When she woke, her side was hot and damp. Kakashi's fever had returned. "You aren't going to die," Sakura whispered to the dark, a fervent promise that she couldn't quite believe.
Chains clattered from across the corridor. "Sakura? Are you awake?"
She considered pretending to be asleep and ignoring Naruto’s questions, then answered him out of a perverse sense of guilt and comradery. "Yeah," she said, barely louder than a whisper. Sakura’s throat was dry and sore, and her voice rasped like an old man’s.
Sakura focused on Kakashi's panting breaths, on the way they shook his body and rattled in his chest. She pretended that the moisture on her face was sweat. Shinobi didn't cry.
“Sakura?" A different voice, deeper, though no older than the first. Sasuke.
Sakura had read books on first aid. Several, in fact. She’d even read some of the medical scrolls in the Academy library. Anything over 41 degrees needed to be brought to the attention of a medical nin.
She didn’t have a clue how to tell if his fever that high. "He's fine."
Kakashi's head dropped closer to her shoulder, so close that his lips brushed over her skin, bare of fabric and frighteningly hot.
"Did he wake up?" the first voice asked hopefully. Metal scraped across the stone floor. Naruto was moving again, coming to the edge of his cage to peer into hers. He wouldn’t see anything. They didn’t get light anymore, not since Naruto broke the lanterns.
Sakura dried her face with her hand, wiping away the sweat. "A while ago, when you were gone. I think he's getting better." Kakashi was panting into her ear now, hot breath sliding over her naked scalp, stinging at the cuts where the blade had sliced skin rather than hair.
"He'll get us out of here, right?"
"Did he say anything? When he woke up?"
Kakashi slumped over, draping across her body, his wet skin sliding over her open cuts. Sakura bit back a gasp of pain as Kakashi pressed down on her twisted arm and his sweat slipped into the places where her skin should have been. "He—he asked for some water," she choked out, pushing him off and wiggling free, her chains clicking across the stone floor.
"That's good, right?" Sasuke said. "He's getting better."
Sakura nodded, even though they couldn't see her. "Yeah. It's a good sign."
"He'll get us out,” Naruto added, so full of faith that Sakura was shocked into jealousy.
She licked Kakashi’s sweat off her lips to ease the sting of salt. He tasted like things she didn't know how to name and Sakura was pretty sure that he was dying. "He will," she said with the faith of the desperate. "He's got to."
Sakura didn't know how the other two still had hope. Maybe it was because she kept lying to them.
“Where is he?” Naruto yelled. His chains creaked, and she knew that he was straining against the metal bolted into rock like his outrage was going to set him free. “Sasuke!”
Kakashi breathed, slow and peaceful at her side, and Sakura touched him, running her fingers down his arm until she found the thick metal manacle around his wrist. It was as hot as he was, the underside slippery and wet.
Naruto screamed at the trapdoor, furiously demanding things that the trapdoor was clearly clueless about, and Sakura brought her fingers up to her face, sniffing them. Her hand smelled awful, sweat and blood mixed with sickness, but she couldn’t smell the rotten sweetness of infection.
She checked his other wrist, sniffling until her nose was clear enough to breathe, but still couldn’t smell a cause for Kakashi’s sickness.
The water bucket would be changed in an hour or two. Sakura dipped her hands in it, rubbing them together until her skin felt clean. She washed up to the edge of her manacles, then started at her shoulders and washed her way back down. The water that trickled under the metal stung.
Naruto had stopped shouting, and started growling instead, and Sakura wished he’d just stop. It was hard to think when he made so much noise.
She didn’t bother washing the bristling remains of her hair, but the thought of it sent the tears that had been collecting in her eyes streaming down her cheeks, and Sakura felt vaguely ashamed of herself for crying over that instead of the far more important issue of Sasuke’s disappearance.
A shinobi was supposed to be stoic. Sakura wasn’t. She didn’t think she’d managed to be stoic at any point in her entire life, and being trapped in a root cellar wasn’t helping. She couldn’t even cry properly, sobbing like a child when she tried to be silent.
The growling stopped, and so did the creak of metal chains. “Sakura?” Naruto called out to her, soft and worried about her.
