Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Masashi Kishimoto.

Rated M: Due to coarse language, violence, and some adult themes.

Really, she couldn't ever remember hating herself more.

Wispy tendrils of "Very Cherry" smoke curl through the air like teasing fingers leading her astray. The nicotine isn't sitting well with her stomach – or maybe it's last night's bottle of Jägermeister. Either way, she shares an intimate exchange of "good mornings" with the toilet bowl, before leaning back against the bathtub she wouldn't dare use before calling in a HazMat team to scour the chipped porcelain monstrosity.

Swiping the back of her hand across her chapped lips to remove the last traces of bile, Sakura yearns for a glass of water, yet her body protests the very idea of standing. Besides, she tries to assuage her thirst, the water is probably dingy and lime-ridden in this dinky, little motel room. Running her fingers through limp, scraggly hair, the girl wraps her arms around her huddled form. Goosebumps pepper her skin as she sits on the tiled floor in nothing but her underwear. Last night's ensemble lies somewhere in the other room in a crumpled, torn mess. She'd need to use a few bobby pins to close the tear running up the side – not that it'd do much for her modesty.

Okay, five more minutes of self-pity, then I need to get moving.

He'd be expecting her by ten o'clock sharp and she so did not want to make him come looking for her. Last time she was late he'd…

Sakura shudders at the memory, absentmindedly rubbing her jaw as though she could still feel the sting. Sakura had learned her lesson the hard way: never make her uncle angry. Next time, it might just be the last thing she does.

She hears rummaging coming from the next room as her client rouses himself from his euphoric, drug-induced slumber.

Shit! Bastard hasn't paid me yet!

That's one slip up she knows she definitely wouldn't survive.

Grasping onto the lip of the tub, Sakura hauls her sorry self to her feet despite her muscles screaming at her to stay put for the next decade. Flicking her spent cigarette butt into the toilet, she hastily dons her robe and exits the bathroom.

And there he is.

Zabuza Momochi.

A horrible, feral man who has no qualms with her obvious lack of experience and more glaringly obvious lack of years. Sakura's skin crawls as he glances up at her figure standing in the doorway leading to the bathroom. Unabashedly, he locks gazes with her as he pulls up his pants and fastens the belt. Sakura's nails dig into the wooden door frame at his audacity.

No shame. No guilt. No sympathy.

Really, she should have learned not to expect any of that after her first time of going through this. But each time she has clung to the hope that one of them will be different. One of them will acknowledge the tears pooling in her eyes and the way she arches away from their touch.

But none of them ever do. They never see her for the child she still is. They see exactly what they want and ignore the rest. An easy means to an end. Instant gratification. A soft, warm body.

Each day, she feels a little less human.

"My fee," she demands, her voice still husky with sleep. She crosses her arms, subtly letting her body lean against the wall to prevent herself from collapsing to the floor from exhaustion.

Zabuza's sharp, predator-like eyes glint with something that puts Sakura's nerves on edge as she slips her hand into one of the pockets of her robe. Her fingers brush against the pocket knife (one that that idiot Zaku had left out, no doubt) she stored there the night before just in case.

"Of course, Princess. I wouldn't forget," his gravelly voice replies. Sakura swallows uncomfortably as he pulls a wad of cash out from his back pocket and stands to bring it over to her.

"I almost feel bad for how cheaply your services come. It certainly is a sweet deal," he grins dangerously through pointed (as Sakura found out repeatedly last night) teeth.


Heat rises to her face, a mix of raw anger and humiliation.

You liked it when I cried, didn't you, you sick fuck?

Without comment, Sakura accepts the money, knowing no matter how much it rips at her last shred of dignity, it's best not to provoke him. But the man seizes her wrist with his free hand just as she grabs hold of the wad of bills, preparing to count them.

"Someone's a little frosty this morning. Maybe I could help thaw you out a lit – "

A sharp series of raps on the motel room door break the two apart. Sakura quickly scurries to answer, checking the peephole first before sliding back the deadbolt to reveal her second most hated person in the world: Kabuto.

Acting as her handler, she's been forced to spend a lot of time in the bespectacled man's company.

"Good morning, Sakura," he says in greeting, treating her to a fake smile and lascivious wink that leaves Sakura feeling like she's just been doused with a bucket of slime.

"Kabuto," she replies evenly, "I wasn't expecting you."

She never was. She had come to the conclusion long ago that Kabuto would never deem it necessary to inform her when he would or wouldn't be coming to collect her in the mornings. Sometimes she would have to make the walk "home" on her own and other times he would drop in on her just as she was about to head out. She didn't see the point of his occasional bouts of generosity, but then she eventually realized that it isn't generosity that motivates Kabuto to spare her from her miserable treks back to her prison. No, he does it to keep her on edge, to keep her anxious and waiting and uncertain. He's a snake like that.

But he isn't the biggest snake.

No, that title is reserved for the one that –

"Have you about wrapped things up here, I trust?" his sickly innocent smile infuriates Sakura to no end. She wants to cry. She wants to scream at him for going along with this. She wants to beat her fists relentlessly into him until his body goes slack. Sakura wants so much…

But most of all, she just wants to go back home – back to a life where she can still be a little girl.

Sakura nods curtly in affirmation and bustles about the room to gather her things quickly. A quick glance at the cheap digital clock on the nightstand tells her she only has half an hour before she's expected to check in with her boss. She had been late once before, the first and last time she had waited around for Kabuto to come get her, and she is not about to let the sneaky, little creep mess around with her and make her late again.

Her client grunts in distaste at the untimely intrusion, casting a baleful glare at the younger man who steadfastly ignores it with a practiced grace. Knowing that his time is up and the transaction has been made to completion, Zabuza makes his exit and Sakura doesn't spare him a single glance.

He'd be back.

Picking up her discarded dress from last night, Sakura heaves a world weary sigh as her fingers examine the rip down the side caused by the previous night's illicit activities.

Kabuto clicks his tongue in disapproval as he comes up behind her to inspect the damaged dress.

"That wasn't cheap, kid. You know that'll be coming out of your living expenses to replace it."

Sakura wants to smack him for caring more about the state of her clothing than her, and she wants to refute him. Everything about Sakura's new life is a cheap lie and the torn black fabric in her hands is just a part of it.

"What are you doing here?" she demands, bristling like a cat, "If you think I'm capable of doing this," she jabs a finger furiously in the direction of the motel bed with its tousled sheets, "Then I'm perfectly capable of making the walk back on my own."

It's a lie of course. Sakura desperately wants a ride back "home." Her bruised thighs quiver at the thought of the three mile walk it'll take to get back, not to mention how close she'd be cutting it to ten o'clock. She'd have a lot more than a few bruises from an overzealous customer to deal with if that happens.

"Now, now," Kabuto puts his hands up as though wounded by her severe tone, "You can put the claws away, kitty cat. I was in the neighborhood and figured you could use the ride home. You're looking a little ragged."

Kabuto doesn't miss the closed fist that clenches tightly around the material of Sakura's torn dress. He smirks, the sunlight peaking through the partially cracked blinds glinting off of his glasses.

"I need to get dressed," Sakura says tiredly, letting the strain leak out of her tensed shoulders and the last bit of fight from her spirit.

Kabuto makes an inarticulate sound of amusement, "Still so modest, even now. Fine. I'll be waiting in the car. You have five minutes."

Sakura implicitly knows there's an unspoken "Or else I'll leave without you," at the end of that sentence. Once the door softly clicks behind him, Sakura trudges to the bathroom to scrub her face. Her mascara has smeared around her eyes, making the dark circles underneath stand out even more sharply. Her skin has always been fair, but since her schedule has mostly been rearranged to a life of night and dark deeds, it has taken on an unhealthy pale pallor.

Where's the prom queen everyone thought had just stepped out of a fairytale?

Looking into the mirror, Sakura nearly wants to cry. That girl doesn't even seem real to her anymore. Maybe she had never existed to begin with. Maybe it has always been this way.


But the time for crying is not now, so Sakura fights back the welling waterworks, a task that is becoming easier each day (though she isn't sure if that's a blessing or not). Right now, she needs to focus on reporting back to him on time.

Like a warrior preparing for battle, Sakura methodically paints herself up for the role she is expected to play. With her hair brushed, her dress pinned in place, and her pea coat buttoned up despite it being out of season, Sakura's heels click determinedly down the hallway as she makes her way to the receptionist's desk to return the room key. Avoiding the judgmental eye of the middle-aged woman who accepts the key, Sakura whispers her thanks and pushes open the doors into the blindingly bright morning light. Throwing up an arm to shield her eyes from the glare off the pavement, viridian eyes squint and strain to make out the shiny silver gleam of Kabuto's latest toy.

You must love and respect yourself, Sakura. Right now, you're all you have.

A car horn honks at her and Sakura steps off the curb.

Climbing into the passenger seat of Kabuto's car, Sakura barely has time to fasten her seatbelt before he demands her to turn over the payment she received from last night's job. Disgustedly, she rummages through her purse and none too gently tosses it in his direction. Likewise, Sakura feels something light and boxy land in her lap and she quickly snatches up the new box of cherry flavored smokes. It's about the only thing that brings her joy anymore, and for that she feels even more depressed and pathetic. Expertly, she taps one loose from its box and ignites it with the lighter she always keeps in her purse now. Without a word of critique on her recent addiction, Kabuto presses the button to roll down her window halfway and then continues with counting her earnings.

She'd almost feel insulted that he doesn't trust her counting abilities or her moral character, but then again, Sakura doesn't really care what scum like Kabuto Yakushi think of her. The prices are fixed and agreed upon beforehand, so it's not like she could really get away with slipping some cash under the table, so to speak.

Satisfied that the total sum is present and accounted for, Kabuto throws the car into reverse and they back out of the parking lot of one of Sakura's regular haunts. She watches the sketchy establishment grow smaller and smaller in the side mirror until they turn a corner and it's thrown completely out of sight.

Not for long though.

She'd be back there again tonight, and if not that exact one, another one just as sleazy and ill-reputed. Few expenses are wasted on the venue; her clients typically don't care much for the table the present is found on, just the wrapping it comes in.

Kabuto strikes up a conversation, or at least tries to. Sakura isn't in the mood to humor him, and pretty much tunes out his external musings of what his next car should be, or whether the new bar that just opened up a few blocks away would be worth checking out. She knows he's just filling the silence to annoy her.

Kabuto and Sakura aren't on chummy terms. She knows her uncle has restrained him to a small extent on how he can treat her, so she feels a little emboldened to unleash some of her scorn on him without fear of rebuke. But she knows she can only go so far; Kabuto is wily and underhanded. He'd be willing to go behind her uncle's back and hurt her if he could get away with it.

As the car pulls in front of the unassuming white clapboard house with its quaint little green door and shutters, Sakura can almost pretend she's not about to walk into the lair of the most evil demon on Earth. Almost.

Feeling her heart rate increase with anxiety at the impending meeting she's about to enter, Sakura makes a final check of the time on Kabuto's stereo, requiring a few extra seconds to process she has seven minutes to spare.

Good thing I accepted the ride.

Without a word of thanks, Sakura hurriedly yanks the handle, ignoring Kabuto's harried warnings not to slam the door. Rushing up the sidewalk to the shelter of the front porch, she doesn't turn around but listens as Kabuto maneuvers his car to the garage around back. Stalling a moment longer to feel the warm rays of sun heating up her back, Sakura steels her nerves and raises her fist to give four precise knocks against the deceptively inviting green paint.

Precious moments tick by as whoever on the other side rouses himself to his feet and eyeballs her through the peephole. Really, it's all just to waste time and make Sakura squirm; they're expecting her right now, after all.

Finally, the door swings inward and Sakura cautiously takes a step through the threshold, instantly greeted by the chilled air of the air conditioner cranked on high. Her pupils take a moment to adjust to the dim lighting as all the blinds are shut and the thick curtains drawn closed. The smell of a particular substance Sakura has become familiar with during her short stint under her uncle's "care" assaults her sense of smell, making her nostrils flare out in distaste.

And at the same time, want.

Swallowing thickly, she steps past the man impatiently waiting for her to get out of his way so he can shut the door and effectively seal her in this hell hole.

"Cuttin' it kinda close aren't ya, sweetheart?" Zaku croons gleefully, leering a little too closely so as to cause Sakura to nearly choke on the overpowering cloud of cologne that envelopes his body.

"Blame Kabuto's driving," Sakura replies dully, shrugging out of her coat and earning herself an appreciative body scan from her uncle's lackey.

Should've just kept it on.

Sakura stalks through the foyer, past the living room that is never used and serves as more of just a front in case guests not of her uncle's ilk decide to stop by.

None ever do.

She crosses through the small kitchen with its white tiled floor polished to a brilliant gleam and the modest table with four empty chairs stationed around it. When Sakura reaches the rear entrance to the kitchen, there is a notable change in the atmosphere of the house. Everything up to this point has had the average, albeit vacant, charm of any ordinary middle-class family's home. Crossing the threshold to the back half of the house is like walking into a completely different world, let alone a different house.

She shoves the heavy maroon curtain to the side that blocks her view of the room behind the kitchen and enjoys her last few breaths of (mostly) clean air. The other side of the curtain reveals a room thick with cigar smoke among the fumes of other more potent drugs. What she assumes were once white-washed walls, are now stained a dingy yellow. There are no windows to let in any sunlight, but a skinny lamp in the corner and an exposed bulb on the ceiling provide a dim glow to the room, making the small space seem even more suffocating. To her left is an old staircase whose brown carpeting is thoroughly worn where hundreds of stiletto-clad feet and the footsteps of decidedly more masculine footwear have left their mark over the years. Directly ahead of her is a couple thoroughly engaged in gagging each other with their tongues. Sakura doesn't recall seeing the man around here before, but she makes out the head of spiky auburn hair and catches the reflective glare off of a pair of plastic glasses before turning away in disgust.


How can you let yourself give into any of this? Did you just reach a point where you stopped caring?

"Where's my uncle?" Sakura asks, desperately faking blindness to the activity going on before her very eyes.

But her question doesn't elicit a response from the redhead and Sakura suspects the hand currently roaming under the girl's corset-like top may be interfering with her ears. She notes the assortment of empty bottles and ashtrays collecting on the glass coffee table before her. Someone would need to take care of that before her uncle reprimands them for it.

It'd probably be left up to her.

Being the new girl and the niece of the man in charge around here certainly doesn't come with any perks.

"He's in the nursery checking on our latest shipment. Word to the wise, he isn't in too good of a mood; some of the cannabis we got in today was pretty weak shit," a voice to Sakura's right warns.

Sakura spins to the right and can just barely make out the catty smile of the only woman she has found an ally with in this place. Stepping closer to see through the shadows, Sakura finds Anko sitting at a table in the corner, flipping through some tabloid with gossipy headlines detailing the scandalous lives of celebrities who would never experience the kind of real-life horrors Sakura has to deal with on a daily basis. Sakura unconsciously clenches her fist at the unfairness of the world. She wouldn't wish her situation on anyone, but why must she go through it? What has she done wrong to bring this on herself?

"Hey, you ok, kiddo? You got that lost look in your eyes again," Anko asks, her eyebrows drawn together in mild distress.

Sakura wants to hug the woman for her concern, but Anko isn't the touchy-feely type. The fact that she'd actually asked about Sakura's well-being attests to how ragged she must look. Anko's a tough woman whom Sakura learned has been in her uncle's forced employment since she aged out of her foster care program. That was six years ago.

She's a survivor.

"Yeah, I'm alright," Sakura sighs, running a hand tiredly through her mussed hair.

I'm a survivor, too.

Sakura eyes the other woman sitting across from Anko who is studiously ignoring the two's conversation. Kin, with her long, black hair free of its usual purple ribbon, sits in a revealing silken robe as she busily weighs out grams of cocaine before sweeping the tiny pile of white dust into a plastic packet and sealing it shut. Her blank eyes stare dully as the numbers fall and climb on the digital scale. Over and over again. A vicious cycle.

Sakura doesn't particularly like Kin; she's a cocky girl who somehow finds ways to brag about herself despite her current living arrangement. Kin hadn't been the least bit sympathetic to Sakura's shock at what her uncle had done to her. When Sakura had returned from her first night with a client, Kin had scorned her for whimpering and sniveling like a little baby as she crawled into bed and curled up in a tight, little ball. Sakura would have punched her in the face for being so cruel, but she couldn't see past the tears.

Still, she doesn't deserve this either.

Picking up a stolen hotel mug of what smells like vanilla latte, Anko regards Sakura with a pointed look and nonchalantly asks, "Shouldn't you be checking in?"

"Oh!" Sakura nearly wants to kick herself for momentarily forgetting the miserable reality of her life. Nodding her thanks at the older woman for the gentle reminder, Sakura knocks on the door just behind Kin's chair and waits nervously for the voice that will beckon her in.

