Sometimes there were dreams. She dreamed of Team 7 and that stupid-wonderful bell test, and how it would be the same test she would give her students in the future. The dreams were hazy and pleasant and she swam through them without lucidity until a harsh feeling slammed them all into a flat line. The sound resumed at a steady beep-beep-beep.
She awoke to bright lights, the sound of a heart monitor and the cool feeling of chilled air. Her heart was racing with such a rushed enervation it could only have been contrived. She blinked at the too bright ceiling, wondering at the dilation of her pupils. Her body was warm, and her nose- Her nose was working. Even if the smell was not the same, she knew a hospital when she felt it.
She glanced slowly around without turning her head. It was a large space, and it was metallic, cold, just like the first place she had woken. No techs with knives this time, though, which was a plus. She also did not feel restrained as she had under interrogation. Was she a patient, then?
What exactly had happened since she had fallen asleep? No, not fallen asleep… She remembered the fighting, creatures loosing strange projectile weapons. None of them arrows, but fast, painfully effective, and tiring to dodge after a while.
"Ah, you're awake. Good," a woman spoke from across the room. Sakura glanced at her, an older woman with neatly bobbed hair. She sat up, displeased she had given herself away, but seeing no more benefit in keeping up the pretense. As the woman approached her bed, Sakura took in her clean, modest tunic and leggings. Even more striking was the absolute calm in her expression. Her pale green eyes did not deviate left or right, but stayed on Sakura, and the young woman knew right away that she was in this woman's domain.
"I am," she replied to the statement, her voice cracking. Before she could ask, or try to swallow, a cool cup of clear liquid was extended to her. She took it warily, eyeing the body attached to it, even as her attendant smiled at her.
"Just water," the woman said. "No sedatives or anything of the sort. We've been waiting for you to wake, after all."
Tired of being chased and attacked, she could not stop the edgy, "I'll know if otherwise," that popped out of her mouth before she took a hesitant sip.
"No doubt," the woman replied, her calm finally breaking to smirk. "The Commander informed me of the exploits that have been attributed to you. My name is Doctor Chakwas. I have been attending to you for the past twelve hours. During which time, you have surpassed my expectations for a speedy recovery."
The liquid hit her parched throat blissfully, then kicked her stomach like a booted foot. She passed the cup away, grateful she had only taken a sip, and waited for her stomach to settle, willing it to not rebel. It certainly tasted like only water, as promised, but she could not remember the last time she had eaten something. That was part of how her problem with her attackers had begun.
"Why can I understand you?" she asked as her mind began to cloud with thoughts of food. Now that her stomach was active again, it knew exactly what it wanted. Her eyes, though, glanced at her bare arms, as she tried to remember her brief difficulty with her interrogator. The limbs were already scabbed over, but clean, the cleanest she'd been since before she had gone into the box. She glanced up as her attendant began speaking again.
"I augmented you with a translator while you were sleeping. It's removable through minor surgery, but we thought it might be helpful given the state you were in when we found you."
That was… unexpected. Sakura's eyes narrowed in the memory of the blue alien, the smooth rolling words she had spoken, none of which Sakura could understand before she had turned on the localized transmitter. It had broadcast words she could understand without being invasive. Different circumstances that would lead others to a more direct solution made her wary. That, and she was not used to her body being manipulated without her consent.
"We?" she asked carefully, trying for a non-inflammatory angle as she glanced up at the doctor, trying not to think about what else a translator might do. And if it needed surgery to be removed exactly how invasive was it? Where was it?
A hissing sound caught her ear and she glanced left to see a man in black and white attire walking towards them through a large opening she had not seen before. Just behind him was a lizard-man. She blinked rapidly at the latter's appearance, trying not to show how unsettling his unusual skin coloring was.
"We," the new human reiterated.
"Commander, Mr. Krios," the doctor greeted, not stepping away from Sakura. Both paused, the man standing equidistant between them, and the lizard-person just behind, which was still a bit closer than she would have liked. She was reminded of Itachi and Kisame, the relationship the terrorists had conveyed, and wondered at the strength of both of the newcomers. The lizard-man was not grinning in the sadistic way that Kisame always had. He, instead, had a cool calm that radiated into the space around him. Yet despite his presence, he was not the one in charge.
