A/N: I am so sorry I haven't updated in forever. I just graduated with an English degree and have been focused on moving for the past month. Finally, I have some free time where I can relax and write. I have missed this fanfiction! Anyway, please enjoy and thank you all for your patience.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
"Ugly," Sai whispered into his intercom, "Can you hear me now?"
Sasuke pushed ahead, his blood-red sharingan fully activated as they navigated their way through the dark, dank cave. He followed Karin closely behind, making sure she didn't trip over herself. Despite her ability to sense chakras, maneuvering her way through a pitch black cave was not a part of her many abilities.
"Unfortunately, yes," Sakura's irritated voice crackled in Sasuke's ear. "It comes out a little fuzzy though." She frowned. "Sasuke, it seems like we're losing connection."
"Your relationship has been lacking recently," Sai chuckled quietly as he carefully walked behind Sasuke and Karin. "With Sasuke hanging all over Karin, it seems as though your connection with each other has quite a few issues."
As Sasuke glared back at Sai for a brief moment, Karin accidentally stubbed her toe on a rock. This time, Sasuke did not bother to catch her as she landed face first on the ground. Her nostrils were stuffed with dirt. She lifted her head up and glared into the darkness.
"Ugh," Karin growled, her fists clenched in irritation, "Why don't we just light some torches and get this distraction plan on the road?"
Sasuke didn't deem it necessary to grace her with an answer. He grabbed Karin roughly by the arm and lifted her up swiftly. Once steady on her own feet, she brushed the mud off of her and grimaced when she realized the whole front of her body was covered in dirt. But after feeling Sasuke's tender grip on her, she seemed to be a little less upset.
Sasuke eyed Karin for a brief moment, deciding she was fine after her little accident. Her dirty fingers ran through her red locks, trying to at least look nice despite being kept in the dark. She eyed Sasuke. Karin wasn't sure when they would reach a place where she could see, but with Sasuke's deadly accurate eyes, she wasn't going to take a chance by looking like a mess.
"Baka," Suigetsu teased through the intercom, "You need to be as far as possible before you start causing a ruckus."
Karin puffed her cheeks out in exasperation. Was Suigetsu just trying to get under her skin? Because it was clearly working. He always managed to push just the right buttons to get her boiling mad.
Karin glanced at Sasuke. Still, she was glad she could spend time with the Uchiha. It had been a while since she was able to be so close to him. And his chakra...
Karin took a deep breath.
His chakra was just as powerful and sexy as always.
"After our intercoms give out, you can start," Jūgo said kindly on the other end, snapping Karin out of her trance. But with his words being broken up into bits and pieces, it sounded a little eery to her. "That should give us enough time to find Hinata––"
A snapping noise was heard through Sakura and Suigetsu's intercoms and Sasuke tensed.
"Sakura." His voice, although calm to a normal listener, sounded panicked to Karin. "Sakura, are you there?"
There was a moment of silence and all Sasuke could hear was the loud thumping of his heart. He kept still, trying to listen for any signs of Sakura's breathing or noise on the other end.
Karin tugged on his sleeve and started to say, "Maybe we just lost connection," but thought better of it when Sasuke's blood red eyes zoomed in on her. They seemed to read, "Say a word, and I'll snap your neck."
Relief swarmed through Sasuke when he heard the petite breath of laughter in his ear.
"G-Gomen, Sasuke," Sakura chuckled. "Jūgo accidentally smashed the intercom."
"I guess I don't know my own strength," Jūgo said, his voice faint in the background.
Sasuke frowned. Jūgo really was strong, but he was normally more careful than that. Sasuke had seen him hold dainty birds in his hands without any problems, and the big lug had always been gentle with his friends aside from the occasional snap of insanity, which had finally been tamed by Sakura's medicine and Orochimaru's contributions to the formula.
"Keep talking, Sakura," Sasuke said, pressing his forefinger to the intercom dial so Sakura could hear him. "We need to stay connected as much as possible in case anything goes wrong." He paused. "As soon as you lose connection, take three steps back so we know where we can communicate again if we need to."
"Got it," Sakura said, her voice still coming out broken.
Sasuke was about to ask her a mundane question
"So, Ugly," Sai continued cheerfully. "How does it feel to know Sasuke-kun and Karin-chan are flirting on this end?"
