Veni, Vidi, Vici

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Fanfic by FlyingSilverDreams

Category – Anime and Manga

Specifics – Naruto

Rated T for Teen

Genre – Drama / Romance

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General Disclaimer: Naruto / ナル belongs to Kishimoto Masashi-sensei (岸本斉).

This is an Alternate Universe / AU fanfic.

**In order to clear up any misunderstandings, italics will mostly be represented as both character's thoughts and character dialogue with the extra [ ], while bolded words are used either for emphasis or sectional change.**


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Part One: NIGHTFALL

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Eventide

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It began with the ones closest to her.

She was positively brilliant and artistically malicious in each thick, honey-dripping word.

Every soft whisper held a lush rose and its scarlet petals, peppered with glistening dew, hid a stem of poisonous hooks. And yet, much too distracted from the beauty above, they never noticed.

They never noticed when the thorns twisted into their flesh, the same places where blades once fluttered and shuriken danced.

They never noticed when vermillion nails kissed across their translucent skin, with pale cream silk drawn tight where hands clenched.

She traced lightly along their scars, both faded and fresh . . . where their wounds once dripped streams of red were now drenched with sweat.

They never noticed when she left them with muffled promises of another woman's betrayal as her calling card.

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[ Amat victoria curam ]

[ Victory favors those who takes pains ]

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Dusk

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She was sinful perfection.

Locks of bright red brushed lightly against the flowing contours of her waist. Slick verdant frames sat atop her dainty nose as they brought out her passionate, almond-shaped eyes.

Men quivered at her steps; her seductive gait promising a night of clandestine romance in immeasurable intensity. Women tightened their holds over husbands and boyfriends alike, their suspicious unease erupted from the vixen-like nature of her smiles.

Her promise of revenge was long overdue, that much Sakura knew, and it was not long before she delivered it.

This was the year that Haruno Sakura lost everything: her friends, her teammates, her ranks, her everything.

I suppose it's true, she thought, one lonely November night, dried eyes wavering into the hazy future. Even when the time came for all others, I have never betrayed myself . . .

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[ Etiamsi omnes, ego non ]

[ Even if all, I will never ]

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The Witching Hour

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Her first love fell first.

It was strangely fitting in a piteous way, she supposed.

A part of her heart still clenched in disappointment, but the irony of the situation was not lost on her. After all, he was the one who constantly called her weak. How suiting it was, when she found out about his betrayal . . . again.

History repeated a few times too many for her . . . the first when he left, the second when he lunged for her throat – but the third will be his last.

Karin made sure her newest pet stayed loyally-branded by her side, with a matching set of rubies sparkling haughtily on their fingers.

Sakura bit her tongue to keep from laughing at the thoroughly-whipped version of the man she once called her teammate.

The first blow, the one that Karin anticipated to hit the hardest, was thrown back in her face. But like the persistent pest of a woman Uchiha Karin is, her efforts soon poured into another.

This time, Sakura's bite drew blood.

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[ Alea iacta est ]

[ The die has been cast ]

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Now that she thought back on it, it was almost bittersweet how Sakura built up their trust for her entire life and then, in just a few weeks after their return, everything fell apart.

She didn't even get a chance to grieve.

There wasn't a single tear shed in mourning for their scathing remarks or disgusted glares.

For the first time in her life, Sakura had simply nothing to say that disproved their accusations. She had truly underestimated Karin's influence, and now, the piled evidence only led them further and further along that other woman's fairy tales.

In the end, Sakura was the evil witch who swayed children into gingerbread houses and roasted them on the sweltering-cracked hearth of a brimstone oven.

She was the dragon who hoarded the lost gold and jewels of devoured kings, chaining maidens in castles that towered above the sky. She was the emerald-eyed, wicked witch of the west and the horrendous monstrosity of the nefarious deep.

But she was not the one who lied.

The tales were spun so outrageously that even Sakura, herself, could not help but wonder if they were truly mere lies at all.

. . .

. .

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And the gossip-mongers fell next, those who willingly headed for the unlit road, completely uncaring if the abyss of lies underneath them did any harm.

[ How could you?! ] Akimichi Ino screamed at her one night. [ Forehead, I trusted you . . . but I guess that's just what you wanted in the first place, youbackstabbingbitch.]

How could I indeed . . . Sakura thought to herself afterwards, sinking against the door slammed into her face from moments before.

I suppose you will never understand the irony of your words, Pig.

A faint, mirthless chuckle echoed throughout the cracked walls of her empty apartment. The various paraphernalia her past self kept for the memories lied in the garbage deposits out back.

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[ Amicitiae nostrae memoriam spero sempiternam fore ]

[ I hope the memory of our friendship will be everlasting ]

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The next few confrontations fell short of the former's theatrics, but since it pertained to our expected character, the scene was as dramatic as it would get.

[ I was surprised. ] His lone eye flicked lazily across the page, revisiting the racy plot lines he had already memorized years ago, down to the very last space and dot.

[ Why did you do it? ]

The words I DIDN'T and SHE DID died at the edge of her lips.

She knew her explanations only landed on deaf ears . . . but she was not surprised. It was her habit to reply her sensei's rarely-asked questions, but when the times of subtle joy and warm praise flashed across her mind, Sakura fell silent.

This . . . would be the last question her sensei, the very first sensei she ever wanted to work hard for, asked . . . and she couldn't let it end in disappointment.

And she could not face that.

So for the first time in Haruno Sakura's life, she prayed.

Kami-sama, if you truly exists . . . She ended with a sigh.

Her eyes remained closed, blocking out what she knew would have been a look of hatred and pain, before blinking open again, long after the Copy Ninja of the Hidden Leaves left her side.

She gazed up, meeting a sky of raining petals and leaned against cherry-wood bark in training ground three.

It won't be long now. Another voice echoed in her head. Before everything falls apart . . .

. . . our end to spring.

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[ Aemulatio aemulationeum parit ]

[ Emulation begets emulation ]

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The last to fall was Naruto.

Oh, her poor, sweet darling Naruto, the one who supported her, held her, stayed with her through thick and thin . . . it was inevitable that he eventually crumbled underneath the vices of his only fatal flaw: love.

Just months prior, she would have been proud!, oh-so-amazingly, adoringly proud, at her dear Hinata, and when she gave the most elaborate guise, her most convincing performance, Naruto caved.

Sakura's teammate, the one who she viewed as dearly as a brother, barely lasted a day before the bleak pitch of nightfall solely confirmed her last supporter, her last believer, her last family, still betrayed her in the end.

Thus, for the first time in months, weeks, days, hours, Sakura wept. The crystalline trails reminded her of an ocean breeze, tingling her nose. With this nostalgic memory in mind, she slashed an unwavering line through the silver-grey of her headband and headed south, past the Country of Waves, through the Land of Tea, and towards the sea.

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[ Dum anima est, spes esse dicitur ]

[ As long as there is life, there is hope ]

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{ Exeat

{ She leaves


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Part Two: DAYBREAK

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First Light

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The very first time he saw her, he fell in love.

It was the most cliché-d thing that ever happened to him, but by the second time it occurred, he was thoroughly and undeniably attached (like one of Danna's damn puppets).

It felt like his situation was scripted somehow. . . One of his teammates, just like last time, was down for the count, and his other teammate was the same ninja who died in a battle against her.

This was just too much of a déjà vu.

It felt like his situation was scripted somehow. . . One of his teammates, just like last time, was down for the count, and his other teammate was the same ninja who died in a battle against her.

This was just too much of a déjà vu.

Their mission had been a fairly small assassination order on a retired loan shark who embezzled a large sum of money. He lived lavishly on a small island far west of Amegakure and far south of the Land of Honey, past the Kaijū Ocean. The mission was a simple infiltrate-and-murder deal. However, it was here, near the Hidden Moon Village in Moon Country, when he laid eyes on her for the second time and fell in love all over again (but he hated it). This emotion made him feel pathetically weak, and it disgusted him a bit at his own speeding heart, beating furiously next to the hole where his ultimate weapon had been.

Back then, he almost leapt for joy when Sasori told him he was going to take care of her.

Of course, he would notice. Deidara thought shamelessly before replying him with a false cackle of laughter (but really, it would be amusing if she went out with a BANG! and Danna couldn't even appreciate it).

He headed back to the base with the extracted bijū, and during the next week, the Iwa missing-nin felt everything shift back into place. He worked on his art, molding and baking clay for his arsenal, and even spent a few kilograms for a sculpture or two (they ended up forming her face, but even then in his immediate fury, he could not bring himself to destroy it – they now sit, standing fiercely, in the corner above his storage cabinets).

For those first few days, everything seemed normal again.

That was, until Leader-sama called all the members in at the early glimpse of sunshine and spent the next forty-six hours recreating / repairing what was left of / the minuscule remains of Akasuna no Sasori. Before that day, Deidara would have scoffed at the idea of anyone possibly killing his Danna or any other of the insane criminals of this group (himself included) . . .

. . . but even to this day, his memories of those grueling three days were blurry at best.

He doubted any of the other ten members, besides Leader-sama and himself, even remembered what those two days were spent on (of course, Deidara remembered . . . he loves her).

(And that brought him back to his current dilemma.)

It took Deidara nearly four years and his own death at the hands of a revenge-crazed Uchiha (damned brat!) before he completely forgot about her (yet, not quite). But just like the volatile detonations of a Type 76 IED bomb (his favorite kind), her picture exploded before him with startling clarity. She lunged gracefully through the groove of trees, barely a few meters away from his team and flickered out of sight before slipping away from the enemy's curved tanto blade. Her movements flowed from one fluid arch to the next, and in this vicinity, she was dancing.

