Disclaimer: Naruto is owned by Masashi Kishimoto, not me. Also Eddie Izzard reference if you can spot it!
The problem with trying to gather information in a shinobi village was that everyone knew how to keep secrets. Gossip was one thing, and jounin were usually the worst offenders, for all their supposed maturity. Kakashi could count about five different rumours currently circling about who he was bedding. The latest odds in the betting pool (which was Anko's idea) had him paired with the new young member of ANBU squad, whose name Kakashi didn't even know, although there were quite a few supporters for the idea that he was currently involved in a sordid three-way with Umino Iruka and Maito Gai. Kakashi did not deny the rumours mainly because they amused him, but also because they kept potential matchmakers off his back. And because he had a cut in Anko's betting pool of about five percent.
But when it came to real information, like who had gone where and did what on their missions, the shinobi of Konoha knew how to button up tight as clams. So Kakashi knew he was taking a gamble by asking Iruka about the details of Sakura's last mission.
"You're up early," Iruka had grumbled as the masked-jounin landed on the window sill of the mission room. "And don't you ever use the door?"
"Too civilian," Kakashi replied. "And I was supposed to meet my team by the training grounds two hours ago, so I'd say I'm right on time."
Iruka sighed and shook his head. "What do you want, Kakashi? And don't tell me you're here to boost the betting pool odds. Even Anko is pulling for that Makino girl and Gai's out in the field this week."
"So that's her name. Makino…well, at least she sounds cute. And Iruka, I didn't know you were also in the betting pool?"
"God knows a teacher's salary doesn't pay nearly enough," Iruka replied. "And I don't have time to weed gardens for extra cash. Now, what do you want Kakashi? I have work to do."
Kakashi stroked his chin through his mask. "Well, you see…I need to read the mission report for Haruno Sakura's last mission."
"All mission reports are classified," Iruka said, frowning. "You know that, Kakashi. And besides which, even if I wanted to help you I couldn't."
Kakashi's visible eye narrowed. "Did Hokage-sama request that the mission report be destroyed?"
Iruka suddenly looked uncomfortable. His hand came up to scratch along the scar line across his nose, a nervous habit he'd yet to break.
"No…that's the thing: there was no mission report."
"Nothing was ever handed in to me," Iruka stated. "As far as my files show, Sakura-kun's last mission was with Team Seven, successfully completed two weeks ago."
Kakashi sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. It was obvious that no information would be forthcoming from this corner.
"Why do you need the information anyway," Iruka asked, curious. "Did something happen on Sakura-kun's mission? I was under the impression that it was just a routine med supplies pick-up. That's why I didn't question the lack of mission report."
"I don't really know," Kakashi sighed, suddenly feeling very tired. "But something is going on with her and whatever it is, it's damaging the effectiveness of the team."
"Ah, so this is about team effectiveness," Iruka asked, frost in his voice. "You know, these are human beings we're talking about, not just gears in some machine. They're still kids."
"They're shinobi too," Kakashi stated, and Iruka flinched at the hardness in his voice. "We can't forget that."
The two men stood in awkward silence for a while before Kakashi turned to leave.
"Sorry, I couldn't help," Iruka offered just as the other man got to the door, sounding a bit guilty.
Kakashi's expression softened behind the mask, and he tossed his hand up in a conciliatory gesture without turning around.
"S'okay. But Iruka?"
"I…do care about them. Really."
And with that, Kakashi was out the door and down the street. Iruka watched him go with a strange half-smile gracing his face.
"I know," he said quietly to the empty room.
"That lazy pervert!" Naruto ranted to no one in particular. His arms flailed in exasperation and he barely missed socking a bored-looking Uchiha Sasuke in the jaw. The dark-haired nin glared at his team mate and inched a bit to the right to avoid any moving orange-clad limbs, while trying to look like moving at all had been entirely his own idea.
Naruto paid no attention to this, as he was too busy yelling insults at the trees surrounding them, hoping that one of them contained a certain grey-haired jounin.
