Title: Picture Trends of Black and White
Author: Hiko Mokushi
Pairing: KakashixSakura
Rating: R
Warnings: Language, adult themes/sexuality, implied rape/sexual abuse, torture, human trafficking, and character death.
Disclaimer: Do not own at all.
Summary: Shizune froze. "What?" The blonde woman held her hands out in front of her, trying to work things through her fingertips that she couldn't with her mind. "What would you do to get Sakura back?"

VII. Haven

There was something about seeing a once-great man beaten and broken, lying on the floor—not begging for his life, but still cursing and threatening—that made Kakashi sick in his stomach.

This man, if he could even be called a man, had done so many atrocious things to people—women, helpless women—who had never caused him any harm. Who had never even met him. Who never even knew his name. All for the sake of money, for his own greed, he had allowed, perpetrated and even inflicted the abuse and suffering of others. He deserved whatever end that fate should hand him, even if that meant cruel and unusual punishment. For once, though he hardly agreed with the sentiment, he understood why the families of victims were not allowed any sort of influence concerning their punishment. For the countless horrors enacted on those women—Sakura most importantly—he deserved to die a thousand deaths. Kakashi would have even delivered the fatal blow, if he knew Tsukuyomi.

"Did you think that you were going to get away with this, Mujihi?" Kankuro toyed with his puppet's chakra strings, making Karasu jitter slightly in place. "We've been tracking you for nearly two and a half years now. It was only a matter of time before we caught you. Only now. . . You've brought a whole world of pain down upon you."

Kneeling on the ground before the shorter man, Joushi's hands were tied behind his back, and he peered with his bright blue eyes up through his pale red hair. The look of contempt on his face was marred only by the slight fear that twinkled in the corners of his eyes. Disdainfully rolling his eyes at the younger man's words, he glanced away, watching the rest of the men in the room.

Kakashi thought it was amusing. The man was attempting to think as Ninja do. Stay too focused on the one making all the ruckus, and you'll miss the real attack: silent comrades who sneak up from your blind sides while the bait keeps the prey distracted. This was no trap. Joushi had already been caught—this was his cage. Anyone that meant him any harm at all would want him to see it coming. They would want to see him quake with fear before they ever reached him.

A scenario that wasn't entirely out of the question, the copy-nin mused. Joushi must have realized that in his precarious situation, he should pray they only killed him. They would question his minors, see what little information the dregs of his miniature society would give over to them in exchange for slight leniency on their sentencing. After that was finished, they would take their findings straight to Mujihi and hope to threaten the rest of the information out of him, promising a swifter death if he should cooperate.

"How does it feel?" asked Arashi, his heavily-lidded eyes flashing angrily. He stepped close, stomping his feet just to watch the lesser man flinch. It was a brute's scare tactic, but the tiny jerks Joushi's body made at each impact gave Kakashi a little bit of satisfaction. "I saw how the women were kept. It went on before my own eyes. How does it feel, Mujihi, to know that you're about to suffer as much as you made them suffer?"

"All this posturing," murmured Mujihi quietly, his soft voice a paradox to the rowdiness of the ninjas around him, "for one measly little girl?"

Genma's teeth clicked sharply against the senbon in his mouth. "That 'little girl' is worth a hundred of you."

Joushi smirked, head cocked to the side as he peered at them audaciously through his hair. "She should be, for the price of all her headaches. Never before have I seen a more stubborn-headed woman in my entire life. It wouldn't have been so bad for her, if she'd merely given up. If only she could have seen our side. I had high hopes for her. Many of the girls rose in ranks and were able to buy their own freedom."

Naruto's fist hit the wall and Rock Lee put a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Sakura would have never given up!" he snapped, eyes wide. "She's too strong for that! She would never have allowed innocent people to be sacrificed for someone else's benefit!"

"If only," said Joushi wistfully. "If she'd been breakable, I would have let the clients have a chance with her. She would have been a perfect addition." The glint in his eyes let them know he knew what he was doing. He wanted to get a rise out of them. Kakashi clenched his fist, nearly biting through his lip behind his mask. "Men would have paid handsomely to merely touch her. A fortune for the opportunity to dominate her. Such exotic looks—pink hair, green eyes, fit figure. After the first time I got to touch those soft breasts, I knew what I wanted to do with her. Though mine involved less of her body and more of teaching her what she could do with that errant mouth of hers."

He was across the room in seconds. Kakashi's fist met the side of Joushi's face with a hollow thud.

The Copy-nin could feel the bone giving way beneath his knuckles and it gave him perverse pleasure to know that the man would probably never eat solid food again for the rest of his life, however little that time was. Joushi fell onto his side from the force, spitting blood and particles of teeth onto the hard, sandy floor. Kakashi towered over him, fists tense at his side as he breathed heavily, his anger not yet spent. The men around him were silent. No one had moved an inch to stop him, no one had opened their mouth to recall him. They merely stood and watched, almost wishing for more.

