Chapter Three: Familiar Faces

Sakura woke up feeling like she had been run over by a stampede of water buffalo. And given the lack of immediate recollection, it was quite possible that was exactly what happened. However, as she lay face down on her bed, covers securely sealed over her head in an attempt to block out any possible sunlight that was all too bright for her hangover, events, words, and actions from the previous night slowly began to trickle into her memory log. And with each recollection, she found herself wanting to bury herself even deeper into her bedding, hoping beyond hope, that her bed would just swallow her out of existence.

What happened between herself and Kiba had nothing to do with her mortification. In fact she had thoroughly enjoyed the expressive method of coping with stress. She had been feeling vulnerable and lonely and Kiba had been there and was someone she could trust. She didn't expect anything to come of it, there had been an understanding in their exchange. Comfort for comfort, distraction for distraction. Nothing more, nothing less.

However she was a bit mortified to have been found in the alleyway, by none other than Sasuke himself. Since his withdrawal of what he had claimed was assistance, what she saw as indenturement, Sakura had been determined to portray herself as being fine. More than fine in fact.

She had wanted to seem cool and stable. Not the unraveling ball of string she felt like. And she had done well over the past months, to prove to Sasuke that she did not need his endorsements to be able to survive in the world he had created. She was strong, independent, and took care of things with a grace and manor that she felt in control of. At least that was what she did the moment she stepped out into the streets every morning. But coming home was always a different story.

In the comfort of her home, locked away behind her bedroom door where her father could not see, she let her guard down. Because it was exhausting to be strong. Last night she had tried to avoid that exhaustion. But it had sought her out when she had not come home on time. And Sasuke had seen it.

Then to make matters worse, Sakura had followed him. Why she had done that instead of staying with Kiba she had no valid answer for. She had just let her emotions get away from her. Anger and confusion had been the driving force. And then she had allowed herself to get close to him. She had touched him, tried to tempt him in a vengeful seduction. She knew she would not have let it progress but she had wanted to be the one to halt it, to be the one to crush his hopeful desire and extinguish his arrogance by dousing his burning ego with a cold bucket of rejection.

However, her drunken addled mind had miscalculated something. Sasuke didn't actually care about her. Yes, he had made that proposal but it wasn't out of some kind of act of true feelings. She knew the goals that drove him to do everything he had ever done. And he had accomplished them all except one: Restore his clan. She was just a convenient means for him to put a checkmark and cross off that list. At least that had to be the driving force of his first proposal. The second had just been his attempt to regain his pride. Because that was the workings of a sadistic bastard like him. He just wanted her to regret her decision.

And it was that fact that made her feel just the slightest bit better. Because she would never regret that decision. She could never, would never, let herself be so desperate or broken enough to enter into such an arrangement. No matter the history or purpose.

Her alarm went off, its harsh sound seeming sharper this particular morning. Like an axe splitting a block of wood, her thoughts were cut off and a splitting headache erupted in her head. She had never been one to welcome the sounds that broke her slumber and she instinctively sprang into action, determined to mute the device as quickly as possible to end her suffering. Her hand shot out to shut off the horrendous beeping, knocking over a glass of water in the action before slamming down on top of the alarm clock.

Cutting it off mid beep, she let out a groan before letting her head fall back down onto her pillow, closing her eyes again and not caring if she would be late. The sound of dripping water had her opening her eyes back up as she blearily looked at the night stand next to her bed. Squinting in the bright morning light, Sakura looked at the toppled glass and pool of water that had begun to drip off the side of the nightstand. Fumbling around she found a dirty shirt and moved to soak up the mess. She paused when she found two pain pills drowning in the spilled water.

This only confused her more. Had her drunk self done this last night before she had passed out? Or maybe her father had set it out? But even with those options, she could not find a plausible answer. Her drunk self was not a planner nor considerate of her sober self. And her father would have been asleep when she got home. However when the throbbing in her head began to take over all ability to think again, the debate was quickly thrown out the window and she scooped up the soggy aspirin, and chased them down with the small mouthful of water still left in the cup.

An hour later, after a hot shower and some time for the pain medication to kick in, she was walking to the hospital and feeling a little better. She was not exactly up to par, but as soon as her chakra cuffs were removed, Sakura would have access to an instant hangover cure.

"He just started crawling last month...but it's only about two or three feet before he stops," Tenten reported with a nervousness in her voice.

Sakura smiled at the pale eyed baby that was happily sitting up on her examination table. His excited eyes were drawn to the various dispensers of medical supplies on the counter as he let out a happy squeal. "That is all perfectly normal...if anything Kenji is ahead in his milestones of development," Sakura answered as she placed her stethoscope to his back. "He is just like his father in that aspect."

Tenten gave a sad but proudful smile. "Yes, yes he is," she agreed. "I think every day that passes by he becomes more and more like Neji."

Sakura gave the infant a thoughtful look, her head tilting to the side in contemplation. "I don't know," she mused as Kenji grabbed the tongue depressor that was next to him and began to wave it around like a kunai. "He may look like Neji and inherited his protégé finesse, but he has his mother's personality...and he actually smiles," she added as and after thought.

Tenten gave her an appreciative smile then picked up her son. Sakura walked her out where they said a quick goodbye before Sakura jotted down a few more notes before passing it off to the clerk at the nurses station. Sakura hardly ever took on patients for regular routine check ups, but there were a certain few that she made exceptions for. Tenten and her child were among those privileged few. It was a freedom she regularly exercised as the head of the hospital.

After Tenten had departed, any thoughts of babies and regrets from the night before were blocked from her mind as things began to become chaotic within the hospital. A patrol party, made up entirely of genin, had been ambushed by rogues. It was an occurrence that happened far too often given the short supply of soldiers after the war. Children were being recruited far younger than the average age. And they were released for duty and given missions far above their skill level due to the lack of sheer numbers.

It infuriated and sickened Sakura each time she had eight and nine years old coming into her OR with injuries that should never and would never have been sustained if they had the proper training before sent out. But it seemed those in charge felt that field experience was a better training tool than a proper tutelage in the academy. Iruka would have never allowed such things but he wasn't in charge of that decision any more. It was some missing-nin of the mist who had embraced their barbaric methods of training. His name was Tozu, and was a distant cousin of the demon brothers. Only he actually earned the title of being a demon. The only exception was that he was not allowed to let him have partners face off in a battle of death. Sakura was not sure who exactly had given this forbidding, but she was grateful.

After just barely saving a genin from the cusps of death, she had been greeted back to her office by a stack of injury reports from the night before. It seemed after nearly a year of prohibition, the general population had forgotten how to become safely inebriated. There was a towering stack of self sustained injuries that Sakura was sure consisted of a quarter of Konoha's population. Beside it was another stack not quite nearly as tall -but more than enough all the same- detailing injuries sustained from fights and full on brawls that occurred.

She had not even managed to get through a quarter of signing off on them when she was called out by a frantic charge nurse, reporting that one of her underlings had mixed up medications for two patients. Thus, she found herself standing at the nurses station and giving her late mentor a run for her money by giving a bellowing reprimand.

"...I don't care if it was just tylenol and a placebo!" Sakura shouted at a nurse. "That could have been something far stronger! What if you had given a blood thinner to someone already bleeding out!?" The girl opened her mouth to say something but Sakura did not give her a chance. "You gave the wrong medications to a patient…"

Everyone in the entire wing had come to a dead stop, all of them too afraid to move or do anything that might bring her attention to them. As she screamed in fury at the nurse, her voice echoed down the hallways, warning anyone thinking of passing through or coming to the vicinity to take a detour and avoid at all costs.

"...Just go home," she finished. "You're suspended for a week without pay! We don't have a need for incompetent bimbos who are too busy flirting with doctors to realize that while the patients have the same name they are two different people! That's what charts are for! Do you not know how to read?!"

"I-I'm sorry. I didn't mean to neglect it," she stuttered. "It was an honest mistake I promise I won't do it again. Please...I need this family depends on me..."

