A/N: Before the screaming begins, I would like to say that yes, I am aware that I haven't updated in months. Having said that…please have mercy o.O

Day 33


His glare silenced the words that were about to come out of Sakura's mouth. Her green eyes flared with anger. Ino started to whistle and walked a little more briskly ahead so that she was barely out of hearing range. Sakura rolled her eyes at Ino and turned to glare back at Sasuke.

"This is obviously some crackpot plan to get you back in his dealings, you know."

Sasuke was strolling, completely relaxed, his hands in the pockets of his dark pants. When he lifted his head to stare at the moon, the earring glittered in his ear. His lips quirked up slightly at the corners when he responded, "Does it make a difference?"

"Of course it makes a difference," Sakura sighed, turning so that she was facing forward as she walked again. Nobody looking on would have guessed that the two of them were walking together with Ino, or talking to each other.

"Hn…" he grunted. "Sakura…I'm going to ask you something."

She stayed silent, but her footsteps slowed a little. Sasuke took that as an invitation to continue. "Do you care about what happens to your friend?"

"What kind of a question is that?" she snapped. "If I just sit around letting Tenten go and get herself killed, what kind of a douche bag would I be? Not to mention Hanabi—" Sasuke interrupted her with a look again as he so often did.

"Then it does not matter what Orochimaru's true intents are. We go and we save them. Everything is much simpler than you make it out to be." He picked up his pace again, although he still made it look as though he were sauntering. Sakura broke into a sprint and turned so that she was blocking his path in the middle of the street. Sasuke stopped, but he was still gazing up at the sky.

"Look at me," she growled, shoving him a little. He raised his eyebrows as he looked down at her, his black eyes flat. "That's it? You're just going to walk into such an obvious trap and get yourself gruesomely wounded when you don't even have to come in the first place?"

He reached out a pale hand and touched the shark tooth earring in her ear, the one that was identical to his. "Do you remember what this is?" he said in a quiet voice. Sakura sighed and pushed his hand away.

"It's a promise," she muttered. "But it's an old promise, and it doesn't entitle you to getting yourself killed for no reason."

He shrugged. "I am not intending to let that snake kill me. That would be a worthless death." His eyes flashed at her suddenly. "An old promise is just as strong as one that you made yesterday."

Sakura snorted, and tugged lightly on her earring. "Right."


"Are you sure it's safe here?" Sakura asked nervously, her green eyes roving this way and that in the dark, trying to seek out potential threats. "This is going to be the first place that my parents come to search for me."

Ino sighed and twisted slightly behind the brush where they were hiding near the dormitory. She winced when she scratched her knee with a thorn. "Well, it's not like they're going to think to look out here." They were hidden in the overgrown back garden of the place, where it seemed like nobody had gone for decades judging by the thick layer of dust and cobwebs.

Sasuke seemed to blend into this scenery perfectly. They would have forgotten he was there at all if it weren't for the occasional glimpse they caught when he shifted and the faint moonlight reflected off of his earring. Sakura settled in a little more securely next to the thorn bush, and nearly screamed when there was a loud rustle to her left. Ino hastily clamped a hand over her mouth.

After a minute, Tenten's face emerged through the brambles. She was scowling in irritation and several of her brown hairs had gotten tangled up in the brush. "Yeah, thanks for coming up with such a great hiding spot, Ino," she muttered, her voice dripping sarcasm. "What was it you were saying? 'It's comfortable and the best part is that we're hiding right in plain sight.' Comfortable, my—"

At that moment she was interrupted by another loud rustling, and two more faces popped out of the bushes. Naruto grinned and winced when he stretched a bleeding cut on his face. On Tenten's other side, Rock Lee saluted Sakura with difficulty and ended up falling over onto his side among the thorns.

"What are they doing here?" Ino hissed, her blue eyes frantic.

Tenten sighed and shook her head. "Naruto heard from Hinata, of course. I tried to lose him, but it's really impossible to discourage him once he's determined. And Lee, of course, just had to tag along because Naruto's got a big mouth." She shrugged. "You can try to get rid of them if you want, because I've failed the entire way here."

Naruto shoved Tenten in the shoulder. "Hey, it's Hinata's little sister we're talking about here, and you! It's not like I could just be sitting at home eating ramen. I'm coming." His cerulean eyes narrowed as he looked at Ino. She held up her hands in surrender.

"Alright, alright. Just don't mess things up, because I swear, I will kill you if you do," she muttered.

"Ino, is there anybody else you called to meet here?" Sakura asked quietly.

Ino whipped out her cell phone. "I called Tenten and I picked up you and that Uchiha kid…hey, didn't you bring Neji? And has anybody seen Hinata?"

