"I don't think that's such a great idea, yeah," Deidara's voice mused from his seat a few feet away from her. She smirked at his protest, and leaned her body in his direction.
"Don't forget that your criminal ass was given a call back when you were detained," Sakura argued as she spiked a testing brow in his direction, begging him to debate against her words.
"Your request will be taken into consideration," Pein voice as his eyes never left her being.
"Fine," she replied back, unaffected by the lack of an ultimate decision. She knew, regardless of the storm eyed leader's aloof attitude, he was too curious to let the opportunity pass by. "In the meantime, I'd like to see whatever information you have on Orochimaru and his gang."
"You never stop working, do you?" Kisame questioned with a pointed smile in her direction.
"Of course not. And being stuck with you imbeciles won't change that fact."
Ch.11 A Flower in the Desert
"I'm surprised you guys would just hand over this information to me without much of a fight," Agent Haruno mused as she flipped through the files Pein had retrieved upon her request. The information was more extensive, and overall just more than she had expected them to even retain. She knew that Orochimaru had connections with Pein in the past, but the files he now presented to her lead her to believe they held something much more than a simple acquaintance.
"Just say thank you, princess," Kisame's gruff voice retorted with amusement as he watched the small, pink haired, agent pour over the new information she was given. It was like a child opening presents on Christmas morning. Kisame would not openly admit it, but he was glad to see some type of life return to the agent's eyes the minute the files were placed before her. "There is a better chance finding him with your help."
Sakura ignored him as she continued to drown herself in the information, skimming over the pages, cataloging the data provided. Most of it was pieces of information she had already discovered for herself. Several known associates, drug collection cataloging, a few accounts of human trafficking, ties to several smaller syndicates, etc. What information did surprise her though, as she read over it, was the section that had been labeled 'interests'. But it wasn't the typical interests one would think. Typically, when the topic of interests came up, it would be menial hobbies and activities one would fill a bio with on their social media site. This section was much different.
The first, read the word collection at the top. The header being very vague as to what the interest may be, so she delved further.
Orochimaru takes interest in a collection of subordinates for his organization. There is a general recruitment process, but there is a different type of recruitment that he partakes in for certain individuals. It is a collection process. He searches for beings of specific natures to join his higher ranks. He combs through criminal data bases and tips from other members to begin the process. Once an individual is selected, it becomes Orochimaru's sole project. They are tailed, assessed, and then collected. If an interest does not join by free will, the collection process still occurs against the subjects will. If submission does not occur, the subject is killed.
"He finds the best in each field to recruit for his own needs," she mused allowed as she paused in her reading. It made sense, seeing that each of his top criminals were masters in their fields. Kabuto: medical, Kin: torture, Kimimaro: narcotics, Sakun and Ukon: stealth, Jirobo: strength. And those were only the few she was aware of at the moment. She knew there were more. "They could all function on their own, but having him as backing makes them untouchable. His web is thick and tightly braided. Even if one line snaps, there are others that can fill in the gaps."
She read down a list of names that the file provided.
Kin Tsuchi – Obtained (Deceased)
Kimimaro Kaguya – Obtained (Deceased)
Guren – Obtained
Kabuto Yakushi – Obtained (Incapacitated)
Kidomaru – Obtained
Jirobo – Obtained (Incapacitated)
Sakon and Ukon – Obtained (Partially incapacitated)
Anko Mitarashi – Deceased
As she read the last name, her heart clenched. She had known Anko. She was once a decorated detective that worked alongside the FBI just two years ago. But once Orochimaru set his sights on her, she was taken. Though she refused him to her last breath, he had taken her life when he realized he would not get what he wanted from her. She was one of the only ones to so openly deny him, and in the end, he left her a bloody messy spewed around her apartment. Sakura had been one of the agents on the scene.
It was a sight that would be forever ingrained in her brain.
Not being able to stomach the current section without picturing Anko's blood painting her apartment walls, she moved to the next. It was titled human experimentation. It was enough for her brain to shift in Kabuto's direction. She knew that the sick wannabe doctor would be involved with anything that involved alteration with genetics, but she read further anyway.
