Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Masashi Kishimoto.
Rated M: Due to coarse language, violence, and some adult themes.
You don't have to like me…
But you will respect me.
"I will do no such thing."
A raspy voice, rough with the need for water, says to nothing in particular. With only the shadows and constant chill in the air (and possibly the spider in the corner of the cell if it hadn't up and fled the coop), the young woman had learned to find solace in the lack of company, to find peace in the absolute silence.
In truth, she'd much rather be left alone. It was safer.
Sakura Haruno, praised apprentice of the fifth hokage, had been trapped in the same dank maximum security cell for nearly two weeks, if her ability to keep track of time in a place with no natural light was at all reliable. It was a blow to her pride as a Leaf kunoichi to be held in her own village's facilities for highly treacherous S-class nin but, she relented, it wasn't truly Konoha anymore.
Sakura watched dazedly as the only semi-constant companion she'd had during her captivity scuttled over her scuffed boot. The little spider was peculiar in looks as well as behavior. It was entirely white, and Sakura had spent some time puzzling over possible survival advantages to this adaptation. Honestly, she had nothing better to do with her time after proving to herself that the seal enforced cell coupled with chakra draining cuffs on her wrists, pretty much zeroed her chances of escape. So, as Sakura began imagining a life adapted specifically for living in the darkness of a maximum security dungeon, she was not quite paying attention to the little arachnid as it lunged from the toe of her shoe to the bars of her cell, plunging into the shadows of an empty corridor.
Why do you get to leave whenever you want while I'm stuck in this shithole? The kunoichi's starved mind contemplated. Vaguely, she wandered how long she had until her steadily culminating fever reached its peak. A person could die down here due to the elements alone. Sakura had the added bonus of occasional interrogations to weaken her immune system, on top of being deprived food and water.
Staring up at the ceiling which she couldn't even see, Sakura allowed her vision to glaze over until all she could focus on was the memory of those red demon eyes. Shining with the hunger to destroy and imprison, those swirling eyes were the last clear image she had since her capture. Even during her interrogations, which she could remember very little of and could only hope she never told anything of importance, Sakura's attention was split by that memory.
They must drug the food they so rarely see fit to give me.
Sakura growled at nothing and no one, her stomach chiming in as she rest her head against the stone wall at her back, too exhausted to care that the scummy water trickling down it was soaking her tangled hair.
For the umpteenth time, the girl who had been forced to grow up much too soon wandered what the point of it was. Why was she valuable enough to keep under lock and key when so many of her comrades had been slain? Was it because they deemed her safe enough to keep alive – because she was too weak to defy them?
Sakura weakly thumped her fist on the ground, creating ripples in the puddles surrounding her. Her glove was nothing but a useless, shredded scrap of cloth, but she refused to discard it. Her gloves had been a gift from the hokage, bestowed upon her the day of her chunin exams.
Scrunching her eyes shut, Sakura willed the tears away. It was becoming increasingly easier to do, though she wasn't sure if it had to do with her coming to terms with the facts, or if the drugs were keeping her checked out of reality just enough to take some of the edge off.
Danzo had struck. And struck hard.
Brutally, and sooner than anticipated, Danzo's plans for a coup were set into motion on an average day that had Sakura diligently on call at the hospital, not more than a few minutes' walk from the hokage tower where Tsunade was stationed at her desk, most likely whining at Shizune about the severe lack of selection in her not-so-secret stash of alcohol hidden in the bottom drawer. Around five in the evening, just an hour before Sakura would have clocked out of her shift to go home for a well-deserved bowl of miso soup, the bombs went off.
The hospital was thrown into a whirlwind of chaos, sirens, flashing lights, and recorded, monotone instructions over the intercom asking for calm and orderly evacuation. Easier said than done when an entire wing of patients, doctors, and nurses was just blown sky high and the rest of the building was filling with billowing clouds of smoke and the nauseating smell of searing flesh. Screams echoed off the white tiled walls of the hallways and something must have struck the generator as the lights began to flicker in warning of completely going out.
Sakura, accustomed to rushing into danger zones to pull out victims as quickly as possible for treatment, was one of the first to arrive on the scene. She, along with half a dozen or so other medics, were confronted with the awful, unbelievable sight of a team of Konoha ninjas quickly and efficiently disposing of the few who had somehow miraculously clung to life in the blast zone. With the few stragglers permanently silenced, the unidentified ninjas turned to the nurses and doctors. Sakura had only an instant to recognize the ROOT uniform before she had to parry a katana aimed precisely for her jugular. She was aware of her medic friends being felled all around her, their orders and short cries dying on their tongues before they could even be carried out. Afraid to cause more damage to the structure of the hospital, Sakura felt extremely restrained in her ability to defend the place she had come to invest her heart and soul in. Denying herself the use of her inhuman strength, Sakura decided that evacuation of everyone in the hospital was a top priority. By removing the assumed targets, the attackers would be lured away from the hospital and, hopefully, Sakura would have received some back-up by the time that critical moment arrived to take them out.
But back-up never arrived because an even bigger crisis had pulled the village's attention away from the chaos consuming the hospital. The patients had been successfully led out of the hospital and taken to the school not too far away. Sakura, attempting to lead the ROOT team as far away from the exits she was sure would be used by any struggling evacuee efforts, had successfully gotten them to chase her to the opposite end of the hospital. But they were fast enclosing on her, and when one of them flashed in front of her to cut off her escape route, Sakura knew she had to make her stand without any help. Sakura was able to hold her own for a short while, using shadow clones and chakra scalpels to dole out as much damage as she possibly could before fatigue from a full day's work in the hospital began to take effect and the six ROOT members overwhelmed her.
They incapacitated her, and still Sakura has yet to figure out why. She did however learn what had distracted any help from arriving in time to assist her at the hospital: an assassination attempt on the hokage's life. An attempt that Sakura isn't certain has been successful. Danzo himself had paid her a visit on the first night of her containment. The old right-wing coot had told her in the smuggest of tones how Tsunade's alcoholism was such an unbecoming characteristic in a village leader and that she should be quite ashamed of her conduct.
Sakura knew poison was involved. Somehow, the hokage's personal collection of booze had been contaminated with a pathogen that very well near killed her. By now, it might have succeeded for all she knew.
Sakura held back a whimper at the thought, cursing Danzo to the bowels of Hell.
Supposedly, Danzo had coordinated the assassination attempt and the attack on the hospital with sightings of the Akatsuki near the village. But Sakura knew better. Not that she could out the wily bastard. He had ordered an "extensive investigation" of the damage done to the hospital and a tally had been taken of the lives lost. Sakura Haruno had been publicly listed among the causalities. Now, the fifth hokage was in a near death-like state, possibly about to slip away at any moment and her prized student was thought to be a tragic loss in a terrorist attack. Sakura saw nothing but red for the first few days of her captivity, and it wasn't just because of the Sharingan eyes she was horrified to discover Danzo had outfitted his body with. She wanted to rip him limb from limb and punch him into a crater the size of the moon. The only thing Sakura was grateful for was that Naruto was out of the village with Jiraiya during the takeover. Hopefully, word had somehow reached him to stay away from the village. Danzo had no tolerance for the jinchuriki and his coming to power could only mean trouble for her loud, blonde friend.
Sakura could only guess at how her friends were fairing under the new regime. They certainly couldn't be happy with the new change of power, but as far as Sakura could tell from the cool demeanor of the occasional ROOT member who stopped by her cell, things above the surface were running smoothly for Danzo. And why shouldn't they? He's only led everyone to believe that the true hokage is too weak to protect the village from a few Akatsuki ambush attempts.
Danzo's very existence took safety out of the meaning of home. He was manipulative and willing to sacrifice a few loyal shinobi to meet his own goals. Sakura was itching with the need to break free (and possibly fleas, as the old man didn't see fit to honor the "dead" with any hospitality) and personally deliver the murderer to Death's door.
