The Infinite Perfection of Being
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
World: AU Ninjaverse
"Will you please stop squirming?"
"It tickles, goddamnit!"
"I don't care if it tickles! Just sit still, for crying out loud!"
Haruno Sakura had had it up to here with his shenanigans. Honestly, for all the good medical ninja did for the world, she was at a complete loss for why people seemed to give them so much grief.
"Well, you're a medic. You're supposed to care if I'm suffering," Sabaku no Kankuro grumbled.
Sakura rolled her eyes and let a burst of cold chakra run down Kankuro's spine. The male shinobi writhed and fell off the examination table with a yelp. Seeing him sprawled on the floor and only clad in a paper-thin hospital gown, Sakura could not help but sink to the floor and burst out laughing. Kankuro scrambled to cover his bare backside from her line of vision, scowling.
"THAT WAS NOT FUNNY, SAKURA!"
Sakura just kept laughing at him, clutching her stomach.
"I'm going to get permission from Gaara to kill you."
"Aw, what's wrong, Kankuro? Don't tell me you're ashamed of your body."
Kankuro blushed madly, averting his gaze. Sakura finally calmed herself down enough to stand up and hold a hand out to him. Kankuro glanced at the pink haired medic out of the corner of his eye and saw her smiling genuinely at him.
"Come on, get dressed. It looks like you're back to your old self, so you're free to go," she said gently.
Kankuro blinked at her, but accepted her offered hand. Sakura hoisted the larger ninja up with ease. No matter how much time he spent around her, Kankuro just could not get used to being physically weaker than the petite woman.
"Don't think I'm just gonna forget about this," he warned.
Sakura shot him an innocent look, the one she used when she wanted to get out of trouble.
"Don't pout. How about I give you a lollipop to make you feel better?"
Kankuro scowled, but could not help the curl of amusement at the corner of his mouth. Sakura noticed this and grinned at him.
"Get dressed. I'm sure Gaara will want to know about your progress."
Kankuro nodded and watched Sakura leave the small examination room. He turned to quickly pull on his loose-fitting Jounin uniform and followed her out the door in a matter of minutes.
"Want me to come with you?" Sakura offered when she saw him exit and walk toward her.
"Why not? It'll save me the trouble of hunting you down when Gaara gives me the ok to kill you."
Sakura rolled her eyes and swatted him on his bicep.
"How about a friendly arm wrestle instead?"
"That's cheating. You know you always win when it comes to sheer power."
"What's your point?" she blinked at him.
"You know, maybe it's not that I don't like hospitals so much as I don't like you personally."
Sakura looked hurt. "You don't mean that."
Kankuro sighed in exasperation. "Yeah, I know," he said, punching her upper arm lightly.
Sakura smiled at his behavior. They had become much closer ever since she had been assigned to Suna for her long-term mission. It was only a short three months ago that Tsunade had sent her to train new medical ninja and laboratory researchers in honor of the two villages' alliance. At first, Sakura had been totally overwhelmed having to adjust to life in the desert, of all places. But Kankuro had been assigned as her tour guide and all around go-to person should she have any problems. The two became fast friends, and she was infinitely grateful to the Kazekage for matching them up.
Kankuro, unfortunately, had been badly injured on a recent mission. Sakura and the team of medics she had been tutoring were able to patch him up in the end, but the jutsu he'd been attacked with left lingering affects on his nervous system, causing him to have random pain spasms. The attacks were less and less frequent once Sakura was able to concoct a numbing agent to soothe his nerves, but Gaara would take no chances concerning his beloved elder brother.
Sakura was now proud to say that Kankuro seemed to be all but cured of his malady, and she was looking forward to informing the young Kazekage. Gaara had a habit of worrying too much about his siblings, and Sakura had felt like yelling at him to calm down a couple of times during Kankuro's slow recovery. It would be a huge relief to be under his radar once more.
"Hey, at least now Gaara won't be breathing down your neck about me. The kid doesn't say a word to me, but he bugs you constantly. I guess I should consider myself lucky," Kankuro mused.
Sakura snorted and crossed her arms. "Yeah, tell me about it."
"Heh, you can't blame him, though. I think he's got a thing for you." Kankuro wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.
Sakura's face felt hot and she knew she must have been sporting a lovely blush. She glared at Kankuro out of the corner of her eye. "I certainly hope not."
"I can just picture it now. Haruno Sakura, wife and First Sand Lady to Suna's beloved Fifth Kazekage."
"Cut that out!"
"Aw, he's not that bad. I mean, unless you don't like redheads, I guess."
"I don't mind redheads at all!"
"So then, you want to date my brother?"
"I did not say that!"
"Whatever. Gaara's come a long way, but I don't think he's discovered women yet. So I guess you're in the clear. For now."
"Oh my god, seriously, can we please not talk about this anymore?"
