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Disclaimer: Being the property and creation of Kishimoto Masashi, the manga, anime, and name Naruto are not mine. I own none of the characters or their names mentioned in this story. All credit goes to Masashi, because without him this story would not exist.

Warning: As a courtesy, I'm reminding readers that this story is rated M. Chapters may contain intimate situations, sex, blood and violence, swearing… but then that is to be expected with this rating, right?

Chapter 5: Foreboding

The Sound was Kabuto's legacy. Not by choice, well mostly not by choice. He inherited it by default. After Orochimaru's death, and the departure of Neji and Sasuke, the Sound became a prime target for villages it had once usurped. Without its most feared defenders, the Sound was a wounded deer in the middle of a pack of wolves.

Like blood in the middle of a shark feeding frenzy they came to attack. The nerds taking revenge on the school bully; payback for years of abuse. Kabuto was left the choice to defend the Sound or watch it fall around him, which would once again leave him homeless and family-less. Not that those things were really important to Kabuto, but a man needed someplace to rest his hat - so to speak. Every man/woman needed a place to call home didn't they? And Kabuto did feel some sense of loyalty toward his fellow Sound nins. They'd all been orphans of one form or another, cast-offs "rescued" by Orochimaru. None strong enough to replace the snake sannin, only Kabuto came close to being that, and they'd looked to the white haired nin for leadership and guidance. So… by default, the Sound now belonged to Kabuto - for however long it would stand anyway.

The village was suffering attacks from several different fronts, and its defenders were growing demoralized and weaker. At its current rate, the village would be destroyed in a matter of months. What he needed was a display or symbol of strength, something to threaten his attackers with. The snake sannin's name alone had been enough to force villages into submission. When it wasn't, a display of strength and cunning worked. If that failed, Sasuke and Neji paid the offender a visit… that always worked. Orochimaru used to laugh when he sent the two geniuses out; he called it a gross display of power. The snake got off on possessing such weapons. Kabuto could use weapons like that now.

He'd been watching Konoha for a while now, attempting to keep tabs on his former teammates, Hyuuga Neji and Uchiha Sasuke. From his observations, and spies' reports - yes he had spies - they were over worked, under appreciated, and seemingly miserable. Why should they go to waste in a village that loathed their presence when he needed them so badly? Sasuke and Neji had been Orochimaru's "Dream Team". That's what their enemies and clients had referred to them as anyway. He didn't know who'd coined the phrase, only that it spread. It wasn't a name one associated with positive things, more like death and destruction. The two of them together unleashed held the power of an army. He doubted Konoha was aware of just how powerful the two together could be. He suspected that were they aware they wouldn't have kept them around, they'd have executed them.

The crunch of leaves and sticks beneath tramping feet drew Kabuto from his musings. Neji hadn't bothered trying to be stealthy or hide his presence. He was purposefully loud in approaching the white haired nin. "How did you find me?" Neji's voice was quiet, demanding; yet still held a measure of respect.

"Don't be ridiculous." Kabuto admonished. It was a silly question. It was never a secret where Neji had gone. Unless the Hyuuga thought he shouldn't be able to contact him in Konoha. Whatever. It didn't matter anyway. "It wasn't hard." He reached his hand out to touch the new cursed seal on Neji's neck. "I can neutralize that you know."

Neji pushed his hand away. "What do you want?"

Kabuto smiled. "Right down to business eh?"

Neji snorted. "I didn't think this was a for-old-times-sake visit." Kabuto laughed. "Actually… it is."

Neji turned surprised eyes on the white haired man, but just as quickly narrowed them. "I don't believe it." He accused.

Kabuto didn't have time to waste trying to convince Neji, so he'd just get right down to it. After the Hyuuga heard him out he might understand. "I want to resurrect the Sound… under my rule." Neji gave him a what's-this-have-to-do-with-me look. "You and Sasuke are being wasted here." Neji had to raise his eyebrows at that. "Are you kidding? Sasuke and I do the most dangerous missions." He'd have said more, but Kabuto piped in. "Not because your trusted or skilled. You're expendable. Regardless of your talents and bloodlines, Konoha has given up on the two of you."

