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Title: Freedom in the Eyes of Another (Part 3)
Beta: lady_of_scarlet
Warnings: Angst, graphic violence, and the happiest damn ending anyone could wish for.
Summary: The Wave Mission is a failure. Team Seven is captured. Sasuke is gone. They are coming for Kakashi. Sakura has no choice but to be a hero.
Rating: M/FRM
A/N: Written for the Anon Meme Prompt, "There's a fire burning. Literal or figuratively ... do with it what you will :)" and pre-read by the amazing/wonderful subtle_shades / [personal profile] crunchysunrises  (who did an absolutely amazing job of pointing out plot holes).

Part 1

Part 2

They moved faster—a lot faster—with Zabuza carrying Kakashi. Sakura suspected he was slowing down for their sake because she could barely put one foot in front of the other, but they were moving at least twice as fast as before.

She felt like her skin was dead. Branches and grass slapped against her legs and arms, but she couldn’t feel them over the harsh in-out of her lungs. You can, You can, You can, Kakashi’s voice whispered, but she wasn't sure.

Zabuza stopped.

Sakura stumbled, running into his legs before he steadied her with a hand on her shoulder. “Hell,” he muttered. "Guess we aren't going to make it. Haku?"

"Yes?" Haku appeared from the trees, silent and wraith-like.

Zabuza lifted his blade from the hooks strapped to his back. "Take the kids and run. I'll try to hold him off long enough for you to reach the Konoha army."

Konoha's army...Sakura stared into the hazy fog. Zabuza had yet to explain anything. Konoha had not mobilized in over twelve years—not since the demon fox. What was going on?

Naruto shuffled restlessly, his arm bumping hers.

Haku's head tilted, bird-like. "No."

The refusal seemed expected. Zabuza snorted. "You need to run. The kids and Hatake will get you in. Haku—you were never a ninja. Konoha might accept you."

"I won't go anywhere without you," Haku stated. The mist deepened, grew colder. "Let the children run, but I will not leave you, Zabuza."

"Stubborn. We are all going to die, you know?" Zabuza shook his head and laughed. "Freeze our trail. He hates the cold." He dove into the undergrowth, carving a path from the dense thicket.

Hoar frost grew from the leaves and branches, spiking to unlikely lengths. "You had best start running," Haku warned her. "It's going to get very cold, very soon."

Naruto scrambled after Zabuza, Sakura hot on his trail.

***

"Found yourself some more tagalongs?" the voice was incredibly deep, low enough that Sakura heard him in her bones.

“Kisame,” Zabuza said, sliding Kakashi from his shoulder, letting him fall to the ground.

The bitter chill in the air died and Zabuza checked the trees. “You brought the Uchiha,” he said, tightening his hold on his sword until his knuckles went white.

Sakura searched the forest, Naruto wire-tense beside her. “Sasuke?” she whispered, daring to hope—

“Not the Uchiha he was referring to, I suspect.” The speaker was so neutral as to sound bored. He stepped into view, clad in red and black that matched his eyes and hair. “Are you Sakura?”

She looked to Zabuza, uncertain, but he wasn’t looking at them. He was staring at a gap in the trees. She could almost see another man, hidden in the dying mist. Or maybe it was a rock or something, because if that shape was human, he was huge.

“My brother was quite insistent that we find you.”

Who was he talking about? Sakura licked her lips, and stood in front of Kakashi. The scrap of curtain covering his face was the brightest thing around, glaring scarlet in the cool grey and browns of the undergrowth. Was the stranger an Uchiha? He did kind of look like Sasuke.

“Who is your brother?” Naruto whispered. Sunlight pierced the clouds and dove through the leaves, sparkling off the fog and frost, then was gone.

“My brother is Sasuke,” the stranger answered. He advanced, and Sakura saw that a pair of pale arms were draped around his neck, nearly the same color as the bandages wrapped around the wrists. Spikes of black hair were barely visible from behind his shoulder.

Sasuke?

“Kisame Hoshigaki and Itachi Uchiha. S-Class missing nins,” Zabuza said. “Rumour says that Itachi slaughtered the entire Uchiha clan when he was thirteen.”

“True enough,” Itachi admitted. “But I never had the heart to kill my little brother.”

Sakura wondered if he was going to kill them now. It was what missing-nin did. Zabuza had been a glaring exception since they’d escaped, but she was almost certain he was going to trade their safety for his own, so that made sense.

