Title: To the Victor...
Author: Letta
Rating: R
Disclaimer: Kishimoto Masashi owns it, but people often confuse us.
Genre: Horror, hopefully.
Summary: Naruto loses the fight and Sakura is a trophy of war.

A/N: Orignially posted on my livejournal a couple of weeks ago. I only changed two or three grammar things from there.

I make no apologies for sentences starting with 'but' or 'and'. None.

For the record, I (usually) hate present-tense. Don't ask why I wrote it. Or why I suddenly switched to that.


Naruto seemed different the day he walked into the Yamanaka flower shop, and although Sakura couldn't really put her finger on it, she knew better than to forget it.

So later, when she realized she had, and everything she had brushed off, maybe it made her angry. Just a little. By then, things would have been slipping down like on a hill covered with ice, and it really wouldn't have mattered. There was nothing she could do.

It wasn't the mannerisms, or maybe it was, partly, but she couldn't say for certain.

She just knew that when the bell rang above the door and Ino broke off her sentence, that Naruto was standing there, leaning against the wall. It wasn't unusual, not really. But there was that smile on his face, that didn't quite fit.

Sure, Naruto smiled a lot, and she knew some of them were fake, but this one was more like someone had tried to put the wrong piece in a puzzle. Like it had been pounded into place and she couldn't imagine why she thought so.

She ignored it though, because for as much as she understood Naruto, which maybe was more than he himself did sometimes, she didn't understand him at all. He had always been amazingly complexly simple, or was it simply complex?

"Hello Sakura-chan, Ino." His voice was lazy as he said it, as if he were drunk, and really, he could've been, except that wasn't something Naruto would do.

He wanted her help with controlling his chakra, he had said, and of course she would help him, because they had to fix their broken trio of two. So she excused herself from Ino and they went to the training grounds.

He caught on quickly to what she told him and even if he wasn't sure what she was talking about, his body had always been quick to learn.

But he watched her the whole time, intently, as if he was looking for something. She didn't know what, because she didn't ever really know what he was thinking. He watched her reactions to everything he did or said, and she almost hit him for it. But she didn't, because maybe it was her imagination.

-

When Sakura saw Naruto at Ichiraku –she wasn't sure how many days it had been- she joined him and he smiled at her, not quite like he always had, but close enough.

She didn't ask if anything was wrong when they both knew that there was and it had a name with a fan of red and white. There would always be something wrong unless they succeeded in impossible goals they had set for themselves. She sometimes wondered if those goals were too much and everyday they spiraled farther out of reach. Or that they hung just above their fingertips like the fate of Tantalus.(1)

And she should've asked, and that might've at least led her to suspect, but that probably wouldn't have been enough anyway.

They sat there, and they ate ramen and he kept his eyes on her nearly the entire time and she didn't even think anything of it.

As she turned to go, waving and calling out her farewell, there was a shift on his face and in his eyes.

"Yes. I'll see you later, Sakura-chan." His voice was like it had been when he came into the flower shop that day, and she couldn't get it out of her head.

There was something chilling, something ominous in those words and she hated not being able to see what. She hated not having a definition.

-

Whether she had been meant to see it or not didn't matter, because she did.

A shortcut through trees that were too silent. Her head too full of things that would later be too frivolous, like everything else.

It was the voice that had stopped her. Had made her aware of the silence that her occupied mind hadn't allowed.

She didn't know why she had felt the need to slip behind the tree, and almost stepped back out into the open when she saw the bright orange. But the murmuring stopped her.

It was unintelligible to her and she wasn't sure if that was because she was too far away or because it had been that way when the words had left the mouth.

Sound was her first clue. Sight was her second.

Sinking into the orange was something darkly liquid, and as a medic, she recognized it instantly.

How she knew that Naruto wasn't injured was instinctual, if anything could be blamed.

She saw it drip off his fingertips and onto the grass, where it was trying to soak into the earth. But the ground was rejecting it, it had to be with as much as there was, and it was pooling, a shouting liquid stain.

Naruto shifted slightly and she saw the source, unrecognizable. It had been gray once, she thought. It was small and quivering and dear god it was still alive!

She could make out the tiny heart, flutter too quickly and she thought it might explode.

A long hind leg jumped, a long ear flopped, and it was a rabbit.

They died in traps, scaring themselves so badly they died.

But it was torn and open and she could see what it was made of and she didn't know why, why, why she was seeing this.

And there were human hands, holding it delicately, and she wondered how such a tiny body could hold so much fluid. Then fingers slick with such a damning color reached into the cavity and plucked the thumping, frantic muscle.

The carcass was dropped to the ground and the hand holding the still organ raised and she couldn't see, but she saw the jaw move and she felt sick, so sick that she had to grab the tree to keep from falling.

"It's impolite to spy, Sakura-chan." Was there mockery there or not? It was cool, and it was humored, and the words carried easily.