This was how ANBU was. Bloody and raw and unhinged. The simple contemplation and execution of which rule to break, and Kakashi was breaking all the rules. This was merely vocal interrogation. Physical contact, especially by an outside participant, was forbidden. For the physical interrogation, specialists would be brought in to supervise the most direct and easy way to remove the information that they wanted. But nobody was going to say anything about his "out of line" behavior—they were silently commending him and wishing they could have laid their hands on him. Kakashi breathed deeply in and out, aware very much of his fellow ninjas' eyes on his back. Rubbing his knuckles, he kicked at the ground, childlike enjoyment flooding him when some of it fell on Joushi's face, causing the man to close his eyes, shake his head, cough and sneeze.

"You're pathetic. Posturing will only get you more broken bones before we grind your body into dust. Continue talking in such manner if you wish, but really, it's your funeral." His voice was cold and superior, every part the detached warrior—even though his emotions were so heavily tied to the young girl's wellbeing. "My time is better spent waiting for Sakura to wake up." He turned around, meeting Genma's dark brown gaze and then Gaara's aquamarine before walking towards the exit.

Naruto made a motion to stop him, but Lee's hand reappeared on his shoulder. "Let him go. He needs time."

Genma nodded to his friend as the silver-haired man passed him on the way to the exit. "Don't worry." He nodded his head towards the man on the floor. "I'll make sure he gets what's coming to him."

Kakashi didn't respond, but left the room in silence.

It was a long walk through the winding corridors to his destination: Sakura's hospital room. As he approached the room, he watched as a nurse and Gaara's wife exited, speaking in dulcet tones. He paused outside, staring quietly down at his feet while the two women spoke. The young nurse glanced back and forth ostentatiously, before the dark-haired woman finally nodded her head and excused her. Eyes wide, the nurse backed away before turning around to walk away, clutching her small stack of files. She glanced over her shoulder more than once before disappearing down another hallway.

Natsume turned then to him and folded her arms in front of her, peering up at him with her large, olive eyes. "Did you need something, Hatake-san?" she asked politely. "Or are you merely going to take up space and stare at the floor?"

He threw her a small glare. "Is there any change?"

"No," answered Natsume, her expression passive, but respectfully curious. "There is no change. Yet."

"Will there ever be a change or are we being unusually optimistic? Will she ever get better? Will she ever wake up?"

The woman inclined her head to look him fully in the face. "Do you really want the answer to that question, Hatake-san?" she asked quietly, gauging his reaction. His lone gray eye snapped to her face, hands tightening to fists at his sides. She sighed and brushed her dark hair from her face. "At the moment, we cannot be sure. Sakura's tests say that her body is recovering. We've set her broken bones, treated cuts and infections, gave her nearly two pints of blood, have her on fluids that will provide her body with all the nutrients it will need. The stress on her heart from whatever jutsu she used is great, but her heart is strong. She is still healing."

She walked closer to him and smiled. "Worry about her, pray for her, even cry for her, but never give up. Sakura didn't spend five years of her life in that hell to die as soon as she left. Never give up hope." Patting his arm comfortingly, she said, "There is evidence that coma patients are aware of what is going on around them. Go to her, talk to her as if she were awake. It will help both of you. She might just be able to hear you."

Her hand dropped from his arm and she followed the same path that the young nurse had taken earlier. Kakashi watched her for a few moments before sighing. He shoved his hand into his pocket and walked into the room.

Sakura looked small and weak in the large hospital bed. Large machines were positioned next to the head of her bed, and a few of them beeped in a strange, pulsating rhythm. Kakashi stood awkwardly beside her bed, shifting uncomfortably back and forth on his feet. She was still the only person that could get him in a hospital for long periods of time. He took the hand closest to him, smoothing his thumb over the tape that held her IV down. Examining her still form carefully, he searched her face for anything out that seemed out of place.

Her expression was peaceful, as though she were merely sleeping and not unconscious. Her hair was longer now than he had ever seen it—longer even than when she had first become his student. Someone had pulled it all over to one side and braided it to keep it out of the way. She would have looked almost normal, if not for her injuries. Finger-like bruises spanned around her neck, her left eye was black, and an angry scab had formed beneath her lower lip. His stomach churned as he took in the small myriad of cuts and bruises that peppered her arms.

She might just be able to hear you.

"I've missed you, Sakura."

Tsunade nodded, eyes scanning over the report with glee. "Kakashi says that he, Naruto and Genma will stay in Suna however long they need for Sakura to recover. But once the bandits are properly taken care of, Kiba, Genma, and Lee will return to Konoha." The arrogant tone to her voice wasn't something the medic had heard in a long while. The woman was practically glowing.