Orochimaru has shown interest in the modification of human genetics, both physical and mental. His assistant on these matters is Kabuto Yakushi, who has expertise on the human body.
She skipped the sections that went over Kabuto's history, knowing enough about him already. He was a major part of her case load for a large part of her career.
Orochimaru will surgically add for physical changes to a body to improve physical stamina or basic human senses. He also has attempted genetic alteration through various injections of substances unknown. There have been no confirmed cases of any changes that have occurred. The subject will be monitored further.
She knew that Kabuto had always been important to Orochimaru and his workings, but she was unaware of his interest in such in depth human alteration until this point. Kabuto sure had a lot on his plate when it came to Orochimaru.
Her eyes widened. "Shit!"
Her outburst caused all attention to be drawn to her seat form. "What is it?" Pein inquired as he sauntered up to her seated form.
"Kabuto!" Sakura breathed with a panic as she ran a hand through her freshly washed locks. "Now that he's lost so many of his main contacts, Kabuto is more important than ever. He's going to go for him. He has to."
"What makes you so sure?" Sasori questioned as he stood across the piece of furniture she was stationed at, his mahogany colored eyes staring inquisitly at her person.
"Jirobo, Sakon, and Kabuto are all locked up. Kin, Kimimaro, and Ukon are all presumed dead-"
"Not fucking presumed. I fucking slaughtered them. You can't come back from shit like that," Hidan added with a scoff, pleased with use of the word slaughter. She was glad she did not have to witness that epidemic.
"His priority now will be to obtain the most important on his list of associates, Kabuto ranking the highest in importance," Sakura retorted, ignoring the jashinist's comments. "If he has any intention of rebuilding his ranks, he will need Kabuto."
"And where is Kabuto now?" Kakuzu questioned towards the pink haired agent.
"A maximum security prison in Konoha," Itachi answered for her. "As he has been for over a year now."
"You underestimate the security of your own prison, yeah?" Deidara's voice questioned.
"Not at all. But you underestimate Orochimaru if you think he is incapable of shifting the security in a prison. He has henchmen everywhere. That prison included. He's like a notorious city drug lord with friends in all the lowest places. I don't know what his plans are, but he is smarter than most give him credit for."
"So what would you assume his plan of action to be?" Pein asked, gaze flickering down to the files across the table before they moved to her person.
"It's hard to say," she murmured under her breath as she shifted through the other files they had provided her with. She was slightly happy to know that her own files back at the bureau were on par with their own. She had worked damn hard to collect the information she had over the years since she had been appointed to agent status. It would be a blow to her ego to think these men didn't have to raise a finger and they could get more than her.
"Couldn't he just recruit more?" Sasori questioned aloud, supplying the question they were all asking in their heads. "It would certainly be easier than an escape plan from a maximum security prison with high risks of being apprehended."
"It would take significantly longer to build someone up to the standards he had set for Kabuto, let alone find someone with Kabuto's expertise in the medical area. My findings allow me to assume Orochimaru's willingness to move outside of a set comfort zone." Sakura answered back as she shuffled through her photographic memory of Kabuto's case file. "But it wouldn't hurt to shuffle through criminal records as a safety net to be safe."
She turned her attention to Pein. "Let me call my unit. Even if it's just to alert them to cautionary measures. They are more focused on me than Orochimaru at this point, and having them distracted will just make any plan he hatches easier to execute."
Pein watched her, grey eyes giving away no emotion.
"I promise to keep it under two minutes. You can screen the call and you can even pick the person I talk to if you are so inclined to do so. And I will tell you…everything about my capture." At this point, he voice gave way to the pleading tone she had tried so hard to mask. With one final try, she spoke his name.
"Very well. But if we feel the need to end the call, we will. If you give anything away, you will regret it."
"Is that a threat?" she questioned lowly, feeling the urge to fight well up in her veins.
"Not towards you, princess," Kisame replied, with a tone that she immediately understood.
