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She'd gotten the blood test as Sakura suggested, and the results had come back saying she was infected. Within an hour, Ino had found herself in one of the isolation wings, wearing stiff hospital-issue clothes and attempting to soften a pillow that felt like it had been made from gravel instead of feathers. "I hate this pillow," the blonde muttered. "You g-get used t-to it after a w-while," Hinata offered tentatively from across the room. "I don't want to get used to it," Ino groused. Hinata nodded. She suspected the blonde wasn't truly angry – Ino just needed to do or say something to keep her mind off the fact that she was now infected. The Hyuuga couldn't blame her; it wasn't exactly a pleasant prospect. The idea that there were microscopic bacteria swarming through her body, devouring her chakra...that the medics still didn't know how to cure her and could only prevent her from getting worse... Hinata shook her head, refusing to dwell on it. She wasn't a medic – there was nothing she could do, so she wouldn't worry about it. She refused to. Ino yelped when the door to their ward was suddenly thrown open and Naruto practically bounded into the room. "Don't you ever knock!" "It's a hospital," Naruto said, as though this explained everything, before turning to Hinata. "Hey, Hinata – I said I'd be back, didn't I?" Hinata giggled at the blonde man's earnest expression. Naruto had visited her yesterday, telling her he had been deemed a carrier of the chakra-eaters and so couldn't leave the isolation wing. He and Sasuke now had to sleep in the on-call rooms and eat in the break room along with the medics who were treating the patients. In an effort to decrease the spread of the outbreak, now even the medics were confined to the isolation wing, in the belief they might carry bacterial spores from the wing on their clothes and infect others. "You look better today," Naruto remarked, sitting on the edge of her bed. "Are you feeling better?" "A little," Hinata admitted. "S-since the medics b-began using the s-saturation technique my fever's g-gone down and I d-don't feel so t-tired all the time." "That's good," Naruto beamed. "I would have been by earlier, but Sakura had me and the bastard running around in the lab for hours. They're trying to make a vaccine for this thing, only Sakura said most vaccines take years to make so we shouldn't expect any miracles." "So, no plans to halt the spread in the near future," Ino coughed from across the room, sitting back in her bed and giving up on her pillow.
"Well, Granny Tsunade said Kakashi got back today," Naruto said. "Since he's been away from the village for a few weeks they know he isn't infected, so they're getting him to figure out where the infection started from." Something occurred to Ino in that moment. "Any civilians infected yet?" Naruto shrugged. "Don't know – ask Sakura. She said she'll be by later." Ino nodded, and decided she would try to get some sleep. Granted, it might be difficult with Naruto in the room, but she figured there was no harm in trying, and it wasn't like there was anything else to do. Since this was the isolation wing, she couldn't bring in books or games from her home so she could entertain herself. "Th-thanks for c-coming, Naruto," Hinata stammered, her cheeks beginning to flush. "It g-gets pretty b-boring in here." "Really? You don't mind that I'm here?" Ino rolled her eyes behind her lids. "N-not at all." Hinata sounded nervous. "I l-like talking to you, N-Naruto." That was unusually bold for Hinata. Thinking that the semi-couple might be on the verge of some sort of resolution, Ino did her very best to feign sleep. 'I'm deeply asleep, dead to the world, totally oblivious,' she chanted silently. 'Don't mind me, continue to dance around your mutual attraction...' "Hey, Hinata, you're looking kinda flushed, are you okay?" Ino resisted the urge to scream in frustration. "I'm f-fine." There was a slight sniffle, and Naruto's voice was rather alarmed when he spoke again. "Your nose is bleeding again!" Ino stiffened, but resisted the urge to open her eyes. "Do you want tissues? Are there any around?" Naruto babbled. "There sh-should be some in th-that drawer," Hinata murmured. Ino heard the distinct sound of a drawer being opened and rifled through before Naruto's voice reached her ears again, loudly declaring that he'd found it. "Th-thank you." Hinata's voice sounded muffled and thick, and Ino assumed she'd pressed a few tissues to her nose. "It's r-really nothing t-to worry about." "Yeah..." Naruto sounded as though he were trying to convince himself, but his voice soon strengthened. "You've got nothing to worry about, Hinata. Sakura and the rest of the medics will have you cured in no time!"
No could ever accuse Naruto of being a pessimist. "And I was wondering..." he went on, suddenly sounding nervous. "I mean, when you're better...and if you're not busy...and if you want to...we could, maybe...go out together sometime?" Ino had to bite her tongue to keep from squealing. Somehow, even taking into account Hinata's bashfulness, she'd never really expected Naruto to make the first move. Stunned was probably the only way to describe Hinata's tentative whisper. "Y-you mean it?" "Well, if you don't want to-" "N-no! I m-mean yes – I d-do want to go...with y-you." And now, Ino had to hold her breath until the urge to either shout 'finally' or laugh like a maniac passed. Just wait until she told Sakura! "You mean it?" Naruto asked eagerly, a perfect echo of Hinata, minus the stuttering. "Really?" "R-really." Ino shifted beneath the blanket to disguise a covert wriggle of pure delight. The moment was broken by the sound of approaching footsteps, and the click of the door being opened. "Hey, everyone," Sakura's voice rang out, sounding tired. Ino made a great show of waking up and rolling over in the bed so she could see Sakura and Sasuke standing just inside the door. "Oh, hey, Forehead," she greeted. Ino knew her grin was a little too wide for simply greeting a friend, but she was sitting on a particularly juicy piece of information at the moment. She'd probably have to wait to tell Sakura about the advances on the Naruto-Hinata front, but"Sakura, Hinata and I are going to go out as soon as she's better!" the blonde man shrieked. 'Never mind,' Ino thought. 'Should have known he'd announce it to the world as soon as he could...' Sasuke snorted, but Sakura brightened. "That's great – I'm so happy for you two!" Sakura refused to think about the possibility that Hinata might not get better – that they might not be able to cure her. "And speaking of getting better," the medic continued. "I'm going to have to perform the chakrasaturating technique on you, Ino."
too. her tone weary. Sakura passed Ino the infamous Uchiha handkerchief and allowed her to mop at the blood. "Nothing a cold water soak won't fix." The blonde woman saw her friend's green eyes glaze over before she felt the strange warmth of Sakura's chakra enter her system. "From Neji – he got back sometime today and he's less than happy to hear that you're sick." she added. it felt strange – her body instinctively tried to fight the foreign presence – but she did her best to relax. if it really came down to it. wiping the last of the blood from her face and handing the handkerchief back to Sakura." Sakura interjected before Hinata could speak.. digging a folded piece of paper from her pocket. "Ugh. right? Right?" Ino snickered. we'll need to test him. "Anyway." She coughed a little as she made her way to Ino's bedside. "What I'm going to do might feel a little strange.. Maybe this was a sideeffect of the chakra-saturation technique? She didn't know how much time passed before Sakura drew away. before brightening once more as the woman tried to inject some energy into her voice. If he's been infected. "But. but it seemed the blonde didn't relish the prospect of facing the Hyuuga's protective wrath." "He can't touch me here!" Naruto proclaimed. but just try to relax. "I'm safe!" "Well."What about Hinata?" Naruto asked indignantly. . "I'm getting blood all over your handkerchief. Naruto could probably beat Neji. "They gave me this note for you. And there's one for Hinata. "Don't worry – she's not being neglected." the blonde muttered. "Another medic performed the saturation technique a few hours ago. As the medic had warned. but when Ino opened her eyes Sasuke was sitting in a chair near the door with his arms folded while Naruto babbled and Hinata smiled at him.you'll put him in another ward. he'll be in the isolation wing. Ino was vaguely aware of Naruto and Hinata chattering – Sasuke wasn't saying anything but she guessed he was still leaning against the door and surveying the room with his usual aloof expression – but her mind was beginning to sink into a pleasant haze. since Neji was around at the time that we think Hinata was infectious. but a sneezing fit prevented her." Sakura corrected. Naruto blanched. I brought something for you!" "You did?" Ino blinked in bemusement." Sakura said." Sakura remarked. She had seen enough of the men's respective abilities to know that. wiping at the blood leaking from her right nostril. "What is it?" "Apparently Shikamaru and Chouji have heard that you're sick." Ino groaned. closing her eyes and breathing slowly and evenly as though she were about to go to sleep. Ino started to sit up and thank Sakura. too.
"Anyway. Sakura craned her neck back and forth. and they found that he's been infected. though I don't think you'll see much of them – they'll probably be in the lab." Ino nodded." Naruto and Hinata – already aware of this – did not react to Sakura's statement. -xxxSakura stifled another yawn as she turned on the cold tap in the break room sink. The only clock in the room happened to be positioned above Hinata's bed. It was pretty much what she expected – Shikamaru telling her that this disease was 'troublesome' (of course!) and the longer she was sick the more she'd yell at him when she was better. "Shikamaru and Chouji will probably have to be tested. "Because I've been pouring chakra into my patients all damn day!" Sakura snapped. . come on. still wrapped up in each other. filling a small plastic bowl with cold water before dropping the bloody handkerchief in it and letting it soak. since Aburame's have been found to be immune. because it left her with the impression that even his writing was lazy.Still giggling to herself. I mean. Hinata hadn't succumbed to one of the fire-engine blushes that had plagued her as a child. "Speaking of which. grinning like a shy schoolboy. Sakura found herself grinning." Sakura explained. too. Then she turned her attention back to her letter. cursive script always made her giggle. Naruto was sitting on the edge. the beginnings of a foul temper starting to sour her mood as she realised she wouldn't have time to nap – she was scheduled to perform the chakra-saturation technique on Kiba in ten minutes. but there was a distinct dusting of pink across her cheeks. "Just out of curiosity. her eyes recognising Shikamaru's familiar. She smothered a yawn with her hand and checked the time. you and I have another patient to attend to." the pink-haired woman mused. which soon turned into another yawn. "Why are you so tired?" Sasuke asked." "Kiba. waving a little as Sakura and Sasuke left the room." "Who?" Ino asked. In spite of her exhaustion. idly wondering if she could get in a quick nap before she had to rush back to the lab. His loopy. so she should hurry up and recover. before veering back to the original subject of the discussion. come to think of it. wincing as felt her stiff muscles stretch and her vertebrae pop. "He and Shino were tested a few days ago. She could see the deeper message – get well soon – beneath the complaints. No one became a ninja without learning a few things about getting blood out of material. Ino unfolded the note Sakura had given her. somehow managing to make it sound like her exhaustion was a personal insult. and that naturally led her eyes to wander to the happy couple occupying said bed. one hand resting on Hinata's leg beneath the blanket. Ino smiled. helping the scientists and medics work on a cure. some of them are being drafted into work here. dragging letters.
Only when she'd swallowed did she think about what she'd said. "You were yawning. She hadn't even heard him brew it. but Sakura was more concerned with the fact that the coffee gently steaming beside her was all hers." she joked. Sakura had been living in the on-call and break rooms for the past few days." he said bluntly. disregarding its scalding temperature in favour of the caffeine boost. taking a long gulp from the cup. her eyes asking a silent question. not meeting her eyes. "Bearing in mind that I had perhaps five hours of sleep last night. as though it were an illusion that would disappear if she scrutinized it hard enough. Sakura blinked at the cup. filled with steaming coffee. For a moment." she muttered. "You know.' she mused. 'Do not wake unless someone is dying. "Never hurts to check.She coughed a little. "You are honestly the most wonderful man I have ever met." Sakura muttered." Sasuke made a noncommittal noise and turned away. Then she looked up at Sasuke. "I'm sure every medic in here has thumbed through it. "I thought jutsus weren't working against them." he said. as she left the cloth to soak and yanked down a heavy volume from the bookshelf. with the sort of cold logic that just made Sakura want to hit him on the back of the head. 'I should tape a note to my forehead tonight. and being in the isolation wing meant she had been up at all hours of the night. She clenched her jaw in an effort to stifle another yawn. sniffling wetly." "It's a book in the medics' break room." "Pessimist. He glimpsed the title – When Antibiotics Don't Work: Battling Bacteria With Jutsus – before Sakura flipped it open and scanned the contents page. she'd say he was embarrassed." Her eyes remained riveted to the text. "Maybe there's something in here no one's tried yet." she proclaimed. . so she didn't see Sasuke's frown. If she didn't know better. The heavy thud as it hit the table made Sasuke turn around from where he was pouring himself a drink. it wouldn't kill you to give someone encouragement for once. flipping to the chapter on super-bugs.' Her thoughts were interrupted when Sasuke set a styrofoam cup beside her. that may be the beginning stages of sleep deprivation psychosis talking. She might be in love with Sasuke (regrettably) but she was under no illusions as to his character – he was certainly far removed from the most wonderful man she'd ever met. "Feel free to disregard that comment." Sasuke pointed out. telling himself her retraction of her statement didn't hurt. flipping the pages. The medic thought she'd gotten about thirteen hours of sleep within the last three days. alerted by every alarm and roused for every problem.
. After all.sick enough to be hospitalized. Ino tried to smother her laughter. Sakura had been saying that for weeks. "I feel. then he'd probably feel pretty tired too. There was something about the white walls. He didn't understand how the medics could stand to spend so much of their time in this building.. but she hadn't actually told him to leave. rhythmic crunching sounds as he ate his chips.. his dislike of hospitals may have stemmed from the fact that the only time he was ever in one was when either he or one of his friends were critically injured. it was Ino.. he would never give up on his dream to become the Hokage. "Chouji?" Shikamaru queried." Chouji's voice was faint and breathy. The blonde was always so loud. save for soft. Hinata smiled sleepily. with bacteria clogging her blood vessels and devouring her chakra like kids in a candy store.. Chouji was silent. "I think I'm.. scratching out her reply to Shikamaru's letter with pen and paper that Hinata had lent her. and Naruto's silly grin grew wider.-xxxNaruto couldn't stop grinning. saying that Hinata wasn't a mean person. Ino.but he'd never really expected she would actually say 'yes'. who was now lying in a hospital bed behind the imposing glass airlock.. Some part of him still couldn't believe Hinata had actually agreed to go out with him. Hinata seemed to be dozing a little now. -xxxShikamaru hated hospitals. Of course. On impulse. It wasn't in Shikamaru's nature to fidget. but last night Naruto had finally realised that he owed it to himself to at least try. but Naruto figured if he had a bunch of bacteria swimming through his system and eating his chakra.. until he suddenly went rigid in his seat. the fluorescent lights. She'd apologised for her exhaustion. as though there wasn't enough oxygen in his lungs. It was strange to think of Ino being sick. This time.. and the stale smell of bleach that just set his teeth on edge." . he leaned forward and gently brushed a few strands of hair from her forehead. but he found himself nervously tapping his foot against the floor as he waited for a reply to the letter he'd given Sakura. she wouldn't think any less of him for it. so determined. Sakura had told him to just ask her last night when they and the rest of the medics bunked in the on-call rooms. On the other side of the room. and even if she didn't feel the same. so Naruto was staying.was something his mind just couldn't seem to grasp. and had always been such a fixed part of his life that the idea of her being sick. so why give up on this before it had even started? So he'd asked..
they hadn't even trained in the same place! So what did they have in common? Where had they caught it from? Chapter 5 Spread Sakura sighed fatalistically. this disease could cripple Konoha. If it was just Akina and Shizune. eyeing the green-tinged blood samples. trying to rouse him. Shikamaru. out cold. If left unchecked. Naruto had spent some time in Ino's flower shop when Hinata first fell ill. while the scientists and medics worked on finding a cure and keeping the patients stable. Shizune. dropping to his knees and shaking his friend's shoulder. and while he might not appreciate being suddenly stuck with a bunch of chunins. feeling warm. Lee. and Hinata were the original carriers of the disease. "Chouji!" Shikamaru yelled. so the blonde woman had probably caught the bacteria from him. So.but Hinata.. they could assume it was something in the hospital and have every inch of the building and materials therein tested. The three women hadn't eaten in the same restaurants. wet liquid. Hinata was the first reported case. It had been rather easy at first. He wiped his fingers across his upper lip. Kakashi thought it could be safely assumed that Akina. Kakashi and the investigative team were working to find the source. and most of the other shinobis had been treated by either Akina or Shizune in the last week or so. followed by the medic Akina and Shizune. Kakashi's first step had been to draw up an infection map – that is. Naruto. His nose was bleeding. each hoping that a bolt of inspiration would suddenly fall from the sky like one of Zeus' thunderbolts. he could understand the gravity of the situation.. Tsunade had commissioned him to investigate the spread of the chakra-eaters.. "Chouji!" Shikamaru's voice trailed off as he noticed the drops of blood that had landed on his hand.He got no further before the blood drained from his face and he slithered from the chair to the floor. The only problem was that he couldn't figure out where they had caught it from. The silver-haired man pondered the rough infection map he'd drawn out on the board. Sasuke. too? Kakashi and his team had checked. and a couple of other shinobi Sakura vaguely recognised from past missions.. . -xxxKakashi and his small team of chunins stared at the blackboard. Naruto. scrawling the names of everyone who'd been infected on a blackboard and trying to work out how and where they could have caught it. Sasuke and the infected Hyuugas had probably sickened as a result of contact with Hinata. or Chouji had come in to be tested – Neji. Anyone who'd had contact with Ino. Kiba. hadn't bought the same food.
