Title: Three Nights in the Dark
Theme(s): LJ Community 30deathfics Theme #25: Blood
Characters: Haruno Sakura, Team Kakashi, Team 8
Rating: R
Warnings: Character death. Blood. Gore. Swearing. Violence. Horror. Spoilers up to chapter 364 of the manga. Diverge a bit after that.
Disclaimer: Kishimoto's characters and my words.
Summary: They really shouldn't have gone to this place, but now there is no turning back.


Blood smeared across Sakura's forehead when she wiped away the sweat on it with her forearm. She didn't notice or blink as her bloodshot eyes tried to focus on the scrolls in front of her, a series of blood and ink sprawled across yellowing parchment. The ratio of chakra and human organs lay encircled in spirals of carefully woven scripts. A pink teardrop of liquid slid along Sakura's temple, joining other pooling liquids of blood and sweat by her feet and the plastic white sheet she had spread over the rest of the surface in front of her.

She was breathing hard, but her face remained grim and apathetic beneath the white lights as she cut away flesh and fat, sheering into bone. Darkness ate at the corners of her lab, absorbing her wordless murmurs that came in rhythmic sutras, a soft, calming rattle of what sounded like a half-spoken spell. Day and night melded together and disappeared from reality, until all she knew were the passage of such labels on hours and minutes and seconds that she could no longer predict. She was beyond fatigued, but time was precious and the future was at stake. Light steadily buzzed overhead while she remained torn between anticipation and fear, her heartbeats refusing to settle into a calmer beat.

Nearby, the pounding begun anew, informing her that night has fallen again. Her body barely cringed as the sound continued. There was no looking back now, not when success was so close and sacrifices were beyond what she would have ever paid for, in this lifetime, anyway.

Her fortress from the world shuddered at the unseen onslaught, but Sakura's hands did not shake and they made no mistakes.

She should have known better.

All her talk with Ino before leaving on this mission were about impossible teammates and omens and bad barbeque take outs, things consisting of empty words edged with the unspoken. The awkward moments, in between when Ino waited for her to ask about Asuma-sensei without bringing him up herself, became a strange game where Sakura didn't comply and kept on playing dumb while Ino subtly shoved their conversation in the direction when both of them tired of playing vigilant. They skipped over the topic again and again, like a sick merry-go-round trick, where Ino and Sakura remained in their spiraling seats and pointed out the scenery and the weather and the latest complaints about their respective team members, trying to ignore the ghost standing on the wayside, watching them go round and round and back again. They always came back again to it, but Sakura would always pause for a heartbeat before moving on.

"It's not fair," Ino told her when they were parting ways and getting nowhere. Sakura, half laughing about the comment that Ino made about a Chouji sized dent in her wallet, and half smiling in relief about making it through the conversation without too much silence, almost missed the statement completely. It had been softly spoken, without the spunk that Ino always displayed, and it sent a chill down Sakura's spine like nothing else could.

"Ino?" she had questioned with her brows now lowered and her eyes narrowed in worry. She certainly hadn't wanted to talk about it, but it didn't mean she wasn't going to if Ino wanted to. Sakura just decided that it wasn't going to be her who brought it up, even if she was concerned. It wasn't her place to ask. It wasn't her teacher that she had lost.

And she didn't, in the end, understand.

"You were always the ordinary one, Sakura," Ino told her with an empty chuckle. "Outside of your hair and your forehead," to which Ino paused for dramatic affects but Sakura didn't bait, for once. "I just never thought that you'd get so far ahead of me." Ino finally murmured those words, almost lovingly, still a little disappointed and a little sad. Ino stopped smiling all together when Sakura smiled back at her awkwardly, not quite sure how to take the compliment, the insult and the in-betweens, unwilling all the more to figure out where this conversation was headed now. Ino looked away, profile a mask of smugness that made little sense. "I'm not supposed to lose to you," Ino admitted and looked back to her. "That was... Asuma-sensei's last words... his last wish to me. So, this is the last time I say goodbye to a teammate, Sakura. Be prepared that this is what I take those words to mean... and good luck on your mission."