"Watch your back, old man," Sakura grumbled to herself, her chin dipping down to her collar bone as her head fell limp with wooziness. She might as well sleep, it was her only means of escape right now.
You're absolutely riveting when you're upset, my dear. Much too entertaining for your own good.
Sakura's head snapped up as if a jolt of electricity had just passed through her body. There it was again - that voice that would occasionally speak up just as she began to get comfortable with being alone.
Many a time she had been tricked into thinking it was Danzo, come to taunt her, but the old geezer must be too preoccupied with maintaining his deceitfully attained throne as he had neglected to come by since his first and only visit. This voice alarmed Sakura to no end, it was incredibly close and yet she saw no one, sensed no one. She was on a separate side of the building from the rest of any captives the Leaf had before or since Danzo's coming to power. The walls were at least five meters thick of concrete and reinforced with a sound absorbing jutsu so she couldn't possibly be picking up on anything anyone else was saying on the other end of the security ward.
Which led Sakura to one conclusion: she was slowly starting to crack-up.
Good. Let Danzo and his precious brain-washed lapdogs deal with a deranged kunoichi.
But the voices still scared her a tiny bit, though she hated to admit it even to herself in the privacy of the all encompassing shadows of her prison. Sometimes, there seemed to be more than one voice that would speak to her, never at the same time with another voice, but she could definitely pick out subtle differences from time to time.
Worst of all, she thought one of them sounded familiar. But that'd be impossible!
Deciding she had nothing to lose at this point, not even her dignity, for speaking to voices that may only be trapped inside her head, Sakura struggled to stand. It was a much harder feat to accomplish than it should have been. The once healthy, blossoming pink-haired medic was now bordering on mal-nourished and her knees wobbled in the effort to support her weakened frame. Danzo's attempts at information extraction had left her bruised and bloodied, and Sakura couldn't even remember what it was he was searching for. It could have been nothing. He might have just been taking her out of her cage for an occasional beating.
Sakura wouldn't put it past him.
Groaning as her stiff joints crackled in protest at the strain, Sakura hobbled over to the front of her cell.
Careful, darling. You might hurt yourself.
The voice was mocking her, she could hear the laugh just barely contained and her rising anger cleared enough of the fog in her brain to lash out, "Show yourself! I'm sick of your chatter. Stop hiding like a coward and I'll shut you up permanently."
Sakura knew she was all false bravado, she knew the voice inside her head knew it, too. But Sakura had reached the point where she simply didn't care if she was calling trouble to herself. She welcomed it. Anything had to be better than her current predicament.
Sakura could feel the hair on the back of her neck stand on end and her scalp was tingling. That wasn't what she had expected to hear, and now the once proud medic was quickly deflated, falling to her knees on the spot. The cold dampness from the cobble stoned floor soaked into her clothes. An inescapable chill had seeped into her bones, making them too numb and too heavy to move.
Sakura was fast approaching hopelessness. She was losing her will of fire.
"…a perfect specimen…beautiful."
"And a spitfire!...strength…three times her size."
"Need to move out…collect…kill him."
Sakura blinked slowly, her head feeling thick with sluggish thoughts. Someone was talking, but it's as though their voices kept going in and out - a bad channel on a wireless telecommunications band. Using her forearms, she manages to lift most of her torso out of the shallow puddle she had collapsed in, trying hard not to think of the possible bacteria swirling around in it like a spinning top of pick-your-lethal-disease.
She guessed she had been out for no more than an hour or two, although it was really just stabs in the dark at this point. She was only half-heartedly trying to keep track of time in a twisted game with herself of trying to will her mentor better. If she was still alive now…Tsunade-shishou had such-and-such percentage of a full recovery. If she lasted two more days, her chances went up by such-and-such percentage.
What were those two going on about?
She was certain there were two distinct voices this time around – the first time the voices had ever had a conversation with one another that didn't directly involve her, although she had a feeling they were discussing her at some point. These two voices were both different from the one that had spoken earlier, however. The one that had promised he'd show himself soon.
A shiver down Sakura's spine peppered her skin in goose bumps. That voice had an unforgettable feel behind it, much more powerful and malignant than the two that had just woke her up. If she never met the owner of that voice, Sakura would thank her lucky stars.
Not that she thought she had any at the moment.
"Why can't you shut up and leave me be?" Sakura managed to get out past cracked lips and a bone-dry tongue.
Now, where would the fun be in that, love?
Sakura's eyes went wide, pupils dilating to mere pinpricks as something deeply primal within her told her to run. She could almost feel black tendrils of killing intent separating from the shadows to ensnare her.
"Hey, ROOT lackeys, a little water would be nice, you know?" her frantic complaints reverberated through the three inch steel bars along the front of her cell.
Sakura was thirsty, but she had little hope of having her needs met. She was just hoping to stir up enough commotion to draw some attention from any ROOT members on guard duty. Please, there has to be someone on patrol at all times, right?
"Come on! I'm dying of thirst down here!" Sakura gripped the steel bars, her knuckles turning white, giving away her distress.
I will not beg for help, but Kami, it'd be nice if one of them was actually around when I want them to be.
You sound frightened, little girl.
Sakura's lips trembled. Another one. How many were there?
Panting heavily from the adrenaline building up in her system and without a means to release it, Sakura clutches her head, strands of hair snagging around her fingers and being painfully pulled taut from her scalp.
"GET OUT OF MY HEAD!"
Her lips move rapidly, soundlessly repeating those words like a mantra. She was strong, if not physically so at the moment, at least mentally. That had always been her thing. She couldn't go insane; she couldn't give Danzo the satisfaction of completely breaking her even if she would be making a nuisance of herself for his flunkies.
You have me worried, doll face. Has all the fight gone out of you? Such a pity.
That voice! Sakura's eyes narrow to slits of molten emerald, burning brightly with the beginnings of fever. She had heard it earlier having a conversation with one of the others. But, realization dawned on the kunoichi, she had heard this particular voice before. It was as delightfully soft on the ears as velvet was on the skin, and she had hated it.
It can't possibly be – I got rid of him!
Wishing to drown out any more voices thinking of speaking up, she strikes up a lively hum to a tune she had all but forgotten from a circus she had seen on a mission back in her genin days.
I think she's broken, yeah?
The humming increases in volume and energy.
He'll be properly taken care of for not meeting our arrangement to full satisfaction.
Giving up, Sakura releases her grip from the bars, painfully stretching out her fingers from their curled, claw-like contortions.
Staring at her hands, Sakura can't help but frown at what she has become.
I've been reduced to some kind of creature now. Too weak and too stupid to do anything. Tsunade-shishou…I'm so sorry.
She wants to kick herself for being so pathetically weak, but at the same time she just feels like drowning in her own self-pity…Or maybe one of the many puddles dotting her living space like putrid oases.
A small scuffling noise causes her to perk up.
Are the guards finally coming?
But it wasn't a guard come to berate Sakura for her insolence and threaten her with bodily harm if she didn't settle down. It was only her cell mate, the little white spider, back from one of its brief ventures of freedom. She was starting to become attached to its presence, likening it to a pet and even referring to it as her spider. Yet, at the same time, her disdain for the little creepy crawly was mounting each day as it had the freedom to go where it pleased. Why it would ever return back to her cell was beyond Sakura, but she supposed some spiders might find the dark, depressing atmosphere of a prison quite suitable.
The spider was on direct route for Sakura and she watched with rapt attention (if not slightly disgruntled) as it tentatively tapped her boot with a single, delicate limb before making a spiraling climb up her calf. Before she knew it, the albino spider had scurried up her side without so much as a tickle, and come to rest on her shoulder. Afraid to make direct eye contact with the thing, and not at all comfortable with it being so close to her face, Sakura gingerly plucked the spider off and set it back on the ground.
She may have been too kind-hearted to simply squish the thing, but she would have never made it as a member of the Aburame clan.