"All you have to do is lie back and do nothing. reaching into her pocket for her schedule for the day – she had a feeling she was meant to be performing the chakra-saturation technique on someone in ten minutes or so. and there was hope that continual chakra-saturation might be able to provide her immune system with enough support to completely subsume the bacteria. and I know which one I prefer. but that was a problem for Kakashi to solve – her overtaxed and overtired mind was already too busy working on a cure. it was rather a long shot." Chouji groused.. they'd decided that it was better to have the people panicking than to have many wandering around completely unaware that they were sick. Shikamaru?" Naruto called from across the room where he was sitting on Hinata's bed. Ino shrugged. Tenten's infection was the earliest they'd ever diagnosed the disease at. all day.maybe they could work out how to cure everyone else.except Lee.. every day!" "No clouds. "Bet this is your dream come.. -xxx"Nice of you guys to come see me. Another sigh. But by now. "It's not funny. Apparently.. . Sakura couldn't help but wonder how Lee had escaped unscathed. and subsequent tests had found the bacteria only barely beginning to 'awaken'. The disease's spread had become so alarming that many of the medics had insisted on posting notices around the village – posters that would describe the early symptoms and urge anyone suffering from them to go to the hospital. but it was about the only hope they had. and she had then been sent on a mission. dabbing at his bleeding nose with a tissue. The medic put the vials down. Sakura was proven correct when she saw Tenten's name scrawled in her eleven o'clock session.." Ino smirked. "It's either laugh about it or cry about it. But not for himself. they were bound to get a sudden influx of hypochondriacs who did nothing but complain and waste the medics' time.All had been infected. And if they cured Tenten.. They'd resisted such a course of action initially because once they posted notices. So Neji had been thinking of his lover going into a dangerous situation while unknowingly infected with chakra-devouring bacteria – Sakura could certainly see why that had worried him. feeling absurdly pleased when he heard Ino giggle. they'd had some rather intimate contact the very night he'd returned." he deadpanned." Shikamaru rolled his eyes and settled back into his pillows. Thus far. Granted. and Sakura set off for ward two. She smiled a little as she remembered Neji's reaction to the news that he'd been infected – it had been as close to outright panic as she'd ever seen the Hyuuga. huh. he had been terrified for Tenten. Tenten had been recalled via messenger bird.
Naruto?" Ino scolded." Sakura stood slowly. "Is that Sasuke's handkerchief?" Tenten asked as Sakura blew her nose. lying back in her bed obediently. She coughed a little. Sakura couldn't blame him... sounding as though he was doing his best not to contemplate that prospect. but looking at them there. and Hinata's was a soft. trying not to yawn.. Is that meant to happen?" "Chakra-saturation can do that. She hadn't drained her chakra. His family's fighting style depended entirely upon chakra." Chouji muttered under his breath. it's Sasuke's handkerchief. struggling not to yawn herself. That should hold you for a while." Tenten nodded vaguely. "There. "Will there be any permanent damage?" Neji asked from the bed next to Tenten's. "Just like that?" "Yes. He gave it to me a while back. "Just like ramen is the love of Naruto's life. digging out a handkerchief as she felt a sneeze building. . "Though those noodles might find themselves in competition. "Yes. almost timid tilt of the lips. The medic rolled her eyes.. -xxxSakura sent one final surge of chakra into her friend's system before withdrawing. "Clouds are the love of Shikamaru's life!" And how often had she reflected on how much time he spent cloud-watching and then felt like an idiot because she was jealous of what amounted to nothing but tiny droplets of water? "I wouldn't say they're the only love of his life. bold grin. too low for anyone to hear. okay? The bacteria will be going into a dormant state for a while.' she thought." Tenten blinked slowly."Don't you remember." Naruto and Hinata both smiled.." Shikamaru drawled. her body feeling as though every drop of energy had been wrung out of it.kinda drowsy.." Sakura nodded. just like that.Ino couldn't help but think that the emotions behind their grins were exactly the same. This again? 'You'd think he'd given me an engagement ring." Tenten's eyes widened. so let your body heal.Sakura could only imagine how horrifying that idea would be. before flicking his eyes towards the Hyuuga on the bed. "I feel.. "Try to get some rest. Naruto's was a broad. and the idea that this infection might result in permanent damage.. but constant heavy use with no chance to rest and recover was beginning to take its toll. that it might cripple his ninja abilities.
She knew many people wondered why the medics were expending so much effort to keep the bacteria in check at this stage of the illness.. so they'll always recover. tipping her head back to look at his face. his voice practically drowning in sarcasm."There's no reason to think so. Sakura ran straight into Sasuke. "Chakra channels are different from blood vessels and tendons and the like. "You're too damn tall. take her pulse. with more gentleness in his voice than she would have thought him capable of expressing. "Are you okay?" she heard Sasuke ask." she said.. While they can be blocked or damaged." Sasuke wondered if she knew she was babbling." At least. Sakura seemed to realise the same thing." she informed him. Stern and Serious Neji could have such a soft side. Far better to exert some effort now to keep them in an incapacitated state rather than let them to progress to a life-threatening one. Sasuke raised an eyebrow. I have to check on Shikamaru. Did you know they asked to placed in the same ward? It's kinda sweet – who would have known that Mr. they are basically streams of energy. that sort of thing. Sometimes. Sasuke wondered how much sleep she was getting. and it had been empty when he awoke. ." she said. "Well. even though the symptoms at this point were relatively harmless. "And I explained to Neji that this infection won't cause permanent damage. Her nose hit his sternum and she rebounded with a pained yelp. The sleep deprivation was really starting to fry her brain." she explained. I'll work on that. because she suddenly closed her mouth and looked faintly puzzled." he said. taking the thermometer Sakura snatched from the nurse's station as they passed it. irrational urge to stick her tongue out at him. too. "I'm fine. Sakura couldn't know with any certainty what the next stage would be like. it was because the symptoms were rather harmless that they were putting so much effort into not letting anyone's infection progress beyond this stage. as though she wondered why she'd verbalised her thoughts. making her way towards ward three. but you can probably do that – just check her temperature. "Come on. "And Ino. Sakura was struck by the sudden. but Sakura refused to address that dark shadow of doubt. Literally. Sakura really hated how far her teammate's growth spurt had left her behind. as long as the patient was alive. but she knew the relentless attack on the chakra channels would eventually cause the organs to fail." Sasuke nodded. "I just finished using the chakra-saturation on Tenten." she muttered. Stepping out into the corridor. Sakura's bed in the on-call room had been empty when he fell asleep last night. In fact.
resisting the urge to slide her eyes in Shikamaru's direction. stepping into the ward and trying to smile. "I'm too tired to strangle him. On impulse. "Are you okay?" she asked as Sakura and Sasuke headed to the door.. The pink-haired medic smiled reassuringly. It was then that Ino noticed the bags under her friend's eyes.. Shikamaru stiffened. Ino scowled. Just kinda wiped. she carefully leaned around his back until she could see part of his face. remember?" Chouji called." Sasuke's expression told her he couldn't care less what sort of bedside manner he had. but it looked like she'd barely gotten any sleep in days.. you know?" Ino wasn't convinced. It was hard to tell from her vantage point.. but nodded slowly anyway.pleased. Sasuke at her heels." she instructed Shikamaru as she pressed a stethoscope to his back. .. but Ino was surprised by a flash of. The blonde wondered how much of that was her cold and how much of it was chakra depletion. "Take deep. "You used to like it. "Open your mouth. All she had were some basic check-ups to ensure the patients weren't worsening. When they were in the corridor.. She knew Sakura was working hard.Sakura opened the door. she made a beeline for the break room and practically fell into the couch sitting against the back wall. She felt practically dead on her feet – it was a good thing she didn't have to perform the chakra-saturation technique again today." Ino continued. "I'm fine.something. and tried not to grin. even breaths." she heard Sasuke order harshly from across the room." Sakura quipped with a tired laugh. "Yeah. Ino only half-listened to Sasuke's terse instructions. Sakura waved to her friend and strode through the door. "I don't know how she puts up with you. well I was an idiot. obeying them mechanically as she watched Sakura complete Shikamaru's check-up with the look of a woman who was half-asleep.. "And to think Sakura's been forced to work with you. please." the blonde muttered. "You have absolutely no bedside manner. but he looked.. but keeping his voice low so he didn't wake the sleeping Hinata. Ino." Sasuke's scowl deepened. the way her movements seemed just a fraction slower than usual.it's been a tiring couple of days. Sakura heard Shikamaru's heartbeat suddenly quicken through the stethoscope. as though her words had stung him somehow.in his eyes.
and he nearly jumped when he suddenly felt her list against him. His shoulder probably wasn't the most comfortable pillow for her. and with that in mind Sasuke began to shift slowly away from her.. was probably still not strong enough to be recognised as a potential food source by the bacteria. Sasuke was half-expecting Sakura to say something. cradling her to keep her from lurching to the side as he slid away. Kakashi could name a dozen opportunities for the infected shinobi to pass the bacteria on to civilians.but not Lee. shifting against him. Someone had quite deliberately created a bioweapon – a disease that could wipe out the ninja population of a hidden village while keeping the civilians alive. the copy-ninja could think of only one explanation that made sense. So.. down the length of the couch. before Sakura burned herself out trying to keep her friends from succumbing to it. Civilians – who never learned how to access their chakra – weren't becoming sick. and it was a mark of how tired she was that the movement didn't wake her. But if that were true. .?" A dangerous theory slowly uncurled in Kakashi's mind. Sasuke found himself hoping that a cure was found soon. he lowered Sakura to a reclining position on her side. wondering how exhausted she really was if she'd dropped off to sleep within barely a minute of sitting down. his fingertips brushing the bruise-like half-moons under her eyes. He caught her shoulder as she began to slip down. while definitely not as weak as a civilian. Neji. stroking the pastel strands. Ino. -xxx"Hinata.she'd lost weight since the disease first began to spread. Her mind felt like it was swimming in syrup – her thoughts began to disconnect from each other. Tenten. someone must have done the same to this bacteria. Sasuke thought it sounded like 'don't want any more ramen'. The Uchiha glanced at the medic. Lee couldn't perform ninjutsu or genjutsu – his chakra channels were malformed. but Sakura was so exhausted she barely registered his presence. carefully... Slowly. She mumbled something in her sleep. the hollow cheeks. but he could be mistaken. the movement didn't disturb her.. Sasuke brushed his hands though her hair idly. as though saying it aloud would somehow force the facts to make some kind of sense. Shikamaru. The chakra-eaters were probably attracted to powerful sources of chakra – the kind of aura emitted by ninja. And Kakashi knew enough about the animal kingdom to know that this sort of specialization didn't evolve on its own – the Aburame clan had selectively bred certain species of insects for generations before their creatures could feed on chakra and obey them as they did today. her brain gradually winding down. Lee's chakra signature..but it hadn't happened. She mumbled and shifted a little. "Why not Lee? What was different about him? What did he do...... either." Kakashi muttered to himself.Sasuke sat down beside her. Offhand. her head pillowed on his thigh. not civilians.then it meant that the bacteria were specifically designed to attack ninja.. Kiba. but other than that. Chouji.
she should still have had more chakra than this. cheerful.almost perky.And Kakashi knew that a bioweapon like this did not just 'get out'. "Oh. hey. She swatted half-heartedly at his hand.. But by who? Akatsuki had been sighted in Wave. This was an act of war. A cough rose in her throat. Sakura! How's everything going?" Sakura took him in – wide-awake. patting her on the head like she was a precocious child. She'd been forced to terminate the session. and Sakura immediately knew the problem. -xxxSakura scrubbed at her eyes.. yawning all the way. Their relations with Earth and Sound left something to be desired. She'd barely been ten minutes into the chakra-saturation session before she'd felt herself approaching dangerously low levels of chakra depletion. And maybe once they'd figured out who was hitting them with a bioweapon. but even taking into account her lack of sleep. so it was unlikely a few members of the missing-nin organisation had somehow managed to infect Konoha's ninja population. but there'd been no sightings near Konoha for some time. her ceaseless labour. "Someone's just bitter she didn't get her coffee this morning.. but seeing as Sound had been in pieces since Orochimaru's demise – and the design and execution of this bioweapon called for at least some level of organisation – Kakashi thought they could assume it came from Earth or one of Earth's allies." she muttered.. "And what's gotten you so cheerful this morning?" . Her body was so busy trying to fight the virus that it couldn't regenerate her chakra. They'd send a warning to Suna as soon as possible – let them know they were dealing with a bioweapon. engineered by one of Leaf's enemies. The infection's spread through Konoha could be nothing short of deliberate. wondering why her chakra had given out on her so early into the session. Wind and Earth.. clear-eyed." Naruto said. She nearly collided with Naruto in the hallway as he emerged from said room. considering how little she was getting now – Sakura made her way to the break room. and now one of the other overworked immune medics was being forced to pick up her slack. She hadn't realised she was being run quite so ragged. Musing on the fact that she should really try to get more sleep – though that wouldn't be a hardship. they could figure out how it was spreading. Of course – her cold. Suna had good investigators and intelligence – maybe they'd heard something about this.. "I hate you.
getting Sakura's attention immediately. "That sounds great. where are you off to now – seeing Hinata. they just said they might be on the road to finding one. Tenten heard a sound that she identified as Kiba also stifling his laughter. The sight of Hyuuga Neji on the verge of throwing a tantrum like a toddler was certainly an amusing sight. hoping to come across something more effective than the chakra-saturation technique. and none of his famous and powerful techniques could beat this enemy. It was when she heard the shower being turned on full-blast that Tenten really knew Neji was close to snapping. Sakura had honestly intended to rest. Neji was sick. They were totally dependent on the medics for support and a cure. "Really? That's amazing!" "Well. -xxxTenten did her very best not to burst into laughter."The scientists think they might have found a cure!" Naruto declared. isn't it? They were studying my blood 'cause they wanted to find a way to make the bacteria dormant all the time. she couldn't resist." Naruto amended. It had to be unsettling for a man who'd relied on his own strength for most of his life. they didn't really say they had it. . But Tenten knew he was feeling out of his element here. Naruto. I hope?" The blonde gave a shy grin and blushed a little. but when she saw the scroll sitting on the table. Sakura hefted the substantial scroll and sat down the couch. They say that if they find that. and they don't like having Sasuke in the lab because he always snarls at them. She'd remembered a scroll in Tsunade's library that she'd been reading – one that dealt with lesser known immune jutsus and some forbidden ones – so she'd requested that it be delivered to the isolation wing. I do not need your help to get to the bathroom!" he snarled at the brunette medic who had timidly asked him if he required assistance when she watched him struggle towards the door that led to the tiny shower and toilet attached to ward two. Somehow. And that was enough for Sakura to send him on his way with a laugh and a sisterly pat on the shoulder. she didn't think it would help Neji's temper. they might be able to find out how to make them become dormant again!" Sakura smiled at the prospect. "No. So. preparing to do some hard studying. confined to an isolation ward in a hospital. and they're trying to find the mechanism that makes the bacteria come out of the dormant state. though she'd be happy just to find something less draining. "But that's good. He only turned the water on that hard when he was really furious. She had been searching for more information on immune jutsus.
" Another pause. -xxxTwo hours into her reading. involved kisses was appealing in and of itself.. and when Neji's reply came. .. "Who's that?" Neji snapped.. though his hoarse cough took much of the impact from his tone. smiling a little when she saw his tense shoulders relax. too!" he practically growled. She knew there wouldn't be any sex involved – they were both too ill and exhausted to even consider it – but the prospect of a hot shower and a few deep. "Do you want to take a shower.you never know. fighting the urge to grin like an idiot. stepping into both the water and Neji's arms. "Get your mind out of the gutter – we're sick and in a hospital. But there was only so much of his bad temper she'd take. she was willing to cut him some slack. too?" "That sounds nice. "I don't need you babying me.. his tone was close to apologetic." Tenten mused. Considering what they were going through (and he was much sicker than her).." Tenten rolled her eyes... leaning against the tiny sink..." There was a pause. in what was undeniably an invitation.are you? Because if you are. for heaven's sake! Do you really think we'll be snatching a quickie in the shower?" "Well. "Er.. So Tenten shed her clothes and opened the glass door." Tenten said. "And you probably feel worse than me." Another exasperated roll of the eyes and Tenten entered the bathroom. the place already beginning to fill with steam." she answered. considering that your infection's progressed a lot farther than mine. "You feeling okay?" she asked. "It's me.you two aren't going to. seeing as I'm neither of those." "I know. "I hate being sick.. and then Neji spoke again. She watched the outline of her lover through the frosted glass.. "I'm not asking as a nurse or medic – which is good. only one jutsu had caught Sakura's eye.Kiba choked when she slipped out of her bed and made her way to the bathroom door. Tenten sighed. I'm not going to play lookout for you – you're on your own if some medic comes in and wants to clean the bathroom or something.I'm asking as your girlfriend.
