Chapter Nineteen: How the Heart Throbs

Sakura clutched her heart as she could feel it shrivel in size and then rapidly expand. If she wasn't a medic-nin, she would have been dead after the first attack. Sometimes she wondered if Madara really would kill her. He didn't just focus on her heart, either. Sakura thought he rather enjoyed making her gasp for air as her lungs refused to take in oxygen.

Luckily, his chakra waited to seize control until after Sasuke's speedy trial, which consisted of Naruto shouting for his pardon and the villagers agreeing with their new hero. Sakura thought the council let him off so that he wouldn't spout about their part in the Uchiha massacre, which worried Sakura. The council would not let someone with information like that go free. They would act soon.

Sakura knew it was only a matter of time before the council found out that she knew about it as well. Things didn't stay secret for very long…unless you organized the mass murder of an entire clan and pinned it on one person.

She tried not to dwell on her part of Itachi's downfall. What he had done to her was still unforgivable, but she found herself hating him less and feeling sorry for him more.

She glanced at the setting sun. One more day. And then her life was literally over.

Naruto clapped Sasuke on the back. "Thank you for keeping Sakura safe, Sasuke. I knew, even after you refused to let her go, that you wouldn't hurt her."

He sat down next to him on top of the Hokage monument.

"You know, you and Sakura have been through a lot together. I know that you both have feelings for each other, even if you won't admit it."

Sasuke refused to blush. Uchihas never blushed. That would be admitting shame or embarrassment, and they were pretty much perfect. However, he couldn't help his thoughts drift to just how much they physically expressed their feelings for each other. Sasuke didn't let his thoughts go very far, especially in front of Naruto, who was still chatting away.

"…and if you ever hurt her I will not hesitate to use my new-found hero-ship and let the villagers spear you. And—"

"Naruto, stop it. You're embarrassing yourself." Sasuke sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I'm not going to hurt her. I'm done hurting the people I care about. All I want is a quiet life…a content one."

Naruto grinned. "Do I see little pink Uchihas running around in the future?"

Sasuke actually sort of smiled. "Perhaps. It has always been my second goal to repopulate my can. And they will NOT be pink."

"I'm glad that you've had a change of heart…or rather, found a heart."

Sasuke said nothing, but they sat in companiable silence for a few minutes, just observing the re-construction of Konoha.

After awhile, Sasuke surprisingly broke the silence. "Naruto, did Sakura tell you why we arrived separately to Konoha?"

Naruto frowned. "No. I asked her what happened, but she blew it off and told me she'd tell me later. And then she sort of just kind of freaked me out."

Sasuke nodded. "She's been doing that a lot recently." Sasuke swore vehemently.

"Naruto, Madara Uchiha took Sakura. Right out from under me. One minute she was there and then…he just took her. I failed again, just like that time with Gaara." He clenched his fists. "I felt so useless."

Naruto didn't question why Madara had taken her; that much was obvious. Naruto felt for his friend. Naruto tried not to pity Sasuke's predicament, as he had been briefed on Madara's role in the massacre of the Uchiha clan.

"Sakura's just as stubborn as both of us…especially when it comes to admitting a weakness. She'll do anything to protect the people she cares about, but she's not stupid, Sasuke. If she was in any real danger, she'd let us know. I don't think Sakura would jeopardize her future…especially now that you're a part of it."

Sasuke stood up. "I know she's not stupid…but like you said, she'll do anything to protect her 'precious people.' Including sacrificing herself. I don't doubt her capability as a shinobi, but I don't believe that Sakura could defeat, or escape from, Madara in that short amount of time. Neither do I believe that he would have a change of heart and just let her go." He frowned as he turned to go. "I guess the only way that I'll find out is if I talk to her."

Just as Sasuke was about to go, he frowned and turned to Naruto. "Where does she even live?"

"You mean you're dating someone and you don't know where they live?"

Sasuke glared at Naruto, but waited for him to give him the necessary information.

Naruto sighed and shook his head. "She still has the same apartment from before she left for her mission years ago. Tsunade kept it for her, and even has it cleaned regularly. She never stopped believing that Sakura would come home."

"…and where is that at?"