The next day, or whenever Sakura chose to officially declare it as the next day, saw the bedraggled girl leaning against the bars of her prison cell. Better here, she thought, than hidden away in the misty grayness at the back of the cell. At least here she was closer to the torch light of the corridors and could spot approaching guards sooner from this position. This is what her days had come to, idly lounging on her butt, waiting for the guards to make their rounds – if they made their rounds. She was beginning to think Danzo had ordered she receive as little human interaction as possible. Receiving food and water only about every two, sometimes three days, she looked forward to seeing another person just as much (if not more so) than the prospect of partially filling her stomach or slaking the constant thirst scorching her throat.
Rubbing her cheek against the bar she was resting against, Sakura didn't bother to look up.
Her teammate wasn't really there. It was just another hallucination like all the other voices that had preceded it, another sign of her rapidly degenerating health. Better to go back to the half awake/ half asleep dream-like state she was just in. Things were so much better in it.
"Don't be so weak, Hag. You're stronger than this," Sai's voice softens, only by a degree or so, but the difference was loud and clear to someone as perceptive as Sakura who had become somewhat of an expert in picking up on Sai's muted changes in emotion.
"Sai," Sakura breathes out the name, an overwhelming gush of relief to see a familiar, friendly face.
"What are you doing down here?" she continues, swiftly stamping out the ember of hope that her friend has come to release her.
A conflicted expression momentarily mars the blank canvas Sai has so expertly crafted from his training in Danzo's underground organization. Sakura rises to her feet, wincing at the stiffness in her bruised and deteriorating muscles.
"My apologies, but I am not authorized to release you. I've requested several times to be permitted to visit you, but only now has Danzo acquiesced, and that is on the orders that I see to your physical care. How are you fairing?" Once again the mask is pulled back down, complete with one of his phony smiles, this one lacking in sincerity more than usual. A definite setback for him. Is this turn of events eating away at his resolution to stay loyal to the Leaf? To Tsunade-sama?
"Oh just peachy, can't you tell? Please, extend my gratitude to Lord Danzo when you report back to him," Sakura chirps back, in a dangerously sweet voice, her true intent thinly veiled so even Sai can pick up on it. He says nothing.
"Does he trust you?" Sakura asks flatly.
"He will never trust me to the degree he once did before my time with Team Kakashi. However, because of my past service to him, I am at a more advantageous position than those who were adamant supporters of the fifth hokage."
Sakura nods, expecting as much.
"Wait! How did you know I was alive? That bastard came down here and told me how he had so expertly played the cover-up story of the hospital bombing. Everyone is supposed to think I'm dead," Sakura's brows furrow in confusion at the possibility that maybe the truth was revealed. And if her death had been revealed as a lie, maybe there was hope for her mentor as well.
"I saw them incapacitate you in the hospital. I could tell it wasn't a killing blow, therefore they had to be keeping you somewhere for some purpose. It's not a new trick for ROOT to spread the word that someone has been killed when in actuality they are being held in maximum security for interrogation," Sai explains, his eyes critically scanning over Sakura's form, focusing on the lacerations decorating her bruised skin.
But Sakura's mind wasn't on her wounds or the interrogation techniques used by Sai's old comrades, "You came to the hospital? I didn't think anyone came to help me."
Sai gives a small, affirmative nod, "There was another bomb of smaller scale set off in the hokage's office," Sakura's eyes widen, this was news to her.
"Its purpose was to draw attention, more than cause actual damage," Sai continues, "Kakashi, Yamato, and I heard the explosions and could see the smoke spilling out of the window from the training grounds. It was only on our way to the tower that we saw the damage done to the hospital. I broke off from them to investigate and they said they would send word for a team to be formed to help at the hospital. It just didn't arrive in time. Everyone was concerned with the hokage and by then the patients had been evacuated."
Grimly, Sakura nods. If only she could have held out a little longer! Sai would have backed her up long enough for more shinobi to arrive, and Danzo's plot would have had too many opposed witnesses to succeed.
Even now, I still let the people I care about down.
Something of utmost importance occurred to Sakura and her handcuffed hands strike out between the bars, clutching Sai's wrist with such speed that even the blank slate known as Sai's face shows the slightest hint of surprise.
"What about…Naruto?" she asks, afraid to hear the worst.
"He hasn't returned yet. I believe it was Shikamaru who was able to locate him on his return trip from a mission and successfully warned him to keep his distance for the time being."
Yes! Way to go Shikamaru! But wait –
"And he actually listened?" A delicately curved, pink eyebrow arched dubiously.
"Jiraiya was with him. My guess is that he's been keeping a tight leash on Dickless so that he doesn't come charging in here with some half-baked plan to take down Danzo."
More like no plan at all. Sakura inwardly laughs.
"Sai…how bad is it out there?"
At first, Sai was confused by his teammate's question. What exactly was she referring to? But, upon observation of the dried tear tracks leaving clean trails on the otherwise dirt smudged face of this girl who, Sai thought, considered him a friend, Sai felt pretty certain that he understood what she was asking for.
"If you are inquiring about the village's acceptance of Lord Danzo as the hokage, there are highly mixed…" Sai hesitates on how to put it, "Feelings. The elder council members and the heads of some of the older established clans are in favor of his leadership as his way of doing things is more reminiscent of their times. However, there are still those who are loyal to Tsunade-sama. But it is not easy for them to have their complaints heard. In fact, it's actually quite dangerous right now."
"How is Kakashi-sensei? And Yamato – and the rest of our friends?" Sakura's voice rose in desperation of the need to know the fates of her loved ones.
Not for the first time, Sai felt something in his heart moved by the sincere kindness of the girl in front of him. Even here, from the confines of the Hidden Leaf's maximum security cells, it seemed that the first thing on Sakura's priority list was the well-being of her loved ones.
"Kakashi-san and Yamato-san are both banned from missions for the time being. They have been under surveillance since shortly after hearing you had been killed in the bombing. They were of course suspicious of Danzo and the ROOT from the start. As for your friends," Sai, unlike Sakura, was hesitant to claim them as his friends as he seemed to have trouble making those, "They are also finding Danzo's rule quite unpalatable. Many of them have been restricted to lower-ranked, menial missions that don't take them out of the village, mostly due to their affiliation with their senseis who were quite supportive of the fifth hokage. A few, like Shikamaru Nara and Neji Hyuga have tried to get into Danzo's good graces so that they could learn more about what he has planned."
Sai was unaccustomed to such lengthy explanations and was actually feeling a little fatigued by it all. But perhaps he, like Sakura, was feeling a little needy for human interaction as well.
"What about you, Sai?" Sakura's eyes studied his abnormally pale face, looking no different than usual but, perhaps she was just imagining it, he seemed a little worn out. His bangs were in need of cutting as they were almost down into his eyes, and his stance wasn't as tall and straight as normal.
"As I said, Danzo doesn't trust me like he once did. Ever since I came to confront him about covering up your death, I've been just as much a prisoner, too. I've been restricted to staying at the hokage tower for surveillance. They've taken my art supplies and try to make use of me by having me organize files of lesser importance during the day. At night, I'm kept in a holding cell, though it is admittedly much better than yours."
Sakura's mouth parts slightly, a silent cry of anguish on her lips, and she feels the prickling of tears although she knows her body can't afford to shed any in her severely dehydrated condition. Her friend was suffering because of her.
"Sai, I'm so sorry. You're stuck here because of me. This is awful, it's all my fau – "
"Stop crying, it makes your ugly face even uglier," Sai's smile relaxes a little at the corners, looking a little more genuine.
"I'm here because I made the choice to confront Danzo. I failed in getting you out of here, and ended up getting myself caught. The only reason Danzo has permitted me to see you is because he feels confident that nothing will come of this; it's a demonstration of his power over the both of us."