But if she could alter it somehow. Sakura knew it was time for a break.. it would take near superhuman chakra control to pull it off.. making Sakura feel a little guilty for being so curt with him. her bloodshot eyes lending a surprisingly ferocious edge to it. But when her stomach began cramping.. "You look horrible. hacked wetly. She was about to reply when she felt her chest tightening. She heaved a gurgling breath. Then again. She thought it would stop soon. they'd be cured of the disease. though – she was feeling too miserable to feel overly guilty. before sneezing loudly. but it was the principle behind it that intrigued her. If performed successfully. but in the meantime." Sasuke clarified. only a small portion would. it couldn't hurt to pour over the finer details of the jutsu and see if her hypothesis had any solid basis... She didn't see any way to achieve that – that just wasn't how these things worked – but if she limited the effect of the jutsu. bleary-eyed Sakura digging in the fridge. and she only had time to cover her mouth before a sudden coughing fit descended on her. even assuming she found a way to limit the jutsu. Sakura knew she should probably wait until her cold got better before attempting it. Instead of all the cells becoming suddenly immune to one thing and vulnerable to everything else... Sasuke. Sasuke entered the break room to find a tousle-haired. and the rest would still be able to deal with any other diseases. In other words.. maybe – were affected..It was a forbidden jutsu (just her luck)." she threatened. Of course.but at the price of their immune system being unable to recognise any other invader. Funny – she could have sworn it hadn't been that long since she'd eaten something. effectively. and Sakura hunched over as her chest burned. . but her coughing went on and on. Liquid rose in the back of her throat. "I just meant that you should get some rest. figure out a way to let the patients receive the benefits of the jutsu with none of its drawbacks. That small part would be able to deal with the chakra-eaters. She knew she needed to.and she felt moisture land on her hand. and she tasted iron on her tongue. it rendered the subject entirely immune to whatever disease was afflicting them.. she wasn't Tsunade's apprentice for nothing." Sasuke only realised how insulting he sounded when Sakura raised her head and glared at him. but I have access to a lot of nasty poisons. "Don't start with me. then that would work. I may be too exhausted to pound you into the ground.somehow made it so only a small part of the immune system – only a few thousand cells.. Just a little..but then they could die from the common cold or something equally inconsequential.
Screaming implied terror. While he felt strangely removed from everything else.Finally breathing a little easier – but feeling slightly dizzy – Sakura drew her palm away from her mouth. He didn't even realise the medics had entered the room. Her chest convulsed as she coughed weakly. Reacting on instinct. Sasuke knew he should do something – help her. He yelled in frustration. but he noticed them when they started to pull Sakura from his grasp. gurgling inhalation and each wet exhalation. but some red and some blonde. every hitch in her breath. like a clumsy photograph of something that was moving a bit too fast. Sasuke lashed out. The door to the break room was flung open.. He could feel every shudder wracking her slim body. sending one of the ninjas sprawling backwards. Sasuke heard him talking like a low buzz in his ears. unnaturally clear. and Sasuke could practically feel his heart stop as he saw the blood staining her palm.. his focus narrowing to one thing and one thing alone – Sakura. blood dripping from her nose even as it bubbled from her lips. a fine spray of crimson droplets hitting his cheek. He would say he was just yelling. His lungs felt as though they were filled with hot lead. Sakura was a pale. get a medic – something besides just standing there with her lying limp in his arms. Sasuke would never admit that it was a scream that left his mouth when he caught her. saw him as a blurred image at the edge of his vision. hapter 6 Patient Zero Sakura drew her hand back from her mouth. It was like the entire world was moving away from him. He hadn't screamed since he was eight years old and he returned from shuriken training to find himself an orphan. Fear and realisation flashed across her eyes for a brief moment before they fluttered closed as her body went slack and she fell forward in a dead faint. boneless waif in his arms.rather more desperately than usual. every little detail about her had suddenly become frighteningly. Sasuke did not scream. . But he couldn't do anything. most pink. So when Sakura's eyes rolled back and she fell forward. He could feel every drop of her blood as it slid down and dried on his cheek. To find it covered in blood. He could hear each soft. he shrieked in fury. and his limbs might as well have been carved from a block of ice – they were cold and numb and uncooperative. He could see every hair in the tangles of strands that spilled against his chest. but he did not scream. slamming against the wall behind it with such force the plaster cracked as Naruto sped into the room.
.. she was inundated by worried cries and shouted inquiries about her student's health. his face blank. When she'd learned of her apprentice's collapse. then said bluntly. he looked completely unaffected by Sakura's collapse." . Sasuke didn't hear any clear. but Sakura had been insistent that they know. At first glance.and it appears she has been so for some time. and so she wasn't surprised when she walked in to see the blonde sitting nervously on Hinata's bed and Sasuke leaning against the far wall.. She raised a hand for silence.. before continuing. coherent word of what Naruto said to him.. Sasuke jerked his head around. "How?" "No way!" Naruto shrieked. and something in her face must have convinced them to subside.. the sudden.wasn't good. arms folded over his chest.until she realised that his eyes were unfocused and he was blinking a little too often. which worked to constantly rally her failing immune system until. What she'd found. dizzying influx of adrenaline causing his Sharingan to activate on reflex... There was a small spatter of brown across his cheek – he hadn't even had the presence of mind to wash Sakura's blood away." she said simply. allowing the medics to slide her from his arms and onto a stretcher. because even Naruto fell silent. "Silence!" Tsunade snarled. She didn't know how the others were going to take the news. He loosened his grip on Sakura. which have progressed far past the stage the rest of you are being kept at. "Sakura has been infected by the chakra-eaters. and now she is beginning to manifest other symptoms. but the sight of the blonde – looking as worried and desperate and helpless as Sasuke felt – seemed to restore some fragment of his shattered composure. "Sakura's immune system has shut down. As soon as Tsunade entered the ward.?" Ino gaped. "Sakura is infected. burning blue eyes that seemed on the verge of tears. -xxxTsunade thinned her lips as she ran her eyes over the notes she'd taken during her examination of Sakura.. "Wha. And she couldn't sugarcoat it – they had to know exactly how serious this was.His wrist – of the arm that wasn't supporting Sakura against him – was suddenly caught in a grip more solid than stone.. She'd told Sasuke and Naruto to wait in the ward.. But his bloodline ability slowly cooled as he stared into bright. We never realised it because she was performing the immune enhancing jutsu. like someone in shock.. Just because he knew they would help her didn't make letting her go any easier. she'd insisted on entering the isolation wing to examine her." The Hokage sighed.
" "Can. Hinata bit her lip as she considered what she could possibly say to make Ino feel better. She is bleeding in her lungs. Sakura had come in to check on Shikamaru. apparently cheerful and healthy. "Yes. The Hyuuga nodded as the blonde slipped out. It was probably because they hadn't witnessed anything to do with it – as far as they knew. Hinata watched from beneath her lashes as Shikamaru pushed his blanket to the end of his mattress.. Then he remembered Sakura lying limp in his arms. The idea of Sakura being infected seemed somehow unreal..ludicrous. And more than that. then went on." Tsunade finished. . As though it was just some sort of big cosmic joke. except the degradation isn't limited to her nose – any capillaries that are irritated are breaking open. the idea that he had Sakura's blood on his face made his stomach lurch. and Shikamaru and Chouji looked as though they didn't know what to say.. "I'll be back soon. practically jumping up and down on the spot. he was so anxious.. flaky texture under his fingers. okay. surprised by the crisp. her blood vessels are weakening." Ino said. and even the lining of her digestive tract.. coughing blood. her gums.. the next thing they knew.." Tsunade told him. she's being kept in one of the sterile rooms.and then. "Because her immune system has been so severely compromised. "I mean.. Though Sasuke had seen far more gruesome sights. then touched the side of his face. feeling his cheek becoming damp." Naruto's eyes were huge in his face. But one person seemed to realise that nothing they could say would reassure Ino. "And Sasuke.She gave them a moment to process that. Ino was staring fixedly down at her blanket. somehow. apparently declining to comment.. Hinata?" Naruto said. and Tsunade was telling them the infection had progressed so far she was in serious danger. but you'll have to go through a sterilisation process first. and Ino swallowed audibly. this is Sakura – she defeated one of the Akatsuki! She isn't going to be taken down by some stupid little disease!" Chouji looked away. sounding as though she were doing her best to convince herself.. "She'll be okay. the idea of one of the medics who had been treating them for weeks succumbing to the disease seemed. her fingers fiddling nervously with the edge of her blanket. and asked that the rest of you be informed of her condition.wash your face. she was down in one of the sterile rooms. won't you?" The Uchiha blinked.can we see her?" Naruto asked timidly. "As we've seen. He strode rapidly from the ward and towards the bathroom. suddenly unable to stand the feel of it on his skin. "She regained consciousness about ten minutes ago. The ward was strangely silent when Naruto left.
right? She could probably heal herself if it comes down to it. -xxxSasuke – his face still damp from being cleaned – strode down to the sterile room. unable to get past the point it had first stalled on. the airlock.. in the tilt of her mouth.. exchanging his clothes for stiff. unmoving. It was a lie she wanted to believe so badly it was painful. sterile hospital scrubs. And she realised that Ino knew that too.. Her immune system was so weak that a mild cold could kill her. kept pushing her body to the edge. This was the kind of room Sakura was being treated in now. "She'll be okay. Sasuke didn't claim to be a medic. Hinata knew that was about as far from 'okay' as you could get." The blonde sounded rather like a battered woman trying to convince herself her husband didn't mean it. "She'll be okay. "She'll be okay. kept performing draining jutsus. and wouldn't do it again. but spoke as though she were looking into his face. It had been written in Tsunade's eyes. either.. but to prevent him infecting Sakura." It was more question than statement. Sakura was infected. The shower.... Shikamaru never said a word. in the too-rigid set of her shoulders... The immune enhancing jutsu had held the outward symptoms in check for a while. but he knew a bad diagnosis when he heard it. Sasuke's mind still felt as though it were frozen in ice – still. the mask and gloves. Even now. . located at the very end of the isolation wing." Hinata's teeth dug deeper into her lip. These rooms were used only when patients had severely compromised immune systems.swung his legs over the side of the bed and – with perfect calm and control – padded barefoot over to Ino. The thought lodged a chill sliver of ice in Sasuke's spine as he dully went through the procedure that had to be performed before entering a sterile room.. "This is Sakura. The blonde didn't look up. Sakura was coughing blood." Ino repeated as Shikamaru carefully slid an arm around her shoulders.and she'd kept working. She had been constantly rallying her failing immune system. It seemed strange that this wasn't to prevent Sakura infecting him. as silent and undetected as a skilled assassin. over half an hour after Sakura had first collapsed in his arms..but he didn't let go of Ino.... so the disease had progressed without anyone noticing. Sakura had been infected. until it shut down and her entire body rebelled. to the extent that even the common cold could kill them.
Sasuke shook his head and stepped into Sakura's room. The green-eyed woman was sitting propped against her pillows, looking shockingly small and vulnerable in the hospital gown. Her skin seemed unnaturally pale, the blue veins standing out as clearly as cerulean ribbons. A figure sitting beside her that could vaguely be recognised as Naruto under the scrubs and mask tapped Sakura on the shoulder and pointed in the direction of the door. Sakura glanced at Sasuke...and suddenly broke out into giggles. Of all the reactions Sasuke had been expecting, that was not one of them. "You two look so funny," Sakura laughed. "I can barely tell who you are underneath all that!" Her giggles soon turned into a hacking cough, and she snatched one of the tissues from the nightstand just in time to spit some blood into it. She crumpled the tissue and tossed into a small bin nearby, and Sasuke's stomach twisted when he spotted the wads of red-tinged tissues already resting there. "Naruto said Tsunade already told you everything," he could hear Sakura saying, but Sasuke's eyes were riveted on the blood-stains in the bin. Tsunade's voice echoed in his mind like a broken record. Bleeding in her lungs, her gums, and even the lining of her digestive tract... His fist clenched sharply, pulling his mind away from the dark spiral it had been about to descend into. "So you're really...bleeding like she said?" Naruto asked quietly. Sakura nodded. "Yeah. But it's not a lot of constant bleeding, so they don't have to use a drain or anything – I'll probably cough most of it up." Sasuke didn't find that reassuring in the slightest. "It could be worse," Sakura reflected. "The capillaries in my eyes could be bleeding – that would be messy." Naruto looked vaguely disgusted by the mental image. "Anyway, don't hover at the door, Sasuke, come sit down!" Sakura instructed, patting the side of the bed opposite Naruto. Considering that these were sterile rooms, they weren't equipped with chairs for visitors. Feeling uncomfortable, Sasuke sat on the very edge of the mattress. He watched Naruto and Sakura chat with utter bemusement – it seemed that after their brief and rather evasive mention of Sakura's infection, they were now both making an effort to pretend it didn't exist. As though Sakura wasn't lying in a hospital bed with a potentially fatal disease working its way through her body.
Sasuke simply couldn't understand how they could block out something like that. He couldn't think of anything else. Sakura smiled at Naruto, and all he could see was the faint, pinkish tinges between her teeth, the remnants of the blood she'd coughed up. She patted the blonde on the head and all he could think of was the fact that bacteria were teeming beneath her sickly-pale skin, devouring her chakra, eating away at her life. "What are you doing?" His voice was low, trembling at the edges – a flimsy clay wall trying to hold back a flood it had no hope of stopping. Sakura blinked. Seeming to sense he was close to some sort of eruption, she spoke gently, cautiously, "I'm telling Naruto about the time I-" "You're sick!" Sasuke snapped. "Didn't you pay attention when Tsunade told you? You shouldn't be chatting, you should be getting treated or treating yourself or something! Don't you know how severe this is?" Sakura's face darkened, her lips thinned, and Sasuke wondered – not for the first time – why everything he said seemed to upset her. "I know what's going on, Sasuke," she said, her voice low and intent, as sure and purposeful as a knife thrown from the shadows. "In fact, I know what's going on probably better than you do. Would you like to hear? I've been infected with the chakra-eaters, probably within the first week or so of their spread, come to think of it. Guess I should have gotten tested but, well, you know what they say about hindsight." With a short, self-deprecating snort, Sakura went on, "The disease has progressed far beyond the stage the others are being kept at. My chakra is dropping to dangerously low levels. My immune system is non-existent. I'm sniffling because my nose is bleeding, I'm coughing because my lungs are bleeding, and my stomach's cramping because it's bleeding, too!" Naruto tried to interrupt, but Sakura overran his stumbling attempts like a galloping horse stomping on a field mouse. "They've performed the chakra saturation technique on me, but that's going to do very little. The bacteria have become dormant, yeah, but my immune system won't attack them, so I'm not going to have any chance to heal. Eventually, my chakra channels are going to degrade to the point where my organs start to fail, at which point I'll die, though I'll probably slip into a coma beforehand." It was beyond Sasuke how Sakura could state the possibility of her death so baldly. But her voice was flat and toneless, and her eyes were two chips of emerald ice, reflecting nothing. "At the moment, the medics' best hope is to simply keep me alive until the scientists can discover a cure. Of course, the odds of that happening aren't high, so the main plan at the moment seems to be to keep me as happy as possible so that when I die, I can do so in relative comfort." Sakura's mouth twisted, forming something between a grimace and a sneer. "So, yes, Sasuke, I do know how severe this is. I know what my chances are, and I know they aren't good. I've told you before – the worst thing about being a medic is that you know exactly what's happening!" Sakura's voice was high and strident, but the slight glimmer in her eyes betrayed her gathering tears. Sasuke stared at her, feeling like a kid who'd lost his mother in the market. Bewildered, uncertain, and suddenly wishing everything would just magically be put to rights in the next second.
