A/N: Hey guys! How've ya'll been?
I want to take a second to say thank you for the reviews, Storm has made it past the two-hundred mark! A special shout out to SUZYQ for helping me pass the threshold. Thank you guys so much, I appreciate the awesome feedback!
Anyway, this chapter was drawn from a lot of musical inspiration, but the songs that really helped me catch the overall tone were:
Future Starts Slow, The Kills
Degausser, Brand New
Hurricane, MS MR
Take a listen if you like. I hope you enjoy the chapter!
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
Chapter 9: Reignited Fixation
A fever came over Sasuke that night. Sweat dotted his brow as his body fought against the Nibi's fading chakra. Sakura had remained awake, maintaining her end of their arrangement as she watched over him as he tossed and turned while the malicious natural energy ran its course. By noon the following day, his fever had fallen, leaving the shinobi to finally release the tension that had overtaken him.
Sakura gently dabbed away the sweat that had accumulated on his face. She smiled thankfully at Juugo when the older man exchanged the soiled linen for a clean rag. "He should be okay now," she piped up when she caught sight of Juugo's pensive gaze. "Most of the Nibi's chakra is gone. We'll just have to wait a few more hours before I go ahead and finish healing him properly."
"He's isn't the only one I worry about, Sakura-san." Juugo said quietly as his orange eyes met hers and took in her bedraggled appearance. "You haven't had a chance to look after yourself since coming back."
It was true; though she had healed herself by the time she and Sasuke returned to the grotto, the dirt and blood that were caked on had dried before the heat of the fire, the patches began flaking from where they still clung on her pale skin. Her clothes had also seen better days; her netted abdomen still exposed after her dark shirt had been sliced open from Sasuke's attack, and she didn't even want to begin to imagine the bird's nest her hair surely resembled.
The kunoichi let out a defeated sigh as she nodded in complacency. "You're right." She stretched languidly before standing. "I'm gonna go and wash all this grime off, in the meantime please keep an eye on him."
The large man nodded, and with that, Sakura walked over to her pack and took her leave.
The water of the nearby creek was freezing, but Sakura made her way into the water regardless. It wasn't very deep, only barely reaching her navel, however, the strength of the current was more than enough to make up for it.
She took her time washing, meticulously scrubbing away at the blood and dirt until her skin was tender and pink beneath her fingertips. Positive that all traces of blood were completely removed, Sakura did a quick sweep of the surrounding foliage with her chakra before she ducked beneath the water and removed the last of her garments. After giving them a quick rinse, her mesh top and shorts landed on the bank with a wet plop as she haphazardly laid them down to dry on top of a boulder beneath the midday sun.
Taking a deep breath, Sakura dove underwater once more, working her fingers through her knotted hair and scalp in a meager attempt to wash out the accumulated dirt and oil. Her scalp was tender by the end of it, but Sakura didn't mind. There was a time during her self-imposed banishment where she did that often, almost enjoying the raw tenderness she inflicted on herself. It told her that the void of loneliness and sadness she felt weren't the only things she was capable of feeling. It had been a dark time for her, one that could have literally and figuratively drowned her had it not been for the memory of her loved ones and how disappointed they'd be if she let the situation get the best of her. She was a strong kunoichi, one trained by a Kage at that. Her skills were nothing to scoff at, and she was the best medic in Fire Country following Tsunade-sama and Shizune. She was not weak and had not been in a very long time. There was no way that she would've allowed herself to give in to the depression she fell into during the first eighteen months of her exile.
Breaking the surface, Sakura wiped the water from her eyes as she stood to full height and released the smooth stone she'd picked up. She was not pleased to find Suigetsu's disfigured head from where he stood on the bank of the creek.
"You know, that actually hurt." He griped as the stone clattered on the bedrock and skipped back into the water.
"Serves you right for peeping." She growled as she ducked underwater.
"If I wanted to peep don't you think I'd be in the water instead of on the shore?" He retorted as his head finally rearranged itself. Purple eyes settled on her and his frown quickly gave way to a lewd grin. "Besides, it's not exactly peeping if you're the one putting on the free show."
Scowling at the state of her appearance, Sakura crossed her arms over her chest tightly and sunk further. She glared at him from just over the top of the water's surface, her anger growing when he threw back his head and let loose a howl of laughter.