"Oh my god, seriously, Sakura," he mimicked her tone. "You're cute. Why don't you just date someone? You know there are plenty of guys here who would love the chance to take out the Hokage's former apprentice."
"Oh? And what about you? You're only the second most eligible bachelor for hundreds of miles. Why don't you get out and live a little?"
"Who said I don't get out and 'live a little,' as you put it?"
"Ugh, ok. I did not need to know that." She shook her head in mock repulsion.
"Hey! I didn't mean it like that!"
Sakura laughed, and they continued their playful conversation until they reached the entrance to the Kazekage's offices. Just as Kankuro was about to open the door, it swung open and Gaara marched purposefully out, nearly barreling into his brawnier older brother. Sakura stared at the Kazekage, surprised that he was running around his office so carelessly. Then she noticed the anxious glint in his eyes. Something was not right.
"Hey, Gaara, slow down! You almost knocked me over, idiot," Kankuro growled.
The young Kazekage blinked, finally noticing Sakura and Kankuro.
"What's going on, Gaara?" Sakura asked, her eyes questioning.
Gaara turned to pink-haired female and clenched his jaw. "Actually, I was just going to find you. Follow me." His tone brooked no room for argument. Turning to Kankuro he added, "You too."
Gaara took off at a brisk pace. Kankuro and Sakura exchanged a look, but they immediately made to follow. What was it that made the usually calm Kazekage look so nervous?
Whatever it is, it must be big for him to get this worked up, Sakura thought to herself, not without a hint of worry.
Gaara was headed to the hospital, where Sakura and Kankuro had just come from. Jogging, they caught up to the redhead and Kankuro tried to get him to reveal more.
"I cannot say anything here. This is top secret and I can't risk anyone eavesdropping. You'll see for yourself shortly," came his cryptic explanation.
Kankuro frowned, clearly unsettled that his brother, who usually confided in him, was being so cagey. It really must be something big, he thought. The trio arrived at the hospital and Gaara wasted no time in heading down a hallway to the left. Sakura immediately realized they were headed to the ward where injured enemy shinobi were kept until they were well enough to stand trial or be thrown in prison. Now she was really curious. Had they captured someone important?
Gaara led them all the way down the hall before taking a right. It led to another, narrower corridor with a single door at the end. This room was reserved for enemies too injured to be kept in the prison, but too dangerous to be kept around other patients. Sakura gulped. Gaara stopped in front of the door but did not open it. Instead, he turned to her and Kankuro.
"Sakura, Kankuro. What you are about to see and hear from here on is to remain absolutely confidential at all costs. There have been no decisions about how to proceed yet, so until I make those determinations I want this kept tightly under wraps. Is that clear?" Gaara spoke with a thinly veiled authority that reminded Sakura that this man, although the same age as her, was not to be trifled with.
Sensing the utter seriousness of the situation, neither spoke, instead choosing merely to nod their acquiescence. Gaara pursed his lips and returned his attention to the door, knocking three times. Immediately, an ANBU guard opened the door and took a moment to take in the newcomers' appearances. He swiftly stepped aside to allow the Kazekage and his guests through. Kankuro followed after Gaara, and Sakura entered last.
A team of four armed, masked ANBU guards not including the one who had answered the door manned the room. They stood stiffly against the room's four walls, facing the center. Gaara wasted no time before moving to the hospital bed in the center of the room and peering over what appeared to be a sleeping patient. Sakura and Kankuro hung back, waiting until Gaara would call them over. The couple of minutes that passed seemed to drag on as Sakura felt herself begin to sweat in the claustrophobic hospital room.
Finally, Gaara spoke. "Kankuro, Sakura, please come over here. I'd like you to confirm the identity of this prisoner."
Kankuro immediately moved to his brother's side, Sakura following right behind. Before she made it to the bed, she heard Kankuro gasp. Puzzled, she headed to the opposite side of the bed to get a look at the patient. What she saw made her blood turn cold. Green eyes widened in shock and her hands shook.
"It's not possible," she heard Kankuro whisper.
Without really thinking, Sakura reached out a hand to touch the man's face. He was warm to the touch, making her recoil. His cheeks were dusted pink, and she could detect the soft rise and fall of his chest. He looked gaunt, and his rust-red hair fell over his closed eyes. He was real, she thought, horrified. Memories of a day long ago flooded Sakura's mind, and she felt herself nearly lose her balance at the rush of emotion. She heard Gaara speak, but her eyes were locked on the figure sleeping soundly in the bed.
"Obviously, it is," Gaara deadpanned.
Kankuro had regained some of his composure and was now looking worriedly at Sakura. He swallowed hard.
"Akasuna no Sasori," he confirmed.
Sakura's eyes rose to meet his, and he saw the shock mixed with a distinct fear in her wide, jade eyes. He clenched a fist in anger.
"How?" he growled. "How is this possible?"
