A/N: Hey, Ichi here. I don't normally write this story, but Hana volunteered to help me. Apparently, artist's block struck her again, so she can't really do much right now. Anyways, I hope it'll turn out the way she writes it. And honestly, seeing how this story progressed, I felt like it needs to speed up just a bit.
This is entirely in Sasuke's POV, given that Sakura needs some mental and emotional rest.
Sorry for not updating everyone! This story will still live on.
空の絆: Bonds of the Sky
CH 9: The New Recruit
"What's wrong with you?" I asked. "Did you hit your head when you fell?"
Sakura only blinked at me in confusion. "Eh? I don't think so. I mean, I did recognize you, didn't I, Nii-Chan?" My brow twitched. "Nii-Chan, what's wrong? I'm sorry, did I worry you?" Her eyes suddenly turned teary and looked up at me with such innocent eyes. "I'm sorry! I just didn't want to be a burden to you, so I didn't ask for help…"
Even Suigetsu was dumbstruck. "Hey… Are you Ayame, by any chance?"
She grinned widely at us. "No, I'm Sakura! I thought you knew me, Sui-Nii…"
Suigetsu cocked a brow and sweatdropped. "S… Sui… Nii? What kind of nickname is that?" He then reached his hand out to her. My body suddenly made a move to stop him. "Relax, Sasuke, I'm just going to pat her." He did as he said. Suigetsu simply rubbed her head, which she seemed to like. "I'm just glad you're safe. I'm sure this guy is too."
"This isn't really like you, is it, Suigetsu?" I muttered. "You usually have a rather belligerent personality."
"Yeah, well, you can't really feel good when you make a child cry, right?" he replied. He stood up and cracked his neck. "Besides, things just got interesting around here," he whispered to me, "She thinks you're her older bro, and I feel like Sakura might've created an Ayame personality – a split personality." He smirked and gave a chuckle. "There's no way I can hurt that kind of child now, can I?"
I averted my eyes from Suigetsu to Sakura, who was squeezing the water from her hair. Was there no way to get Sakura back, but to wait? I sighed, pushing the problem aside. I was beginning to stall. I needed to hurry and go find Karin and Juugo now. "We're going." I stood up and continued our detour to the Country of Mist.
"Ah! Wait, Sasuke!" Suigetsu also stood up and followed me. He then stopped to look back at Sakura. "You coming, little lady?"
Sakura looked up and nodded. But when she attempted to stand, she fell back on her knees. "…" She pouted. "I can't stand…"
"Are you serious…?" I sighed.
"Oh! Then I'll carry ya!" Suigetsu walked back to pick up Sakura in his arms. "You don't mind, right?" He seemed to be asking me for permission. I wished I could've said that I didn't give a damn. I rolled my eyes and began walking again. "I guess not." Suigetsu picked her up and chased after me. "You're a lot lighter than I expected you to be."
"That's rude!" Sakura exclaimed. "How heavy do you think children are?" She grabbed a few strands of Suigetsu's hair and pulled them. "You're such a meanie!"
"OW!" Suigetsu cried out. "Ow, ow, ow, ow! Quit it!" He seemed to enjoy himself though. "Let's see you take this!" He then placed her on his side and started rubbing her head with his knuckle.
"No!" she squealed. "Not my hair, not my hair!"
What a nuisance, I thought. I was actually beginning to prefer the silent, but violent Sakura. Ayame seemed too loud and…
"You're so annoying."
My thoughts stopped at the phrase. I suddenly remembered that phrase I told Sakura when I left Konoha. It was as if she brought everything I tried to forget back to me. I hated it. I despised it. Yet I couldn't help but let the memories flow into my head. I looked back to see the two chatting contently. I believed that Suigetsu would make a better older brother than I would.
He seemed to have a soft spot for children, whether Sakura was 16 or not.
We were still a long way to go before we arrived to the Country of Mist. I calculated that we'll make it around late morning…
Sakura's stomach suddenly growled loudly. "U-um… I-I'm sorry…" She blushed a deep red and hid her face from both of us.
Make that late afternoon.
She then looked at me and averted her eyes. "D-don't mind me. I'll be okay."
I just couldn't ignore her. "You were watching me fight Orochimaru, weren't you?" She nodded nervously. I then knew that she must've vomited her breakfast at the sight of white snake heads falling out into the hallway. "I guess I can't blame you."
"Whoa there, since when did you have a soft spot for children?" Suigetsu asked. "I thought you were a man of iron, sir," he sarcastically added. After giving him a good glare, he laughed. "I'm kidding, man. But we're humans after all. I'm sure there's something that you enjoy doing or being with." He reached into his pockets. "You can keep walking."