No, that position belonged to the man in black and white. The doctor had deferred to him, to some extent. This was still her domain after all. For the immediate future, though, Sakura could not yet decipher the hierarchy at play.
The Commander paused, regarding her for a few moments, taking in her hair, her arms, and glancing clinically to the part of her that was still covered with bed clothes.
"I'm glad to see it was just the situation and not a personal resentment against me," he said, more to the doctor than to Sakura herself.
The woman smiled slightly and finally turned away, moving gracefully toward a desk on the other side of the room. "A nice change from norms, then," she added with a touch of humor in her voice. Just beyond was a large glass window where people were eating at a large table and kitchen facility.
It was the first time she had noticed them in detail. Sakura shrunk slightly, feeling exposed, even though none of the people beyond were looking at her. If necessary she could high tail it out of here naked. That didn't mean she would like it.
"Who are you all?" Sakura asked, holding the blanket higher on her chest, casting her eyes once more to the lizard-man. He was so still he looked as though he had not moved. His black, black eyes, strangely-pupiled, were staring at her unflinchingly. Then in tandem they blinked, a clear membrane sliding over the eyes without inhibiting their vision. She could tell because the pupils remained locked on her.
"I take it you forgot clocking me in the jaw, then," the Commander responded, which was not an answer. And since it was neither a question, Sakura did not feel particularly inclined to respond to the allegation. If she had punched the man at some point, then he obviously must have deserved it. He smiled, reading her face, her reaction, and nodded.
"I'm Commander Shepard. This is Thane Krios, and your caretaker until now has been Doctor Chakwas," he said by way of introduction. "You're currently on the SSV Normandy, an Al- a Cerberus vessel, docked at the Citadel, waiting for information."
She watched his face closely as he spoke. He was young, hair cropped close to his head in a way she had only before seen in ascetic monks, and his bone structure was not something she was familiar with, a squarer jaw than those of most people she knew. He was very much human, though, which was more than she could say for the red-throated, green man just behind him.
"So we're still at the Citadel?" she asked with a grimace, trying to keep information relevant. It had only taken a few hours after her escape from her interrogators to figure out that the Citadel was the huge mechanism they had been standing on, floating in a sea of stars. Why, or how, a metal ship would be attached to it, she had no idea, much less why a ship would be metal at all. It certainly would not float. The only determination she had been able to make of her situation after that was that she was either still asleep, or in a genjutsu so strong and weird she had no hope of breaking out of it. She had tried. The wound mark was still on her hand.
"We are," Shepard replied firmly. The doctor returned from her seat at her desk and lifted her open hand toward Sakura, who shied away from the touch. The digits stopped short, intentionally, from the look on Chakwas' and Shepard's faces. Her hand never made contact, though.
A glowing orange light appeared around her arm, similar to the kind Sakura had seen the other creatures who had attacked her create. Its form was almost solid, it had a definite shape, as a large disc of light poised at the woman's wrist began rotating. She waved the projection over Sakura's head, then quickly over her chest and legs.
"Everything looks good," she said factually after a moment, still staring at the orange thing, and then pulled her hand away. It disappeared, and only then did Sakura relax fractionally. Turning to the Commander, who was still in a staring at Sakura, Chakwas said, "She's still exhausted, of course, but recovering very nicely. I'm most impressed. "
Shepard nodded, smiling to the doctor for her efforts, then turned back to Sakura. The lizard-man was still not moving. The commander was still smiling, when he said, "Guanghui Solutions. Armali Council. You stole something they're interested in. Any idea where it is now?"
She blinked at him.
Her brow furrowed. "What?"
Shepard blinked back. He continued to stare at her for a moment, eyes narrowing slightly. Then he turned to Chakwas, whose expression was grim. She shook her head, shrugging.
"Dr. Chakwas seems to think that you aren't suffering from memory problems. Want to try again?"
Sakura frowned mightily and clenched her fist in the blanket against her clavicle. She felt a rush of anger towards him and the doctor both, the lizard man, too, only made worse by frustration that had been building for months. It would have been one thing for her to be called a liar if there had been cause for it. She could have kept her cool, shrugged it off, turned their confusion to her advantage, but she still had no idea where she was, or her clothes at the very least, and there remained the fact that she was not dissembling in the least.
