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biohazard ff.docx

biohazard ff.docx

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Published by Jes Alarcon
fanfiction SS biohazard by Yellow MAsk @ fanfiction.net
fanfiction SS biohazard by Yellow MAsk @ fanfiction.net

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Published by: Jes Alarcon on Oct 30, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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  • Chapter 4
  • Chapter 5
  • Chapter 7
  • Chapter 8
  • Chapter 9
  • Chapter 10
  • Chapter 11

Chapter 4 Containment Ino scowled, elbowing her pillow sharply as she tried to make it something approaching comfortable.

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."

digging a folded piece of paper from her pocket. "Ugh. he'll be in the isolation wing. "Another medic performed the saturation technique a few hours ago. As the medic had warned. her tone weary. "What is it?" "Apparently Shikamaru and Chouji have heard that you're sick..you'll put him in another ward. . Naruto could probably beat Neji. we'll need to test him. since Neji was around at the time that we think Hinata was infectious. "What I'm going to do might feel a little strange." Sakura remarked. 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. but just try to relax."What about Hinata?" Naruto asked indignantly. 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. right? Right?" Ino snickered." Sakura corrected." Sakura said." She coughed a little as she made her way to Ino's bedside. Ino started to sit up and thank Sakura. "They gave me this note for you. too. And there's one for Hinata." "He can't touch me here!" Naruto proclaimed. "I'm getting blood all over your handkerchief. If he's been infected. "Don't worry – she's not being neglected. it felt strange – her body instinctively tried to fight the foreign presence – but she did her best to relax. wiping the last of the blood from her face and handing the handkerchief back to Sakura." the blonde muttered. "Anyway. "But." The blonde woman saw her friend's green eyes glaze over before she felt the strange warmth of Sakura's chakra enter her system. too. "From Neji – he got back sometime today and he's less than happy to hear that you're sick. "Nothing a cold water soak won't fix. I brought something for you!" "You did?" Ino blinked in bemusement. Sakura passed Ino the infamous Uchiha handkerchief and allowed her to mop at the blood. She had seen enough of the men's respective abilities to know that. before brightening once more as the woman tried to inject some energy into her voice." Sakura interjected before Hinata could speak. Maybe this was a sideeffect of the chakra-saturation technique? She didn't know how much time passed before Sakura drew away. but it seemed the blonde didn't relish the prospect of facing the Hyuuga's protective wrath. "I'm safe!" "Well. wiping at the blood leaking from her right nostril. closing her eyes and breathing slowly and evenly as though she were about to go to sleep." she added. if it really came down to it.. but a sneezing fit prevented her. Naruto blanched." Ino groaned.

" "Who?" Ino asked. No one became a ninja without learning a few things about getting blood out of material. somehow managing to make it sound like her exhaustion was a personal insult. . cursive script always made her giggle. come on. because it left her with the impression that even his writing was lazy. 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. and they found that he's been infected. "Anyway. but there was a distinct dusting of pink across her cheeks." "Kiba." Ino nodded. some of them are being drafted into work here. one hand resting on Hinata's leg beneath the blanket.Still giggling to herself. 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. I mean. idly wondering if she could get in a quick nap before she had to rush back to the lab. too. Then she turned her attention back to her letter." the pink-haired woman mused." Sakura explained. and that naturally led her eyes to wander to the happy couple occupying said bed. She could see the deeper message – get well soon – beneath the complaints. come to think of it. In spite of her exhaustion. grinning like a shy schoolboy. Naruto was sitting on the edge. which soon turned into another yawn. "Speaking of which. so she should hurry up and recover. "Shikamaru and Chouji will probably have to be tested. helping the scientists and medics work on a cure." Naruto and Hinata – already aware of this – did not react to Sakura's statement. though I don't think you'll see much of them – they'll probably be in the lab. you and I have another patient to attend to. her eyes recognising Shikamaru's familiar. Ino smiled. "Just out of curiosity. waving a little as Sakura and Sasuke left the room. filling a small plastic bowl with cold water before dropping the bloody handkerchief in it and letting it soak. still wrapped up in each other. The only clock in the room happened to be positioned above Hinata's bed. -xxxSakura stifled another yawn as she turned on the cold tap in the break room sink. She smothered a yawn with her hand and checked the time. Sakura craned her neck back and forth. "Why are you so tired?" Sasuke asked. dragging letters. Ino unfolded the note Sakura had given her. Sakura found herself grinning. since Aburame's have been found to be immune. before veering back to the original subject of the discussion. His loopy. "Because I've been pouring chakra into my patients all damn day!" Sakura snapped. "He and Shino were tested a few days ago. wincing as felt her stiff muscles stretch and her vertebrae pop. Hinata hadn't succumbed to one of the fire-engine blushes that had plagued her as a child.

"I thought jutsus weren't working against them. 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." she muttered." he said bluntly. Sakura blinked at the cup. disregarding its scalding temperature in favour of the caffeine boost." Sakura muttered. The heavy thud as it hit the table made Sasuke turn around from where he was pouring himself a drink. not meeting her eyes. filled with steaming coffee." Her eyes remained riveted to the text. Only when she'd swallowed did she think about what she'd said." Sasuke pointed out. She clenched her jaw in an effort to stifle another yawn. Sakura had been living in the on-call and break rooms for the past few days." "It's a book in the medics' break room. ." he said. "Bearing in mind that I had perhaps five hours of sleep last night. "I'm sure every medic in here has thumbed through it. telling himself her retraction of her statement didn't hurt. flipping to the chapter on super-bugs. as she left the cloth to soak and yanked down a heavy volume from the bookshelf. so she didn't see Sasuke's frown. "You were yawning. She hadn't even heard him brew it. with the sort of cold logic that just made Sakura want to hit him on the back of the head. flipping the pages. "You know.She coughed a little. she'd say he was embarrassed. For a moment. 'Do not wake unless someone is dying. sniffling wetly.' Her thoughts were interrupted when Sasuke set a styrofoam cup beside her. and being in the isolation wing meant she had been up at all hours of the night. If she didn't know better. Then she looked up at Sasuke. "Never hurts to check." "Pessimist." Sasuke made a noncommittal noise and turned away. taking a long gulp from the cup. but Sakura was more concerned with the fact that the coffee gently steaming beside her was all hers. her eyes asking a silent question. "Feel free to disregard that comment. 'I should tape a note to my forehead tonight. "Maybe there's something in here no one's tried yet. "You are honestly the most wonderful man I have ever met.' she mused." she proclaimed. The medic thought she'd gotten about thirteen hours of sleep within the last three days. that may be the beginning stages of sleep deprivation psychosis talking. He glimpsed the title – When Antibiotics Don't Work: Battling Bacteria With Jutsus – before Sakura flipped it open and scanned the contents page. it wouldn't kill you to give someone encouragement for once. as though it were an illusion that would disappear if she scrutinized it hard enough." she joked. alerted by every alarm and roused for every problem.

Ino. After all. the fluorescent lights. On impulse. and Naruto's silly grin grew wider. so determined.was something his mind just couldn't seem to grasp. he leaned forward and gently brushed a few strands of hair from her forehead. Chouji was silent.. but Naruto figured if he had a bunch of bacteria swimming through his system and eating his chakra. On the other side of the room. Hinata seemed to be dozing a little now.. scratching out her reply to Shikamaru's letter with pen and paper that Hinata had lent her.." Chouji's voice was faint and breathy. so why give up on this before it had even started? So he'd asked. It was strange to think of Ino being sick. but last night Naruto had finally realised that he owed it to himself to at least try. It wasn't in Shikamaru's nature to fidget. She'd apologised for her exhaustion. and even if she didn't feel the same. -xxxShikamaru hated hospitals." . "I feel. Hinata smiled sleepily. save for soft.. but she hadn't actually told him to leave. "Chouji?" Shikamaru queried. Some part of him still couldn't believe Hinata had actually agreed to go out with him. There was something about the white walls.. The blonde was always so loud. she wouldn't think any less of him for it. Sakura had told him to just ask her last night when they and the rest of the medics bunked in the on-call rooms. and had always been such a fixed part of his life that the idea of her being sick. 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. but he found himself nervously tapping his foot against the floor as he waited for a reply to the letter he'd given Sakura. Sakura had been saying that for weeks. with bacteria clogging her blood vessels and devouring her chakra like kids in a candy store. as though there wasn't enough oxygen in his lungs. it was Ino. He didn't understand how the medics could stand to spend so much of their time in this building. This time. and the stale smell of bleach that just set his teeth on edge. then he'd probably feel pretty tired too.. until he suddenly went rigid in his seat. who was now lying in a hospital bed behind the imposing glass airlock... "I think I'm.-xxxNaruto couldn't stop grinning. rhythmic crunching sounds as he ate his chips...but he'd never really expected she would actually say 'yes'. saying that Hinata wasn't a mean person. he would never give up on his dream to become the Hokage.sick enough to be hospitalized. Ino tried to smother her laughter. Of course. so Naruto was staying.

-xxxKakashi and his small team of chunins stared at the blackboard. Kakashi thought it could be safely assumed that Akina. He wiped his fingers across his upper lip.. he could understand the gravity of the situation. and Hinata were the original carriers of the disease. Anyone who'd had contact with Ino. so the blonde woman had probably caught the bacteria from him. So. If it was just Akina and Shizune.He got no further before the blood drained from his face and he slithered from the chair to the floor. The silver-haired man pondered the rough infection map he'd drawn out on the board. each hoping that a bolt of inspiration would suddenly fall from the sky like one of Zeus' thunderbolts. and a couple of other shinobi Sakura vaguely recognised from past missions. If left unchecked. "Chouji!" Shikamaru yelled. hadn't bought the same food. feeling warm. or Chouji had come in to be tested – Neji. . out cold. Naruto. while the scientists and medics worked on finding a cure and keeping the patients stable. "Chouji!" Shikamaru's voice trailed off as he noticed the drops of blood that had landed on his hand. The only problem was that he couldn't figure out where they had caught it from. Shikamaru. Naruto. this disease could cripple Konoha. wet liquid. It had been rather easy at first. they could assume it was something in the hospital and have every inch of the building and materials therein tested. Kiba. too? Kakashi and his team had checked. Kakashi and the investigative team were working to find the source. Tsunade had commissioned him to investigate the spread of the chakra-eaters.. followed by the medic Akina and Shizune.. His nose was bleeding. eyeing the green-tinged blood samples. Lee. and while he might not appreciate being suddenly stuck with a bunch of chunins. Shizune. Kakashi's first step had been to draw up an infection map – that is. Sasuke and the infected Hyuugas had probably sickened as a result of contact with Hinata. trying to rouse him. Hinata was the first reported case. dropping to his knees and shaking his friend's shoulder. Naruto had spent some time in Ino's flower shop when Hinata first fell ill. The three women hadn't eaten in the same restaurants. and most of the other shinobis had been treated by either Akina or Shizune in the last week or so.but Hinata.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. Sasuke.. 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.

. -xxx"Nice of you guys to come see me." Chouji groused. and subsequent tests had found the bacteria only barely beginning to 'awaken'. Ino shrugged. "All you have to do is lie back and do nothing. "It's not funny. he had been terrified for Tenten. Sakura couldn't help but wonder how Lee had escaped unscathed. "It's either laugh about it or cry about it. every day!" "No clouds. Another sigh. they'd had some rather intimate contact the very night he'd returned. Tenten's infection was the earliest they'd ever diagnosed the disease at. but that was a problem for Kakashi to solve – her overtaxed and overtired mind was already too busy working on a cure. Sakura was proven correct when she saw Tenten's name scrawled in her eleven o'clock session.All had been infected. But not for himself. it was rather a long shot. Apparently. they'd decided that it was better to have the people panicking than to have many wandering around completely unaware that they were sick. all day.. 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 if they cured Tenten. They'd resisted such a course of action initially because once they posted notices. The medic put the vials down. but it was about the only hope they had.except Lee. ." Ino smirked. 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. "Bet this is your dream come... But by now. Tenten had been recalled via messenger bird. feeling absurdly pleased when he heard Ino giggle. Granted." Shikamaru rolled his eyes and settled back into his pillows. 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.." he deadpanned. they were bound to get a sudden influx of hypochondriacs who did nothing but complain and waste the medics' time. and Sakura set off for ward two.maybe they could work out how to cure everyone else. 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. dabbing at his bleeding nose with a tissue. huh. Thus far. Shikamaru?" Naruto called from across the room where he was sitting on Hinata's bed.. 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. and she had then been sent on a mission. and I know which one I prefer.

but looking at them there. "Just like ramen is the love of Naruto's life. "I feel.kinda drowsy. "Try to get some rest.. her body feeling as though every drop of energy had been wrung out of it."Don't you remember.. before flicking his eyes towards the Hyuuga on the bed.. His family's fighting style depended entirely upon chakra. just like that. "Though those noodles might find themselves in competition. "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. "Will there be any permanent damage?" Neji asked from the bed next to Tenten's. okay? The bacteria will be going into a dormant state for a while. too low for anyone to hear. That should hold you for a while. Sakura couldn't blame him. "There. trying not to yawn. She hadn't drained her chakra. He gave it to me a while back. Is that meant to happen?" "Chakra-saturation can do that. almost timid tilt of the lips. She coughed a little.' she thought." Chouji muttered under his breath.. digging out a handkerchief as she felt a sneeze building. Naruto?" Ino scolded." Tenten's eyes widened. bold grin. and Hinata's was a soft." Sakura stood slowly. sounding as though he was doing his best not to contemplate that prospect.. it's Sasuke's handkerchief. that it might cripple his ninja abilities. "Is that Sasuke's handkerchief?" Tenten asked as Sakura blew her nose. "Just like that?" "Yes.Ino couldn't help but think that the emotions behind their grins were exactly the same. .." Naruto and Hinata both smiled." Tenten nodded vaguely.. lying back in her bed obediently. -xxxSakura sent one final surge of chakra into her friend's system before withdrawing. struggling not to yawn herself.Sakura could only imagine how horrifying that idea would be." Shikamaru drawled. Naruto's was a broad. This again? 'You'd think he'd given me an engagement ring.. but constant heavy use with no chance to rest and recover was beginning to take its toll. so let your body heal. and the idea that this infection might result in permanent damage." Tenten blinked slowly. The medic rolled her eyes." Sakura nodded. "Yes.