They made the necessary arrangements and when they were ready, Sasori handed Sakura a cellphone. It was small, nothing special. It was designed for the purpose of disposing of after. It would be impossible to track.
"You will put it on speaker. You will be limited to two minutes, nothing more. Do you understand?" Pein questioned as then men seemed to gather closer around her to hear the upcoming conversation. She nodded simply in reply.
"Call an agent of your choosing, but understand that if anything goes wrong, they will be the first to die." Itachi instructed, as she dialed the number into her phone.
The line rung loudly into the dead space around them. Sakura could feel her heart clenching and beating so rapidly in the same instant. She felt as though she was having a heart attack. The line clicked when it was picked up, and the calming voice answered on the other side.
Tears immediately welled in her eyes as she raised a hand to her mouth to help choke back her sob. "Naruto," she cried out softly, and the tears did fall.
"Sakura?! Sakura, is that you?! Are you okay? Where are you?!"
"Naruto, I'm fine. I'm okay," she told him as the tears continued to trickle down her face. "I don't have a lot of time so listen to me."
He tried to cut her off, but she continued. "You need to upgrade the security at the prison. Especially on Kabuto's detail."
"And you need to check the criminal data base for anyone that matches Kabuto's background and history, specifically in the medical field. If you find any matches, keep them on your radar. Orochimaru may try and recruit them, so get to them first."
"Tell everyone that I'm fine, and don't come looking for me," she felt herself crying harder has his protests on the other line continued. "I miss you so much. Tell everyone I miss them, and how much I love them."
"Everything feels so dark without your sunshine, Naruto," she said so quietly as another sob rose in her throat. Her elbows rested on the counter in front of her as she clenched her hands in her hair. Her tears splashed against the hard surface.
"And you were right about Nopales. They taste terrible. Absolutely disgusting. I don't know how Gaara can eat them. Tell him how terrible they are for me," she carried on, letting out a short laugh as she spoke, though the tears never ceased. She felt the gazes from the men around her, but ignored them as she continued. "How…how long have I been gone, Naruto?"
She heard him release a straggled breath from the other line, and she knew his answer wasn't good. "Just over a week, Sakura-chan," his deep voice trailed off over the phone speaker. More tears fell as she swallowed the lump in her throat at the new information, before he continued. "But there is something else you, and those fuckers who have you should know…"
That caught the room's attention. Sakura would have scolded his foul language if she didn't miss it so much. Before she could ask what it was, he answered her.
"Orochimaru has called a hit on you."
"How is it that you know this?" Pein's voice spoke up unexpectedly as Sakura let the frightening new information sink into her brain.
Naruto lost any hold he still had on the dangerous temper that lurked inside of him. "Don't you dare fucking speak to me you bastard! You give her back to me! You-"
"Naruto, stop!" Sakura pleaded, breaking out of her shock as she knew his temper would only cut the call short. Her eyes connected with Pein's ringed ones briefly before looking back to the small cellular device. "It's okay. I'm okay. I'm okay," she repeated softer the second time, almost as if to reassure herself in the process. "Tell me how you know this."
"Our…undercover intelligence told us," he replied as she noted the hesitance in his voice when vocalizing the source. She was thankful that she had met Suigetsu, but now she was wishing she had heeded his warning about Orochimaru's gang more carefully. Perhaps her current predicament would not be in such bad form if she had.
"It has become their top priority. Sakura-chan, these guys mean business. They'll stop at nothing-"
"As will we, Agent Uzumaki," Itachi's voice interrupted, once again filtering surprise into the room. "We will stop at nothing to keep her safe. We will do a better job of it than you have thus far."
"Don't you fucking patronize me, Uchiha! I'll kill you for what you've done to her! You-"
"You would be wise, Agent Uzumaki, to neutralize the problem before we have to step in," Pein instructed to her colleague on the other line. His voice as cold and demeaning as she remembered it being when speaking to an outsider. "Do not try to locate Agent Haruno. She will be in our capable hands from now on. If you attempt to interfere and locate her, no amount of her persuading will not save your useless lives. Be aware, the only reason you still breathe is because of Agent Haruno's request, but my patience is easily worn."