"Three hours late! I could have had another bowl of ramen for breakfast," Naruto mourned, rubbing his stomach wistfully. "And I'll bet Kakashi-sensei will give us another lame excuse like 'oh, Naruto I wanted to be on time but I had to poke a badger with a spoon' or 'you'll have to excuse my lateness, there was an elephant in my closet' or something stupid like that. Well I'm not going to take it anymore! As soon as he shows up here, let's beat his lazy ass down! You in, Sakura-chan?"
"Hm…" The pink-haired kunoichi sat apart from the two boys of her team, slowly winding a blade of grass around her finger. From under his lashes, Sasuke watched his female team mate as the tip of digit closed off by the green tourniquet went from a rosy peach colour, to white, to a faint blue.
Sasuke frowned and took a step towards her.
The blade of grass broke apart as the girl started and looked up to see both Naruto and Sasuke watching her. Blushing at the scrutiny, Sakura brushed the scraps of grass from her lap and got to her feet.
"Well," she said, smiling brightly, "since we don't know when Kakashi-sensei will turn up, why don't we start training basic stuff until he gets here?"
Sasuke looked at her suspiciously for a moment, but eventually nodded his approval of her plan. Naruto, as expected, was a bit more reluctant.
"Aw, Sakura-chan we don't need to practice basic training. I wanted to try out this new technique that Ero-senin showed me yesterday! It was sooooo cool."
"No one wants to see your modified perverted jutsus, moron," Sasuke stated flatly.
"Ha, you just don't want Sakura-chan to see you get a nosebleed and faint," Naruto accused, pointing a finger in Sasuke's direction. "Besides, it's not a perverted jutsu at all."
Sasuke smirked and shoved his hands into his pockets. "If that's true," he said, "then you won't mind sparring with Sakura first instead of me."
"W-wait a minute," Sakura protested, not sure if she felt up to sparring with anyone just yet. "Why me first?"
"Because you need the practice."
"Oh that's nice," Naruto hissed, seeing the way Sakura's face fell at Sasuke's blunt words. "Way to be sensitive, asshole."
Naruto turned to his female team mate and gave her a big smile and a wink.
"Don't worry Sakura-chan," he boasted. "I'll go easy on you!"
A hint of anger sparked in Sakura's eyes. Naruto gulped and took a step back as she raised a trembling fist and lowered her brows threateningly.
"Who's going easy on who?" she screeched, aiming a punch at his head, which Naruto ducked accordingly.
Sasuke watched with thinly concealed amusement as the orange-clad ninja scrambled out of the path of Sakura's next punch, which splintered the wood of the tree he had been pressed against. She had gotten faster since their last mission. It would be an interesting fight.
Naruto immediately leapt out of range, disappearing into the dense foliage surrounding them. Sasuke watched Sakura make the forms for a wide-spread genjutsu and waited for a few seconds. Above them, a familiar yelp was heard and one-hundred and forty pounds of blond shinobi suddenly tumbled to the ground at Sakura's feet.
"Ow…" the figure groaned, rolling over a bit to lie on his back. "Sakura-chan, I think I broke my arm."
"Serves you right," the pink-haired girl said, but kneeled down beside the sulking heap that was Naruto anyway. Before her hand could reach out to examine the swelling appendage, she heard a slight whistle to her left and darted to the side, barely escaping the kunai aimed at her back.
The Naruto in front of her disappeared in a cloud of white smoke and Sakura sent a spray of shuriken into the bushes, trying to force the real Naruto out of hiding. Unfortunately, all she got was a barrage of clones.
Sakura took care of them quickly, trying to focus her attention on finding Naruto's unique chakra-pattern. Once she got a hold on the direction, Sakura drew a kunai out of her pack and waited.
'Time to pull out the big guns.'
As expected, a pair of shuriken whipped toward her from behind. Her timing perfect, Sakura let the blade graze her just enough to cut through the strap on her shoulder and draw a bead of blood across her skin and slice a neat line in the fabric of her skirt. Now showing quite a bit of thigh and shoulder, Sakura let herself wince openly and sink to one knee, one hand going to her skirt as if keeping it from falling open completely.
"Sakura-chan!" A blond head suddenly poked out of the bushes and Naruto showed himself, concern and curiosity fighting for dominance in his expression.