with more gentleness in his voice than she would have thought him capable of expressing. take her pulse." At least. Sakura really hated how far her teammate's growth spurt had left her behind.. Stepping out into the corridor. his voice practically drowning in sarcasm. "Chakra channels are different from blood vessels and tendons and the like. Did you know they asked to placed in the same ward? It's kinda sweet – who would have known that Mr." Sasuke wondered if she knew she was babbling." he said. "Are you okay?" she heard Sasuke ask. too. "And Ino. Sakura's bed in the on-call room had been empty when he fell asleep last night. "Well. tipping her head back to look at his face. In fact. Her nose hit his sternum and she rebounded with a pained yelp. "And I explained to Neji that this infection won't cause permanent damage. making her way towards ward three. that sort of thing." Sasuke nodded. because she suddenly closed her mouth and looked faintly puzzled. 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. "Come on. Sakura seemed to realise the same thing. as long as the patient was alive. Sasuke wondered how much sleep she was getting." she muttered. Sakura was struck by the sudden." she explained. and it had been empty when he awoke. but you can probably do that – just check her temperature. "I'm fine. I'll work on that.. but Sakura refused to address that dark shadow of doubt." she informed him. While they can be blocked or damaged. Stern and Serious Neji could have such a soft side. Sasuke raised an eyebrow. 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. taking the thermometer Sakura snatched from the nurse's station as they passed it. so they'll always recover. Sakura ran straight into Sasuke." she said. irrational urge to stick her tongue out at him. . The sleep deprivation was really starting to fry her brain. 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. I have to check on Shikamaru. Sakura couldn't know with any certainty what the next stage would be like." she said. even though the symptoms at this point were relatively harmless. "I just finished using the chakra-saturation on Tenten. Literally. Sometimes. "You're too damn tall."There's no reason to think so. but she knew the relentless attack on the chakra channels would eventually cause the organs to fail. they are basically streams of energy.

Ino only half-listened to Sasuke's terse instructions. The blonde wondered how much of that was her cold and how much of it was chakra depletion. She felt practically dead on her feet – it was a good thing she didn't have to perform the chakra-saturation technique again today. "And to think Sakura's been forced to work with you. . "Open your mouth. "Are you okay?" she asked as Sakura and Sasuke headed to the door. as though her words had stung him somehow.. obeying them mechanically as she watched Sakura complete Shikamaru's check-up with the look of a woman who was half-asleep. "Take deep. "I'm fine. She knew Sakura was working hard." she instructed Shikamaru as she pressed a stethoscope to his back.Sakura opened the door. but it looked like she'd barely gotten any sleep in days. please. Just kinda wiped.pleased." the blonde muttered. stepping into the ward and trying to smile. "You used to like it. but he looked.something. "I'm too tired to strangle him." Sakura quipped with a tired laugh.." Ino continued. "Yeah.it's been a tiring couple of days. but nodded slowly anyway. resisting the urge to slide her eyes in Shikamaru's direction. the way her movements seemed just a fraction slower than usual. even breaths. All she had were some basic check-ups to ensure the patients weren't worsening. she carefully leaned around his back until she could see part of his face.. you know?" Ino wasn't convinced. Ino scowled. Sakura waved to her friend and strode through the door. Sakura heard Shikamaru's heartbeat suddenly quicken through the stethoscope.." Sasuke's scowl deepened.. well I was an idiot... The pink-haired medic smiled reassuringly. On impulse. remember?" Chouji called. Sasuke at her heels. When they were in the corridor. "I don't know how she puts up with you.. It was then that Ino noticed the bags under her friend's eyes. It was hard to tell from her vantage point. and tried not to grin. Ino. but Ino was surprised by a flash of." Sasuke's expression told her he couldn't care less what sort of bedside manner he had. "You have absolutely no bedside manner." she heard Sasuke order harshly from across the room. Shikamaru stiffened.in his eyes. she made a beeline for the break room and practically fell into the couch sitting against the back wall. but keeping his voice low so he didn't wake the sleeping Hinata.

The Uchiha glanced at the medic. Civilians – who never learned how to access their chakra – weren't becoming sick. Kakashi could name a dozen opportunities for the infected shinobi to pass the bacteria on to civilians. His shoulder probably wasn't the most comfortable pillow for her. Sasuke was half-expecting Sakura to say something. his fingertips brushing the bruise-like half-moons under her eyes. Ino. the hollow cheeks. stroking the pastel strands. Kiba. was probably still not strong enough to be recognised as a potential food source by the bacteria. either.she'd lost weight since the disease first began to spread... The chakra-eaters were probably attracted to powerful sources of chakra – the kind of aura emitted by ninja. Lee's chakra signature... cradling her to keep her from lurching to the side as he slid away. Offhand. Sasuke found himself hoping that a cure was found soon. her brain gradually winding down.. before Sakura burned herself out trying to keep her friends from succumbing to it. Her mind felt like it was swimming in syrup – her thoughts began to disconnect from each other. 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. Tenten." Kakashi muttered to himself. carefully. and with that in mind Sasuke began to shift slowly away from her. So.. She mumbled something in her sleep. He caught her shoulder as she began to slip down.. Sasuke thought it sounded like 'don't want any more ramen'. wondering how exhausted she really was if she'd dropped off to sleep within barely a minute of sitting down. Sasuke brushed his hands though her hair idly. but he could be mistaken. 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. But if that were true. She mumbled and shifted a little. but Sakura was so exhausted she barely registered his presence..Sasuke sat down beside her.. -xxx"Hinata.. not civilians. but other than that. shifting against him. Neji. Lee couldn't perform ninjutsu or genjutsu – his chakra channels were malformed. Chouji.but it hadn't happened. he lowered Sakura to a reclining position on her side. as though saying it aloud would somehow force the facts to make some kind of sense. while definitely not as weak as a civilian. Shikamaru. . "Why not Lee? What was different about him? What did he do.but not Lee. her head pillowed on his thigh.. and he nearly jumped when he suddenly felt her list against him.. and it was a mark of how tired she was that the movement didn't wake her. down the length of the couch.?" A dangerous theory slowly uncurled in Kakashi's mind. Slowly. someone must have done the same to this bacteria. the movement didn't disturb her.then it meant that the bacteria were specifically designed to attack ninja. the copy-ninja could think of only one explanation that made sense.

hey. "And what's gotten you so cheerful this morning?" .. She hadn't realised she was being run quite so ragged. wondering why her chakra had given out on her so early into the session. engineered by one of Leaf's enemies. considering how little she was getting now – Sakura made her way to the break room. She'd barely been ten minutes into the chakra-saturation session before she'd felt herself approaching dangerously low levels of chakra depletion. "Someone's just bitter she didn't get her coffee this morning..almost perky. But by who? Akatsuki had been sighted in Wave. She swatted half-heartedly at his hand. Of course – her cold. A cough rose in her throat.. Her body was so busy trying to fight the virus that it couldn't regenerate her chakra. The infection's spread through Konoha could be nothing short of deliberate. her ceaseless labour. 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. "Oh. yawning all the way.. Sakura! How's everything going?" Sakura took him in – wide-awake. patting her on the head like she was a precocious child. This was an act of war. Suna had good investigators and intelligence – maybe they'd heard something about this. and Sakura immediately knew the problem." Naruto said. cheerful. She nearly collided with Naruto in the hallway as he emerged from said room..she should still have had more chakra than this.And Kakashi knew that a bioweapon like this did not just 'get out'. but even taking into account her lack of sleep. they could figure out how it was spreading. -xxxSakura scrubbed at her eyes. Their relations with Earth and Sound left something to be desired. and now one of the other overworked immune medics was being forced to pick up her slack. She'd been forced to terminate the session. Musing on the fact that she should really try to get more sleep – though that wouldn't be a hardship.. Wind and Earth. And maybe once they'd figured out who was hitting them with a bioweapon. but there'd been no sightings near Konoha for some time. "I hate you. so it was unlikely a few members of the missing-nin organisation had somehow managed to infect Konoha's ninja population. clear-eyed. They'd send a warning to Suna as soon as possible – let them know they were dealing with a bioweapon.

Naruto. "No. she didn't think it would help Neji's temper. and they don't like having Sasuke in the lab because he always snarls at them. . confined to an isolation ward in a hospital."The scientists think they might have found a cure!" Naruto declared. She had been searching for more information on immune jutsus. And that was enough for Sakura to send him on his way with a laugh and a sisterly pat on the shoulder. but when she saw the scroll sitting on the table. hoping to come across something more effective than the chakra-saturation technique. they didn't really say they had it. They say that if they find that. and none of his famous and powerful techniques could beat this enemy. "That sounds great. I hope?" The blonde gave a shy grin and blushed a little. they just said they might be on the road to finding one. 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. It had to be unsettling for a man who'd relied on his own strength for most of his life. "Really? That's amazing!" "Well. Somehow. where are you off to now – seeing Hinata. Sakura hefted the substantial scroll and sat down the couch. they might be able to find out how to make them become dormant again!" Sakura smiled at the prospect. Neji was sick. "But that's good. So." Naruto amended. -xxxTenten did her very best not to burst into laughter. Sakura had honestly intended to rest. They were totally dependent on the medics for support and a cure. she couldn't resist. though she'd be happy just to find something less draining. isn't it? They were studying my blood 'cause they wanted to find a way to make the bacteria dormant all the time. 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. It was when she heard the shower being turned on full-blast that Tenten really knew Neji was close to snapping. But Tenten knew he was feeling out of his element here. getting Sakura's attention immediately. He only turned the water on that hard when he was really furious. and they're trying to find the mechanism that makes the bacteria come out of the dormant state. Tenten heard a sound that she identified as Kiba also stifling his laughter. preparing to do some hard studying. The sight of Hyuuga Neji on the verge of throwing a tantrum like a toddler was certainly an amusing sight.

are you? Because if you are. Considering what they were going through (and he was much sicker than her). "It's me. considering that your infection's progressed a lot farther than mine. "Do you want to take a shower." Tenten said. and then Neji spoke again.you never know. "You feeling okay?" she asked. "Er." "I know. in what was undeniably an invitation. . "And you probably feel worse than me. "I don't need you babying me... 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. too!" he practically growled. "Who's that?" Neji snapped. and when Neji's reply came. only one jutsu had caught Sakura's eye.. "I'm not asking as a nurse or medic – which is good. She watched the outline of her lover through the frosted glass.. too?" "That sounds nice..." Another exasperated roll of the eyes and Tenten entered the bathroom. seeing as I'm neither of those. So Tenten shed her clothes and opened the glass door.. leaning against the tiny sink." Tenten mused.I'm asking as your girlfriend. Tenten sighed. stepping into both the water and Neji's arms.. smiling a little when she saw his tense shoulders relax.you two aren't going to..." she answered." There was a pause. "Get your mind out of the gutter – we're sick and in a hospital. his tone was close to apologetic. the place already beginning to fill with steam.Kiba choked when she slipped out of her bed and made her way to the bathroom door. -xxxTwo hours into her reading." Tenten rolled her eyes." Another pause. involved kisses was appealing in and of itself. "I hate being sick... 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. though his hoarse cough took much of the impact from his tone. fighting the urge to grin like an idiot. for heaven's sake! Do you really think we'll be snatching a quickie in the shower?" "Well. But there was only so much of his bad temper she'd take. she was willing to cut him some slack.

it couldn't hurt to pour over the finer details of the jutsu and see if her hypothesis had any solid basis. only a small portion would. hacked wetly. Sakura knew she should probably wait until her cold got better before attempting it. then that would work. but in the meantime. but her coughing went on and on. bleary-eyed Sakura digging in the fridge. and Sakura hunched over as her chest burned.. If performed successfully.but at the price of their immune system being unable to recognise any other invader." she threatened.." Sasuke clarified.. maybe – were affected. She heaved a gurgling breath. Sasuke. but I have access to a lot of nasty poisons. and she tasted iron on her tongue.but then they could die from the common cold or something equally inconsequential. Then again. even assuming she found a way to limit the jutsu. . 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.somehow made it so only a small part of the immune system – only a few thousand cells.. Instead of all the cells becoming suddenly immune to one thing and vulnerable to everything else. But when her stomach began cramping. she wasn't Tsunade's apprentice for nothing. making Sakura feel a little guilty for being so curt with him.. Sakura knew it was time for a break. before sneezing loudly.. her bloodshot eyes lending a surprisingly ferocious edge to it. She was about to reply when she felt her chest tightening. Just a little. but it was the principle behind it that intrigued her.and she felt moisture land on her hand. figure out a way to let the patients receive the benefits of the jutsu with none of its drawbacks.It was a forbidden jutsu (just her luck)... Sasuke entered the break room to find a tousle-haired. and she only had time to cover her mouth before a sudden coughing fit descended on her. She knew she needed to. "You look horrible. She thought it would stop soon. Of course.. But if she could alter it somehow. effectively. In other words. That small part would be able to deal with the chakra-eaters. Liquid rose in the back of her throat. I may be too exhausted to pound you into the ground.. and the rest would still be able to deal with any other diseases. though – she was feeling too miserable to feel overly guilty.. it would take near superhuman chakra control to pull it off. it rendered the subject entirely immune to whatever disease was afflicting them. "I just meant that you should get some rest. Funny – she could have sworn it hadn't been that long since she'd eaten something." Sasuke only realised how insulting he sounded when Sakura raised her head and glared at him. "Don't start with me. they'd be cured of the disease..

