Summary: When Akatsuki takes over Sakura and Ino's country, the world slips into one of fear. Every teenaged girl dreads being called to be the Akatsuki's concubines. But as the girls find out later, if Akatsuki doesn't like you, you're doomed.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. Oh, I do own anyone that isn't in Naruto. I'm too lazy to post my OC's. Also, I don't own the lyrics to 'Open the Eyes of My Heart', we sing that at school.
Currently, (it's the 10th of January when I'm typing this) the rating of this story is T. I will change it to M when I put in the rape, lemons, drug usage, violence, and character death. Just a heads up for you all :)
"So you're telling me that all the girls who get called to the city and don't come back are being captured as concubines for Akatsuki?" Sakura asked. She slapped a number sticky with glue on a glass wind chime. Sakura and her best friend Ino were numbering objects to be sold at the spring market. But her work and loud slaps didn't cover the skeptical tone in her voice.
"Duh. You're missing the hints, Saks," Ino stated matter-of-factly. "First, only girls get called there. Secondly, they're all aged 15 to 18. I highly doubt Akatsuki likes older chicks. Apparently these guys are all around 19 or their early twenties. Thirdly, these are guys we're talking about. Betcha they have needs too."
"Why not? You think any girl loyal to Fire Country would willingly lose her virtue to any Akatsuki guy?"
"True. But I think you're still just overreacting, Yamanaka." A month ago, a strange group of about nine men and one woman had taken over the Fire Country. They were rumored to have god-like powers, or as the especially gullible people believed, they were gods themselves. Two weeks earlier, young women around Sakura and Ino's age had been called to Konoha, the main city in Fire Country. None of them had been seen again. And what was more, the corpse of a twenty year old woman had been found outside the city. The girl had looked like she was only sixteen or so, but the doctors of Sakura and Ino's village had deducted that she was twenty. Ino thought Akatsuki had taken her for their purposes, aka to satisfy their libidos, according to Ino, but then discovered that she was too old for them, so they'd killed her. Sakura thought Ino was being cynical as usual.
"You know, Saks, with all these rumors flying around that some man's daughter is the next to be kidnapped because she's pretty or is a good cook or something, sometimes I wonder if I should run away. Just get the heck out of this place so I know I won't be next on Akatsuki's line of concubines."
"What?!" cried Sakura.
"Oh, don't worry, you can come too," replied Ino airily.
"No, it's not that," said Sakura, "you're pessimistic enough to run away on your own just to avoid the possibility of being the Akatsuki's next concubine? I know they killed your family and all, but you want to run off to some strange land to get away?"
"Yep. Come on, Saks, they are why you're an orphan too."
"You've got some strange ideas, Yamanaka."
"Thanks." The girls carried the boxes of items to their table. The spring market was like a huge yard sale. Villagers came with their used goods to see if anyone would want them and to check out other people's 'junk' as Ino dryly called the piles of objects. Still sometimes one could find a gem of an item among stacks of second hand clothing, so Sakura and Ino weren't complaining.
"Oh, hi Sakura-chan, Ino-chan," their friend Hyuuga Hinata greeted them. Hinata was always nice to them, but very shy. Sometimes the girls would tease her about her secret affection for Naruto, a local boy who had a huge crush on Sakura.
"Hey, Hina-chan, how are you?" Sakura asked.
"I'm fine, thank you. I just helped Naruto-kun set up his stall." Hinata blushed when she said 'Naruto-kun'.
"You're so nice, Hina-chan," remarked Ino. "And Naruto's good for you."
"You-you really think so?" whispered Hinata.
"Yeah. Aww crud, Saks, we have to get back to our stall. Lots of other used junk just waiting to be made beautiful for its big debut tomorrow," Ino muttered sarcastically. Sakura and Hinata laughed, Sakura with her fairly loud one and Hinata's giggle which made you think that if a young dove could laugh, it would laugh like Hinata.
Sakura and Ino sat down on crudely made wooden chairs behind their stall. Sakura took out her needle and tried to finish embroidering a sweater. If she was lucky, she could get it done before the next day. The sounds of fabric dropping against the table as Ino folded stacks of old slacks accompanied Sakura as she slipped into her own world, unconsciously stitching a red rose into the fabric.