“I’m fine, Naruto,” she answered. Her voice sounded strangled but coherent enough, and Sakura was as ashamed of not being more affected as she was for crying at all. She’d wept for hours when they’d taken her hair, and Sasuke was far more important than that.
“Do you think...” Naruto’s question died off into silence. He sniffed loudly, and she imagined the tears dripping down his face, pretending that she could see them. It was easy enough to imagine. Naruto had always been a crybaby.
“He’s not dead,” Sakura said. “They’d have killed all of us when they won, if that was their goal.”
“Then why isn’t he here?” Naruto demanded, his voice cracking.
Sakura didn’t know.
She woke up in the dark, thinking Naruto was calling for her. “Naruto?” Sakura whispered, stretching until her joints crackled like fresh snow. She was too hot, Kakashi’s bony back pressing into hers, his sweat seeping through two layers of cloth and leaving her sticky.
Naruto gave a wheezing snore in reply, clearly fast asleep.
"Sakura." Her name was barely audible, almost lost to the darkness around them.
“Kakashi?” Sakura answered, crawling over him to settle on the ground in front of him, tangling their chains together in a careless clatter. “You’re awake?” Hope rushed through her, curling her toes and rising into her chest.
“You need...” Kakashi stopped, panting. His breath washed over her knees, hot and rancid. His fever had not yet broken. “...you need to take his eye. Destroy it.”
Her hope died. “What?” Sakura protested. “I can’t.”
“You can. I promise, Sakura, you can do it,” Kakashi sounded sober, not delirious with fever, but Sakura wasn’t entirely convinced that he hadn’t gone mad.
The trapdoor rattled, and someone laughed. The guards were coming. Sakura slipped her tongue across her cracked lips. They bled. “I can’t,” she whispered.
Kakashi gripped her arm. Their chains chimed, metal ringing against metal. "They're coming. This is your only chance."
Light spilled through the rough wooden slats of their cell in bars of light and shadow. Black mould glistened along the floor, thickest where the water pooled in the hollows of the flagstone.
The ladder clanked as the guards dropped it through the trapdoor. “You have to hurry, Sakura.” A bar of light crossed his face, and Sakura didn’t like it. Kakashi's eyes were closed as if he was sleeping, and sweat slid down his face in shining droplets. He was helpless.
Sakura bit her lip, forcing the cracks wider.
Across the hall, Naruto stirred, crawling toward the deepest corner, the one furthest from the corridor. He was alone. Sasuke had never returned.
“Do it!” Kakashi snapped, his eyes flying open. His scarred eye glowed garnet red in the rising light for one long second before both his eyes closed, and the tension in him died.
Sakura choked down a sob and grabbed his shoulder, shaking him in an attempt to wake him. “Kakashi!” she whispered, shaking him harder. He couldn’t just say that and--and--pass out.
Kakashi sighed softly, a thin line of drool shimmering in the lantern light as it dripped from the corner of his mouth to the ground.
She held her breath until the tightness in her throat died and then she shifted her weight to her knees and untangled their chains. He’d said she could do it, Sakura told herself. Kakashi said.
The guards climbed down the ladder. They were laughing. They always laughed.
Kakashi’s red eye was spinning-spinning-spinning in her memory. Sakura looked away from him and dug her nails into the skin of her hands. They were ragged, but short, torn off when she’d had too much to think about and too little to do. She hoped it would be enough.
The guard hung his lantern on a hook that was bolted into the ceiling. The shadow bars multiplied and danced over the dirty, nasty, gross room, the bars of light so bright that they stung her eyes.
The bar across the door creaked as it was lifted out of position.
“Get the old guy,” someone said. Sakura didn’t breathe, listening for the sound of their movements, watching their shadows through the gaps in the rotting boards that even she could have broken through if her chains had been long enough.
There were only two today. (Kakashi said she could do it. He said. He said.)
The door squealed as it opened. It was Daiki—he’d given Sakura extra food, once. Her hands shook, the chains attached to her wrists shifting link by link in a cascade of sound.
Daiki came closer, dismissing her with a glance.
Sakura stiffened the first two fingers on her right hand, and shifted her weight until her feet were under her, hidden by the dirt-brown rags she wore. Her legs shook so badly that she felt like she might fall over—but Kakashi said she could do this.
Daiki reached for Kakashi. There was no time.