Neji opened his mouth to protest, but quickly shut it as Kabuto motioned to the seal upon his neck. It was true; Konoha didn't trust him. The seal was proof enough of that. He and Sasuke had both been branded and labeled as traitors. They were sent on the most deadly missions because the village would morn their loss least. Kabuto was right about everything. Noble births and special abilities only carried you so far in a village like Konoha. This revelation, well more like acceptance, softened his mood toward Kabuto.

"Sasuke's bothers him." Neji voiced conversationally, referring to the new seal on his neck. "Mine is painless, but Sasuke has been complaining of his." Kabuto nodded. "Tell him I can take care of it for him." Neji looked like he was going to protest, but Kabuto chimed in first. "I ask for nothing. Tell him… I owe him." Neji gave a slow nod. He understood what Kabuto meant. There were some things that just bonded people. Life and death were one of them. "I'll tell him." Neji promised, and began his walk back to his house.

"I don't want to be Konoha's enemy." Kabuto called out.

Neji stopped, not bothering to turn around. "I'll carry your message."

"You'll think about it?" Kabuto asked, prodding. Saying he'd carry the message was very non-committal. He wanted an idea of how seriously the Hyuuga was considering his offer.

Neji was still and quiet for a moment, forced to consider the offer. God help him but he was miserable in Konoha, and Sasuke seemed so too. He was actually considering the med. nin's offer. "Yes." He whispered, almost like he hated to say it, but those were his thoughts.

Kabuto gave a small smile. "Two days then. I'll meet you back here in two days." Neji nodded, and Kabuto began to walk away.

Visions of blood, battle, and chaos flashed through Neji's mind. He saw Kabuto jump between himself and a bloodthirsty demon, saw the Sound nin as he healed him and Sasuke. Even when he was falling over from exhaustion the white haired nin would heal them. He remembered seeing Sasuke battling two demons at once, comrades literally torn apart, blood splattering everywhere. Death cries and the deafening roar of angry demons echoed through his thoughts, transporting him back in time. That had been real, all of it, and they'd gone through that hell together, battling living nightmares for months on end.

Nothing seems to bond men like war. Put two mortal enemies in a situation where they can't survive without each other, and they'll come out best friends, or at the very least situational allies. Whatever you call the relationship, there's no denying it's a bond. You can't quite hate a man when he's saved you from death, put himself on the line to ensure your safety, and vice versa. When you've entrusted your life to someone and they didn't let you down, how do you hate them?

"Kabuto-san." The white-haired man stopped. "Thank you." Kabuto gave a small smile and nodded. Some things just didn't need words to express. "Did you find who killed her?" Neji stiffened, caught completely off guard. His tongue felt heavy and thick, almost like it didn't want to form the small word that would vocalize his failure. "No." It came out quiet and choked, but the Sound nin heard.

Two years in Konoha and Neji hadn't found the one responsible for Mitsuki's death. He could still see her face as she fell in a silent scream, a knife through her heart. He and Sasuke had both witnessed the killing blow, but not the face of the man behind it - his identity was hidden behind a cat-like ANBU mask.

Mitsuki was supposed to wait for his return, but she'd grown worried and came to "save" him. She never knew Konoha wasn't a danger to him. He was their spy, but she never knew that, and it had cost her her life. He never forgave himself; couldn't forgive himself until he avenged her.

Kabuto knew how much Mitsuki had meant to him, knew her death weighed heavily on his conscience. "I will try to find out who did it." Kabuto's voice was laced with sympathy. All Neji could do was nod, not trusting his voice to answer. And they parted ways.

Sakura was alone. Kakashi had left hours ago. He'd had a mission. They hadn't said much about the Sasuke incident. She didn't want to talk about it; he seemed to sense that and respected her wishes on it. They shared a quiet yet companionable breakfast, his calm presence chasing away her frustration and sadness until it was time for him to leave.

