Author's Note: Hello, everyone. I thought we all could use a happy fun-time summer adventure and so, here it is! Basically it's NEJITEN- IN SPACE! A sort of crazy combination of Firefly, Titan AE, Full Metal Panic and maybe even a bit of Peter Pan, who knows? You do not have to have seen/read any of those series to understand this one. In fact, I've taken so many liberties with those series, as well as the Naruto universe, you might not even recognize the references anyway. So sit back and relax and read some crack..uh.. I mean, read this epitome of amazing fanfiction you have before you. Yes.
I should also probably note that I am still slowly writing, but mostly on Livejournal now. Look up "shockblanket" on livejournal and you should be able to find me. I would love to see you there.
Disclaimer: I own nothing, just playing in the sandbox.
STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING
The Byakugan was a sound vessel, sleek and silver, it's forward thrusters reminiscent of the wings of a bird of prey. She got a good look at the cargo bay as her things were loaded on and found it small but efficient, a trait that Sakura had a feeling was the trademark of this particular space cruiser. The interior was clean and simple, no frills but she could feel the power of the ship beneath her feet, the quiet rumble of powerful engines. She'd been told in port that the Byakugan had a tendency for long voyages, sailing further in space than most were willing to take passengers. Most importantly, however, the crew didn't ask too many questions. If you could afford the Captain's price, you could fly most anywhere.
"Please be careful with that," she warned, as a man with short, black hair and round eyes unloaded the large, digitally locked trunk she'd brought with her. It was large and heavy enough that it had to be loaded with a lift machine from the dock and she winced as it settled into place with a thump. The man operating the loader gave her a sheepish smile before turning off the machine.
"Not to worry, lovely lady! Your things will be safe and sound here in the bay."
She nodded hesitantly and kept herself from going to check the instrument panel on the side of the shipment. It was better if she didn't draw any more attention to her rather awkwardly large luggage.
"I'm sorry," she said, offering her hand for the other man to shake enthusiastically, "I don't think I caught your name. I'm Sakura."
"Lee," he offered, with a brilliantly white smile. "I'm the ship's mechanic. If it's broken, I can fix it!" He winked at her outrageously and flashed her a thumbs up. "Is this your first time into space?"
Sakura blinked, still blinded by that smile. "What? Oh no. I'm from Haruno, originally. I went to medical school there. I came here for... on holiday."
"And now you're going back?"
"I... Yes, yes, that's where I'm going." She smiled weakly. "Back home."
Lee gave her a brief tour of the rest of the ship including the kitchen, the passenger bay, a quick look at the empty flight deck, and the engine room. Everything was in order, as she had suspected. Even the engine room, where Lee spent most of his time looked in good shape. It was obvious the ship was well looked after, and Sakura supposed it had to be, if it did regularly fly to the Outer Rim. To be stranded out there in the black was a fate not even worth thinking about.
"What's this room?" she asked, as they turned to head back to the passenger dorm. Next to the engine room was a closed door locked with what looked like a retina scan. It was fairly high-tech for a passenger liner and Sakura felt her curiosity peak a bit.
"Weapons bay," Lee answered quickly, and for once his usually expressive face was blank, as if he were trying hard not to give something away. She frowned, puzzled, but in the next instant he was back with a sunny smile. "That's it for the tour, Sakura. Let's get you back with the others and settled into your rooms!"
The other passengers, whom she'd only glimpsed while boarding, were busy unloading their things in the small bunk-style rooms, talking amongst themselves. Another crew member was among them, a young woman with her hair pulled back into twin buns. She seemed cheerful and spoke with each passenger while collecting payment - everything from fresh fruit and bolts of fabric to actual Alliance credits. When it came to be Sakura's turn, the lady smiled.
"Good evening, Sakura," she said, glancing at the passenger manifest in one hand. Her brows drew together briefly. "I don't have a destination marked down for you. Where are you headed?"
Sakura took a steadying breath. "How far are you going?"
