For a few seconds, there was nothing in his world but Sakura-chan's frightened green eyes and the echo of her words.
They know now, he thought dully. They know and they're going to hate me. My teammates, my friends, my mates -- /MINE/ -- and they're going to hate me, fear me, just like everyone else...
From deep inside him, rising from his belly, came the tidal wave of an anger that made him shake. /Those old bastards think I'd do WHAT to my cubs?/ They thought -- they didn't know-- how could they even suggest -- he wanted to kill them-- no, he didn't. He didn't, but he did want to beat them up bloody. Yes, imagining all the old, hateful, stupid Council members piled up bleeding and bruised helped. He shook his head, trying to clear his mind.
Sasuke had his arm around Sakura's shoulder and they were both staring up at him. Sakura-chan's eyes were reddened and puffy and scared, and he wanted to ask her who had done that to her so he could beat them up, but there was a good possibility he was the one who put the fear there.
He couldn't read Sasuke's eyes at all.
"Is the window linked to an alarm?" Sasuke snapped.
"Uhh-- yeah," Naruto managed to answer after a few seconds of confusion. "I don't know how to untangle that. There are wires and a spell tag, too..."
"Don't bother. Tear it out."
"We'll be surrounded by Jounin in under two minutes!" Sakura protested.
"That's gonna happen anyway," Naruto chirped back, forcing a friendly, amused smile on his face. "I kind of -- ah-- left a bit early from the discussion, you know."
Which was to say he'd slammed Anko through three walls and imbedded the ANBU guy watching outside in the pavement before running off. His landlord was going to kill him.
"Then hurry," Sasuke hissed, glancing back at the door behind him. "They're going to want her soon."
Naruto looked at Sakura in askance. What he wanted to do was to take them both and run, but he knew that he had a bad tendency to react to things without thinking ahead, and maybe disappearing would make it -- whatever it was -- worse.
But maybe staying nicely put would only make it easier for the Council to hurt the people he loved, lock him up and whatnot.
He wanted to take them and leave. Now. /And raze the town to the ground./
His smile froze on his lips and he shook his head. Sorry, old fox, there would be no town razing right now.
Well, that was if the Jounin didn't find him and attack, forcing him to destroy everything to escape. Since he really didn't want to deal with that possibility, he tore the whole window frame out of the roof, with the bars and the glass and everything, and reached down to help his teammates out.
Sakura was still unsure, he could see it, but Sasuke's hands closed on her hips and he lifted her, and then, by an old habit, she automatically reached up for Naruto's hand, her feet pushing against Sasuke's chest to help the boys lift her up. She could have jumped easily, but helping her -- he liked that better.
It felt like a mission, now, act first and think later, and he barely watched as she smoothly rolled away from the window, her back to him to scan the surroundings warily, trusting her to keep her position. He reached through the skylight again to help Sasuke out.
The black-haired boy hardly needed a hand, but he still grabbed Naruto's, and maybe it was wishful thinking that he'd held on a bit tighter, a bit longer than usual, but it was a relief anyway. He wasn't too disgusted to touch Naruto. Everything that had gotten bumped and twisted in that mess -- they could mend it.
"Jounin incoming!" Sakura warned them, her voice tense, but cold and determined too.
The guys were damn quick. Sakura was fast, but not that fast, and moved like she was still sore from last night. Naruto and Sasuke jumped on their feet and, together, grabbed a handful of her orange sweater and leaped away. She tried to run with them, but it was visible that moving her legs hurt her. Sasuke gave Naruto a quick look, and flung Sakura on his back. "I'll cover -- Sakura, navigate!"
Naruto ran, with Sakura's arms around his neck and her knees squeezing his hips, following her directions, and trying to think only about running as fast as possible down the routes she indicated, and not about the barrages of kunai raining on them, and what would happen if Sasuke couldn't block them in time. They dashed through busy streets, jumped over roofs and darted down footbridges, the jounin still hot on their tail.
"We'll never get rid of them!" Sakura shouted in his ear to make herself heard against the wind. "Kage Bunshin! As many as you can!"
Naruto nodded grimly and, as he leaped from a building into the marketplace, quickly formed the seals.
