Am I Stronger?

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or any of its characters – all rights belong to Masashi Kishimoto. The new plots (meaning the ones you don't recognise) and my OCs belong to me, but anything else Naruto related belongs to Masashi Kishimoto. I write and post stories free on as a hobby.

Chapter Eight: Karin and The Great Manda?

Written by 10ShizukaYuukiMistress10

Who be there…

A human sacrifice perhaps…

Finally we come at the end of the cross roads…

The conclusion that makes a huge impact…

It may last a second, a fleeting moment…

-Or an eternity-

When Sakura opened her eyes, it was to meet the red ones of the person in front of her. It was a female ninja with red hair and unflattering glasses.

"Uh…" the red-eyed kunoichi began, and turned away, looking as if she was trying to gather the right words.

Sakura stood up and brushed herself down. She noticed that her leg-burn was now gone, and some of her strength had been restored.

"You healed me?" Sakura asked the red-eyed kunoichi carefully.

"Er, yeah." she answered serenely. Her head suddenly turned to the collapsed cave.

"Are you – I mean – have you seen a male shinobi called Sasuke Uchiha? I thought I sensed his chakra somewhere here, so I came down straight away. And it just suddenly disappe—

"What do you mean?" Sakura immediately cut in. Who was this kunoichi and how did she know Sasuke?

The red-head shrugged. "Well, he has dark raven-black hair. A handsome face – oh, so handsome! And a tall, muscular – sexy body—"

"Oh," Sakura interrupted with a blush. "Well thanks for healing me but I think you should go. Sasuke – I mean— this ninja you're after…"

Sakura stopped. Should she tell her the truth?

But she's probably just a passing Sasuke fangirl. The look on her face right now… what I need is for her to leave, so that I can get back to the others in that collapsed cave…

Sakura bit her lip. Maybe it would be for the best that she didn't tell her. Some of her strength was back, meaning she needed to go back into that collapsed cave and heal her teammates. Distractions like this were unneeded.

Suddenly, the red-eyed girl's face became serious, "His chakra! It's coming back – he's here – he's there I mean!" she squeaked, pointing to the collapsed cave. "Oh, Sasuke!"

"Uh… hold on! Just who are you?" Sakura queried.

The red-head scoffed at Sakura disdainfully. "The name's Karin,"

With that, Karin folded her arms and examined a nearby tree as if it interested her more than the baffled kunoichi in front of her.

Sakura hesitated a moment before offering her own name too. "I'm Sakura. Alright, uh, Karin, let's try to get all those rocks outta the way so that we can find Sasuke, and some others too,"

Maybe she isn't too bad. She did heal me… although, not all my strength is back… that Hiroshi's jutsu has taken out a lot of my fight...

However much distrust Sakura had first held towards Karin was quickly pushed aside; she wasn't about to turn down a helping hand.

The Karin girl just shrugged, and suddenly froze. She cursed under her breath;

"Damn… Suigetsu is somewhere in there too… and I think Jugo is as well…."

"Wh-What?" Sakura stammered indignantly, "I mean—how do you know?"

Karin turned a hard gaze at Sakura as she spoke. "I'm a sensory-type ninja. I can sense their chakra, obviously."

"Yes, but how do you know their names?" Sakura asked.

"How do you know their names?" Karin challenged. It was apparent that they'd both reached something not too far from confusion.

However, allowing Karin to help soon paid off though. She wasn't as weak as she looked when it came to tearing away rocks in order to get to a certain Uchiha…

"Over here!" Karin suddenly hissed at Sakura. "I sense his chakra rising! He's definitely somewhere on this side!"

Sakura immediately went over to Karin's side and found that she was right. Even Sakura herself could sense Sasuke's chakra signature amongst all the rock. And it was getting bolder. Hopefully he'd be alright when they got to him. As for Jugo and Suigetsu… Sakura couldn't even feel a flicker of their presence yet…

It was around dawn time when they had penetrated enough rock to get side the cave. The air was cold and prickled Sakura's skin as she shakily heaved down the last of the rocks with Karin. Their hands were covered in scratches, although Karin didn't seem to mind. It was apparent that what mattered most was getting to Sasuke.