"Oh yeah, I forgot that you still wouldn't know that. Man you have a lot of catching up to do."

Naruto smiled as Sasuke disappeared after having given him the necessary directions. He pondered how much Sasuke had changed…how much they all had. And then his stomach growled and Naruto decided that he had done enough thinking for the day and made his way to his favorite ramen stand.

Sasuke knocked on Sakura's door, feeling awkward doing so. He couldn't remember the last time he'd done something as human as knocking and shame burned through his gut.

When nobody answered Sasuke called out Sakura's name. He heard a muffled shout, so he opened the door and poked his head in. He didn't see her so he came in and closed the door.

His eyes bulged as Sakura came out of what he presumed was the bathroom as she was clad in only a skimpy towel, braiding her hair. Sakura, however, seemed unembarrassed.

"Oh, hi Sasuke. I didn't think you knew where I lived. Well come on in and make yourself at home. I'll just be a minute." She went back in the bathroom, but then reappeared again. Sasuke's heart skipped a couple of beats and then sped back up when she popped her upper body back out, this time minus the towel.

"Oh, and help yourself to anything you see in the kitchen. There's not much, but I bought a few things on my way home today."

Sasuke cleared his throat, and tried to focus on anything besides the image of Sakura's naked breast. Either she didn't realize her towel had slipped off, or she was completely comfortable in the nude.

Maybe she always walks around naked in front of people…Sasuke scowled at his thought. If anybody was going to see her naked, it was going to be him. He'd make damn sure he was the only person to ever see her naked again.

He wandered around her living room until he came across the picture of Team 7 as genin. He thought about picking it up and rehashing all of his past memories of being part of their team, but decided against it. They really hadn't even been together that long; it was such a small part of his life.

Sakura came out a few minutes later, this time fully clothed in shorts and a t-shirt. She walked up to Sasuke and gave him a chaste kiss and then went into the kitchen.

"Would you like some tea?" she said loudly.

Sasuke again cleared his throat. "Sure." He followed her into the kitchen and awkwardly stood in the doorway.

She motioned for him to sit down, which he did. He found awkwardness in this normalcy. While he was no expert, Sasuke was pretty sure that's what normal couples do.

"So did you have a specific reason to stop by? Or did you just miss me?" Sakura grinned as she sat down opposite him at her small table.

Sasuke frowned. "Actually, I did have something I wanted to ask you."

"Ask away."

Sasuke took a deep breath but before he could think of how to phrase his question the tea kettle whistled and Sakura was distracted with making tea.

Sakura was bringing the two cups to the table when her brain shut off and she promptly fell to the kitchen floor, smashing the cups and spilling tea everywhere.

Sasuke was next to her in a flash. "Sakura!" Fuck, I knew something was wrong with her.

Sakura opened her eyes quickly as her mind cleared. She heard Sasuke calling her name and she swore mentally. Shit shit shit…he was not supposed to see that!

"Oh, sorry Sasuke. I haven't eaten anything all day. I guess I just forgot. That was really stupid of me, considering I'm becoming slightly anemic."

"What the hell is going on, Sakura? First you collapse earlier even though you weren't injured, and now you pass out for no apparent reason? Don't try and feed me your medical bullshit, Sakura. I want the truth. Now."

Sakura shook her head. "Typical Sasuke. What Sasuke wants, he gets. And when he wants it. I'm sorry if that answer didn't satisfy you, Sasuke. But it's the truth. Now, if you want to join me for a meal, you're more than welcome. Just leave your surly attitude behind."

As she rose off the couch, Sasuke grabbed her arm. Sakura could have shrugged him off, but knew he would still insist upon some answers.

"Sakura. What happened between you and Madara? And don't try to lie. If I have to use my Sharingan to get the truth, I will."

"Yet another fabulous trait of yours. No regard for other people's privacy. Which is rich, coming from the most closed off person in the history of people."

"The truth."

Sakura sighed and rubbed her temples. Man, her head was throbbing.

"Look, Sasuke. To tell you the truth I really don't remember. I mean, we were fighting with him, he grabs me, it goes dark, I wake up feeling drugged in a dark place, he tells me something I can't distinguish, and then I wake up back at the place he took me at." Sakura forced herself to look directly into his eyes. "That's the truth. I told Tsunade everything, and she took a sample of my blood and did a bunch of tests to figure what, if anything, Madara did to me. I didn't want to tell you or anyone else so they wouldn't worry."

