands
from getting onto them.

There was a pitcher of water on the table, tepid with bubbles forming on the inside of the glass,
but it was clearly, visibly clean in a way that Sakura’s water bucket wasn’t. She grabbed it and
crept over to Naruto to share.

She drank her fill before handing it to him, but muffled laughter came from the far wall, and they
both froze, silently setting down the pitcher. Sakura waved Naruto toward Kakashi, and hid
behind the door, waiting. The soup and sandwiches churned in her stomach and she felt like she
might throw up, cursing her own stupidity for pausing to eat. If she'd fucked up their escape
attempt, she'd never forgive herself.

Seconds ticked by, the clock on the wall nearly echoing in the silence, and Sakura slowly relaxed.
No one was coming. She caught Naruto's attention, then pointed to the abandoned pitcher. He
nodded, and drank deeply from it.

Together they lifted Kakashi and snuck back into the hall. It wouldn't remain empty forever.
Sooner or later, someone had to notice that Kenta and Daiki hadn't returned. They would never
return. She'd killed them.

The short hall outside had a plain, ordinary door, blocked from the other side, and this one.
“Wait,” Sakura whispered, lowering Kakashi to the floor. The door was ornate, carved and
painted with boats sailing on a calm sea. It stuck out like a sore thumb against the rotting wood of
the hallway.

It was the only door. Ornate meant important, and she’d pass it by if she could, but there weren’t
any other choices.

She snuck forward, dagger tucked against her forearm, invisible at first glance. Her hands were
rusty red with drying blood, but at least whoever looked at her couldn’t see the blade.

Naruto watched her with empty blue eyes, trusting or apathetic, she couldn’t tell. Sakura looked
away from him, burning with anger again. They'd deserved to die for what they'd done. She
wasn't entirely certain who this 'they' was, beyond a few specific people, but Sakura was damn
well not going to regret their deaths.

The floor creaked, and Sakura stilled, holding her breath. She could hear muffled voices from
behind the door. Their conversation had not paused. Sakura inched forward, pressing a hand
against the smooth dark wood.
“...foolish!” someone growled. His voice was almost familiar.

Someone else laughed, and Sakura snarled silently, hatred burning through her like wildfire. She
knew that laugh.

Gato had watched when Sasuke had been beaten until he couldn’t move. He’d laughed when the
guards broke Naruto’s fingers. He'd held a lighter to Naruto’s palms—he’d made Naruto cry.

He’d wanted to use her, and Sakura had been taught how to face that from the day she’d enrolled
in the academy, but Kakashi had stopped him by settling in front of her and glaring the fat man
down until he broke and looked away, sweat dripping down his face. Kakashi had been sick even
then, so tired he could barely lift his head, but the bastard had his men beat him until Kakashi
hardly breathed.

Gato had cut her hair off himself as retribution for Kakashi’s protection, four men holding her
down even though she’d been too scared to struggle. Sakura had cried silently as his knife hacked
off her pretty hair, slipping and cutting her scalp and ears until her head was dripping with blood.
She'd never been so afraid, but he hadn't dared to fuck her. Kakashi had managed that.

“I don’t pay you for your brain,” he said dismissively. His voice was high and nasal, with a poorly
faked Fire Country accent, and Sakura was surprised by the fresh wave of loathing that ran
through her. He was Water scum through and through, and his pretences enraged her.

She couldn’t charge in and kill him. There was no telling how many people were in there. Sakura
pushed down her rage, her hate—she wanted that man’s eyes on her hands. She wanted to make
him tell her where Sasuke was, then kill him dead dead dead. Staying calm would allow her more
opportunities to kill him, she reassured herself, running her fingers along her blood-streaked blade.
The blood was starting to dry, rolling into gummy cylinders under the pads of her fingertips.

“You are a fool,” the first speaker said. “Konoha is not a village that will ignore your trespasses.
You are courting war with this auction.”

“There’s no man or organization without a price, and for what Cloud has offered, I’ll be able to
buy Konoha ten times over.”

Sakura shifted her grip on the dagger, imagining driving it through Gato's chest—no, into his gut.
Leave him to die slow, with the fetid stench of his split-open intestines to keep him company.
Maybe she’d light him on fire, too, just to see how he liked it.

“You cannot be convinced?”

“I will buy them the way I bought you. Easily.”

A door opened and slammed shut, rattling on its hinges.

Silence.

Gato was alone.

Sakura looked back, checking on Naruto. He hadn’t moved.

She held her index finger in front of her lips, and slunk toward him, avoiding the board that had
creaked. “I need your help,” she whispered, touching Naruto’s shoulder with light fingers.
creaked. “I need your help,” she whispered, touching Naruto’s shoulder with light fingers.

He jerked his attention from the door, looking at her.

“It’s Gato—the one who—,” she whispered, hoping he’d remember, he’d understand her
meaning.

Naruto narrowed his eyes, and she felt killing intent radiate off him. The stripes on his cheeks
thickened, deepened, sinking into his fragile skin like they'd been carved, and his apathy burnt off
into silent wrath.

Good. He knew.

“Leave Kakashi here. We’ll go in, get him to tell us where Sasuke is, then kill him,” Sakura said,
creeping back to the door.

Naruto followed in her footsteps, his bare feet as quiet as her own. He took his place behind her,
the dagger held tight in his hand.

Sakura tested the door handle. It was unlocked.

She glanced at Naruto, and he nodded, alert and there in a way he hadn’t been since before
Sasuke had been taken. It didn't surprise her that it took Sasuke to bring Naruto back to life. In
fact, it seemed downright logical.

The hinges were well-greased. The door opened into an opulent office, decorated in plush velvets
and shining silk, all of it red. It was supposed to be lush, Sakura thought, but it seemed tacky to
her, the cluttered gold ornaments too flashy, the expensive fabrics tossed about with an eye to
expense rather than aesthetics.

Gato’s back was to them, squat and wide in an ill-fitting suit made of high-quality silk. The door
opened from behind his desk, where it was built into the panelling, invisible from inside the office.

He shuffled his papers.

Sakura stepped inside, her feet sinking soundlessly into the thick carpet, Naruto close by her side.

He tapped his pen against the desk, humming to himself. Sakura curled her toes in the carpet, her
blood-streaked hands tight around the handle of her knife. He had no idea how vulnerable he was,
and she couldn't help the bubbling joy that filled her. Her heart quickened in excitement, the sight
of his vulnerable neck tempting her hand. Only the thought of his eyes stayed her.

She snuck forward until she was close enough to touch his wrinkled suit, pulled tight over sloping
shoulders. Naruto crouched low, sliding through shadows to stand behind the man's right
shoulder.

Sakura licked her lips, wetting the dry, cracked skin, her scalp prickling as adrenaline coursed
through her. Do or die, Sakura thought with a touch of morbid humour. “Where is Sasuke, Gato?”
she hissed, bringing the tip of her blade to rest over his right eye.

Gato jerked, pen falling from his fingers and clattering on his desk, ink staining the blotter. Messy.
He made a little sound, like the squeak of a frightened mouse, but it didn't carry. Naruto tucked his
dagger up under Gato’s chin, trails of blood dribbling from where his blade touched, and Gato
was wise enough to go silent.

Sakura could just see the blood, staining the collar of his starched shirt as crimson as the curtains,
carpet, and walls. There would be more. She would shed it, drain him fucking dry as payment for
what he'd done.

“Don’t kill him,” Sakura warned Naruto, her voice shaking. They didn’t have their answers yet.
She licked her lips, tasting blood, her stomach tight and fluttering with anticipation.

“There’s a safe behind the panelling—I can give you money—” Gato choked, going very, very
still as Naruto's dagger slid along his flabby neck, giving them a muted whimper. It made
something warm bubble up in her chest. Gato was helpless, just like she had been. Just like Naruto
and Sasuke had been. Just like Kakashi was.

Sakura dug the tip of her dagger a tiny bit deeper into his eyelid. “Shhhh,” she said. “We don’t
want money. We want to know where Sasuke is." Still her voice shook, wobbling when she tried
to keep it steady, excitement making her sound a thousand times younger than she felt.

Gato paused, didn't answer, and she could see him thinking. His hand twitched, edging toward a
dull letter opener, and Sakura's heart caught in her mouth. She would--she could--Sakura needed
answers before she took his eyes.

A hissing, angry growl rose from Naruto’s chest, covering Sakura's distraction. “What did you do
with Sasuke?” He hardly sounded human, but that was alright. It scared Gato, made him mewl
like an ugly kitten.

“I sold him,” Gato whimpered, despicably cowardly when he didn’t have someone else to hide
behind. “To—to a village—”

“And what village was that?” Sakura asked, twisting her blade. She couldn’t see his face, but she
imagined that his eye was bleeding, red dripping down his cheek. Her dagger would slide through
the eyelid soon, slice open his tiny, piggish eye, make it spill out onto his cheek. Sakura licked her
lips, watching how Gato's hand's trembled against his blotter.

Her hands were smeared darkly red and they glistened in the light. She wondered if he saw the
stains, or if Gato had closed his eyes out of fear.

“The Hidden Village of Sound!” Gato gasped. “They outbid the others—took him away a week
ago!”

Sakura met Naruto’s eyes, mouthing, Sound?

He shook his head.

“If you let me go, I’ll pay you—I’ll—” Gato’s voice rose, getting louder—too loud.

Sakura jammed her blade into his eye at the same time as Naruto ripped his across Gato’s throat.
A bright spurt of blood painted his white papers, his white shirt, darkening them to a perfect rose
red. It matched his decorations.

“We don’t want your money,” she whispered into Gato’s thinning hair, her heart pounding,
euphoria making her skin tingle. The dagger dripped on the fine carpet when she ripped it out.

Naruto looked at her, some unnameable darkness in his cornflower eyes. Sakura licked her lips,
tasting her own blood, wondering if the same darkness was in hers. She thought it probably was,
and it made her glad--happy--that they'd gone into this together, that she wasn't alone with all this
blood on her hands.

It all made sense. Naruto was hers, and she was his, and Sasuke and Kakashi were theirs. The
math rolled through her head, replacing eyes for a few seconds as she enjoyed the symmetry of it.
Naruto's pretty eyes crinkled up at the corners, his smile wolfish.

“I’ve never heard of a Sound village,” Naruto said, cleaning his blade on Gato's sleeve. Once
done, he lifted Gato's pudgy hand and shook it to make it flop, his head tilted in curiosity as he
played with the body. “Have you?”

She shook her head. “No. We’ll have to go back to Konoha, tell them what we know.”

“What about Sasuke?” Naruto asked. “We can’t just leave him—”

“He isn’t here. We aren’t leaving him behind, we’re leaving to get information so we can find
him.”

Naruto dropped Gato's hand, watching it thump against the desk. “You promise? We’ll come back
for Sasuke?”

“Once we know where he is,” she reassured him absently, opening drawers. Alcohol, staples,
keys, and an entire drawer full of empty envelopes. Sakura took the keys, just in case.

The other side of drawers had a better bounty—hand sanitizer, cigars, lighters, and a bonafide
cornucopia of candy. She scrubbed with hand sanitizer three times, but couldn’t get the blood off,
just streaked it, staining her hands to the elbow.

“Come on. Let’s get Kakashi before anyone comes.” Sakura said, dragging Gato’s suit jacket off
his corpse and dousing it with the alcohol she'd found. Fumbling with one of the lighters, she lit it
up, jumping back as it flickered up in a brilliant blue torch before subsiding. The carpet caught,
and she nodded with satisfaction, joining Naruto in dragging Kakashi across the smouldering
room toward the window.

She paused before they exited and hacked off the bottom of one of the bright red silk curtains.
Kakashi would want his face covered.

***

The blade was taller than her, taller than Kakashi, even. Sakura stared at her reflection in the
polished surface and barely recognized herself, pale and shorn and scarred. Her lips were striped
black with bleeding and bitten cracks. Ino would be appalled.

“I think you killed my employer,” Zabuza said, when both she and Naruto failed to react to his
entrance. He sounded annoyed, though not wildly so. More like they were puppies who'd chewed
on his shoes than like they'd actually done something upsetting.

Sakura glanced through the window behind her, at Gato’s smoking corpse. The fire jumped to the
curtains, hissing and crackling as it fed on his fine things. “I think there was a safe in there,” she
said. “You could probably grab it before anyone else does, escape with whatever money he had
on hand.”

“Do you know where Hidden Sound Village is?” Naruto asked when Zabuza didn’t respond.
Sakura had to fight back a fit of the giggles, because eyes. “Well? Do you?” she asked, her breath
hitching in an unsteady laugh.

“No.” Zabuza lifted his sword and slung it over his shoulder. His eyes were dark. The sun refused
to shine through the clouds and fog, so Sakura couldn’t tell if they were brown or grey.

Sakura shifted Kakashi higher on her shoulder. His hand grasped her shirt, tugging on it. Alive,
she noted out of long habit, too used to making sure he wasn't dead to stop. Breathing quieter, less
hot than he'd been. He was getting better. If she could get him home, get him safe, he might even
live.

“Oh.” Naruto frowned. “Do you know where Sasuke is?”

Zabuza shook his head. “There’s a rumour that he never made it to Sound,” he offered. “The
group taking him there was found dead, torn to shreds.”

Sakura tensed. “Was Sasuke among them?” she asked, voice wavering traitorously. “Is he dead?”

Naruto made a sound, low in his throat. His face turned soft and distant again, life fleeing it.

“Rumours...” Zabuza laughed, sharp and loud. “Things are coming to a head. The last of the
Uchiha are together and Konoha is marching to war.”

Her eyes met Naruto’s over the breadth of Kakashi’s shoulders. “War with who?” she asked,
turning over the words ‘the last of the Uchiha’ in her head. Did that mean Sasuke was alive?

Zabuza studied them. “Wait here,” he said, not answering. He ripped the window from its frame
and went through. Smoke poured through the hole, black and reeking.

Sakura brushed the shards of glass from her neck and started walking, Naruto a half-step behind
her.

“Zabuza asked you to stay.” The voice was androgynous, the speaker’s face hidden behind a
Hunter’s mask. Sakura recognized it from the disastrous fight on the lake. There had been the
gleam of silver flying through the air—Kakashi had said senbon, when they described it—and
then they had woken in the dark.

The person behind the mask was young, not much older than her. Sakura clutched the dagger in
her hand and wondered what color their eyes were.

“We don’t want to stay,” she said, loosening her grip on Kakashi’s wrist. If she moved fast—

Kakashi shifted, the muscles in his arms tensing. His shirt was soaked through with sweat. Sakura
didn’t look. He moved in his sleep a lot. He probably wasn’t awake.