Except he knew it wouldn't. And he was growling and snapping at Sakura because he wanted her to say that it really wasn't that bad, to say that she would be cured within a week, that she'd survive, that there was no chance she wouldn't make it... To say something to appease the little orphan inside of him that was screaming that this couldn't be happening – not to her, not to Sakura... "It'll be okay, Sakura," Naruto said bracingly, once more left to compensate for Sasuke's social inadequacies and trying to ignore what he'd just heard her say. "Don't pay attention to the bastard – he's been nasty ever since you fainted on him in the break room." Sakura was silent while she thought that over. While she had bristled like the proverbial porcupine at Sasuke's comments – both implying she was stupid and rubbing her face into things she had no real wish to think about – she knew that Sasuke was like that; when injured, whether physically or emotionally, he lashed out at all around him. Whatever his faults and deficiencies in expressing himself, Sakura knew Sasuke cared about her – as a friend, if nothing else. Having her pass out like that after coughing blood must have been scary for him. And than having Tsunade tell them that she'd contracted the chakra-eaters and her immune system had collapsed... For the first time since he'd entered the room, Sakura realised that Sasuke looked like a man on the verge of a breakdown. Half his face was covered by the surgical mask, so she supposed she could be pardoned for not picking up on his mood earlier, but now that she was looking for it, she could see the hint of desperation and vulnerability in his eyes as he stared at IV needle that had been taped to the back of her hand. In spite of his earlier words, Sakura couldn't help but feel sorry for him. She patted him on the shoulder in a commiserating fashion, and was about to tell him she wasn't giving up hope or something along those lines, when she felt her throat tighten once more. "D-damn it..." the medic choked, grabbing a handful of tissues and raising them to her mouth just in time to catch a spray of blood as she coughed. Her previous rant had obviously set off the bleeding in her lungs again. The tissues were becoming damp with blood, and Sakura was beginning to struggle to draw breath. The spasms were coming too close together – she couldn't draw enough breath to fuel them. Her spine curved with their force, and she was vaguely aware of someone's hand on her back, stroking firmly between her shoulder blades in the hope of calming the convulsions wracking her lungs. Fortunately, it eased before she passed out, and Sakura came to herself with the realisation that she was leaning on Sasuke's shoulder, still coughing weakly, while his hand ran up and down her back. Sakura went stiff. She couldn't help it – while she'd felt someone rubbing her back during her coughing fit, she had been sure it was Naruto. After all, Sasuke always seemed to have a thing about prolonged physical contact. He'd touch someone to swat them, or shove them, or punch them...but in all Sakura's memory, he'd never hugged anyone.
"Sort of. "I got you some water from the little bathroom-thing over there. to try to look him in the eye and perhaps pick up some hint of what he was thinking. more than anything. "If we have any blood to spare. and the arm that wasn't rubbing her back was gripping her shoulder gently to stabilise her. "That's safe to drink. "You okay now." Sakura said wryly. "If this keeps up I may need a transfusion.And what they were doing now was dangerously close to hugging. but she soon realised they were so soaked in blood they weren't going to absorb anymore.. but silently vowed to find out what his blood type was. Naruto?" she asked. but she wanted to smack him – she didn't want to move away from Sasuke. and Naruto had just handed the Uchiha the perfect excuse. her voice thick as she spoke through a clogged nose.. . "I'm better now. but she was distracted by the warm liquid she felt trickling from her nostrils. taking a generous swallow from the cup." Sakura sighed.. Her forehead was resting against his collarbone. Sakura knew his intentions were good." she muttered.. "Can you get me some more tissues. "My nose is bleeding now. and rapid footsteps heralded Naruto's entrance moments before a small cup of water was thrust under Sakura's nose. "Here." She grimaced as she felt the material in her hands becoming damp.you're okay. Not that Sakura was complaining – she was quite comfortable as she was. There was the sound of a door opening. Sakura started to press the soggy tissues in her hand against her nose. But he didn't move.irritating. Sakura was going to move back. waiting for Sasuke to move away now that he had verbal confirmation of her state. She was bleeding like a hemophiliac. right?" "As long as you took it from the tap. waving at the door opposite the entrance. She had thought that Sasuke would let her go once she had stopped coughing. You're. She felt a bit of guilty pleasure in having Sasuke hold her like this." Sasuke said nothing." Naruto practically jumped across the bed to grab the tissues. Sakura?" Naruto asked worriedly. right? It doesn't hurt?" "It doesn't hurt. but the only change in their positions was that the hand between her shoulderblades had settled on her lower back. Now her nose was bleeding. pressing the wad of tissue against her nose." Naruto said. letting the cool water soothe her throat and wash the taste of iron from her mouth." she answered honestly.
understanding was a bolt of lightning. Akatsuki had deliberately engineered Sakura's infection by the chakra-eaters. Because Naruto had allies. she'd probably infected Naruto and Sasuke about the same time). The bacteria weren't attracted to civilians. The infection map finally made sense. one of the large sheets that lit up the sky and illuminated everything. but it made no sense for the Akatsuki to unleash a ninja-specific disease while they still needed to capture Naruto. and as Kakashi doubted they would be able to survive very long without a host.. Except for her mission to Wave. Sakura was the original carrier of the disease. practically legendary missing-nin. He'd been told about Sakura's sudden onset of symptoms. at least until they performed the jutsu to extract the Kyuubi? Or had they developed some new jutsu that allowed them to extract the demons from corpses? Then Kakashi remembered that the disease wasn't affecting Naruto because of his demonic guest. then the Akatsuki's motive now made much more sense. Why had the Akatsuki gone to so much trouble to unleash a fatal disease in Konoha? It was true that Leaf had been a progressively growing thorn in their side.-xxxKakashi put the finishing touches to his improved infection map with a sense of fatalistic resignation.. that could turn night into day for one brief moment. Didn't they need the blonde man alive.and then realisation had struck him – not like a bolt of lightning. They were an organisation comprised solely of powerful. friends. people who would die to keep him safe – something that was only too rare among the other vessels. But they hadn't succeeded with Naruto.where had she picked them up from? It wasn't like she'd been on any dangerous missions lately. And this time. The thing Kakashi couldn't figure out. And that person was Sakura.. Wave. where she'd healed the people caught in that disastrous boating accident. Devastating and rattling to the very core. And if he worked with that assumption. Shizune and Akina had in common for so long they'd completely overlooked who they had in common. Their attempts to capture the demon vessels usually succeeded on the first try. he'd want to know every trait and aspect of it before he unleashed it. though. Wave. It wouldn't have taken much – just scatter a vial of the dormant bacteria around her room and leave it at that. and she'd worked with Shizune and Akina in the hospital. . the remaining cells would probably be long-dead by the time another ninja so much as set foot in the room. where Akatsuki had been sighted. she hadn't even left the village except for. but more like an earthquake. was why. She'd had lunch with Hinata the week before the Hyuuga had collapsed (come to think of it. They'd been wondering what Hinata.... Had the Akatsuki known that would happen? Kakashi would say so – if he was engineering a fatal disease. So if Sakura had spread the chakra-eaters throughout Konoha. their assumption that she must have been infected early on in the disease's spread.
Every instinct Sasuke had was telling him something was wrong. Much easier than having to mow through dozens of phenomenally powerful ninja – Sakura." Sakura said calmly. Jiraiya and Kakashi himself. "You two – out!" she snapped. to name just a few – to reach him.. Sakura and Tsunade exchanged a look. shifting her legs a little beneath the blanket to prompt her friends to move." Sakura agreed." "They did. the inside covered with sheepskin to prevent the leather chaffing her skin. It's a little extreme. but his eyes flew to Tsunade like a pair of daggers. and then Sakura spoke again. dropping the chalk he'd been scrawling on the blackboard with. Sasuke didn't claim to be a medic. And that would take care of Naruto's friends (Kakashi didn't think they could have predicted that Sasuke's curse seal would grant him immunity as well)." "That sounds dangerous.Akatsuki had failed to capture Naruto because he had protectors.but there is something Lady Tsunade can do. . Naruto and Sasuke obeyed the non-verbal cue and slid from their respective sides of the bed. with just a hint of weariness in her voice. but it was Naruto who spoke up. as I've already said. Chapter 7 Deterioration Naruto jumped when Tsunade strode into the room. "I thought you said they'd already performed the chakra saturation technique.. his arm jerking as though he wanted to pull Sakura away from Tsunade and then thought better of it. but there was a hint of apprehension in her eyes. "What are you doing?" Naruto half-yelped. but she can pour destructive chakra into my body to try to burn the dormant bacteria out of my system. Sasuke. dressed in the requisite get-up for the sterile room and carrying a bundle of what looked like leather straps in her arms. His tone was indifferent. Sasuke scowled. Tsunade. "Why? What are you going to do?" "She's going to treat me. "My immune system won't attack the bacteria. Sakura held up one wrist. solitary vessel. and Tsunade began fastening one of the cuffs around it. Then all the Akatsuki would have to do was pick up a grieving. but he knew that any medical procedure involving straps couldn't be pleasant. allowing Tsunade to dump the straps on the blanket. But this disease had the possibility of wiping out Konoha's entire ninja population." Sasuke commented. Kakashi sighed. Now all they needed to do was find a cure. They'd figured out where the chakra-eaters had come from.
Naruto had noticed too. tugging experimentally against the straps as Tsunade secured her ankles. each limb tightly secured to the four corners. Which is why I'm doing it – I don't trust any other medic to pull this off. Sakura tried to smile reassuringly as they shuffled out of the room. but the anticipation was beginning to make her sweat. the final contraption dangling from her hand. Tsunade seemed to hesitate." If Naruto's question had thickened the air like syrup. "Can we stay? I mean. but that's hardly an option at the moment. however. "The procedure is intensely painful. "No. Sasuke looked at Sakura. "The chakra has to be precisely controlled to prevent the patient being permanently damaged by the procedure." Her lips were pressed tightly together. Sasuke knew Tsunade wouldn't be performing this procedure on Sakura unless it was the only possible way to help her. and then you can come back. she was clearly dreading this procedure. now that she thought about it."It is. telling herself that she was a ninja and went through physical pain everyday. The medic sighed. Naruto had gone a little pale. Many patients have been known to lash out or fit while it's being done. ... and her whole face spoke of reluctance. and looked Naruto straight in the eyes.. She was trying to stay calm." She needed complete concentration for this procedure. was actually a rather fitting metaphor. When she spoke. I need you out – it will take about an hour. Maybe Shizune. tightening the strap around Sakura's wrist before she began to fasten the other end to the bed post. bearing a surprising resemblance to puppies turned out of their house." the Hokage said bluntly. Her medical mind reminded her – unenthusiastically – that it was same type used on patients receiving electroshock therapy. revealing a flash of sympathy.in spite of her brave front. but he thought Tsunade's grim mask cracked for a moment. Which. that word turned it into granite.?" Naruto trailed off. and she had a feeling that watching Sakura in pain would make Naruto – and probably Sasuke as well – very distracting.. "Sorry. "But. and Sakura parted her lips to accept the plastic gag that prevented her from biting her tongue if she did indeed have a fit. taking in her pale face. Strapped to the bed. Tsunade's eyes were flat when she looked up. while you do the procedure?" It might have been Sasuke's imagination. and his head swung between the medics like someone watching a tennis match. her pinched lips. but no. then admitted. gesturing to the straps. she felt like she was about to have a demon exorcised from her. her tone was businesslike.." "Then why are you. Tsunade paused in the act of strapping Sakura's other wrist down..isn't there some other way?" The question hung heavily in the air for several long moments. with her. The straps ensure Sakura doesn't thrash around and hurt me or herself. Without even asking. But it didn't make him like it. her face grim and closed.
Naruto had come into their ward about ten minutes ago and sat miserably on the edge of Hinata's bed. and departed to see Hinata. The procedure Sakura would be enduring even now. The Uchiha frowned. He still had yet to look away from it. remember that April Fool's Day when Sakura hid Lady Tsunade's sake by transforming them to look like piles of paperwork?" Ino asked Hinata.so Lady Tsunade was searching for her sake for the whole day. -xxx"Hey. then the procedure still had three thousand. And Sasuke planned on counting every one of them off on the plastic clock mounted on the wall outside the airlock. Tsunade's fingers twisted through a complex array of seals. touching the edge of his palm with her fingertips in a touch as light as the caress of a moth's wing. Assuming Tsunade had begun perhaps five minutes after they had left the room. -xxxOne hour was sixty minutes. staring at the clock on the wall with unnerving intensity. I think she was more impressed with the chakra control it would have taken for a thirteen year old kid to successfully transform so many sake bottles with a set time limit for the transformation. He had a feeling she might have meant for him to move beyond the airlock and not simply sit in the tiny space between the glass door and the door to the sterile room. counting down each jerky movement. but since Sakura was only thirteen and this was in the first six months of her apprenticeship. An attempt to divert everyone's thoughts – including her own – from the procedure Naruto had told them about. ".. and then she pressed her hands to the papery gown covering Sakura's stomach. I think Lady Tsunade would have been mad. Sasuke had obeyed the letter of the law. Sasuke saw no reason to move.The pink-haired woman met her teacher's weary eyes and nodded once. two hundred and twenty seconds to go. Sixty minutes was three thousand. but since she'd never specifically made that distinction. by the time she got back. Hinata slid her hand across the sheets. but since Sakura had only cast the transformation with the intention of it lasting about half a day or so. And then Sakura was biting down on the gag in an attempt to smother her screams. six hundred seconds. When Tsunade had told him and Naruto to leave the room. his eyes locked onto the thin second hand." .. "Eventually. they'd all changed back. The dark-haired woman giggled. recognising Ino's efforts for what it was. Tentatively. she had to go out and buy some more. Naruto had obeyed the spirit of the command. She didn't know if he would accept her offer of comfort or simply ignore it but after a moment. his hand turned over and clasped hers." Ino was narrating.
and the leather coils were piled beneath the foot of the bed. Sasuke didn't see where she went – he wasn't paying attention.. that was saying a lot. but she did walk very quickly. He was more interested in the medic that was still behind the door. With a little sigh. really.. in case of.' Sakura thought as she struggled to get her body under control. -xxxSasuke was surprised when Tsunade opened the door after only forty-three minutes and twentythree seconds had passed." The blonde woman had always wondered how much of that had been inspired by Naruto's pranks. Everyone was still a little stressed. "At least.he didn't know what. he just wanted to keep his entry as silent as possible. The procedure was about half an hour through. soaked in sweat and shaking like someone with palsy. so she channeled hers into a bit of mischief. "I had to stop. blank stare in answer. .Shikamaru chuckled. She actually felt like crying. Ino shook her head and glance at the clock. her voice slightly hoarse. and Hinata thought he made a rather strange picture – sitting on Ino's bed and lounging against the foot board. the story dragging him from his contemplative mood. "I think I remember that." the Hokage said at last. "A couple of months after you went off to train with Jiraiya. He stepped inside the sterile room as quietly as he could. but the residual spasms wracking her body made it difficult." Chouji commented. Hadn't she said the procedure would take an hour? He said so. "It was causing too much damage." She didn't run through the airlock. She kept trying to breathe evenly. 'Tsunade wasn't kidding about how much it would hurt. and received a bitter. Ino nodded. She was curled into a ball in the middle of the mattress. Sakura had been released from the straps. and considering that the last time she'd cried from the sheer pain of something had been when she was thirteen and had broken both her arms during a training exercise. his feet level with her hips." "Sakura pulled a prank?" Naruto said. He still had yet to return to his own hospital bed. Her eyes were clamped tightly shut. Even now that the procedure had ended. and her breathing was soft and ragged as though she were trying not to cry. I remember wondering how she'd gotten away with it. her body still stung and throbbed as though there was acid running through her instead of blood.
When she drew the material back. But Naruto seemed to get over his surprise very quickly. for that matter. "Do what?" "Smile when you don't want to. -xxx"What do you mean. a little uncomfortable with him reading her so easily. She doubted the cloth would ever really recover. The Uchiha shrugged disinterestedly. or was she simply so unused to kindness from him? Neither option was very appealing. but Sasuke was pleased to note her smile was genuine this time..Her throat burned. she noted it was Sasuke's handkerchief. her hand twitching as though she was unconsciously reaching for a sake bottle. Sakura still referred to the handkerchief as his property.but Sakura once told me the blood doesn't have to match to donate!" . "You got tested." Sasuke said softly. "I think I ruined your handkerchief." Naruto halted mid-rant. and that it was now covered in blood once more. Was it so unbelievable that he'd try to help Sakura? Once he'd heard that Sakura's blood loss was reaching dangerous proportions and that she needed a transfusion. and Sakura barely had time to snatch at the bedside table. seize some sort of soft fabric and press it to her mouth before she was coughing desperately.. it's not a match?" Naruto nearly shouted. too?" Sasuke reflected that the expression on Naruto's face was quite similar to the expression on Tsunade's face when he'd asked to be tested. Sakura blinked. Neither is Sasuke's. and dropped her eyes to handkerchief now wadded in her fist. "I mean. Tsunade sighed." Sasuke was slightly disturbed to realise that. your blood type is not a match to Sakura's. Automatically. As though she expected him to demand its return any moment. even all these weeks after he'd given it to her. feeling as though her lungs were trying to exit her body through her throat." Sakura swallowed. his face unreadable. as the next moment he was practically shouting at Tsunade again. "You don't have to do that. she tried to paste a comforting smile on her face." Sakura grinned weakly. twisting to look at his friend. She jumped when someone touched her shoulder. "But. he'd been moments behind Naruto in demanding to be tested. and twisted her aching body around to see Sasuke standing beside her bed. Did she really think him so ungenerous. "I'll give you another one. soggy with blood.