The nurse was in tears by the time she finished and Sakura, despite the anger, felt herself giving out a sigh of frustration and empathy. Pinching the bridge of her nose she took in a few calming breaths. She needed to calm down and be more professional. Yes the poor girl had made a mistake, and thankfully consequence free. But it was a mistake nonetheless. The girl had just lucked it was a harmless mistake this time.

However, as dire as such mistakes could be, Sakura knew a lot of this anger had nothing to do with the nurse's error. She was taking her personal frustrations out on her and that was unprofessional.

Letting out a sigh, she looked up at the girl. "Clock out and go home," she said steadily. "In the morning report to my office first thing and we will discuss this. If I see it fit, we will see about you coming back earlier. However you will be on probation."

The woman nodded her head and quickly disappeared, not giving Sakura a chance to change her mind. Sakura rubbed at her temples. Her hangover headache had disappeared long ago but now she was dealing with a stress induced hammering within her head. She turned around and started walking away from the nurses station, several staff quickly dodged into rooms or suddenly became engrossed in paperwork as they walked by her. Making her way to her office she kept her eyes locked onto the tile floor, looking up only when she heard someone approaching.

It was Kiba, coming down from the opposite end of the hall. He was already looking at her when she noticed who he was. At first she was slightly hesitant, the events of last night had taken a turn and Kiba had been caught up in the strange battle between herself and Sasuke. She wouldn't blame him for being angry at her or even avoiding her. He had gotten in trouble and injured for no other reason than Sasuke's arrogant pride and her foolish impulse to antagonize. However, two seconds after noticing him, he gave her a casual wave and lopsided grin that put her at ease.

"Well aren't you just a ray of sunshine this morning," he commented, his sharp black eyes glancing at the retreating hospital staff as they ran away from any wrath that may resurge should they linger too long. "Though I think you might want to try going a little louder next time. I don't think they heard you in Suna."

Sakura gave him a dark look before running an examining eye over him as the reason for his presence at the hospital popped into her mind. "Are you just getting here? Have you been seen yet? If not I can一"

Kiba let out a chuckle and gave his side a hard slap. "Don't worry about me, Haruno. Burly doctor down at the clinic got me all patched up first thing this morning."

"Kiba you know you don't need to go to the clinic. Any time I'm here, my office is open to you."

He let out an amused laugh and gave her an apologetic look. " offense...but I think I might stick to this new doc for awhile. Sure he's not quite so easy on the eyes, but at least I get to keep my eyes if I go to him...if you know what I mean."

A twinge of guilt rushed through her. "Kiba, I'm really sorry. He shouldn't have done that. He had no right."

Kiba shrugged his shoulders. "Yeah well-" He looked around, making sure there wasn't any one around- "There are a lot of things going on that aren't right in the world," he muttered.

It was quiet for a long moment and they both looked away from each other, Sakura looking down at a chart in her hand while Kiba looked at his feet.

"Just don't worry about it Haruno," he said with a shake of his head. "It's not like either of us were looking for anything more than just someone to be with...maybe it was for the best. Had I known you had a jealous boyfriend I would have found someone else."

"He's not my一" Sakura began, her head jerking up only to find Kiba giving her a teasing look. She deflated and rolled her eyes. "That's seriously not funny and getting old really fast."

He gave out a chuckle then nodded towards the exit. "Anyways...I've got to go and report for duty."

Sakura gave him a nod and waved goodbye before continuing to her office.

"Sakura…" Kiba called, causing her to turn around to look at him. He was paused on his way to the exit, a look of concern on his face. "In all careful around him."

"I know," she replied.

"I know he was your teammate and all, but he's not him, not anymore. I just...he's hurt you in the past and you…you know."

The unsaid words caused a sickening churn in her stomach. Did he think that she still had feelings for Sasuke? After all that he did, did people think she was so weak and pathetic she would fall for him again? That she would even forgive him?

It was insulting and her face showed it. "Don't think for a fucking second I would ever consider that bastard as my teammate anymore. A true teammate would never have done what he did."

Her tone was sharp and it was obvious that Kiba picked up on the venomous sincerity of it. He nodded in understanding. "See you in a month then," he replied before turning around and leaving.

Sakura's body, which had gone rigid and stiff, slackened slightly when someone called down the hall to her. She turned to look away from Kiba's retreating back to see a short receptionist from the lobby trotting up to her.

"Doctor Haruno," she said, waving a form in the air. "We got a summons for medical attention at the prison for an inmate."

Sakura's brow creased in annoyance at being delayed in returning to the stack of paperwork needing to be signed. "What are you telling me this for? Karin does those. I don't have time to run around doing errands, I have a hospital to run."

It was the truth but the bigger reason was she didn't have clearance for such things. Apparently her loyalty of trust had not been proven enough to be allowed around inmates and enemies of the 'new' fire nation. She turned around to continue to her office, dismissing the nurse with a wave.

"But the order says that you are to do it specifically."

Sakura whirled around to see the receptionist biting her lip and holding out the piece of paper. Sakura snatched the paper out of her hand and read the note, her green eyes scanning over her printed name several times where it was specified that she was the one to come. Surely it was an error, she mused. However error or not, she was not about to argue.

Curiosity and hunger for any kind of new insights or information was abundant within her and she needed to know who was to be seen and why. It had been nine months since she last saw Kakashi being dragged away, what if he was the one being treated? This was her chance, this was a gift that she would not waste.

It was cold and dim in the deeper tunnels of the prison. Cement cinder blocks made up the walls of the narrow corridors with only the feeble lighting of the caged light bulbs running along one side of the wall to guide them through the labyrinth. Occasionally, a cell door or off turning hallway, provided some sort of break from the monotonous repetitiveness but for the most part, it just seemed like a never ending hallway.

Feeling trapped and claustrophobic, it gave Sakura a spine-chilling sensation. And there was something about the sense of going in circles that reminded her of one of Orochimaru's hideouts. She felt like a lab rat from one of his experiments wandering around through a maze.

They came to a stop in front of a door with three numbers painted in the middle, just below the small window that was inlaid to the door. She peeked in to see a form laying down on the cot that was pushed against the far side of the room.

"Arms," came the simple command from the guard who had escorted her down.

Sakura looked away from the window to the authoritative man standing guard next to her. He was older than her. Perhaps only by a few years but it was not his age that gave him his status to be one ordering her around. She took in the badge on his left arm, an insignia of the new nation that was a combination of what once was fire, sound, and rain. Though Sakura had an uneasy feeling that Madara planned for more to fall under his reign. He claimed himself a daimyo, but the title of tyrant emperor fit his rule, and being a god was his ambition.

They were told they were all equal but Sakura knew better. The fact that her badge only carried the new insignia, while this guard had the music note of the original sound insignia, might as well have proclaimed she was nothing but a peon. Despite the fact that there were no longer borders that separated fire nation and the two smaller countries. They were all still divided.

Sakura stuck out her arms and the man reached into his pocket to pull out a key. Grabbing her wrist roughly he unlocked the cuff then moved on to the next. Before he undid the lock, he looked up at her.

"You have five minutes. You are to enter in, heal the prisoner, then leave," he said. "No excessive healing, we just need him to survive, understand?"

Sakura glared up at him but nodded her head when he made no move to finish undoing the shackle until she agreed. He unhooked the final one before opening the door and shoved her in, only to slam it shut and lock it behind her.

Sakura sent him a dark look to which he only lifted his hand and tapped on the watch on his wrist, signifying her time had already started. She turned around and approached the bed. Reaching out, she meant to shake the presumed prisoner awake, but the moment she touched him, the occupant of the cot twisted around. Grasping her hand as he moved to his feet, Sakura found herself being pushed up against the wall and let out a grunt. It was almost embarrassing that her reflex skills had deteriorated so much from lack of missions. Before she could begin to summon her own chakra strength to retaliate, she was distracted when the prisoner spoke.