However, the prompt response she is accustomed to doesn't come, and after several moments of standing around and twiddling her thumbs, Sakura casts a nervous glance over at Anko who returns it with a tiny shrug of the shoulders, equally confused. Just as she's about to raise her fist to knock on the door more insistently (she really doesn't want to piss him off by being late), the door whooshes inward before Sakura can make contact.

"K-Kimimaro," Sakura stutters, startled at the stoic man's appearance. He's only a few years older than herself, but he carries himself with such calm dignity as to thoroughly intimidate Sakura.

"Come," he motions with his hand for her to follow after him, "Try your best not to aggravate him any more than he already is."

Harsh tongues assault Sakura's eardrums as screeching death metal blares from the speakers stationed throughout the nursery.

Thank goodness for soundproof walls.

However, the choice in music quickly clues her into who's on duty today. Only Sakon and Ukon like that guttural, demonic screaming.

Still, what's Kimimaro doing here?

Kimimaro is very much an enigma to Sakura. She sees him in irregular intervals and he rarely deigns to give her much notice. However, when he does, Sakura can't say as that she appreciates the superior inflection in that aristocratic voice of his when he addresses her.

Sakura follows closely on his heels, paying more attention to the well-tailored, pin-striped suit he has donned today rather than the uniform rows of marijuana plants growing under the heat lamps hanging from the rafters overhead.

Sakura hears her uncle before she sees him, his voice steadily rising in volume and the hissing quality of his voice becoming more prominent as his rage builds. She can hear him reaming two of his subordinates for being "incompetent jackasses" and not checking out the quality of their latest imports before turning over the payment for them. The fact that she can hear his cursing over the powerful blast of the guitar solo crying out over the surround system sets her frazzled nerves on edge even more.

Like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

With his back turned to her as he continues to verbally abuse his pale-faced lackeys, Sakura eyeballs the semi-automatic pistol tucked in the back pocket of his jeans. She envisions herself rushing past Kimimaro, swiping the gun from her uncle while he's too preoccupied with being an asshole and raising the barrel to the back of his skull, waiting for him to fall silent as he feels the cold kiss of metal against his skin.

I'd ask him to beg for mercy. And maybe, just maybe, I'd let him live.

Though really, she isn't so sure if she would or wouldn't.

Internally shaking herself from her daydreams, Sakura reminds herself not to indulge in idle fantasies. Her uncle scares her too much to pull something like that. He'd stop her, somehow. One way or another, he'd slither his way to safety and Sakura would be the one with a bullet through her head at the end of the day. It's not like her uncle hasn't insinuated that would be the case if she ever tries to pull off such an idiotic stunt.

Walking on pins and needles, Sakura steps up to Kimimaro's side and waits for her uncle to finish his tirade and take notice of her presence. It wouldn't do to interrupt him and have all that fury aimed at her. Looking up at Kimimaro, she notes that bland expression he wears that registers nothing but apathy, and maybe slight boredom as the brothers cower in front of their boss and nod like obedient little lap dogs that they'll do exactly as he instructs. They won't let him down.

Sakura feels queasy as their fear seems to leach out into the air and finds a suitable home inside of her.

Show no fear. Show no fear. Show no fear. Show n –

"Sakura," her uncle's sibilant voice purrs, causing Sakura's skin to break out in goose bumps, "How good of you to finally grace us with your presence."

Sakura's mouth goes dry with fright. Her uncle turns to face her and the relief on the brothers' faces is clearly visible as they manage to sneak away mostly unscathed from her uncle's wrath.

There's no need to be afraid, Sakura. You did everything right, down to the last detail. You just have to report it back to him and you're in the clear.

She tries to reassure herself, but when looking into the eyes of the snake himself, it's not much consolation.

"Uncle," Sakura begins, licking her chapped lips to buy time as she gathers her courage, "Everything went well," she internally cringes at the statement, not finding it at all suitable for describing what actually occurred, but knowing it's what her uncle wants to hear.

"And?" he prompts, his tone belying his impatience as she blunders to find her voice, but she knows he's a ticking time bomb. Her uncle is cool and composed most of the time, but can strike like a cobra in the blink of an eye.

"Zabuza Momochi paid the full amount as agreed upon and I already turned it over to Kabuto who can vouch that the full amount was received," Sakura relays the facts in a steady voice.

"Good, pet, and can we be expecting Mr. Momochi's business again in the near future?" her uncle asks pleasantly, a light smirk pulling at his lips as Sakura's face blushes in disgrace.

"Yes, sir," she nods once, refusing to meet his eyes as flames of humiliation and outrage eat at her insides.

"Well then, dear, it seems everything is in order. But do be more prompt next time. After all, I look forward to seeing my favorite niece's face and it makes me worry when she's late," he smiles unkindly, grasping Sakura by the chin in a mockingly affectionate gesture. Forcing her to look up into those yellowed, inhuman irises, Sakura gets the message loud and clear: it's not a suggestion; it's an order.

"Yes, Uncle," Sakura whispers submissively and he pats her cheek twice at her easy compliance. Sakura wants so badly to bite the hand that dares touch her face, but he dismisses her and turns to pick up a file from the desk Sakon and Ukon are busily working at, resuming correspondence with their suppliers and business partners.

As Sakura turns to depart, with nothing on her mind but taking a shower and getting a few hours of sleep, she hears Kimimaro approach her uncle.

"Orochimaru, I have some news that may be of interest to you…" the wailing screech of the metal head blares from the speakers and hinders Sakura's eavesdropping.

Straining her ears to pick up on Kimimaro's voice, she catches a few tidbits of information that leave her feeling wary.

"They're due to arrive this evening…mentioned your services…interested in…have them ready."

The door closes behind her, effectively cutting off the conversation and bone rattling pulse of the base.

Snuggling under the covers of her bed, Sakura closes her heavy eyelids and relishes in the pleasure such a simple action brings her. Sleep doesn't come easy for her anymore, partly because of her backwards schedule and partly because of the nightmares her uncle has inspired. Wrapping the comforter even tighter around her huddled form, Sakura turns her back on the heavy breathing emanating from the other side of the overcrowded room where her roommate, Tayuya, is already making ample use of her downtime by getting some shut-eye.

Tayuya had scared Sakura at first with her rude, pushy attitude and foul-mouth, but they have gotten along as well as can be expected from two girls in their situation, forced to share a tiny bedroom with each other. Despite her insensitive comments at times, Sakura suspects the girl has purposely built her callous, tough exterior to protect herself from being any more vulnerable than she already is made to be. While Tayuya hasn't been very forthcoming about her past with Sakura, the two have managed to form a mutual understanding through music.

Sakura has to admit that the girl has good taste.

Yawning, Sakura's thoughts turn to her own past, wondering if her mother has yet caught wind of the fact that both of them were duped. Her uncle had confiscated her phone on the third day of her stay at his home in the big city that is so unlike Sakura's sleepy, little hometown. That had also been the same day he had her moved to her current residence with the other girls in his…

Sakura's vision goes white with anger and indignation. She can't even bring herself to think the word. To call herself by the name her own uncle has forced her to become.

She grinds her teeth together, fighting back the impulse to punch a hole through the wall.

Who could've possibly predicted her own relative would be so sadistic as to drag her into a world where the darker side of human nature rules supreme? Of course Sakura hadn't been oblivious to these sorts of illicit activities taking place throughout the world, but she had always felt so far removed from them, like she was in a protective bubble back in a little town where everyone knows each other's names and most people don't even bother with locking their doors at night. It's that kind of town, safe and inviting.

Sakura had no way of knowing that her world was about to change the day she received that card in the mail.

It came in the mail in the middle of March. In a red envelope covered in an unfamiliar, but elegant script, Sakura received an early birthday card from her Uncle Orochimaru whom she hadn't seen since her father's funeral nearly eight years ago. Inside the card, along with the usual greetings and wishes for a happy eighteenth birthday, he had invited Sakura to come stay with him over the summer as a sort of graduation present and to give her a taste of life in the big city before she moved on to university. Sakura, eager to gain some real-world experience and sight-see, had accepted with enthusiasm and her mother's permission, who assumed her brother-in-law was making an attempt to re-connect with the niece he had lost touch with over the years. All throughout the phone conversation Sakura made to her uncle to iron out the details of her visit, she couldn't help but gleefully envision Ino's face turning green with envy when she returned home with armloads of shopping bags with the latest trendy clothes, and stories of her experiences riding the subway and going on dates with cute city boys at the boardwalk.

When final exams had concluded and Sakura gave her speech as the class valedictorian at the graduation ceremony, she threw her cap in the air with just as much jubilation as any of the other graduates. She was going to one of the country's top-ranked universities in the fall on an academic scholarship, but for now, she had an entire fun-filled summer to plan for.

Navigating her way through the airport on her own had been nerve-racking, as well as flagging down a taxi to drive her to her uncle's home once she arrived in the city since he, regrettably, could not get away from work to come pick her up. But when she reached his house, which was more like a mansion compared to her own modest accommodations back home, Sakura was greeted with the highest degree of hospitality and attentive care. Her uncle had told her to make herself at home and rest up because he had some exciting plans for them later that evening as he wanted to show her the city.

Later that night, she was treated to a ride through the city in her uncle's sleek, black corvette. She oohed and aahed at the towering skyscrapers and held her breath as they drove along the coast which gave her a perfect view of the setting sun. It was the first time she had ever seen the ocean in person and she couldn't imagine seeing it in a more perfect light. Her uncle then surprised her by taking her to the boardwalk and buying tickets to the small amusement park that was tantalizingly lit up for an evening of fun.

The kid in Sakura couldn't turn down such an offer.

He wouldn't go on any of the rides with her though, and waved off her concerns that he wouldn't have any fun just watching her. Reassuring her that he suffered from motion sickness and the whole point of the outing was to ensure she had a good time, he persuaded Sakura to go without him. So she did.

She went on the tilt-a-whirl, the swings, the mini roller coaster that went through a haunted house, the bumper cars, and a variety of other carnival rides. And between all the adrenaline-pumping, high-speed, G-force-filled good times, Sakura was able to keep up a lively conversation with her uncle about life back home, from topics as mundane as the ancient biology teacher who had already been sporting a good number of wrinkles back when her uncle was a student, to more personal matters such as her future plans beyond college. Her uncle was all ears and supplied her with huge puffs of pink cotton candy without her even having to look in the direction of the snack stand. And later, when they came across the game booths, he poured a generous handful of tokens into her hand that he had gotten sometime during one of her rides. Sakura had protested that it wasn't necessary to spend money on her like that – she had saved up a respectable sum from her babysitting job – but her uncle had waved away her objections with a smile, claiming the night was wholly on him.

Sakura thought her summer vacation was off to a kick-ass start, but on occasion she would search for her uncle's face in the crowd as she was spun and whipped around upside down, and would find him either hastily punching the keypad on his phone, or with his back turned to her, his posture clearly agitated as he spoke to whoever was on the other end of the line. She wondered who he could possibly be talking to at nearly ten o'clock on a Friday night, but her curiosity over the matter was diminished by how much fun she was having.

It was sometime after consuming her second corndog of the night that Sakura began to feel the effects of riding the tilt-a-whirl on a stomach full of greasy, deep-fried food. So her uncle bought her a Sprite and reached in the pocket of his light leather jacket for a pill bottle that Sakura didn't recognize. Handing her the bottled pop and a single, baby blue pill, he told Sakura it would help settle her stomach.

Sakura hadn't questioned him. After all, what reason did she have to think that he was lying?

After that, Sakura began feeling better. A lot better.

It was hard to describe at first, but everything just seemed more…interesting. The flashing lights, the smell of food, the music blaring over the speakers. Sakura couldn't resist dancing a little jig every now and then as she waited her turn in the lines. It was while she was straddling a horse on the merry-go-round that she became transfixed by the Ferris wheel at the end of the boardwalk. Lit up in all of its rainbow-colored glory, she couldn't tear her eyes away from it as its imposing height dominated the skyline. She just had to ride it.

She remembered how it was something of a tradition for her and her parents to ride it together as the last ride of the night when they went to the annual county fair. Only, she hadn't gone to the fair ever since her father's accident.

'I'll get Uncle to go with me!'

And with that decision made, Sakura jumped off her horse with zeal as the ride came to a gradual stop. Pleading with her uncle to give in and ride just this one ride with her, he finally conceded and as they were slowly lifted into the sky on a circuitous track, Sakura was overwhelmed with the memory of doing this same thing every summer with her dad. How she'd give anything to have him back…

"Feeling any better, Sakura?" her uncle's soft voice drew her out of her reveries.

"Oh yes, much better, thank you," Sakura nodded, looking across the little cart that rose up and up to the very peak. Her uncle's amber eyes glowed even in the shadow of the plastic canopy, looking like the hungry eyes of some predatory animal. His appearance had scared Sakura as a child, but she had grown to look past that. He was her father's adopted brother so how bad could he possibly be?

"I'm glad to hear it. And Sakura, I just want to say how pleased I am that you came to stay with me for the summer. I haven't done the best with keeping up with the family," he sighed self-deprecatingly, running a hand back over his head, "And I hope to rectify that. You and I have a lot of catching up to do."

Sakura couldn't explain the sudden surge of emotion that welled up inside her, propelling her forward to envelope her uncle in a hug as moisture gathered in her eyes. She squeezed them shut, willing the tears back so as not to ruin such a happy moment.

"Uncle, thank you so much for this! I've missed you and ever since Dad passed away I – '' her voice broke and she couldn't summon the words to continue as she tightened her arms around her uncle's shoulders.

Slowly, her uncle reciprocated the action and Sakura wondered if she perhaps stunned him with her sudden outburst. Rubbing soothing circles on her back, he told her gently that he'd missed her, too. That he regretted not visiting her and her mother after the accident, but his old home held too many sad memories.

Leaving the boardwalk that night, Sakura couldn't recall ever feeling closer to her uncle than she did just then. When they got home, Sakura had started to feel nauseous again and her uncle had sent her to bed with a kind, "Good night, pet."

Being called by that old term of endearment had spread a warm glow throughout her body and Sakura had went to bed truly happy that her uncle had shown an interest in re-connecting with her again. Perhaps, as her mother had said, he simply wished to keep what remaining family he had close.

But the next morning found Sakura vomiting as soon as she woke up. She chalked it up to all the unhealthy concession stand food she gorged herself on last night, and her uncle simply gave her another blue pill to calm her stomach along with a glass of orange juice and a hearty spread of pancakes, eggs, and bacon.

Soon after finishing up, she was feeling refreshed and energized and decided to follow her uncle's suggestion that she take a look around the place and go for a swim in the pool out back. While she had never been big on working out, she found herself doing laps, dozens of them, until she grew bored of the repeated back and forth motion. Still full of energy, she grabbed a plush towel to dry off with and wrapped it around herself before heading back inside to find out what her uncle was up to. Maybe she could talk him into taking her to the boardwalk again, or perhaps going for a walk along the beach. She could start working on that seashell collection she always wanted.

As she slid open the sliding glass door on the back deck that connected to the kitchen, she caught the tail-end of a conversation that didn't sound too good. She couldn't make out the words, but the raspy, hissing quality of her uncle's voice that had scared Sakura as a little girl was more noticeable than usual and she heard him slam the phone down into its cradle.

Before she could react, her uncle was already walking into the kitchen, his expression cross. It grew even darker when he caught sight of Sakura gaping at him from her lingering position in the doorway of the back deck. Not wanting him to think she was a nosy, little eavesdropper, Sakura's eyes widened innocently, asking if something was the matter. Her uncle had relaxed – marginally – and answered that it was work related and nothing to concern herself with. Sakura quickly steered the topic onto more cheerful ground, chatting away about how awesome his pool was and that she hoped she could afford such a big house someday.

Her uncle allowed her to prattle on until she ran out of steam and Sakura caught herself getting distracted by the way the sunlight filtered in through the windows and reflected off all the shiny, chrome appliances in the kitchen.

Internally reprimanding herself for being so spacey as of late, Sakura turned her focus back to her uncle who was studying her intently. Sakura self-consciously pulled the towel around her more tightly and wondered if her uncle was having second thoughts about offering his home for the summer to such an oddball, teenage girl.

"Perhaps," her uncle's smooth voice cut through the silence, "You should phone your mother to let her know you've settled yourself in. I'm sure she'd like to hear from you."

"Oh yeah! I meant to last night, but I completely forgot," Sakura bumped her fist lightly against her head, laughing at herself, "I'll do that right now."

Bounding away with energy, she went back outside to retrieve her cell phone where she'd left it on the lounge chair, only to find her uncle had pulled up a stool at the bar and was preparing some kind of mixed drink when she skipped back into the kitchen. Sakura watched him curiously as he poured some unknown liquor into a cocktail shaker along with orange juice, sour mix, and several other liquids she couldn't identify, along with some ice. Shaking it expertly he poured the mix into a tall glass filled with ice and then heaped a generous portion of 151 proof rum (which Sakura could identify from previous exploits with Ino) over it and added a maraschino cherry as the finishing touch.