Zabuza stepped out of the window, dropping a smoking safe at their feet. He drove the blunt side
of his sword into it, cracking it in two. Paper—more money than Sakura had ever seen in her life
—slipped out, bound in bundles.

“Grab it,” Zabuza ordered the masked ninja before he returned his gaze to them. “I suppose you’re
right. No use crying over spilt milk.”
She nodded when it became apparent that he was waiting for a response.

“But it is a bit of a dilemma, you understand.”

Sakura didn’t understand. She was pretty sure Naruto didn’t either. Zabuza seemed to enjoy
monologues though, and the Academy had always emphasized letting enemies monologue
whenever possible.

“There are wolves at the door, and I’ve got no way past them but you,” Zabuza concluded
pensively, his fingers drumming along the hilt of his sword. “Which means, of course, that you’re
coming with me.”

“I’m done,” the other ninja said quietly. The safe was empty and covered in a layer of frost, the
coating of soot nearly hidden by ice. “Perhaps we should move on?”

Sakura studied the glint of ice crystals on metal, trying to make sense of her situation. There was
very little to be found. "We don't want to go with you," she said, testing to see what he'd do.

“Come,” Zabuza ordered her, trying to take Kakashi. Sakura reacted, driving the dagger toward
his face with all her strength. She missed, Zabuza shifting inches to the side, the blade whistling
past.

“He is ours,” she said, her sharp tone lost in the deadening mist. “You can’t have him!”

“Gato’s employees will see the smoke soon. Do you want to fight them?”

“How many are there?”

“Upward of a hundred,” Zabuza said.

Sakura wrapped her arm around Kakashi’s back. “Then we had best get moving,” she replied.
“Lead on.”

Zabuza snorted. “At least we don’t have far to go,” he said, twitching his shoulder. “Haku? Watch
them.”

“Yes sir.” The masked ninja disappeared and the fog thickened.

“Follow me, and hurry if you can.”

You can, Sakura remembered, ducking her head and squaring her shoulders. It was hard to get
moving again, Kakashi's feet and knees dragging on the ground, but with Naruto’s help she
managed. They entered the mist, the silent movement of Zabuza’s feet their only guide.

***

Kakashi weighed as much as the world draped over her shoulders. He shivered near constantly,
even though Sakura thought she might melt where he touched her. He wasn't dead, though.
Sakura clung to that, carefully not thinking about all the ways he could be dead but breathing. The
Academy had given her a quality education in killing, and it made her hope feeble. Did he even
wake up? Sakura wondered. In sunlight, the blood on her hands didn't look real, and the memory
of Kakashi's red eye felt like a dream.
Waves lapped at her toes, splashing over fine grey gravel. It felt smooth and cool under her feet,
even as the salt stung the scrapes in her skin.

Through the mist, Sakura could see a ruined bridge, bowed, half-melted, and crumbling into the
sea. She shifted, brushing her fingers over Naruto’s arm to make sure he was still there. Real or
not, they were out, and Naruto would be lost without her. She had a job to do.

“Can you walk on water?” Zabuza asked. Half-forgotten memory sparked, and she remembered
seeing Kakashi standing on the lake.

“No,” she answered.

“Trees?”

“Climb them?” Naruto asked, a trace of scorn in his voice. They’d grown up in Konoha. Tree
climbing came about a week after learning how to walk.

“Walk up them.” He pointed to the forest behind them. The masked ninja walked up a sapling,
ignoring gravity like it just didn't matter. It wasn't the first time she’d seen it done, but she'd
figured it was an elite ninja skill, not something she was supposed to know.

“No.” Sakura shook her head, and looked at the ground, wondering just how far behind they
were, compared to other genin.

Zabuza crouched, looking at Naruto, then her. “How long have you been out of the Academy?”

“Before?” Sakura thought back, the memories of doing D-Ranks blurred and distant. It'd been a
long time in the dark.

“Two weeks?” Naruto guessed.

“Thirteen days, before we left for Wave,” Sakura corrected him, remembering ticking off a ‘Two
Weeks!’ anniversary on the second day of the mission. It seemed incredibly silly, now.

Nothing about Zabuza’s face changed, but he felt angry. “You were sent on an A-Rank Mission
thirteen days after graduation?”

“It was supposed to be a C-Rank,” she replied. “Kakashi said that the worst we might face would
be angry squirrels.”

“So the bridge-maker lied,” Zabuza said. He stood, stepping back onto the water. The tiny waves
went glass-like and smooth under his feet. “Gato impounded all the boats, and we don’t have time
to find them. You’re learning to walk on water.”

“How?” Naruto asked. Sakura hoped it was the mist that made him sound so lifeless. It stole the
color from him, made his pretty blue eyes murky, made every breath feel cold and wet. It was
reasonable that it had stolen his voice, too.

“Can you channel chakra?”

“Yes,” Sakura answered.

Naruto shifted restlessly, pressing more of Kakashi’s weight on her. “What’s chakra?”
Naruto shifted restlessly, pressing more of Kakashi’s weight on her. “What’s chakra?”

Really? Sakura wondered how the hell Naruto had ever graduated.

“You can use ninjutsu?” Zabuza asked, after a subtle pause.

“Yeah.”

“Chakra powers ninjutsu.”

“Oh. That stuff. It’s called chakra?” Naruto should have been laughing. Scratching the back of his
head the way he did when the teachers asked something he didn't know. Too bad he wasn't.

Sakura swallowed, her throat dry. Too bad, it was too bad. She looked away, checking on
Kakashi. He was sleeping still, and that was also too bad, but easier to bear than the way Naruto's
words fell into the fog, disappearing like they'd never even been said.

“Yes. Direct it to your feet, and use it to ride the surface tension of the water.”

Gravel exploded from under Naruto’s feet, pelting their legs.

“Not like that,” Zabuza said. He looked up, peering into the cloudlike fog. “We don’t have time.
Haku!”

Sakura held her foot over the shallow waves lapping at the shore, shifting her chakra until the
water under her looked like the polished gleam under Zabuza’s feet. Her toes touched, but did not
get wet. She stepped forward and stood solidly on the waves.

“I’m taking Hatake. Haku will bring the two of you over—” Zabuza looked back and paused.
“Quick learner,” he said. “Haku will take blue-eyes over. Green-eyes, you get to walk.”

Sakura clutched Kakashi’s hand and thought of stabbing Zabuza. Kakashi was hers, and no one
was taking him away.

“Kid, either you’re with me, or we are all are going to the bottom of the sea. Make your choice.”
He's nervous, she thought, watching a wisp of fog dance around their legs.

Die later, she decided again, meeting Zabuza’s eyes. “If you harm him, I will find a way to make
you pay for it.”

“Me too,” Naruto added. Had he ever been so serious before? She couldn’t remember. It was
better than the nothing, but still not right. Not...him.

“Trust me, last thing on my mind.” Zabuza lifted Kakashi easily, draping him over the shoulder
without his sword. “Come on, we’re running out of time.”

The water in front of Naruto froze, the mist thickening above it. “My ice is solid,” Haku said,
skimming over the water easily. “Hurry!”

Naruto shivered, but stepped onto the frozen path. He looked back at Sakura, waiting. “Hurry?”
he asked, his legs hidden by mist. “It’s cold.” He looked strange, like a visual echo of the kid she
remembered laughing at in school. Creepy.

Sakura bit her lip, sucking the blood from the cracks. How hard could it be? She took a step,
nearly fell. Another, and another, and she found her balance. “Let’s go,” she said breaking into a
run. She could hear Naruto’s bare feet slapping against the ice as he followed.

Ten meters from the other shore, she heard Zabuza. “They’re at the shore. Melt the bridge.”

The ice under Naruto started to wobble, tilting wildly. Sakura grabbed his wrist, yanking him over
her shoulders, and kept running. He was heavier than half of Kakashi had been, but not by much.

“Sakura?” he asked, his voice wavering in time to the bounce of her shoulders into his stomach.

She didn’t respond, too focused on the shore to speak. The warm current of chakra she was using
to keep herself above water was weakening, losing power. Her feet sank into the waves, the
surface sinking under her and it felt like running in dry sand.

The shore was too far away.

“Relax.” Big hands lifted Naruto from her shoulders, then plucked Sakura from the water, her feet
wet to the ankles. “Haku was melting the bridge on the other end, not this side.”

He braced her against his side, one arm under her butt like she was all of four years old. Sakura
wrapped her arms around Zabuza’s neck instinctively and felt even younger. Naruto grabbed on
from the other side, his hands nearly smacking her.

“Just kids,” Zabuza grumbled. Sakura barely noticed, because he was blissfully warm. “Don’t
know what Konoha was thinking, sending you into this mess.”

He dropped them on the shore. “Are you going to protest if I carry Hatake again? Trust me when I
say there are four squads of Lightning nin and six from Rock hunting us who are dying to take
him off our hands. We need to run.”

Sakura looked back. The opposite shore was obscured by a thick haze. “Is it your fog?” she
asked, digging her toes into the pebbles to find the water underneath.

“Yes.” Zabuza shrugged and threw Kakashi over his shoulder. “You can walk?”

“Yeah,” Naruto answered for her. The mist on the other side grew thicker. Neat trick. Should she
have known how to do that too?

“Then let’s take you home.”


Chapter 3

They moved faster—a lot faster—with Zabuza carrying Kakashi. Sakura suspected he was
slowing down for their sake because she could barely put one foot in front of the other, but they
were moving at least twice as fast as before.

She felt like her skin was dead. Branches and grass slapped against her legs and arms, but she
couldn’t feel them over the harsh in-out of her lungs. You can, you can, you can, Kakashi’s voice
whispered, but she wasn't sure.

Zabuza stopped.

Sakura stumbled, running into his legs before he steadied her with a hand on her shoulder. “Hell,”
he muttered. "Guess we aren't going to make it. Haku?"

"Yes?" Haku appeared from the trees, silent and wraithlike.

Zabuza lifted his blade from the hooks strapped to his back. "Take the kids and run. I'll try to hold
him off long enough for you to reach the Konoha army."

Konoha's army...Sakura stared into the hazy fog. Zabuza had yet to explain anything. Konoha had
not mobilized in over twelve years—not since the demon fox. What was going on?

Naruto shuffled restlessly, his arm bumping hers. She nudged back, and he settled.

Haku's head tilted, birdlike. "No."

The refusal seemed expected. Zabuza snorted. "You need to run. The kids and Hatake will get
you in. Haku—you were never a ninja. Konoha might accept you."

"I won't go anywhere without you," Haku stated. The mist deepened, grew colder. "Let the
children run, but I will not leave you, Zabuza."

"Stubborn. We are all going to die, you know?" Zabuza shook his head and laughed. "Freeze our
trail. He hates the cold." He dove into the undergrowth, carving a path from the dense thicket.

Hoar frost grew from the leaves and branches, spiking to unlikely lengths. "You had best start
running," Haku warned her. "It's going to get very cold, very soon."

Naruto scrambled after Zabuza, Sakura hot on his trail.

***

"Found yourself some more tagalongs?" the voice was incredibly deep, low enough that Sakura
heard him in her bones.

“Kisame,” Zabuza said, sliding Kakashi from his shoulder, letting him fall to the ground.

The bitter chill in the air died and Zabuza checked the trees. “You brought the Uchiha,” he said,
tightening his hold on his sword until his knuckles went white.
Sakura searched the forest, Naruto wire-tense beside her. “Sasuke?” she whispered, daring to
hope—

“Yes.” The speaker was so neutral as to sound bored, but he sure as heck wasn't Sasuke. He
stepped into view, clad in red and black that matched his eyes and hair. “Are you Sakura?”

Pretty, Sakura thought. Something like a breeze flickered over her skin, a memory of smoke and
sickness rising in her mind. Sakura looked to Zabuza, uncertain, but he wasn’t looking at them or
the pretty man. He was staring at a gap in the trees. She could almost see another man there,
hidden in the mist. A man shape, anyway, so big that she couldn't quite believe he was real.

“My brother was quite insistent that we find you.”

Who was he talking about? Sakura licked her lips, and stood in front of Kakashi. The scrap of
curtain covering his face was the brightest thing around, glaring scarlet in the cool grey and
browns of the undergrowth. Was the stranger an Uchiha? He did kind of look like Sasuke.

“Who is your brother?” Naruto whispered. Sunlight pierced the clouds and dove through the
leaves, sparkling off the fog and frost, then was gone.

“My brother is Sasuke,” the stranger answered. He advanced, and Sakura saw that a pair of pale
arms were draped around his neck, nearly the same color as the bandages wrapped around the
wrists. Spikes of black hair were barely visible from behind his shoulder.

Sasuke?

“Kisame Hoshigaki and Itachi Uchiha. S-Class missing nins,” Zabuza said. “Rumour says that
Itachi slaughtered the entire Uchiha clan when he was thirteen.”

“It's true,” Itachi admitted, and the lack of caring in his voice finally set her alarm bells ringing. "In
the end, I didn't like them enough."

"That's--" Sakura stopped, biting her lip. "You're a monster."

He nodded solemnly, and the conversation stalled.

Sakura wondered if he was going to kill them now. It was what missing-nin did. Zabuza had been
a glaring exception since they’d escaped, but she was almost certain he was going to trade their
safety for his own, so that made sense.

“You have Sasuke,” Naruto said, and his clenched fist brushed hers, a warning and a message,
and Sakura grabbed his wrist, needing him to stay put, to not jump into this fire. She could feel the
power swimming through the mist, curling around the trees, and it was wildly out of their league.

“Yes. He asked that I return his team to Konoha.” Itachi’s voice softened, and Sakura thought she
saw Sasuke move, shifting restlessly, “It seems I was late.”

“What did you do to Haku?” Zabuza asked, changing his focus from the half-hidden man to
Itachi.

“I put the false-Hunter to sleep,” Itachi said. “Might I ask what purpose you had in killing your
employer and kidnapping a Konoha genin team—” he paused, looking away from Zabuza, into
the trees.
Sasuke lifted his head and his eyes were as red as Itachi’s. He stared past her, behind Naruto.

Metal crashed against metal. Naruto cried out.

Sakura spun, dagger in her hand, yanked from her make-shift sheath of rags. There was a man
—Rock nin,she thought, recognizing the headband from flashcards for finals. Sakura lunged
before she finished thinking, seeing his kunai sparking against Naruto's dagger, sloppily blocked
and dangerously close to Naruto's hand. The Rock nin looked up, startled, and tried to block.

Naruto grabbed his arm, giving Sakura the distraction she needed to jump at him, throwing her
entire body weight against the Rock nin’s chest. She thought she saw Naruto kick the back of his
knees, but either way the enemy fell hard, his skull cracking against a tree root.