Sakura's hands, which had moved up to grab onto her assailant's arms in defense, stilled and her eyes went up to his face. At first she was confused, she could hardly recognize any of his features given the swelling and bruising. But the biggest thing was the lack of face paint. She had only ever seen him once without it. When she did make the connection, her eyes widened in disbelief.

"Kankuro?" She breathed in recognition.

He gave a weak smile and a nod before he slumped slightly, weary from the exertion of his short attack due to his weakened and injured state.

Sakura caught him and quickly helped him down to sit at the edge of the cot. "What are you doing here? How–"

There was a sharp bang on the door.

"No talking!" The guard shouted as he glared at her through the window.

Sakura glared back at him but soon turned away to tend to Kankuro. The guard had been adamant on the time she was given to work and she was not about to squander it.

"What are you doing here?'' she said, bowing her head so her hair covered her face as she spoke quietly.

Kankuro turned his head to the wall away from the vision of the door. "Captured when in route for a mission."

"What is going on outside of fire? How are things in Suna? Temari? Gaara?" her starvation of outside information as to what was going on outside of the hidden leaf's wall had her hungrily spouting out her questions.

She stopped when he turned to look at her. He gave her an apologetic expression of sympathy through his swollen eye that was still able to open. "Sorry Sakura, but I just can't trust you," he said, giving her hand a small squeeze.

Sakura nodded in understanding as she bowed her head to concentrate on the internal hemorrhaging he had in his abdomen. She couldn't blame him for not trusting her as she would most likely do the same if their positions were reversed. They were enemies now, or at least their countries were. After Konoha fell, Madara had put his crusade to rule the world on hold, but she knew it was only be a matter of time before he would be at it again. It seemed if they were taking captives, Madara was getting ready.

Sakura finished healing everything internally, going farther than instructed. She left the external bruising and smaller abrasions untouched so as to make it look like he was suffering more than he really was. It wasn't much, but it was the least she could do.

As she worked on the last of larger deep cuts, healing enough that it was free of risk for infection, she spoke again, "I will get you out of her, I promise."

He let out what sounded like an amused laugh and grabbed onto her wrist gently. Lifting it he traced the red mark around her wrist left by the chakra cuffs.

"I may have been stupid enough to get captured, but I'm not blind. I know a shackle when I see it," he said, then looked up to her, meeting her green eyes. "You just worry about freeing yourself."

She opened her mouth to reply but the loud clang of the bolt lock being released and the squeak of the prison told her, her time was up. She gave Kankuro a small squeeze on the shoulder before uttering a few instructions on how to treat his remaining injuries, not that they would do him much good. Sakura knew why he was here and why she was told to heal him. They needed him healthy enough to endure their questioning methods.

Walking away, sick to her stomach at that thought, she moved past the guard whose eyes lingered on her far too long for her liking. He slammed the door shut and shoved the bolt into place as soon as she cleared the way and stood to the side.

He did not even ask for her arms this time, he took it upon himself to grab her wrists harshly as he secured the cuffs more tightly than they were previously. Then after giving her an arrogant look, he began to lead the way back to the prison entrance.

Sakura followed behind, glaring a hole into his back until her eyes became stained and she was forced to blink. Growing weary, she let out a small sigh and let her eyes wander to the cell door that they were passing by. She only caught a brief flash of the inside before they passed it and it took her a moment for her to process what she had seen. Not just what, but who.

She came to a dead stop and whirled back to press her nose to the glass. Her eyes widened when they confirmed she had not been seeing things. A lone figure, sitting with their back against the wall as he sat on the cell floor where a couple of thin blankets provided bedding. She couldn't see his face, not that there was ever much of it visible to see, but she would recognize that silver mane of hair anywhere. It was not defying gravity as she was used to, but despite the longer locks that weighed it down, it still managed to have more volume than any hair product she ever tried.

"Kakashi," she whispered, before screaming his name and slapping her palm against the glass, "Kakashi-sensei!"

Kakashi's head came up and she was presented with a single, wide eyed stare, full of more emotions in that one look than she had ever seen in all her years as his student. She screamed his name again then began to fumble with the bolt, but without a key to unlock the mechanism, it only rattled under her limited strength.

She looked up again before she hysterically screamed Kakashi's name and beat her hand against the reinforced glass. Kakashi was at the door yelling something at her, but even in incarceration, the majority of his face was covered. Only the movement of the fabric was any indication that he was even saying anything, making it impossible for her to even read his lips to know what he was saying.

She felt a hand clamp down onto her shoulder as the prison guard grabbed onto her and slammed her into the wall. She could hear Kakashi's muffled yelling now as the door shook against his weight. There was something about it that made something snap within her. She currently had no access to chakra, but that was one of the advantages of her not having a large chakra supply to begin with, she had learned to not rely on it. Instead, she learned to fight with her hands.

Grabbing onto the guards flak jacket, she spun and reversed their positions, the guards eyes widened at how easily she had managed. She caught his eyes flicker to her wrists and she could not help but let the smallest of triumphant smiles present itself.

"That's right," she bragged. "Now just imagine if I hadn't been wearing them." The guard struggled but she only slammed him against the wall again, when he opened his mouth to yell, she brought a hand to his mouth to muffle any noise. "Don't you dare," she threatened.

She glanced at the door to see Kakashi staring at her, shaking his head at her, as if protesting her actions. For a moment she felt hurt, but then the reality that she was looking at her teacher hit her, and she couldn't care less. She needed this.

She looked back to the guard. "You are going to open this door," she instructed, "and you are going to let me speak with him."

The man gave her a dark look that told her that was not what he was going to do. But as his eyebrows narrowed, it caused her attention to go to the deep scar that disrupted the hair growth of his left brow and ran in a jagged line to his scalp. Her eyes flickered down to the patch with his name stitched onto the left breast pocket of his flak jacket.

"You know," she began, "I may not have a photographic memory, but it's damn well good. Tanaka," she read. "Daichi Tanaka," she identified.

Said man's face, changed slightly from defiance to confusion.

"I remember you," Sakura proclaimed with a dark tone to her voice. "I treated you two months ago with a head wound. A prisoner had gotten ahold of you and bashed your head into the glass window of his cell. It was serious, you had lost a lot of blood. Good thing I was there to take care of it or you would have lost your eye." Her eyes ran across the scar again. "I would say you were very lucky." She met his brown stare and looked at him thoughtfully. "I will tell you what, you let me into that cell, and the next time you come into my hospital in need of care, I will make sure that happens again. A lot of people can die from the simplest of injuries if not treated properly, wouldn't want that to happen to you...Would we?"

The man, judging by the lack of color in his now drained face, was too frozen to even nod. However, when she eased up, he made a move to grab the keys to the door. Sakura watched, only letting the surprise that her intimidation had worked slip when his back was turned to her. She hadn't expected it to really work, at least not fully. And to be honest it was an empty threat. As spiteful as she had become, there was still a small piece of her that would not allow herself to sink that low.

As soon as the lock was loosened, Sakura pushed him aside and wrenched the door open. It swung open so forcefully it slammed against the cement wall, causing a loud clash to echo down the hall but she didn't care. She was already wrapping her arms around Kakashi's torso and shaking in his weak arms that he had wrapped around her in return. She wept into the unfamiliar orange jumpsuit that he wore as the front of it became wet with her tears.

For a while, this was how it stayed. Him petting her pink locks, struggling to stay standing, while Sakura clung to him like he was the last breath of air. She turned her head away to get herself a breath of fresh air from the odor the clung to his body. But then she began to notice the sound of his ragged breath as her ear pressed against his chest. And then she noted how easily her arms went around his now thin torso and the way his muscles shifted and shook to hold his weight.

Sakura pulled away from him as she spoke and entered his cell to get him seated. "Come on, let's get you–" She went silent when she took in the state of the small room.