She knew where the conversation was leading. She called out Naruto's name, as he called out hers but the line went dead before they could finish. Sakura stared down at the phone, new tears collecting in the corners of her eyes. She watched as a hand reached out, presumably Kisame's due to the skin hue, and removed the device from her view. A crunching noise resonated from behind her and she flinched slightly as the phone was rendered unusable by the shark-like man.
"Fucking snake. What a twat," Hidan mumbled under his breath, breaking the silence in the room, but not the tension. In fact, it only seemed to heighten the feeling as the agent felt herself choking on the palpable amount in the room.
"So who's the rat you seem to have planted in Orochimaru's inner circle?" Kisame questioned, genuinely intrigued that the FBI had such capability to pull off such an accomplishment when it came to Sound's high caliber.
One look from Sakura was enough to expect no answer to the question posed. Still, it was a curiosity for the lot.
"None the less, Orochimaru needs to be nullified. Quickly." Sasori's voice was clipped, his annoyance prevalent.
"Our spies report no new information on his current whereabouts," Kakuzu as he rolled one of the rings decorating his fingers. "And it is likely he will remain as low as possible while attempting to execute his newest plan."
"We need to call in a higher caliber of informant for something such as this," Itachi supplemented. It was as if they were having a deeper conversation without words, and Sakura found herself at a loss for what they would do next. But from the sounds of things, they had outside help they would be recruiting.
"I will contact him myself," Pein replied, confirming Sakura's suspicions. Though the who still remained up in the air. "Until then, augment security measures. No stone shall be left unturned."
There seemed to be an agreeance that filtered around the room. The measures that they were taking still going over Sakura's head. "In the meantime," Pein's voice once again pulled her from her own thoughts. "Agent Haruno has her end of the agreement to uphold."
Attention turned back to the lone female in the room and she felt her pulse quicken at what he implied. She would now have to willingly relive her torture and give them details she hoped never to resurface through her photographic memory. Swallowing the rising lump of nerves and fear in her throat, her eyes rose from the counter to meet Pein's across the room.
"I will not be made a spectacle as I tell my side, so I will only be speaking to one person," Sakura spoke up, her voice still wavering from her previous emotion, but she did not let her determination waiver. She felt Pein's need to argue, so she stopped him. "I will tell it to one person or none at all."
"That was not a part of the agreement, angel." She could tell his patience was already wearing thin, but she chose to press further.
"And what will you do if I don't follow your orders? Torture me?" Her voice was full of spite, but still light and breathy. The men in the room knew what a mistake that suggestion would be. "I only have so much sanity and will to live left, so perhaps I should let you. I'm growing so tired of being pushed around so others can get what they want from me just to leave me to die."
"You should know by now we don't want to hurt you, yeah," Deidara's soft voice spoke above the silence. She knew he was still regretful for the way he had treated her, but she felt nothing for his feelings.
"But you will if you have to," Sakura finished for him, her voice low as she watched him through her lashes. "You would justify that it was for my own protection, but you would have no qualms hurting me to get what you want. In fact, I think some of you would even enjoy it."
Her eyes flickered to meet Hidan's who flashed a smirk that reeked of danger. "I don't call it fucking torture, baby. I'd change your mind on masochism, if you'd fucking let me."
She sneered at him in disgust. This man would never change who he was, and that was what made him so dangerous.
"An opinion of one does not reflect the opinion of all, Agent Haruno. You should know this in your chosen line of work." It was rich coming from Kakuzu, Hidan's closest counterpart. She wanted to snarl at him, but chose to contain herself.
"Do not force me to do something you'll regret, angel. Your demands for the lives you hold dear will soon rain on deaf ears if your defiance continues." Pein wasn't speaking of physical torture, of her at least. A true sociopath goes further than the physical realm and into the mental.
