The moment Sakura sensed the white rabbit she tensed.
" Heh. Foggy today." Tazuna commented, walking along nervously. " In fact, I don't think I've ever seen it so foggy in these woods."
" Down!" shouted Kakashi. Everyone ducked quickly as Zabuza's giant sword whirled at them, narrowly escaping a quick decapitation. Sakura hadn't noticed the first time around, but Tazuna had incredible reflexes for a civilian his age. As the sword flew into the trees Zabuza leapt from hiding, catching it and landing on a branch to observe them.
" Sharingan Kakashi." he said as they stood. " I see why the Demon Brothers failed. I didn't expect to go against one of your skill on this mission."
" Then don't." Kakashi said in a calm tone. Sakura admired the mans outward reserve in dangerous situations like this. " It would be best for everyone involved if there wasn't a fight. At the very least we'll leave each other in bad shape and, may I point out, you can't afford that."
" Who is this guy, sensei?" Naruto inquired. He and Sasuke seemed more in the moment than Sakura had expected, which reassured her.
" Zabuza Momochi. He's also called the Demon of the Mist." explained Kakashi as he and Zabuza watched each other appraisingly. " He's a highly skilled jounin who abandoned the Mist village. While he is most famous for his skill with his sword and gained renown as one of the Seven Mist Swordsmen, he was also his countries master of the silent kill and has bee trained in his villages strongest techniques."
" Very good, Kakashi." said Zabuza, leaping down from the tree and landing a moderate distance away. " It's good to know my reputation had spread to your village."
" Indeed." said Kakashi, pushing back his headband and revealing his Sharingan. " I'm sure mine has reached your ears as well."
" It will be a pleasure to kill you." growled the large man before vanishing into thin air.
" W-what was that?" shouted Naruto.
" It's a Mist technique!" Sakura hissed, looking around. " He's hiding from sight."
" Form up around Tazuna." Kakashi ordered, standing absolutely still. " And stay out of this fight. This is an enemy far too advanced for you."
" I'm sure your little apprentices will obey." taunted Zabuza's voice from nowhere. " But what if I bring the fight to them?"
Sakura sensed Zabuza's presence as he revealed himself behind Sasuke, slashing out with his sword. She sped forwards and caught the gigantic sword just in time, struggling to hold it against Zabuza's prodigious natural strength. He looked stunned, obviously not expecting a girl Sakura's age to be able to hold his attack for even a moment.
Then Sakura focused more chakra and ripped the sword from his hands. She felt a rush of triumph, but that was quickly quelled as Zabuza and the sword disintegrated into water.
" Sakura, are you okay?" Kakashi called, a kunai in hand. He had been a moment from charging over to help when the water clone vanished.
" Yes." Sakura replied quickly, retaking her spot in the formation.
" Thanks." said Sasuke, looking slightly shaken.
Sakura never finished her reply, for at that moment four Zabuza's appeared. Three of them attacked Kakashi, forcing him to waste precious time evading as the fourth attacked Sakura. She barely ducked the opening swipe of the blade when Zabuza landed a vicious kick to her midsection, knocking her backwards into the forest. She struck a tree and gave out a cry of pain as she felt several ribs crack.
" Sakura!" shouted Naruto as the Kakashi cut though the last of the clones.
" S-stay put!" Sakura coughed, tasting blood. She began to form the hand seals for a healing jutsu, but she felt too weak. A medic-nin can't afford to get hit. came Tsunade's scolding voice. Because if the medic dies, who heals the team?
" One down." said the disembodied voice of Zabuza. " Two to go. Here's a fair offer, Kakashi. Let me have the bridge builder and I won't harm the rest of your apprentices."
" That won't be necessary." growled Kakashi. Even with her dimmed vision Sakura could see the anger on his face. He gripped his wrist and there was a crackling sound as the Chidori formed on his hand. " Naruto, Sasuke, move Tazuna over to Sakura. Guard her with your lives, understand?"
" Yeah." said Sasuke. There was a dark, angry look on his face that was mirrored by the rage on Naruto's. They began to slowly and cautiously walk Tazuna towards the treeline as Kakashi scanned the mist with his eye.
In the instant that Zabuza appeared for his attack Kakashi tackled him out of midair. The mist ninja barely avoided the lightning attack as they toppled to the side, quickly breaking apart and standing. Zabuza slashed at Kakashi with his sword, dancing around Kakashi's counterattack and beginning a blurred pattern of evasion and attack.
" How badly hurt are you?" Sasuke asked, leaning over Sakura as Naruto formed several clones around Tazuna.
" Mostly broken ribs. It's not too bad." Sakura replied. She then coughed, spraying a slight spittle of blood onto her hand.
" I may not be a doctor, but I know a few things." said Tazuna, kneeling at her sides. " I'm going to have to touch you to see how bad it is, though."
Sakura nodded and clenched her jaw as she felt a needle like burst of pain in her side.
Elsewhere, Zabuza beginning to run somewhat ragged at Kakashi's attack. Speed was Kakashi's advantage and his famous attack could kill with a single hit, so Zabuza couldn't afford any missteps or mistakes.