He yelled in frustration.. boneless waif in his arms. Sasuke would never admit that it was a scream that left his mouth when he caught her. but he noticed them when they started to pull Sakura from his grasp.rather more desperately than usual. sending one of the ninjas sprawling backwards. gurgling inhalation and each wet exhalation. Sasuke did not scream. He would say he was just yelling. Screaming implied terror.. The door to the break room was flung open. unnaturally clear. every little detail about her had suddenly become frighteningly. Sasuke heard him talking like a low buzz in his ears. blood dripping from her nose even as it bubbled from her lips. he shrieked in fury. 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. He didn't even realise the medics had entered the room. get a medic – something besides just standing there with her lying limp in his arms. a fine spray of crimson droplets hitting his cheek. Sasuke lashed out. But he couldn't do anything. his focus narrowing to one thing and one thing alone – Sakura. and Sasuke could practically feel his heart stop as he saw the blood staining her palm. He hadn't screamed since he was eight years old and he returned from shuriken training to find himself an orphan. He could hear each soft. but he did not scream. He could see every hair in the tangles of strands that spilled against his chest. hapter 6 Patient Zero Sakura drew her hand back from her mouth. every hitch in her breath. It was like the entire world was moving away from him. most pink. like a clumsy photograph of something that was moving a bit too fast. While he felt strangely removed from everything else. Sakura was a pale.Finally breathing a little easier – but feeling slightly dizzy – Sakura drew her palm away from her mouth. . Her chest convulsed as she coughed weakly. but some red and some blonde. saw him as a blurred image at the edge of his vision. So when Sakura's eyes rolled back and she fell forward. To find it covered in blood. He could feel every drop of her blood as it slid down and dried on his cheek. Sasuke knew he should do something – help her. He could feel every shudder wracking her slim body. and his limbs might as well have been carved from a block of ice – they were cold and numb and uncooperative. His lungs felt as though they were filled with hot lead. slamming against the wall behind it with such force the plaster cracked as Naruto sped into the room. Reacting on instinct.

. 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." The Hokage sighed.. allowing the medics to slide her from his arms and onto a stretcher. which worked to constantly rally her failing immune system until. And she couldn't sugarcoat it – they had to know exactly how serious this was. She'd told Sasuke and Naruto to wait in the ward.His wrist – of the arm that wasn't supporting Sakura against him – was suddenly caught in a grip more solid than stone. which have progressed far past the stage the rest of you are being kept at. 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. and now she is beginning to manifest other symptoms.. At first glance... As soon as Tsunade entered the ward.until she realised that his eyes were unfocused and he was blinking a little too often. then said bluntly. like someone in shock... because even Naruto fell silent. she was inundated by worried cries and shouted inquiries about her student's health.. "Sakura is infected. his face blank. "Sakura's immune system has shut down. Just because he knew they would help her didn't make letting her go any easier. he looked completely unaffected by Sakura's collapse. the sudden. She didn't know how the others were going to take the news. She raised a hand for silence.. "How?" "No way!" Naruto shrieked. What she'd found." . burning blue eyes that seemed on the verge of tears.and it appears she has been so for some time.?" Ino gaped. she'd insisted on entering the isolation wing to examine her.wasn't good.. before continuing." she said simply. When she'd learned of her apprentice's collapse. but Sakura had been insistent that they know. "Silence!" Tsunade snarled.. dizzying influx of adrenaline causing his Sharingan to activate on reflex. and something in her face must have convinced them to subside. -xxxTsunade thinned her lips as she ran her eyes over the notes she'd taken during her examination of Sakura. arms folded over his chest. He loosened his grip on Sakura.. 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. "Wha. But his bloodline ability slowly cooled as he stared into bright. Sasuke jerked his head around. Sasuke didn't hear any clear. We never realised it because she was performing the immune enhancing jutsu. coherent word of what Naruto said to him. "Sakura has been infected by the chakra-eaters.

apparently cheerful and healthy. she's being kept in one of the sterile rooms. surprised by the crisp.. Then he remembered Sakura lying limp in his arms. Though Sasuke had seen far more gruesome sights. He strode rapidly from the ward and towards the bathroom. and asked that the rest of you be informed of her condition. "Yes. The Hyuuga nodded as the blonde slipped out. her blood vessels are weakening.. Ino was staring fixedly down at her blanket. and even the lining of her digestive tract. she was down in one of the sterile rooms. apparently declining to comment. But one person seemed to realise that nothing they could say would reassure Ino.and then. the next thing they knew. Hinata watched from beneath her lashes as Shikamaru pushed his blanket to the end of his mattress. . flaky texture under his fingers. The ward was strangely silent when Naruto left. practically jumping up and down on the spot. "Because her immune system has been so severely compromised. As though it was just some sort of big cosmic joke.She gave them a moment to process that. the idea of one of the medics who had been treating them for weeks succumbing to the disease seemed. except the degradation isn't limited to her nose – any capillaries that are irritated are breaking open. he was so anxious. And more than that. and Shikamaru and Chouji looked as though they didn't know what to say.. "And Sasuke. "She regained consciousness about ten minutes ago. and Ino swallowed audibly. "I'll be back soon. She is bleeding in her lungs. "I mean. feeling his cheek becoming damp.wash your face.. then went on. 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. Hinata?" Naruto said." Naruto's eyes were huge in his face.. then touched the side of his face." Ino said. The idea of Sakura being infected seemed somehow unreal. "As we've seen. Sakura had come in to check on Shikamaru. coughing blood. sounding as though she were doing her best to convince herself.can we see her?" Naruto asked timidly. her gums. her fingers fiddling nervously with the edge of her blanket.. the idea that he had Sakura's blood on his face made his stomach lurch. somehow. but you'll have to go through a sterilisation process first.ludicrous." Tsunade finished.. "She'll be okay." "Can. okay.. and Tsunade was telling them the infection had progressed so far she was in serious danger. won't you?" The Uchiha blinked." Tsunade told him. Hinata bit her lip as she considered what she could possibly say to make Ino feel better.. It was probably because they hadn't witnessed anything to do with it – as far as they knew.. suddenly unable to stand the feel of it on his skin.

exchanging his clothes for stiff. but to prevent him infecting Sakura.. unmoving. It had been written in Tsunade's eyes.. over half an hour after Sakura had first collapsed in his arms. Sakura had been infected. 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. but he knew a bad diagnosis when he heard it." The blonde sounded rather like a battered woman trying to convince herself her husband didn't mean it.." It was more question than statement. Even now. "She'll be okay." Ino repeated as Shikamaru carefully slid an arm around her shoulders. "She'll be okay.. Shikamaru never said a word. the airlock. in the too-rigid set of her shoulders. so the disease had progressed without anyone noticing. unable to get past the point it had first stalled on. Sasuke's mind still felt as though it were frozen in ice – still.. It seemed strange that this wasn't to prevent Sakura infecting him. the mask and gloves. "This is Sakura. either. These rooms were used only when patients had severely compromised immune systems.. located at the very end of the isolation wing. Hinata knew that was about as far from 'okay' as you could get. The immune enhancing jutsu had held the outward symptoms in check for a while. kept pushing her body to the edge. and wouldn't do it again. as silent and undetected as a skilled assassin.. And she realised that Ino knew that too. Sasuke didn't claim to be a medic. but spoke as though she were looking into his face. Her immune system was so weak that a mild cold could kill her. .. She had been constantly rallying her failing immune system. 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. "She'll be okay. This was the kind of room Sakura was being treated in now. The shower. to the extent that even the common cold could kill them.." Hinata's teeth dug deeper into her lip.but he didn't let go of Ino. Sakura was infected....and she'd kept working.. It was a lie she wanted to believe so badly it was painful.swung his legs over the side of the bed and – with perfect calm and control – padded barefoot over to Ino. Sakura was coughing blood. in the tilt of her mouth. until it shut down and her entire body rebelled. The blonde didn't look up. sterile hospital scrubs. kept performing draining jutsus..

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.

You're. but she wanted to smack him – she didn't want to move away from Sasuke.you're okay. "My nose is bleeding now. "Can you get me some more tissues." she answered honestly. right? It doesn't hurt?" "It doesn't hurt." Sakura sighed. Sakura?" Naruto asked worriedly. Her forehead was resting against his collarbone.. and Naruto had just handed the Uchiha the perfect excuse. "Sort of. But he didn't move. Sakura was going to move back." She grimaced as she felt the material in her hands becoming damp." she muttered.irritating. She was bleeding like a hemophiliac. There was the sound of a door opening." Sasuke said nothing.. and the arm that wasn't rubbing her back was gripping her shoulder gently to stabilise her. pressing the wad of tissue against her nose. but she soon realised they were so soaked in blood they weren't going to absorb anymore. right?" "As long as you took it from the tap." Sakura said wryly. to try to look him in the eye and perhaps pick up some hint of what he was thinking. Naruto?" she asked. "I'm better now.. taking a generous swallow from the cup. "If this keeps up I may need a transfusion. "Here. She had thought that Sasuke would let her go once she had stopped coughing." Naruto said. She felt a bit of guilty pleasure in having Sasuke hold her like this. but silently vowed to find out what his blood type was. but the only change in their positions was that the hand between her shoulderblades had settled on her lower back. "You okay now. Now her nose was bleeding. Sakura knew his intentions were good. "If we have any blood to spare. letting the cool water soothe her throat and wash the taste of iron from her mouth. but she was distracted by the warm liquid she felt trickling from her nostrils. waving at the door opposite the entrance. . Not that Sakura was complaining – she was quite comfortable as she was.And what they were doing now was dangerously close to hugging. more than anything.. "That's safe to drink." Naruto practically jumped across the bed to grab the tissues. waiting for Sasuke to move away now that he had verbal confirmation of her state. and rapid footsteps heralded Naruto's entrance moments before a small cup of water was thrust under Sakura's nose. Sakura started to press the soggy tissues in her hand against her nose. "I got you some water from the little bathroom-thing over there. her voice thick as she spoke through a clogged nose.

. And this time. But they hadn't succeeded with Naruto. Sakura was the original carrier of the disease. They were an organisation comprised solely of powerful. The bacteria weren't attracted to civilians. their assumption that she must have been infected early on in the disease's spread. but more like an earthquake..and then realisation had struck him – not like a bolt of lightning. Because Naruto had allies. He'd been told about Sakura's sudden onset of symptoms. Except for her mission to Wave. one of the large sheets that lit up the sky and illuminated everything. she'd probably infected Naruto and Sasuke about the same time). the remaining cells would probably be long-dead by the time another ninja so much as set foot in the room. The infection map finally made sense. And if he worked with that assumption. was why. friends. but it made no sense for the Akatsuki to unleash a ninja-specific disease while they still needed to capture Naruto. he'd want to know every trait and aspect of it before he unleashed it. though. understanding was a bolt of lightning. and she'd worked with Shizune and Akina in the hospital. It wouldn't have taken much – just scatter a vial of the dormant bacteria around her room and leave it at that. and as Kakashi doubted they would be able to survive very long without a host. Shizune and Akina had in common for so long they'd completely overlooked who they had in common. practically legendary missing-nin. Didn't they need the blonde man alive.where had she picked them up from? It wasn't like she'd been on any dangerous missions lately. So if Sakura had spread the chakra-eaters throughout Konoha. Devastating and rattling to the very core. Had the Akatsuki known that would happen? Kakashi would say so – if he was engineering a fatal disease. then the Akatsuki's motive now made much more sense. . where Akatsuki had been sighted. she hadn't even left the village except for. She'd had lunch with Hinata the week before the Hyuuga had collapsed (come to think of it. The thing Kakashi couldn't figure out.-xxxKakashi put the finishing touches to his improved infection map with a sense of fatalistic resignation. Wave. Wave. Akatsuki had deliberately engineered Sakura's infection by the chakra-eaters.... people who would die to keep him safe – something that was only too rare among the other vessels. 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. that could turn night into day for one brief moment.. And that person was Sakura. 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. Their attempts to capture the demon vessels usually succeeded on the first try. where she'd healed the people caught in that disastrous boating accident. They'd been wondering what Hinata.

" Sasuke commented. Sasuke." Sakura agreed. "What are you doing?" Naruto half-yelped. Jiraiya and Kakashi himself. "Why? What are you going to do?" "She's going to treat me. but she can pour destructive chakra into my body to try to burn the dormant bacteria out of my system. with just a hint of weariness in her voice. "I thought you said they'd already performed the chakra saturation technique. to name just a few – to reach him. 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). Every instinct Sasuke had was telling him something was wrong. Then all the Akatsuki would have to do was pick up a grieving. and Tsunade began fastening one of the cuffs around it. Now all they needed to do was find a cure. his arm jerking as though he wanted to pull Sakura away from Tsunade and then thought better of it. Tsunade. as I've already said. and then Sakura spoke again. But this disease had the possibility of wiping out Konoha's entire ninja population. but there was a hint of apprehension in her eyes. Sasuke didn't claim to be a medic. "You two – out!" she snapped." "They did. solitary vessel." "That sounds dangerous.but there is something Lady Tsunade can do. dressed in the requisite get-up for the sterile room and carrying a bundle of what looked like leather straps in her arms. dropping the chalk he'd been scrawling on the blackboard with. . allowing Tsunade to dump the straps on the blanket. the inside covered with sheepskin to prevent the leather chaffing her skin. They'd figured out where the chakra-eaters had come from. Kakashi sighed. Much easier than having to mow through dozens of phenomenally powerful ninja – Sakura. It's a little extreme.. Naruto and Sasuke obeyed the non-verbal cue and slid from their respective sides of the bed. Sakura held up one wrist.. Sakura and Tsunade exchanged a look. but he knew that any medical procedure involving straps couldn't be pleasant. His tone was indifferent." Sakura said calmly. but it was Naruto who spoke up. Sasuke scowled. shifting her legs a little beneath the blanket to prompt her friends to move. but his eyes flew to Tsunade like a pair of daggers.Akatsuki had failed to capture Naruto because he had protectors. "My immune system won't attack the bacteria. Chapter 7 Deterioration Naruto jumped when Tsunade strode into the room.

