Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or the characters contained therein, they belong to Masashi Kishimoto who is kind enough to let fans write fiction. I make no profit from this nor do I intend to.

A/N: Eeep! This took far longer than I'd intended. . My apologies for the delay. Hope this chapter is worth the wait! Just one more to go and hopefully it won't take nearly so long!

Super huge thanks to my fantastic beta MimozaBlooming! You know I'd never be able to get a readable chapter up without your help! THANK YOU! Also, as always, thank you so much to those of you who have stuck this story out with me for so long! Only one more to go and the beast that this fic has become will finally be finished! Until next time, happy reading!

Chapter Thirty-Three: Pit Stop

Quickly Kakashi made his way back to the compound. He had only been gone for a few hours – long enough to kill the leader of an inconvenient nearby group of bandits. The elite shinobi had agreed to perform the assassination only because Akinori had guaranteed to stop having Sakura drugged in exchange for the service. The sadistic bastard refused to admit anything else was wrong with the kunoichi and since Sakura herself couldn't verify the claim of poison without the use of her chakra all Kakashi had to go on was Hideki's word he had chosen not to push the point so long as she continued to receive her 'vitamin and nutrient' injections. Just stopping the sedations alone would do Sakura a lot of good. Hopefully, it would be enough to allow her body to begin to recover.

The whole situation had gone downhill rather quickly as Sakura's health degraded. Circumstances were tough for both parties: the sedatives were Akinori's only obvious weapon as far as forcing Kakashi to play by their rules. But, even the somewhat less than balanced older man could see that Sakura's condition was steadily becoming worse and if something wasn't done soon she would die and he would lose not only his leverage on the Copy Ninja, but also his only safeguard against the elite shinobi's wrath. Of course, Akinori had also intended on having Sakura perform the transplant, which was impossible in her current sedated state. In the end, though, Akinori still had the poison and the knowledge that his revenge would be complete in the most satisfactorily sweet manner when the little kunoichi sickened and died within only hours of leaving his compound - and there would be absolutely nothing Kakashi could do about it.

Thus, Akinori wanted nothing to do with keeping the two Leaf Ninja any longer than necessary; having them around was just asking for worlds more trouble than he was prepared to deal with. The sooner he could get his Sharingan and the two of them out the door the better… and the sooner he'd finally savor the sweet, sweet sense of revenge when the inevitable happened and the girl died from the poison.

Akinori also could no longer deny how precarious his position had become. There was no doubt in his mind that if their hostage died even accidentally the well known shinobi would not hesitate to brutally slaughter everyone in the compound. When he was planning the kidnapping, he had somehow managed to underestimate the reality of the situation. Now that Kakashi was actually in their compound, Akinori could see just how dangerous the man was, even stripped of the opportunity to use jutsu. Kakashi was a living weapon – and the only thing keeping him sheathed was their control over his woman's life; the ninja could do nothing but comply with their wishes, at least until he found an opportunity to do otherwise. Akinori was starting to regret his manic obsession with the Copy Ninja – though, not enough to abandon his plan. He still intended on making the shinobi suffer, albeit from a safe distance. The old bandit knew he'd have to tread very carefully around the elite warrior if he wanted his plans to be executed safely and not to blow up in his face.

In turn, Kakashi was getting desperate with his latest attempt to extend Sakura's life. He could feel her time was running out. The elite jonin had stayed by her side for two additional days after she woke, refusing to leave – too afraid to leave and never see her again… alive. However, this hadn't been an issue - Akinori had been called away to deal with troubles caused by a rival group of bandits (though, it would appear that he was having enough problems within his own organization) while the medic had still been asleep. Negotiations for Sakura's freedom had thus been put on hold until earlier that day, when the older man had returned and demanded the assassination in exchange for the cessation of sedatives.

The Copy Ninja had chafed at the delay, but used his time as best he could, devising and discarding a series of plans to get Sakura out of there alive. He watched painfully as her life slipped away before his very eyes and for the first time in his life felt truly impotent. His best idea had been to wait until the shinobi Tsunade had threatened to send after them arrived – only a week or less away, if he had been counting properly. Seeing as how Sakura was in no condition to perform the transplant, he guessed that they would be staying in the compound for a little while even after he agreed to pay the price… if he played his cards right, he might even come out of it with both Sakura and his Sharingan intact. Though, if it came down to it, he would be more than willing to give the borrowed bloodline limit up in exchange for her safety.

As he was returning to the complex, Kakashi observed that something big was happening. Men were rushing around in a general state of confusion, and though he couldn't see it he could hear the fighting. Kakashi's stomach plummeted – in the state of chaos, something might have happened to Sakura. Granted, he had not been so foolish as to leave his kunoichi without protection in his absence: before leaving he's stepped outside the compound and summoned Bull – the largest and most menacing of his ninken – and set the massive canine at the foot of Sakura's bed with specific instructions to let no one near. Still, Bull was only one dog and though his loyalty could not be purchased he could be taken out by ordinary means. (Though, if Bull fell, he would know.) Regardless, fearing the worst, Kakashi put on an extra burst of speed, rushing inside the main building to the room where Sakura was being kept, deftly avoiding the pockets of fighting men.