Then he looked into the Sharingan and froze, unable to move.
Kakashi wasted no time in lunging for the kill, but he was stopped by a hail of senbon needles. He came to a halt a short distance back as a green robed individual in an ANBU mask landed at Zabuza's side, hitting him and breaking him from the hypnotism.
" Damn." swore Zabuza, looking to the ground. " Watch for that eye."
" Go help sensei!" Sakura urged, gasping slightly from the pain. Naruto and Sasuke nodded to her and departed.
" Don't worry." said Tazuna, but Sakura's hearing was fading. She'd exerted herself too much and couldn't hold on. " The breaks aren't too bad…."
When Sakura came too, she could feel a soft mattress beneath her.
Thank god. she thought, wincing as she felt the pain in her side reassert itself. She opened one eye and saw she was in the room that Kakashi had rested in during the week before the battle on the bridge. That meant that they had won, but she didn't know at what cost.
" Hello?" she called weakly.
The door to the room flew open and Kakashi rushed in, followed closely by a roughed up looking Naruto and Sasuke.
" How are you feeling?" asked the jounin, kneeling at her side.
" Not good." she replied honestly.
" You've got a pretty bad injury." Kakashi explained, looking her straight in the eyes. " When you were out we weren't exactly sure if you were going to make it. I've got first aid training, but I can't deal with this. Your not going to be able to move for a while."
" That's okay." Sakura replied. " We won, right?"
" We…had a draw." said Kakashi, looking away. " I managed to injure Zabuza and Naruto and Sasuke held off his companion before they escaped. They are going to be back, but they'll need at least a day or two to rest up."
" A day or two?" exclaimed Sakura, alarmed.
" Indeed. We're resting up as well. I'm going to go get you some water, so I'll be right back." said Kakashi, standing and walking from the room.
" Can I get you anything, Sakura-chan?" Naruto inquired, looking at her intently. Sakura was relieved to see that his eyes had regained their old warmth and focus.
" No, but you could tell me how the fight went." Sakura said with a small smile, holding her side gingerly.
" Well, I rushed the girl in the mask once we left." Naruto explained. " With a lot of clones. She destroyed them with needles and hit me in the leg, but then Sasuke attacked with that shadow thing."
" Shadow shuriken." interjected Sasuke. " I occupied the woman with shuriken long enough for Naruto to form a few more clones, then used my grand fireball jutsu. She evaded and Naruto's clones attacked her in midair, but she was too fast. I joined in the attack and had just began to match her speed when she caught me with a kick to the side of the head."
" While Sasuke was down I charged again. About that time Kaka-sensei grazed Zabuza with that blue glowing thing-"
" Chidori." corrected Sasuke.
" Gesundheit. Anyways, the needle chick seemed kind distracted after that since he was losing a lot of blood. Me and Sasuke attacked at the same time but then she made this mirror out of ice and leapt into it. Next thing we knew she flew past us in a blur and vanished with Zabuza. That's pretty much it."
" Wow." said Sakura with a nod. " I wish I could have been there to help."
" You did your part." Sasuke said quietly. Sakura blinked in shock, looking to the boy. He avoided her gaze and blushed. " I didn't see Zabuza's attack. He'd have killed me if you hadn't stopped him. T-t-thank you." he stammered.
He's embarrassed? she thought, totally distracted from her injury. Wait! He's blushing! That means-
" I'm back." said Kakashi, strolling in with a glass of water. Sasuke's face immediately returned to the old scowl, though the hint of red remained.
Sakura released the healing jutsu, feeling her chakra begin to dip low. When night had fallen Sasuke and Naruto had left her alone, giving her the chance to try and heal herself. Kakashi had forbid it, but she knew better. The strain wasn't going to make things much worse and she'd fixed most of the damage already.
She lay back, feeling the dull throb of the large bruise that had formed on her skin. Last time we had a week. she thought, mind racing as she considered the implications of what was at stake. If Naruto and Sasuke don't have the chakra focusing technique , they won't be able to beat Haku, if it even happens that way. There's no time for Kaka-sensei to teach them and I'm not going to be able to provide much help in the next fight.
I've made things worse.
Sakura was broken from her thoughts by the scraping of the door. Kakashi entered quietly, shutting the door behind him. He walked over to Sakura's bed and took a seat, giving her a concerned look.
" I take it the healing went decently?" he asked, breaking the silence.
" I fixed the bones, but I'm still beat up." Sakura replied. " You knew I'd try it?"
" I did." Kakashi replied, looking her in the eye. " I…knew a girl who was a great deal like you. She would have done so, so I assumed you would too. I'm here to tell you, though, that you are going to have to rest here no matter what. You know how powerful Zabuza is and I saw his ally fighting Naruto and Sasuke and can tell she's no weakling either. I'm not even sure I want Sasuke and Naruto to fight. If we had more time there are some things I could teach them I didn't expect them to need for a C-rank mission, but there won't be. We're safe for tomorrow but after that Zabuza will have had enough time to recover."