"Grow up, Suigetsu." She snapped.
For his part the Mist-nin tried to smother his sniggers, only to fail miserably. They eventually died down to chuckles before he could get another word in. "I am grown, Kitten... and so are you from the looks of things."
"Suigetsu," She warned.
"Alright, alright. We'll drop the subject of your nudity issues for the moment. Honestly though, I just happened to run into you. I came to see what the disturbance was when I wasn't able to catch any fish for lunch."
Sakura frowned. "Well, it was me. You can leave now."
"Okay, okay." He placated. "But really, you shouldn't be embarrassed; you've got a rather nice pair of—"
"Leave!" Sakura's yell was punctuated with a large rock she hurled his way.
The Mist-nin made a hasty retreat at that point and narrowly managed to avoid the flying projectile as it hurtled past him and snapped a nearby tree in half. Satisfied with the quick pace in which he left with, Sakura allowed herself a few more minutes to wrap up her pseudo bath. It wasn't until Suigetsu was long gone, and she was ready to leave the creek, that Sakura finally noticed that her clothes and pack were missing from the bank.
Everything but a clean roll of chest bindings and a clean pair of the tiny black shorts she liked to wear under her pants.
She swore she could hear him sniggering all the way back to camp.
A thunderous bang brought Sasuke back to the world of the living.
Dark eyes opened slowly, their blurred vision cleared rapidly as he slowly blinked away the remnants of sleep. Despite having just woken up, his limbs felt heavy with fatigue, and he found that the searing pain in his side hadn't completely disappeared.
Juugo noticed his state first as he was seated off to his side; the clay pestle ceasing its movement on the mortar that held a familiar green paste. Another loud bang resonated from the cave, and Sasuke pulled his gaze from Juugo's occupied hands to see Sakura hurling a chakra-laden fist at Suigetsu's face. The man in question avoided her onslaught easily enough, but the palpable anger she radiated spurred her to move at a much quicker pace than he would able to keep up with for very long.
"Why is she angry?" he asked, his voice raspy due to his dry throat.
Suigetsu, whose hearing surpassed his own, caught his eye and sent him a toothy grin from where he stood on the edge of the grotto's entrance. "Kitten's just mad because she flashed me." He narrowly avoided yet another punch to the face. "Nice to see you're awake, Princess."
Ignoring the jibe, Sasuke looked to Juugo for confirmation. The older male merely nodded his head tiredly. "Suigetsu happened to come across Sakura-san as she was bathing."
"More like peeping." The kunoichi snarled as she tried to get in one last hit before she dropped her fists. "Don't think that this is over." She glowered before she turned away and walked over to where he laid.
"How many times do I have to say that I wasn't peeping?! I was only checking out the disturbance in the water that kept me from properly fishing!" Suigetsu cried indignantly.
Sakura rolled her eyes as she reached Sasuke. "That may have been the case, but there was no reason for you to take my clothes!" Sakura ignored Suigetsu's snickering as she knelt by his side, her chakra flared in her hands before she gently probed it into his system.
Sasuke remained silent, but the look he gave Suigetsu let the pale-haired male know that he was less-than pleased with him. Thankfully, it was enough to silence the mischievous nin. Sasuke wasn't feeling quite up to putting him in his place.
"Well," Sakura began, successfully drawing Sasuke's attention away from the shameless shinobi. "The Nibi's chakra is all but gone; there are faint traces left but I can continue healing if you're up for it."
"Aa." He acquiesced, and her chakra sprung to life once more.
Shortly after she began, Juugo left Sakura to continue her healing as he walked out in search for a suitable meal, a grudging Suigetsu in tow. Silence settled over them—the air still except for Sakura's fluctuating chakra from her methodical healing. She was taking her time in healing him, making sure not to agitate the foreign entity despite its weakening energy. Vague memories of a searing fire from the foreign chakra as it swirled and snapped at her healing one were still fresh on his mind, and though Sasuke had an exceptionally high tolerance to pain, it was not an experience he wanted to revisit any time soon.
"How long have I been asleep?" He spoke up. His voice startled her, causing her signature to spike for a brief instant before it settled. The foreign chakra rolled within him, displeased, but no more painful than a prick on the finger compared to the stabbing heat he experienced hours ago. Sakura met his gaze.
