This fic contains themes that might be upsetting for some audiences. Please see author notes at the bottom.


Chapter One

Death's Assassin


The midwinter sky had never been so black and so void of stars. Sakura lay on her back, watching the snow falling from the atmosphere like lumps of thick, soggy cotton that gathered around her on the meadow floor. She felt the cold on her face, but she was numb from the waist down and couldn't move her legs. Her right arm was suspended above her head, her shoulder pulling away from her neck at the wrong angle. The bones in her arm were dislocated – if not broken. She tried to move, but every ounce of her energy seemed spent. She wasn't sure how long she'd been knocked out, but one thing was certain: she'd been left here to die.

Death would have been kinder, Sakura thought dismally.

A sharp, hot pain akin to a hornet sting shot down her neck as she lifted her head a mere four inches from the frozen ground. The snow was accumulating; a third of her body was covered, and by morning she was sure to be buried alive.

Sakura was not ready to die. Survival had been programmed into her DNA from birth. It came as easily as breathing; a natural reflex. She dropped her head back into the snow, gulping a lungful of frigid air that raked through her lungs like the edge of a serrated knife. She'd been stabbed. She recalled the flash of the silver blade against the fading light before her attacker plunged it into her side. It was possible the blade had pierced a lung and she was bleeding from the inside.

Sakura closed her eyes and concentrated all her energy into moving her fingers. The sensation of pins and needles danced across her frozen fingertips. In this case, pain was a good thing. With a little more effort she managed to move her left forearm, pulling it closer to her body. She rendered her right arm completely useless. Sakura ground down on her back molars, gritting her teeth against the pain as she lifted her head and forced her left arm beneath her torso in order to hoist up onto her side. Excruciating fire screamed through her body, and a cry grated up the back of her throat and echoed in the still darkness surrounding her.

Sakura heaved, trying to catch her breath as a frosted cloud billowed from her parted lips and disappeared into the night. She craned her neck, muscles straining in protest as she tried with earnest to make out the shapes that stretched behind her. She worked their stark silhouettes in her mind, recalling the large black fir trees towering high above her head. Yes, she thought, the forest was at her back. Her army had crept in from the north, using the wood to their advantage to hide from the enemy… Another pain, different this time, lanced through her mind as she squeezed her eyelids shut.

Before the sun had set, there had been so much blood. Bright crimson pools saturated the snow-covered ground, staining the earth below: The blood of her fallen comrades. Sakura could still hear the sound of steel ringing in her ears, the sharp metallic cry was as clear as crystalline bells. It echoed in her ears along with the strangled sounds of her friends dying. Sakura felt the unbearable weight of their loss, her chest tightening as tears spilled from the corners of her eyes and froze on her cheeks. She wondered how many of her people had made it out of the meadow alive, and how many, like her, had been left to rot in the frozen tundra of the wild forest at her back.

She needed to get up.

She needed to find a way to get moving so she could search the forest for survivors. Sakura knew she would find more than just her comrades – as her army had managed to take down half the Konoha army that was sent to destroy her Kumoga clansmen. There had been great loss on both sides, and if Sakura wasn't careful, she may find someone within the wood that was willing to finish the job of sending her to the death gods.

Sakura tried kicking out with her legs. A fiery torch lit her veins, and Sakura grunted as she dug into the snow with the toe of her boot and used her elbow to drag herself towards the trees. It was slow, agonizing work that left Sakura breathless by the time she reached a black-needled spruce merely eight feet from where she'd awoken. The smell of ice and pine was strong enough that she could taste it on the back of her tongue. She reached up with her good arm, clasping a low-hanging branch and pulled herself into an upright seated position as she collapsed against the rough bark of the tree trunk.

Pain like molten lava blossomed in her side, and Sakura felt a fresh current of blood seeping from the wound she'd received. She covered it with her palm, wrapping her arm about her body like a makeshift sling to hold her ribs in place. Everything hurt. She couldn't remember a time in her life where she'd ever been in so much pain. She tilted her head against the tree, looking up at the snow-covered branches as her eyesight began to adjust in the dark. Was this what she'd spent her entire life training for? A refusal to give up, even when the body began to shut down.

"Think, Sakura," she told herself. The sound of her own voice was a stranger in the cold night, unfamiliar and strained from the use of battle cries. She didn't want to let go of her side, but she needed to check herself for anything she might be able to use to stop the blood flow. All her weapons were gone – taken from her after her attacker pronounced her dead. She couldn't remember his face, only the color of his eyes as she dropped to her knees in the snow. They were hard and black as obsidian, filled with feral rage. After he pulled the dagger from her side, he cracked her on the temple with the hilt. It had been lights out after that… He should have checked her pulse, Sakura thought drily, before he left her in the snow.