The vendors were going to hate him even more than before, he thought with a wide, sharp-toothed grin -- and then there were about three hundred Narutos, some with Sakuras on their backs, some not. It was a deep pull on his chakra, but for once Kyuubi was gracious about lending him more. He transformed some of his clones into Sakuras and Sasukes with a Henge, flooding the busy marketplace with Team Seven members.
From the corner of his eye, he saw Sasuke imitating him. He suppressed a smirk when his teammate only managed about fifteen of them. Naruto would so tease him later. Right now, though, it was more important to dodge the attacks coming from the jounin chasing them and, unsurprisingly, the furious vendors and customers.
A few housewives started to scream, scarred by the memory of his pranks and the knowledge of what he could do, and he had to dodge a harpy that came at him with a trout. On his back, Sakura choked on an incredulous laugh. Reminded that he hadn't eaten yet, Naruto felt like stealing it, but he had a feeling Sakura would object to having to hold a dead fish for him during their escape.
Sasuke was still shadowing them as Naruto ran out of the marketplace, imitated by a good two-third of the surviving clones. They had their orders to spread and leave the town from all possible directions, so the people chasing them would lose time trying to find them.
Naruto and his teammates were almost at the wall when he felt about fifty of the clones disappear in quick succession. Naruto glanced at Sasuke in askance, the weight of their pink-haired teammate on his back just enough of a bother that he didn't want to lose a second slowing down to look behind him.
"Jounin," Sasuke replied curtly, saving his breath as much as possible. "A few ANBU. Went Kage Bunshin on our clones."
They leaped over an old man walking his dog and kept going toward the village wall, channeling chakra in their legs to prepare for the jump.
Sasuke shouldered Naruto out of the way, sending him and Sakura rolling through a hedge and on a lawn. Naruto had to let go of the girl not to crush her under his weight, and when he stopped -- or to be precise, when a wall stopped his head -- he didn't know where she was. There were kunai stabbing the grass all around him, and he dodged a second flurry of weapons, looking around him wildly.
There was no blood on the lawn, he noticed, even as he rushed the man who'd been targeting him and punched him through a wall. She couldn't have been hurt -- erk! Naruto froze, with a hand closed around his neck from behind.
"You should keep better track of your teammates," Kakashi commented lazily.
Naruto could smell Sakura, hear her breathe. From the corner of his eye, he saw pink hair and orange cloth, level with Kakashi's shoulder. Their teacher was holding her, had probably snatched her from the lawn a mere instant before the weapons hit the ground. Thank god. She was safe -- but were they, really? Was Kakashi friend or foe right now? He hadn't tried to stop Naruto earlier, when Naruto snarled at him after getting rid of Anko and the guards, but now it was different-- maybe they'd wasted the one chance Kakashi could offer them without being declared a traitor to the village...
"Um, Naruto...?" Sakura hazarded.
He laughed nervously. "Yeah."
There was a clash of steel against steel from the street and Naruto tensed. Sasuke! He was still fighting! But the hold on his neck...
"Kakashi-sensei!" he protested. He didn't want to attack his teacher but he needed to go now, and-- "OW!"
He needed to remind himself that Sasuke was still fighting not to whirl around and try to beat up Kakashi; not that he would have presented much of a danger for the man, what with still being out of balance from the swift kick to the ass he'd just received.
"Bastard!" he growled, even as he kept following the momentum he'd been given, bursting through the hedge and on the street. Kakashi had ways of helping you out that made you wish you'd failed miserably alone instead. At least Sakura was safe for now.
Sasuke was in a low fighting crouch, face to face with an ANBU with a tiger mask. He was holding his stomach, and looked pissed as hell. Fuck fuck fuck. Guy looked strong -- but a second before he noticed Naruto, Sasuke glanced at the blond, and then threw himself at the man head on, distracting him. Sasuke was dangerous enough on his own; the man didn't have enough attention to spare to notice Naruto, who caught him with a knee to the head as hard as he could, knocking out the tiger ANBU. Naruto grabbed Sasuke's shoulder and jumped back in the garden, out of sight of the street. He -- some part of him -- Kyuubi -- wanted to kill the guy for hurting Sasuke, but that was a bad idea, because they didn't need to be accused of murder on top of the rest, and Sasuke would be furious that Naruto thought he needed to finish off Sasuke's adversaries.
Kakashi was standing, Sakura under an arm like a package, watching them in that bored way of his. She was blushing, holding her torn dress against her thighs.
