C a u g h t I n T h e
He was fairly certain he could guess why people were laughing at him behind his back. It was probably connected to the reason why Naruto felt so very proud of himself that day and occasionally fell into a fit of giggles for no apparent reason. Sasuke, however, was too distracted by his other priorities (namely discovering what was to become of his unfortunate neighbor) to wreak his revenge, and giving the blond the thorough beating that he would well deserve was an activity that he would have to enjoy at a later time.
It had not been the easiest thing to confess to Tsunade that he had made a slip-up, especially one that was so major, and especially when it damaged his otherwise pristine record. He had taken pride in the fact that he had avoided making any mistakes that jeopardized the safety or secrecy of the organization, and he had prided himself into believing that he would continue to do so in a flawless fashion so long as he continued to work with them.
Nor had it been easy to explain to her how it had happened while making it sound like it hadn't entirely been his fault. He carefully dodged around the bits where his neighbor had bruised his face (and ego) and anything else contradicting his acclaimed competence, including the lone trap that he had neglected to disable and his neighbor's contribution in incapacitating the enemy which he hadn't the time to check for.
Tsunade had not taken the news well, that was a giver, but neither did she have the eruption that Sasuke had prepared himself for. He wasn't sure whether to be relieved about said fact or not – it could be an indication that she was not as displeased as expected, or it could mean that she was so displeased that she was beyond volcanic. After he had finished giving her the long version of the story, she had simply set her fist on her desk rather forcefully and then proceeded to grunt orders into the microphone on her desk to have the girl taken to the interrogation room. Interrogation seemed a little extreme to Sasuke, but he had a somewhat personal connection to the girl and was therefor biased on the matter of her innocence, and it was standard procedure, after all.
By the time he was dismissed from her office she had already been whisked away, but Naruto remained rooted in place with a dumbfounded expression on his face. "I'm going to pretend I didn't just see that." The blond said grimly, referring more than likely to what he had witnessed when Tsunade's faithful underlings came to... borrow Sasuke's unsuspecting neighbor right out from under his unsuspecting nose. Courtesy wasn't one of their priorities when abducting suspicious persons. "So, how did it go? Judging by the fact that you are still in one piece, I assume that she let you off easy."
Sasuke shrugged. He wasn't really sure how it went. "Well then, what do we do now?" Naruto asked, looking from Sasuke to Tsunade's office. Sasuke shrugged again. He hadn't much thought about what to do after he had delivered the girl safely into Tsunade's custody. He felt somewhat relieved, however, that she was at long last out of his hair. She was no longer his responsibility, and he would therefore no longer have to deal with her insufferable behavior. No more whining about her missed classes. (Big deal. The last thing she should have been worrying about was a passing grade.) No more effort wasted in thwarting her attempts at escape. (No more injuries sustained from said thwarting.)
Good riddance to to unwanted (to call her rubbish would be a little harsh...)
C h a p t e r ( o3 )
There was something seriously off about the sight in front of her. Maybe it was the unexpected flower-pattern wall paper in the interrogation room. Maybe it was the appearance of her Medical School Professor in the flower-patterned wall-papered interrogation room. She blinked a couple times, but after each time the wallpaper remained – and so did Tsunade, who looked just as surprised to see Sakura as Sakura looked to see her.
There was another person standing in the room, a man with horrible scars marring him from the tip of his bald head to what Sakura could see of his neck. She assumed that he had been the one to interrogate her incessantly, the one who was determined to believe that she was involved in one way or another in whatever sort of organization they were running deeper than her accidental run-in with Sasuke's visitor earlier that week. He had accused her of being an accomplice, an independent assassin, a spy. The more questions he asked, the more she came to realize this organization (if it could be called that, she still wasn't quite sure what it was) was a dangerous one. "You know this girl, Tsunade?" He asked, unable to mask the surprise that came swiftly across his scarred face.
Tsunade nodded, massaging her temples with her forefinger and thumb, her eyes hidden behind her hand. "She's my student." She said briskly. "Let her go, untie her, she's completely harmless."