A little panicked, he entered to find her room a mess – battered but still alert, the mastiff painfully heaved himself to his feet and limped to his master. Kakashi quickly assessed the room from his stance in the doorway, looking for a trap Bull wouldn't or couldn't trigger: Sakura herself was lying in her bed, but the sheets were disarrayed and her clothing was torn in places. It was obvious to him that both she and Bull had fended off some sort of an attack. Judging by the amount of damage done to the room and to his mastiff it had been one vicious struggle. Upon finding no signs of a trap the Copy Ninja refocused his attention on his seriously injured summons. His dog whined softly, ducking his head in shame for his apparent failure. Forcibly calming himself, Kakashi took a moment to assess the ninken's injuries before dismissing him with a pat on the head and a soft, 'good dog.' The poor dog was in far too much pain to keep him around any longer and would be useless in trying to ascertain what had happened as he had not been granted the gift of human speech. Silently he cursed himself for not summoning more than Bull to protect Sakura. At the time, he hadn't been sure how difficult the assassination would be or how much of his chakra he'd need. It turned out it had been relatively easy for someone of his skill – he should have risked leaving more of his ninken with her.

With his summons safely gone, Kakashi found himself unable to prevent his anger from exploding – they'd tried to take advantage of his kunoichi while he wasn't around, while she was unable to completely defend herself. He finally allowed himself to fly to her side, needing to make sure she was okay, despite Bull's body language suggesting she was at least alive. A small part of him wondered if he could use the confusion outside as a cover to get her out, poison be damned, since he couldn't let her be treated like this any longer.

"Sakura!" He reached out and shook her shoulder. "Sakura! Wake up! What happened?"

The kunoichi didn't stir and he shook her harder, fear beginning to take over his anger. Sakura was not a heavy sleeper. His blood ran cold for a moment as the thought hit him – he could have misread his summons, he might indeed be too late. Desperately he felt for a pulse. He was more than relieved to feel the faint throb, but his mouth tensed at the small amount of blood he noticed on her arm.

"Sakura!" He tried again, slapping her cheek a little, doing his best not to hurt her, his concern for her safety driving him to try and rouse her however he could.

"It's… no use. My cousins decided to have her… sedated…" an almost broken voice interrupted his efforts.

Kakashi whirled to see who had entered the room. It was Hideki. The younger man was a mess, new bruises, an assortment of scratches, leaning heavily on the doorframe.

"What?" Kakashi's hands curled into tight fists, shaking with muscle tension. Lashing white hot fury, which has been threatening to spill ever since he saw the Polaroids in the ransom notes, had surfaced fully.

Hideki swallowed, hard, but continued between deep labored breaths – he'd been running to catch up as Kakashi made his way into the room. "My cousins, they… had 'er sedated… w-wouldn't cooperate…"

The Copy Ninja narrowed his eye, cyclically reminding himself that the brown haired man wasn't to blame, but still greatly tempted to hurt him anyway. "I made a deal-"

"Yes, with my uncle… who is now dead. Coup started 'bout an hour… two after you left. Cousins were… tired. Tired of taking orders from him." Hideki paused and took a moment to force his breathing into a natural pattern, despite having visible trouble when he inhaled too deeply. Finally he started speaking again, still strained but eager to calm the seething ninja. "Um, his, uh, obsession with you was getting on their nerves. Well that, and um… they all, ah, want your Sharingan – think it's a waste for Uncle to have it…" he trailed off wondering if he should mention the other reason, but the glare of Kakashi's lone exposed eye convinced him not to hold anything back regardless of how much further it would enrage the elite warrior. Gulping, he continued. "The fact that he wouldn't let any of them near Sakura didn't help matters either… she's, uh, the only woman, um, worth, ah, worth looking at around these parts. Luckily for her they got into an argument about dibs and who would receive your Sharingan – gave your dog a second chance to run them off before anything could actually happen and then.. that's when the second wave started."

The sounds of fighting, which had been somewhat distant, approached. Hideki painfully jerked a glance over his shoulder and then back to Kakashi, taking note of the older man's calculating expression. He knew what the silver haired man was thinking and agreed that it was probably the only option left. Abruptly he shoved a paper and a small key in the Copy Ninja's direction.

"Take these –key for the chakra inhibitors; paper has the name of the sedative they've been giving her, plus several possibilities of what the poison might be. Managed to salvage it from the wreckage of the infirmary area. The old man who was going to administer the antidote is dead and with him the actual name of the poison has been lost. He was one of the first to be killed aside from my uncle. A stupid move on their part if they'd wanted your Sharingan," despite the situation he snorted in disgust at his cousin's idiocy before continuing. "Regardless, they did so after he'd both sedated her and given her a larger booster against the poison – she should be tolerably alright a little less than a day before she will be due for more of the antidote."

Kakashi stared at him, his mind barely on the heels of what was happening, while trying to skim through his options. He could wait no longer, the situation has changed completely, and he had no choice – Tsunade's troops were still several days away, and he had to get Sakura out of there to the nearest skilled medic.

