Sins of the Father

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After practice, they all held some reluctance because deep down, they didn't think Shino's insects would actually find something in the South. They each showered at the facility before meeting at the back entrance, nerves jittering and blood swishing in their ears. Akamaru stayed curled in the front of Kiba's jacket as they joined together in a tight circle, each of their arms draped across another's shoulder and the tops of their heads touching.

"On a scale of one to ten," Kiba started, his voice barely above an inaudible murmur. "How fucked are we?"

"Depends," Sakura whispered back, just as quiet. "We can turn back now and not dig ourselves a bigger hole or keep going and deal with the consequences later. I, for one, am willing to dive in head first into this mess. If you guys don't, I won't blame you." And she really wouldn't, because what they were doing was too big to be ignored. Now they knew Hiruzen held too much empathy in his heart to kill them or lock them away, but 'Fortitude' was nothing of the sort. If the Hokage wouldn't handle them, someone else would.

"So an eleven."

"Basically."

Shino's hold tightened. "We got into this as a team, we leave this incident a team. I will not back away from this now—not with everything we know and what strangers have done to keep us in this loop."

Kiba blew out a stream of troubled air, decided. He brought his right hand into the circle, fingers curled into his palm, and held it out far enough so it stayed in the middle. His fist was immediately met with Sakura's right and Shino's left.

What did it mean to seek answers for the sake of the people?

"The weak are meat, the strong eat," Sakura said, "was my father's favorite saying. We need to push through because we have to, and if we don't, it'll be the end of us."

"The weak are meat, the strong eat, huh," repeated Kiba. A pleased growl rumbled low in Akamaru's throat as his partner grinned, masking his nervousness. "I could get used to a saying like that. If—When we get outta this alive, we gotta make that our team slogan or saying or somethin'."

Shino drew in a deep breath. "Then it's settled. Let's go."

::

The entrance to Orochimaru's lab was a hole in the ground, the sides covered with purple-tinted stone carved with runic designs and the top sealed with a tough wooden plank. The undergrowth had taken to be its natural cover that Team Eight peeled away, and the man-made cover was pried open by Sakura's bandage-bound fingers. Peering eyes would've never noticed it there, but there were insects that buried deep beneath the earth and dug up secrets faster than any human ever could.

Kiba stumbled back when the entryway was revealed; he brought a hand up to cover the bottom half of his face and coughed. Akamaru whined and skittered back as well, and Sakura and Shino didn't need their sensitive noses to pick up on the faint stench that wafted in the air.

Sakura frowned. "Decay," she informed. She remembered that once, in Ame, she'd overheard Konan and Leader-sama speak of moving Orochimaru's lab to outside the village. The smell had been the same then—putrid and suffocating, but the smell now compared to then was far less painful. "But the smell shouldn't have lasted this long. It's been over a decade since Orochimaru left and the bodies should've been cleared out."

"... Unless they wanted to seal everything away, untouched. It's a madman's work, after all," Shino noted. They waited for Kiba and Akamaru to adjust themselves to the horrid scent before they all stared down and at the pitch blackness below.

"Doesn't seem too far down," Sakura said. Kiba, knowing her for as long as he had, tried to reach out to grab her shirt before she decided to jump down, caution to the wind. Of course he wasn't fast enough, he thought, and she sailed down to the bottom without a sound.

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