Sasuke's legs squeezed the flanks of his mount, urging the animal to increase its pace. He was beginning to sweat beneath the heavy weight of his black and purple armor as the air had become increasingly warmer upon reaching the meager peasant village. He peered over the hillside, catching the faint laughter of children playing in the distance. Fugaku and Inabi hastened the pace of their mounts in order to catch up to the younger Uchiha.
"Let's get this over quickly. It's too damn hot out here," Inabi grumbled to the father and son duo.
"Observe closely, my son, on how to deal with a clan of criminals," Fugaku said to Sasuke while the young adult nodded in response.
Without a word more, the trio of samurai galloped onward towards the undefended gates of the Haruno village.
They came to an abrupt halt in the center of the streets, seizing the attention of the civilians caught up in the humdrum of their lowly lives.
"It's the Uchiha!" a woman wearing a crimson kimono cried out as she recognized the distinct fan shaped emblem inscribed on their armor. Her cries prompted a small crowd to gather warily around the Uchiha invaders.
"If you wish to survive, then you will bring us the daughter of the Blossom Bandit!" Fugaku's voice roared above the panicked murmur of the crowd.
"The Blossom Bandit's daughter?!" A magenta haired man raised a fist before his chest. "What do you want with Sakura-sama?"
"That wretched woman and her pack of bandits looted the Uchiha compound stealing many valuable treasures from us. It is only customary that we take something precious from her in return." Fugaku's coal black eyes narrowed ominously as his eyes panned the crowd of peasants congregated around them. "You worthless peasants idolize that woman for stealing from the rich and redistributing to the poor but she is nothing more than a despicable criminal."
He continued speaking as the Haruno's murmurs came to a hush, "Our sources have informed us that the Blossom Bandit's daughter is a disciple of the world renown doctor—the Senju Lord's daughter, Tsunade. As you may have already known, we are currently at war with the Senju. The Blossom Bandit's death alone isn't enough to compensate for the assets she stole. Her daughter's skills will suit our needs greatly. We won't accept any substitute."
"Sakura-sama will never help your clan!" the magenta haired man protested defiantly. His body suddenly shuddered unnervingly as he felt the cold, sharp edge of a blade prick his throat.
"That isn't for you or her to decide." Sasuke uttered a deep, low growl as he pressed the edge of his blade against the man's windpipe. "Now tell us where she is otherwise this pathetic village will be burnt to the ground."
A young girl flinched as Sakura dabbed her scraped knee with ointment. She beamed pleasantly at the young girl and then to her concerned mother drumming her fingers anxiously against her thigh. "All done, Kiku-chan. You should be more careful playing near those sharp rocks."
"Kiku-chan, I told you to stay away from that area." Kiku's mother, Ume, folded her arms sternly, causing the young girl to cower guiltily.
"I'm sorry, Kaa-san." The young girl bowed her head apologetically.
"Thank you, Sakura-sama. You truly are a blessing. I don't know what we'd do without you." Ume chuckled lightheartedly, resting her hands on the little girl's shoulders.
A modest blush crept to the surface of Sakura's cheeks. "It was nothing…"
Sakura combed her fingers through her hair demurely. She possessed long, striking pink hair which trailed past her hips, large vibrant green eyes, and a broad forehead her father often joked was the storage vault of her knowledge. She wore a cotton floral patterned kimono with the circular emblem of the Haruno clan sewn into the back.
Everything about her— her physical appearance, her vernacular, her attire—was conspicuously indicative of her lower class status.
The mother and daughter departed her room. However, Sakura wasn't alone for long before she spotted her mother's sharp forest green eyes peeking through the translucent shoji door into her room.
"Eh? Sakura-chan? Are you still seeing patients right now? You'll wear yourself out in no time." Her blonde haired mother, Mebuki, slid the door open completely.
Kizashi followed dutifully behind the stern-faced woman. Despite his status as head of the clan, he was subservient to the hot-blooded and strong-willed former outlaw.
"Your mother is right. If you keep overworking yourself with all these trivial problems you'll start to lose your patients," Kizashi joshed, provoking an indignant pout from his daughter.
Sakura folded her arms and continued to pout at her chuckling father. "I can handle myself perfectly fine! Besides, I want to do all I can to provide for the clan."
"Kizashi-sama!" A young man burst into the house, taking the family by surprise.
"Huh? Hiro? What's going on?" Kizashi inquired as the young messenger halted before him.