And then, her gloved hands, dainty in their small size and elegant shape, tantalizingly stretched forward, smoothing over the oilcloth of her enemy's arm. Her performance concluded with a wide smirk and a mocking wink.

Needless to say, the resulting destruction amidst a lightening sky in Moon Country had briefly painted its ivory-blue waters into carnage with the downpour of seemingly-endless red.

Deidara felt his heart abruptly s . t . o . p . . . ……. . . before wretchedly pounding itself into existence once more (and he had no more doubts).

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[ Stultus pro dilectione ]

[ A fool for love ]

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He was much more than simply annoyed.

Here the three of them stood, one useless idiot passed out cold from the sweltering heat, for goodness' sake, and the other, suspiciously quiet with a contemplative look reflected across his face.

Yes, how very, very suspicious.

The mission, as always, had been a success but without the adequate funds for a proper rest – damn Kakuzu – Sasori was forced to navigate his way through the trees while half-dragging-half-carrying his two partners – and both were completely useless in terms of direction.

Without a speck of blood on the three of them – that idiotic blonde took care of everything, of course – they walked for nearly three miles before the little brat abruptly decided to pass out. After another four miles on foot – since no one wanted to chance being spotted by the Hidden Village only a few miles away – it was just his damned LUCK that Sasori managed to literally stumble across one of the bodies she maimed.

As if the day could not get any worse, his only-conscious partner had completely zoned out, lone eye staring aimlessly at a spot in the forest. When his stance slacked, Sasori instinctively rushed to catch Tobi from slamming into the ground. It wasn't even a few seconds later, with fellow Akatsuki member firmly in hand, before a sudden AVALANCHE of dark-red liquid rained upon every available surface uncovered by his cloak. Everything – and he meant everything – was absolutely smothered in hot. wet. blood.

How they managed to escape the horror, he never remembered. All he remembered during the time was that Akasuna no Sasori is unashamedly jealous of that little Uchiha brat's unconsciousness . . .

A mere few weeks later, when Leader-sama called him in to his office, teeth tightly gritted and hands deceivingly clasped before his chin, Sasori realized that meeting her all those years ago became the worst mistake of his entire life.

[ I understand you met a ninja of great interest on your last mission . . . ] His numerous facial piercings glinted brightly in the early morning sun – usual Amegakure-rain suspiciously missing – enhanced even further by an unruly mane of hair. Ringed pupils dilated dangerously, as if personally challenging Sasori to contradict him.

[ Had that been reported, the Akatsuki would have no need to formally join her hunt ] Pein's carefully-minced words was the final sign of anger. His voice became a growl, a sound which even grown men shuddered at.

[ I have no idea what you mean, Leader-sama. ] Sasori barely abstained from scoffing at himself. Inwardly, he was actually quite thankful for his face: devoid of all emotion, it conveniently mirrored the former hand-carved features. Sasori kept the bite in his words to a bare minimum, hiding the sarcasm with a monotonous dialogue.

[ Haruno Sakura, wanted in seven different countries for war crimes and abandonment of her village, former apprentice of, and said to have surpassed, the current Hokage of the Hidden Leaf . . . ] Her spoken name brought shivers down his now-human spine . . .

While his current body never remembered the manner of its incineration, the pulsing blood rushing through his veins still recalled her punches – and among other things.

Leader-sama probably sensed his discomfort but continued anyway – cruel bastard.

[ Her accomplishments, both in and out of active service to Fire Country, would contribute exponentially to this organization . . . but, of course, you, of all people, should already know that. ] He caught the newly-updated bingo book Leader-sama threw at him as the stoic drawl filled the room once more.

[ Now then, Akasuna no Sasori, did you or did you not meet her during your last mission? ]

He felt his weak human body tense at the hidden message coating the Rinnegan-user's words, and despite the tendrils of pride he held onto earlier, Sasori was no fool to leave the Pein of Akatsuki's question answered.

[ . . . She was seen heading west, alone, towards the Country of Sea. ] With a low mechanical bow at the hips, Sasori excused himself out of the office.

It was only when he stood, stock still, within the candlelit dungeon of his personal quarters, before he began lashing out at the half-rotten carcass left out to dry for far too long.

A few minutes later, with the meat curled in ribbons on a metallic examination table, the puppet master's fury calmed.

As the heavily-putrid smell wafted throughout the room, a familiar bi-colored face peeked out from underneath the floorboards.

Just you wait, doll . . . Sasori thought before giving a small nod at the amber-eyed cannibal.

The dungeon's oak doors firmly slid shut, and he headed for the next floor's cellars, intent on retrieving a newer corpse.

I'll make you into the perfect puppet.

With his next design in mind, Sasori's anticipation was only slightly out-matched by the thick bile clinging to the back of his throat.

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[ Aemulus studiorum et laborum ]

[ The rival of pursuits and labors ]

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He took another subtle glance out into the civilian streets.

The bleak early morning was faintly illuminated by various food stands scattered across the road in front of him.

A thick layer of snow grew steadily beneath his feet while specks of white peppered the top of his wide, bulky shoulders. A tattered brown cloak managed to effectively hide Kisame's electric-blue skin and slitted gills, never mind how alarmingly thin it was in comparison to his old one . . . not that the dark crimson clouds-pattern did any favors either.

Paranoia slithered in the pit of his stomach as he leaned casually against the side of a hidden alleyway. Here, within some unknown town located somewhere near the southern tip of Snow Country, he waited for his newly-inducted partner of four years to finish a plate of dango back inside the teashop.

To say he was nervous was an understatement. Kisame felt absolutely miserable.

Their mission asked the two of them to subtly capture a group of rogues within the icy mountains. It took far longer than he originally expected since the great Hoshigaki Kisame does NOT "do" subtle.

For fifteen days, he and his partner tracked, scented, and camped in the blistering, mind-numbing cold. It was just as he expected . . . trying to complete a mission out in Snow Country, during the winter, was Leader-sama's form of punishment because the great Hoshigaki Kisame does NOT "do" frozen.

It had been a full three hours since the Uchiha agreed to tail the rogues into the teashop and a grand total of six hours since he agreed to stand guard outside. After all, the great Hoshigaki Kisame does NOT exactly "blend in."

And he was getting impatient (because the great Hoshigaki Kisame can NOT withstand such insolence).

[ What is taking that kid so long?! ]

As a matter of fact, Kisame was just getting ready to storm across the [ damned to hell! ] road and [ flip the damned place upside-down! ] . . . He had barely taken two steps when he suddenly felt himself lurch BACKWARDS, landing [ ass first?! ] on the cold ground.

He was stunned for an entire minute before the missing-nin realized he had just been knocked OVER by an extremely short boy (judging by the matching brown cloak that fell across his bandaged feet . . . and any higher than that was blocked by Kisame's sunhat).

Samehada vibrated quietly behind his back in surprise, and it wasn't until he looked up before his nose met a slim bandaged hand, held palm-up in apology.

After examining it for a while longer, he raised his own, and the long sleeves parted, revealing aquatic-blue and heavily-muscled palms, with fingers tipped in infamous ebony nails. Kisame knew his gesture alone revealed much more than acceptance in the shinobi world . . .

Chapped cobalt lips curled into a shark-like grin as he waited for the inevitable fear humans always exhibited towards him.

[ That'll teach'im to knock down someone like ME . . ! ]

However, the moment never came . . . even up until the moment when Kisame realized his hand was already grasped firmly in the other ninja's hand.

The stranger, who had awkwardly kept his slim hand extended towards the Kirigakure missing-nin, grabbed his hand at the last minute, and clenched it with such an inhumane amount of strength that Kisame winced.

A surprised grunt filtered through his locked jaws when he felt himself being physically hauled to his feet. And yet, by the time Kisame had finally snapped out of it to catch a glimpse of this brave fool, said boy was already on his way, nonchalantly strolling off in the opposite direction.

[ Hey, YOU! ]

He gnashed his razor-sharp teeth in fury, and the sound clanged loudly in the seamless night.

How dare he look down on a member of THE Akatsuki and one as powerful as ME?!

The other man's hood tilted to its side in a listening gesture, and that's when Kisame immediately took the chance to ask, [ Don't you know who I am?! ]

There was a lengthy pause in which his fury burned brighter. He's looking down on me!

Mission or no mission, he was unhesitant to unsheathe Samehada. The sword growled lowly behind his back in anticipation at tasting this strange boy's chakra.

But then, he spoke.

[ Of course, Hoshigaki-san. ]

He had such a soft voice that it took Kisame a second longer to sense his words hinting at a smirk.

And when he turned around . . . Kisame was completely floored.

The first few rays of sun illuminated the contours of his face, the elegant nose, as well as the feminine lips with its corners lifted slightly in mirth. Dark shadows danced across his delicate brow and porcelain skin. A pair of emerald eyes glowed in a peculiar wealth of understanding and maturity for such a young man, contrasting pleasantly with the youthful features.

[ Please bring my greetings to Uchiha-san. ]

He gave a small nod of respect and continued, [ I suppose he should be pleased that my teammate had finally chosen his path. ]

With an apologetic smile and a mysteriously pained look in his eyes, the ninja disappeared in a flurry of cherry blossoms, leaving behind the former Mist-nin bewildered with his message.

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How did he . . ?

[ Hey, 'Tachi. ]

[ . . . ]

[ I met a weird little ninja back there. ]

[ . . . ]

[ He told me he said 'hi' and that your little bro finally 'chose his path' or whatever the heck that means. ]

[ . . . Kisame-san . . . what did 'he' look like? ]

[ Didn't look too closely, but I remember green eyes. Why? ]

[ . . . Hn. ]

When Kisame arrived back at the base later that night, a bingo book at hand courtesy of the former Uchiha heir, he finally realized that the strange ninja was a female.