Puzzled brows lifted in surprise and the woman gave her a closer look. It was a moment before she said anything. "We've got a few cargo stops along the Outer Rim, but they're not exactly places you'd want to vacation." Amber eyes regarded Sakura carefully. "Are you in a hurry?"
By which Sakura heard the real question: Is someone after you?
"No, at least, I don't think so," she answered. "I just... I'm just looking for some place safe."
The woman nodded slowly, as if she had heard that before from other travelers. "Well then. What can you pay?"
Sakura bent down and picked up the sturdy little wooden box she'd carried in and slid back the rolling top to reveal six neat little vials of clear liquid. "I'm a medic," she explained. "I've brought some medical supplies for passage, and I could see to the crew and passengers should the need arise." She offered the box to the other woman who took it gently.
"High payment indeed," she murmured. Dark eyes lifted back up to Sakura's green. "I'd suggest Whitefall. It's a little out of the way and somewhat backwater but I have a feeling that's what you're looking for." Sakura nodded gratefully. The woman tucked Sakura's box up under her arm and stuck her hand out. "My name is Tenten. Weapons Specialist. Welcome to the Byakugan."
Sakura went to the communal dinner that evening in the kitchen along with the other passengers. It was actually rather nice to sit down to a meal and chat amiably about the harbor town, the travel time, distant planets and strange destinations. The crew members Tenten and Lee ate with them, both of them interesting and easy company. It left Sakura wondering where the Captain was, however, and were Tenten and Lee the only crew members? The Byakugan was not a large ship but surely it took more than three people to fly her.
Her question was answered when she snuck down to the cargo bay after dinner.
She hadn't meant to stay longer, just a quick check of the container to make sure everything was as it should be. There was a lot of responsibility riding on her shoulders and she had no intention of dropping it.
Palming the sensor on the side of the container, the screen flickered and there was a quiet beep as information scrolled: internal temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, coolant level.
The cool barrel of a gun pressed against the back of her neck.
Carefully, Sakura put her hands up, palms out, and looked over her shoulder to find Tenten standing behind her, pointing an old-fashioned hand gun at her, a steely look in her eyes. The weapons specialist said nothing but another voice did.
"What is it?"
Sakura turned around slowly to find another figure standing behind and to the side of Tenten. A man dressed in plain clothes wearing boots and a long leather coat. He had surprisingly long dark hair and pale eyes that seemed to see everything at once.
"The crate," he repeated flatly. "What's in it?"
She lifted her chin. "It's personal."
The captain's expression did not change. "Tenten." The weapons specialist motioned with her gun.
"Move aside, Sakura."
Having little choice, Sakura moved aside, allowing Tenten to pass her and kneel down by the container's computerized latch. She felt her breath catch in her throat as the other woman pressed a few buttons on the side. "Please, don't open it. You don't know what you're doing. Please..."
There was a hiss and a rush of icy mist as the top of the container popped open with the sudden release of pressure. Sakura took a quick step forward but found herself held back by Neji whose hand on her arm seemed as strong as iron. In front of them, Tenten straightened as the mist cleared, her gun pointed at the ground as her eyes widened.
"What is it?" Neji asked, as Sakura pulled against his grip. Tenten shook her head.
Inside the container, a naked man, his knees pulled up against his chest in a fetal position to accommodate the size of the medical container, opened red and whirling eyes.
"Tzao gao," said Tenten.
"When I said I was a doctor, I was telling the truth," Sakura told them. They'd gone to the kitchen after Sakura had given their new guest a light sedative to help him adjust to being out of stasis. Tenten had sealed him into their med-bay, leaving him dozing on the examining table.
Now Neji sat at the dinner table, chair pulled out to the side to better watch Sakura who was standing at the head, fingers threaded together, knuckles turning white. Tenten stood at Neji's shoulder, hand gun holstered for the moment, but she stood at attention, ready for anything. Across from them, Lee leaned against the far wall, arms crossed in front of his chest as his listened attentively. Of all of them, Lee seemed to be taking the strange turn of events the best.