The emptiness and silence of her small space without him was unbearable, a tangible weight upon her shoulders, a thundering silence in her ears. Alone… She was completely and utterly alone, an open invitation to contemplate the utter mess that had fallen into her lap. Something she had desperately wanted to avoid. Kakashi's presence was a great distraction, but now she was distraction free to contemplate the utter mess that had fallen into her lap. Had she her way she'd have opted for companionship, but then she seldom got her way.

She lay on her bed staring up at the ceiling, meditating on last night. Part of her didn't even believe it had really happened. The whole thing had just been so fast, so surreal. His voice, his attention, his lips, his eyes… She closed her eyes remembering the look on his face as he gently held her face in his hands... Her thoughts lingered a moment, lost in the memory.

How frightening that had been. For an instant she'd become the young girl that had so devotedly obsessed over Uchiha Sasuke, the one that had silently begged him for a touch, a word, a glance… Years and years she'd dreamed of him, fantasized of being with him, and just when she'd reconciled herself to it never happening, found someone else, he was there with sweet words, affectionate eyes - everything she'd ever wanted from him.

'I lived only for you. Out there away from you I'd wished for death a thousand times. Woke up countless mornings hoping it would be the last, but then I would think of you and I would go on another day. It was always you calling me back, asking me to come home.'

God it was enough to make her murder him… slowly. She wrapped her arms around her head, muffling the loud frustrated scream she belted out. Rolling over she bounded from the bed, stomping around her room, grabbing strewn clothes and the like, folding them, throwing them in the laundry. 'And that bastard Kakashi… having a mission on such a day.' Of course she'd known about the mission for a few days now, but that didn't count. Why you say? Because it just didn't, plain and simple. She looked around her room, eying everything as if it were evil incarnate. It wasn't very messy, but to Sakura's sensitive self right now it looked a complete and utter disaster.

'It's this mess; that's why I'm not myself! That's why I'm pissed off and going insane! It's because my room is a mess.' Suddenly it became incredibly important that she clean her room, scrub it from top to bottom. Rid herself of this day-ruining problem. It had nothing to do with the fact that she cheated on her boyfriend of three years and everything to do with this… mess. Yeah right.

Of course inner Sakura snorted, as if outer Sakura were some sort of idiot, cackling uproariously when her pink-haired container began vigorously scrubbing the floor of the connecting bathroom with a toothbrush. She knew what was wrong with her outer self and it had nothing to do with a barely messy room.

What had started as cleaning the bedroom and bathroom soon became the living room and more. Sakura realized that the whole house was a mess. Reason didn't call to Sakura's attention that an open magazine and an unfolded blanket didn't constitute a mess. Inner Sakura might have, but not Reason. Reason didn't do stupid things. When Sakura was in one of these moods it was best to be not seen and not heard, so Reason fell to the back of her mind. If Sakura wanted to scrub, she was welcome to it.

She scrubbed every nook and cranny, fluffed every pillow, cushion, and blanket she could find, folded anything and everything that had the ability to be folded, and vacuumed any and every area the small suction wand could fit. Sweat was pouring off her, her muscles ached, and still she cleaned. Everything sparkled and smelled of lemon, pine, flowers, and still she freshened the place up. All the while, the sweet emotion-filled voice of Kakashi echoed in her mind… 'I love you', the sultry rich voice of the Uchiha as her name dripped from his tongue… 'Sakura'. She scrubbed harder.

Sasuke leaned against the shower wall, forehead pressed tight against the tile; clenched fist poised beside his jaw as if he'd tried to punch through it. 'Sakura.' He could still taste her mouth on his tongue, feel her hands on him. After he'd carried out most of his fucked up goals it turned out all he ever wanted boiled down to her. Only her. He'd thought he wanted revenge, thought he wanted to resurrect his clan, thought he wanted immense power so he would never be at anyone's mercy again; but none of it measured up to the intense wanting of her. 'Sakura.'