"Emotional torture is still torture no matter what way you slice it, Pein," the agent hissed as the images of her loved ones flashed through her vision. She knew he would win in the end. He always seemed to get what he wanted regardless of the obstacles placed before him.
"An interesting choice of words, Agent Haruno," Sasori commented darkly, making her mind trigger a memory where a man white snow white hair used similar words before he permanently branded her. His face flashed back in her mind, sickening smile still in place. She could see the branding metal as it glowed red in temperature. She could hear his enjoyment as it bubbled from his lips. She could hear her screams as they pierced the enclosed space around her. She could feel the residual burn in her abdomen as the enflamed surface melted into her skin. She could smell her skin being altered on her body.
The agent let out a choked sound as her hand grasped the area on her permanent memory. Her emerald eyes widened, tears filling her vision, as the full force of the memory came crashing into her. Her opposite hand lashed out to grip the bottom of the chair she was on. Anchoring herself to something, anything, as she rode out the torture once more.
She couldn't hear the voices around her as they called out to her, trying to bring her back to reality.
"Princess," Kisame whispered softly as his gut clenched watching her experience a glimmer of PTSD caused by what she had been through.
"Sakura!" Deidara called out desperately, noting the pain she was in. He tried to reach out to her, but his hand was slapped away by Sasori.
"Don't touch her. We could set her off further," he explained as the men could do nothing but watch her suffer until she regained herself.
When Sakura finally regain her composure, she realized that she couldn't hear Kimimaro's laughter, she couldn't smell burning flesh, she couldn't see a branding rod, and she only felt the residual sting of it all. Her eyes refocused on the table before her, still not brave enough to look the men around her in the eye. They saw her at her weakest point, they didn't need to see the fear that still showed in her eyes.
"We will do it your way, angel," Pein spoke up softly, know that she was in a condition to focus on their voices once more. "I will-"
"No." She cut him off. Her voice hoarse and weak as she struggled to find it once again. "It won't be you. It can't be you."
She watched Itachi move closer to her from the corner of her eye. "Sakura," he called out her name so softly. So softly it physically hurt.
"Don't fucking touch me, Uchiha," she hissed, her voice finding more power as she flinched away from him. "I don't want your sympathy. I don't need it!"
The men in the room paused, contemplating where to go next. It was obvious she didn't want someone to tell her it was okay, even when it observably wasn't. She needed someone who was going to be strong and unwavering.
"You may tell me then, Agent Haruno. I will not baby you. I will have you look at it for what it is and nothing more," the puppet master suggested, letting the attention fall from the pinkette and onto him.
"Fine," she agreed solemnly, knowing she had no better options as much as she hated the man. Sakura took a deep breath, calming her raging nerves. "But after this is over, I don't want it brought up anymore. Any of it."
"Very well. Kisame will take you somewhere in which you'll have more privacy." On cue, the shark like man's large form hovered over Sakura. Their eyes connected, giving him the permission he needed to receive her from her seat position. Carrying her just as he did before, he followed Sasori down a different corridor in the back of the previously occupied space. They were silent as they walked, and Sakura found she preferred it that way. All she heard was the heavy sounds of Kisame's footsteps and the almost inaudible beat of his heart near her ear.
The agent found that as they made another turn, her surrounding looked more familiar. They were taking her back to the room she had woken up in. Once inside, Kisame set Sakura upon the bed before giving her an unreadable glance then making his exit. She didn't know what he was trying to convey, but whatever it was wouldn't help her now. She listened to the sound of chair legs dragging across the cement floor as the red head pulled a chair next to her bed.
She adjusted her body so that her back was against the headboard. She stretched out her leg, giving her damaged ankle room to rest. She tucked pink locks behind one ear before meeting the brown eyes of the puppeteer. "I will tell you what happened, but do not prod me for answers."
"Very well, Agent Haruno. You may begin."
"I was abducted approximately 7 days ago," she began, fists clenched together in her lap. "I was knocked unconscious by a blunt force to the back of my head. I awoke incapacitated."
"Incapacitated in what way?" Sasori question. His voice flushed annoyance through her system, but she answered anyway.