Karin blushed and quickly adjusted her glasses. "Sasuke-kun...flirting...with me––"
"Shut it, Sai," Sakura and Sasuke growled simultaneously.
Sai blinked. His dark brown eyes wide with innocence while Sasuke turned to continue guiding Karin through the dark.
"But I thought we needed to continue talking," Sai said kindly.
"Only one of us really needs to be on the intercom," Sasuke replied coolly. "I'll talk." He glanced over his shoulder at the shinobi fumbling along in the dark. "You all focus on walking."
"Heh," Suigetsu said cockily, "Fine by me."
And with a click he was offline.
Karin begrudgingly shut off her own intercom, reluctant to let Sasuke and Sakura have a moment. She comforted herself with the notion that she would have him all to herself in those dark caves once the intercom connection stopped working. Karin kept a little closer to Sasuke than he would have liked so she could try to hear their conversation.
"Sasuke," Sakura said quietly, "This needs to work." There was a long, crackling pause. "Naruto is counting on us."
Sasuke continued walking, his fingers pressing further into Karin's arm. "I know."
His footsteps echoed through the cave, bouncing off of the walls in waves. Unlike his steady steps, his heart was beating rapidly.
"He'll be here soon," Sasuke said. "I can feel it."
Sakura didn't have to say anything. Ever since Naruto and Sasuke had inherited the Sage of the Sixth Paths' power, they had a connection she couldn't fully comprehend. Then again, Sasuke and Naruto always had an unbreakable bond. Sasuke had very fond memories of bickering with Naruto like brothers.
"We'll find her," Sasuke promised.
He could feel her smile through his earpiece.
"Sasuke-kun?" Sakura half-asked.
"Hn," Sasuke hummed.
"Arigato," she said quietly, her voice broken up into fragments.
Sasuke smiled even as the connection was lost with a small little click from his intercom.
"Why didn't you wake me up sooner?" Naruto grumbled as he walked side by side with Shikamaru down the halls of the Hokage's office.
"Two in the morning isn't early enough for you?" Shikamaru replied with a yawn. "I just got the call from Yamato." He eyed Naruto. "Kabuto is waiting for us outside your office."
Naruto glared at Shikamaru. "Every second counts. Hinata could be––"
"Team Seven and Team YOUTH are on it," Shikamaru said calmly. "Have a little faith."
The tactician matched him step for step, frowning at Naruto's ability to have so much energy after just waking up. The bags underneath Naruto's eyes revealed his worry and the paleness of his cheeks did not help any. It was no wonder Naruto had so much energy. His drive was his sheer panic at the thought of his wife.
Naruto grinned confidently. "I've got plenty of faith." He scratched his cheek. "But patience is another matter."
Moonlight peeked through the glass windows and the stars above twinkled brightly. Shikamaru eyed Naruto's clone warily in the darkness.
He really did hope that knuckleheaded ninja knew what he was doing. He sighed and rubbed his eyes tiredly. Shikamaru should have known he couldn't catch a break.
As soon as he and Temari finished having "couple time," Yamato dropped by just in time to watch Temari scramble for a sheet to cover herself. In the same moment she had covered her body, she had managed to snatch her fan and blow the intruder across the room and out the bedroom door.
Once the pair had changed, the blushing shinobi had stuttered as he gave his report, averting his gaze while Temari glared at him dangerously. She didn't care about being looked at all that much. She had never been one to care. But the idea of her time with her husband being interrupted wasn't something she wasn't too happy about.
Her attitude had changed when Yamato explained that as soon as they heard about Hinata, he and Kabuto rushed back to Konoha. In five minutes flat, Shikamaru ordered Yamato to have Kabuto waiting for Naruto at the Hokage's office, got Naruto out of bed and was at the office in no time.
Yamato was in front of them in a flash, holding photos in his hands. "I got what you asked for."
Shikamaru gave him a curt nod and walked past him. "Good." He took the photos of Kiba and Shino's bloodied bodies from Yamato. "Kabuto didn't seem off when you were on your orphanage visits?"
Yamato shook his head and followed them quickly. "He seemed completely normal. Nothing was out of the ordinary." He frowned. "Although, he did read a book to a child before she went to bed…"
"Thanks for the help," Naruto said genuinely.
