Disclaimer: I own neither Harry Potter nor Naruto.

Tenchi Bridge

An unspecified location, Orochimaru's hideout, Country of Grass

Pain wrecks his body. He can no longer tell if it is the poison or if his body is simply protesting being pinned to a wall by chains and seals for so long. Orochimaru had been thorough in ensuring his inability to escape.

The snake's first mistake had been not breaking his legs - but he wanted Sasuke intact for when he'll make him fight her to see exactly what their abilities are now, two years after their last meeting. It just provided extra motivation. The second mistake was that the snake had come to gloat about it. Now he knows exactly how he's being held here. And even with his chakra sealed and the sharingan inactive, Uchiha eyes see well in the dark. He's still able to turn his head and look at the seals holding him.

He knows seals well enough. There is a certain beauty to them, a cold and logical one that rings well with him. He always did like it when they had to solve equations in the Academy back home, and seals are like an extension of that, though they use symbols, words and geometric components instead of numbers, making them infinitely more-dimensional. He appreciates the challenge.

And quite possibly the ability to make his own explosive tags, as well. Not to mention the storage seals. He likes those the best. They remind him of her.

He wonders what she would say if she knew that. Call him a sap, maybe. But she would do it with a smile and a happy flush to her cheeks.

He misses her. More than he thought he would. Misses the rest of the team, too, being part of Team Seven had meant something to him. Like he had a family again. Sasuke of Team Seven, that had been him, and he should have been back to being that weeks ago. Instead he's rotting away in Orochimaru's prison.

But he won't be for much longer. He can only move his arms by millimetres, wiggle them just the tiny bit.

The only thing that means is that it'll take longer for him to wear away at the ink of the seals by rubbing over them. All he needs is that one symbol disrupted and he'll have his chakra back. And then he would be out of here. And if he happened to run into the snake...

Orochimaru truly would learn the consequences of using Uchiha Sasuke as bait for his girlfriend.

If Riko didn't teach the lesson herself, that was.

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Team Decoy, Tenchi Bridge, Country of Grass

Nara Riko

My nose itches. I resist the urge to sneeze.

My part in our plan banks on stealth. I've been tucked away in a tiny space within the rock face almost directly below the bridge for half of last night and all of this morning, not moving an inch. Definitely the worst part of the mission, the wait. Being forced to do nothing. It's a technique I learned from a veteran in Kiri, slowing my bodily functions down to the point of breathing only once every five minutes, cooling down my body temperature to match the surroundings, just slowing down everything. Invented to imitate the hibernation of animals, to wait for rescue when supplies are low and an escape is all but impossible, but also quite useful in stealth. Extremely uncomfortable, though, lowering my body temperature is highly unpleasant.

Just two hours to go until noon, I think.

Far worse than the physical discomfort are the worries. Not just for Sasuke and the rest of the team. But for me. I'm terrified of meeting Orochimaru. After this long... I've trained for years to be able to not have to fear him anymore, but will it be enough? The fear churns, and it feels like a constant urge to throw up.

And I just can't shake the feeling that there's something I'm missing. That there's something I've overlooked. Because, why did Orochimaru set his trap for today? He has to know that Kakashi is still alive. Yet he set the meeting for late enough that a team from Konoha could easily sweep the area, or that Kakashi could recover enough to pull something on his own. We had days of downtime. Why did Orochimaru risk giving us that? The longer I sit in my little crevice, the more uneasy I get.

I wonder how the rest of the team is doing.

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Uzumaki Naruto

"Miso is the best," he insists to his Karin-nee. And how great is that, he's got a sister!

"No, it's definitely pork. It just rounds off the flavour!" Karin-nee insists stubbornly. She's so weird. Everyone knows Miso ramen tastes the bestest!

"Silence!" Yamato-taichō hisses. They obey immediately. Yamato-taichō is scary.

Even when he's disguised as Ri-chan. Who also likes Miso the best, and Ri-chan is the smartest girl in the world, so she would know!