Before she could lash out at them in her consternation, the doctor pushed the cup of water into her hand again. The woman was smiling at her, and the offer of water was the the language of sympathy. Perhaps it was because she was a doctor, or maybe a human woman, but Sakura felt connected to her. The connection might have even been real, or maybe she was letting her guard down and simply imagining it. Whatever the reason, it helped diffuse some of her frustration. She took another sip of the cool liquid to calm her nerves, and this time her stomach was ready. She drank greedily, and when she finished, held the cup out for more.
The last time she had pressed her luck, she had ended up on the business end of weaponized projectiles, but this time she was valuable. They thought she had something they wanted. Until they thought otherwise, she had bargaining power. Could she take that route? Her negotiation usually involved her fists, but the last time she had started punching holes through walls, she had ended up on the street for two weeks. Either way, it was time to try a different tack.
Taking a deep breath, she eyed the man cautiously, and asked, "You're Commander Shepard?"
He nodded tolerantly and explained, "That's me," as if she might have already known it.
"What year is it?"
Shepard regarded her much the same way her blue interrogator had, curiously, looking to Dr. Chakwas again for a moment. Sakura did not miss the curious look that passed between them, nor the subtle shifting of the lizard-man as his leather jacket whispered the movement.
"It's twenty-one eighty-five," Shepard said cautiously. Sakura nodded, dropping her eyes to her lap. Her captor had given her the exact same year, the same look.
This was… beyond unexpected.
None of the contingencies she had imagined, been prepped for, had been of this nature. For a moment, she felt out of her depth. The calendar of those lands that extended beyond the great ninja countries was not one that she had ever paid much attention to, but she remembered enough to do rough estimates in her head that would have her believing she had passed years in stasis. How many exactly was yet to be determined; their calendar had taken presence over the twelve-year cycle.
But the possibility that she had passed years, a decade- maybe even two decades was not a scenario she had been prepared for. Her brain tried to remember the exact year it had been on the foreign calendar, and could not. She needed their timing, records of some kind before she could calculate today. She was vaguely aware of the eyes still on her, still waiting patiently. But they were not threatening her, had not harmed her. Her stomach rumbled loudly and the doctor chuckled.
"While we're waiting, do you mind, Doctor?" the Commander asked of the older woman.
"Of course," she answered, and strode from the room with the same poise Sakura was coming to identify with her. Her eyes followed the woman as she reappeared on the other side of the large glass window, and at her movement the others at the table looked up, turned to look at Sakura and the Commander.
She felt her face flame. They stared for a few seconds before turning back to their meals, hunching forward in what she could only assume was gossip.
"Could you tell me again about those… uh, those people? The ones you mentioned who think I have something of theirs? Why do they think I have something that belongs to them?" she asked, turning slightly to kick her legs off of the table as she wrapped the blanket around her backside, tucking it firmly below her seat to keep herself from being more exposed. It still felt drafty, and cool. Where were her clothes?
Her eyes followed the doctor again to see her speaking to a man in the kitchen, then she began the walk back to them, smiling at Sakura through the glass.
Shepard sighed, and she gave her attention back to him as he dropped his arms to his sides. He grabbed the chair from Chakwas' desk and perched himself in it in front of her. "Human Guanghui Solutions from earth and asari Armali Council- they created a joint R&D project to study an artifact recovered from earth because GS couldn't open it themselves, much less figure out what it did. Someone commissioned you to steal the artifact from them." Sakura frowned as the information continued to pour out of his mouth. She at least understood what 'R&D' meant, even if she did not recognize the other names. Earth she understood, but… that was metaphorical, right? Unease was wrapping around her stomach.
Chakwas returned and waved the orange thing at the windows, causing them to tint so darkly that she could not see through them. She smiled her gratitude, but the expression dropped as Shepard continued in the steady, patient tone of someone not wanting to repeat themselves. "You broke into the lab and stole the artifact. I'm not interested in who put out your contract, I think," he added in an aside to the lizard-man, "but I am interested in the artifact. Not me personally, but my… patron is."
"Your patron is… Cerberus?" she asked, trying to recall what he had said in his greeting.