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{ Entry : Haruno Sakura

Occupation : Field ninja, Medic-nin currently under the apprenticeship of Senju Tsunade, Fire Country's Hokage

Rank : A-Class

Status : Kunoichi from the Village Hidden in the Leaves, Fire Country

Known Jutsu Arsenal : N / A

Known Features Pink hair, green eyes . . . }

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If asked about this moment the next day or the numerous times he thought about it again in the future, or even up until the moment he finally met her again, Kisame would always truthfully answer that he honestly had no idea.

Thirteen years later and nearing the same season he first met her in, the great Hoshigaki Kisame was the first person to officially welcome a brave fool into the Akatsuki.

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[ Aequitas enim lucet ipse per se ]

[ Equity shines in her own light ]

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Dawn

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The first time Uchiha Itachi met Haruno Sakura was when she was three.

He had just returned from another ANBU mission and decided to pass by one of the more secluded playgrounds Sasuke favored. Itachi promised him a few weeks ago that he would make it in time for his birthday but the long summer days blended his conception of time into one seamless blotch so now, he was here.

The child-safety gates swung open. His chakra was dangerously low and his body reeked of death and sweat, but he didn't want to go home.

At least, not yet.

Perhaps, he decided. I would find Sasuke first before meeting the elders this time.

And that was just another flimsy promise made by a dying boy.

His feet unconsciously went after the swing sets . . . Sasuke's favorite . . . but no matter how carefully he sat, the two months of taunt muscles and over-stretched tendons protested mercilessly under the meaningless torture.

And it was meaningless . . . This resting.

He began slowly rocking under the pestering heat of the late night, back and forth, back and forth, huffing softly in pain as he did so.

But I deserve this one last complaint.

There was a certain level of calm and peace he felt that evening, feelings Itachi had long forgotten since the days he spent away from his okā-sama's side in meaningless battles caused by meaningless reasons . . .

And he missed the days when everything was simple . . . when all that mattered to him was upholding the Uchiha Clan values and listening to his otō-sama and loving his okā-sama and watching his little brother being fed in the bright and early morning . . .

And Itachi knew he didn't have to do this.

It was then when he realized that if fate had been in his favor, he would not have chosen life as a shinobi.

.

But now, it has come to this

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[ Good evening. ]

Lost in his thoughts, Itachi inwardly jumped when a soft, unwavering voice reached his ears.

It took another moment for the pain of suddenly clenching his body to fade before he opened his eyes again . . . and he gazed straight into the smiling face of a small child.

She was around Sasuke's age, he immediately noticed.

Her strands of bubblegum-pink hair reminded him of okā-sama's Hanami dango and the tendrils of coral light stretched across a pale ink sky.

She reminded him of dawn.

[ May I sit beside you? ]

The question was phrased hesitantly and yet, her tone was persistent; her posture was demure, but the fiery look in her sea-foam eyes dared him to object . . . He was amused at the enigma she presented him.

It was so endearing in the way she acted, so mature and childlike that he couldn't help but try getting a rise out of her.

[ Do what you like, child. ]

He waited, excited for the first time in months at what this interesting little girl would say. When she successfully climbed into the swing seat beside him, Itachi was not disappointed.

[ Thank you, old man. ]

The silence lasted for a while longer as she tried, with much effort, to swing from her seat. He watched on and smirked at the little girl who had not once screeched for his help as his little brother would have done.

She was the first to speak again, and he acknowledged her bravery. Sasuke would have cowered at the sight of a strange man in ANBU gear out in the playgrounds this early in the morning.

[ You're Sasuke-idiot's older brother, aren't you? ]

A soft smile stretched across his lips at the appropriately-phrased nickname.

[ And just what did my little brother do to you, little one? ]

An indignant blush spread across her cheeks, before she heatedly replied, [ he made my best friend turn into a whiny, blubbering mess. ]

Itachi hummed sympathetically at the furious pout on her face. She was just as adorable as Sasuke, if not more.

[ And I suppose your best friend is a girl? ]

[ . . . . . . . yeah . . . ]

[ Ah. Sasuke has been known to have that effect. ]

He barely restrained from laughing at the sorrowful expression of acceptance the young child wore beside him. It took another minute for her to reign in her dismay before jumping into the conversation again.

[ You're a ninja, aren't you? ]

Her emotions were placed in front of him like an open book . . . but they weren't the exact emotions he expected. She was a serious child, not unlike himself. There was a look of intelligence and curiosity in her features, and the normal apprehension children had towards ANBU was missing from her face.

[ Why ask questions you already know the answers to, little one? ]

She looked down at the ground and jumped out of the swing. A smile graced her lips but her eyes remained the same – overly-accepting and wise beyond her years.

Itachi stared at the tiny hand reaching out towards him, and he was equally as stunned when he felt her fingers brush against his forehead, almost knowingly.

[ Because sometimes we don't know the answers for ourselves. ]

A mysterious look of pain filtered through her eyes as they watered, but Itachi could do nothing besides watch.

[ Sometimes, people need a reminder of who they are whey they've lost their way. ]

Fat drops of warm liquid rolled down her cheeks, but at the same time, she gave him a smile that brightened her entire face.

[ Have you lost your way, Uchiha-san? ]

. . .

. .

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[ When you've lost your way, Uchiha-san, simply find it again. ]

. . .

. .

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It was the first time in his life that Uchiha Itachi felt like crying.

His heart rammed against his chest when the young girl, barely four years of age, continued to comfort the ANBU Captain who had just abandoned his everything.

He wanted to yell and scream and shout that HE COULDN'T and that HE WAS THE GODDAMNED HEIR and HE HAD NO OTHER CHOICE . . . but nothing came.

When he looked up again, the little girl was already gone.

.

Why . . . was it you?

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As the sky brightened and morphed into a fiery haze of salmon, one persistent emotion weighed against his as he made his way through the Uchiha compound. It pounded against his throat when he bowed lowly in front of his father; it churned with the contents of his stomach when he quietly ate the leftovers his mother kept for him from last night, and it plagued his mind when he finally drifted off into a dreamless sleep. For many days on end, Itachi could not rid himself of the warmth that filled his entire being since that morning, be it in between the ANBU missions or when he washed the blood off his uniform. It was persistent, and only left him when the last family member of his clan slumped to the floor.

Even as he slammed his little brother against the tatami screen, an unexplainable sense of peace descended upon him.

[ Become strong, Sasuke . . . become strong enough to defeat me. ]

[ Because when that day comes, I won't hold back. ]

. . .

. .

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Years later, he concluded that his meeting with the peculiar little girl was all merely amounted stress from his mission and the heavy fatigue of death.

Nevertheless, he never forgot about her words . . . not even up until that one snowy morning in some unknown town on the southern tip of Snow Country.

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[ Hey, 'Tachi. ]

[ . . . ]

[ I met a weird little ninja back there. ]

[ . . . ]

[ He told me he said 'hi' and that your little bro finally 'chose his path' or whatever the heck that means. ]

The former Uchiha heir stopped dead in his tracks. He made no move to alert his partner and it wasn't long before he heard the very words he waited for so goddamned long.

[ . . . Kisame-san . . . what did 'he' look like? ]

[ Didn't look too closely, but I remember green eyes. Why? ]

[ . . . Hn. ]

Later that night, he handed the newly-released bingo book to his partner, page already flipped open to her entry – an entry that held his breath every time – and then walked out.

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Why . . . was it you?

You . . . who became my escape.

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[ Aequa lege necessitas sortitur insignes et imos ]

[ Fate by an impartial earth is allotted both to the conspicuous and the obscure ]

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He cursed loudly at his own misfortune.

Aiming another hateful gaze at the blackwood door once more, he turned and strutted off into the dark hallways.

[ What a motherfucking bastard! ] Hidan cursed loudly and fumed on the series of events that led to his current predicament.

Just a few weeks earlier, he was summoned into Leader's office along with the organization's infamous financial advisor [ or some shit like that ].

[ I want you two to go after the ninja listed on page eighty-four. ]

He remembered sneering at Pein's self-righteous tone, but just before he opened his mouth, the old geezer next to him interrupted, [ She's a good choice, Leader-sama. Her bounty will possibly last us an unfathomable amount of years if our finances remained stable. ]

Hidan paused before staring incredulously at his partner. As he felt his Jashin-given curiosity rise, Hidan knew this was the first time that Kakuzu, [ the damned cunt ], was content with any amount of money, much less another quick-rush bounty.

[ Who's the priceless bitch?! ]

Faster than even Leader-sama could reply, a bingo book slammed into his face. The surprised Jashinist sputtered at the impact of the charcoal handbook, neck whiplashed in its sudden twist to the left. [ YOU FUCKIN'– ]

[ Enough. ] Leader-sama's voice echoed across the room.

Hidan, at this point, reached a near boiling point. Pein was the one who dug hum up from the pressurized soil grave, and it was that fact alone which kept him from exploding in rage. In his mind, however, Hidan stacked heaps and [ FUCKING ] heaps of curses against the Akatsuki's leader and his [ MOTHERFUCKING ] financial advisor, [ THAT DAMNED ASSHOLE ]. But when he finally noticed the odd silence within the study, Hidan reached for the slightly-ruffled page eighty-four.

.

{ Entry : Haruno Sakura

Occupation : Former field ninja, Rogue Medic-nin

Rank : S-Class

Status : Missing-nin from the Village Hidden in the Leaves, Fire Country, Former Apprentice to the current Hokage of the Village Hidden in the Leaves

Known Jutsu Arsenal : N / A

Known Features : Pink hair, green eyes, Rejuvenation Seals aligned on the forehead in a series of small-big-small purple diamonds

Wanted By : Fire Country, Snow Country, Wave Country, Water Country, Lightning Country, Wind Country, Earth Country

Bounty : Undetermined

Warnings : DO NOT APPROACH. LETHAL IN RANGE; FATAL AT CONTACT. ENGAGE AT YOUR OWN RISK. }

.