" -xxxKakashi watched the needle enter his skin. from what Tsunade's reports were telling him." "Oh. but Sakura will get what she needs. because there was no other way she could beat this disease. and if he wanted to donate to her he would have to go the hospital. whether good or bad. At least. that was still deterioration. It was all up to the scientists and medics now – he certainly didn't have the knowledge to aid in finding a cure. just on the off-chance of being able to help. "Your blood is type A. We can't give someone blood that possesses antigens they don't have. there was little hope they could be tracked down and forced to yield it in time. and observed his blood spiral through the tube and into the attached bag with slightly morbid fascination. and the next thing he knew. two steps back. Sasuke's blood type is AB. All he could do was sit around and wait for news.." Naruto looked the very definition of crestfallen. and that means she lacks those types of antigens. Kakashi's investigation had ended once they'd pinned down the origin of the chakra-eaters. While the Akatsuki undoubtedly had some sort of cure. as he'll need to give the blood outside the isolation wing and then it will have to be transported in...or she'd die. And in spite of those steps forward. "Fortunately. donating blood so his student could survive a little longer.The Hokage sighed. He'd heard that Sakura's condition was worsening. While the medics were working practically around the clock to perform the chakra saturation technique and keep the bacteria dormant. Meanwhile. and the bacteria kept 'waking up' and attacking her all over again.. so he can donate blood to Sakura. Sakura's blood is type O. to the point where she was losing so much blood she would probably need a transfusion in the near future. and asked to be tested as well. So here he was. while he could do nothing but take. It'll take some doing. and that means you have type A antigens in your blood. -xxx- . he was being informed that his blood type was a match to Sakura's. the third candidate proved a match." Tsunade went on. It was a case of one step forward. At least now he felt like he was doing something. and had a brief moment to wonder why she let Naruto get away with these sort of outbursts. That both Sakura and Naruto could give. and that means he has both A and B type antigens in his blood. Inactivity had never sat well with Kakashi. He's type O. so she might live to see a cure. While Sasuke knew that blood type was determined by genetics and not by personality. There was simply no middle ground. he thought it seemed to say something about them. He'd gotten himself tested. and Naruto could also donate blood to Sasuke. while she could donate blood to either of you. Either they'd find a cure and heal her completely. So. "Kakashi heard about it. and the sudden lack of activity had left him feeling rather useless. it just wasn't sustainable for the long term.neither of you can donate blood to her. Sakura's collapsed immune system simply couldn't fight them off.
a little surprised to realise that his fingers could engulf her entire fist. Sakura's body was shutting down by tiny increments as her organs began to descend the slippery slope towards complete failure. the first thought that flew through his mind was that she looked like a corpse. her fainting more frequent. In the week since she'd been admitted to the sterile room. even though the strands were damp and stringy with sweat. when he'd entered the room. Since entering the room.Sasuke was only half paying attention to the medic bustling through the sterile room. While he knew Sakura was far from helpless. As the chakra-eaters swarmed throughout her system. and she was instead receiving her nourishment from a drip that fed glucose and basic ions straight to her bloodstream. Because it looked like it could. Sakura could barely move in her bed for the labyrinth of tubes and wires that either monitored her condition or struggled to keep her alive.. Her skin was as pale as bleached bone. and she was spending more and more of her time dead to the world. easy to forget that the top of her head was only a little higher than his collarbone. and never progressed to the literal. There was nothing he could fight. seeing her lying motionless in the hospital bed – looking smaller and more fragile than she ever had since she had been twelve years old – made . Her stomach and intestines were bleeding so severely she wasn't able to digest food. The whole picture made him feel irrationally angry. her pink hair seeming as vivid as a neon light against it. The culprit wasn't an enemy ninja. her temperature climbing. But that was to be expected.. and Sasuke covered it with his own on impulse. tightly curled. she'd become sicker and sicker. and while they couldn't give her an oxygen mask or the like in case she coughed up blood in her sleep. they'd taken to upping the oxygen content of the sterile air that was being pumped into the room. Sakura's condition had gone downhill at an unnervingly rapid rate. Sakura was hurting. In fact. it was a multitude of microorganisms that were devouring her from the inside-out.and there was nothing he could do. He remembered once hearing that your closed fist was the size of your heart – did that mean Sakura's heart could fit in the palm of his hand? It was easy to forget how physically small Sakura was when she yelling at volumes that could crack glass or shattering boulders with a flick of her wrist. nothing he could punish for it. nothing he could hurt. Her hand rested limply on the blanket. was under threat from something that was slowly killing her before his eyes. She was now too ill to even stumble the few steps to the bathroom. and the medics had been forced to set up a catheter. Easy to forget that she had to tilt her face back to look him in the eye. The bleeding in her lungs was beginning to impair her breathing. Sasuke had to force himself to take shallow breaths or he'd become dizzy. setting up the transfusion. Sakura was still unconscious – even the sensation of a new needle being placed in her skin didn't rouse her. Sasuke hoped that expression stayed figurative. her coughing spells becoming longer and harsher. Coupled with the various machines that had been set up around her bedside. the bag filled with Kakashi's blood being hooked to a stand as an IV needle was slipped into the blue vein at Sakura's elbow.
The feeling dimmed a little.. her arms beginning to shift as though she were struggling to raise them and wind them about his neck." she muttered. holding her gently to him.what could he do? "Please. and – careful of the machines she was hooked up to – wrapped his arms loosely around her. Sakura realised she was very ill. Mum?" Sakura implored. He brushed a sweat-soaked strand away from where it was plastered to her forehead... "I love you. The material had faded a little now after so many washes and soaks. Sakura twitched – apparently the cold water was rousing her..him feel strangely protective. What could he do? She seemed convinced that he was her mother. She thought he was her mother. So he set the wet cloth aside.. He told himself it didn't mean anything – she was just hallucinating. Her temperature was rising.. Sasuke wasn't exactly comfortable with this idea. judging by her comment. and Sakura would have probably been an affectionate child.. her skin feeling like a furnace against his own. trying to bring her temperature down. Even in her delirious state. "I really don't feel well. but refused to leave. but it could still serve the purpose he needed it to. "I can't go the Academy today. "Maybe we should go see the doctor. Sasuke wondered if she was having fever dreams. grimacing at the heat that rose from her skin. Dangerously so. Sasuke did his very best to ignore the warm contentment that rushed through his chest. tilting her head so her lips brushed against his cheek in a soft kiss. Mum. and while he knew what a mother would do in this situation. Sasuke cast around for a cloth or sponge – something he could use to try to bring her temperature down – and his eyes landed on the handkerchief on the bedside table. "I don't feel good. pressing her face against his collarbone." Sakura whispered. she was an affectionate adult. I feel sick. "Can you give me a hug?" Sasuke froze." Sasuke's stomach knotted. opening eyes that were like frosted glass – dull and opaque. Sasuke set to work running the damp cloth across Sakura's exposed skin. careful to avoid jostling the various IV needles and tubes. but he couldn't stand seeing the look of distress and helpless appeal on Sakura's face." she slurred. bent down. Probably hallucinating she was back in the Academy. ." Sakura muttered again. come to that... He sponged the wet handkerchief down her arms.. After filling a small basin with cold water from the tiny bathroom.
." Sasuke grimaced.. it's pretty distinctive. most of which contained the words Mum. Before. but I think you should just grab him by the collar and kiss him senseless – that ought to get his attention!" Sakura gave a burst of giddy laughter. -xxxChapter 8 Slipping Away Sakura was getting worse. Naruto. It was for the childlike voice in the back of his mind insisting that if he held her. Genius he may be. her lapses into unconsciousness were few and far between." she mumbled." she continued..hey. He caught snippets of sentences. prompting Sasuke to wonder if the medics were giving her any sort of medication and what kind. "How are things going with Shikamaru.then everything would be okay. "Stands out during battles.. but now she spent perhaps half an hour out of every day awake and aware of her surroundings and the rest unconscious or in a delirium.. too. .. or Ino in them.. her eyes fluttering closed.. and a spray of blood had caught a lock of her hair. practically sings out who I am to the enemy. "I mean." Privately. staring at a random point on the ceiling. that she seemed to swing between recognising him and calling him Ino or Naruto. Sasuke wondered exactly what situation Sakura was referring to. Sasuke really didn't want to think about that. "And shut up about that!" Sakura suddenly exclaimed. "I used to hate my hair. She'd called him Hinata once. but finished cleaning her lock of hair in silence as she degenerated into incoherent babblings. Dad. Sakura had suffered a nasty coughing fit a few minutes ago. "Plus. and you and Tenten dyed your hair pink so they wouldn't be able to pick me out so easily. gently scrubbing a bloodied lock of the distinctive mane." Sasuke chose not comment. Sasuke knew it was only a matter of time before she slipped into a coma.. but this time it wasn't for her comfort – it was for his. "This is a totally different situation. He gripped her a little tighter. "I keep telling you – your subtle flirting-slash-seduction plan just doesn't seem to be working. It was mark of how sick Sakura was.. and then. who has pink hair? It looks like I fell into a vat of bubblegum or something. Ino. if he just kept hanging on. anyway?" she muttered..Her organs were beginning to fail.. remember when there was that bunch of missing-nin trying to kill me before I could treat that lord's son.
. Tsunade had told them that Sakura's kidneys were on the verge of shutting down.. "Yeah. "Sasuke. "But Sasuke's a jerk!" 'This means nothing!' he told himself. her eyes beginning to flutter closed. taking stock of the tubes and wires that had only increased in number since his last visit.' The idea hurt.. in and of itself. But he could guess that they were all showing increasingly weakening readings. Sakura surveyed the machines and IVs hooked to every spare inch of skin before speaking. like a snoring puppy.. might not be so life-threatening – she could be put on dialysis – but her liver looked like it was soon to follow. afraid to shatter Sakura's moment of coherency and send her hurtling into delirium once more. His hands curled into fists as he fought against the desire – the need – to hit something. the monitors humming and beeping softly in the background. He surveyed the woman grimly.." she slurred eventually.?" Her voice was weak and thready. and he studiously ignored Sakura's further ramblings as she slowly trailed off into silence... Sakura was clearly unconsciousness when he returned. And there was no medicine. . That. And there was nothing Sasuke could do about it. All he could do was stand at her bedside and clean blood from her hair. So he settled for a jerky nod. aren't I?" Sasuke knew there was no point in lying to her. 'Like when she kissed you.Sakura was dying. or jutsu that could compensate for a failing liver. "Yeah?" he said quietly. She's just having a flashback to her Academy days. but it wasn't slurred or mumbled. Much as the medics had fought to save her."I may love him. but he couldn't bring himself to say the words – his throat closed tight whenever he thought of them. "I'm dying. to lash out.. He tipped out the pink-tinged water and wrung out the sponge.. Sasuke didn't know the names of most of them – he didn't even know what some of them were there for. back when she had a crush on you. machine. leaving both in the bathroom. and her slowly opening eyes were dull but focused. trying to ignore the way his heart suddenly thundered in his ears. aren't I?" Sasuke swallowed. she continued.. "I'm in a bad way. little wheezing noises issuing from her mouth." And without skipping a beat.
" She didn't have to tell Sasuke twice. Kiba – who had been dozing happily in his bed – bolted upright. Even that tiny motion took effort." the younger woman mumbled. but they were desperate for a cure – especially given Sakura's deteriorating condition – and had to explore any avenue with even the slightest chance of leading to one. really.. trying to sense where they had been degraded.so you think that this jutsu. But Sasuke ignored him." Tenten pulled a face. "Didn't you send them some of her blood yesterday – what do they keep doing with it?" Tsunade ignored him. the blood the scientists needed.. Tsunade sighed. . "I'm sorry. ready to meet the threat.. "No real change. they were studying her in an effort to learn more about the chakra-eaters. "It's a good idea. as though in defeat.." she muttered. Tenten." Her tone lacked any form of surprise or worry – it was one of resignation and acceptance. his fist clenched. would be able to cure you?" Sakura nodded.." The needle.an idea. "Is is really necessary?" Neji muttered from his own bed. and she had a feeling she was going to sink back into unconsciousness soon... Sakura. Her mind was beginning to swim. And the more they learned. Sakura's eyes closed. "Sakura says she has an idea about how to stop this disease. with the modifications you've described. she knew Neji was only concerned about his girlfriend. the more likely they were to uncover a weakness. "I need to talk to Tsunade. There's something.."I thought so. Tsunade rose to her feet so quickly the chair she had been sitting in went skidding across the room.. and even Tenten were forgotten. but the people back at the lab want some of your blood again. The Hokage was about to insert the needle into Tenten's arm when the door flew open. but offered Tsunade her arm. -xxx".but there's something she might be able to do. -xxxTsunade concentrated on feeling out Tenten's chakra channels. but her voice was strong when she spoke. He practically ran from the sterile room. As Tenten was the earliest they'd ever identified a case.. his eyes homing in on Tsunade. throwing off the mask and gloves as he went. Tsunade wasn't really holding out hope of finding anything probative." "I sense a 'but' coming.
Lady Tsunade?" one of them asked tremulously. Sakura. "I mean. but-" "I'll consent!" Naruto yelled. the risks alone would-" "I know the risks. Tsunade's face could have been carved in stone as she surveyed the various printouts and charts that screamed Sakura's failing condition in ink and pencil." the pink-haired medic slurred.there's hardly much risk of an overload on Sakura's part.. When you donate chakra. because her own chakra levels are so low. If there is the slightest slip. -xxxNaruto and Sasuke hovered at the edge of the knot of medics in the break room.." Tsunade said gently.." "I don't care!" Naruto proclaimed. "Come on. Naruto." "I don't wanna eat ramen now. We do it as a last-ditch procedure because of the risks it carries. wincing at their weak readings. Sakura's moment of coherency was over." she finally said in a low voice.. "Are you sure that's a good idea. but the donor.. "I know it will be difficult to find a donor willing to consent to the procedure. The medics paused. her voice tapering into silence as she slipped into unconsciousness once more.. making everyone in the room cringe as their eardrums shuddered.. "Donating chakra isn't like donating blood." she muttered. "But you can go ask Hinata if you want.it just doesn't exist..your chakra is actually sucked from your body and is circulated in another's.....it can permanently cripple the donor's chakra system. Even their short conversation had drained Sakura immensely. bent over a table as they discussed what they could do for Sakura. "I'm going to help Sakura!" . Tsunade automatically checked the monitors.. her eyed slowly slipping closed."But the degree of chakra control required to do this. "I'll consent! Just tell me what I have to do!" "I don't think you understand. swatting feebly at Tsunade's hand. the slightest mistake. "We can't manipulate bodies on the cellular level – if we could." Sakura muttered. and the recipient can be fatally overloaded. tapping her cheek roughly. there'd be no injury we couldn't heal. There had to be something the medics could do. "Sakura!" Tsunade snapped. Naruto..... And in this case.." the Hokage snapped. It's not like allowing someone to use your chakra – you don't just lend them your energy for a while." "Damn. "We could try chakra donation.the donor would be risking a lot." Tsunade began slowly.
