Lee had never been able to sense chakra properly after the first time he opened the fifth celestial gate for the Extreme Lotus. And the second time he did it, in an actual fight, it rendered him unable to feel almost any chakra beyond his own. Every once in a while he could pick up a hint of Sakura's when she worked some particularly strenuous or complicated jutsu, and he could tell when Naruto was using the fox demon's chakra if the other teenager was in close proximity; and that was all.
But when Sakura shuddered violently and jerked awake, he woke up as well.
"Sakura?" he asked, pushing himself up. She was sitting already, arms wrapped around herself. ". . . Is it—?"
"Naruto," Sakura agreed, before hugging herself tighter. "He's using so much—what could have hap. . . ." Her voice trailed off, and she started to frown.
The frown changed to widened eyes, and she twisted around to look at the wall behind the bed. Lee didn't need to ask this time—he'd felt it when Naruto teleported into the living room.
The bedroom door slammed open. Naruto strode in, grabbed Sakura by the arm, and yanked her out of the bed. She snatched the sheet with her free hand, dragging it with her as she stumbled behind the blond into the short hall. "Naruto! What the hell are you—"
Lee was already shoving his feet into his uniform when Sakura's half-indignant, half-frightened rebuke was cut off by a small scream. He jumped over the bed and ran into the hall, grabbing the doorframe so that his momentum would swing him to the left and into the living room.
He didn't know what he'd expected to see, but it definitely wasn't Uchiha Sasuke sprawled unconscious and bleeding on his carpet, with a giant viper twined around his leg.
Sakura had made a half-hearted effort to wrap the sheet around herself before crashing to her knees next to Sasuke, but it was already falling as she forced her hands through a set of seals as fast as possible, gathering chakra before pressing both palms over his torso.
Lee stared for a moment, before looking up at Naruto, who was crouched on his sofa and staring down at Sakura's hands. He swallowed once and yanked the sleeves onto his arms, not bothering to zip the back, before asking: "Naruto-kun, what happened?"
Naruto didn't look up. "We went to fight Orochimaru. Sasuke got hurt. Get help."
Lee looked back to Sasuke, and Sakura's pale face, and nodded. He moved across the room, unlocked and pulled open the front door, and then tore down the walkway before jumping the stairs and running for the Hokage's tower. He didn't even think about his weights, still sitting in the bedroom; partly because even through the glow of Sakura's chakra he had seen, and smelled, the sliced intestines.
And partly because Naruto was sharpening his claws on the sofa cushion, slowly and methodically, as he stared at Sakura and Sasuke.
Lee arrived at the tower faster running than most shinobi would have reached it taking the rooftops.
He had already returned to the apartment with Shizune when Tsunade arrived. The older woman had never seen the inside of Lee's home, so she teleported to her office before rapidly making her way to the building.
Sakura had managed to close up the damage to Sasuke's intestines and clean out the mess, and now was focused on reattaching the muscle fibers to each other. Shizune was working on Sasuke's left arm, where he had been badly bitten by a snake: the flesh along his wrist was nearly torn away, and a few of the more delicate bones had been broken.
Tsunade paused when she saw the viper. It blinked—or winked, she wasn't sure—at her once before resting its head on Sasuke's shin again.
Naruto was still crouched on the sofa, still clawing at the cushions. His skin and clothes were smeared with drying blood, but the bits of gore still sticking to his arms suggested that it was mainly others'.
Sakura had grown paler. Tsunade stepped widely around the snake before resting a hand on her shoulder. Neither of them missed the fact that Naruto growled at the action. "I'll take over."
"I can do it," Sakura replied, and her tone almost hid her weariness.
She hesitated for a moment, finished connecting the two fibers she'd been focused on, and then stood up and let Tsunade take her place. Sakura pulled the sheet back up from where it had fallen around her waist and absently tucked it beneath her arms as she hovered behind Tsunade and Shizune.
Half a minute passed before she noticed the amount of people in and around the small apartment. Sakura reddened, pulled the sheet up higher, and jogged back to the bedroom.
Naruto shifted on the couch as she left, tilting his head up just enough to keep her in his peripheral vision as he stared at Sasuke.
