Capture and Rescue
part three: healing
The bird-woman's paper crane hovers in indecision for a brief moment before settling gracefully at the feet of a figure by the side of the road. The person, slouched, dark head on his knees, doesn't move even when the bird gently unfolds itself and dissolves as if it's touched by flame. Thick, gray chakra boiled up from the spot like smoke, stroking a circle in the air around the person who may be Sai. He looks up for an instant, his profile clear and heart-wrenchingly recognizable, his eyes fever-wide- and then he slumps to the side and collapses.
Sakura's heart leaps to her throat and she starts running down the road, shoving past people on the street, nearly tripping over a vendor and his soba cart. Naruto is fast on her heels, she can tell by the sound of his feet pounding against the dirt, his breath coming fast just behind her. All she can think of is 'is he safe?' 'is he alive?' 'he'd better be alive.' She didn't come this far just to greet the corpse of a friend.
Sai doesn't even look up at them as they rush to his side, and when they get up close enough they can see why. No blood, she thinks, her detached medic-nin inner voice labeling and prioritizing injuries. No healing bruises on his face, nothing in the way he holds himself to suggest internal injury. He is wrapped up in some kind of rough blanket, but they've taken the ANBU uniform and left him in rags beneath it. Sakura unfolds the blanket from him, a little unnerved by his passivity. Beneath the dirt, his skin is sickly pale, his breathing is shallow, and his hands-
And behind her as white noise, vaguely buzzing in her ears, she hears the people passing by, she hears the thousand sounds of life in any town, she hears her teammates. Naruto yelling something at Yamato, yelling at him to hurry up, get his butt over here, Sai's hurt, he's not moving, he's hurt.
All of these noises seem to blend into one buzz of white noise, and she can't hear. Sakura isn't focusing much on anything but the possible patient in front of her. No more fractures that she can see. The vestiges of healed rope burns on his wrists, a recent bruise mottling in a swash just beneath his chin, spreading across the line of his jaw. And his hands…she forces herself to see them: gnarled and twisted into fists. They look like they've been turned into clay and molded into shape, and she feels the twist of nausea in her stomach as the thought of how they must have done it occurs.
They shattered the bones in his hands.
Not broke. Shattered. And reformed them into fists, crushed and reformed them and finally made them freeze in place.
That's not what healing is for. That is not what healing is for.
Those bastards will pay.
Sai isn't even looking at her, but it's not because he's unconscious or too sick to realize she's there. He's weak enough with fever that he can't move without dizziness, but she knows that he's aware. His pupils aren't dilated, from what she can see, and his gaze is steady, even if it's not fixed at her. Sai knows they're there, and the fact that he refuses to acknowledge their presence- can't, won't, or doesn't think he deserves to?
Beneath her hands, she feels the rise and fall of his breath, and the ragged way it pulls from his lungs. Congestion. He may be sick as well as- as wounded. A quick search tells her that he has a bad chest cold that hasn't yet turned to pneumonia, but nothing she can't fix with medicine. Even if she can't purchase it here, the herbs she needs to make the medicine won't be too difficult to find in time. Thank goodness for small miracles. Next to everything else, this particular miracle seems microscopic.
Sakura tells herself it's better than better than having him dead, or out of reach. Crippled is better than dead. It means there's still hope.
"We need to move him someplace safe," she says as she senses Yamato and Naruto approach. "He needs to be cleaned- and preferably somewhere with a bed or mat we can lay him on."
Sai turns his face toward her, inspecting their expressions as if he's cataloguing every movement of each facial muscle, every quirk of the mouth and eyebrows. "So," he says finally, and his voice sounds like it's being torn out him, his throat almost too dry to speak, "You found me." And then his eyes close, and he is silent while they have to carry him away.
His eyes stay closed, even when he is safely laid down on a clean bed in one of the town's small hotels.
Sai doesn't speak when she kneels beside him, but she's sure he registers her presence. Sakura can read it in the sudden tenseness in his muscles, the lines defining themselves in the muscles of his neck, shoulders, bare chest. His stomach is hollow and taut, the muscles beneath it so well defined she can clearly read the flinch as he notices her come in.
Maybe the fever is keeping him delirious enough that he doesn't recognize friend from captor, she thinks. Stripped of his cloak, she sees more bruises on his upper body: a recent one on his ribcage, purpling to black, and green-brown marks around his arms. It's a story of abuse that she feels sick reading as she uses her chakra to wind around the body, inspecting it in detail. At the touch of her chakra he stiffens and jerks away, an automatic rejection.
"Sai," she tells him quietly. "It's just me."
He doesn't relax, necessarily, but he does remain still, his shoulders held in a way that suggest he expects pain. She sends a flow of chakra through him this time, a preliminary rush of healing for everything minor: cuts, abrasions, and the bruises. His jaw tightens, the only sign he is reacting to anything that she's doing to him.
"Am I hurting you?" she asks, hoping for some kind of response. She doesn't get one. As she inspects and heals, he says nothing. Sai's eyes slit open only once through the whole procedure, look at her in a distant sort of way, and close once more after bare moments. It is in the highest point of his fever, and after this he falls into something she suspects to be sleep. Could be. Someone as thoroughly trained (desensitized, brutalized, brainwashed) as Sai is far beyond sleep. Like the older genin, he simply puts his body into standby, eyes shut, breath even, and mind at the ready.