The Copy Ninja knew they would have to make a run for it, but their home village was too far away. All villages were too far away. Konoha was at least a several day journey and even if he ran himself into the ground he'd still come up short a couple days of travel. Relations with Rain were strained at best. Even if they were able to make it to Amegakure, closer than Konoha but still at least two days away at best, there was no guarantee that they would receive aid. More likely they would be captured and either ransomed to Konoha or executed as enemy shinobi on the spot. They would definitely receive help in Sand if they could get there, but Suna was even further away than Konoha. No, none of the larger villages would be of any help. He would need to find a smaller civilian one, one with a doctor…

Feeling his own sense of panic growing by the second, Hideki misread the elite jonin's long moment of silence and tried to prod the older man into more immediate action. "There's a chance they might have made him give her too much of the sedative. If you can't get her out of here now, you really will lose her." In the less experienced man's mind Kakashi should have taken off as soon as he'd received the paper and key – the idea of planning where he should run did not occur to him; direction didn't seem as important as simply getting the hell out of there.

Ignoring the clearly concerned Hideki, Kakashi gathered and connected strings of facts lodged in his memories until… finally… suddenly, everything clicked as a plan coalesced in his mind - the elite jonin sprang into action. Efficiently he wrapped the pink haired woman in one of the sheets from the bed, scooped her up, snatched the key and paper from Hideki and was out of the room.

Within a couple moments Kakashi was out of the building bearing only minor wounds. He had almost successfully managed to avoid all of the fighting and guards, but the Copy Ninja felt little concern for his own injuries – as long as none of the blows reached Sakura.

Once he cleared the compound he paused only long enough to swallow a soldier pill from the stash hidden in Sakura's armband before using his teleportation jutsu several times in rapid succession, draining his enhanced chakra boost almost immediately, but getting them a good ways away from the bandits and toward civilization. Now, they needed a village or town with a doctor or medic who could tend to Sakura within less than a day's travel. Luckily the Copy Ninja had a place in mind which should, be close enough for him to be able to make it, if his calculations were correct – while he had a general feel for the area, one could not be absolutely certain of where they were headed during the jutsu. Nevertheless, he'd do whatever was necessary to make sure of it.

Panting with both the physical exertion and the sustained drain on his chakra, he looked around to take stock of their location and was pleased to see that he recognized the land; his estimate had been correct.

Before setting out, he removed Sakura's chakra inhibitors with the key Hideki had given him. He then used some of his remaining chakra – he couldn't afford to completely deplete his stores as he still needed to be able to protect Sakura should the need arise – to summon his smallest ninken; he gave the little pug precise instructions and sent him off, back to Konoha, with their excepted location and a plea for help. Kakashi knew that there was at least one good doctor in the village he was headed to, but wanted to take no more risks with Sakura's health than absolutely necessary. If he was in luck Tsunade herself would come as soon as she got the message… it would all come down to the doctor being in the village and his ability to keep Sakura alive long enough for the Hokage to get there. With a grim smile of determination – one thing at a time – he set out, hoping that he could get there safely before he passed out, that they would find the help they needed, and that Sakura wouldn't die in the meantime.

Kakashi stole a glance at the unconscious woman in his arms. He'd been traveling for about half a day and they were almost at their destination. Sakura's skin was still pale and her breathing shallow and labored. She didn't look good. But, then again, she didn't seem any worse than she had been when he'd first found her either, something small for which he was extremely thankful. Appearances aside, she was still dying, there was no way around it – she was dying and it was all his fault. If he hadn't come to care for her as he had… she would never have been put into such a situation. It was ironic, that after all he had done to try and save her, his decision to take her from Akinori's compound might make him her murderer. Then again, if he hadn't, she would surely be dead. Damned if he did, damned if he didn't, and all because he loved her.

Shaking his head, and trying to clear the circular thoughts from his mind, Kakashi caught a glimpse of a familiar tower and dredged up enough energy to hasten his pace – he was nearing both his goal and the end of his energy. Moments later the small border village came into sight and his heart leapt a little: though it was late the gates were still open and, as far as he could see, the guards seemed to be occupied elsewhere. Quickly he sprinted into the village, figuring he would deal with any pursuit from the gate later, after he'd secured medical attention for Sakura.

The Copy Ninja zeroed in on the building he wanted – the small, all-too-familiar inn. Not bothering to even try to hide who and what they were, he entered, hoping that the near-sighted manageress would forgive them for lying to her about their identities on their previous visits and help them once again.

The receptionist gasped in surprise and hastily backed away from the desk as a large specter burst into the lobby. Unable to stop herself she shrieked. The man was clearly travel weary and held a limp woman in his arms, his one visible eye almost frantically searching for something. Waves of desperation rolled off him, sending the few guests running. All in all he cut a fairly frightening figure – certainly not one normally found in their sleepy little village. Beginning to wonder if her first cry of alarm was going to go unheeded she screamed again a bit impatiently as she knew there were at least three men, including her boyfriend, on duty not far from her desk.