. tugging experimentally against the straps as Tsunade secured her ankles.. while you do the procedure?" It might have been Sasuke's imagination. gesturing to the straps. that word turned it into granite. and Sakura parted her lips to accept the plastic gag that prevented her from biting her tongue if she did indeed have a fit. telling herself that she was a ninja and went through physical pain everyday. her pinched lips. Tsunade paused in the act of strapping Sakura's other wrist down. She was trying to stay calm. When she spoke. Many patients have been known to lash out or fit while it's being done. .. I need you out – it will take about an hour. her tone was businesslike. Sasuke knew Tsunade wouldn't be performing this procedure on Sakura unless it was the only possible way to help her. "But. however. Which. Her medical mind reminded her – unenthusiastically – that it was same type used on patients receiving electroshock therapy. now that she thought about it. but no. she felt like she was about to have a demon exorcised from her. then admitted. and her whole face spoke of reluctance. Sakura tried to smile reassuringly as they shuffled out of the room. and she had a feeling that watching Sakura in pain would make Naruto – and probably Sasuke as well – very distracting. "The chakra has to be precisely controlled to prevent the patient being permanently damaged by the procedure.. but that's hardly an option at the moment. and then you can come back. with her. Which is why I'm doing it – I don't trust any other medic to pull this off. Maybe Shizune. was actually a rather fitting metaphor. Sasuke looked at Sakura." the Hokage said bluntly. tightening the strap around Sakura's wrist before she began to fasten the other end to the bed post."It is. revealing a flash of sympathy. Naruto had noticed too. Tsunade seemed to hesitate.in spite of her brave front.isn't there some other way?" The question hung heavily in the air for several long moments. the final contraption dangling from her hand. each limb tightly secured to the four corners." She needed complete concentration for this procedure.. Naruto had gone a little pale. The straps ensure Sakura doesn't thrash around and hurt me or herself. taking in her pale face. "No. Tsunade's eyes were flat when she looked up. her face grim and closed. but the anticipation was beginning to make her sweat. and looked Naruto straight in the eyes. she was clearly dreading this procedure. But it didn't make him like it." If Naruto's question had thickened the air like syrup. The medic sighed.?" Naruto trailed off. bearing a surprising resemblance to puppies turned out of their house." Her lips were pressed tightly together. Without even asking. and his head swung between the medics like someone watching a tennis match. "Can we stay? I mean. but he thought Tsunade's grim mask cracked for a moment. Strapped to the bed.. "The procedure is intensely painful. "Sorry." "Then why are you.

Sasuke saw no reason to move. The procedure Sakura would be enduring even now. An attempt to divert everyone's thoughts – including her own – from the procedure Naruto had told them about." Ino was narrating. Tentatively. He still had yet to look away from it. "Eventually. 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. staring at the clock on the wall with unnerving intensity. Sasuke had obeyed the letter of the law. six hundred seconds. then the procedure still had three thousand. When Tsunade had told him and Naruto to leave the room. she had to go out and buy some more.The pink-haired woman met her teacher's weary eyes and nodded once. two hundred and twenty seconds to go. recognising Ino's efforts for what it was. And Sasuke planned on counting every one of them off on the plastic clock mounted on the wall outside the airlock. Assuming Tsunade had begun perhaps five minutes after they had left the room. The Uchiha frowned. Naruto had come into their ward about ten minutes ago and sat miserably on the edge of Hinata's bed. Hinata slid her hand across the sheets. counting down each jerky movement. Tsunade's fingers twisted through a complex array of seals. and then she pressed her hands to the papery gown covering Sakura's stomach. And then Sakura was biting down on the gag in an attempt to smother her screams. She didn't know if he would accept her offer of comfort or simply ignore it but after a moment. -xxxOne hour was sixty minutes. and departed to see Hinata. 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. ". -xxx"Hey. but since she'd never specifically made that distinction. 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. but since Sakura had only cast the transformation with the intention of it lasting about half a day or so.. by the time she got back.so Lady Tsunade was searching for her sake for the whole day.. his hand turned over and clasped hers. Naruto had obeyed the spirit of the command. but since Sakura was only thirteen and this was in the first six months of her apprenticeship. his eyes locked onto the thin second hand. Sixty minutes was three thousand. they'd all changed back. touching the edge of his palm with her fingertips in a touch as light as the caress of a moth's wing. I think Lady Tsunade would have been mad. The dark-haired woman giggled." .

so she channeled hers into a bit of mischief." the Hokage said at last. I remember wondering how she'd gotten away with it. soaked in sweat and shaking like someone with palsy. Ino nodded. Her eyes were clamped tightly shut. her voice slightly hoarse." Chouji commented." The blonde woman had always wondered how much of that had been inspired by Naruto's pranks. He was more interested in the medic that was still behind the door. "I think I remember that. -xxxSasuke was surprised when Tsunade opened the door after only forty-three minutes and twentythree seconds had passed. The procedure was about half an hour through. "A couple of months after you went off to train with Jiraiya. and Hinata thought he made a rather strange picture – sitting on Ino's bed and lounging against the foot board. and the leather coils were piled beneath the foot of the bed. She was curled into a ball in the middle of the mattress. Sakura had been released from the straps. "I had to stop. He still had yet to return to his own hospital bed. in case of. With a little sigh. and her breathing was soft and ragged as though she were trying not to cry." She didn't run through the airlock. 'Tsunade wasn't kidding about how much it would hurt. Sasuke didn't see where she went – he wasn't paying attention.he didn't know what. Ino shook her head and glance at the clock. her body still stung and throbbed as though there was acid running through her instead of blood.. "It was causing too much damage.. "At least. She kept trying to breathe evenly. . the story dragging him from his contemplative mood. Hadn't she said the procedure would take an hour? He said so. and received a bitter. his feet level with her hips. Everyone was still a little stressed. but she did walk very quickly. really. he just wanted to keep his entry as silent as possible." "Sakura pulled a prank?" Naruto said. He stepped inside the sterile room as quietly as he could. that was saying a lot. She actually felt like crying.Shikamaru chuckled.' Sakura thought as she struggled to get her body under control. blank stare in answer. 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. Even now that the procedure had ended. but the residual spasms wracking her body made it difficult.

"You don't have to do that. feeling as though her lungs were trying to exit her body through her throat. and dropped her eyes to handkerchief now wadded in her fist. But Naruto seemed to get over his surprise very quickly. "Do what?" "Smile when you don't want to. Automatically. 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.. as the next moment he was practically shouting at Tsunade again. for that matter. your blood type is not a match to Sakura's. Neither is Sasuke's..but Sakura once told me the blood doesn't have to match to donate!" . a little uncomfortable with him reading her so easily. but Sasuke was pleased to note her smile was genuine this time. and that it was now covered in blood once more. She jumped when someone touched her shoulder. she tried to paste a comforting smile on her face. soggy with blood. Sakura still referred to the handkerchief as his property. She doubted the cloth would ever really recover. it's not a match?" Naruto nearly shouted. and Sakura barely had time to snatch at the bedside table. his face unreadable. she noted it was Sasuke's handkerchief. he'd been moments behind Naruto in demanding to be tested. The Uchiha shrugged disinterestedly. "You got tested. -xxx"What do you mean. Did she really think him so ungenerous.Her throat burned. As though she expected him to demand its return any moment." Naruto halted mid-rant." Sasuke was slightly disturbed to realise that. When she drew the material back. Sakura blinked. 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. seize some sort of soft fabric and press it to her mouth before she was coughing desperately. Tsunade sighed. her hand twitching as though she was unconsciously reaching for a sake bottle. twisting to look at his friend." Sasuke said softly. "I mean." Sakura grinned weakly." Sakura swallowed. and twisted her aching body around to see Sasuke standing beside her bed. "But. even all these weeks after he'd given it to her. or was she simply so unused to kindness from him? Neither option was very appealing. "I'll give you another one. "I think I ruined your handkerchief.

" "Oh. while he could do nothing but take. While Sasuke knew that blood type was determined by genetics and not by personality. It was a case of one step forward. that was still deterioration. the third candidate proved a match. Sakura's collapsed immune system simply couldn't fight them off. but Sakura will get what she needs. "Kakashi heard about it.or she'd die.neither of you can donate blood to her. and the sudden lack of activity had left him feeling rather useless... he thought it seemed to say something about them. Kakashi's investigation had ended once they'd pinned down the origin of the chakra-eaters. He's type O. That both Sakura and Naruto could give. and Naruto could also donate blood to Sasuke. there was little hope they could be tracked down and forced to yield it in time." -xxxKakashi watched the needle enter his skin. "Fortunately. And in spite of those steps forward. two steps back. While the Akatsuki undoubtedly had some sort of cure. "Your blood is type A. and the next thing he knew. to the point where she was losing so much blood she would probably need a transfusion in the near future. just on the off-chance of being able to help. All he could do was sit around and wait for news. At least now he felt like he was doing something. as he'll need to give the blood outside the isolation wing and then it will have to be transported in. because there was no other way she could beat this disease. He'd gotten himself tested. and that means you have type A antigens in your blood. It'll take some doing. and that means he has both A and B type antigens in his blood. donating blood so his student could survive a little longer. Sasuke's blood type is AB. so she might live to see a cure. At least. and asked to be tested as well. Meanwhile." Naruto looked the very definition of crestfallen. It was all up to the scientists and medics now – he certainly didn't have the knowledge to aid in finding a cure." Tsunade went on.. Either they'd find a cure and heal her completely.The Hokage sighed. He'd heard that Sakura's condition was worsening. We can't give someone blood that possesses antigens they don't have. it just wasn't sustainable for the long term. whether good or bad. while she could donate blood to either of you. So.. he was being informed that his blood type was a match to Sakura's. -xxx- . so he can donate blood to Sakura. and the bacteria kept 'waking up' and attacking her all over again. Sakura's blood is type O. So here he was. and that means she lacks those types of antigens. from what Tsunade's reports were telling him. and if he wanted to donate to her he would have to go the hospital. While the medics were working practically around the clock to perform the chakra saturation technique and keep the bacteria dormant. and had a brief moment to wonder why she let Naruto get away with these sort of outbursts. There was simply no middle ground. and observed his blood spiral through the tube and into the attached bag with slightly morbid fascination. Inactivity had never sat well with Kakashi.

Her skin was as pale as bleached bone. Sakura was hurting. While he knew Sakura was far from helpless. She was now too ill to even stumble the few steps to the bathroom. was under threat from something that was slowly killing her before his eyes. Coupled with the various machines that had been set up around her bedside. Her hand rested limply on the blanket. The bleeding in her lungs was beginning to impair her breathing.. Her stomach and intestines were bleeding so severely she wasn't able to digest food. Because it looked like it could. The whole picture made him feel irrationally angry. The culprit wasn't an enemy ninja. her temperature climbing. easy to forget that the top of her head was only a little higher than his collarbone. But that was to be expected. In fact. she'd become sicker and sicker. nothing he could punish for it. even though the strands were damp and stringy with sweat. Sakura's condition had gone downhill at an unnervingly rapid rate. As the chakra-eaters swarmed throughout her system. setting up the transfusion. In the week since she'd been admitted to the sterile room. her pink hair seeming as vivid as a neon light against it. they'd taken to upping the oxygen content of the sterile air that was being pumped into the room. Since entering the room. and she was instead receiving her nourishment from a drip that fed glucose and basic ions straight to her bloodstream. and Sasuke covered it with his own on impulse.Sasuke was only half paying attention to the medic bustling through the sterile room. Sasuke had to force himself to take shallow breaths or he'd become dizzy.. 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 coughing spells becoming longer and harsher. a little surprised to realise that his fingers could engulf her entire fist. the first thought that flew through his mind was that she looked like a corpse. Sasuke hoped that expression stayed figurative. Sakura's body was shutting down by tiny increments as her organs began to descend the slippery slope towards complete failure. her fainting more frequent. and she was spending more and more of her time dead to the world. it was a multitude of microorganisms that were devouring her from the inside-out. tightly curled. nothing he could hurt. There was nothing he could fight. Sakura was still unconscious – even the sensation of a new needle being placed in her skin didn't rouse her. 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.and there was nothing he could do. and never progressed to the literal. and the medics had been forced to set up a catheter. 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. and while they couldn't give her an oxygen mask or the like in case she coughed up blood in her sleep. 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 . when he'd entered the room. Easy to forget that she had to tilt her face back to look him in the eye.

