As Karin hugged her knees closer to her chest, she couldn't help but feel the familiarity of déjà vu pulling her under. She cursed the heavens, not even daring to glance up at her surroundings. She would rather curse them than Shikamaru. After all, Shikamaru did not even have the slightest clue as to how close they are to the place where she and Sakura had been separated. It was not his fault that he chose this area as the rendezvous point for the second team. And it was not his fault but hers that Sakura was Kabuto's hostage, the thought seemed to keep repeating itself in the redhead's mind. It churned and spun and made her almost nauseous. And it didn't help her either, knowing that Ino's hostility was directly pointed at her too. And if it were not for Shikamaru's warnings then Ino might have even attacked the redhead too. But the tracker nin did not make any hasty comments to her defense, though. Ino had every right to be mad at her. And with Ino like this, Karin didn't even want to know what Naruto thought of her now. He may have been the last of her family, but he had been Sakura's friend first. Karin knew Naruto must have been more than angry with her. And it was the thought of disappointing her only living relative left that upset her even further.
Next to the troubled girl, Suigetsu just sighed. His nasty insults were locked away for now because he could not believe the sniffling girl sitting right by him was the same snarky bitch who always argued with him. His eyes shifted to the blonde right across the campfire. He almost winced from the harsh sneer Ino was shooting in Karin's way. He felt even worse for Karin now. But to hide any hints of any pity he felt for the redhead, Suigetsu looked around the camp, but even more sympathy welled inside of him. These two teams were made up of all of Sakura's friends and some of her closest too—all twelve of them, in fact. It was no wonder that they were all gloomy right now. Suigetsu did not even want to try and lighten the mood, for fear of angering them all.
He glanced at Juugo, but the much larger man also did not know what to do. And so, the ex-Kiri nin just took a risk and asked out loud, "Karin, do you want to tell us what happened with Kabuto and how you and Sakura got separated?"
"Suigetsu," Juugo cautioned his friend not to speak more than that, but everyone had woken from their thoughts and was now focusing their attention on the redhead who began to tremble hard.
"Are you crying?" Ino could hardly believe it. She ignored Choji and Shikamaru who were trying to calm her down once more. She looked almost feral, ready to jump. "It should be us who are crying! Who is Sakura to you but the medic who saved your life? She's nothing to you! That's why you came back to Konoha alone!"
"Don't you dare say that to me!" Karin, for the first time since the mission started, was done hiding her face. And for the first time since the mission started, Karin actually defended herself. "She's not just your friend! She's mine too! She was the first female friend I made in my life! She's helped me so many times already… I'm grateful to her for saving my life, for being friends with me, and for helping me get situated in Konoha and get me started in a better life! Don't you think I'm hurting too? For not being able to help her when she needed it and when she's given me help so many times already?"
Ino didn't say anymore but held her glare for a few more seconds before jumping into the trees and disappearing from sight.
Shikamaru just stuffed his hands into his pocket before shaking his head. He addressed Tenten, but the weapons' mistress already knew what he was going to ask and followed after Ino. "Don't take what she said to heart," he told Karin. "She's just upset. We all are."
The redhead turned her head to the side, only to be met by Naruto's hard-to-read face. She felt as though her heart was torn into pieces just by the feel of how heartbreaking his chakra signature was.
"Please," he begged. "You have to tell me what went down with Kabuto."