Still, Shizune shifted nervously back and forth on her feet. "How long will it take for her to get well again, though, Tsunade-sama?" she asked worriedly.

"However long she needs," answered the Hokage importantly. "Her health is the highest factor here. I will personally put Kakashi and Naruto on leave with pay if I need to keep them there. I won't have her travelling in any sort of condition."

A knock at the door caused them both to turn. The young jounin runner, Enkai peeked around the door discretely. "Uchiha Sasuke is here to see you, Hokage-sama," he stuttered quietly, "as you requested."

Tsunade breathed in deeply, her shoulders raising as she tilted her neck to the side to crack. "Arigatou, Enkai. You may return to your post." The jounin bowed before shutting the door. The woman turned to Shizune with an irritated air. "I don't feel like dealing with that brat right now, but I know it has to be done." She flashed a grin. "But I can make him sweat for a bit. Tell him I need a few more minutes."

"Sure, Tsunade-sama." Shizune walked out of the room.

The dark-haired man stood out like a sore thumb in the middle of the Hokage Tower, and she fixed him with her dark gaze rather rudely. "She'll be with you in a short while, she's slightly busy. You can have a seat while you wait," she offered, pointing to the chairs against the wall, though she knew he wouldn't take them. Without waiting to see if he answered, she walked away—though her eyes stayed on him the entire time.

Sasuke shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other, feeling his skin prickle under such intent scrutiny.

The dark-haired medic sat behind her desk outside the Hokage's office, head bent over a large, dusty tome. Her eyes, partially obscured by a fringe of black hair, however, were not focused on the book; but instead were narrowed suspiciously on the young man in question. Her frown was evident, though her lips were set in such a thin line that her mouth appeared almost invisible.

He was used to the looks, but that didn't mean it was any easier to accept them. Almost everyone that had been close friends with Sakura treated him the same way: as though it was his fault she was gone. That he'd shamed her mere memory with his marriage to Ino.

He wanted a family, children and a wife that could give him one. He wanted to restart his Clan and make it better than ever. The blonde had already given him one son. . .

Sakura had been declared dead.

As similar as they were, Sasuke refused to become his once-teacher. He would not, could not, remain in perpetual mourning for the woman he'd loved. No tears or prayers, nor even celibacy, would bring the pink-haired woman he'd once been willing to give his life for back to life. Or even back to him.

Just when he was sure he couldn't take any more of Shizune's glares, and he could feel a volatile need to snap at her, the Hokage's door opened. He started at the sound, a soft click and swish of wood passing through the air. Sasuke's dark eyes swept towards the blonde woman that stood before him, and he gave a short bow of respect out of instinct, though confusion washed over him.

The older woman's face was a hard combination of emotions. There was anger there—her mouth was fashioned analogous to Shizune's—but there was a keen glittering in her eyes that he could place. From previous experience, it normally meant something bad.

"Well, c'mon, don't just stand there all day."

Sasuke started at her voice, snapped into a somewhat formal bow before he followed her inside. The windows along the eastern side of the room were shut against a fiercely blowing wind, causing an unusual backdrop with the sunset that filtered through the western windows. Cautiously, the Uchiha raised his eyes as the older woman sat down and began to lazily organize the papers that were spread on her desk into a pile. After a few silent, awkward minutes, Sasuke coughed.

Tsunade glanced up boredly. "How far along is Ino?"

The young man glanced skeptically at her, dark eyes narrowed ever so slightly. "She's due in two months." He wouldn't voice the other remarks that wanted to follow. Ones about how the blonde woman was such a great medic but couldn't even keep a patient's due date in her memory. Then his mouth opened into a slight "oh" as some realization dawned on him. "I'd requested not to have any sort of important or dangerous mission with Ino so close to her delivery. I'd rather not have to argue that."

Tsunade waved her hand, an amused smile tugging at the corner of her lips. "No, nothing like that Sasuke," she assured, smiling at him in such a way he wasn't sure was good or not. It reminded him ever so slightly of a cat, caught after eating its master's pet canary. "I'll have to see her soon, though. I believe she's due for a checkup. No, I called you here, because I wanted you to hear this from me, and not from any other—possibly less reliable—source. I'm sure you remember that your two former teammates embarked on a mission some five days ago. You yourself were invited to join them but you decided not to attend." She lifted a piece of paper up in front of her, though her eyes watched him over the top. "We've recently received word that their mission was successful."

"What?" the normally eloquent Uchiha stuttered, a flare of fear blossoming in his gut. He tried to think it over logically in his head.