Sakura was a dreamer. Sometimes when she was bored, she would slip into her fantasy world and spin her stories. Her world was safe. Nothing would ever hurt her, she was as calm and happy as a child being cuddled by their mother. Sometimes she shared her fantasies with Ino, who always listened despite her normally blunt personality. Sakura's favourite dream, the one she always talked about with Ino at least twice a month, was about her ideal soulmate. She had it all planned out. He would be handsome, of course, strong, kind, smart, and utterly loyal to her. He would never even think about straying to another girl because he had Sakura. She would be his everything, and he would be her world. Yes, that was her dream, her goal, what she wanted to have more than anything in the world.
"It's happened! It's happened!"
She started. The needle ran into Sakura's finger. Sucking the cut angrily, she tore a strip off a sock that somehow lost its partner and bandaged her finger. Then at the sound of wailing, she looked up.
A woman had collapsed next to their stall. Ino was holding a ragged blouse out to her, to use as a handkerchief. A crowd of locals were gathering around her. Sakura gasped as she recognized the distraught woman as Kurenai, one of the teachers at the village school.
"Kurenai-sensei, what's wrong?" Sakura asked. Kurenai took the blouse from Ino, muttering a disjointed 'thank you', and after blowing her nose, looked up. Her clothing was streaked with earth and ripped in several places. Her wavy hair, usually so well-kept, had clods of dirt and grass caught between locks. Scrapes marred her slender legs, and she had a darkening bruise on one cheek.
"What's wrong?" Sakura repeated. Kurenai scrunched her eyes shut. Sakura and Ino had never seen her so emotional. Kurenai-sensei was fair, kind, and firm. Sentimental and sappy were never in the same sentence as 'Kurenai-sensei'.
"My daughter… Koiko… she was called-" Kurenai broke down in sobs. The villagers waited with bated breath.
"-to the city." With rasping breath, Kurenai managed to reveal the last part of her sentence.
"I'm so sorry, Kurenai-sensei," Sakura reached over and put her arms around her former teacher. Ino followed her. Sakura caught the look that Ino sent her. Another girl gone.
"How's Asuma Jr. doing?" Ino asked. Asuma Jr. was Koiko's twin brother. They were both a year older than Ino and Sakura. The girls hadn't known either Asuma Jr. nor Koiko very well, but they felt for them anyway. Kurenai shook her head, still sobbing. Not good.
"Kurenai-san, you and Asuma Jr. can stay with Jiraiya and I," a voice said. Everyone turned. Tsunade, the head of the village, stood watching them with a pitying look. The smell of smoke lingered around her.
"W-What?" Kurenai stammered. Tsunade looked apologetic.
"A man from Akatsuki," Tsunade spat out the word, "was passing through the town. Some of the teenagers, boys, confronted him for stealing their girlfriends. They cornered him into your home, where Asuma Jr. was. Your son attempted to fight the villain, but he was beaten easily and was thrown out the window. Then the house was razed and the man disappeared." A heavy silence hung over the crowd.
"My son… is he alright?" Kurenai asked.
"In the same condition as you, but yes, fine. What happened to you?"
"I-I was sobbing too hard to see where I was going. I fell several times in the forest," Kurenai admitted. Tsunade extended her hand, and the two women walked away, Kurenai supported by Tsunade. Whispers broke out among the crowd. Ino grabbed Sakura's hand and pulled her away. One look was all Sakura needed. Ino's eyes were hard and her face was set with a determined look.
"Ino-chan... are you ok?" Sakura asked hesitantly. Ino faced her. Sakura never called her Ino unless she was being serious or scared. Ino didn't like her name. No one wants to be called a pig. When they'd first met, Ino had asked Sakura to call her by her surname instead. But now, Sakura felt the urge to do something, anything.
"I'm fine," Ino said curtly. But her tone stated otherwise.
Entwined. By. Memories.