He knew it might cripple his abilities as a ninja. looking mildly irritated. "I can donate... You'd never be able to perform a jutsu again. "I don't think you quite appreciate how risky the procedure is. releasing him." "Oh. darting glances at the pink-haired medic. but you can't donate to Sakura." the Hokage explained. Because living in a world where he was incapable of being a ninja was not nearly as terrifying as the prospect of living in a world without Sakura... "I'm sorry.you'll be unable to use chakra. her eyes shifting to the dark-haired man standing beside Naruto. feeling a little uncertain as he took her hands in his. and Tsunade had spent nearly an hour drawing the complex array of symbols this jutsu demanded on it and Sakura. guiding their joined hands to rest on the unconscious girl's stomach and the seals that had been drawn there. yanking his head down so she could inspect his hair. He'd been right beside Naruto – he'd heard the Hokage's explanation of the risks.. a little concerned at the length of time she had remained unaware." "So you've said. but the medics had somehow moved Sakura from her bed in the sterile room to the floor beside it. "What was that?" "I'm a counterclockwise type. Tsunade nodded." Tsunade said slowly. Your rotation is opposite to that of Sakura. what are you doing?" the blonde man protested." Sasuke repeated. He knew how dangerous the donation was. even though he made no move to shrug her away.but he was still going to do it. it's a different story if you're donating. Sasuke." Naruto stared morosely at the floor. Naruto. "If it goes wrong." Tsunade blinked in surprise." Sasuke snapped. -xxxSasuke knelt beside Sakura. . and while it wouldn't matter if you were lending her chakra.Tsunade studied him for a moment. "I'm a counterclockwise type..and it will probably end up doing more harm than good. A large sheet of paper had been placed underneath her." He tried not to be insulted by the incredulous stares that were being directed his way. The Hokage double-checked her inkings. "Hey. She hadn't even stirred when Tsunade stripped her and painted the necessary symbols on her body. Your chakra will be fighting against the flow of her own.. then – apparently deciding that he wasn't going to be dissuaded – she stood and walked over to him. "Sakura is a counterclockwise type. Sasuke didn't know how they had managed it. "What? Why?" "You're a clockwise type.." Tsunade said bluntly.
her head darting from side to side as she tried to assess her situation. He heard the soft murmur of voices from the room but couldn't make out what they were saying until Tsunade called him back in. because that is reaching all new levels of sad and pathetic.clear.. The Hokage took Sasuke's hand and he felt the cool touch of her chakra probe at him. the way the world swam. "You've got this look on your face. you know?" Tsunade wasn't looking nearly as happy. "Sasuke. and the hint of fear in the blonde's eyes made Sakura's stomach lurch. becoming tense.it isn't doing what we thought it would. He grimaced as he felt the telltale weakening of his limbs.' he told himself. get out while we get Sakura dressed again.." "Yeah. Sasuke.. "Lady Tsunade. We intended it to be like an . "What's wrong?" Sakura asked. You are not going to ogle a sick and unconscious woman. "Why am I on the floor? And why am I naked." Tsunade's eyes flashed to her. It didn't last as long as he would have expected it to." Tsunade said when she released him. Neither you nor Sakura will have any longlasting ill-effects. She was checking the monitors. "The chakra donation. wiping the last of the ink from her face. before Tsunade removed her hands. tapping some as though she wasn't quite sure they were working properly. thanks for your chakra. when he was distracted by Sakura stirring beside him. so he staggered obediently into the bathroom and splashed some water on his face. Sasuke!" Sakura chimed. maybe three. Sasuke was about to ask if that was it.Sasuke tried to sit beside his unconscious teammate in such a way that he didn't disturb any of the writing. 'You are not staring at her. there's no problem with your chakra channels.. but my mind feels. Sakura was lying in the bed again. It was perhaps two minutes.like you're about to tell me I'm going to die. as though his blood pressure had just taken a nosedive. Sasuke braced himself." she mumbled.. He'd had his chakra drained before and it always felt sickening – like a leech draining blood.. "The donation went perfectly.... You are not staring at her." Tsunade explained. a frown digging ever deeper into her face.. 'You are not staring at her. "Well. Tsunade had preserved her student's modesty with towels draped across her body – one across her breasts and the other spanning the juncture of her thighs – but the result was still displaying a lot more of Sakura's skin than Sasuke was accustomed to seeing at any given time." Sasuke would have scowled at her high-handed manner but he was still feeling rather nauseous and shaky. except for a few towels in strategic places? And why do I feel.' Tsunade's fingers began to slowly form the seals required for her to act as a conduit between the two ninjas.sort of energized. sounding more clear and coherent than she had in days. but not?" "We just finished a chakra donation. eventually pressing her palms to their joined hands and entering a healing trance. good news. "I feel great! Still sick.
. -xxxAN: Once again." he said in a low voice to the wall in front of him. Sakura was dying – the medics had given her perhaps two months. Also. trying to wrap his mind around the concept before him...she can't – I won't let her. all she had gained was the coherency to put her affairs in order. in spite of the fact that his chakra was now circulating through Sakura's body...except wake you up.but it hasn't. As though speaking aloud would somehow make the words real. in two months. The medics had run a battery of tests. Logically...eating at Ichiraku. Tsunade was telling them that in spite of the risk he'd just run.. no smiling green eyes to be seen. In other words. Her immune system was still nonexistent and her organs were still failing. It hasn't done anything.. The chakra donation had done nothing. Blueyedblonde has drawn a wonderful fanart for this chapter – the link can be found in my profile. The disease had progressed too far too fast. "She can't die. Chapter 9 The Forbidden Jutsu Sasuke stared numbly at the wall in front of him..walking to the bridge to meet with Naruto and Kakashi and seeing no pink hair blowing in the wind..all they'd done was ensure she would be conscious as her body continued to decline. All Sasuke's chakra donation had done was banish the delirium and spells of unconsciousness. He knew Konoha would mourn.injection of energy – it should have boosted your organs.. in an effort to erase the mental images it brought with it: going to Sakura's funeral and watching the dirt hit her coffin. he knew the world wouldn't stop turning when Sakura died." Sasuke stiffened." 'Oh. he knew his life would go on. and maybe even given your immune system a wake-up call.. confirming what Tsunade had already suspected. 'How? What can you do?' Sasuke shut his eyes and dug his fingers into his temples in an effort to quiet the voice. Logically. bad grammar and general screw-ups by the grace of justcallmefaye. . and then life in the village would continue as it always had. "She can't do this. this chapter is free of misspelling.. just he and Naruto and Hinata. he might be attending Sakura's funeral. The thought made his chest burn and his throat constrict as though someone were strangling him. and her body was caving unnervingly quickly beneath the assault. yeah?' some snarky part of Sasuke's brain asked him. Sasuke's mind could barely entertain the thought that... She just.
Uzumaki Naruto. Sakura had outlived them all in every one of them. Because a little voice in the back of his mind was insisting that it could be the last time he ever held his friend – the medics had made that quite clear. perhaps (revenge was a risky business after all). It would be Haruno Sakura – his student. both of which were a result of the chakra-eaters infection. maybe (having a demon sealed inside you and being sought by the Akatsuki was anything but safe). for once not thinking of his teammates. At that thought." Sakura soothed. most likely (simple age was against him). And he couldn't do anything. but he couldn't bring himself to let go or even ease it a little. Sakura had no answer to that. Naruto.for all his power.. Strangely. Except it wouldn't be his teammates.. but the failed chakra donation seemed like the final nail in the coffin.but Sakura? Somehow. Sakura's chakra levels were dropping steadily and her organs were failing. the predominant thought in Kakashi's mind was that it simply wasn't right. the medics had given her two months. Of all of them. he'd never imagined Sakura would be the first to go. Naruto had to struggle to hold in his tears. Naruto knew his grip was probably painful. running his thumb across her fingers. taking care to avoid the IV line.. Himself. and Sakura's death was only a matter of time. "It's going to be okay. you just wait and see!" "But what if you're not?" Naruto asked miserably. She rested her cheek against his as he clutched at her shoulders. Naruto. As though everything were over now. who completed the Rasengan. but trying to reconcile himself to the possibility that he might soon have one more grave to visit.But what kind of life would it be without Sakura? -xxxNaruto sniffled behind his mask.and neither of which would be getting better anytime soon. pressing her so tightly to him it hurt. . Granted. being careful not to yank on any of her IVs.. who had the power of the Kyuubi at his fingertips. The idea that she might be the first to die had never once crossed his mind. So she simply propped herself up on her pillows and looped her arms around his neck. in all the possible scenarios Kakashi's rather cynical mind had constructed. he could do nothing but watch his best friend die. "Two months is plenty of time for the medics to come up with something new – I'll be cured in no time. He. -xxxKakashi stood in front of the memorial... He held Sakura's hand in his. and a member of the only team who had ever passed his test. Sasuke. trying to control the urge to cry.
and then door was opened. Ino couldn't really think of an appropriate retort. staring resentfully at the wall.." "But you weren't. When Tsunade had given them the news that the chakra donation hadn't worked. but she couldn't bring herself to care. too – was the bitterest pill to swallow. it was Sakura that every male member of Team 7 tried to safeguard. Hinata and Shikamaru seemed to have slipped into a state of shock. Chouji. he was sure he wouldn't get a chance to volunteer – Naruto and Sasuke would have beaten him to it. while Ino had promptly shut herself in the bathroom. -xxxIno remained curled on the floor. When the chips were down. a muttered word that sounded suspiciously like 'troublesome'. squeaky growl rather like the kind a chihuahua might give out. It was something they just did. period. or. "Go away!" Ino snapped. There was no blade to step in front of. and he'd guess for Naruto and Sasuke. And he'd never pictured a threat they couldn't protect her from. much less fight. The meltdown that was currently being interrupted by the incessant knocking. who was looking determined. Shikamaru took no notice. "What's wrong? How about the fact that my friend's dying? That she's locked up in some sterile room dying of this stupid disease and I can't even visit her? They're all saying that she won't last two months and I can't even see her-" . no jutsu to push her out of the way of.. but a little unsure never the less. "What's wrong?" he asked. so she settled for glaring ugly death at him. If one of them could take the disease and spare her. ignoring the rapid knocking at the door..nothing but a slew of bacteria they couldn't even see." was all Shikamaru said.. Ino wanted to hit him. It wasn't a disparagement on her gender or a misconception of her abilities. and that Sakura had been given maybe two months to live. But they couldn't.. wishing there was a lock on the door. He knew that he and the others would give their lives for Sakura in a heartbeat. And that – for Kakashi. There was a pause. in blatant disregard to Ino's orders! "What are you doing?" she snapped at Shikamaru. you know?" Ino knew she was speaking in a high. "I could have been changing..Perhaps because they always made such an effort to protect her. "Or showering. seeking some peace for her meltdown. They couldn't protect her from this. It wasn't even something they really thought about.
. claiming her brain was atrophying when she had nothing to do but sit in bed and stare at the walls all day. didn't it?" -xxxTenten stared absently at the crossword puzzle she had begged one of the medics to bring in. "I know it will. and the idea of her succumbing to it seemed." "Then yes. blinking dazedly. and sat down beside the blonde. The medic hadn't actually said 'dying'. She'd found herself staring at the black and white squares. as requested." "Liar. "Yeah..wrong..Ino's voice broke off in a sob. Sakura had actually treated Tenten for the disease. "Probably." Shikamaru offered. It still seemed ludicrous. "Are you. "Shikamaru. And Tenten had yet to touch pencil to paper. of course – he'd tiptoed around the word like a nervous ballet dancer – but Tenten knew what he meant. She had to stay in her ward like a good patient and pretend her friend wasn't wasting away by degrees in the same hospital.. but her voice was decidedly more cheerful when she spoke." Shikamaru hoped his voice sounded a lot more confident than he felt. lost in thought. Sakura was dying.. "You'll see – I'll take you out to dinner when we're better. but she wasn't going to tell the medic that. and then. but it got you to stop crying.yeah. and we'll be laughing about this.. Well. . Ino sniffled again... "You know your timing sucks.and she wasn't even allowed to visit her. seeming a little unnerved by her panic... right?" He smirked. The medic had brought the crossword. she and Neji had also taken advantage of their incarceration to make-out rather frequently.okay?" Kiba asked quietly. Tenten nodded.. "It'll work out. Sakura was dying. somehow. and news on Sakura's condition about half an hour ago." There was a pause. I'm asking you on a date." Shikamaru sighed.are you asking me on a date?" "Are you going to say 'yes'?" Ino's laugh turned into a sniffle mid-way..
he'd thought it was Sakura who was waiting in his room. -xxxSakura rested her head against her pillow. "You still had pink hair the next day." Tenten agreed in an exceedingly level voice. So good that even other villages routinely request her expertise."She took us out for drinks. and she knew all too well how to read the soft resignation in their eyes and the too-sweet tone to their voices. Tenten found herself wondering if she'd ever see pink hair in Konoha again. it might fail miserably and leave her worse off than she was before. but she appreciated Neji's effort. The medics knew she was going to die. . restoring her original brunette tint. They were trying to hide it from her." Tenten said absently.but she had to try. but they needn't have bothered. Tenten couldn't count how many times people had called out Sakura's name as she walked down the street until the dye eventually washed out after many showers." Neji interjected. remembering how Neji had been taken aback at her change in appearance when she'd returned. "Sakura is one of the best medics the hospital has." Neji pointed out." "I remember that. "After this mission where Ino and I had to dye our hair pink so Sakura wouldn't be so noticeable to the enemy. "She's just going to be. "She's not dead. and when even Tsunade herself said Sakura's talent outstripped any medic she'd seen before or since. "Good point. Tsunade had told her that the level of chakra control required to perform the jutsu she'd suggested simply wasn't possible. Unless she did something about it. she insisted on taking us out and getting a picture to commemorate the event. Do you think they will let her die?" Tenten chuckled weakly. Sakura was a medic herself. staring blankly at the ceiling. though he later confessed much of his shock had come from the sight of pink hair – for a moment. you know?" she told the room at large. She'd never realised how much people identified Sakura by her pink hair until her own hair was dyed to match the medic's. Sakura knew she was going to die. Now. But drowning out those words was the vivid memory of those times when she had dragged a patient back from the brink of death after all the medics had given up on them. It might not work – in fact. "No." It didn't really make her feel any better." Neji sighed. To say Neji had been shocked to find her there when he returned from training had been an understatement." "Yeah. She'd sneaked into his room in the Hyuuga estate – quite an accomplishment in and of itself – feeling rather daring and a little mischievous.. the dye lasted a while....
. -xxxSasuke wasn't really surprised when Naruto joined him at the nurse's station as the isolation wing began to wind down for the night. maybe Naruto. remembering to send a brief.. So. she began to send pure chakra into her arms. he would resort to the next best thing.you said that changed me. and stretched her arms out in front of her. "Pretty much.. And now Sakura was using that chakra to pave out her chakra network in her arms. Granted. but I'm sure once you explain things." Tsunade smiled. Though Sasuke knew there was nothing he could do.She reached behind her. "I mean. keeping tabs on Sakura's condition via the monitors at the nurses' station. "Well. she was as good as dead anyway.but if she didn't try it. but he would notice if there was a big change. It was painful. She knew what she was doing carried a lot of risk. digging up the memories of every diagram she'd ever seen of the chakra networks in a human body. "I think I'm the only one who can. Not to mention that alarms would go off if Sakura's condition dropped too sharply. thought it seemed a little strained." Sakura said honestly. and if she was going to have even a chance of performing a jutsu. wincing as one of her IVs was momentarily caught in the crook of her elbow. I mean." She took a deep breath..." Tsunade shook her head slowly.. he didn't have any idea what they were showing. Well. rather like forcing red-hot needles through her veins. But Sakura persisted – she couldn't perform the jutsu unless she had something approaching a normal chakra network." Sakura said into the oppressive silence as she contemplated the magnitude of what she was about to do. more in admiration than any gesture of censor. She needed to talk to Tsunade.and you're determined to do this?" Tsunade asked. Because Sasuke had given her something besides coherency – he'd given her chakra. along the dilapidated channels. you know. "It did. silent thanks to Sasuke – after all.. all you need me to do is make sure no one interrupts?" Sakura nodded. she wouldn't have been able to do this without his help. and pressed the call button. And he suspected Naruto felt the same way. -xxx". "Here I go then.. . remember when I. you're the Hokage – no one will argue with you. he wanted to be alerted the instant Sakura's condition changed. Sasuke had been there for at least an hour already – if he couldn't stay the night in the sterile room... So. she needed to strengthen it once again. It had degraded since the bacterial infection.
Tsunade sighed as Sakura's vitals began to spike. but she could feel it. The actual jutsu was rather easy. and not all the white blood cells in her body..but only those in her right thigh. This was her jutsu. trying to prompt the white cells into recognising the bacteria. She was attempting to limit the jutsu to only effect the marrow she was concentrating on. and she fought to contain it. leaving her feeling something close to normal. she had never heard of anyone doing something like this – of anyone somehow limiting a jutsu to effect only one small portion of the body instead of the whole. And then she pressed her hands to her right thigh. could almost hold it in her hands. but Sakura wasn't trying to work on the cellular level. Reaching deep inside herself. Sakura glanced at Tsunade. effect all her white cells at once. it took some time to go through the sterilisation procedure. forcing it to produce a sudden stream of white cells that she could sense like a spurt of hot water in a cold lake. Sakura risked a glance at the monitors. her fingers slowly and carefully forming the required seals and she dragged them from the depths of her memory.. she began to truly perform the jutsu. her body – it would obey her.. . Tsunade had told her jutsus simply couldn't be performed on the cellular level. Unfortunately... She wasn't working on the cellular level. she had a chance. When the last flush of chakra finally repaired her channels. it would do as she willed. Even if they couldn't destroy anything else.just something very close to it. -xxxSasuke and Naruto had bolted for the sterile room the first time they had seen a slightly strange blip on the monitors at the nurses' station. Sakura forced chakra into her bone marrow. In all her decades of experience as a medic. being capable of destroying them. "Just don't let anyone interrupt me. into knowing them as an enemy. trying to spread across her body. But then again. she'd never seen any medic like Sakura. They were going crazy.. and it was at least ten minutes before they finally burst into Sakura's room.. Blood cells came from bone marrow. her body's response to the pain she'd just endured blaring across their screens.At least this way. and Sakura was trying to somehow alter the potential white cells in her bone marrow to conform to the specifics described in the forbidden jutsu. She couldn't see it. and delivered her last instruction before she risked it all." She let her mind fly back to the forbidden jutsu she had read of so long ago.. And then. but Sakura could feel it trying to slide from under her hands like a writhing eel.