"Sorry!" Karin squeaks to Yamato, half-hiding behind Naruto. "But pork is better!" she hisses into Naruto's ear, and he has to keep from grinning. Having a sister is awesome! Two sisters, really, since they adopted Ri-chan which is honestly the best idea he ever had. Though Ri-chan's been his sister since forever.

"Miso, dattebayo!" he whispers back.

"Riko, how long do we still have to wait?" Karin whines.

"Kakashi-sensei's message said to come at noon," Yamato-taichō answers. He's pretty good at impersonating Ri-chan, he's gotten the annoyed tone just right. Naruto still thinks he could have done better, but eh. Then he wouldn't be able to discuss ramen with Karin-nee.

"Why can't we just go look for him?" Naruto complains. Mostly for show. Karin-nee says they're being watched, so they have to put on a good show and act like they don't already know the message was fake and that Kakashi-sensei is perfectly fine.

"I doubt we'd be able to find him," Yamato-as-Ri-chan huffs.

"I bet I could, dattebayo!" Naruto shouts.

"Not so loud!" Yamato hisses.

Stick in the mud. The real Ri-chan would be way more fun to have a stake-out with. They've been sitting behind a boulder and staring down at the bridge for over an hour now. It's so boring!

And he can't even see Ri-chan. He knows she's there, Karin-neechan can still sense her (though why she begins drooling every time she checks in on Ri-chan Naruto has no idea), but he just can't spot her anywhere! She sure is sneaky!

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Team Airbomb, Skies over Kaede Valley, Country of Grass

Shiranui Genma

Sharp eyes survey the forest below. Conveniently, it's the sort of light forest that allows for decent visibility. Even more convenient, the rabbit in his lap is afraid of heights and hasn't said a peep so far.

It really is unsettling, Genma decides. To fly above the forest on constructs of ink and chakra, dependant on the will of someone Genma barely trusts. Thankfully, they aren't flying high enough that a fall would seriously hurt Genma - they couldn't risk going too high, not when any ninja would be able to tell that one, those birds are far too big, and two, there are people riding them. No, they're just sweeping about five metres above the treetops, covered with illusions. Anyone that notices them will be close enough to be noticed in return, and unless it's the snake himself, Genma will deal with them.

Nara Riko isn't the only assassin on the team.

"Genma-san," Sai speaks up.

Genma carefully keeps his face neutral. He dislikes the boy, not because of anything personal but because of what he represents. Tenzō - no, he's called Yamato now - had informed him of Sai's background. It makes Genma angry, that the village has failed children so badly.

It has to be said, Genma knows far more about the goings-on behind the scenes of Konoha than the average shinobi. Not only is he an elite jōnin, but was also part of the Hokage Guard Platoon under Namikaze Minato, the Yondaime Hokage. The Sandaime had his own preferred guards, and Genma had become ANBU instead during his second reign, joining the elite Anbu unit of Team Ro. This was where he met Tenzō for the first time, and it was also where he learned of Root.

If he could have, he'd have shut that disgusting operation down, on his own if he had to. The problem is, Root is everywhere and nowhere, only a handful of members are known, and Genma can't even begin to estimate the numbers. Danzo has been around since the first shinobi world war, and he is damn good at covering his tracks.

He's been getting bolder lately, though. Pushing Sai out into the open and onto Nara Riko's new team was the most drastic action he's taken in a while, but there were more. Genma suspects he's been getting increasingly dissatisfied with Tsunade's way of leading the village. She's nowhere near as peace-loving as the Sandaime used to be, and definitely not as passive and forgiving. A fact that the council, that group of old fogeys, loathes. Genma's seen some of their attempts to chastise her while he was on guard duty, and he's honestly impressed no one's died yet.

He himself has had to curb his desire to destroy those wrinkly bastards. But of all of them, Danzo is the worst by far. Root had been bad back then, and Genma knows that it was ordered disbanded. He also knows that that never happened, after the Kyuubi Attack the village was so severely weakened that Root was actually needed. Oh, the Sandaime never rescinded the order to disband - but he certainly never enforced it either, and with people like Danzo that's as good as giving permission. But regardless of that, even if Root was still operational, there should never have been recruitment going on.