The man bent over and struggled to force his words beyond his relentless panting. "It's the Uchiha! The Uchiha have invaded the village! They're demanding Sakura!"
"What? What do they want with my daughter?" Kizashi cupped his chin in his hand. His naturally jovial visage sobered in a manner that made the color drain from Sakura's face.
"They want to take her as retribution for Mebuki-sama's crimes. They said they won't accept any substitutes!"
"Retribution for my crimes?!" Mebuki exclaimed loudly, snapping her hands to her hips. "Why do they seek retribution now? I gave up that life a long time ago when I became a mother. Besides…they've already taken away something important to me…"
"I believe they want Sakura's aid in their war efforts against the Senju." Hiro raised his head, his sky blue eyes meeting Kizashi's gaze gravely.
Sakura's countenance firmed in sheer defiance. "I absolutely refuse to help the Uchiha! I could never betray Tsunade-sama like that."
"What should we do? They are threatening to burn down the village if they don't get what they want. There's no way we can fight them off," Hiro said despairingly, glancing between Kizashi and Sakura.
"I see…I see…" Kizashi stroked his chin pensively while the other Haruno awaited his further words with bated anticipation. "Mebuki, take Sakura to the stables and prepare a mount. She will escape through the Naki Forest. In the meantime, I will hold the Uchiha off."
"Tou-san! You can't! You're in no condition to fight them!" Sakura cried out, opposing her father brazenly.
"It's true that I may be out of practice. However, as the head of the clan, I must do what I can to protect the village—even if I must use my greatest power. I cannot allow the Uchiha to take away my only child…my precious daughter…"
"No! It's too dangerous! You'll be slaughtered!"
He reached behind his neck, unhooking the silver chain of a cherry blossom-shaped pendant. He placed the pendant in the palm of Sakura's hand and curled her fingers over the heirloom.
"Tou-san…this is…" Sakura spoke faintly, her crystalline green eyes gazing up at him despondently.
"This pendant has been in our family for generations. I want you keep this pendant should anything happen to us. Something you can remember us by."
Sakura embraced her father firmly as she was unable to retain her aggrieved sobs. She buried her face in his chest, internally beseeching the gods to prevent ill fortune from befalling her family and village.
"Sakura-chan, you must be strong. You not only have the compassion of a healer but the strength of a warrior as well. As a father, I could not be more proud of the beautiful woman my daughter has blossomed into. Now go." Kizashi separated from his daughter's emotional embrace, allowing her mother to firmly lead her away.
"TOU-SAN!" Sakura screamed as she watched her father depart through the front door, calmly approaching the vile monsters who threatened the lives of her people. Her mother towed her by the arm urging her to move quickly.
Mebuki stealthily lead Sakura out the back of the house towards the stable. Smearing her tear ridden cheeks, Sakura fought to suppress her sorrow and quickly changed into a white kimono and hakama adorned in a cherry blossom pattern. Her mother remained silent as she rummaged the barn in pursuit of serviceable horse tack. Sakura slipped a heavy plate of red armor over her head and tied her long pink locks in a high ponytail. Lastly, she pulled the tails of a red and white headband marked with the emblem of the Haruno clan taut around the back of her head.
Mebuki fitted a tattered leather bridle over the dainty head of a petite chestnut pony. She lifted Sakura's knee and helped hoist her onto the chestnut mare, although Sakura did not require much assistance mounting the short pony.
"Take Kuri. She may not be the fastest horse but she is small enough to maneuver through the traps scattered throughout the Naki Forest." Mebuki handed Sakura a naginata and a weapon holster which she affixed to her hip. "Now ride forward and don't look back."
The Uchiha locked their hostile gazes on the peculiar dull-pink haired man approaching them with an inexplicably placid expression on his face. Kizashi folded his arms, hiding his hands within the large sleeves of his kimono. He gazed up at the mounted trio of invaders and cleared his throat.
"Ah, you must be the Uchiha," he spoke without a nuance of antagonism tainting his voice.
"Haruno Kizashi." Fugaku's face remained stolid in spite of his impatience. He could clearly distinguish the defiance masked beneath the Haruno clan leader's forced affability. "You didn't bring your daughter as we requested. It's evident you intend to defy us but I don't see any armor or weapons on you."
"I may have been a warrior in my youth but I've grown older and creakier. I'm not as limber as I once was, my joints ache, and my back hurts. I suppose I don't need a spine though…It's holding me back." Kizashi's eyebrows lifted suggestively as he uttered a meek chuckle.