He closed his eyes tight, as if trying to fight off some sort of pain. Somewhere in the back of his mind he'd always thought she'd be there. He'd never considered there might come a day she wouldn't want him… But if she didn't want him then what the hell was that that happened?

He pushed himself from the wall, and began the onerous task of washing his hair. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the feel of fingertips massaging scalp. It was normally quite a relaxing ritual, and he relied upon its pleasure to chase a certain pink-haired girl from his mind. It didn't work. It served only to remind him of her fingers tangled in his hair. The rough way she grasped handfuls of it as she devoured his mouth. "Dammit!" Sasuke hissed, allowing his forehead to once again lean against the tiled wall.

He'd come back to Konoha, a place he'd come to loathe, for her. Visions of masked ANBU torturing and scarring him ran through his head. He absently rubbed at his wrists. The visions became stronger.

He was tied against the wall. Rough ropes encircled his arms from wrists to elbows. His bindings had begun working on the soft flesh underneath. "Where is Orochimaru!"


Crack! Sasuke jumped at the sharp pain that lanced across his back, wincing and sucking in his breath at the strength of the pain. He felt wetness spread across his skin… blood. He threw his head back; eyes squeezed shut as he willed the hurt away. Tears leaked from the corners as the raw sting spread like fire throughout his body. They hosed him with ice-cold water; stealing his breath away with it's horrible chill. Then they left him for hours on end, coming back only to torture him more.

"Does he plan on attacking Konoha? Does he have spies in Konoha? Who are his spies?" The questions went on and on. Each one answered by the crack of a whip across his back, sometimes several lashes before hosing him again. He refused to speak, not that he was so loyal to Orochimaru. He just hated being broken. The ropes rubbed painfully rough against this skin of his arms until they were raw. Blood poured down his arms, seeping through the seams of the ropes. Running in crimson rivulets down across the lines of his muscles.

It had happened years ago but still his mind relived it as if he were back in that place. He winced remembering the feel of the strap as it striped his back with gaping flesh wounds. He jumped letting out a whimper, as the loud smack of the whip sounded in his ears. He could hear his own crazed laughter, as chemicals that burned were poured into his wounds. They wanted so badly to make him talk. They whipped him with cord, showered him with freezing cold water, deprived him of food and sleep, poured burning chemicals on open wounds... They'd earned screams from him, but he'd never talked.

He was huddled on the floor of the shower, shivering with the flashback. His stomach heaved and he retched, disgusted with himself for coming back to the village that had done such things to him. But he'd come back for her. That either made him extremely romantic or incredibly stupid. Seeing as she near hated him he voted for stupid.

He still wondered who the ninja behind those masks were. There wasn't a day that went by he didn't stare at his ANBU colleagues wondering which one had done what. He shook his head in attempt to clear his mind of old demons, and stood shakily, leaning against the shower wall for support. Sakura's voice came to him, chasing away the lingering affects of the torture. Her sweet smiling face filled his mind. He closed his eyes, taking deep breaths in through his nose out through his mouth. 'Sakura.' Did she know what they'd done to him?

Sasuke raked his fingers through his hair, irritated as thoughts of the pink haired girl and their tryst came back to mind. What the hell had that been? He couldn't get her out of his mind. It seemed every noise and sight around him was stimuli to think of her. He had to see her again. Even if only to scream at her, something… He needed to see her. Barely drying himself off he wrapped the towel around his waist and made for his room.

Looking like a wet rag that had been used one too many times, Sakura stood in the doorway of the kitchen. Every room had been conquered thrice over but this one. 'The kitchen…' Inner Sakura snickered anxiously as if the punch line to some great joke was about to make its appearance. Outer Sakura gripped her cleaning cloth in tight hands, wringing it as if some large decision lay heavily on her mind. 'The kitchen…' The counter – Kakashi. The entryway - Sasuke… With a growl she threw the towel down, and made for her bedroom. Okay fine, it hadn't been the mess that was making her crazy. It was Uchiha Sasuke and Hatake Kakashi.

