Getting a late-night call to head-up a Rapid Deployment Squad on their way to the southern border of Fire was not Sakura's idea of fun and it was by no means relaxing, but nowadays she was willing to do just about anything to get a break. There was nothing that RDS could throw at her that she didn't prefer over the turbulence provided by all of the most prominent men in her life.
Sakura narrowed her eyes as she landed in a crouch over an ANBU who was prone on the ground. Across the clearing from her stood a man in a tattered tunic and sandals, the remnants of manacles still hanging from his wrists, and his shaggy, graying hair greasy and clinging to his throat and forehead with the torrential downpour of rain coming down on them.
Poison, she concluded with one look at the operative's trembling limbs and greening skin. She clenched her teeth.
The man was one of many escaped criminals that the ANBU squad had been initially sent after and one of the few remaining that her squad had been debriefed about. A renowned chemist and expert in chemical warfare. Dangerous. A-classed. Her only comfort was the fact that he was not known as a particularly skillful fighter.
Quick. This had to be quick. It wouldn't do for her to end up poisoned as well.
"I'm only here for him," she said, indicating the operative at her feet as she pushed her hair back from her face. She was soaked through to the bone, her belted cloak clinging to her, already having given in and no longer performing its primary duty of keeping her dry. She was dead on her feet from the hike that brought her and her squad from Konoha to the borders of Wind in a matter of hours—timing that was unheard of.
"Ah, a medic," the criminal murmured, his eyes narrowing as he dragged them over her form. A smirk pulled at his lips. "A bit of friendly advice: do not waste your time trying to help this fellow. That poison is my masterpiece—I had a lot of time to perfect it in prison—and I imagine that your services will be required elsewhere for less dismal cases."
Sakura cocked an eyebrow at this and then lifted one shoulder, shrugging indifferently. "I'm not worried."
His smirk fell abruptly into a scowl. "Why is that?"
The tail of the medic's cloak snapped with the rapidity of her next movement, which had her standing behind him. "I've read your file. As someone who fought Sasori of the Red Sand—" the man's whole body went rigid at the mention of the deceased puppeteer—"I have to say: you'll never be on par with him."
Then, before he could do anything, she stepped forward and buckled his right knee with a kick to the back of the joint, sending him to the ground and lining him up for a forearm strike to the side of his head that sent him rocketing into the underbrush.
"Fucking embarrassing," the ANBU whispered when she returned to his side. "Can't believe he got me."
Sakura smiled a little in an attempt to reassure him. "I bet he caught you by surprise."
The operative laughed huskily. "That's even more embarrassing," he muttered. "Don't tell my captain that, all right?"
"My lips are sealed," she replied as she hefted his limp frame up to stand and then pulled him across her shoulders into a fireman's carry.
Wounded and medics alike were soaked through their clothes by the torrential downpour of rain that was threatening to wash away the impromptu triage station set up by the half of her team not occupied with locating the injured. It was markedly more comfortable with the heavy tarp over their heads to protect them from the downpour, but the ground they were standing on was still a soupy, bacteria-ridden nightmare of mud and grass. The wounded were laid out on bedrolls in an attempt to protect them while antibiotics and steroids were being applied heavily to cut the chances of infection caused by the less than sterile conditions.
"What do we have?"
Sakura was well and officially irritable. She was muddy up to her thighs and exhausted after fighting off three more convicts and hauling four more injured back to camp.
Udon looked no better. The young medic's shoulders were slumped and his glasses were continually sliding down the bridge of his nose. His hair, graying already at eighteen, was disheveled and muddy and he was beginning already to show signs of serious chakra depletion.
"There were four critical injuries," he said. "All others are minor. But… um…"
Sakura raised an eyebrow. "But um what?'
Udon glanced to his right and Sakura's eyes followed him, quickly cataloguing the row of patients. "The captain on the end," the boy began. "Thoracic trauma caused by a blunt weapon, but he will not allow any of the medics to tend to him before his men are treated."
