Strange Terrain:

Prologue.

Description:

"I want to say I'm sorry, for things I haven't done yet. Things will shortly get completely out of hand."
Kabuto is taken prisoner and held under interrogation by the Village Hidden in the Leaves. When he finally breaks, he makes one demand: He will speak only to Sakura Haruno.

Author's Note:

This story follows an alternate timeline. It will establish itself as you read. Enjoy!


XXX


They had fought so many times, it became something of a well-rehearsed dance. Kunai, kunai. Dodge, dodge. Another kunai. Substitution.

He remembers what it was like when she was twelve years old, and weak by anyone's standards. Barely a blip on the radar. It was hardly fair that he, Kabuto Yakushi, seemed to always end up with the unpleasant task of facing off with the hindrance of Team 7 – the inwardly brusque pink-haired burden known as Sakura Haruno. She only managed to survive those first few occasions because she had the Kyuubi ready to die for her at a moment's notice, somehow always appearing out of the woodwork just as he was ready to stick a knife in her and be done with it. They would run away shortly after, and Kabuto would be left yet again disappointed that the only intel he gathered was on a useless girl from the Village Hidden in the Leaves.

Their fights were so uneven, in fact, that after the first few encounters he had started using taijutsu only, and not just taijutsu. A special form, intended for teaching purposes. She was so weak, so unskilled in hand-to-hand combat, she never even noticed. The look on her face two years later when the lines finally connected and she realized just how much of a joke she was to him is something he still chuckles about to this day. Of course, knowing you're being toyed with and being able to do something about it are two very different stories.

"Fight me seriously!"

"I did not realize you wanted to die, Sakura-san. As you wish."

But he still did not.

Of course, it didn't stay like that. Over the years of their incessant pursuit of Sasuke (Why don't they get it? He doesn't want to come back.) she had improved. Taken under the wing of the Godaime herself – Tsunade – who was not unlike the girl in affect, Sakura Haruno had become an adept student. The first time she showed him that hideous strength of hers he'd been shocked; the ground around his feet collapsing under her glowing fists, the bone in his right arm fracturing as he slammed into and through a tree.

After that, he no longer used taijutsu.

Her improvement did not end there, either. At sixteen their battles had become so fierce that he actually began to look forward to them. Her medical ninjutsu was top-notch. She healed practically before he touched her. Her speed and strength only continued to grow, until the point came where he felt he was constantly on the defense. It was times like these he regretted not simply killing her when she'd been a genin, looking at him with doe-green eyes, begging for his help. Calling him traitor.

Yes, Sakura Haruno had become strong. He was certain, even then, that he could destroy her had he so felt the desire. But he'd never taken pleasure in killing the helpless, and something about that pink hair and those smooth, round features sang 'helpless' to him. Not that he showed her mercy – many times he severed her muscles, cut nerves, left her a bloody heap – but their fights always seemed to come to an end before a killing blow was dealt. And if he was being honest, Kabuto liked it that way. Enjoyed fighting her, and seeing her progress. Never in his wildest dreams did Kabuto imagine that Sakura Haruno would have one of the longest files from his intelligence on Konoha.

And then she turned seventeen, and something strange happened.

They were fighting the usual fight. Sasuke this, traitor that. Kunai, kunai. Dodge, dodge. Naruto off somewhere completely losing his shit – when a stray kunai clipped her in the side. Kabuto was surprised by the sudden rush of adrenalin tightening his chest at the sight of her blood spilling into the air and splattering the foliage around them. The feeling confused him, because it was one he couldn't quite place. Disappointment that she was still so weak? Excitement that he may finally put her down for good?

No… it was a negative feeling. He didn't enjoy it. The closest thing he could compare it to was the first time he had seen Lord Orochimaru's arms after his fight with the Third Hokage; the sight of the man's rotten flesh hanging in shreds on his arms had given Kabuto such a visceral feeling he'd been unable to close his eyes without imagining it for days.

Kabuto watched the blood drip from her side that entire fight – a needless distraction which caused him several tactical disadvantages as he willed the feeling to come back to his chest that he may properly identify and file it. Her silly little Haruno dress had ripped, exposing her navel and the pale taut skin of her stomach which was stained red with blood, and the rip shifted with her movements to show a small peek at the wound on her side. He was so busy in his own mind that he did not notice their usual 'good-hearted' (i.e. vicious) banter had come to a complete halt, and that Sakura had stopped fighting and been staring at him with a crease behind her brow.

"I didn't realize you were such a pervert, Kabuto."

He was… a pervert? Where did that come from? He realized she was referring to his gaze, which remained disobediently locked on her exposed mid-drift.

Kabuto could have laughed. That's what she thought?

"Please, Sakura-san. I am hardly attracted to children. I was merely wondering why you haven't healed yourself yet."

"No reason to waste the chakra on such an inexpert wound. Not when I'm saving it for this-"

She punched him square in the face, full-force, and he didn't even have his chakra ready to heal the damage.

Standing over him, Sakura raised her glowing fists high above her head. They locked eyes for a brief second, and she sneered. "Also, I'm hardly a child anymore." The ground splintered beneath them as she brought her fists down, and Kabuto had barely escaped. It was time to go, he knew, the throbbing in his cheek something which would require attention soon, the image of her bleeding side still visible in his mind's eye.

Indeed, she was no longer a child.