Her dagger bounced off his throat, skittering like she’d tried to cut stone, so Sakura dropped it and
drove her thumbs into his eyes. They felt hard at first, but then she felt his concentration shatter.
She pushed through the resistance, piercing the thick membrane of his eyes. The left one broke
first, spurting up her wrist, her thumb sinking into the suddenly pliable organ.

The man was screaming. Sakura shook her head, instinctively, from habit. Her hair wasn’t in her
face; she didn’t have hair that could get in her face because she didn’t know when to shut up.

He hit her, but it was weak, barely worth noticing. Sakura snarled, her lips cracking open, and
shifted her weight, jamming her thumb into his right eye until it split apart into a wet, goopy mess.

The Rock nin didn’t stop squirming, hitting her with the arm Naruto wasn’t holding. It was
frustrating. Daiki and Kenta had died, easy-peasy, so why wouldn’t he? Sakura jerked his head
up and slammed it against the tree root underneath. “Die,” she whispered in encouragement,
something wet dripping down her face.

She did it again and the Rock nin went limp, but she could still feel him breathing. The skin under
her hands softened, became malleable. Sakura yanked a hand free and took up her dagger, sawing
across his throat. It split open, gushing red and hot all over her.

He wasn’t breathing anymore.

Sakura shook. His blood was cooling on her skin and she was cold. They didn’t tell you how
messy it was in the academy. She checked on Naruto, patting his hand until he uncoiled from the
corpse’s arm, blinking sleepily as the black stripes on his cheeks thinned.

Someone cleared their throat.

“Unexpected,” someone else muttered.

“Well, that explains how you escaped,” Zabuza said from very nearby.

She looked up. Itachi was covering Sasuke’s eyes with his hand, and he was looking at her like....
Sakura looked away, feeling flushed and unsettled.

There was a blue man. She noticed him belatedly, her heart jumping in her chest at the sight of
him. He looked inhuman, dangerous and seriously huge in a way that made Sakura clutch her
bloody dagger close. Just in case.

All of them—Zabuza, Itachi, and Blue Man—were almost on top of her. Closer to her meant
closer to Kakashi, Sakura remembered, her heart fluttering.

Sakura wiped her hands on the ninja’s vest then stood, putting herself between Kakashi and the
host of missing nin. She didn’t think she’d be much use protecting him, but Sakura could try. So
far, trying had worked out pretty well.

It was quiet. Not even the leaves rustled. The missing nin were watching the body like it might get
back up again, more or less ignoring her and Naruto. It was okay, though. Sakura needed to catch
her breath.

The Blue Man had sharp teeth that fit together like puzzle pieces. He caught her staring and glared
at her with odd-coloured eyes. She wondered if they were the same colour on the inside. “You
like my teeth, little girl?”

“They look useful,” she answered honestly. With teeth like that she wouldn’t have needed a
dagger.

“Ah—” Blue Man’s brow furrowed, and he glanced at Itachi.

“May I suggest that we conclude our business quickly?” Itachi asked, nudging the Rock nin’s
body with his toe to roll it over. He removed his hand from Sasuke’s face. “There are more
underground.”

“Heh. We should fight them.” Blue Man cracked his knuckles and grinned, showing off his teeth.

“Mmm. No,” Itachi decided. “What were your intentions with my brother’s team, Zabuza?”
Itachi’s tone hinted that there was a right and a wrong answer to the question. Sakura hoped
Zabuza would answer right. He was getting to be familiar.

“I was going to trade them for safe passage past Konoha’s troops. For Haku, if not myself.”

“That will do,” Itachi said. He knelt, letting Sasuke slide off his back, and Sakura couldn't hear his
words, but it was impossible to mistake the affection in his voice when he whispered to Sasuke.

She had to strain her ears to hear Sasuke reply, “You’re leaving?”

Itachi pressed his lips against Sasuke’s forehead and murmured something, still too low for her to
hear.

“...okay,” Sasuke replied. He hugged Itachi with a grip that suggested he really didn’t want to let
go.

“Zabuza?” Itachi rested his hands on Sasuke’s back, fingers twitching in tentative pats. “We are
leaving. Be assured that I will follow you to Konoha’s camp. Should my brother come to any sort
of harm...” Itachi narrowed his eyes and glared. “...I will kill you and your fake-Hunter in the
most agonizing method I can think of.”

Sakura wished she had someone who would protect her so fiercely.

“Where did you leave Haku?” Zabuza demanded.

Itachi inclined his head toward the trees he’d appeared out of. “Hurry. There are Rock nin
approaching from underground.”
“And Lightning nin above ground,” Zabuza grunted, lifting Haku with a great deal more care than
he’d shown Kakashi. “Gato contacted every damn village out there for his stupid auction.”

“He contacted Konoha?” Blue Man asked. His voice was really deep and rumbley. Like a rock
slide, Sakura decided. Her head was spinning, and everything was shaking.

Zabuza chuckled. “Tried to sell their property back to them.”

“Fool,” Itachi said. “He is dead?”

“Yes,” Sakura answered. A rush of dark satisfaction swamped her, malicious but good, and the
unsteady feeling disappeared.

“He’s on fire now,” Naruto added, smiling sweetly. He was such a good boy, sometimes.

“Good.” Itachi stood, breaking away from Sasuke. “You have an excellent team, Sasuke. You
may rely on them.”

Sakura met his eyes when Itachi looked at her. His eyes had black dots that spun like Kakashi’s.
She thought he maybe approved. “Protect my brother.”

In the next second, he was gone, leaving Sasuke alone and Blue Man looking at the bushes where
he had been.

“We really have to coordinate these things, Itachi,” Blue Man muttered. He looked them over one
last time, then disappeared as well.

Sasuke turned and his eyes were normal black. Sakura had always liked his eyes. She looked
away to remind herself that his weren’t for taking.

“Are you okay, Sakura?” His question should please her—he cared!—but Sakura felt nothing but
cold. “You’re covered in blood,” Sasuke added.

“She’s fine,” Zabuza told him. “You and blue-eyes are going to be dragging Hatake, because
whatever your brother did, Haku isn’t waking up.”

Someone screamed in the distance.

“I can do it,” Sakura protested. She was fine. Kakashi wasn’t that heavy.

Zabuza’s mask of bandages shifted and she thought he might have been smiling at her. “You’re
more useful if you’re mobile. Come on. There’s not much further to go.”

But Kakashi was hers, she wanted to protest, watching Sasuke and Naruto lift him. Not that
Naruto and Sasuke weren’t, she added in silent apology, but Kakashi had been on her side of the
hall, not theirs.

***

She didn't know anyone. Thirty men and women wearing the Konoha Hitai-ate, and she didn't
know any of them. Sakura licked her lips. There was blood on them, and it might not be hers. She
searched their faces again.
"—Hatake?"

"It can't be."

"—Demon—"

"Go get—"

Zabuza was very quiet and still, hiding Haku's head and face with his hand. Maybe he didn't want
them to see the hunter's mask.

"Does anyone recognize the kids?"

She knew lots of people who were ninja. Chouji's dad, Shikamaru's parents, Ino's entire family.
There were at least a dozen who lived on the same street as her. Shouldn't she recognize
someone?

...shouldn't someone recognize her?

A nagging suspicion grew in her heart. What if they weren't really Konoha ninja? What if they
were imposters? Sakura skulked back, pretending she was nervous, planting herself between her
team and the crowd. Zabuza was behind them, but he was holding Haku. He'd be slower,
hopefully, or a barrier to attacks from behind if he really was on their side.

"They can't be more than ten—"

"—Do you think?"

Her palms were sweating, the hilt of the dagger growing slick in her hand. Was it genjutsu? No
one had even asked who they were, and it was fucking obvious that they didn't know. They
should have asked her to surrender her knife, should have questioned her.

If it was a genjutsu, the caster had no idea what Konoha procedures were. Zabuza?

But to what purpose? If he wanted them dead, it would be easy. One whack with his blade and
they'd all fall down (in pieces).

If he wasn't the caster, then he was her best bet. Everything had seemed reasonable—okay,
farfetched, but reasonableish—until they'd walked into rows on rows of tents and were waylaid by
a pack of ninja. The best genjustu kept parts of reality, slowly replacing things so you didn't
notice. This one could have been cast anywhere, at any time, and Sakura didn't have the
experience to recognize it.

Sakura backed up, forcing Sasuke and Naruto to follow suit. It brought Kakashi to his knees, like
he might lift his head at any second. He wouldn't, but hey, the thought was nice.

She glanced back, keeping one eye on the crowd. "Zabuza?"

His brow shifted—that looked weird without eyebrows. "Yes?"

"Is this a genjutsu?"


"Not exactly."

"They aren't acting right," she whispered urgently. "They should have taken our weapons and
questioned us. Are you sure they're really from Konoha?"

He snickered. "Trust me. What you see isn't real, but those are Konoha ninja."

Oddly, it did make her feel better. Zabuza might be lying, but why would he? Unless there was an
underlying Machiavellian plot that she just wasn't seeing. She stewed over the thought. What
could Zabuza gain from either a) a group of at least thirty imposters in a fake camp that extended
at least a hundred metres out from her, or b) putting her under a powerful genjutsu where she
thought there were imposters/Konoha ninja?

Sakura came up with nothing. Hitting her on the head and tying her up worked pretty damn good
for anything someone might want from her.

The group parted, making way for—

Sakura finally recognized someone.

He didn't recognize her. More evidence for genjutsu? Or did she look so different?

"Zabuza Momochi?" Ino's dad said. He was wearing his work clothes and he looked way more
serious than he usually did.

"Yes?" Zabuza said. He poked her, encouraging her to move out of his way.

"What is your purpose here?"

The crowd was gone, replaced by a small army of ninja in black and grey, their faces covered in
white masks. ANBU. Sakura blinked, wondering when that happened.

What you see isn't real...

Oh. That made more sense.

"I'm looking to barter safe passage for myself and my ward."

Haku was his ward? Sakura snuck a look back, but she couldn't decide if Haku was a boy or a
girl. The mask was gone but she still couldn't tell. Pretty boy? Handsome girl?

"Barter with what?" Ino's dad was looking at her, but there was no recognition in his eyes.

How could he not know her? Sakura had spent half her life at his house. He was practically a
second dad to her.

"The safe return of Kakashi Hatake, Sasuke Uchiha, and..." Zabuza paused and cleared his throat.
"His, uh...other students."

"My name is Sakura," she hissed, glaring at him.

"I forgot to ask," he muttered back. "Calm down."

Ino's dad was really looking at her now. "Sakura?"


"Yeah?" she sounded rude, but she didn't care. He didn't remember her. It hadn't been that long. It
couldn't have been that long.

"You were reported dead." He rocked back on his heels and didn't even have the grace to look
happy that she wasn't. He just looked suspicious, like she was trying to distract him while Ino
nabbed them some cookies.

Screw him. "Did Ino cry?" Sakura snapped it to be cruel, but then found that she really wanted to
know. Did rivals cry for each other? She would have cried for Ino.

"Of course she did." He looked a little less suspicious.

"Oh." Sakura closed her eyes, suddenly tired. "That's good, I guess."

"Not to interrupt, but will you accept my offer? If not, I'd like to point out that my ward was never
a ninja, is not a missing nin, and is technically a civilian," Zabuza said.

Couldn't he slip a gender in there? It would be nice to know.

"Offer accepted, pending verification of their identities," Ino's dad said. He turned around,
heading deeper into camp. "Either follow, or prepare to be killed where you stand."

Sakura really, really wanted to cry. She could feel it welling up into her throat, screaming 'why
isn't this over yet?' and prodding her to pitch a fit of epic proportions. It wasn't a good idea, so she
didn't, but if Kakashi had been awake she definitely would have. Since he wasn't, Sakura stepped
forward, leading Sasuke and Naruto into the camp. If Ino's dad didn't believe her, she'd just keep
telling the truth until he did, damn it.

***

"Birthdate?"

"March 28th, 95 years after the founding." So far, the questions had been really easy. She didn't
know what he was trying to learn from them, because anyone could know the answers. Sakura
wished he'd ask something more specific, like how many cookies she and Ino snuck last time she
stayed over (three each before they decided to go on the grapefruit diet Ino found in a magazine).

"Date you graduated from the Academy?"

Sakura swallowed, looking at his glass of water longingly. He hadn't offered her one. "A hundred
and seven years after the founding? In May?"

"What's my name?"

"It's—um." Sakura blushed brilliant red. She knew his name! ...and it wasn't Ino's dad. "I—it—
uh."

"Yes?"

Oh crap, he was going to think she was an imposter and that everyone else was an imposter and
then they'd kill her team and oh crap oh crap oh crap, why couldn't she remember?
Sakura breathed out, then snapped her mouth shut. It probably made her look guiltier! Think!
Think! she ordered herself. Surely Ino had introduced her at some point. Right?

He glowered at her, not even remotely friendly looking. They were all going to die because she
couldn't remember his name.

"I can't remember! Please don't kill my teammates?" she begged him. "Ino always called you dad
and I always thought of you as Ino's dad, but I must know your name, it's just been a really long
day and it's on the tip of my tongue, please please please don't kill them?"

Ino's dad cracked up and started laughing. What the hell? "It's her!" he chuckled, signalling the
people standing by.

Four people marked as medics grabbed Kakashi, manhandling him toward a stretcher in the
corner. "Hey!" Sakura snapped, sliding out of the uncomfortable chair and onto her feet. Just in
case. "What are you doing?"

The ANBU in the corners bristled with weaponry in a subtle, yet pointed way.

She ignored them. There were much more important issues. "Don't touch him!"

There was a look exchanged by the medics. They all had brown eyes, and when was she going to
stop staring at people's eyes like that? It was weird and gross and she was safe now. Sakura didn't
need to destroy any more eyes. She was going to retire and have a whole bunch of dogs. No more
eyes.

"Sakura?" Ino's dad had stopped laughing and was all serious looking again. "Kakashi has a high
fever. The medics are going to take care of him."

"They might be murderers in disguise! You don't know," she shouted at him, fully aware that it
was a stupid argument, but those people shouldn't be touching Kakashi! They might hurt him, and
he'd been hurt enough and he wasn't even awake, the sick fucks.

Ino's dad patted her shoulder gingerly and his hand kind of stuck to her, and Sakura realized that
she was covered, like, completely covered in drying blood. She must look like some kind of
berserker freak, but she wasn't! There were only...a lot of eyes.

So many eyes.

Sakura hyperventilated a tiny bit. The medics were taking Kakashi away. Naruto and Sasuke just
sat there like it was fucking okay, which it wasn't! "Don't you dare," she snarled, gasping for
breath at the end. "Don't you dare!"