There was no picture aside from the crude descriptions of her physical appearance. Hidan flipped the page, despite knowing that bingo book entries were always a page long. It annoyed him at how little information he had to go over for the hunt. Her 'pink hair' and 'green eyes' was a rare combination, true, but they were still far too vague for his type of hunting . . .

However, one thing unnerved him about her entry.

The term listed beside 'Bounty' was only used for theoretically impossible captures such as the Jinchūriki or a Kage . . . This 'Haruno Sakura,' with no listed jutsu arsenal, dared to compare with such high-classed captures?

His impatience gnawed at him.

[ Oi, who is this bitch? And why the fuck does it say "undetermined"? Is she worth catching or not?! ]

When he was ignored, Hidan's infamous temper was a stone's throw away from breaking out into murderous rage.

She'll fucking personally answer my questions . . . Hidan licked his lips while gritting his teeth harder. The maniacal grin widened. While I specially prepare her for Jashin-sama.

Yet, no later had that thought crossed his mind, Pein spoke and shattered his daydream. [ Bring her back to me . . . ALIVE, Hidan. She will be the newest addition to Akatsuki. ]

. . .

. .

.

So now, with his plans of the perfect sacrifice to Jashin-sama dashed, Hidan was furious, both towards his [ damned bitch ] of a boss and his [ fucking shithead of a ] partner.

Personal injustice aside, Hidan excused himself without another word, stalking indignantly towards his quarters. He roughly kicked open the door and grabbed provisions for the next month or so before turning to offer a quick prayer.

He sat in the middle of an encircled star, carved into the maple-wood floors with his own blood. The symbol was also etched across the walls, staring back at him through ragged lines and other similarly-splattered designs. An unlit assortment of white-wax candles stood around the room, arranged in a triangular fashion. Beside this, the room held no bed nor any other indication of livelihood other than the pile of blood-soaked sheets in a corner left behind the door. Large ceiling-high windows were blacked out and sealed with a different set of drawings painted across the panes. After a few more minutes, he gave one last glance around the room before slamming the door shut.

Hidan met Kakuzu in the hallway before they both started on their journey out of Amegakure. One week later, the Village of Rain was long been forgotten by the Undead Brothers, with their henge on and an endless amount of boredom reflected across their faces.

Hidan began repeating his mid-afternoon bout of curses directed towards the crashing of the waves below and the listless blue horizon above. It was only on the third day, in a merchant boat departed from the Land of Tea and headed towards the Land of Sea, before the scenic ocean view finally got to him. [ And motherfucking Kakuzu won't even let me fucking sacrifice anyone on this shithole of a boat! ]

By now, imagining gory deaths for his partner was an almost-ritualistic experience for him. It acted as a substitute for what he really wanted to do.

[ First, I'll fuck his hands over with those motherfucking threads of his – they're strong enough . . . I've fucking seen them do that – before I skewer the bones of his fingers into his eyes. Now that he can't see shit, I'll gag his mouth with– ] He was pacing back and forth across the decks when Hidan suddenly felt himself lurch and slam backwards into a wall . . .

[ Ahh, FUCK! ]

[ Oi, shithead! Didn't you see where your dumbass self was going, you motherfucking idiot?! ] He glanced around and met the head of drenched ebony hair, cursing heatedly at the situation as well.

A face of clear liquid-blue eyes that reminded of a familiar blonde arsonist gazed furiously up at him. [ You pathetic excuse of a sailor, you better shut the hell up before I shove your damn ass over the starboard, you sonov'abitch! ]

The glint of near-madness in her eyes nearly over-shadowed the stream of obscenities flowing from those lush petal-pink lips. Her words brought a rush of heat into his nether regions.

Hidan stared closely at her when a sudden thought distracted him from making a comeback.

[ . . . . Pink . . ? ]

Said woman stopped mid-rant to stare incredulously into his eyes. The move unnerved him enough to nearly miss the change in her expression.

[ What? ]

And the moment passed.

Hidan immediately snapped out of his reverie to finally retaliate in kind, [ Nothing, you fuckin' hag! Now get out of my sight, you cock-sucking fucker! ]

The dark-haired women gave an expected look of disgust and shoved her way past him. It took another few seconds for Hidan to begin another rant, and this time, the subject was mainly focused on her. [ Didn't she know I am a fucking member of the Akatsuki, damnit?! ]

Only an empty deck faced his wrath. There was no one in sight, and left alone in the company of a lone seagull screeching overhead, Hidan felt slightly cheated . . .

It took three days for him to mention the incident to Kakuzu. The whole conversation was almost comedic, now that he thought back on it, before the two realized that the woman they were looking for slid right under their noses.

[ ohmotherfuckin'DAMNIT! ]

Both Hidan and Kakuzu immediately rushed out to follow the three-day old chakra trail [ why didn't I notice that she was different than a civilian?! ] but, by then, it was already too late. [ No, she did fuckin' notice, and goddamnit, of course, she would know I was fuckin' Akatsuki! ]

She was gone, and she was smart enough to lay a few scent trails with it [ more like a fucking million ].

Finally, when almost-all of the leads followed and crossed out, the Akatsuki pair ended up with a whole five days behind their target.

Weirdly enough, on the twenty-second day of their chase, Kakuzu detected a sign of a struggle left behind in her second-to-last trail. It led them to believe she was already subdued and when news finally arrived, their Akatsuki rings burned scarlet at the first glimpse of sunlight.

Hidan knew she was already at their base, and a week-and-a-half later, the pair stood in front of their village again. This time, he was so infuriated, he had to be physically tied down by his [ damn ] partner's [ fuckin' DISGUSTING ] threads.

[ You motherfuckin' WRENCH! ] Hidan erupted into the room of seated Akatsuki members.

The pink-haired, green-eyed [ BITCH ] sat in the seat opposite of Pein and closest to the door. Flanked by Konan, Kisame, Deidara, and Tobi on the left, and Zetsu, Itachi, and Sasori on the right, each faced their respective partners. Two chairs were left open on both sides of the large table reserved for himself and his [ money-hungry bastard of a ] partner. Another open spot was left on the right side of the table, originally reserved for the infamous Snake Sanin, Orochimaru, before his defection (which also resulted in Uchiha Itachi's acceptance into the organization – due the opened position – and the destruction of said chair immediately after hearing of his younger brother's defection from Konoha.)

Everyone in the room turned to their now-destroyed meeting room's doors, while something close to vehemence shined in Konan's eyes [ ? ].

Kakuzu was seen standing behind the rubble, rubbing harshly at his temples. The silence reigned for quite a while, and just as Pein was about to rise from his seat, [ she ] replied him.

[ A wrench? ]

All eyes were drawn back to the opposite head of the table and at their newly-inducted member.

[ Tell me, Hidan. ]

[ What self-serving 'motherfuckin' wrench' of a woman would not try outrunning a bastard of a man who doesn't even had the fucking decency to apologize in wronging an innocent who was forced into a game of cat and mouse for nearly twenty-fucking-days? ]

The conviction poured from those full pink lips completely stunned Hidan into speechlessness. After an intense staring contest derived from his inability at a reply, said Akatsuki member tiredly admitted defeat, plodded to his chair, and sank resolutely into it.

Hidan zoned out during the hearing of Haruno Sakura's introduction into the Akatsuki, and instead, filled his head with memories of the past month spent on wild terrain. Within his inner mind, he groaned silently at the thoughts of her earlier outburst. When the image of her lips parting and closing infiltrated his mind again, days after she passed by him in the dark hallways, Hidan soundlessly panted, half in exhilaration and half in ecstasy.

It was official . . . he knew that mouth of hers was going to be the death of him.

Oh, Jashin-sama . . .

.

[ Auxilio ab alto ]

[ By help from on high ]

.

[ Who's the priceless bitch?! ]

He nearly laughed at the words that came out of his partner's mouth. Oh, if only that masochistic fool of an immortal had even the slightest bit of brain capacity to understand . . . nothing is priceless in life.

That is, all except for her.

Now, she came with her costs on the day she was born, of course, that much, he remembered. But the most important detail of all, was that she was worth it . . . down to the very last cent he spent on her.

She was such a pretty little thing, fetching in youthful antics and exotic in features. Already, from six months, she was handling prices anywhere from one thousand dollars to half a grand. People paid handsomely for the Haruno bloodline back then, and even the novice bounty hunters knew that. They didn't know why the Haruno sold for such flashy prices, but back in those days, Kakuzu was in his prime . . . he had no time to waste on what sells. However, his position at the top of the food chain came with its benefits, and it was no small feat, getting his hands on a Haruno.

Besides, no one questions the ticket as long as it belongs to the right seat, and from the took her first breath, that seat was his that Haruno was his to kill, his bounty to collect, and his VIP pass to an eternity of never-ending fortune . . . or, at least, that's what he was planning for. It's all technicalities until the money arrived, and this 'business' of his had every intention of failing if rushed too quickly . . .

Oh, but he never rushed with her . . . no, anyone but her.

Even at a young age, he had every reason for doubt. Like the very first bounty hunters, the fathers and forefathers before him, Kakuzu began as an unfortunate one. Both of his parents met a grisly end at the hands of a merciless loan shark (but that was probably due to their late payments), his thirteenth bounty ended in an untimely accident that crushed part of the left ventricle of his heart (it was thanks to the money stashed in his fifty-eight security banks currently out of a total of sixty, and counting, that he survived to this day), and the very second time he performed his heart collection jutsu, the organ "developed" chronic heart disease on the very next day. Of course, he admitted that was his own fault for the poor inspection beforehand, but that little endeavor still wasted his money, and at the end of the day, that was what's important.