"I was strapped but my arms and legs to a medical grade examination table." He stayed silent, and she took her que to continue. "It started with a woman named Kin. She used a knife with a 3-inch blade here and here," she paused as she signaled to a bandage on her right forearm then her left. "Then she broke two of my fingers." She didn't bother to signal where, as they were her only broken fingers. "Afterwards, she noticed the stiches along my left bicep," she explained as her fingers trailed along the covered wound, "and stuck the knife into it."
"How did she see them, Agent Haruno?"
"Before starting, she removed my shirt with her knife," the agent explained with no emotion as her eyes remained locked on her interrogator. It was a little detail, but it was one she still would never forget as the blade ripped through the material of her shirt, all the while a smile played on Kin's face. "She continued to probe me for answers, but I soon lost consciousness from blood loss. I later awoke in the same room."
"Had your wounds been cleaned?"
Sakura scoffed aloud. "Judging from my condition when you procured me, I'll let you answer that for yourself."
Her point was made as the puppet master remained silent. Knowing what part of her story came next, she took a deep breath and continued. "Kimimaro began by biting me here." She pointed to the junction of her neck where her skin was just barely broken, but still scabbed. "He had a knife approximating 4-inches in length and another approximating around 2-inches. He stabbed me 5 times with the 2-inch knife. Once in each thigh, once in the junction of my left shoulder, once under the right side of my ribcage, and lastly in my side."
She no longer pointed out her wounds to him. It made the experience more real for her, and she found it was making her nauseous just thinking about it. Taking in a shaky breath, she continued again. "With the 4-inch knife, he made 11 cuts across my skin. He avoided all large arteries that would allow my blood loss to result in loss of consciousness, but he made his points valid."
One's eye did not need to travel far to find the torn flesh across her skin. They were easily visible to the naked eye. "After that," she paused, taking swallowing the rising lump in her throat as she took in a deep breath, "He pulled out a branding rod."
"Then what happened?" Sasori prompted, noticing that she was hesitant to continue. Her emerald eyes met his cinnamon ones. He expected them to be bright, but they were dull and hardened. Nothing like he had ever remembered them being.
"I screamed. He branded me with scalding hot metal like a fucking animal and I screamed like I never have before in my life. Is that what you wanted to hear?" Her voice was pointed as she took a breath. "That I broke down and cried, begging him to stop, pleading for my life, and he only continued to press the rod harder against my skin? Then yes, that's what happened. I cried and screamed like a child and begged for it to stop, but it didn't. It only continued. Any when I thought it was done, that I had finally been broken after I passed out from the pain, that vile excuse for a human being wasn't done. He came back and scarred me some more. He violated me in ways no one ever dreams they will be violated."
Sasori stayed silent, the gangs collected fears proving to be true the more she spoke. She was not only scarred physically, but mentally. Kimimaro had stolen things from her that she would never be able to get back. He looked into the hollow eyes of the FBI agent before him. Tears brimmed their edges, but they refused to escape. He would not give her sympathy, just as she requested he not bother. So he continued.
"Then what happened?"
"I passed out. He woke me up and dragged me out when the commotion started. Kin stomped on my ankle, leaving it in its current state. When we ran into Kisame, Hidan, and Deidara, he choked me leaving the bruises you still see. Then I left one torture chamber and have been forcibly brought to another." Her tone was angry, yet so very tired. Her fight was leaving her. Reliving what happened had been harder that she expected, though she would not show that to the man before her.
"Was there anything else, Agent Haruno?"
"No. Now please leave. I'd like to be alone."
He watched her as she sunk into herself. Though it was painful for her now, he knew that reliving her experiences would help her see how real they actually were. He could apologize for her situation. It would only take a breath, short and simple. But he knew no amount of apologizing would bring back the things she had lost. The blood, skin, innocence. It was gone. Though some would come back in time, there were still things that would leave a residual burn for the rest of her life.
So he couldn't be sorry. It wouldn't help Agent Haruno now. It never would.