Sasuke and Inabi's faces contorted in a blend of perplexity and disbelief. They shot their collectively confounded glances to Fugaku centered between them.
Kizashi continued speaking conversationally, "I've always been convinced that my body is a prison for me and I was right. My daughter is a doctor, you know, and she told me that my body is made up of cells."
Sasuke fidgeted uncomfortably, embarrassed for the man positioned as the leader of the Haruno clan. Although he certainly did not wish to pity their target, he could not fathom having to stomach the sheer mortification of being this bumbling oaf's child.
"Are you completely mad?" Fugaku hissed through gritted teeth.
Kizashi's cobalt eyes widened, noting the Uchiha's dwindling patience. Following a pregnant, unsettling pause, he secured his composure and resumed speaking in a casual tone.
"Well, I was out tending to the livestock earlier before you arrived. It's not that I'm crazy because I was disrupted from my work. I'm just deranged." Kizashi clutched his chest as if he could not contain his mirthful bout of laughter. "Get it? De-range-d?"
The dark eyes of the Uchiha simultaneously flashed red, immediately silencing Kizashi's laughter. Kizashi's shoulders flinched as he heard the loud grating sound of metal sliding across a holster. Fugaku unsheathed his sword and prodded the impudent Haruno's chest with the tip of his blade.
"You're not going to rip my heart out, are you?" Kizashi swallowed forcefully as his forehead gleamed with a fresh layer of sweat. "Cause then I'll surely be disheartened…"
"Shut the hell up!" Sasuke snarled, causing the flustered man to recoil beneath his harsh words. The young Uchiha paused for a moment, absorbing in the faint sounds of galloping hooves in the distance. He snapped his head towards the inconspicuous noises then used his Sharingan to trace the source of the sound. "There! The girl! She's heading into the forest!"
"After her!" Fugaku sheathed his sword and lashed his heels into his mount's flanks, causing the beast to rear up onto its haunches and launch forward.
Kizashi remained frozen in his tracks as the Uchiha's horses bolted past him and flung dirt and mud into his horrified face. He watched on helplessly as the trio raced off towards the Naki Forest in pursuit of his only daughter.
He breathed shakily, "No…Sakura-chan…"
Sakura glimpsed over her shoulder, catching sight of the band of Uchiha pursuing her in the distance. If her father had failed to stall the Uchiha, then what had become of his fate? Had he been slaughtered?
She fought to stave off the hot tears pooling within her eyes. If her father had sacrificed himself for her escape, she could not allow his sacrifice to be in vain.
She personally thanked the gods of nature and life for bestowing the Naki Forest with its unique features. It had been known for its signature low hanging tree branches that appeared as if the trees were bending over weeping in sorrow. Although her faithful steed was not blessed with speed, the pony's short stature enabled her to easily evade the low hanging branches. She figured the Uchiha clan possessed only the most well-bred horses their affluence could buy them. Tall, long-legged horses suited for speed and endurance—a major detriment in this particular environment.
"Damn tree branches!" Inabi griped as he raised an arm defending himself from the incessant assault of tree branches.
Sasuke and Fugaku used their swords to hack away the branches hampering their path towards their target.
Sakura cursed internally as she heard the hoof beats of their horses growing louder with each passing second. She reached into her weapon holster and drew a pair of spherical sleep bombs. Covering her nose and mouth with the hem of her kimono, she hurled the bombs over her shoulder, enabling them to detonate behind her.
"Don't inhale the fumes!" Fugaku called out to his clansmen as a wispy gray smoke shrouded their forward trajectory.
Sasuke and Inabi did not hesitate to obey Fugaku's orders. They both clasped a single hand over their nose and mouth until they reached the clearing, freeing them from the sedative effects of the smoke.
Dismayed by their effortless evasion, Sakura sought to use any means possible of shaking the Uchiha off her tail. Her fellow clansmen had riddled the Naki Forest with traps in hopes of warding off invaders. Extending her naginata, she allowed the blade to slice the catch of an overhead trap as she passed by.
"Above!" Fugaku hollered again as he spotted a massive log suspended on an elaborate web of ropes swinging in their direction.
The Uchiha peeled away to the sides and skirted the log trap, although it slowed their pursuit by riding in the overgrowth. They quickly reunited in the center of the forest pathway. They easily eluded each and every one of the set traps much to Sakura's chagrin.