And absolutely no recruitment of children. Twisting their minds, conditioning them to be unfeeling - that is everything Konoha stands against. All Konoha ninja fight to make a better place for the future generation to live in. It's the very foundation of the Will of Fire.

Genma is generally a rather easy-going man, but this? He's livid. And ashamed, for he had failed to protect children of Konoha.

"What is it?" he answers Sai.

"What does 'teammate' mean?" the boy asks, frowning faintly. "A team is a group of shinobi who are sent out to achieve an objective at all cost. Yet when Riko-san and Naruto-kun speak of Uchiha Sasuke, they do not talk of missions at all. And Riko-san saved my life despite the fact that I was a hindrance to her mission at the time, solely because I was her teammate. I do not understand."

Genma feels a sort of vindictive glee. Turns out, Danzo didn't destroy the kid's psyche completely, and being around Riko had torn down some of the war hawk's work. He wants to congratulate the girl. Turning Sai to their side might just be what they need to get the information they need on Danzo.

...Was this why Riko had insisted he go with Sai, instead of accompanying Kakashi and leaving Sakura with Sai? Having their main medic up in the air away from the danger, with high mobility, would have been more logical than the plan they went with. Genma thinks back to what he knows of Riko's traits. She's highly intelligent. Highly emotional too for better or worse, to the point that she unintentionally created a separate personality in order to be able to gain emotional distance.

And he'd spoken to Dementia. Interesting, very interesting, that one. And his words must have had some effect on her, there'd been comments from Riko. Perhaps that was why she'd stuck him with the emotionally stunted Sai, to do the same for him.

He has to suppress a chuckle. Devious girl.

"All right, kid, buckle up," he drawls. "Let me tell you something about the word 'nakama'."

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Team Search & Destroy, forests of Kaede Valley, Country of Grass

Haruno Sakura

The atmosphere is tense enough that even Riko's rabbits are silent. The green one she'd had with her from the start, Ninjin, is absolutely terrified, hiding in Kakashi-senpai's rather voluminous hair. It looks ridiculous, from behind only the bushy green tail is visible, and the floppy ears stick out at the side. (Sakura is pretty sure they don't actually need this rabbit, Kakashi-senpai's nose is good enough. More likely is that Riko simply didn't want to deal with her own summon, which in Sakura's opinion is rather disgraceful.)

The other rabbit sits on Sakura's shoulder. It's a smaller one, with ridiculously large ears, purple fur, and magenta paws. His name is Negi Two; the brother to the one she met in Suna. This one is actually somewhat cute, Sakura has decided. And actually useful.

"Incoming patrol, two humans, one large and heavy, another light and fast," the rabbit speaks up. "They are arguing. Stupid humans."

He's really good at hearing people's steps on the ground, especially if they use chakra. Sakura remembers how the Rabbit Morse system works, but she had no idea that it was applicable to other things as well. Negi has been a great help so far, and he said he already has a pretty good idea where Orochimaru's hideout is. ("Lots of humans underground?" he'd sniffed. "More like elephants! Summoner makes less noise than a landing butterfly with her every step, they could learn from her!" Sakura had to refrain from pointing out that elephant steps are actually rather soft, considering the way elephant feet are built.)

"Kakashi-senpai?" she speaks up. "Shall we ambush them?"

"No!" Ninjin protests shrilly. (It's really weird. The voice comes from Kakashi's direction, and with the mask obscuring the man's mouth, it almost seems like he's the one squeaking.)

Kakashi twitches oddly.

"No," he echoes tonelessly. "They are going somewhere."

Sakura's eyes widen in realisation. "We can follow them!"

Kakashi-senpai nods curtly, causing Ninjin to squeak again. "I want my backpack!" he declares. "You, dog-man! Summoner gave you my backpack, I demand to be carried. I will not be subjugated to this abuse!"

"Cram it, Ninny!" Negi growls. "You're too loud! Almost like my stupid brother!"

"Eeek!" Ninjin hides in Kakashi's hair again.

Kakashi looks very sad, somehow, as he unseals the requested backpack. Ninjin is too busy hiding in Kakashi's hair to flee into it, though.