I shrugged and walked on.
"Let's see… I'm sure I had one in here, somewhere- Ah!" He took out a chocolate bar from one of his pockets. "I smuggled it out of the kitchen while I was looking around. You can eat it."
Sakura swallowed, looking hungrily at the chocolate. "The whole thing?"
"Of course. I don't have much need for it." He smirked when Sakura bit one corner off and chewed it slowly. "You haven't had too many sweets ever since you got here, have you?"
"No, but it couldn't be helped. Sasuke Nii-Chan," I winced at the word, "was always worrying about me, telling me that I might be kidnapped and stuff." Nii-Chan. Nii-Chan. Why was she calling me that? I couldn't understand. I never acted as a brotherly figure to her at all! But why?
Later on, we stopped by a stream with fresh and clean water. Suigetsu had to refill his bottle, Sakura wanted to cool off, and I was feeling slightly thirsty myself.
While we were cooking some fish, Sakura came from the stream. She was carrying a few white rocks in her shirt.
"Ne, Sakura, I wanna ask you something. Come over here."
I took a sip of water from my bottle. The cool water felt refreshing against my parched throat. After a few more seconds of silence, Sakura giggled. I opened my eyes to see what she was giggling about.
"I don't like Sasuke Nii-Chan. I absolutely LOVE him!" she declared. "I want to grow up fast and become his bride someday!"
The water suddenly tasted strange and climbed back up my throat. I spewed the water out, nearly making both Suigetsu and Sakura jump. I coughed while wiping the water off my mouth. "What are you saying?" I coughed out.
Suigetsu was holding in his laughter. But he couldn't endure it. He burst into a laughing fit. "You should've seen yourself! Your eyes went so wide when she said that!"
Meanwhile, Sakura was steaming red from embarrassment. "What do you have against me, Sui-Nii?" She started pounding her fists against his head. "Baka, baka, baka!" I couldn't help but feel annoyed, but it wasn't towards Sakura or Suigetsu. I sighed, wondering what in the world I was annoyed at. Sakura seemed rather happy playing around with Suigetsu.
"Are you done eating now?"
"Mhm!" Sakura nodded. "Let's get going!"
I sighed and stood up. We put out the fire and went on our way. Suigetsu was behind me, quietly humming a tune. Sakura was beside me, trying to catch up as fast she can. This is going to take a while, I grimly thought. We came across a large log blocking the path. Suigetsu and I were able to go over it easily, but not Sakura.
"Shouldn't we help her?" Suigetsu asked. "I mean, that collar limits chakra output. There's no way she, as a child, can climb up the log anyways."
"… Fine." I landed on top of the log and watched Sakura trying to use the dents of the log to climb up. But they weren't deep enough for her to use it to boost her up. I almost thought it was amusing. I grabbed the collar of her shirt and quickly pulled her up to my shoulder. "You're not walking anymore. You're only going to slow us down."
Sakura smiled a little sadly. "Sorry, Nii-Chan. I can't help it that I'm just a child…" She scratched her head while laughing nervously. "Ne, Nii-Chan?"
"U-um, do you think you can forget about what I said earlier?"
I already knew what she meant. I too wanted to forget what she declared out to the world. "About what?" I dryly replied. Seeing Sakura's satisfied expression, I rolled my eyes smugly at her. I then remembered. "You didn't really get much a good rest because of what happened this morning, did you?" She shook her head, the replay of the scene returning to her eyes.
She may have switched with Ayame, but it didn't mean her memories were also lost. My hand suddenly shot up to rub her head. I was surprised at what I was doing. What was going on with me?
But looking at such an innocent girl who had no clue of her surroundings… I couldn't leave her alone. I felt like I was looking at my younger self before Itachi murdered the clan. A young child, who only wanted to be by his or her older sibling's side, get their undivided attention, and to be spoiled by… That was just like me. And now, it was Sakura.
Unfortunately, how could I not ignore her?
"Nii-Chan, you're messing up my hair!" she cried. My attention jerked away from my thoughts and noticed that her hair became puffy. "Geez…"
Suigetsu started chuckling behind us. "What were you daydreaming about? You've been rubbing her head for a minute, man."
"Hn." I shifted my arms to give her a better position to sit. "Get some rest. It might take a while for us to arrive." Our eyes met and I knew that she seemed uncomfortable about this. "It's not like I'm going to abandon you." I can't, anyways, I thought. "I don't mind… I guess."