But Lee did not see his eyes, Tenten thought.
"I studied to be a surgeon on Haruno. After I finished my degree, I was offered a position on Uchiha, a neighboring planet, to be the personal physician to the royal family. It's there that I met Sasuke." Sakura paused. "The man in the med-bay. Uchiha was a small planet, ruled by an ancient blood line. Sasuke was the crown prince and he inherited the power of his family."
"Was?" Tenten questioned quietly. Sakura nodded grimly.
"Uchiha was destroyed. Sasuke's brother, Itachi, killed the entire royal family - even the children - and his ship, the Tsukiyomi, seared the land to ash. There was nothing left."
"Except Sasuke." This from Neji, whose gaze revealed nothing of what he was thinking. Tenten shifted at his side.
"Yes," Sakura answered. "For some reason, he left his brother alive. Sometimes I think he did so just to see him go mad with grief. Other days, I think he left Sasuke alive just so someone would know what he had done." She cleared her throat. "I smuggled Sasuke off the planet with the help of a friend. He became filled with the need for revenge. My friend nor I could reason with him. He disappeared for months and when I found him again, he was being held prisoner by a man named Orochimaru."
Tenten blinked in surprise and she felt Neji stiffen in his chair. Across the room, Lee frowned, straightening away from the wall. Sakura sensed the sudden tension in the room and stopped, looking at each of them in turn.
"You know him," she said. It was not a question.
"We know him," Tenten answered slowly. "Orochimaru the Torturer."
Sakura's expression was anguished. "Yes. I was able to infiltrate his compound with help from some old contacts from medical school. I managed to get Sasuke out but he was... something was done to him. I'm not sure what and I didn't have time to find out. I put him in stasis in hopes of flying him as far away from Orochimaru's territory as possible. As far away from Itachi as well. I was hoping...", she laughed sadly, "I was hoping if I got us dropped on some half-forgotten planet, he'd give up his need for revenge."
Lee and Tenten exchanged looks. "Who knows that you have Sasuke now? Does Orochimaru know who you are?" Lee asked.
Sakura started to answer but surprisingly Neji overrode her. "Even if he did not know exactly who she was, she would not have been able to avoid all of his surveillance. It's highly likely he has footage of her and he could use it easily to find and track her." Cool white-gray eyes flickered to Sakura. "So you've put my ship and crew in the way of Orochimaru and mostly likely this Itachi."
"I..." Sakura pressed her lips together briefly. "I know, and I'm sorry for that. Sasuke was to remain asleep until we landed. Your flight manifest said you were visiting small planets, off-worlds. I thought if we kept a low profile, it would be alright."
Neji rose smoothly from his chair. "You're confined to your quarters and the med-bay. Lee, get everything stowed. Tenten, set a course for Whitefall."
Tenten felt her eyebrows rise in surprise but she nodded once. "Yes, Captain."
Sakura was watching them all incredulously. "So... you'll help us?"
Neji paused on the steps leading up to the flight deck. "It's not out of our way. The sooner you're off the ship the safer we'll all be."
Sakura leaned over the examination table and shown a penlight briefly into Sasuke's eyes, watching the pupils constrict. The irises had turned almost black again - their normal color - and Sasuke was watching her neutrally. The sedative she'd given him was still making him lethargic but not enough to keep from realizing what was happening.
"You kidnapped me."
He said it flatly, without intonation, and she paused. "Saved you, you mean," she replied, frowning. "He was torturing you, Sasuke."
He blinked at the sound of his name and then those eyes of his shifted away from her. "I was there because I chose to be."
Sakura's shoulders fell. She pocketed the penlight. "I don't believe that," she said softly.
He huffed, but there was no strength behind it. She chalked it up to the drugs. "Orochimaru knew things. I stayed to learn what I could from him."
Sakura could feel her face trying to rearrange itself into an expression of horror and she had to breath deeply to get herself under control. "You wanted to learn to... torture?" Her voice was thready, hurt. Sasuke glared at her weakly.