Tsunade wished that Sasuke had been dumped a few meters further from the sofa. This was not the best situation to work in, since it was a struggle to concentrate when her instincts were demanding she not let her guard drop. And it wasn't just her—Shizune's head was bent over Sasuke's wrist, but Tsunade could see the younger woman's gaze flicking nervously to Naruto every once in a while.
And the damn snake wasn't helping matters. It just lay there, staring at her, like the teenager on the couch.
Tsunade forced herself to memorize this moment, down to the tension and—it's fear, admit it, she told herself—that she felt. She had to keep these memories, for when the inevitable day came, to remind her that no matter what Naruto said or how he acted, this was all he really was: the container of the fox demon.
The room was quiet except for low murmur of chakra and the ripping of the cushion's fabric, so Sakura's footsteps sounded loud even on the carpet as she walked back into the room with her dress hastily tugged on.
The tension was much more obvious for having left it for several moments. Tsunade, directly across from Naruto and right beside the viper, was displaying a level of nervousness she normally would have kept as hidden as her real face; and Lee had subtly placed himself behind the couch, ready to tackle the blond if necessary. Gai was standing beside the door, and there was an anbu—Sakura recognized the mask, but didn't remember his name—behind Tsunade. He had his sword unsheathed, but it was tokenly hidden behind him.
Sakura shifted her gaze back to Lee, stared at him for a moment, and almost smiled. Then she took a deep, quiet breath and placed her hands on her hips.
His head jerked up at that, and those violent red eyes were focused on her alone.
"Can't you sit like a regular person?" Sakura huffed. "You're wrecking Lee's couch!"
Naruto blinked at her. Several times.
Then he looked down at the cushion, and blinked again.
"Uh." Naruto shifted so that he was sitting on the couch, and started trying to shove some of the stuffing back through the rips. "Sorry."
"It's okay," Lee said a moment later. He assessed the room once more, and when Gai nodded, he walked over to Sakura.
He reached back and slipped his hand around hers as he watched Naruto futilely try to push a few more puffs of stuffing into the cushion. She squeezed it tightly.
Naruto gave up on the sofa and looked back at Sasuke. "Is he. . . ?"
"He's not dead," Tsunade replied shortly. "He didn't lose too much blood, and Orochimaru did a shitty job of trying to cut his guts out, so he'll be fine eventually."
Naruto cut himself off then. Tsunade waited, but when he didn't continue, she prompted him with a "What?"
"Nothing," he mumbled.
Another stretch of unpleasant silence passed, before Sakura let go of Lee's hand and took a step towards the blond. "Come on, Naruto, you need to wash up so I can check your injuries."
"I'll be fine."
"Yeah, yeah, move. He won't wake up any faster just because you're glaring."
Naruto grumbled something that made Tsunade say "Brat!" but he stood up. Sakura followed him into the bathroom across the hall from the bedroom, and shut the door behind them.
"Just . . . try to shower that stuff off, it'll be fastest," she told him.
Naruto nodded and shrugged out of his jacket, dropping it against the wall before turning on the spray.
Some of the blood had soaked through the jacket enough to stain his shirt. Sakura swallowed and kept her face straight.
"Did you break any ribs?" she asked, noticing the fading bruise that reached up to his collarbone.
Naruto stopped scrubbing at his arms long enough to press a hand to the right side of his chest. "They're okay."
"You make my job easy," Sakura said with a half-smile, leaning back on the rim of the tub.
Naruto turned slightly away and went back to scraping flakes of blood and bits of muscle off his arms.
". . . Naruto?"
His voice was still mostly the hoarser one of the fox, making the tone gruffer than he'd intended. "It wasn't what?" Sakura asked.
Naruto hesitated for a moment, unable to decide what to do with his arms. He finally folded them and stared down at the tiles, still not facing her. "It wasn't Orochimaru."
"So . . . someone else. . . ?"
"Sasuke did it. Himself." His grip on his upper arms tightened. "I . . . I was fighting Kabuto, so I don't really know how they were fighting, and I didn't recognize a lot of the attacks, but I think they were throwing fire and seals at each other or something. Sasuke managed to trap that snake bastard, but he mirrored it or some shit, so they were both stuck. And there were more Soundnins around, but it was just me, and Kabuto wasn't letting me get near them, but I got close enough to—to hear. . . ."