Sakura had to admit it looked pretty good and she didn't even know half of what went in it. Dialing her mom's number, she approached the bar and plucked a cherry from the jar as her uncle sampled his beverage with contentment. As she waited for her mom to pick up, she asked what the drink was, to which her uncle responded with a slight smirk, "A Zombie."

Even the name sounded cool.

Turning her back on the tempting drink (Sakura didn't want her uncle to think she had an underage drinking problem), Sakura took a seat across from her uncle, leaning her back against the edge of the counter. Her mom finally answered the phone and Sakura launched into an energetic account of her trip to the big city and all the amazing sights it had to offer. Just as she finished telling her about the amusement park on the boardwalk and how much cotton candy she stuffed her face with, Sakura flinched at the sensation of something cold pressed up against her elbow resting on the counter. Twisting her neck around she saw a full glass, identical to the one she had watched her uncle prepare, waiting innocently in front of her. Staring open-mouthed at his permission to go ahead and drink, Sakura glanced up to see the sharp gaze of her uncle watching her expectantly. Raising his glass to her, he gave her a close-lipped smile before exiting the kitchen without a word.

Stunned, Sakura scooted the glass closer to her for inspection as her mom took advantage of her brief lapse in conversation to plunge into an update of the romantic lives of some couple in a silly soap opera she was obsessed with. Sakura fished the cherry out of the glass with her fingers and popped it into her mouth.

Even through the syrupy, saccharine flavor of the maraschino cherry, the taste of spirits was strong.

Little did she know at the time that wouldn't be the only time her uncle plied her with alcohol.

Later that night at dinner, he and Sakura had take-out, and though she thought it an odd combination with her steamed veggies and teriyaki chicken, she didn't refuse the glass of wine he poured for her. She was happy that he was treating her as an equal, an adult; something that she had feared he may not do after her childish antics at the amusement park last night. But as the night wore on and they finished their meal, Sakura couldn't stop fidgeting. She was agitated, but had no idea why. She wanted something, but couldn't put a name to it. Her uncle flipped through TV channels boredly, before announcing he was going to turn in for the night. Sakura roused herself from her lazy slouch on the recliner, and eyed the time on the VCR with mild surprise. It was already past eleven, yet she wasn't the least bit tired.

Maybe that was the problem; her mind wanted a reprieve that could easily be found in sleep, but her body was telling her she wasn't tired despite all the laps she did in the pool that morning. While the wine had left her warm and lightly flushed, it hadn't left her the least bit drowsy. And the ever watchful eyes of her uncle didn't miss it.

"Not tired, yet?" he asked knowingly.

"No," Sakura stretched her arms over her head, "For some reason, I'm not the least bit sleepy."

Making a humming sound in the back of his throat as he seemed to contemplate a solution, her uncle rose from his seat and walked into the kitchen; Sakura curiously followed behind him.

Pulling out one of the kitchen drawers, she watched as his hand slid back into the far reaches of the drawer, his fingers searching for something other than the gleaming cutlery. Finally, he retracted his hand and Sakura watched as he unfurled his fingers to reveal a little, glass pipe resting in his palm.

Sakura wasn't naive, though it took her a moment to fully comprehend what the object was that her uncle had just obtained from his kitchen drawer. Maybe alcohol she could see an indulgent aunt or uncle giving their niece or nephew to show how cool and laid back they could be, but this? It was a bit too much for Sakura to handle. Not to mention, if he was offering it to her, that meant that her uncle…

Sure enough, Sakura watched as he pulled out a tiny packet and a lighter from an overhead cabinet.

"Uncle! I don't – I mean, I've never – I – !" Sakura sputtered, shell-shocked as she watched her uncle prepare the pipe and a flame danced from the tip of the lighter. Turning back toward her, he held the gently smoking pipe out for her to take.

Looking wildly around the room for something to get her out of the situation and coming up empty, Sakura stared with wide eyes at her uncle's no nonsense expression. This wasn't a joke. He was being serious and he wanted her to –

"Uncle Orochimaru! I can't; I've never even smoked a cigarette before and this is way too much for me to handle," Sakura continued to babble her protests, backing away with her hands waving in refusal, but she came to a stop as she bumped into the wall. Orochimaru stalked forwards, trapping her in and grasping one of her hands, raising it to accept the pipe and then guiding it to her quivering lips.

"Trust me Sakura," his voice hissed softly, "This will help you sleep."

"But I don't know how," she weakly protested, conflicted over whether to refuse her uncle who had graciously invited her into his amazing home, or give in. Really, it was just going to be one time, right? And he seemed so adamant. Maybe it really would help put her to sleep.

Green eyes glistening with confusion, she locked gazes with the stone-cold stare of her uncle who had lowered his face to be at eye-level with her.

"Just inhale, Sakura," he prodded gently, lightly squeezing his hold on her hand that clutched the pipe, "Inhale."

So she did.

And though she had to fight back a cough at first, her uncle's encouragement led to several more deep breaths of the vapor as she brought the smoke into her mouth and held it on her tongue.

Her head felt heavy and she couldn't recall sliding down the wall to sit on the floor, but at some point she must have done just that because all of a sudden she noticed the kitchen counter was a lot higher up than it was moments ago. Her uncle brought the flame of the lighter under the bulb of the pipe, informing her that a slow, steady burn was best. Sakura couldn't find the will to do more than keep breathing in and out.

She felt good, peaceful and comfortably weighted down. She could've lied down right there on the cold, tiled floor and been perfectly comfortable for a good night's rest. Colors melded together and Sakura had to squint to make out the finer details of her uncle's face as he loomed before her.

"Good girl, Sakura," he commended her, though Sakura was in no state to pick up on the cold edge to his voice, "You're going to be a fine addition."

Sakura didn't understand what he meant by that, but she forgot what she was confused about before she could even open her mouth to ask for clarification. Suddenly, the world fell sideways and Sakura was granted a new perspective of the kitchen floor as her cheek pressed into the tile. Just as her eyelids refused to stay open any longer, a pair of black shoes stepped into her line of sight.

When she woke up the next morning, Sakura found herself in a room much unlike the one her uncle had given her to use for the summer. It was small and crowded with two beds pushed up against opposite walls and a whirlwind of clothes and cosmetics spilled all over the floor. As Sakura wiped the sleep from her eyes and struggled to recall what happened before she went to bed last night, she wandered out into a hallway that she also didn't recognize and called for her uncle. He didn't answer her calls, at least not right then, but a redhead strutted out from a closed door at the end of the hall and that's when Sakura's hazy mind started picking up on the signs of what had truly become of her.

Her wails and screams would have brought the roof down on everyone's ears had a silver-haired man with glasses not rushed up the stairs to forcefully inject her with a sedative that left Sakura in a boneless heap on the floor as he calmly informed her that her uncle had saw fit to relocate her and they had taken the liberty of doing so earlier that morning while she slept oh-so peacefully. Had she the control over her arm to smack him upside the head, she would've done so just because he sounded so damned cheerful about it.

Sakura had been left to cry on the floor as the drug raged through her body and the strange man who introduced himself as Kabuto Yakushi ordered the redhead and another girl with black hair to pick Sakura up and place her on her bed. The two girls complied and then shut the door behind themselves as they left Sakura in the darkened room to weep in private.

Her uncle paid her a visit later that day after the drug had worn off and Kabuto had handcuffed her to the bedpost to prevent her from lashing out at Orochimaru and ripping his face to shreds with her fingernails. He had made clear, not without a hint of relish in his eyes, what Sakura's purpose in her new home was. She belonged to him now and he had the right to make her do whatever he wanted. He could kill her, if he so chose. However, he had other ideas for his niece, and wouldn't she be willing to go along with them? After all, he could give her what she now craved.

That night, Kabuto had injected her with a stimulant even stronger than the little blue pills she had mistakenly been taking from her uncle to relieve her upset stomach. That was also the night that she had to deal with her first "client."

It was a night she could never wipe clean from her memory no matter how many drugs they pumped through her veins or how much alcohol she self-medicated herself with.

It was the night she learned just how cold and cruel her uncle could truly be.

"Clean yourself up, sweetheart, you got a job at midnight. Oh, and work on your smile," Kabuto says sadistically, pulling at the corners of Sakura's mouth with his index fingers, "You've been so depressing lately."

Sakura nearly chokes on her mouthful of chicken nuggets that Anko picked up on her way back from the convenience store; she hadn't heard her uncle's right-hand man come up behind her. Pushing her chair back from the kitchen table, Sakura uses the back of her hand to wipe her mouth, shooting Kabuto a nasty look before standing to retrieve a glass of water.

Filling it up from the tap, Sakura takes a swig from the glass, wishing they at least had a filter to put on the kitchen faucet. She hears Kabuto rummaging through the grease-stained paper sack on the table and watches with disdain as he steals a handful of her fries.

Making a face as he swallows the already cold, soggy fries, Kabuto joins Sakura at the sink to rinse his hands off. Under the veil of her bangs, Sakura surreptitiously steals a glance up at the silvery gray-haired man at her side.

How can you go along with this? How can you live with yourself every day? You're a sick, twisted, demented –

Sakura's string of hateful synonyms is cut short by the object of her ire.

"Oooh," Kabuto croons condescendingly, "Such a scary face."

Sakura spits out her mouthful of water in the sink with as much gusto as she can manage, knowing she wouldn't get away with spitting it right in his face like she wants. But a lazy smile etches itself on the young man's face as he clearly reads the signs of her distaste for him.

"You don't like me much, do you, Sakura?"

She hates the sound of her name on his tongue. He doesn't deserve to use it.

Sakura refuses to give his question a response. Instead, she musters as much icy hatred into her glare as possible and refuses to look away from him. Her heart pounds rapidly behind her ribcage, her body's warning that she's playing a dangerous game and it doesn't want to bear the burden of her punishment once again. But Sakura knows she's too far in to get out unscathed now; she's gotten pretty good at reading that malicious glint in Kabuto's eyes and knows he's in a volatile mood.

"What? Not speaking?" he turns his head to the side, looking at Sakura askance.

Sakura swallows thickly, her brain screaming at her to stop being a masochistic idiot and say something before he snaps!

"No?" he drawls out innocently.

Still, she refuses to answer him, nor will she break the staring contest.

Turning to face her head on, their noses nearly touching, Kabuto's warm breath fans across her face and Sakura's gaze momentarily slips downwards as Kabuto roughly grabs hold of her wrists.

"That's ok," he assures her with a devilish smirk, "I prefer my whores silent."

Ramming her back into the edge of the sink, Sakura lets out a surprised yelp of pain and struggles to break out of his hold, but he pushes his body up against hers, trapping her in.

"Let me go, bastard! You can't do this to me!" Sakura shouts in his face, her expression feral and animalistic, befitting the caged animal she feels like.

Kabuto laughs right back in her face, "Can't do this? Ha, I don't think you've got a very good handle on reality if you think I can't do whatever I want."

Sakura whimpers as the pressure he exerts on her captured wrists is increased to near bone-snapping strength.

"Haven't you learned your place yet, Sakura?" he asks, thoroughly enjoying himself and not about to let up, "It's right down here at my feet."

As she's forced to her knees, Sakura fights back the hot prickle of tears threatening to spill down her cheeks. There's no way she's going to give him the satisfaction of seeing her that defeated ever again.

"You're nothing but a common prostitute, Sakura," Kabuto spits at her with relish, and that word nearly has the physical effect of pouring hot coals down her ears. Sakura lashes out, screaming and clawing her way at Kabuto's face, determined to tear off the foul mouth that would dare call her that.

"I'm not! That's not who I am!" her tone shakes, filled to the brim with emotion and rage that is momentarily snuffed out as Kabuto lands a nasty backhand to the side of her face.

Sakura's head twists to the side with the force of the motion, and she stares dazedly at the red speckles now peppering the white tiles at her feet. Her right ear rings with an annoying buzz and something trickles from the corner of her lips to leave a warm trail down her chin.

"Sakura, the little prostitute," Kabuto grins cruelly as he crouches down over Sakura's stunned form, "You roll around in sin like a filthy pig in the mud and you think you can still be the same little girl as before? No, you're among the scum of the earth now."

"You're right there with me," Sakura retorts, her anger helping to distract her from some of the pain in her cheek.

Sakura knows she's just digging herself a deeper hole. If she's smart, she'd just let Kabuto say his piece, nod her head in agreement, and let him slap her around a few more times before he gets bored. But for some reason she can't seem to stop picking a fight with the sadistic creep. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that after seeing Karin with that man on the couch today, she became a little afraid that she may just reach that point, too, someday. She might eventually stop fighting her fate and accept it with an intimate embrace.

Or, maybe it has something to do with the fact that she needs to prove to herself that no matter what horrible things she's forced to do, she's nothing like the monsters who force her to do it.

Some small part of her wants to see just how savage Kabuto can be so she can feel safe in knowing that they are two completely different people.

She sees the fist pull back to take a swing at her unprotected face again and knows that she might just be able to deflect some of the hit if she puts her arms up right now to block it, but she doesn't. He'd just take another swing at her.

And another. And another.

Besides, maybe if she ends up too bruised and bloody she'll be seen as unfit for whatever cretin she's been assigned to tonight.

Closing her eyes, Sakura awaits the impact, but it miraculously never comes. A furious howl has her eyelids snapping open in shock as she observes a sprawled out Kabuto laid out flat on his back and a frenzied Anko wailing on his face with both fists.

Anko's knuckles come away red and, with some pleasure, Sakura sees Kabuto's nose gushing blood. She doesn't know where Anko came from just now, but her fondness for the woman grows by the second as she pounds away at their tormentor who's having trouble seeing through his cracked glasses and the blood stinging his eyes.

But the small triumph doesn't last long as Kabuto regains control of the situation and flips positions with Anko, forcing her onto her stomach as he pins her flailing arms behind her back. Anko's bare feet kick out uselessly under Kabuto's weight and the woman's weakened and overworked lungs leave her simultaneously coughing and gasping for air.

Sakura knows that the brave thing to do, the thing that would make her feel a little bit better, would be to aid Anko's retaliation against Kabuto, but pessimism and reality are like weighted chains that hold her in her place. Anko is already spent, her physique ravaged by years of drugs coupled with a harsh lifestyle. Anko's stick-like arms push against the floor in an attempt to raise herself up, but Kabuto sends her face smacking back into the tile with a rough hand fisted through her hair.

The rapid clomping of boots signals the arrival of more of her uncle's hired help as Dosu rushes in to help pin Anko down so that Kabuto can stand with a snarky, "Took you long enough."

Sakura's eyes widen at the sight of Kidōmaru entering the kitchen, carrying a small, silver case that Kabuto readily accepts. She knows what he has in store for the poor woman trapped on the floor. It's a one way ticket to Gonesville.

Anko knows it, too. When she catches sight of the needle's tip in her peripheral vision, she renews her struggles with fevered vigor. So strong is her aversion to the drug and, more precisely, its effects, that she temporarily bucks away from Dosu before Kidōmaru's foot stomps down harshly in the middle of her back, forcing a pained grunt out of the woman.

Kabuto holds the needle up to the light, flicking it twice with his fingers before jabbing it into the pale flesh at the crease of Anko's elbow while Dosu firmly holds her arm flat and exposed. Anko writhes on the floor like her body is being licked by flames and Sakura feels an inexplicable loss at seeing her like this.

Now, with Anko's will to fight being rapidly torn from her grasp, Sakura feels very much on her own against her antagonizers.

Quickly, Sakura carefully rises to her feet while the three men have their attention on the woman rapidly losing consciousness on the floor. Sakura beats a hasty retreat through the curtained doorway and races up the back stairwell to her room.

With her heart beating like a jackhammer, Sakura yanks open her bedroom door, ignoring Tayuya's annoyed protests at the rowdy entrance, and slams it shut behind her.

She knows better than to think that a door with no lock (at least not one on the inside) will protect her from Kabuto's fury. He won't forget this incident or let it go by unpunished. No, Anko drew blood, and while she isn't too much fun for him to push around anymore seeing as how she's doped up about ninety percent of the time, Sakura is a different story. She's new and fresh and full of tears to cry for the life she once had.

Knowing he would be paying her a visit sooner rather than later, Sakura wastes little time in preparing for the night. After taking a few moments to regulate her heart beat while her roommate spared a single raised eyebrow before resuming her own preparations, she had showered and begun work on forcing her stick-straight hair into a curly up do.

Now, while sitting on her bed with an array of cosmetics spread around her, she is startled by the abrupt thud of the door swinging back and bouncing off the door jamb, interrupting the peaceful acoustic melody playing from Tayuya's little radio in the corner. A glaring Kabuto, his face lacking the smears of blood it had sported earlier, stands in the doorway with all the pleasantries of a bull about to charge. Normally, he would knock on the door in mock courtesy for the ladies, but he doesn't appear to be in the mood for such games.