In minutes, I heard soft and even breathing from her. She must've been very exhausted since she fell asleep this quickly. I looked back at Suigetsu, who seemed to mind his own business about something else.
We finally arrived to the border of the Country of Mist. Many things changed the last time I was here. That was three to four years ago. It brought back so many memories of Team 7.
Suigetsu took another drink and smirked. "What do ya think, Sasuke?"
I looked up to see large sign that introduced the name of the bridge gate. It read 'The Great Naruto Bridge'. My lips parted at the nostalgia of it. A soft breeze blew, carrying the fragrance of the salty sea and the forest. I tasted a slight bitterness in my mouth after staring at the now completed bridge. "Huh."
"I don't care about it. Let's go." I adjusted my arms slowly, not to wake Sakura. She was still in deep sleep, undisturbed by the sound of the waves and construction noises. I lead him to Zabuza's grave, where we placed his sword behind his cross. "There it is."
It was obvious that no one bothered to come across here. There were tall grass and flowers growing everywhere. But I thought it seemed fit than a clean-cut area. The two crosses were left in peace, at least.
"Never thought it'd be all the way out here." Suigetsu walked over to the grave and grabbed the hilt of the large sword. "I'll be taking this, Zabuza-Senpai." He lifted it off the ground with a rough sound of the metal tip being dragged from the dirt. Years passed and the blade didn't even get dull. Suigetsu held the giant sword in the air, his arms slightly trembling at the weight. "Damn, this is heavy. So this is the sword of "Zabuza the Devil" of the Village of Bloody Mist."
I looked at Sakura again. She still hasn't woken up yet. It was already mid-afternoon too.
"Can you actually wield it?" I asked out of curiosity. I didn't think he'd be able to do so from how his arms were trembling. But knowing him, I was sure he'd be able to find a way.
"Are you kidding? I trained like crazy so I can join the "Seven Mist Swordsmen" someday," he replied, "There's no way I can't wield it." He then gave me a smug look. "I can probably even beat you with such a great sword like this." He then wrapped the blade with a leather holder and strapped it around his back. "I figured I'd need this since Juugo's tagging along with us. You know what I mean, right?"
I smirked, knowing exactly what he meant.
After a deep breath, Suigetsu straightened his back. "Alright! Let's head to the closest base."
We quickly paced ourselves to reach the next base. The base where Karin was placed in.
I shifted my arms again. Suigetsu tapped my shoulder. "Hey, do you want me to hold her? You look like your arms are going to fall off any minute." I was hesitant to hand Sakura over to him. That blade on his shoulder was glaring with danger towards Sakura. "Dude, it's not like I'm to cut her with this. I'll make sure she's safe, boss."
"I'm fine," I replied. "Keep walking." My arms were numb. NUMB. But I didn't want to hand Sakura over to him. Something about her… There was something about Sakura… "What's wrong with me?" I inaudibly muttered under my breath.
Her small hand twitched against my shoulder. Her pink hair brushed against my neck, leaving a tickling sensation on it. The sound of her soft breathing was most of what I could hear.
"Sasuke…" My arm went stiff. "Kun…" My heart felt like it suddenly dropped down to my stomach. I didn't look at her, nor did I stop walking. She called me like how she always used to… how she used to call me back then. I wasn't going to let that bother me. Those times felt like nothing to me. "Don't go…" Ignore it. She's just having a nightmare again.
Was she faking Ayame's personality? She most likely would have. But then again, she became Ayame out of the blue like that. I was beginning to wonder if Ayame was just some kind of subconscious defense mechanism.
"Uh, Sasuke, is she crying?" Suigetsu suddenly asked. I snapped out of my thoughts and realized that my shoulder felt warm with drops of tears. Suigetsu approached us in a cautious manner. "What did you just do to her?"
"I did nothing," I hissed at him.
Suigetsu smacked himself with his hand. "Well, do something about it. Don't you know how to take care of a child?"
Memories were flowing into my vision. I suddenly remembered something that Itachi – why did he appear – did for me when I couldn't stop crying. "Not sure if this will help." I gently patted her back in a rhythmic pattern. I occasionally brushed her hair with my fingertips. "Is she stopping?"
"Yeah, she stopped," he answered. "Nice going, Sasuke. You really pulled through on this one." I sighed in relief and kept walking. "You know…" I turned around to look at Suigetsu. "I know that Sakura's your friend, but have you ever thought of killing her?" My nerves felt like they had overexposure to snow and ice. That burning yet cold feeling was threatening to burst out of my heart.
