Kettei de Owaru

Chapter 1: Fate is for the Weak

"Fate is for those too weak to determine their own destiny." - Kamran Hamid


The hokage spun around in his chair, meeting large, clean windows that overlooked the small village. The sun shined brightly in the sky that was free from clouds that usually filtered its rays. Below, the streets were filled with much activity. The Chunin exams were the perfect reward for the constant and meticulous planning they took. Nothing pleased him more than seeing young ninjas from neighboring villages co-existing with Konoha's citizens peacefully, if only for a while. Especially since the second phase of the Chunin exams were underway, tension would return and overpower their memories. He knew how quickly an ally became enemy in this world.

A few raps on his door quickly chased away his thoughts.

"Come in," He called out as he turned back to his desk.

A teenager donning anbu attire entered, his raven mask giving away his identity.

"Itachi," Minato smiled at the young man.

"Tsunade-sama has arrived and is stationed at the fifth medical center by the Forest of Death," Itachi informed. "She demands her...sake."

The hokage chuckled nervously, "Should she really be drinking on job?"

"I ask that I'm not the one to inform her of that."

"I would never ask you to do that," Minato promised seriously. You don't deny Tsunade her sake, it's just suicidal. "I suppose I'll send someone to deliver her the goods."

"I'm sure she would not make such a request if it would inhibit her from executing her job accordingly," Itachi assured.

Minato laughed openly as the boy mistook his meaning. "We'll just say that the sake went missing. I'll have a chunin deliver more medical supplies." His mood suddenly went solemn. "I hope she won't have much to do, but the Chunin exams last year in Rock village had the highest mortality rate in 50 years. It was a bloodshed."

Itachi didn't reply, only nodded his head. In his Chunin exams, he'd easily passed without murdering. Instead he and his team had outsmarted, trapped and cornered every opponent that they'd come across in their survival training. During his arena battle, he'd done his family proud by using a genjutsu on an Iwa-nin; the boy had bawled like a baby, screaming and crying. To his family, it marked him as strong and the boy a pathetic weakling, for they scorned all show of such 'demeaning' emotions. In truth, it was only luck that he'd seen the Iwa kiss his little sister for good luck before the match. The illusion of her dead body was enough to play upon the boy's worst fears. Itachi looked at his feet. If the boy had used the technique on him, their roles might have switched. Instead he'd been named the most terrifying, youngest shinobi the Uchiha had produced since the legendary Madara.

"Has...the clan been busy?" Minato asked hesitantly.

"They're not planning anything suspicious during the Chunin exams," Itachi assured. Itachi watched Minato visibly relax and Itachi turned his gaze away from the man and out the window. He wished his clan did not cause such worry, but it was hard to ignore the tension that had come due to them. "They are still sticking with their new movement, to implant more shinobi into ANBU. My last report has the details."

The man's shoulders stiffened and he gave a nod. "Yes, thank you. I read it... Have you had any luck with Kenji?"

"No, I fear he is too mixed up in clan politics already," Itachi replied, dipping his head. His cousin was a good boy, but already too manipulated by the elders.

"What about Sasuke, has he been pretty busy with the clan?" Minato asked. Itachi looked at Minato, it was obvious the man was worried. And he had every reason to be; he had no idea how far the Uchiha clan would be willing to go to make the perfect shinobi.

"They believe Hatake-san is ill-fitted for the job," Itachi supplied. He did not mention anything entailing the clan's training methods- which included trapping his younger brother in genjutsus for hours at a time and cornering him into life-threatening situations for the purpose of re-activating his sharingan. Of course, their methods weren't working like they wanted. His brother was still struggling to maintain voluntary control over his eyes. In fact, since the training, Sasuke's sharingan was acting more sporadic. The boy had come to him at an alarming rate to turn it off. Morning, afternoon, in the middle of the night; it was more than just worrisome, for sometimes he'd catch them activated and Sasuke not noticing. What if his bloodline failed him in combat? What if in the forest-

"I'm sorry about that- ," Minato said cutting off Itachi's train of thought. "I believed I could help Sasuke by putting him under Kakashi's care. He would grow up with Kakashi's ideology instead of the clan's, but still be able to hone his natural bloodline," Minato explained.