The next time a clash happened between Hidden Leaf and the Hidden Sound, almost a year later, Kabuto felt uncharacteristically excited. He told himself it was time to pay her back for the week he'd spent repairing the bones in the left side of his face – but that wasn't quite it. When the familiar orange-and-black spitfire known as Naruto Uzumaki appeared on the scene his chest did an unfamiliar little dance, his fingers fluttered, and he knew she could not be far behind. But it was not Sakura he faced that day. She never appeared, and Kabuto was angry that he was stuck fighting off the boring paint-user and replacement third teammate of group 7 – Sai.

The anger, he told himself, was because she had become an important asset to the Village Hidden in the Leaves, and not facing her regularly meant his data was incomplete. Reaching the goal of someday fulfilling Lord Orochimaru's dream of destroying the Hidden Leaf and all it represented would be impossible to attain if their shinobi were allowed to progress undocumented. He was also angry because Sai did not possess her quick wit, or spectacular strength. Their fight was awkward and choreographed, like two strangers dancing together to separate songs.

In truth, he was the angriest at himself for being disappointed she wasn't there.

Kabuto took his anger out on Sai that time, leaving the kid a crumpled mound for Sakura to repair. A love-letter written in blood, and only he would understand what it truly meant.

If you will not face me, I will test your strength from a distance.

And he would do it again, and again. Over the next two years she did not appear before him, and he sent her every friend and comrade she had back on the verge of a body-bag. He made it a point to never kill them, but to instead leave them in such critical condition that only a true genius could restore them. Maybe not even then. And each time she sent them back, healthier than ever.

Could she really be a stronger medic than he? Some of the shinobi he fought were left in such a state that he was sure even the Godaime herself would not be able to repair them. He certainly couldn't. Yet they always returned…

Fascinating.

When they finally met again – Sakura, twenty years old and bitter; Kabuto, twenty-four and excited like a child who's just discovered how to burn ants with a magnifying glass – the mood was different. Sakura had changed. Not just physically, although her hips and breast had widened, but emotionally. The girl who once screamed and flailed, calling him every unique variation of shit-eater and traitorous-scum that she could come up with, was now stoic and reserved. Her eyes burned with a new kind of hate… true, unadulterated loathing. And for once it was entirely directed at him. Not Orochimaru, not Sasuke.

"You bastard… how many of my friends have you tried to kill?"

"Ah, but Sakura-san. They did not die."

They fought viciously this time, and it was not the same old dance. The tempo was faster, and Sakura refused to let him lead at any turn. Kabuto realized that over the many years they had crossed blades, she too had allowed herself to fall into the routine skirmish. That maybe she had held back, that her anger wasn't strong enough to truly want him dead.

This was no longer the case.

This fight would be the one, he came to understand. It would be the fight to end all fights – their final show-down. Eight years of practice, of learning each other's rhythm, all culminating in this single moment. Today he would kill Sakura Haruno, or she would kill him, and their dance of destruction would finally be over.

He was disappointed in a way. Kabuto had a small place in what used to be his heart where he kept fondness, and if he was fond of anyone it was Sakura. Her death would be a loss to the medical community as a whole, and a private loss to himself. To his amusement, and his ire. No longer would he gaze upon that saccharine pink hair and pale expanse of skin, no longer would he taunt her to the point of tears. No more excitement.

What must be done, must be done.

Kabuto drank her in during that last fight, like a man leaving the spring for the desert. He savored every delicate movement, raked his eyes over her body, and was pleased to note that she had indeed become a woman. He baited her with talk of Sasuke, and countered each blow with finesse. When the time came, and his chakra-scalpel was ready, he even enjoyed the feel of her smooth skin beneath his fingertips. Even as the muscles ripped below, her skin was enchanting. He could even imagine that her scent – like the flower of her namesake – was present in the air.

It was going to end the way it began: with taijutsu. Both parties dangerously low on chakra, still locked in the fierce intoxication of blood-lust. This was where their usual act ended, but it was finally time for the encore. And just as before, she was still the weaker one. Without her powerful ninjutsu, Sakura was on the defense. Kabuto led, pushing her further and further back until he found an opening and took it. A swipe under the legs and she was down, him on top of her in a second. No room for escape. She was pinned between his legs, and Kabuto sat his full weight on her hips. In a flash he had his kunai out, just as Sakura began attempting to wiggle one out from beneath her backside.

He caught her arm, hiking it over her head and using all of his strength to keep it pressed solidly into the dirt. This forced him to lean forward somewhat, and left the two face-to-face. Only half a foot between their noses. He could feel her ragged breath coming out in puffs against his cheeks, and he pressed the kunai against her throat.

A flash of fear in her eyes.

Kabuto paused, suddenly unable to finish the job. He held the knife there, arm shaking.

Do it, do it!

He couldn't. Sakura apparently picked up on his struggle, a characteristic crease forming between her pink eyebrows. Kabuto growled, pulling the kunai away and slamming in into the ground next to her head. Sakura jerked as he dropped her hands and clasped both his palms tightly around her throat. He squeezed as tight as he could, eyes all the while boring in to her own. So focused on her face and the way her skin was slowing starting to match her hair, he didn't hear the sounds behind him. Her lips had parted in a gasp, and Kabuto felt a sudden intense desire to…

To what?

He squeezed tighter still, leaning forward, closing the gap between their faces. Sakura's nails were scratching mercilessly at the skin of his forearms – he knew the damage would be extensive. But her grip was weakening, and his was not. She was beet-red now, the veins apparent in the forehead. His mouth blocked hers, while his thumbs pressed deeply, closing her larynx.

It has truly been a pleasure, Sakura-san.

And that's when Naruto Uzumaki, the number-one hyperactive knucklehead ninja, slammed a kunai into his kidney.