There was a putrid smell of feces, mold, and body odor that she had failed to notice at first but now, as she took in the scene and looked at the sources of smells, her nose wrinkled and a tangy taste of bile rose in her throat. A bucket sat in the corner that looked like it had tipped over several times and the contents that had been spilt had never been cleaned up properly. The state of his pitiful bed was depressing and in no way suitable for even the roughest of sleeps. There was a pipe that ran across the ceiling and was leaking by the wall where a dark mold was flourishing in the dampness.

"How long?" Sakura said, her voice shaking as tears burned in her eyes. She turned to Kakashi. "How long have you been living like this?"

"What? So I've neglected some tidying up. Is it really that bad?" He said with a strained tone of joking amusement, giving her a half crinkled smile of his eye.

Sakura frowned, unable to share in any lightness of the situation and Kakashi's face became more serious when he noted this.

"I'm not exactly sure," he admitted. "How long has it been since you last saw me?"

Sakura resisted another churn of her stomach as she swallowed thickly. Without a word she took his arm and supported him over her shoulder. Guiding him back to the door, she looked to the guard.

"Take us to the bathroom."

"But he isn't allowed–"

"Do it!" She barked.

Daichi bit vigorously at the inside of his cheek before finally letting out a huff and began to lead the way. In silence, Sakura followed, supporting Kakashi alongside her as they made their way through a couple of turns before arriving at a communal bathroom consisting of a few leaky showerheads, a small bath basin, and some bolted down benches. In the corner was a bathroom stall with a standard sink next to it. Along the far end was a row of empty cubbies and hooks for placing personal items, though Sakura wondered what one would consider a personal item in such a place. Finally, around the corner from the bathroom stall was a door that led to a small industrial laundry room.

Sakura sat Kakashi down on a bench while Daichi stood nervously at the door. Immediately she moved over to where the large metal tub was and began to run the water. She stuck her hand under the stream to find it wasn't frigid as she expected. But it wasn't exactly hot either. It was tepid at most.

As the basin filled, Sakura moved back to Kakashi and started to undo the buttons on the jumpsuit and pulled it down around his waist before helping him stand and step out of the pants. He had no shoes which she tried to ignore. When she reached for the elastic of his underwear it was then that his hands stopped her.

"Sakura, please," he said. "At least leave me some dignity? I know you are a doctor and grown woman but…"

She nodded and instead she helped him walk over to the tub. Carefully, she helped him step in and sit down as the rising water rose to his bellybutton as it was displaced. As it reached his chest, she grabbed a washcloth and bar of soap and began to scrub gently at the grime and grit that hand cemented itself to his skin and in his hair.

She worked in silence and Kakashi sat quietly as he closed his eyes and let her hands run through his long hair, scratching his scalp with a soapy lather before rinsing his hair. She then moved to his face, carefully unwrapping the dirty bandage that was wrapped around his eye. It wasn't infected, but Sakura could see that at one point it had been. However her attention was soon drawn away from his eye when Kakashi slowly undid his mask.

For a long moment, Sakura just stared, surprised by how normal his face was. There were no buck teeth or large lips, only a single mole that seemed to enhance his handsome face. All the while, her mind raced as she fought the instinct to run to her genin teammates and tell them what she had discovered. When Kakashi's eye opened to look at her questioningly, Sakura quickly went back to focusing on washing the grime on his face as she remembered their current situation.

She drained the tub twice before letting it fill again as she passed the soap and cloth to Kakashi. Sakura left him to finish his lower half as she searched out for a clean pair of clothing and a towel. WIthin the side laundry room, she found a freshly laundered jumpsuit and underwear in a dispenser, then found some slippers and socks in another. Finally she grabbed two towels from a stack and returned just as Kakashi was finishing up.

Holding out one of the towels she helped wrap it around him as he stood then again helped him walk over to where the bench was as she helped him dry off and dress. Once clothed, she found a pair of surgical scissors in her medic bag and began to cut his hair.

There was a reason she was a surgeon and not a stylist. Again there were no words spoken. Only the methodical snipping of the scissors and the occasion drip of water from the leaky shower and the draining tub. By the time she finished with his hair, it was significantly shorter than she had ever seen it, but she supposed it would probably be for the best. Putting the scissors away into her bag, Sakura helped him stand. Nodding to Daichi he began to silently lead them back.

When they arrived back at Kakashi's cell, Sakura came to a stop. She shook her head vigorously as Daichi swung the door open and gave her an expectant look. "I am not putting him back in there," she protested firmly. "I want a new cell, one with plumbing."

Daichi's eyes widened. "I can't just move him, he is high profile!"

"Just tell them the lock was malfunctioning."

"Yeah? And then what do I tell them when they check it and it's fine?"

Sakura gently leaned Kakashi against the wall before walking up to the door. Reaching into Daichi's pocket without permission, she dug the keys to her cuffs with minimal struggle from the man. As soon as she released the metal bands, she grabbed onto the lock mechanism and pulled. She could have easily destroyed it entirely but that would have been too obvious. She just bent it enough that it wouldn't shut properly.

"Looks broken to me," she commented, looking at her handiwork.

Daichi looked as if he was going to be sick as he ran a hand over his pale face, looking beyond stressed. When he looked at her from between his fingers, noting her green gaze, he let out another groan and a curse.

"Fuck it, fine," he said. "But I swear to the gods if I'm brought in as a corpse you better resurrect me."

Sakura couldn't help but smile. Turning back around, she moved to Kakashi and helped him lean on her. "Lead the way," she commanded.

As soon as she had Kakashi settled on his new cot she turned to Daichi, "I also want some food."

Daichi shook his head. "Nuh-uh, no way. I'm not leaving you out of my sight."

"I promise you, I won't try to go anywhere. You can even lock me in here for all I care, just get me something simple for him to eat. He is malnourished."

She was surprised by the sympathy he gave her. She had grown to develop the idea that all sound ninja were all worthless bastards that had no hearts. But after a long moment, Daichi let out a groan of a sigh as he shut the door. Only after a moment did the thought that he would immediately go and report her behavior cross her mind. However, any worry about being able to trust Daichi was completely lost when she started working on Kakashi.

It seemed that even the prison cells had not been exempt from the respiratory infection that had spread among the population earlier in the year. There was some damage to his lungs which was easily repairable, some from the long ago ailment, the rest most likely from the poor air quality and black mold in his old cell. He was severely malnourished which she did her best to boost but only a good diet would change that. Pulling out a soldier pull, she handed it to him which he ate with a pulled face.

"You know, you would think these would taste better at this point but…"

Again his attempt at humor failed to bring any amusement to her as she moved from working on his lungs to his empty eyes socket. She was too concentrated on healing him and trying to not focus on thinking about what it had been like for him for the past nine months.

She did her best to reverse the damage of his eye and make it look less gruesome but by then her chakra was running low. There would never be any hope for a replacement, the nerve damage was too severe but in the future, if he ever wanted a prosthetic, it was an option. She wrapped it with a clean bandage from her supplies when she finished. Just as she tied it off, Daichi had returned with some food. Which she took from him before setting it on the fresh cot between herself and Kakashi.

"Eat," Sakura instructed when he didn't immediately move. Kakashi gave her a look as his eye bore into hers, looking at her as if she was the one in need of concern. Her lip began trembling as everything hit her once again. "Please eat," she pleaded, trying to keep from breaking down.

Finally he pulled down his mask, revealing his face for the second time to her as he began to eat. As he ate, he had her tell everything. For the most part he kept his face expressionless, either due to him already knowing the events or she was just confirming what he had already guessed. There were only a few times when he showed some kind of reaction. When she told him of her mother and when she told him of the note from Naruto. He had been sympathetic about her mother and inquisitive about Naruto, asking if she had been contacted again or heard any rumors. Then, when she told him of Sasuke's proposal, it was then that she saw a complex of intrigue and confusion. But whatever thoughts or comments he had concerning her former teammate's actions, he kept to himself. When he was finished eating, she took the now empty tray and stood.

"I will fix this," she said. "I will get you out of here."

Kakashi was standing in an instant, grabbing onto her shoulder. "I don't want you to do anything," he said sternly. "You just worry about yourself. I'm fine."