" Who was this girl?" Sakura inquired, not wanting to focus on the danger they were in for a moment.
" I don't want to get into that now." Kakashi said gruffly, standing up. " Now get some sleep."
As he left, Sakura put her head to the pillow and instantly fell asleep.
" Morning, Sakura-chan!"
Sakura groaned as Sasuke and Naruto marched into her room loudly, brining her breakfast. She sat up gingerly as Naruto set the tray next to her and Sasuke opened the windows to let in some light and fresh air.
" Thanks." said Sakura, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
" No problem, Sakura-chan!" bellowed Naruto. " Hey, I could feed you if your not feeling to well."
" Nice try." Sakura replied with a smile, bopping his lightly on the head. " So, you two are resting up today too, right?" she inquired.
" Hn." grunted Sasuke, looking distant.
" Kaka-sensei says we should." Naruto said, looking put off. " I don't see why. I feel fine and the teme over there doesn't feel anything."
" So you two would rather be learning a new jutsu that could help you when Zabuza returns?" Sakura asked slyly, hatching her plot. She had a plan to motivate them both to learn as much of the chakra focusing jutsu as they could in a day. It would be better than nothing, she reasoned.
" Well, yeah." Naruto said, blinking.
" Well, here's what you two are going to do." said Sakura as Sasuke attention shifted to her. She stood wobbly and, despite Naruto's protests, walked to the wall. She then focused her chakra to her feet and walked up the side of the wall, shocking Naruto and Sasuke both. " It's like the technique I use to increase my strength. Focus your chakra into the bottom of your feet and run up the side of a tree out in the forest, marking how high you get with a kunai."
" How will that help?" inquired Sasuke dubiously.
" It's practice for focusing chakra." Sakura explained. " Once you have this down, there's a bunch of things you can do. For example, you could focus chakra into your legs for a burst of speed or expel it from your feet to float on water. And the better chakra control you have, the more you'll be able to use jutsu."
" Walk on water?" said Sasuke, raising an eyebrow. However, Sakura could see that he was hiding his interest in the technique.
" I hate water! I'm definitely learning this jutsu!" exclaimed Naruto.
" Well, you two probably aren't going to be able to do that today." said Sakura, sitting back down on her bed and putting her hand to her chin as if deep in thought. " Girls have better chakra control than boys and it took me a few days."
" We'll have this jutsu mastered by sundown!" they declared in unison, pointing at her accusingly before racing outside. Sakura almost laughed at how easy that had been, hoping they didn't overwork themselves.
" Sakura?" said Kakashi in a tense voice.
" Yeah?" she replied, looking up from her lunch. Tazuna's daughter been working hard all day cooking for them and she'd done a wonderful job. Sakura and Kakashi had been enjoying a meal with the family until Kakashi suddenly got up and walked to the window.
" Did you…tell Naruto and Sasuke to go train in the woods?" he inquired. " With some new jutsu, for example?"
" Uh…yeah." Sakura said sheepishly. " Why do you ask?"
" The woods are on fire."
" What?" exclaimed Sakura, leaping to her feet. She regretted the movement but pressed on to the window as Tazuna and his family crowded around to see. True enough, there was smoke rising and several visible flames. " How did…." she began to mouth in shock.
" I'll handle this." sighed Kakashi, walking towards the door. " Sakura, you really should be careful what you say to those two."
" Yes, sensei." replied Sakura, staring blankly at the blaze and wondering how on earth Sasuke and Naruto had started it.
" We've analyzed the handwriting, Hokage-sama." reported the ANBU captain. He'd came to see the Hokage the moment they had finished inspecting the note on the toilet paper. " It's not an exact match, but we believe it was written by a genin by the name of Sakura Haruno."
" Sakura Haruno." said the Hokage, looking to the ANBU captain seriously and leaning on his large, cluttered desk. " A genin broke into my private bathroom?"
" It seems so." came the meek reply. " We would bring her in for questioning but she is on a mission at the moment."
" I know." sighed the Hokage, resting his chin on his hand. " I sent her on it. She's on Kakashi's team with Naruto Uzumaki and Sasuke Uchiha."
" Have you assigned someone to watch Kabuto?"
" We have." replied the ANBU captain with a nod. " A full squad, just to be safe. He was the boy who was found-"
" In the battlefield as a baby." finished the Hokage. " Yes, I know. Keep me alerted to his every action. I've got a feeling in my gut that something big is up an I'd rather play it safe, so issue an alert to all ANBU and jounin to keep their eyes open. And the moment Kakashi's team returns, bring them straight to me."
" Yes, Hokage-sama." replied the captain, racing off to his duties. Sarutobi sighed and leaned back in his chair. He hated things like this and, living in a ninja village, he'd seen a lot of them. At least, for once, he wasn't dealing with Danzo.
" Hokage-sama." said the crippled man, opening the door to Sarutobi's office. " I'd like to discuss an inequity I found on the decorating committees budget. I think it is a Stone Village plot to destroy us."
The Hokage just rolled his eyes.