Chapter 12: The Ops Center Isn't Always Safe

Sakura awoke and shook her head, a hand to her forehead. She looked around the unfamiliar house and furrowed her brow, trying to remember what happened last night. Reaching out, her hand touched something flat and smooth on the bed next to her, and she glanced down to it. It was an envelope that said her name on it, in very familiar handwriting.

Suddenly everything came back to her, all the memories and exactly where she was. "Sasuke?" she called into the emptiness. "Are you there?" The house was eerily silent and there clearly wasn't a soul to be had. She stood out of bed, holding the pale sheet around herself as she walked to the door of the bedroom. The sun was barely over the horizon, illuminating the house just enough that she didn't need to turn on a light.

Unable to believe her eyes, she searched the house almost obsessively. "He can't have left," she repeated, like a mantra to keep her going. But after spending two hours scouring the house, praying, hoping that he was still there, she was finally forced to accept what she had known in the back of her mind all along.

He was gone.

Sakura slumped onto Sasuke's bed and buried her face in her hands wailing at the top of her lungs.


Shikamaru glanced up from his report that was due after Christmas Break to see Sakura walk in with red rimmed eyes, a piece of crinkled paper in her tightened fist. Her cheeks were blotched, like she had been crying for hours and hours and hours without letting up. The pink haired woman stumbled in, and collapsed to the floor, her entire body shaking on the linoleum of the Nara kitchen, where Shikamaru sat so he could work on the report with Ino that morning. The brunet ran over to her and knelt next to her, asking in concern, "Sakura! What on earth happened?"

Without saying a word she held up the paper that was in her hand, and he took it. "Sasuke," she whispered, her voice coming out choked, clenching her fists against the floor. The boy's dark brown eyes flew across the page, getting wider and wider with each word. "Shikamaru, tell me this isn't real! Please! I love him, Shikamaru, I love him!!" she screamed, water dripping down her cheeks. The computer geek patted her back awkwardly, trying to calm her down. She hiccuped painfully and pressed her fists hard into the floor.

"Shikamaru?" He turned to see Ino step into the kitchen, still wearing her pajamas and her hair completely tousled around her face. Rubbing the tiredness out of her blue eyes she asked, "What's going on? Are you okay Sakura?"

"Sasuke… left to go join Orochimaru," he told her quietly, helping the shaky medic to her feet. She sniffed and wiped her eyes, but more tears just fell. "Last night he just betrayed us all." The Yamanaka could hardly believe her ears. Sure the Uchiha was a jerk sometimes, but to completely betray all of his friends? That didn't… that didn't seem like him at all!

She cried hysterically, "He's gone! He left, with nothing more than a fucking letter! I hate him, I hate him!" Ino walked over and hugged her tightly, trying to get her quiet down. Sakura shook madly but didn't outburst again, too upset to choke out another word. Why would he do that? Spend the night with her, say he loved her, and then leave? She… she thought he would stay. Stay for her! But he left, broke her heart and her will, giving her nothing by words on paper for her to go by? That didn't make up for anything, damn it! Ino and Shikamaru seemed so far away, lost amid the darkness clouding her vision. "I hate him Ino," she whispered into the purple clad girl's shoulder, trying to find some comfort in her blonde friend's embrace.

"I don't blame you Sakura," she replied, shaking her head. "Shikamaru? Would you mind calling everyone over here? I think we need to discuss a few things…" As he left Sakura pulled back, watching Ino's sapphire eyes with tears in her emerald ones.

Sakura told her, her voice still shaky, "He left me alone this morning, Ino. All alone. To wake up by myself in bed to nothing but a piece of paper with vacant words, and a warm spot on his bed to indicate that he had been there. You could never imagine… the empty feeling you get." Her voice choked and she lost her voice amidst her tears, her face buried in her shoulder again.

