The Beautiful Beast...!!

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Sakura had managed to find shelter under the raised roots of a massive tree. It was hard work getting everyone there, but she did it. She reached up and retrieved one of the cloths that she had hung up to dry after washing off the blood from cleaning her teammates' wounds, folded it, poured some cool water on it, and folded it again so she could put it on Sasuke's warm forehead. She repeated the same process for April, adding another cool cloth over the seal on her stomach. It had finally stopped glowing, but it was still hot enough to make a soft sizzling sound with it came in contact with the damp cloth. She noticed that April's expression, while still tense, seemed slightly more relaxed now. Sasuke was still wincing and moaning in his sleep. 'Their breathing is returning to normal... But there's still a strong fever...' she thought, feeling their foreheads again to measure their temperatures. 'Especially Sasuke-kun...' Despite their enemy's sinister prediction, April seemed to be gradually pulling through. Naruto appeared to be better off than the others, but that Orochimaru guy had done something strange to him, too, and she couldn't get him to wake up. She stared down at her unconscious teammates with a troubled expression on her face, worried about their conditions. She was exhausted, physically and mentally. 'I... I... I must protect them...' she thought, furrowing her brow and squaring her jaw, channeling her remaining energy into determination.

"Hehe... Found him..." the bandaged leader of the sound ninja quartet whispered when the group of four finally located their prey, watching them from one of the treetops that overlooked the leaf ninjas' new base.

"Don't forget, that cute purple-haired girl is mine," the muzzled sound ninja reminded the others moodily, still pissed that they chose him to wear the seal.

"She's all yours," the leader told him. "But remember that we're here for a reason. As Orochimaru-sama commanded, we attack at daybreak. Our target is Sasuke Uchiha."

"But if the other three get in our way, we can kill them, right?" the spiky-haired ninja asked.

"Of course," their leader replied.

"Like I said, the purple-haired girl, is mine," the muzzled ninja hissed sternly, glaring at them. Her hair was his favorite color, so she would make a perfect addition to his collection. He wasn't about to let them make a mess of her.

"Get over it. No one cares about your twisted hobbies," their group's kunoichi told him.

"No one cares about what ugly things think either," the muzzled ninja retorted bluntly.

"Why, you...!!" she shouted indignantly, before the other two sound ninjas grabbed her to hold her back and cover her mouth before she caused a scene and alerted their prey to their presence.

"I've already told you... You can slaughter each other after we've completed the mission, but not before," their leader scolded them. "If you have any frustrations, take it out on them," he added, directing their gaze back to Sakura and her unconscious teammates. They should be easy pickings, especially in their current condition.

Sakura refreshed the cloths on Sasuke and April's foreheads again. She had been keeping guard for several hours now, ignoring her own need for sleep to look after them. She shook her head frantically when she felt herself start to nod off. 'You can't fall asleep...' Sakura scolded herself. She had to stay awake in case more enemies attacked. "..." She squinted a little when a light fell in her eyes while looking up through the roots. 'Oh! The sun...!?' Was it daybreak already? She looked back at her unconscious friends, worried. The night was over, and they still hadn't woken up yet.

"!!" Sakura twitched when she heard rustling in a nearby bush and quickly drew a kunai. She gripped it tight, trembling in anticipation of the danger she was about to face on her own to protect her friends. Slowly, carefully, she turned around to see... "!" Sakura stared at the fluffy little critter that was sitting on the edge of her territory, nibbling on a nut, and sweat-dropped. Her expression deadpanned. 'A squirrel...?' she thought, relieved, but kind of annoyed that she had gotten worked up for nothing. "Geez, don't scare me," she scolded it. 'Oh!' she thought, gasping in alarm when it started to run over to her. Acting quickly, she threw the kunai in her hand to stop it before it could come any closer.

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