Just as they approached the cave's scattered entrance hole, something unexplainable caught Sakura's eye.

"Wh-What… oh, no…"

A mass of darkness met them inside the cave. What was more, was that the darkness was not simply darkness.

The darkness had been created, from the shadow of something huge.

Hiss, hiss, hiss…

Who be there…

My meal perhaps…

Of a thousand human sacrifices…

This one shall better far surpass…

Hiss, hiss, hiss

Something shifted mightily within the darkness.

It was a snake. No, not a small arm length snake—a giant snake.

In a given situation like this, Sakura would have run away – just as Karin had already done, the moment she sensed its massive chakra signature upon entering the cave. However, Sasuke, Jugo and Suigetsu, it seemed, were still inside this cave. Sakura had to get them out before the giant snake found them first…

"Sakura! Sakura!" Came Karin's voice outside. Sakura ignored her shouts as she listened intently within the darkness of the cave for the snake's position. She'd have to kill it.

I, the great Manda…

Of not being summoning in so long…

Am in a period of salvation…

Where flesh shall soon be on my tongue…

Now, who dare summon me…

Hiss, hiss, hiss…

"I did," Came another voice inside the cave. Sakura couldn't believe her ears. This voice, was…

….Sasuke's!

"…I've never liked snakes, Great Manda." Sasuke went on, from his unknown position in the solid darkness of the cave, "… and you being Orochimaru's snake summoning is a disadvantage. I'll put you to your rest along with your master,"

Hiss, hiss, hiss…

Foolish boy!

Why, Orochimaru's death had been a surprise…

But you're foolish words of insult shall suffer consequence…

For I have in my mouth two of your comrades…

Whom will suffer the price…

The rubbery flesh of a ninja… I want more….

Sakura backed against the wall of the cave. She had felt something scally brush against her foot. The moment the contact had been made, a sudden unearthly silence filled the cave.

Why, another ninja is here, I see…

A female, a Leaf ninja…

More flesh for me…

Sakura's heart was racing inside her chest like the rattle of a rattle snake. She closed her eyes and waited to be swallowed by Orochimaru's snake summoning, when she felt a familiar hand rest upon her shoulder.

Sakura gasped and nearly jumped. "Don't panic. It's Sasuke; you're safe as long as you don't move." Sakura felt the breath returning to her and nodded mutely.

"Manda can't see us, but I can see her with my Sharingan." Sasuke's arm suddenly left Sakura's shoulder. "I summoned her the moment you yelled for us to all get out of the cave. Suigetsu and Jugo are inside her. They're probably unconscious so they can't get out on their own."

Sakura said nothing – obviously—and mutely nodded again.

"I'm going to get you out of here, then I'll be sure to get them out of Manda as well,"

Sakura had no time to object. Sasuke's arms had already picked her up to carry her, and with his amazing speed, she was delivered to the entrance of the cave. "Get away from here and wait for us."

Sakura could still hear Manda hissing with furry from inside the cave. (Hiss, hiss, hiss, I am the boss summon of the snakes… you dare to challenge me, mere Uchiha underling?)

As Sakura turned away shakily—still in momentary shock—she wondered if Manda was right. Could Sasuke really defeat him alone?

Don't underestimate that Uchiha avenger, Sakura…

Suddenly, Sakura stopped in her tracks. She turned back to the cave which was barely in sight now, and clenched her fists. Her gaze hardened as she took a step forward, then another, until she was hot on the track back to the cave.

What am I thinking, standing back and letting Sasuke do all the work?

By the time Sakura got back to the cave entrance, a ghostly cloud of dust had accumulated and was encircling around it. Sakura could barely see inside the entrance hole through its thick ghostly layers.

Dare she enter?

Hell yeah!

Sakura took a cautious step inside and was immediately engulfed in the darkness of the cave again. Her heart raced and stared to speed up. What if Sasuke hadn't made it, and they were all already dead? It would've been her fault for listening to Sasuke and leaving, instead of assisting him.