The rest of the Seekers arrived in two groups. Neji and Hinata showed up first, coming from the Hyuuga Complex together. They had gotten the message during a meeting and were not lightly allowed to leave, but it was out of their hands. Next to arrive was Naruto, coming from the ANBU building where he was practicing.

"This everyone?" Ino asked.

"No," Hinata said suddenly. "We're missing Tenten."

Ino snapped her fingers. "I know where she is. Shikamaru I'll be back in a few minutes, I have to go to the Ops center, I gave Tenten some work to do on the computers, and I completely forgot about it." He nodded and she was off, his chin resting in his hand. Sakura was huddled in a corner away from the group, and though they all noticed her tear stained face and trembling body, none of them knew what to say or ask. They figured that they would find out here in the meeting. They sat down at the dining room table in Shikamaru's kitchen, looking towards the genius in trepidation, not knowing what to think about the situation.

"We'll wait until she comes back, I think," Shikamaru mention, and there was a general murmur of consent from everyone save for Naruto, who growled impatiently.

"Where's Sasuke-teme?" he asked, looking around the room. "He's missing too."

Shikamaru grimaced as Sakura flinched in her seat. "That's the thing we're worried about, Naruto." The blond stared at him, shocked.


Ino drove down the oft taken street to the ANBU center, her thoughts spinning around frantically in her mind, not even noticing that it had started to snow. How could Sasuke have done such a thing? It still didn't make sense to her. And the empty look in Sakura's eyes was almost more than she could bear. She had never seen her best friend look like that in her life, it was as if all the life had been completely sucked out of her. It scared Ino. Sakura was so strong... but this had torn her to pieces.

She drove into the parking lot outside the seemingly abandoned building. But as she stepped out, a loud explosion sounded above her head and she saw debris fall from the side of the building, and she had to dive out of the way to avoid getting crushed. Pulling the gun strapped to her leg under her skirt out, she ran into the building, cocking it. She took the elevator to the top floor, and slid to the side, looking carefully outside of it before taking tentative steps onto the floor. The top floor was smoking, but she didn't see anyone inside, vampire or human.

"Tenten?" she called, looking around. Dust filled the air from the walls being blown in, and Ino was frightened. What could have happened here?

"There's another one, un!" a voice called, and Ino flattened against the wall, her heart pounding in her chest. She crept along the hall, one hand against the wall and the other holding out her gun, preparing to shoot anyone that came near her. Something clicked behind her, and she let out a scream as the floor collapsed beneath her. Her gun went flying out of her hand to the next story, and she hung on to the edge of the floor for her life. She didn't know what to do, her voice was gone. She couldn't call for help, and who would hear her anyway?

"Hello there." She glanced up to see a blond vampire standing above her, its face shrouded by the collar of the black cloak it was wearing. In a last ditch attempt to escape, Ino let go of the floor and crashed into the one below, a pain shooting through her ankle. She ignored it as she pulled herself off the floor, running as fast as she could down the hallway. A quick glance behind her told her that the vampire was not following her, and she burst through the doors leading to the stairwell.

A voice shouted, "Ino!" She went toppling into Tenten, but the older girl steadied them both. She was covered in blood, staining her pink shirt and her dark blue pants. Pieces of her hair had come out of it's customary buns, dangling down her back. Tenten's bangs stuck to her forehead with sweat, and she was panting. "You have to get out of here. Now, Ino. Go!"

"Wait!" Ino protested as Tenten began to shove her towards the stairs. "I can't leave without you!"

She hissed, "Yes you can! No offense, but you can't really can't protect yourself as well as I can. Just go, warn the others!" A creak sounded above them and Tenten put her hand over Ino's mouth, holding her in the shadows of the stairwell, both of them waiting with baited breath. When nothing happened, Tenten released Ino and glanced around, her labored breathing now barely a pant. The blonde's eye were full of fear, watching the normally stoic weapons specialist.