Naruto and Kakashi. . . They'd just gone on a mission about a lead on a missing-nin. A lead about Sakura. Though her name had been added to the cenotaph, her file had been marked unsolved and her status MOA until further evidence could be given, proving her loyal death, treason or something else to that affect. They had gone off on some harebrained mission based on the rumor mill of Suna—nothing concrete.

There was no way.

"Sakura's alive."

For a minute, he could think of nothing to say. What were you supposed to say when someone laid that big of a bombshell on your head? Thank you for telling me that the previous love of my life, who was thought to be dead, is in fact, alive. Thank you also for finding this information out after I married and had children with her best friend. His mouth felt dry, like someone had shoved a wad of toilet paper into the back of his throat. He swallowed, but the action only caused the sensation to intensify. "You're certain?"

Tsunade nodded. "Positive. They have her in the ICU at Suna's general hospital. She's in critical condition, but they've managed to stabilize her." The older woman's eyes grew very serious as she rested her chin against her knuckles. "Your marriage to Ino is valid. You've consummated through more than sex—but through the birth of a child and the conception of a second. If you should choose to leave her, be aware of what type of future that would give her and her children. Even if you divorced, you would still be required by law to help support your children until their sixteenth birthday."

Face solemn, Sasuke shook his head infinitesimally, and murmured, "I have no intention of divorcing Ino."

"And Ino would murder you in your sleep should you be caught cheating." Tsunade's smile was grim.

He nodded. "I know my place. My life is with Ino now."

The Hokage nodded. "See that you stay true to your words. I wouldn't' want to have to step in to fix anything. You may go now."

Sasuke stared at the floor blankly as he bowed, moving out of the room stiffly and slow. Tsunade watched his retreating figure with interested, narrowed eyes. Only when she was certain that the man was gone did she sigh, and return to her papers. "Stop clucking, Shizune," she growled, not looking up from her shifting paperwork. "If you have something to say to me, I expect you to say it to my face and not behind my back."

The dark-haired woman slipped into the room quietly.

"Close the door behind you." The blonde's eyes glanced up momentarily before returning to her desk.

She didn't really close the door as much as she slammed it. "I can't believe that was all you said to him. "Stay true to your words"." Shizune crossed her arms, huffing loudly as she leaned her hip against the older woman's desk. "Do you know how hard coming home is going to be on Sakura? There are so many changes that have occurred since her kidnap. I wouldn't be surprised if she wished she had died."

Tsunade narrowed her eyes. "Of course I know how hard it's going to be. Her parents have died, her fiancee is married to her best friend. People have died, gotten married, had children. She'll even just have to readjust to being around people. That's why we're here—we're here to help her. And she'll have Kakashi, of course." Her nails scratchd lightly against the wooden desk as she smiled slightly, thinking of the experienced jounin's soft spot for his previous student.

"We are here to help give her a reason for living. Help through the depression and the sadness, and whatever other discontented feelings she should express. She's too much a wonderful person to be taken in such a way."

"Not that I disagree with you on any of those points, but did you ever stop to think that Sakura may decide to start her life elsewhere?" questioned Shizune in a quiet voice. "She is such a gifted medic-nin, she'd be accepted anywhere she went. If she asked your permission to defect from Konoha. . . Could you let her?"

"It won't come to that."

Shizune pressed, "There may be too many memories! Too many things she doesn't want to remember."

"Are you quite finished, Shizune?" snapped Tsunade, opening a drawer to take out an ink well and pen.

The dark-haired woman sighed. "I'm just scared that things are going to be different."

Tsunade shook her head. "Change is needed, sometimes."

She sputtered.

Ice-cold water trickled down her face, her neck, her back. She blinked against the burn it created when drops rolled into her eyes. It was freezing, and she felt even colder because of the strong, incessant wind that blew against her. Sakura shook her head as much as she dared, trying to find her way to her feet.

Through the blurry haze, she peered around, and saw only four gray, stone-like walls surrounding her. The room was dark, with a single light fixture that hung, stationary, over her head; buzzing loud enough to bother her. Longer than your standard 12x12 ANBU interrogation room, the light faded so that she couldn't see into the corners properly, and besides a table (with small, multi-colored blurry things on it) and the bucket (that she suspected had held the water she was now covered in), the room was uncharacteristically empty.

It couldn't be, however. Somebody had to be there to dump the water on her.

She tried to remember anything, anything at all, that she could about how she'd gotten to this place. Her memory stretched back far enough to the battle, the looks on her teammate's faces as she'd been scooped up. She remembered struggling, but beyond that, everything was black.