Sakura, realizing she had been gripping Sai's wrist none too gently for quite some time now, quickly releases her hold upon suspicion of the smooth metallic band she had noticed earlier, but didn't give much thought to. Now, she saw with dismay, her suspicions were confirmed. Sai's wrists were adorned with chakra suppressing bands. The polished blue surface of each band gleamed in the torchlight.
Afraid this revelation could do worse damage to Sakura's already low spirits, Sai felt the need to distract her.
"Right now, however, many who would willingly oppose Danzo simply don't see it as an opportune time. The Leaf needs a leader, and despite the methods he used to attain the title of hokage and his more archaic views of how the village should be run, Danzo is capable of leading, and more importantly, defending the village now that Tsunade-sama is incapacitated. Right now, the people need that sense of maintained security. There have been numerous Akatsuki sightings around Fire's border."
Sakura was beginning to see how ill-timed – or well-timed from Danzo's point of view- this whole mess was. The people, especially the civilians, were in the dark as to how Danzo had actually been appointed hokage, and even if they did know the truth, many would probably be accepting of it when faced with the possibility of war. Especially since the public was under the impression that the hospital bombing and the attack on Tsunade already showed that there was a breach in security that the Akatsuki had taken advantage of.
Sakura reached out once more to clasp Sai's hand between her two cuffed ones. There were no words shared, it was simply a moment of peace and comfort. Each of them needed that, even if one of them wasn't aware of it.
But Sai's well-attuned hearing picked up on the approaching footsteps, and he knew his time with Sakura "in private" was over. He had been promised ten minutes, no more. The two ROOT guards that had come to escort Sakura (along with Sai) had "politely" waited around the corner of the corridor. Sai could only hope the distance coupled with their hushed voices rendered their conversation unintelligible. It was probably too much to hope for, but at worst Danzo would only be able to confirm what he already suspected: that Naruto was keeping his distance at some unknown location with the Sennin, Jiraiya, and that a few of the shinobi from Sai's and Sakura's generation were trying to get close to Danzo to figure out what else he was plotting.
As the ROOT guards silently came up behind Sai, flanking him on each side, Sai gave a light squeeze to one of Sakura's hands, the most he could do to reassure the kunoichi.
"I'm sorry, Sakura, but we have to go now. Danzo has ordered you to be cleaned up."
Sakura felt more exhausted than she ever had in her entire life. Every muscle was sore, every bruise screamed at the lightest, feather-like touch. The chill in the air no longer bothered her, and that was worrisome. Numbness had set in along with the slight delirium from her fever. Only now was she certain that Sai wasn't an illusion. No way would her mind conjure up ROOT ninjas to plague her.
Still, Sakura had to admit that a bath would be welcome. Sure it wouldn't be as luxurious or relaxing as the ones she spoiled herself with after a long day at the hospital, but it had to be better than rotting in her own stench. Even if she was only offered a hose to spray herself down with, she wouldn't complain.
Water. So thirsty.
She couldn't even think in full sentences anymore. Her head felt hot and heavy, and the ROOT members quickly assessed that the once fierce, proud kunoichi that had punched and screamed until they knocked her into unconscious oblivion, was now a mere ragdoll. They signaled Sai to pick her up, and he marveled at her weakened frame. Sakura had already lost a lot of weight from her two weeks of captivity. Gingerly, the artist bundled his friend up into his arms, her head flopping against his shoulder.
'I'm sorry, Sakura,' Sai's thoughts turn sullen, 'Flowers need sunlight.'
The…light. It hurts. My eyes. Burning.
Staring, hungry eyes.
Sakura's body jerks involuntarily, trying to escape a demon that (she hopes) is only in her nightmares. However, Sakura observes, the light is very real.
The pain the light is causing her eyes is also very real.
Using the heels of her palms, Sakura rubs at her eyes, now streaming in irritation. Her time down in the bowels of the hokage tower must have dramatically increased her sensitivity to bright light. Still only half awake, Sakura is able to take in two things quite quickly.
One, she is sitting in a body sized container. Two, she was wearing nothing but the skin she was born in and an unhealthy coating of grime.
What the He - ?
Sakura protectively huddles her legs up to her chest. Two women dressed in sterile, white uniforms are busily balling up her tattered clothes into an old sack, most likely sending it off to be burned. It saddens her to see the familiar red, if not severely faded, vest that sports the Haruno clan symbol on its back being crammed unceremoniously into an old, potato sack-like bag. But she can't mourn its dishonorable departure for long as the two women come at her, armed with all manner of soaps and scrub brushes.
After enduring the invasive and thorough cleaning of the two women whom Sakura assumed to be part of ROOT's own medical core, Sakura was left to soak in her bath – a putrid, nearly pea green colored liquid was helping to relieve her soreness (that was thanks in part to being scrubbed raw).
Must be some kind of herbal medicine added to the bath salts.
Sakura raised an arm out of the water to smell her skin. Despite the distinct plant-like scent, it definitely beat her previous stink. Sighing, Sakura rolls her neck, grimacing at the series of pops. Her surroundings are rather boring, if not a bit eerie in their simplicity…as well as the knowledge that she's actually still in the underground prisons. The room is small, nearly a perfect cubicle of white tiled walls and a gray, cement floor with a small bath tub in the center. She mentally cringes at the thought that other criminals – true criminals – had bathed in this same tub.
Trying to put such thoughts out of her head, and really all thoughts, Sakura sinks down into the water with her chin barely skimming the surface. With her eyes lazily roaming about the room, not really settling on anything in particular due to all the whiteness, Sakura would have never noticed her guest. Then again, she never really did notice it until it wanted to be seen.
"Well, well. What do we have here? So this is where you go when you decide to leave me to talk to the walls."
The little white spider was perched on the chrome faucet, its little spindly legs twitching as if in response.
"Hmph, I don't know why you'd ever return to that cage. I have no choice; in fact, I'll probably have to go back there in a few minutes."
Depressed, she sinks even lower, holding her breath until the water line is just below her eyes. Her pastel pink hair had darkened in the water, turning a rosier hue; the ends of her hair floating around her, creating a protective circle around her submerged shoulders.
Blowing bubbles in the water like a little child, not caring that the water probably tasted awful, Sakura fixes the spider with a piercing stare. Her mind was still addled with the drugs her interrogators had pumped into her veins a few days ago to make her pliant and unable to put up a fight.
"I'll have to live like a caged animal. I'll have to go back there. Back into the cold, dark…"
Sakura's voice drops off as her thoughts seem to slow down, returning to that one image that had haunted her since the attack on the hospital.
Sakura knew there was no getting out of this. She had gambled on the assumption that she could buy enough time for back-up to arrive, but just like her mentor she had no luck. With six ROOT shinobi surrounding her, she could only hope to land a few well-placed strikes to take one or two of them out. Then, she'd most likely be killed here in the rubble of Konoha Hospital. Just as she raised an arm to block the kick aimed at her face, Sakura saw a dark figure standing just a few feet beyond the entrance of the hallway behind the enemy she was engaged with. He, for this person was of substantial height and build, was merely watching the fight, out in the open. The lights in that hallway had been taken out in the blast and live wires shooting sparks were dancing close to his head, but the person didn't seem the least bit concerned. They just leaned one shoulder against the wall, arms crossed, passively observing.
For that split second in which Sakura raised her arm to shield herself, her eyes clashed with the eyes of that shadowed stranger. His eyes bored into hers with such intensity that Sakura was afraid she had turned into stone at that very spot. They were the crimson red of fresh blood and seemed to glow in a face that was otherwise cast in shadow.
But Sakura didn't have much time to study this figure. As soon as she made her block, another shinobi sliced her cheek with a kunai and her full attention was back on the fight for the few more moments it carried on before she was dealt a blow to the head. She was stopped right in her tracks before she dropped straight to the unforgiving floor.
"No. NO!" Sakura's voice echoed back at her, bouncing off the tiled walls and humming through the air.
Looking at the little spider that hadn't moved from its post, Sakura decides to address it so that she feels a little less insane than she would if she was talking solely to herself.