“You have Sasuke,” Naruto said.

“Yes. He asked that I return his team to Konoha.” Itachi’s voice softened, and Sakura thought she saw Sasuke move, shifting restlessly, “It seems I was late.”

“What did you do to Haku?” Zabuza asked, changing his focus from the half-hidden man to Itachi.

“I put the false-Hunter to sleep,” Itachi said. “Might I ask what purpose you had in killing your employer and kidnapping a Konoha—” he paused, looking away from Zabuza, into the trees.

Sasuke lifted his head and his eyes were as red as Itachi’s. He stared past her, past Naruto.

Metal crashed against metal. Naruto cried out.

Sakura spun, the dagger in her hand, yanked from her make-shift sheath of rags. There was a man—Rock nin, came from the ground—she catalogued, already moving. He looked up, startled, and tried to block.

Naruto grabbed his arm, giving Sakura the distraction she needed to jump at him, throwing her entire body weight against the Rock nin’s chest. She thought she saw Naruto kick the back of his knees, but either way the enemy fell hard, his skull cracking against a tree root.

Her dagger bounced off his throat, skittering like she’d tried to cut stone, so Sakura dropped it and drove her thumbs into his eyes. She pushed through the resistance, piercing the tight membrane of his eyes. The left one broke first, spurting up her wrist, her thumb sinking into the suddenly pliable organ.

The man was screaming. Sakura shook her head, instinctively, from habit. Her hair wasn’t in her face; she didn’t have hair that could get her face because she didn’t know when to shut up.

He hit her, but it was weak, barely worth noticing. Sakura snarled, her lips cracking open, and shifted her weight, jamming her thumb into his right eye until it split apart into a wet, goopy mess.

The Rock nin didn’t stop squirming, hitting her with the arm Naruto wasn’t holding. It was frustrating. Daiki and Kenta had died, easy-peasy, so why wouldn’t he? Sakura jerked his head up and slammed it against the tree root underneath. “Die,” she whispered, something wet dripping down her face.

She did it again and the Rock nin went limp, but she could still feel him breathing. The skin under her hands softened, became malleable. Sakura yanked a hand free and took up her dagger, sawing across his throat. It split open, gushing red and hot all over her.

He wasn’t breathing anymore.

Sakura shook. His blood was cooling on her skin and she was cold. They didn’t tell you how messy it was in the academy. She checked on Naruto, patting his hand until he uncoiled from the corpse’s arm, blinking sleepily as the black stripes on his cheeks thinned .

Someone cleared their throat.

“Unexpected,” someone else muttered.

“Well, that explains how you escaped,” Zabuza said from very nearby.

She looked up. Itachi was covering Sasuke’s eyes.

There was a blue man.

All of them—Zabuza, Itachi and Blue Man—were almost on top of her. Closer to her meant closer to Kakashi, Sakura remembered, her heart fluttering.

Sakura wiped her hands on the ninja’s vest then stood, putting herself between Kakashi and the host of missing nin. She didn’t think she’d be much use protecting him, but Sakura could try. So far, trying had worked out pretty well.

It was quiet. Not even the leaves rustled. The missing-nin were watching the body like it might get back up again, more or less ignoring her and Naruto. It was okay, though. Sakura needed to catch her breath.

The Blue Man had sharp teeth that fit together like puzzle pieces. He caught her staring and glared at her with odd-coloured eyes. She wondered if they were the same colour in the inside. “You like my teeth, little girl?”

“They look useful,” she answered honestly. With teeth like that she wouldn’t have needed a dagger.

“Ah—” Blue Man’s brow furrowed, and he glanced at Itachi.

“May I suggest that we conclude our business quickly?” Itachi asked, nudging the Rock nin’s body with his toe to roll it over. He removed his hand from Sasuke’s face. “There are more underground.”

“Heh. We should fight them.” Blue Man cracked his knuckles and grinned, showing off his teeth.

“Mmm. No,” Itachi decided. “What were your intentions with my brother’s team, Zabuza?” Itachi’s tone hinted that there was a right and a wrong answer to the question. Sakura hoped Zabuza would answer right. He was getting to be familiar.

“I was going to trade them for safe passage past Konoha’s troops. For Haku, if not myself.”

“That will do,” Itachi said. He knelt, letting Sasuke slide off his back. “Sasuke? I must leave. Konoha is the safest place for you until I ensure that all our potential enemies are gone. Please stay there?”