She gave him a wry look. "Why does everyone keep saying that?! How can you expect me to just sit around and turn a blind eye! Do you have any idea what has happened? The manipulation? The lies people are being fed? And they are eating it up!" She jabbed a finger into his chest. "And don't you dare fucking tell me you are fine! Because after what I just saw today, it looks like they put you in a cell and forgot all about you."

She stilled when she felt Kakashi's hands go to her face. Her hand fell to her side as her upper body went limp. "Knowing that you are okay and safe is what gives me peace of mind. Someday there will be a time to rise up, but right now is not that time."

A lone tear escaped her and ran down her cheek.

"Thank you..." he continued as his thumb dried the tear. "...for today. I hate to acknowledge or admit it, but I needed what you did for me. But I don't want you pulling that kind of stunt again," he quickly added when she opened her mouth. "Now you head back, you have already been here for far too long."

Sakura sniffed but nodded as she turned away and left the room. The last she saw of him was through the window of his new cell as it locked into place. He was giving her a reassuring nod before he lay down on his bed.

The lock sliding into place broke her from her staring through the window and she silently moved to follow Daichi through the maze of corridors. They walked silently, Sakura did not even dare look into the cells they passed, too afraid of who else she would see and what condition they would be in.

When they got to the front, Daichi held his key card up to the first door and held it open for her. It was a drastic change in his earlier actions but she did not even question it. She walked though and came to a stop as she waited for him to speak with someone sitting at a desk behind a caged office.

Leaning against the small counter he passed some paperwork through the slot. "Captive A1A was given treatment as requested."

There was a large man in the back of the office who peeked up and came forward at this. "That took an awful long time."

"I also moved Kakashi Hatake into cell block 325 in the restored sector," he reported. "I was walking by and noticed the latch was not completely locking into place."

"You moved Hatake?" He questioned with a skeptical tone, his dark eyes looking over Daichi critically. "By yourself? Why wasn't back up called for?"

Daichi nodded his head towards Sakura. "Doc over there helped. Plus he was so weak it wasn't much."

The senior officer gave a critical look to Sakura then looked back to Daichi. For a drawn out moment, he just stared before finally nodding. "Alright," he looked at the administrator Daichi had passed the paperwork to. "Make sure that gets updated in the system. You can go now Doctor Haruno, you too Daichi, your shift ended thirty minutes ago."

Daichi nodded smoothly then waved a hand for Sakura to follow him out of the last bit of the prison building. Sakura was impressed as she followed him. While she hadn't thought much of Daichi before, she had to give him credit with how easily he lied. Even she found herself believing that was how it had played out. It was the perfect mixture of vague details that had been spun well enough to sound convincing. But ultimately it was the presentation in which he sold it that was the most convincing.

They walked out together in the crisp autumn air. It was a clear day and the sun warmed her when she entered its rays touch from the shadow of the building. They walked a short way together in silence as their course of route matched but when it came for them to part, Sakura turned to him.

"Thank you," she said.

Daichi shoved his hands into his coat pockets to protect them from the sharp breeze that picked up. "Yeah kind of gave me no choice."

She should have felt guilty but she didn't. "I didn't either," she replied. Her answer produced a strange expression on his face as he looked at her in confusion. "What?"

He shook his head as his shoulders moved up into a shrug. "I just don't understand it. You are risking a lot just for some person you used to be on the same side as. Doesn't seem worth it."

"In the world, those who break the rules are scum, but those who abandon their friends are worse than scum," she answered.

He let out a small skeptical chuckle. "Must be nice having you as a friend. None of mine ever passed up a chance to leave me behind if it benefited them."

"That's because they never were your friends."

She left him with that answer hanging in the air, walking away to return to the hospital.

As she walked it was as if the air got bitterly cold as she found herself struggling to breath. By the time she reached the hospital's half repaired courtyard, she was breathing rapidly. A dizzying sensation was taking over, causing her to pause against a lamp post as she unzipped her jacket in an effort to somehow aleve the constriction she was feeling in her lungs. She was panicking and looking around wildly.

The area was vacant yet she felt claustrophobic as everything that had happened today came crashing down on her. Her eyes set on the city walls in the distance and a yearning to be on the other side of those walls consumed her. She needed to breathe, she needed space, she needed to get free of those walls.

"Doctor Haruno!" came a voice from the entrance, followed by some quick footsteps. "Doctor Haruno, are you okay?"

Sakura looked up to see the receptionist who had given her the prison summons earlier approaching her with a look of concern. Sakura waved her off and stood straighter as she did her best to calm her labored breaths. It was then that she took note of the paper in the girls hands and recognized it as another medical summons.

Sakura nodded to the note. "What is that for?"

The girl held it out to her. "Just a request for a simple examination for a elderly man a few miles from the city," she explained. "I was just about to give it to one of the一"

"I will take it," Sakura said, nearly snatching the paperwork from the receptionist's hand.

"But it's not anything serious, just a一"

"It's fine," Sakura cut in again. "I don't mind. If anything else comes in Karin can take care of it while I am gone."

The girl nodded and Sakura quickly turned around to head towards the gate, not willing to stay behind and let the girl try and convince her again. Either her restrictions had been lifted or there had been a fluke today with the prison summons. Which ever it was, she didn't really care. All she knew was that she was more than willing to put it to the test. She was going to breathe.

As she approached the gates, Sakura pulled the hood of her jacket over her pink hair as her eyes scanned the guards posted at the gates. The traffic was relatively busy at the moment with several departing and returning shinobi, as well as a shift change taking place. This was good, it meant they would be more prone to distraction and susceptible to overlooking things.

Making sure her hair was tucked beneath her hood. It was an easy identifier and brought attention she was currently not in want of. Pacing her stride strategically, she waited and approached one of the guards in charge of checking papers and authenticating. Giving him a warm smile she moved her eyes up and down with an appreciative glance, making sure he saw it. When she reached him, she handed him her paperwork, taking care to make sure her sleeves stayed down over the chakra cuffs.

"I was asked to fulfill a medical request a few miles from here," she explained.

The man took her paperwork and let his hazel eyes glance over it. "Identification," he requested.

Sakura did not hesitate to flash her badge from the hospital, knowing it would arouse suspicion. However she conveniently held it with her fingers placed to slightly obscure her name and photo, showing enough to make it identifiable as a valid ID and making it look coincidental. Though it didn't matter much as the man hardly gave it a glance when he was more preoccupied with returning the flirty smile she gave him.

"Alright, you're good to go," he said, before adding, "I get off soon and this mission does not seem like it will take too long. If you were to be back then maybe we could catch a drink?" He said with a wink.

Sakura gave him a coy smile. "I thought probation was back on?"

"I've got some hookups," he said with a wink.

"Well then," she said. "I better be off if I want to get back it time to catch that drink."

He looked more than pleased at her response as his eyes dipped down her again. Stamping the paperwork quickly he handed it back to her. "See you in a bit then."

Sakura held the forced smile on her face as she tucked the papers into her pocket and started walking towards the opening of the gates. And as she got closer, the smile on her face grew and became more genuine as her steps quickened. She was leaving, she was going to take a breath.


Her steps faltered for a fraction of a second but she pushed herself to go. Maybe they were talking to someone else. She got the approval, she had the stamp. There was no reason for her to be stopped.


Sakura bolted as her feet kicked off the ground, she was twenty steps away…

Fifteen steps…


Someone collided with her body and she crashed down to the ground.

She let out an agonized sound of defeat that had nothing to do with the force of the guard tackling her, and had everything to do with the five steps she had left. Five steps and she would have passed through the threshold of the village. Even if she hadn't made it much farther than a step outside, she felt like she would have been happy to give in then.

However as she stared at the small distance it was taken away from her and replaced by the blue sky and an angry face.

"Where the hell do you think you're going Haruno?" he sneered.