The wind was a soft touch on her cheeks, and Sakura wasn't smiling even when Ino's back disappeared around the corner. Ino might have waved goodbye, or whispered a sorry on her lips that was directed at no one and everyone. In the shadows of the blossomless branches and sun-soaked leaves, Sakura stood as still as stone.

Somewhere, she was sure, Asuma-sensei must have stood on that same road just days ago. He had been alive then, smoking his cigarettes and participating in the lives of his former students. Now, he follows lazily behind Ino's shadows and lives within the steam of Chouji's favorite foods, the scent of cigarettes clings to Shikamaru's vest all too well and his name looks back to Kakashi's silent, one-eyed stare at the memorial stone, crisp and fresh and mockingly new. All Sakura knew then was that it is no longer Sasuke that stood between herself and Ino now, and it hasn't been, not for a long, long time. Now, it is occupied by ghosts - those of the past and the future, the dead and dying and marked to go next. They barred the way to crossing that river of memories, blocking their passage of unmended friendships but still not yet strong enough to cut that red string of fate, the one that always tied them to each other. They were doomed to walk parallel to each other on opposite river-banks and Sakura hated it.

Metaphorical rivers, in the end, sucked, big time.

With her fist clenched tight and her teeth grounding even harder against each other, Sakura thought to herself, I didn't make it this far to lose like this to anyone.

No.

Not. Like. This.

The walls groaned with the door due to the incessant pounding and creaking against the hinges, starting to give way under the pressure. It won't last long, but it's too late now. It'll last just long enough until morning, she had to believe in that. It was all the time she needed to complete the transfer. She could feel the spread of satisfaction seeping into her exhausted limbs, twisting through her rushing blood-streams. The syringe lay empty in her loosening fingers as metal flew across the room behind her, bouncing against the barren wall as the last of the jutsu wrapped itself around her limbs.

"Sakura," Kiba's familiar voice bellowed out. A string of commands followed by another familiar voice... Kakashi's? Words absorbed by the walls and equipment padding the room. Shaded eyes looked to the figure slouched against the chair in the middle of the room, carefully ignoring the desk next to her with the mutilated limbs. Not wasting more than a glance at the pieces of corpses and heads without bodies lining walls and filling floor space. Abrume Shino was already next to her, pinning Sakura with a fierce and hidden gaze, while his face remained impassive despite the surrounding horrors. "What the hell do you think you're doing? Where's the rest of your team, damn it?" Kiba's voice came again through the haze of the spiraling pain. She couldn't see him but Sakura could feel his emotions. Another reckless idiot, she thought. He reminded her of Naruto...

Naruto.

Sakura clung to that name and almost smiled when she realized what this meant. Relief. Blissfully sweet relief. Maybe it'll be alright now. Naruto. Sai...

However, before Shino could even place his hand on Sakura's shoulder, her body jerked away and suddenly begun to violently convulse. The syringe slipped from her shaking fingers, falling to the ground as Sakura's body bent and twisted in the chair above, eyes locked onto the light reflecting on Shino's dark glasses. Someone swore loudly as the needle shattered into pieces on the bare, hard ground. The last thing she heard was the dragged out syllables of a name she thought she should know.

Another of Orochimaru's maze of cells and it was as terrible as the last. Three days they'd been tracking Sasuke's scent with Kiba's nose and when they arrived at the empty rooms of the deserted inn, Kakashi and Yamato decided that perhaps they should split up again. An eight teamed cell was too conspicuous now and too risky together to not warrant notice from someone.

Naruto wanted to keep chasing, but with a cooling scent after the surprising rain fall, they were following a contaminated trail. Then, the doomed irregularity of the ground gave them all pause, deserted as the last one they had passed by before. Kakashi suggested some of them stay behind and find some clues and sent the rest ahead. Naruto was with Yamato-taichou and one of Kakashi's nin-dogs, while Sai was with her (they hadn't needed a dog when Sai could paint pictures well enough to help them investigate). It must have been six miles they'd covered already in the abandoned hallways, opening doors to empty rooms. She had grimaced when another lungful of dust got down her throat, the taste of mildew on her cracking lips.