They lay in wait, and the arguing shinobi pass them by with nary a glance in their direction. Sakura's heart is beating hard as she and Kakashi-senpai silently ghost after them.

Kami-sama, what if they really find Sasuke-kun? What will she do? What will she say? It's vastly inappropriate, but she's simply so excited to see her childhood love again!

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Team Decoy, Tenchi Bridge, Country of Grass

Nara Riko

A half hour to go, and I'm gradually releasing the hibernation technique so I won't be hindered by chilled muscles once the action starts. A part of me wants to obsessively check over my equipment, survey the area once again, just move a bit. I shut it down. Stealth, I remind myself. Orochimaru is surely watching, and if he isn't then he has someone doing it for him. I heavily doubt I'm alone here.

That's where the need to do something comes from, after all.

I busy myself by recalling everything I know of the area again.

Tenchi Bridge is a rather simple construction, compared to others I've seen, like the Great Freedom Bridge in Wave. The walkway is made from simple wooden planks, reinforced by red-painted metal. The railing - more red metal - doubles as means of suspension, making it an odd hybrid between a suspension bridge and an arch bridge. It doesn't inspire much faith, all in all, but then I'm no expert.

I suppose I'm just concerned that the whole thing sways and creaks when stronger gusts of wind hit it.

The construct spans over a deep ravine in the ground, too wide for even ninja to leap over. At the bottom of the ravine is, to my pleasure, a river. The Shirakawa, to be precise. A bit too far below to be of immediate use, but it means that due to evaporation, the moisture in the air in the ravine is higher than average.

The bridge itself is surrounded by dense forest, the spacious-feeling maple tree forest having gradually made way for almost an claustrophobia-inducingly close-standing mixture of trees in this part of the area, what little space there is between them filled with dense shrubbery, perfect for hiding any number of shinobi. But that's what we have Karin for.

The seconds pass by agonisingly slow.

It's five minutes before noon when the rest of Team Decoy finally moves. I hear them chattering as they approach the bridge from the end that I'm not hiding under. Naruto and Karin are arguing over ramen.

"Honestly," Yamato-taichō drawls with my voice. "Save it for later, we're on a mission."

"But Ri-chan!" Naruto whines. It sounds completely genuine.

"I'll treat you to ramen," Yamato promises.

"Really? Awesome!" Naruto cheers. Yamato better keep that promise...

"Can I have ramen, too?" Karin asks earnestly. "Pork ramen is my number one!"

Number one, that's the number of people she senses around. A simple code we agreed on before.

"Sure," Yamato agrees easily. "I've got some money to burn anyway."

The banter continues on the bridge, and my tension rises to almost unbearable levels. If I weren't controlling my breath and heartbeat, I'd be hyperventilating right about now.

Three, two, one... noon arrives. There's a moment of utter dread inside me.

And it passes. Noon has come and gone. Up on the bridge the others are silent, but then Naruto laughs boisterously. "Ha, Kakashi-sensei sure is late!" he crows.

"Y-yeah, that must be it," Yamato gives my voice almost palpable relief at the easy explanation.

And maybe it is the explanation. If Orochimaru has someone imitating Kakashi, of course they'd be late. But it just... doesn't sit right.

Why noon today? I ask myself again.

"Uh, so that's normal?" Karin asks tremulously.

"Kakashi-sensei's always late," Yamato answers dryly.

My fingertips are trembling.

What is it that we missed?

"Oh! There! Is it him?" Karin suddenly exclaims, and again the wording is a code, indicating she senses a jōnin level threat. I steel myself. Channelling chakra to my ears, I attempt to follow the barely audible steps of the new arrival, but the wind around the bridge drowns them out easily.

"Kakashi-sensei!" Naruto shouts, and I can just imagine him waving wildly. He's an exceptional actor when he wants to be. "Oi! Kakashi-sensei! Long time no see! You're late, dattebayo!"

The dread churning in my gut intensifies. Keep it together, Ri, I tell myself.

"Maa, I got lost on the road of life." The imitation is so well done, I almost believe it.

"Kakashi-sensei!" Yamato exclaims in my voice. "It's so good to see you - are you alright? Your message said you needed medical assistance?"