Itachi nodded; he agreed wholeheartedly with Minato placing his brother in team seven. He knew when Sasuke was born, that while he would not share the burdens of a clan heir like himself, he would still be strained with the immense expectations of being the son of the Konoha Military Police Force's leader and the Uchiha's patriarch. The boy needed to get away from the clan. Itachi had gotten it easy, moving up in ranks so quickly. He had nimbly dodged all of the attempts that his father and clansmen had tried at manipulating him to do their bidding. Not only did Hatake-san provide his brother with different ideals than that of his family, Itachi also respected his abilities. The man was able to train their particular kekkei genkai without the Uchiha bloodline, which was previously unheard of. The man had also mastered said dojutsu more proficiently than some Uchihas themselves. He was also well-versed in the chakra elements, and would be able to train Sasuke's nature type. To Itachi, the Copy Ninja was the best sensei Konoha could offer to his brother. Unfortunately, the clan thought otherwise.

"The clan is not happy with Sasuke's placement in a team consisting of a Senju and a sharingan thief," Itachi quoted distastefully. "To them, it's another example of your supposed insolence. They are too proud."

Minato chuckled nervously. "I don't suppose I have to explain how I formed Team 7 to you, I'm sure you already understand my intentions. Nothing can convince me otherwise that Kakashi is the best choice to train Sasuke and Naruto, but I put Sasuke and Naruto together because they bring out the best in each other. Sort of. Nothing wrong with a little competition."

Itachi nodded. "And what about the female member?"

"Ah, Sakura-chan?" Minato asked, "Well, I couldn't pick Hinata because of the strenuous ties between the Uchiha and Hyuuga clan, and I couldn't ruin the Ino-Shika-Cho trio. Also, Naruto has a huge crush on Sakura. It's the cutest thing ever."

Itachi could not help the slight quirk to his lips as the hokage gushed over the young infatuation. Despite Minato-san's calm, kind, and silly personality- not even modesty could hide this man's strength and fierce determination. This was the kind of leader his clan needed. He hoped one day he could become such a leader.

The thumping of feet echoed in the hallway and both shinobi turned to the noise until it passed. Itachi then dipped his head in respect for the dead. The only ANBU stationed at the tower besides the guards were the cleaner teams for the second phase of the exam.

"As much as I hate it, I'm glad to know that those bodies aren't going to rot in in those woods," Minato murmured.

Itachi nodded, it wasn't necessary for the cleaner teams to get there fast, as long as they got there, which was why they were stationed at the hokage tower. The actual tower in the woods was devoted to one of the eight medical teams, also known as the helper teams. As soon as someone flared their chakra for a cleaner, to pick up a body, the location was marked, and then radioed in. The helpers on the other hand, had to get there fast, quickly and then track. Skills that required the experts of the experts. It was more than just Kohona's nin helping, all villages were mixed in as well. Minato wanted to avoid a premature death for what could one day be a powerful ninja.

More set of footsteps echoed in the hallway except this time they stopped before the hokage's door. "I don't care," Itachi heard Anko snarl, "he deserves to know."

Minato rose from his seat and walked to the entrance of the room as Anko threw the door open, her movements obnoxious as ever. Her mask was off though, and behind her were two other ANBU, others devoted to cleaning. They looked ready to drag her back with them, but Itachi doubted they'd get very far. She was a woman born to be a shinobi. She was efficient, and usually her brusque manner was better than those who couldn't stop talking. He'd rather have her watching his back than any other woman on the force, even if she was a bit crazy. She was powerful. She did her job and she did it well, no one could complain.

Anko extended her radio earbud, "The last chakra cleaner flare that went off was identified to be Team Seven's Sakura Haruno."

No. Immediately a chill took to the air in the room. Itachi's eyes widened. Not Sasuke. It felt as if he'd been kicked in the stomach and in the chest at the same time. His brother, was he the one dead or... He turned to the hokage. The man had turned pale as if sick and his hands were gripped tightly at his sides. Then in one quick movement he grabbed the earpiece and began listening, his right hand holding the piece to his ear.

Itachi resisted the urge to ask for it himself. He clenched his mouth shut. The fear was eating away at his stomach. His eyes were already activated, watching for the words he feared most to come from the man before him. It could very well be both of them. Itachi took a breath to gain control over his emotions. He felt his face tightened into the indifferent mask he'd been taught to use since he was a child, but he'd never felt like ripping it off more than in this moment. Sasuke could be dead. His baby brother. The black headed duckling that followed him everywhere. The giggling child he used to play with when he got back from the academy or ANBU training. His little brother...

"Two males," Itachi's chakra enhanced ears picked up. His heart stopped; he couldn't breath. No.

"Cloud-nin, both of them," the voice came again.

Minato breathed out a long sigh, and the pain in Itachi's chest loosened. Minato handed back the ear piece, "Thank you," he bowed to her and she to him. The three nin left the room, shutting the door behind them. Only then did Itachi relax.