"That's what I'd like to know," Gaara said, fixing his steely green eyes on Sakura. "Sakura, I'd like you to discern what you can regarding his condition and why he's still alive."
Sakura tore her eyes from Sasori's sleeping form to meet Gaara's gaze.
"Akasuna no Sasori," she whispered.
"Yes. My ANBU stumbled across an Akatsuki hideout and found his body there. They've just returned, and we are the only people outside of them," he indicated the ANBU stationed around the room, "who know of this. What I want to figure out is how he's still alive. I was under the impression that he discarded his human body to turn himself into a puppet."
Sakura swallowed her palpable fear as she tried to switch into her more professional medic mode. "I'll see what I can do."
All of a sudden, Sakura felt a warm hand grip her shoulder. She whipped her head around and found Kankuro standing beside her. He gave her shoulder a light squeeze.
"We're right here with you."
Sakura immediately felt a rush of gratitude for the older shinobi. She stole another look at Gaara and he nodded to her, his eyes hard. Feeling significantly braver in their presence, she steeled her resolve and slowly moved her hands to rest on Sasori's chest. Forcing herself just to think about it as another nameless human body, she pushed her medical probing chakra inside his body and explored.
What she found was extremely disturbing. After what seemed like only minutes to her, she pulled back and looked up. Gaara was now sitting in a chair on the other side of the table, and Kankuro was leaning against the bed. She blinked at them and furrowed her brow
"You're finally finished?" Kankuro asked.
"You were examining him for over half an hour," Gaara informed her.
Sakura gasped. She did have a tendency to throw herself into her work and lose all concepts of time and space sometimes. Although, she had a feeling this time it was more to do with the very strange discovery she'd made while examining Sasori. Sakura took a deep breath and began to explain what she'd found.
It seemed Sasori was indeed a living, breathing human. From looking at him, it was clear that he did not look the same age as the puppet she and Chiyo had fought several years ago. But he also did not look as old as she thought he should be, judging from the time he'd left the village. Sakura did not know how this was possible, she admitted.
Further inspection revealed traces of foreign chakra in Sasori's body. She explained that instead of remaining stationary, as foreign chakra tends to behave in another's body, this chakra flowed throughout Sasori's body, almost like blood through veins. Finally, Sakura revealed the most disturbing discovery she'd made. Sasori only had half of his heart, and the foreign chakra in his body seemed to gather around the remaining half before circulating around the rest of his body.
"But that's not possible. How can someone be alive with only half a heart?" Kankuro asked, incredulous.
"I truly have no idea. By all accounts, he should not be alive," Sakura admitted. After a pause, she added, "There's something else. I've never seen a living person with only half a heart, so I can't say for sure if it's a direct cause or if it's unrelated. But Sasori's bodily functions, everything from his heartbeat to the rate of cell division, are all sluggish. It's almost like he's living in slow motion, if that makes sense."
Gaara frowned. "He should be dead, but the fact is that he is very much alive. Sakura."
Sakura met the Kazekage's gaze.
"I have to make a decision on what to do about this. Akasuna no Sasori is a criminal. He kidnapped and murdered the Third Kazekage; that alone is grounds for execution."
Sakura did not miss the slight hesitation in Gaara's voice, however.
"I'll have to discuss this with the Jounin council. But ultimately, it's my decision what to do about this."
"What are you trying to say?" Kankuro asked, his tone skeptical.
Gaara rubbed his forehead. He was definitely going to have a migraine tonight trying to explain things to the Jounin council. "I'm thinking that it might be to our advantage to interrogate Sasori for information about Akatsuki. We hardly know anything about them or their true intentions."
Kankuro gaped at his brother. "Uh, not to rain on your parade, little bro, but I don't really think Sasori's in any condition to answer any questions. Or be alive, for that matter."
"That's why I have asked Sakura to be here."
Now, it was Sakura's turn to gape. "Oh, no. If you're suggesting that I revive him, then I'm afraid I'll have to decline."
"I have never seen anything like his current condition. I don't even know if he's curable. Judging from that foreign chakra in his body, it could even be a trap. It's risky."
"Unfortunately, you do not make the decisions around here, Sakura. As long as you are dispatched to Suna, you are answerable to me."
Sakura felt her eye twitch in annoyance.
"Of course, I will inform Lady Tsunade of this new circumstance. But I think you and I both know that the chances of her deferring to me in this are very much in my favor."
Sakura crossed her arms defiantly. Kankuro sighed.
"Gaara, you've really learned nothing about how to talk to women."
Gaara turned to his brother. "What is that supposed to mean?"
Kankuro chuckled and shook his head. "Nothing." He shot a devious look at Sakura.
Gaara sighed, knowing how stubborn Sakura could be. He decided to take a different approach. "Sakura, let me put it this way. You are a very capable medical ninja, and I have faith that you are more than qualified for this job. All I ask is that you do all that you can to wake him up. I will deal with what happens afterward."