"Ah, Riko-chan, did you worry about your dear old sensei?" I almost throw up. This enemy sounds like Kakashi so much, it's sickening.

"Considering your track record? Yes," Yamato says in exasperation, though I imagine the words are accompanied by a wry grin. Yamato isn't a half-bad actor either. "Good to see you, sensei."

"And you, too. I'm quite interested to hear what you've been up to the past years."

Yeah, I imagine Orochimaru would be. Is he lurking nearby? Ah, but Karin would have given a signal in that case.

"It's quite the interesting story, too," Yamato deflects smoothly. "Let's get going. We've secured a location nearby."

"Maa, so diligent, Riko-chan," not-Kakashi chuckles.

An instant of silence. And then-

He's here!, Dementia hisses, her mental voice loud and venomous enough to blast every other thought from my head. Orochimaru!

My heart just about stops. The - her - urge to kill kill kill is overwhelming. The Cursed Mark on my shoulder burns.

No, this isn't me, stop it. I cannot let it control me. I will not let it control me. I'm going to kill Orochimaru - but I won't do it out of this mindless hatred. I will do it for Fumio, for Suigetsu, for the Sandaime, for everyone that abomination has ever killed or hurt, for everyone he will kill or hurt in the future, myself included. Recall what this destructive rage does to you, Bloody Flower, I remind myself desperately.

I make myself focus on the happenings on the bridge, blending out Dementia's vitriol. I don't seem to have missed anything in my instant of distraction, because not-Kakashi speaks, "Lead the way then-"

Karin gasps in terror.

"Kukuku... What an interesting conversation. You wouldn't mind if I joined in, would you?" the hoarse voice from my nightmares speaks, and the force of Dementia's sheer rage nearly sweeps away everything Riko.

But my comrades, my team, are up on the bridge with that monster, and they need me. So I steel myself, and creep out from my hiding place without any noise. Climb up the rock face until I am just below the foot of the bridge, and then, slowly and steadily, on all fours, creep up on the underside of the bridge, passing beneath Orochimaru and coming to a stop in the space between him and the rest of the team. My sword is already in my hand, having been drawn without noise, a paste rubbed on the blade to keep the shining metal dull so it won't reflect the sun. While I do this, a part of my attention is split to follow the conversation atop Tenchi Bridge.

The impersonator is still pretending to be Kakashi. "Get back, I will handle him," and voice and vibration of the ground tell me he's switched positions to stand in front of the team, as if to protect them. Yeah right.

"Well... hello Riko-chan, my dear," Orochimaru pronounces slowly. My breath hitches, old panic rising, and I realise shamefully that I am despite all my training in no way ready for this. "What a pleasure to see you," the sannin continues.

"The pleasure is on your side entirely," Yamato returns evenly, far braver than I am. "You followed Kakashi-sensei?"

"He must have intercepted my message," the Kakashi-impersonator murmurs, while I surreptitiously plant seals on the underside of the bridge.

"You bastard!" Naruto growls, voice low and threatening. His chakra levels are rising in response to his rage.

"Kukuku... the Kyuubi boy... ill-tempered as ever. I have no interest in you," Orochimaru drawls. "Now, dear Riko, on the other hand..."

Naruto growls again.

So does Dementia in my head.

She holds a grudge larger than Fire Country against Orochimaru, for taking her over when I got the Cursed Seal, and controlling her. And he'd almost succeeded in making her take me over, and if it hadn't been for Lily it would have been his win. Her rage has only grown over the years. Kill him! she hisses at me.

"Sen'ei Tajashu!" Orochimaru intones. A hiss of snakes-

I can't see what happens, and hearing Karin's terrified yell is torture. I can feel the vibrations of the wood as my three teammates bring distance between themselves and Orochimaru, the impersonator moving along with them and lands right in the middle of them, oh no-

The impact of blade against chakra-scalpel isn't a forgettable sound. "Oh, so you figured it out, Riko-chan," the impostor says, sounding friendly and harmless in a way that makes me go cold inside, makes me want to throw up, makes me want to hurt. "What gave me away?" The poof of a henge being released-

"You!" Naruto growls gutturally. "Youuuu!"