Yamato glanced at the Hokage. He seemed pretty calm, despite his wife having gone missing. Maybe Naruto was in denial...but that didn't sit right with Yamato. Naruto had always been one to take action. He was a leader and a listener, but he never sat and waited.
"Go get some sleep, Yamato," Shikamaru said, looking through the pictures in his hands. "We'll handle things from here."
Yamato reluctantly agreed. "...Hai."
And in a puff of smoke, he was gone.
Shikamaru sighed. "I think he's suspicious, Naruto."
The blonde ninja didn't bat an eye. "Let him be suspicious. The original will be here soon enough."
They rounded a corner and, just as Yamato had promised, saw Kabuto standing outside of Naruto's office. When he heard them coming, Kabuto tilted his head back to look at them worriedly.
"Naruto-sama," Kabuto said respectfully, "I heard of Hinata-sama's kidnapping." He turned to fully face them before bowing politely. "I'll answer any questions you have for me."
Naruto glanced at Shikamaru. "Let's go into my office."
Kabuto nodded as Shikamaru unlocked the door. The brunette pushed it open and then motioned for him to step inside.
The medic nin stepped inside calmly, walking toward the Hokage's desk. Naruto quickly walked around him, plopping his ass in the chair. Shikamaru positioned himself next to the blonde haired idiot and leaned forward, spreading the pictures of both Kiba and Shino across the desk, a lurch in his stomach coming up as he did so.
Kabuto's eyes widened behind his spectacles. "These markings…"
Shikamaru nodded and said, "Orochimaru told us you might have an idea of who is behind this…"
Kabuto frowned. "Yes, but…"
Naruto leaned forward, his hands clasped together tightly. "But…?"
Kabuto tore his gaze away from the photos and looked at Naruto. "Is Jūgo still on his medicine?"
Naruto scowled. "The hell does that have to do with anything?"
Shikamaru crossed his arms in thought. "I'm not sure if he is." He glanced at Naruto. "I would have to rifle through the medical records to find that."
"What does Jūgo have to do with this?" Naruto asked again.
Kabuto glanced back down at the bloodied images. "Everything."
Sakura's head shot up. She clenched her fists. "Hinata––!"
Jūgo held out a hand in front of her so she wouldn't take off running. He glanced down at her. "It could be a trap."
Sakura bit her lower lip and let out a "ch." They were so close to her, but Sakura couldn't rush to her side. They had to be smart and tactful about this.
"Let's move in slow," Sakura growled reluctantly. "Suigetsu––"
Suigetsu moved to position himself in front of Sakura. She blinked up at him.
"I'm not doin' this 'cause I care about you," he snapped, his fingers curling around his sword and pulling it from his back. "Sasuke-kun would kill me if I let anything happen to you."
Sakura looked surprised. "Thanks...I guess."
They started to move forward, but voices echoed in the cave.
"You finally, showed up, huh?" one enemy male said.
Sakura waited in the darkness, while Suigetsu muttered, "I smell water."
With Suigetsu's ability, it wasn't surprising that he could, in fact, smell water. To Sakura, though, it was scentless. Just the moldiness of the cave flooded her senses. With the presence of other ninjas nearby, Sakura tensed, bracing herself for an attack. It was silent in the cave as they waited.
Suigetsu, having already pulled out his sword, lifted it up in the air and immediately swiped to his right just as a water clone appeared by his side.
Sakura stared, not wanting to believe her eyes at the clone's formation. It was a brief flash of recognition but it was there, all right.
"M-Mubi?" she asked in shock.
"Present," his voice said, echoing in the dark cave.
"Then Kagari and Oboro are––"
"Also here," the two said in unison.
Sakura clenched her fists. Team Oboro. They had passed them in the woods just a couple of weeks before. If they were truly a part of Hinata's kidnapping, Sakura would never forgive herself.
Suigetsu didn't bother glancing over his shoulder. "Friends of yours?"
"Not anymore," Sakura said coldly, anger welling up inside her chest. "What do you want?"
Jūgo kept himself slightly behind Sakura, just in case there was a surprise attack behind them. Just like Suigetsu, he did not want any harm to come to Sakura.
"Just to stall you for a while," Mubi hummed. "We don't want you finding Hinata so quickly while your friends and lover fight off our army as a distraction."
Sakura's eyes widened. How did they know about her and Sasuke?
"Oh, we weren't supposed to know that, now were we?" Mubi casually asked Oboro and Kagari.