This one had another body that was missing a head, and this time, a leg. They'd passed through nine rooms with similar happenings, but no sign of life either way. Sakura wished they'd asked Hinata to stay too, but the other girl was needed for observation purposes, should the others that were tracking Sasuke end up getting a nasty surprise if the team tracking the missing-nin accidentally caught up to him too quickly. The rotting piles in the dungeon that they had seen in the security room was evidence enough that this facility didn't last very long after Orochimaru's reported demise. Naruto's impatient voice cracked over the intercom and Sai was commenting about Naruto's size again. They'd been going at it since Naruto's grumbled impatience on this "grave digging" search they'd been doing, wanting to go straight after Sasuke or the Akatsuki instead of gathering information. Sakura refused to be intimidated into a blush over the bluster her old teammate was now shouting into her ear or the calm innuendoes still seeping from Sai's own replies. Voice pitched in that threatening, polite way Yamato-taichou always had about him when he was really angry. Their current captain wondered out loud how many headless people they'd found so far. It was not so subtle a reminder to the younger generation of the mission at hand and everyone heard the warning, though Naruto probably saw that scary face of Yamato's too.

Sakura rolled her eyes at this and rose from the bed-side of the dead man she'd been inspecting, shooting an exasperated look at Sai, who calmly waited for her in the doorway. The place was creepy, that's for sure, but she knew that this wasn't an illusion and most of the corpses bore the tattooed esignia of anyone cursed with Orochimaru's seal. She gave her newest team member a heated glare while he smiled back to her pleasantly. Naruto's voice was still ringing in both their ears again, despite Yamato's earlier warnings, when it sounded like they had found something. Sai may have been emotionally old enough to crawl up to and then fall down a set of stairs, but he wasn't stupid. "Drop it," she mouthed silently at him with a threatening finger as she ambled across the room.

"Shit!" Naruto's voice suddenly cracked and then promptly died over the comm-link, interrupting his own rant on old and ugly perverts (whose problems should have died with him).

Sakura remembered panicking as she paused in her movements to shout into her microphone for conformation. Naruto's name came like a curse rolling off of her tongue, balled along with concern and trepidation. The light diminished just as she looked up to see the door slammed shut before her. Sai's profile of narrow-eyed determination was the last sliver of sight she saw before sight itself was ripped from her functioning senses.

There was a harsh thud against the door and a creak of noises she couldn't identify passed that it might have been a scuffle or something else entirely. Sakura bared her teeth unseeingly at the source of the sound and tried to reach where she thought the exit was. She half stalked and half stumbled her way across the remaining parts of the room, towards the last source of noise that she'd heard and where she thought the source of light had been. Her right hand began to rise, charged with chakra, once her left hand finally collided awkwardly against what felt like wooden grooves.

The door.

"Sakura..." Naruto's voice fuzzed over her ear-piece like a loud, but distant ringing. "Shit, it's Tenzou-taichou! -e's down... Fuck! What are these things-?" A long, diluted pause. "Shit! Shi- it- Saku- Sai! Somebody co- in! I think I'm in trouble-" Naruto's end was just as suddenly plunged into silence again.

And then, all Sakura could hear was the sound of her own loud breathing as a rustle whispered, almost unheard, from behind her. Sakura turned her head slightly in the dark, straining her ears to try to confirm what she thought she heard from the other side of the room. Then another rustle, louder this time, quickly followed by an unmistakable series of thuds, of something heavy falling against the floor. Sakura felt the stale air in her lungs hitch and clog her throat as she turned back to the door, this time throwing her shoulder against the jammed up door with fear and chakra ramming her through. There was a split second pause of wood holding then giving way, shattering into pieces before she found herself tripping into more empty darkness. A hand suddenly grasped onto Sakura's ankle, just as her upper body slammed against the wall on the opposite side of the hallway when she was unable to stop her own momentum.