But, as Sakura looked closer, she saw that there was no giant shadow to show the form of any giant creature there anymore.

"Sasuke?" Sakura managed. She couldn't believe it! He must've defeated Manda. When a summoning is defeated, it is sent back to its dimension and cannot return until it is summoned again. The Great Snake was nowhere in sight.

"…Uh, Suigetsu? Jugo, even?" Sakura whispered in horror. Why was she receiving no response?

Shakily, Sakura reached into her weapons pouch and pulled out a match to light a candle. Once the flame was lit, she lifted it up and examined the scene before her.

XXX

Lying as lifeless as statues on the cave floor were Suigetsu and Jugo. They had cuts and bruises all over their bodies. They were lucky to have Sasuke save them and survive the cruel stomach of Manda. It seemed that they were unconscious, upon close inspect, but their injuries were not life threatening.

What was life threatening, however, was Sasuke. He had taken much more damage to his body, which was in a sitting position against the wall.

His shirt had been torn off completely, revealing his bare torso which harboured a deep wound, almost like a lightening slash.

Sakura knelt down next to him. It was just like the time when they were genin and Sasuke had fought Haku, and nearly died.

Suddenly, Sasuke cracked open an eye with great effort.

"Don't worry, Sasuke, you need to relax and let me repair your wounds. Manda is gone, you did it – you killed him and saved Suigetsu and Jugo,"

Sasuke ignored Sakura and weakly tried to stand up, only to fall back down again.

Sakura didn't think of what she was doing when she wrapped her arm around him. Just as she realised her actions, Sakura also noticed that Sasuke's wound was angrily spurting blood and decided that that was more important than being embarrassed.

Her hand ignited with green healing chakra and she was about to place it above the wound, when...

"Oh, Sasuke-kun!" At that moment, Karin appeared out of nowhere and came bounding into the cave towards them, and kneeled at Sasuke's side, completely ignoring the lifeless bodies of Jugo and Suigetsu that were also there. Clearly Sasuke was the only one who deserved her attention…

"Sasuke-kun, what happened to you? Nearly all your chakra is gone! Let me heal you!" Karin bellowed emotionally.

Karin tried to get to Sasuke and was about to push Sakura away when Sasuke spoke up to both of them directly.

"No, I can wait. Heal the other's first. You too, Sakura," He barely spoke above a whisper. It was like fighting off Manda had drained all his strength away…

"Sasuke, here, have some water first," Sakura said, as she lifted some water out of her pouch.

As Sakura's eyes were focused on the water, something stirred in her mind. What was her mind trying to tell her? It was trying to remind her of something… something important…

It was then that she remembered Tsunade's words to her, on the day that she'd given Sakura this mission:

…I'm not asking you to track him down to the ends of the earth, or confront him head on and beat him, or anything like that. In fact, all that you have to do, is very simple. They'll cover you as you sneak in, and get some poison – or a sleeping elixir – into Sasuke's possession. He'll be knocked out in seconds, and then you can teleport him back for custody.

Sakura couldn't believe it. The timing was perfect. Suigetsu and Jugo were still unconscious. Sasuke was too weak and drained of chakra to even activate Sharingan. He wouldn't know that what Sakura was giving him, was a sleeping elixir. She could really do it. He would be too weak to fight back…

Sakura knew that it was sneaky and she'd be betraying him, but this was what she'd been tasked to do for a very long time!

The only obstacle that she had to face, was Karin. She was watching them both very closely as she knelt at Suigetsu's side and was supposed to be healing him.

Sakura quickly pretended to be looking for the water in her pouch.

Although she was aware that Karin was just watching them like a hawk because she was jealous, it was still very risky. Sakura had no idea about her skills and abilities. She could pose as a threat.

"Karin, could you come over here for a moment?" Sakura asked, unable to meet the sensory-kunoichi's gaze.

"What is it?" Karin snapped as she got up from Suigetsu and trudged over.

Sakura was still unable to meet her gaze. "This isn't usually how I play. I'm sorry to do this, but it's for the best,"

Without warning, Sakura's fist shot out at Karin, in order to knock her out.