Sakura peered at Gaara. Like Kankuro, she had gotten to know the stoic Kazekage over the past few months. He didn't get out much, and the only other woman besides Sakura he really had an opportunity to talk to about matters unrelated to work was Temari. She had initially been wary of him, the memory of a crazed Shukaku demon trying to kill her as a genin hard to put out of her mind. But Gaara was really a kind person deep down who just needed people to listen to and believe in him. He was a lot like Naruto use to be, and she could not help but be drawn to him. She sighed dejectedly, knowing she could never refuse him anything.
"Of course, Gaara. I'll do whatever I can. But I can't make any promises. His condition is very unusual."
Gaara nodded. "I understand. I'll assign a team of ANBU to oversee your work."
In case he wakes up. Great. The thought of Sasori waking up was downright terrifying.
"As soon as Temari gets back from Konoha, we better tell her, too," Kankuro piped up.
"Yes, it would be impossible to keep this from her."
Sakura smiled. Temari really kept the two of them on a tight leash. Sakura supposed it was how things got done around here. In fact, while Gaara might be the Kazekage in name, Temari ran a lot of the tedious office work behind the scenes. Behind every great man, there is an even greater woman, she supposed.
"So, when do you want me to start the preliminary diagnosis?"
"Immediately." He looked her over once, and then added, "After you eat something."
Sakura rolled her eyes. "Yes, Your Highness."
"Don't call me that."
Kankuro shook his head. "Seriously, though. What the hell are we going to do about this? I just can't believe it."
A moment of silence stretched between the three shinobi. Sakura returned her gaze to the sleeping Sasori. He definitely looked older than the last time she'd seen him. Back then he'd looked almost angelic in his perfectly preserved youth. And yet, he'd attacked her and Chiyo, his own flesh and blood, mercilessly. The Sasori she remembered was a villain in every sense of the word. She shuddered, wondering exactly what she was getting herself into. What kind of consequences would Gaara's decision to revive him have later?
"Let me figure that out. For now, Sakura, just concentrate on waking him up. Kankuro, I'm going to need your help when I talk to the Jounin council."
Kankuro knew what that meant. The council would surely throw a fit about Sasori being alive. He was Suna's most wanted criminal, even though most of Kankuro's generation and those younger didn't really know much about him. The older shinobi, however, would want Sasori's head on a pike for his involvement in the Third Kazekage's death. It would be a long night arguing if Gaara was really determined to keep Sasori alive for questioning. Kankuro really hoped Temari would hurry up and get back from Konoha. She was much better at the whole diplomacy and negotiation thing than Kankuro considered himself to be.
"You got it, little bro. I just hope Temari gets back soon."
"I've already summoned her. With any luck, she'll be here in the next couple of days."
Kankuro turned to Sakura. "So, let's get you something to eat so you can start Operation Frankenstein."
Sakura cringed at the gruesome metaphor. "Right. I guess this is what I get for choosing the path of life over death. Gaara, will you join us?"
"I'm going to start to preparing for the emergency meeting I'll have to call. You two go, but make it fast. The sooner we can wake him up the better. It might help me convince the council."
Sakura narrowed her eyes at him. "If Temari were here, she would demand that you eat something. I know you're going to be up all night with this, so this my only chance to make sure you don't starve in the process." She paused. "As your personal physician, I order you to eat something."
Gaara glared at Sakura, and she glared right back. For some reason, she always had this problem with him being stubborn about things normal people would never think to be stubborn about. He was a workaholic through and through, for better or for worse. But if he was going to use his position to order her around, then she had no qualms about doing the same to him.
"Fine. But let's make it fast."
After a quick dinner with the Sand brothers, Sakura left them to deal with the political upheaval that was sure to occur in the wake of Sasori's return. Taking Gaara's advice, she tried not to think about that and instead began to ponder his medical condition. Truly, she was going to have to think creatively on this one.
She returned to Sasori's room in the prisoners' ward, where two of the previous ANBU guards were waiting, much to her relief. Truthfully, she did not want to be left alone with even an unconscious, half-dead Sasori. The room was small and Sakura's lab was on the other side of the hospital, unfortunately. But in her absence, she noticed that someone had set up a mini lab on the long, metal table along the far wall. She took some time to check all the equipment, and after running to her lab to procure a few more items, she was ready to start running some tests.
It took a painstaking level of delicacy for Sakura to extract samples of Sasori's maimed heart, but she managed to accomplish the task in fairly good time. Using a microscope, Sakura examined the heart tissue sample and determined that it was healthy and normal, which was good news, if one could consider Sasori potentially waking up good news.
It seemed to Sakura that the best way to solve Sasori's heart problem would be to use a variation of Shizune's Regeneration technique to encourage rapid cell division. The heart should re-grow its missing half, much like a missing limb would regenerate under the same technique. Instead of using a different part of Sasori's body to act as a medium, Sakura began to wonder if she could use his heart and focus all the energy on actually stimulating natural cell division and growth. It just might work with the right amount of chakra control to guide the process.