"I can't do it. I can't go back into the dark. He'll get me. They'll get me. All those voices. Always talking. Trying to get to me, to break me down – but they can't! I won't let them!"
Panting, Sakura doesn't even notice she's upset the water in the tub and some splashes out onto the floor.
Calm down. You're being foolish.
Sakura nearly gasps in shock.
No! They can't follow me here! Not in the light. I should be safe here.
This is all going to be for nothing if she ends up insane, yeah.
There would still be some value in her. According to the bingo book, her head is worth a respectable sum.
Enough! That is not why we've gone through with this. Her sanity will not be compromised, but more importantly her health is to be of prime concern.
That fucking ship might have sailed. Bitch is messed up.
"No, go away. You're not supposed to be here. I don't w-want to go crazy," Sakura's voice quivers, her nerves completely on edge. She scrunches her eyes shut, hating the darkness, but trying to focus on the voices in her head so she can force them out. Sakura can feel the tears tracing burning streaks down her face before they plummet into the bath water with a plip plop.
How much longer before you retrieve her?
Tomorrow night was the agreed upon time, yeah. But I say who gives a damn? That old bastard certainly hasn't honored our arrangement to the letter, yeah.
Hn. Don't be so brash.
Like I care what you have to say, yeah.
Sakura was shaking, and it wasn't because of the barely lukewarm water.
"Go away. PLEASE," her shaky voice begged between clenched teeth.
This wasn't a good sign. More voices were talking all at once. To Sakura, this meant she was steadily losing the battle to stay sane.
What have they done to me?
For once, I must agree. Time is of the essence here. We cannot afford to wait any longer.
Che. It's a wonder she hasn't fucking offed herself yet.
A chorus of voices hisses in derision at the one's suggestion.
But Sakura perked up, her face lifted out of the water as her eyes danced around the room, searching.
Nothing. They've literally left me with nothing.
But the seed had been planted in her thoughts, and spread quickly like the most diffusive of poisons. She could still take back control. Her final action would be the biggest "fuck you" to Danzo she could manage in her current state.
She realized that her death wouldn't in any way unsettle the old geezer, but it would make a mockery of his control over her. And with her cloudy thoughts, Sakura really couldn't think too rationally about the likely possibility that she would one day be freed – that Naruto and Kakashi wouldn't just idly stand by as she was left to rot in prison.
All she could focus on was lashing out against Danzo and getting rid of those voices; those voices that would sometimes whisper scary sweet nothings to her when she was curled up on the floor of her cell, crying softly.
It needed to stop.
That's when the haze in her brain lifted enough for her to realize two things. One, she was in a tub filled with water. Two, she had been left alone.
It was quite simple really.
Sakura raised both hands out of the bath, watching the water leak out between her fingers and barely cupped hands. This was all she needed.
Reclining against the tub, she stretched her neck back to rest on the lip of the tub and stared sightlessly at the ceiling. With eyes glazed over in thought, she had completely forgotten her little spectator on the faucet.
It wouldn't be that difficult at all, really. Good-bye, Danzo, you bastard.
Sitting up straight, gripping each side of the tub tightly (she had been relieved of her cuffs in favor of bands like Sai's), Sakura eyes her reflection in the murky green water and nods at herself.
The light reflecting off the chrome faucet near her head attracts her attention for a split second and she grins at the little spider.
"See ya, little guy, I found my ticket out of this dump."
With that final parting, the girl plunges her head beneath the surface with the intention of never coming up until someone hauled her lifeless body out of the tub. A loud splash echoes throughout the room.
You stupid little girl!
Sshhh. Just a little bit longer and you'll be gone, too.
Sakura was starting to feel uncomfortable, the need for oxygen rapidly making its presence known as she started to get light-headed and it felt like someone had taken a match to each of her lungs.
It's ironic really, how drowning actually burns. I thought it'd be more peaceful…
The trace of a smile moves Sakura's lips.
Take this Danzo! Now you really will have to find a place to hide my body.
Brat, you listen to me. I will not tolerate your idiotic thinking. Get out of the water now!
She liked that the voices were more hushed now, like they were coming through layers of cotton fluff. They sounded angry.
Good-bye Tsunade-shishou, I'm sorry I failed you as an apprentice. You were an amazing teacher and you gave me someone to look up to.
Sai, Yamato-san, Ino-pig, Kakashi-sensei…I'm going to miss you all.
Mom and Dad…I love you both so much. It's awful for a daughter to do this to her parents, but I guess you've already been lied to about my death. I'm sorry for that.
Naruto, you better get rid of Danzo and become the next hokage like you're always blabbing on about. Konoha needs someone like you. And…don't worry about your promise to me anymore, please. It's for the best.
Damn it! That little shit isn't listening, is she?
Sakura's prone form lay stretched out on the bottom of the tub; she had flipped herself over to be face up so she could open her eyes and see the bright light reflected off the surface of the green water. She could almost pretend she was encased in a giant emerald.
Her lungs were on fire now, and Sakura was barely conscious enough to form articulate thoughts. Those voices were getting pretty panicky right now, shouting her name, but she didn't respond. At least, not until that particular voice spoke up…
Child, every action has a consequence. You have forced me to play my hand. Do not think this will go unpunished.
It was that voice again, the one that promised Sakura that they would meet "soon enough," and had mocked her the day before when she asked all the voices to shut up and leave her be. This voice was the darkest, most malignant one of all; Sakura actually felt as though the mere voice had a presence about it, and that thought was not in the least bit comforting.
I said we'd be seeing you soon, dear. And if anything, I'm a man of my word.
Sakura gasped in fear, and this of course caused her to draw in huge gulps of water that only further damaged her aching lungs. But she had little time to do more than scratch at the sides of the bathtub walls before she was nearly deafened by an explosion above the surface.
Stunned from the sound and weak from nearly drowning herself, Sakura struggles to break the surface, but it was as if she had lost control of her limbs and she was quickly blacking out.
This is it.
Sakura felt something pull on her hair, but lost consciousness just before she could discern what was happening.
"Sakura? Saaakuuuraaaa? Wake up, Hag."
Automatically, Sakura's previously limp hand extended out to the side to meet the annoying wake-up call with her fist. Luckily (for her victim), Sai had anticipated such a reaction and had carefully distanced his seat from the sleeping kunoichi.
"Wha –What happened?"
"You attempted to drown yourself," Sai replied somberly, his voice quiet. Even he knew that suicide was a delicate subject in conversation.
"I – I guess I did, huh? But, then what happened?" Sakura was confused, but her thoughts were much sharper than they had been in days. The drugs must have finally been cleansed from her body.
"That's a bit difficult to answer. There is currently an investigation underway as to what caused it, but it seems there was some sort of explosion. That's what drew our attention, and when I ran to see if you were hurt, you were at the bottom of the water. I had to pull you out and a medic was rushed in to perform CPR."
Sakura nodded, showing she was listening intently.
"Wait. You're the one that found me in the tub?"
"Yes, I was the first to arrive on the scene and had to pull you out of the water because you were drowning," he answered a bit confused as to why she needed clarification on this minor detail.
Sai gingerly rubbed his sore cheek with his finger tips, a completely baffled expression on his face as indicated by one slightly raised eyebrow.
"That's for seeing me naked," Sakura huffed, slightly appeased to see a blazing pink handprint blossom on Sai's abnormally pale cheek.
With that fake smile on his face, Sai replies, "Calm down, Ugly. It's not like there was much to see anyway."
A matching handprint bloomed to life on his other cheek.
Sakura haughtily crosses her arms over her chest and notices she was clad in a plain blue robe. She appeared to be lying on an examining table.
"So, what's on the agenda now? I've been thoroughly cleaned and brought back to life just so I can go back to rotting in the dungeon, am I right?"
Sai actually looked pained at Sakura's nonchalant words, knowing she was just trying to put on a brave face and act like none of this bothered her – like she hadn't almost killed herself just to escape.