The snow.

Sakura let go of her wound and gathered a handful of snow, ice, and pine needles, making a frozen poultice of sorts and clumsily lifted her tunic and vest to pack her wound. Sakura knew that she had lost a lot of blood in the fight, but with any luck, her makeshift poultice might just save her life.

She needed to get her blood flowing again. If she sat for too long, she was at risk for developing hypothermia which would surely do the trick of sending her to her grave. Her body wanted to sleep. Every fiber of her being ached with the drowsiness of exhaustion. She wiggled her frozen toes in her boots, thanking whatever primordial gods were watching her for still having feeling in her feet. She tested her shins next, working her knees as she jogged the joints up and down, warming them as she sat in place.

"This is good," Sakura breathed. "Now," she grunted, "if only I can will myself to stand." She reached for the branches, using them as a crutch to balance herself as she got her feet underneath her. Sakura inhaled sharply, pulling herself up as a strangled cry escaped her lungs. She was on her feet, still clinging to the branches when a light appeared in the darkness.

She hadn't heard him coming.

Heat like summer lightning bathed her face from the torchlight that was being held inches from her skin. The gloved hand it was attached to was as steady and still as time itself. Sakura didn't dare breathe. Her gaze lifted to the face behind the flame; a man, whose features were hidden behind the confines of a black mask. He wore a cloth headband that sat at an angle over his forehead, the purpose to cover a singular eye. Sakura saw the metal insignia gleaming in the firelight, and what was left of her blood froze solid in her veins. The man was special ops: a member of the Black Army, a Konoha assassin.

Sakura's legs shook beneath her. She let go of the branch and slipped in the snow, falling back against the trunk. The man didn't try to reach for her. The gaze from his one visible eye followed her as she sank to the ground at his feet. The firelight cast shadows that exacerbated the unforgiving hollow of his single eye. Sakura could not make out its exact color, only knew that it was dark; a striking contrast from the silver hair that hung over his forehead.

Sakura swallowed. "Have you come to finish the job?" Her voice carried all the frailty of butterfly wings in a windstorm.

"It would be kinder if I did," the man responded. Despite his terrifying, ethereal appearance, Sakura thought his voice to be gentle. The phrase 'killing me softly' came to mind, and caused an icy shiver to chase the length of her spine. That was what the Black Army was known for. Its elite assassins could deliver a killing blow in complete silence and disappear before anyone knew what happened. They were ghosts that moved on land, through the trees – maybe even the air, for all Sakura knew. She'd grown up hearing the stories, but never in her life had she seen an actual member. No one did and lived to tell the tale.

"What other purpose could I possibly serve?" Sakura dared to ask.

The man's gaze scrutinized her slight figure in the light of his torch. She could only begin to guess what he was thinking as his eye settled on her face. Sakura knew she was covered in blood, and not all of it belonged to her. Her head ached where her attacker had delivered a crushing blow with the hilt of his blade. She knew there was a gash at her hairline; the side of her face was sticky with blood that had congealed and froze to her skin. The Black Guard never answered her, for another man had come to stand at his side.

Dressed in similar garb, he was shorter than the man with the torch by a couple inches; his narrow face framed by a sea of black hair. Every angle of his face, jaw, nose, and cheekbone, looked as sharp as the edge of a knife. He plucked the torch from his comrade's hands and knelt before Sakura in the snow, tilting his head.

"This is the one," the man said. "I'd never forget that hair."

Sakura's breath caught. His eyes, though no longer burning with feral rage, could not be mistaken. This man, though dressed differently now, had been the man that attacked her during the battle. Sakura's lips parted, her chest tightening as she gazed at the man in the glow of the torchlight.

"Pink," the other man said.

"Kissed by the Wounded Healer himself."

Sakura felt the pull of her eyebrows as they furrowed in confusion. It was said in her village that all the warriors were hand-chosen by the gods at birth. For each warrior was given a special mark that separated them from the commoners. Sakura had been born with pink hair, the exact match of cherry blossom petals in spring. Sakura was told that her hair had been a gift from the gods, but she didn't understand what the 'Wounded Healer' had to do with her misfortune. She only knew that her hair had marked her for battle. At five years of age, she was sent off with the other special boys and girls and taught to become a warrior.

"Let's take her back to Konoha and see what Chiron has marked her for," the man with the black hair said.