She turned away from his sad gaze, blaming herself even more for causing her cousin to worry so much about his teammate. ". . . It's not something you'd want to hear… That whole night, she wouldn't talk. She kept staring out into space…" She stared at the fire, remembering the way Sakura looked into the campfire. She would never forget how broken and lonely the pinkette looked. "I think she regretted taking the mission, but she wouldn't tell me anything. We put out the fire and went to sleep. She woke me up just a bit afterwards." She left out the part of her fearing that Sakura had entered her tent in hopes of killing her. "There were thieves, but they posed no problem for her." She also left out the part of how frightening Sakura had been and how dangerous she had seemed. "She made quick work of them." And she left out the part of Sakura using the very jutsu Tsunade had forbid her to use. "We weren't tired anymore after that fiasco, and so we continued into the night." She let out a wry laugh, most likely laughing at her fault that night. "Even if we were to have stayed put, Kabuto was probably already there in the shadows because we already felt as though someone was following us since that point in the mission. And when we realized who it was, Sakura switched our positions. She kept watching out for me when it should have been me who was watching out for her." Her fists tightened, her long nails digging into her palms. It should have hurt her, but the pain was dulled by the remorse she felt. "We were no match for Kabuto, we knew it, and so we ran, but we weren't fast enough. He caught up quickly. Sakura . . . she lost a lot of blood, but that was all I saw before she told me that she would distract Kabuto and that I should go and find help. I couldn't even follow her orders… Kabuto got to me before I could even argue with her. I fell unconscious and, the next thing I knew, I woke up in a strange place. Sakura was nowhere in sight, Kabuto tortured me before he told me to lead Sasuke and Naruto to him, and then . . . nothing. I was back in Konoha. I don't know anything else…"
Another silence befell the group. No one knew or had anything to say. Even Naruto looked at a crossroads. He seemed as though he wanted to cry but couldn't because he had to finish this mission. But when Sasuke chose to be the voice of reason, everyone was shocked out of their daze.
"It's not your fault," the Uchiha said. "What could you or Sakura have done in that situation? None of us had expected Kabuto to attack, especially not this brazenly so soon." He had been so sure his brother had killed Kabuto during their encounter in the war. He had no idea how Kabuto could have survived. "You weren't prepared. In fact, none of us were. But what's the use of sulking about it?" he asked, looking the redhead in the eyes for the first time since he had tried to kill her. "All we have to do now is just get Sakura back and beat the crap out of the bastard who took her."
"You make it sound so easy," was all Karin could say. Did Sasuke think that saying all of that would make her feel better about not being able to protect Sakura? If he did then he was sorely wrong.
"Of course, he does," Suigetsu said, putting a hand on the girl's shoulder. "I thought you of all people would remember that from our Team Hebi times."
And for the first time in a long while, Karin cracked a small smile.
"I know, I know…" The blonde ran her hand through her golden strands of hair and sighed. "What I said was uncalled for, but I'm not apologizing to her."
Tenten swallowed back the lecture she was going to give her friend but thought against it, being too tired to want to argue. "Let's go back, Ino," she suggested. "We've got a long day tomorrow. We can sort all of this out after we get Sakura back."
"I'm not leaving Sakura in her hands, Tenten." There was a determination in Ino's eyes that had Tenten almost frightened. She had a plan, and an Ino with a plan was not something to be trifled with.
The weapons mistress bit her bottom lip. She had an inkling of what Ino was hinting at, but she couldn't bring herself to believe that her friend would do something so reckless. "Ino, just…" Tenten didn't finish her sentence. She shook her head, knowing that she wouldn't be able to make Ino chance her mind. "When will you…?"
"Right after Naruto's team leaves."
"Ino, I don't want any more of my friends getting hurt. You better have thought this through."
"Tsunade-sama, please… Send the ANBU after them," Shizune pleaded. She trusted Konoha 11 to bring Sakura back, but that trust didn't relieve her worries. "It took both Sasuke and his brother to take Kabuto down before. I doubt it's going to be the same outcome this time since Itachi is—"
"Shizune, be quiet and give me my sake!"
"Tsunade-sama!" Shizune begged again. "I don't want to see any of them die! Especially not after the war that's just ended!"
"Just trust in them to do their jobs," the Hokage said before throwing a few files into her assistant's hands. "And we'll do ours. Don't forget, we've got problems at home too." And with that, Tsunade opened up another file and wrote down any legal proceedings that could help her bring down the Elders. "The ANBU are needed here more than ever now."
Shizune couldn't argue anymore after that. After all, all this could happen again if the Elders were allowed to have free reign as they always had. And she'd do anything in her power to put an end to those Elders once and for all.
They left at the first ray of sunlight breaking through the dark sky. Being the leader, Sai followed right behind Karin as she led the group while Naruto and Sasuke were right in the middle, stationed so that they could deflect any ambush that came to the group. And lastly, Hinata covered their rear, watching for any potential danger with her Byakugan. But being the last person, the Hyuga heiress could see how tense her childhood crush was, and that saddened her. If the situation had been less serious then Hinata would have wished that Naruto would regard her with such emotions but, with the situation at hand, Hinata could only blame herself for not being able to see the stress that Sakura had carried.