Sasuke's eyes were red and whirling like windmills, and if he did recognize Kakashi, he didn't seem to care. A kunai flew from his hand, aiming for their teacher's chest. Naruto gasped.
"Are you crazy?!" He protested even as Kakashi dodged to the side, letting the weapon thunk into the wall behind him. Suddenly without support, Sakura stumbled, and only her training let her roll and land in a proper crouch.
"Run," Sasuke replied grimly, still targeting their teacher.
He kept narrowly missing, and Naruto wondered faintly why Kakashi was letting himself be driven farther and farther away. Sasuke was good, but as they all knew, not quite good enough yet...
/Think later!/ Kyuubi roared inside him, his chakra pulsating wildly. Sakura dashed past Sasuke, mouth pinched in pain. Naruto followed on her heels, covering her as she bounced over the hedge and started running. She stumbled, though -- perhaps they should have let her run a bit earlier, she hadn't had any time to work out the soreness. Naruto leaped forward, jerked her up and wound his arm around her waist to support her. "You okay?"
"Fine, just go!"
A few chakra-powered jumps, and he was climbing up the village wall, Sakura hanging on with her teeth clenched.
He stopped at the top of the wall, waiting for Sasuke. The black-haired teen wasn't far behind them, even though he was slower than usual -- or maybe Naruto was so flooded with adrenaline that he couldn't keep track of their usual timing.
They slid down the great wall on the outer side to about halfway down, then let go of the chakra hold and leaped forward. Sakura's fingers tightened on his shoulder as they landed, and she hissed. "Faster! They're on the wall!"
He took the lead, running away from the village, Sasuke still behind him, not even checking to see in which direction he was going. There were bushes and dirt paths, and tall grass, and nothing to hide behind and lose their tail.
And then their path was blocked with a high wire fence, with warning signs all over, crackling with electricity.
"Ack!" He was going too fast to stop, and knew from experience that the power running through the metal links was enough to stun him; there would be no climbing over that, especially not with the jounin closing in. No blasting a hole through it either, since they'd just follow Team Seven through. And it was too high to leap over.
/Want a leap, boy, then ask a leap specialist/ Kyuubi sneered in his mind. /Not that they're good at much of anything else./
"Kuchiyose no jutsu!" Naruto called, sparing a quick, irritated thought for the contempt in the Youko's tone. Kyuubi just could never be helpful without peppering his speech with insults and put-downs -- not that he was anything approaching helpful that often.
He'd never seen that long-legged purple frog before, but it didn't matter; it was more than big enough to carry them over the fence. He snagged Sasuke's arm as he passed, pulled him on the frog's back just as it gathered its legs, and then they were flying, only holding onto the back of his summon because he was too stubborn to let go of its kimono. Sakura's face was hidden against his neck, one of her hands reaching to grab onto the back of Sasuke's shirt; Sasuke had been thrown across Naruto's lap and had absolutely no hold on anything, only their upwards momentum keeping him in place.
For a second it felt like they were floating.
And then they plummeted down, on the other side of the fence, and there was nothing in contact with his summon but the hold he had on the frog's kimono. Sakura screamed once, short and sharp just in his ear, but he didn't blame her. The sensation of freefall twisted his stomach in such a way that he wanted to scream too, with fear and adrenaline, except he would have needed to unclench his jaws and breathe
Sasuke scrambled frantically for something to hold onto, his hands ending up grabbing the frog's obi and the sleeve of Naruto's T-shirt. He shouldn't have bothered; he was between Naruto's body and the frog's; he couldn't go far.
When they landed, the black-haired boy ended up crushed under Naruto and Sakura's weight. There was a muffled, pained whimper. Naruto quickly pushed himself in a sitting position, stunned that Sasuke would ever make that sound, but the frog only stopped the briefest of instants before it shot forward, to the edge of the forest. There was a brutal yank on Naruto's arm as he once again tried to keep them all on their ride.
A few kunai whizzed past, but they were going so fast that they were well hidden behind the gigantic trees of the forest well before any of their hunters could manage to aim properly. They kept bouncing, darting between the trees, rebounding off rocks and bursting through thick foliage, leaving the edge of the forest far behind.