Sakura grabs a tissue and pretends to blot her glossed lips in an attempt to hide the smirk she wears from seeing a quickly blossoming bruise along Kabuto's jaw. Better yet, one of his eyes is already partially swollen shut although he has already replaced his mangled glasses with another pair.

Kabuto has eyes – rage – only for Sakura at the moment, and ignores Tayuya's complaints for busting into their room and nearly knocking the door off its hinges. Marching up to Sakura whose hunched figure visibly shrinks away from him behind the terrycloth bath robe she wears, Kabuto carelessly drops a bag at the foot of her bed.

"Your client has purchased that for you and expects to see you in it tonight. Hurry the hell up; Orochimaru wants you downstairs in twenty minutes," turning to leave, Kabuto doesn't spare another glance back at the pink-haired girl and Sakura lets out the breath she had involuntarily been holding.

Is he really not going to do anything?

But her small kernel of hope is crushed as Kabuto reaches the door, his figure cast in sharp relief as he blocks the light coming in from the hallway.

"Oh, and Sakura, about earlier…" he pauses, just to see the fear jump back into her eyes as her body stiffens, "I'll be paying you back for that with interest. Enjoy your night."

And with that, he swiftly shuts the door behind him.

Precious seconds tick by and Sakura is still frozen in place, twisting the cloth belt of her robe between nervous hands. Tayuya lets out a low whistle, "Damn, Sakura. You really pissed off the little bitch, didn't you? What happened?"

Sakura shakes her head, wishing she could shake off her fear, "I'll tell you later, I need to get ready."

Tayuya scoffs before grabbing her coat and her purse and heading out for her own job that night, "Fine, be that way."

Sakura is left alone to finish dusting her cheeks with rouge and darkening the outlines of her eyes. Grabbing for the shopping bag Kabuto dumped on her bed, she's acutely curious as to what her client has asked for her to wear. It's not customary for the clients to purchase clothes for the women whose services they're buying for the night. Sakura really doesn't see the point of it either; she never gets to keep her clothes on for very long anyway.

The bag has the store's name printed on the outside, but it's not one she recognizes and appears to be in a foreign language.

Italian, maybe?

Even more intrigued, Sakura's hand plunges into the plastic bag and feels the sigh-worthy, cool touch of silk brushing against her fingertips. Pulling out the fabric, Sakura's mouth opens in awe at the cream-colored dress she reveals. Holding it against herself, she shuffles over to the mirror propped against the wall and can't believe someone would buy this for the purpose of taking it off. The dress is sleeveless, with a single, braided strap going over her left shoulder and the bust is adorned with a smattering of golden stones that twinkle even in the dim lighting. The hemline is asymmetrical, ending at the tops of her calves in the back and midway down her thighs in the front.

It's the kind of dress she could imagine twirling around in for hours in a field of daisies.

What a shame it's being used for…this.

Sakura slips it on, relishing the gentle way the silk slides against her skin, and struggles for a few minutes with the zipper that would have been so much easier to manage if Tayuya hadn't tromped out of the room in a huff.

Appraising her reflection, Sakura can't help but smile softly at the sight of herself in such a beautiful gown. For a moment, she can almost pretend that she's just a normal girl getting ready for some high school dance and that she's about to go downstairs for the big reveal and her parents will be there, cameras clicking and flashbulbs blinding.

It nearly brings tears to her eyes, knowing that something so average, so ordinary, is nothing but a tantalizing whisper of smoke slipping through her hands. It's a fairytale life she had taken for granted before it was ripped away from her.

Taking a moment to let the dampness dry from her eyes and the heat to cool from her face, Sakura grabs her coat and purse up off the floor and crosses the room to Tayuya's radio to turn it off.

Goodnight, Sakura.

What she's about to do, it really isn't her doing it. She has to recede far back into her mind until she doesn't exist anymore. Hopefully, she can stay like that until morning when she wakes up to see all the damage.

"You look positively ravishing, pet," her uncle praises her as she stands still and silent for inspection in the living room. Walking in a slow circle around his niece, Orochimaru playfully pulls a curl wound up in a clip atop her head. Sakura does her best not to flinch…or break down in a shaking, sobbing mess on the floor. As much as she hates this man, she fears him just as much – if not more.

"I think our client will be pleased," Kabuto chips in, leaning against the side of one of the couches with his arms crossed. There is nothing kind in his voice and Sakura barely suppresses a shiver of suspicion at that odd, little smile he gives her.

"Kimimaro will be dropping you off at your destination for the evening. Remember to conduct yourself accordingly, pet. This client has spared no expense and I'd like to keep him as a valued customer. If you do well, we may just gain the rest of his associates as clientele," Orochimaru takes his time in coming back around to the front of Sakura and taking a seat on the couch with all the grace and dignity of a king who has made his fortune in sin.

"Do not fail me, Sakura. I'd hate to have to punish you," he says behind a smile that indicates he wouldn't hate it in the least.

Beckoning her forward, Sakura hesitantly approaches her uncle, feeling a lot like a mouse walking right into the open mouth of a snake.

"Your mother called today," Sakura's ears perk up, her eyes bright with hope despite sensing the menace in her uncle's words.

"I had to tell her you were unable to come to the phone as you were out shopping, having the time of your life," her uncle smirks maliciously, his long, thin fingers drumming lightly on the armrest, "She's going to become bothersome soon when summer comes to an end and you'll be expected to return home," her uncle's lilting voice pelts her like acid rain, "How do you think she'll react when you don't come home, pet?"

Sakura trembles, almost imperceptibly, but her uncle's keen eyes don't miss it. Running a tongue over his lips like the snake that he is, he leans forward eagerly, "But, perhaps, she'll get to see her daughter again. Who's to say she won't be a welcome addition to the happy little home I've made for you here?" he shrugs nonchalantly, settling back into the cushions with satisfaction.

"What?! No! You can't do that to her!" Sakura cries, her fear momentarily forgotten as she takes a bold step forward in aggression, crossing the invisible line that brings her under a deadly set of crosshairs.

Her uncle is on his feet so swiftly that Sakura barely registers the movement before something cold digs into the soft flesh beneath her chin. Her eyes widening in stunned silence, Sakura's chest rises and falls with frantic breaths. Her mind tells her that her uncle is just scaring her for kicks, but the gun biting into her skin warns her that the calm, business-minded uncle she knows and hates may have abruptly went on a lunch break.

"But of course I could, dear" Orochimaru whispers against her ear, his neck bent down to accommodate the height difference as he brings Sakura unwillingly closer with a firm hand pressed to the small of her back.

Through the curtain of black hair that partially obscures Sakura's view, she can see Kabuto who hasn't moved an inch, but quietly observes the potential murder scene with interest. The jab of the pistol's barrel prompts her to meet her uncle's slitted eyes.

"What's to stop me from doing exactly what I've done to you, to your mother? True, she may be a bit older than what most of my clients prefer, but surely the woman responsible for making such a gorgeous daughter has some appeal herself," he continues in a thoughtful tone, as though pondering the possibility.

"Don't," Sakura's broken voice pleads, the very idea of her mother enduring the same torture she goes through on a daily basis nearly crippling her with horror and revulsion.

"Please, do what you want with me, but don't involve my mom in this. Please," she begs, tears springing to her eyes.

Her uncle chuckles, "Hush now, pet," his lips tickle her ear, "Don't ruin that pretty face with tears," and with that, he presses a light kiss to her forehead, withdrawing the gun from its very unfriendly position.

"Please," Sakura tries again, knowing she's just fueling his ego by begging, but hoping that it will do some good for her cause, "Don't hurt my mom."

"There, there," her uncle strokes the side of her face and Sakura forces herself not to grimace at his touch, "As long as you do well tonight, your mother will be safe and sound.

"But," he continues, his voice taking on a notably harsher edge as he retracts his hand, "You must do everything right. Whatever the client asks of you, you do it without hesitation. Your job is to please him. Understood?"

Sakura nods obediently, adding a quick, "Yes, sir," in case he wants verbal confirmation. Still, she is confused; it's not like her uncle to remind her of this before each night's work. Though she detests it, the job description itself is pretty clear. She knows these men pay a lot of money for this special kind of service.

What could possibly have her uncle so uptight that he has to remind her of this?

This man I'm meeting tonight…who is he?

"Well then, I'd say you best be on your way now. Don't want to keep him waiting," Orochimaru casts a final sly smile down at his niece before stepping away.

"Kabuto, see her to the car," and with that, Sakura is left to follow the bespectacled man through the back exit and finds Kimimaro waiting in the driver's seat of a spotless white SUV (she's not very good with car models, but can tell the price tag probably hadn't been anything to scoff at), the engine idling.

Without a word to her escort, Sakura climbs into the passenger seat and is shuttled forth to an unknown place that already has her stomach in knots.

The ride with Kimimaro is a quiet affair. He isn't a man known for his charisma in conversation and Sakura doesn't feel inclined to force small talk. Instinctively, she knows reaching over to turn on the radio is out of the question.

Really, what could I say? 'Hey, Kimimaro, make any good trades on the black market today?'

Instead, Sakura decides to take these rare, quiet moments to herself to reflect on what her uncle had just spoken to her about.

Her mother had called, asking for her, but her uncle had made up an excuse as to why she couldn't come to the phone. Had she been trying Sakura's cell, but got fed up because she wasn't answering? Sakura isn't sure whether to hope her mom keeps calling and gets suspicious that Sakura never seems to be around to talk, or pray that her mom just lets it be so her uncle won't find it necessary to take drastic measures to prevent her from uncovering the truth. She isn't sure how her uncle is going to break the news to her mom that Sakura won't be coming home at summer's end, and Sakura toys with the idea that he might try some kind of elaborate fake death scene. Knowing her uncle, he'd probably be able to pull it off, too.

What she does know, is that Ino is madly ticked off at her for not answering the likely hundreds of text messages she's probably sent to Sakura's confiscated cell phone. The only reason she knows this is because of the E-mails she saw in her inbox the few times Orochimaru had sat her down in front of a computer and forced her to type out an E-mail to her mom to update her on how "wonderful" her vacation has been going and all the cool things she's been up to. Among the few inquiries from her mother that Orochimaru had allowed her to open in order to address her mom's questions, Sakura had seen several sent from her blonde friend whom she knew must be livid and feeling spurned (Ino would only resort to something as old-school as E-mail in times of desperation when texting and Facebook messages weren't doing the trick).

Although her uncle had closely monitored everything Sakura clicked on and typed, he wouldn't allow her to open any of the other E-mails she had received. But she could tell by some of the colorful language in the subject lines that Ino wasn't happy with her.

If I ever make it out of here alive, I might not have a best friend waiting for me back home anymore.

Sakura bites back a bitter laugh at the thought.

Along with the E-mails from her mom and Ino, Sakura had felt her heart drop at the sight of the electronic newsletter sent to her from her university, informing all the incoming freshman of the details they'd need to know for move-in day and Welcome Week. In a perfect world, Sakura would be attending college at the end of the summer, entering into the school's highly competitive pre-med major.

For a little while longer, she could pretend that that's still in the realm of possibility, after all, it's what everyone back home still expects of her.

But soon enough, they'll know it's just a fairytale, too. Just like I do now.

Sakura is jerked out of her inner musings as she notices the vehicle veering off of the main road and pulling into a parking lot. Looking out of the passenger seat window, her eyes light up with mild surprise. Clearly, her uncle hadn't been kidding when he said the client had spared no expense, which is rather unusual for the clientele her uncle attracts. Many of them are men who have made their money in the same illegal industry as her uncle, yet they rarely see fit to fulfill their baser desires in such an upscale establishment where people may turn their noses up at them for associating with questionably attired women like Sakura or, worse yet, turn them into the police.

Sakura doesn't allow herself to be too impressed by the venue, however. She's only here for one very horrible purpose and she mustn't forget that.

Kimimaro, for the first time that she's aware of since stepping foot inside the car, acknowledges her presence. Clear, green eyes, a different shade than her own, look over her carefully, giving nothing away to his thoughts as his face remains passively blank, if not unimpressed. Sakura does her best not to stare back challengingly, not for the first time wondering over his choice in the two red dots tattooed on his forehead, one above each eye.

After a tense few seconds of silence (tense at least for Sakura), he speaks simply and to the point, "You are to go to room E333. Knock four times precisely. Do not speak to anyone on your way there. Got it?"

Sakura pulls at a loose thread on the strap of her purse, both anxious about confronting tonight's patron and nauseated at the way this man is sending her to her doom with step-by-step instructions.


He turns back to the wheel, facing forward as his hand reaches down to the shift in preparation to put the car in drive, "Good. You have ten minutes before your expected arrival. Be on time."

With that little pep talk over and done with, Sakura opens the car door and slides out, patting her dress to smooth out any wrinkles. Taking her first step toward the revolving glass door that will transport her into the lobby, Sakura can hear the well-oiled engine of Kimimaro's vehicle rev before he pulls away smoothly, leaving Sakura to face her demons alone.

Sakura nervously hops into an open partition in the revolving doorway, suddenly glad that she hasn't had anything to drink tonight because it's taking every ounce of determination she has to keep what little contents she has in her stomach from making an impromptu guest appearance. She doesn't know why, but tonight has the distinct aura that it's going to be particularly unpleasant.

Pointedly not making eye contact with the clerk at the front desk, Sakura's heels clack across the marbled front lobby floor with purpose. Trying to look like she belongs here and that none of the finery wows her, Sakura fights the urge to stop and appreciate the fountain with its exquisitely stone-cut mermaids and shells. The ceiling of the front lobby is painted in a deep midnight blue and drips with a heavily laden crystal chandelier that makes Sakura think of Disney princesses and extravagant ball rooms.

But Sakura isn't here to admire. The clock is ticking, and when it strikes midnight, she'll have far worse things to worry about than her carriage turning into a pumpkin.

Navigating her way past the lobby, the sharp click of her shoes is quieted as she rounds the corner and her feet land on plush, navy carpet. Keeping her eyes wide and alert, Sakura walks past well-to-do couples making it back for the night from the bars and casinos. This is not a place for children with their high-pitched squeals and sticky hands. Sakura is by far the youngest person she's seen in the hotel, yet no one looks twice at her. No one spares her a questioning look or demands she show them some ID.

She sincerely wishes they would.

Locating an elevator, Sakura steps to the side to make way for a man on his way out. He tips his head toward Sakura in greeting before his eyes dart elsewhere, his focus already diverted to his own personal matters.

Look at me! Can't you see I'm terrified out of my mind here?!

But Sakura doesn't call out to him, or any of the other people who walk past, no matter how much she wants to. A woman dressed in what must be the hotel uniform for maids, pushes a cart laden with fresh linens and towels down the hallway. She smiles hospitably at Sakura, mistaking her for a guest, and Sakura returns it with her own watered down version, clamping down on the sudden urge to cry.

The dinging of the elevator doors about to close snaps Sakura to attention as she hastily brings up her arms to prevent the doors from shutting, and steps inside.

Alone in the stagnant air of the elevator, Sakura takes a shaky breath to calm her nerves and punches the number three with her index finger. She's thankful for the tasteful piano music playing over the speaker system. It's slow and contemplative, not rushing itself to a crashing crescendo, but building itself up as the elevator whisks away much too quickly for Sakura's liking.

As the doors of the elevator part to deposit its passenger on the third floor, Sakura recognizes the song as "Requiem for a Dream," a song she knew of even back before Tayuya had expanded her musical knowledge.

Sakura steps out of the elevator just as the melody quickens to a tempo too great for her to bear.

I'm a coward.

Knees shaking, she orients herself to the eastern wing, her footsteps silent against more of the same rich navy carpet that the first floor had been paved with.

I'm weak.

She almost feels like she's floating through a dream; an endless stretch of closed doors against vertical blue and white striped wallpaper lies before her. The hallway isn't the least bit intimidating despite its silent emptiness. Between each mahogany door is a wall sconce whose lamp shade is patterned in seahorses and starfish. Her eyes scanning for numbers, Sakura fixes her sights on the left-hand side of doors, her feet seeming to carry her further and further without even touching the ground.

I'm scared.




The golden plate just below the peephole on the door gleams back at her threateningly.

Sakura swallows thickly, her mouth suddenly run dry. It doesn't matter that she's been put through this before; it hasn't gotten any easier.

Arm shaking like she's hyped up on too much caffeine, Sakura knocks…One…Two…Three…Four times. Taking a nervous step back away from the door, she waits, feeling the compulsion to look both ways to see if any innocent bystanders are about to witness her walking right into Hell.

But no one is up and about in the hallway and Sakura shifts her weight from one foot to another.