I think she was trying to understand why that shinobi had been beyond her ability to save. we accept it.. still so deep in concentration she hadn't even noticed Naruto and Sasuke entering the room. not to heal the damage.but eventually. and Naruto was left gaping at the Hokage. sweat shining on her skin. she felt the sort of pride a mother might feel when her daughter exceeds all her expectations. as though she hadn't heard Naruto. "Sakura didn't." The corners of Tsunade's mouth flickered. we curse it." Tsunade went on. We rage against it.." "I called to her. That statement didn't sting – on the contrary. "Sakura's first death happened when she had just turned fourteen. "Why aren't you doing it?" Sasuke asked." Tsunade narrated.but we don't understand it. making no move to help her. I followed her. strip down to her underwear and wade into the water. "The first time a patient dies under our hands. "Did you ever wonder why Sakura was such a skilled medic?" she asked. until I realised she was suffusing her body with chakra.. She watched Sakura's teammates blink uncomprehendingly at her.. "She's performing a jutsu that could save her life. one of her first patients. wondering what the Hokage's point was. Don't understand why our jutsus weren't enough that one time. the soft glow of chakra hovering between her fingers..but simply to feel what was happening. "Because I doubt I'd be capable of it. Perhaps that's why she didn't accept it.. "But she told me to keep back – said she needed to do it. to learn every detail . I think I wanted to make sure she was coping with it. we get drunk over it.. Anyway. and continued. Sakura was now concentrating so hard she'd bitten into her lip.. but decided against it. as though she were about to smile. "Let her be!" the Hokage snapped when Sasuke and Naruto began to start towards the bed..To find – to their surprise – Sakura sitting up in bed.." She glanced back at her apprentice.." Sasuke started. I didn't understand. "But Sakura. "Every new medic dreads it." Tsunade paused for a moment. her hands pressed over her right thigh. but we all have to go through it sometime – our first death. I thought she was going for a swim... when she left the hospital that night. "Why?" Naruto yelped. puzzle over it. and drops of sweat were dripping from her nose and chin. unfortunately. We mourn it. "But then she took a kunai. "Why she surpassed me so quickly?" Sasuke's eyes flickered between Tsunade and Sakura." Tsunade shrugged. And when I saw her walk to the river. don't understand exactly what pushes someone over that invisible line or how to drag people back once they step over it." the blonde man fumbled.while Tsunade stood by the bed." Tsunade said sharply. "She's not.and plunged it into her stomach.. small spots darkening the blanket. the faintest hint of accusation in his too-level voice.
and yet somehow.. Sakura standing in the river..but with a content smile and a decidedly triumphant look on her face. deepened by knowledge.she began to try to heal herself. as though inwardly marveling." ." Another half-snort of ironic laughter. "She let herself bleed. "Don't confuse gutsy with stupid and impulsive. it was like healing had become almost effortless to her.... "I won't venture to guess how close she came to dying.and bleed.. Dawn had been breaking." Silence descended for a moment.. when I was almost convinced I was about to see my apprentice die in front of me. struggling to heal herself as she continued to lose blood." Tsunade mused. sweaty. "As though the line that was invisible to the rest of us had been inked out in black paint. And then. Sakura was leaning against her pillows.." Tsunade shook her head. she never told anyone.but Sakura thought of death as an enemy she could learn to defeat.. "With that single. bold decision. because she still did – there are always some you just can't save – but it was different." "I'd just had a patient die on me." The blonde woman laughed a little. "So she got to know death in the only way she could. exhausted. And as far as I know.. or how many times she hovered on the brink. knowing that she was on the brink of dying before my eyes. making the scene seem almost holy as the ugly rent in her flesh finally mended. you must admit. The rest of us. Chapter 10 The Long Road Tsunade recovered first. when there was no turning back. I just remembered staring at her. Sakura came into an understanding of her own abilities my long years of study had never gained me. as though sharing a grim joke. It was as though she understood it in a way that went beyond the intellectual. "It took hours." Tsunade's eyes misted slightly as she remembered when Sakura had finally healed herself. She brought it upon herself and felt it work through her body. and she waded back towards her teacher.. first you must know your enemy. it was a pretty gutsy thing to do. I won't say she stopped losing patients.. "Well. As her eyes opened." All three turned their heads so fast a small crackling echoed in the room.of death so she could fight it.we've learned to think of death as inevitable. a soft smile on her face. that was more like instinct to her. You two will be the first to know outside the two of us. "Afterwards. not daring to interrupt. the stained kunai clenched in her hand.and bleed. And you know how the saying goes – to defeat your enemy.." Tsunade said quietly." Sasuke could see it in his mind's eye. a dark ribbon of blood blood striping through the water behind her.." Sakura pointed out. "I liked that story – it made me sound a lot cooler than I actually was.
checked the manipulation of her joints and in general investigated everything she could without the aid of laboratory tests.. didn't know what to say. "You're still sick! But Granny said you were going to make yourself better-" "Give it time. "It's going to take a while for the white cells to circulate and deal with all of the bacteria. her joints were still tender. "Sakura!" Naruto's shocked paralysis broke at the sight of blood staining her hand. automatically checking Sakura's temperature and using a stethoscope to listen to her breathing. "I was planning on stabbing myself. He didn't know what to do. And his mind couldn't seem to cope with it.. The whole scenario slid through Sasuke's mind like a nonsensical puppet show." "Oh. "I didn't want to get them all bloody. and utterly unable to process what was happening. feeling as though he had been given three birthdays together. "But." Naruto relaxed a little.but both she and Tsunade had all but said point blank that she was out of danger! And that was a victory in Naruto's book. peered at her tongue. right?" Sakura grinned and nodded. she still had a fever. His brain felt like a dry sponge – spent. completely empty." Sakura interrupted. "Get out of here. you two – I need to check her over!" Naruto nodded.. And even assuming everything goes to plan. but a sudden bout of coughs doubled her over in the bed. practically bouncing out of the room. It would be a while before her altered white cells began to make any impact on the chakra-eaters.. her lungs were still congested and probably bleeding.. "She's really going to be okay!" . Sakura hadn't eradicated the bacteria and healed herself. Fortunately. they didn't know if this was actually going to cure Sakura. Tsunade took the decision out of his hands. Of course. he watched it happen. but that actual weight behind the events eluded him. it's going to take a while for all the damage the bacteria did to heal." Sakura explained. all she'd done was give her body the tools it needed to fight." Tsunade mused as the males left.you're still going to get better. for what must have been the fiftieth time. or unfortunately. -xxx"She's going to be okay. But one fact stood out in glaring neon lights – Sakura wasn't going to die.. leaving her gasping as blood dribbled from her lips.She looked like she was about to go on.." Tsunade took Sakura's temperature.but then again.. Tsunade hadn't really expected to see a change. Naruto. exasperation clear in her voice as she wiped her stained hand with a tissue. "You never actually told me why you removed your clothes that night. There was no real change in Sakura's condition.." Naruto muttered..
.. you know.. Neither said anything. as if every drop of thought and feeling had been wrung from him.. closing her eyes and snuggling down into her blankets. her body exhausting itself as . "I don't think he slept at all last night. Hinata smiled. but if another crisis comes along again and Sakura. Shikamaru was still sleeping.. The blonde couldn't help the slightly dizzy smile that spread over her face as she glanced at him. "Give the guy a break.you'll probably hate yourself for the rest of your life. More importantly. or something. Granted. Since she'd performed that jutsu several days ago. but to say something this bluntly was. but then he'd promptly dropped off again. if this wasn't enough of a wake-up call for you. Sakura was no longer at death's door. -xxxSakura yawned. His body and mind felt like a limp rag.exactly what Naruto would do. "I know you've got your little set of hang-ups and hell will probably freeze over before you actually do anything.and she. there was really nothing left to say. Ino had shaken him awake to hear the news about Sakura. It was almost funny. He knew that Naruto wasn't as oblivious as he let people think. proclaiming that Sakura had cured herself. She could sympathize.. and made a valiant effort at holding a conversation with her for about fifteen minutes before falling asleep.. Last night everything had seemed so dark and depressing and today everything all sunshine and rainbows." Naruto said with an abrupt change of tone. "You should make a move already.but no one was on death's door.. So Ino was feeling pretty good about the world today.. she suspected the only reason she'd slept last night was because the disease tended to leave its victims exhausted. He'd burst in two hours ago.and you two are still... she'd spent most of her time sleeping. to say the least. I don't know what is. -xxx"He's still asleep?" Ino muttered as she exited the bathroom." Sasuke was rather surprised. who was he kidding? "I mean.But Sasuke didn't even glare at him. "You know. her fingers stroking through Naruto's spiky hair as he snored gently. wrapping the hair she had just washed in a towel. Just thought I should say that." Sasuke was silent." Naruto finished..dies. ." the blonde continued. Ino. she and a large portion of the ninja population were still infected by the chakra-eaters and the medics were still running themselves ragged. like this.. perfectly calmly.." Chouji said." Ino nodded. "So you should make a move.
And apples were among Sakura's favourite foods. "That. but it was a shaky solution at best. No matter how many times she'd done it herself or seen it done to others. it would probably go a long way towards helping them make the vaccine.but the energy it taxed from her was so great it would be dangerous to attempt such a feat again – the only reason she'd tried it in the first place . Probably from the blood loss.. In addition. and while her lungs were still a little fragile. the apple was good: fresh. Even though she was now mostly out of the danger of suffering a relapse." Sakura nodded absently. it would be some time until Sakura was capable of performing the jutsu again. It was too small to make an impact in a healthy person. She knew the plan was to have her perform her miracle-working jutsu on all of those currently infected once she was back to full strength. even considering that her immune system was beginning to put a serious dent in the chakra-eaters. crisp and juicy. when her eyes landed on what he'd brought her. and the scientists want to look at it. grabbing for the bowl. and she was enjoying being able to roll over in her bed without the risk of pulling needles from her skin. Sakura scrambled upright. Sure..Sasuke? She was about to call out. Tsunade nodded. She was started from her half-doze at the sound of something being set down on her bedside table. but the medics still wanted to keep her in the sterile room until she had fully recovered. she'd performed it once before while practically at death's door. For one. wherever Sasuke had procured it from. she'd brought him some when he was hospitalised all those years ago. Sakura knew it would be a long time before her body truly recovered from the toll the illness had taken on her. Her muscles felt like water. and she didn't want to think about how much weight she'd dropped. But all she saw was a dark head disappearing out the door. sighing as that taste burst over her tongue. She rubbed at her eyes. it just felt weird.. half-turning to try to see who had come into the room. -xxxSakura grimaced as Tsunade drew a sample of her blood. Scarcely daring to believe Sasuke had actually been thoughtful for once.it purged the bacteria from her system. but she didn't think he had the same motives. Aside from the lingering symptoms of the infection... feeling drowsiness beginning to claw at her again. "So. it was refreshing to finally taste something again. she'd stopped bleeding in her stomach. They'd removed most of the IVs. Sakura knew her illness had left her frighteningly weak and drained.. After receiving her sustenance via a glucose drip for so long. A small bowl of neatly sliced apple pieces. Sure. At least now when she was awake she was lucid at all times. you're going to test it for the chakra-eaters again?" she asked. If they can somehow figure out what your white blood cells are doing. She snatched one of the pieces and bit into it.but Sakura was far from healthy. Her immune system was slowing pulling itself back from the brink. But she couldn't help wondering why Sasuke had brought her apples. just so something could distract her.
especially when the patients were being held at a semi-stable state... it was simply beyond their ability. then leave. Now that she was healthy. And some part of her thought that if she looked hard enough.they might discover exactly what her white cells were doing that enabled them to destroy the bacteria. The other problem was that she would only be able to perform the jutsu perhaps once in several days. what would happen if the disease spread? If some of their allied villages became infected too? In short. Naruto and Sasuke's visits had dropped off. They needed a vaccine. They looked like they were behaving the way any white cells would. Sakura thought she might be able to teach some of them if she could demonstrate it.. After going so long without washing it. it was nice to soft. for long enough. She could make it to the toilet on her own.off. And even then. now that she didn't need babysitters.off.. stand around awkwardly for a few moments. But what? -xxxSakura ran her fingers through her hair with a dreamy sigh. but she didn't look away for even a moment. the medics were recruiting them for other jobs and Sakura didn't see them nearly so often anymore.. she could eat. Sakura was eager to get a clean bill of health. just in case Akatsuki attacked them with this disease next. Since she'd begun to recover and her condition wasn't as critical as it had been... she needed to get out this room before she was driven mad by sheer boredom. she would have died anyway. sometimes bringing apples (which was another thing Sakura couldn't figure out). Tsunade had said they couldn't justify such a risk to her life again.. -xxxTsunade had been staring at the cells writhing under the microscope for at least half an hour. They needed a vaccine they could present to their allied villages. just. greasy ones. it seemed the weight of truly vanquishing this disease rested squarely on the shoulders of the scientists. that could only be done once she was up and about again.except seeing as these could destroy the chakra-eaters where no others had been able to. and she was starting to feel human again. She was starting to get eye-strain. Not outright strange. period. Sasuke seemed to be acting a little. They needed a vaccine they could dose the ninja population with. He'd come in. She was watching Sakura's white cells slowly subsume and destroy the chakra-eaters in the petri dish. But when she did see them. she could shower. It was no decision on their part.was that if she didn't. they were obviously doing something different. Tsuande had told her that none of the other medics possessed the chakra control required for it. but there were some things that really required a proper shower.but again. The medics had done their best with sponge baths and the like while she was confined to her bed.. Sakura had tried to puzzle . slightly-damp locks instead of stringy. show them exactly what to do. just in case Akatsuki ever tried this again..
kinda." Naruto made an unintelligible sound.. I'd say he'd been into the morphine. Naruto shifted." It wasn't a question. "How's everything going?" he asked.. Sakura.. huh?" The medic nodded. Sakura managed to sound threatening. But maybe my whole near-death experience sort of creeped him out a little or something.. Sakura's confusion only deepened.. sure. "Naruto. "What." There was that threatening tone again.... "Naruto.. He could never lie to Sakura." Sakura couldn't help marveling as Naruto practically sprang into the room. So Naruto just blurted everything out. "I'm bored. dammit!)... It was all she was capable of. "Well.out his behaviour and his motives.. The door cracked open. and Sakura broke from her rambling to note the dark flush decorating his cheeks. but he'd always sucked at it. planting himself on one side of the mattress.I might have. they were inspired. "He was being all moody and he looked kinda shocked so I just told him this should have been a wake-up call for him and he better make a move because he's been wanting to do it for ages and I figured he kinda sorta loves you a bit and you kinda sorta love him a bit back so if he makes a move you two will date and be happy and.. "So. Naruto had told Sasuke to make a move on her? And he'd listened? So all those vaguely awkward visits and apple slices had been Sasuke's way of... She had never figured out where he got all his energy from – maybe it was all that ramen he ate. And seeing as this was Sasuke. you told Sasuke to be nicer to me?" "Er.. "Hey. he could try.." Sakura said bluntly. I just don't get what's up with him lately. that theory was thrown straight out the window on principal.kinda sorta said something. are you awake?" "Yeah..making a move on her? .. come on in.." Even though she was bedridden.. beaming at her. and a blonde head peered in. "You know something about this. "Apple?" Naruto took a slice and practically swallowed it whole.guess Sasuke was in here... he's giving me apples practically every time he sees me – if I didn't know better. the sort she employed when he tried to talk about one of his so-called 'perverted jutsu' (and they weren't perverted. but the closest analogy she'd come up with was a schoolboy trying to summon enough courage to ask his crush to the dance." Naruto was looking dangerously close to panic. offering him some of her sliced fruit. "Yeah – him and his apples." If anything.and please don't kill me!" Sakura blinked. hoping he wasn't about break out in a cold sweat. he's acting kinda funny..