Then something Sakura had not expected happened. Karin narrowly dodged the fist and brought out a kunai. She was quick.

"I knew all along that you were an imposter. But why did Sasuke-kun believe your pathetic act?"

Karin was the one to attack this time. She lunged forward – taking Sakura by complete surprise – and pinned her to the ground. The kunai pressed against Sakura's neck and she barely had time to grab Karin's wrist in order to stop her from delving the kunai any further, and killing her.

They struggled against each other's strength. Sakura soon found out that Karin was a tough kunoichi and had to use all her might to resist against the kunai that was slowly gaining down on her neck.

There's no way I'm letting her beat me!...

With a great heave, Sakura brought her legs in, and kicked out at Karin's stomach. The sensory-ninja immediately went flying back, but managed to catch herself in time.

Sakura pulled up her glove, her hand glowing a dangerous blue.

"You're skilled…" Sakura said, "but that won't stop me."

Karin smirked evilly. "Don't be so sure of yourself – you really think you're better than everyone? Don't let that make you underestimate me. It comes with consequence, Sakura."

At that moment, the Sakura that had been standing in front of Karin disappeared in a poof of smoke. Immediately Karin swerved around, but no one was standing behind her.

"… You're looking the wrong way!"

Above. The real Sakura, was above. And she came hammering down.

BOOOOOOM!

A cloud of dust filled the cave for a moment. When it cleared, a giant crater was revealed in the centre of the cave, in the middle of which, Karin lay, barely conscious.

"How… how did you do it?" she rasped quietly. Her red hair was sprawled in a messy heap on her head – much like a birds nest.

Sakura flexed her fingers as she stepped away. "It's something I learned from Tsunade-sama, called the Kick of Doom."

Without another second, Karin closed her eyes and slipped deep into the darkness of unconsciousness.

When Sakura turned away and returned to Sasuke, it was to find that he too had fallen unconscious.

Looks like I didn't even need the sleeping elixir all along… CHA!

The wound on his chest was much deeper than she'd thought. As Sakura looked at it more closely, she realised that her amateur medical ninja healing wouldn't be good enough to save him. He needed Tsunade's advanced medical skills which were much more effective than hers. He'd have to have an operation, much like the one Lee had after fighting Gaara in the Chunin exams.

It was life threatening. She had to get him back. And quick.

XXX

The Teleportation jutsu brought them just a mile away from the Leaf village. Sakura cursed herself for not imagining their destination clearly, and just hoped that Sasuke could hang on long enough.

He wasn't looking good though. His breathing was very shallow, and to Sakura's horror, it seemed that Manda's strike had been poisonous. Sasuke looked very pale…

However, just as Sakura pulled Sasuke's arm around her torso, and was about to half-drag him, she saw something. It looked like the silhouette of… of people.

A crowd of people. A crowd of people all running towards her – maybe a dozen or so people. And the person in front of them all, leading them her way, looked like Naruto. It wasn't the imaginary Naruto that she'd come to see in her mind's eye, driving her on and pushing her forward. But the real, solid, goofy blonde-haired knucklehead that she'd known all her genin years.

Sakura let out a gasp of shock. She could see the silhouette of Tsunade, and the silvery hair of Kakashi as well, and the straight blonde hair of Ino…

They had all come for her.

That's when Sakura realised what she had done. She had done it. She had really done it.

Without thinking, Sakura waved and cried out: "Quick! Someone help! He needs to get to the medical core!"

.

.

.

.

.

.

She had brought Sasuke back to the Leaf.


A/N: THE END! Yep that's the end of the fic. I'm proud of this story and I'm thankful to all who supported me. I'd just like to show my gratitude to the following reviewers of this fic for their feedback and the support that they gave me. THANK YOU: Shadow Wolf, Anonymous, S.A and ThatOneReviewer!

I did say I'd finish this fic no matter what – whether I had no reviews or hundreds. It wasn't an overly long story and so far I have considered making a squeal but my only solid answer to whether I will or not, is: maybe.

HAVE A HAPPY NEW YEAR, ALL OF YOU! ^^ :D

Ja ne!

Yuuki