If I had then maybe Sakura wouldn't have left on this mission in the first place… If she hadn't then… She gasped then, her Byakugan spotting a large ominous amount of chakra heading their way. "Stop!" And the group halted in their tracks.
"What's the matter, Hinata-chan?"
A dark laughter echoed through the forest. "It would appear that you need to train your eyes a bit more, Naruto-kun." And the scaly figure cloaked in black materialized on a nearby tree branch just in front of the team.
"Where's Sakura-chan, you bastard?" Naruto screamed, his attention now to his enemy. If he hadn't learned to control the Kyuubi then its chakra would have been pouring out at this moment.
But Kabuto ignored the boy's question, answering with only, "Patience is a virtue," before turning to the redhead kunoichi. "I thought I told you to lead only Naruto and Sasuke here. And yet, you bring two more Konoha brats?"
"Cut the crap!" Karin screamed, finding it weird that Kabuto's chakra wasn't spiking as if he were about to enter a battle. Did he think he could just get away from them unscathed after what he had done? Why was he so nonchalant? "Where did you take Sakura?"
But again, Kabuto didn't answer, only laughing hysterically. His laughter faded when he disappeared out of the team's line of sight.
"Get back here!" Naruto yelled, Sasuke and Hinata both using their bloodline traits to find where Kabuto had went.
"Get out of the way!" It was Sai who had barked out this order, but it was too late.
A lithe figure landed right in the middle of the group, her fist punching the ground underneath her. A huge bang exploded, and the ground cracked open, causing everyone to lose their balance. Naruto was in a phase of confusion and fear. Hinata had just been right by the spot that had just crumbled. Where was she? Why wasn't he able to find her? And his second fear was shared by the rest of his group, only to be confirmed when the debris that had risen cleared out.
The shock was evident on everyone's faces, even Sasuke's, when they saw the signature pink hair of their attacker, but no one dared try to confirm it.
"Sa . . . Sakura…" It was Karin who spoke, albeit with quavering lips and wide eyes, when the girl slung the unconscious Hyuga heiress onto her shoulder and fled.
"SAKURA!" Naruto was the first to follow after her.
"No, Naruto!" But Sai's warning came upon deaf ears as the jinchūriki raced after the two kunoichi. "We can't go after them like this," he said to the remaining two with him. "We need a plan of attack, and we need to relay this to Shikamaru's group in case Sakura goes after them."
"Don't say that as if she's doing it willingly!" Karin cried, her mind reeling with possibilities. "Her chakra… It's hers, but something's off about it… And her eyes were clouded over… If it's really her then she doesn't have a clue as to what she's doing."
The Uchiha just remained silent, trying to process the events that just took place. Sakura, Haruno Sakura, just attacked them. He would have laughed at the thought if it had not just happened. Like Karin, he knew that Sakura wouldn't be able to do something against her nature willingly. Kabuto must have done something to her.
"Exactly. She's dangerous if that's the case." But Sai was not one to drop the case. "If Kabuto is pulling the strings then we've got trouble. Sakura was distressed when she left for her mission. If Kabuto is indeed controlling her then she'll go after those who've caused her pain. And her pain just makes it easier for Kabuto to control her actions."
"Yeah, you've got that right," an accusing voice came from behind them. "But that wasn't Sakura."
The three turned around, only to be met with a pissed off kunoichi.
Um . . . yeah, sorry for updating so slowly and sorry for the horribly rushed chapter. I actually needed time to organize my ideas. I kind of didn't like the fact that I put Sakura's family in the last chapter because I was trying to make this sort of like canon, so I was debating whether or not to change that chapter. This is also a shorter chapter since I couldn't think of a way to continue this chapter and because I just wanted to update this story really quickly. The next chapter will be much longer.
Also, if you don't remember, the groups are as followed:
First group = Naruto, Sasuke, Sai, Hinata, and Karin
second group = Ino, Shikamaru, Choji, Neji, Tenten, Lee, Kiba, Shino, Suigetsu, and Juugo
Also, I haven't figured it out yet, but how many of you want Itachi to be in this fanfic?