Sakura took slight offense to being called completely harmless – after all, she was The Iron Fist of Death – but made no hint of it. She wouldn't dare disagree with Tsunade, the woman whom she all but worshiped, not out loud, at least. Sakura made a mental note to prove at a later time how far from completely harmless she was to her professor. The man who she addressed acted immediately, springing behind Sakura and removing her binds. She reveled in her new-found freedom of movement and stretched her stiff limbs, hoisting herself up onto wobbly legs. She continued to stare at Tsunade, expectant and waiting for and explanation. Who was the man who had attacked her and her neighbor the other night? Who was her neighbor? Who was Tsunade? She wanted questions, and she was determined to get them.
"I'm sorry for the trouble, Sakura, truly, I am." Tsunade said after a moment or two of silence, never once lifting her eyes to meet Sakura's. "But I'm afraid it doesn't end here."
After the meaning of the words sunk in, Sakura felt a pit of fear develop in her stomach, spreading throughout her chest the more she came to realize what Tsunade was implying. "You mean..." She breathed, looking from Tsunade to the man and then back again, searching either of their expressions for something to deny assumption that she was coming to. She found nothing. "You wont let me go?"
Tsunade nodded, and Sakura could feel her world crashing down around her. At last, the terror began to consume her. She could no longer care about her missed classes, there were bigger troubles settling into her mind. She would never return home. Never see Ino or Hinata again. Never live out her dream. She could easily conclude that she was going to be killed, and there was no hope of avoiding it if that was to be their sentence. Alternatively, they would keep her their prisoner until she went mad. She couldn't determine which seemed more appealing.
Some girls would burst into tears when scared to the extent that Sakura currently was, but she, instead, went into a furious frenzy. If she knew she was doomed anyway, there was no harm in trying to bluff. "You can't keep me here!" She spat, retreating quickly to the wall furthest away from them, flattening her back against it. She held an arm out defensively, to be used offensively if needed, and protectively in front of herself. She had crushed many a bone with that arm, with those dainty, destructive fingers. She wasn't all that opposed to the idea of using them against the woman she admired any longer. "I'll escape! And I'll go to the police! I'd hate to try to find another Professor as brilliant as you once your in jail."
Tsunade took a cautious step forwards, hands out in front of her. "Calm down, Sakura." She said as more of a warning than a plea, her expression unreadable. Sakura did the opposite, tensing, her hand clenching into a fist. "There's no need to be hasty." Tsunade took another step forwards, and Sakura braced herself, shuffling her feet apart into a more sturdy position. Another step forwards, and then, trying to catch her by surprise, Tsunade lunged at Sakura, reaching out to grab at her.
If Sakura had not been expecting as much, it might have worked – but instead she managed to swivel out of the way just in time, darting past Tsuande while she was still off balance and grabbing the inattentive scarred man. She had his arms pinned behind his back before Tsunade had the chance to straighten herself out. Perhaps it was not the best idea to attack the large, scary man who probably was packing a lot more in the way of lethal weapons than the men she dealt with in the bar usually did, but it was the only idea she had. "Let me go or I'll--" Sakura started. She was about to threaten that she would crush his windpipe or break his neck, but she would never kill anyone, and she knew better than to make threats she couldn't back up. She set the toe of her shoe on the back of his knee. "Break his leg!" Not the greatest leverage that she could have, but it seemed to be working.
At first, Tsunade looked startled, then, she looked apprehensive. The man struggled, and Sakura gripped him tighter, afraid of what would happen if she were to let him go. He would probably be less than thrilled at her antics. "Hold still, or I'll do a lot more than break your leg!" Sakura cried. Her voice cracked. Much to her gratification, the man went motionless.
"Tsunade..." He grunted. "She can't be serious."
It was silent, it was still, all three in the room watching, waiting. Then, Tsunade did something Sakura couldn't have anticipated in a thousand years. She threw her head back and started laughing hysterically. "Oh, but I think she is!" She gasped between fits of laughter. "I think she's about ready to tear you limb from limb if we don't give her what she wants, Ibiki!"
