Sakura sat weak and trembling at the edge of the clearing, paralyzed deep down to her core from a genjutsu far above her level; her breath came ragged and labor, her body too much too heavy--a vessel of lead that she can’t will herself to move.
Terror gripped her.
In front of her Sasuke struggled against the onslaught of the attack; he was strong than her; he’d recovered faster than her; she sat useless and watched. He dropped down next to her, panting; for a moment he’d been hovering the edge between winning and losing--but only because he was clearly being toyed with. Now he was back to losing and Sakura found she could do nothing.
She had no idea where Naruto was; she couldn’t remember. Her mind was fuzzy with panic and fear.
“Sasuke,” she choked out, voice rough. It was a mistake. Distracted and panicked, Sasuke jerked his head in her direction; she noticed, before he did, the grass nin’s face twist into a grotesque grin, his head moving, stretching away from his body on an elongated neck.
Sasuke braced himself to move but Sakura knew it would be too late, and he couldn’t take them both; he’d have to choose: her or him. She knew the answer would be himself. It twisted in her heart and something broke through to her. All at once her body could move again. She lunged, throwing herself across Sasuke just as the shinobi reached them. Teeth sank into her shoulder, hard, sharp enamel grinding against the bones there. She felt the warm seep of blood spilling from the puncture as the ninja released her and snapped his head back to his body. And then the agony came; it snatched her breath away and she gasped empty breaths around a shrill scream, choking and begging air to come to her.
It was all consuming; the pain didn’t stop at her shoulder where hot blood poured from her. It radiated through her entire body, fire rushing through her veins. She fell, pebbles and rocks and roots pressing painfully into her back. Her body convulsed.
The canopy of trees above her came alive; they came for her, their shadows dipping down, sweeping around her and turning her world dark. She screamed and then she screamed again.
The world beneath her opened up and swallowed her.
Sasuke didn’t sleep that night, instead standing guard over his two uconscious teammates. He’d procured them a small cave; it’d taken him the last of his adrenaline and strength to haul them there. Sakura’s screams would bring a swarm down on them; he desperately hoped their spot would be enough to keep them hidden. He was only one person now against any number of threats lurking out in the wilderness and night was fast falling on them.
Around midnight Sakura’s fever spiked and her tossing and turning sent him to her side. He hovered a hand over her head and felt the heat emanating; her breath came in ragged gasps and her skin torched to the touch. He stayed by her side for half an hour, watching helplessly as pain crossed her face off and on and her fever continued to rise. He suspected that, were she a non-shinobi, the fever would have killed her already.
It was with too many misgivings that he finally talked himself into leaving the cave. She was going to die if he didn’t do something and with that in mind he told himself that the risks of leaving them were worth it.
He picked his way quietly through the forest, using his sharingan to try and enhance what little sight he had in the darkness. He had no real idea of what he was looking for and only hoped that something would come to him as he searches. He never paid much attention to the first aid training they got in the academy and he only knew the basics of patching up injuries. He knew almost nothing of how to reduce a fever, outside of what came to him from basic common sense. He regretted that now, when the lives of his teammates may very well rely on that knowledge.
A quarter of a mile away he found a small stream. The water was frigid cold and he knelt next to it and dipped a strip of cloth into it. He took a moment to fill their canteens before finally starting back to the cave, ignoring the fear spreading through him at having left them alone.
It was for nothing though and he found Sakura and Naruto exactly as he left them.
He sets about draping the cool, wet bandages across Sakura’s forehead and eyes, hoping it will bring down her fever or at least provide some comfort to her.
She was going to die and he was going to sit here, helpless. He was strong, had striven to be powerful in every way he could, but in the face of something like this he was useless. His teammates were in peril and there is nothing within his repertoire of abilities that would allow him to help them. What use was his strength now?
He was strong, but not like this.
Kabuto leaned against a tee and watched Orochimaru with keen eyes. Their plans had been interrupted and their presence within the village had been made known. There was too much at stake in the bigger scheme of things to allow their small hiccup with the Uchiha to ruin this.
“She won’t survive,” Orochimaru said at last and Kabuto shrugged.
“She very well might,” he countered. “And what then? We shouldn’t count her out of the picture. If she survives she could very well prove to be useful.” The Haruno girl had Kabuto intrigued and though they may have failed with Sasuke, he felt as if she could still be a valuable asset.
Orochimaru made a thoughtful noise but otherwise said nothing.
“Sakura Haruno is top of her class and possesses more potential than she herself realizes,” Kabuto told him. “She is no replacement to your need of Sasuke, of course, but she could prove to be quite formidable one day with the right guidance.”
“You’re referring, of course, to your guidance.” Orochimaru smirked knowingly and Kabuto nodded, guilty as charged.
“I’ve been watching her. She’s being held back by her team, who far surpass her in strength and see her only as a support. We can make use of that.” She could be molded. The thought excited him and he couldn’t contain his grin.
“If she survives,” Orochimaru interrupted. And Kabuto had to agree that the chances were slim, but not so slim that they shouldn’t keep it in mind. Orochimaru seemed to think for a minute and then he stopped his pacing at long last. “ If she survives, then I put it in your hands. I have to prepare for what’s coming, and I don’t have time to spare on an adolescent girl. She is no replacement to the Uchiha boy, after all.”
Kabuto couldn’t argue with that, and so only nodded his agreement. They may have blown their chances with Sasuke, at least for the time being, but there was more to be done in Konoha before all was said and done.
Sakura’s dreamed in hues of purple and black, a contorted swirl of disorientation. Even in her dream she was in agony, a deep pain that seemed to penetrate the very recesses of her mind. The world she stood in seemed to throb with her pain, the black and purple shadows moving and twitching with the rhythm of her heartbeat.