Sakura lay dazedly there, staring up into nothingness, cursing in her head at Sai, at Naruto, at everyone and this stupid mission. She was cut off in mid-rant as the clammy hand tightened around her ankle, hard enough to bruise, and the scrapping thud in the room she exited now sounded like it had followed her out into the broken doorway. Immobilized, Sakura wondered in rage and fear, just what the hell she was running from.

They found Sai buried under several bodies, covered in ink and blood, crushed and half-buried beneath the combined weight of his opponents. No one was quite sure which of the blood was his and which was not, but Hinata tried to patch the ex-ROOT up with what basic medic-ninjutsu she knew. Hinata then splinted his arm and wrapped up his crushed ribs to the best of her abilities too, but there wasn't much else any of them could do. Sakura lay slung unconscious over Akamaru but it was Naruto and Yamato's body that they had yet to locate, so all they can do was hope that Kakashi had better luck. Team 8 patiently waited in the hallways, Shino's bug digging their way through doors and dusted floors, bloody footprints and pieces of body parts had littered much of the way throughout their macabre journey. Kakashi was, in the end, the one who had left them to search for the last two missing members with his nin-dogs in tow, his command a static warning in their ear-pieces when they announced that they had found Sai and Sakura.

"Do you think Naruto-kun's alright?" Hinata finally voiced out worriedly, fidgeting anxiously as Kiba shot her a look.

"Of course," Shino spoke, surprising everyone with his answer. "He hadn't let anyone down before." There was a reassuring smile on Shino's lips and Hinata glanced down at her lap, still frowning but trying her best to hide it.

"What the fuck happened here?" Kiba growled lowly in his throat after the quiet stretched too long and an eerie silence settled in with it. Sai silently lay propped against the wall where Sakura was laid out next to him, but neither of them gave any answers. The three members of Team 8 stared down at the two with varying expressions before Kiba's nose twitched. "Whatever happened here, Kakashi's coming and I smell Naruto."

"What about Yamato-taichou?" Shino asked, despite Hinata's perked up expression as she stood up again, smoothing her jacket and wringing her hands.

"That's what's so fucked up about this," Kiba told Shino, even though Hinata did not hear them in her anxiousness to see Naruto. "Sakura... she smells like she's bathed in his blood and whatever's left of him."

Kakashi arrived then, no crinkle of an eye smile and no casual wave of hello. His gaze fell to the pink-haired medic and his look was as cold as glaciers. Two large nin-dogs were on each side of him, though Naruto was slung over Kakashi's shoulder. Hinata shuddered and took a step back, not even able to look at the blond she'd been so scared for after seven hours of fruitless searching. She just couldn't, not when Kakashi looked like that at his own teammate and former student. "Kakashi-taichou?"

"Where is Tenzou?" It was the only thing Kakashi breathed as his gaze switched over to Kiba.

Akamaru whined, nosing one of Sakura's blood-caked hands, but no one else dared to make a sound.

Flesh exploded underneath her hand like balloons filled with liquid jelly and rocks. At least, it was better to think of it that way. She was almost glad she was fighting blind now because if the smell was enough to make her choke than the sight would probably be ten-times worse. Something slimy splashed across her face but Sakura didn't stop, didn't even bother to wipe it away. After what felt like hours of exhausting battles with blindness and enemies coming in all directions and with no end in sight, she'd stopped bothering.

There would be no screaming, no shouting, and no warning, at least, not from her. She didn't know what it was that chased her, but the only thing with her in that room had been that body. Whatever the hell it was, it certainly gave new meaning to the twisted things Orochimaru experimented on. From what she had already read about his experiments before escaping from Konoha, it made her fear for the worst.