Naruto's voice finally slowed down again, and Sakura sat down on the edge of the tub, hands clenching the rim.
"Orochimaru was talking about how Sasuke could either die there and waste his whole life, or he could let that bastard have him, and either way he was never going to kill Itachi himself, but that he'd do it with Sasuke's own hands if he chose the second option. And then he said something about how Sasuke still had to pay the reasonable price for everything that he'd taught him."
Naruto paused, before saying, "I dunno if Sasuke replied, but a couple seconds later, he laughed. And that even got Kabuto to stop. He just—laughed. Like, like. . . ." Naruto made a few gestures with his hands, trying to convey to Sakura that strange, vicious, hysterical sound Sasuke had made. Little cuts littered his arms where his claws had dug into the skin.
Naruto's hands stilled in the air, water splashing over them, and then he let them drop. "And then he flipped his grip on that fucking sword and tried to kill himself. I think he was aiming for his heart, or his throat, but that snake grabbed his wrist and shifted the blade enough that it was just his stomach."
Sakura had let go of the tub. Her hands were clenched around each other and pressed against her stomach, as if that could rid of the sour feeling growing there. Part of her thought that Naruto must have seen wrong, had to have seen wrong, because this was crazy, it was Sasuke, Sasuke who was so damned determined to live that he risked his life and reputation and home to do so. Sasuke would never try to kill himself if there was even a glimmer of a chance left.
Except. . . .
Sakura still remembered the one conversation she'd had with Orochimaru, years ago at the chuunin exam. She remembered that the man had a way of speaking that made the things he said sound like undeniable, unavoidable facts.
When he'd told her "Sasuke-kun will seek me to seek power," that had been it. She'd known it would happen. That long month when Sasuke was away training with Kakashi, the exam itself, the weeks afterward, and those four days between his and Naruto's fight on the hospital roof and the night he left—days that Sakura didn't really remember because she'd had so little sleep from standing at the bridge every night—were all colored with the knowledge that one day Sasuke was going to walk away from them.
Because once Orochimaru said it would happen, it just became so obvious.
" . . . I guess if he can't kill Itachi, nothing else matters," Naruto added angrily.
"We already knew that," Sakura said softly.
Naruto's hands clenched into fists. Sakura fought down the urge to pry them open and tell him to stop it.
"Did Sasuke's . . . did that break Orochimaru's seal?" she asked to distract him. "So he could move?"
"I guess so."
"You 'guess'? Geez, Naruto, either he moved or he didn't."
"I don't remember the rest of it."
That information cut even deeper than the truth about Sasuke's wounds. Sakura stared.
". . . What?" she managed to say. "But you always . . . before. . . ."
"I know." Naruto's voice was hoarser now, but it didn't sound like the result of the fox demon this time. "Sasuke—the sword—he fell off the branch he'd been on, and then . . . I remember killing Kabuto, and this guy trying to protect Orochimaru . . . and I remember jumping at the snake bastard, but then. . . ."
He trailed off, and clenched his fists tighter.
Sakura shivered once, realizing that she'd been alone with that thing for almost ten minutes and had never known how little of it had been Naruto, and that if anyone found out . . . if Tsunade or Jiraiya or Kakashi found out. . . .
If Konoha found out.
". . . Do . . . do you remember if you killed the anbu?"
He shook his head, and Sakura felt sick.
"Naruto. . . ."
"I know!" he hissed, and his voice broke at the end. He was shaking.
Sakura pushed the nausea down and made herself stand up. She turned off the shower, bit her lip, and then turned around and hugged Naruto. He stood there and let her, staring over her shoulder at the floor.
"He really wanted to die, Sakura-chan," the other teenager whispered. "He didn't even look to see where I was, if I could help. He just. . . ."
She hugged him more tightly, but all it did was make her more aware that he was still shaking. "It's okay. We're all okay. You're still you."
Naruto shuddered violently at that, and Sakura hugged him even tighter. "He's okay," she murmured. "It's okay. Things will be all right."
"Promise me, Sakura-chan," Naruto demanded, almost childishly. "Promise me he'll be okay?"