There was a blur of green and some guy she'd never even seen before started yelling, "My Eternal
Rival's Student! Your Concern is Touching! I Shall—"

Sakura burst into tears and collapsed to her knees. She wanted Ino. And—and—her mother. And
Kakashi. Especially Kakashi. He would tell her what to do and then she'd do it and everything
would be okay.

The man stopped shouting and whispered, "Are you okay?" He looked horrified. So did his
eyebrows.

"She had a hard couple of months," Zabuza said. He was sitting in a corner of the tent with Haku,
"She had a hard couple of months," Zabuza said. He was sitting in a corner of the tent with Haku,
who had woken up but become no less androgynous, and there were like ten ANBU glowering at
them full time and Sakura really hoped they wouldn't kill either of them because Zabuza had been
pretty nice, all things considered.

"It's okay," Ino's dad said and Sakura really couldn't stand it anymore, even if he was back-patting
the only dry spot on her shirt like a champ.

"What is your name?" she demanded, before making a deeply embarrassing gurgling sound.

Kakashi was on the stretcher and they were taking him away, and it felt like they were yanking
out her lungs at the same time. Sakura tried to follow, but Ino's dad grabbed her shoulder and she
couldn't breathe.

"Inoichi. My name is Inoichi. Can I get you a glass of water?"

She kind of heard Naruto sniffling and a weird squeaking noise from Sasuke, and someone said,
"Oh shit, they're all going." And then there was a sort of hiccupping symphony, which made her
feel better but cry harder.

"Okay. No water. Cookies? Wait, no, sorry, I don't have any." Inoichi was babbling. Or just being
mean, because Sakura would like cookies, actually.

"I want Kakashi," she sobbed, feeling utterly ridiculous. "And my mom. And Ino." She stared at
him hopefully. It was kind of silly, but if he could pull Ino out his pocket she would love him
forever, no lie. If he brought Kakashi back she'd love him forever forever.

"Shit." He yanked his headband off and ran his hand through his hair. "Kakashi is sick, but you
can see him when he's better?"

She wanted to cover her face but her hands were disgusting and covered in eyes. Sakura wasn't
sure it mattered, given that her face was probably coated in blood.

"Can I be clean?" she asked. Tears were still streaming down her face, but she wasn't sobbing
anymore. That was progress.

"Yeah—that's probably a good idea." Inoichi sighed and looked her over. "Is any of that blood
yours?"

"No. It belongs to other people." Sakura shuddered, plucking at her hems. The clothes were
sticking to her.

"I...see." He frowned. "Kurenai?"

"Yes?"

"Could you take Sakura to the showers?" He pointed at a snickering ANBU. “And you can take
Naruto and Sasuke.”
Chapter 4

They hadn’t been able to find clothes in her size, so they’d just given her a shirt from someone
really tall and skinny and called it a dress. It was clean and Sakura was clean, and Kurenai even
cut the gross looking stubble on her head to an even length (using scissors because the kunai had
made her scream).

Sakura felt better. A lot better. She’d barely even noticed how red Kurenai’s eyes were!

“Do you think they made a decision about Zabuza yet?” she asked, drumming her heels against
the workbench.

Naruto and Sasuke were only separated from her by a thin piece of fabric, and she could hear
them bickering, so she knew they were okay.

The ANBU sounded kind of stressed, though.

“He’ll have been granted safe passage,” Kurenai answered, clipping an ugly shoot of too-long
hair. “Why?”

“I want to say thank you. He was nice, even if he was using us.”

Kurenai hummed, cutting off a bit at the nape of her neck. “He’s probably already gone.”

“Oh,” Sakura said. “Perhaps I could write him a letter?” They were lighting lanterns outside.
Night was falling.

“Good luck finding a mailing address.” Kurenai put the scissors down and ruffled her stubbly hair.
“There. You should visit the medics to make sure you don’t scar, though.”

Sakura nodded and drummed her heels against the bench again. There had been absolutely no
underwear that could have fit her, so Kurenai had grabbed a pair of boxers from someone (Sakura
didn’t want to know who) and tied them on Sakura with a piece of rope. She'd promised that they
were clean.

“Do you want something to eat?” she offered when Sakura didn’t reply.

Sakura listened. Naruto and Sasuke had stopped squabbling, so they were almost done. “Okay.
Can we see Kakashi after?”

“That’s up to the medics.”

Sakura hummed something that Kurenai could take as agreement if she wanted. They were
probably hiding Kakashi in a tent. If she could figure out which one, it wouldn’t be hard to break
in.

She jumped to her feet, landing on the wooden slats with barely a wobble. The dress draped down
below her knees, and the sleeves were rolled to half their length. It made her feel tiny, like she was
playing dress up in grown up clothes. “Let’s go!”

***
Sasuke had been wearing shoes and clothes that fit and were clean, so he didn’t look like a
homeless refugee, but Naruto was even shorter than her, so the clothes scrounged for him were
pretty much tied on to keep them from falling off. It wasn’t a good look, but Sakura couldn't fix it,
so she shoved it from her mind.

Sakura dragged the boys toward the medic’s tent (of course she was going to make sure that her
scalp healed right, thank you Kurenai), holding on to their wrists so they couldn’t wander off and
disappear.

Naruto was too quiet and it was wrong. She had heard him talking to Sasuke, earlier. Why wasn’t
he talking to her? She tightened her grip on Naruto’s hand, worried that he’d slip away if she
didn’t.

“Sakura?” Sasuke asked. “Where are we going?”

“To see Kakashi.” Sakura stopped, spying Zabuza in the distance. “Actually, we’re going to say
thank you to Zabuza and Haku first.” She whirled around, facing the boys, giving her best stern
face. “And don’t you dare say anything but ‘thank you’!”

In their thirteen days of D-Rank missions, they had delivered groceries, during which Sasuke had
stared at the woman’s ample frame, then disdainfully eyed the bag of cookies they were
delivering. The client had definitelynoticed.

They had caught that cat, and Naruto had hissed at it for at least a minute while the Lady of Fire’s
eyebrows crept closer and closer to her hairline.

When they babysat a birthday party of five-year-old children, Kakashi had asked one mother
which one was the target, prompting a horrified look that he had not understood, even when
Sakura explained.

So Sakura was pretty much the only person on Team 7 with social skills.

There were at least five ANBU standing around Zabuza acting all casual, like they just happened
to be in that area, looking at the trees. Sakura wasn't fooled, and she didn't think Zabuza was
either, though he was preoccupied with talking to Ino's dad, so maybe he really hadn't noticed.

They watched Sakura approach and got really quiet when she was close enough to hear. Had they
been talking about her? Sakura shook off the nagging suspicion and tugged Sasuke a little closer.
He kept straying. He needed to not do that.

“Zabuza! Haku!” she greeted them, “...and Ino’s dad.” She accompanied the moniker with a
sweet smile, and got a tired grin in response.

Sakura let go of Sasuke and Naruto’s wrists and bowed, hoping the boys would follow suit.
“Thank you for all your help,” she said, pleased by the softly muttered echoes at her sides.

“I believe we benefited equally,” Zabuza replied. “So I thank you in return.”

He nudged Haku forward and they had an entire conversation with their eyes. Haku frowned and
looked away, only to be poked again.

Haku sighed and bowed. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Miss Sakura.” Haku straightened, and
looked at Zabuza with a slightly quirked eyebrow, as if to say, satisfied?

Zabuza was watching her a little too intently.

“Um. You as well?” Sakura offered. Haku hadn’t exactly spoken to her at any point. She wasn’t
sure they even qualified as having met. And what were her teammates? Chopped liver?

Zabuza’s shoulders slumped. “I suppose it’s just not meant to be.”

Inoichi snickered and Sakura was certain that she’d missed something.

“Could you direct us to the medic nin’s tent?” she asked. “Kurenai said it was on the west side...”

“Next row over. It takes up the entire row, you can’t miss it,” Inoichi answered. “You wouldn’t be
thinking of finding Kakashi in there, would you?”

“Well, no,” Sakura replied, pretending she’d only just thought of it.

“Though if you wanted to tell us where he is,” Sasuke added, “we could certainly visit once we
are done.”

“Do you think we should?” Naruto asked innocently—he was actually really good at that. Sakura
filed the knowledge away, tucking it down with the rest of the things she knew about him.

“I don’t think he’s being allowed visitors,” Inoichi said, peering into the deepening gloom. There
were a lot of people dressed in regulation uniforms, coming in from the forest. Some of them were
wearing bandages, but most weren’t.

“Why don’t I accompany you? In case you get lost, you understand.”

Foiled. Sakura didn't mutter a curse--Ino's dad could tell her mom, after all--but it was a close
thing.

***

It wasn’t until the medic started alternately scolding Inoichi and her that Sakura realized she was
hurt. It was mostly just scratches and bruises, but the cuts on her wrists were infected and she’d
cracked three ribs at some point. She didn’t really feel it.

“Are Naruto and Sasuke all right?” she interrupted, tired of the medic nin’s ranting lecture. He
couldn’t be a very good medic if he got all hysterical over such tiny injuries. Besides, what was he
hoping to accomplish? It wasn't her fault, damn it.

He snapped his mouth shut and glared at her.

Sakura stared at his nose to keep from looking at his eyes.

The medic huffed, stomping over to the corner where Sasuke and Naruto were sitting, whispering
to each other. Naruto looked more interested in the world, Sakura noted, pleased.

They were in a big room filled with chairs, a few bored-looking ninja scattered here and there.
The tent extended both north and south in long corridors, lined with narrow beds that were mostly
empty.
Sakura took advantage of the medic’s distraction to wander toward the south wing, peering down
the rows of beds for Kakashi. They must have put him in here somewhere.

Inoichi cleared his throat.

Sakura ignored him. If he wasn’t actively going to stop her, it was like he was giving permission.
Sakura was willing to push that as far as she could, given that the consequences would be a
scolding, not a beating.

There were only four filled beds to the south, and none of them held Kakashi. Three of the ninja
were asleep, and the fourth was obviously bored out of her mind if she was reading Unabridged
Codes and Ciphers willingly. Sakura had read it for extra credit in the Academy and the
monstrous tome had been the greatest defence against insomnia that she had ever found.

“Sakura?”

She shrugged out from under Inoichi’s hand, skipping out of reach before she looked up. “Yes?”

“Kakashi is fine, I promise. Sit down and let the medics take care of you.”

Sakura looked past him, toward the north wing. There were around twenty people there, most
with IVs hanging by their beds. Maybe they were keeping the really sick people over there? “That
medic guy—”

Inoichi sighed. “Jiro?”

“Yeah, him. He said I was fine. Didn’t you hear?” She squinted, looking for grey hair. It was hard
to see from this distance—the medic nin tent was huge.

“Did you miss the part about cracked ribs, malnutrition, worms, internal parasites, chakra
depletion, infections, open sores, frostbite, and minor internal bleeding?” Inoichi asked her. “Or
was it just me who heard that?”

Ewwwww...She refused to think about it.

“Pfft. Whatever happened to confidentiality?” Sakura asked, strolling toward Sasuke and Naruto.
If they happened to be sitting by the north wing, that was just coincidence. “He said they’d give
me medication or something and I’d get better. I’m fine. I mean, I'd kill for some lip chap, but
other than that, I'm doing great.”

A silver-haired medic bumped into her, nearly knocking her over. Sakura muttered an apology,
ignoring how little force had been involved in nearly knocking her over.

“If you want confidentiality, get promoted. It doesn’t apply to genin,” Inoichi said. “And you are
not fine.”

“Sasuke. Naruto.” Sakura nodded in greeting, breezing past the worrywart medic. “Anything
interesting wrong with you?”

“Miss, will you please sit down?” The medic again, Jiro or whatever. He should really give up.
Sakura wasn’t going to rest until she was certain that Kakashi, Naruto, and Sasuke were okay.
“No.” Sakura crossed her arms across her chest and glared back. “So? What’s wrong with my
teammates?”

“Much the same as you, though they are somewhat better healed and significantly more
cooperative.”

Geez, what a dick. “And by ‘much the same’ you are referring to...?”

“Internal parasites, infections, abrasions, cuts, malnutrition, bruises, and a multitude of fresh
scars.”

Sakura hummed critically. “And what are you doing about that?” He had better fix them quick.
Those injuries sounded nasty.

“The same damn things I’d do for you if you’d sit down and accept treatment,” Jiro growled. He
reached out like he was going to grab her and Sakura skittered away.

“Are you feeling alright?” she asked, shifting until she could see past him and into the north wing
of the tent, searching for grey hair. “You’re getting all red in the face.”

“Sakura!” Inoichi snapped. “Settle down!”

She twitched, meeting his eyes. They were like Ino’s, near black around the edges and turning to
bright, lively blue in the centre. Even though it looked like his eyes had no pupils, it was more
accurate to say they had minuscule irises. An old mutation had left the Yamanakas with huge blue
pupils and fantastic night vision.

Sakura couldn’t look away, even though her hands were twitching, fingers tightening to spears,
hooking, ripping. Again and again, watching Daiki scream under her, beg pitifully until she killed
him.

“I see...” he said.

You won’t if I take your eyes. Sakura buried the thought frantically, sickened and repulsed but
wanting to do it

Fuck, she was going crazy. There was something wrong with her and she was nuts and there
were worms inside of her.

“You aren’t going crazy,” Inoichi said. “Kakashi used the sharin—”

The ground pitched and rolled. An alarm sounded from the north wing, high-pitched beeping that
sent the medics scurrying.

Every drop of warmth drained from her, pouring from Sakura’s body into the dark cold earth
below in a really half-assed burial. She fell to her knees, a whine sliding through gritted teeth. It
felt like her soul was being ripped out, leaving her desiccated and hollow. Like having Kakashi
taken away again, but a thousand times worse, something tearing out of her veins and draining her
utterly dry.

Sakura smoothed her shaking hands over her knees, straightening out the wrinkles in her
borrowed shirt-dress, a habit drilled into her by mama. Neat and tidy.

“Sakura!” Sasuke called out, his hand reaching toward her.


Can’t talk now, too busy dying, she thought, displeased that the first time Sasuke bothered to show
that he cared was occurring a) as she died, and b) without Ino around to witness it. Damn it.

Her eyes opened on darkness, her last breath left her choking on emptiness, and Sakura collapsed
against the canvas floor.

***

She woke up in one of the narrow beds, alerted by something indefinable. A needle was stuck in
the back of her hand, attached to clear tubing that led to an equally clear bag of fluid, hanging
from a gleaming metal pole. They'd wrapped her wrists up, and they felt hot and itchy under the
gauze.

Sasuke and Naruto were asleep beside her, their soft breathing nearer to her than usual, but still
familiar enough that it could not have caused the strange unease she felt.