His hands clenched in his locks so tightly that he thought he may rip them out in pure frustration as he listened to the recording again. He was looking for something, anything, which would give him a clue as to where she was. She chose to call him, after all, which meant there was a reason.
But every time he replayed the recording and listened to her call out his name at the beginning of the call, another piece of his heart shattered. She sounded so broken. So defeated. He never wanted her to sound, let alone feel, like that.
He and his team were still posted up at the FBI headquarters in Suna, hoping that it would give them a closer access point to where their missing agent was. He started the recording again, listening intently to every word. He listened with his head down in his hands in concentration. Enraptured in his work, he didn't notice the leader of his sister unit standing in the doorway, sharing in the listening space.
Naruto had of course alerted his fellow agents to the call and had the recordings pulled from the phone company. They tried to trace it, but had no luck which was to be expected in this situation. He had reiterated the call to the agents, but as Gaara listened to the vocal interaction, something peaked his curiosity.
"Nopales?" Gaara voice aloud, shocking Naruto out of his zone. His blue eyes widening at the additional presence.
"Yeah, she said they were terrible and she mentioned you. I told you that already," Naruto shot back, slight annoyance laced in his tone as he went back to listening.
"Naruto, Nopales are a fruit native to only Suna," the FBI chief stated.
"I already know that!" Naruto shouted back in frustration as his cerulean eyes flashed darkly. The man's blatantly obvious remarks did nothing to flush his temper or rectify his intrusion.
"Naruto," Gaara called back more firmly, drawing the irritated blonde's attention once more.
"Nopales are not native to all of Suna. Only a small part of it."
The irritated drained from the Konoha agent immediately. "How small are we talking?"
Gaara moved around to the desktop at the desk Naruto was occupying, typing away at the keys furiously as blue eyes surveyed his searches over his shoulder. The chief finally pulled up a small map with minor information along one side as he pointed to a section of the map. "They reside in the warmest part of the region, which is dictated by the middle of Suna. They don't inhabit well with human contact along with the outside world and can only be grown then sold to certain demographics."
"In English please," Naruto retorted as he continued to stare at the map intently.
"They're only found in an area that is approximately pinpointed to under 10 square miles. The coverage is small. It narrows down our search area considerably. She knew what they were from her time in Suna back when we were in the academy together."
Naruto could have cried at the positivity of the news Gaara had provided. As new emotions washed over him, he held his head and whispered her name like a prayer.
"If I'm not mistaken, that area also has weather conditions that don't allow tall residences," a new voice spoke from the doorway. Gaara and Sasuke's attention drew towards Shikamaru, with Sasuke not far behind him. "Due to the spiked temperatures and the high commonality of sand storms, most residences are built lower. Sometimes even underground."
"She said something about it being dark," Sasuke added on. "She could have been signaling to something of that nature."
Naruto let out a strangled chuckle. He couldn't help it. Even when she was away, even when he knew she was struggling, she always pulled through. She was still helping them.
"It's not over yet, Naruto," Sasuke spoke up again, making eye contact with his partner. "We still have to find her."
"I know," the blonde replied back with a ghost of a smile never leaving his lips. "But we will. We'll get her back. I know we will."
Author's Note: Sorry for the delay. I really got stuck with the chapter and couldn't get it just right. Until now. So we finally hear from the FBI after our time away from them. So some of you are probably like what the hell are nopales and when did those come into play? They are a desert cati that can be consumed and are used in dishes further down south. Though it wasn't explicitly mentioned, she had them on the breakfast plate Deidara presented her with as well as spotting them in the kitchen area Kisame took her to in the previous chapter. So there. But anyways, I know that some of you didn't want to hear from the FBI again, because you want Sakura to stay with our crazy little criminals forever. Sakura has shared her experience with the Akatsuki, so know they know everything. Now, anything can happen.
Please let me know if there was something you'd like to see from the next chapter or in future chapters. I enjoy getting the reader's take on the way the plot thickens. Thank you again for your unwavering support as I make my way through this story. As always, see you next time!