"I really don't feel well. The material had faded a little now after so many washes and soaks. What could he do? She seemed convinced that he was her mother. come to that. and Sakura would have probably been an affectionate child. Even in her delirious state. Mum..him feel strangely protective. but he couldn't stand seeing the look of distress and helpless appeal on Sakura's face. and – careful of the machines she was hooked up to – wrapped his arms loosely around her.. tilting her head so her lips brushed against his cheek in a soft kiss. I feel sick.. Sasuke wasn't exactly comfortable with this idea. and while he knew what a mother would do in this situation. "Can you give me a hug?" Sasuke froze. Sasuke set to work running the damp cloth across Sakura's exposed skin. Sakura realised she was very ill. Sasuke wondered if she was having fever dreams. She thought he was her mother. careful to avoid jostling the various IV needles and tubes. holding her gently to him. trying to bring her temperature down. "I can't go the Academy today. Sasuke did his very best to ignore the warm contentment that rushed through his chest. He told himself it didn't mean anything – she was just hallucinating.. but refused to leave. "I love you.." she slurred. Mum?" Sakura implored. judging by her comment. her skin feeling like a furnace against his own. grimacing at the heat that rose from her skin. After filling a small basin with cold water from the tiny bathroom. but it could still serve the purpose he needed it to. He sponged the wet handkerchief down her arms. He brushed a sweat-soaked strand away from where it was plastered to her forehead.. opening eyes that were like frosted glass – dull and opaque. she was an affectionate adult. Sakura twitched – apparently the cold water was rousing her.. pressing her face against his collarbone." Sakura muttered again." she muttered. "I don't feel good. . Her temperature was rising. bent down. So he set the wet cloth aside. Probably hallucinating she was back in the Academy.. Dangerously so. The feeling dimmed a little.." Sasuke's stomach knotted." Sakura whispered.what could he do? "Please. 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.. her arms beginning to shift as though she were struggling to raise them and wind them about his neck. "Maybe we should go see the doctor.

and then.. "This is a totally different situation." Sasuke chose not comment. anyway?" she muttered.. He gripped her a little tighter. it's pretty distinctive.. It was for the childlike voice in the back of his mind insisting that if he held her. Ino. Before. if he just kept hanging on. She'd called him Hinata once.. her eyes fluttering closed. "I mean. He caught snippets of sentences. Sasuke wondered exactly what situation Sakura was referring to." Sasuke grimaced. and you and Tenten dyed your hair pink so they wouldn't be able to pick me out so easily. "How are things going with Shikamaru." she continued. 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. "I used to hate my hair. "And shut up about that!" Sakura suddenly exclaimed. Sasuke really didn't want to think about that. remember when there was that bunch of missing-nin trying to kill me before I could treat that lord's son.hey. Dad. her lapses into unconsciousness were few and far between. "Plus.." she mumbled. Naruto.. but finished cleaning her lock of hair in silence as she degenerated into incoherent babblings. Sasuke knew it was only a matter of time before she slipped into a coma.then everything would be okay. prompting Sasuke to wonder if the medics were giving her any sort of medication and what kind. 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.. "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. or Ino in them. most of which contained the words Mum. who has pink hair? It looks like I fell into a vat of bubblegum or something.. but this time it wasn't for her comfort – it was for his.Her organs were beginning to fail. . Genius he may be. that she seemed to swing between recognising him and calling him Ino or Naruto. staring at a random point on the ceiling. too. gently scrubbing a bloodied lock of the distinctive mane. practically sings out who I am to the enemy. Sakura had suffered a nasty coughing fit a few minutes ago.." Privately.... and a spray of blood had caught a lock of her hair. "Stands out during battles. -xxxChapter 8 Slipping Away Sakura was getting worse.

machine. .. So he settled for a jerky nod. leaving both in the bathroom.. to lash out. That. trying to ignore the way his heart suddenly thundered in his ears. His hands curled into fists as he fought against the desire – the need – to hit something.' The idea hurt. the monitors humming and beeping softly in the background. she continued. in and of itself. Sasuke didn't know the names of most of them – he didn't even know what some of them were there for. "Sasuke. her eyes beginning to flutter closed. "I'm dying. but he couldn't bring himself to say the words – his throat closed tight whenever he thought of them.. 'Like when she kissed you. "But Sasuke's a jerk!" 'This means nothing!' he told himself. like a snoring puppy. taking stock of the tubes and wires that had only increased in number since his last visit. She's just having a flashback to her Academy days. aren't I?" Sasuke knew there was no point in lying to her. "Yeah?" he said quietly. And there was nothing Sasuke could do about it. Sakura surveyed the machines and IVs hooked to every spare inch of skin before speaking. little wheezing noises issuing from her mouth. might not be so life-threatening – she could be put on dialysis – but her liver looked like it was soon to follow.."I may love him. Sakura was clearly unconsciousness when he returned. Much as the medics had fought to save her..." she slurred eventually.?" Her voice was weak and thready. back when she had a crush on you. Tsunade had told them that Sakura's kidneys were on the verge of shutting down. "Yeah. but it wasn't slurred or mumbled." And without skipping a beat. And there was no medicine. and her slowly opening eyes were dull but focused.. "I'm in a bad way. But he could guess that they were all showing increasingly weakening readings.. He surveyed the woman grimly. afraid to shatter Sakura's moment of coherency and send her hurtling into delirium once more. and he studiously ignored Sakura's further ramblings as she slowly trailed off into silence.. He tipped out the pink-tinged water and wrung out the sponge. All he could do was stand at her bedside and clean blood from her hair. aren't I?" Sasuke swallowed.Sakura was dying. or jutsu that could compensate for a failing liver..

Her mind was beginning to swim... The Hokage was about to insert the needle into Tenten's arm when the door flew open. and she had a feeling she was going to sink back into unconsciousness soon. -xxxTsunade concentrated on feeling out Tenten's chakra channels."I thought so. she knew Neji was only concerned about his girlfriend. Tsunade rose to her feet so quickly the chair she had been sitting in went skidding across the room.." she muttered. throwing off the mask and gloves as he went. He practically ran from the sterile room. ready to meet the threat. but offered Tsunade her arm. his fist clenched. "No real change. Tsunade sighed. Tsunade wasn't really holding out hope of finding anything probative. really. Sakura." the younger woman mumbled. they were studying her in an effort to learn more about the chakra-eaters. "Didn't you send them some of her blood yesterday – what do they keep doing with it?" Tsunade ignored him. would be able to cure you?" Sakura nodded.. "I'm sorry. And the more they learned. Sakura's eyes closed... with the modifications you've described. 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.but there's something she might be able to do. "I need to talk to Tsunade. As Tenten was the earliest they'd ever identified a case.. But Sasuke ignored him.so you think that this jutsu. "Sakura says she has an idea about how to stop this disease. and even Tenten were forgotten. There's something.an idea. Even that tiny motion took effort. -xxx". his eyes homing in on Tsunade. Tenten. the blood the scientists needed. but her voice was strong when she spoke. Kiba – who had been dozing happily in his bed – bolted upright." Her tone lacked any form of surprise or worry – it was one of resignation and acceptance. trying to sense where they had been degraded." Tenten pulled a face. as though in defeat.." She didn't have to tell Sasuke twice.." The needle. "It's a good idea. but the people back at the lab want some of your blood again.." "I sense a 'but' coming. "Is is really necessary?" Neji muttered from his own bed. . the more likely they were to uncover a weakness.

" Sakura muttered.. Sakura. but the donor. and the recipient can be fatally overloaded.. there'd be no injury we couldn't heal." "I don't wanna eat ramen now.. wincing at their weak readings. And in this case.it can permanently cripple the donor's chakra system.the donor would be risking a lot.. making everyone in the room cringe as their eardrums shuddered. "We can't manipulate bodies on the cellular level – if we could. her eyed slowly slipping closed.." she finally said in a low voice.. "Donating chakra isn't like donating blood." she muttered. swatting feebly at Tsunade's hand. her voice tapering into silence as she slipped into unconsciousness once more.it just doesn't exist. We do it as a last-ditch procedure because of the risks it carries..." "I don't care!" Naruto proclaimed.. Lady Tsunade?" one of them asked tremulously." the pink-haired medic slurred." Tsunade said gently.. "I'm going to help Sakura!" . Naruto... but-" "I'll consent!" Naruto yelled. "But you can go ask Hinata if you want." "Damn. It's not like allowing someone to use your chakra – you don't just lend them your energy for a while. because her own chakra levels are so low.your chakra is actually sucked from your body and is circulated in another's. "I'll consent! Just tell me what I have to do!" "I don't think you understand.. tapping her cheek roughly. "I know it will be difficult to find a donor willing to consent to the procedure. the slightest mistake. "Sakura!" Tsunade snapped." Tsunade began slowly. The medics paused.. Even their short conversation had drained Sakura immensely.there's hardly much risk of an overload on Sakura's part.. There had to be something the medics could do.. If there is the slightest slip. "I mean. bent over a table as they discussed what they could do for Sakura. Sakura's moment of coherency was over. When you donate chakra. "We could try chakra donation."But the degree of chakra control required to do this. Tsunade automatically checked the monitors." the Hokage snapped. -xxxNaruto and Sasuke hovered at the edge of the knot of medics in the break room.. the risks alone would-" "I know the risks. "Come on. Naruto. "Are you sure that's a good idea. 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..

looking mildly irritated. yanking his head down so she could inspect his hair. She hadn't even stirred when Tsunade stripped her and painted the necessary symbols on her body. feeling a little uncertain as he took her hands in his. darting glances at the pink-haired medic. "Hey...you'll be unable to use chakra. "I don't think you quite appreciate how risky the procedure is. Sasuke didn't know how they had managed it. but you can't donate to Sakura." Sasuke snapped. and Tsunade had spent nearly an hour drawing the complex array of symbols this jutsu demanded on it and Sakura. Sasuke. even though he made no move to shrug her away. "If it goes wrong. "Sakura is a counterclockwise type.. "I'm a counterclockwise type. "What was that?" "I'm a counterclockwise type." the Hokage explained. -xxxSasuke knelt beside Sakura.. He knew it might cripple his abilities as a ninja.but he was still going to do it.. "What? Why?" "You're a clockwise type." He tried not to be insulted by the incredulous stares that were being directed his way.. it's a different story if you're donating. Your chakra will be fighting against the flow of her own." Sasuke repeated. and while it wouldn't matter if you were lending her chakra. You'd never be able to perform a jutsu again.. He knew how dangerous the donation was. a little concerned at the length of time she had remained unaware." "Oh. "I can donate. 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. then – apparently deciding that he wasn't going to be dissuaded – she stood and walked over to him. Your rotation is opposite to that of Sakura." Tsunade said slowly. The Hokage double-checked her inkings. Naruto. A large sheet of paper had been placed underneath her. guiding their joined hands to rest on the unconscious girl's stomach and the seals that had been drawn there." Tsunade said bluntly. what are you doing?" the blonde man protested." Tsunade blinked in surprise. "I'm sorry. but the medics had somehow moved Sakura from her bed in the sterile room to the floor beside it. He'd been right beside Naruto – he'd heard the Hokage's explanation of the risks." Naruto stared morosely at the floor." "So you've said.and it will probably end up doing more harm than good. her eyes shifting to the dark-haired man standing beside Naruto. Tsunade nodded.Tsunade studied him for a moment. releasing him. ..

. her head darting from side to side as she tried to assess her situation.. 'You are not staring at her..Sasuke tried to sit beside his unconscious teammate in such a way that he didn't disturb any of the writing. sounding more clear and coherent than she had in days. "Why am I on the floor? And why am I naked. We intended it to be like an . wiping the last of the ink from her face. 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. You are not staring at her. but not?" "We just finished a chakra donation. because that is reaching all new levels of sad and pathetic." Tsunade explained. The Hokage took Sasuke's hand and he felt the cool touch of her chakra probe at him. It was perhaps two minutes.. "The chakra donation. as though his blood pressure had just taken a nosedive. the way the world swam.sort of energized. "The donation went perfectly. but my mind feels. eventually pressing her palms to their joined hands and entering a healing trance. "You've got this look on your face.like you're about to tell me I'm going to die. Sasuke!" Sakura chimed. "Well. 'You are not staring at her. "Sasuke.. "I feel great! Still sick. get out while we get Sakura dressed again.." she mumbled. tapping some as though she wasn't quite sure they were working properly. "Lady Tsunade.. You are not going to ogle a sick and unconscious woman.. "What's wrong?" Sakura asked. Sasuke braced himself." Tsunade's eyes flashed to her. It didn't last as long as he would have expected it to.clear. and the hint of fear in the blonde's eyes made Sakura's stomach lurch.." Tsunade said when she released him. becoming tense. a frown digging ever deeper into her face. when he was distracted by Sakura stirring beside him. Sasuke was about to ask if that was it. 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. Neither you nor Sakura will have any longlasting ill-effects. 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. before Tsunade removed her hands. maybe three. thanks for your chakra.' he told himself." Sasuke would have scowled at her high-handed manner but he was still feeling rather nauseous and shaky. He grimaced as he felt the telltale weakening of his limbs." "Yeah. good news. you know?" Tsunade wasn't looking nearly as happy. so he staggered obediently into the bathroom and splashed some water on his face. Sasuke. He'd had his chakra drained before and it always felt sickening – like a leech draining blood. She was checking the monitors.it isn't doing what we thought it would. there's no problem with your chakra channels.. Sakura was lying in the bed again.

. Her immune system was still nonexistent and her organs were still failing....eating at Ichiraku. all she had gained was the coherency to put her affairs in order. Blueyedblonde has drawn a wonderful fanart for this chapter – the link can be found in my profile. He knew Konoha would mourn...except wake you up. he knew his life would go on. in two months. 'How? What can you do?' Sasuke shut his eyes and dug his fingers into his temples in an effort to quiet the voice. In other words. yeah?' some snarky part of Sasuke's brain asked him... he might be attending Sakura's funeral. The disease had progressed too far too fast. Sakura was dying – the medics had given her perhaps two months. . and then life in the village would continue as it always had. in an effort to erase the mental images it brought with it: going to Sakura's funeral and watching the dirt hit her coffin... bad grammar and general screw-ups by the grace of justcallmefaye. Logically." Sasuke stiffened. Also. She just.all they'd done was ensure she would be conscious as her body continued to decline. As though speaking aloud would somehow make the words real. Tsunade was telling them that in spite of the risk he'd just run. It hasn't done anything. trying to wrap his mind around the concept before him." 'Oh..injection of energy – it should have boosted your organs. -xxxAN: Once again. 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. this chapter is free of misspelling. Logically.. "She can't do this. in spite of the fact that his chakra was now circulating through Sakura's body. confirming what Tsunade had already suspected. The thought made his chest burn and his throat constrict as though someone were strangling him..she can't – I won't let her. Sasuke's mind could barely entertain the thought that." he said in a low voice to the wall in front of him. just he and Naruto and Hinata.. The chakra donation had done nothing. "She can't die. The medics had run a battery of tests.. and her body was caving unnervingly quickly beneath the assault. and maybe even given your immune system a wake-up call. he knew the world wouldn't stop turning when Sakura died. no smiling green eyes to be seen. All Sasuke's chakra donation had done was banish the delirium and spells of unconsciousness.but it hasn't..