Yakushi Kabuto.

"Kukuku... such a smart girl," Orochimaru chuckles. Kabuto jumps back, to Orochimaru's side. Lands directly above where I'm crouched on the underside of the bridge, and it's so tempting to just rip through the wood and tear out his throat, string him up by his intestines, stab him again and again until he no longer has the chakra to heal himself, but I can't give the ruse away, not yet, my team is relying on me. "It is unfortunate," Orochimaru drones. "The individual I had meant to test you against doesn't seem to be arriving... Sasori is never anything less than punctual, he must have been delayed..."

What does that freakshow have to do with this?!

Ah. That was what we didn't know. Sasori was meant to be here for something at exactly noon, and if he'd encountered us, we'd have been forced to fight him. Oh, but that's devious, and deliciously hilarious because we - Sakura and Chiyo and I - already killed Sasori and Orochimaru has no idea.

"But I suppose I can test you extensively to my satisfaction when you are safely in my custody... come here, my dear," Orochimaru croons. I shiver in disgust, and close my eyes against the almost teasing wave of pain that erupts from the Cursed Seal.

While that thing no longer corrupts my very psyche with hatred and despair, it is still very much capable of affecting me physically. But physical pain, I can blend out.

"Over your dead body," Yamato - he's doing a better job at being Riko than I am right now - snarls over Naruto's worryingly heavy breaths.

How close to losing control is Naruto? I feel nauseous.

Orochimaru's Killing Intent erupts up on the bridge. Karin whimpers in terror and damn it, why did I bring her here? We should have disguised Genma, or picked Sakura. All of this was a bad idea, which all of us knew and decided to go ahead with it anyway.

Sasuke, we're doing this for Sasuke.

Orochimaru chuckles. "Why, don't you wish to be reunited with your team?"

"...Do you have the real Kakashi-sensei?" Yamato asks in a deadened voice.

"And not only him," Kabuto answers. Liar. Kakashi is fine.

"Liar!" Naruto growls gutturally. "You're lying!"

"Are we? Kukuku..." Something small hits the surface of a bridge, hitting with a clatter. I frown, it didn't sound like any weapon I recognise.

Naruto's breath hitches. "I see you recognise this, Naruto-kun," Kabuto says smugly.

"That's - Ri-chan - the good luck charm she gave-" Naruto stutters in shock.

Oh no.

Orochimaru has Sasuke. Something inside me goes very, very cold.

"Kukuku... I can see you still refuse to come willingly. Very well," Orochimaru's voice is darkly gleeful. "I've been in a playful mood all day, my dear."

Pain explodes in my neck, and I almost fall off the bridge.

▬▬ι═══════ﺤ -═══════ι▬▬

Team Search & Destroy, Forests of Kaede Valley, Country of Grass

Hatake Kakashi

"This is it?" Sakura asks, her voice betraying a mixture of trepidation and excitement to Kakashi's well-trained ears.

"Yup, definitely!" Negi Two nods.

"Can I go home?" Ninjin whimpers.

"Maa, Ninjin-kun," Kakashi says hopefully. "No one is stopping you."

"Don't tell me what to do, Dog-Man!" The green rabbit pulls harshly at his hair. Why, oh why, did Riko stick Kakashi with this one? Or rather, why had this damn rabbit decided to go with Kakashi of all people? What did he ever do to deserve this torment?

"Uhm... shouldn't we be silent?" Sakura asks hesitantly.

"Eek! Yes!" Ninjin squeaks, and falls silent. Kakashi feels blessed. Sakura is a lovely human being.

"Eh, stupid humans are practically deaf!" Negi crows. "Besides, I've got a sound bubble around us!"

"That would have been nice to know," Sakura grumbles.

"But then Ninjin wouldn't have shut up!"

"Wait, I can talk?" Ninjin asks. Kakashi's heart drops.

"Shut up!" Negi shouts.


Negi is Kakashi's favourite rabbit now.

