Set after the Never-ending Battle (AKA Team 7, Chiyo, and Team Gai vs. Sasori, Deidara, and Team Gai Black Mode). I haven't been keeping up with the manga so well, so there are probably loads of inconsistencies. Sorry. Hope you still enjoy.

who'd have thought that you'd dream
of a single tragic scene…

-Blue Eyes, Cary Brothers

They stumbled into the clearing at the same time, not by design but by chance. Tenten and Neji came stumbling in from the northwest, Lee from the southwest and Gai flew in from the eastern side, all of them brought up short by the image of a furious, bloodied Sakura standing defensively over the slumped form of Chiyo, kunai out and so ready for battle that the air around her was almost visibly charged with chakra.

She blinked, and something in her eyes retreated. And suddenly she was hurrying to them, babbling with concern and fear and questions. In a very short time she had them all lying down on the mossy forest floor. There was some sort of order to their arrangement, they realized, when she began to go from one to another in sequence, healing the most severe wounds, moving on, coming back to take care of the remainder.

She kept up a running stream of chatter the whole time she worked, interspersing questions about Team Gai's battles with their jutsu-created clones with a blow-by-blow accounting of her and Chiyo's battle with Sasori of the Red Sands – whose bruised, broken and surprisingly scrawny body lay in the shadows of the cave, secured (though it was likely that he was dead) by barrier ofudas.

Lee and Gai began to sob their apologies about not making it to help with the battle with the Akatsuki. Sakura comforted them…at least until their wailing began to be about how they could possibly have let "a fragile delicate little flower like our Sakura-chan" (Gai having decided that his eternal rival's students were as good as his, except for the one obvious exception of course, and Lee being…Lee) "face such an awesome opponent all on her own!" At that point Sakura began tying their bandages just a little tighter, and wondering aloud if she should try out that new anesthetic jutsu to help facilitate the healing of the Beautiful Green Beasts of Konoha.

Tenten smirked in sympathetic feeling at her fellow kunoichi's actions, from where she was helping Neji reopen his tenketsus. The young Hyuuga had – much to his evident disgruntlement – managed to be on the receiving end of one of his own 256-strike Hakkeshou Hydra-Style attacks. He had won – "of course," he scoffed when Tenten asked him about his fight – but at the cost of having all his tenketsus closed. After Sakura managed to reopen the chakra openings in his hands, he had begun to painstakingly restore his chakra system, but he couldn't reach the ones on his back…

But Tenten's smirk slid off quickly as she watched the younger girl work. There was an almost hysterical edge to her never-ending chatter, and even Lee could tell that she was desperately trying to distract herself from something with her ministrations. She treated Lee and Gai's chauvinism with an annoyance uncharacteristic of her (when it did not involve Naruto or Kakashi, who had managed to knock down her reservations about bodily harm with their…personalities, she was usually very polite). Her green eyes glittered strangely in her too-taut face, and there was an air about her of someone who was about to chew through her own fingers in the mind-numbing agony of waiting, waiting, waiting…

And then Sakura was bolting to her feet, the green glow of healing chakra fading away from where she'd been helping set Lee's broken leg. Her face had gone absolutely bone-white, and it served to make her eyes, round and wide with something beyond sorrow and something more desperate than disbelief, seem even brighter.

Beneath Tenten's hands, Neji had gone still. Then he was shaking his head, his Byakugan activated, and murmuring "No," in a soft, defeated voice. Almost shaking with apprehension, not wanting to see what Neji and Sakura saw, Tenten slowly turned her head.

Kakashi was standing at the edge of the clearing. The infamous jounin was in worse shape than Tenten had ever seen him; slouching not in affectation but in genuine pain, blood tracing dark, wet trails over his face and staining his mask. His hitai-ate was, for once, straight and level on his brow, leaving the infamous Sharingan eye to blaze red and raw against a face almost as white as Sakura's.

And in his arms he cradled a bundle of bloody, ripped cloth. The blood liberally spattered all over it was almost – but not quite – enough to hide the fact that once it had been a bright, vibrant orange.

"Oh god," Tenten whispered to herself, her voice drowned out by Sakura's wavering, panic-shrill voice calling to her jounin-sensei.

"Ka…Kakashi-sensei…where is he?" Her voice rose, cracking and blurring with oncoming tears. "Where is he, Kakashi-sensei? Where's Naruto?"


And of course Naruto's going to be in the next part!

Soundtrack while writing:
Ending Theme (FFX)
Fields of Gold (Sting)
Fish Silent Cruise (GitS)
An Old Irish Song (Suikoden II)
And of course Blue Eyes (Cary Brothers)