But she would be taking a gamble; one wrong move and she could do irreparable damage to Sasori's heart. Really, she wondered why on earth he would put himself in such a dangerous situation. If he didn't have the trust of a highly skilled medic or two, it would be akin to suicide. What in the world had he been thinking?
One problem she foresaw was how she was going to pull off Shizune's Regeneration technique by herself. Gaara had made it pretty clear that he wanted this whole operation to be kept a secret, so she really didn't think he would be enthusiastic about letting Sakura have her pick of the hospital staff to help out. But maybe she wouldn't need any help. Not having to do the extra step of converting the cells taken from one part of the body into a form suitable for the damaged part would be a big break. That was the part that drained the medics while performing a normal Regeneration technique. Maybe, if she had enough time, she could pull off this much simpler regeneration by herself. In any case, she didn't see herself having much of a choice.
Next, Sakura examined a sample of strange chakra she'd carefully extracted from Sasori's body. It behaved in a very peculiar way, and upon closer inspection she realized that it seemed to freeze anything it came into contact with. Curious, Sakura injected it into a live mouse. The results were instantaneous. Observing with her chakra, Sakura watched as the mouse's bodily functions slowed almost to the point of stopping. It was almost like the mouse's internal clock was ticking more slowly. But the longer she probed, the more evidence she found that everything was working normally, just at a very subdued pace. Intrigued, Sakura removed the foreign chakra once more. The mouse twitched, as if having a seizure, and Sakura worried that she may have just killed it. But after a few tentative moments, the mouse rolled over and sniffed the air, scampering around the tabletop. It was as good as new!
Sakura turned to look back at Sasori's sleeping form. She was now thoroughly mystified by his condition. Somehow, the foreign chakra in him had nearly stopped time for his body, like a kind of hibernation. Perhaps that explained why he hadn't died yet. If his body were being preserved by the foreign chakra, it would probably take a very long time before his body reacted to only having half of a heart. If she could restore his heart before removing the foreign chakra, perhaps he would revive! In any case, the ANBU in the room seemed to sense her excitement as she scribbled hastily on a notepad and stole glances between the scampering lab mouse and Sasori.
"Is everything alright, Haruno-sensei?"
"Oh, yes, I think everything will be just fine."
Sakura was not thrilled about the prospect of reviving Sasori, but she could not shake her curiosity about his condition. Perhaps it would give her some insight on how to re-grow organs to save someone who has been fatally wounded. Or maybe she could use the knowledge to improve existing organ transplants. The possibilities were endless! But Sakura knew that the best way to get some concrete answers to give her theories real weight would be to ask him herself. Suddenly, she felt a new determination to succeed in this mission. Sasori would wake up whether he wanted to or not, if she had anything to say about it.
With that thought in mind, Sakura decided to turn in for the night. It was already very late, and she was going to need her strength for the days to ahead. So she excused herself and returned to her apartment. The next day would surely be even more exciting, especially if she could make some progress restoring Sasori's incomplete heart.
Over the course of the next week, Sakura worked tirelessly on Sasori's heart. It turned out that re-growing his heart would take a lot longer than she'd originally predicted since she was working by herself. She had to direct her chakra to stimulate cell division while simultaneously controlling for any wandering energy that might negatively affect other organs. It was a very tedious process that required a high level of chakra control and patience. Sakura was thankful that her strenuous training with Tsunade and Shizune during past regeneration rituals helped her stay focused now. On the inside, however, Sakura felt like breaking something; this was taking forever.
Thankfully, she was nearly finished at this point. It was certainly paying off to proceed slowly and cautiously—more than once, she caught herself letting her chakra wander unnecessarily and stimulating other organs. Progress was moving at a snail's pace, but it was moving nonetheless. Just a little more, and Sasori would have a whole, working heart again.
"Good work, Sakura."
Carefully, Sakura withdrew from Sasori's system so she could address the newcomer.
"How's it going?"
"I should be able to complete the regeneration today. Then, all that will be left is to remove that foreign chakra. That should deactivate the hibernation technique, or whatever it is."
Temari nodded her understanding. The female Sand sibling had returned immediately when she received Gaara's summons, much to her brothers' relief. Temari was certainly better at dealing with the Jounin council than Kankuro.
"What brings you here?"
"Actually, I have an update on the verdict," she indicated Sasori. "The Jounin council has agreed to allow Sasori to be interrogated once he awakens."
Well. It had certainly taken long enough. Most of the older Jounin wanted to end Sasori's half-life on the spot for his crimes. It appeared that Gaara, with a little help from his siblings, had managed to garner enough support for his decision. Sakura was relieved to hear it.
"Although, whether or not he'll talk is another matter entirely," Temari added grimly.