A low voice started up behind her, murmuring and whispering cruelly, and Sakura twisted herself around to find that she was sitting in the long, dark shadow of Ino. The girl smiled cheshire like and offered her a hand. Sakura reached for it, hesitant, and was rewarded with a slap across the forehead from the other girl.
“Silly, Sakura,” Ino taunted, laughing. “As if I would ever help you, forehead girl!” The laughter echoed onto itself near endlessly and Sakura sat shaking, absorbing the noise. Shadows spill out from under Ino, like ink spreading across a page, and the girl’s laughter quickly changed to screams as the shadows sucked her in, throwing her to the floor and dragging her backwards.
“Sakura!” she screamed. “Sakura, help me!”
Sakura reached for her in vain but she was dragged further out of reach with every attempt she made. She watched helplessly as her friend was devoured by the shadows and she was left alone once more. “Ino!” she shouted, looking up into the void above her. “Ino!”
“Why didn’t you save her, Sakura?”
Sakura’s eyes widened and she looked to see her team had appeared before her: Kakashi, Sasuke, and Naruto. They all looked down on her where she knelt, their eyes dancing with malice. They repeated over and over again, “Why didn’t you save her? Why didn’t you save her?” And Sakura struggled to her feet, stepping backwards faster and faster as they approached. She tripped and fell in her panic and then she was swallowed alive by the ground beneath her.
When she woke, she was still screaming.
Her eyes wrenched open and the shadows from her dream--ugly and purple and black--twisted around her, inviting and comfortable. She reached up and they danced around her hand, beckoning her towards their madness.
There was a fight some ways away and it reached her in loud clangs of kunai slamming against one another; she let her head roll to the side, to look towards the comotion and there were shinobi surrounding Sasuke and he was barely on her feet.
She had to do something and she returned her eyes to the colors floating around her. They held the feeling that pooled in her and they sang their sound through the air; they had what she needed.
Power. The ability to do something.
She let it take her.
Sasuke didn’t know she was awake until she was there ; he turned--a mistake , another mistake, he turned his back on the enemy-- and she was staggering from the cave, body moving jerkily, a spinning cloud of black and purple caging her in. Black, twisted patterns carved their way across her face. It didn’t matter that he’d turned his back on his enemy because they’d done the same; all eyes focused on her and the energy pouring forth from her.
It wasn’t right and Sasuke shuddered.
The first kunai missed; it whizzed just past the shinobi wrapped in bandages. It didn’t matter that it was a near miss; he didn’t move. His eyes remained glued to Sakura, his hand shaking where it hung limp at his side; Sasuke had gotten a good blow in; it was broken for sure. But that wasn’t why he shooked, Sasuke realized. He was terrified.
Sakura emanated a kind of horror almost akin to what Sasuke had felt when the grass nin had attacked them; the presence she cast through the area was powerful.
She caught the girl first, because she was closest; she’d been sneaking towards the entrance of the cave while Sasuke had been fending off her teammates; it put her directly in Sakura’s path. But it wasn’t like Sakura; she didn’t move like Sakura or fight like Sakura.
There was a kunai involved. It sank into the girl’s belly and they both went down, Sakura boxing her in, twisting the blade. The girl screamed and Sakura yanked the blade out, letting it hang in the air for a moment; it dripped gore. Then Sakura drove the kunai down once more, into the same spot. Again and again until the girl’s screams came to an abrupt halt. Her teammate didn’t fare much better; Sakura caught him quick when he’d turned to run and she’d driven her kunai into his face.
The third one had vanished in the chaos of the bloodbath. Sasuke was too shocked to stop her; he dropped to his knees, exhausted, and watched as she repeatedly drove her kunai into the socket of the dead shinobi.
“Sakura?” Naruto had woken and he stood at the mouth of the cave, blue eyes blinking and wet and sweeping across the carnage Sakura had left.
She stopped, lifting her head to look at him. Abruptly, the flicker of shadows around her fell away, leaving only her panting, bloody figure.
There was blood up past her elbows and by the time they came across water, it had become dried and crusted; scrubbing it off made her skin pink and raw and her hands shook the whole time. Naruto sat on a rock at the edge of the creek bed and watched her.
He’d missed it all, but then so had she. The blood and the screams felt fuzzy in her mind, and it was the blood spreading out into the water that told her it hadn’t been a dream.
Sasuke watched her like a hawk; she could pretend not to notice but she couldn’t pretend nothing had happened. She’d brutally killed two people; it was only denial and adrenaline keeping her put together. Power spilled forth from her shoulder and spread throughout her, patching up the cracks of her fragile psyche. It filled her with scary, dark thoughts and it didn’t sicken her that it sent a thrill through her rather than disgust and horror.
“You can’t tell anyone,” Sakura whispered later. They were almost to the tower and Naruto lay sleeping nearby. She knew this might be her last chance.
Sasuke sat on a log next to her and she leaned towards him; he didn’t flinch away but he should have. He should be scared of her after what she did and it flared and unfamiliar anger in her that he wasn’t. “ Swear to me, Sasuke.”
He looked at her with his dark eyes and there were tears in her own when she met them. And then his eyes fell to her shoulder. She twisted her head but she could only barely see the spot; a black tattoo had blossomed to life there, just where she had been bitten. It was only barely visible beneath the blood and the tattered remains of the fabric of her top.
He didn’t say a word. She reached out and caught his wrist, squeezing it. He yanked it away, scowling at her.
“Promise me, please.”
He looked away. “I won’t tell anyone,” he said at last.