She had to strain her ears to hear Sasuke whisper, “You’re leaving?”

Itachi pressed his lips against Sasuke’s forehead and murmured something, too low for her to hear.

“...okay,” Sasuke replied. He hugged Itachi with a grip that suggested he really didn’t want to let go.

“Zabuza?” Itachi rested his hands on Sasuke’s back, fingers twitching in tentative pats. “We are leaving. Be assured that I will follow you to Konoha’s camp. Should my brother come to any sort of harm...” Itachi narrowed his eyes and glared. “...I will kill you and your fake-Hunter in the most agonizing method I can think of.”

Sakura wished she had someone who would protect her so fiercely.

“Where did you leave Haku?” Zabuza demanded.

Itachi inclined his head toward the trees he’d appeared out of. “Hurry. There are Rock nin approaching from underground.”

“And Lightning nin above ground,” Zabuza grunted, lifting Haku with a great deal more care than he’d shown Kakashi. “Gato contacted every damn village out there for his stupid auction.”

“He contacted Konoha?” Blue Man asked. His voice was really deep and rumble-y. Like a rock slide, Sakura decided. Her head was spinning, and everything was shaking.

Zabuza chuckled. “Tried to sell their property back to them.”

“Fool,” Itachi said. “He is dead?”

“Yes,” Sakura answered. A rush of dark satisfaction swamped her, malicious but good, and the unsteady feeling disappeared.

“He’s on fire now,” Naruto added, smiling sweetly. He was such a good boy, sometimes.

“Good.” Itachi stood, breaking away from Sasuke. “You have an excellent team, Sasuke. You may rely on them.”

Sakura met his eyes when Itachi looked at her. His eyes had black dots that spun like Kakashi’s. She thought he maybe approved. “Protect my brother.”

In the next second, he was gone, leaving Sasuke alone and Blue Man looking at the bushes where he had been.

“We really have to co-ordinate these things, Itachi,” Blue Man muttered. He looked them over one last time, then disappeared as well.

Sasuke turned and his eyes were normal black. Sakura had always liked his eyes. She looked away to remind herself that his weren’t for taking.

“Are you okay, Sakura?” His question should please her—he cared!—but Sakura felt nothing but cold. “You’re covered in blood,” Sasuke added.

“She’s fine,” Zabuza told him. “You and blue-eyes are going to be dragging Hatake, because whatever your brother did, Haku isn’t waking up.”

Someone screamed in the distance.

“I can do it,” Sakura protested. She was fine. Kakashi wasn’t that heavy.

Zabuza’s mask of bandages shifted and she thought he might have been smiling at her. “You’re more useful if you’re mobile. Come on. There’s not much further to go.”

But Kakashi was hers, she wanted to protest, watching Sasuke and Naruto lift him. Not that Naruto and Sasuke weren’t, she added in silent apology, but Kakashi had been on her side of the hall, not theirs.

***

She didn't know anyone. Thirty men and women wearing the Konoha Hitai-ate, and she didn't know any of them. Sakura licked her lips. There was blood on them, and it might not be hers. She searched their faces again.

"—Hatake?"

"It can't be."

"—Demon—"

"Go get—"

Zabuza was very quiet and still, hiding Haku's head and face with his hand. Maybe he didn't want them to see the hunter's mask.

"Does anyone recognize the kids?"

She knew lots of people who were ninja. Chouji's dad, Shikamaru's parents, Ino's entire family. There were at least a dozen who lived on the same street as her. Shouldn't she recognize someone?

...shouldn't someone recognize her?

A nagging suspicion grew in her heart. What if they weren't really Konoha ninja? What if they were imposters? Sakura skulked back, pretending she was nervous, planting herself between her team and the crowd. Zabuza was behind them, but he was holding Haku. He'd be slower, hopefully, or a barrier to attacks from behind if he really was on their side.

"They can't be more than ten—"

"—Do you think?"

Her hands were sweating, the hilt of the dagger growing slick in her hand. Was it genjutsu? No one had even asked who they were, and it was fucking obvious that they didn't know. They should have asked her to surrender her knife, should have questioned her.

If it was a genjutsu, the caster had no idea what Konoha procedures were. Zabuza?

But to what purpose? If he wanted them dead, it would be easy. One whack with his blade and they'd all fall down (in pieces).