Her eyes honed in on the culprit, the white of his cloak showing through the caked on layers of mud giving him away in an instant. His hood was down, revealing long, murky brown hair that was escaping over his shoulders. She knew him on sight, without even seeing his face, and huffed irritably. "I'll take care of it. See that everyone is supplied with their ration of soldier pills if they're needed."
He nodded and she trudged off toward the Captain, making notes on the condition of the others as she passed their beds.
The man's head turned slightly to acknowledge her, his eagle mask splashed liberally with mud and blood.
Sakura gingerly sat down on the edge of his bed. His breastplate had been smashed and what remained of the hardened shell simply served to be in the way. "I hear you've been giving my people a hard time," she began in her lightest tone as she reached for his mask with both hands.
His stopped her immediately, locking his hands around hers like iron braces. "The others?" he asked gruffly.
"Four of them cannot be treated here," she replied automatically. "They are stable but require attention beyond our capabilities at this time and are being transported as quickly as possible back to Konoha."
He did not seem to approve of this answer. "If they are that critically wounded, you should be with them, Haruno."
For Sakura, her irritability had always been compounded by a lack of sleep—making her great fun on prolonged stake-outs—and found herself desperately trying to bite back her ire. "The medics sent with them are some of the best and those that are waiting for them in Konoha are even better. Besides, I'm leading this team. I cannot abandon this encampment before my people and my patients are cleared out and on their way home."
"Then we are at an impasse."
Her eyes narrowed and her temper snapped. She hated stubborn patients. Sure, her teammates could be unbearable—Kakashi alone required an entire wing of hospital staff to simply keep him in bed—but they were never this bullheaded or impossible. "Fine, if you want to play it that way." She rolled her shoulders, turned her head from side to side to pop her neck, and then began to squeeze the hands that still held hers even harder, slowly increasing the pressure. "Hyuuga Neji, you have two options."
"Which are?" He sounded unfazed.
"Either I remove your mask and treat your injuries, or I break your hands and every other limb that gets in my way and then I remove your mask and treat your injuries."
There was a thoughtful pause and then a derisive snort. "Go ahead."
Sakura raised an eyebrow. So, he thought that she was bluffing. "Last chance, Hyuuga."
"I am not afraid of you."
To say that Neji's night had been awful was something of an understatement.
This mission, which had been assigned at the last minute, had forced him to miss Hanabi's birthday party. Then, to rub salt into that wound, the intel given to his team by their informant had been bad. The kind of bad that had led them right into a trap.
One of his teammates had been taken down immediately and was almost certainly dead while another had been crushed beneath and earth-rending jutsu. The worst was the fact that it took the better part of a few seconds for him to realize that he was under the influence of a genjutsu. This was a few seconds too late to prevent the blow of the mace that smashed into his chest and through his plate armor.
Enraged, he pushed through the injury to fight and lead a successful retreat before finally succumbing to the intense pain that he radiated through his torso, down almost to his toes. His only comfort was the fact that he had been able to blow the informant's liver to pieces before the rat could run off, ensuring that his death would be neither quick nor painless nor escapable. With any luck he was gasping his last breaths in a ditch somewhere.
Now that pain was gone and replaced by another.
As promised, Haruno Sakura had broken both of his hands with just an ounce of her monstrous strength, leaving him such a state of disbelief that he couldn't fight her off when she proceeded to tear the rest of his armor away and cut open the uniform underneath to reach his wounds.
She threatened to break his legs next if he tried getting out of bed and then departed with a smile and a promise to return with a more thorough report on the welfare of his men.
It had been a long time since Neji had talked to the girl. He ran into her only on the occasions when their teams crossed paths or when she visited his cousin at the compound. Their conversations were never involved, never more than a customary greeting and assurance of one another's good health before moving on. He knew more of her really. Lee, of course, was still in love with her after all of these years, she and Tenten were good friends, and Gai, whenever the pinkette came up in conversation, spoke very fondly of the girl who had served alongside him during the war.