Itachi watched Minato walk back to his seat and sit, lean back in the chair, look up at the ceiling and take several breaths. The blue eyes looked over at him after several moments. The man gave a tired laugh and rubbed at his eyes. He didn't smile though, in fact, he looked more solemn.

"I haven't been so scared since Kushina died," his last words came out as a whisper and he looked out the window. He put his elbow on the arm of the chair and rested his face upon his hand in exhaustion. "What am I going to do when he becomes a jounin? I don't think I can even live through three more days of this."

Itachi looked at Minato, and then followed his gaze. At least Naruto might chakra flare for someone to help him. His brother would not bend the pride their family had to do such a thing. The boy would rather die than come back, having given up. He closed his eyes hoping, hoping his brother would be ok. If not, then the boy wouldn't be coming out of the woods with a pumping heart.


Three days later...


"Naruto's been gone for awhile," Sakura noted.

Sasuke frowned. How long did a washroom break take? They'd already gotten their scrolls and if he remembered correctly, they had only a few hours to make it to the tower before sundown. He just wanted to get out of here. After five days, he could count the hours of sleep he got on both hands. They were in a constant hurry to get their needed earth scroll, which they finally acquired last night from an amateur team of Wave. He supposed they had it lucky; no massive injuries or hazardous fights. They avoided dehydration like a plague and were able to survive with Sakura's extensive knowledge of edible plants (they played it safe, not wanting to start a required fire just to cook meat). Still, he wouldn't be able to relax until they entered the tower.

"What if he's in trouble?" Sakura continued worriedly. They had passed three corpses, abandoned by their teammates or too separated to be found. The first two appeared to be asleep. They had planned to ambush them for several hours, but when they'd dropped down they'd discovered that they had been dead, and not for long. She'd quickly flared her chakra for a cleaner team to pick up the bodies, and that had ended up getting them ambushed. Two days later, they found the girl. Sakura closed her eyes and shook her head, trying to remove the image from her mind. The reality had set a seed of paranoia in her, along with Kakashi's number one rule: In the ninja world, those who break the rules are trash, but those who abandon their comrades are worse than trash... The worst case scenario nagged at her: Naruto was dead, and they were sitting there, oblivious about their teammate's being. "Sasuke, we should go check up on him."

"I'll go check," Sasuke felt like it was a bad idea leaving Sakura alone, especially because the only reason he stayed behind was to supervise her. Naruto was gone longer than normal though and he needed to be found. But travelling with Sakura was always a hassle, even more so now than before. She hadn't been a good shinobi to begin with and now she was nearing exhaustion. It was doubtful she could even throw straight. It would be faster by himself anyways, and he wouldn't have to watch two backs; just his own. Also, he was chakra deprived and he honestly didn't think it was worth using the remainder of his chakra to make a kage bunshin. Besides, they were well hidden in foliage meters off the ground, and Naruto shouldn't have been that far off.

"Stay here and stay safe, then," Sasuke ordered as he double checked the simple trap he laid out.

"Wait," Sakura said before he could jump down. "Why don't we go together?"

Sasuke blinked. He couldn't say what he'd been thinking so straightforward. Girls were always so touchy. What could she stay for-

"Someone needs to wait in case Naruto comes back. I'll use the signal if I run into any trouble. If I get followed I'll try to lose them, if not, I'll come back and be ready to fight then." - the lies came easily from his mouth. He saw her tremble and tried to reassure her, "I'll return soon, Sakura." He waited for her nod before jumping down.

He'd been searching for an excuse to leave her alone. She saw the hesitance in his eyes as they glanced to the corner, felt the aversion in the pause before he spoke. She looked up into the foliage. She was such a scared, weak, little girl. She closed her eyes. She hadn't been ready, nowhere close to ready. How had Kakashi-sensei let them go into this, knowing? Knowing she was such a hindrance.

She heard the creak of a branch and she was jolted out of her self pitying thoughts. She was alone; she could not allow her thoughts to stray. She sat straighter, her senses on high alert for any sign of the enemy- which was all 130 participants minus her two teammates and rookie nine. The number had probably lowered dramatically as the death toll increased and people were taken out of the woods due to injury, but Sakura tried her hardest not to wonder if someone she knew was one of those removed by ANBU. She just hoped that if they had been, they were still breathing.

A movement she caught at the corner of her eyes startled her. She drew her kunai close to her body, staring at the branch that moved just seconds ago. A string encircled the perimeter of her hiding place, allowing a radius of 5 meters from where she was crouched, and anyone that set it off would have a kunai plunged deep into their body before their next thought. It was the best they could do, they had gambled most of their weapons in favor of restoring their reserves.