Sakura lunged forward, and Daiki flinched back, but not far enough. Her fingers stabbed into the middle of his eye, bounced and slid to the edge of the socket where Sakura dug in, folding his eyelid into his skull. She threw herself forward, knocking him to the ground and landing on his chest.
He screamed, grabbing for her wrist and missing. Sakura scrambled for the short dagger on his belt with her free hand and shoved in deeper with her other, driving her fingers deeper into the too-tight space, squeezing into resisting flesh until it burst under her fingers, coating Sakura’s hand with thick fluid.
Sakura choked back a sob, utterly repulsed, and hooked her fingers. He screamed again, slamming his fist into her side, hitting old and new bruises. Sakura yanked the eye free and threw it as far away as she could, then drove her new dagger through his other eye.
Daiki shook, mouth gaping in silent shock. He gurgled as he died, sounding like a gutter in a rainstorm, and the pungent scent of fresh piss flooded the air.
The second guard—Kenta, his name was Kenta, Sakura remembered—edged toward her, knife awkwardly held in his hand. Sakura scrambled off Daiki’s chest, barely avoiding Kenta’s first, clumsy attack.
She slashed at him, the dagger cutting a bright line across his face, and he fell back a few steps, holding his hand to the welling line of blood along his cheek. Sakura bared her teeth, acting more on instinct than reason—a man’s eye was all over her hand, it was on her hand.
Kenta’s eyes were wide, flickering between Daiki and Sakura. Back and forth.
The stolen dagger warmed in her hand. It was sharp. She wouldn’t have to use her hand again. She could do this. Kakashi said.
“Fuck this,” he cursed, clearly deciding against fighting her, and headed toward the door, kicking over their water bucket as he backed away. It spilled across the already damp floor, darkening it.
Sakura snarled and lunged at him, bending herself around his swipe at her. She slipped inside his guard, clamped her free arm around his knife hand to pin it to her side where it couldn’t stab her, and hesitated.
Kenta made a soft, weak gasping sound, eyes wide and ready to be ruined. He looked something like her father. Same age, same eyes.
She could not let him live. This was their last chance.
Sakura used the dagger, unwilling to jam her hand into the slick heat of his skull. Kenta yelled something, jerking his head back, and she missed, drawing a thick red line just under his eyebrows and hiding his eyes behind a curtain of blood.
Kenta dropped his dagger in shock—fool, a cold voice from deep inside whispered—and clapped his free hand to his face. Sakura sobbed and drove the knife through his hand, angled to avoid the bones. The blade sank deep, even deeper than it had in Daiki.
He dropped slowly to his knees, shaking like a leaf in the wind. She released his arm and he clamped his now free hand to his face, a muffled whine rising from his throat like a wounded animal.
Another sob shook her, terror, fear, guilt—Kakashi said, Sakura reminded herself sharply. You have to. She peeled the guard’s other hand away from his face. The bleeding had slowed, almost stopped. His good eye rolled wildly, but he didn’t fight her, his breath whistling through his teeth and sweat glistening on his face.
Sakura dragged the dagger from his eye. The hand she’d pierced was stuck on the blade, flapping limp and useless near the hilt. She overrode the horrified protests of her morals and sanity and jammed the knife into his other eye, his hand slapping against his blood streaked cheek.
This time, Kenta sagged to the ground, almost out of her reach. He did it silently, mouth gaping open in a silent scream, his ruined eyes painting his entire face red with blood.
Sakura pulled on her chains until Kakashi rolled over and gave her the extra foot of room she needed to reach the dagger pinning Kenta’s hand to his face and pull the weapon free. Liquid welled up through the hole in his hand, too thick to be entirely blood.
Her hands were covered in blood and eyes, stained all the way up her wrists. She closed her eyes and bit her lip to keep from screaming. Sakura didn’t think she’d be able to stop if she started. “Kakashi?” she said, proud of herself when her voice neither wavered nor cracked.
He didn’t respond. Sakura glanced back at him, her heart jumping frantically in her chest. His eyes were closed, fever bright on his cheeks. Kakashi wasn’t awake. Sakura’s lips trembled and tears spilled down her cheeks. She couldn’t do this. She couldn’t!