"I'm afraid so," he replied, clenching his fists even tighter against his knees, "But, Sakura, please do not despair completely. This whole thing with Danzo as hokage can't possibly last for long. I've even overheard talk of Tsunade-sama's unexpected recovery."
Sakura blinks, the good news taking some time to register, but then a true smile brightens her face and the stirrings of hope flutter in her chest.
Sai rises from his chair, informing Sakura that there is a pile of clothing on the corner table for her, and that the guards will come for her shortly now that she is awake. He parts ways with his pink-haired friend, content with seeing her mood uplifted by the news of Tsunade's returning health. Sakura looks up from the pile of clothes she was left and notices Sai's hesitance to open the door and leave.
"You have to go back to your own prison now, don't you?" she asks sadly.
"Yes, it's night now, so they'll be locking me up soon," Sai's fake smile is expertly held in place.
Sakura climbs off the examining table and embraces Sai, her arms wrapping around his back for a tight hug. Uncertain how to respond when it comes to physical contact, Sai awkwardly raises an arm and brings his hand to rest in the middle of his teammate's back for a one-armed hug. Sakura smiles to herself at the effort while Sai realizes that he doesn't mind hugging so much – it was quite warm, actually
"Ok, then," Sakura says softly and they both release each other, "This is good-bye for now. I expect to be seeing you soon."
Sai gives a short nod in affirmation, "Of course."
Turning, he reaches for the door handle when Sakura's voice calls out once more, "And Sai…thanks for coming to my rescue."
He pauses in the doorway once more, but with his back turned, Sakura can't see the real smile playing across his face.
With that said, the door closes gently behind him, and Sakura turns to examine her clothing briefly before getting dressed in the plain attire.
At least they tried to replace my red vest…I guess they deserve some credit.
She rubs the material of the solid red sleeveless shirt between her fingers. Just as she finished putting on her own shoes that hadn't been deemed necessary to replace, the guards entered without knocking, and Sakura was wordlessly herded back to her familiar dwellings.
Home sweet home. The kunoichi's dry sense of humor helped her to ignore some of the lingering depression.
Hearing the grating sound of her prison cell's door swinging closed, Sakura's expression droops even further and she sighs before carefully picking a spot to sit down that isn't too damp and dirty. However, if one good thing had come of her near death experience, it was that the voices had yet to make their presence known. Perhaps they had merely been in her head, an annoying side effect from the drugs.
Still, what I wouldn't give to see the sky right now.
Something causes Sakura to awake with a start. Unsure of what it is, for she can't see anything out of the norm nor can she hear anything, Sakura stands up to take a look through the steel bars and down the dimly lit passageway. Yet, there is nothing and no one. Puzzled, she turns back to look at her cell, but it's just as devoid of life as before. Not even the little white spider was present. Thinking she was just paranoid, and reasonably so considering her circumstances, Sakura was about to return to her spot when a pained yell broke the heavy silence of the prison. Sakura spun around and dashed to the door, doing her best to get a good view either way down the length of the hall. Still, there was no one in sight.
But, she was troubled for the scream sounded like it came from some distance away. She wasn't supposed to be able to hear much outside a short perimeter of her cell due to the sound absorbing jutsu placed on all prison cells. This could only mean that someone had broken the jutsu. Someone was forcing entry into the maximum security cells.
Someone is coming for me. Please, let it be Kakashi-sensei or Yamato-san. Even Naruto. Just don't have him get caught.
Holding her breath, Sakura strains her hearing, and is soon rewarded with a scampering, skittering sound. It was something like hundreds of little legs moving at once and it was fast approaching her - as was the sound of someone's speedy steps as they sprinted down the stone corridor to her left. Every few seconds she glimpsed a flash of someone racing her way, running through the pools of light cast off by the torches mounted on the wall. But, it wasn't the guard who seemed to be racing for his life that concerned Sakura so much as it was the small white wave that appeared to be pursuing him.
What the hell is that thing?
It wasn't liquid, whatever it was. It seemed to be made up of many individual, solid components. Aghast, Sakura watched as several small white blobs shot out of the group moving in mass and attached themselves to the man's back. She could see his face contort in fear as he continued running, but more of the group sprang into the air, attaching themselves all over his body and slowing him down. As they flew through the air, Sakura thought she could almost distinguish little thin legs coming out from the bulbous bodies. Just forty meters from her cell, the guard went down, and even Sakura was afraid for him as he tried to pry off a particularly large blob that had crawled onto his head, its legs spreading around the width of his face and impairing his sight.
By now, Sakura had realized that the little white blobs were spiders. It didn't shock her any less.
That's when the swarm of arachnids detonated in unison and Sakura screamed in surprise and horror as a bloodied, dismembered hand smacked against the bars of her cell. Just a smear was left of the unfortunate shinobi on the floor. That… and a pile of white goop.
Sakura was slack-jawed, but had little time to feel sorry for the man's gruesome death because another guard was running towards her from the opposite direction, sans white wave hot on her trail.
This woman made it to Sakura's cell without incident, but Sakura noted the wild look in her eyes that meant she was actually terrified despite the blank expression. Something was after her, too. But her reflection was cut off as the woman made a grab for Sakura who was caught off guard and too slow to react in time. With a fistful of pink hair in one hand, the woman harshly tugged at Sakura's head, banging the girl's forehead against the bars. Sakura felt the edge of a kunai against her exposed throat and swallowed nervously.
"It's you they're here for and I'll be damned if I'm going to die because of it," the woman spat coldly in Sakura's face. But her frigid expression quickly morphed into shrieks of pain. Her legs buckled, and she fell to her knees, Sakura falling down with her so as not to be impaled with the kunai at her neck. She could see the blood seeping out of the calves of the woman who held her captive and, strangely enough, a purple liquid that was not unfamiliar to the young medic.
This can't be my team's doing. They don't fight like this, and they wouldn't try to brutally kill fellow Leaf Village ninja, even if they are from ROOT – not unless it's absolutely necessary.
Too quick to anticipate, a hand wielding a short katana made a smooth, deep laceration across the woman's throat, in a fluid motion reminiscent of a violinist holding a bow. The woman relinquishes her hold on Sakura's hair and the kunai drops from her loosened grip. Sakura immediately scoots back a few feet from the door and watches in morbid fascination as the woman collapses, choking on the blood gurgling in her throat and dripping from her mouth. She looks to the woman's attacker and her eyes bulge at seeing the standard ROOT uniform worn by the man holding the sullied katana at his side. He stares blankly straight ahead, at a point above Sakura's head and somewhere off in the distance.
Confused and weary of his intentions now that he had slain one of his own, Sakura rose to her feet in a defensive stance. She was still without chakra, but that didn't mean she wasn't going to put up a fight if need be. But, as it turned out, a fight wouldn't be necessary. Mesmerized by the oddity of it, she watched the man turn the blade on himself. With both hands, he plunged it into his midsection and fell to the floor, the sword penetrating through his back, red and purple spilling out of his lethal wound.
Sakura was beyond confounded now. She didn't understand what had caused the guards to panic and then turn on themselves, but she had a grave feeling it wouldn't bode well for her. Just as she thought this, the clacking sound of sandaled footsteps calmly walking down the hallway caught her attention. This time, Sakura carefully kept her distance from the cell's opening and waited.
A cloaked figure stood before her in the shadows between the torch light. Sakura frowned to herself at his precise positioning.
"My, my, it's been a while. Hasn't it, little girl?"
Sakura jumps back in surprise and trips over the uneven ground, falling on her rear. The stranger lets out a light chuckle, pleased with the mystified, shocked expression on the girl's face. Since she doesn't respond, he decides to continue, "It's good to see you at least clean up nicely. Although your mental state is yet to be verified."
His careful, annunciated drawl is like silk, and it is a voice that she has heard a lot of recently though she hadn't expected to ever since that fateful battle…
"No," she whispers quietly, "You should be dead…Sasori."