Sakura's heart sank as she was met with a familiar face. It was Hibiki Shiin, one of the Sound recruits that had once been under Orochimaru's command, now Sasuke's.

"I have a patient to see," she said, trying to dig into her pocket as she pulled out the paperwork. "It's legitimate I have the stamp!"

Hibiki didn't even glance at it. "That paperwork might be, but you aren't," he snapped as he stood, roughly dragging her to her feet and marching her away from the gate. Sakura tried to pull away but his hold tightened as he bellowed for the gate to be shut. Finally when they were out of the checkpoint zone, he pushed her forward. "Send someone else."

"What's going on here?"

Sakura turned around to see the guard who had stamped her paperwork approaching, his eyes moving between her and Hibiki. It was obvious he was trying to seem authoritative and important but Sakura knew it was just a show to impress her. Hibiki over ranked him.

Hibiki turned to look at the guard. "Are you the one who stamped her paperwork?" He demanded as he pointed a finger at Sakura.

The guard seemed to falter slightly as he recognized his superior. Swallowing thickly, he hesitantly nodded his head. "She had the paperwork and I checked her, she was good."

"Did you check her or check her out?" Hibiki snapped. "Did you not recognize who she was? Did you even check her name?!"

The guard stayed silent and Hibiki stomped over to him and grabbed the front of his uniform.

"Look at her," Hibiki commanded, as he glared at the guard. He twisted the man's face so he could look at her. "That is Haruno Sakura, memorize that name, memorize that face. That woman does not step outside this village unless the hokage himself tells you!"

The guard nodded and Hibiki shoved him away where he stumbled to the ground. He scrambled up, barely avoiding a violent kick of the enraged superior officer. "Your stupidity just almost got all of us in a shit load of trouble. If I ever catch you thinking with your dick and not your head I will turn you into the hokage myself for treason. Do you understand?"

The guard nodded vigorously before retreating back to the gate post. As he scampered off Hibiki looked back to Sakura.

"You little bitch!" He seethed. "Go back to the hospital and send someone else. If I catch you within a hundred feet of any of my gates I will report you for defecting."

"Someone is sick out there!" She argued. "It is my duty to make sure they are seen!"

"Send someone else, I know you have trained others capable of taking that task. It's D rank at best, probably an upset stomach. Your skills are needed elsewhere."

"And what if it isn't!" She argued. "What if that patient has something worse. What if he ends up coming here and spreads whatever he has to everyone he comes in contact with. That would include you as the first line of contact for him. Do you really want an endemic like last year?!"

Hibiki let out a snort, not looking the least bit worried. "If you're concerned then take it up with Hokage-Sama. You get his approval and I will let you go anywhere sweetheart," he remarked degradingly.

Sakura was shaking violently. She could feel her chakra swirling and collecting beneath her skin but it was like being submerged in a frozen lake. Just as it reached the surface it got stopped by the frozen layer of ice. Gnashing her teeth she let out a growl of frustration as she pirouetted on her foot and began marching, her feet not pointed in the direction of the hospital.

"What happened with the ambushed patrol?"

"They were attacked by a missing-nin who was gone from the vicinity when another patrol showed up. All of them were severely wounded and had lost consciousness not long after, so we were not able to get much more than that," a masked ANBU reported.

Sasuke looked to Karin. "Did they all survive?"

"Yes, they had the best hands taking care of them," Karin answered, not daring to reference directly or use Sakura's actual name.

There was a time when Karin would have detested the other kunoichi and had certain events during the war had not happened, she probably still would but even more so. But Karin owed Sakura her life. And she had saved her in more ways than one. Though, only Karin knew that.

After the war, Karin had been tempted to leave Sasuke. But the problem was, she had nowhere to go. So she had stayed and helped in the hospital. And there she had become close with the pink haired medic. Sakura had even trained her more proficiently in the mystical palm technique so that she would no longer have to endure others painfully biting her for a proper healing. No longer would she add scars to her body. Sakura utilized her, not used her like everyone else who looked at her and only saw her as a tool for their own ambitions.

Throughout her life, Karin had never had a friend. Sakura would perhaps disagree, she was certain the pinkette didn't fully trust her. But while it was perhaps a one sided friendship, Karin did her best to protect the one person who ever treated her like a human being. Be it turning a blind eye when questionable protocol or missing inventory of medical supplies. Supplies that Karin knew were being used for people who had been banned from hospital care. And most of all, she served to shadow her from Sasuke's infatuation.

It was like a: takes one to know one type of scenario.

Karin was more than knowledgeable in the signs and symptoms of obsession as she herself had once suffered from blinding fixation. It had consumed her to the point of nearly losing her life. And because of her own past malady, she was aware of Sasuke's obsession with Sakura. And was not willing to feed it, hoping that if starved, it would die.

"They should be well enough for questioning in a few days," she continued steadily, as if she had been the one supposed to convey such information all along.

And why exactly was Sakura not telling him this personally? Sasuke's mind questioned, annoyed at the negligence to her duties, though that was not the real cause. It was her absence that was bothering him but that was not something he was willing to come to terms with.

It was Sakura's job as the head of hospital to make all reports about inquired incidents. It was Sakura he was expecting, Sakura he was wanting. And he had gotten Karin. He wasn't sure if this was a good thing or bad. It was unhealthy for him to be so focused for reasons she should be here and not elsewhere. His mind felt like it was playing tug-of-war with his heart. One seemed to give rational and sound advice with the other sporadically tempted him to do things that were not in his nature to do, and to feel things he was not familiar with.

Before last night's events, had done well managing the amount of times she ran through his mind each day. And he had done well to resist the impulses; those thoughts that urged him to make up any and every excuse for her to be summoned. However, last night changed that. Seeing her with just reminded him how much farther she was getting away from him.

He suppressed a sigh and tried to push Sakura from his mind, a task that had been difficult all day. But he was determined, so he focused on the incident at hand.

It was yet another occurrence of a team being sent on a mission that was far too advanced for their skill levels. He was torn with this method of what Tozu claimed was field training. There were pros and cons to it.

His own team had this happen to him long ago, back when they faced Zabuza and Haku. Only they had thought their mission 'C' rank before it quickly turned to an 'A' rank. They had somehow managed to defeat them and they had all come out better ninja than before. Sasuke had first demonstrated his Sharingan, Naruto took his first steps in manipulating the power of kyuubi within him, and even Sakura, while at the time she had not done much, Sasuke believed it was one of the many events that led her to become the renowned medic she was today. Seeing her teammates injured and not being able to do had changed her, made her start to become more focused. Not as much as her development from the chunin exams but all the same. They had all worked together as a true team.

But they had lucked out greatly. As much as Sasuke resented Kakashi for holding him back, he could not ignore his superior skills to what most of the current team leaders lacked. Many of the genin facing similar situations were not so lucky. They were losing too many. But Sasuke didn't have much pull in this. They were expected to produce a certain quota...they had to find the numbers somehow. Madara was depending greatly on the leaf village. If they failed, he would give his support to someone else and let the city crumble. Sasuke had no choice but to ensure that happened. Yes, once he wanted this city to fall, now, he felt like he was the only thing keeping it from crumbling. Though he supposed that was not what others saw.

He was hokage but either Madara did not trust him, or he thought him incompetent in deciding quality was better than quantity. But least he was able to keep Tozu, the current head of the ninja academy from keeping up his home village tradition from slaughtering their own teammates. Though again, Sasuke was not so sure if he was proud of such an accomplishment or not.

"Hn," Sasuke grunted. "Good. I would like a full report the moment they are recovered enough."

"Yes Sasuke-kun," Karin said.

Sasuke's brow twitched at the honorific. He had been called that by nearly every girl and woman who was bold enough to think they were close to him. For the longest of times it never bothered him as they all just went ignored. However, as of late, he had found himself resenting it. Not because he didn't want to hear it, but because the suffix was never said in the voice and tone he wanted. And at that thought, Sasuke suddenly became glad Sakura had not come to report.

"You both can go now," he instructed, causing both to give a low bow before leaving.