Of all the things to bite her in the butt, this was the last thing Sakura expected. And unfortunately for her, if she stopped, something would very likely bite her in the butt in a very literal way. So Sakura went on, snarling in the darkness and relying on every sense she had left to locate her enemies, while trying to find her teammates too. Blind as she was, her opponents were dumber. Sakura didn't know whether she'll look back on this and laugh or, hell, if she'd be able to look back on this at all. Somehow, the absurd idea that she should be thankful that every corpse she ran into was missing a body-part or two - and always the head was one of said missing appendage - made this whole thing almost seemed livable.

At least she didn't have to worry about a lumbering, smart-assed zombie-thing coming after her.

She severely prayed that these were not zombies because ass biting would take on a whole new meaning if her suspicions were true (and if she ever found out what happened to those heads that were missing). Tripping and stumbling her way through the dark, relying on the thump, thump of her heart and the louder thudding of mutilated things that came crawling after her, Sakura made it through several passages before she ran into a dead end.

This time she swore.

Loudly.

"Sakura, is that you?" a faint voice and she turned towards it in desperate hopes. Coherent speech wasn't what she expected in the middle of her kicking down a wall in sheer frustration.

"Yamato-taichou, is that you?"

"Other side of the wall," his muffled voice came through. "Find anything interesting?"

The wall crumbled like a crushed cookie when it met with her fist. "You," she answered after she wasn't inhaling more dust and debris than she already had to.

"Oh, good," Yamato quipped calmly as she felt a hand grip her shoulder. He didn't sound as close as she thought he'd be, but her ears rang and her adrenaline roared through her veins like water breaking out of a dam. Hell, at this point, Sakura was surprised she could hear anything at all.

"I hope that's your hand, Yamato-taichou," she said drily.

He coughed a gurgled cough as the hand squeezed her shoulder enough for Sakura to wince. "I'm buried under rubble, Sakura. I don't have a hand to lay on any part of your persons."

She didn't wait a second longer as her leg lashed out and met resistance.

Yeah.

Like a stuffed balloon of jelly and rocks.

They made it to the surveillance room with all three members of Team Kakashi, minus Yamato - or Tenzou, as Kakashi had named their other missing captain - and the rest of Team 8. The nin-dogs were still sniffing through the rubble to look for their last missing member, but Kakashi sat silently staring at Sakura's still form, moved away from the two other members on her remaining team. He had the look of someone silently accusing someone else of a crime sure to have been committed. "She's not a threat... is she, Kakashi-taichou?" Hinata had breathed out nervously, her eyes darting from Sakura to Kakashi than to Naruto, and then back again to Sakura in a nervous dance of uncertainty on who she should be worried about.

Shino didn't object when Kakashi ordered Sakura moved and bound. Kiba wrinkled his brow in disapproval but didn't question the command. They were still searching through the surveillance tapes when Shino called them over. "You're not going to like this," the young man said grimly.

"What. The. Fuck." Kiba swore in awe and disgust. No one else dared to even breathe.

Overhead, the tape showed Sakura, in reverse, putting the pieces of Yamato back together again. Hinata looked away, unable to accept it from happening. Kiba, on the other hand, wondered if it made any difference that he was watching everything backwards.

"It was only three nights," Kakashi said softly, his words were more bewildered than his tone of voice. "What happened here?" After that, for a long time, nobody else dared to speak again as they watched the tapes rewind itself backwards in time.

By the time Sakura reached the one room with a light, dripping copious amounts of blood on the floor, she knew no medic skills - even if Tsunade-shishou was there - was going to save Yamato from this one. None of it were really her blood, after all, and Yamato, barely conscious, was now missing half of his body. He was also starting to go into shock.

Sakura gagged now that she could see what made Yamato seemed so much lighter than she thought he should have been. He's intestine had been trailing after them for most of the journey, and Sakura, after everything she had done and seen in a hospital, had not been prepared for this. Still, she had the mind to kick the door closed behind them once she made sure nothing would snag, and morbidly wondered as she staggered to the table how the rest of the organs where remaining inside, still.