"No." The word left her lips, clear as the firelight between them.

"No?" the black-haired man narrowed his gaze. In that moment, a fire, born of ill contempt, blazed across his obsidian irises. It was a look not entirely dissimilar from the one she received while he jammed his blade into her side on the battlefield. Had he come back for her? Had he known then that he hadn't killed her? He was looking at her as if she were his property – a thing that he had bid on at auction and was finally coming to collect. The look in his eyes radiated through her core, making her wish that he had killed her instead.

Sakura's stomach twisted at the thought. Begging for death went against everything she had ever been taught. But she did not want to be a Konoha prisoner – especially a prisoner of the Black Army.

The man with moonlight hair stepped forward, his arm shooting towards her with the speed of an arrow. His hand gripped her throat, his fingers like a steel cage as they squeezed at her pulse points. Sakura wrapped her bloody fingers around his wrist, digging at his forearm through the fabric of his sleeve with her nails. Her heartbeat ebbed in her ears, the beats fading as inky blackness filled her vision from the sides.

His singular eye was the last thing she saw before darkness claimed her.


~oOo~

Sakura's eyelids opened slowly, she blinked until wooden beams came into focus over her head. She lay flat on her back, her limbs resting on a cold, hard surface. Her head ached, deep and profoundly enough to possess its own terrible heartbeat. Sakura reached up with her good hand, fingertips pressing to the wound at her temple.

"Careful now," a soft, feminine voice said from the doorway. "You don't want to tear those stitches."

Sakura turned her head in the direction she'd heard the voice, gaze narrowing as she found the young woman it belonged to. The woman was dressed head to toe in black, her shoulder-length dark hair hanging straight as silk on either side of her face. She was of slender build, and average height for a woman. Pretty, Sakura thought. "Are you one of them?"

The woman quirked an eyebrow as she approached Sakura. "One of who?"

"The Black Guard," Sakura said.

The woman tilted her head from side to side as if weighing her answer. "Sort of," she decided. "I'm their medic. And you," the woman paused, "are really lucky to be alive."

Sakura snorted so hard she choked. "No thanks to your army."

"Everyone has their reasons for fighting," the woman said, fingertips probing the bones in Sakura's ruined shoulder. "You've got a dislocated shoulder." The woman helped Sakura into an upright position and began inspecting the rest of her injuries. Sakura used the opportunity to study her surroundings. The room was small – she gathered she was probably being kept in some sort of hut. The walls were slabs of wood and mortar, and the floor was made of stone. There was a large fireplace built within the north wall, and wooden benches placed haphazardly around it.

"Where am I?" Sakura asked.

The woman adjusted Sakura's hem after inspecting her side. All but her tunic had been removed to evaluate, clean, and stitch wounds while Sakura lay unconscious on the hard table. "You're in Konoha, in the hidden village of the Black Army." The woman looked at Sakura, studying her face in the soft glow of the firelight. "I'm going to put your shoulder back in place now," the woman told her. "It's going to hurt."

Sakura had survived worse. The medic lifted her arm, gripping pressure points at the elbow before slamming her shoulder back into place. Fireworks of pain went off in her arm, exploding through her joints and tendons, leaving her arm tingling when the medic had finished.

"Well," the medic said, "at least your collarbone isn't broken."

A gust of icy wind swept across the floor, causing tiny goose bumps to raise on Sakura's bare legs. The fire danced within the hearth, the harsh winter wind whistling below the crack in the door. Sakura hadn't heard the door open or close, but she saw the shadow move in the dark before the man with silver hair stepped through the threshold. His single eye met Sakura's above the medic's shoulder, yet he did not speak.

"Take a seat on the bench, Hatake," the medic said without turning to face him. "I'll be with you in a moment."

Sakura followed the man with her gaze as he ambled over to the fireplace and lowered himself without a sound on the wooden bench. It was only when he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, that Sakura spotted the thin wooden arrow protruding from the muscle of his back right shoulder. Firelight gleamed off the spotted black feathers that made up the fletching, and Sakura recognized its make at once. The arrow was made by her fellow Kumoga clansmen, a friend of hers named Sai. Panic seized her chest. "What happened to the man that shot you?"

The man with silver hair looked up at her. "Friend of yours?"

"Please," Sakura said, wetting her lower lip. "Did you kill him?"

The medic left her side and walked over to the warrior assassin. She examined the arrow protruding from his back with careful fingers. A puddle was growing at his feet, expanding across the stone floor as snow melted from his boots. "It'll have to be cut out," the medic told him. She walked away, presumably to grab tools for the removal, but Sakura's gaze never left the warrior's. She was still waiting on him to answer.