He noticed Karin hesitate but with one dark look from him, she quickly scampered off. Karin was still not as persistent as she once had been. In fact, she was rather distant. Not that he blamed her after what he had done. And he was confident that the main reason she remained dutiful to him was because she feared him now, not liked him.

He let out a sigh and immediately tried to get back to work. The only problem was that his mind seemed to want to focus on other things. Last night had been hovering in the back of his mind all day. Lurking like some sort of ghost, Sakura had been plaguing him. And he was sick of her being there.

It was like she had a sense for it. Some sort of instinct to know exactly when it was prime time for pissing him off. Because it just so happened that the very same gods' damn woman, who had been on his mind all day long, had decided to make an appearance.

"You can't go in there!" cried the ANBU guard who she shoved away the moment he tried to stop her.

"Watch me!" she growled as she grabbed onto the double doors of the hokage's office and flung them open.

Sasuke looked less than pleased as his head shot up from his work on the desk he was sitting at, and grew even more sour when his eyes landed on her.

"Shut the door," he instructed gruffly to the ANBU trying to detain her. "Leave us to talk." He didn't want to talk but he also didn't want her making a scene and letting witnesses see it.

The doors shut swiftly as Sakura briskly walked the length of the office room. When she reached the halfway point that she usually lingered at when she came to his office, she did not even falter. Only when she was right at his desk did she stop.

Taking in one long breath she seemed to struggle to collect herself. "I need permission to leave the village and check on a possible outbreak."

Sauske's brow raised nearly to his hairline, surprised by this request. Leaning back he folded his arms across his chest and gave her a long look. "No," he said flatly, noticing the instant rigidness of her body language.

"I need to do my job," she said in a voice that was straining to hold a calm and civil tone. "I can't risk another outbreak like last year."

Sasuke let out a scoff. "Then all the more reason you should stay here and have someone else check on it. I can't risk you getting sick."

"I'm a doctor," she deadpanned. "That's part of my job. Just like any other job has its risks."

His head tilted to the side. "Nice try Sakura, but after last night, I am confident I already made myself clear. Why are you even wasting my time with this?" he questioned as he sat back up and started to riffle through some papers. "I am the hokage, I have more important things to do than humor your temper tantrums."

Her hand snatched the papers from his, causing him to look back up at her. "I'm sure you are, and doing such a great job at it as well," she said sardonically. She tossed the papers to the side of his desk and leaned down on the wooden surface. Her fingernails dug into the grain of the wood as she looked down at him. "Like seeing to it that the prison staff are treating inmates with the utmost care and basic human decency."

Sasuke gave her an inquisitive look. "What are you talking about."

Sakura hesitated. Did he not know of Kakashi's treatment? She was tempted to report what she saw today but then remembered, Sasuke wouldn't care. Surely he was the reason Kakashi had been neglected. And besides, if he knew she had been to the prison, he would see to it that such errors would not occur again. It would be like Hibiki at the gate again.

"...nothing." His eyes narrowed suspiciously. "I want to talk about last night," she proposed quickly, not wanting to do this at all but knowing it would distract him. "I thought about what you said...about me staying here and I want to know, when will I be able to leave?"

Sasuke picked up a pen from his desk, looking at it as if he was deep in thought. Casually he leaned back after a while and propped a foot up on his desk. Resting his elbow on his leg, he started spinning the pen with his fingers as he continued to look at her silently.

"I haven't decided that yet," he answered finally. "When I see it fit."

Sakura's jaw tightened. "Okay..." she drawled in a quavering voice. "Then can I at least know how I can prove myself as fit for consideration?"


"Why not?" She was quick to ask defensively. "Too worried I might actually accomplish it?"

"No," he replied calmly. "I haven't decided what will merit you as trustworthy."

"So what, you're just going to keep me in here forever?!"

"Possibly." The pen in his fingers stilled as he let his foot down and leaned forward, resting his forearms on his desk as he looked up at her. "And frankly, you're doing yourself a disservice right now with your tone and recent actions."

He titled his head to the side when all she did was glare at him.

"Are you going to tell me what occurred earlier to have you voluntarily come to my office when other times, you chose to skip out and have your work performed by others?" He asked, referring to Karin's presence during the incident report. "Or am I going to have to hear what you attempted to do before coming here from someone else when they come to report your misconduct."


"Hn," he grunted at her silence. "And yet you question why I don't trust you to leave."

Her hands, which she had pressed flat on the top of his desk slid to the edge and grasped at the lip as she supported her weight. Slumping forward, her head fell down as she let out a long breath of air.

"S-sasuke," she said in a tone that was dangerously defeated. "I-I can't…"

Her head lifted slightly as she realized what she was about to do. She was about to break down in front of him. She was about to beg. And she refused to do such a thing. Straightening up, she released her hold on the desk and crossed her arms. Standing firmly and holding herself up, she looked down at him. There was a strange expression in his eyes that she was not sure how to interpret. However it shifted with her next words.

"One way or another, Sasuke," she began, throwing as much spite into his name as she could muster, "I will eventually leave this village. Keeping a bird in a cage won't make its wings disappear. Eventually, the latch to the door will be left open and it will fly away."

There was a long pause as Sasuke looked back at her, his face blank of any emotion. Then, finally, the corner of his mouth curled.

"Hn," he smirked. "I highly doubt that," he commented, standing up and moving around the desk. "A caged bird may still have its wings," he said, coming to a stop in front of her. He leaned down, keeping his eyes locked with hers as his hand came up to her wrist. He tapped the chakra cuff secured around her thin wrist, his fingernail causing a metallic ring to fill the air. "But a bird can't fly if you've clipped their wings."

So had no words and even if she had, she wouldn't have been able to speak them. So she left. She had just turned around and left his office, no longer able to stand his presence.

As soon as her absence came upon him, Sasuke's head fell backwards as he let out a curse. "Fuck," he muttered, starring up at the ceiling. This was exactly why he didn't want to see her earlier. Because he knew he would just mess it up. And he had done more than that. He had royally fucked up.

He thought this was what she wanted. She wanted to call him the bad guy, so he played the bad guy, thinking it would help her sleep at night. The only problem was that he was growing tired of it and he was not sure if it really was helping her. She was dangerously close to breaking. He had heard it in her voice earlier, he thought she was going to beg. But she didn't. She mustered that strength that he overlooked for far too many years and it seemed even now he was still underestimating her.

But that determination was going to get her killed. Why could she not see that? If she could just accept things the way there were now and just do her best to keep things from becoming too bad like he had, she would survive. But her behavior now was going to get her killed one day. One wrong word to the wrong person and she would be gone. And damn her if she forced him to be the one to do it.

Sasuke had come home late and tired. After Sakura had left his office in a silent rage, he had immersed himself in paperwork, determined to overload his brain with so much work that she would finally leave his mind. It had worked but it also came with a substantial amount of exhaustion. All he wanted to do was fall onto his futon and sleep for three days. However just as he had placed kusanagi onto the stand above his dresser, he felt a familiar wild chakra approaching.

He let out a growl of frustration before flash stepping to the front door, sliding it open just as Jugo reached the engawa. "It's late," he said moodily.

"She's not in her house," Jugo reported, not needing to use names.

There was only one person that Jugo would bother reporting directly to Sasuke about.

Sasuke pinched the bridge of his nose as he grabbed the door and moved to slam it shut. He had enough of the infernal pinkett's antics and attitude for one day. He didn't want to deal with her right now. He wasn't even sure if he could, even if he wanted too.

"If she wants to deal with the consequences of breaking curfew because she needs fresh air and feels inclined to sit on a roof instead of just opening a fucking window, then that's on her. I don't care."

"But she's not on the roof," Jugo quickly replied, causing Sasuke to pause with the door halfway shut.

Sasuke's hand quickly reversed his actions and the shoji door was opened fully as he glared at Jugo. Even though he was standing in the walkway and had yet to step up onto the engawa, he was still eye level with Sasuke.