Then it happened, an intruder arrived. One by one, in quick succession, kunai poured from above to all directions. Her heart caught in her throat. Sakura counted five seconds, before exiting her hiding spot, her grip on the kunai as tight as it could be. To her left, a poor squirrel was unable to avoid the attack. She didn't know whether to feel disappointed or relieved- their snare was wasted, but at least it wasn't an enemy. Checking her surroundings, she deemed it safe to jump to the ground and retrieve the weapons.

"Well. What do we have here?"

Sakura dropped all the kunai she gathered. She didn't even sense him.

"A little kunoichi, abandoned by her teammates. You must be so lonely." A teenaged boy, a few years older than her, sauntered towards her. Sakura eyed the music note on his forehead protector; Sound. She cursed her misfortune, of all the foreign villages, Konoha had the shakiest relation with Sound because it was believed Orochimaru had fled there after becoming rouge. Despite their treaty, sound-nin could not discard their animosity from Konoha's accusation for harboring a missing-nin, taking it personally.

'Naruto, Sasuke,' Sakura pleaded in her mind, 'Hurry up.'

-x-

She spat blood from her mouth and wiped at her busted lip. Her eyes darted up, then back and forth. Where had the Sound-nin gone? She gripped tighter on her last shuriken, fear in her throat. They were aiming to kill, she'd been a fool to give that participation form to Kakashi-sensei. She wanted no more than to take it back.

A couple more hits, a misstep and she'd end up like that girl she'd seen stuck to that tree three days ago, a sword hilt sticking out of her chest and a dried pool of blood at her feet. The girl's right leg had been missing, her right leg. Animals, Sasuke had told girl's teammates had just left her, not even calling in the cleaner team to pick her up. Of course, her team could have been dead also. The smell from that area was awful. The sun had been baking down on the body for days, the lips- cracked and blistered, was the first sign of rotting, alongside the unmistakable stench. The girl's skin was pale, bloodless and sickening to behold.

Sakura bit back the bile coming up her throat. She didn't want to die. She didn't want her body to decay in this forest and get eaten by animals. She didn't want to become that girl. Her grip on the kunai started shaking, but she was going to be that girl, wasn't she?

Out of the corner of her eye she saw the shimmer of metal. With speed she had no idea she had, she dropped to the ground rolling. The motion made her lose her vision; she couldn't see the kunai coming until it had burrowed itself into her calf.

She let out a cry of agony. The pain was more than anything she'd ever experienced. But she knew more would come. Her eyes teared up from her body's screaming nerves. She pulled herself as quickly as she could, almost tripping and falling to the ground once more. She was sure the kunai hit something vitalwhen it took more than a few moments to stop the shaking. Several shuriken thudded into the ground where she would have landed. Her opponent was predicting her movements.

Another throwing star sliced through the air. By only pure instinct did her hand move as if to catch it, instead the star bounced off her kunai, causing her to almost drop her only weapon in surprise. She stood on one leg, eyes searing at pain, trying desperately not to break down and cry because he would kill her for certain. She didn't know what to do. She didn't know where she was, where her enemy was and now she couldn't get away nor call for a medic team or cleaners. She was out of chakra. She'd spent the last of it trying to get away from the nin that was currently hunting her down to snuff out her life.

The person hadn't even asked for a scroll. She assumed that he would just search her body after she was no longer breathing. This would be the time to offer it up, if she had one in her possession. But she didn't. Naruto had them both. Not her. Why hadn't she volunteered to take one? What had possessed her to give them all to her stronger teammate?

Another throwing star came at a different angle. She jumped back, her back bumping into a tree. Bile rose again as she remembered the other girl. A tear made its way from one of her eyes. She didn't want to die here. "Not here," her dry throat cracked, "not here, oh please, not here."

A scream from somewhere far away snapped her out of her self pity enough to see the nin holding a kunai come flying at her. Her body tensed expecting the impact, and from her fear came adrenaline. The nin didn't collide, but instead struck out. She jumped to the side, her injured foot taking on half of her body weight. She bit back a cry of pain and jumped back at the nin, hoping at least to take the person by surprise. She didn't.

The ninja was already in mid-turn to face her, and swiftly sidestepped her pathetic attempt at attacking. He was quick, a lot quicker than her and he was easily able to make a slice at her open belly. Her body moved back as he moved forward, but not enough so. Time seemed to slow as she felt her abdomen's top layer of skin get sliced by the sharp blade. Another louder cry slipped from her lips, and then she saw the nin flinch at her sound. Reacting almost too late to make the most of her opening, she pushed forward again, setting down her bad leg. The pain of her belly made her leg feel more bearable and she threw herself at the enemy letting out an even louder high pitch scream.