Finally, they came to a stop -- well, the frog did. It halted so sharply that they all tumbled over its head and on the grass. Naruto ended up at the foot of a tree, mostly on his back, except for his legs and butt, propped up against the trunk. Sasuke was sprawled across his chest. 'We must look ridiculous,' the blond teen thought with a burst of giddy, relieved amusement.
Sakura had landed flat on her front and was still grabbing a handful of his shirt. She let go and pushed herself up on her hands slowly, still frazzled and wide-eyed.
"That was some ride, eh, Sakura-chan?" Naruto commented with a laugh.
"Idiot," she growled back, her expression slowly coming back to normal.
Naruto grinned, and then caught her rubbing her chest, and grinned wider. "Ohoho."
"Don't be a pervert!" she growled, "I smacked flat on the ground, it hurts."
"Aww, if you want, I can give you a hand." Sakura glared harder, but the blooming red on her cheeks indicated she might be flustered enough to let him try! Quick, quick, Naruto needed to jump on the opportunity -- and he was still pinned down. Huh. He nudged Sasuke. The bastard was getting heavy, which was weird for someone as trim as he was. "Oi, you sack of bones, get off me before -- Sasuke?"
Sasuke wasn't moving. Sasuke was limp. Sasuke was not supposed to be limp.
"Sasuke-kun?" Sakura called, her voice wavering as she noticed Naruto's uneasiness.
"... 'm okay." The black-haired boy pushed himself up and off Naruto's chest. But he was moving way too carefully for his teammates to believe him.
"What happened?" Naruto demanded as he kicked away from the trunk, rolled ass over head, and landed in a neat crouch at Sakura's side.
"Nothing. Let's not stay here." Sasuke got on his feet slowly, refusing Sakura's attempts to help him. "Just got hit in the stomach. A little winded. Now let's move."
'Che. Naruto would have carried him, but he knew that the guy wouldn't let him, probably getting himself even more hurt in the process. So he had to make do with keeping a close eye on him. Sasuke was just like him; no matter how much it hurt, he wouldn't accept help before he fell flat on his face and half-knocked himself out, and maybe not even then. Stubborn idiot.
The frog was gone. He regretted it for a second, because it would have been easier to get Sasuke to ride it than to accept being carried, that and usually he liked to at least thank the frogs before he let them go. But he couldn't summon anything else without giving away their location.
Sakura gave a wary look at the dark forest all around them. "We need to find a place to hide."
"We're not stopping on my behalf," Sasuke growled at her, a hand pressed on his stomach.
"Oh, shut up, idiot," Naruto snapped back, aggravated by his macho bullshit.
Sasuke straightened up and glared, and Naruto felt the urge to knock him out just so he didn't risk making his eventual wound worse, even though one part of him was purring with approval at the challenge in his black eyes. What the hell? He knew all about macho displays, having performed more than his share of them, but it didn't mean he thought it was smart. Why couldn't the stubborn bastard admit, just for once, that he was in pain and needed help?
And he had to stop glaring at Naruto so stubbornly, it made biting him until he surrendered sound appealing.
"It wouldn't be only on your behalf, Sasuke-kun," Sakura intervened. She kept watch on the forest, only breaking it to lay a hand on Sasuke's arm and give him a patient look. "We have things to talk about. Here there will be less people following us, and we can lay traps... But we can't go too far from Konoha, or else they might tag us as missing-nin."
Sasuke calmed slowly at her explanation. She gave him a brave little smile, and then she turned and -- visibly forcing herself -- nodded her approval at Naruto. "It was a pretty good idea to come here, actually."
"Ahh... eh. Thank you, Sakura-chan," he replied, scratching at his blond spikes in embarrassment. He hadn't been thinking when he picked the direction; he had just known that he wanted to run until he found a place to hide, someplace he could protect. This forest seemed good enough to him, but he remembered the creatures living in here from their chuunin exam and it wasn't a place for Sakura to wander alone... nor for Sasuke, not in his state. Hell, even Naruto wouldn't feel alright being on anything less than full alert, and he was a lot stronger now than he'd been at twelve.
"So... We should find a place to rest, and then some food, and then..."
He hesitated, glanced at his teammates, and rubbed his sweaty palms on his pants nervously.
"Then we talk," Sakura replied softly.
"... Yeah... Then we talk."
He wasn't looking forward to it.
[The Shit Hits the Fan][The Talk]