Tenten began to explain very quickly, "Something's not right here, Ino. These vampires are here, but the sun is bright in the sky. Doesn't something seem a little strange here?" Ino nodded, swallowing hard. "Something has changed, Ino, and you have to go warn the rest of the Seekers. I'll do my best to distract them."

Before she could protest again, a loud explosion went off by the double doors leading to the staircase. Ino and Tenten backed away from the smoke, choking. A blond and a red haired figure emerged from the white dust, and Tenten instinctively grabbed Ino's hand and began to pull her down the stairs, skipping a few at a time. "Run, Ino, move!" she shouted, her grip tightening on her hand. She skipped an entire story, sliding through the gap between the two sets of staircases.

As she reached the bottom door, she pushed through it. "Shit," Ino heard her curse. The blond vampire was standing there. She turned around and nearly ran into the red haired one. "Shit!" The two Seekers looked between the vampires, Ino trembling and Tenten gripping a weapon hidden in her shirt. The sun wasn't hurting them, and there was nothing else to do now but fight she realized grimly. She let go of Ino's hand and pulled collapsible pole out, flinging it out behind her as all the pieces fit together perfectly.


She glared at Ino. "Let's fight."


"She's been gone way too long," Shikamaru insisted, standing up from the table two hours after Ino had left. "This doesn't seem right, guys." He looked around at the other people in his house. Naruto, Hinata, Sakura, who was sitting lifelessly on the seat by the window, Neji and Kakashi, who had shown up not five minutes ago.

Neji spoke up next. He had been thinking the same exact thing. "You're right, Shikamaru. We need to go to the ANBU building and see what's going on." Almost everyone stood up to leave, until Sakura and Naruto were the only ones left in the kitchen. He watched her, his blue eyes sad. Her pale form was against the window, lifeless, staring blankly out into the falling snow that attached to the glass. The flakes melted and dripped like tears down the pane, reflecting on her cheeks as the tears that she didn't have the strength to shed anymore.

Quietly, Naruto strode over to her, placing a hand on her shoulder. "Sakura-chan," he whispered, his forehead against her soft pink hair. "I promise I'll find him for you. No... I swear I will." She made no move and he sighed, shaking his head as he turned around and began to follow his comrades out the door. He hated to leave her there alone, but he didn't have any choice. Something could be seriously wrong with Ino and Tenten.

And no matter how much he loved Sakura, he couldn't leave his teammates in danger.


"T...Tenten..." Ino groaned, crawling over to her friend. The girl was unconscious on the ground, her brown hair swept around her sweet face, caked in blood and debris from the explosions caused by the blond vampire. She had tried her hardest, so hard that it hurt. But neither of them were able to do very much damage to these strange creatures. Ino held a hand to her stomach, trying to stay the blood from the deep cut that had been made there. "Shikamaru..." she whimpered, laying beside Tenten and trying to protect her from the advancing creature of the night.

"Goodnight." And her vision went dark.

"Ino!" The two vampire looked up from their catch of the day to see the other Seekers with weapons drawn before them, preparing to fight. Neji hadn't called out to Tenten, but the look of fury on his handsome features was more than enough. For a moment there was absolute silence as the two Akatsuki members regarded their foes expressionlessly, and they turned and began to run with the girls in tow.

"No!" Naruto roared, his eyes turning into a bright amber as he began to follow them through the building and finally out into the thickly falling snow, leaving the rest of his team in the dust. But even with his enhanced abilities, he was unable to keep up with the two full fledged vampires, and they outran him in a few minutes. When they were out of his sight, he fell to his knees, a scream tearing through his throat as he began to beat on the snowy ground. The crater began to get wider and wider, and he didn't feel the cold of the weather or the snow.

A soft hand was put on his shoulder, and a voice whispered, "Naruto."

He looked around and saw Hinata watching him with her bright eyes half-lidded, and he stopped hitting the ground, tears dripping down his cheeks as she pulled him into her arms. "I lost them, Hinata-chan," he sobbed softly. "I lost."

"It's all right, Naruto. It's going to be all right."