"Then where is she?"

Jugo swallowed. "I don't know," he said, slightly sounding ashamed. "She didn't come home at all today."

Sasuke straightened at that and for a long, drawn out moment, he battled within himself. He had sworn to not interfere. And with the exception of last night, he had done well since he made that promise. Let her deal with the ramifications, let her deal with the hardships on her own.

She had been relatively well behaved over the past months. But there was something about today that was different. He had seen it in her eyes, she hadn't been in a good state today. She had been emotional. And when Sakura was emotional she did things that were not always for the best for her sake.

Her earlier words from today echoed in his mind with a haunting alarm. One way or another, Sasuke, I will leave this village. Hibiki had told him the stunt she had pulled which had made him furious and even more committed to not interfere next time. Perhaps a couple of punishments would be good in putting some sense into her head. However...

"Shit," he said aloud as he walked forward and slammed the door shut. It was infuriatingly annoying that he couldn't just let her go. He needed to find her before someone else. Because as much as he talked and promised, he could not let her suffer the consequences. He could not suffer the consequences.

Stepping down from the engawa, he began walking away from the house. With each step the gravel crunched beneath his feet. Behind him, Jugo's weight crushed the rocks as he followed behind.

"Go check the hospital," he instructed. "If she's not there check the Hyuga and Yamanaka compounds...but be discreet," he warned.

The sudden lack of heavy footsteps behind him told him Jugo had left to obey his commands. Sasuke came to a stop and closed his eyes. His mind brought up his memories, and like an algorithm, he used his memories and knowledge of her to list out the most frequent places she could be. If she was not in any of them, then he would have no other choice than to send out a search party.

He could not risk losing her. He needed her.

He found her at their old training ground. Curled into a ball and in a deep, exhaustion induced sleep. Dirty track marks marked her face where tears had been shed and dried.

He let out a tired sigh as he knelt down and gently cradled her back and put his other arm under her knees before gently lifting her off the ground. This hadn't been the initial plan to deal with her when he found her. He had planned to drag her ass to the prison where she would serve the usual two days detention for breaking curfew. But of course, when he finally found her, instinct had taken over instead. Standing with her in his arms, he adjusted her slightly, checking she was still asleep before leaping into the air and making his way through the night.

His first thoughts were to just take her to his house, dump her in the spare room and go to bed himself, but pride kept him from doing that. Instead he landed on the floor of her bedroom and walked over to her bed where he lay her down.

Again his initial plan was abandoned for instinct. He was going to immediately leave but he found himself standing over her, lingering. And before he knew it, his hand was reaching out and moving a piece of hair that was on her cheek. He wasn't sure why he did this or what exactly he would do after but he didn't find out when she stirred. His hand retracted quickly away but he did not leave immediately, he couldn't.

As she moved there was a tinkling sound that attracted his attention to her hand. Clutched into the palm was a pair of shiny silver bells with a familiar red string. Carefully he sat at the edge of her bed and uncurled her fingers. He stared at the old familiar bells, curious as to how after all these years she came into possession of them.

After a moment of examination, he lightly set them onto the small table beside her bed. At the very same place he had left the medications and water early this morning when she was still passed out. It wasn't much, but somehow it brought him comfort seeing them gone. For once maybe he had done something that didn't hurt her.

This feeling had him linger just a bit longer as he looked back at her and stared down at her face. Within her mind, in the confines of her dreams and sleep cycles, his presence was unknown to her. As a result, her face was not crumbled in distaste nor lined with hatred as her features narrowed and frowned whenever she looked at him these days. Instead everything was smooth and softened. Her jaw was relaxed and her lips parted as calm breaths moved in and out of her rising chest. It was almost perfect with only the absence of the green irises that brought about a tranquility within him missing. Something within him was tempted to stay there all night, but he knew he couldn't. He couldn't risk her knowing he had been easy on her. He needed to be the bad guy for her. If she rebelled only against him, she would survive and she would continue to gift him her presence. Angry a loathing Sakura was better than no Sakura at all.

He had lingered far too long as he dragged his tired feet over the threshold of his home. Through the dark, he made his way down the quiet entry hall, making for the personal section of the house. As he passed the doorway to the sitting room he paused at the open door. Slowly, he turned and altered his course to enter the dark room.

Coming to a stop in the center, he glanced out to the wide window that looked out into the still and silent streets of the Uchiha district. Calmly he walked over to a table and shifted some of the items, straightening and turning them to suit his perfectionist's eye.

"You know," he began, speaking out loud to the dark room. "You may have learned to control your chakra enough to hide it, but you're still a mouth breather." He turned his head to look in the direction of the darkest corner of the room. "It baffles me that you are even still alive if that is what you pass off as stealth, Naruto."

At his acknowledgment, a figure slowly emerged from the darkness. Despite being aware of who was present in his house, the image he was presented with was not what he was expecting to see. It was like expecting to see the sunny blue skies only to look up and see a dull overcast. His bright hair was dulled by a layer of dust from traveling and like Sasuke's, it had grown longer. No longer did he wear a head protector but instead he had tied a long bandana around his head in an attempt to control his unkempt mane. With an older face and worn look to it, he resembled the fourth hokage more than ever. And gone was the bright orange and warm hues of his clothing and instead he wore shaded darks that blended with the shadows that surrounded him.

"You look like shit," Sasuke commented after a long, drawn out examination.

Naruto let out a breathy chuckle, a part of his usual bubbly self breaking through the cloud of struggle and hardship. "Look at yourself, teme. I have been on the road, what's your excuse. I may look like shit, but you look like your need to take one. Thought you would be more happy after getting your revenge? What happened? Did your face freeze after so many angsty years or are you finding revenge wasn't the answer all along?"

Sasuke's upper lip twitched in a threatening sneer. "You should go," he warned, before turning to escape into the hall. "It was foolish of you to come here."

"I want to talk," Nauto said, his voice taking on a maturity that Sasuke had never heard or thought the unruly ex-teammate would ever be capable of exhibiting.

For a moment, Sasuke paused, letting a long silence play out which Naruto took advantage of.

"Help me," he said, his voice again one of an adult and not the immature, dreamer youth Sasuke was used to.

"I will give you to the count of five to get out of here," Sasuke replied dangerously.

"I can tell you're still miserable."


"You know this is not right."


"Itachi never wanted this."

"Three," Sasuke barked, his brother's uttered name having struck a certain cord.

"You know Madara will destroy the world, he would see everyone enslaved."

Sasuke looked to him, his Sharingan emerging with a blood colored warning to Naruto's time. "Four."

"Will you at least protect Sakura," Naruto requested.

"..." Sasuke hesitated at this, his eyes dimming to their natural coal color as he paused. "She doesn't want my help."

"That never stopped me during the war," Naruto retorted. "She became strong and while she can defend herself, there are still other dangers. She is brave now and puts others before herself."

"Tch, yet still annoying," Sasuke muttered.

"Huh?" Naruto asked.

Sasuke gave him a cold look. "Nothing," he said, moving to the hallway. "Your time is up. Leave now and I will overlook seeing you tonight. But don't think it will happen again."

"Not until you promise to keep her safe."

Naruto's stubborn voice echoed in the silence that followed. Slowly, Sasuke slanted his head ever so slightly, so that the moonlight hit the side of his face, highlighting his cheekbones with an eerie iridescent light.

"She's survived this long, hasn't she?" He said in an even tone.

There was a small exhale of relief from the blonde rogue. It was ironic how their places had changed so drastically in a year. "Thank you."

"I'm not doing it for you," Sasuke muttered, stepping out of the room and leaving behind him, a strong dismissal that Naruto obeyed...for the time being.

Hope you liked this nice long chapter. Thank you all to those who left feed back and reactions on earlier chapters, I love reading what you think!

Hope you are all well and safe! I will try to get the next chapter up as soon as possible. Currently I am trying to rotate through all of my current projects and updating them all constantly but we shall see! Take care and keep being your classy sassy selves!