Her head felt as though it had swollen to three times its natural size and ached as though she'd taken a sledgehammer to the temple. A strange, painfully uncomfortable pressure was building behind her eyes the more coherent she became. By the way her vision was limited, she was sure that her eyes had to have been swollen to at least twice their normal size, and everything was in such a haze, she could barely make out shapes. Her hands were tied behind her back and what looked like inch-wide shackles were clamped around all four limbs. Turning, she rolled onto her side and then flopped awkwardly onto her stomach. She used to her knees as a brace to raise herself up into a kneeling position, before trying to rise to her feet. Disoriented as she was, and with her hands tied behind her back, she wound up falling on her ass.

Sakura growled in frustration. Without thinking, she tried to focus, sending a wave of super-human chakra straight to her fists, then let out a strangled wail as she was knocked onto her back. She bit through her lip as her body shook silently.

A violent electrical shock surged through her, forcing the air from her lungs.

"Ah ah ah," a voice admonished from somewhere around her, as the small shudders through her calmed. "I wouldn't try that again if I were you. Them are chakra cuffs, little girl. Most people're good enough with'em only on the wrists. You seem t'be an 'ception, though. Good thin' we got extras. Yer lucky we don't get'em in collars, or else you'd be wearin' one of them too!"

"Where. . .? Where am I?" The pain was just now beginning to fade. Even in her disorientation, she could manage to tell that the voice came from someone who was standing up straight and somewhere to her left. With some difficultly, she managed to struggle back onto her knees.

A hushed murmur.

Then a chuckle.

Footsteps brought a body closer to her, a shadow dividing from the darker around it.

"Eh, we dun specifically need her. Doubt Joushi-sama'll mind 'er much. An' she's horribly pretty." A hand gripped her face. Jerking, she lunged in an attempt to snap down on the offending appendage. A closed fist collided with her stomach, actually knocking her off her feet. Her head slammed into the ground, sending waves of pain thrumming through her head. Her stomach rolled, bile rising in her gut. She turned her head and vomited on the floor. It left a burning residue in the back of her throat that she had the urge to cough away.

"Stop it." The sound of a large door opening was accompanied by a soft, but commanding feminine voice. It was also incredibly reproachful, with a slight hint of disgust. Light splashed the ground around Sakura's head, but the door slammed shut and it was gone again. "Touch her again and you'll lose your hand."

The man tensed, so much so that even Sakura could feel it. "Watch who yer mouthin' off to, whore," he spat, fiercely grabbing the woman by the wrist. "Don't forget, as much as the men crave yer body, I can still break it."

The woman laughed, a high ringing sound that reminded the kunoichi of bells. "Do you honestly believe that, Toki?" Twisting, she tore her arm out of his grip, nearly growling as she continued. "Even if you were man enough to break me, Mujihi would roast your head on a spit. After making sure it was twisted off your pathetic form. He'd feed you to the dogs."

Sakura felt her anger intensify, and she struggled futilely against her bonds. "What the fuck is going on?" She sounded breathless and frantic, voice permeate d with anxiety. Even in her fear, disappointment flooded through her. She felt weak, absolutely vulnerable. Without her strength, she was nothing more than a medic. Without access to her chakra, she was a frightened ninja. Without her sight, she was merely helpless.

Toki chuckled darkly, "Welcome to hell!"

"Idiot man. Leave us." A delicate hand settled on Sakura's head. Despite the immediate revulsion that rose within her, something told her that if she were to get any answers, any at all, she was going to have to rely on this faceless woman.

"I'm supposed to vet potential girls, ain't I, Kokiko?" answered Toki proudly. Sakura could almost imagine the arrogant smirk drawn across his face. "If she's to be of use here, then I should vet 'er, shouldn't I?"

Scoffing, Kokiko replied, "She was brought here to be a healer, Toki, not a prostitute."

Sakura's breathing nearly stopped. They know I can heal?

"What?" Toki laughed again, but his voice sounded further back than before. "We gonna dress 'er in a nurse's outfit and have 'er serve at bedside?"

"They took her for a specific reason," murmured Kokiko. "They saw her. She can manipulate chakra, manifest it so that she can draw it into her palms and transfer it into the body of another."

"That's impossible."

Quietly, the woman lowered herself to the ground, her hand skimming over Sakura's head. "It really is not. You just have never seen it done. Most ninja villages have begun to incorporate it into their healing. It's slow, but the process of chakra healing is growing in popularity. Some villages—like Sunagakure and Konohagakure—have even allowed their medic-nins to treat the general populace." With a gentleness that the young woman was unaware the lady possessed, Kokiko smoothed her pink hair from her face. The woman took her by the chin, forcing her to look up. "You are a very special young girl," she murmured, though not out of any kindness for Sakura, she could tell—a cold glint had entered her gaze.

With a swiftness she couldn't follow in her damaged state, the hand at her chin was at her neck. The fingers gripped and enclosed, swiftly cutting off the airflow. The woman lifted slowly to her feet, carrying Sakura—clawing at her outstretched arm—up with her. "Better learn to rub some dirt in those pretty feathers of yours and learn to be a sparrow."