"Hn, why do you ask?" I asked. It was thanks to these past years that I was able to manage my self-control.
Holding the back of his head with his hands, Suigetsu shrugged. "I mean, I've always thought you'd see her as a major eyesore." He exhaled, blowing a few strands of hair away from his face. "I seriously thought that she'd end up dead in a few months after she was assigned to ya." Suigetsu scratched the back of his head. "Ignore that 'killing her' question. I was just wondering."
"Next time, you should be more wary of your words." I adjusted my position of my arms once again.
"I'm surprised though."
I turned to him with a questioning expression. Just what did he mean by that?
"You know how some people can't come to ignore kids?" he first asked. "I thought Sakura would turn you into someone without any qualities of a leader… although I will admit that you did turn a little soft for children. I'm just making a point here that you haven't changed into such a low-life." That didn't bother me at all. It was expected of someone who had a little child as a slave. "Moreover, she was deemed as your 'slave' – the Uchiha's property."
I squinted my eyes in disgust, knowing where he was going to. "Don't you even dare speak of that."
"What do you expect me to say?" Suigetsu murmured. "Everyone was talking about it when you let her follow you." He drank more water and wiped his mouth. "Plus, there was this one guard that was muttering something about you not being that type." He nervously averted his eyes to the right and sweatdropped. "You didn't… molester her… or anything, right?"
"Molest?" I sharply repeated.
Then, everything began to replay. I knew what he meant by that now. It was that time when I finished showering and Sakura was embarrassed about what others would think. However, when I felt the chakra of a mere Sound Nin, I pulled her into an embrace. I mentally smacked myself for how stupid that was now.
"Yeah, he was patrolling near my tank." Suigetsu tapped his chin in thought. "The guy kept saying how THE Uchiha Sasuke was found hugging a little girl."
I pinched the bridge of my nose in irritation. I didn't want any more stress than I had. "… Fuck it all." I had no time to make up a logical excuse. I sensed that Sakura was waking up. "Hurry up and wake up."
Sakura rubbed her eyes sleepily and yawned. She couldn't open her eyes from the sudden exposure to the bright sunlight. "Mmph…" She burrowed her head into my shirt, continuing to rub her eyes. "What time is it…?"
"It's about mid noon, sleepyhead," Suigetsu teased. "You were sleeping for a long time, weren't you?" He poked her forehead and grinned. "So what was your nightmare about?"
Although her eyes were closed, she was looking at Suigetsu's direction with a puzzled face. "Nightmare? What do you mean?"
Suigetsu's eyes perked up in surprise. "You don't remember anything? You were crying in your sleep earlier."
"O-oh, was I?" she stuttered in embarrassment. "Oh gee, I can't believe you saw that…" After one last yawn, she checked her surroundings. "So… where are we going?" That oblivious innocence of hers would surely be taken advantage of someday… but I wasn't going to allow that.
"We're going to the closest base to get the new recruit." I was slightly uneasy from the silence that followed afterwards. I looked at her – only to find that she had no idea of the words I had said. "… We're going to meet the new member. Is that dumbed down enough for you?"
"Yes, sir." Sakura pursed her lips and looked forward. We finally arrived to a vast ocean. All I was able to see were ocean and sky. "The new member is in an island, right?" She narrowed her eyes to make out anything like an island. "I can't see it… Does that mean we have to walk really far…?"
"Bingo." Suigetsu pointed toward the horizon. "The new member – who is a girl – is in an island hideout. She is extremely annoying. She is way too loyal to Orochimaru… after all he's done to her and etc." Why was he keep emphasizing that the new member was a girl? There was no point in doing so to Sakura. "Plus, that girl can get damn stupid when it comes to him."
Sakura sighed and leaned her chin on top of my shoulder. "Sui-Nii, stop teasing me. It's not gonna work," she muttered. "Besides, Sasuke-Nii won't fall for any girl. I learned that from experience!" What I didn't get was that she proudly declared it. "You won't make me falter, mister!" She then fell silent as we continued to walk on the ocean water, the sound of waves echoing in our ears.
"Sasuke-Nii, did you really want to kill me before?"
Suigetsu perked up in shock, while my eyes slightly widened. However, I kept my pace. "Uh… When did you hear that, Sakura?" Suigetsu nervously asked. "Don't tell me you were awake when I asked that." Sakura shook her head.
"I… I don't know. I just felt like I heard something like killing me." Another sigh came from Sakura as she shook her head once again. Then her eyes seemed like she caught on to Suigetsu. "Wait, you asked him if he wanted to kill me?"