They were making fun of her. She scowled and applied pressure at his knee until he bent unwillingly, hissing obscenities at her under his breath. "You think this is funny?" She was becoming angry. Not any less scared, but her fury was starting to parallel it perfectly. "Should I break his fingers one by one just to show you how funny it really is?" She twisted his pinkie until just the slightest pressure would snap it. He didn't so much as wince. Judging by his scars, he had suffered a lot worse.
When Tsunade had caught her breath, she straightened up, and gave Sakura the sort of look that had always intimidated her in class. "Let him go, Sakura. We're not going to harm you."
Sakura let him go. It wasn't until after he had gracefully removed himself from arms-reach of her that she questioned her willing compliance to Tsunade's command. There was just something about the woman that Sakura couldn't refuse, something that commanded respect and obedience. No matter how hard she tried to look at it differently, Tsunade was still the woman she idolized, her professor. Her shoulders sagged in reluctant defeat, but she maintained her distance, in particular from the scarred man, who she was afraid would try to extract his revenge at any moment. "What are you going to do with me then?" She asked, trying to keep the fear in her voice hidden, and failing.
"Do you trust me?" Tsunade asked in all seriousness, her expression startlingly grave.
Sakura considered this. On the one hand, she had always felt relatively at ease when under the care of her professor. There was something that Sakura found naturally likeable about Tsunade – something aside from her admiration, something that she felt put them on light, friendly terms. But then again, Sakura had never expected her to be involved in some sketchy organization. Fear her? Most definitely. Respect her? More than anyone. Trust her? "...Yes." Sakura finally replied, in scarcely more than a whisper. As soon as the words left her mouth she felt it confirmed by an odd sensation of relief. Yes, she did trust Tsunade.
Tsunade gave her a gentle, reassuring smile, and then turned to confide in the scarred man. Sakura could not make out what they were saying, but she was fairly certain that they were discussing what was to be done with her. She straightened herself out, standing tall and proud. She had no reason to be afraid any longer, she was convinced. Even if it didn't work out in the way she was hoping – which was that they would let her go without another word, and she could return home pretending that nothing had happened. It was ideal, but unlikely.
Her life was about to change. The thought hadn't exactly sunk in – it was there, but it was floating around in the back of her mind un-predominantly. If not death or imprisonment, which no longer seemed a threat, there would be something, some aspect of her life, at least, that she was certain could no longer go back to being the same. There was no changing what she knew, and that changed everything. It was difficult a difficult concept to wrap her head around. What differences would there be? It would all depend on what decision Tsunade made, she guessed.
At last the two stopped whispering between each other, and a look of agreement passed between them. Tsunade turned to Sakura, expression unreadable. "Well, Sakura," she began, and Sakura listened attentively, gulping. "We can't very well let you wander off, now. But we're not going to do anything inhumane to you, either. First, I need you to promise me something." Sakura nodded. "I need you to promise me that you will tell no one about this. Absolutely no one. Not your friends, and not your family – not if you don't want the same thing to happen to them as is happening to you right now – and especially not the police, unless you want the entire country to fall into anarchy."
With what Tsunade had just said, Sakura began to finally realize that she had gotten herself involved in something bigger than she had ever imagined. Something that the balance of the entire country rested on. Something way above her head. She paled several shades, and opened her mouth to inquire about her suspicions, but Tsunade didn't give her the chance. "Do you understand, Sakura? You must promise me. This is crucial. If I can't trust you, all chances of you walking away from here free are gone. Promise me."
"I promise!" She squeaked. "I swear on my life that I will not tell anyone anything!"
"Good enough." Tsunade breathed. "Alright, now in order for you to get what you want from us, you must become an asset to us. Do you understand what this means?" Sakura shook her head. Tsunade took in a deep inhale, and paused for a moment. "It means," she continued, "you're going to work for me now."