"Sakura," Yamato caught her arm and squeezed it weakly as she tried to lower him on the only available platform in the room. She had swept much of the chemicals bottles away and laid him down as gently as she could. He gave a hoarse shout of pain, but she didn't have much chakra left to save him and protect them if anymore of the creatures in the dark came after them. Sakura winced at the pallid face before her and wondered how many nights she was going to be haunted by this one. Hell, she knew that if she lived through this that it would probably be a long, long time before she could ever even start to forget.

"You can't die, Yamato-taichou," she said weakly. "You're the only one who can stop Naruto if he-"

"I was," he agreed through labored breaths of pain. "But, Kabuto... he was able to integrate Orochimaru... into himself. The report... this must have been his lab... or one of them."

Sakura stared at him with rising horror. She tried to swallow but found that she couldn't and licked her lips instead. The taste of blood came alive on her tongue and Sakura wondered if she was swallowing someone's guts when she hissed out a wince. "No, you can't mean..."

Overhead the lights flickered as Yamato's eyes rolled into the back of his head and his body began to rattle the table beneath. Broken arms flew and organs jiggled. Sakura thought she'd be crying if she had the moisture in her body left for tears. Instead, she tied him down with what she could find, which wasn't much, before turning away, dry-eyed, to head for the door. First she locked it shut, and then, she begun to blockade it with a series of seals and one of the few metal shelves she could find. By the time she was done, Yamato had stopped shaking and she wasn't sure if he was even still alive.

No, no time for that.

Sakura looked away again and started to search for the precious notes she knew she'd find if she would just look. Kabuto had been there, she could feel his slimy presence permeating the walls. At that moment she didn't know who she hated more, Kabuto or Orochimaru, but since they were rumored to have fused together, Sakura guessed that irony did have its sense of humor once in awhile. She made sure to look everywhere, back always turned to Yamato so that she would not need to shoot glances at him from the corner of her eyes, though she no longer had to wonder about where the heads all went. Time was of the essence. Who knew if her subject needed to be alive or how long the body could go on before it ran into a time limit or even when exactly it was that Kabuto extracted the cells from Orochimaru to do what Yamato had told them that Naruto, Hinata, and himself, had witnessed happen when they had ran into the mad-man.

Sakura gagged again against the back of one of her blood-caked hands. For a moment, she simply pulled back sharply to stare at the appendage as if it did not belong to her. Then, without warning, her body began to shake and her eyes stung, fierce and hot. A sudden bang rattled against the door, like a body crashing against it. Sakura's head rose and she stared at it for a moment like an animal trapped.

The light bulb swung and Sakura cringed at the sound of the next harsh crash. The door held. Sakura breathed. Blood-shoot green eyes narrowed and she shook her head as the pounding continued, one moment it was silent and the next moment the poundings were so hard that the walls seemed to shudder at the onslaught.

"Naruto," Sakura wrapped his name around her tongue, and hoped it could ease the bitter taste of bile and blood long enough for her to do what she must. With her back rigid and her shoulders hunched, Sakura went back to digging through the scattered scrolls on the floor. There were still things that she needed to do.

Sakura woke up screaming and wouldn't stop. It took Kakashi back-handing her till her cheeks were starting to look purple and finally a harsh hit to the temple that finally managed to knock her unconscious to get her to stop. Like a doll with bruised cheeks, Sakura lay there crumpled and still. Kakashi breathed harshly, braced over her body, while everyone else watched him with a mix of trepidation and fear.

"She did something in that room," Kakashi said softly.

"Three days," Shino finally spoke up. "But everything else looked fine-"

"Kakashi, you're not going to like this," Pakkun interrupted as he ambled in grimly with another nin-dog, interrupting the solemn atmosphere.

"I don't think there's anything to like," Kakashi answered wearily as Hinata shuddered.

"Well," Pakkun snorted, wrinkling his nose at the inhabitants. "We just found the rest of Yamato."

"The rest?" Kiba asked incredulously.

"You know, the half with legs," Pakkun answered dryly. "It wasn't pretty, that's for sure. This place stinks of corpses, Kakashi. I suggest you leave."