"Yeah I did," Suigetsu confirmed. "I'm not exactly the nice guy you thought I was, right?"
"Hm, you're mean." Sakura stuck out her tongue. "But I'm not scared of you, Sui-Nii. I've seen worse."
A mischievous grin spread on Suigetsu's face. "Oh, is that a challenge I hear, little girl?" He feigned a grab at his sword, which I felt her twitch at. "But if I took this baby out, Sasuke would probably turn me into sushi." Suigetsu shielded his eyes from the blazing sun. "Goddammit, how much longer do we have to walk?"
"Just a little longer. Be patient." I was able to recognize a familiar island sitting on the surface of the ocean. "We'll get there before an hour."
We were finally within the range of the southern hideout. It was already mid-noon, when the sun was at its peak. It was rather hot, but there was no time to waste. I had to hurry and recruit the last member after her.
"Hey, can I ask ya something?" Suigetsu suddenly broke the long silence ever since he complained. I felt like that small interval helped me stabilize my mind. I didn't feel any confusion whatsoever now. Sakura remained silent this whole time, which I think definitely helped.
I guessed it wouldn't be a stupid question if he decided to ask something now. "Sure." If it was stupid, I wouldn't answer.
"Why're you recruiting us?" Ah, I expected such a question from him.
"I have to carry out a certain plan. I felt it would be accomplished efficiently with a full platoon." We continued to walk on the tranquil ocean, the seagulls calling among their comrades above us. But it didn't quite help how I finally lost feeling in my arms. I couldn't allow that… not now. "Suigetsu."
Suigetsu's eyes perked up at me. "What?"
"Hold her." I felt a bit of resistance against giving her up – again – but I refused to lose my strength now. Sakura lowered her head but she didn't make an objection.
"Whoa, I'm surprised." Suigetsu gently took Sakura off my hands and held her carefully. "I'm guessing you now noticed that you can't hold a child forever, huh?" He gave her back a small pat. "No worries. This little brat will be safe with me." Sakura puffed her cheeks out at him. "Heh."
I gave him the longest stare I can manage before going ahead. Brat, he says, I thought.
"So why me?" Suigetsu then asked.
"I've been planning this ever since I joined Orochimaru. I picked you all out a long time ago." I heard Suigetsu chuckle to himself. "What?"
Suigetsu rolled his eyes when he laid eyes on the hideout. "Why would you pick Karin though? She's totally loyal to Orochimaru, unlike us. She'd be the last person to recruit, if I were you." Something glinted in his eyes. "We were both experimented on a lot… Plus, she got a damn shitty attitude."
I glanced at him. Karin was strange, I had to admit. There were times when she would act like a complete different person. But still… "There may have been many strong shinobi that I could've recruited, but she has unique abilities. I need her for this plan."
"Pfft." Suigetsu shook his head as if it can't be helped. "Yeah, well… She's unique, I'll give you that." I was facing forward but I heard Suigetsu. "What's wrong, Sakura?"
Why? What's wrong with her?
… was what I probably wanted to ask.
We were now within the halls of the hideout. It was a long hallway full of different prisons. There were so many prisoners in this hideout. We walked past the last prison box, giving them a glance before going on. I felt like one of the prisoners noticed who I was.
This was one way to relay the news.
I heard a few exclaims behind us. I was sure they were talking about my reason for being here. We continued walking until we spotted a very familiar person. It was her.
"I knew it…" the girl muttered. That person was Karin. "If you're alone… then it must be true." She then noticed Sakura, who was still asleep. "And you brought that little girl here too…" I wasn't sure if it was just my imagination, but it seemed as if Karin was glaring at Sakura.
"Tch, what am I, chopped liver?" Suigetsu scoffed.
Karin ignored him and asked sternly, "What do you want?"
Suigetsu showed his shark-like grin. "Sasuke's got a preposition for ya. Can you take us to a room or something? I'm seriously tired after walking so much. I don't wanna stand and listen to your yap."
The redhead rolled her eyes. "Hmph." She turned around and walked through the halls. We followed her into a nearby room. "So what is this preposition that Suigetsu's talking about?" We sat down on the sofas at the corner of the room. Sakura was sitting near Suigetsu, alternating glances from me to Karin. "And why did you bring her along? She's just a slave, isn't she?"
Sakura lowered her head, trying to avoid Karin's eyes. "I-I'm not." That was the only counter that she was able to manage saying. Suigetsu ruffled Sakura's hair, to reassure her I assumed.
"She's not a slave," I sharply stated, a cold venom coating my tone. "Anyways, come with me, Karin," I ordered firmly, "I need you for something."