She inhaled sharply, deliberating on her following course of action. Any other assailant would've fallen prey to the traps set in the forest but the powers of the Uchiha's eyes seemed to grant them a level of insight that rendered her tactics futile.
How were they capable of identifying and avoiding her traps in such a swift manner? Just what did the powers of the Sharingan entail?
What should she do? The Uchiha only seemed to be closing in the gap between them and she was ultimately running out of options.
"Tou-san…what should I do…?" she whispered to herself, seeking some miraculous form of guidance to her salvation.
Sakura-chan…she fancied her father's voice resonating solemnly. If you're blind enough to look at the situation in the wrong fashion…then you should change your clothing.
Her face suddenly soured upon envisioning her father's words trailing off into hearty laughter.
"Ugh…Forget it!" Sakura grumbled beneath her breath, dismissing that thought from the brim of her mind.
When she brooded over her father's fate after his encounter with the Uchiha, her heart swelled with inconceivable sorrow.
She asked with intense desperation, "Tsunade-sama…what should I do?"
Sakura…no matter whether you are a healer or a warrior it is your utmost duty to protect others. However, that does not mean that you cannot fight for yourself as well. Never relinquish the battle until you have drawn your dying breath, her strict mentor's voice spoke to her with invigorating conviction.
Sakura nodded agreeably and mentally thanked the legendary doctor for the strength she had bequeathed her. Reflecting back upon the woman's acts of goodwill and compassion towards her and by extension, the Haruno clan, she knew she could never permit herself to assist the Uchiha in their battle against the Senju.
Grasping onto the reins tightly, she was well aware that they were quickly arriving towards the edge of the forest near the vast ravines. She figured she could cast a genjutsu in order to deceive her pursuers into perceiving the location of the ravine as father away causing them to plummet over the ledge. However, she assumed with their increased acuity there was a high probability they would detect her illusion instead. Perhaps, if she could manage to safely descend the wall of the ravine she could escape the ruthless Uchiha.
Before she could deliberate on any further course of action, she felt the chestnut pony's back curl sharply beneath her. Kuri unleashed a whip-like buck, nearly unseating her. The mare let out a gut wrenching squeal as an arrow plunged into her hindquarters. Sakura fought to sit back and absorb the mare's violent motion with her hips as her hind hooves flailed in the air behind her. Before she knew it, the mare's neck and ears vanished from her sight. She tumbled over the pony's head and was nearly winded from the collision with the ground. The mare collapsed to her forelimbs and struck the ground with her shoulder. Sakura hastily logrolled to the side, narrowly avoiding the mare's massive hindquarters from crashing down upon her.
"Kuri!" Sakura cried out as the mare's tumbling body finally came to a halt.
"Excellent job, Sasuke," she heard Fugaku's voice edge too close for her comfort.
She quickly recovered her naginata and brandished the weapon forcefully, causing the air to emit a belligerent whooshing sound. "Come any closer and I'll kill you!"
Inabi let out an unrestrained laugh while Fugaku and his son merely scowled, clearly unfazed by her show of hostility. They advanced on her nonchalantly disregarding her threat.
"A measly Haruno has no hope of laying a scratch on us." Inabi's laughter began to wane as she edged closer to the ledge of the ravine. "Now surrender yourself and come with us."
"I'd rather die than serve the Uchiha clan!" Sakura took a step backward and suddenly felt her heel hit the abrupt edge of the cliff.
She didn't expect to reach the edge so quickly. Despite her attempt to ward them off with the threat of suicide, she felt her fear manifest in the bounding pulse of her heart. The air seemed thinner and harsher to her lungs as her breaths hastened with each passing moment. She certainly didn't intend to die, but she had backed too closely to the verge of death.
"Our orders were to bring her back alive. Don't let her fall in the ravine!" Fugaku's voice reverberated loudly.
Inabi cackled haughtily as the girl foolishly met the gaze of his Sharingan. "Hehe, gotcha you little Haruno rat."
She unwittingly dropped her naginata to the ground, disarming herself. Her muscles froze rigidly as she had been seized in an unremitting bout of paralysis. All she could do was watch the beady eyed Uchiha dismount his horse and saunter ominously towards her. He wrapped his fingers around her delicate windpipe, which prevented her immobilized body from plummeting over the side of the cliff. Raising her petite body pitilessly, he brought her to his eye level, allowing her to become entranced by the spinning tomoe in his mesmerizing red orbs.