Very, very few medic nin would have the skill and control to save his hands. Sakura just happens to number in that few. Not that she knows it. As far as she knows, nobody in their right mind would have tried to put together bones that mutilated and so far healed, because the chances of ruining them would make amputation a greater possibility than healing. Still, here she is with a jug of water, the usual equipment line-up for a chakra healing, and a few other things should the operation fail. She doesn't look at the gleaming edge on the metal blade or the clean towels, because that isn't even an option for her.
"This is probably going to be painful," she starts to say, her chakra shimmering about her fingers. Sai turns to give her an impassive look- completely conscious now, and still silent. "No," she amends, "It is going to be painful.'
The sound he makes is an exhalation of breath, made hoarse with exhaustion, and tinged with the faintest trace of what could be a mirthless sort of laughter. "Don't worry. I will be capable of handling it."
"You already have," Sakura says, and takes one of his ruined hands in hers. He resists at first, instinctively, drawing back his arm and tightening his muscles. Then, remembering she is his medic, he relents. The bone under that skin is lumpy, malformed. Almost repulsive to touch. "I'll have to break them again. In order to re-form them, all the individual pieces must be…" she swallows down the lump in her throat, "Separate."
Sai gives her a quick glance, too fleeting for her to glean emotion from, and stares expressionlessly at the ceiling. "Understandable."
"The chances of this operation being successful are very slim," she tells him, professionally. Calmly. Keeping all trace of her fear and worries tightly under wraps, because it's not something he should see, nothing that could help him. "If I fail, your hands may be in constant pain, or we may need to amputate them. It's your choice whether or not you want me to make this attempt." Even Tsunade would have had second thoughts about undertaking an operation this delicate, this complicated. Sakura had no second thoughts, despite her doubts, but she wouldn't force the healing on him.
"I have lost the use of them already," Sai says, eyes still fixed on the ceiling, expression a mask of smooth, polite nothing. "I will suffer no further loss if my hands prove inoperable. If the operation does succeed, however, I will gain the use of my hands. The choice is simple."
She gives him the medicine to make him sleep. He's too weak to sit up or move, so he can't refuse by moving away. As Sakura swabs his arm with alcohol in preparation for the needle, his flesh twitches, his arm shifts from the touch. "I don't require the sedative," he says, quietly and firmly. "I have been fully trained to handle the pain. I assure you, the drug is unnecessary."
"I don't remember asking your opinion," Sakura replies. "I need you under in order for the procedure to be as safe as possible. If you're conscious, there's the chance you may move or react as I'm performing the surgery, which could ruin the procedure entirely. Do you have any negative reactions to this drug?"
Still no expression. "No."
"Well, then," she says, at a loss for what else to tell him. There's probably a whole paragraph of speech encased in that 'no', and most of it would be likely to compromise her professionalism as a medic in order to make the patient more emotionally comfortable. (Which is a strange thought, seeing the patient doesn't typically make references to his emotions unless to confess to his confusion on how they work. ) So, she doesn't ask for details, just takes out the hypodermic needle and makes the injection. Physically fix him first, then piece together anything else.
She can tell he fights the drug from the way his eyelids twitch as he is pulled into the effects of the sedative. Before he goes under, he mutters something under his breath- a sentence or so, muffled by sleep. When she strains to hear it, she catches the tail end of what sounds like a dissertation on food.
"Ramen?" she frowns, forehead crinkling in puzzlement. It's not something she expects from this particular teammate, and especially not before an operation this critical. Still, people respond to the drug differently. Sakura shakes her head and then goes to work. There was something about how he said it, though. Some studied aspect, like he had memorized words from a text and recited them aloud. Like a chant, almost.
She puts it out of her mind as the chakra seeps in through his skin and she begins separating the bone fragments.
It's an understatement of phenomenal proportions to call this healing complex. It's almost as refined and delicate a procedure as rebuilding the entire skeletal structure would be. It's gruesome to look at: the hands flayed open, the bones shifting as she returns them to basic components and arranges them, careful not to disturb the muscles. The tendons she has to rebuild, the veins and capillaries re-lace into their fragile network. Complex is only the beginning, what she is attempting is staggeringly, impossibly difficult.
She has only fragments to work with, only the memory of shape of the hands she's worked with to guide her. Some pieces are fine as sand, others sharp and splintered. In the end, she has gathered all the pieces together in the order she believes is the closest to the original, the most perfect she can achieve, and fuses bone to bone.
It's painful. She knows it is just watching the body react, the spine drawing upward and flesh shivering. Sai is still asleep and drugged, which is all for the better. He's been in enough pain as it is. His muscles show signs of stress from just this kind of spasm, continued over a long period of time. Ruptures, previously-dislocated shoulders.
Torture. They took him, broke him, shattered his bones. Torturers.
She watches him shudder in his sleep and in her mind, promises the same kind of pain to the people who have done this.