Responsible for his broken hands or not, Neji found himself rather beholden to Gai's opinion and had always been inclined to respect her. Maybe to a degree this was even helped by the broken hands. She had mentioned leading this particular RDS, a position not given out to just anyone. While he had never been involved with them as they were primarily medical units, he knew that the leader of any RDS had to be capable of organizing and mobilizing a fairly large team in a very short amount of time. Even most large ANBU teams were further divided into squads, which were all headed up by their own leader responsible for reporting to the captain. As far as he knew, RDS captains shouldered that responsibility all by themselves and by the look of things she was overseeing at least ten medics by herself.
He snapped from his reverie when Sakura once again approached.
She was not exactly formidable, he decided. She stood at a head shorter than him and looked very much like a drowned rat. Her hair was a ratty mess on top of her head, her skin was sallow and her eyes were dark with exhaustion, and her clothes were sagging wetly on her tiny frame, making them appear far too large for her. Even her white flak vest seemed to be just weighing her down.
"Hyuuga-san, I have seen to all of your men. Those who have not already been shipped out are now capable of leaving this encampment under their own power. Three of them have volunteered to try to catch up with and escort the injured who have been dispatched for Konoha with my men. Now, if you will allow me to see to your remaining injuries, I will."
Neji narrowed his eyes. "Very well."
She nodded and perched herself again on the edge of his bed before taking his hands tentatively in hers and summoning her chakra to repair the bones. For a very brief second, she met his eyes and then looked away.
He ground his teeth. A part of him was tempted to apologize—knew that Gai and Tenten would demand it of him. She was only there to assist, was responsible for the timely aid provided to his team, and for rescuing his critically wounded subordinates and keeping his spotless, casualty-free record as a captain just that. It was as much her job to see to his wounds as it was his to make sure his men were tended to.
And apparently she was just as determined as he was to get her job done
She raised her eyes to his and lifted an eyebrow. "Yes?"
Neji clenched his jaw and exhaled. "Thank you."
That would work too, he told himself. It was at least something.
Sakura shrugged. "I'm just doing my job. As soon as you're on your feet again we can all get out of here."
Naruto leaned closer to the report and squinted at it. Try as he might, he was never up early enough to be there when Sakura turned in her reports in the early hours. That girl was always busy, always running here and there. He imagined that she'd need a vacation eventually, but feared the village would collapse without her.
He blinked and lifted the page up to the light. She had written this part abnormally small, which wasn't like her. Her reports were always neat and well-organized. They were boring as fuck, yes, but better than most others in terms of legibility, which made them quicker to get through (and he didn't get through many of them to Shizune's annoyance).
Naruto stood up from his desk and made his way over to the window. He was barefoot with his coat and hat draped over the back of his seat, something that never ceased to irritate Shizune either.
He slapped the page to the window and squinted again, tipping his head to the side. It was just plain intriguing now. Sakura never did this kind of thing, so what did she think she needed to hide? It couldn't be all that bad. It was Sakura. She never did anything reprehensible and it wasn't like he was going to punish her. Not like he could. He had happily pawned responsibility for the medics off on Tsunade when he had named her hospital administrator—to her snarling spite.
The man glanced back at the door when he heard a commotion in the hallway and then turned back to the page. Neji. Well, at least he got one name out of the mess. But wait, he frowned and checked the date. A few days ago? Neji had definitely been on an ANBU mission then. He had called him in personally. Shit. How had he missed that? Sakura's team had been sent out after them? Wonderful. He was surprised that the ANBU higher-ups weren't already all over his ass. They hated it when unsanctioned individuals got a glimpse of their operatives without their masks.
He rubbed at his forehead. Seriously, no wonder Tsunade-baachan had always been so bitchy. He needed more sleep, less paperwork—
Naruto snapped out of his daze and turned to the doors, a smile curling over his lips. "Oi, I was just thinking about you." He gestured at Neji, who trailing behind his uncle, who looked— ooh, a little mad. He cringed and looked back to the report page. "Uh, what can I do for you two?"
"I was curious, Hokage-sama," Hiashi began, his arms folded into the sleeves of his robes. "Is it in a medic's job description to harm as well as help her patients?"