Sasuke could tell that he wouldn't get anything else out of her, and to be honest he couldn't see a flaw with her story, so he let it pass.

He surprised her by hugging her to him. He didn't say anything, but he didn't need to.

Sakura hugged him back, equally as tight. "I'm sorry if I worried you. But really, it's just a spell. I could just be getting a cold or something, so please don't waste time and energy worrying. After all, you've got quite a bit of making up to do to Konoha, don't you?"

Sasuke released her and turned around to leave, thought better of it, and surprised her yet again by kissing her swiftly. It was chaste and over too soon, but Sakura still got that butterfly feeling in her stomach and couldn't help but smile at him.

His dark eyes bore into her green ones as he whispered, "Be safe."

She rose up on her tip toes and gave him a quick peck in return. "You too."

Tsunade groaned when she heard a firm knock at the door. As a general rule, if someone knocks firmly then they either aren't afraid of her or they have actual business there. If they have actual business there, then that means more work for Tsunade. She sighed wistfully at the short supply of timid knocks there seemed to be anymore.

"This better be important," she growled. She relaxed as she saw pink hair.

"Ah, Sakura. What can I do for you? I hope you're feeling better."

"Well, Tsunade, I've been better."

Tsunade frowned. She was still ghastly tired after the battle and trying to heal everyone. She was sure her youthful appearance was diminishing rapidly.

"Yes, I'm sure that you have quite the tale for me."

"Yes, but unfortunately I don't have much time. You're going to hate this, by the way, but I'm telling you this because it is my duty to my Hokage."

Tsunade's senses went haywire and a sense of foreboding washed over her. "Go on."

Sakura took a deep breath. "I need to you to promise me, and not as a Hokage or even a sensei that you will not repeat this story until I am gone. I need you to promise me as one of my dearest friends and mentor that you will only act after I leave, and that you trust me as I am trusting you now."

Chills raced up and down the older woman's spine. "Very well. I don't like where this is going, but I will trust you."

Sakura hardened her feelings. "I'm dying."

After Tsunade didn't explode, Sakura relaxed a little and continued. She briefly recounted everything that had transpired (minus the dirty bits) since she had last seen her mentor. "..and then Madara grabbed me and the next thing I knew I was drugged and strapped to some hospital bed in what appeared to be an abandoned medical facility. I don't know where it was and could barely open my eyes. The scary thing is that I couldn't even feel my chakra. Have you ever been so incredibly tired that you don't even have the strength to literally lift a finger? Even if you're that tired you can sense whatever chakra is in you. I couldn't even do that. I started panicking, and then someone injected something in me. My mind cleared, but I couldn't move any of my body, excluding my eyes."

Sakura shifted forward in her seat. "And then I saw Madara. He had his mask off, but I recognized his scent. He smells like death itself." Sakura rubbed her eyes and yawned. She was expiring, which meant she needed to speed up.

"Anyways, he explained to me that he knew all about me, my family, and abilities. He practically recited my life history. And then he took a scalpel, and made one inch long cuts every half a foot or so, everywhere on my body. There were 37 of them altogether. And then he made one on his finger, and he pried open each and every one of the incisions. Into each of those incisions he put one drop of his blood. While doing so he explained to me the reasoning behind this. According to him, in each drop of his blood is a parasitic bit of his chakra. While his body thrives on this parasitic chakra, anyone else will eventually be consumed by it."

Tsunade felt the urge to vomit, but held steady in the face of her old student. Sakura's voice never even wavered as she recited her story, as if from a dictionary. "As he was doing this, his blood was burning its way into my bloodstream. He said that it would take three full days for his chakra to consume all of mine."

"What happens when it does?" Tsunade asked, not wanting to hear but needing the answer anyways.

"I die," Sakura said simply. As if to reiterate her statement, she had a brief but coughing fit that ended in her coughing up blood on the floor.