She stood there, gaping at me for a moment. "Huh? Why do I have to follow you? I'm in charge of this place, you know!" It seems she just didn't get my point.
"Then what about the captives, hm?"
Those prisoners were nothing. Besides, they had nothing to do with any of this in the beginning. They deserved to be set free… to pass on the message. "Suigetsu, go free the captives."
"What are you-?" Karin gasped.
Suigetsu smirked. "Still acting like the boss, eh?" He looked at Sasuke. "Do you want me to leave her with you, or should I take her?" He then looked at Sakura, who was fiddling with her fingers. "Wanna go with Sui-Nii?" (Saying it like that, he sounded like a pedophile.)
Sakura nodded and grabbed Suigetsu's offered hand. "I want to see those people go. They don't deserve to be locked up…" I didn't care whether she went or not. If she tried to escape – which I knew wouldn't happen – Suigetsu would grab her anyways. But even so, I kept track of her chakra while talking to Karin.
"Don't you dare!" Karin threatened the two. But it was futile. "I still refuse to follow you! I have my own freedom, you know!" Suigetsu and Sakura went out the door and closed it with a click.
Then I guessed I just had to give up. "Fine. If you oppose that strongly, I'll find someone else." There were plenty of others I could recruit after all. Suddenly, Karin rushed to the door and locked it. My brows furrowed in slight confusion. Was she trying to trap me?
"I'll come with you." Karin smiled at me, which left me even more confused. Just what was she getting at? She then approached me, taking off her glasses. "If you really want me to, I'll go with you. I'm totally tired of this guarding job anyways."
This just did not make sense to me. Why did she change her mind so quickly? But that was not what made me feel uncomfortable. Her shoulder was slightly rubbing against mine. I didn't like it when someone just barged into my breathing space. I found strange how I didn't mind Sakura around me though. "Back off, would you?" I tried to push her away from me, but she wouldn't budge.
"Oh come on," she kept whispering at me. "We don't need that water boy and that little brat. All we need is each other." I felt myself stiffen from the uneasy tension.
"Sui-Nii, what are you-?" I heard Sakura shout from behind the locked door. Was Suigetsu doing something to her? No, he didn't. That was when the door was sliced into pieces. Karin jumped away from me in a hurry. The dust cleared, revealing Suigetsu and Sakura. One of Suigetsu's arms had become bulgy with muscle as he leaned on his sword with his other normal arm.
Sakura was gripping onto Suigetsu's pants with all her strength. She must've been frightened. Sakura originally wouldn't have, but she had become Ayame for now after all. "Sa… Sasuke-Nii!" She ran over to me, close to tears. She hopped into my arms, trembling from fear. I cocked a brow at Suigetsu, warning him not to do that in front of her again.
"C'mon, let's get the fuck outta here." Suigetsu's eyes averted to Karin. "Karin obviously doesn't want to come, so what's the point of staying here?"
I shook my head. "She changed her mind, actually." I pursed my lips as I patted Sakura's head as gently as possible.
Karin adjusted her glasses. "I didn't I was going to follow you! I… It's just a coincidence that I'm headed in the same direction as you!" she strongly retorted. I still didn't get what she was up to. Her personality switched so quickly.
Suigetsu grinned at Karin again. "Lucky us, huh? So you'll be hanging out with us for a while, right?"
"Just for a while, water boy!" Karin firmly repeated.
As Suigetsu's arm shrunk, Suigetsu stated, "Juugo's last, I see." He then placed his sword back to his leather holder. "Let's hurry then."
"Juugo? Are you kidding me?" Karin asked, surprised by the last member. "You need his help too?"
Suigetsu and Karin broke into a verbal battle and Sakura quietly followed me while clinging onto the hem of my pants. The last destination was the North hideout, the base where Juugo was located in. We finally stepped outside into the bright sunlight. I had some difficulty adjusting to the sudden change of brightness.
"More walking?" Suigetsu whined. "Come on…"
"Going to the North hideout is suicide," Karin warned, "We'll be dead in moments."
"I've only seen it on the maps, but is it really that dangerous?" Suigetsu asked.
Karin was silent for a few seconds. "That place… was the main site for human experimentations. It's literally a home of the most horrible and unnatural beasts."
I heard a light sigh coming from Sakura. What was she thinking about…?
I was horrified. I didn't think there would be a hideout just for the purpose for experimenting on humans like that. My senses as a medic refused to believe so, but this was Orochimaru we were talking about.
There was no way that he wouldn't leave a single human out for experimentation.