Sakura woke up gasping.

It had been ages since she'd last had a nightmare. Normally, her dreams consisted of memories—reminders of the life that she'd left back Konoha. This nightmare was indeed a memory, but it was an unwelcome one. She did not wish to be reminded of her life in this place. All the more reason she seriously needed to get out. . .

"You've finally woken up." The voice that spoke was soft and gentle, a woman's voice—she didn't recognize it. "I'll page a nurse."

Sakura stiffened, turning sharply.

Something at her side tore with a wet, squishing sound and she cried out.

"Now, stop that. You'll tear all your stitches if you keep trying to move like that," the voice clucked; and Sakura peered through the darkness, attempting to locate its source. A pair of dark olive-green eyes shone in the shadows, rich with a kindness she hadn't seen since she'd watched the light fade from Ami's eyes. "Calm down. Nobody's going to hurt you. I'll get a nurse in here to mend your sutures; they'll need to take your vitals anyway, now that you've woken. Do you need anything? A glass of water, some painkillers, maybe you're hungry? If you nod or shake your head, that'll work."

"Who are you?" Sakura's voiced grated with lack of use. Her throat felt on fire.

It was hard to see in the dark, but Sakura was a kunoichi after all—with a little focus, she was able to discern where the woman was standing. "I wouldn't talk," the woman warned gently, walking closer. Sakura followed her progress with a narrowed, suspicious gaze. "They only recently took the tube out of your throat. You had a bad reaction to the first set of antibiotics we gave you. You went into shock."

"They intubated me?" she asked, narrowing her eyes as she tried to see in the dark. "Are you a medic?"

"Oh no!" She wasn't sure, but she could almost make out of the crinkle of young laugh lines around the edges of the olive gaze. The eyes were attached to a slender, if slightly rounded figure. With the shape of her shadowy figure and the youth to her voice, she could easily establish that they were at least within the same general age bracket. And if she stood up, Sakura was sure that they would nearly be the same height, give or take an inch or two either way. "I'm just a volunteer around the hospital. I check in on patients for nurses to look for the more obvious signs of a need for assistance. We've been waiting for you to come out of your coma."

Coma? Sakura flinched at the thought. Guess it's better than dying. She'd known that the repercussions of the jutsu she had performed were great, but at the time, she hadn't planned on living past the following few hours.

"I'm glad you're awake now," the woman said, walking slightly away from her, and Sakura tensed as she watched the shadow of the woman move, but she returned—surprising Sakura with her sudden close proximity—with a paper cup, filled to the brim. She held it out for Sakura to take—the kunoichi narrowed her eyes, but reached out a shaking hand to take the cup. "There's so much for you to catch up on." Close enough now, a pale hand flipped a switch on the wall, gently lighting the room with a dim, subtle glow. It was a sudden invasion to Sakura's eyes, though the pain faded after a few moments.

It made her suspicious. The woman had somehow been able to wheedle closer without her noticing. She hadn't thought that she'd grown so unpracticed… "You never answered my question," murmured Sakura, her eyes narrowing. "Who are you?"

Almost as though she could feel Sakura's hesitation, immediately after Sakura had a firm grasp on the cup, she took a step back. Sakura's breath came easier once there was more space between them. She glanced down at the cup, cradling it between the fingers of both hands.

It had been five years since she had seen clear drinking water.

It was almost too precious to drink. The way the soft light glimmered against the white of the cup, allowing her to see clear to the bottom. She hadn't been able to look straight through whatever she drank in so long. After a few seconds of staring at the water, she tentatively lifted it to her lips to take a sip, wondering if it would taste as wonderful as it looked. Without embarrassment, she groaned and drank furiously. The cup was empty in seconds. The cool liquid slid easily down her throat, quenching the burn that lingered in the back of her throat. She could feel it as it moved down her esophagus into her stomach, a cool fire that made her shiver.

The woman smiled, but didn't move any close to take the cup from her. "See? Bet that hit the spot."

Now, in the dim light, the kunoichi was able to get a decent look at the woman's face; she was completely unfamiliar. Her skin was a dusky hue, not exactly pale, but not tanned either. The light, informal kimono she wore was loose-fitting, but fitted enough for her to appear slender. The softness of her hands and the roundness to her hips betrayed the fact that she wasn't a ninja, but how she was able to approach without her noticing made Sakura uncomfortable. Sakura refused to allow the woman's patient eyes and kind smile lure her into a false sense of security.

If there was one thing Sakura prided herself on, it was knowing her charges. The face of every girl, every scar and bruise, had been burned into her mind. But for some reason, this young woman's did not register in the banks of her memory. That could mean either of two things: one, this woman had either been hidden from her or she was a recent addition. Or two, Joshi had sent out more men to steal women. She suspected the latter and wondered how fast her body would heal—she would make sure that this she killed him the moment she had the chance.