"Hmph. Did you really think a child and an old bag could kill off a member of the Akatsuki? Although, I must admit, you were capable of inflicting quite a bit of damage. Thanks to you, I've had to return to my human body," his voice turned slightly hostile, but Sakura ignored the threatening tone. She was too dumbstruck at the coincidence…or maybe the not so coincidental coincidence?
Sasori stepped forward towards the bars, and lifted his hood back in one fluid motion to reveal his characteristic red hair and large, sleepy eyes.
"What's the matter, dear? Not happy to see me? I would have thought you'd appreciate having the company," a smirk graced the puppet master's thin, well-sculpted lips.
Hastily getting to her feet, Sakura takes a few cautious steps forwards, "What do you mean by that? I don't want your company!"
She snarls at the Akatsuki member, and it reminds him of a little alley cat backed up against a wall with nowhere to run. He confidently closes the distance between them, effectively leaving only the prison bars to separate them.
"For all your ferocity and spirit, you don't hold up so well when you're by yourself, do you?" Judging by his cruel smile and tone of voice, she can tell the question is rhetorical, and she shakes with anger. How dare he belittle me!
"Oh, don't give me that look now, girl. I believe you resorted to talking to a mere spider?"
Sakura freezes, "How did you know about that?"
Sakura watches, her rage building, as Sasori has a short laugh at her expense, hating the musical quality even that sound has. Sasori reaches out a hand, cupping her chin tightly when she tries to pull away, and looks down into the kunoichi's captivating green eyes as she steels her nerves to face off with the Scorpion of the Red Sand.
"You silly child, you actually believed you were going crazy, didn't you? Thought you were hearing voices in your head? If I had known it would take this kind of toll on your mental health, I would have come up with a different way to keep tabs on you. Oh well, that's in the past now."
His careless tone had Sakura seeing red, and she raised her arm to punch the Akatsuki member in the face. But without her usual speed and strength, she was easily thwarted and Sasori, with an unamused look on his face, simply used chakra threads to halt her fist and bring it down calmly at her side.
"What the hell is this all about, Akatsuki? What did you do?"
"I suppose I've been intrigued by you, Miss Haruno, ever since our first encounter. I've been busily laboring to restore my once impressive collection that you so indiscriminately destroyed, but it's missing a few prized specimens now that I no longer have my favorites… I've come to collect you," he finishes with narrowed eyes.
Sakura fights to break out of his hold, but he merely moves his hand to yank back on her hair, effectively bringing her to a stop for fear of tearing off her scalp. With his other hand he effortlessly holds her banded wrists in submission. Sakura breathes heavily, trying to control her mounting anger so she can think up a plan to get out of this situation.
"And the voices? How could you possibly know about those? Unless you were responsible somehow…" Sakura glares at the redhead accusingly.
Sasori gives a small, good-natured shrug of his shoulders, "Well, I can't take all the credit. The little spiders were the craftsmanship of my partner. They were useful tools in collecting intelligence on Danzo, as well as checking in on you. They were convenient in size and form to inconspicuously conceal a communications device and could be made to seek out specific chakra signatures."
"So, I could hear you – and other Akatsuki – through the spider that was here so often?" the girl's pink eyebrows shot up into her bangs, realization dawning that she really had been hearing voices all that time, but they weren't the musings of an addled brain.
"Only when we wanted you to hear us," Sasori looks down at her with an air of superiority in his voice, "This entire plan was to indulge my desire to have you as part of my collection, but as time went by, the other members developed their own interests for acquiring you. What do you think Sakura? The demise of your beloved Tsunade-shishou was just so we could attain you," Sasori smirks, clenching his grasp on her wrists a little tighter.
Sakura holds back from wincing in pain, but her expression is strained.
This is unbelievable. Danzo made a deal with the Akatsuki. He got the perfect opportunity to overthrow Tsunade-shishou in exchange for handing me over. No wonder the coup was timed so well with the recent sightings of the Akatsuki along the border. They were involved! And the explosions at the hospital – and in the hokage's office!
Sakura was starting to feel a bit hysterical with the overwhelming new insight. It was just too incredible to think that anyone in Leaf would make a deal with the Akatsuki. It really was a good thing Naruto was out of the village. I'm sure the Akatsuki wouldn't miss an opportunity to nab him.
Sasori studies the girl curiously; she hadn't responded to his jibe and was intently staring at the floor. 'But at least now I have you. And you will do well to remember that you belong to me,' Sasori thought.
Just then, a cheerful whistling met their ears and Sakura tried to turn her head in Sasori's hold to see who this new stranger was coming from the opposite direction Sasori appeared from.
"You kept me waiting long enough, brat," Sasori growls irritated, not bothering to turn and greet the newcomer.
"Yeah, yeah. Don't be so impatient, it took a while to find the key in all the…mess, yeah."
The new stranger comes into view and Sakura observes the tanned face, intelligent, blue eye, and trademark blonde ponytail of the Akatsuki named Deidara. Sasori's equally psychotic partner. Great.
Noticing he has her attention, Deidara throws a grin her way and Sakura returns it with a smoldering glare that made it pretty apparent she was not pleased at all with the situation.
"Keep a hold on her, I need to release the seal before we can use the key," Sasori orders Deidara who tosses the key at him.
"Don't mind if I do, yeah," he replies more to Sakura than to Sasori, grinning suggestively at the kunoichi who scowls as he takes a firm grip on her wrists. She shivers when something slimy leaves a wet trail across the inside of her left wrist.
Oh Kami, I forgot he has mouths on his palms. Ew!
Deidara smirks at Sakura's reaction, barely paying attention to his partner's hand motions as he went through the correct series of signs (obtained from one of the now dead guards) to release the seal.
"I don't think we've been properly introduced yet," he begins, "My name is – ''
"Stop fooling around, you pretentious brat. We have a mission to finish," Sasori interrupts, annoyed with Deidara's attempts to charm the kunoichi. Deidara discretely flips his partner off. Turning the lock in the key, Sasori swings the door open and enters, making Sakura feel even more like a caged animal now that she has an Akatsuki on either side of her.
Sasori forces Sakura to turn around and face him, with Deidara still keeping a firm (and saliva coated) grip on her wrists, pinned against her back. Glowering at the redheaded Akatsuki, her anger boiling over as she feels the breath of the blonde one on the back of her neck, Sakura is tempted to do something drastic.
"You bastards…I'm not going anywhere with you!" she strains against Deidara's hold, her emotions getting the best of her. All she can think of is punching the puppeteer's face in until he can no longer make that smug, self-satisfied expression.
He just rewards her futile attempts with a laugh.
"So, the fight hasn't gone out of you. Good. I'm pleased. However, what you want really has no say in what is going to happen. From this moment forward, you can consider yourself property of the Akatsuki. You're mine to do with as I please," the legendary Scorpion of the Red Sand rubs in, taking pleasure in the way Sakura's face so clearly displays her disgust and loathing.
Commanding his partner to release her, Sasori attaches multiple chakra threads to her limbs and joints. To her utter horror and humiliation, Sakura feels her body moving of its own accord, bending into a graceful curtsy that she doubts she could perform so fluidly if she was in control of her own actions. Gritting her teeth, she spits at the Akatsuki who merely frowns in disapproval before spinning her around through control of the chakra threads.
"You'll learn soon enough that disrespect gets you nothing but punishment with me," he says, briskly following after Sakura as he walks her out of the cell.
"Ha, she's already got trouble to face when we make it back to base for her little drowning stunt yeah," Deidara adds, falling into step beside her and cheekily linking arms.
Sakura wanted nothing more than to twist the blonde's arm out of socket and then just snap it off, but try as she might, she couldn't break out of the chakra strings' hold. She knew if she had even a fourth of her chakra right now it wouldn't be an issue, but without being able to summon it to her control thanks to those darn bands, she could do very little to resist Sasori's manipulation. As it stood right now, she was literally a living puppet at his mercy- his and the rest of the Akatsuki.