Finally, the door opens just a crack, and an instant later it swings open all the way. Sakura is yanked inside by her arm and she squelches the scream that rises in her throat. She barely manages to catch sight of the tanned hand that grasps her coat sleeve firmly before she's plunged into darkness and the door is swiftly shut behind her. Sakura is led blindly through a short hallway before she sees the dim glow of light as it empties out into an open room.

She catches sight of a kitchenette area, complete with any and all appliances any vacationers could possibly need to make a home-cooked meal right in their suite. The dim glow of light is cast by a light above the stove, reflecting off the polished surface of the bar's countertop. A second later, Sakura's pupils are assaulted by the flood of light pouring from the light fixtures overhead, signaling that her company has found the switch.

Turning to face him, Sakura makes a concentrated effort not to drop her jaw at the long mane of blond hair pulled into a loose ponytail at the base of the stranger's neck.


But her eyes immediately register the hundreds of little difference that separate this person from her childhood best friend. For one, the masculine jaw and angular azure eyes are nothing like the soft roundness of Ino's face or her innocent, baby blue eyes that tell nothing of her more devious nature. Nor does her best friend look at her with such open appreciation of her body. Sakura's hands hide within the sleeves of her coat, clenched tightly.

"Well, well," the stranger begins, and any misconceptions Sakura had as to the nature of his gender is quickly cleared up by the deep pitch of his voice, "The picture doesn't do you justice, doll face."

At this, Sakura notes the item he holds in his hand, and though she can only see a small portion of it from her angle, she immediately recognizes what it is.

It's a picture that had been snapped of her while she was at the amusement park that first night in town. Her uncle hadn't brought a camera with him, but he must've had someone working for him following from the shadows. Sakura had already seen the picture of her on the merry-go-round riding the white horse with its silver mane, a cone of cotton candy in hand. She had sat rigidly next to her uncle as he attached it to one of the E-mails she had typed out for her mom.

"Thank you," Sakura murmurs quietly

The man flashes her a pearly smile that contrasts well against his tan. Dressed in a sharp business suit with the top few buttons undone on the burnt orange dress shirt underneath, Sakura decides he isn't the most unappealing man she's had to deal with.

"Can I offer you something to drink, yeah?" he motions at the assortment of bottles chilling in a bucket of ice on the counter.

Unintentionally quirking her eyebrow up at the odd, little "yeah" thrown into his speech, Sakura decides to take him up on his hospitality, "Yes, please."

The man, whom she decides can't be more than two or three years older than herself, busies himself with uncorking a bottle and pouring two glasses of a light pink wine that Sakura forces herself to drink delicately rather than tossing it back in one go. No matter how nice this guy acts, she doesn't want to be completely sober for what she has to do tonight.

"So, you're the niece, huh? Not a very strong family resemblance, yeah. Not that I'm complaining," he looks into her eyes and Sakura can practically feel the charisma oozing from this man.

"You know my uncle?" Sakura asks curiously.

The man nods, finishing off his glass and pouring himself another, "Not well, but I've come across him a time or two. My organization may be looking to form a…business relationship, you could say, with Orochimaru."

Sakura's eyes narrow in contemplation of this.

"How'd you know I'm his niece?"

Was it some sort of selling point for tonight's little transaction?

But the blonde man laughs good-naturedly, his eyes looking slyly away from Sakura's serious expression, "I have my sources, yeah."

"The fuck you do," a voice booms from behind Sakura, causing her to nearly fumble her drink, "You mean Sasori's sources."

Sakura turns from the sneering face of the blonde man whose angry glare is directed at a point beyond her right shoulder. Twisting around, she notices a man lounging in the entranceway to the kitchen, wearing a pair of black slacks and a charcoal gray dress shirt with most of the buttons unfastened to reveal a large expanse of toned flesh. His hair is slicked back and damp, a towel draped around his shoulders. His violet eyes alight on Sakura's frozen form.

"Now this is what I'm fucking talking about," he smiles lasciviously, stalking up to Sakura, "This is a hot piece of ass you've got, bitch," the foul-mouthed man observes with pleasure as he slaps her bottom.

Confused and flaming red with embarrassment, Sakura turns back toward the man standing on the other side of the bar from her.

"Wait, aren't you my client?" Sakura asks, a hint of desperation in her tone pleading with him to assuage her fears.

There's no way – just no way I can do this!

But the blonde man shrugs, a lazy smirk on his face, "Sorry, babe. If it's any consolation, I'd love to stick around and show you a good time, yeah" he reaches for her hand to plant a kiss on the back of her palm.

"Hell no! I don't do any of that threesome shit with another dick," says the man she has now correctly identified as her client.

Sakura's body is involuntarily tugged backwards as the silver-haired man seething behind her grips her hips, effectively yanking her hand out of the other man's hold. With her back pressed into him, the man leans his face down over her shoulder, droplets of water sliding down her neck as they drip from the ends of his hair.

"The name's Hidan. Remember it. You're going to be screaming it all night."

Sakura's eyes grow large with revulsion and the blonde across from her rolls his own eyes at Hidan's proclamation.

"Well, as much as I hate to part from such gorgeous company," the man's perceptive, blue eyes track the movement of Hidan's wandering hand as it slips inside her open coat to trail up and down her side, "I really don't want to be around to hear what you're going to do to this poor girl, yeah."

With that snub in, the man drains his second glass of wine and flips it upside down on the rack by the sink.

"Get lost, Deidara," Hidan replies flippantly, clearly wanting his traveling companion to make haste.

"I have to meet with Kimimaro to pick up a few cases we need to have delivered tomorrow," the blonde man directs at Hidan, ignoring the pair of green eyes searing into him, screaming with a look of "Help me!"

"Fine, fine," Hidan lifts a hand to shoo him away, "Just fucking leave already."

Looking annoyed, Deidara winds his way around the counter, snatching up a pair of car keys and heading toward the hallway that leads to the front door. He casts a final glance back at the two entangled in each other; one clearly enjoying it and the other trying her hardest to sink away into the floor.

"Try not to make too much of a mess this time, Hidan. It's a pain in the ass to hide the evidence, yeah."

And with that, he turns his back on the shaking girl whose pupils have shrunk to near pinpricks.

A moment later, Sakura hears the door opening and closing.

Why do I get the feeling I've just been left to die?

With her pulse quickening by the second, Sakura twists around in Hidan's hold, unsure of how to start things off after that blood-freezing comment Deidara left them with.

Wetting her lips, she looks into his eyes that are glistening darkly with lust and something she can't identify.

Speaking sweetly, she begins, "My name is Sakura and – ''


She didn't even see it coming. For the first two seconds, she's numb to the sting of pain from sheer shock. But that brief reprieve rapidly gives way to the fire engulfing her cheek.

He slapped me!

"Wha – ?"

This time she isn't even given the chance to form a complete syllable before he raises his hand to strike again in the same exact spot, barely missing her eye.

"Did I give you permission to speak, bitch?"

Sakura is about to answer him, but thinks better of it and shakes her head.

What is this? Some kind of sick control fetish?

She has had to deal with a few twisted freaks that had a particular hang up they forced Sakura to indulge them with. Some were happy with the more run of the mill fuzzy handcuff routine…

But, some had darker desires. Some wanted her to cry, which really wasn't asking for anything too difficult from her anyway. The tears weren't really all that contrived.

Tonight, Sakura is pretty certain she's going to be doing a lot of crying, whether he asks for it or not.

"Lose the coat," he barks at her, and Sakura's clumsy fingers quickly work to comply with his command as she drops it to the floor. He kicks it away and she watches as it flies across the kitchen to collide with the fridge before dropping to the wood floor. She wants to yell back at him that he has no right to treat her property with such disrespect. He hadn't paid for her coat like he did the dress, after all.

But she doesn't want to provoke any more abuse out of him.

His heated gaze roves over Sakura as he admires the cling of the silk to her curves and grabs her roughly by the hand to follow after him. Weaving through the furniture of the adjoining room, Sakura barely takes in the red leather couch and matching recliners. A large, flat screen TV is mounted on the wall, its volume on mute.

Hidan drags her behind him impatiently, not creating a very smooth path for her to follow in her cumbersome heels. Sakura's shin catches on the edge of the coffee table and Hidan spins around at the sound of the painful thunk as Sakura stumbles to the ground, her hand being wrenched from his hold.

"Clumsy ass bitch," he comments behind an irritated frown, ignoring her pained expression as he presses his foot down cruelly and slowly on the toes of one of her black stiletto-clad feet.

Sakura bites her lips in a whimper, looking up at the man confused and at a loss for words.

What game is he playing?

Running a hand back through his hair in dramatic exasperation he sighs, "I'll never understand why bitches wear those stupid things. But damn if they don't make your ass look good."

He adds an ounce more of force over Sakura's abused toes before easing up and assisting her to her feet with a helpful yank on her hair.

Sakura's mind fits together a few puzzle pieces she had set aside earlier.

Kabuto's promise of paying me back with interest…telling me to enjoy my night and that odd smile…this is his payback. He must have specifically recommended me to this guy and set up the whole arrangement.

Sakura wants to kill him.

She just doesn't know if she'll make it out of here in any shape to do it.

As she's dragged down another hall, Hidan leads her into a bedroom, shoving her down on the bed as he goes to retrieve something on top of the dresser. Sakura's eyes take a moment to adjust as the only light source comes from a set of doors to the side of the bed that leads out onto a balcony. For just a moment she is greeted with the picturesque view of the city lit up for the night, the imposing skyscrapers bathed in moonlight.

But her attention quickly returns to her client as his weight depresses the mattress at the foot of the bed and she feels him climbing over her, a hand planted firmly on either side of her face, forcing her to look up at him. Even with the shadows shrouding most of his face in obscurity, she catches the gleam of silver metal.

Clenched between his teeth is the blade of a knife, its spear-like point glinting with ill intentions.


Sakura tries to scoot away, but she's trapped under his weight on her lower torso and she presses back uselessly into the puffy comforter and pillows.

"You can't use that on me," Sakura replies coldly.

To Hell with his no speaking without permission rule.

But that apparently isn't going to fly with Hidan. She can just barely see his lips pulling back in a grin, or maybe it's a snarl, as his teeth keep a firm hold on the handle of the blade.

This time, he opts for punching Sakura square in the jaw.

Sakura groans in agony, her feet kicking out uselessly against the end of the bed.

He pulls his hand back for another strike. Sakura scowls, her eyes narrowing in on his hand as she throws up her arms to block it. The impact still hurts and she cries out in pain, but it's better than a broken nose.

But a moment later, she just about regrets denying him the hit as his fury ignites and she finds his hands at her throat, digging his thumbs into her windpipe and denying her air. Sakura claws at his hands, trying to pry the fingers loose, but he has an iron-tight grip and simply answers her struggles by shoving her back into the headboard.

The back of her skull strikes the headboard with a sickening crack and leaves Sakura seeing double as Hidan releases one of his hands from her neck to relieve his mouth of the blade. Sakura is too busy trying to bring the world into focus that she doesn't even try to stop him as he nicks the blade across her cheekbone, drawing a thin line of blood that cascades down her cheek. His eyes hungrily track the descent of that rich red color as it flows over the pale, curved contour of her face. He wants to see more.

He leans forward to kiss the cut he inflicted, dragging his mouth down over her bloodied cheek. He pulls away from her, his own face stained with red to match Sakura's as his body hums with excitement and anticipation with what's to come.

Sakura moans nonsensically; she can feel something warm and wet behind her head that's now resting against a pillow. She can't see Hidan anymore as she stares unseeingly up at the ceiling, her head spinning and her world steadily darkening.

Maybe it's for the best…if I pass out…

Her thoughts are slow and sluggish as she feels something tickling along her arm. But the further up her arm it travels, the less it feels like an innocent tickle and the more it feels like something sharp and pointed biting into her flesh. She drags her head dazedly across the sheets, bending her neck to accommodate the angle. Glancing down the length of her arm, she watches as this demon of a man traces designs into her skin with the tip of his knife.

When he catches her watching him through unfocused eyes, he pauses, sliding the broad side of the blade across his tongue, not once breaking eye contact with his victim. Draping her with his body, he runs bloodied lips over her throat, leaving a trail of dying butterfly kisses that ends right over her heart.

"You asked for this, little heathen whore," he whispers in a voice that is soothing and almost tender despite the harsh words. Sakura fights through the fog in her mind, trying to focus on him, knowing she'd be filled with enough contempt and rage to say what needs to be said if she could just see his bloodied face.

But he slips down her body, pulling at the hem of her dress. She hears the sound of fabric ripping, but can't find the will to move her head. It feels so heavy and she just wants to fall asleep.

A moment later, she feels something soft slipped around each of her wrists and then feels her arms being pulled away from her body as he uses the material from her dress to secure her to a bedpost on either side of the headboard.

This just keeps getting better.

In and out of consciousness she drifts, each rising and falling punctuated by a sharp spike in pain as her body is hit and sliced. She quickly realizes the significance of the off-white dress he purchased for her: it serves as the perfect canvas for all the red. Though he tears off some of its length and purposely slices through it with the knife, he never fully removes the article of clothing.

A first in Sakura's experience.

Her body feels like one big bruise and, for a while, she escapes into a semi-conscious state where she's only half aware of what's happening to her. She hears an odd murmuring, like someone chanting a slow, rhythmic prayer. Hands explore her and the glint of a silver pendent catches her eye though she barely registers the shape of a triangle enclosed in a circle.

The chanting picks up in speed.

The knife continues to scratch against her skin, traveling down to her thighs. She feels the man's bare, heated flesh against her own.

An unexpected, sharp stab to her stomach has Sakura rising out of her stupor as her arms strain against their binds, the fabric stretching thin and nearly snapping.

A blow to her head sends her reeling back into a hazy blackness, her neck falling limply across the pillow. But for some reason she just can't seem to fully go under; she can't escape no matter how much she wills her mind to just shut off.

The man above her slaps her face, but Sakura doesn't respond. He shouts at Sakura to say his name. Slowly, parting her split lips, Sakura's soft voice answers behind bloodied teeth…

And is lost in the man's screams of fulfilled ecstasy.

Finally, she is able to just let go and her mind slips away to a better place.

It's still dark out when Sakura's eyelids crack open. All too swiftly, the reality of the situation comes back to her and for a few panic-filled seconds she waits for the cut of metal into her skin, waits for the manic peal of laughter, waits for the punch to her face.

She waits…

But nothing comes for her.

She tries to raise herself up on her elbows, but one of her arms is stopped by a thin piece of fabric anchoring her to the bedpost. Using the one that must have broken free at some point in the night, she works to free her other wrist. Her body protests every little movement and she doesn't know how she's going to manage walking out of here.

But she has to do it.

Holding her breath, her eyes strain in the dim lighting for the sight of her tormenter who she finds lying half on and half off the end of the bed. Carefully disengaging herself from the sheets, she maneuvers herself carefully to the side of the bed so as not to upset the monster slumbering unaware. With her face scrunching in agony, she gets to her feet. Her stomach in particular is throbbing with pain and she's pretty sure her moving around has caused it to start bleeding fervently again.

She finds her shoes on the floor by the bedroom door, probably having been carelessly tossed aside by her zealous client. Gingerly, centimeter by centimeter, she concentrates on pulling down the handle without making a sound and just as carefully releases it as she steps into the hallway.

She's not out of the lion's den yet, though. Not bothering to pull the door all the way shut behind her for fear it would rouse Hidan, her bare feet navigate the darkened hallway with trepidation. She doesn't want to come across the suite's other occupant, not knowing if he ever came back last night or not.

By some miracle, she makes it back into the kitchen without so much as a stubbed toe from the footstool she nearly plowed into. The microwave above the stove tells her it's just a little after five in the morning.

Her stomach spasms and Sakura does her best to muffle the pained grunt that rises up her throat by biting down onto her coat sleeve. Steadying herself with the support of the counter, she forces her feet into her shoes and buttons up her coat over the tattered remains of her dress. There's little she can do to cover up the bruises peppering her body or the blood dried on her legs that are exposed beneath the bottom of her coat. Though the sticky feeling is disgusting, she doesn't dare stick around to wash up lest her splashing in the sink draw very unwanted attention.

Sakura has only one thing on her mind: getting to the hospital.

She doesn't know if her uncle knew this would happen to her, or had been totally unaware to the full extent of this client's savagery. All she knows is that she could have very well lost her life.

Whining ever so slightly into her coat sleeve, Sakura trudges down the darkened hall to the suite's entrance; every small step is a triumph.

Knowing that there's no way she's about to wait around for Hidan to pay her (if he even intended to in the first place, and not just outright kill her), Sakura decides her uncle can suck it.

She's in too much pain now to worry about a little more that will come in the future from this decision.

Opening the door out into the hallway is like stepping into another world. She feels like an alien, marring the clean perfection of this well-lighted place. Hurriedly, she closes the door and limps her way to the elevator. Luckily, none of the other patrons seem to be up at such an early hour.