"He is," Shepard affirmed, and again, Sakura got the impression that she should find this information significant. But at the moment everything was significant because each was a puzzle piece that added up to a bigger picture, and everything was insignificant because none of it made something she recognized as familiar.
Priorities were juggling in her mind. What she needed- wanted… was something about Konoha, about her friends and teammates, what had become of them. What had become of her? Context, something at the back of her mind whispered and she clung to it. The only other thing she was sure of was that Commander Shepard and the others, perhaps even those who had taken her prisoner, wrongly believed that she had stolen something that did not belong to her. She had stolen nothing; well, nothing except food. Certainly no artifacts. In this, at least, she could be certain, could try to acquit herself.
"Do you-" she paused trying to speak around the tightness in her throat. "Do you know what the artifact looked like? What it held?" An artifact from earth, the ground, surely, but her mind treacherously whispered they indeed meant the planet. An artifact that people had been unable to open; had created a research project to study, and somehow she had become embroiled in it all.
"No," he said clearly, not unkindly, but not mincing words, and Sakura felt a dreadful certainty settle into her stomach. It must have shown on her face, because the commander frowned up at her and continued speaking. "We were unable to determine what was actually contained in the cache that was found on earth, only that it was sealed in such a way that was very difficult to open. We assumed that you started the incident at the AC lab that destroyed the findings?" He was watching her face as he spoke. She was watching the floor.
"Sorry," she said, and felt no better when she realized she meant it. She had caused that accident, after all, in her panic. People had died because of her carelessness. Not because of her lack of strength or her inability to help them. People had died because she had panicked.
"Sorry?" he asked, leaning back into the chair.
"I-" She paused and chuckled, her brow furrowing. The laughter was flat and did not carry much past the lizard-man.
Her countenance fell all at once, but the tears she held at bay. The mission was not over. She might be off track. Things might have gone wrong, but the mission was still on.
Sakura took a deep breath lifted her eyes again, hardened as they were, to the man's face. "I think I'm what you're looking for."
"I think we've established that," he responded quickly, hearing her words.
She shook her head slowly, then responded, "I am what you're looking for. The…" Her lip curled around the word, "Artifact." Even as she spoke the word, she shook her head to dispel the idea. "I woke up in a laboratory a few weeks ago, and I panicked. The people were unfamiliar, and I think they had begun an autopsy of sorts…" She frowned again, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. "Not sure why since I'm very clearly alive."
"Wait, you were in the box?" Shepard asked, his voice low but clear. It was not a question of accuracy, but incredulity, and Sakura did not bother to answer. She simply held his gaze, waiting as he glanced from the doctor to the lizard-man, and then slowly back to her.
The frown on his face shifted from dutiful and hard to something softer, and she clenched the edge of the table. In her mind there was only one thing he could know about the situation that she did not.
"How long was I in there?" she asked, then more softly, "Do you know?"
He did not glance away again, but held her stare, gaze still softened. "I'm not sure, but the information I was given managed to date your… stasis pod to two hundred years of age."
It was not so much a physical blow as a sudden tightening in her heart that hit her. The doctor was at her side suddenly, surprisingly quick- or… maybe time was moving more slowly? She was holding her shoulder fast, and Shepard had stood in a motion that her eyes did not follow. The tightness raced from her chest to her throat, to her jaw and face. She rolled her shoulder, trying to shrug off the hand, but could not summon the strength.
"I need to..." She wheezed for a breath that would not come, even though she knew her lungs were fine. She felt fine. Nothing in her body remotely ached. Two hundred years could not have passed. The seals were not even meant to last that long. "My friends… The Leaf," she muttered, leaning forward to climb to her feet. They touched the cool metal floor and almost remained flat as her legs refused to support the weight.
The doctor was still holding her at the shoulder, but it was Shepard who held her upright and lifted her back on the bed.
Sakura stared up at the ceiling, unable to stop the sudden shaking in her body. "I have to do something," she said all at once, and the thought calmed her. Her shaking was subsiding. Or maybe that was the syringe that she saw escaping her arm, still in the doctor's hand. "I have to do something," she repeated as her heart slowed, shifting her eyes between the doctor and the Commander.
Thank you Luka1Sakura, and UzzleCue for reviewing.
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