And, that was also why, on the day he finally found his ticket, hidden in what was expensively-named as 'Haruno Sakura,' his heart jumped for joy . . . or that could probably be another tissue infection. (He was kind of sloppy back then, so just to be safe, he 'exchanged' that particular organ out the very next morning).

Thus, Kakuzu supposed, he had every entitlement to his human gold mine. He was there during her first steps, her first friends, and her first 'deaths.' In life's three most important firsts, during all those times, he was silently watching over her while she achieved them. Consequently, every time he watched her stumble and fall, or that one time when she gave her heart away to that pathetic Uchiha boy, Kakuzu sighed.

A long-living Haruno was a more beneficial investment than a heartbroken one. That was also why, right after her family's massacre, he plucked her out from the sea of rounded pigs brought to slaughter, and transported her to a Hidden Village. It was just Kakuzu's misfortune that it happened to be the Leaf.

Fortune aside, there, in Leaf, he presented a test to her: if she became a civilian, then every single coin he placed on her was profitable. If she became a ninja, then every investment he ever made in anything else can all go to hell because Kakuzu of the Akatsuki was about to become a rich, rich, RICH man.

And now, nearly twenty-something years later, his little walking-talking stock market passed the test with flying colors, and the numbers of the bounty over her head practically shot through the roof.

Of course, it was only now, when Leader-sama wanted her in the organization as soon as possible, had Kakuzu became slightly overwhelmed at finally acquiring the opportunity to converse with his living reincarnation of money. And maybe someday, perhaps on a day when the early rays of the sun coasted across his windows and his idiot of a partner finally stopped talking about his god every two seconds, Kakuzu just might gather enough courage to tell her of his hand in 'her dealings.'

It was exactly as his father had told him, [ If you can accomplish something with pride, then nothing will stand in your way. ]

But then again, his father died the very next morning after this deliverance, so Kakuzu had every right to discredit it . . . (or, at least, that was what he told himself during the more unfortunate nights).

.

[ Adaces fortuna iuvat ]

[ Fortune favors the bold ]

.

He found her amid the daisies one day.

His daisies.

Now, it was not in Zetsu's nature to harm the innocent. UNLESS THEY TASTE GOOD.

[ Yes, Black-Zetsu. Unless they taste good. ]

And really, you cannot blame him / them if he / they went ahead and killed her. AND EAT HER.

[ Yes, Black-Zetsu. And eat her. ]

She was lying near his daisies, after all. Innocent or not, this was a terrible crime in his / their eyes.

But he / they had manners.

He / they were going to ask her to politely move, and if she did not wake up, then who was he / they to blame? IF SHE DOESN'T WAKE UP, THEN LET'S EAT HER.

[ Yes, Black-Zetsu. If she does not wake up, then we will eat her. ]

And so, he lunged.

. . .

. .

.

Cherry-white petals bursted into the spring air.

Asleep?

[ Oh, you scared me, sir! I am Sakura! What are you doing here, sir? ]

TO EAT [ Hello. ]

[ You have such a pretty cloak! Really pretty clouds, sir! They're red! I've never seen red clouds before and the ones on your cloak are super-duper pretty! ]

[ ThankDO YOU ALWAYS TALK THIS MUCH?you. ]

[ Do I always talk this much? Of course not! It's just that today is such a pretty day and the flowers and the blue sky and the flowers oh! These flowers are also super-duper pretty! They're my favorite because they're so white, you see? Not pink, like my hair. White is my favorite color, you see, because it makes me feel clean! ]

Clean?

[ Not the pink and red clothes okā-san buys me, oh no, but I don't want to tell her that, you see! But I like the red clouds on your cloak, sir! I'll start wearing the red dresses okā-san buys me next time because I like your red clouds and I'll wear something like that too! ]

[ Yes, white is a clean color AND RED IS MUCH PRETTIER WHEN IT'S PAINTING THE Is that why you like daisies? ]

[ Yep! These daisies are so pretty and they're my favorite! And today's blue sky and your red clouds and the color white because it makes me feel clean! But I don't want to pick them because then, they'll get dirty! ]

[ Picking flowers does not DON'T YOU DARE TOUCH THEM, YOU make them dirty. ]

[ I know that, silly sir! But I think sometimes it's better to leave them be, you know! I love flowers but I know they're the happiest without being picked by me! ]

Happy?

[ Wouldn't you want to keep – AS IF I'LL LET YOU TOUCH – the flowers for yourself? ]

[ Nope! I know they'd rather be free out here in this pretty day with the pretty blue sky and sunshine! ]

Free?

. . .

. .

.

When the opalescent day merged into evening, she left with a happy grin and a large wave of her arms.

He / they turned and stared at the perfectly untouched patch of daisies. The pure-white petals fluttered longingly in the spring breeze.

. . .

. .

.

[ Zetsu. ]

[ Did you complete the mission? ]

NO.

[ Yes. ]

. . .

. .

.

[ Nempe propositum nostrum est secundum naturam vivere ]

[ That is to say, our intention is to live according to nature ]

.


.

Sunrise

.


It was spring when she finally captured her target.

Yokota Mitsugi, an infamous underground organ dealer in the Land of Hot-Springs, was once well-acquainted with one Kakuzu of the Akatsuki.

That was, until a few years back, long after Kakuzu's defection from Iron before Konan received a mission detailing his assassination.

With words that won't touch my hands . . .

For quite a while, Yokota Mitsugi dealt numerous amounts of organs to Pein for his . . . condition, and eventually, even served as a key role in the revival of Akasuna no Sasori.

Normally, a situation involving such a . . . turbulent history was enough of a job for Kakuzu alone. However, this job involved a man well-versed with the organization, and as a result, said organization's stealthiest member was sent to clean the mess up . . .

In this case, Pein sent none other than Konan, herself.

. . . The chestnut coat I bought amidst a winter storm from your shop.

She traveled over thirteen thousand kilometers to track him.

Shinobi crawled all over her journey, and it took quite a bit of time to thwart his hired assassins . . . FIVE YEARS, to be exact. And yet, funny how there was not a single ninja hired above chūnin-level . . .

Her trail led here: one of the many red-light districts in Hot-Springs.

Exactly one year ago, Konan laid her trap, and exactly one year ago, Yokota Mitsugi fell for it.

Although the specific location of his storefront is unknown last year, Yokota Mitsugi finally took the bait and settled down in one of Konan's red-light districts . . . one she had been eying for the past year.

She believed this was where large villages like Iwagakure and Spring had trouble ruling: red-light districts.

Of course, they existed everywhere. Underground black markets and smuggling rings went hand-in-hand with the sex trade, so it was almost impossible to miss those as well. These illegal trades, despite Konohagakure and Sand trying their hardest to abolish them, still existed within their walls. Of course, there were also villages that openly flourished in their standing . . . benefits with the black markets.

Aside from the terrible repetition Amegakure endured over the years for housing the Akatsuki, Pein was a sensible leader. God may not be overly-righteous, but He suffered from no rose-colored illusions. On the matter of His people and the districts civilians centered in, He knew exactly which ones were particularly . . . irritating.

I hid myself in it and quickened my steps in these streets.

Pushing the last of her thoughts aside, Konan quickened her steps in the shadows.

The rooftops provided an excellent scenery of the village, but they also served as the most obvious way of traveling for shinobi. Instead, she chose to stick with the smoke-filled alleyways right underneath their noses.

Of course, there was the usual handful of prostitutes lounging around the corners and an occasional drunkard every now and then squatting against the cobblestone paths . . .

And truth be told, Konan was more than surprised when Pein assigned her this mission.

[ Mitsuka-san? ]

[ Hn. ]

[ But I thought . . ? ]

That was, until Konan met Her.

People kept asking me why I am the only one like this . . .

[ You're back. ]

[ Hn. ]

[ Well? ]

[ I have a mission for you . . . ]

. . . But then I looked up and realized it was spring.

[ . . . Konan. ]

It was too much . . .

She crept closer and closer.

Her target was bustling around the back where rows of cloth-covered changing rooms were located.

The target opened his mouth, shouting something, words she thought nothing of and so, dismissed. A smile alighted his face before the white cloth in his hands suddenly slipped soundlessly onto the floor.

. . . This sweet spring wind . . .

And it caught her by surprise.

. . . Flowers bloom and sway.

All she saw was the flutter of white cloth.

But I want to see something else . . .

And then someone's aquamarine back faced her.

Opal veins flowed from the large hand-sewn lilies, artistically splattered across the wind-swept fabric.

Moonlight.

An open window.

A strip of turquoise silk trailed across the silver gleam of her sword – the drip, drip, dripping of blood.

Pink hair fluttered in the wind.

. . . Something to sweep everything away.

And She was gone.

No spring, love, or cherry blossoms.

So Konan always bought a new kimono in spring.

This doesn't mean the end . . . but only the start of a new beginning.

.

[ Alis volat propiis ]

[ She flies with her own wings ]

.

He looked up at her.

[ Does it hurt? ]

He smirked, and a velvet voice she'd gotten used to these past few months echoed into the silence.

[ Do you care? ]

She laughed.

Patting lightly on the freshly-bandaged chest, he watched her step back and admire her work.

[ Nine days. ]

[ Give me nine more days, and I promise, you'll be good as new again. ]

. . .

. .

.

[ You're back. ]

Ringed eyes pierced through the darkness as he hummed in agreement.

[ Well? ]

She gestured at the scroll clasped tightly in his hands. Beads of water dripped onto the floor, and he closed his eyes before nodding.