Sounds of activity suddenly exploded above and to either side of her. Several men rushed into the lobby in varying states of dress, one in particular clearly interrupted from an activity that required no clothing at all. Taking a single look at the dangerous newcomer apparently holding a woman hostage, they exchanged a look and promptly fled, spreading chaos in the form near-mass-hysteria and a not-so-quiet exodus in their wake.

Sensing that she was out of options – no one was going to come to her aid – the receptionist fled in search of the manageress herself. The old woman materialized as if by magic only moments later, ceasing the sudden flurry of activity in the outer reaches of the inn.

"Copy Ninja," she greeted him with some surprise – though, not nearly as much as he would have expected. "What are you doing at my inn so late?" She leaned forward a bit to get a better look. "And, what is wrong with your young woman?"

Ignoring for the moment the fact that the woman knew who he was, Kakashi decided to (mostly) lay it all out on the line for her in hopes that she would help them. "She's very ill and needs medical attention, now."

The manageress drew even closer and recoiled upon getting a good look at the thin and pale kunoichi. "I see." She suspiciously eyed Kakashi for a moment. "And, is there anything else I should know before I call for my son?"

Kakashi let out the breath of air he hadn't realized that he had been holding – she would help them. "A few things, but perhaps in private?" he asked hopefully.

"I see… well, let's get you a room, and then we'll have a nice long, overdue, chat." She turned from him and yelled some instructions at the frightened younger woman, who'd timidly returned after seeing her boss react positively to the menacing man, and received a hurried nod and a set of keys in response. "Come along, we'll get her settled and then I'll call my son – I suppose you'll want to tell me exactly what is wrong with her?"

The Copy Ninja nodded and followed the woman. Moments later they arrived at a door in the very back of the hotel, and when she opened it, Kakashi, taking a breath to evaluate the room (looking for escape routes in case the need arose), saw that it was a large suite, most likely saved for visitors of high importance, judging by the size of the rooms and the finer quality of furnishings.

Once the door closed behind them, the old woman sized Kakashi up speculatively, wondering how things would play out as he carefully settled Sakura on the large bed. "So, what will my son need to be prepared to deal with? I don't think you would have quite the look of desperation about you if your young woman was suffering from any of the usual complaints…"

The elite shinobi grimaced, though he knew that she couldn't see it. "Poison and an overdose of sedatives," he paused remembering Sakura's legs. "Oh, and someone severed her Achilles tendons… there might be more, but nothing else that I'm aware of... Er, the poison and the overdose of sedative are the most serious of the lot."

The hotel manageress's eyes widened; she had expected serious, but not that serious. "What?"

Kakashi sighed and tiredly shook his head. "I have already sent away for medical aid from our village, I just need someone to tend to her – keep her alive – until a medic can get here, maybe five, hopefully four days."

Still appalled, but more than convinced as to the urgency of the situation, the old woman nodded, and picked up the in-room phone to make a call.

Kakashi swiftly dropped into a crouch Sakura's bedside, once again focusing nearly all his attention on her condition: she was sweating profusely, her body clearly struggling ever since he'd first broken free of Akinori's compound. He couldn't help but fear that his kunoichi was fighting a losing battle – that, regardless of everything he could possibly do, she was just too tired, too weak and the damage to great for her to overcome. Feeling doomed and useless, he carefully brushed some of her sweat-soaked hair from her face, silently willing her to pull through, while still racking his brain as to anything more he could do to help.

The old woman noticed the silver haired shinobi's anxious attentions to the pink haired kunoichi, and her heart went out to him – it was obvious how he felt about the poor girl. She'd known from the very start that they were shinobi from the Hidden Leaf Village; after all, it was difficult not to recognize the legendary Copy Ninja. She knew they were no couple, but what irony – now one didn't even have to look for the signs. Forcing them to pander to her desires had been particularly amusing, and no small match-making success, if she did say so herself. Oh, but now was not the time for such foolish self indulgence.

"My son is on his way. He will do everything in his power to try and save her."

Kakashi, feeling plenty drained physically as well as emotionally, but still seeing no relief in sight, ran a hand through his messy hair with a sigh. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." She eyed him for a moment, wondering if she should try and satisfy her curiosity. Unenthusiastically she discarded the thought; he was tired and clearly had enough on his mind already. She couldn't possibly add to his concerns. For the moment, at least.

With reluctance Kakashi removed his attention from Sakura, and focused on covering all his bases: somehow the old woman had known who they were and he wanted to know how and why.

Slowly and tiredly he rose to his feet before settling himself on the edge of Sakura's bed. He would not allow himself to be separated from his kunoichi easily. "So, are you going to tell me how you know who I am?" He asked, careful to keep his voice neutral.

She smiled having anticipated the question. "My family is originally from the Land of Water. My husband was a Mist shinobi."

Kakashi tensed, rose once again to his feet and instinctively placed himself firmly between their host and the bed Sakura was on; if her husband was with Mist why hadn't she blown their cover? And, more importantly, just how safe were they here?