In the ten days or so she had spent toiling over Sasori's unmoving body, Sakura had experienced a kind of change of heart. Originally, she'd wanted to revive Sasori just to see if she could actually do it. Sakura was more than happy to leave him to Gaara after the fact, since the memory of him still made her uneasy. But over time she could not help but wonder why he was still alive, and how exactly had he survived all this time? She was interested in hearing his story, no thanks to her damnable curiosity.
But she suspected she wasn't the only one curious about Sasori. Kankuro visited every day to check up on her. In reality, he was worried that she was overworking herself. So Sakura got into the routine of taking a break whenever he showed up. He eventually revealed that he was curious about how Sasori had retained his human form. Sakura suspected that as a fellow puppeteer, Kankuro held a vested interest in Sasori the way a student might regard a master. Never mind the fact that Sasori had tried to kill Kankuro in the past, she thought sardonically.
Still, she could not fault him. As much as she didn't want to admit it, Sakura was really anxious for Sasori to wake up, too. She could never forget her epic battle with him, and she definitely could not forget how he had openly acknowledged her. What would he think of her now? Would he be happy to be alive? Grateful, even? So many questions passed through her mind that Sakura was beginning to think she was spending too much time around Sasori's comatose body. She really wanted to hurry up and be done with all this so she could move on.
"I wonder if he'll cooperate in the interrogation," Sakura mused.
"I hope so. The man is a bit of a legend, and I'd be interested in what he has to say. I did a little digging into his background before he left Suna, and it's something else."
"What do you mean?"
"He left the village at fifteen years old. But he was already an S-ranked assassin in the puppet brigade. He totally revolutionized warfare during the Third Shinobi World War with his puppets. As far as I know, the only other person to ever match his skill level at that age is Gaara. The guy was really something else, and he wasn't even a Jinchuuriki."
"Why did he leave the village?"
"I don't actually know. It seems like one day he just decided to take off for no apparent reason. We now know that he kidnapped and murdered the Third Kazekage shortly after he left the village, though, so maybe that was his reason for leaving."
Sakura nodded, wondering.
"Well, now that I've told you that, I better get going. Someone's gotta make sure Gaara doesn't kill any of the councilmen."
"Are they still giving him trouble?"
"Only a few of the more stubborn ones. They won't leave him alone about it. But I can't really blame them. Sasori is definitely very dangerous, and a hated traitor of Suna. Oh, and speaking of which, I'm going to need you to report before you actually wake him up. Gaara wants to be here along with a team of ANBU to make sure nothing crazy happens."
"Ok, then I'll leave you to it. Good luck, Dr. Frankenstein," she teased.
Sakura frowned in mock hurt. "Not you, too. I swear, if I'm successful and word gets out about it, people will be asking me to revive the dead."
"Well, isn't that a compliment? You should be proud, Sakura. It's not every day someone can revive a guy with only half a heart."
"See you later. And don't forget to report before you wake him up, I mean it."
"Yeah, I know."
Temari left and Sakura immediately got back to work. She was too close to slack off now.
A couple hours later and Sakura heaved a triumphant sigh.
Phase One, complete.
But this was no time to relax. Phase Two would be just as difficult, but it should hopefully go much faster compared to the regeneration. After a short snack break and a rejuvenating cat nap, Sakura cracked her knuckles, ready to begin. She had previously prepared a bowl filled with a chakra-neutralizing agent, which would be used to extract the foreign chakra without having to touch it. The technique was similar to the poison extraction technique Tsunade had taught her. Sakura stood over Sasori and reached a hand into the bowl, bringing a large bubble to the surface. Slowly, she pushed the slippery bubble through his chest and let her chakra wash through his system, searching for traces of the foreign presence. When the bubble was sufficiently full, she removed it and carefully siphoned the strange energy into a cylindrical, glass tube made to preserve chakra.
As to be expected, progress was slow. She'd managed to get most of the chakra out, but there always seemed to be a little bit left and she would have to do a full sweep of his system to catch it. After several hours, Sakura stood up straight and stretched her back. She wiped her sweaty brow on her lab coat and reached for a glass of water.
When she did the test on the lab mouse, it had woken up almost immediately after the foreign chakra was removed from its system, so Sakura was expecting Sasori to have a similar reaction. Before continuing, she turned to one of the ANBU guards in the corner.
"Would you please inform the Kazekage that I am almost finished?"
The ANBU nodded his understanding and exited the room. Satisfied, Sakura returned her attention to her patient. "Alright. Home stretch!" she cheered herself on.
Sakura settled a fresh bubble over Sasori's chest and performed another sweep, catching bits of the foreign chakra like fish in a trawl net. She removed the bubble and made to reach for another glass cylinder when all of a sudden the bed began to shake. Startled, Sakura returned her attention to her patient. Sasori's body was convulsing violently. Alarmed, Sakura immediately returned her palms to his bare chest to hold him down.