The lanterns were turned down, swinging gently as the tent moved in the night breeze. Frogs
croaked enthusiastically, and tree leaves rustled. Neither sound had woken her.

Sakura sat up, ignoring the dizzy rush her body insisted on, and looked around. It was quiet. Too
quiet, she thought, rolling her eyes at her own suspicions. There were at least thirty ninja in the
tent. It was highly unlikely that she'd sensed something that they hadn't.

Something moved. Sakura muffled a gasp, jerking her feet off the floor, her childhood fear of
monsters suddenly revisited in detail.

There was a low chuckle, and a shape stepped out of the shadows. A Konoha headband and wire-
rimmed glasses gleamed in the lantern light, reassuringly familiar and not-monster-like. It was only
the medic nin she'd bumped into earlier. "Awake already Miss Sakura?"

Sakura smiled tentatively, licking her lips. They didn't bleed for once, but they did taste (and feel)
like someone had slathered petroleum jelly on them. "What happened?"

"You collapsed. It was very dramatic." He chuckled again, pushing his glasses higher up his nose.

"Oh." Embarrassing. "What time is it?"

"Four in the morning. Did something wake you?"

Sakura nodded, raking the grease off her lips with her teeth. They felt sticky. It was gross. The
stuff on them tasted like wax, and she swallowed it easily. "How long have I been asleep?"

"Since about eight, I suppose."

Eight hours. She probably was just done sleeping, then. "Okay. What are you doing?" Sakura
yawned, hiding it behind her hand. For being done with sleep, she was remarkably tired.

"Hmmm, me? Just doing rounds." His glasses glinted in the lamp light, startlingly shiny. "Are you
going back to sleep?"

Sakura yawned again, scratching at the needle in her arm. If she took it out, would he notice?
"Maybe. I'm tired."
He hummed approvingly, sinking into the shadows.

Black stars were falling from the lanterns, slow like autumn leaves dropping from dying trees.
Sakura blinked. The stars swayed, dancing to the music of frogs.

She really was tired.

Suspiciously tired. And lanterns didn't shed stars.

"Kai!"

It was brighter, for one. For two? What the fuck was that medic doing with Sasuke?

"Hey!" Sakura scrambled out of bed, jerking the IV needle from her wrist. "What are you doing?"

"You should have gone to sleep." He sounded gently amused as he gathered Sasuke in his arms.

"What are you doing?" she snarled again. No one was waking up. A tent full of fucking ninja and
not a single one was waking up.

"I'm taking Sasuke to his rightful owner." The medic nin sighed and shook his head sadly. "I
suppose I'll have to kill you now, though. Pity."

Sakura bared her teeth and grabbed the IV pole. It was light, hollow inside, and lacked a single
sharp edge. She deeply regretted letting them take her dagger.

"Really? You think you can...?" He chuckled, shaking his head, but set Sasuke down, stroking his
hair affectionately.

Pervert, Sakura thought, cementing her resolve. If she didn't succeed...she narrowed her eyes, a
thought coming to mind. Area genjutsu, those used to affect multiple targets, were incredibly
draining, and the chakra needed increased with both distance and number of targets. The medic
had cast one over at least thirty people in the tent...but what about outside?

He shook his head again, drawing a scalpel. "Really, Miss Sakura—"

She screamed, "Fire!" as loud as she could and smashed the IV pole into the closest lantern. "Fire!
There's a fire!" The burning wick landed on an empty bed and caught, sending flames rising lazily
toward the tent wall.

The medic looked really surprised. She could see the edges of his eyes behind the reflected flames
in his glasses, and they were grey like his hair.

Sakura smirked. Over the soft crackle of sheets turning into ash, she heard the call being taken up,
the rush of footsteps.

But she wasn't done yet. "Traitor!" she screamed, loud enough that she hurt her own ears. Not a
single patient stirred, still under the genjutsu. His grave was dug.

Sakura gasped, darting toward Sasuke, slamming the pole into the medic's head before he could
take him.

"Traitor," she screamed again, yanking the top half of the rod off. The part where the two halves
connected was rough-edged. It wasn't sharp in the least, but it was better than the gently rounded
end on the other part.

"You really are becoming tiresome," the medic hissed, the scalpel in his hand bright and fire-lit.
Smoke, thick and choking, billowed from the burning bed. The tent hadn't caught—Sakura
suspected it was fire-proofed.

The scalpel was in her shoulder.

Sakura shrieked and slammed the rough edge of the pole into his face, slicing a divot of flesh from
his skin.

He chuckled scornfully. "It'll take more than that to kill me, little girl." The waterfall of bright
blood stopped, the wound sealing and healing in an instant. "I'm going to take you apart, piece by
piece." The medic drew another scalpel, sliding it into her other shoulder before she could react.
"And I'm going to enjoy it."

Where were the guards? Sakura gasped, the smoke drawing tears to her eyes. "Fuck you!" She
dropped the IV pole and jerked the scalpels from her shoulders, using them to slice his face again
and again. She could feel the knives going through flesh, the tug and resistance of skin, but he
didn't bleed.

"You can't—"

Sakura braced the scalpels against her palms and jammed them up through his eyes, past the
resistance of bone and into his brain.

He grabbed her wrists and yanked her hands away. The scalpels quivered, and his eyes stared
blindly at her, the hilts protruding from the pale skin under his eyes.

The medic plucked one blade from his eye, dabbing his sleeve at the hole, mopping up a single
drop of blood.

"You can't kill me." He drew the second scalpel out, and adjusted his glasses. A few droplets of
blood marred the polished lenses. "If you lie down like a good girl, I'll even let you live."

Sakura swore. "I'm not going to let you take Sasuke, and neither will anyone else." If she could
wait him out, someone would come. They weren't alone here, all she had to do was delay him.

"You don't have any choice. He is bought and paid for. You are harbouring stolen property."

"And you're lingering in a burning hospital tent while an entire fucking army gathers outside,
asshole!" Sakura coughed, her eyes and throat burning. Whatever they'd made the blankets out of,
it was not burning cleanly.

"Would you like to know a secret?" the medic whispered, smiling genially. "I expanded the
genjutsu. There are fifty people asleep out there, and more joining them every minute. It's just you
and me, Miss Sakura."

"You can't do that!" Shit. She was going to die.

The medic removed the second blade, clearly unbothered by having been stabbed in the eyes, and
Sakura had never felt so out of her depth. "Why not?"
"Because--" Sakura cast around, trying to think of a reason. "It's hard, that's why not. You'll run
out of chakra!"

His glasses reflected fire at her, and he smiled so gently that Sakura flinched. "It's difficult, but
that doesn't mean I can't, sweetheart. Lie down and wait for me to be gone. You'll get to keep
your other teammate."

"No." Sakura dipped down, picking the IV pole up. Blood dripped from her shoulders onto her
hands, red and bright, and standing up was the hardest thing she'd done all day, but the medic had
a point. Hard didn't mean impossible.

He straightened his glasses, firelight glittering across them, and sighed. "Fine, if that's the way
you want to die."

Sakura swung the pole into his face as hard as she could, sending his glasses flying, and hauled
back to swing again. The pole had bent, and he hadn't even flinched, but third time might be the
charm. It could do the trick and drive him off. Sakura clung to that hope and slammed the thin
metal pole into the medic's face again.

Her back hit the ground hard enough to knock the breath out of her, the smokeless air impossible
to enjoy due to the iron-like hand around her neck, choking the air out of her. Sakura dropped the
pole, reaching for his face with her bare hands. He rose out of reach, his arms longer than hers,
and Sakura wound up clawing at the air instead of his eyes.

"Shhh," he whispered to her, hushing Sakura when she managed to force a gasp through the grip
he had on her throat. "Just you and me here, nothing to be afraid of." He chuckled, and added,
"Soon to be just me, but you tried, sweetie. You tried."

She couldn't see worth shit by the time his grip loosened, blinded by lack of air and choking black
smoke. The first gasp of air was sweet, and the second gave her the strength to reach upward for
his face, searching for his eyes.

He batted her hands away, and a wave of water doused the burning bed, sending a cloying cloud
of smoke and smouldering ash spraying outward, splattering on the medic's uniform and over
Sakura's bare arms.

Dirty water poured down, beading on the waterproofed canvas and mixing with the scattered
splashes of Sakura's blood. Sakura squirmed, trying to free herself from the medic nin, but he
pinned her like it was nothing. "Or perhaps you will have a rescuer," he said, looking up.

The black-and-red missing nin, the one who'd called Sasuke brother--Itachi?--yeah, it'd been
Itachi, waved the smoke from his face. "Tell me. What is it that's going on here, Kabuto?" he
asked the medic, strolling closer to them.

The grey-haired medic stood up, leaving her on the floor like she was nothing, adjusting his
glasses fussily.

"He's trying to take him away," Sakura said, her throat raw from smoke and being strangled, and
she had to stop and cough before she could continue. "He said he was going to take Sasuke to his
rightful owner, and that Sasuke was property, and he touched Sasuke like he liked him," she
added, just in case Itachi had missed some part of the whole exchange.

"He what?" Itachi's pleasant tenor dropped to a furious growl, his eyes lighting up like red
lanterns. Sakura hadn't known that eyes could glow. It was a neat trick. Did the gooey bits inside
glow, too?
"Aren't we supposed to question that guy, Itachi?" Blue guy was back, and he might have actually
grown since the last time Sakura saw him, though that could just be because she was lying flat on
her back. "Orders? You remember those?"

"There was a change in them. We're to murder him now," Itachi lied, and if Sakura could tell that
he was lying, blue guy definitely knew. "Murder him with fire," Itachi added, anger sliding out of
his voice. The angle was weird--Sakura was staring at the underside of his chin and the inside of
his nose, mostly, but he was super creepy-looking right then.

Sakura discreetly brought her hands up to put pressure on her shoulders. She kept her silence, the
waves of killing intent sloshing around the tent making it pretty freaking clear that this was entirely
out of her league.

"You think you can kill me with flames?" the medic asked Itachi. Black fire licked along his
hands in response, but it didn't seem to impress him much. That didn't stop it from impressing
Sakura--Itachi hadn't even used hand seals. He hadn't even blinked.

The medic lifted his hand to show burnt skin sliding off, fresh, whole skin underneath. The fire
crawled over his wrist, leaving charcoal and brilliant red in its wake, and he didn't seem to notice,
his fingers growing into knife-like claws.

Sakura shoved her feet along the floor, pushing herself out of the space between Itachi and the evil
medic-guy, and then wobbled up onto her feet. Standing made blood pour out of her shoulders,
drenching her borrowed shirt-dress and dripping onto the water-logged floor. Sakura blinked
away the black splotches in her vision and slunk toward Sasuke to check his pulse, just in case.
He'd been really...limp. And useless. He damn well better be impressed that she rescued him.

His heart beat slowly, but strong. Sakura sighed with relief, then checked on Naruto.

Naruto snorted and rolled over before she could take his pulse, so Sakura figured he was alive.
There was really a lot of blood soaking the front of her borrowed shirt, she noticed, sitting on her
bed. She stained the sheets with her blood and wet ashes, but it wasn't like anyone was going to
make her clean it up.

She heard a hollow thump, and a blur of motion between the medic and Itachi, but they were
moving too fast to see. Sakura swallowed, her tongue rasping over her lips, and hoped really hard
that Itachi would win. If not...

"Can you heal your lungs as quickly?" Itachi asked, and the medic made a muffled sound. "It's a
very interesting trick you have. Tell me. Does it take much chakra?"

If not...Sakura glanced toward Blue Man, reassured to find him perfectly calm. He wouldn't be
calm if his friend might lose. If he did, though, Sakura was going to need a backup plan.

She wadded up the sheet and pressed it against her shoulders. The acrid scent of burning cloth
was slowly being replaced with the smell of burning meat, which was vaguely appetizing and
really gross. The medic's hair was gone, and his face was pitted and melted looking. The wires of
his glasses melted through, the scorched lenses clattering to the ground.

His skin shifted like snakes, healing and burning, healing and burning.

Sakura swallowed and looked away. He didn't have any eyes, they were burnt and gone.
Her head felt like it was going to float away. If she could find something sharp, she could cut
through the side of the tent, drag Sasuke and Naruto out that way.

Sasuke stirred, rolling over. Three beds over, a woman yawned and stretched.

"You're losing control of the genjutsu," Itachi observed. "Are you running out of chakra? Or is the
pain getting to you?"

The medic laughed and it was a horrible broken crackle. Sakura pulled her knees to her chest and
closed her eyes. He was a bad man, a traitor, and he'd tried to take Sasuke away from her. He
deserved this.

The tent smelled awful. Sakura coughed and it made her whimper, because who knew being cut
could hurt so bad? Actually, it was kind of weird that she was in so much pain. She'd been hurt a
lot when Gato had them, but it had never been quite as agonizing as the wounds in her shoulders.

It was probably a bad sign.

"Mr. Blue Man?" she asked, as he seemed less busy than Itachi. Her voice was blurred and far
away sounding, even to her own ears.

"My name is Kisame," he said, the deep rumble of his voice changing pitches at odd intervals. She
was almost certain that the problem was with her ears and not his voice.

"I'm sorry, I forgot." Sakura took a deep breath and tried not to throw up. "Did the medic drop a
scalpel or possibly two?"

"Yeah." Kisame sounded amused, if nothing else. Hopefully it was a good sign.

"Could you possibly, maybe, if you didn't have anything better to do, please move it away from
the human inferno?" It took her three tries to say 'inferno' right. Her tongue felt like it had been
replaced with a rock. "Pretty please?"

He snorted. "You think he poisoned you?"

"Yes? Maybe something with...blood," she finished, after having forgotten the last word a couple
of times. The scalpels could cut through the tent too--that was two whole reasons to have them!
"There's lots of it on my outsides. It's supposed to be inside."

"You get cut, you bleed," Kisame said.

The bed creaked and sank down in the middle, knocking Sakura off balance and into a really
broad back. The movement was not good. Really, truly, deeply not good.

Sakura let go of the sheet and puked over the side of the bed.

"Ugh." Kisame sounded disgusted. Sakura hoped she hadn't hit him, but it wasn't like she'd made
him sit down next to her or anything.

"Sorry?"

"I liked these sandals," he answered, sounding resigned, not pissed, so that was all right. "I found
your scalpels, put them over by the head of your bed. It's probably just blood loss, though."
"Medic nins play with poison," Sakura said, reciting part of an Academy rhyme. She dropped her
head and moaned, feeling utterly miserable.

"Yeah, but not on medical instruments." Rough hands shoved her on her back and pressed a new
sheet against her cuts, much harder than she'd managed.