Sasuke. Naruto knew his grip was probably painful. for once not thinking of his teammates... Sakura had no answer to that. Uzumaki Naruto. and Sakura's death was only a matter of time. both of which were a result of the chakra-eaters infection. and a member of the only team who had ever passed his test. He. At that thought. Of all of them. you just wait and see!" "But what if you're not?" Naruto asked miserably. He held Sakura's hand in his.but Sakura? Somehow. It would be Haruno Sakura – his student.and neither of which would be getting better anytime soon. in all the possible scenarios Kakashi's rather cynical mind had constructed. So she simply propped herself up on her pillows and looped her arms around his neck. "It's going to be okay. maybe (having a demon sealed inside you and being sought by the Akatsuki was anything but safe). who had the power of the Kyuubi at his fingertips.for all his power. Strangely.. but the failed chakra donation seemed like the final nail in the coffin. Naruto. "Two months is plenty of time for the medics to come up with something new – I'll be cured in no time. trying to control the urge to cry. Except it wouldn't be his teammates. he could do nothing but watch his best friend die. being careful not to yank on any of her IVs. And he couldn't do anything. The idea that she might be the first to die had never once crossed his mind. Himself. She rested her cheek against his as he clutched at her shoulders. pressing her so tightly to him it hurt. taking care to avoid the IV line.But what kind of life would it be without Sakura? -xxxNaruto sniffled behind his mask. but trying to reconcile himself to the possibility that he might soon have one more grave to visit. Naruto. he'd never imagined Sakura would be the first to go. 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. .. running his thumb across her fingers. -xxxKakashi stood in front of the memorial. 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. perhaps (revenge was a risky business after all)." Sakura soothed. Naruto had to struggle to hold in his tears. Granted. the medics had given her two months... Sakura had outlived them all in every one of them. who completed the Rasengan. As though everything were over now. but he couldn't bring himself to let go or even ease it a little. most likely (simple age was against him).

nothing but a slew of bacteria they couldn't even see. and that Sakura had been given maybe two months to live. The meltdown that was currently being interrupted by the incessant knocking. too – was the bitterest pill to swallow. staring resentfully at the wall. but she couldn't bring herself to care. wishing there was a lock on the door. There was no blade to step in front of. Ino wanted to hit him. He knew that he and the others would give their lives for Sakura in a heartbeat. "I could have been changing. no jutsu to push her out of the way of. "What's wrong?" he asked. And he'd never pictured a threat they couldn't protect her from. "Or showering.Perhaps because they always made such an effort to protect her." was all Shikamaru said. "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-" . ignoring the rapid knocking at the door. There was a pause. When the chips were down. If one of them could take the disease and spare her. They couldn't protect her from this.. he was sure he wouldn't get a chance to volunteer – Naruto and Sasuke would have beaten him to it. seeking some peace for her meltdown. Ino couldn't really think of an appropriate retort.and then door was opened.. "Go away!" Ino snapped. who was looking determined. -xxxIno remained curled on the floor. When Tsunade had given them the news that the chakra donation hadn't worked. much less fight. Shikamaru took no notice. so she settled for glaring ugly death at him. squeaky growl rather like the kind a chihuahua might give out. it was Sakura that every male member of Team 7 tried to safeguard. but a little unsure never the less. or.. period. Hinata and Shikamaru seemed to have slipped into a state of shock. And that – for Kakashi. you know?" Ino knew she was speaking in a high. It wasn't even something they really thought about. Chouji. But they couldn't.." "But you weren't. It was something they just did. and he'd guess for Naruto and Sasuke. It wasn't a disparagement on her gender or a misconception of her abilities. a muttered word that sounded suspiciously like 'troublesome'. while Ino had promptly shut herself in the bathroom.. in blatant disregard to Ino's orders! "What are you doing?" she snapped at Shikamaru..

Sakura was dying.okay?" Kiba asked quietly.yeah.. The medic had brought the crossword. and then. she and Neji had also taken advantage of their incarceration to make-out rather frequently." Shikamaru sighed.and she wasn't even allowed to visit her." Shikamaru hoped his voice sounded a lot more confident than he felt. "Shikamaru. Well. "You know your timing sucks.. somehow. claiming her brain was atrophying when she had nothing to do but sit in bed and stare at the walls all day. but she wasn't going to tell the medic that. And Tenten had yet to touch pencil to paper.. and news on Sakura's condition about half an hour ago. right?" He smirked." There was a pause. "Are you. Ino sniffled again. I'm asking you on a date. Sakura was dying.." "Liar. Sakura had actually treated Tenten for the disease. ." Shikamaru offered. Tenten nodded. blinking dazedly. as requested.. "Probably.Ino's voice broke off in a sob. and sat down beside the blonde.. It still seemed ludicrous.. and the idea of her succumbing to it seemed. but her voice was decidedly more cheerful when she spoke. "I know it will. "You'll see – I'll take you out to dinner when we're better. didn't it?" -xxxTenten stared absently at the crossword puzzle she had begged one of the medics to bring in.are you asking me on a date?" "Are you going to say 'yes'?" Ino's laugh turned into a sniffle mid-way. "It'll work out." "Then yes. seeming a little unnerved by her panic. The medic hadn't actually said 'dying'. but it got you to stop crying.wrong. 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. of course – he'd tiptoed around the word like a nervous ballet dancer – but Tenten knew what he meant.. She'd found herself staring at the black and white squares. "Yeah..... lost in thought. and we'll be laughing about this.

"Sakura is one of the best medics the hospital has." Neji interjected. "She's just going to be. So good that even other villages routinely request her expertise." Tenten agreed in an exceedingly level voice. "Good point. "After this mission where Ino and I had to dye our hair pink so Sakura wouldn't be so noticeable to the enemy. and she knew all too well how to read the soft resignation in their eyes and the too-sweet tone to their voices. The medics knew she was going to die. -xxxSakura rested her head against her pillow. Do you think they will let her die?" Tenten chuckled weakly. She'd sneaked into his room in the Hyuuga estate – quite an accomplishment in and of itself – feeling rather daring and a little mischievous. Unless she did something about it. Sakura knew she was going to die. She'd never realised how much people identified Sakura by her pink hair until her own hair was dyed to match the medic's." It didn't really make her feel any better. he'd thought it was Sakura who was waiting in his room.. remembering how Neji had been taken aback at her change in appearance when she'd returned." Neji pointed out. restoring her original brunette tint.but she had to try. and when even Tsunade herself said Sakura's talent outstripped any medic she'd seen before or since." Neji sighed.." "I remember that. she insisted on taking us out and getting a picture to commemorate the event. staring blankly at the ceiling. "She's not dead.. the dye lasted a while. but they needn't have bothered. you know?" she told the room at large.. it might fail miserably and leave her worse off than she was before. "You still had pink hair the next day. 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. They were trying to hide it from her. Now. ." "Yeah. though he later confessed much of his shock had come from the sight of pink hair – for a moment. To say Neji had been shocked to find her there when he returned from training had been an understatement. Tsunade had told her that the level of chakra control required to perform the jutsu she'd suggested simply wasn't possible. It might not work – in fact. "No." Tenten said absently. but she appreciated Neji's effort. Sakura was a medic herself. 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. Tenten found herself wondering if she'd ever see pink hair in Konoha again."She took us out for drinks.

I mean. Because Sasuke had given her something besides coherency – he'd given her chakra. rather like forcing red-hot needles through her veins." Tsunade smiled. She needed to talk to Tsunade. "Well. he would resort to the next best thing. She knew what she was doing carried a lot of risk. So. -xxx". he wanted to be alerted the instant Sakura's condition changed. she was as good as dead anyway.. "I mean. Sasuke had been there for at least an hour already – if he couldn't stay the night in the sterile room. and pressed the call button. Though Sasuke knew there was nothing he could do. But Sakura persisted – she couldn't perform the jutsu unless she had something approaching a normal chakra network. remembering to send a brief.you said that changed me. wincing as one of her IVs was momentarily caught in the crook of her elbow." Tsunade shook her head slowly. along the dilapidated channels.. more in admiration than any gesture of censor.. remember when I. "I think I'm the only one who can. "Here I go then. you're the Hokage – no one will argue with you." She took a deep breath. she needed to strengthen it once again.. and stretched her arms out in front of her. And he suspected Naruto felt the same way. you know. Not to mention that alarms would go off if Sakura's condition dropped too sharply. digging up the memories of every diagram she'd ever seen of the chakra networks in a human body. and if she was going to have even a chance of performing a jutsu..She reached behind her. .. she began to send pure chakra into her arms.." Sakura said honestly. It had degraded since the bacterial infection. "It did..but if she didn't try it." Sakura said into the oppressive silence as she contemplated the magnitude of what she was about to do. thought it seemed a little strained. but he would notice if there was a big change. she wouldn't have been able to do this without his help. Well. Granted. So. "Pretty much. And now Sakura was using that chakra to pave out her chakra network in her arms. but I'm sure once you explain things. It was painful. maybe Naruto.and you're determined to do this?" Tsunade asked.. he didn't have any idea what they were showing. silent thanks to Sasuke – after all. keeping tabs on Sakura's condition via the monitors at the nurses' station. all you need me to do is make sure no one interrupts?" Sakura nodded. -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..

. But then again. into knowing them as an enemy. Tsunade had told her jutsus simply couldn't be performed on the cellular level. 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. "Just don't let anyone interrupt me. could almost hold it in her hands. and delivered her last instruction before she risked it all. Even if they couldn't destroy anything else. but she could feel it.. She couldn't see it.." She let her mind fly back to the forbidden jutsu she had read of so long ago. Sakura forced chakra into her bone marrow. And then she pressed her hands to her right thigh.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. Tsunade sighed as Sakura's vitals began to spike. leaving her feeling something close to normal. and it was at least ten minutes before they finally burst into Sakura's room. She wasn't working on the cellular level.. In all her decades of experience as a medic. Reaching deep inside herself. And then. and she fought to contain it.At least this way. They were going crazy.but only those in her right thigh. she began to truly perform the jutsu. trying to spread across her body. trying to prompt the white cells into recognising the bacteria. forcing it to produce a sudden stream of white cells that she could sense like a spurt of hot water in a cold lake. The actual jutsu was rather easy. her body's response to the pain she'd just endured blaring across their screens.. She was attempting to limit the jutsu to only effect the marrow she was concentrating on. but Sakura could feel it trying to slide from under her hands like a writhing eel.. her fingers slowly and carefully forming the required seals and she dragged them from the depths of her memory. Sakura risked a glance at the monitors. her body – it would obey her. it would do as she willed. she had a chance. being capable of destroying them. effect all her white cells at once. Sakura glanced at Tsunade. Blood cells came from bone marrow... she'd never seen any medic like Sakura. 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. it took some time to go through the sterilisation procedure. . but Sakura wasn't trying to work on the cellular level. This was her jutsu. and not all the white blood cells in her body. When the last flush of chakra finally repaired her channels. Unfortunately.

"She's not." Tsunade went on.. And when I saw her walk to the river. when she left the hospital that night. "She's performing a jutsu that could save her life. and drops of sweat were dripping from her nose and chin. "But then she took a kunai." the blonde man fumbled. but decided against it. I thought she was going for a swim.. small spots darkening the blanket.but simply to feel what was happening." Tsunade said sharply.. strip down to her underwear and wade into the water." She glanced back at her apprentice. Perhaps that's why she didn't accept it.. "Did you ever wonder why Sakura was such a skilled medic?" she asked.. the soft glow of chakra hovering between her fingers. but we all have to go through it sometime – our first death. I followed her. as though she were about to smile... unfortunately. one of her first patients.. She watched Sakura's teammates blink uncomprehendingly at her. still so deep in concentration she hadn't even noticed Naruto and Sasuke entering the room. "But she told me to keep back – said she needed to do it. not to heal the damage. as though she hadn't heard Naruto. her hands pressed over her right thigh. making no move to help her. "Every new medic dreads it.. "Let her be!" the Hokage snapped when Sasuke and Naruto began to start towards the bed. "The first time a patient dies under our hands. That statement didn't sting – on the contrary. puzzle over it. we curse it. to learn every detail . we accept it. I think she was trying to understand why that shinobi had been beyond her ability to save." Sasuke started. the faintest hint of accusation in his too-level voice. Don't understand why our jutsus weren't enough that one time.To find – to their surprise – Sakura sitting up in bed." Tsunade narrated. until I realised she was suffusing her body with chakra." Tsunade paused for a moment. "Sakura's first death happened when she had just turned fourteen. she felt the sort of pride a mother might feel when her daughter exceeds all her expectations." Tsunade shrugged.but we don't understand it." The corners of Tsunade's mouth flickered. sweat shining on her skin." "I called to her. and continued. wondering what the Hokage's point was.while Tsunade stood by the bed. I think I wanted to make sure she was coping with it. We mourn it. we get drunk over it. We rage against it. "Why aren't you doing it?" Sasuke asked. I didn't understand. and Naruto was left gaping at the Hokage. "Why?" Naruto yelped. "Because I doubt I'd be capable of it. don't understand exactly what pushes someone over that invisible line or how to drag people back once they step over it.. "Sakura didn't. "But Sakura. "Why she surpassed me so quickly?" Sasuke's eyes flickered between Tsunade and Sakura.. Sakura was now concentrating so hard she'd bitten into her lip.but eventually.and plunged it into her stomach... Anyway..