"Don't be stupid, Sakura. Orochimaru has been in deep space. He's seen things, heard things. I learned things from him, but only what I wished to know." He lifted his left shoulder slightly. "Look."
She's seen it earlier in her examination. A strange, comma-shaped black mark on his shoulder near his neck. It looked almost like a tattoo of some kind. She felt nothing when she brushed her fingers over it. "What is it?"
"Power," he said.
But in her head, Sakura heard revenge.
Neji turned slightly, glancing over as Tenten entered the cargo bay. He'd been checking on their cargo - both official and not so official - and mentally calculating how long it would take them to make the drop on Whitefall. That they would be leaving Sasuke and Sakura there as well was a given. He had lost one loved one to Orochimaru, he would not risk losing any one else, and The Torturer would surely want his stolen prize back. He was not the type to give anything up, not without a price.
"What is it?" he asked, noting the pinched look on Tenten's face. She was also wearing more guns than usual - never a good sign.
"One of the passengers sent out a signal to a nearby cruiser. I managed to scramble it before it was fully complete but I have no idea how much got through. " Tenten's expression turned grim. "Neji, the cruiser is the Akatsuki. It's Orochimaru. We've got one of his snakes on board."
She had barely finished when another voice rang out, echoing between the metal walls. "How right you are, Miss Tenten."
Both Neji and Tenten pivoted to face the intruder, Tenten drawing the two guns holstered at her hips. The man walking down the cargo bay stairs was one of their passengers, a white-haired young man wearing glasses and a slim smile. He had Sakura in front of him, forcing her down the steps with a gun pointed to her head. The medic was white-faced but holding on to her composure.
"And Hyuuga Neji," the main continued, his voice coiling like a serpent's. "I've heard tales of you. My master speaks of you often. You never closed your eyes, he said."
Neji felt his jaw tighten and it took a push of mental willpower to force away the blood-soaked memories that suddenly flashed before him. Gai shouting, Gai fighting, Gai dying...
Tenten simultaneously thumbed the hammers back on her twin pistols, brown eyes glittering with fury. "Stop where you are, snake. Who are you? What do you want?"
Orochimaru's henchman stopped on the lowest landing, a hard grip on Sakura's arm stopping her as well. "As your Captain has no doubt realized, I've come for my master's belongings. He put a lot of time and effort into Uchiha Sasuke. You know how he hates it when his work is wasted." Sakura made a quiet noise but said nothing when Orochimaru's snake pressed his gun against her temple. "My name is Kabuto, and I've already hailed my master's ship. It will be here within minutes, so what are you going to do, Captain? Let me take the girl and Orochimaru's pet apprentice and you and yours can go." He smiled silkily. "I won't even tell him I saw you."
Even as he spoke, the lights flashed red in the cargo bay for a moment and an alarm sounded - proximity alert. The sudden, loud noise startled Tenten and made Kabuto swing his gun around towards her, shady smile slipping from his face.
"No sudden moves," he snapped and Tenten made a low noise of frustration under her breath.
That was when Lee entered from the side of the bay, alerted by the alarm, practically windmilling to a stop and catching the open door frame at the last moment. "Tenten, Captain, what's-"
He didn't even get to finish. Kabuto swung, alarmed by a new presence coming up behind him, and fired. Lee's eyes widened and he crumbled to the floor, his gasp of surprise lost in the sound of Tenten firing a perfect shot into Kabuto's shoulder. The force spun him around and dropped him, the gun clattering from his hand. Sakura immediately picked it up and backed away quickly, moving out of range.
Neji was halfway across the room, dropping by Lee's side. The mechanic's eyes were wide but he was fairly lucid, dark eyes meeting Neji's pale ones.
"Stomach," he said, grimacing. Neji pushed Lee's shirt up to see that he was right - a low stomach wound that would slowly bleed his crew member to death without help. Neji looked up and met Sakura's gaze across the room.
"Help him, " he ordered.
Sakura's eyes were huge and bright with anxiety but she stood her ground. "We have to run."