Sakura shifted her grip on the kunai and started a count-down in her head. She slumped forward a bit, showing more of her bare and bloodied shoulder and smiled inwardly as Naruto shifted a bit closer.
"You idiot," she seethed, "this was a new outfit!"
Naruto opened his mouth to reply, but was interrupted by a fast-moving kunai suddenly piercing through his jacket, pinning him to the ground. Unfortunately, Sakura found out a second later that she had really pinned a log, not her team mate.
'Shit. A replacement technique.'
"Nice try Sakura-chan," Naruto called, closing in rapidly from above her. His hands formed a series of seals she didn't recognize. Out on the peripheral of her vision she could see Sasuke activate the sharingan.
Her attention snapped back to Naruto as he suddenly shouted and plucked a strand of hair from his head. Sakura watched in amazement as the hair lengthened and hardened into a long glinting needle. Naruto shouted something else and the one needle multiplied into twenty, then fifty, then hundreds of sharpened senbon hurtling towards her at great speed.
Sakura tensed, preparing to dodge when another of Naruto's clones appeared behind her and grasped her shoulders, holding her in place. Sakura readied an elbow to ram into the clones' throat but in her twisting to land the blow, she felt a brush of fingers against her hip. She froze, a barrage of unwanted memories trapping her as effectively as any genjutsu.
Sakura tried to keep her face perfectly blank as gloved, meaty fingers trailed down her sternum, circling her navel before dipping ever so slightly past the waistband of her skirt. The man who hovered over her smiled and licked his thin lips. His breath stank of blood and something else Sakura couldn't describe.
"She's certainly more fit then the last one you brought me, Katsuichi,' the man crooned. "But then, Hana-chan has been getting awful thin since she won't eat her dinner."
Both Sakura and Miyazaki looked to the corner, where a young girl huddled in the corner, her white kimono stained with what looked like blood and urine. Her tiny socked feet were chained together in a hobble. Sakura shuddered and let a bit of her revulsion show.
Miyazaki chuckled as the girl in the corner shifted at the acknowledgment and his grip on Sakura's waist suddenly turned hard and punishing.
"Why don't you two get to know each other a little better while I go discuss prices with Katsuichi here, and when I come back we'll play a game before dinner. Oh, and Hana-chan…"
The girl in the corner seemed to fold in on herself, and an animalistic whine escaped her bloodless lips. Sakura didn't want to know what could make a human being sound like that.
"If you don't eat tonight it will go very badly for you." Miyazaki's manic grin was the last thing she saw as he pushed her into the room and locked it behind him.
Sakura smoothed her shirt down from where Miyazaki's hands had rucked it up around her breasts and slowly walked towards the girl in the corner. Healing her would be too suspicious, but Sakura could at least help her into a more comfortable position. Lying that way with her feet like that couldn't be comfortable.
As Sakura approached the girl, she discovered that the strange keening sound was actually made up of constantly mumbled words. She reached out a hesitant hand.
"Sakura snap out of it!"
The pink-haired kunoichi blinked to discover that her position seemed to have changed. Naruto's clone was no longer holding her from behind, and Sasuke's hands were closed around her shoulders in a bruising grip as he shook her. She stared dazedly at the blue field of his shirt before registering the rasp of his voice.
Sharingan-red eyes glared at her for a few moments before pale lids closed them and Sasuke slowly slipped to her knees in front of her. Mystified, Sakura grasped at his shirt before seeing the ends of several senbon protruding from Sasuke's back and shoulders. Her eyes widened.
"Fuck," Naruto said, rushing over to support Sasuke so that he didn't collapse on his back and push the wickedly glinting needles even deeper into his body. "Fuck, why didn't you dodge?"
Sakura gaped at him. Her stomach roiled suddenly, and she fought not to stumble off to the bushes to retch.
"Heal now, talk later," Naruto ordered, steadying Sasuke on his hands and knees.
The sharpness in his voice seemed to snap Sakura out of her horrified paralysis and she immediately set to work pulling out the bloody senbon and sending chakra into the wounds, tracing their pathways and knitting back together muscle tissue and skin. Naruto was strangely silent while she worked, passing her gauze and bandages from her kit when she asked for them, slicing Sasuke's shirt open where she indicated.