. "Afterwards. As her eyes opened. exhausted." "I'd just had a patient die on me.and yet somehow. she never told anyone. I won't say she stopped losing patients. because she still did – there are always some you just can't save – but it was different. Dawn had been breaking." Sakura pointed out." Sasuke could see it in his mind's eye...." Tsunade's eyes misted slightly as she remembered when Sakura had finally healed herself. deepened by knowledge. that was more like instinct to her.. making the scene seem almost holy as the ugly rent in her flesh finally mended.. bold decision.. as though sharing a grim joke. when there was no turning back.but Sakura thought of death as an enemy she could learn to defeat. "Well. it was a pretty gutsy thing to do.but with a content smile and a decidedly triumphant look on her face.. "It took hours. "I won't venture to guess how close she came to dying. not daring to interrupt. It was as though she understood it in a way that went beyond the intellectual. it was like healing had become almost effortless to her." The blonde woman laughed a little." Silence descended for a moment. when I was almost convinced I was about to see my apprentice die in front of me. a dark ribbon of blood blood striping through the water behind her.of death so she could fight it." Tsunade shook her head." Tsunade said quietly. The rest of us. or how many times she hovered on the brink. and she waded back towards her teacher. Sakura came into an understanding of her own abilities my long years of study had never gained me. Chapter 10 The Long Road Tsunade recovered first. "As though the line that was invisible to the rest of us had been inked out in black paint." All three turned their heads so fast a small crackling echoed in the room. first you must know your enemy. as though inwardly marveling. She brought it upon herself and felt it work through her body." Another half-snort of ironic laughter. And you know how the saying goes – to defeat your enemy.and bleed. "She let herself bleed. You two will be the first to know outside the two of us. "So she got to know death in the only way she could.. Sakura was leaning against her pillows. "I liked that story – it made me sound a lot cooler than I actually was. Sakura standing in the river..we've learned to think of death as inevitable. the stained kunai clenched in her hand.she began to try to heal herself. knowing that she was on the brink of dying before my eyes.. "With that single.. sweaty.and bleed. you must admit. And as far as I know. "Don't confuse gutsy with stupid and impulsive.. struggling to heal herself as she continued to lose blood." ." Tsunade mused. a soft smile on her face.. I just remembered staring at her. And then.

" Tsunade took Sakura's temperature. exasperation clear in her voice as she wiped her stained hand with a tissue. and utterly unable to process what was happening." Sakura interrupted. Tsunade took the decision out of his hands. checked the manipulation of her joints and in general investigated everything she could without the aid of laboratory tests. -xxx"She's going to be okay. or unfortunately. leaving her gasping as blood dribbled from her lips. And his mind couldn't seem to cope with it. practically bouncing out of the room. "Sakura!" Naruto's shocked paralysis broke at the sight of blood staining her hand." Tsunade mused as the males left.She looked like she was about to go on. automatically checking Sakura's temperature and using a stethoscope to listen to her breathing. they didn't know if this was actually going to cure Sakura. her joints were still tender. it's going to take a while for all the damage the bacteria did to heal.. The whole scenario slid through Sasuke's mind like a nonsensical puppet show. Naruto. "But.but then again. But one fact stood out in glaring neon lights – Sakura wasn't going to die. right?" Sakura grinned and nodded.. Sakura hadn't eradicated the bacteria and healed herself.. Tsunade hadn't really expected to see a change. "You never actually told me why you removed your clothes that night. Fortunately.you're still going to get better. he watched it happen.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. Of course. for what must have been the fiftieth time. "I was planning on stabbing myself. He didn't know what to do. "It's going to take a while for the white cells to circulate and deal with all of the bacteria. And even assuming everything goes to plan. "Get out of here." Naruto muttered. "She's really going to be okay!" . didn't know what to say. His brain felt like a dry sponge – spent. feeling as though he had been given three birthdays together. you two – I need to check her over!" Naruto nodded. It would be a while before her altered white cells began to make any impact on the chakra-eaters. "You're still sick! But Granny said you were going to make yourself better-" "Give it time.. all she'd done was give her body the tools it needed to fight. her lungs were still congested and probably bleeding." Naruto relaxed a little... "I didn't want to get them all bloody. completely empty." Sakura explained." "Oh.. but a sudden bout of coughs doubled her over in the bed. peered at her tongue. she still had a fever. There was no real change in Sakura's condition.. but that actual weight behind the events eluded him...

proclaiming that Sakura had cured herself." Ino nodded." Chouji said. closing her eyes and snuggling down into her blankets. there was really nothing left to say. His body and mind felt like a limp rag. to say the least. but to say something this bluntly was. "I know you've got your little set of hang-ups and hell will probably freeze over before you actually do anything. as if every drop of thought and feeling had been wrung from him.dies." Sasuke was rather surprised. you know. like this. Granted. . she'd spent most of her time sleeping... The blonde couldn't help the slightly dizzy smile that spread over her face as she glanced at him.you'll probably hate yourself for the rest of your life. So Ino was feeling pretty good about the world today." Naruto said with an abrupt change of tone. or something. her body exhausting itself as . Ino had shaken him awake to hear the news about Sakura. "I don't think he slept at all last night. More importantly. Hinata smiled. Just thought I should say that." the blonde continued.But Sasuke didn't even glare at him.. It was almost funny. she suspected the only reason she'd slept last night was because the disease tended to leave its victims exhausted..and you two are still. perfectly calmly. who was he kidding? "I mean. -xxxSakura yawned. Neither said anything. "You know. He knew that Naruto wasn't as oblivious as he let people think. if this wasn't enough of a wake-up call for you.... wrapping the hair she had just washed in a towel... She could sympathize. "So you should make a move." Naruto finished.. her fingers stroking through Naruto's spiky hair as he snored gently.and she. He'd burst in two hours ago. but if another crisis comes along again and Sakura.. "Give the guy a break. Last night everything had seemed so dark and depressing and today everything all sunshine and rainbows.. Shikamaru was still sleeping. "You should make a move already. Sakura was no longer at death's door. she and a large portion of the ninja population were still infected by the chakra-eaters and the medics were still running themselves ragged.but no one was on death's door. Since she'd performed that jutsu several days ago... I don't know what is." Sasuke was silent. Ino. -xxx"He's still asleep?" Ino muttered as she exited the bathroom.exactly what Naruto would do. and made a valiant effort at holding a conversation with her for about fifteen minutes before falling asleep. but then he'd promptly dropped off again.

she'd brought him some when he was hospitalised all those years ago. she'd performed it once before while practically at death's door. "That. In addition. Scarcely daring to believe Sasuke had actually been thoughtful for once. but she didn't think he had the same motives. She snatched one of the pieces and bit into it. She rubbed at her eyes. grabbing for the bowl. At least now when she was awake she was lucid at all times.but Sakura was far from healthy. Tsunade nodded. A small bowl of neatly sliced apple pieces. half-turning to try to see who had come into the room. After receiving her sustenance via a glucose drip for so long. They'd removed most of the IVs. But she couldn't help wondering why Sasuke had brought her apples. "So. wherever Sasuke had procured it from. But all she saw was a dark head disappearing out the door. it was refreshing to finally taste something again. Her muscles felt like water. Sakura knew it would be a long time before her body truly recovered from the toll the illness had taken on her. It was too small to make an impact in a healthy person. Probably from the blood loss. sighing as that taste burst over her tongue. If they can somehow figure out what your white blood cells are doing. -xxxSakura grimaced as Tsunade drew a sample of her blood. she'd stopped bleeding in her stomach. and while her lungs were still a little fragile. when her eyes landed on what he'd brought her.. Aside from the lingering symptoms of the infection... it would probably go a long way towards helping them make the vaccine. and she didn't want to think about how much weight she'd dropped.Sasuke? She was about to call out. it just felt weird. Sakura knew her illness had left her frighteningly weak and drained. just so something could distract her. the apple was good: fresh. Sakura scrambled upright. even considering that her immune system was beginning to put a serious dent in the chakra-eaters. 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.. Her immune system was slowing pulling itself back from the brink. Sure. No matter how many times she'd done it herself or seen it done to others. but the medics still wanted to keep her in the sterile room until she had fully recovered." Sakura nodded absently. Even though she was now mostly out of the danger of suffering a relapse. feeling drowsiness beginning to claw at her again. For one. She was started from her half-doze at the sound of something being set down on her bedside table.. and she was enjoying being able to roll over in her bed without the risk of pulling needles from her skin. And apples were among Sakura's favourite foods. crisp and juicy.. Sure. and the scientists want to look at it. you're going to test it for the chakra-eaters again?" she asked.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 . it would be some time until Sakura was capable of performing the jutsu again. but it was a shaky solution at best.it purged the bacteria from her system.

Sakura was eager to get a clean bill of health. Sasuke seemed to be acting a little. Not outright strange. Now that she was healthy. but there were some things that really required a proper shower..off.. Tsunade had said they couldn't justify such a risk to her life again. especially when the patients were being held at a semi-stable state. the medics were recruiting them for other jobs and Sakura didn't see them nearly so often anymore. it was simply beyond their ability. And some part of her thought that if she looked hard enough.but again. she would have died anyway. She was starting to get eye-strain. they were obviously doing something different. what would happen if the disease spread? If some of their allied villages became infected too? In short. for long enough. greasy ones. then leave. now that she didn't need babysitters. she needed to get out this room before she was driven mad by sheer boredom. Naruto and Sasuke's visits had dropped off. But what? -xxxSakura ran her fingers through her hair with a dreamy sigh. But when she did see them. Since she'd begun to recover and her condition wasn't as critical as it had been. He'd come in. that could only be done once she was up and about again. Sakura had tried to puzzle . They needed a vaccine they could present to their allied villages.. slightly-damp locks instead of stringy. Sakura thought she might be able to teach some of them if she could demonstrate it. just in case Akatsuki attacked them with this disease next. The medics had done their best with sponge baths and the like while she was confined to her bed.off. The other problem was that she would only be able to perform the jutsu perhaps once in several days. it seemed the weight of truly vanquishing this disease rested squarely on the shoulders of the scientists.. she could shower. she could eat.. And even then. and she was starting to feel human again.. They needed a vaccine. Tsuande had told her that none of the other medics possessed the chakra control required for it. They needed a vaccine they could dose the ninja population with. it was nice to soft. stand around awkwardly for a few moments.. just. She could make it to the toilet on her own.they might discover exactly what her white cells were doing that enabled them to destroy the bacteria. show them exactly what to do. sometimes bringing apples (which was another thing Sakura couldn't figure out).except seeing as these could destroy the chakra-eaters where no others had been able to. period.. She was watching Sakura's white cells slowly subsume and destroy the chakra-eaters in the petri dish.. It was no decision on their part. but she didn't look away for even a moment.was that if she didn't. They looked like they were behaving the way any white cells would. -xxxTsunade had been staring at the cells writhing under the microscope for at least half an hour. After going so long without washing it. just in case Akatsuki ever tried this again..

" Even though she was bedridden. "I'm bored. "So.. It was all she was capable of." There was that threatening tone again.making a move on her? . And seeing as this was Sasuke. he could try.. 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. and Sakura broke from her rambling to note the dark flush decorating his cheeks..kinda..." If anything. But maybe my whole near-death experience sort of creeped him out a little or something..." Sakura couldn't help marveling as Naruto practically sprang into the room. dammit!). he's acting kinda funny. that theory was thrown straight out the window on principal. planting himself on one side of the mattress. but he'd always sucked at it. and a blonde head peered in. sure... huh?" The medic nodded. they were inspired. The door cracked open.. I'd say he'd been into the morphine. beaming at her... the sort she employed when he tried to talk about one of his so-called 'perverted jutsu' (and they weren't perverted.kinda sorta said something. Sakura managed to sound threatening.. "Yeah – him and his apples. She had never figured out where he got all his energy from – maybe it was all that ramen he ate.. "Naruto.." It wasn't a question. Sakura. "Hey.guess Sasuke was in here. "Apple?" Naruto took a slice and practically swallowed it whole. come on in. "How's everything going?" he asked.. "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. you told Sasuke to be nicer to me?" "Er. So Naruto just blurted everything out." Naruto made an unintelligible sound.. "Naruto.." Naruto was looking dangerously close to panic. I just don't get what's up with him lately.I might have. are you awake?" "Yeah.. Sakura's confusion only deepened. "You know something about this. he's giving me apples practically every time he sees me – if I didn't know better. but the closest analogy she'd come up with was a schoolboy trying to summon enough courage to ask his crush to the dance. He could never lie to Sakura.. offering him some of her sliced fruit... "What..and please don't kill me!" Sakura blinked. hoping he wasn't about break out in a cold sweat. "Well..out his behaviour and his motives." Sakura said bluntly. Naruto shifted.

staring at Naruto while he fidgeted and wondered if his friend's brain had short-circuited. Naruto. but it was also mixed with a lot of confusion. and Naruto looked like he was trying to sink into the ground and disappear forever. almost worried. the way he was clutching the plate of apple pieces just a shade more tightly than was necessary.vulnerable..? And now that she looked for it.to see Hinata. Sakura watched him go. There was a large helping of shock in it. Sasuke would have appeared as he always did: cold. took the opportunity to make himself scarce. Sakura never would have thought Sasuke capable of it. both of whom seemed to be in some sort of shock. -xxxAN: Sorry about not replying to comments – again! Again. As. Sakura's mind dimly registered that Sasuke had come into the room. of course. the slight wariness in his eyes. So she simply blinked... 'the sky is actually green'.had Naruto really meant. but he looked. She blinked several times. "I.brought you some more apple pieces. She could see the way his shoulder hunched a little.. still rather stunned. blame my exams! They've only recently finished and I figured you guys would appreciate a new chapter more than a reply. And it was this scene that Sasuke walked into barely three minutes later. bye!" And he bolted from the room like a cat confronted with a hose.. and a hundred other emotions she probably could never name if she dwelled on them for a century.I'm going to. "I-I gotta. 'up is really down' and 'great white sharks aren't actually carnivores'. disbelief." Sasuke said.... "Are you okay?" he asked when neither of them moved. aloof and expressionless.She didn't think what she was feeling could be called shock. sort of feeling. as I'm sure everyone knows by this point.. and that he'd asked her a question.but Sakura knew better.. To anyone else. hoping to rattle her brain into working again.. this chapter was beta-d by justcallmefaye Chapter 11 Rejuvenation Sasuke frowned at his friends.. This was 'the sun rises in the west'. .. Sakura was staring at him as though she'd never seen him before... she could see it. It was too big to be called shock.. It was probably a good thing he hadn't come in time to hear Naruto blurt everything out. placing the plate on the bedside table and shifting uncomfortably.