Tenten, who had handcuffed Kabuto to the stair railing and was still pointing her weapon at him, looked up sharply. "What?"
"Orochimaru's ship," Sakura said, shakingly. "He wants Sasuke. I'll fix him, Lee, I will," a thread of steel entered her voice, "but we have to run."
Tenten cursed. The alarm blared. Lee lay bleeding in his arms, watching him, trusting him. So much like Gai...
Another alarm rang and something exploded outside the ship. A warning shot across the bow that shook the Byakugan, sent cargo crates rattling under their tie-downs.
Neji let his anger cool, turning to ice water in his veins. His voice came out like frost. "Tenten, ready the ship for hard burn and activate the Kaiten." He lifted his eyes to meet hers and she nodded after a moment before hurrying from the room. Sakura looked after her, her expression confused, before she caught Neji's icy stare. She swallowed and flipped the safety on Kabuto's gun before shoving it into the back of her pants and hurrying to Lee's other side.
"Help me get him up."
Sakura was pretty sure she was going to die.
Maybe not immediately, certainly not before she removed the bullet from Lee's abdomen, but maybe right after, if Neji's expression was anything to go by. They'd gotten Lee to the med bay, surprising Sasuke who was still locked inside. He moved smoothly out of the way as they hefted Lee up onto the exam table, blood coating Sakura's hands as she hurried for an injection gun and a needle full of anesthesia.
"What's going on?" Sasuke asked, watching as Sakura put the injection gun against Lee's neck and pulled the trigger, his eyes fluttering closed almost immediately.
"Orochimaru," she said quickly, ripping Lee's shirt up the seams and out of her way. "He had a spy on board. Lee was shot."
At Orochimaru's name Sasuke went tight with tension. "Orochimaru? It's his ship approaching?"
"It doesn't matter," Neji said sharply. His pale, angry glare captured both her and Sasuke. "Tenten will take care of the situation."
"What you said to her, about the Kaiten..." Sakura started, but Sasuke interrupted her, eyebrows lifted in incredulous surprise.
"Kaiten? You have a Whispered on board?"
He and Neji exchanged a long, hard look before the captain abruptly moved away from Lee, heading towards the door. "See that he lives, Doctor," Neji commanded as the med bay doors swished open and then started to slide closed behind him, "or I'll hand both of you over to Orochimaru myself."
"What is that? A Whispered?" Sakura asked when he was gone. She nodded to Sasuke's right. "Hand me those forceps."
"Orochimaru used to talk about them. People with innate knowledge of mechanics, physics, mathematics. They are said to be able to create weapons and machines beyond the limits of current technology. He said they could hear whispers - from ships, from weapons. He always wanted one, thought it would make him invincible. If Neji has one..."
Sakura looked over at him solemnly. "I think it's Tenten. She said she was a weapons specialist, but I wondered how the ship could run with so few crew."
Abruptly the alarms that had been ringing went dead, casting them into sudden silence. Sakura and Sasuke stilled briefly as the lights flickered and then came back on, brighter. A hum started, faint but powerful, and the lock on the med bay door clicked into place of its own accord. Tenten's voice, pleasant and almost dreamy, spoke over the ship's com.
"Passengers secured. Engines at 80% output." The ship shuddered again as the Akatsuki fired off another warning shot. "Enemy ship detected within divination. Activating the Kaiten in 3...2...1..."
The ship's engines suddenly shifted into full power, the whine of it drowning out almost everything else. Sakura half threw herself across Lee as everything in the med bay vibrated with the energy running through the ship. She had no way of knowing what exactly the Kaiten was or what it could do, but she felt the power of it and could hear the screech of metal as it ballooned out to engulf the Akatsuki. Tenten's voice sounded again.
"Initiating full burn."
This time, Sakura felt only a subtle, sleek shift as the ship launched into a full-speed burn away from the injured Akatsuki, flying deeper and deeper into dark space. Sasuke met her eyes from across the room.
"No crew is needed," he told her quietly. "She is the ship."
TO BE CONTINUED.