Hastily she held her hands out in front of her, hoping to placate him, "I've no intention of alerting anyone that you're here. You and your young woman are more than welcome in my hotel, even in the state that both of you are in, regardless of the substantial entry you have in most villages' Bingo Books."

Kakashi only tensed and stilled further, trying to anticipate what the catch would be, why she might go out of her way to mention their debilitated states. While this woman had ignored them the few times they had stayed in her inn, they would have been able to defend themselves then. Now they were completely at her mercy. Sure, he could grab Sakura and make a run for it - the soldier pill able to keep him going for at least another two days - but somehow he doubted Sakura would survive another change in location. "Why?"

The old woman sighed and shook her head. "I've heard of you, Kakashi. Some of your feats are quite incredible. You were very high in Mist's Bingo book – probably still are, though I couldn't be certain now..." She trailed off before hurriedly continuing. "Anyway, my husband did not return from a mission a long time ago. We were only married for five years, but I treasure them and wouldn't trade them for anything. Stubborn fool that he was took a lot of convincing. We could have been married for eight…"

Kakashi watched as she paused, wistful remembrances in her eyes, and decided not to interrupt. She seemed eager to disclose all this to him, so attentively he waited until she shook off the memories and continued her story.

"He left me with five sons, the youngest of which he did not have a chance to meet. Our village had a program for widows and their families, so I decided to stay and raise my sons in Mist. It was hard, but things went as well as could be expected. It was difficult but I never for a minute regretted any of it. Time passed and my sons grew; my eldest – you've already met Takahiro –became a doctor; Hiroshi attended culinary school and is now the chef here at the inn; Keita and Tatsuharu decided that they would go into business together and my youngest..." She sighed. "Yoshikazu wanted to follow in his father's footsteps… But, you see, after what happened to his father… I didn't want that sort of life for him." She paused, trying to phase what she wanted to say without somehow insulting the elite shinobi. "I loved my husband. I loved my husband, job and all – it was part of what made him who he was, the man I loved. I married him knowing that a ninja left his village not knowing if he would return, and so we made the most of what little time we had as I knew we wouldn't have much. But…" she sighed. "I'd already lost my husband to his job. I didn't want to lose my son too." Regretfully she shook her head. "Nevertheless, I knew that Yoshikazu longed to somehow know his father, to connect with him if only through a shared lifestyle. It became his dream, his life ambition - to be a shinobi of Mist. I knew my husband would have been delighted at the thought of his son following in his footsteps. So, eventually I gave in and come what may, let him follow his dream...

"I'm not one to regret the past – I learned from my husband to live life to the fullest every moment because you never know how little you have left – but, if I had to name one? I think my biggest regret in life is that I did give in to Yoshikazu. He was so happy though, made it through the academy to the graduation rites... I'd been so nervous about that, but he was good and so persistent, I for a while there, I barely worried… but... turns out he wasn't good enough." A tear ran unheeded down one of her cheeks as she continued. "Some boy not even enrolled in the academy showed up and butchered the entire class, my son included." She had to pause to wipe at the tears now flowing freely.

"We were so angry, horrified, everyone was. And then, the academy actually took the boy in and trained him! It was then that I took my remaining sons and left the village. We came here and opened this inn – I don't think I could have done it without my sons; they've helped me so much. Occasionally I'd hear from friends back in Mist or catch news from the inn guests. I learned that the boy who had killed my son had turned on the village and became a missing-nin. And then, I head that an amazing Leaf shinobi and his genin team killed him..." She smiled at Kakashi though her tears. "So, you see, I feel as though I owe you a debt of gratitude."

She looked him directly in the eye. "You killed the man who killed my son. Thank you." The old woman took a step toward the door, not wanting to deal with the shinobi's unguarded expression of incredulity. "For that I will do all that I can to try and save your kunoichi; it is the very least I can do. I'll leave you two be for now, my son should be here shortly."

Kakashi stood in stunned silence as the hotel manageress exited the room. He would never have expected his past deeds to actually lead to something positive for his future.

Takahiro quietly entered the room, moving slowly and deliberately. His mother had warned him about the occupants and he had no desire to startle any elite shinobi, especially the one his family had felt so grateful to for the past several years. The doctor discovered that his actions were quite warranted when he suddenly found himself facing the business end of a kunai and the sharp gaze of the Copy Ninja.

"Whoa! I'm here to help!" He very cautiously raised his hands in front of him, waiting for Kakashi to recognize him.

With a sigh (he was too tired – he would have usually recognized Takahiro on sight, as the man had helped Ino), the silver haired man removed the blade and returned to his post by Sakura's side. "Sorry. On edge…." Restlessly, Kakashi ran his hand through his hair and once again focused his attention on the very visibly ill pink haired woman. "Please, doctor, anything you can do…"

Realizing that he would have to be extra careful with both his patient and her… whatever, Takahiro shook his head. "Don't worry about it, completely understandable from someone in your situation." He drew close to the bed and sharply inhaled, his brows furrowing deeply. He had hoped his mother was exaggerating, but the young woman was teetering on the very brink: thin, pale, a sheen of sweat on her face, her skin of an almost grayish tint, her breath in short, uneven, weak gasps.