Sakura splashed water on her heart-shaped face. She used the remaining liquid in the basin to water the vegetables growing in her garden. With the empty bowl in her hand, Sakura crouched over and looked at the Haruno cottage from the other side of the garden. She sighed. No matter where she looked at her house from, what perspective she looked at it, it always looked so empty. The Haruno cottage was no longer the Haruno cottage since her remaining family members perished from the famine that had spread through the land while the country had been at war with Akatsuki. The men had all gone away to fight, so the food stock had decreased noticeably. Less workers meant less food. Every effort had been made to assist the soldiers in battling Akatsuki, so a large percentage of the already low food stocks had been sent to them. Sakura and Ino were both orphans, but Sakura's family had died of starvation, while Ino's had been killed in the war. That was one of the main differences between them. Sakura did not blame Akatsuki, she thought she should have worked harder to provide more food. Ino blamed Akatsuki, she thought they played a direct role in robbing her of her family.
She walked to the pebbly dirt road that led into the village. Standing at the side for a moment, she looked down one direction. Five minutes walk to the village. Then she looked the other way. Half an hour to the next village. A week's walk to the border. Sakura strained her eyes. When she was younger, she tried to cast her vision far down the road, but her view was always obstructed by the mountain range miles away. Her entire life had been spent behind those mountains. What would it be like to be around them?
Stepping down the road, Sakura was soon in view of the village. Her eyes trailed to the cluster of rocks beside the market. Chouji, Ino, and Shikamaru were seated on them. Shikamaru appeared to be sunbathing, eyes closed against the sun's glare. Chouji was scarfing down potato chips from a package. Ino was watching him with an exasperated look. Her footsteps made them look up.
"Hey, Saks. You're early," Ino greeted her. Sakura grinned.
"Thanks. Same for you guys."
"I wish I didn't get up so early if I knew everyone would be late," Shikamaru muttered.
"My mom doesn't let me eat around the stall, so I get here fast and snack all I want," Chouji said cheerily. As if she had supersonic hearing, the voice of Mrs. Akimichi echoed from the corner of the market.
"Chouji! I need you to help move these boxes, and don't bring any food!"
"Speak of the devil," Shikamaru commented. Chouji groaned, but he stuffed the bag in his bulging pocket and shuffled off. Shikamaru turned to the two girls.
"-sigh- You want to go? The chair's more comfortable than this rock."
"Sure, you go on ahead first, Shikamaru-kun. We'll catch up." Sakura looked up at Ino, startled. Shikamaru shrugged and left. Then Ino grabbed Sakura's arm and leaned over. Sakura shivered slightly as Ino's breath warmed the cold skin on her ear.
"Saks, I'm going to leave."
"Yeah. Get out of the country." Sakura broke away and stared at her friend.
"Why?" Ino turned away and looked at the dirt path. Sakura followed her gaze. Straight ahead were the mountains.
"Saks, I'm sick of wondering who will be next called to the Forbidden city. We're scared all the time of what will happen to us. Everyone hates Akatsuki, but no one ever does anything about it. If I-no, we leave, then maybe our people will have hope. We can't let these guys dominate our lives forever. We can't let them kill whoever they feel like and treat us however they want." Sakura knew that when Ino said 'kill whoever they feel like', she was thinking of her family. The late Yamanakas.
"So the question is, Saks, do you want to come?" Sakura jumped. The tone in Ino's voice was casual, she could have been telling another one of her sarcastic jokes or reading aloud from a book.
"Is there another girl I know?"
"I can't do it." Ino turned and faced Sakura, her blue-green eyes trained on Sakura's jade ones. Then, abruptly, she grinned.
"Saks, I'm leaving right after the singing. I'll be on the dirt path." Ino began walking past Sakura. The sleeve of her purple hoodie brushed past Sakura's arm. Sakura turned to look at her, and at the instant Ino passed Sakura, her eyes flashed to meet her pink-haired friend's. Then she continued down the path.
Sakura stared after her for a few moments, various thoughts racing through her mind. Was Ino crazy to think that they could run away by themselves? If Sakura didn't go along, Ino probably wouldn't be able to get out on her own. Sakura had known her friend long enough to know that her mouth and blunt personality had gotten her into trouble more than a few times. Of course, Ino had talked her way out of a few situations a few times too, but still…
Entwined. By. Memories.
Amongst the excited crowd, Sakura tried to find Ino. But there were too many faces in the way, and the murmurs of the crowd were distracting.