If he wasn't the caster, then he was her best bet. Everything had seemed reasonable—okay, farfetched, but reasonable-ish—until they'd walked into rows on rows of tents and were waylaid by a pack of ninja. The best genjustu kept parts of reality, slowly replacing things so you didn't notice.

Sakura backed up, forcing Sasuke and Naruto to follow suit. It brought Kakashi to his knees, like he might lift his head at any second. He wouldn't, but hey, the thought was nice.

She glanced back, keeping one eye on the crowd. "Zabuza?"

His brow shifted—that looked weird without eyebrows. "Yes?"

"Is this a genjutsu?"

"Not exactly."

"They aren't acting right," she whispered urgently. "They should have taken our weapons and questioned us. Are you sure they're really from Konoha?"

He snickered. "Trust me. What you see isn't real, but those are Konoha ninja."

Oddly, it did make her feel better. Zabuza might be lying, but why would he? Unless there was an underlying Machiavellian plot that she just wasn't seeing. She stewed over the thought. What could Zabuza gain from either a) a group of at least thirty imposters in a fake camp that extended at least a hundred metres out from her, or b) putting her under a powerful genjutsu where she thought there were imposters/Konoha ninja?

Sakura came up with nothing. Hitting her on the head and tying her up worked pretty damn good for anything someone might want from her.

The group parted, making way for—

Sakura finally recognized someone.

He didn't recognize her. More evidence for genjutsu? Or did she look so different?

"Zabuza Momochi?" Ino's dad said. He was wearing his work clothes and he looked way more serious than he usually did.

"Yes?" Zabuza said. He poked her, encouraging her to move out of his way.

"What is your purpose here?"

The crowd was gone, replaced by a small army of ninja in black and grey, their faces covered in white masks. ANBU. Sakura blinked, wondering when that happened. What you see isn't real...

Oh. That made more sense.

"I'm looking to barter safe passage for myself and my ward."

Haku was his ward? Sakura snuck a look back, but she couldn't decide if Haku was a boy or a girl. The mask was gone but she still couldn't tell. Pretty boy? Handsome girl?

"Barter with what?" Ino's dad was looking at her, but there was no recognition in his eyes.

How could he not know her? Sakura had spent half her life at his house. He was practically a second dad to her.

"The safe return of Kakashi Hatake, Sasuke Uchiha, and..." Zabuza paused and cleared his throat. "His, uh...other students."

"My name is Sakura," she hissed, glaring at him.

"I forgot to ask," he muttered back. "Calm down."

Ino's dad was really looking at her now. "Sakura?"

"Yeah?" she sounded rude, but she didn't care. He didn't remember her.

"You were reported dead." He rocked back on his heels and didn't even have the grace to look happy. He just looked suspicious, like she was distracting him while Ino nabbed them some cookies.

Screw him. "Did Ino cry?" Sakura snapped it to be cruel, but then found that she really wanted to know. Did rivals cry for each other? She would have cried for Ino.

"Of course she did." He looked a little less suspicious.

"Oh." Sakura closed her eyes, suddenly tired. "That's good, I guess."

"Not to interrupt, but will you accept my offer? If not, I'd like to point out that my ward was never a ninja, is not a missing nin, and is technically a civilian," Zabuza said.

Couldn't he slip a gender in there? It would be nice to know.

"Offer accepted, pending verification of their identities," Ino's dad said. He turned around, heading deeper into camp. "Either follow, or prepare to be killed where you stand."

Sakura really, really wanted to cry. She could feel it welling up into her throat, screaming 'why isn't this over yet?' and prodding her to pitch a fit of epic proportions. It wasn't good idea though. She stepped forward, leading Sasuke and Naruto after Ino's dad. If he didn't believe her she'd keep telling the truth until he did, damn it.

***

"Birthdate?"

"March 28th, 95 years after the founding." So far, the questions have been really easy. She didn't know what he was trying to learn from them. Sakura kind of wished he'd ask something more specific, like how many cookies she and Ino snuck last time she stayed over (three each before they decided to go on the grapefruit diet Ino found in a magazine).

"Date you graduated from the Academy?"

Sakura swallowed, looking at his glass of water longingly. He hadn't offered her one. "A hundred and seven years after the founding? In May?"

"What's my name?"

"It's—um." Sakura blushed brilliant red. She knew his name! ...and it wasn't Ino's dad. "I—it—uh."

"Yes?"