It became clear, however, that she would not get one.

The medic dropped a series of tools on the bench beside him. Wordlessly, she picked up a sharp knife and began cutting away at the warrior's leather armor. She worked the vest from his shoulders, letting the heavy contraption fall to the floor. Next, she tore at his tunic from the back side, tearing the fabric from collar to hem. The fabric slipped down his arms like liquid, revealing the solid musculature of the warrior's chest and biceps.

His skin was taut and his muscles lean, broad through the shoulders and narrow at the waist. With his face mostly covered by a mask and his hair, silver in color, Sakura had guessed he was older, but now she wasn't so sure… Perhaps he was like her – a warrior chosen by the gods, his hair color marking him at birth.

The medic picked up a small cutting knife, laying her hand flat beside the arrow. "Ready?"

The warrior nodded.

Sakura watched as the medic made several small incisions, but the warrior never budged. She saw that he'd rolled his hands into fists, tendons bulging up his forearms, but he never made a sound. Sakura could hear the wet, tearing sound his flesh made when the medic removed the arrow, and watched as a current of dark blood pooled down his back from the opened wound. The medic was fast with her hands, already working a needle and thread into his skin to sew his wound shut. Eyes squeezed shut, and still the warrior didn't make a sound. Sakura wasn't sure how much time had passed, but soon the medic was pressing a clean poultice over his wound and securing it to the back of his shoulder with a length of cloth wrapping. "Try not to tear this, Kakashi."

"Thank you, Rin." He reached across his body, his fingers lightly brushing hers before she cleared her throat and bent to gather the tools beside him.

The warrior – Kakashi? – rose from the bench and pulled the ruined fabric from his arms and tossed what was left of it into the fire. The light from the flames cast contrasting shadow into the deep impressions of his abdomen. It was fitting, Sakura thought, that a warrior of death be sculpted as though from marble.

"I'll see if I can find you a shirt," the medic said. She disappeared from the room, ducking through a doorway adjoining another.

Kakashi found Sakura's gaze. "Please," she said, "the man with the arrow, did you kill him?"

She watched his bare chest expand as he drew breath, and as he stepped closer, noticed a series of scars that decorated his chest and torso. Kakashi did not answer her.

The silence stretched between them. "What are you going to do with me?" she opted for a different question.

"That is not for me to decide," he answered as Rin came into view and tossed him a fresh black shirt. He tugged it on, careful not to tear the stitches in his back.

The medic brought Sakura a blanket and coaxed her back onto the table, propping a feathered pillow below her head. "Try and get some rest. I'll be back at dawn to check on your wounds." She pulled the covers up to Sakura's chest. "Don't try to run. There are two guards outside the door that have been given strict orders to kill you should you try anything funny. Kakashi will stay in here tonight," she nodded to the warrior, "so I wouldn't press my luck if I were you."

"What do you want with me?" Sakura asked futilely.

"Get some sleep." The medic shot Kakashi a meaningful look before ducking through the doorway and disappearing into the winter cold.

Sakura's entire body was sluggish, exacerbated by exhaustion. She couldn't let herself sleep – not with the warrior keeping watch over her. She didn't trust what could happen to her if she fell asleep. A part of her rationalized that they didn't want her dead – why else bother cleaning her wounds and putting her back together? But maybe the Black Army was twisted, and liked their play-things to be healthy so the torturing would last longer… Dark thoughts twisted through Sakura's conscious mind, as did methods of escape.

The silver-haired warrior lowered himself to the bench in front of the fire, his body angled away from her. He did not offer to speak to her, and Sakura knew it would do little good to ask him another question. As she lay there, half angled on her side staring at the flames past his shoulder dancing in their hypnotic rhythm, she did something she hadn't done since she was a child:

Sakura began to pray.


~oOo~

I'm back, and as you probably guessed, with a much darker theme than my previous Naruto fic. For those of you that read the last one, I can promise you this one is going to be much different.

I'd like to go ahead and slap a sensory warning on this now just in case I have anyone following who may be sensitive to themes of sexual trauma, and/or blood and gore. This fic is very much 'Viking' themed and may have content that was prevalent in that time period.

This fic is an AU and though it has some of the same beloved characters from the Naruto universe, we are in a different setting where the word 'ninja' does not exist, and most of their 'powers' are unheard of.

*Updated weekly. (I hope!)

As always, thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy my creation. I'd love to hear from you.

~Sparrow