The Sound shinobi seemed unaccustomed to loud noises, or more likely her show of emotion, and he tensed at both her cry and to prepare for impact. Both bodies collided and fell to the ground. Sakura tried to gain the upper position and pin the boy, pressing both of his upper arms down with her knees. But the ninja was able to grab the kunai in her calf, and he ripped it out.

In pain, she let out another cry and jammed her weapon into the nin's shoulder as hard as she could before she yanked it back out. He in turn jammed his as high into her thigh as he could reach before pulling it down, making a three inch deep gash from her upper thigh to her knee. Searing warmth seemed to spread where the blade was dragged. She screamed at the amount of pain, her sight almost blackening.

She slammed down her kunai again unseeing, missing the nin's neck. Blinking her eyes clear, and as he attacked her again with the same move, she aimed at his neck trying to slice the jugular artery. Blood emerged from the shallow wound on his neck quickly. Seeing Sakura's surprise the nin used the chance to push up and slam her onto her back.

Blood dribbled onto her face from above as the nin looked down at her. He had the hand holding her weapon pinned at the wrist so that she dropped the blade; the other arm pinned above her elbow. She tried to claw with the latter, but his long pants prevented her from doing any damage.

His kunai came down and she was able to move just enough so that the weapon cut off the top part of her ear instead of it going into her eye socket. He started pulling back, preparing to shove down the kunai again. She pulled herself up on her free hand side with all her strength as if doing a sit up, using his body's awkward positioning as leverage. With her pull, she let out the highest and loudest scream she could with her dry throat. She smashed heads with her opponent, and she'd never been so grateful as to her opponent wearing his hitai-ate on his right arm instead of his forehead. She wished for a moment she had one on hers but it was too late for wishful thinking.

He embedded the blade into the tender flesh between her shoulder socket and collar bone. It tore at her muscles. Her body moved on instinct and she bit down on the side of his neck that wasn't bloody. She ripped with her teeth, and clawed at his eyes with her hand as he used the blade to cut open her back again and again.

Finally she was able to find his eyes with her fingers, immediately she tried to dig in, but the nin let go of the blade stuck in her back and pulled away, slamming her face with his elbow. Her vision blurred and he hit her in the stomach with his boot once and then a second time with more force. Still trying to recover from the blows, Sakura clutched at the ground, trying to find it in her to stand. Her eyes focused on the red liquid dripping from her mouth.

He grabbed a chunk of her hair and pulled up. He kicked at her thigh. It felt as if her entire body vibrate from the spot of his blow. The pain wasn't like her calf or being sliced or stabbed. No, it was much, much worse. Her vision turned black for several seconds until she could see the blurry outline of the nin. The arm not holding her head was drawn back and in that hand was a blade longer than a kunai.

Not here. Her mind cried out not to die here. But death seemed evident. It stood before her, about to strike. And she would fall, never to rise again. Her vision darkened from the pain her body had already taken. She sucumbed to the darkening. It would be better not to see her end, she decided.

-x-

Were they too late? Green blurred around him and air rushed past his ears, deafening him. Perspiration slid down his forehead, and a foreboding feeling clutched onto his gut. Half an hour. It took half an hour, with Sasuke's help, to beat up the ninjas from Sound that had ambushed him. Afterwards, they'd rushed back when Sasuke pointed out they had only defeated two sound-nins. A lot could happen in thirty minutes, hell, it takes 5 seconds to slit someone's throat. The incentive fueled Naruto's tired legs as they leaped through the trees and landed onto the one they had previously taken refuge.

"She's not here," Sasuke growled. A scream erupted below them, and they dropped to the ground in the blink of an eye. They ran in the direction of the noise.

Then, they found her. Except, it didn't even look like her at first. It was hard to distinguish her through the blood that covered her body from head to toe. It surrounded her, like her skin was secreting the liquid. It was worse than what Naruto expected, worse than he could have ever imagined. Red flooded his eyes.

"Get away from her! Sakura, I'm coming!"

Naruto, her lips moved, yet no sound emerged, I don't want to die here.