Do it! Kakashi’s voice cracked like a whip in her memory, bringing back her resolve. It didn’t make her feel courageous so much as it prodded her into terrified action, but it was something. Sakura was frightened, cold, and she had no idea why Kakashi told her to destroy their eyes and even less idea what she was supposed to do now, but she had orders.
She prodded Kakashi’s shoulder, hoping he would get up and do something. Like tell her what needed to be done now that the eyes were ruined and the guards were dead.
He didn’t respond.
Sakura looked at the guards, studying the bodies, avoiding their faces, and tried desperately to think. She was good at figuring things out. She should be able to figure out why Kakashi had told her to take their eyes. Figure out his plan.
“Sakura?” Naruto’s whisper was so quiet. He didn’t sound like himself anymore. “What happened?”
It didn’t make any sense. Why? The other guards would come soon, looking for Daiki and Kenta. They'd see what she had done and punish all of them for it. Kakashi wouldn't have a plan like that.
There were two sets of keys on Daiki's belt. The light from the lantern sparkled off the gleaming metal. She lifted the rings of keys, her hands shaking and bloody-bloody-bloody—Sakura held her breath until stars danced in the corners of her eyes.
"Sakura?" Naruto was louder now. He peered through the bars, as close as he could get, a dirt-smeared face with bright blue eyes. Tear tracks had painted rivers of cleaner skin across his cheeks, and his eyes were red rimmed. She had never seen such blue eyes. How had she never noticed them before?
Why was she thinking about his eyes?
Sakura crushed the thought, terrified by it, shaken by the idea of the guards’ broken faces becoming Naruto’s. Her hands had done that. She couldn’t think about Naruto like that. What if they did it again?
One of Naruto’s hands reached toward her, pulling against his chains until she could see it hanging between him and the anchor point. There was no blood on his hand, only on hers.
“I have the keys,” she told him. There were small silver ones that looked like they might be the keys to their chains. The guards only brought those down when they were taking someone away.
Kakashi must have known, must have been planning an escape. Pity he’d passed out.
“Can you walk?” she asked Naruto. Her heart skittered in her chest. How was she supposed to get them out if Kakashi was unconscious?
“Is Kakashi going get us out of here?” Naruto replied. There was so much hope in his voice and it was all her fault. Sakura couldn't let him down again.
Sakura shook her head. “He’s asleep,” she said. “But he told me I had to do it.”
“If we try to get out they’ll hurt us worse,” Naruto murmured softly, fretfully, falling back, deeper into the shadows of his cell.
Her throat tightened, tears close to spilling again. “If we get out, they’ll never hurt us again,” Sakura promised him. She could do this. She had to. (Her hands, her hands.)
“But it’ll hurt so bad,” he said. “Are you sure Kakashi isn’t awake?”
Sakura skimmed her eyes across the guards’ corpses. They were dead. She killed them. “Our escape attempt has already begun,” she said, her eyes drawn to the ruined mess of their faces. She killed two men. Their eyes were on her hands.
“Sakura?” Naruto sounded scared. “You can just hide the keys until he wakes up, can’t you?”
They were out of other options. “Can you help me carry Kakashi?” she asked. “I don’t think he weighs too much anymore.” Sakura tore her gaze from the dripping, trickling, oozing bodies. Kakashi still hadn’t moved.
“Kakashi?” Naruto asked. He said Kakashi’s name like it was a talisman, and it was entirely Sakura’s fault. She’d lied to make them stop trying to escape, to make them wait for the right time, but there had never been a right time because Kakashi had never gotten better.
“Yeah.” She pushed the first key into the manacle on her wrist. It sank in, and twisted easily, the metal latch inside unhooking, and her wrist was free.
"I think so," Naruto said.
Click—her manacles were gone. They clattered to the floor. Something—something poured through her like water, flooding into her hands and feet, tingling along her bare scalp. Sakura shivered, watching as her shiny chains turned dull grey, up to the heavy iron ring that connected her to Kakashi’s bonds.
Her eyes flickered to her wrists. A red band wrapped around each of them, and she thought it was the guards’ blood until she realized that it was her own. Her skin had rubbed raw under the chains.
Sakura wiped her hands on her pants and took Kakashi’s wrist. Her hands smeared dark stains on his skin, not clean enough.
The first key she tried didn't work. Neither did the second.