Doing his best to ignore the doctor's unfavorable reaction, Kakashi handed the doctor the slip of paper Hideki had given to him, the struggle with the overwhelming dread making his hand shake. "That's the name of the sedative – she's been given small amounts over the last two months, and a larger dose a little over twelve hours ago; also, three possible names of the poison she has been given."

Takahiro nodded as he read the paper. Slowly he let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding – he had come across all of the poisons listed before and could give her the antidotes for all (to be on the safe side) of them without any adverse effects. The sedative on the other hand was a different matter entirely. He'd never had any dealings with it before, never mind an overdose – while he heard of it in medical school, the detrimental nature of the drug was such that it was seldom used, and overdose cases were rare.

Shaking his head impatiently the doctor set his bag down to begin an assessment of the poor girl – doing his best to ignore the almost menacing presence of the Copy Ninja standing right behind him. The older man was very apparently attached to the young woman, and had, according to his mother, already been through the equivalent of hell in trying to save her. Takahiro understood the shinobi's need to be close to her, but it was bound to make his work tricky and needlessly cautious. He wondered if the ninja wouldn't snap if he asked him to give him some space.

After a thorough examination – made infinitely more difficult by the fact that Kakashi refused to leave her side and stiffened in displeasure at some of the things necessary to complete an assessment of her condition – Takahiro confirmed that the paper had been correct in its guess as to likely poison candidates. With some relief he pulled out the antidotes from his bag and quickly administered them – he would take no chances and treat all three. Normally, without time constraints, he'd have taken blood samples to make sure there was an immediate reaction, but given his patient's state… Takahiro took a deep breath and shifted his gaze to the impatient man hovering next to the ill girl to deliver the news – both good and bad. "The note was accurate in listing the poisons. I've given her the antidotes for all three –they will not interact with each other or cause her any undue problems…" he trailed off, not wanting to continue on to the part he was certain wouldn't go over very well.

The Copy Ninja felt a cautious sense of elation – the poison was his greatest fear. With it taken care of, Sakura certainly stood a chance - she had, after all, been successfully fighting the sedative for a couple of months now, and surely she could make it another couple days with a little help from the good doctor? His kunoichi was a fighter, she'd get through this.

Takahiro braced himself, unable to meet the shinobi's eye. "As for the sedative… I'm sorry. There is nothing I can do. The cumulative effects of this particular drug are why it's rarely used – it's much too easy to accidentally O.D, and very little can be done once a patient has had too much – the damage has already been done. At this point, we can only hope she can fight it off on her own and pull through."

Kakashi's hopeful high cruelly crashed under the blaze of harsh reality. He would lose her. After all that he had done he was still going to lose her. Anger flared and he had to fight the urge to grab and shake the man in hopes of getting a miracle cure out of him. He was a doctor, damn it, what did he mean he couldn't help her? She was dying! All too quickly, Kakashi's anger was replaced by desperation – it couldn't end this way. He was ready to beg, plead and pray, grasping for any sort of help. "Isn't there something you can do?"

Takahiro hurt at the shinobi's pain, but no clever life saving ideas came to mind. In such moments, he hated the limits of his knowledge. "I'm truly sorry, there is nothing medical science can do for her… a medic, on the other hand could do more – I'm sure. But, I'm afraid we don't have any medics in this region, just a handful of doctors."

Kakashi fought the tide of emotions, trying to stay rational. "I've already sent for a medic from our village, but it will take time for them to get here…" He took a deep breath trying to calm himself and failing miserably. "Please, there must be something, anything… I-I can't lose her. We just need to buy her a little more time."

Takahiro flinched a little at the elite warrior's words, his heart sinking all over again for both the girl and the man who clearly loved her. "Well…" The doctor frantically searched his memory once again and grasped at straws in his desperation. "It's not ideal and very dangerous, but… I could give her a stimulant to try and ease some of the effects of it on her system. However, doing that would also negate some of the effects of the antidotes to the poison." The doctor took in the emotions battling in the Copy Ninja's face and posture - anger, fear, desperation, and despair - before hurrying on. "I can wait until the poison has been neutralized and then try administering the stimulant, but even then there is no guarantee, as it would be extremely risky. She is very weak. I-I'm afraid her chances are slim at best. Without directly removing the sedative from her system and repairing the damage done on the inside…She-she probably won't even wake up."

Kakashi sat down heavily as the information slowly sank in. There was nothing he could do, nothing the doctor could do… it was all up to Sakura now; in the end she had to fight this thing alone…He was, like always, too late. Training finally took over from his emotions and a semblance of an aloof calm settled over his exterior. He gently took one of Sakura's hands in his. "Okay… I understand."

Sensing that there was nothing left to be said and that it would be best to leave Kakashi alone Takahiro quietly took his leave, even more determined to find something he could do to buy a little more time for the pink haired woman.