another kiss?" A small bubble of happiness swelled in the medic's chest as Sasuke obeyed her suggestion with a satisfied smirk. as soon as I get better and this whole disease-thing is cleared up. taking a slice from the fresh plate and ignoring that fact that she still had a half-full one on her lap. but she forced herself to. if not guide him through this entirely. relaxed them. their lips slightly swollen."Thanks. "You really suck at making a move. "I'd like that. chaste kiss. and Sakura sensed Sasuke was about to make a strategic retreat out of sheer mortification. guys. I need someone to talk to – this is very unfair!" Hinata and Naruto didn't seem to hear him. 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. "Now. For that matter. looked like he was about to speak. -xxxChouji groaned. 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. but Sakura felt her smile grow wider. Sasuke... So he drew the fragments of his dignity to himself and nodded.. "Now. . Naruto had said he was trying to make a move on her. Frightened. Sure.." It didn't seem possible. 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. but years of rejections had left her far from confident when it came to Sasuke.but." Sakura beamed. hoping her face didn't betray the anxiety she felt. Apparently years of emotional repression wasn't going to be undone in a moment – no big surprise there.. nauseous... dammit." When his eyes found hers in shock. but Sakura figured she'd have to give him a helping hand at least.. Then he did it again. "Come on. was still trying to work out how he'd lost control of the situation. and appeared quite content to continue kissing. Then he saw the hint of insecurity in her eyes and felt strangely reassured.. dizzy with the possibility of failure. "Sasuke.then looked down at the plate of apple slices. 'And that's how you make a move!' she thought triumphantly." she sighed at last." "Good. And again. But Shikamaru and Ino disengaged and turned to him. shaking her head.." Sakura announced. we can go get lunch sometime. The cycle repeated several times. It was nice – really nice – and Sakura didn't really want to stop. "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. This was important to her too. for his part.

"I mean." Tsunade went on." "We were studying Sakura's white cells to see how they were capable of defeating the bacteria.. "Hinata. eyeing the needles mistrustfully. eyes widened and lips parted in astonishment like a troupe of synchronized mimes. but we've been farming it in the laboratory. please hold out your non-dominant arm. "Enough to inject the enzyme into the people infected. we don't need to worry about matching blood types. grinning broadly. flushed with something that looked close to triumph." Hinata did as instructed. already preparing the first needle. soon. as though she were almost afraid to celebrate too soon.we'll be cured. "We have found a cure!" the Hokage announced. "So we're certain it has no detrimental effect. Lady Tsunade?" Hinata asked. a timid smile hovering on her face." Tsunade explained. And then they all snapped out of it at once." "Neat.. Naruto and Hinata sprang apart..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. He was about to make some comment on that to his two teammates when the door opened and Tsunade came in. "Sakura's body is producing it naturally." Ino pronounced. "So. "Although since your bodies don't produce it naturally. both blushing darkly. "How?" Chouji wondered. "No stupid disease is going to take us down!" "Th-that's very g-good news. nodding at the needles.. We're not sure how to induce other people's white cells to produce this enzyme..and brandishing a set of formidable-looking hypodermics. "At least this troublesome business will finally be over. rendering them vulnerable to the immune system and antibiotics. Around the room.and now we have enough... "Wh-what are those f-for. "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. and Tsunade injected the enzyme into the vein at her elbow." She moved onto Shikamaru. "I knew it would happen!" Ino crowed." "Enough to do what?" Naruto asked. you're probably going to have suffer through these injections at regular intervals until the bacteria have been completely eradicated." the blonde woman continued as she prepared to inject Chouji. huh?" . if you don't mind me asking." Hinata said quietly. "Really?" Naruto bounced up from Hinata's bed like a jack-in-the-box.. smiling." Shikamaru drawled... holding up a vial filled with clear liquid. And since we've isolated the chemical alone.

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 only reason Naruto and Sasuke weren't bacteria-free was because they were constantly being re-infected by contact with the patients. The idea that they might be able to rejoin the rest of the world soon was rather exciting to her as well. they'd spent far too long in these hospital beds. right? And Tsunade says she's getting better all the time. 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. I would be quite happy to let the Hokage inject me with acid. just like I promised. "Then we can go out. though she had a feeling most of that stemmed from the fact that he hadn't been allowed to see Sakura. Naruto and Sasuke had been the most difficult to cure." Tenten said. -xxx"You really think these will work?" Kiba wondered aloud.." "If it would get me out of this hospital. Sasuke had been even more aloof and irritable than usual." Tsunade confirmed. -xxxTwo and a half weeks later. Tsunade stood back with some satisfaction as she watched her patients finally leave the isolation wing." Ino smirked at Shikamaru. They were a little shaky. blowing him a kiss in a rare act of blatant flirtation. this is what Sakura's cells are making. "After all. seeing as the chakra-eaters infecting them were in dormant form. "And I can collect on that dinner you owe me. staring with morbid fascination at the bloody ball of cotton wool he had been instructed to keep pressed to the puncture in his skin." Neji commented. . 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. "By all accounts. that decided. After all. her arm bent to keep her own cotton ball against the needle mark.. and towards the end of the week he was so stir-crazy and hyperactive that Tsunade had seriously considered sedating him. I think so. Sakura especially was looking a little on the fragile side. and become invulnerable to the immune system from then on."As soon as possible. the enzyme would do nothing as the bacteria weren't feeding off their chakra. Hinata. but that was to be expected – weeks of being practically bed-ridden did nothing for muscle tone. given a week or so. Tsunade had shoved both Naruto and Sasuke into two of the other isolation rooms. In fact. "Alright!" Naruto practically crowed. though neither of them had been very happy about it." The Hyuuga girl smiled shyly and nodded. So. Naruto had been practically bouncing off the walls. Tenten chuckled.

." Kakashi said with mock-innocence. Sakura's smile became softer as she watched Kakashi's face grow more somber. gloriously alive! And Kakashi was more relieved than he'd ever admit. he and Sakura had kissed. And she was drawing it here. -xxxKakashi's mask hid his smirk.. she'd make him very sorry for it. marvelously." he commented. but Sasuke knew it was there. It had felt. The Akatsuki.he hadn't really felt like it. They'd been walking out of the hospital and Sakura had simply seized his hand in hers. Sasuke was. offering him silent but tangible reassurance. but on the other hand. Kakashi. it made Sakura happy. "I wasn't going to say a thing.. "You two seem closer.Sasuke. It would be foolish to blush." Sasuke refused to blush. the Hokage had other.. "Don't start with any smart comments. . And he hadn't dropped her hand or shaken her off because.. larger problems to deal with. But she was sure of one thing. 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.. if Sasuke hurt her. enjoying the feel of sunshine on her skin and fresh air in her lungs... she already knew which teams she was going to send. Akatsuki had become too much of a problem for them not to take action. 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.nice. 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." Sakura grinned cheekily.but a line had to be drawn somewhere. Of course... the line of his visible eye curving as it did when he smiled. But putting her emotions aside for a moment. The Sakura in front of him was a little paler than the one he remembered.She wasn't sure how she felt about her student's nascent relationship with the Uchiha. Tsunade knew many councilors objected to the idea of trying to hunt Akatsuki down and eliminate them. and she didn't have to think hard to know what was on his mind. gesturing down at Sasuke's and Sakura's linked hands. "Hn. Besides. 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.but she was smiling fit to put the sun to shame and was perfectly. The Akatsuki had become a problem they could no longer ignore or put off. On the one hand. if only because they stood to lose a lot of shinobi in such an effort. They had to be dealt with as soon as possible. a little thinner.

I'll have you know. loudly defending his favourite eatery. not some cheap bowl of ramen at Ichiraku. Disliking hospital food was a big cliché. Looking at the people around him. battling a disease specifically designed to kill them. and she promptly elbowed him gently in the side. "I'm taking Hinata there for our date!" Said Hyuuga blushed like a ripe cherry. and Kakashi snickered. howling rings around Kiba. "Agree with me!" ". "And I expect some nice restaurant. Kakashi could sympathize – his own ninja career meant he'd been hospitalised more times than he could count. her grin even wider than Sakura's. Kakashi had quite deliberately tuned out the past several minutes of conversation (which. Kakashi had always thought that training with your lover probably gave a very kinky lean to sparring. But then again.. as though ready to fly out at the slightest nudge. but clichés formed because they had a basis in fact. But then again. heading in the direction of the training grounds.hn. . The blonde was trotting out of the hospital doors beside Shikamaru." 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. sniffing every inch of the man. "Ichiraku is a nice restaurant!" Naruto insisted." Shikamaru muttered. Sasuke rolled his eyes. It was rather strange to think that the disease which had plagued the village for months had been dealt with so quickly. Akamaru was running joyous. and the one thing he'd always despised was the food he was given. Kakashi never would have guessed that they'd been laid up in hospital. and they bounced back a lot faster than civilians did. muttering something about getting proper food after weeks of eating hospital meals. his sentiment rather contradicted by the smile that seemed to be hovering just under the skin of his face. he was certain."You owe me dinner!" Kakashi's attention was attracted by Ino's proclamation. the village seemed to have suddenly – without any warning – returned to normal." "Close enough. "Aren't they cute?" Sakura cooed. Chouji was making his way back to his home. his choice of reading material might have skewed his perceptions a little. watching the two couples wander away from the hospital.. 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. they were ninja... Kiba was scruffing his loyal partner's ears in return whenever the dog was still enough." "Troublesome woman. In short.

taking out his infamous book and flipping through it." her erstwhile teacher rejoined.."Anyway. "Come on. before she gestured him over. I want to check out that new seafood place – although I guess it's not really new now. by the way." Naruto grinned.. Sasuke smirked. -xxx"So we're going to be hunting down the Akatsuki?" Naruto echoed. Tsunade looked extremely satisfied and well-pleased." the Hokage continued. Dismissed." -xxxTen minutes later. Kakashi closed his book and approached." Tsunade clarified. performing a last minute equipment check. we're off to lunch..but there was a hint of grim resolve behind her eyes. after weapons and assorted shinobi trappings had been assembled and apartments locked up. now. She regarded him silently for a moment.." Sakura went on.. then began pulling Sasuke down the road.you four will be dispatched to find and eliminate any Akatsuki you encounter. Sheer strength of numbers was also a factor. Sakura returned and Sasuke didn't. "Your first mission.. "Though it seems kind of morbid to thank me for it. Team 7 stood by the gates of Konoha. you're in charge. Kakashi. "Team 10. "Not really hunting down. Kakashi. Multiple teams enlisted insured at least one group would be in the village and available at any one time. tossing a scroll at them which Kakashi caught." Sakura shrugged. . as though weighing something within her mind. "Thanks for your blood. turning away to see the Hokage standing by the hospital doors. Shizune at her side again." Kakashi gave them a careless wave which. but there was a flare of excitement in their eyes nevertheless. when you consider how long we've been in the hospital. Not knowing what she could want. 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. Apparently sensing Kakashi's eyes on her. "It should also be noted that yours won't be the only team doing this. He smirked to himself. Find out if this disease was all they did." "No problem. her head turned towards him.. and the more powerful ninja in it. and if they're still nearby." she added. or an incident that might be connected to the organisation. Tsunade knew how dangerous this mission would be. Sakura and Kakashi – not quite as knuckle-headed as the other two – looked a little grimmer. the higher the likelihood of everyone surviving.. "But whenever we have information on a sighting. "The Akatsuki sighting in Wave. Team 8 and Team Gai will also be assigned this mission.

"Thanks. "Are you guys going to be like this for the entire trip?" End. Kakashi shook his head in exasperation. "Has it occurred to you that these medical supplies will probably end up saving your ass when you get it trampled on. Sakura. Kakashi had often felt rather sorry for medical ninja. "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. and he gave them a few moments. "Come on. His keen ears caught Naruto's complaining grumble as Sakura and Sasuke disengaged." "Idiot. They were about to set off. he couldn't be bothered to deal with one of their arguments yet. guys." Sasuke scoffed. Naruto huffed. "Sakuraaaaa. we need to go!" Naruto whined." Then she looped her arms around his neck and pulled him close to instigate a very involved kiss. her mind too busy to retort. he began to whine again. as always?" Naruto opened his mouth to bellow some retort or denial. .. Sakura shoved her med-kit into her bulging pack and smiled at her boyfriend. Sasuke and Naruto had already finished cataloging their items. but Sakura was still sorting through her medical supplies. we need to go!" No response. but he was more considerate than he appeared. their extensive med-kits often meant they were carrying almost twice as much as other ninja. turned around and took to the trees.Kakashi. Sasuke rolled his eyes. "Come on. but Kakashi rapped him sharply on the head with the spine of his book. and Sakura pointedly ignored the blonde. Sasuke. confident that his former students would follow. Sometimes he wondered if Tsunade had developed her super strength just so she could carry her equipment. But when the kiss showed no sign of stopping..

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