"Tch." The boy- the sound nin missing from the three person team, snorted. "More toys to play with, huh? Well, I'm through with you. Looks like you'll be dying a slow death." And with immense power, he grabbed her throat and flung her towards a tree. At her landing, she couldn't even pay attention to the bark twisting into the skin of her back; her nerves electrocuted every limb in a shocking and overwhelming moment. Her legs became dead weight, collaborating with gravity to drag her down the trees length, bark tearing into her dress and rubbing the skin raw. The pain knocked out every last bit of oxygen from her lungs. With her last breath of air expelled, the world was gone, and a thick blackness surrounded her. From the darkness she heard a familiar obnoxious voice give a battle cry. Naruto...

"Sasuke!" Naruto gasped. The raven-haired boy nodded, and leapt up to catch Sakura's descending body while Naruto quickly threw kunai that littered the ground to occupy the nin. She was like a corpse in Sasuke's arms, but the pulse- so faint- was all he needed. They needed to get out of here pronto. They didn't have time to entertain the sick freak who did this to her. Sasuke glanced up, and saw the enemy efficiently getting rid of Naruto's bunshins. A head start was all they needed...

Sasuke couldn't remember feeling so panicked. One teammate was unconscious in his arms, her blood coating them and staining his shirt. The other, was head to head with a sound-nin that was above their level. He needed to help him, but he couldn't leave Sakura alone- especially when the last time he did left her half-dead as a consequence. This was his fault. How could he have not wanted to watch his teammate's back? Was this what Kakashi meant when he'd said that people who left their teammates were worse than trash?

The helplessness and guilt, combined with dread, was what triggered it. One second his vision turned black, the next, everything was so much clearer. The sharingan seemed to magnify each muscle tension from the opponent and the sound-nin's movements became more predictable. His chakra had turned dark purple, weak spots becoming apparent. It was mostly gathered in his arms and there were several chakra blockages in his legs. His preference for upper body attacks became evident. And Naruto was aiming at all the wrong areas.

"Naruto! Switch!" He yelled. He jumped into the fray, revelling at the way the nin's shoulders tensed after seeing his eyes, and attacked. Just like his evaluation, the man's arm moved faster than his legs. With this in mind, it was all too easy to knock him off his feet when he became too distracted at blocking Sasuke's hits to his face. With the enemy down, Sasuke immediately formed the tiger seal with his hands, moulded chakra into his stomach and released. The sound-nin threw his right arm before him as his only defense, not quick enough to jump away.

Naruto clenched his teeth, ears sensitive to the man's agonized scream but he didn't stop Sasuke. Never would he feel pity for such a disgusting man, especially after what he had done to his pink-haired teammate.

Sasuke felt rejuvenated even after his sharingan shut off- this time, on his accord. "Naruto, I'll send a chakra flare for the healers. You go on ahead and I'll stay behind to clean up."

His blond-teammate nodded and jumped up into the trees. Once he disappeared, Sasuke closed his eyes testingly. Opening his eyes, the world was reintroduced with a distinct visual. He now had access to his sharingan, whenever he pleased.


Relief made his body relax when he saw black spiky hair. There had been a chakra flare from his little cousin several miles away requesting a healer. He'd feared the worst when he'd seen the bloody rags, but, "Sasuke?"

The boy in question looked up, surprised, the prepared grip on his kunai slackened when he beheld the familiar voice of his cousin. "Shisui," He greeted, letting relief pour into the name. Unknowingly to him, his cousin's eye twitched briefly at the lack of honorific.

"You've been leaving a blood trail. It was too easy tracking you and your teammates," and the blood trail would have signaled to anyone that whoever was leaving it was easy prey. How hard could it be to stop the flow of blood?

Sasuke winced. "I know. We can't help it; Sakura is injured really badly."

"I'm here to bring her to the medics, where is she?" Shisui replied.

"I let Naruto go ahead while I lagged behind to cover our tracks."

Badly done, Shisui noted. It had been too easy to follow the drips on the leaves and on the grass. "How far ahead are they?"

"A kilometer or so, he's heading towards the tower."

"Lead," Shisui barked. As much as he wanted to aid his cousin, it would be called foul by the other villages. He'd gone against orders even coming, another medical retriever member was supposed to come... In fact, he could sense the man in the tree line, watching like a hawk. He wasn't going to let some Suna-nin take the chance to go ahead and kill a member of the main Uchiha branch though.

Sasuke nodded and took off into the trees, Shisui several steps behind him. It wasn't long before the neon jumpsuit was visible through the tree line. What had the hokage been thinking, letting his son go into the Chunin exams dressed like a target?

Both of them jumped down at the same time, landing on the ground beside Naruto. Sasuke's blond teammate yelped and almost dropped the pink haired girl in his arms. The positioning looked awkward. He was holding her on her side, her stomach and chest against his front. His orange jacket was also wrapped around her.