He turned his head then, and there was that smile, but with more enjoyment, and a stain dribbling down his chin.

"Please excuse the mess, I haven't yet washed up."

She couldn't move and she couldn't take her eyes from his, because there was laughter there, and she couldn't tell if it was at her.

"I just had to, you see, I couldn't help myself."

"You had to do," and her voice was so quiet it was hoarse, "that?" She felt her lungs strain with something that might have been horror.

"Yes. It was obvious, wasn't it? You can see that much, can't you? Or are you blind in this like in everything else?"

It is not malice she hears but a simple curiosity.

She does not answer because she cannot.

"It's all going to come down and then we'll see what lies behind the curtain. This tragedy you see is nothing but a comedy to another in the audience."

His words make no sense and perfect sense and she's trying to twist them apart to see what lies beneath, but they're stuck together in a tangled mess.

And she can't help but stare and feel nothing and that terrifies her, feeling in a way that is altogether too numb. (The stage is slanted and the seats are flat and you're not in the front row, just an actor who stumbles on tilted ground.)(2)

He smiles wider and she struggles to turn around and run.

She feels the breath burn in her lungs and realizes she's screaming. Droplets stream down her face and her legs are tangled in cotton.

Startled, her eyes fly open and she looks at the darkness of her own room.

A breeze shifts past her and she shivers, getting up to shut a window that she doesn't remember opening.

As a shinobi, her room is usually secured, window shut and latched, and with the memory of a dream she recalls too vividly, this knowledge chills her to the white of her bones.

(Surely it was your mother who opened it and forgot to close it again. And now the restless spirits of the dead creep in to steal your soul and if they cannot succeed in that, they will settle for your sanity.)

She sighs to clear her head of wives' tales that have no place in a shinobi village.

The night is still stretched across the sky and she is loathe to go back to sleep, but she knows she must anyway.

-

Sakura has tried, more or less, unsuccessfully to press the images in her mind from that night to some forgotten corner of her mind.

Every time she looks at the brightly clothed blonde, however, she sees a mouth dripping with blood, unbidden, in her mind's eye.

Instead, she resolutely looks past his shoulder or his forehead, and hope he is still dense enough to not notice that she is avoiding looking directly at him.

Tsunade and Kakashi both notice and Sakura hopes they do not say anything.

Tsunade has the tact of a Hokage. Kakashi does not.

He is direct.

She evades her former instructor's questions with hollow lies, and knows that he has enough experience with interrogation to know he will not ask all the questions he wants to.

Not yet.

Tsunade is more subtle. She will investigate all angles and dig in locked closets for answers before confronting someone. Provided, she decides to say anything to Sakura at all, and only then armed with information to catch her as a spider in a web of lies.

Tsunade would see, if Sakura had left any clues to be seen.

Even if Tsunade says anything, she has a knack for asking the right questions and will come away with more than the Copy nin, because she is the Hokage, older than him, and she has seen more of what lurks in the shadows than Kakashi ever will.

And when she runs into Naruto outside the Hokage tower after Kakashi's questioning, he is smiling, and she can see blood on his teeth that is not there.

She closes her eyes to shut out demented hallucinations.

His smile widens.

-

"You don't look me in the eye these days, Sakura-chan."

Her breath catches in her throat unwillingly, and she stares at him. His eyes are narrowed, but he is smiling.

The scenery of green leaves and grass of the training grounds from a moment before has dried into a crackled brown, and fear grips at her chest. Her eyes see the death of a season preparing for a cold, lonely winter, and a boy whose lips are turned with malicious amusement, a puppet master of Macbeth.(3)

"Why won't you look at me?"

(Because I see a demon that wants to consume you whole so there is nothing left.)

"You won't answer me, either?"

She struggles to find her voice and coughs to clear her throat. And she can't stop. Her frame lurches with every hack and she feels something heavy slide up her throat.

She collapses onto her hands and knees, coughing as the slippery lump fills her mouth, coppery and slimy, thick as it drops from her lips.

Her eyes widen as her hands fly to her mouth that is still streaming blood and gagging. The object on the ground beats once… twice… again and again.

"It's my heart, Sakura-chan. Have you choked on it enough?"

Bile rises quick from her stomach and she turns to the side, stomach heaving violently.

Then she is being shaken and she opens her eyes, unwillingly.

And she is back in the green training grounds on her feet and Naruto is looking at her worriedly.

-

Sakura reaches for her cup, and she notices that there is a slight tremble in her arm lately. When she touches the porcelain it cracks, and the sound is loud like thunder in her ears before it shatters.

She curses, and maybe such language isn't like her, but she feels a little better for saying it, so she says is again.

There is tea on her desk and it is trying to soak into the book she was studying, but the cover is protected in plastic, and it seems like it is the one stroke of good luck she has had in a long time.

She can't help but feel that this brief reprieve is going to cost her dearly, especially when her eyes fall on the shattered cup.