As the elevator doors open onto the first floor, Sakura walks as quickly as her weary feet will take her through the lobby, keeping her head down and not looking at the receptionist on the phone.

Once through the revolving doors, Sakura gives herself a second to take in the fact that she just escaped alive. She breathes in the fresh air that holds the faint scent of the ocean before springing into action.

Rushing off the hotel's property, Sakura weaves her way through the city, looking for the hospital she recalls passing by on several of the car rides home she has spent with Kabuto. Absentmindedly, she wonders if her uncle will send him to pick her up this morning since this is supposedly such an important job.

Kabuto will be in for a surprise when he finds out I've been long gone for hours.

Along the way, Sakura passes a few homeless people huddled in side alleys under mounds of layers, ragged, and damp from gutter water. She turns her face away, not having any money to slip into their out-stretched hands, and contemplates who she pities more – the homeless, or herself. The only others milling about are a few shopkeepers making it to work early to turn the heating on in preparation for a busy, normal day.

Sakura hurries past all of it. As she nears the hospital, the sidewalk becomes less cracked and warped. She takes the walkway through the manicured front lawn with its pristine hedges and cheerful flowerbeds, feeling very much like an invader. The welcome sign is illuminated brightly as the morning sun just begins to peak above the horizon and Sakura steps onto the strip of black mat laid out before the front walkway.

Her body quivers like a leaf in the wind as an odd mix of relief and dread surges through her – relief for the fact that she escaped the man who inflicted all these wounds littering her body, but dread at the thought of returning back to her uncle.

I have to get back soon!

Her uncle would be expecting her just as he always does after her nights out. And he had stressed how important this job was for future business so it'd be imperative that she be timely with reporting back to him that everything went accordingly.

Well…not everything.

But Sakura tries not to focus on the pain as she walks through the automatic sliding doors and into the receptionist area of the hospital. She needs them to take a look at her wrist and even more concerning is the gaping wound in her stomach. Pressing her hand over the outside of her coat above the cut, she can feel the slight wetness of blood starting to soak through the dark fabric.

Sakura eyes the woman busily using her mouse to scroll through something on her computer screen. She doesn't look up at Sakura who hesitates a second, unsure of what to do. She's never been to a hospital on her own and she doesn't know if they'll treat her. She doesn't have her license on her or any cash to pay them with. Would they make her fill out paperwork? She doesn't have time for that! She has to get back to her uncle on time; her mom's safety depends on it.

Maybe they'll just boot me back on the street for dirtying their squeaky clean floors.

Sakura looks down at her feet where a few trickles of blood have run down her legs and collected around the heels of her shoes.

She wants to scream. Anger at her uncle, maybe even the world, wells up inside her along with a heavy dose of desperation. She's tired of living like this, always afraid and uncertain. She needs help and she just wants someone to notice that.

"Please," Sakura's voice croaks out in the early morning silence of the medical center, "I need a doctor."

With that, her weakened body collapses just inside the entrance of the hospital. She faints without hearing the gasp from the receptionist or the hurried footsteps of the dark-haired nurse who catches sight of her just as she is about to report in for her shift.

The pink-haired girl welcomes unconscious oblivion with a faint smile on her face.

This time, Sakura awakens slowly; her mind alert and senses open, yet her eyelids still too heavy to lift. The steady beeping of the heart monitor sounds at her side, and Sakura lets the achy muscles in her back relax against the comfortable incline of the hospital bed. She wants water, but is too exhausted to get up and fetch a glass for some.

She stretches out her legs, curling her toes before letting her body go slack. She can hear the low murmuring of voices on the other side of the curtain, but they're speaking so softly she can't distinguish the words. Internally sighing, she forces her eyes open and clears her throat.

The voices cut off abruptly and her curtain is noisily pushed back to reveal a kind-faced woman with short, brown hair in nurse's scrubs, and a more imposing figure in a doctor's coat just behind her.

The nurse is all smiles and chirpy greetings, asking how Sakura is feeling and if she needs anything.

With a gritty voice that sounds like it's been run through a blender, Sakura barely manages to ask for a cup of water. The nurse nods enthusiastically, returning in seconds with a glass of water and a full pitcher that she sets on the table next to Sakura's bed. Raising her arm to accept the glass, Sakura notices the tube plugged into the back of her hand and figures out that they must have seen fit to hook her up to an IV.

Finishing off every last drop of water, Sakura tries to give the nurse a smile as she readily accepts the empty glass to refill it.

"You woke up earlier than we anticipated, but it's good to see you looking a little better. You gave us quite a scare collapsing like that! Oh, I'm Shizune by the way," the nurse laughs at herself for forgetting to introduce herself first, "And this is Dr. Tsunade. We've been overseeing your care since you arrived."

At the mention of her name, the doctor glances up once and then resumes scribbling something on the clipboard she clenches in her red-nailed hand. The sharp click of the pen punctuates the silence with a note of finality and the other woman steps closer to the side of the bed. Sakura's knees press together in nervousness under the sheets as the older woman's stern gaze fixates on her. The doctor crosses her arms over a rather ample chest and Sakura takes in her long, blond hair that is styled into two low hanging pigtails (an odd choice for someone in her profession in Sakura's opinion).

"Since your admittance into the hospital we've seen to your various lacerations and contusions. You'll note that those marking your arms and legs are rather shallow and should heal on their own just fine, though we've made sure to clean and bandage them to prevent possible infection. I would suggest doing the same for the next few days to ensure they stay closed and heal properly. However, there were several areas that concerned us; one being what we believe to be a stab wound you received to the middle of your abdomen. It's a bit deeper than the others, but after cleaning it up and ensuring there was no damage to your internal organs, we applied steri-strips to pull the wound closed and dressed it with bandaging. Shizune will show you how this is to be changed as the strips aren't water proof and will need to be applied for the next seven to ten days."

Taking a breath, the woman takes another look at the clipboard clasped against her chest before continuing, "We also noticed mild swelling in your left wrist and saw fit to tape that, although it's just a minor sprain. You may also experience some soreness in swallowing and with trying to consume liquids or solids due to the bruising on your windpipe," she gestures with her pen at Sakura's neck, "But we've been monitoring you and by now it's safe to say that the swelling isn't severe enough to be life threatening. We also gave you a CT scan after your little fall in the lobby. You were unconscious so we couldn't rely on the typical neurological exam and needed to take more immediate measures. Luckily, we were able to conclude that you didn't suffer any internal bleeding or swelling. Although, you will find that you sustained a rather nasty bump that may be tender for the next few days."

With the more immediate concerns presented to the patient, Tsunade drops her arms, no longer having need of her clipboard. Sakura senses the sudden change in her demeanor as the hard line of the doctor's mouth softens and her warm, honey-colored eyes look down on the young girl with sympathy.

"Overall, your health could use some improvement. You arrived dehydrated and malnourished and your BMI puts you in the lower percentile range for females your age," the doctor places a soft hand lightly atop Sakura's that rests placidly at her side, "Along with the injuries you bear, I can't help but think…I'm concerned that you've been abused. Is this true?"

She asks for confirmation, but Sakura sees the knowing look in the confident woman's eyes. She's certain it is.

Sakura spots the nurse, Shizune, standing in the corner, unsure of what to do that could be of any help, but offering Sakura an encouraging smile to talk to them.

These women…they actually care. They treat me like I'm human. Like I matter.

Sakura isn't so sure she even does matter anymore. At this point, she feels all used up – just a ghost of the former prom queen and valedictorian she once was.

But Sakura hasn't gone to anyone about this and there's one very good reason why she's stayed away from the police all this time; even when she was left to walk back to her "home" on her own in the mornings, she hadn't raced to the police station to turn in her uncle and all the bad men he works with.

God knows she wanted to, though.

Sakura looks down at her lap, running her fingertips over the tender skin of her neck where Hidan's hands had left purple traces of his violence. In the light of day and after listening to the calm, succinct checklist of everything the doctors had examined on her, Sakura can see just how close she came to dying.

And what about next time?

And would her uncle expect her to keep working in this condition? Of course he would. But wouldn't the clients be unhappy with her current appearance? Which would mean that her uncle would be losing money on her which would mean that he'd be angry at her which would mean...

"Oh, God," Sakura sobs out loud, drawing her legs into her body and burying her face against her knees. Her hands clench the sides of her head as she cries, "God, help me. I can't – " Sakura's teary voice falters as a huge sob racks her battered frame and she gives up on speech, relinquishing her control and giving into the desire to just cry until her eyes dry out.

I can't go back to that!

Soothing words from the doctors settle over her ears as she's asked to calm down so as not to upset the wound in her stomach. Caring hands fuss over her, patting her hand, her back, fluffing her pillow, and gently helping her to lay back. As her sobs recede to irregular hiccups, Shizune offers Sakura another cup of water although she only manages one or two sips. Her throat had already been sore and this little crying episode hasn't helped it.

When Sakura is sufficiently calmed down, Tsunade asks another question that she dearly hopes won't provoke the same heart-wrenching reaction as the last one.

"What is your name?"

But again, Sakura holds her tongue. To tell or not to tell? If she gives them her name, they could run it through some kind of database, couldn't they? See where she lives, who she's related to, that sort of thing. That would eventually bring up her uncle's name and if they connect him to her abuse and he finds out that she led them to him…


The risk is too great. Speaking of which…

Sakura's breath hitches in her throat and her body jerks forward so suddenly that the nurse and doctor immediately flank her sides, their faces lined with worry.

Looking up into the eyes of the doctor, Sakura asks in a scared whisper, "What time is it?"

Puzzled by the girl's aversion to her question and the sudden interest in knowing the time, Tsunade yanks up the sleeve of her lab coat and eyes her wristwatch, "It's 7:48 a.m."

A slow exhale of air leaves Sakura looking marginally more relaxed. She still has time to make it back to her uncle. Sure, she's screwed up in not collecting her pay, but surely Hidan couldn't have any substantial grounds to complain about her services after what he's done to her. With any luck, her uncle will be more concerned with cementing a good business relationship with Hidan and his associates rather than making bank on Sakura. Maybe her mom would still be kept safe.

Still, she has to get home on time. Her uncle always expects her at ten o'clock sharp. She still has time to make the trek back home, but she needs to get going soon. She'll have even less time before the red flags are raised on her if Kabuto decides to show up at the hotel to pick her up.

"I need to get going," Sakura says, kicking the sheets off her legs and noticing she's been changed out of her bloodied dress.

I'll walk home in a paper hospital gown with my backside completely exposed if it means getting home in time.

However, she notices the IV connected to her as she grasps the railing to get out of bed. That couldn't leave with her. Hesitantly, her fingers close around the tube, not really relishing the idea of yanking it out, but another hand clamps down on her own, halting her unadvised removal methods.

"Hold on a second," Tsunade's voice orders, frustration beginning to set in with this wide-eyed girl she wants to help, "You pass out in the front of my hospital in need of medical attention, won't answer any of my questions, and now you're trying to leave as soon as possible?"

Sakura winces at the scolding tone. But what can she say? The truth? It's rather awful and just who would it help? Certainly not her mom who's unknowingly going about her business while one of her uncle's men is probably keeping an eye on her, just waiting for her uncle's word to abduct her. Or worse.

"I'm sorry. I appreciate everything you've done for me. I just didn't know how bad it was so I kept telling myself to make it to the hospital and everything would be ok. I – I don't have any money to pay for – ''

"Enough," Sakura's babbling is cut short by the blonde's crisp, authoritative tone, "I don't care about the money or if you have no way to pay for the treatment. You needed help – you still do. And I want to help make sure that whatever put you in this condition doesn't happen again. But I need you to cooperate, to help me help you," the doctor's eyes rove Sakura's battered face beseechingly.

Silence weighs over the room for a few precious seconds before Sakura's voice states as clearly as she can, "My name is Sakura."

The doctor nods once, encouragingly, but Sakura refuses to give her last name just yet. Twisting her hands in the sheets, she continues, "I'm eighteen years old."

Out of the corner of her eye, she catches Shizune's hand fluttering to her mouth in sympathy. Whether it's because such horrible circumstances have befallen her at such a young age, or because her new life has visibly aged her past her years, Sakura isn't certain.

Sakura's expression darkens as she locks eyes with the doctor, "If I tell you," she starts, choosing her words carefully, "If I tell you that I am being abused, are you legally obligated to turn that information over to the police?"

Tsunade's expression grows weary, not happy with the hypothetical question, "Legally, you are an adult and, as such, it is not mandatory to turn over a report of your abuse to the authorities unless given your consent."

So it really will be on my own terms. The choice is entirely mine to make…

Remain silent or speak?

What will happen after she tells her story leaves a very big question mark hovering over Sakura's future. But, there's no question what will become of her if she doesn't speak out.

Sakura's hands grasp her knees as she lets out a heavy sigh.

What kind of life is it if it's lived in fear, anyway?

"All right," Sakura's voice is low, "I want –'' her hands tremble as doubt sets in.

If I speak to the police, he'll – he'll kill me!

What am I doing? Sitting here, letting these women push me into doing something that's just going to make everything much, much worse. And really, what can I expect? Why would the police believe some scrawny, little – little whore – like me? Uncle's been getting away with his little business for close to a decade. When the police dismiss me as some attention-seeking, drug-addicted teenager, I'll be left to face Uncle. And then…

Sakura closes her eyes forcefully against the horrible images that flash to mind.

Noting how terribly frightened the pink-haired girl is, Shizune pipes up "It's a scary step, but it's the right thing to do. You have to protect yourself. The person who did this to you has no right to treat you like this."

Sakura doesn't respond, her eyes glazed over and lost in memories of all the times her uncle has pulled a gun against her temple, the time he nearly dislocated her jaw when she returned home twenty minutes late because she had to walk in the pouring rain, and countless times he had threatened to hurt her dear, innocent mother. Did she really want to unleash the full fury of her uncle's wrath on herself?

"Sakura," Tsunade bends her knees to peer into the girl's eyes and sees the internal conflict blazing behind those green chips of glass, "You deserve better than this. You were brave making it all the way to the hospital in your condition…now I'm asking you to be even braver. Do this for yourself."

"You want me to call the police, don't you?" Sakura asks, glancing over at the landline on the table by the TV. An odd expression twists her facial features as she is torn between fear and hope.

The doctor straightens, "I can do you one better: I'll get you to the police station."

When the girl doesn't raise any protests, Tsunade decides to act, knowing if she doesn't give Sakura this little push, any courage she may have mustered up to speak out against her attacker will soon dissipate. And Tsunade does not want to see this girl admitted into the hospital ever again for something like this.

"Shizune!" the doctor's crisp voice brings the nurse to sharp attention, "Please show Sakura the proper way to bandage that wound on her stomach. I need to go ask a favor of Kakashi. The graveyard shift ended two minutes ago, so hopefully he's still around."

"Yes, ma'am!" the nurse answers, her expression serious as she reads the urgency in Tsunade's eyes.

All the while, Sakura silently struggles with herself over what to do as everyone around her seems to be making up her mind for her.

Kakashi, as Sakura soon finds out, is a handsome, middle-aged security guard who patrols the hospital in the quiet hours of the early morning. She supposes he looks kind enough as he meets her in the lobby where she collapsed; however, she doesn't know what to make of the mask that conceals the lower half of his face, or the eye patch that leaves wild tufts of silver hair spiking out at odd angles. But, she supposes, she isn't one to judge others on appearances.

Kakashi extends a hand out to her and his one visible eye curls up in a smile as Sakura hesitantly reaches out her own to shake it.

It's been a while since a man has made such a friendly, innocent gesture towards her.

After introductions are made, Sakura is whisked away by Kakashi, her doctor and nurse having wished her luck and supplying her with a small, paper sack of materials to treat her cuts as well as a set of clean nurse scrubs to replace her dress that is beyond repair.

Thankfully, Kakashi is a tactful man who doesn't ask prying questions or try to keep up a constant chatter to fill the silence. Sakura is given the small mercy of watching the buildings glide by through her view of the passenger window. By now, the sun has already begun its ascent and the streets are just coming to life with businessmen rushing to their offices while balancing their cups of coffee and briefcases. It's a silly circus act, all these people scurrying around like ants, but Sakura wishes to be out there, a part of it.

Really, she just wishes to be anywhere other than where she is now.

"We're here," Kakashi's light voice catches Sakura unawares as the light goes on in the cab of the truck and, before Sakura knows it, he's already out and opening her door to help her step down.

Shyly, she thanks him, not used to such courtesy anymore.