"What's going on?" the remaining ANBU guard asked as he immediately rushed to Sakura's aid.
"He's having a seizure. Something similar happened with the lab mouse before," she gritted out.
Damnit, Gaara, where are you? she thought frantically.
"Haruno-sensei, move aside. If he wakes up—"
"He's having a seizure. He's not going to wake up just yet."
As suddenly as he'd started convulsing, Sasori fell completely still. Sakura blinked, taken by surprise, and observed him warily. He wasn't moving. He wasn't even breathing.
She unleashed her chakra in Sasori's system. Now she was panicking a little—this had not happened earlier with the lab mouse. Could it be that she had made a mistake repairing his heart? But she'd quadruple checked it to make sure it was functioning normally! Sakura quickly concentrated her chakra around his mended heart to give him a jump-start, but he wasn't responding. Damnit, why wasn't he responding?
"Don't you dare die on me," she ground out.
Before Sakura could register a coherent thought, she felt a hand latch onto her wrist with an iron grip. Startled, she instinctively tried to retract her hand but it wouldn't budge.
Sakura's eyes suddenly flew to her patient's, only to find them staring straight at her! She felt an illogical panic take root within her and her eyes widened in shock. Sasori's eyes were open and he was looking at her as if she were the single most abhorrent sight in the world. His honey eyes almost burned with anger. But before she could find her voice, a whirl of sand surrounded her and forcefully pulled her backward. The movement painfully wrenched her wrist free of Sasori's grasp, and Sakura had to stifle a yelp of surprise. She landed against something hard and warm.
"Sakura, are you alright?" Kankuro's voice spoke from above.
Sakura turned her head to see that Kankuro was supporting her weight against his broad chest, a worried look in his eyes.
A muffled thumping sound grabbed her attention just then. She turned to look back at the hospital bed and saw Gaara standing over Sasori, who was now covered in sand. Four ANBU guards flanked him on all sides, ready to react forcefully if necessary. She saw him try to sit up, but it was no use—Gaara's sand was harder than tempered steel.
"Akasuna no Sasori," Gaara spoke, his voice chilly.
Sasori looked at the Kazekage, and Sakura noticed that his previous burning anger was no longer visible in his eyes. If anything, Sasori looked slightly annoyed. A moment of silence passed as Sasori continued to take in Gaara's appearance.
"She revived you."
His voice was light and slightly curious, but it wasn't a question. Sakura immediately realized he was talking about Chiyo. The old woman died to bring Gaara back to life.
"I'll be the one asking the questions here."
Sasori raised a brow at the young Kazekage, but didn't speak.
"Akasuna no Sasori," Gaara continued. "You will cooperate with an interrogation concerning any and all information you have about the criminal organization known as Akatsuki, of which you were a member for many years. Once I am satisfied that you have revealed everything you know about the organization and its goals, you will face execution for treason and assassination of the Third Kazekage, among other crimes."
Sasori blinked and let out a soft, humorless laugh.
"This is no joke, Sasori. You should consider yourself lucky to be alive right now. You've been given a rare chance to redeem yourself."
Sasori turned hard, cold eyes on Gaara.
"If you do not cooperate, you will be executed immediately."
"You plan to kill me anyway even if I do cooperate. What would be the point?"
"The point is you don't have a say in this. Either die now, or die later. It's your choice."
"That is no choice," Sasori said darkly.
Sakura gulped. It was that same, haunting voice from so many years ago. She could almost hear him taunting her, insulting her, reluctantly praising her skills. And now he was alive and lying only a few feet away from her. As if sensing her thoughts, Sasori's cold eyes suddenly locked on hers. Sakura felt the air leave her lungs, but for the life of her she could not look away. She could never forget those eyes ever since the day she thought she'd closed them for good.
"You," he said accusatorily. "What have you done?"
"She saved your life," Kankuro spoke from behind Sakura.
Sasori seemed to finally notice his self-proclaimed protégé.
Sasori and Kankuro exchanged a look, but nothing further was exchanged.
"You've wasted your time," Sasori finally addressed Sakura again.
He sounded like a man resigned to his fate, she thought. But it made sense. He was going to die either way. A small part of Sakura wanted to protest his impending execution after all the hard work she'd put into waking him up. As he said, it was a huge waste of time.
"Perhaps you need some time to think it over," Gaara said.
Sasori sighed and returned his gaze to that younger readhead. "I hate to drag things out, so I'll be upfront with you. No amount of torture will make me cooperate. And you would be doing me a favor by ending my human life, anyway."
Sakura gaped at him. Was he truly so flippant about even his own life? She glared in his direction.
"We'll see about that." Gaara turned to the ANBU guard on his right. "Take him to one of the holding cells. We will begin the interrogation immediately. In three days, if he hasn't talked, we'll move forward with the execution as agreed upon."