It was a few minutes later when Pein watched his childhood friend's breath hitch.

Fingers clenched tightly around the parchment scroll, right along the same groves as he did a mere moment ago.

[ Mitsuka-san? ]

He hummed in agreement again, but when she saw how his hands tightened around the back of the wooden chair, Konan decidedly kept quiet.

The room fell into silence as he recollected his thoughts.

Softly and slowly, he muttered, [ Time is running out. ]

She scrambled for the exit, and the self-proclaimed-God's office was quiet once more.

. . .

. .

.

[ I have a mission for you . . . ]

[ . . . Konan. ]

. . .

. .

.

And it was this mission's report that intrigued him the most.

In all his years of upholding Yahiko's image, Pein had never seen Konan so affected by another man's death.

Molten-amber eyes softened, and her normally-professional posture shifted.

The report in spring was . . . interesting.

. . .

. .

.

Konan's behavior changed after that mission.

She started obsessively combing through the shinobi records of the Land of Hot-Springs. He, at least, had half-a-mind to make sure her espionage trips left no records. The piles of official documents she "acquired" were, by no means, acceptable, after all.

Then, she started nitpicking through the shinobi records from other villages.

Apparently, a majority of the underworld organizations knew of Konan's interest and even heard the rumors of her movements.

But, her new interest covered its tracks well – any information Konan obtained was either too vague or too outlandish.

But finally, after sixteen long months of restless searching, she started showing up to the Akatsuki meetings again . . . but not before an insistent Uchiha stopped by . . .

And imagine his surprise when she was only a no-name chūnin from Leaf.

Are you satisfied now?

A few years later, Konan thought of the same question he asked her all those years ago and smiled at His beautiful Goddess.

. . .

. .

.

[ Kakuzu. ]

The elder man stared unflinchingly into the Rinnegan. Pein mentally applauded his choice in such a courageous advisor.

Also, he was, conveniently, a touch malleable.

. . .

. .

.

[ I understand you met a ninja of great interest on your last mission… ]

He watched over her for all these years, and the moment when that idiotic puppet had His chance, he let her slip away.

Pein was beyond furious . . .

He was absolutely livid.

You fool.

Sudden flashes of lightning illuminated the steel glare in his eyes, and the abrupt glow challenged Sasori to contradict him.

[ Had that been reported, the Akatsuki would have no need to formally join her hunt. ]

God growled, low and deep.

You utterly damned FOOL.

[ I have no idea what you mean, Leader-sama. ] Sasori's face was devoid of all emotion, a mirror of its former state . . . a state in which she shattered with one well-placed punch . . . and a state in which Pein was more than happy to bring him back to.

There was a sharp bite and heavy sarcasm weaved throughout his monotonous dialogue, and it pissed Pein off even more.

You cannot keep Her away from me.

[ Haruno Sakura, ] He let slip a chilling smile, covering it with his clasped hands.

Amusement overshadowed his smirk as he saw Sasori visibly twitch. [ Wanted in seven different countries for war crimes and abandonment of her village, former apprentice of, and said to have surpassed, the current Hokage of the Hidden Leaf . . . ]

I will win Her over . . .

He watched as Sasori bow mechanically and swiftly escape from His office.

She will become Akatsuki.

And in the distance, the thunder slowly receded back into drizzling mist.

. . .

. .

.

She blossomed into popularity right before his eyes.

She, who started as a no-name chūnin, placed by chance, unfortunately with the younger Uchiha and the Kyūbi Container.

Hatake Kakashi, the sensei, is pathetic. Focusing so much on a lost cause is and always will be useless, no matter how confident that spy is on the subject of his younger brother. Ensnarled by his own affections, Itachi's only redeeming quality lied in his resourcefulness . . .

However, even that mental could see how worthless his youngest "clan heir" had become. Despite Madara's overly-narcissistic personality, he was not as blind as Itachi, and that was worth his forgiveness from God.

Nothing escapes God's scrutiny . . . especially not the admirers of His Goddess.

God is Almighty . . . He is Almighty. He, who hears, sees, and knows all.

Before, the Kyūbi Container was nothing more than a tool for Him . . . until He realized how attached His Goddess became.

Before, the Village of Konoha was nothing more than a lot of simpletons to Him . . . until He realized how attached His Goddess became.

Before, the members were nothing more than deliverers of His Gospel, His Truths, His Pain . . . until he realized how attached His Goddess became.

And that is unacceptable.

. . .

. .

.

It all started with Kakuzu.

Days within His decision to recruit the immortal accountant, Pein noticed his belligerent council following the days of mysterious absence.

There will always be an aura of death within the Akatsuki Headquarters, especially since it was used as a prison back during the . . . former reign. Pein only refurnished the inside, leaving the building's outside appearance as ominous as it came. Even now, He kept a heavy mist covering its surroundings.

White soothed Konan so Pein never bothered much on the matter.

However, the minute He realized the fog was hiding Kakuzu's . . . absences, God was more than willing to erase it.

No one made a fool of God . . .

. . . until He found him protecting His Goddess, and that was admirable so He let them continue . . .

. . . so as long as they knew their place.

. . .

. .

.

Pein purposely planned their mission.

Whoever bested Him at arrival will not go unpunished . . . and so, God played another member into a meeting with Her.

Kisame's reaction was highly amusing . . . even more so than the rare display of Itachi's petty jealousy.

Being the benevolent God He was, Pein allowed Itachi's partner to welcome His Goddess earlier than the rest . . . even before Himself because unlike that Uchiha, Hoshigaki knew his place.

. . .

. .

.

Zetsu arrived even earlier than Uchiha, but due to the consistent years of loyal service he provided for God, Pein released him of punishment.

. . .

. .

.

Sasori's death was nothing short of a wondrous surprise to God.

She was the perfect mixture of strength and weakness . . . her thirst for revenge, for justice . . . and the state of her broken heart when all was done.

The fight showed Him how fleeting and how permanent her life became, from the ostracized child to the no-name chūnin . . . and into His Goddess.

Pein was one breath short of complete and utter bliss.

Now, it all needs one last push, and that was . . .

. . .

. .

.

[ Who's the priceless bitch?! ]

Faster than he could reply, a bingo book slammed into Hidan's face. The surprised Jashinist sputtered at the impact of the charcoal handbook, neck whiplashed in its sudden twist to the left. Kakuzu appeared righteously infuriated, easily angered at her defense.

Pein smiled.

[ YOU FUCKIN'– ]

[ Enough. ] His voice echoed across the room. He glanced over at Kakuzu's steaming expression, neon-bright eyes narrowed sharply at his partner.

This fool is going to get himself killed . . . and God almost regretted Hidan's inclusion.

. . .

. .

.

[ Oi, who is this bitch? And why the fuck does it say "undetermined"? Is she worth catching or not?! ]

Hidan's haughty sneer irked white teeth gritted into a maniacal grin.

God has had enough. He spoke again and this time, almost laughed at the Jashinist's shattered expression.

[ Bring her back to me . . . ALIVE, Hidan. She's the newest addition to Akatsuki. ]

Kakuzu heard his unvoiced warning and shuffled quickly out of the room.

Touch her, and you'll die.

. . .

. .

.

[ Meet Haruno Sakura, our newest member – ] Pein barely paused to take a breath before Hidan suddenly shattered the meeting room door. The already-seated members of His organization grimaced in disproval.

[ – And, as the leader of the Akatsuki, I have already approved of Her induction. ] He unclenched his fists and placed them into his lap.

Then, God smiled.

. . .

. .

.

Are you satisfied now?

His beautiful Goddess smiled back.

. . .

. .

.

He looked up at Her.

[ Does it hurt? ]

God smirked, and a velvet voice Sakura knew from her dreams echoed into the silence.

[ Do you care? ]

The Goddess laughed.

Patting lightly on His scarred human chest, He watched Her step back and grieve over the damage. Her hands lightly brushed over his crimson bangs and the piercing-less skin of his cheek.

[ Give me nine months, and I promise, Nagato. God shall be good as new again. ]

.

[ Amare et sapere vix deo conceditur ]

[ Even a god finds it hard to love and be wise at the same time ]

.

Pein went missing for ten days, and Madara became curious.

Days turned into weeks and then into months.

Pein, no, Nagato, still wore an expression of dizzy happiness in his ringed eyes after he came back. Not even the somber rain nor his own fierce glares could wipe it off.

Now, who captured the stone heart of this man? He thought, almost amused at such a prospect. A "god" is no fool . . . so neither must be this woman.

After all, if he could fall in love, then it must only be with a goddess . . .

And it was when she smiled at him for the first time, had he finally understood the cruelty of fate.

Eyes

She was the first one who broke free from his Sharingan . . .

Red

. . . his Mangekyō Sharingan.

Throat

And, at first, he wanted to kill her for it . . .

Red

. . . But he changed his mind.

Water

She was a weakness to him . . .

Red

. . . But no matter how he evaded her presence, his dreams still clung to him.

Moon

She was magnificent . . .

Darkness

. . . And he loved her for it, even if she did not belong to him.

.

[ Starlight ]

.

Eyes

"S-Sakura?" A single wavering voice sounded through a hole in the rice paper. The peephole was barely big enough to show his widening pupil.

"N-Nii–" Heavy coughing interrupted him, and red bile rose from the back of his throat.

"N-Nii-san . . . S-Sakura?"

The boy on the other side smiled.

"Yes, otōto. The cherry blossoms are falling."

Red

A mother gasped at the air leaving her lungs and with ghostly hands, tightly enveloped her child tightly to her silent chest.

His breathing was slightly ragged and unsteady in each inhale, but it was still moving.