"Just shut up," Oboro muttered. He glanced at Sakura and tilted his head to the side. "We've got orders to take you." He cracked his knuckles. "So you can either go willingly, or…"
Suigetsu tensed, holding out his sword and arm in a threatening manner. There was no way they were going to get the pink haired kunoichi. Sasuke would kill him if he ever let anything happen to her.
"...So we'll just be grabbing her, then," Kagari said. His tone was light and airy, as if he was talking about the weather.
Sakura's brow furrowed. "What do you want with me?"
"More leverage, I guess?" Mubi suggested.
"Shut it," Oboro growled.
They must not be the masterminds behind Hinata's kidnapping then, Sakura thought.
"I'll take care of these three," Suigetsu spoke, ignoring their comments. "You two go on ahead––try to find Hinata."
Sakura chewed her lower lip. She didn't want to leave Suigetsu to fend for himself, but she didn't want to waste more time while Hinata was still captive. Of course, he was perfectly capable of taking them out without any problems. Sakura glanced to Jūgo for reassurance on what the right decision was. He gave her a look and she nodded.
"All right, then," she said.
"Oh, no you don't––!" Kagari said, taking a step forward but Suigetsu swiped at him with his sword.
"Go on," Suigetsu said, a smirk on his face as he stared down his opponents. "I've been itching for a fight."
Sakura and Jūgo looked back at Suigetsu. Sakura's concern came off of her in waves.
"You aren't…" Sakura trailed off, not knowing exactly how to politely phrase it. "...You aren't going to kill them, are you?"
Suigetsu let out a sigh and a chuckle. "You're just like Sasuke, aren't ya?" Sakura's eyebrow rose in question, but the white haired ninja felt no further need to explain. "I'll see you back at the meeting point."
Sakura was still hesitating and Jūgo frowned. "We need to go." He started to walk past the three water ninja and held out a hand for Sakura to take. "Now."
She opened her mouth to protest, but Oboro attacked, heading right for her with a water clone, thinking he could sneak up behind her. Both Sakura and Suigetsu were too fast for him, though. She smacked his face with her fist and Suigetsu caught him in a hold.
"Get outta here!" Suigetsu growled. "Hurry up and find Hinata!"
Sakura nodded and followed Jūgo quickly, until they were both out of sight. Suigetsu grinned as the man he held became nothing but water in his hands.
"So," he said, cracking his neck with his hands, "You think you can take me on?"
Suigetsu felt a man behind him, and swerved around, slicing through the air with his thick sword. He watched as the ninja dodged his blow, and he could see in the corner of his eye the other two ganging up on him. He swerved once more, grazing the pair with the tip of his sword.
"Come on," Suigetsu said, his lips curved upward in a half smile. "Is that the best you've got?"
The three backed up, glancing at one another. Oboro gave a nod to Kagari and Mubi. Immediately, the two fell to the cave floor, burying themselves into the ground. They slithered away in the direction that Jūgo and Sakura headed. Although there was no indication of where the two had gone, Suigetsu grinned wider and threw his sword with a mighty thrust across the cave, directly in front of them.
It sliced through the ground, managing to cut both Kagari and Mubi with ease. They appeared from the ground, clutching their legs in agony and glaring at Suigetsu. Oboro didn't bother to glance at the two. He could smell their blood and fear in the air.
"Hozuki Suigetsu," Oboro finally said. "Master of the Suiton." Suigetsu folded his arms impatiently. "You chop off your victim's limbs before cutting of their heads. I've heard a lot about you."
"Heh," Suigetsu scoffed, "From who?"
Oboro was quiet. "Wouldn't you like to know?"
Suigetsu rolled his eyes. "How 'bout you tell me where Hinata is?" He paused. "...And why do you have orders to take Sakura?"
"It's too late," Oboro replied, "We've already fulfilled our purpose."
"Purpose?" Suigetsu asked, narrowing his eyes.
As if a light bulb turned on in his mind, his eyes widened.
"...You're just a distraction."
"There's too many of them," Karin growled as she punched off yet another cursed seal ninja.
"Can't you just take care of them, Sasuke-kun?" Sai asked innocently as he slit the calf of the one in front of him. "You still have the power that the Sage of the Six Paths gave you, don't you?"