The Copy Ninja heard the doctor exit the room and sighed, his grip tightening on Sakura's hand as he watched her labored breathing. A part of him still rebelled at the thought that they had lost, that is was all over. After all, the doctor only said that there wasn't anything he could do. No matter – he couldn't afford to underestimate his Sakura. He should have had faith in her strength and persistence. She'd hold out until the medics arrived. She was still fighting with everything she had. She hadn't given up the fight… so neither would he. Silently Kakashi willed her the strength to survive, knowing that it was probably futile, but at a loss as to what else he could possibly do.

Two days later, Takahiro re-entered the room almost afraid at what he would find. Against all odds the girl seemed to be fighting the effects of the sedative long beyond what he could ever expect from a patient in her condition. Once the poison was neutralized, he had administered the stimulant to try and ease the effects of the sedative overdose on her system. From that point on it was completely up to her, and the girl seemed to be fighting with whatever strength she had left.

As he approached the bed, with shinobi's one visible eye following his every move, Takahiro quickly thought over his escape plan – the fact that the silver haired man was an elite assassin was never far from his mind while treating Sakura. And, although Kakashi had shown amazing control over his emotions in such a trying situation, Takahiro knew that a death of a loved one would make the Copy Ninja a very dangerous man on edge, and that all the shinobi's grief and fury would be channeled at him. And yet, the sort of quiet desperation was all too easily read in the Copy Ninja's body language. Every time he saw it, Takahiro's heart ached a little more for the pair despite the acute sense of fear he felt around the legendary warrior.

Upon arriving at Sakura's bedside the doctor started his checkup, not really expecting much of a change, but still hoping for something positive to tell Kakashi. Almost immediately he noticed that Sakura seemed to be a little less hot, and taking her temperature confirmed that her fever had come down a little. Feeling encouraged, he continued with the examination, finding very slight signs of improvement at almost every turn. Cautiously he allowed himself a moment of optimistic thought – she might make it after all; shinobi really were the toughest type of people to kill.

When he finished he looked up at the anxious man and smiled just a little. "Hmm, looks like she might be doing a little better right now."

"Will she-" Kakashi started, knowing better than to get his hopes up but not quite able to prevent the outburst.

The small smile slipped off Takahiro's face and he shook his head in warning. "It's too soon to say one way or the other… but as of now she is a little better than she was a couple hours ago." Would it be so bad to provide careful consolation? "If she can keep it up… maybe, just maybe, she might pull through."

Trying to quash the slight shred of hope as best he could Kakashi nodded and returned his gaze to the unconscious woman, silently willing her to continue fighting.

Takahiro shook his head in amazement. Against all odds Sakura seemed to be successfully fighting the effects of the sedative. He simply couldn't believe it. Medically she couldn't be wining this fight, it just wasn't possible.

"She's doing far better than I would have ever imagined. I've no idea how she is doing it, but somehow she seems to be… I don't know… focusing every last bit of her energy on repairing all the internal damage…" he trailed off in disbelief. He'd never seen anything like it before. Granted, he'd never treated a medic before either.

Surprised Kakashi turned his head so that Takahiro couldn't see his face, slipped the band of leather he had been using to conceal his Sharingan aside, and used it to assess Sakura's condition. After a moment he bit off a startled curse. Though she was unconscious, her chakra was active and encouraging healing in certain areas of her body – mostly her more important organs. He had to guess that she, or a strong survival instinct, was working on the critical injuries first as none of her chakra was working to heal her severed Achilles tendons.

Surreptitiously he shifted the band of leather back into place and turned to face the doctor with a slight smile. "She's a fighter."

The doctor shook his head sadly as he examined Sakura again – the change had literally happened within less than two hours. Sakura had taken an unexpected turn for the worse just when it had looked as though she might make it. He'd been summoned by a frantic call from his mother less than an hour before to find the pink haired woman looking worse than ever, gray skinned, cold and barely breathing. It was all too clear to his medically trained eye. His worst fear had come to pass – an infection.

Steeling himself he looked the shinobi directly in the eye to deliver the bad news. "Look… this time, well – I'm out of options. I-I don't think… I don't think there's anything, er, anything left to be done. Her… body has started to fail – this has all been too much for her to handle. She's dying and there's nothing else I can do. Her wounds have somehow gotten infected and that infection has spread like wildfire… in her weakened state… there is nothing more I can do for her and your medics are still at least two or three days away." He didn't try to sugarcoat it, whatever damage it might result it to his own person; the time for giving the shinobi false hope out of pity was over. Once a patient's body started to fail there was nothing medical science could do. And, the aid he'd been hoping for from his own village – the aid that could possibly do something for the poor girl – couldn't possibly get there in less than two days. Unfortunately, in her current state there was no way his patient would ever make it.

"She was weak when you brought her in and her body has been fighting for a long time now – too long. She, she just doesn't have anything left. Her internal organs have started to falter and it's only a matter of time now before they fail entirely. She just has nothing there left to fight off this infection. I've done all I can... I'm very sorry to say, she just doesn't seem to have the strength left to continue the fight on her own." Takahiro sighed, hating to admit defeat after all he had done and the silver haired man had been through, but there really was nothing left that he could do for her. He'd tried everything in the books and a few things that weren't. Apparently everything he could do simply wasn't enough for his patient.