"You lost consciousness once I started healing you, then you were out for the whole day since the majority of the Nibi's chakra was still making its way out of your system. After the brunt of it was over, you slept for the remainder of the night and morning."
"Your injuries have been seen to." Sasuke pointed out at the sight of her straightened posture.
Sakura nodded as she sent one final wave of chakra through his system. "Yeah, I finished patching myself up after I rested for a bit." Her fingers quickly ran over his ribs to check for further injuries in a clinical, no-nonsense fashion.
"You're all set; I would recommend resting for a little while longer since you're fatigued and your body needs to recuperate a little more. We can head out at sunset if you're feeling up for it, otherwise we should camp out for one more night."
Sasuke grunted in reply as he slowly tried to ease himself into an upright position. Sakura was at his side to assist immediately, one hand slowly guiding his back into alignment as it rested at the base of his spine, the other sat gently on his chest as he pulled himself up. True to her diagnosis, Sasuke was exhausted and barely able to lift himself. Sakura helped ease him to a sitting position, completely submerged in her role as caretaker before giving him his space when he went to seat himself against the wall.
"Are you feeling okay? You didn't strain yourself, did you?" she asked.
The sharp look he sent her was enough for her to raise her hands in a placating manner. "I know you're capable, but it's my job to make sure you stay alive, remember? I need to know if you get dizzy or overly tired as it might attest to a more serious issue I hadn't caught."
"And what is the possibility of that with your skill level?" he retorted.
A wry smile settled on her face then, one that radiated an unwavering confidence in her abilities that he'd never seen before—the first one she bore at all since joining his ranks, Sasuke realized.
"Slim to none." The smile was short lived, and fell from her lips as she looked to him again with the same degree of seriousness she usually addressed him with. "But that doesn't mean that we should be lax. In case you haven't noticed, I've been out of commission for quite some time."
"I doubt it's enough to hinder you, considering the number of jutsu you've used. It's your chakra, not a musical instrument. You can only get rusty if you don't use it. In order for nukenin to survive and evade capture that isn't an option. ANBU would have your head in an instant."
Green eyes widened fractionally at his words, and before Sasuke could even begin to guess what exactly was going on in that head of hers, she jumped to her feet and walked over to her pack. "You just reminded me, I really wanted to talk to you about my findings on the autopsy, but with Karin getting kidnapped, and you getting injured by the Nibi, I haven't really had the best chance to bring it up." She pulled out a slim scroll from its depths and made her way back over.
The kunoichi took a seat beside him before biting her thumb hard enough to draw blood and smearing the red liquid across the seam of the scroll. The brush strokes of the intricate seal dispersed like an untangled knot before Sakura pulled it open. She weaved a set of seals, and with a tiny puff of smoke, a glass vial materialized before them.
"This is what I found in the Root's stomach. It's partially dissolved but not enough that I can't identify it." He caught the glass tube she tossed at him with agile fingers. Bringing it up to eye level, he shook its contents. The pieces of what appeared to be partially digested black mushrooms rattled within the corked vial. He raised a dark brow in her direction.
"This is agaricus bisporus, or more commonly known as the black Button mushroom. It's well-known for its abundance of vitamins and minerals, namely vitamin B and potassium. At first glance it seems like your regular run-of-the-mill mushroom, but there's something different about this one. The black variety is exclusive to Waterfall as they only grow on the sulfur rocks native to the region, and last time I checked, they don't harvest or deal in trades. Seeing as we're maybe a two day's run from Waterfall and it's been two days since our run-in with him—we're looking at about a week from the time he consumed the mushrooms to when he found us. I'm thinking that heading east is our best bet. If anything we might stumble across more Root agents or a camp which might lead us closer to Danzou."
Dark eyes were drawn back to the partially-digested fungi, a wave of dark excitement stirring within him. Taka would depart to Waterfall as soon as Juugo and Suigetsu returned, and he'd be just that much closer to gaining justice for the slaughter of his family.
He was almost there, the first part of his goal hung just a hair's breadth away, and nothing could stop him now. Sasuke's lips twisted into an unpleasant smirk.
He didn't notice Sakura's easy grin fall at its appearance.
For the umpteenth time that night, Suigetsu wished that would Sasuke let them take a breather. It was well into the night as they made their way through what was formerly known as Sound.