After the last needle slid out of Sasuke's shoulder and the wound was probed with chakra and then bandaged, Sasuke's eyes opened again, this time back to their usual black irises. He stood up cautiously and flexed his arms, testing his range of motion. The bandages restricted him a bit, but Sakura was an excellent medic-nin. His back was not even sore and he doubted he'd have scars to show.
"You okay bastard," Naruto asked, sounding a bit guilty. It was his needles, after all, that had pierced Sasuke's skin.
But the other boy didn't even acknowledge Naruto's inquiry. Instead, he turned to Sakura.
"What's wrong with you?" he asked, and Sakura winced. His voice only sounded that flat when he was absolutely furious.
"Sasuke-kun I'm sorry—"
"I don't want you to apologize. I'm not even hurt. You could have been killed, freezing like that Sakura. Those needles were coming at your throat and Naruto doesn't have nearly the control that Haku-kid had."
Sasuke ignored Naruto indignant shout at that, and took a step towards Sakura, trying to get her to meet his eyes.
"What's wrong with you?" he repeated.
"Nothing," Sakura stammered, looking away. "I was just distracted and I made a mistake."
"That's crap Sakura-chan," Naruto said, frowning. "You were about to smash my clone and get out of there, I felt it. Why did you just stop?"
"I don't know."
Sasuke shook his head. "You're lying. Why are you lying to us?"
"I'm not lying," Sakura cried, "I don't know why I froze and I'm sorry and it won't happen again, okay?"
Sasuke clenched his hands into fists, his knuckles turning as white as the bandages gracing his back and shoulders. He scowled.
"Fine. You aren't going to tell me. If I leave, would you tell Naruto?"
"What? Sasuke-kun, there's nothing to tell—"
"So you don't trust either of us. Would you trust Kakashi enough to tell? Or Ino?"
Sakura's jaw dropped at the thinly veiled hurt in Sasuke's voice. Her throat closed on her for a couple of second and she had to swallow thickly a few times before she could get her voice to work again.
"That's not it," she choked out, giving a pleading look to Naruto over Sasuke's shoulder. The other boy just frowned at her. "It's not about trusting you. Can't I keep some things to myself?"
"Not if it's hurting you Sakura-chan," Naruto responded, softly.
Sasuke nodded in agreement and Sakura bared her teeth, feeling cornered.
"We're team mates," Sasuke continued, disappointment showing in his eyes, "but if you can't trust us enough to talk to us…"
That was it. That was the last straw.
A malicious laugh rasped from between Sakura's lips and she smiled painfully.
"Oh, look who's talking about trust. Tell me Sasuke-kun, when did you ever trust us enough to tell us about Itachi? Or talk to anyone about Orochimaru's seal? Oh, that's right. Never. So don't you dare lecture me about trust."
Sasuke had turned pale at the mention of Itachi and Naruto's eyes had widened in amazement as Sakura had, for the first time, been intentionally cruel. To Sasuke.
"S-Sakura-chan," he gasped, and the pink-haired girl's lips quivered as if she wanted to somehow stuff the words back into her mouth. But it was already too late.
"I'm sorry Sasuke-kun," Sakura whispered, and then she took a shaky step back, turned on her heel and ran.
Naruto yelled after her, wanting to follow but unwilling to leave Sasuke alone when he was still bone-white and rooted to the spot, his mouth partially open in shock. Naruto sighed and place a hand on Sasuke's shoulder, watching the muscles tense and waiting for the inevitable shrug as Sasuke pulled away.
"She didn't mean it," he offered.
Sasuke's eyes watched Sakura's back vanish into the darkness of the forest, the little bits of shadow swallowing her running form until there was nothing left.
"Yeah," he replied, "she did."
AN: You would not believe how much trouble I had writing this chapter. Stupid fight scene kicked my ass in all kinds of un-fun ways. And I can't write Kakashi ;;
Anyway, thanks for sticking with the story and all the lovely reviews. You guys make the writer's block headaches worth it. thumbs up