Well, that was a tough one. That sure seemed to be a part of the methodology of the two medics he was closest to, but that probably wasn't the answer Hiashi wanted to hear. "I, uh, suppose you'd have to ask a medic that," he said, frantically trying to make out the next words in the cluster of scribbles on the page because he had a sneaking feeling that it had everything to do with the issue at hand.
"Very droll, Hokage-sama."
Well, he hadn't been trying to be funny but at least Hiashi saw it that way. Or not, judging by the look on his face. Naruto chuckled nervously and edged back to his desk. "Haha, yeah," he said, rubbing at his head and dropping into his chair. "Um, I'm guessing we're talking about Sakura-chan here?"
Hiashi sighed and looked heavenward. "I understand that she is a good friend of yours, Hokage-sama, but it would do you well not to refer to her, or anyone else, so affectionately when in meetings. It is your job to at least look impartial." He ended this with a roll of his shoulder. "If you do not mind the unsolicited advice."
Naruto shrugged too. It wasn't anything that Shikamaru's and Ino's dads didn't tell him a hundred times a day when given the chance (it was especially funny coming from Inoichi whose daughter was working with him in ANBU and who he still called by a pet name Naruto had sworn a blood oath to Ino to never repeat). He tried to hide his smile as he continued trying to decipher the report. It was funny, kind of. Everyone was his mentor now. Chouji's dad had corrected his table manners when he ate with the Akimichis the week before. Shino's clan was uncommonly friendly in an attempt to make him comfortable when he had addressed them, which made the whole thing even weirder and ten times funnier. Kiba's mom was quick to adjust his collar and swat him upside the head for looking so bedraggled all the time (he could only imagine how frequently she must do this to Kiba).
"Right, thanks," he said. "So, uh… we're talking about Sakura-san?"
Hiashi nodded both in approval and agreement. "She—"
Naruto burst into laughter as the last line of the report became clear. "She broke your hands?"
It was quite possible that Neji and Hiashi both face-palmed at this.
"It isn't funny, Hokage-sama!" Hiashi snapped. "Your medics—"
Naruto lifted a finger to cut the man off as he wiped at his eyes with the other hand. "To be fair, they're not my medics. If you have a problem with a policy upheld by our village's medical staff or with the behavior of a particular individual, you have to address the hospital administrator."
Hiashi's eyes narrowed. "She broke my nephew's hands while he was under her care. His hands are vital to his work and he is one of your most prized ninja. I would think you'd have something to say about this."
"Well, I do, but you're not going to like it," Naruto confessed.
The man looked positively exasperated.
Naruto rubbed at the back of his head as he got to his feet. "I'll, uh, have Tsunade-sama and Sakura-san called in here. In the mean time, would either of you like some tea?"
To her credit, Tsunade didn't laugh when she read the report. She smirked, but that was all.
Sakura glanced at Naruto. She was standing beside his desk and doing what she could to avoid eye contact with Hiashi and Neji both. Her hair was up and she had chosen a sundress for the rather warm spring day, a choice she regretted now that she was in this meeting. It didn't feel like enough under the scrutiny of two members of the very conservative Hyuuga clan. Although, she suspected that only a suit of lead could fix this particular problem.
Her ears were burning and not out of embarrassment. Instead, she was mad, specifically at Neji. She hadn't pegged him for the type to cry to his uncle because of a little necessary roughness.
She looked to her mentor. "Yes, shishou?"
The blond lifted an eyebrow at her. "As I understand it, you broke Neji's hands when he refused treatment."
"That is correct."
"It was a chest wound?"
"Blunt force trauma to the thoracic cavity."
Tsunade nodded slowly. "Did he present symptoms of severe injury?"
Sakura shrugged. "His breathing was labored and given the force of the blow, I was concerned about a pulmonary edema and the possibility of an arrhythmia or internal bleeding."
"You understand that ninja can refuse medical treatment."