The moment he and Juugo had returned from their hunt, the Uchiha had declared that they were going to immediately head for Waterfall. Twelve hours later and they were long gone from the northern border of Fire, instead heading east towards the grasslands the west was known for.
The group traveled in relative silence, which typically wasn't strange, except now that it included Sakura. Usually the kunoichi chatted away with Juugo, either to gripe about the weather, coo over his irritating pets, or ask about how he was holding up. This time however, she'd maintained her distance from all of them, preferring to travel a few meters off to the side of the group. Sasuke hadn't been pleased when she branched off, but had said nothing. And Juugo… well Juugo hardly ever talked anyway, seeing as he was more the silent observer. Besides, he was pretty good at picking up vibes, and "Leave Me the Hell Alone" vibes were definitely something Sakura was giving off.
In all, Suigetsu was tired, bored, and quite fed up with the whole situation.
Taking hold of his throat cleaver, the ex-Mist let loose the blade. Both Sasuke and Juugo successfully avoided it, but it was Sakura that was able to stop its rampage, easily avoiding the rotating edge before she took hold of the hilt with perfect timing. Considering how small she was, she allowed herself to be carried with its momentum and pivoted her foot, swinging neatly in a semi-circle so as to face them. Seeing the large blade in the hands of a very dainty looking female would normally be seen as comical, and it was, but despite her petite stature, Sakura easily hefted his sword with a poise he could only dream of. "Nice catch," he grinned. She arched a slim brow.
"What's the meaning of this?" Sasuke interrupted, looking none too pleased with his stunt. Suigetsu merely shrugged.
"I just needed a break. We've been at this for twelve hours and we're just off the border of Grass. We should camp out before heading into ground zero. I don't fancy running into Zetsu clones or Alliance scouts, especially considering how tired I am. I'd be deadweight for you guys if we get attacked." Sakura chose that moment to try and stifle a yawn as she set the throat cleaver down, opening a window of opportunity for Suigetsu. He gestured towards her. "See? I'm not the only one. Kitten's probably tired seeing as she went off with you to fight some undead jinchuuriki, healed you, healed herself, and stayed up all night taking care of your fever."
Sasuke remained silent as his eyes flew to the kunoichi who was glaring at him something fierce. Suigetsu rolled his eyes. Please; she was exhausted and anyone with a working pair of eyes could tell. If Suigetsu considered himself to be deadweight, Sakura would ten times worse. Besides, all that destructive power and healing talent had its limits, one she'd reached once she used up her limited reserves.
"I'm fine," she grumbled. "I can keep up for a few more hours if you want to keep going."
Normally Suigetsu would have complained, loudly, for her insistence, but he caught the fleeting glance Sasuke and Sakura briefly shared. Sasuke's eyes had been glued to her since he'd pointed out her fatigue, whereas Sakura had been making a point to look anywhere but him, which Suigetsu thought strange. She'd been attentive enough the night before. In fact, she had remained attentive once Sasuke had woken up. It wasn't until after he and Juugo had come back from hunting that there'd been a noticeable change. She was keeping to herself, and though he knew Sasuke noticed, the leader of their group had been so wrapped up in his own thoughts, in his desire to get closer to this lead, that he barely paid her any mind. At least, that was the case before he had singled her out.
Now Sasuke couldn't keep his eyes off her. Suigetsu caught the quick scan he did, positive that the Uchiha had zeroed-in on the bags beneath her eyes and the meager, but steady, thrum of her chakra. His brows pulled together slightly, signaling to the white-haired shinobi of his slight disconcert. Suigetsu could practically see the wheels turning in his head as he took into account just all of what he's put her through in the past twenty-four hours.
"We'll stop for the night." Sasuke conceded, causing Sakura to huff in annoyance and shoot a glare in his direction.
"Fine," she grumbled. "But if we're stopping it's because Suigetsu's the one that's tired but doesn't want to own up to it."
"Pot meet kettle." He replied with a smirk. The kunoichi rolled her eyes and stomped off to where Juugo had begun to set up camp. Sasuke's eyes trailed after her for a moment before following suit, unaware of Suigetsu's own scrutinizing gaze.
Interesting, Suigetsu mused before bringing up the rear. Very interesting.
A little shorter than usual, but necessary. I'm glad to say that this will be the first of upcoming chapters that will wrap-up the search for Danzou.
I hope you enjoyed, so please feel free to leave a review!