The poor young woman had been through more than enough already – in a way it seemed almost cruel for her to have hung on (suffering) as long as she had… but, that just spoke to the incredible determination of shinobi. It was a miracle that neither the poison nor the over dose of the sedative would be the cause of her death. Instead a simple infection, one easily fought off by those of sound body, would be the cause of her abruptly shortened life. Clearly she hadn't been ready to die yet and had been doing everything she could to survive, which was much more than any civilian he had ever treated. Ninja were a truly a different breed of people …

Suddenly an idea struck the doctor, one he couldn't quite figure how he had missed up until then, but one definitely worth trying as all other options had failed. "If, if there is anything you can do" he gestured vaguely with his hands trying to convey the wide varied world of jutsu, "that you think might help but have been reluctant to try, now is your last chance. Otherwise… otherwise, you should say goodbye to her– as she is, she'll last maybe a couple hours, four at the most."

No. Kakashi felt his heart almost stop. He knew she had been close before, but now? No. It wasn't fair. She had tried so hard, and she was so young, and he'd just found her and - he couldn't lose her like this. No, just no.

Takahiro left them without a word, to all outward appearances wanting to allow the elite shinobi some time alone with his patient, though they both knew it was in order to give Kakashi free reign to try anything in his repertoire to save the woman he so clearly loved. Though, the doctor held out no hope for a miracle cure as he was certain that it was really only a matter of an hour or two before the poor woman's suffering was ended once and for all. This was the part Takahiro liked least about his job. He had done his best and it simply hadn't been enough; the patient had been brought to him too late for him to do any real good. Now he would have to face the disappointment of his mother …and probably the wrath of the elite shinobi from Leaf, once the grief let up enough for the anger to set in. He shuddered slightly: that was not going to be a fun encounter.

Left alone in the luxurious suite morbidly fit for a funeral, Kakashi leaned over Sakura – within his reach, yet still slipping away. One of his hands reached out to caress her cool cheek, absently slipping down her neck to his grandmother's necklace. His fingers moved on their own to trace the faint raised pattern as his mind spiraled down into a dark world where his future did not include the woman he loved. A void of pure hopelessness settled around him; he had been fighting it for too long. This time his grief and despair were somehow more real, more solid now that the last shred of hope was all but gone. If he'd had some sort of miraculous jutsu up his sleeve he sure as hell wouldn't have waited until she was on the brink of death to use it!

Denial kicked in again. It couldn't end like this. He'd done his best, worked so hard to save her. Sakura just couldn't die now. His hand moved on to toy with the matching arm band, tracing the flowers without any real thought or direction.

Suddenly rage flared deep and dark within him – it was so unfair. They'd only just found each other and now it would be over before it even had a chance to begin. His fingers clenched into a fist and chakra flowed to his hand without his conscious direction. Hastily he pulled his appendage away from Sakura's arm, but not before his fingers brushed against one of the secret compartments. The little flower slid aside, spilling a number of pills onto the bed.

Dumbly Kakashi stared at them, his anger ebbing, replaced by something else. Right in the middle of the pile was a small black one – he hadn't realized that she had put more than one of those in there. An idea began to form in his mind. If she was dying – really, truly dying – it couldn't hurt to try. Regardless of what Takahiro thought, at the most the medic Tsunade sent could only be a day or two away, and if it worked he might just buy Sakura enough time to last until aid from Konoha arrived.

Quickly he crushed the soldier pill and mixed it with a partial cup of water from her bedside table. Gently, he raised her up and dribbled the liquid into her mouth, making sure that she swallowed all of it. Taking a deep breath, as he had never tried something like this before and wasn't sure it would work, he shifted aside the band of leather he had been using to cover his Sharingan. Carefully, he lifted the lid of one of her eyes and allowed the tomoe in his Sharingan to begin to spin slowly, not quite lazily.

It was tough going, just as the doctor had said, for Sakura had nothing left. He was amazed that she was still managing to hold on, if only just barely. He concentrated harder on what needed to be done. And, after several moments of trying he was finally able to get her to shift one of her hands so that it touched the correct part of the necklace, and with a little more concentration he was able to have her release a tiny amount of chakra into the torc. The result was immediate and he felt as though he would have been knocked over if he had not been sitting next to her on the bed. The necklace had been gathering chakra from the unconscious woman even while she had been wearing the inhibitors, as the amount released had been much more than he had expected.

Panting slightly with the effort Kakashi sat back and surveyed his work. As he watched her labored breathing and the sudden burst of chakra flowing through her system he suddenly remembered the contents of two of the other secret compartments and harshly cursed himself – the chakra enhanced ointment – if he had only thought of and used it earlier this infection would never have happened. Quickly he retrieved the ointment and as carefully as possible saturated her leg wounds with the powerful salve. Hopefully it wasn't too late. The special ointment and the soldier pill combined with the burst of chakra should, if her weakened body could handle it, keep her going for another day or two. At least until medical aid from the village arrived… he hoped.