Gathering up her huge terry robe she made for the bathroom. A bath was in order. She could soak and de-stress, and then re-stress as she contemplated the mess she'd made of her life. 'And how to fix it!' Certainly murdering the two of them was out of the question. She contemplated murdering just one of them, but quickly quashed the idea, as she couldn't decide which one to kill. She'd wanted to murder Sasuke countless times prior, twice today alone, but after their last meeting she decided she might want to keep him around a little longer. Getting rid of Kakashi was absolutely out of the question. Her mind had refused to even entertain the thought of offing him. 'Damn it!' That meant she was stuck with both of them.

Sakura sunk nose deep into the steaming hot bath. She was so utterly confused about the events of the last fifteen hours. She'd went from laughing to crying, to scowling… Until finally she'd just gotten sick of herself and cleaned like a crazed idiot. Now she was in the bath, acting like a foolish baby.

This was tiresome. When would her life stop being so messed up? When would she decide on what she wanted and just take it, quit worrying what was right or wrong? She didn't want to think about what she should or shouldn't do. She just wanted to do. Live a little. Stop stressing and just live. She'd never gotten to date, make-out and tease. She went from Sasuke's number one fan to Kakashi's loyal – well she used to be loyal – significant other. As awful as it sounded, she wanted to play. She didn't want to decide between Kakashi and Sasuke. She wanted to try them both – well more than she already had anyway. She was young. She should enjoy her youth, not squander it on playing house. There was enough time to settle down and do the love/marriage thing, but now she wanted fun. And wouldn't enjoying two of the most beautiful men in Konoha be a fun adventure? 'Yes it would,' replied inner Sakura.

Sakura couldn't help but feel Kakashi and Sasuke had all the power and she was just along for the ride. They could crook their finger and she'd come. Sure she wanted to come, but what if she were the one doing the crooking? What would it feel like to hold that kind of power over them? 'You'll never know if you don't try.' Inner Sakura cooed. Outer Sakura contemplated that logic.

She thought back on her behavior, ashamed of how she'd acted. Whatever she wanted to do was her right. She had a say in what she did and didn't do. If she didn't want Sasuke, she wouldn't have given in to him. If she didn't want Kakashi, she would have told him to hit the road as soon as the words "I love you" passed his lips. But she didn't. She had wanted them then, and she wanted both of them now. If they didn't want her then they were free to tell her to take a hike, but from here on out it was her way. Her wants and needs, her. No more crying or pining, or begging. She'd take what she wanted, when she wanted it. No regrets! She was tired of being left behind, of waiting for life to happen to her. She always sat back and let everyone else decide for her - maybe not directly, but certainly indirectly – and she was tired of it. No. More.

A silent voice had been nagging at Kakashi not to leave. He ignored it, figuring it had a lot to do with his insecurities about Uchiha Sasuke. In all aspects of his life he was anything but insecure, but when it came to the dark haired man he just couldn't bring himself to be okay. All his senses, ninja and otherwise, warned against the Uchiha. He was a threat to his relationship with Sakura, and who knew what else. He just had a bad feeling all round that Sasuke was more than he seemed – more threat, stronger, not so loyal and docile as he appeared… There was something he sensed in his fellow sharingan user that was disturbing, but he couldn't define what it was.

He strolled down the road leading out of Konoha, intermittently stealing glances back at the gates. As if silently bidden he kept turning to look, almost as if he couldn't help it, expecting to see a sign or a reason for his dark musings. Like part of him knew he shouldn't leave, but he had no idea why. The sense was foreboding was thick in the air and he resisted the urge to take deep breaths. Something was wrong, especially where Sasuke was concerned, but he just couldn't put his finger on what it was. When he came back he'd definitely find out.

So pre-occupied with his thoughts was Kakashi he didn't notice the Sound nins observing him from their hiding place high in the trees.

A/N: A bit rough because of last minute changes. I'm really tired, and not up for editing. So… this chap. may get some editing later. Depends on how it reads when I'm rested.