"This place isn't going to be easy to sneak into," Sakura murmurs, frowning in worry. She's right. The hideout isn't even obviously placed. All that's visible is a formation of rock in a field of grass that Negi says hides the entrance, impossible to approach without being seen. "Negi-kun, how many people can you hear?"

"Uh... a bunch."

Ninjin snickers. "Negi sucks at counting! He's so dumb!"

"Shut up, moss-licker!"

Sakura gives Kakashi an exasperated look. Yeah, he agrees. The rabbits are pretty much useless. Well, not Negi. Ninjin on the other hand... How to get rid of him, that one's going to get them caught within a split second once they infiltrate the hideout, besides he's the most annoying thing Kakashi has ever encountered.

Ninjin hops off of his head and dives into the ground, Earth spraying up like a fountain in his wake. "Wha-" Sakura gasps, shielding her face from the dirt with her arm.

"You coming or what, Dog-Man and Pinkie?"

There Ninjin sits, in front of a decently sized tunnel he'd dug in a matter of moments.

"What kind of dumb architecture is that," Negi gripes. "Is that supposed to be a Beaver Style tunnel or what?"

"It's Avant-garde!" Ninjin shouts. "I'm an artist! See my vision!"

"You're stupid and stop shouting!"

"No, you're stupid!"

"Maa, let's all be quiet, yes?" Kakashi lets out a bit of Killing Intent. Ninjin faints immediately. Whoops, totally not intended. Negi squeaks and burrows into Sakura's hair.

Stuffing the green rabbit into its backpack, Kakashi eyes the tunnel.

Well, it'll save them the chakra of using a doton technique, at least.

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Team Decoy, Tenchi Bridge, Country of Grass

Nara Riko

"You... you... give Sasuke back!" Naruto growls. I reach for the seal in my pocket. Drawn from memory, it's the one that Dementia used to stop him last time. I'm going to have to use it, Naruto's not going to calm down otherwise.

It'll have to be quick.

"Kukuku... perhaps if you give me Riko-chan in return..." Orochimaru chuckles. "Or perhaps I'll simply... keep them both!"

The next moments are chaotic. A hiss of snake from behind the team, a warning cry from Karin, people moving, the impact of something human-sized and wooded on the bridge-

"A kawarimi using a Wood Clone..." Orochimaru murmurs. "How interesting. Now where is the real Riko?"

This is when Karin screams in pain. "I think we'll take this one as insurance," Kabuto says lightly. He tsks. "Now, none of that-"

Several things happen at once.

Karin gasps, a wet and gurgling sound I know all too well, her chakra levels falling in an instant.

Naruto roars, and his chakra levels explode.

I burst through the wood of the bridge right at Kabuto's feet, sword in one hand, seal for Naruto in the other. But instead of leaping backwards and slapping the seal on Naruto before he goes berserk, I stare at Karin. Karin, who is on her knees at Kabuto's side, arms slung around her middle, fingers pressing desperately against her stomach to keep her intestines in, eyes panicked, breathing far too hard, sweat staining her skin. Blood drips on the wood below her.

I can't shunshin her out. Kabuto's hand is in her hair, yanking her head back, a kunai, already stained with the blood from her abdomen, at her throat. He chuckles, as does Orochimaru. "There you are, my dear," he says with almost fatherly pride while Kabuto smirks.

I snarl, a quieter echo of the roar of rage from Dementia in my mind. "Now now, Riko-chan," Kabuto tuts. "That really isn't the way to greet old friends, isn't it?"

Hrrr, hrrr, goes Naruto's breath, and I know without turning that I won't find much human in his face. That he's on all fours, claws digging into the woods, only held back from attacking by that one last shred of humanity that knows that Kabuto will end Karin if anyone so much as twitches wrong.

This situation is bad.

And I can see it in Karin's eyes. That she's going to do it. That she's going to jerk her body, her neck right onto Kabuto's kunai, to take herself out from the equation and the choice from us. Because she's already bleeding out, and the feeble green light on her fingers isn't enough to save her.

As if to mock us all, a stronger and steady green light extends from Kabuto's hand, like a glowing half-transparent slug, stopping just short of Karin's wound - a taunt, a promise. "Would you like me to heal your dear teammate?" Kabuto asks kindly. "I could, you know. All you have to do is come over to Orochimaru-sama."