Sasuke ground his teeth in irritation. "We can't launch any high impact attacks––the blasts might force the cave around us to collapse."
"So, what?" Karin snapped, dodging a blow and replacing it with one of her own. "We just sift through this sea of experiments?"
Sasuke didn't answer her. He, instead, whipped out his sword and held it up at an angle. He then swiftly made his way through the crowd, making sure not to slit their throats. The back of his sword was just enough to knock them out.
"Why are there so many cursed sealed ninja here?" Sai asked, "Orochimaru hasn't done experiments in years––Naruto's made sure of that."
Sasuke's brow furrowed. "This isn't Orochimaru's doing––" He grabbed the nearest cursed seal ninja to him by the scruff and yanked him close. "––Who are you working for?"
"W-We dunno," the frightened ninja said as Sasuke blocked another blow from behind. "W-We j-just get our o-orders from––"
One of the ninja had shoved their hand deep into the chest cavity of the one Sasuke had been holding, trying to get at him through the lifeless corpse. Blood spilt on the floor, pouring from the hole like a faucet. Sasuke tossed the body away in disgust before grabbing the throat of the ninja who had killed him.
"Talk," he growled. "Who is in charge here?"
"Dunno," he coughed out with a grin, "But so far, whoever it is is winning." Sasuke narrowed his eyes and the ninja he held grinned wider. "Oh, you don't know, do you?"
Sasuke was not amused and not in the mood to listen to the ramblings of an insane shinobi. The curse mark had obviously gone to this one's head. He briefly contemplated putting this poor sap out of his misery but struck the thought immediately.
He had once been a rogue, but he wasn't a goddamn murderer.
"What?" he found himself hissing as he pushed the ninja up against the cave wall and sliced the knees of the ninja trying to attack him from behind.
"Who we're really after," he chuckled.
Sasuke's brow furrowed and his muscular arm tensed. "...What?"
"Not what," the ninja chuckled, "Who."
Sasuke felt his stomach drop to the ground. The ice cold feeling running through his veins intensified. They wanted Naruto. Of course. The seventh Hokage was their target all along. Why else would they have kidnapped Hinata?
He ground his teeth together as he glared at the man in front of him.
They had leverage over them. They clearly had planned this out well––it made him sick. It was as if they were dealing with another Toneri situation. Sasuke frowned. He couldn't let that happen again. Naruto would go ballistic.
"Where is Hinata?" Sasuke snarled.
"If I were you," he coughed. "I'd be more concerned about yourself and your pretty little pink-haired kunoichi––"
Sasuke slammed him once more against the bumpy cave wall and smacked the ninja's head hard, knocking him out. He didn't want to hear any more foolishness from the enemy. He had a job to do and he would do it well.
"Come on," he said maliciously to the oncoming crowd of trembling ninjas, "Let's get this over with."
"I can't hear her anymore," Sakura panted as they ran further and further into the caves. "Damn it!"
She wanted to punch a damn hole in the wall. She was so frustrated. Jūgo followed close behind, his giant footsteps surprisingly quiet and matching with hers.
"I'm sure we'll find her," Jūgo reassured her. "We just need to keep looking."
"And Suigetsu is far behind," Sakura growled, slamming her fist into the ground, but making sure no chakra was behind it. "So he's no help to us now."
The ground did not shake under her clenched hand, but Jūgo still placed a gentle palm on her shoulder. "We will find her."
She glanced up at him, his tender gaze unable to comfort her. She took a deep breath and sighed.
"You're right," Sakura said, running her fingers through her silky pink hair. "We'll find her." Her green eyes light up with fire and she rose to continue her running. "I'm sure of it."
Jūgo smiled down at her and followed her silently. Sakura's movements were becoming more and more frantic with each passing step.
"Can you hear her?" she asked quietly, her heartbeat quickening with her feet.
They were silent as they listened. The droplets of water echoed down the cave and Sakura took a deep breath.
Hinata's scream was all the incentive she needed. Sakura bolted toward the sound but halted as soon as she noticed Jūgo wasn't coming along.
"Jūgo, hurry!" Sakura cried, trying to keep her voice steady as her heart hammered in worry for her friend.
But Jūgo did not answer.
Sakura glanced over her shoulder, but his large figure was not there. She stopped running, and turned around.
A thud on her neck pressure point was her only warning as she passed out in muscular arms.