Sakura whined low in her throat, blood-slick hands grabbing at Kisame's wrists.

"He nicked an artery or two here. Without pressure, you're going to bleed out damn quick."
Kisame paused, looked over his shoulder.

Itachi was talking again. "I'm impressed by your desire to live. Did you know that this jutsu causes
an eternal flame? Even if I die, you'll still burn. It won't spread, won't leave, won't do anything but
burn you. Forever. Why don't you let your jutsu end? The pain will stop, I promise."

Itachi is kind of creepy, Sakura thought, looking away from the burning man.

"Another medic would be able to fix you up, pretty quick," Kisame continued. "Even if there was
poison."

Sakura blinked and tears dripped down her face, tracing tracks down her cheeks. She wasn't
supposed to cry. It just made them mad. Not being supposed to didn't mean she could stop, and
Sakura felt more tears trickle down the same path as the first ones.

"I’m sorry. It hurts," she tried to explain, even though she knew better. He was going to think she
was some kind of weakling.

Kisame nodded. Up close, he kinda looked like a shark. "Being cut does. You'll get used to it."

She shook her head, glad for the distraction of talking. "Nope. I'm gonna retire. Become a
watchmaker like my dad, or maybe an accountant like mom. Imma have a ton of dogs, too."

"Eh?" He seemed surprised. "Retire? You're what, twelve?"

"I might be thirteen. What month is it?"

"October."

"Nope, I'm still twelve. It seemed longer," she explained, yawning. It felt like she'd fallen into a
dense layer of cotton wool, the world gone dull and strange. "Does this feel really surreal to you?
Or is it just me?"

Kisame grinned at her. His teeth were really big. "Yeah, well—"

Someone yelled, "Fire!"

The faint crackle of flames died down, and some things thumped onto the floor, rattling against
each other like a cup full of dice. "Very good," Itachi said. "I think you've made the right choice."

"He dead?" Kisame asked.

The other patients started to stir, most of them coughing.


"He's bones and ashes," Itachi said with satisfaction. "Miss Sakura? When they question you,
please mention that he worked for Orochimaru."

"Okay." Sakura felt fuzzy. Like a bear.

People rushed into the tent, shouting really loud and Kisame stopped trying to shove her through
the mattress.

"That's our cue to leave. Think about staying in the business, kid. You're going to be a good fight
someday," Kisame told her, standing up. A moment later he and Itachi were gone, and her
shoulders were merrily oozing hot blood all over the place.

For the second time in 24 hours, Sakura passed out.


Chapter 5

War drums woke her, played so fast that the beats melded and sang like booming thunder, the call
to battle ringing through the fabric walls and burying its vibrations inside her bones.

Sakura opened her eyes, her heart pounding frantic to the beat of the great drum’s call, and knew
that Konoha was marching to war.

She had never heard the song before, because it was only for the march to battle, but Sakura knew
it like she knew her name—this song could be nothing else. The Battle Hymn of the Trees,
Konoha's national anthem, swelled and faded into a fast, low rumble that rattled her cot.

She grinned, her lips slick with grease, and looked for her boys. Her shorn hair pricked against the
pillow when she turned her head and it itched, but more importantly, she found Naruto in the first
place she looked.

His face brightened when he realized she was awake, a real, genuine Naruto smile pretty much
lighting up the entire room. “Sakura!” Naruto called, sliding off his cot and hurrying toward her
bed. “You’re awake!”

She struggled to sit up and nodded, searching for Sasuke. He was on her other side, exactly as he
should be.

“Help me up?” she asked hoarsely, holding her hands out to Naruto. Her throat hurt, and there
were scorch marks and missing beds further down the line. Last night had not been a dream.

Naruto beamed and lifted Sakura to her feet in one quick jerk. Her shoulders throbbed, but offered
no other protest. They were wrapped in thick bandages, but she could barely feel them, so they
were probably all right.

She wobbled, then grabbed the IV pole for balance. They’d stuck another needle and tube in her,
taped to her other hand this time. Her left was wrapped in yet more bandages.

“Sasuke!” Sakura said, waving him closer. “Come here!”

He scowled, but came closer. “What?”

“Have you found Kakashi yet?”

“Is he missing?” Sasuke asked. The three of them huddled together, close enough to speak
without yelling over the rumble of the anthem.

“Did they let you see him?” Sakura asked, leaning forward until her bandaged shoulders brushed
theirs.

Naruto tugged on her sleeve, dragging her attention back to him. “When I asked they said he was
resting.”

The drums slowed and the great drum pounded out a steady rhythm, hundreds of voices rising into
song.

Sakura shivered, her hair standing on end. The song was unearthly, like nothing she'd ever heard.
It was also loud enough to make her teeth hum. Kakashi sure as hell wasn’t resting through this.
“As if he could right now.”

“Do you think this is the Battle Hymn?” Sasuke asked. His eyes shone and sparkled in the fabric-
filtered sunlight, alive in a way they hadn't been in the cellar. That was good, it made her happy.

Sakura smiled at him. “What else could it be?” she answered. Her entire body sang with the glory
of it.

“The what?” Naruto cut in.

“We’ll explain later,” Sakura said, because really? Hadn't he learned anything in the Academy?
She checked for guards but the tent was almost empty, except for a few patients. “Come on. This
is our best opportunity to find him.”

“Should we? What if he’s...?” Sasuke shook his head. “There must be a reason they won’t let us
see him.”

“Because they’re stupid?” Naruto suggested, shoving Sasuke. “Come on, Sakura’s right! We’ve
got to find him.”

Sakura grinned, her annoyance with Naruto forgotten. “Damn straight!”

“I don’t think—”

“Come on! They don’t even have anyone in here to stop us,” Sakura wheedled. She’d do it by
herself, but what if someone tried to kidnap Sasuke while she was gone? She needed to keep him
close.

“That’s practically giving us permission,” Naruto pointed out, bouncing on his toes. “Come on!”

“Fine.” Sauke crossed his arms over his chest. “But I’m only coming to keep you out of trouble.”

Sakura beamed, peeling the tape from her wrist and pulling out the needle. It only bled a little, and
luckily, she had some handy tape to put over it so it wouldn't drip everywhere. She tied the tubing
to the top of the pole so it wouldn’t drip and grabbed her teammates' wrists, dragging them deeper
into the hospital wing. There were hundreds of beds to check. “Let’s go!”

***

As it turned out, Kakashi was easy to find. He’d been at the very end of the hall, tucked under
white sheets, tubes, and wires. He had more stuff strapped to him than anyone else in the wing,
but it didn’t seem to be helping at all because he looked horrible.

Naruto’s hand clutched hers. “Is he dead?” he whispered, barely audible under the sound of the
drums.

Sasuke reached around her and poked him, hard. “If he was dead he wouldn’t be in a bed,
doofus.”

It wasn’t fair. It just wasn’t. Kakashi was supposed to be awake and reading his stupid book. He
would see them coming and he’d say something, anything, but it would make her feel better, less
hollow.
He was supposed to tell her what to do now that they were safe, tell her how to get the eyes out of
her head and off of her hands. Maybe he'd even tell her who Konoha was fighting, because she
still didn’t have a clue what this war was about.

The war drums pounded, shaking the ground. Legend said the song had begun during the first war
with Earth Country, as a way to disorient the ninja hiding underground.

“Why isn’t he awake then?” Naruto shot back, rubbing his arm. “The drums could wake the
dead!”

“Maybe they gave him drugs or something,” Sasuke sniped.

Kakashi's skin was colorless, like he’d been cut from paper.

Sakura bit her lip, scraping away the jelly stuff coating it and pressed down until the biggest
cracks split and bled. He’d been sick and unresponsive for months. Or weeks. She didn’t really
trust her sense of time if it was only October.

“Why would they give him drugs?”

“Because he’s sick, duh,” Sasuke said, rolling his eyes.

She’d fed him. Given him water. Kept him clean—he’d usually roused enough to use the bucket if
she dragged it over, but sometimes he hadn’t. Sakura grimaced and pushed the memories away.
She was never going to let anyone know about that. Ever. She planned to forget about it as
quickly as possible.

Naruto stared at Kakashi, rubbing his fingers over his chin like he was stroking an invisible beard.
“If he’s sick...why don’t they fix him?”

It hadn’t really helped. Kakashi had just gotten more tired, less likely to wake up, no matter how
hard she tried to take care of him. Sakura had just...let herself believe. Let herself imagine that
once she got him home, someone would wave their hand and presto, he’d be better.

“Maybe he just needs rest,” Sasuke suggested.

Sakura’s eyes prickled, threatening her with yet more tears. Wasn’t the hard part supposed to be
over? Why hadn’t they fixed him?

“But he got lots of rest when we were down there. If he needed rest, he’d be better by now,”
Naruto said. His voice cracked.

"He wasn't--he was awake yesterday," she said. It didn't make sense. When she'd taken the chains
off, Kakashi had looked so much more alive.

He hadn't woken, though.

"Kakashi woke up most days, right?" Naruto asked. "Why wouldn't he...?"

She shook her head. "No, he didn't." Sakura didn't look at her teammates. "Kakashi woke, like,
once in a blue moon."
"But he..." Naruto trailed off. She'd confused him. He hadn't figured it out yet.

“Sakura?” Sasuke’s fingers tightened around her palm. “Was he...ever awake? All those times
when you said he told you to tell us stuff—did he say any of it?”

“Of course he did!” Naruto jumped to her defence. He shouldn't have, though, because she was a
liar, a stupid, no good liar. “Right, Sakura?”

She sniffed, her nose running. “I thought you were going to get yourselves killed, trying to
escape,” she said, speaking to both of them. “But it wasn’t that hard.” A tear dripped down her
cheek for all the wasted opportunities when she’d said don’t, when she’d said, Kakashi says to
wait.

“He wasn’t waking up. He just wasn’t. And then you tried to run, Naruto, and they kept hitting
you and hitting you! I just couldn’t stand it.” They could have escaped at anytime. It had been
easy. “We could have escaped so much sooner. I’m so sorry.”

Naruto hugged her, awkward and too hard, like he’d never gotten the hang of hugs. He didn't
have parents, so maybe he hadn't, and that just made Sakura sadder. “When I tried, there were,
like, thirty guards upstairs. We never would have made it.”

Sasuke grunted, but laced his fingers between hers. “He probably would have gotten himself
killed if you hadn’t. Naruto’s an idiot.”

“You’re an idiot, idiot!” Naruto barked back, right in her ear.

She disentangled herself and left them to fight, her stomach rolling. Kakashi looked dead.

“The numbers don’t lie, dead last.”

The drums rolled, rising thunder. Someone started the solo, a deep baritone that matched the
drums, and his voice made her shiver, the hair on her neck rising.

“Those tests were stupid!” Naruto protested. “Who even needs to know that stuff?”

“We bring death!” the chorus howled, hundreds, maybe even thousands of ninja singing out in
unison.

She knelt by Kakashi’s bed, the strength that had kept her going draining out.

“Oh, I don’t know. Ninja?” Sasuke suggested. He was being mean, Sakura thought. She should
stop him.

“To those that oppose us!”

Sakura leaned forward, resting her forehead against the cool metal bars of the bed frame. She was
tired.

“We bring life!”

She couldn’t even see if he was breathing. What if the medics had gone off to sing and drum and
they'd forgotten him? What if Kakashi had died? What if this was just his body?

“To those we protect!”


She pressed her first two fingers against his wrist, sneaking them through the maze of tubes and
wires going into his hand. His heartbeat was hard to find, weak and fast, but it was there. Sakura
sighed, wiping away her useless tears. Kakashi would tell her not to cry if he were awake, and it
was good advice even though he was asleep.

“Is he okay?” Naruto asked.

She nodded. Kakashi wasn’t hot, wasn’t cold. His fever had broken. “He’s alive,” she said,
standing. It didn't mean anything, just being alive. He might never wake up, and what then?

Sakura couldn't think of what then. Sasuke and Naruto were watching her, silent for once, and she
needed to tell them something, anything, but she couldn't come up with words that might make it
better. She didn't think there were any.

Sasuke and Naruto were getting upset, worry twisting their faces into twin frowns. She needed to
take them away. Let Kakashi rest.

***

The drums were gone. Quieted. People returned, bustling through the hallway with clipboards and
carts and trays. Sakura watched, disinterested. Naruto and Sasuke squabbled beside her,
reassuringly present, annoyingly loud.

Her shoulders ached and hurt when she tried to move, so Sakura didn’t. It was easier not to,
anyway.

“Sakura Haruno?”

She buried her head in the pillow, hoping the guy calling for her would just go away. Hadn’t she
done enough yet?

“You’re requested in the interrogation tent for debriefing.”

Damn it. Sakura sighed and rolled onto her back. Yep. It was an ANBU. He was wearing a cat
mask with little pointed ears. He looks dumb, she thought spitefully, then wondered if the other
ANBU made fun of him for having a silly mask.

“Can you walk?”

Sakura sighed again. “Yes,” she said. “Are Sasuke and Naruto coming with me?”

“No.”

She felt a twinge of worry. “Will someone be guarding them?” What if someone came after
Sasuke? Or Naruto?

“We don’t need to be guarded!” Naruto protested. “Right Sasuke?”

“Hn,” Sasuke grunted, shutting up as soon as he had to talk to someone other than Naruto.
“Yes you do,” Sakura replied, too busy watching the ANBU to look at them.

“Why would they need to be guarded?” The ANBU was like a brick wall. Not a single hint of
anything in his body language.

“Because the medic who was working for Orochimaru—” she sounded the name out carefully,
exactly as Itachi had said it, “—might not have been working alone.”

“The what?” Did she say brick wall? Sakura meant scary wall. Holy shit, how did that stupid
mask look so terrifying?

“The guy?” she offered, staring into the black eye holes. “From last night? A crazy medic tried to
kidnap Sasuke, and then there was a lot of burning things...he stabbed me?”

“You were awake during the fire?”

“Someone tried to kidnap me?” Sasuke asked.

“Yes?” Sakura sat very still, hoping the scary ANBU would either stop being so scary or go
away. Maybe if she used henge to be a nice, boring rock...

“Get up. You’re going to interrogation.” When she hesitated, he picked her up, lifting her over the
rails on her bed. Sakura yelped and punched at the scary mask. He tilted his head and she missed,
her fist flying past his mask. The ANBU stared at her, and Sakura paled. Was it a capital offense
to attack ANBU? Or was it just treason? She couldn't remember.

“I can walk,” she whispered, too scared to look away. Her heart fluttered like a frightened rabbit's.

Cats ate rabbits. Oh fuck, she was going to die—wait, no, he was putting her down.