"Not until we figure out what went wrong," Kakashi said coldly. "These tapes-"

"Won't save your hide," Pakkun interrupted with a shake of his head. "Whatever happened here, the blood on them ain't all theirs." Pakkun pointed out with a frown.

"The headless corpses on Sai," Shino agreed with a frown.

"Nothing's adding up," Kiba said, crossing his arms in aggravation.

"Three days of darkness everywhere else," Kakashi pointed to the multiple screens. "I don't get it."

A groan interrupted them as Naruto cracked open his eyes. "Fuck, my eyes," he croaked, voice rasping as he cradled his head, palms digging into eye sockets. "Did the zombies get me?"

Four pairs of human eyes settled onto Naruto in varying degrees of relief and disbelief. "Did the kid just say what I think he said?" Pakkun wondered out loud. "Because if he did," the dog stood and waggled his tail. "That would explain why there's a bunch of stinking bodies heading this way."

Kiba wrinkled his nose and looked out into the hallway where a small gap of broken rubble gave a view to the outside. He was able to see the last rays of sunlight extinguished from the hemisphere and they all froze at the sound of thud, thud, from a distance. "Well," Kiba muttered dryly. "That really explains everything," he added sarcastically.

Naruto moaned as Hinata knelt down beside him and tentatively touched his knee. "Na-Naruto-kun, are you alright?"

Blue, glazed eyes looked to her, not really seeing her. They turned and finally landed on Sakura on the other side of the room. "Sakura-chan..."

"He's awake!" Pakkun announced. "And so is his kiddie partner."

Sai's hand tried to rise but the dark-haired young man winced when his arm was barely stopped by the sling, and only because he was too weak to do much else than shift. "Zombies, huh?" Kiba snarled.

Shino frowned behind his glasses and looked to Kakashi who was silently looking at the camera overhead. "Everyone, grab a wounded," Kakashi finally said. "We're going to get out of here, now!"

"Sakura-chan," Naruto was mumbling as he rose unsteadily onto his feet. Everyone ignored him despite his demands to know what had happened.

"Kiba, you take Naruto. Shino, you're with Sai. Hinata, find the quickest and easiest way out of here and fast." Kakashi looked to each of them to confirm they were doing what they were told before turning and, this time, with a far more gentle touch, lifting Sakura into his arms and over his shoulder. "We don't have time, move it!" Everyone went into a flurry of motion. Kakashi after Hinata and directing nin-dogs at every threat that came their way from the front, Kiba in the middle with a wounded Naruto, Akamaru holding much of the group together against surprise attacks, and Shino tailing with Sai, sending bugs to clean up their tail. Hell could have been on their heels considering how fast they moved with three wounded on every available shoulder except Hinata's and they didn't stop for a long time before Kakashi called a halt to the exhausted group, long after they were off of the premise of Orochimaru's lair, though still not far enough for his liking.

"Hinata," Kakashi sounded a lot calmer now. "Come here and heal Sakura's bruises. The sooner she's in tip-top condition, the sooner she can help the rest of her teammates."

Naruto swore in the dark. "What happened to Sakura-chan? Sai, you fuck, you let her get hurt!"

"Shut up, dickless," Sai's calm voice cut through the blond boy's swearing. "Where's Yamato-taichou?" he asked instead.

Kakashi grimaced and nobody else made an attempt to answer.

"Hey, where is Yamato-taichou?" Naruto demanded when the silence stretched. "There was an explosion and we got separated..."

"Naruto-" Kakashi begun to answer.

"He's right here," Sakura slurred softly to the moonless night. In the roaring silence of suspicion and confusion, she began to laugh and laugh.

End.


-taichou- captain

I severely want to mutilate ff dot net right now for cutting off the first and last paragraph of every other section of the story. Well, at last, I have fixed it and now the story makes more sense! GIR! I hate you right now, ff dot net.

Comments, suggestions, and critiques are all welcome!

(Due to much confusion, I thought that last line should be changed to clear things up... That and I am the Evil! At least to the characters I like... kukuku!)