Sakura's Decision!!

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Kakashi had gone out into the hall to get a drink from the vending machine. He had trouble sleeping that night, and he couldn't sit still after what he saw. For Anbu to be on the move at a time like this, and for them to be heading toward the forest... It made him wonder if something was off with the exam. He hoped April and the others were still alright. He leaned down to retrieve the dispensed drink.

"Kakashi..." a familiar voice said, getting his attention.

"Yes, Hokage-sama?" he asked, straightening up to face the Third with the can in his hand. First Anbu, and now the Hokage himself. Something very serious was happening.

"Kakashi, what I'm about to tell you is information that cannot yet be shared with anyone... Do you understand?" the Third asked grimly.

"Yes," Kakashi answered seriously. His grip tightened almost imperceptibly on the can. From the expression on the Hokage's face, he knew whatever news he was about to receive couldn't be good.

"Yesterday, after the second test began, the bodies of three Hidden Grass ninjas were discovered. Their faces appeared to have been melted off..." the Third stated grimly, lowering his head for a moment before raising it again to look the young jōnin straight in the eye. "Orochimaru is back."

"!" Kakashi's eyes widened slightly. He furrowed his brow, wondering why he would choose now, of all times, to appear. "You think he stole the deceased's faces? Why would he...!?" he began to ask, the crease in his brow deepening when the disturbing answer occurred to him.

"That's right. I've received confirmation from the Anbu who met up with Anko. Orochimaru has infiltrated the Chūnin Selection Exam," the Third confirmed, stepping forward to stand beside him and place a hand on his shoulder. "It's difficult to say for sure what he is thinking. I'm on my way to get the full story from her in person, but given what we know of him... I believe we can be sure of one thing. He's after Sasuke Uchiha."

Kakashi's eyes were completely wide with shock. His grip on the can tightened, threatening to crush it. He didn't need the Hokage to explain what that would mean for his team. Orochimaru could crush them just as easily as he could crush the can.

"I know what you must be thinking... I understand how you feel..." the Third continued, squeezing his shoulder. "But what I need you to do right now is to prepare. From what I've heard, it sounds as though Orochimaru has already placed his cursed seal on the boy. There was no mention of the others. I will send more agents to look for them, but we cannot stop the exam. You need to prepare for the event that Sasuke and the others survive their encounter with him... as well as to prepare yourself in the terrible event that they don't..."

Kakashi stared down at the floor, his face cast partially in shadow. "... I understand..." he said quietly as the Hokage's hand slipped from his shoulder, and the Third left to see Anko. The cursed seal was known to have a high rate of fatalities, he knew that. Sasuke's odds of surviving were probably better than most's, but the curse would need to be sealed for his own safety. There was no telling what Orochimaru would do to the others if they got in his way. Kakashi would never forgive himself if anything happened to them. Memories of the deaths of each member of his first team flashed through his mind. Minato-sensei... Obito... Rin... Her death always hit him the hardest, since he had not only failed to keep his last and most important promise to Obito to protect her, he was directly responsible for it, because he...


He didn't even notice that he had dropped the can until he heard it hit the floor. He glanced down at it as it rolled up against the toe of his shoe and noticed the star in the drink's logo. He kneeled down to pick it up and ran his thumb over the image. It reminded him of the star on April's jacket and in her last name. 'Whatever happens, please be safe...!!' he thought anxiously, clutching it, as he stood up and quickly departed to start gathering everything he would need for the sealing ritual.

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