-

Sakura raises her hand to knock on Naruto's door, because he invited her over for lunch. She resolutely ignores the pale color of her skin, partly from lack of sunlight with all her studying, partly from stress.

After a few breaths, the door opens, and Naruto is ushering her in. He looks genuinely happy to see her, and it breaks her heart a little that his presence has been putting her on edge.

She squares her shoulders, though, because she has to get over this mania and she doesn't know what she'd do if he ever found out. It would crush him.

The food is good, far better than she thought it would be, and she wondered when Naruto learned how to cook so well. As they talk, she begins to feel more at ease, because in front of her is definitely Naruto, animated, excitable, and talkative.

When she's done, he clears away their dishes before bringing out dessert. A rice pastry with filling.

"I'm really glad you could come," Naruto is saying as he sets the dish in front of her, and Sakura is listening with half an ear, because he has a tendency to ramble.

Then he grabs her wrist and squeezes. The grip is tight enough to force tears to her eyes and she jerks her head up to look at him. His face has changed entirely to an expression of delighted cruelty.

She's pushed back suddenly, her chair losing balance and her head hits the floor painfully. She's dazed, but she tries to scramble backwards anyway. A foot landing heavily on her chest, purging the air from her lungs, stops her.

Her eyes are wide and confused as she looks up at him.

"What are you-"

"A cat will often toy with their prey before killing it. Although, I suppose I'm not a cat, but the sentiment's the same."

She tries to pry his foot off, but it is somehow too heavy.

"Why?"

"Because you are very important. Did you realize? So I'm going to crush you and watch as your chest bursts open under the pressure and your insides spill out."

He steps harder and she can't take in air. She hears a crack, but feels it more. Her flattening lungs are filling with fluid and it's being forced up her throat and into her mouth. She can't even scream because there is no breath to do so.

She squeezes her eyes shut, gritting her teeth, and tears fall from a wild current onto the floor.

Suddenly the pressure and pain is gone and she opens her eyes. She's sitting at the table, her chair upright, and her hands are shaking.

And Naruto's there, smiling, sipping tea.

"That didn't disturb you, did it? Foxes are masters of illusion, you know. Though I should thank you, after all, you helped me get down this personality rather well."

Fear, thick and heavy, slides down her throat, dropping to her stomach like a stone. Her mind is gripped by a denial that she knows is useless.

"Naruto?"

"He's gone now. I don't think he'll be coming back. I have decided to keep my promise to him, though. If I ever got free, I told him I'd start with the people he cares about. Well, maybe I'm not exactly free, but it's close enough."

"Kyuubi, then." There is an acceptance so resolute in her voice that it surprises her, because she knows she is not ready to die yet, but surely that is what will happen.

"Yes. It's good to know you're not as slow as he was."

He's still smiling with Naruto's face, but Sakura can see his fangs grow in. The lines on his faces are darkening, and his pupils begin to slit –the features of a fox beginning to take over.

She can do nothing against him, she knows this.

"You're shaking," he comments in a voice far too deep.

He pushes up from his seat and walks around the table to her. She tries to move, tries to scramble away, but her legs are leaden and she realizes that she can hardly move a muscle. The effect of some sort of technique that she never saw him create.

He grabs her chin almost gently and raises her head to meet his eyes.

"I'm going to kill you. I told him I would. He begged for you. Did you know that? He pleaded with me to leave you alone."

His claws are sharpened, and she can feel them scrape lightly at her throat. There's a warming sensation from her chest, something wet covering it.

She doesn't feel any pain, and it must have been fast, because she did not see him move

She coughs, heavily, spits extra fluid out and sees it's pink in color.

A cold numbness is spreading slowly and far too quickly through her body.

Her eyelids fall heavy and she slumps.

"He really is dead, isn't he?"

Then she's silent.

And a fox stands back, thoughtfully.

"Most likely. If I hadn't succeeded in killing him before, then I'm sure this did."

And there is no more obstruction to revenge.


And I like Sakura, too.

My this is morbid. I don't even know where Kyuubi's personality came from. I obviously just pulled it out of my a$$. Also, I have absolutely no idea why I kept destroying hearts in this fic. It just seemed appropriate.

References:

(1) Tantalus was a character from Greek mythology who was punished by standing in water to his chin and a fruit tree over his head, but whenever he tries to drink the water recedes and when he tries to eat the fruit is lifted out of his reach.

(2) In ancient Greece, stages used to be at a slant while the audience was flat on the ground before someone decided it would make more sense switched around.

(3) If you are unfamiliar with Macbeth, it's a play by Shakespeare where a couple murders the king to ascend the throne. The wife goes crazy and paints with blood and the husband isn't much better off. Lots of people die.

Also, it was believed in many European cultures that only the insane and the dead went out at night. Which I guess is a reference to Sakura's open window.