"How long do we have?" Sasori asks.
"I'd say we safely have about three minutes left before the first cluster detonates," Deidara replies, his mood in high spirits now that their target was successfully apprehended. Sasori was uncertain which side of Deidara he found more annoying: the moody, eager for battle one that had been complaining all day they needed to hurry and get to Konoha, or the cheerfully carefree one that was currently on the verge of skipping down the corridor with his new toy. Sasori was already frustrated with the future certainty that there would be contention over who had absolute authority over the pink-haired girl. He had been the one to approach the Akatsuki leader for permission to take a short stint from his normal duties so that he could collect the girl, but it wasn't long after his plan had been set into motion that it soon seemed like everyone else in the organization couldn't wait for her arrival.
"Very well," Sasori responds, forcing himself to push away thoughts of future headaches, "I'd say it's time for us to make our exit."
"You got it, Sasori no Danna, yeah," Deidara says calmly, reaching his free hand into the clay pouch at his hip and quickly setting to work molding the clay infused with his chakra.
Sakura's panic level was steeply rising to its peak. She was about to be swooped away by two Akatsuki members and there wasn't a darn thing that she could do about it. It didn't appear that any guards were going to come stop them either, then again, Danzo had made a deal with them, hadn't he? Cursing that man for the hundredth time that day, Sakura desperately searched the hallways they passed, but they were empty save for the tell-tale signs of gore that marked the Akatsuki's involvement. She climbed a set of stairs, essentially on auto-pilot as she was led by Deidara and propelled along by Sasori's chakra strings.
I may never see home again. My friends, my family, everyone. Torn away from everything I've ever known.
I'll kill them. All of them. Right now, I might have to go along with this, but I'll find a way to break free. But not before I raise hell for the Akatsuki. And then, I vow I will return home and kick Danzo's ass so hard he'll be able to taste my leather boot.
Remaining silent, the kunoichi was far from satisfied with her plan, but it was the best she could do at the moment to try and keep herself from going hysterical over the reality that she was about to become Akatsuki's prisoner. The Akatsuki at her side thankfully released his hold on her and stepped forward to place a small bomb at the foot of the wall before them. With a small flicker of his hand and a passionate exclamation of "Katsu!" the bricks of the outer wall of the hokage tower crumbled and blew outward. Quickly, Deidara formed a large bird, and Sakura grudgingly had to admit that his sculpting was impressive, especially given the amount of time he did it in.
Oddly enough, though she knew she was being taken away and had seen with her own eyes that the Akatsuki member known as Deidara was capable of using his clay creations for aerial espionage, it had not dawned on her that that was going to be their mode of transportation out of the village. Yelping when Sasori controlled her to jump onto the bird's back, Sakura could do little to hide her shaking. It was a silly fear for a shinobi, true, but the thought of flying through the air thousands and thousands of feet off the ground made her weak at the knees with terror. Sakura could handle hopping through the tree branches of Konoha, but that wasn't so bad. Even if a person fell, the fall wouldn't kill any shinobi worth her salt. But Sakura's medical knowledge told her that no shinobi , no matter how strong, could survive a fall from the heights she was about to visit.
You've got to be kidding me.
But Deidara had already leapt to the head of the bird without a second thought, well-versed in the art of flying as he was. Sasori shortly followed after Sakura, taking a seat behind where she stood frozen.
"What's the matter, kunoichi? Never flown before, yeah?" the blonde Akatsuki hollered back over his shoulder with a teasing smirk.
Sakura shot him an angry scowl in response, but her ferocity was marred by the small shriek of surprise that bubbled from her throat as the bird abruptly lifted into the air, picking up speed and altitude as it swerved through buildings on its way to the western gate.
Not being able to apply chakra to her feet to secure her footing immediately made itself a major disadvantage. Sakura was all but thrown off, but Sasori's attentiveness quickly had her contorting in midair and pulled back to the "safety" of the clay bird.
"Now it really would be a tragedy if you were to pitch yourself off the side after we just procured you," Sasori tsked in disapproval.
Shaken up, Sakura knelt on her knees, digging her hands into the clay sculpture for firm handholds. Deidara had moved, sitting backwards on the bird's neck and using its head as a back support. Amused, he watched Sakura try to relax enough so she could shift to a more comfortable sitting position.
"Need any help, yeah?" he asked, knowing it would only irk her more if possible.
"Like hell I need your help, Akatsuki," Sakura's words practically sizzled with acid, but Deidara wasn't deterred in the slightest from his source of entertainment.
Flash stepping in front of her (merely a calculated showing of his power), he looked down on the pink haired girl with his one uncovered eye dancing with cruel intentions. He really did like those green eyes of hers; her color palate was refreshing and she had the obvious signs of beauty that would meet the approval of Sasori no Danna. But Deidara especially appreciated her expressiveness, she didn't seem to hold in much, and if she tried, it still shined through pretty clearly in those eyes of hers.
Nudging her shoulder slightly with his foot (and hearing a low hiss of warning from his partner), Deidara points out, "I could easily push you off that way, yeah. You don't have a very good hold, and without chakra you're going to be completely dependent on that alone."
Sakura glares back, carefully rising to her full height so as to not be looked down on. Pride was a dangerous thing.
"Your point?" she bites out.
"Only this, yeah!"
Sakura felt her body shoved. For a second she was weightless, her feet losing contact with the clay, and she almost wanted to laugh at the surprised look on Sasori's face whose mahogany eyes were wide open for once. It seems he had relinquished his control over her, thinking she had safely found a hold on the bird, and not expecting his partner to pull such a ridiculous stunt.
The next second, Sakura was dropping like a lead weight to Earth with only gravity controlling her body. She didn't even try to hold back the scream that tore through her lips as wind pushed at her face and snagged her clothes and hair.
But a mere second after that, she landed firmly in a jumble of limbs and back in the company of her kidnappers. Specifically, right into the lap of the assailant who just pushed her over. Shocked, and trying to let her organs settle back into place, Sakura can only stare bug-eyed, mouth agape at the two Akatsuki.
She could feel Deidara's body shake with laughter and saw Sasori's pissed off expression, appearing thoroughly exasperated with his partner's antics.
Sakura could feel the intrusiveness of another's chakra entering her system, and a split second later she was up and moving to sit down beside Sasori near the tail of the bird. After Sasori berated his partner, Deidara returned to the head of the bird to properly pilot it to their destination.
This is what it's going to be like with them. Whether or not Sasori has any intentions of turning me into a human puppet, my life is still going to be in peril every single second. I'm just an amusement for them, a new toy. And at any moment they might just decide to discard me on a whim.
On top of that, there were more voices than just these two that I heard…and that one. I don't want to meet that one. Ever.
The setting sun had already begun its descent for the evening, bleeding off a warm melt of pink and orange. It would have been a beautiful sight to admire on any ordinary day. Vaguely, Sakura thought she could hear explosions in the distance, somewhere far back where her home lay.
Author's Note: Ok, so that's that! This is the first fanfiction I've ever written so please don't hold back on the criticism. Reviews are much appreciated, and advice on how to improve or even suggestions on what you'd like to see happen will be taken into consideration. I'm not fully sure where the inspiration came from for this, but I can say that Ellie Goulding's song "Lights" definitely played a part in it. The lyrics of the first four or five verses helped me find the right mood for the first half of this. Originally, this was intended to be a stand-alone piece centering around Akatsuki inadvertently making Sakura lose her sanity, but it kind of just kept flowing into something else a bit less psychological thriller-ish. This may or may not be continued, it's simply a matter of time and sustained interest (and inspiration) in the topic that originally sparked the idea for You Give Me Fever.
Also, for anyone who was curious, the opening line (in bold italics) was meant to be said by Pain while the voice that Sakura kept describing as the most evil of all belonged to Madara.
Thanks for reading!