I don't dare look at him. At Orochimaru's face, his greedy eyes, his grotesque tongue licking his lips. "I..." I say, hesitating, rocking for and backward on my feet as if indecisive, shuffling my feet. Feel the enemies' focus sharpen on me.

"Don't, Riko!" Karin shouts, a shout that is cut short by a pained gasp as Kabuto yanks her head back further, the kunai pressing harder, a merry line of blood dripping down her neck. She can't move any longer, so won't be able to end her own life - a small blessing.

Naruto's roar is deafening. But still, he doesn't attack. Though the heat his chakra emanates burns, and the bridge creaks and groans in protest. "Give... Nee-chan... back..." he forces out.

Karin's eyes meet mine. Panic has made way for determination. Neither Kabuto nor Orochimaru are looking at her as her finger twitches in the shadow of her own body - they're too focused on Naruto and myself, watching with clinical interest as Kabuto paints our options with casual words, as if Karin's fate is no more significant than a falling leaf.

Her finger dips into the blood pooling around her. Softly runs over the wood as she holds my eyes with her own. Writes a number. And another.



Her finger spasms as Kabuto pulls her head back too far for her eyes to be on mine anymore. He asks, "Well? What will it be, Riko-chan? Her... or you?"

Both of us. All of us.

1, Karin writes.

And all hell breaks loose.

I dive into shunshin dizzyingly fast, one moment here, the other there, Orochimaru's tongue missing me by a hair's breadth, my sword slicing up, up, up, from deep below, Kabuto yanking his kunai back from Karin's neck before he can plunge it in. Just fast enough. But I don't stop there, because his other hand is still in Karin's hair. And now... there are chains holding it there, made from her own chakra.

Kabuto is quick though. His hand lights up with a scalpel, and her chains - not very stable yet, she hasn't had anybody to teach her about them - break. Kabuto snatches his hand back as fast as he can. But not fast enough. Because while his wrist, his hands get clear of Shingi To Giri's steel, the wind chakra I coated it in extends wider than that. I slice through skin, flesh, and the bone, and half of Kabuto's hand goes flying into the opposite direction Kabuto launched himself back into, eyes wide with shock and painful surprise as Karin's severed hair rains down around us - conduit for more of her chains, to catch his ankles, his wrists, and I'm this close to plunging my sword into his heart like I promised myself I would someday, this close - but then a hissing mass of snakes is in my way and I have to defend myself instead, until the wood comes alive beneath at my feet forms a wall between me and the reptiles.

And Karin... Karin gives me one last smile and throws herself off the bridge.

For one moment, the world stops. As if all the noise has been sucked from it. And then...

On the other side of the bridge, a bird made from paper and ink flies, and Karin is on it, held securely in Sai's arms, ink snakes wrapping around her bleeding middle. The boy gives me a nod and signs something with his hand - nakama. And flies, to where Kakashi and Sakura must be heading for us now, their objective abandoned.

Because. When I rocked on my feet and shuffled them as Kabuto attempted to blackmail us, it wasn't indecision. It was distraction. From Yamato as he tapped out the codes for both Negis, one accompanying Sakura, the other Genma. To come to aid us, Sai going to our side, Genma retrieving Sakura, our medic.

And now Orochimaru's leverage is gone and his most useful pawn short three fingers and a significant part of his hand, likely getting out of dodge at this very moment. Not dead... but imagining chopping him apart piece by piece is satisfying as well.

Now... now is the time to press this little advantage. Because the others still have the chance to look for Sasuke, all but a confirmed captive of the snake sannin.

I steel myself, the cold in me drawing up and cocooning my mind, quieting the terror. Turning the pain of the Cursed Mask into a tool to sharpen my mind. And with a flick of my fingers, I activate every single seal I planted on the underside of the bridge.

It splinters apart under the force of what breaks free. Not fire and explosions - but water, for they were storage seals, containing dozens of lakes worth of both pure water and mist.

And Naruto roars - and goes for my throat.