"Definitely," she said firmly. "You got him back in plenty of time. I'm sure he'll be awake in a day or two; and then you can scream at him all you want, okay?"
"Yeah," Naruto said, but he was still shaking.
Sakura continued to hold him, wishing she could at least pretend it was doing any good.
The water that had soaked Naruto's clothes was seeping into her own, and the sharp stone of his necklace began to cut into her skin through the damp fabric. Eventually Sakura shifted, trying to move so that it wasn't digging in quite so much. Naruto stirred a little at that, and soon he pulled back. She let him go.
Naruto chuckled uncomfortably. "Uh, sorry about wrecking you guys' anniversary," he said, reaching up to scratch the back of his head. He quickly winced and let it drop again.
"Kabuto brained me pretty good during the fight," Naruto explained. "It's mostly healed."
"Let me see," Sakura replied, motioning for him to turn around.
He did, and after a brief examination, Sakura realized some of the blood staining his hair was actually his own. Must've been some hit, she thought, and told him, "This is probably the reason the fox demon managed to take so much control; you were disoriented."
Naruto started to turn toward her. "But that's not—"
"I say it is," Sakura interrupted. "Which of us is the medical ninja here, Naruto?"
After a few moments, she focused her attention back on his skull to get away from his eyes. "When Tsunade-sensei asks, tell her that's my guess. It does look like he got you pretty hard."
"Right," Naruto said in a low voice, looking away.
There was another long silence, and then Sakura took a step back. "Well, aside from that, you look like you're okay. There's not much I can do."
Sakura came back into the living room when Tsunade called her. Naruto followed a few moments later, gingerly rubbing his hair with a towel.
"Lee's agreed to keep Uchiha here until he wakes up," Tsunade informed her. "Do you need Shizune to stay for tonight?"
"Um . . . but, is that safe?" Sakura asked hesitantly. "He's lost a lot of blood—doesn't he need a transfusion?" She only remembered after the question that there no longer were any Uchiha blood samples being kept at the hospital, and the only acceptable family to donate any—the Hyuugas—were pretty damn unlikely to consent.
Tsunade didn't point out her mistake. "Talk to the snake," was all she said.
The snake was still wrapped around Sasuke's lower leg. When she looked at it, it stared back, unblinking.
"I'll get a saline drip and the equipment brought from the hospital, Sakura-kun," Shizune said. "There's not much else to do."
"You. Get the fuck off him and let them work."
Naruto's voice was harsh. Sakura tensed reflexively and took a step to the side.
The viper remained unimpressed. "It won't be smart to place him among strangers right now, fox," it said, stretching up enough to see Naruto over the arm of the couch. "There's no telling what the change will make him act like when he wakes up."
Naruto glared. "Change, what change? Is this some shit with that curse seal?"
The viper made an amused hissing noise.
"Naruto, it's better not to move him too soon," Tsunade said calmly. "If he doesn't regain consciousness in a day or two, we'll bring him to the hospital."
When Naruto didn't disagree, she turned her attention to the snake. "You need to move enough that we can put him on the bed. You're not doing him any good by forcing him to remain on that floor."
The snake flicked its tongue out once, and that small action managed to look threatening because it was just so damn big.
But it only said mildly, "I accede to your medical wisdom, Tsunade-hime," and began to detangle itself from Sasuke.
Sakura saw a muscle twitch in Tsunade's cheek, but the woman's voice was even when she requested Lee help her carry Sasuke into the bedroom.
Lee had Sasuke carefully propped up by his shoulders so that Sakura could wrap the wound in his stomach. There was the faint shape of a handprint on the remaining skin of his stomach, where Sakura's hand had gotten too close and the chakra had burned it. Shizune and Gai had gone to the hospital to pick up the supplies, and Naruto and Tsunade were arguing outside the doorway. The viper was curled up on the opposite side of the bed, within a hand's breadth of Sasuke.
"I'm not leaving," Naruto repeated.
"Naruto." Tsunade's voice was flat, tired, stressed, and very annoyed. "You can't stay here."
"Why? I'm not tired, and if that anbu stays here no one will get in. I'm not leaving him."