"Careful you idiot!" Sasuke hissed.

"I thought you guys were the enemy!" Naruto defended, adjusting his grip on Sakura. "The tower's really close, I can see it from here. We're going to make-"

"There's no need," Shisui interrupted. "I have to bring her to medics immediately." What were these kids thinking? It was only going to get more dangerous, and the girl wasn't moving... was she even conscious?

Naruto nodded and obediently slid Sakura's body into the older man's arms. Shisui gritted his teeth and checked her pulse. It was eerily faint. He looked over her body only to have her give a cry.

"Don't touch her back!" Naruto cried out.

Shisui held her away from his body and looked at her back. The boy's jacket was starting to spot red. It would have been nice to know what to expect. "What do you know of her injuries?"

The boys gulped and Naruto began stuttering, "Her back is bleeding, a lot. We tried to bind it, but her chest was badly bruised," at that he blushed, "and her leg, her right leg is really bad."

Shisui turned, about to jump into the trees and consult with the Suna man about which medic base around the perimeter to bring her too.

"Wait, Shisui. What about us? Do we get to continue?" Sasuke asked, worried. The thought of the exams ending right then and there terrified him. What would his father say? Itachi was a chunin by the time he was ten. True Sasuke was constantly top of his class in the academy but even then, he was three years behind Itachi. He couldn't afford to lag behind even further. He couldn't imagine the amount of disappointment he'd cause if he couldn't even make it past the second stage of the Chunin exams.

Naruto echoed his sentiments. Did future hokages fail their Chunin exams the first time? The answer was no. He vowed to himself, after being promoted to genin, that there would be no room for mistakes if he wanted to become hokage. But even more, he wanted his own reputation, built solely on his works, not his father's. He didn't want to be overshadowed by his father's status. He needed this, he needed to build a path better than his father's.

"A team or person can only continue onto the preliminaries if they're in possession of an earth and heaven scroll," Shisui said quoting the rulebook precisely as not to upset the Suna-nin staring down at them. "Today is the fifth day," he was allowed to give a time frame. But he hoped the kids took it as a get there, and get there quick. He also hoped they had both scrolls already.

Naruto sighed in relief. "Take...take care of Sakura. Tell her we'll win, just for her! And we'll beat the person who did this to her!"

Sasuke nodded, "Let's go dobe."

Not long after they sped off, Shisui gave a nod to the man in the trees. He jumped down and removed the coat from the girl. They looked at the body and the Suna-nin spoke one name, "Tsunade." They both vanished leaving only smoke.


Shisui felt lost as he watched several nurses swarm towards the girl the second he settled her down onto the bed. They began hooking her up to a ventilator and someone rushed past him with a wet face towel. "You there," the lady pointed at him, shoving a towel into his hand, "Be useful and wipe her down. Unless you know how to clot wounds?" No. He could reset bones, do CPR and basic medical techniques- just as long as they didn't require healing chakra. Healing chakra was ten times more difficult to manipulate, and he wouldn't start trying now. "I'll take the towel," he said.

Walking towards the bed, he bent down and began wiping the girl's face. Though his actions were gentle, the cotton irritated her newly revealed wounds and she moaned in weak protest. His heart clenched. Being in ANBU, especially in Itachi's team, he rarely got injuries. He couldn't imagine how much pain this girl was feeling right now. She was such a tiny little thing. Her button-like nose, pronounced cupid's bow, and rose-colored hair enforced a sense of delicacy. Features that didn't suit someone from their line of work. A feeling of protectiveness overwhelmed him; the need to preserve her childlike innocence was great.

A sliver of green peered through heavy eyelids. The pain was unbearable. It felt like every inch of her body was submerged in a bath of fire. There wasn't any place where she didn't hurt. Her breathing was scary; shallow and erratic, the first-nature action reduced to a struggle. Through blurry vision, she could see a mess of black hair and onyx eyes. Sasuke? She wasn't sure of anything, anymore. She was constantly weaving in and out of consciousness. No longer did she feel the reassuring support of an arm-like bed and no longer did the world move like the last time she was awake. What happened? Were they out of the forest? Did they make it to the tower already? Was she dying? So many questions flooded her brain.

"Go to sleep," Shisui whispered when he saw her eyes open up slightly. He had no idea what was running through her head or if she was processing what he was saying, but it didn't stop him from trying to comfort her. "You fought well, Sakura, don't stop now."

Sakura heard those words with startlingly clarity, her memory unable to connect the voice with a face.