She follows his tall frame up the concrete steps to a rather large, tan-bricked building. Opening the door for her, Sakura is greeted with an interior decorated in neutral grays and whites, and the tan and brown checkered floor shines like it has been waxed recently. All but one of the chairs in the waiting room is empty, and Sakura observes the old man turning the page of his book, wondering who he could possibly be here to see. A TV mounted up high in the corner of the room is turned to the morning news, but no one pays it the least bit of attention. She follows Kakashi as his long strides carry him confidently up to the front desk where a young man with shoulder length brown hair and a toothpick dangling from his lips is busily looking at the contents of an open file folder and punching the keys on his keyboard with all the enthusiasm of a man undergoing tooth extraction surgery.

When Kakashi wraps his knuckles smartly on the counter, the man glances up with startled brown eyes before immediately breaking out into a grin.

"Well, if it isn't Kakashi Hatake! How've you been, old timer?" the man speaks expertly around his toothpick, a sly look dancing in his eyes as he pokes fun of Kakashi whom Sakura guesses he must obviously have some history with.

"Oh, you know, just threw my back out yesterday, so they'll probably be shipping me off to pasture any day now. Should I be expecting you to not be far behind?" Kakashi banters easily.

Sakura eyes the well-defined musculature of Kakashi's arms with apparent speculation, but her dubious look goes unnoticed amidst the unknown man's chuckles.

"Actually, Genma, I'm here for a rather serious matter," and at this Sakura catches Genma's eyes peering over Kakashi's shoulder to get a glimpse of her hiding in his shadow.

Kakashi leans forward towards Genma, his voice nothing but a low murmur to Sakura's ears, and Genma nods curtly at something Kakashi says.

"Yeah, he should be here already. Things have been pretty slow around here for the last couple of weeks so he's probably just sitting around on his hands," Genma extends his hand to a set of heavy looking metal doors off to the side of the front counter, "You remember your way around here, old man?"

"I appreciate your concern for my failing memory, but I think I'll manage," Kakashi's tone is a mix of humor and minor annoyance.

Sakura hears a short, unpleasant buzz go off and then something within the metal door clicks. Kakashi opens it, Sakura sticking close to his heels as she enters a new room much different compared to the quiet orderliness of the waiting room for the more civilized visitors to the station.

Inside, policemen bustle about the office space, some in their blues about to depart for patrol and others in more personal attire, looking more like businessmen than armed officers of the law. Phones ring, voices chatter, filing cabinets creak and groan as their over-stuffed drawers are pulled open, and the scent of percolating coffee wafts through the air. Officers sit at their individual desks, their computer screens flashing through criminal profiles as they sort through collages of post-it notes.

A row of uncomfortable looking, plastic chairs bolted to the floor is up against the wall to Sakura's immediate right. Upon her entrance, the boy slouching down in the seat at the far end glances up and his cerulean eyes pierce Sakura's with such understanding that she looks away ashamed.

Don't look at me like you know me.

She notes the pair of handcuffs chaining the boy to the arm of his seat and speculates as to what he could possibly be capable of to land himself in custody. He looks to be about her age, but Sakura knows that means little in regards to what heinous crimes he may be guilty of. Kakashi motions for her to go ahead and take a seat as he patiently waits to get the attention of the man behind the large, semi-circular desk at the front of the room. Sakura settles herself down on the opposite end of the boy and surreptitiously peers through the curtain of hair she allows to fall over the sides of her face.

Still, dressed in a smiley face T-shirt and bright orange warm-up pants, how bad of a kid can he be?

The spray paint staining his clothes and hands clues Sakura into his misdemeanor and she almost smiles.

Clasping her hands between her knees to keep them still, she turns her attention back to Kakashi, not liking the scrutinous gaze of the blonde-haired boy sitting a few meters down from her, knowing he's seeing all the bruises and bandages that hide the real her.

Kakashi speaks in hushed tones to the stony faced man standing behind the desk who had been peering over the shoulder of another man typing away at one of the computers. This new man doesn't at all give off the same easy-going vibes Genma had and Sakura shrinks ever so slightly when his intimidating eyes land on her a moment before whipping back to Kakashi.

What's he telling him?

Anxiety gnaws at Sakura's heart. What is she going to tell these cops when Kakashi finally leaves her on her own? Not to mention, the clock is steadily ticking, her hour of reckoning fast approaching.

God, and here I am in the freaking police station of all places! I wonder if Kabuto has woken up yet to check –

"Sakura," Kakashi's calm voice cuts through her frantic thoughts as he beckons her to join him, "This is Police Chief Fugaku Uchiha," he introduces.

Sakura lifts her head up to meet the stern man's eyes once more, noting how he's dressed in full police uniform regalia, a baton and gun hooked through the holster on his belt. He looks like the kind of no nonsense guy that would wear his work tie to bed. She wonders if he can tell just by looking at her what she does for a "living," not that she does it by choice, but it's still illegal. Maybe she would be arrested today?

Still better than living under Uncle's roof.

Police Chief Uchiha gives a single nod in greeting before cutting to the chase, "From what Kakashi's said, it seems you're in need of filing a report."

Sakura bites her lip, hesitantly nodding.

"I think we have someone here who'd like to speak with you about your particular situation, if you'd oblige us with your time."

He says it in a way that really doesn't ask for permission and Sakura mentally cringes, knowing time isn't really something she has a lot of at the moment.

Scanning his bustling task force, Fugaku Uchiha's eyes sweep over the crowded room, and he lets out an irritated sigh.

"Kotetsu," he addresses the man whom he had been talking to earlier, "Where has hedisappeared to this time?"

"U-Um," he stumbles for a second, his fingers poised over the keyboard, clearly not prepared for his superior's suddenly foul mood to be turned on him, "I believe he's back with Sasuke in one of the interrogation rooms."

"Of course," the police chief sighs exasperatedly, running a hand over his face, "Anything to shirk paperwork."

Muttering that he'll have to get on him about not putting off his responsibilities, the police chief asks Kotetsu to escort Sakura to the interrogation block.

Sakura gulps.


This isn't at all how she envisioned this little trip going. Not for the first time, she regrets listening to that meddlesome nurse and doctor. All too soon, Kakashi is waving good-bye with a sad smile on his face and Sakura is led on a circuitous route along the edges of all the overflowing desks and jumble of cable cords. The policeman leads her down a wide corridor to a quieter sector of the police station and the two pass by a small number of closed doors before he leads her to one that is slightly cracked open, a seam of faint light along the perimeter of the door giving away the occupants that reside inside. Sakura follows him into a small, rectangular room that is cast in shadows, the only light coming from the window that looks into the adjoining room.

A one-way?

Inside the other room sits a teenage boy with handsome, pale features that contrast well with his ebony hair and dark, brooding eyes. He looks utterly bored as he leans his elbows on the table, his hands clasped in front of a mouth that must surely be pulling into a frown. Across from the youth, with his back turned to the window, is an older man leaning back as comfortably as he can in a very uncomfortable-looking metal chair. His feet are crossed and hoisted up on the table while his hands gesticulate about his head animatedly. Sakura can't see his face, but his spiky hair is coal black and falls over the back of his chair, reaching his waist.

"And I swear, Sasuke – I kid you not – I scared the man so bad he literally pissed himself! Confessed to the whole thing straight away and – "

"Madara," Kotetsu interrupts the older man's story time/bragging session, knocking on the open door to the interrogation room as he enters.

"K-Kotetsu!" Madara's feet fall from the table as he twists around in his seat to face the other officer, "Fugaku sent you, didn't he?"

Sakura raises a curious eyebrow at the man, finding it mildly amusing that he sounds so comically forlorn at having his hiding spot found.

"Yeah, the chief's not too happy with you at the moment," Kotetsu confirms, nodding his head sagely.

"Well, you see," Madara jumps to explain himself, "Since Sasuke here has it in his head that he's going to be stealing my job out from underneath me after he graduates from college, I figured the boy needs a clear picture as to what he's getting himself into. So, I've been showing him around the station and, well, one thing led to another, we ended up here, and nostalgia sets in, and well…" he trails off, waving his hand dismissively as if such occurrences can't be helped.

"Uh huh," Kotetsu drawls, and Sakura can tell he's restraining himself from calling bullshit on the older man's excuses, "Well, the chief wants you to get some information down from this girl," he says, simultaneously stepping aside to allow an unobscured view of Sakura who hovers nervously in the doorway.

Immediately, Madara's face loses some of the flamboyant energy it was lit up with just seconds ago. Sakura wonders just exactly what he sees when he looks at her. A victim, or a whore?

If his sorrowful eyes aren't bad enough, those of the young boy certainly set Sakura's nerves on edge. She can't read his expression, it's too mask-like, but his eyes scan her battered form and she has a pretty good guess as to what misconceptions are floating through his head.

It's nothing good.

His demeanor cooling into something more serious and professional, Madara steps forward to extend his hand, and Sakura reaches out for it more quickly than she did for Kakashi's, having become slightly more accustomed to it.

"Madara Uchiha, and you are…?"

"Sakura," she answers in a tiny voice, thankful that he doesn't give her an odd look for refusing to supply a last name.

His dark eyes bore into Sakura's for a moment, and she notices the slight creases under them.

"Sasuke," he suddenly pipes up, "Why don't you go see what Daddy dearest is up to for a while? I have some business to take care of," he suggests pleasantly. Sasuke's eyes narrow at the slight insult to run off and go bug his daddy, but he complies nonetheless, passing by Sakura with little more than a quick glance that she may have just imagined.

"Go ahead and take a seat, Sakura," Madara offers, indicating the chair just vacated by Sasuke, "I'd much prefer to work from back here rather than out front in all that noise. Just let me grab a few papers and I'll be right back," he promises with a small smile.

She watches as he follows Kotetsu out the door, rambling aloud about how the police station wouldn't miss one of these musty, old interrogation rooms, and really, hadn't he earned the privilege of his own office with his tenure and legendary investigative skills? Not to mention his devilish good looks.

Sakura doesn't know what to make of the situation, but estimates she only has about an hour before Orochimaru expects her. She scoots forward to the edge of the seat, not allowing herself to get comfy. She can't be lulled back into a false sense of security here. The camera directed down at her from one of the ceiling's corners prevents her from getting up and pacing the room.

Running clammy palms over the light blue pants donated to her by Shizune, she closes her eyes, willing herself to calm down. Fatigue is starting to make itself apparent as Sakura lays her head down on the table despite its chilled surface. Though she can't see the damage through the bandages, her arms and legs are stiff and tender. Her limbs are decorated in a perverse artistic design of criss-crossing slashes and a memory from last night flits into her head of looking down at her arms and seeing the blood trickling out of all the shallow cuts. At the time, she fancied in her half-conscious stupor that she was tied up in red ribbons. And though the bandaging on her left wrist keeps it stabilized, Sakura doesn't dare flex it to test the severity of the pain in the strained appendage.

Worst of all, the skin on her stomach feels tight and itchy where the severest of Hidan's knife work required some steri-strips to pull the wound together. She's thankful that she doesn't remember receiving that particular slice, probably having already blacked out from the fear and pain by the time he inflicted it. At least, she hopes she did.

Within just a few minutes of leaving, Madara swoops back into the room, a file tucked under his arm as he resumes the seat he occupied earlier, placing himself as another barrier Sakura will have to get around.

"Would you like any coffee?" Madara offers.

Sakura lifts her cheek up off the desk, rubbing her tired eyes before sitting upright, "N-No thank you," she declines.

"Probably for the best," he nods wisely, "The stuff here tastes like shit."

Sakura cracks a small smile to humor his obvious efforts at trying to put her at ease.

"Ok, Sakura," Madara begins, flipping open the manila folder, "From what little I've gathered from the chief, you ended up collapsing at the hospital sometime earlier this morning between 5:30 and 6:00. You were treated for a multitude of shallow cuts received to your arms and legs along with what your doctor identified as a stab wound to your abdomen, bruising on your throat, a sprained wrist, and minor hematoma to the back of your head," he pauses a moment to let her digest this, "Is this correct?"

"Yes," Sakura replies weakly, feeling a headache slowly building.

Madara watches her carefully for a moment, "The man who brought you here, Kakashi Hatake, said you wouldn't tell the doctor much about how you received those wounds. However," he picks up a piece of paper from the folder, "You've complied with the doctor's suggestion to file a report with us. Your doctor believes you're a victim of abuse."

The air seems to writhe with tension, charged with the girl's fear and anxiety as she shifts miserably in her seat, her fingers picking at the edges of the bandage on her wrist.

Madara's next words, however, make it impossible for Sakura to quietly meander along as she has been for the last few hours with Kakashi and the doctor. She can no longer idle in-between agreeing and disagreeing.

Madara knows the words are blunt, but they have to be said, "Are you being abused?"

Sakura's fidgeting hands freeze in place, and the glossy look in her eyes recedes just a bit as she lifts her head to meet Madara's questioning gaze.

"Yes," Sakura's voice squeaks out before her face crumples like a tissue and her hands flutter to her face that's so hot it nearly burns. Tears leak from her eyes freely and something in Sakura breaks as she doesn't bother to stop them.

Madara knows she's a whirlwind of emotion right now, a potent mix of humiliation, anger, and fear. She may even believe that he thinks less of her right now because she's so unwilling to talk to him about it when she's in the security of the police station.

Sakura doesn't even register his brief absence when all of a sudden a box of Kleenex is plunked down on the table in front of her. Gratefully, she reaches out for one, feeling horrible and disgusting. But after her breathing has evened out and a small pile of wadded up tissues is all the evidence left of Sakura's runny nose, Madara continues where he left off.

"Sakura, I need you to explain the situation a little better for me. Tell me about the person who inflicted those wounds on you. Anything at all will be helpful; name, gender, age, physical description, anything at all," Madara prompts, the pen in his hand poised over a blank form.

Sakura wipes at her eyes one last time and swallows the lump in her throat several more.

Nail that bastard, Sakura.

She tries to summon the self-righteous fury that had blazed within her earlier that morning as she sought her way to the hospital. She tells herself that though he is only one of many who have committed such a violent, dishonorable, atrocious act against her, he deserves to burn.

She tells herself that maybe, just maybe, she can out her client without going into the sticky details of her connection to him through her uncle.

Sakura's busted lips form the word – the name – but no sound escapes. Fear is an apt silencer.

Her fingers hook over the edge of either side of her seat, holding on tightly as though afraid she might just be blown away for revealing such vital information. Her uncle had told her that confidentiality is key to turning the gears of the machine that runs his little operation; to violate that would not only put the client in jeopardy, but her uncle as well.

"Sakura, I'll tell you something I've learned, something I wished I had learned sooner: fear only gives strength to the enemy. You have no reason to protect him or her. Whoever is responsible for the condition you're in needs to be dealt with by law enforcement.

Hidan may be the one who did this to me this time, but he's not the one responsible for all of this. He's not the reason my life's become so fucked up.

But to out her uncle could unleash a whole can of snakes on her that Sakura has no way of dealing with.

Even if she does come clean with every last dirty detail of Orochimaru's crimes and the police are able to convict him, what about all of the thugs that work for him? If they were to get away, would they come after her in some perverse obligation of loyalty to her uncle? If no one else, she suspects Kabuto certainly would.

And what of the other girls in the house? Would they be seen as victims or as accomplices? The line has become blurred for some of them; drugs could do that to a person, Sakura supposes, sad as it is.

Altogether, there are just too many unknown variables. For a moment, she had herself convinced in the hospital that she was going to reveal everything to the police; it had been the first time she had felt such clarity as to what needed to be done.

But now? Now, she can't even come up with a response for this detective who's peering across the table at her with a look that is equal parts sympathy and frustration.

She's startled by the harsh sound of Madara's chair grating against the floor as he pushes back from the table and stands to spread out a row of items from his folder.

Sakura's mind sluggishly processes what her eyes are eating up.


Splayed out like a deck of cards is a row of photos, the overhead lighting glaring off of their glossy surfaces. Sakura leans forward to examine them more intently and notices that the subjects of these photos are all people. People that she knows quite well.

None of them are people she has actually met, yet Sakura knows just by looking in the swelled-shut eyes of these women that they bear the same burden. The bruises, the scraggly hair, the ashen pallor, the lost eyes…they've seen the same things she has. Felt the same pain.

Even more unexpected than the pictorial of horrors is the way Madara rips into her.

Or at least, that's what it seems like at first. Eventually, she can tell he isn't so much as mad at her as he is at the people who did this to her. He spouts off legal terms and procedures that Sakura has a hard time keeping up with, his fingers jabbing down at the photos every now and then to punctuate his tirade. Sakura's head is sent spinning, the idea of dealing with the judiciary too much for her to believe in. It's all too unreal; no way would she ever find herself in a courtroom, facing her uncle as he glared at her from the witness box. It's too much to hope for.

And Sakura can't let herself believe in things like that anymore. Her uncle has already won and probably damaged her beyond repair. Really, what had she been thinking back at the hospital? That she could waltz right into the police station, tell them about the big, bad man that has ruined her life, and she'd be sent back home in a white carriage pulled by freaking rainbow unicorns? That everything would be just peaches and cream and she'd go on to college and then med school and then marry Mr. Right and have her 2.5 kids?