Oh crap, he was going to think she was an imposter and that everyone else was an imposter and then they'd kill her team and oh crap oh crap oh crap, why couldn't she remember?

Sakura breathed out, then snapped her mouth shut. It probably made her look guiltier! Think! Think! she ordered herself. Surely Ino had introduced her at some point. Right?

He glowered at her, not even remotely friendly looking. They were all going to die because she couldn't remember his name.

"Oh god, I can't remember please don't kill my teammates?" she begged him. "Ino always called you dad and I always thought of you as Ino's dad, but I must know your name, it's just been a really long day and it's on the tip of my tongue, please please please don't kill them?"

Ino's dad cracked up and started laughing. What the hell? "It's her!" he chuckled, signalling the people standing by.

Four people marked as medics grabbed Kakashi, manhandling him toward a stretcher in the corner. "Hey!" Sakura snapped, sliding out of the uncomfortable chair and onto her feet. Just in case. "What are you doing?"

The ANBU in the corners bristled with weaponry in a subtle, yet pointed way.

She ignored them. There were much more important issues. "Don't touch him!"

There was a look exchanged by the medics. They all had brown eyes, and when was she going to stop staring at people's eyes like that? It was weird and gross and she was safe now. Sakura didn't need to destroy any more eyes. She was going to retire and have a whole bunch of dogs. No more eyes.

"Sakura?" Ino's dad had stopped laughing and was all serious looking again. "Kakashi has a high fever. The medics are going to take care of him."

"They might be murderers in disguise! You don't know," she shouted at him, fully aware that it was a stupid argument, but those people shouldn't be touching Kakashi! They might hurt him, and he'd been hurt enough and he wasn't even awake, the sick fucks.

Ino's dad patted her shoulder gingerly and his hand kind of stuck to her, and Sakura realized that she was covered, like, completely covered in drying blood. She must look like some kind of berserker freak, but she wasn't! There were only...a lot of eyes.

Gods.

A lot of eyes.

Sakura hyperventilated a tiny bit. The medics were taking Kakashi away. Naruto and Sasuke just sat there like it was fucking okay, which it wasn't!

There was a blur of green and some guy she'd never even seen before started yelling, "My Eternal Rival's Student! Your Concern is Touching! I Shall—"

Sakura burst into tears and collapsed to her knees. She wanted Ino. And—and—her mother. And Kakashi. Especially Kakashi. He would tell her what to do and then she'd do it and everything would be okay.

The man stopped shouting and whispered, "Are you okay?" He looked horrified. So did his eyebrows.

"She had a hard couple of months," Zabuza said. He was sitting in a corner of the tent with Haku, who had woken up but become no less androgynous, and there were like ten ANBU glowering at them full time and Sakura really hoped they wouldn't kill either of them because Zabuza had been pretty nice, all things considered.

"It's okay," Ino's dad said and Sakura really couldn't stand it anymore, even if he was back-patting the only dry spot on her shirt like a champ.

"What is your name?" she demanded, before making a deeply embarrassing gurgling sound.

"Inoichi. My name is Inoichi. Can I get you a glass of water?"

She kind of heard Naruto sniffling and a weird squeaking noise from Sasuke, and someone said, "Oh shit, they're all going." And then there was a sort of hiccupping symphony, which made her feel better but cry harder.

"Okay. No water. Cookies? Wait, no, sorry, I don't have any." Inoichi was babbling. Or just being mean, because Sakura would like cookies, actually.

"I want Kakashi," she sobbed, feeling utterly ridiculous. "And my mom. And Ino." She stared at him hopefully. It was kind of silly, but if he could pull Ino out his pocket she would love him forever, no lie. If he brought Kakashi back she'd love him forever forever.

"Shit." He yanked his headband off and ran his hand through his hair. "Kakashi is sick, but you can see him when he's better?"

She wanted to cover her face but her hands were disgusting and covered in eyes. Sakura wasn't sure it mattered, given that her face was probably coated in blood.

"Can I be clean?" she asked. Tears were still streaming down her face, but she wasn't sobbing anymore.

"Yeah—that's probably a good idea." Inoichi sighed and looked her over. "Is any of that blood yours?"

"No. It belongs to other people." Sakura shuddered, plucking at her hems. The clothes were sticking to her.

"I...see." He frowned. "Kurenai?"

"Yes?"

"Could you take Sakura to the showers?" He pointed at a snickering ANBU. “And you can take Naruto and Sasuke.”
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