How many years had she been dreaming that one day, maybe one day, if she worked as hard as was humanly possible, Tsunade would say those words to her? Despite the unusual circumstances which they had been said under, and a different meaning behind them than what Sakura had originally imagined, she couldn't help that she felt overly ecstatic. Her heart swelled and she could feel tears of joy form in the corner of her eyes. "Work... for you?" She repeated, awe-struck. She beamed, a wide smile lighting up her face, and clasped her hands together. "I'll do it!"
Tsunade chuckled under her breath, secretly pleased with her student's enthusiasm. "You do realize that you can't attend classes, any longer, right, Sakura? I'll need you to drop out of all of your courses. It really is a pity, though, to waste such talent... If you are determined to pursue your studies in medicine, I suppose I might be able to train you privately."
With each passing moment, her nightmare was morphing into something more like her fondest dream come true. She had never thought that the possibility of receiving private tutoring from Tsunade could become anything more than a fantasy – and a fantasy it had been, one that she entertained in her mind frequently and without shame, no matter how ridiculous the scenarios she imagined in her head became – and ridiculous they usually were. Her favorites involved her receiving the Nobel Prize for making exponential advancements in the science of biology, (she had her speech memorized: "First of all, I would like to thank my Professor and friend, Tsunade, without whom none of this would have been made possible...) and the two of them happening to come across a person in dire need of medical attention, proceeding then to perform open-heart surgery in the middle of a cross-walk with only the tools from a near-by construction site and the backpack of a passing student.
These day-dreams were replaying themselves in her head as Tsunade uttered the words which had been nothing more than an on-the-spot idea, a mere possibility that she hadn't taken much time to consider, that sent Sakura into a state of euphoria, the likes of which she had never experienced before. The young, befuddled girl could do little else besides nod her head dumbly in response, her mouth frozen into a permanent grin, her eyes aglow with ambition.
Tsunade's ears turned red from the flattery as she assessed Sakura's reaction, and she cleared her throat as means to brush off her humble embarrassment. "Well, then." She breathed, looking to Ibiki, who had a brow quirked in amusement. "I will assign someone to you who will give you a briefing of the nature of our work and what will be expected of you, and show you the ropes and whatnot." Sakura could have sworn she saw a hint of mischief in Tsunade's smile, and wondered what schemes were unfolding inside the woman's head. Sakura had long past forsaken the idea that Tsunade was always a reasonable, sensible person, ever since she had started classes under her guidance. She knew that the retired doctor always had a trick or two up her sleeve. "And I think I know just the person for the job. Follow me."
Sakura did as instructed without a moments hesitation, as did the scarred man, and they both trailed after Tsunade as she walked briskly from the interrogation room. Sakura surveyed her surroundings with the utmost attentiveness, trying to absorb as much as she could as they walked, looking for anything that would hint towards and explanation for the many questions she had that were still left unanswered. They were walking down a long hallway, dimly lit by circular lamps hanging closely off the ceiling, the light bulbs in which flickered eerily and routinely. There were a few other doors and hallways that branched off from the one they traveled down, each equally dark and quiet, and for the most part, the place seemed deserted for the exception of the occasional person who passed them in the hallways, whose eyes would follow Sakura as she walked by them. She was not surprised by the interest they took in her. She had a suspicion that around there, they weren't much used to seeing new faces.
Eventually Tsunade led them into a larger, brighter room at the end of the hallway. It appeared to be a cafeteria or lounge of sorts, and there were a few vending machines set up on a far wall next to a refrigerator of impressive size and circular tables lined with inexpensive-looking chairs scattered about the room. Seated at one of the tables were two familiar men, one of whom stood up immediately upon their entrance and stared at them with his mouth hanging open, eyes wide. Sakura recognized her neighbor instantly. His was one of the faces that she would never be able to forget, and not just because it was drop-dead gorgeous. "What's going on?" He asked, his tone indeterminable. "Tsunade?"