The woman gave her a secretive smile. "I believe you know my husband," she remarked quietly, as she took the blood pressure cuff off the wall beside the bed. Sakura allowed the woman to wrap it around her bicep without protest. "In fact, I believe I owe you thanks. Without you, he might have died."

Sakura tilted her head to the side, brow furrowing. "Who is your husband?"

"My name is Natsume, but you can call me Nami—everyone does." Natsume wandered to the end of the bed, seizing the chart hanging from the post. She marked a few notes before replacing it. "I'll go get you something to eat. I'm sure you're hungry." Sakura knew this woman, this Nami, could tell how frustrated she was. The mysterious smile curling the corner of her mouth was enough to make the young kunoichi's stomach churn with worry. But Natsume turned back, her eyes softer. "Your boys really love you, you know."

That shook her.

"My boys?" she whispered, her voice cracking. She leaned forward in the bed as far as the wires and tubes attached to her would allow. "Please," she begged, "please tell me what you mean! "My boys"? Where am I?"

Natsume paused. "You're in Sunagakure, dear," she said gently. "You're safe."

"Don't play with me." Tears welled in her eyes involuntarily, spilling in twin trails down her cheeks. She bit her lip, feeling more vulnerable than she could even remember. "This is some trick. Y-you, you're trying to trick me again. Into thinking I'm saved—I was supposed to die!" She was yelling now, hands angrily fisting the blanket at her sides for support. "I wasn't supposed to live, Shishou said! You can't keep here—I'll die before I let you!"

Natsume shot forward, hands pressing urgently, yet comfortingly, against her shoulders. Her face was scrunched with worry. "Sakura-san, you must calm down! Think of your injuries, you're going to hurt yourself," she exclaimed, eyes shifting worriedly between Sakura's face and the steadily beeping monitors around the head of the bed. "I promise you, I am not lying."

Sakura clenched her eyes shut. "I won't be your pet anymore!"

Seizing the younger woman's chin firmly between her fingers, Natsume forced Sakura to turn her head, to meet her eyes when the latter opened hers to glare. The dark-haired woman was shook by the hostility that burned within Sakura's eyes, but held her ground, her olive gaze equally as intense. "Haruno Sakura, you are in Suna," she said determinedly, the sternness in her voice a strange contrast to her kindhearted appearance. "You are safe. The caves have been destroyed, ANBU has taken Mujihi into custody, and those poor women are being treated and will be sent home, where they belong. Mujihi will die as soon as they get whatever information they can out of him. And you. . . You, Sakura-san, will heal and will go home. Hoe to Konoha with Naruto-kun and Lee-san and Hatake-san."

Tears leaked profusely down her face. "Naruto? Lee?" Her voice sounded weak, childlike. She gaped with open astonishment at the very idea. Chin still clutched in Natsume's grip, she found it hard to focus on anything in particular.

Natsume nodded. "They're here. They came for you. They're waiting for you to get well again, so you can go home."

Sakura shuddered. "It wasn't a dream. . . I really saw Kakashi?"

"No, it wasn't a dream, you really saw him." The woman shook her head, lifting a hand to maternally smooth a few stray strands of hair out of her face. "They rescued you. And now they're all very worried about you."

The strength fled from Sakura's body and she sagged on the bed, her head lolling backwards on the soft pillow. She felt warm and fuzzy all over. Her nightmare was over. She had lived through it and might even get to see her boys again. If her heart could only hold out a little longer. . . She knew that she had a fifty-fifty shot at survival now that she'd woken up from the coma. Whether or not she was strong enough to sustain her life would be the true test of her abilities. Though, through the hazy fog that clouded her conscious, she was acutely aware of how proud Tsunade would be—after a thorough scolding—that she had executed such a difficult and technical jutsu. She was a bit proud of it herself. She hadn't ever accounted for being strong enough to survive the jutsu, she had only thought herself strong enough to maintain it long enough to destroy Gomimaru.

"You've been a very sick young lady. Whatever jutsu you used put serious strain on your heart. Why don't you try to sleep some more while I get a nurse up here to check you over and make sure you're okay?" Natsume hovered in the periphery of her vision, a swirl of creamy skin and long dark hair.

Sakura blinked rapidly in an attempt to focus, but the other woman only swam in blurs in her vision. "Did you inject a sedative into my IV?" She had to, Sakura thought as she listened to herself speak. Her words were slurring together, and the telltale fuzzy numbness and warmth were beginning to spread from her fingertips and toes up her arms and legs. "Without me noticing?" Even slurring, she could still sound threatening. She was less angry at being dosed and angrier that she hadn't even seen the woman act. I really am rusty.