Sasuke was one of them, I realized. That moment when he got bit… That was an experiment too…! I sighed at how horrible Orochimaru was.
It was extremely short, but I believed that I relieved most of my stress now. Watching the soft side of Sasuke and unexpected kindness from Suigetsu felt comforting enough. Perhaps I created the personality of Ayame to reveal their nature deep inside. Well, that was cheesy. I felt a smile flicker on my face.
"Maybe it's time… although it was short." I approached the same door I met Ayame. I slightly hesitated to knock on this warm door. What would Sasuke do once I returned to normal? Would he treat me similarly to Ayame? Or would he push me away and keep his distance instead? "I'd prefer the latter though," I bitterly muttered.
With a deep breath, I softly knocked on the door.
"Ayame, I have something to talk to you about." Ayame opened the door and looked up at me with such innocent eyes. "I don't think I'm 100% ready to return to normal…" She smiled and nodded. "Even though you're a child, I'm sure you have my instinct as a medic, right?"
"Of course, Sakura-Nee!" she sang. "From what Tsunade-Sama taught you, I have learned what a medic does! I won't let anyone, no matter who it is, die in front of my eyes!"
I giggled at her cute determination. I really must've created a split personality. "Good girl." I tousled her hair a bit and sighed. "I'm counting on you, Ayame. I'm sure I'll be ready when all the members are recruited. I'm just not so sure about that last one, considering how he's the source of the curse seal." I grabbed Ayame's tiny hands. "Be careful, okay?"
Ayame nodded with confidence. "I promise."
We only walked about a third of the distance to the North hideout, but Suigetsu wanted to take a break.
"You're such a lazy bastard, Suigetsu!" Karin exclaimed. "The North hideout is still a long way!"
"Oh? I thought you were headed to another place." Suigetsu sipped more of his water. "Just get the hell out of our lives, will you?" This ticked Karin off and she punched him in the face. But of course, his punched head had turned into water. "Damn you, bitch."
"Hey, I just happened to have some business there!"
While those two were discussing about their goals, I watched over Sakura. She was sitting beside my feet on the ground, munching on a piece of bread that she had saved from this morning. I listened to Suigetsu's motive for following me, although it was a little vague for Karin. Then, they started discussing about Juugo and his reason of approaching Orochimaru on his own will.
Then, something caught my attention.
"Juugo bottled up those urges to murder inside him. But sometimes, he'd snap, forget himself, and turn into a murderous demon." Karin pushed her glasses up to the bridge of her nose. "Orochimaru became interested in his ability and created a special enzyme to make normal shinobi enter a similar state."
My eyes averted near my neck, knowing what she meant. Juugo was the source of the curse mark. I found Sakura looking at me in worry. I couldn't help but give a small reassuring smile to her. I rubbed her head, which she seemed to really like. "Let's go." I lifted her into my arms and stood up. "We don't have all day, got it?"
It took about an hour to finally arrive to the North hideout.
"I don't wanna walk anymore!" Suigetsu complained once again.
"Get off your lazy ass and move! We're practically here, Suigetsu!" Karin screeched. She faced him with a stern expression. "That sword is too heavy! Just ditch that piece of metal!"
Right when Suigetsu was about to retort, I noticed someone fallen on the ground. "Hey, over there." We rushed there, finding that it was a guard. He was heavily injured, on the verge of death.
"The captives… started a… riot…" the guard coughed out. "At this rate…"
Sakura then pushed me out of the way and seemed to analyze his condition. "You shouldn't talk, mister! I'll help!" She took a deep breath and the warm, green glow of chakra appeared on her hand. She was healing the guard! I narrowed my eyes. Was Sakura just feigning Ayame's personality? No, it still wouldn't make sense. If she was feigning, her habit of escaping wouldn't have changed. I was certain of at least that.
"I-impossible…" Karin gasped in surprise. "How can a child do such…" She then pretended to be indifferent to Sakura's ability.
Suddenly, Karin caught on to an oncoming attacker. "Watch out!"
"Take them, Suigetsu!" I ordered. He carried the guard and Sakura to another place, not harming the guard than he already is. "I'll take care of this."
The attacker slammed against the ground, bits and fragments of rocks shooting out everywhere. A human with beast-like features revealed himself. It was a level 2 curse seal transformation. Without a moment's hesitation, I slashed the captive on the neck.
The captive's curse seal disappeared within seconds. He then dropped dead from the loss of blood.
"Sasuke-Nii!" Sakura shouted in horror. "D-did you kill him?"