"Hey, Sakura-chan!" Sakura turned to see an orange-clad Naruto pushing his way through the crowd to get to her. He was jostled several times, but he emerged grinning broadly next to her. She took in his disheveled appearance, half fondly and half exasperated.
"You didn't have to be so rough, Naruto-kun," she scolded. Naruto's face fell. "But thanks. And hi to you too," she added hastily. His face lit up with the smile again.
"Isn't it awful we have to sing? I suck at singing. How about you, Sakura-chan?"
"Well, I'm not bad at it. But I actually think it's nice we sing. You know, because we all stand together. It's like we're already fighting Akatsuki with our words." Sakura's thoughts flashed back to Ino. 'We can't let these guys dominate our lives forever. We can't let them kill whoever they feel like and treat us however they want.'
"Yeah. Damn bastards." Naruto echoed her thoughts. She was surprised how much he sounded like Ino, in a more vulgar way. "They hurt my dad. He couldn't come."
"But your dad's the pride of the village, isn't he? Everyone talks about how he's so great on the battlefield. He'll get better," Sakura said confidently. Naruto smiled at her.
"Thanks, Sakura-chan." Then Tsunade tapped the megaphone. Everyone turned and stopped talking. Tsunade smiled.
"I know you are all eager to begin-" A group of teenagers, Sakura included, whooped.
"-but this year, I would like to begin with a prayer to our Lord. These are troubled times, and we need to have faith. No matter how powerful these Akatsuki gods," Tsunade made little quotation signs with her hands, to the applause of the villagers, "appear to be, no one is more strong our Lord. Musicians, hit it!" The drum beat that followed her words made Sakura smile. It was one of her favourite songs.
"Open the eyes of my heart, Lord,
Open the eyes of my heart,
I want to see you,
I want to see you.
Open the eyes of my heart, Lord,
Open the eyes of my heart,
I want to see you,
I want to see you.
To see you high and lifted up,
Shining in the light of your glory,
Pour out your power and love,
As we sing holy, holy, holy…"
Sakura clapped along with everyone as for the final verse. They ended with a loud cheer. She punched her fist in the air, as many other teenagers did. Several songs later, the crowd applauded, and the locals dispersed to their stalls. Sakura headed to her stall. She was surprised to see it empty, but then she remembered that she and Ino combined barely had twenty items. Ino was nowhere in sight. Sakura looked at the money jar. Somehow, she found herself thinking, if they saved, and both girls were pretty good at that, they could probably spread the money out over a week and with Sakura and Ino's produce from their garden, they were set. But it was insane to try and make it over the border. Everyone knew that. But again somehow, Sakura found herself taking the money jar and shoving it under her arm. As if of their own accord, her feet made their way out the market and on to the dirt path. Ino was lounging against a tree, a bulging canvas backpack strapped on her back. Sakura stopped.
"Wow, Yamanaka, you brought your whole garden. Didn't you bring any clothes?"
"Spare underwear, extra shirt, yeah, that stuff. But I'm packing light." Ino stood up. "C'mon, Saks, let's get your stuff."
They ambled up the path casually. Sakura was surprised, somehow, it seemed like an ordinary day. This Sakura and Ino who were walking up the dirt road seemed just like the Sakura and Ino who were walking home from an outing to the village, not a Sakura and Ino who were about to make a run for the border. At Sakura's cottage, Sakura crammed an extra set of clothing and money into a canvas backpack. Outside, Ino was gathering the plants from Sakura's garden. With a lump in her throat, Sakura surveyed her bare house for the last time. She could almost hear the echo of laughter of her deceased relatives, almost see her mother bending over to her, asking if she would like some more ochazuke. But it was all in her mind.
They tipped the plants into Sakura's bag, Sakura keeping her clothing in another pocket of the bag so they would not be soiled. Ino had run home directly after the singing and shoved everything in her bag. As they walked down the dirt path, Sakura found herself playing with the bandana she used to keep her hair back. It was the last special thing that she wouldn't have to use for survival. The symbol of the Haruno family was embroidered proudly against the red background. It matched her red dress perfectly.
"Hey, look over there!" Ino exclaimed. A white rabbit stood on the lush grass. It darted away. Ino sighed, but Sakura couldn't help smiling.