Tsunade pinched the bridge of her nose. Sakura taped down the edge of the bandages and said the words that the woman had been trying to avoid. "You can't stay here," she told him, looking up. "If too many people get that scared again and try to break in, we can't protect the both of you. You'll be safer at the tower with Tsunade-sensei, and we'll be safer if it's just Sasuke here."
Naruto looked away. She'd hurt him and she knew it, but Naruto wouldn't listen to those words from anyone else.
Some days Sakura really hated who she'd been forced to become.
She smiled for him. "I promise, if he wakes up tonight, I'll send someone to tell you immediately. Okay? And tomorrow . . . everyone will be a little calmer tomorrow, and you can come back then. Just give us a chance to get a couple hours' sleep first."
". . . all right," Naruto muttered. "Let's just go."
"Where's Kakashi?" Tsunade called into the living room.
"Outside with the other team, Hokage-sama," the anbu replied.
"Tell him to stay in here," she said, and, "Come on, Naruto."
Lee settled Sasuke on the bed as Tsunade teleported herself and Naruto back to the tower. Despite all the work they'd done on his stomach, the bandages were still staining a faint red at the center of the damage.
When the front door opened, Sakura stood up. The adrenaline that had kept her moving this long was wearing away, and Lee wrapped a supporting arm across her shoulders as they walked out of the bedroom. By the door, Kakashi and the anbu nodded to each other before the anbu left to take up his post outside.
Lee's voice was quiet. "Sakura, are you certain about—?"
She nodded before he could finish. "The snake. . . ." She hesitated, and finally whispered: "It's probably the best guard he can have right now. I don't think it wants to see him dead."
Lee accepted that she was not saying something, probably the same thing that Naruto had not said, and nodded.
Kakashi looked like he'd thrown his uniform on, in the dark, but he still had his sharingan covered and was wearing the mask. Sakura wondered if he actually slept in that mask, and if so, how he hadn't suffocated himself yet. She decided to ask Sasuke when he woke up.
"How is he?" the man asked.
"Unconscious," Sakura replied. "Kakashi-sensei, you can see patterns of chakra with your eye, right?"
When he nodded, she asked, "Will you look at him, please? There's something weird about his."
The man frowned, but followed her into the bedroom.
Kakashi paused for a moment when he finally saw Sasuke, but then he pulled his forehead protector up and focused.
"He looks the same," he told Sakura several moments later. "There's residue from you and Tsunade-sama and Shizune, but there's nothing strange about the flow. What were you sensing?"
Sakura frowned. "It feels . . . different. Not like the curse seal, but—not exactly how it used to. And, the snake said something about him changing. . . ."
Kakashi looked over at the viper, who was now resting its head on Sasuke's right thigh. "What did that mean?"
"You're Kakashi," the snake replied.
"He talked about you once."
Kakashi pursed his lips, but it wasn't visible through the mask. "I'm surprised."
"I didn't say it was flattering."
"You didn't say it was bad, either."
The snake made that amused hiss again, before lifting its head. "He said you were the third most dangerous to him. Above Orochimaru, even—but still below the fox and his older brother. And you can find out what I meant when he wakes up and gives me permission to tell you."
The viper laid its head back down, seemingly ignoring them; but Kakashi doubted it would let him take another step closer to Sasuke. He turned around and left the room, bringing Sakura and Lee with him.
"Hm," he said, before looking over at Sakura. "You need to get some more sleep."
She wasn't swaying on her feet, but only because she was leaning on Lee. "Shizune-san and Gai-san haven't returned with the saline drip yet."
"You don't have to be a medical ninja to set up one of those," Kakashi told her. "And Shizune won't think less of you for taking a nap."
"But Sasuke. . . ."
"I'll stay up," Kakashi told her. "If anything happens, I'll wake you."
Sakura still hesitated, and Lee nudged her toward the couch. Finally she sighed in annoyance, but gratefully curled up on the sofa. Normally she would have felt bad about lying on Lee's furniture in wet clothes, but the couch had seen worse that night.
Despite her weariness, Sakura wasn't able to fall asleep until nearly twelve
minutes later—after Gai returned with Shizune and ran through the whole spiel
again, with his own student—when Lee sat down and Sakura could feel his hand
solidly in her own.
We suffer because of our bonds.
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