Even if Orochimaru is apprehended by the police and sent to jail, she'd still have to look in the mirror the rest of her life and face the person she has become. Pessimistic. Jaded. And broken.

And as Madara makes his case for why she needs to take the step to save herself and tell him everything that she can, Sakura is internally shaking her head "No."

Madara's voice breaks into her thoughts, " – And you're worth so much more than that, Sakura. You're young and so full of potential that to let yourself be swallowed up whole by all of this, to just give in, it'd be like committing a crime against yourself and – "


She can't afford to be dragged back down that road of thought. She can't believe it.

Lies. I'm not worth anymore than the half a grand I'm rented out for.

Madara's dark eyes bore into hers with such passion to fight tooth and nail for her cause that she nearly lapses into doubt again over her decision.

Her head thumping with a headache that refuses to subside, Sakura closes her heart and mind to the possibility. At the same time, she feels a deep stab of guilt for the others she is closing the door to freedom on.





I'm sorry.

If there is any light at the end of the tunnel, it's that her mom is still safe. Sakura's only priority now, only cause for motivation, is to ensure she stays that way.

And it all depends on giving Uncle exactly what he wants.

Standing up abruptly, her hands splayed out flat on the table, Sakura's sudden movement has Madara's speech tapering off.

"I can't do this," she says, trying to look anywhere but at the officer's disappointed eyes.

Madara regards her with a strained expression, "Sakura, listen, I know that it's hard, but – "

"No," Sakura raises a hand to ward off any more protests, "I'm sorry; I've wasted your time, but I shouldn't be here. This was a mistake," her body trembles almost imperceptibly as she fights to hold back the waterworks that come up unbidden over everything she is about to let go of.

"I don't know what I was thinking," her voice is nearly a whisper, as she shakily moves around the end of the table to make her exit, knowing the police officer won't make it easy for her.

Quickly, Madara takes several steps back, blocking the door and noting the sudden desperate glint to the girl's darkened eyes. He can tell her mind is made up, but still, he needs to try to make her see reason.

"There are other girls out there, Sakura. Other girls that are suffering the same way you are and you're about to walk out of here without giving me anything to work with. I can help you, but you have to talk to me," Madara works to keep his voice as level and calm as possible. No reason to spur the urgency he can read in her expression.

'Let me save you,' he thinks to himself, willing her to talk. Willing her to believe that she can still be saved. That she's worth saving.

He eyes her skinny frame that looks like it could be blown over by a puff of air, and the lost look in her still vibrant green eyes that is almost reminiscent of the bewildered look of a deer caught in the headlights.

But she shakes her head, sadly resolute in her decision, "I need to go now."

Madara sighs, visibly deflating as a worried frown mars his aristocratic features. Sakura watches as he reaches in the pocket on the front of his shirt and pulls out a small rectangle of paper. He snatches up the pen he abandoned earlier and furiously scratches at it before offering it to Sakura.

"That's my number," he answers her unspoken question, "Call it at any time when you're ready to talk."

Sakura accepts the business card, knowing it's pointless, but in a gesture of good will she peeks down at it and sees the mobile number with a thick line of ink underlining it. Without comment, she creases it down the middle and deposits it in her pocket before heading toward the door. Though he doesn't want to, Madara reluctantly stands to the side for Sakura to pass and just as she's about to leave his sight without looking back, he calls out her name.

Sakura stops in the doorway that leads out into the dim hallway that will take her back through the rest of the station. Her pale fingers tense on the doorframe.

"Anytime," Madara emphasizes.

When she's out of sight, he curses softly to himself. He knows that look in her eyes and knows she never will.

Sakura hurries back through the police station, around the cops taking down information from an elderly couple reporting that their house has been broken into. Her feet pick their way over the telephone cords and around the overflowing waste baskets laden with take-out food and used Styrofoam cups. She sees Sasuke across the room, hanging back from his father who is speaking to two other officers. He looks up as Sakura hurries past, nearly flattening herself against the wall to keep out of the way and out of sight. She keeps her head down, pointedly looking away from him, though she can feel his eyes on her back, curiously tracking her departure.

Kotetsu and another man with brown hair combed over one of his eyes are busy typing away at their computers again, and Sakura makes her way past the bank of chairs, now occupied by two ragged, older men that look like they've both seen the worse end of a bar fight. But the blonde teenager that was literally caught red-handed tagging his name on the side of a building downtown is gone. Sakura sincerely hopes his parents came to pick him up.

She throws more weight than is usually necessary against the heavy metal doors that lead out into the front room where Genma is answering a phone call. He throws up a hand as Sakura's feet pad across the polished floor, and she barely manages to return the gesture.


Once outside in the light of day, Sakura breaks into a trot, and few people spare a mildly amused look at the skinny, pink-haired girl in nurse's scrubs jogging the streets. It's not until after she passes them by that they realize she is covered in bruises, dark and ugly, and bandages wrap her arms like sleeves. But by the time these two or three people swivel their heads around to get a better look, the girl is already long past, scurrying away into the unknown. And really, isn't it best to mind one's own business? So, they move on with their lives.

But Sakura is stuck in hers, firmly planted in the here and now and eking out an existence on a day-by-day basis. The hospital slippers slapping against the sidewalk are soft and don't really have good soles to be outside with, but that matters little to her. Though her breathing quickly grows labored from lack of exercise, she doesn't stop.

She simply can't.

Come on, faster!

She urges herself to pick up the pace, but it does little good. She's too weak and too hurt, and the wound in her stomach might be bleeding again, but she doesn't dare glance down to see if that's blood soaking her shirt, or just sweat. Rounding the street corner, she finally makes it onto the main drag that she can follow out of the city and back towards the more residential, suburban area. If she can keep up the pace, she may only be a little late.

Traffic speeds past her in both directions on the four lane road, and Sakura does her best to keep a careful distance between the cars rushing by from her back, and the ditch running parallel to the road just a few feet away. The baby blue slippers – blue like the pills her uncle tricked her with – are now muddied and grass stained, but she's almost there.

Almost there…

Sweat runs down her face and stings the tiny cut she received across her cheekbone last night. Someone in a rusty, red van honks his horn at her before zooming past, but she doesn't look up.

Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. Right foot.

At last she makes it to the intersection, barely waiting for traffic to clear from either direction before darting across the street.

She's made it to the neighborhood.

She runs down the sidewalks, past the respectable homes with the well-tended to gardens and the news papers waiting out on the driveway to be picked up and read. Leafy trees provide some shade from the glaring sun, and just as Sakura slows down at a four-way stop to let a car pass, she hears a door slam shut.

The hand clapping down on her shoulder none too gently doesn't even make her jump. Much. Sakura barely has time to look back over her shoulder before Kabuto is jerking her back onto the sidewalk, dragging her to the silver car parked on the side of the street under the shade of a great maple tree. Sakura doesn't fight back, knowing that one way or another, she's going to be brought back to her uncle. Still, Kabuto's nails bite into her flesh maliciously and the hand clenching her bandaged wrist uses more force than necessary.

The pair doesn't make a scene or any commotion to draw the attention of the nearby residents, and Kabuto even opens the door for Sakura before pushing her in, making a good show of civility for any nosy, old ladies peeking out between the curtains of their living room. When the car doors slam shut and Sakura is trapped inside very close quarters with a venomous snake that scares her nearly as much as her uncle, Kabuto finally speaks to her.

"Where the hell have you been, bitch?" his voice is low and tightly controlled, his knuckles turning white as they grip the steering wheel. Sakura stares ahead, sightlessly, out the windshield. But Kabuto doesn't wait for a response and Sakura knows better than to give one.

"No need to answer that, Sakura," he spits her name like something foul, "I know perfectly well where you've been, you little idiot. And by the looks of it," he gives her a once over and Sakura tries not to flinch at the sight of his black eye that looks even worse today than it did last night, "You've made a little side trip to the hospital, too."

Kabuto shifts the car into drive and pulls out onto the road, continuing, "But I was more concerned with seeing you at the police station, of all places. Your uncle was quite surprised, too," he glances away from the road to give Sakura a look that promises retribution.

Sakura hunches her shoulders, a weak defense against the verbal battery that will be nothing compared to the physical one she'll surely receive when she sees her uncle.

Or worse.

"Honestly, Sakura, I don't know what to make of it," Kabuto's tone turns a bit more normal and flippant as he regains his composure, "I can't tell if you were being stupidly brave, or just plain stupid. Did you forget we can always find you?" he sneers.

No, of course she hadn't. How could she? Because of that, she and the other girls are always being monitored. It's the reason why Anko and Kin are sometimes allowed to go out to the convenience store to get supplies on their own. It's the reason why none of them take the chance to make a run for it.

It's the reason Sakura refused to talk to that officer even from the security of the police station.

Because they knew. They knew exactly where she was as she sweated under the lights of the interrogation room and could barely collect her thoughts together to form a complete sentence. They knew, and they'd be waiting.

It happened sometime during the morning they transported Sakura from her uncle's true home to her current residence. In her drugged state, she had no idea what was going on, and even now she can't recall a single moment of it. But they made sure to tell her when she woke up, and they showed her the little dot on the map to prove that it wasn't a lie to keep her in line. They meant business.

Sakura runs her tongue over the very back molar on the bottom left side of her jaw. She can't feel the difference, but it's there.

A microchip. Implanted within her tooth.

It has her ID and allows her uncle, Kabuto, or any of the other thugs employed by Orochimaru to keep tabs on her whereabouts. If nothing else, her uncle is a careful man.

And, as Sakura found out quickly, something of a genius with computers.

That little, insignificant piece of hardware is actually quite important to Sakura. It's the whole reason she can't escape. They will always be able to find her no matter how far she runs.

And maybe that's why she nearly gave up on herself the day she woke up in her new room.

Maybe that's why she knew it was over before it had even begun.

With Kabuto driving, the rest of the trip home takes all of two minutes. He whips the car up in front of the clapboard house and parks alongside the curb. As soon as she extricates herself from the passenger seat, he's on her, gripping her upper arm and marching her up to the front stoop. Impatiently, he taps his fist against the door, and when Zaku, or whoever is on the other side, takes too long in answering, he yells for him to "Hurry the hell up!"

The door swings inward and Sakura feels her body forcefully being shoved from behind, her slippered feet nearly tripping over the threshold as she enters the dimly lit foyer. The living room off to the left is just as dark, if not more so, and she hears the squeak of the recliner as someone shifts their weight in it.

Oh, dear God.

Sakura clamps down on the panic rising in her chest, and she's surprised by the tears that well up in her eyes. She knew what she'd have to face when she got here, but now she finds herself unprepared and stricken with more fear than she's ever felt in her short life.

Such a short life.

Kabuto, merciless as ever, pushes her onward, following close behind so that she cannot escape.

Ha, like I could ever really get away.

There is no escape.

Her uncle waits for her in the black leather recliner off to the side of the couch she had last seen him occupying. With his legs crossed and his arms draped over the armrests, he is the picture of a predator laying in wait for its stupid, oblivious prey. Kabuto leaves her to stand across from the snake on her own, favoring a spot just a little to the right and behind her uncle; the perfect place to watch the show without getting hurt.

Orochimaru's slanted, amber eyes glow much like they had the night she rode with him on the Ferris wheel. They hold their own light, an evil, yellow light that hypnotizes his victims as he prepares to strike.

"You're late, pet," his voice whispers calmly, but he might as well be screaming in the dead silence of the living room. His eyes move off to the side where a clock resides on the mantel, and Sakura's follow suit, unwillingly.


Almost a whole hour late. She has never been this tardy before, and the last time she had shown up late resulted in a thrashing that left her with a jaw that still hurts from time-to-time to chew with.

Sakura stands rigidly, waiting for the yelling and, worse still, the hitting that will ensue.

But, her uncle remains perfectly docile, his demeanor difficult to read. This terrifies Sakura all the more; unpredictable behavior is definitely more dangerous for her.

"You're late," he repeats again, and she sees something new flicker to life in his eyes, "You're late and you're all busted up."

Smoothly, he rises to his feet and comes to stand within mere feet of her. She wonders if he can hear her heart trying to beat a hole through her chest.

"What happened, Sakura? Did he hurt you?"

The look on his face could almost be construed as sympathetic, but Sakura knows better than to believe he even knows the meaning of that word. His fingers trace along Sakura's bruised neck, and even under the feather-light touch of his fingertips, Sakura feels slight pain under the pressure.

"Did you collect your payment?" his voice takes on a sharper edge.

Sakura knows he really is just playing with her now. Whatever he has in store for her, he already has his mind made up (it was probably made up before she even arrived). Clearly, he knows the answer to his own question. Sakura had accidentally left her purse back in the hotel room in her one track minded pursuit of getting to the hospital. Her coat was thrown out with her blood-soaked dress by the nurse and her paper sack of bandages got left in Kabuto's car as she didn't have time to grab them before he yanked her out the door. Clearly, she holds nothing that could be carrying the money she owes him.

"Nnn-uurrgghh…" Sakura is harshly choked off before she can confirm what Orochimaru already knows. His hand clenches her windpipe and Sakura wheezes for air. Her hands tear at his much larger one, but he raises her off the ground until her kicking feet no longer make contact with the carpet.

"No?" he croons in mock surprise, "But Sakura, we have an arrangement. You work for me and you don't get hurt," his fingers tighten even further and Sakura's vision begins to grow fuzzy at the edges. Her feet stop swinging and Orochimaru lowers her to the ground, releasing her completely.

Sakura falls to her knees and then falls forward on her arms, gasping and inhaling for sweet, sweet oxygen like it's her new favorite drug. A shaky hand rubs her abused throat as she coughs and chokes.

Glancing up under her bangs, she watches as her uncle turns on his heel and paces a few feet away. She knows this is far from finished.

"But," her uncle continues, his back still turned on his niece, "I could have, perhaps, overlooked this little slip-up, pet…If you hadn't gone behind my back and run off to the police," he hisses.

"I-I swear," Sakura cries out, her throat feeling as though someone has forced her to swallow shards of glass, "I didn't tell them anything! The doctor at the hospital – she pushed me into going to talk to them. Hidan, h-he hurt me really badly – I thought I was going to die," Sakura can hear herself as if through a dream and knows she's starting to babble, starting to wear on her uncle's patience, "But I didn't tell the police anything about it! Not about Hidan and not about you! I swear!"

Her uncle merely clucks his tongue, turning ever so slowly to face the girl looking up at him from the floor. Tears are glistening in the corners of her eyes, ready to be shed.

"Lies," he says softly, "Sakura, pet, don't lie straight to my face. It doesn't suit someone who looks so innocent," he grins viciously, treasuring the look of disbelief that passes over her face and the first tear that slips over her cheek.

Before Sakura can really comprehend it, a gun is staring her right in the face, her uncle's pale arms holding it out from his body with an almost careless, bored look on his face.

"Whether you did or did not tell them anything makes little difference to me. You disobeyed me and endangered my little operation here. You've forced my hand, I'm afraid," Orochimaru shrugs a single shoulder, not once lowering the gun, "By this time tomorrow, everything of value to me in this house will have already been packed up, moved, and settled in a new location far away from here."

Sakura's eyes can't look away from that tiny, round hole that may very well dispense the bullet that will end her life here and now. In this moment, she can hear her uncle breathing as he stands over her, hear the clock ticking on the mantel, even hear her own heart beating in her ears.

For how much longer?

"The question is, pet, are you still valuable to me?" he raises a slender, black eyebrow at his own question, tilting his head ever so slightly to the side as a dangerous smile splits his face.

The click of the safety lock being released is nearly deafening.

And all Sakura can think of as she looks down the barrel of the gun is that it sure is funny how all of this mess started from a stupid card she got on her eighteenth birthday.

Author's Note: My apologies if this is far too unorthodox. This story was majorly inspired by the song "Little Lady" by Ed Sheeran which I highly recommend listening to. I know I should be focusing on finishing You Give Me Fever, and to those of you who have been leaving all of those awesome reviews and asking for an update, I'm really sorry! I promise I've been working on it, but I only got about a fourth of the way through the upcoming chapter when this little plot bunny popped up and refused to be ignored. Ed Sheeran has been dominating my playlist since the summer and despite the dark, often shunned topic of this particular song, it spoke to me. And then I had to go and watch Taken and that pretty much sealed the deal that this needed to be written before I could let myself finish my other story.

Due to this being a modern AU, I was a little more liberal with allowing some out of character-ness. For the most part, I tried not to divert too much from their general personas, and tried to stay true to their physical traits and keeping the differences in age pretty consistent. About the only character that majorly diverged from this plan (because I really wanted him to) was Madara. I didn't want him to be, like, ancient in this and I wanted to give him a quirky, likeable personality. So, if you could let me know what you think of it (sorry for the length, by the way), I'd really appreciate the feedback!

Thanks for reading!