Natsume smiled. "Just something to help you sleep," she acquiesced quietly, with a kind look on her pretty face. "Now that you're awake, we'll have to start weaning you off the morphine. Your body will still be in quite of a bit of pain. This will at least help you to sleep."

The drug, whatever it was, had a very calm, peaceful affect. She didn't feel drugged—merely sleepy. It wasn't a trapped kind of feeling, the kind where she knew she couldn't fight its affects even if she wanted to. When—not if—she fell asleep, she'd gladly fall asleep, and not resist the drug's urges. Weakly, Sakura tugged at the blanket where it had bunched around her waist and pulled it up to her chin. With a pleasant smile, she rubbed her cheek against the material and nearly purred at its softness. No more sleeping on a lumpy mattress with a shitty blanket, Sakura thought as she rolled carefully onto her side, mindful of the IV. No more being cold in the middle of the night or having Gomi beat me up. "Okay. But one day, you gotta tell me who your husband in."

"Of course," the woman chuckled, turning away and walking towards the hall. "As soon as you wake up again. I'll tell you then."

Sakura's green eyes peered sleepily at her over the hospital comforter, still too alert for someone who had just be sedated. "I woke up cause of a nightmare, of the day I was taken." Her voice was soft, barely reaching Natsume.

The dark-haired woman blinked apologetically at her, whispering, "I'm so sorry that happened to you."

"But, before that," Sakura continued, "I had another dream." Her eyes fluttered, and her voice grew even softer, almost o the brink of sleep. "I thought I heard Kakashi's voice. I dreamt of them often, so that's not strange, but it was never that clear before. Isn't that strange?"

Natsume tried to keep the smile from her face by biting her lip lightly. "No, I don't think it's strange at all, Sakura-san. I think it sounds just right." She knew she was only talking to herself—Sakura had fallen asleep the second after she'd finished her sentence—but it made her feel good that Kakashi really had made an effect on the young girl before her.

Sakura not recognizing her was slightly revealing, though Natsume figured it hardly mattered if the girl had only some or partial memory loss. The important names she had remembered—Lee, Naruto, Kakashi; those were the only ones that really mattered. Any brain damage could only be minor. Walking briskly, Natsume neared the nurses' desk and set Sakura's chart down on the countertop.

A tanned, red-haired nurse looked up at the small clatter, adjusting her glasses on the bridge of her nose. "Did you need something, Natsume-san?"

The dark-haired woman smiled. "Haruno Sakura in ICU room 4a woke up from her coma only a few moments ago, Aiko-san."

Aiko started, her pale eyes going wide. "You're sure?"

"I was in the room with her," Natsume assured, smiling with the corner of her mouth. She brushed a stray strand of dark hair out of her eyes and tucked it behind her ear before crossing her arms. "I gave her a sedative for sleep, but she was up and cognizant. She carried on perfect conversation. She didn't exactly remember me, but as soon as I mentioned the names of her fellow Konoha ninja, she instantly remembered them. This is excellent. This is just what Jun-san was talking about. If she can be that aware of her surroundings this early. . . she should have over a fifty percent chance of a full recovery."

"Full recovery," echoed Aiko, her eyes wide and bewildered. "It's most definitely excellent, she should be dead! I mean, we all were rooting for her, but it seemed like such a long shot. . . Even the Kazekage seemed somewhat doubtful that she'd ever wake up. For it to happen just like that; it's nothing short of a miracle, I'd say."

"I believe that you'll need to send somebody down to check her vitals."

Aiko nodded. "Yes, of course. But, if I might ask, where are you going?"

Natsume smirked. "I am going to go inform our guests that their special lady woke up."

Go ahead. Yell at me. You know you want to. It's been almost a year—at least I finally got this up.

Some of you were very, very supportive of my hard schedule. What with senior year, friend and boy trouble, a new job and then just dealing with having a social life, my world has been pretty crazy and stressful. This chapter was needed, but there isn't much action going on in it. I think that was what made it so difficult for me to write. But, like I said, it was needed to get to the next chapter… which may end up being like fifteen pages long.

I originally had three more scenes planned for this chapter, but I vowed to myself never to go over ten pages, and I'm almost there—so I decided to add those onto the next chapter, seeing as I know what I want for them. That way writing should come a bit easier. I'm trying to get back into the swing of things.

I wanted to post this right away, so Nami (the real one) hasn't had a chance to look at the final draft yet. (So no yelling at me for grammar mistakes! you're welcometo point them out so that I can fix them thoughh.) But she's been there, helping me along with all her words of encouragement to at least get this chapter out before I gave up. Because she knew how much this story meant to me—and she was right. I don't want to give up now.

Nice to see you guys again!
- Hiko mokushi