-x-

Tsunade had gasped when she saw Shisui holding a limp body covered in blood. The anxiousness that settled in her gut before the Chunin exams had exploded into flat out terror. Trepidation sent tremors to her hands as she clumsily slid on her gloves. Every movement, every breath seemed to go against the tendrils of fear that strengthened at the sight of blood.

Her body was littered with cuts, notable large gashes in her thigh and abdomen. Tsunade summoned chakra to her hands, ready to help staunch the flow of blood from the abundance of wounds, but the green glow dissipated instantly when Shisui wiped the patient's face. Cheeks hinted at stubborn baby fat, full pink eyebrows- a face that held so much innocence and childishness. She was reminded yet again at how young some of these entrees were, at how the Chunin exams could change a person forever, and without fail, she was also reminded of her younger brother. Nawaki was only twelve. His dreams of being hokage robbed from him, along with his life before he had the chance to manifest them into reality. Empathy urged her to focus on this stranger's own aspirations. If she didn't pull herself together, she'd fall apart and so would this girl's future. Swallowing the terror, she concentrated a ball of chakra underneath her palms again while paying careful attention to Shizune's quick evaluations of the girl's state.

"Multiple stab wounds, blood blocking esophagus, trauma to the femoral nerve, shattered femur, a large gash in her abdomen..." Shizune continued listing, her chakra probing for more problems.

"Her back," Shisui added. "Her teammate mentioned heavy bleeding concentrated in that area."

"Show me," Tsunade ordered, standing beside him.

Sakura, still awake, spotted a head of blond hair in her peripheral vision. Naruto? She could feel something cool spill onto her face and her blond teammate was gone.

Oh no. Naruto was crying. She was sure. The presumption that they didn't make it to the tower was quickly developing into truth in Sakura's mind. This was all her fault. Because she was too slow. Because she was too weak. Because she was too useless. The remorse filled her eyes with warm, salty liquid.

Shisui wiped her tears with his thumb, the tender action drawing more tears. She whimpered.

"Nnnna...tou" The results immediately dissuaded her from further attempts at speaking. Blood bubbled from her throat, and began to spill out of her mouth. Bile burned the walls of her esophagus. Both actions effectively blocked air from entering her system; she began suffocating from her own vomit and blood. She had to apologize. She had to. But she couldn't. She had effectively ruined both her teammates dreams and their teacher's expectations at the cost of her own life. Even in death she was a burden to her team.

Unbeknownst to Sakura, her surroundings became more engaged. Profanities, orders and screaming blended into a cacophonous buzz in her ears. Shisui gently moved the girl up and tilted her to let the mixed liquid drain from the girl's mouth to reduce the risk of suffocation. Meanwhile Tsunade prepared for the worse, and the worse she got. Bruises decorated the surface of her back, the darkly pigmented purple an alarmingly colored. There was blood pooling from stab wounds... A nurse pulled out a fragment of a kunai and held it up. Whoever did this to her was serious, ruthlessly battering a fellow ninja for a scroll. Killing her would have been a more merciful act than this. Tsunade's resolve strengthened. She could only hope that her spinal cord was intact, injury there infamously caused paralysis, which was a career-ender for a ninja. Nerve reconnection was one of the most difficult processes for a medic, its formation an even more tedious task with a lot of risks.

Unfortunately, luck wasn't on their sides.

"Fractures in her C3 vertebrae, and in her lumbosacral regions," Shizune gasped.

Everyone seemed to freeze.

Shisui looked up from his work at silence. Every second wasted could be the difference between life and death. Why were they doing nothing? Were they just going to let her die from some fractures?

"Tsunade-san." Shisui's jaw clenched, strictness lacing his voice. It seemed to shake the woman out of of her stupor.

The orders deluged. "You there, redhead, prepare an epidural; this will be a painful process. Everyone else, continue working on her other wounds and get her clean, we need to know all of the injuries," She continued giving commands until the nurse she singled out earlier came back with an epidural needle. The second it was injected, Tsunade and Shizune had already begun knitting back the nervous tissue.

To any medic, this girl wouldn't make it. She'd be injected with anesthetics to numb the unbearable pain she'd be feeling and be left to die as a nurse waited by to mark the time of her final breath, down to the very last second.


authors' notes:

*The rules of the chunin exam have been altered. In the anime, if one member is injured or if a team is missing a member when they arrive at the tower, then the whole cell itself is disqualified. That doesn't apply here!

Also, we hope you enjoyed the first chapter and look forward to the next chapter and hopefully the chapter after that and so on!

Please R & R.