Sakura smoothed the wrinkles in the patient's gown someone had dressed her in. It had ducks on
it. Her neighbour’s cat had killed a duck once.

“Walk.”

“Will someone be watching over Sasuke and Naruto?” she asked again, her voice squeaking a
tiny bit.

“Yes. Walk.” The scary dwindled until he was just an ANBU in a silly mask again.

She nodded, finally able to look away. “Um. Walk where?” she asked.

“The interrogation tent.”

Did they have a policy that demanded they say the absolute minimum number of words for every
situation? “I know. Where is the interrogation tent?”

He rubbed the back of his neck and shrugged. “Follow?”

“If you insist,” Sakura muttered.

***
“...and that’s when he told me that medics don’t usually poison their...instruments? I think he said
instruments. And then he said that it was probably just blood loss, which seemed reasonable
considering how much blood was on the sheets. Then he put pressure on the cuts until the medic
stopped healing himself and died like Itachi told him to.”

Sakura paused to take a breath. Inoichi hadn’t been in the room the ANBU had led her into.
Instead there’d been guy with a lot of scars on his face, and an old guy with red stripes on his face
and a ton of white hair. Sakura had hair envy. If she had that much hair she could braid it, and
brush it, and stroke it, and put it into pretty buns that made her look older...

“And how did you find out that Kabuto was working for Orochimaru?” the white-haired man
asked her, distracting her from her hair fantasies.

“Is Kabuto the medic?” she asked, shifting in her chair. It was really uncomfortable. Probably on
purpose, because the guy with the hair had a much nicer chair. It was soft, and poofy looking. She
could sit in it and brush all her pretty hair...

“Yes he was.” Scarred Guy was kind of intense.

“Itachi told me. He said I had to tell people that.”

"Did Kabuto appear stressed, or in a hurry?" Scarred Guy asked.

Sakura thought about it. "When? Like, when I woke up? He seemed fine, then."

"Did he say anything about a partner, or Danzo?"

"Who is Danzo?" Sakura asked. "And he didn't say anything about a partner, but I don't think he
was going to just, like, disappear after he took Sasuke. He was really calm, if he was going
missing nin."

"Danzo was the commander of this army," white-haired man answered. "He died last night. Are
you certain Kabuto said nothing about killing him?"

"Pretty sure," Sakura said. "But we didn't have deep conversations or anything. Kabuto was really
nasty, though. He totally could have." His hair would look nice with ribbons in it. Red ones.
Sakura liked the colour red.

“Alright.” He stood up and started pacing. “You still don’t know what woke you up?”

Sakura tapped her feet restlessly. “I dunno. I woke up feeling worried, so maybe it was a bad
dream? He must not have cast the genjutsu then.”

“And you threw off the genjutsu by...?”

“Using Kai.” They seemed really hung up on that. This was like, the third time they’d asked her.

“Could you demonstrate?” white-haired man asked. “Just quickly, if you please.”

Sakura shrugged, pressing her hands in the seal and flexing her chakra. “Kai,” she said.

White-haired man’s nostrils flared opened, and then his eyes narrowed, like she’d done something
really interesting instead of the very first chakra exercise in the Academy. “You have the taste of
Hatake chakra.”

“I what?” Kakashi’s last name was Hatake, right?

Sakura wiggled her tongue against the roof of her mouth, but couldn’t taste anything significant.
Maybe tasting chakra was a metaphor, or something. She did need to brush her teeth, though. And
floss.

“It would explain why she collapsed when his heart stopped—”

“Kakashi’s heart stopped? Is he okay?”

Scarred man was expressionless. “Can you describe the chains that were holding you, again?”

“They were really shiny. And heavy.”

Both men looked at her like she was a moron, but seriously, it wasn't like this was the first time
they were going over this. If anyone was being dumb here, it was so totally them. “Any other
details?” Scarred guy asked.

“Could you give me a hint? I mean...they were metal. Probably. And Gato said they were really
expensive, and he only had three lengths, so he had them hook an extra set of manacles to
Kakashi’s chains. They, uh, put those ones on me.”

“And what happened when you unlocked the chains?”

“I told you this already,” she reminded them. “This is the third time.” Did she need to talk slower,
maybe?

“Once more, please.”

“Fine. My chains got dull and the surface crumbled a bit. After I took them off, I felt a lot better.”
She paused, licking her lips. Her head was starting to hurt, and she was really thirsty. “Kakashi’s
cuffs were hard to open. They were sticky inside the hinges. I dropped them after I got them off
and the entire chain crumbled into dust.”

“Including the manacles that had been around your wrists?” the white-haired man asked.

“I can’t remember. I...uh...I didn’t want to look down.” Sakura fought back a nervous giggle at the
thought of the eyes. “After I got the chains off him, Kakashi started breathing more evenly—I
mean, he stopped panting. I felt...something. I don’t know what. It was warm. I don’t know.”

“Fascinating.” White-haired man stood up. “Sakura, would you accompany me back to the medic
nin tent?”

“You’re done?” If there was a trifle too much excitement in her voice, she hoped they would
ignore it. "I can leave?"

"Ibiki, get one of the Hyuuga. We'll be needing their eyes." Sakura's hair prickled, standing on
end.

"Does this have something to do with Kakashi?" she asked, hoping someone would respond for
once. "Is he okay?"
"Perhaps." He tugged open the ties on the door flap and held it open. Sunlight streamed in, and his
face lost its intent, sharp-eyed expression. He didn't look as smart, or as alert. "Are you coming?"
White-haired man's voice had picked up an indefinable accent, his words slightly blurred.

Sakura slid off the edge of the chair and to the ground. Her legs had fallen asleep and the prickles
of waking were vaguely painful. "Yeah, okay."

***

"Sit still," the old man--the medics had called him Jiraiya--had said, pointing at the empty bed
beside Kakashi's. "We're going to try something." He’d drawn a bunch of lines on her forehead,
and on her palms, then drew something else on Kakashi’s chest. Sakura had watched warily, not
quite trusting him, but nothing had happened until he’d stood back and clapped his hands.

Try something apparently meant hurt you.

Her skin shivered, shoestrings dragged out from under it. Sakura touched her chest, looking for
the ropes being torn from her bones, but there was nothing to show for the pain.

"Lie still," someone ordered her again.

Sakura did her best to hold motionless, but couldn't stop twitching. "What are you doing?" she
asked, but they did not reply.

Her leg jerked, closely followed by her hand. Sakura grit her teeth and grabbed on to the side bars.
Her face twisted, lips curling into a mad smile that she didn’t intend or feel. Sakura thought she
heard the medics talking, but could not understand the words.

The wounds in her shoulders opened, pouring hot and wet behind the bandages. A choked cry
tore free from her throat, but no one heard. No one cared. Sakura could see them, clustered around
Kakashi’s bed, their backs turned to her, and even though she knew he was more important, and
she knew that he needed them more, it still hurt.

Her teeth clenched, and Sakura’s back tightened, her body contorting in tense, painful poses. She
bit her tongue, a bright startling pain, and tasted blood. The bleeding quickened, flooding out with
the chakra--it had to be her chakra they were taking--and draining her like she was a bathtub. She
was going to be empty, and the thought terrified her more than eyes.

The muscles in her chest had locked up, and she couldn’t breathe, couldn’t even scream.

Sakura’s eyes were as wide as they would go, and she could not close them, stuck staring at the
backs of the medics and hoping they’d notice her and stop.

It was like they dropped her into deep, cold water: distorted vision, distant sounds--yelling,
someone was yelling--and she couldn’t breathe.

The pain stopped. Sakura sucked in a shallow breath, then another, blinking away the darkness
that had claimed her eyes.

“You’re killing her!” Naruto had a powerful set of lungs, Sakura decided, her returning hearing
ringing from the sound of his voice. “Stop it!”
“Do you want your teacher awake or not?” Jiraiya snapped at him.

“Of course I do! That doesn’t mean I want Sakura dead!”

She could see them now. Naruto and Sasuke stood between her and Jiraiya, side by side and
bristling with anger. It made Sakura feel safe, even though she thought she might be bleeding to
death. The duck gown was definitely ruined.

“She won’t die from this. The chakra she’s been using isn’t hers. The seal is just returning it to its
rightful owner.”

He made her sound like a thief. Sakura hadn’t taken anyone’s chakra, much less Kakashi’s. Or if
she had, she hadn’t meant to.

Damn it, it was probably true. Sakura felt like hitting someone. It figured. The first time she
managed to do anything important, it was with someone else’s power.

“No,” Sasuke said flatly. He sounded emotionless, but she could see the tremors in his hands. He
was upset. “You’re stealing her chakra.”

“Look, kid, I appreciate that you’re trying to protect her, but you don’t need to. I know what I’m
doing. She isn’t in pain.”

It made her giggle, then choke on the blood in her mouth. “Doen’t ‘urt?” she laughed, saliva and
blood dribbling over her chin and cheeks, mixing with her tear-tracks. “Is peashy. Fuggen grade!
Gibe me sum more.”

She may need to work on the talking thing.

“What are you--” He leaned over, peering over the barrier of Naruto and Sasuke’s bodies. He said
a very nasty curse that mama would have washed Sakura's mouth with soap for, and then called
for a medic.

“We’ve almost got him awake,” someone called. “Could you restart it?”

Sakura groaned. It wasn’t like she wouldn’t let them do it again, if it would wake up Kakashi, but
she really didn’t want to.

“No. I...ah.” Jiraiya scratched the back of his head and smiled, showing too many teeth. “I appear
to have made a mistake. She...ah...was not, in fact, leeching Kakashi’s chakra. Also, she now
needs a medic.”

“I told you so,” Sasuke muttered, brushing his fingers over her hand. Sakura grinned, her eyelids
drooping. She couldn’t wait to tell Ino. He cared. He so totally did!

Someone pushed Sasuke and Naruto away, and started pressing really hard on her shoulders. That
was getting to be familiar, she thought lazily, pain fading into nothing much at all.

“Jiraiya? I was told you require my assistance?”

Through the people around her (there were a lot more now, all of them wearing medic uniforms)
Sakura spied Hinata’s dad. It took her a couple of seconds to recognize him, but she was almost
sure...
***

The passing out thing was not cool. It made your head feel like someone had used it as a punching
bag, and dumped a bucket of sand in your mouth for good measure. Sakura was deeply
unimpressed.

She wiggled her fingers, testing to see if they hurt. They didn’t, but her shoulders ached, in a dim,
distant sort of way. From the way her skin tightened and pulled, she thought there might be a
needle in her hand again. You'd think they'd stop doing that after the first few times--wasn't she
better yet?

“Are you awake?”

Sakura frowned and opened her eyes. It was dark, and someone had leaned their crutches against
her bed, right in front of her face.

“Yes?” she guessed. Her tongue felt stiff, and she could feel a smooth line down the side where
she was missing taste buds. She folded her tongue, worrying at the smoothness. They must have
healed her.

“That’s good.” The speaker was amused. She couldn’t see him because of the crutches, but his
voice sounded familiar. Really familiar. “Do you want something to drink?”

That sounded like a lot of effort. On the other hand, she was thirsty. Sakura sighed pensively. “I
dunno,” she said, yawning. “Easy water?”

“Hmm?”

“I can have easy water? It sounds hard,” she clarified.

They’d put her in a new patient's gown. It had puppies frolicking with butterflies on it. “I want a
puppy,” she informed the stranger, lifting the collar so she could see more cartoon dogs. “A big
one. Not a big puppy though. I want...little puppy, big dog.” She nodded, pleased that she’d
explained herself.

The stranger laughed quietly. “Don’t we all?” She heard water pouring somewhere near her
stranger. She felt oddly possessive of him. “If I help you up, will water be easy?”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “I think I’d like a black one. He could have spots, though. Like the fluffy
ones at mountain shrines.”

Her stranger wiggled a hand behind her back and lifted her, just long enough to tuck some thin
pillows behind her. Sakura blinked for too long and missed her chance to see his face. “Are we
still talking about dogs?”

“Not dog yet. Puppy.” She was still in the hospital tent, though there were a lot fewer beds. All
the ones without people were gone. “I’d name him...” Sakura closed her eyes, giving in to the
leaden weights that her eyelashes had become. “Why are all the beds gone?”

“They’re packing up. The war is over.”

A glass pressed against her lips, slowly rising until she could sip at it. Sakura did, deciding that
this was sufficiently easy to be worth the effort. It was really good water.

He took the glass away, and dried a trickle that had fallen down her chin. “No more for now. The
medics said you might be sick.”

“Why was there a war?” she asked him, dragging her sheet higher. It was cold in the tent. She
could hear rain pattering against the sides.

“Hmmm. Something about Gato attempting to sell Konoha ninja into slavery. I'll admit I wasn’t
paying much attention, but Wave Country has officially been annexed to Fire Country as of this
evening.” Stranger paused, then continued, "Gato's band of missing nin and ronin were put to
death, excluding Zabuza for some reason."

“Zabuza was nice," Sakura said. A thought distracted her. "Fire-Wave Country?” she asked,
giggling. It sounded silly. “Wave was a dumb country anyway. Very dark and smelly.”

“I’m not sure a root cellar converted into a prison is the best place to base your judgement of a
country on.”

“Meh. It’s dark right now.” It didn’t smell too bad, though.

“True.” He sighed. “I never much liked Wave, either. Too rainy.”

“Only baby trees,” she agreed. The forest here was too small.

“Terrible food.”

“Ugly people.”

“They’re mean, too. Trying to sell us into slavery, I mean really. Who does that?”

“Gato,” Sakura answered. Something about his last sentence confused her. She couldn’t put her
finger on it, though. “He won’t anymore, though.”

“I heard.”

“Yeah?” Sakura dragged one of the pillows from behind her and hugged it to her chest, ignoring
the stretch and pull of her shoulders. She was temporarily distracted by the puppies on her arms.
They were so cute!

“Yeah. You did good work.”

Sakura pouted. “Old guy said I had Kakashi’s chakra. Means it wasn’t really me,” she
complained. “Sucks. I wanted to be a hero, too.”

Her stranger went quiet for a couple of moments. “I was informed that it was quite the opposite.”

She tucked the pillow under her chin. "He had my chakra?"

"Yes. The chains formed a link, which persisted for a time." Fabric rustled. "How do you feel?
Jiraiya nearly drained you dry."

“I'm fine. Feel good, really. Do you think they’ll let me see Kakashi tomorrow?” she asked.
He didn’t respond. Stranger was probably bored of talking to her.

“Miss him,” she muttered. “People keep saying he’s fine, but I think they might be lying.”

“Are you having trouble seeing?” Stranger asked. He took her hand, gingerly, like he thought she
might break. There were bandages on his wrists, too.

Heh, bandage buddies.