Sakura's eyelids became increasingly heavier as she was overwhelmed by a surge of lethargy.
Good. Now fall asleep…
She heard Inabi's command echo loudly within her head.
Just go to sleep…
He urged her more forcefully.
No…If she let him lull her to sleep then she would resign herself to the whims of the accursed clan.
She could not fall asleep! She would not fall asleep!
There was far too much at stake to fall victim to her captors. Her fellow clansmen depended on her not only as their sole physician, but also as the sole skilled defender of the impoverished, vulnerable village.
She absolutely could not fail her people!
An apparition of the girl emerged from her paralyzed form and confronted the Uchiha subjecting her to his sedative genjutsu. He widened his eyes incredulously as the wraithlike being curled her fingers into a quivering fist of unbridled rage.
"I'm not fucking going to sleep, Shannaro!"
Suddenly, an invisible force buffeted him, launching him off his feet. He released his hold on the girl's throat, inadvertently causing her to plunge off the ledge of the ravine.
Inabi grunted noisily as he struck the ground. He recovered hastily from the impact and shouted as he propped himself up to his elbows, "What the hell was that?!"
"The girl!" Fugaku bellowed as he and Sasuke raced towards the edge of the ravine, peering over the steep ledge for any sign of the fallen girl.
"Inabi, what just happened?" Fugaku asked urgently, his voice teeming with fury.
"I don't know!" Inabi spat indignantly as he hoisted himself back to his feet. "She somehow managed to break out of my genjutsu!"
"Forget about it. Let's go search the bottom of the ravine!" Fugaku waited impatiently for Inabi to clamber back into the saddle.
Sakura tactfully concentrated her chakra to the pads of her finger, adhering her hand to the face of the ravine. She heaved a very thankful sigh of relief as she dangled beneath the protruding shelf of rock which had apparently obscured her from the Uchiha's view. As soon as she heard the thunderous sound of hooves galloping away, she gradually began to ascend the wall of the ravine. When that sound completely faded into the distance, she heaved herself over the ledge and dusted off her scraped and grimy hands.
She spotted Kuri suspending a painful rear leg in the air and dutifully rushed to the animal's aid. The mare winced gingerly as Sakura ran her hands down the length of her leg, assessing the extent of her injuries.
"Don't worry, Kuri. I'll heal your leg." Placing her hands over the laceration on the mare's thigh caused by the arrow, she enabled her chakra to seep down the length of the mare's leg. Sakura carefully watched the faint green chakra restore the mare's wound until the edges of the laceration finally merged together, leaving behind a rigid scar.
The mare expelled air forcefully from her nostrils until she felt confident enough to finally weight her injured leg. Sakura grasped the reins and led the mare forward while examining her gait for any residual signs of lameness.
When she deemed the mare sound enough to ride again, she faced the mare's hind end and grasped a handful of mane. She pushed off the ground briskly and swung her leg up and over the peak of the mare's croup until she was seated comfortably on her back.
Since the Uchiha had likely presumed her dead, she decided the best course of action would be return to the village via the Naki Forest. She nudged Kuri forward and set off towards the forest once again.
When she had finally reached the border of the village, she felt a foreboding zephyr sweep through the air prickling the surface of her skin.
The village seemed eerily silent.
Sakura dismounted in front of her house and immediately bolted for the front door. An optimistic part of her anticipated her parents warmly welcoming her return. When she entered, she spotted a bruised and bloodied Hiro lying on the floor. Barring the presence of the messenger, the house had been frightfully barren.
"Hiro!" she cried out as she crouched down beside the battered Haruno.
"Sakura-sama…you're back…" Sakura barely comprehended his faint, hoarse words.
"Hiro, what happened here?" She immediately rested her hands on his chest and directed her healing chakra throughout his body in a frantic attempt to sustain his life. "What of my parents?"
"The Uchiha…they returned…"
But she was certain they had been searching the bottom of the ravine for her. How did they manage to make it back to the Haruno village so quickly? Had they found an alternate route to the village besides the Naki Forest?
Sakura's face blanched as she was assured his forthcoming words would be of misfortune.
"I regret to inform you…that they've captured your parents…"
A/N: Well…looks like Sakura is off to a pleasant start with the Uchiha.
Feel free to ask any questions you have about this fic. I'll try my best to answer without revealing any spoilers.
Please review and thanks for reading!