Tsunade frowned. "Sakura, you're the best medic-nin I've ever seen, excluding me. Surely there must be something you can do—"

"I can't. What chakra I had that his parasites hadn't consumed yet I've already used. Anyways, let me finish my story and then we can debate. After all the incisions had his blood in them, he healed them all. He healed them so well that none of them even scarred. By this time the drugs were wearing off, and I asked him what he thought he could gain by killing me. He responded that he wouldn't gain anything but the satisfaction of hurting Sasuke and the nine-tailed fox host. He said that he wanted them to know that I suffered and that they were helpless to do anything about it. I then told him that he could fuck off, and that I wouldn't tell anyone what he had done. He then told me that I would tell someone, and that if I didn't voluntarily then he could forcibly make me. He still has a connection to his chakra, and through that connection he can control my body. At first the parasites took hold of my heart, and then my lungs, then the rest of my vital organs until finally overtaking my brain. He can literally kill me at any time, but he said that he would give me three full days."

Tsunade frowned. "Why?"

"To consider his offer."

"What did he offer you?"

"Naruto's safety."

"And what did he want in return?"

"All he wanted were some ancient Uchiha scrolls. He didn't know where they were and did not want to risk coming back to Konoha to get them. He said that only an Uchiha could possibly find them, and he wanted me to tell Sasuke to find them. He then said that if I came willingly back to him in three days that he wouldn't kill Naruto, and if I came back without the scrolls then Sasuke would die. If I didn't come back then both of them would die. I don't believe for a second that he would keep his word, which is obviously why I don't have the scrolls. But I'm afraid of what he'll do if I don't return. He could make me go berserk and kill people, or destroy Konoha all over again. I'd rather not die here, anyways. This is where I lived, not where I die."

Tsunade took a deep breath. "Sakura, why are you telling me all of this?"

"Because you'll have to be the one to give Naruto and Sasuke closure. I don't want you tell them what exactly he did to me, just the bare minimum. No torture, no pain, no supposed deal. Just say that he wanted me to kill you and in return he would spare my life. I obviously did not do that, and so I went to face him at which time he killed me. Don't tell them I did it to save them either; that will just add to their guilt. Tell them I did it to save Konoha and that I love them both and I'm sorry that I wasn't stronger."


"Tsunade, you promised. I only told you so that I could receive some sort of selfish closure for my own death and that someone would know what Madara is capable of. There is nothing that can be done, so please don't stress yourself out. I'm sorry that I burdened you with this, and I hope that you can forgive me for that weakness. However, I would like to thank you for making me who I am today; you gave me something that no one else could: strength. It was always my biggest setback in life. So thank you, Tsunade. I'm really not trying to be a martyr or some sort of hero; I'm sorry that I have to add to your grief, but console yourself in the knowledge that I died happily and bravely. I'm not scared to die; Sasuke finally admitted his feelings, you taught me all you could, and Naruto found happiness with Hinata. Konoha is being rebuilt, Naruto is on the fast track to becoming Hokage, and the village now looks upon him with adornment and reverence instead of fear and hatred. I honestly could not have asked for anything more. Oh, and I'm sorry about the blood on the floor. Goodbye."

Before Tsunade could even respond, Sakura was gone with a slight breeze. Tsunade had to pinch herself several times to make sure that she hadn't drunk herself into a sake stupor and was having one of her crazy dreams.

Tsunade had never felt more helpless in her life, except for when her brother and lover died. She yelled for Shizune and then prepared to face Sasuke and Naruto.

Sakura couldn't help the scream that erupted from her mouth. Her body was on fire, every fiber of her being was in pain. She begged her own body to just let her die already, not knowing that she said it out loud. Madara chuckled.

"Die? Not yet, pet. I've got much bigger plans for you."

With that, he unleashed the full force of his parasites in her body. He watched as the veins and tendons stood out in her neck from the force of her screams, and the way her body curled unnaturally. He needed to get her to say a few more things that would put the finishing touches on the memory that he would show Sasuke. He would rip Sasuke out from the inside and force him to his knees for ever disobeying the true leader of the Uchiha clan.

Please don't hate me. I'm finally done with this semester, so hopefully I will actually update somewhat regularly. Hopefully. If you are confused, I respond well to reviews or messages.