The masked ANBU voiced his understanding. He nodded to two of his peers, who immediately revealed two thin, silver bands no bigger than girl's bangles. They quickly slipped a band each around Sasori's wrists, and Gaara executed a complicated flurry of hand seals. The bands glowed red and shrunk until they were too small to remove. Sakura heard Sasori hiss, as if in pain, and wondered what the bands were for.
"I'll meet you at the holding cells in fifteen minutes," Gaara addressed the same ANBU guard.
Suddenly, the sand restraining Sasori to the hospital bed swirled into the air and disappeared through the cracks in the walls, leaving its previous prisoner unrestrained. But Sasori made no move to sit up or escape, and Sakura noticed that his breathing was labored. Two ANBU guards on either side of him hoisted him up and all but dragged him off the bed. Before Sakura could blink, they teleported out of the room in a flash of smoke. Gaara turned to her and Kankuro.
"Sakura, you've successfully completed your part of the mission. Good work."
Sakura blinked at Gaara, finally finding her voice again. "What are you going to do with him now? It didn't sound like he was going to cooperate."
"I will make him cooperate."
"If he doesn't talk at all over the next three days, then he will be executed. It's as simple as that."
"Gaara, I'm not sure if this is the best strategy to pursue with him," Kankuro said.
"Why would you say that?"
"He's not the type of person to give into physical pain."
"Everyone has a breaking point."
"Yeah, but last time I checked revenge isn't in the Kazekage's job description," Kankuro's voice took on a slightly venomous quality, earning a glare from his younger brother.
A pregnant silence lingered heavily as Kankuro's accusation hung around them. Flashes of the longest day of Sakura's life rose, unbidden, to her mind's eye. A hideous, hunchbacked shell of a man with a long, poisonous tail. An attractive, blonde teenager on a giant white bird. Gaara's lifeless body, cracked and sallow and twisted from the pain of the extraction process. And Naruto's tears. Most of all, Naruto's tears.
When Gaara spoke, his voice seemed constrained, like he had to force his words almost. "It's not about revenge. His information could mean the difference between life and death for many innocents."
Of course he would want revenge for what Akatsuki had done to him, for what they had almost done to his village when Deidara attacked. And Sasori had been an accomplice to the attack. Still, the medic in Sakura could not completely accept what she suspected was to come.
"You know what, I'm going to have to agree with Kankuro. You just whisked him off suddenly and now I can't even imagine what kinds of gruesome interrogation tactics you'll be putting him through. I will not argue with your methods, and I certainly won't argue that he doesn't deserve it. But as a medic, I have to protest. His condition is not stable. I need more time to monitor him to make sure his heart is in working order. And there may still be traces of the foreign chakra in his system. It's risky. If he dies now, my part of the mission will have been a complete failure. And you said so yourself that his information may be able to save innocent lives. It would be better to keep him alive for now."
Gaara studied his brother and Sakura, but his eyes remained hard. "Very well. Sakura, I'll keep you on call in case Sasori's heart fails."
"Uh, it will definitely be too late if you wait until he actually has a problem."
Gaara rubbed his head, willing his migraine to subside a little. Sakura noticed his discomfort and automatically moved to him, reaching out a healing hand to soothe the pain. When she finished, she heard Gaara sigh and lean into her healing hand, as if seeking comfort.
"Alright," he relented. "We're going to do this my way for now. If it's not working, then I'll change my strategy. It would be stupid to throw this opportunity to get information about Akatsuki away so carelessly." He paused, and then addressed Sakura directly. "Sakura, you may run check-ups on him for the next three days. After that, there will be little point unless he's talking. That's all I'm going to say for now."
Kankuro did not look very satisfied with this answer, but remained silent. With Gaara, it was important to wait for the opportune time to convince him. Sakura nodded her acceptance, but she was not entirely pleased with the situation. They'd dragged Sasori away only wearing pants in the middle of the desert, for crying out loud.
I'm just concerned because he's technically my patient. And if he dies now, it will be a huge waste of my time and energy. All I need to do is keep him alive until it's time for his execution, she thought.
Although, the thought that Sasori would be executed anyway still made her feel like her skills as a medic were just being abused and taken for granted. And at this point she would be outright lying to herself if she said she wasn't curious about what had happened to him after she'd 'killed' him. But still. She hated the guy. And for good reason—look what he'd done to Gaara. And his awful treatment of Chiyo was just the icing on the goddamn cake. Sakura would do her duty, and maybe she could satisfy her own morbid curiosity, but that was it. She felt no obligation to a villain who had willingly sided with an organization hell bent on killing her best friend.
Gaara left her and Kankuro to themselves, after telling Sakura to check on 'the prisoner,' as they were now calling him, in the morning. With no more objections, Sakura readily agreed. She would need to do some serious self-confidence boosting before she ventured into Sasori's cell tomorrow. There was no way she would let some memory from years passed scare her out of doing her job.
But somehow, a niggling feeling in the back of her mind told her that she was getting in way over her head.