Sakura found his referring to Tsunade without any formalities irksome, and would have objected, if she had not been interrupted first. "You have the fortune of being neighbors with someone that I am previously acquaintance with, Sasuke. Otherwise, this would have turned out to be a lot more of a mess." Tsunade replied, folding her arms across her voluminous chest, and giving him the same scolding look that Sakura had received when she had arrived late to class that one time. Sasuke looked bewildered, and then confused, "Sakura is – was – one of my students in the classes I teach at the University." And then he looked enormously relieved.
This relief of his, as Sakura was soon to discover, would not last long.
Tsunade put a hand, gently, but firmly, to Sakura's back, and gave her a good shove. Sakura stumbled forwards, nearly bumping into the table that her gun-wielding neighbor and his gun-wielding friend were positioned at, and let out a hushed gasp. "She's your problem now, Sasuke." Tsunade concluded with a wry smirk.
The meaning of these words seemed to render simultaneously into the minds of both Sakura and the man standing across the table from her, and they wore the same expressions of horror, and paled to the same shade of off-white, as they came to the same realization. Ibiki, who still stood behind Tsunade, chuckled under his breath. The whiskered face of the dense blond, however, remained frozen in a look of lacking understanding. Sakura was beginning to think that Naruto, as kind as he was in comparison to her callous neighbor, was an idiot. "Whaaa?" He blinked.
"You can't mean--" Her neighbor started, but he couldn't even seem to manage to force out words which he already suspected were true. He clenched locks of ebony hair in his hands, hung his head, and let out a barely audible groan.
"I mean exactly what you think I mean. This was your mistake, Sasuke, and it is your responsibility to correct it. From now on, She's your charge. I'm rather attached to her, so take good care of her and teach her well, or else you'll have me to deal with." Tsunade finished.
As Naruto had finally come to share in the understanding of the circumstances, it seemed, he joined Sakura and her neighbor in arguing them. The three of them said, in unison (except for Naruto, who replaced "he" with "I",) "Why can't he/I do it?" And then the exchanged startled glances. Sakura, on the one hand, felt complimented by Naruto's eagerness to take her into his care, and on the other hand, was insulted by her neighbor's obvious reluctance to have anything to do with her. She took turns alternating between smiling thankfully at the former and glaring at the latter.
Tsunade was not long impressed by their unity. Her face, much too young-looking for that of a woman well over her fifties, contorted into a warning look that none of them dare challenge. "Do not question my authority. Any more arguments on the matter and you will suffer consequences. Sasuke, you will show Sakura the same guidance and support you were shown as someone else's charge. I trust you have not forgotten how much you owe that someone. Sakura, he may be a bit difficult at times, but you will respect and obey Sasuke. He is your superior. And Naruto – try not to be such an idiot, if such a thing is possible for you."
All three of the addressed opened their mouths in silent retorts, none of them actually spoke.
Alright, so to start, I'd like to thank readers for the enormous amount of feedback I'm getting on this story. It makes me ecstatic, to say the least. It's probably one of the main driving points for this story right now, so please, keep up the reviews. I'm not to proud to beg. Well, sometimes I am. Depends on the situation.
So we all know that I am not the most reliable updater. I occasionally disappear for a couple months. Sometimes, I delete my account and scrap all my stories and return a couple months later with a new account and new stories for you to enjoy. Sometimes I'll update a couple days in a row. That's just how I roll. So keep interested in my stuff, there's always a good chance that I'll take it back up one day.
Please forgive any mistakes, because I usually make them, and I'm too lazy to pick over every word of what I've written to fix things that some of you wont even catch. Most of the time I'm sure you know what I mean, anyway.
I'm off for exam break right now, and I've kind of had some more inspiration burned into me for this one, so who knows, maybe I'll squeeze another chapter out this upcoming week. Thanks again for all your support. Please leave a review! ... -points gun at you through the internet- or else... ANGRY RABID FLAMIGOS WILL ATTACK YOU. D : (I swear it'll happen. Even if birds don't actually carry rabies.)