"I understand that they can, but outside of cases where death is imminent and treatment would simply prolong suffering, I never acknowledge such refusals." She shrugged and flipped some stray locks over her shoulder, sparing a glance in Naruto's direction. "In all honesty, Hokage-sama, your men can be complete idiots when it comes to medical treatment. I'm not sure if it's stubborn machismo or a rash of latent and badly timed cases of iatrophobia, but more often than not treatment is brushed aside even when the wound is actually critical. For the most part, you men are not qualified to assess their injuries and my job is to make the diagnosis and treat it, not abide by stupidity."
Naruto, who had his chin resting in an upturned palm, carefully tipped his head down to hide his smile in his hand and stifle the laughter that shook his shoulders.
"At what point was breaking his hands necessary?" Hiashi asked, lightly.
Sakura finally looked to him. "At the point where he refused to allow me to remove his mask and better assess his breathing," she replied. "I did not leave his hands untreated, I never intended to. I saw to them as soon as I was able."
Hiashi raised an eyebrow. "We are here because this morning, during a sparring session, he was out of form. He would not tell me what was wrong at first, but it did not take long before I realized that he was in a great deal of pain. Whatever you did to fix it, it was not enough."
"I am fine," Neji finally said, his eyes focused on a point to the right of everyone else.
Haven't heard that one before, Sakura thought with a frown.
"My main concern is that this is allowed," Hiashi went on, looking at Tsunade now. "I do not approve of the fact that you allow your medics to physically bully wounded men. When they are ordered by a superior to stand down, they should show a modicum of discipline and do as they are told."
Tsunade scowled and when she wound up for a retort, Sakura slipped out from behind the desk, grabbed Neji by the elbow as she passed, and without a word to anyone, dragged him out into the hallway. If anyone noticed, it went uncommented upon.
After pulling the door shut behind her, Sakura rounded on the Hyuuga, who crossed both of his arms and raised an eyebrow at her in return, his stare impassive and bored.
"You told me that you were fine," she said.
"I am fine."
"Your uncle doesn't think so."
"My uncle exaggerates."
Sakura snorted in an unladylike fashion in retort. "Right. That's a word I'd apply to Hyuuga Hiashi." She held her hands out to him and wiggled her fingers beseechingly. "Gimme."
Neji stared at her upturned palms. "There is no need."
"You'll recall that the last time you put up a fight, it didn't end well for you."
"You will reinforce my uncle's point."
Sakura stomped a foot irritably. "You're reinforcing my point. I'm only trying to help and you're being impossible. Gimme."
He resisted for just a second longer, obviously calculating the probability that she would choose to end this in another physical confrontation. Then, apparently concluding that yes, yes she would, he grudgingly unfolded his arms and held his hands out for her to take.
"I must have missed something," Sakura said, mostly to herself. "I can't believe I missed something and I can't believe you didn't tell me that you were still in pain."
"I did not notice at the time."
She eyed him skeptically for this, but said nothing as she sent a surge of chakra into his hands.
Neji was quiet for some time following before he finally said, "Your chakra was severely depleted that night."
Sakura looked at him again and furrowed her brow. "Is that why you didn't say anything?"
"It factored into my decision, yes."
"Yeah, well my wounded are my top priority and I can monitor my own chakra levels, so just butt-out next time." She frowned suddenly and swore quietly under her breath. "Damn it. I missed some muscle and nerve damage in both. Ugh, hold still. This will only take a minute."
Stupid, she chastised herself. Stupid and sloppy. Why did she believe him when he told her that he was fine? She shook her head and tuned out the raised voices coming from inside the office. It was her fault. She had been exhausted at the time and so desperate to go home that she had just gone along with him. Idiot.
She finished after pushing one last surge of chakra through his hands to check every bone and tendon. "There," she said, considerably deflated. Idiot, idiot, idiot. "How's it feel?"
Neji pulled his hands away from hers and began to flex his fingers and rotate his wrists around. "Fine."
Sakura didn't even bother to stop herself from rolling her eyes, but refrained from saying anything to him about being a broken record. She looked instead to the office door. "I'm not going back in there," she said, narrowing her eyes as the voices raised another notch. True to form, Tsunade seemed to be doing most of the yelling. She made a mental note to check the woman's blood pressure later. "Tell your uncle that I'm very sorry his nephew is so stubborn."