"Sakura?" Naruto called.
"In a second, Naruto," she answered. There were only five keys small enough to fit into the shackles. Sakura tried a third one. It didn't work.
The fourth got stuck in the lock. Sakura jiggled it, Kakashi's hand limp as Kenta’s had been. Something clicked, and the cuff slowly opened, resisting like something had gummed up the hinges. It slid off his wrist and fell to the ground, crumbling into grey dust on impact.
Something invisible rose, tasting of storms and hot tea, feeling like summer heat on winter bones. Sakura’s hands stopped shaking.
“Sakura!” Naruto sounded slightly desperate.
“I’m coming,” Sakura said, prying open the other cuff. It crumbled into dust, too, and the warmth doubled, accompanied by lazy reassurances and surprised laughter that came from her memories.
Kakashi’s breathing deepened, losing its frantic rhythm. Hope unfurled in her chest, and Sakura would have broken into tears, had she the time.
He was too heavy for her to carry, so she wrapped her arms around Kakashi’s chest and dragged him out the still-open door, closing it behind her so Naruto couldn’t see what she had done.
“Where are the guards?” Naruto asked, peering into the darkness of her cell. Shadows were so much harder to see into than to see out of.
Sakura shook her head, not looking at his butterfly-blue eyes. The bar across Naruto’s door was made of scrap metal, twice as strong as the door. There was a bright shiny scratch down the side where Sasuke had attacked a guard with a rock.
It had been days before he could walk again.
She lifted the bar out of the way, setting it on the stone floor as quietly as she could, then unlocked his door. “Is Kakashi alive?” Naruto whispered to her when he caught sight of their teacher lying sprawled and bloodstained on the floor. He should never sound so scared, Sakura decided. It wasn’t right.
“He’s still breathing,” she replied firmly. The Academy had taught them that breathing meant nothing if they never woke, but she doubted that Naruto remembered that. “And he was awake just a few minutes ago.”
“Why does he never talk to me?” Naruto asked plaintively, shuffling away from the door so she could open it. “He never....”
Guilt twisted in her chest. Kakashi had almost never been awake. Sakura had lied to them because she couldn’t bear to see them hurt and they hadn’t been willing to listen to her. “His voice was very weak,” she said.
“But you could have—”
Naruto’s shackles burst into dust before she could even get them off. A wave of heat rose from his skin, like the shimmering air over hot pavement. Sakura’s hair stood on end, prickling her half-healed scars. It felt like home—forests and creeks and moss-covered stones.
“What was that?” Naruto’s voice was hushed.
“I don’t know,” she whispered. It felt almost like it had when she’d taken Kakashi’s cuffs off, but stronger, so much stronger.
“I think maybe the chains were suppressing our chakra,” she said after a moment’s thought. Sakura had never been able to feel chakra before. Or maybe she had always felt it, and only noticed its absence once it had returned.
“What’s on your hands?” Naruto asked, staring at the gore on her fingers.
Sakura giggled, then clamped her lips shut. She did not say eyes. “Nothing. We have to go,” she said, pressing Kenta’s dagger into Naruto’s hand, keeping Daiki's blood-slick blade for herself. “Help me carry Kakashi?”
“I thought he would look different,” Naruto said. It took her a long time to realize that he was talking about Kakashi’s face. He glanced at her when she didn't respond, and his pretty eyes were so empty that she nearly cried.
“We have to get out of here,” she said, repeating herself. Sakura swallowed hard, scared that maybe Naruto was too broken to help.
Naruto snuck out of his cell like he expected to be hit, but pulled Kakashi’s arm over his shoulder. “He’s hot,” Naruto murmured anxiously. “Is he okay?”
“It’s just a fever,” Sakura reassured him, taking Kakashi’s other side. His warmth poured through her like safety and shelter, and she straightened her back, filled with new determination. Kakashi had said that she could do this, and so she would.
She could do this.
"What are we doing?" Naruto asked, softly.
"I don't know. He said--we'll see," Sakura said, grateful that Naruto seemed unable to pay attention enough to realize what an answer that wasn't. Freedom, she thought, the word rattling through her bones. She didn't say it, just kept it in her heart like a secret she'd pinkie-sworn to hold, but it was there nevertheless. Freedom...