bye!" And he bolted from the room like a cat confronted with a hose. of course. Sasuke would have appeared as he always did: cold.brought you some more apple pieces.. As. took the opportunity to make himself scarce. as I'm sure everyone knows by this point. but he looked. So she simply blinked. the slight wariness in his eyes.I'm going to. both of whom seemed to be in some sort of shock. To anyone else.She didn't think what she was feeling could be called shock. It was probably a good thing he hadn't come in time to hear Naruto blurt everything out.. the way he was clutching the plate of apple pieces just a shade more tightly than was necessary. but it was also mixed with a lot of confusion. Naruto.. . staring at Naruto while he fidgeted and wondered if his friend's brain had short-circuited... almost worried. It was too big to be called shock. Sakura was staring at him as though she'd never seen him before. "I-I gotta.. Sakura never would have thought Sasuke capable of it. aloof and expressionless..had Naruto really meant.." Sasuke said. "I. She could see the way his shoulder hunched a little.. There was a large helping of shock in it. Sakura watched him go.. and a hundred other emotions she probably could never name if she dwelled on them for a century. "Are you okay?" he asked when neither of them moved. 'the sky is actually green'. hoping to rattle her brain into working again.. 'up is really down' and 'great white sharks aren't actually carnivores'. and Naruto looked like he was trying to sink into the ground and disappear forever.. placing the plate on the bedside table and shifting uncomfortably.. still rather stunned. This was 'the sun rises in the west'.to see Hinata. she could see it. sort of feeling.vulnerable.? And now that she looked for it.. and that he'd asked her a question. And it was this scene that Sasuke walked into barely three minutes later.but Sakura knew better. blame my exams! They've only recently finished and I figured you guys would appreciate a new chapter more than a reply. -xxxAN: Sorry about not replying to comments – again! Again.. this chapter was beta-d by justcallmefaye Chapter 11 Rejuvenation Sasuke frowned at his friends. Sakura's mind dimly registered that Sasuke had come into the room. She blinked several times. disbelief..
then looked down at the plate of apple slices.another kiss?" A small bubble of happiness swelled in the medic's chest as Sasuke obeyed her suggestion with a satisfied smirk." "Good. hoping her face didn't betray the anxiety she felt. For that matter. but Sakura figured she'd have to give him a helping hand at least. . It was nice – really nice – and Sakura didn't really want to stop.. was still trying to work out how he'd lost control of the situation." When his eyes found hers in shock." Sakura beamed. Naruto had said he was trying to make a move on her. I need someone to talk to – this is very unfair!" Hinata and Naruto didn't seem to hear him. So he drew the fragments of his dignity to himself and nodded. "You really suck at making a move. but she forced herself to. looked like he was about to speak. dizzy with the possibility of failure. "Now. she grabbed his collar and used it as leverage to pull him down to her level before she pressed her lips against his in a brief. for his part.. we can go get lunch sometime. if not guide him through this entirely. nauseous. Then he saw the hint of insecurity in her eyes and felt strangely reassured.. "Any other reason you came?" She knew this might be considered a little cruel: deliberately baiting Sasuke when she knew very well what he was trying to do. "Come on. she though she'd earned a little fumbling and groveling on his part after what he'd put her through! Sasuke pressed his lips together." she sighed at last. But Shikamaru and Ino disengaged and turned to him."Thanks.. This was important to her too. dammit. but Sakura felt her smile grow wider.." It didn't seem possible. -xxxChouji groaned. and appeared quite content to continue kissing. their lips slightly swollen.. how had Sakura known he was going to make a move? He felt the same way he imagined a highwire walker would if they slipped.but. shaking her head. chaste kiss. relaxed them.. guys. 'And that's how you make a move!' she thought triumphantly. And again.. Frightened. Then he did it again. as soon as I get better and this whole disease-thing is cleared up." Sakura announced. taking a slice from the fresh plate and ignoring that fact that she still had a half-full one on her lap. Apparently years of emotional repression wasn't going to be undone in a moment – no big surprise there. Sasuke. "Now. Sure.. "I'd like that. "Sasuke. but years of rejections had left her far from confident when it came to Sasuke. The cycle repeated several times.. and Sakura sensed Sasuke was about to make a strategic retreat out of sheer mortification.
"And the scientists found that they were producing an enzyme that somehow stopped the bacteria from being able to draw on their host's chakra." Hinata said quietly. holding up a vial filled with clear liquid.." the blonde woman continued as she prepared to inject Chouji.The disadvantage of sharing a room with a couple and one half of a couple (when the other half visited every spare moment he got) was that they spent a lot of time very heavily involved with each other." Tsunade explained. rendering them vulnerable to the immune system and antibiotics." She moved onto Shikamaru. Naruto and Hinata sprang apart. He was about to make some comment on that to his two teammates when the door opened and Tsunade came in. and Tsunade injected the enzyme into the vein at her elbow. already preparing the first needle.. a timid smile hovering on her face. flushed with something that looked close to triumph. you're probably going to have suffer through these injections at regular intervals until the bacteria have been completely eradicated. eyes widened and lips parted in astonishment like a troupe of synchronized mimes. "So we're certain it has no detrimental effect..and now we have enough.. if you don't mind me asking.. And since we've isolated the chemical alone." Shikamaru drawled.. "Wh-what are those f-for. smiling. "So.. we don't need to worry about matching blood types. And then they all snapped out of it at once. "No stupid disease is going to take us down!" "Th-that's very g-good news..we'll be cured. Around the room. "How?" Chouji wondered.and brandishing a set of formidable-looking hypodermics." "We were studying Sakura's white cells to see how they were capable of defeating the bacteria." "Enough to do what?" Naruto asked." Tsunade went on. please hold out your non-dominant arm." "Neat. "Although since your bodies don't produce it naturally. "We have found a cure!" the Hokage announced. both blushing darkly. "I mean. We're not sure how to induce other people's white cells to produce this enzyme." Hinata did as instructed. grinning broadly." Ino pronounced. "Really?" Naruto bounced up from Hinata's bed like a jack-in-the-box. as though she were almost afraid to celebrate too soon.. "At least this troublesome business will finally be over. "Enough to inject the enzyme into the people infected. eyeing the needles mistrustfully. nodding at the needles. "I knew it would happen!" Ino crowed. huh?" . but we've been farming it in the laboratory. "Hinata. Lady Tsunade?" Hinata asked. "Sakura's body is producing it naturally.. soon.
the only reason Naruto and Sasuke weren't bacteria-free was because they were constantly being re-infected by contact with the patients." Tsunade confirmed. Sasuke had been even more aloof and irritable than usual. the only reason the other patients' immune systems couldn't eradicate the bacteria in time was because it only took a couple of days for them to become set to the host's chakra signature. Naruto had been practically bouncing off the walls. . and she'd already yelled at Sasuke for scaring an intern at the hospital who'd really done nothing more serious than breathe on her." The Hyuuga girl smiled shyly and nodded. "Then we can go out. In fact.." Neji commented. "By all accounts. though neither of them had been very happy about it. seeing as the chakra-eaters infecting them were in dormant form. I would be quite happy to let the Hokage inject me with acid. Sakura especially was looking a little on the fragile side. -xxxTwo and a half weeks later. staring with morbid fascination at the bloody ball of cotton wool he had been instructed to keep pressed to the puncture in his skin. her arm bent to keep her own cotton ball against the needle mark. but that was to be expected – weeks of being practically bed-ridden did nothing for muscle tone. just like I promised." Tenten said.. this is what Sakura's cells are making. After all. the enzyme would do nothing as the bacteria weren't feeding off their chakra. -xxx"You really think these will work?" Kiba wondered aloud. I think so. Tenten chuckled. they'd spent far too long in these hospital beds. The idea that they might be able to rejoin the rest of the world soon was rather exciting to her as well. and towards the end of the week he was so stir-crazy and hyperactive that Tsunade had seriously considered sedating him. Naruto and Sasuke had been the most difficult to cure. given a week or so. "Alright!" Naruto practically crowed. "After all. though she had a feeling most of that stemmed from the fact that he hadn't been allowed to see Sakura. They were a little shaky. Tsunade had shoved both Naruto and Sasuke into two of the other isolation rooms. So." "If it would get me out of this hospital. Tsunade stood back with some satisfaction as she watched her patients finally leave the isolation wing. "And I can collect on that dinner you owe me. right? And Tsunade says she's getting better all the time. Hinata. blowing him a kiss in a rare act of blatant flirtation. Then one of the scientists had pointed out that if the chakra-eaters were in dormant form their immune systems could probably deal with them adequately."As soon as possible." Ino smirked at Shikamaru. and become invulnerable to the immune system from then on. that decided.
" Kakashi said with mock-innocence. Of course. And he hadn't dropped her hand or shaken her off because. if only because they stood to lose a lot of shinobi in such an effort. gesturing down at Sasuke's and Sakura's linked hands. And she was drawing it here.. a little thinner. It had felt.. They had to be dealt with as soon as possible. . "Hn. she couldn't be sure how much of this was unbiased judgment and how much of it was latent maternal instincts insisting that no man would ever be good enough for Sakura. Sasuke was.She wasn't sure how she felt about her student's nascent relationship with the Uchiha.." Sakura grinned cheekily. offering him silent but tangible reassurance.. if Sasuke hurt her. Besides. enjoying the feel of sunshine on her skin and fresh air in her lungs. The Sakura in front of him was a little paler than the one he remembered. On the one hand.he hadn't really felt like it. the line of his visible eye curving as it did when he smiled.. marvelously. "Don't start with any smart comments. but on the other hand. But putting her emotions aside for a moment..but she was smiling fit to put the sun to shame and was perfectly. she already knew which teams she was going to send. it made Sakura happy. -xxxKakashi's mask hid his smirk. Tsunade knew many councilors objected to the idea of trying to hunt Akatsuki down and eliminate them." Sasuke refused to blush. Sakura's smile became softer as she watched Kakashi's face grow more somber. They'd been walking out of the hospital and Sakura had simply seized his hand in hers. "I wasn't going to say a thing. for god's sake – that was far more intimate than holding hands and he hadn't blushed then! And the holding hands-thing wasn't even his idea.. Akatsuki had become too much of a problem for them not to take action.. and she didn't have to think hard to know what was on his mind." he commented. It would be foolish to blush.but a line had to be drawn somewhere. larger problems to deal with. but Sasuke knew it was there.. Kakashi. She knew he would never say he had been worried about it – he just wasn't like that – so she simply smiled for him and let him ruffle her hair the way he had done when she had been a genin.nice. "You two seem closer.Sasuke. But she was sure of one thing. gloriously alive! And Kakashi was more relieved than he'd ever admit. The Akatsuki had become a problem they could no longer ignore or put off. Their attempt to take down Konoha might have failed (and Tsunade would ensure that the enzyme was shipped to their allies just in case the organization tried the same tactic on another village) but they would be sure to try again. The Akatsuki. she'd make him very sorry for it.. he and Sakura had kissed. the Hokage had other.
It was rather strange to think that the disease which had plagued the village for months had been dealt with so quickly. I'll have you know. "Aren't they cute?" Sakura cooed. and she promptly elbowed him gently in the side. sniffing every inch of the man. Kiba was scruffing his loyal partner's ears in return whenever the dog was still enough. Looking at the people around him. Disliking hospital food was a big cliché.. Kakashi never would have guessed that they'd been laid up in hospital. Kakashi could sympathize – his own ninja career meant he'd been hospitalised more times than he could count. his sentiment rather contradicted by the smile that seemed to be hovering just under the skin of his face. not some cheap bowl of ramen at Ichiraku." Neji and Tenten had greeted the waiting Lee and Gai with a weary but fond smile in Tenten's case and a less frosty demeanor than usual in Neji's. . licking frantically at his chin as dogs did when they were reunited with a pack member. heading in the direction of the training grounds. had contained many references to the couple's youthful healing vigour or something along those lines) but it seemed that Neji and Tenten had taken their leave of their teammates and were departing together. "And I expect some nice restaurant. Chouji was making his way back to his home. howling rings around Kiba.. they were ninja.. as though ready to fly out at the slightest nudge. Kakashi had always thought that training with your lover probably gave a very kinky lean to sparring. But then again. In short. Akamaru was running joyous. and the one thing he'd always despised was the food he was given. the village seemed to have suddenly – without any warning – returned to normal. The blonde was trotting out of the hospital doors beside Shikamaru. "I'm taking Hinata there for our date!" Said Hyuuga blushed like a ripe cherry. he was certain.."You owe me dinner!" Kakashi's attention was attracted by Ino's proclamation. and Kakashi snickered. loudly defending his favourite eatery." "Close enough. his choice of reading material might have skewed his perceptions a little. Kakashi had quite deliberately tuned out the past several minutes of conversation (which. and they bounced back a lot faster than civilians did. "Ichiraku is a nice restaurant!" Naruto insisted. muttering something about getting proper food after weeks of eating hospital meals. Sasuke rolled his eyes. her grin even wider than Sakura's. but clichés formed because they had a basis in fact.hn." Shikamaru muttered. But then again. watching the two couples wander away from the hospital." "Troublesome woman. battling a disease specifically designed to kill them. "Agree with me!" ".
She regarded him silently for a moment. "The Akatsuki sighting in Wave. but there was a flare of excitement in their eyes nevertheless. "Not really hunting down. her head turned towards him. then began pulling Sasuke down the road. Tsunade knew how dangerous this mission would be. and the more powerful ninja in it. by the way. after weapons and assorted shinobi trappings had been assembled and apartments locked up. predictably." The only way Tsunade had gotten the council to agree to this proposal was if the teams in question continued with their usual roster of missions when not responding to an Akatsuki sighting. Sasuke smirked. ." she added." Kakashi gave them a careless wave which." -xxxTen minutes later.you four will be dispatched to find and eliminate any Akatsuki you encounter. Sheer strength of numbers was also a factor. Dismissed." the Hokage continued. taking out his infamous book and flipping through it. the higher the likelihood of everyone surviving." Naruto grinned. Team 7 stood by the gates of Konoha. performing a last minute equipment check. "Come on. He smirked to himself. Find out if this disease was all they did. we're off to lunch.. "Your first mission." "No problem.but there was a hint of grim resolve behind her eyes. tossing a scroll at them which Kakashi caught. Kakashi closed his book and approached. "Team 10." Sakura shrugged. "But whenever we have information on a sighting. "It should also be noted that yours won't be the only team doing this. Team 8 and Team Gai will also be assigned this mission." Tsunade clarified." her erstwhile teacher rejoined. when you consider how long we've been in the hospital.. -xxx"So we're going to be hunting down the Akatsuki?" Naruto echoed.. or an incident that might be connected to the organisation. Not knowing what she could want. "Though it seems kind of morbid to thank me for it. now. Sakura and Kakashi – not quite as knuckle-headed as the other two – looked a little grimmer. Multiple teams enlisted insured at least one group would be in the village and available at any one time.. Kakashi. Shizune at her side again."Anyway. you're in charge. "Thanks for your blood. Apparently sensing Kakashi's eyes on her. as though weighing something within her mind." Sakura went on. Sakura returned and Sasuke didn't... before she gestured him over.. and if they're still nearby.. I want to check out that new seafood place – although I guess it's not really new now. turning away to see the Hokage standing by the hospital doors. Tsunade looked extremely satisfied and well-pleased. Kakashi.
"Come on. as always?" Naruto opened his mouth to bellow some retort or denial. Sasuke rolled his eyes. Sasuke and Naruto had already finished cataloging their items. he began to whine again. but Kakashi rapped him sharply on the head with the spine of his book. "This is unfair! You can't rub the fact that you two get to do missions together while me and Hinata can't in my face!" Still no response. we need to go!" Naruto whined. her mind too busy to retort. their extensive med-kits often meant they were carrying almost twice as much as other ninja.. confident that his former students would follow. and he gave them a few moments. Sometimes he wondered if Tsunade had developed her super strength just so she could carry her equipment. "Thanks. Naruto huffed. "Has it occurred to you that these medical supplies will probably end up saving your ass when you get it trampled on. guys. we need to go!" No response. His keen ears caught Naruto's complaining grumble as Sakura and Sasuke disengaged. "Are you guys going to be like this for the entire trip?" End. "Sakuraaaaa.. They were about to set off." Sasuke scoffed. but he was more considerate than he appeared. turned around and took to the trees." "Idiot." Then she looped her arms around his neck and pulled him close to instigate a very involved kiss. But when the kiss showed no sign of stopping.Kakashi. Sasuke. Sakura. and Sakura pointedly ignored the blonde. Kakashi shook his head in exasperation. Kakashi had often felt rather sorry for medical ninja. "Come on. . he couldn't be bothered to deal with one of their arguments yet. Sakura shoved her med-kit into her bulging pack and smiled at her boyfriend. but Sakura was still sorting through her medical supplies.
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