Neji's lips twitched and Sakura privately suspected that that was as close to making a face as the man got. "Thank you."
This was usually the part where Sakura would remind her patient to find her if the problem persisted, but she knew she'd be wasting her breath. Instead, she spared him an uneasy smile and waved before turning and making her way down the hallway. She had yet to see Kakashi and she had promised her team that she'd meet them for lunch, an idea that was tiring all by itself.
1. A new story? ZOMG! (For anyone new to this rodeo: My notes are always insanely long and they always come at the bottom of the chapter for this reason. Sometimes they're funny, often times they're random, frequently they will make you want to strangle me.)
2. So I blame my friend SunMoonNeko almost entirely for once upon a time putting a Neji/Sakura bug in my brain. I guess I decided that Kaka/Saku is not crack enough for me and I have to do something more challenging. So here it is. I'm really shaky on character portrayals and how exactly to set this up. The first chapter, as you can see, jumps between a few perspectives. How often this happens will vary on the chapters, but I'll do my best to keep it to a minimum.
3. Naruto is Hokage! Among other changes. Rapid Deployment Squads are mostly medical teams that work as EMTs-Tsunade's invention. They'll be mentioned a few times, but they probably won't play a HUGE role. Udon is a medic-nin here just like he was in House Calls. He might get a larger role, I'm not sure yet.
4. Sasuke will be in this fic eventually and I have done a lot of tweaking with canon. For future reference, he is blind from the last battle of the war (against Zetsu or Madara, I'll let you guys decide) and he is 'redeemed'ish. The bit of canon I have twisted to accommodate this is that instead of swearing revenge on Konoha after Madara explains Itachi's situation to him, he went through an angst-coma realizing that he had betrayed everything his brother wanted him to become by becoming a villain rather than a hero. He turned his back on the village his brother loved and on the people who loved him. For me, this is the only thing that Kishi could have done to make the little mongrel at all redeemable and he blew the opportunity. Why am I bothering if I hate him so much? I suppose because I'm a total masochist. But don't worry, I'm not making him entirely redeemed. He absolutely will not be a saint in this. (Also, I'm leaving it to you guys to sort out what canon works here and what doesn't. I don't follow the series closely enough to understand what's going on... most people who DO follow the series closely don't know what's going on from what I've heard actually. Kishi is really just an awful writer, isn't he?)
5. Also for future reference: Sakura's regular team consists of Sasuke, Sai, and Yamato. More on the reason why Kakashi isn't heading them up next chapter. Also, now that I'm thinking of it, there will be more on what happened to Sakura's crush on Sasuke later.
6. I actually hate writing Neji's POV more than I hate writing Kakashi's if you can imagine. Kakashi at least has a wry sense of humor when I write him. Neji is just cold analysis and bleargh. Hopefully this problem will clear up as I get more familiar with everyone.
7. Yes, Neji was in fact pouting about missing Hanabi's birthday. More on this later. Also, he and his uncle are reasonably close and Hiashi gets rather Papa-Wolfy over him. More on this later too. ... Actually, no. More on it now-I refuse to make Hiashi a monster in this. It drives me crazy when people do that to him. I'll elaborate further on why it drives me nuts later, but just brace yourselves for a different spin on him here. Also, for future reference Hinata is more or less heading up the Hyuuga clan in this fics. More on that later too.
8. Another story without a large, over-arcing plot and a heavy focus on character and relationship development. Those seeking epic storytelling beware because this is how I roll!
9. For the sake of clarity: this is in fact a Neji/Sakura fic. Those who ship Neji/Tenten are more than welcomed to read, but please do not whine about the pairing. I like Tenten shipped with Shino (I think they're my beta OTP). As for the M-rating, it's there to give me necessary elbow room when it comes to gore and language. If there ends up being some citrus content, I'll apply the necessary warnings.
9. Apparently I have a lot to explain later. With any luck it'll all make sense and you'll be there to read it with me.
(You've read, now review? Yay, nay? Undecided? Let me know!)