"Neji's coming; he has some things to sort out with Hiashi, I think." Tenten chewed her lip. "Hinata…she went out to buy some snacks this afternoon, and she said something about—" Tenten suddenly whipped around to stare at Naruto, who at this point was bright red and whistling as if he wasn't paying attention to the conversation at all. "She was with you, wasn't she?"

"Yeah," he muttered.

"Then when the hell is she now?" Tenten nearly yelled and shook him at the shoulders. "Do you know how dangerous it is to—"

"Yes! Yeah! I know!" Naruto pried Tenten off of him. "Yeesh. Do you really think I would have just left her all alone in the dark? Neji called her with something urgent, so I walked her back to the Compound."

"That would have been the news about Hanabi, then…" Tenten muttered. "Must have just missed her. Neji'll probably bring her over. Anybody else?"

Ino shook her head firmly. "I really don't think we should get anybody else involved in this. Whatever happens will happen, and we have to deal with it."

Sakura and Tenten nodded together. "Let's do this," Tenten said grimly.


The next morning was a grim one: the sky was slate gray, the color of old cement, and ominous storm clouds the color of charcoal hovered over the city. There was a tiny little splotch of brightness where the white sun was hidden behind a particularly large cloud, but overall there was a gray-blue sheen cast over the city as only a rainy sky can bring.

Tenten's five minutes of waking up felt like a true hangover experience. There was some kind of disgusting crust between her eyelids, and it felt like there was something stuck in her throat. There was an acute pain in her head right behind her right ear. She groaned when she finally managed to sit up and open her eyes. She had to take a moment to steady herself. The clock on the nightstand read 6:30 A.M.

It would have been wiser to try to get some more sleep, but the churning in her stomach and the acid feel of adrenaline in her body did a good job of preventing all her efforts of resting more from succeeding.

The mirror in the bathroom informed her that she looked terrible. Her reflection displayed a haggard, pale face with deep purple bruise-like bags under the eyes and a spot of drool on the chin. She sighed and washed her face with cold water.

Sakura was already up when she got out of the bathroom. She was sitting at the kitchen table, staring at a bowl of cereal that she obviously wasn't going to eat. She looked up at Tenten when she closed the bathroom door behind her. She was biting her lip so hard that it looked like she was going to draw blood. "Nobody's going to die, right?" she said finally.

Tenten sat down quietly at the table. "I don't know about you, but I'm not going to let that happen," she said fiercely. Sakura smiled slightly.

"Amen to that."

Despite the circumstances, Ino managed to sleep until 11. They had been up late the night before, but Sakura and Tenten didn't feel any of the side effects. Hinata was up about an hour after they woke up, and they managed to reluctantly down some cereal that tasted and felt like cardboard.

Ino ate 3 waffles, 2 bowls of cereal, a banana, an orange, a glass of chocolate milk, a meat bun, and 2 sausages.

The three girls stared as she gradually built up a slow pile of dirty plates and bowls next to her on the table. It seemed like they all had different ways of showing their extreme anxiety. Tenten couldn't help smiling at the teetering pile of dirty utensils once Ino was through with their pantry. It helped to lift the doom-and-gloom mood a little off of their shoulders.

At 2:30 P.M., there was a knock on the door. Naruto and Lee silently trooped in, both of their faces unusually serious. The grim expressions looked very strange on them. At 3:00 P.M., all six teenagers silently moved towards the door and trooped down the stairs of the dormitory. The owner obviously sensed something was wrong, but failed to inquire after the reason.

The laundry woman's alleyway was as familiar to Tenten as if she had been there every day of her life. She gritted her teeth at the memory of the last time she had been through this way. It seemed nothing happy ever did happen in these grimy places. Why would a laundry woman ever choose to live here in the first place?

She stopped abruptly just as they were about to round the corner, and looked meaningfully at her friends. She was fighting the urge to throw up, but she hid it from them. At that moment, they were all sharing the same gut-wrenching fear. All five of them crowded in for a giant, lopsided group hug with her in the middle, and then she was left feeling alone and exposed when they let go. Tenten noticed the desertedness of this street: there were no pedestrians and seemingly no birds. The silence was unsettling.

She glanced at her watch. Right on time, then.

Naruto looked like he wanted to stop her for a second, and Tenten shook her head. "I've got to go alone, remember?" She was surprised to hear that her voice didn't tremble. Then she turned and walked without looking back into the alleyway.


Suigetsu, if nothing else, had a watch. A very nice watch, in fact. When he appeared from behind a dumpster giving off the aroma of sulfur and other rotten things as suddenly as if he were a ghost, Tenten only kept herself from flinching by staring at that watch. Golden, the kind with so many miniature dials and stuff inside that you could barely read it. A Rolex, maybe. No doubt he had stolen it.