I teleported back to where Sakura and Suigetsu were. She was still healing the guard with steady effort, occasionally adding in more chakra. "I didn't." I then looked at the hideout, thinking of the possibilities of what's awaiting us.
Dead guards were a definite yes.
"I didn't know you could use medic abilities. Why would you heal a mere guard though?" Suigetsu asked out of curiosity. "He's just a guard, ya know."
Sakura shook her head frantically. "I just can't let them die! It's against what I've learned!" She was overworking herself just to heal a single guard. He was going to die anyways. "There." I stood corrected. "You'll be okay now, mister. But don't make any sudden or straining movements." Despite her height, she hid the guard behind a large rock. "Please stay here, okay?"
The guard weakly muttered a word of thanks and a smile bubbled to Sakura's face. I shook my head and picked Sakura up. "You are forbidden to walk from now on. You're sticking with us."
"You're already depleted of your chakra. If you can't protect yourself from what's inside, you'll die." Sakura's chakra had decreased so much. I couldn't risk her losing consciousness now. "We're going in."
We entered the hideout, finding nothing… no one. We walked in a little deeper into the hideout. What was waiting for us was a group of transformed captives, looking hungry for blood.
"All the guards are dead."
Suigetsu whistled. "How are we supposed to find Juugo among these guys?"
I glanced at Karin. "Karin, is Juugo in there?"
Karin sighed in frustration. "Alright! Don't order me around." She took a moment to sense the chakra signatures of the group. "Nope, he's not in there."
"Then we can go all-out on these guys, am I right?" Suigetsu amusedly asked.
"Just don't attack the vital points," I warned. "Karin, take her." I handed Sakura over to Karin, who looked extremely irritated about holding her. "If you do any funny business, you're not going to get away with it so easily."
"Hmph! Fine!" Karin put Sakura on her back. "You guys better finish it before I come back." She ran into the next hallway to look for the keys to Juugo's prison.
It took us minutes to take the group down. They were all weaklings. Why were they even experimented on if they couldn't even put up a fight? The sound of jingling averted my attention to Karin.
"I found the keys!" She held a ring of many keys up. "And take this girl off me!"
"N-no, no, I'll get off." Sakura jumped off Karin and landed on the ground. "I'll be fine, so you don't have to attend to me every second, Sasuke-Nii." She gave me a reassuring smile that she was completely fine. I was slightly hesitant, but I let her do whatever she wants. She followed behind us as we walked through the halls. I constantly looked back in case she ran away.
We then came to an intersecting hallway.
"Alright then… Lead the way, Karin." Suigetsu looked around, noting how each hallway was extremely long.
"Why are you doing this, Sasuke?" Karin seemed a little desperate in asking this.
Suigetsu smugly rolled his eyes. "Just tell us the direction. You're always bragging about your ability, so why don't you make yourself useful by using it right now?"
"Hmph." Karin closed her eyes, sensing where Juugo is. She then tilted her thumb to the right hallway. "He's that way."
"Finally…" We made a turn to the right and proceeded to find Juugo's cell. Sakura followed behind Suigetsu, while Karin and I were behind her.
Karin suddenly stopped me. She then grabbed my sleeve and dragged me to the corridor that went straight from where we originally were. "He's actually this way. Let's hurry, Sasuke!"
This girl was seriously not making any sense to me now. "Then why did you lie? Suigetsu's heading the wrong way now." We were already far into the hall. Plus, Sakura was alone with Suigetsu… again. A sharp and piercing feeling was churning inside me. I suddenly had the urge to call out to her.
But unfortunately, we were too far to be heard. I was sure that even my voice wouldn't be able to echo that far. I checked to see if Sakura's chakra was fine. It was still low, but I could tell that she was fine.
"Okay, stop pulling me. I can walk by myself." Half my attention was focused on Sakura's location. The other half was preparing for what Juugo was going to put me through. We finally arrived to a well-secured cell. There were locks, locks, locks, and chains. I assumed this was what the ring of keys was for.
Karin approached the door and began to unlock the locks one by one. As she did so, I felt a malicious chakra emitting from inside. I had to be careful with this. She then finished with unlocking the whole door. That's when the chakra spiked up ominously. I held my arm out. "Step back, Karin." I opened the door a bit, only to be greeted by…
"JACKPOT! YOU'RE DEAD!"
A/N: I hope this is good enough? This isn't exactly my first time writing this story for Hana, but I haven't thought about this for a while. Anyways, sorry about Hana. She's dealing with a major writer's block, not artist's block. So until she gets over it, I suppose I'll have to write this. :/