Clutching the toddler's head tenderly in her palms, beads of dark-pink dripped down her semi-transparent cheek, surprise and anguish coloring her voice.

"I'm so sorry . . ."

The silence echoed around them, fading and then sharpening, one last time, into focus as her eyes adjusted on the broken body of her husband.

". . . I couldn't stop him."

His back was sliced clean through the spine, fragments of broken bone and its hazy white shining crudely among the sliced cloth.

"Oh, Kami-sama . . ."

Next to the overturned table, her fingers were frozen, hanging loosely around a teacup.

"My son, Kami-sama . . ."

The strong green liquid mixed with streaming crimson.

". . . Save my sons."

. . .

. .

.

Three hundred years have passed, and this time, the widening pupil belonged to another child.

Once more, from behind the screen door, the peephole spun.

Throat

"I'LL KILL YOU FOR THIS! I'LL KILL YOU, I SWEAR I WILL!" Sasuke gurgled from his position on the ground. A sword, not unlike his own lying a few feet away from them, twisted sharply into the skin beneath his shattered collarbone.

"Foolish little brother."

From afar, it appeared as the elder heir was only forcing his smirk.

"Do not think, for even a minute, that five years under a snake will make you strong."

The hatred twisted his irises into the shape of an ellipsis. It was absolutely disgusting with how that brat morphed HIS Clan's Sharingan into diamante petals, of all things.

That brat progressed terribly in Konoha, and it had only gotten worse after his apprenticeship under Orochimaru.

"Speaking of which," the Uchiha ancestor muttered to himself.

"I need to pay a visit for his failures."

Quietly, Madara shifted his orange mask back over his face, and with a final brush of his cloak, he disappeared into the greenery.

Red

Otogakure was strangely quiet this night.

Every alleyway was empty, devoid of its usual host of whores and drunks. Even the pubs – back entrances for drugs and human trafficking – were closed for the early evening, and to this, Madara grew suspicious. It was an awfully unlike the Snake Sanin to miss out on such an abundance of opportunities . . .

And few moments later, the Akatsuki member stopped in front of the Sanin's base, bypassing its ominous stone entrance. Fearsome stalactites littered the cavern ceiling, as ivy spiraled around rows of limestone structures deeper inside. The meager vegetation fed upon bioluminescent bacteria plastered on the walls.

Sweeping the scenery with one visible eye, Madara silently noted the absence of Orochimaru's summons – a pair of colossal snakes that guarded the small caves housing his experiments.

How curious . . . Madara thought to himself.

Mere minutes later, he activated his Sharingan.

And how he wished he had done that sooner . . .

The body of a gigantic snake was diced neatly on the floor.

Water

He first suspected Itachi, his polite and obedient, well-bred and well-mannered, intelligent and mass-murdering, pawn, Itachi.

He had then added vengeful to the list. But it came as no surprise to Madara with how his elder heir resented that Snake.

Uchiha Itachi absolutely adored his pathetic brat of a younger brother . . . and it was, perhaps, one of the only weaknesses his descendent inherited from his ancestor.

To this, he smiled . . . and headed north . . .

. . . but imagine his surprise at finding the younger Uchiha first.

Red

"Oh? Here to drag me back so soon?" Sasuke smirked at the cloaked figure straddled below him.

The silver glint of kunai pressed into his jugular threateningly, and he tightened his hold around her throat in response.

They were in the Valley of the End, a laughably suitable place everything began and ended for him . . . a place where Madara more than welcomed Uchiha Sasuke's chance to prove himself once again.

And this'll be the only chance he gets.

Perhaps it was the subtle shift of his opponent's shoulders, or perhaps, it was the downtrodden air the kunoichi held about her, but Madara immediately noticed the scorn and pity she held for him.

It was even more interesting to see the same look aimed at her from his descendent.

Their display was nothing short of humiliating for each other, so perhaps, his kin does deserve another chance . . .

"You're pathetic, Sakura . . ."

So that was her name?

". . . you'll never beat me . . ."

Oh, how sad, Madara thought. Clan children will always exceed civilian children, and that was a solid truth indisputable even in this day and age . . .

". . . You're WEAK."

. . . if only Hashirama could see this now.

. . .

. .

.

The sudden burst of concentrated chakra blinded him.

His Sharingan was turned off, and he immediately corrected his mistake.

. . .

. .

.

In the back of his mind, where the last remaining shreds of this body's original host still clung to, he shuddered.

And it was the first time Uchiha Madara felt this unmistakable rush of adrenaline . . . it was something so foreign, so familiar, so intoxicating that he was at a complete loss of words to describe it.

It was the first time Uchiha Madara felt fear, and it was addicting.

. . . if only Hashirama could see him now.

Moon

The days and weeks that followed were pure bliss and pure agony.

He never felt so euphoric yet so tortured before . . . and he couldn't get enough of her.

Ever since he watched the near-death of his youngest descendent (who lived only because she had the heart to spare him), he became infatuated with her.

How could a kunoichi, so thoroughly attached to her emotions, manage to excel through the life of a ninja paved in bloodshed?

Master shinobi like Madara were taught to abandon all wants and desires right from the age of birth in order to become the best soldier of his clan – and Madara was better than even that.

He was a general.

The Clan tried to raise him as the perfect puppet like Itachi when he was a child, and it wasn't until after the death of– but that doesn't matter now.

For a short while, he controlled the Uchiha Clan, and for a short while, he was content.

But that was only because no being on this earth matched up to his prowess . . . after all, who was the one to surpass the temporary flesh in a method far more liberal than the Edo Tensai?

Of course, Konoha was not what it used to be, with only the jinchūriki-container showing even an ounce of his capacity for greatness. And yet, even then, that Senju brat's blood was still discolored beyond compare.

. . .

. .

.

But who would think that such a powerful goddess came from a civilian family? She had no kekkai genkai and didn't need one in terms of her capabilities . . .

Really, it wasn't his fault that he became attached.

She was just . . . too exhilarating.

Darkness

Sakura walked calmly away from the Kirigakure missing-nin.

Unnervingly, she felt a passing gaze rove along the arch of her backside, and in the silence before her departure, the mist faintly whispered her name.

.

[ Moon Rise ]

.

Eyes

"Who are you?"

Gleaming emerald irises burned into the night.

His heart was racing in anticipation, fist tightening on the kunai hidden in the creases of his cloak.

There was a certain poetical order in which the events occurred . . .

She glared right into his soul . . .

And so, he did what any self-righteous, wise, lovesick Uchiha would do.

He turned on his Sharingan.

Red

There were only three shades that she painted her mind in: black, opaque, and sanguine.

A roving, shifting sort of inky darkness covered the hidden corners.

Undoubtedly, that was where her nightmares lived.

He felt the dark pool flutter against the tips of his nails before another blackened memory pushed its way past the murky confines.

It slithered along the ridge of his wrist before the crinkled white suddenly latched tightly onto his outstretched fingers.

It took him a moment to process that what he formerly identified as a memory shifted itself to form something that resembled an opaque hand.

The shifting, swirling mass shaped itself into a small, awfully-familiar form of a young child.

His heart stopped.

. . . I-Izuna . . ?

And everything fell.

. . .

. .

.

Beneath his feet, lied the perfectly-diced body of Orochimaru.

Layers, upon layers, and layers of gushing red churned into the room.

The walls convulsed, pushing the growing puddle of blood closer and closer to his still feet.

. . .

. .

.

It was all in opaque.

Throat

Oh my, Madara-san! You shouldn't pry into things you have no business knowing!

Her voice turned sweeter, darker, and just a bit more deadlier.

It was, in that moment, when Uchiha Madara knew, without doubt, that he loved her.

. . .

. .

.

Had he paid more attention, Madara would've seen the light imprint of kanji on her forehead, right underneath her row of chakra seals.

Had he paid more attention, Madara would've seen the hint of bloodlust overshadowing her pupils, the irises turning just a slight shade darker than green and a shade a bit lighter than ink.

Had he paid more attention, Madara would've noticed his own blood dripping down the small of his chin, lighter in flavor and just a tint closer to the color in her eyes.

Red

"Who are you?" She voiced again.

He felt his eyes close as her tune washed over him.

Once the lone eye shifted out of view, he felt her hands loosen from his neck.

He could feel the apprehension almost smothering him before she suddenly relaxed.

He let go of his kunai.

Now, when they spoke, he took his time.

"You're . . . Obito, aren't you?"

A nod . . . but not quite.

"You're Tobi . . ."

And she left the last part unfinished.

He knew that this body was, by no means, a member of Akatsuki, and honestly, nor was his soul ever considered a part of the organization either.

"You're . . ."

He grinned behind his mask.

It's the first time in several hundred years that someone figured out his real identity without him removing the orange mask.

Obito felt like kissing her.

Madara felt like devouring her.

So, instead, he did what his persona suggested.

"TOBI'LL SEE YOU AROUND, SAKURA-CHAN~"

Eyes blinked in annoyance, but before her hands could tighten once more, he disappeared.

Water

"I wasn't DONE with her."

Pein barely spared him a glance from his seat at his desk.

Stacks after precarious stacks of classified scrolls obscured him from his view.

Standing dutifully behind him, Zetsu shivered at the heavy aura surrounding him.

His Sharingan spun slowly behind the comically-bright porcelain, the speed matching the lazy twirls of kunai – the same kunai he almost used on her – while slouched unceremoniously in his chair.

The posture looked almost exactly like how his body was dragged around on the way back from Moon Country.

But Pein was smarter than Zetsu.

He knew exactly how tensed the Uchiha ancestor was, and compared to the first time he finished the last seals of the Edo Tensai, Madara could admit that his performance was a bit beneath Leader-sama's expectations . . .