He grinned, his fang-like canines showing. "We meet again. Good to see you," he said in a sly voice.

Tenten clenched her fists, trying to stay calm. The sight of that face made her blood boil like nothing else. "Yeah," she muttered, trying to bore holes in his head with her eyes alone. Suigetsu seemed to sense that, and laughed his hyena laugh, waving his hand slightly. At once, three more of Orochimaru's goons appeared in the alleyway. One jumped down from a fire escape, while the other two walked silently out of doorways Tenten had failed to notice.

She ground her teeth, grinning a little despite herself. "What, afraid you couldn't take me by yourself?"

Suigetsu's grin never faltered. "Nah. The boss is being a gentleman. You get your very own escort." He took a few steps forward, closing the distance between them with his long strides. She took a step backwards, but he lunged forward and caught her arm, leaning forward until his putrid breath filled her nose and his pale eyes obliterated the alleyway from her vision. "Ah, Tenten. Shouldn't you be more polite?"

She jerked out of his grip and made to show him polite, her hand already drawn back in a fist ready to punch the living daylights out of him, but one of the goons was behind her pinning her arms behind her back before she had even seen him move. She caught a glimpse of his spiky hair, and recognized Juugo.

Suigetsu leered at her. "Well. Still got some fight in you…we can fix that. Where's that Hyuuga of yours, eh? Not so brave now, is he? Guess he doesn't want his little cousin back after all—"

"Let go of her."

Tenten nearly laughed at the look on Suigetsu's face then, like he had turned around and gotten hit in the head with a basketball. Neji strode up to the group coolly, his white eyes glinting with hatred.

"Who says I've got to?" Suigetsu challenged. "This was the deal, remember? And since your girlfriend here was nice enough to hand herself over…who says I've got to let her go?" he repeated.

"I do!" yelled a familiar voice, just before a blazing streak of orange and yellow leaped down from the same fire escape that one of the thugs had come from a moment before. Naruto grinned and stood up straight, flashing a peace sign as the goons shifted restlessly from foot to foot, looking back and forth between Neji and Naruto.

"Tenten, my flower of youth! I demand you free her!" yodeled yet another well-known voice. Tenten nearly choked on laughter as she raised her head to see Lee posing as he hung on the side of a building, his bowl cut shining in the sun.

"What the—" Suigetsu sputtered. He whirled, pulling back his lips in a snarl at Neji. "You were to come alone!" Neji shrugged, the slightest hint of a smile at the edge of his lips.

"I did. They came separately, did they not?"

"Either way, your damn cousin's dead," Suigetsu hissed. Neji raised his eyebrows.

"I think not, actually," he said coolly. "You will not lay a single finger on her head."

"Says who?" Suigetsu shouted, clearly panicking at Neji's calm demeanor. There was no need for an answer, however. Tenten could see all the muscles in his body freeze and his eyes widen as Suigetsu looked past her and Neji towards the other end of the alleyway. Hanabi was standing, a silhouette against the light and rubbing one of her eyes. Behind her stood Uchiha Sasuke, his black eyes cold and one hand on Hanabi's shoulder.

"You," Suigetsu finally sputtered.

Tenten took the opportunity to yank her arms free of Juugo's grasp and shouted at Naruto and Lee, "NOW!"

Lee leaped down from the building with a hoot and promptly fastened himself to Juugo by the neck, riding on him piggyback as Juugo bashed him against a wall in an attempt to get him off. Naruto socked the nearest thug in the face, who wasn't going down without a fight and hit Naruto back in the gut.

Suigetsu made a wild move to seize Tenten, but she ducked out of the way of his arms and gave him a flying back kick to the shoulder. At the same time, Neji managed to hit one of his pressure points, and he went down in a heap. "Nice one," Tenten grinned at her friend. He smiled slightly.

"Are you alright?"

"Yeah. Go and take care of Hanabi. She's probably scared out of her mind," Tenten yelled over the din. Neji hesitated for a moment, and then nodded, turning and running towards Sasuke and Hanabi.

She supposed she should have noticed it when Orochimaru stepped into the alley, looking like he didn't notice that all of his cronies were currently engaged in a rowdy brawl with a bunch of teenagers. Tenten didn't notice.

Sasuke did, his black eyes narrowing as he stepped in front of Hanabi, hiding her from view. He realized a moment too late that Sakura and Ino, who were supposed to have been the distraction while he stole Hanabi away from her guards, had never showed up outside the building from the alternate route like they were supposed to have.

Orochimaru smiled at the Uchiha, who could feel his blood turning cold at he thought this through, thinking of her sharp insults to him and the bag of tomatoes and her bright, cherry pink hair, and damn, how could he have been so careless?