Sakura looked over, peering through the crutches at the man in the bed next to hers. His patient’s
gown had penguins on it, he was wearing a surgical mask, and his red eye was covered up by
white-coloured cloth. “Kakashi?” she asked, wondering if she was dreaming.

“Who did you think I was?” he answered, raising his eyebrow.

“I thought...stranger. I dunno. You sounded like a good person...” Sakura’s brain caught up with
the action. “Kakashi!”

“Shhh! People are sleeping.”

Sakura grinned until her cheeks hurt. “You’re awake!” She struggled to sit up, scrambling for the
edge of the bed. “You’re alive and awake.”

“You’re supposed to stay in bed,” he warned her, whispering. Kakashi glanced down the
scattered rows of beds. “I’m not kidding. The medics were very, uh, clear. As was ANBU. And
the Interrogation Squad. They said something about you lighting the hospital on fire?”

Awake! She beamed, too happy to really hear him. They’d raised her bed rails again, but Sakura
was a ninja. Half-foot rails were no match for ninja-ness!

“Shit, you’re going to rip your stitches--” Kakashi stood up, like he was trying to grab her and
Sakura gladly fell into him, knocking them both onto his bed. She knocked over his crutches and
her IV pole, too, and they made a lot of noise when they hit the ground. “Sakura?”

She sniffed, clinging tight. “Yes?”

“Are you okay?”

“Fantabulous.” She squeezed him, pressing her ear against his chest. Kakashi’s heart beat was
slow and strong and he was awake!

“You’ve got your IV line all tangled up,” he scolded, but it was a pretty half-hearted scolding.
Sakura would survive.

“Un-huh?” Sakura agreed sleepily. She was tired now. They’d wrapped a couple of loops of tape
around her wrist and the needle, so it was probably fine, really. Unlikely to go anywhere.

“Come on, sit up.”

“Nope.” Sakura yawned. “I’m going to sleep now.”

“You’re--ah...hello...” He cleared his throat. “Good evening...or morning, as the case may be.”
There was someone else at the foot of the bed. “This is not your bed, Kakashi.” They sounded
grumpy. Probably needed more sleep or something.

“Well, you see Jiro--it is Jiro, right? I was asleep in my bed when I woke to a horrible foreboding,
and I just had to investigate,” Kakashi said. “It was awful.”

“Just awful,” Sakura supported him. She yawned and turned her head so she’d drool on the sheets
and not Kakashi, because she was considerate like that.

“And did you find anything?” Jiro sounded like he was giving credence to Kakashi’s lies, which
was kind of silly of him.

“Of course. My jounin senses are never wrong,” Kakashi asserted.

Sakura muffled her giggle.

“What did you find?” Jiro asked again. He sounded alarmed. Justifiably, given that last night the
tent had nearly caught on fire. For a very good reason, but nevertheless. Fire.

Kakashi cleared his throat again. “A young lady in desperate need of a glass of water.”

“You...”

“I fixed it! Don’t worry. I won’t even tell anyone that you failed to ensure she was well-hydrated--

“I was so thirsty,” she added mournfully.

“I see.” Jiro picked up the IV pole and untangled the tube. It had been kind of twisted. “Might I
ask what happened to Genma?”

“Who?” Kakashi replied. He was tense, his chest shaking a tiny bit, like he was trying not to
laugh.

“That is his bed. Which he shouldn’t be out of, either.”

“Oh. Right. He forgot something in Wave. He went to go get it.”

“He's supposed to leave tomorrow,” Jiro said. "With the two of you, if you'll recall."

“No better time to get it, then,” Sakura pointed out cheerfully.

Jiro sighed. “Reassure me. Genma isn’t dead in a corner, is he?”

Kakashi shook his head.

“And neither of you are experiencing difficulty breathing, dizziness, or any other signs that you
might, possibly, be dying of blood loss or chakra exhaustion?”

“Not at the moment,” Sakura said, giving him a thumbs-up. He didn't seem entertained, so she
added her sweetest smile, just in case. "Honestly, I feel fine."
“Fuck it, then. I’m leaving you here. Try not to wake up any more patients.”

Sakura held up her hand for a fist bump. Kakashi’s knuckles knocked against hers. “Sleep now?”
she asked, because fine or not, she was exhausted.

“Fuck yeah. I feel like I went ten rounds with Gai.” Kakashi dragged his legs onto the bed and lay
back, sighing mightily. Sakura rolled onto her side, tucking herself under his arm, her back to his
side. It was familiar and warm, even if her knees were hanging over the edge because the bed was
too small.

Sakura closed her eyes, but couldn’t sleep, not quite yet. “Kakashi?”

“Yeah?”

"I'm starting...okay, I'm pretty sure I totally misunderstood what you were telling me to do with
the whole eye thing. What...I mean, do you remember what you said?"

Kakashi laughed quietly. "You didn't exactly go where I expected with it, no. But I think your
interpretation was a much better one than mine."

"Oh." She wrapped her fingers around his thumb because she needed to hold onto something.

"Inoichi said I should clarify, by the way," Kakashi added. "I used my sharingan eye when I gave
the order. You weren't going crazy, with the whole eye thing. I maybe...possibly...hypnotized you
into going after eyes. Unintentionally."

"You...?" Sakura squeezed his thumb, not really certain what she wanted to say, but seriously,
deeply, totally pleased that she wasn’t crazy. That was good. That was really good. "Okay."

"From what Inoichi said, it was completely unnecessary." Sakura was pretty sure she heard pride
in his voice, and it made her cheeks prickle with heat.

“I did good?”

“You did great.” He ruffled her scraggly stubble-hair, and Sakura grinned. “I’m very proud of
you,” he said, confirming what she'd already realized, and that made her blush so hot that Sakura
had to fight to keep from squirming. His words didn't make it worth it, but they sure made her feel
better.

"Where's Sasuke and Naruto?" she asked, when her skin started to itch with the not knowing.
"Are they okay? Someone tried to steal Sasuke, you know. I helped stop them. Well, I guess
Sasuke's brother did most of the stopping, but I did some serious delaying."

"Mmm, I heard. They're around. I asked Gai to watch them, so they'll be fine." Kakashi laughed,
a soft huff that didn't sound as amused as it did disbelieving. "Itachi, huh?"

"He's scary," Sakura said, her eyes drooping shut. "But he's, like, super into protecting Sasuke, so
I guess he's okay."

Kakashi made a muffled sound like he wanted to disagree, but he didn't actually say anything, so
it probably wasn't important.
Epilogue

“She is admirable,” Gai told him, utterly sincere as only he could be. He grinned, teeth gleaming,
and laid down another pair of twos.

Kakashi wasn’t sure how the deck had managed to contain six twos, but since he was holding five
jacks, he didn’t mention it. “Who is?”

“Your student.” Gai left that unexplained, like it was a self evident truth. “She--”

“Shut up, Gai.” Kakashi pilfered one of Gai’s jacks from the table, and set down the entirety of his
hand. “I win.”

“You still believe that she will retire?” he asked, raising one eyebrow. In a man with lesser
eyebrows, it would be a mild question of an expression. On Gai, it was the equivalent of a full
interrogation.

“I think she should at least be given the opportunity,” Kakashi corrected him. He gathered the pile
of cards, sliding a few aces up his sleeve in case Gai decided on poker next. “It’s a wise choice on
her part.”

Gai chuckled, his eyebrow lowering. “My great friend, I am loathe to tell you this truth, but I
suppose I must. Your little warbird is a ninja straight down to her bones.”

“Fuck, Gai, stop that. Don’t buy into those stupid stories, because it wasn’t like that.” Kakashi
dealt out five cards to each of them, giving himself a generous amount of aces. He liked aces.
“She’s a fucking twelve-year-old girl. She’s not--” special died on his tongue, because it was
blatantly obvious that Sakura was, “--she isn’t what everyone keeps trying to make her into. She
wants to retire and become an accountant and get a puppy.”

“Kakashi, stop pretending.” Gai never offered more explanation than he felt necessary, no matter
how annoying it might be. “We will play Go Fish again.”

Kakashi sighed and added another two cards to each hand. “Look, it might not be possible, but it’s
what she wants. I owe her that much.” He owed her more, if he was going to be truthful, but
giving her what she wanted was a nice first step.

“It’s what you want. Perhaps she wants it as well, but you are the driving force behind it,” Gai
said, staring into his hand intently. “Do you have any cherry blossoms?”

Against all logic, Kakashi did have a card with a cherry blossom on it. “Yeah.” He handed it over,
wondering what deck Gai had gotten it from. “I’ll take your fours, if you aren’t going to put them
down.”

Gai handed over the cards. “She is a weapon, Kakashi.”

“She’s a kid, Gai.” Kakashi sank back into his pillows--extra fluffy because Sakura had both a
real talent for leadership and absolutely no morals regarding stealing. “They all are, but she’s
actually got something to go back to.”

“And so she should?” Gai laughed quietly so as not to wake the kids. They had a silencing
genjutsu up, but those weren't foolproof with Sakura around. “You think she can go back to
civilian life and watch her team go off on missions? She is twelve years old. It’ll be four years
before she’ll be allowed to do a full day's work under civilian laws.”
Kakashi sighed. “Did someone put you up to this? I’m not going to back down on my
recommendation that she retire unless she asks me to.”

Gai laid down his cards, none of which Kakashi had dealt to him. “She is...”

“Don’t say it.”

“...very youthful,” Gai finished, undaunted by Kakashi’s glare. “The child has promise, and she
completes and leads your team admirably. You are a fool if you let her go.”

“Her name is Sakura,” Kakashi said. No one who tried to convince him ever used her name.
Nicknames, epitaphs, everyone discreetly skirted around her name like that somehow changed
what they were asking him to do. “She wants to be safe, and it’s a happy coincidence that I want
the same thing.”

The wagon creaked, the canvas sides flapping in the wind, and Sakura blinked awake, searching
for Kakashi before she even finished opening her eyes. Finding him, she yawned and stretched,
her fingers catching in the weft of Gai’s silencing genjutsu and shredding it. She didn’t seem to
notice what she’d done.

Kakashi was acutely aware of Gai’s raised eyebrow.

***

The children walked by his wagon from Wave to Konoha, a pintsized honor guard. It would have
been cute if he hadn’t needed it. Not them specifically--well, maybe them. Sakura had shown
herself to be shockingly competent when challenged. It rankled to be guarded by genin.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t walk without crutches yet, which was nearly the same thing as being
defenceless. The medics had bundled him into the back of a wagon drawn by two plodding
horses, and wrapped him in so many blankets that Kakashi’s dignity as a shinobi had suffered.
Despite that, he was cold. The fog drew out his warmth, leaving Kakashi cold and clammy as a
corpse three days dead, and just as tired.

He hated chakra exhaustion.

Gai watched Kakashi with that look--the one for when Kakashi returned home after being marked
MIA. It was a sappy look that Kakashi wanted nothing to do with, but he counted it as better than
Gai weeping. If he let Gai stay closer than usual, it was only because Gai was keeping his damn
voice down while Sakura was around, and she was always around. She still flinched every time
he yelled, and Gai was good about things like that.

The sappy look that Gai directed at Kakashi’s genin was different. Kakashi didn’t let it come up
again after the first night, cutting Gai off whenever he tried to bring her up. Gai could romanticize
their bonds all he wished, but service to the Hokage was a job, and an unpleasant one for the most
part. Sakura deserved better, and Kakashi was going to make sure she got it.

As the sun set on the third day, the big plow horses pulling the wagon stopped, and the rattling in
his bones died down a bit. The wagon shifted, sagging forward when the horses were unhitched
before it was propped up.

“Thank the Hokages,” Genma muttered, sitting up with a speed that suggested that only the
healer’s threats had kept him lying down. “I’m heading out, won’t be back, my bed’s completely
and utterly free.” He plucked a senbon needle from behind his ear and bit onto the end.
“Subtle, Genma,” Kakashi replied, not bothering to remove his arm from over his eyes. His bones
were still rattling from the potholes. “They’re outside?” His chakra still hadn’t recovered enough
for him to sense others.

“And have been since they crawled out of here this morning.” Genma grabbed his crutches from
between his futon and the wagon wall. “It’s cute.”

“It’s creepy,” Kakashi countered, even though he agreed--his genin team was adorable. Didn’t
exclude them from being creepy stalkers though.

Genma tucked the crutches under his arm and crawled toward the thick curtains at the back of the
wagon. “Are you going to tell her about the Hokage’s offer?”

“Eavesdropper,” Kakashi said. He’d glare, but lifting his head off the pillow was far too much
effort.

“I bet she’d stay if--”

“Shut up, Genma.” Kakashi rolled onto his side, feeling queasy at the exertion, but it was worth it
to be able to scowl at him.

Genma paused, looking over his shoulder, the senbon needle between his lips shifting, glimmering
in the dim light. “You’re stabbing yourself in the foot, you know.”

“It’s my foot. I’ll do what I want to it.”

Genma tugged the curtains open and set the tips of his crutches on the ground outside, then
slipped down onto them with the ease of long practice. “See you in the morning, Kakashi.” He
tilted his head toward someone Kakashi couldn’t see, then limped off toward the middle of the
camp.

Three heads popped up over the edge, clearly standing on the tips of their toes just to see, and
Kakashi sighed. “Come on in, you brats.”

Sakura held back, pushing Naruto and Sasuke in first. When she crawled in, sparks of chakra
glowing under her palms, light flaring in her eyes, she scanned the corners with admirable
wariness. She glowed with energy even to Kakashi’s deadened senses. Naruto’s unruly,
undisciplined chakra was far greater, and Sasuke’s was at the very least equal to hers, but Sakura’s
chakra was neatly wrapped razor wire to their dulled kunai.

Kakashi knew precisely why she was attracting so much attention.

Sasuke settled at Naruto’s side, both of them tucked into the furthest corner. Sakura sat by the
entrance, alert and watching both her teammates and the camp being set up outside. Naruto looked
distant, twisting his fingers into and out of sloppy seals. Sasuke watched the camp like he was
waiting for someone, and Kakashi was left uneasy by the thought.

“So?” he asked them.

Naruto jolted out of his thoughts at the sound of Kakashi’s voice. “What?”

Sakura covered for him smoothly, “Do you want to go by the campfire for dinner, Kakashi?”

His eye ached as much as Obito’s did, and Kakashi wanted nothing more than to lie still.
Preferably forever. "Yeah, sounds good." It was good for them, making them be with other
people. Sakura was going to leave, and the boys needed connections in the ranks who weren't her.
Works inspired by this one
Freedom in the Eyes of Another [PODFIC] by Opalsong

Please drop by the archive and comment to let the author know if you enjoyed their work!

Related Interests