. . . not that it mattered to Madara.

They both knew he was here to complete his part of the deal while under the, in his opinion, sordidly-unneeded, protection of the Akatsuki while Pein only benefitted from another Uchiha joining his ranks.

That being said, the Akatsuki, other than matching his interests and their mutual despise for the shinobi villages, still served Madara's purpose.

Originally, Madara sought control over the Jinchūriki . . . but who needed nine disobedient, over-grown PETS when he could spend that time to maximize his own exponentially-GREATER power?

Of course, that's not to say he wasn't . . . disappointed in the overly-attached relationships the bijū had with their containers . . . Now, that was a factor he hadn't taken into consideration prior to his reincarnation.

After all, the original plan was founded on the principle of his soul replacing Obito's . . .

However, as time went on, he found that his soul had, instead, merged with Obito's . . .

And who could ever say no to another Uchiha's powers being added onto his own?

Of course, the younger Uchiha also held . . . and unnaturally oppressive and ruthlessly appealing darkness that he, himself, also held as well . . .

One could only guess at when Obito was consumed by the Uchiha curse, but now, with Madara alive . . . perhaps, two wrongs do make a right.

It also helped that Uchiha Obito mirrored Uchiha Madara's desires . . . the desire for one pink-haired kunoichi, to be exact . . .

. . . So he stood up to take his leave.

Madara knew Pein would never spare a glance at him during his "moods." How pathetic that a few weeks without his childhood friend and he turns into a brooding child oh-so-similar to his descendants . . . a specific Uchiha Itachi comes to mind.

Besides, why stay when his message was already delivered?

. . .

. .

.

The oak doors swung open at the exact moment he reached for them.

A pale shade of blue reflected across the single peephole of his mask, and Madara smothered his growl.

[ IT'S THAT BITCH WHO STUCK HER NOSE INTO MY AFFAIRS. ]

For once, Madara agreed with Obito.

Slipping into his persona right at the perfect second, Tobi shoved the body colliding into his own.

"O-oh, excuse me . . . "

Strained Sharingan eye narrowed.

The scent of liquor and silk cloth permeated the air around her, despite being lessened by the smell of wet and rain.

In the back of his mind, Obito snarled in realization.

[ THAT BASTARD . . ! ]

[ Patience, young one. ]

A strained smirk tugged insistently at his lips.

Tobi was the only one who gave into it.

"Ahhh~? It's all water under the bridge, Konan-san!"

But the woman was already rushing towards that wrenched mahogany desk.

Madara was the only one conscientious enough to bother with closing the door, and Obito was still in control enough to glance suspiciously behind them.

The Rinnegan flickered in understanding.

This time, he did growl.

Red

He allowed Konan's involvement for one reason and one reason only: to have Sakura stay by his side.

[ I KNOW YOU'RE THERE, MADARA. ]

Of course, it took quite a while to convince her . . .

[ STOP FOLLOWING ME! AND TELL YOUR LACKEYS TO QUIT IT AS WELL. ]

. . . Twenty-eight days, to be exact.

[ IF YOU DON'T STOP TRAILING ME, THEN I'LL kill YOU, MADARA. DON'T THINK I WON'T, AND AT THE VERY least, I'LL die trying. ]

And at first, they stumbled across a few . . . arguments.

[ HELP you? NOW, why SHOULD I HELP you? ]

But he managed to find the right . . . catchphrase to earn him entry.

[ Obito, what do you mean? The Rinnegan is . . ? ]

Along with a few other . . . specific word choices, of course.

[ Don't you DARE mention KONOHA TO ME! ]

Inevitably, they still caused quite a bit of . . . carnage.

[ Oh, DON'T look so surprised, UCHIHA. That expression wore out THIRTEEN years ago. ] . . . And he grimaced.

There was humor . . .

[ I . . . I'll KILL YOU, you UCHIHA BASTARD. ]

For him, indubitably.

[ TELL ME TO STAY STILL ONE MORE TIME, and I'll SEVER your torso from your legs! ]

But in the end, she – however reluctantly – agreed . . . for now, at least.

[ FINE. I'll go . . . ]

And truthfully, that's all he could ever hope for . . . for now.

[ . . . only if you PROMISE me something . . . ]

After all, he was not known as the Second Sixth Paths and once-called the "Savior of the World" of nothing . . . thus, whatever Uchiha Madara wanted, he would get.

And he wanted–

[ . . . Let me destroy Konoha. ]

Moon

[ I'll make a deal with you. ]

Facing the waning moonlight, Madara smirked.

[ You should know better than to make a deal with me, child. ]

Pein leaned against his desk, the same desk he knew Madara hated so . . .

And inconspicuously, it was his turn to smirk.

[ You know what I want, Uchiha. ]

The look on their faces grew solemn.

Both kept their unwavering stares on the near-blinding light shining from outside.

The two of them were unused to such brightness during these past few nights.

Ever since her arrival, their tension was palpable enough to even stifle the immortals.

She began avoiding them even after dawn . . .

And it was only because of that had they finally agreed to a night.

They were both two monsters of darkness . . .

Perhaps that was why she found their presence oppressive.

This was a matter they never contemplated on backing down on . . .

Not when they were born to fight wars . . .

. . . regardless of who started them.

[ A word of advice, Nagato . . . ]

Madara's smirk grew wider and wider until a silver of his canines flashed underneath the shadows.

[ God is NOTHING without SIN. ]

. . .

. .

.

[ . . . I promise. ]

Darkness

He loves her for it, even if she was not his to begin with.

.

[ Sunlight ]

.

[ Veni Vidi Vici ]

[ I came, I saw, I conquered ]

.


{ Exeunt

{ They leave


.

Author's Note :

.

First time writing canon (or at least, canon-as-possible) characters . . . how. very. unbelievably. annoying. I can almost say for 99.9998% that I will never do that again.

Latin's not "my thing" (ironically), so let me know if there's anything, and I mean anything, wrong with the phrases. Please and thank you.

I hope I wasn't too awfully vague on the first part. It's kept more freely to the reader's interpretation, and I apologize to any Karin fans out there. Personally, I do not "hate" Karin; the fanfic called for her to be the "villain" and so, she is. Any other female character might have worked just as well, but no one was more suited for the role than Karin. There are not enough "Sakura-hating" characters in the Naruto fandom (specifically, not enough plot-centralized females, that is *cough, cough*).

I tried to keep Deidara's personality as "explosive" as possible, whereas Sasori's was a more metronomic feel. –– Kakuzu rambled a little more than I would've liked, but that was probably because of his old age (or something like that.) –– Kisame met Sakura when she was 8 years old. Sasuke left earlier that year, and Itachi "completed" the Uchiha Massacre when Sasuke was 4 (let's pretend Sasuke and Sakura are the same age). –– Sakura was 21 when she finally joined the Akatsuki. –– Sorry for Hidan's vulgar personality . . . I had a hard time writing his part (considering that I took only 3 hours to finish Deidara's, Sasori's, and Kakuzu's part, while Hidan's, alone, took nearly 4 days). Each curse word made me cringe, especially considering that over-excessive vulgarity disgusts me. –– Yes, Yokota Mitsugi is an OC, and YES, to those of you who guessed right (kudos to you), Konan's part was styled in the format of a song-fic, and the song used? : 봄,사랑,벚꽃 말고 (Not Spring, Love, or Cherry Blossoms) by HIGH4 & IU, 2014 –– Majority of Pein's / Nagato's section was in italics because, to him, it all happened in the past. –– Why did I end with Madara? Because I love Madara. His character is awesome, and the original plot development around him wasn't too shabby either . . . that, and I have a tendency to root for the villains. (Also, to date, Sakura was 21 in the convo with Madara during the last "Red" section. So yes, that does make it 13 years since she last spoke to Kisame – the first time she received a "shocked" expression from an Akatsuki member.)

Constructive criticism (aka. reviews) are appreciated (but I'm not going to force your hands to type), and / or PM me about any questions, concerns, comments, etc.

(Yes, this is my first posted fanfic, and yes, I'm a terrible monster who jumps tenses in the Author's Note; I've done it, I am doing it, and I will do it again. That being said, feel free to let me know if there are any errors in my writing or parts that just didn't feel "right" in the actual plotline.)

Thank you, and I'm very grateful!

– FSD

.

{ Date began : Sunday, July 12th of 2015, 2AM

{ Date completed : Wednesday, February 10th of 2016, 11:59PM

.


.

[ Additicius ]

[ Extra ]

.

Orochimaru glanced warily around his chambers.

After adding the last few drops of precious lithium into the beaker, he peeled off his surgical gloves and laid them atop the table.

Behind him, he heard the soft sizzling of dying embers exhume their last breath.

He chuckled to himself nervously.

Ever since he got back from a visit by one Uchiha Itachi, he felt himself being watched at the oddest times of the day.

A pair of eyes would slither down the huddled arch of his spine while he added cyanide into his new experiments or when he waved his summons away for their meals . . .

He felt a gaze travel across the broad of his shoulders and further down to the ends of his obi sash, swaying soundlessly along the limestone paths.

It would be a lie to say the stares felt . . . unfamiliar.

But it's been ongoing for several weeks now . . . and for the many glances behind him, he detected nothing.

Nevertheless, it never hurts to stay cautious.

The cages holding his experiments were silent.

He could taste each of Manda and Aoda's offspring breathe . . .

It's been years since Kabuto was last defeated by the damned Uchiha.

Perhaps, the instruction of another assistant is in order . . ?

. . .

. .

.

Promptly, as so, Otogakure's Snake Sanin, Orochimaru, died with the thought of another victim on his mind.

.

[ Non fuerit opus explicare malo ]

[ There is no need to explain evil ]

.