/and if you promise spring then I know you are a liar/cause in the spring tender grasses won't burn easily/
You really wouldn't expect an ancient missing-nin to be such a whiner, thought Sakura, propping her chin on her hand as the man sitting next to her extrapolated on the values of bringing cots on a mission (Good for the back, he said, wrists waving through the air like oiled ball bearings). Then again, you'd also think that he'd be able to speak in first person every now and then.
"What is Sakura-san thinking?" said the chipper voice next to her. "Sakura-san hasn't touched her supper. You need to eat to keep up your strength!"
Sakura turned to look at Madara. Or was it Tobi? Tobi. The sheepish set of the man's shoulders as he prodded her food towards her was a bit of a hint, along with the slight tremor of his hands. Tobi was intimidated by her.
"No thanks, Tobi. Not hungry."
The plate was put in front of her face now, and Tobi's hands weren't shaking.
"It's time to eat, Sakura," Madara said, voice low and dangerous. "If you don't stay healthy, then you can't safely escort your hostage back to your beloved Konoha, hm?"
Sakura ate the food.
Sakura ignored the foot perched on her back, instead fixated on healing her captain with near-religious fervor. The weak green glow of her chakra above Tenzo's chest was beginning to stutter, and he was growing paler.
"You're almost out of chakra, kunoichi. Did you really think you and your friend could defeat me?"
She didn't reply, freeing one hand from healing Tenzo and brushing his hair off of his forehead. He was too cool—shock had set in. And because she was almost out of chakra, he was going to die, and the ancient shinobi pressing down on her back would kill her soon. Sakura leaned down to Tenzo's face, unlatching his head guard with her right hand as her left hand began to pump whatever chakra she had left into relieving his pain.
"I'm so sorry, Tenzo," she whispered, kissing his forehead, cheeks, lips. His skin was cold, but he managed a faint smile; then his dark eyes closed for the last time as her left hand lost its green glow. The foot on her back moved with her as she strapped Tenzo's head guard onto herself, the cool metal calming her battle-flushed cheeks.
Sakura turned to face the man who had killed her teammate. The orange mask was firmly in place and there were a few splinters on his clothes, but other than that, he was unharmed.
"You face your death with honor. Your mentor must be proud, kunoichi, but even a Kage's apprentice cannot really hope to even touch me. But still, an honorable death…it's more than Sasuke-kun could do. He talked about you and the jinchuriiki in the end, did you know that? And screamed."
He was walking steadily towards her, and by the end of his little speech he was six inches away from her and all she could think of was that only Tenzo was allowed so close, get away from me you murdering bastard and if this didn't work, then she would at least go out surprising him.
Now he was four inches away, and she was ready.
"I'm glad you're quiet. And you should have told your lover to give you that face guard earlier, it's really quite fetch—" he caught her hand as it swung towards his face, one index finger pointing at his eye. "And you're proud. Well done. But you're still going to die today."
Sakura saw the Sharingan begin to whirl behind the mass and gathered up whatever chakra she had left, feeling immensely tired. This would probably kill her, but it'd be worth it.
A shard of pure chakra flew from her fingertip and embedded itself in his eye, splintering and burrowing on her command. He let go of her as it systematically destroyed his retina and optic nerve, shrieking in pain as he brought his hands to his mask and ripped it off.
She stood over the old missing-nin as he fell to his knees, clawing at the eye. As his hands came away bloody, he turned his face towards hers.
"You bitch," he hissed, and Sakura laughed as she felt her legs give out from under her. Then everything was black, and the last thing she could remember was the cool metal of Tenzo's head guard pressing against her cheeks.
She hadn't expected to wake up. The results of chakra depletion—exhaustion, depressed breathing—added to the fact that she had been entering shock when she blacked out didn't make a great chance of living. And the still-conscious enemy also didn't help.
So when Sakura opened her eyes to a small fire, she was rightfully confused.
"Hello kunoichi-san! You were almost dead when Tobi found you! Really, outside in such weather—there was a huge battle—and it was raining—and there was a dead man—and—"
Sakura shot up into a defensive position; arms crossed before her as she crouched on the ground, and tried not to think about the small emerald ring on the thin chain around her neck.
Uchiha Madara was standing before her, gesturing and talking like there was no tomorrow.
"Kunoichi-san! You've been asleep for a long while, you really shouldn't—"
"What the fuck do you want with me, Uchiha?" she grated out, feeling an uncomfortable pressure in her ribcage. Must have broken some ribs, she though absently as she drew out a kunai. The man looked embarrassed, or confused—or at least she thought he did, he did have a mask on. But there was a sheepish tilt to the shoulders that she recognized from whenever Kakashi-sensei had gotten caught in yet another extravagant lie. Kakashi-senpai. Oh god, Tenzo…
"Um…kunoichi-san? My name is Tobi," he said slowly, carefully, as if explaining it to a young child, "Not this…um… Uchiha, right? Tobi is Tobi. Really."
The words rang through Sakura's ears as if they were a different language. (ano… kunoichi-san? boku no namae wa tobi desu. ano…kore wa...ano sa... uchiha ja nai, ne? tobi wa tobi desu. maji de.) The metal on her cheeks felt comforting against her heated skin.
No, no, no. This was Madara. Same god damned mask, same god damned chakra, same god damned blood on his same god damned hands. It was still there—staining down the front of his mask and his gloves in flaky brown lines.
"How in the fuck are you not Uchiha Madara? Cut this shit out! You killed my partner, you son of a whore!"
He moved faster than she could see, and he was uncomfortably close to her when she got over the shock of someone moving faster than the speed of sound—she could only now hear the rustle of cloth that said he was moving.
"What the fu—" she managed to hiss out before his hand clamped over her mouth.
"Miss! That's bad language! There's no need to use it—and Tobi's name is Tobi. Please, it really is." There was a pleading tone in his voice, and his other hand moved up into where Sakura guessed his mouth was, one finger pressing into the spiraled wood in a shushing motion.
Arcs of wood spiraling and twining in the air, catching her at the waist. He always caught her, and the wood was rough against her wrist as she turned to him; soon her lips were heavy with kisses and the metal of his face guard pressed against her as she laid his cheek to his.
No no no no no get in the god damned present, woman. Sakura channeled chakra to her hands, paused as the masked man tensed, and turned her head away from his gloved hand.
"I'm healing myself, damn it. I can't breathe anyways, and you blocking my mouth doesn't help," she said, running glowing green chakra over her ribs and sighing as the pressure and pain disappeared. Then she made the mistake of looking up to the man's mask.
Sakura winced on instinct as a bloody, weeping hole where there had once been an eye glared emptily at her, but the warm rush of sick satisfaction calmed her.
"Please don't stare, kunoichi-san. Um...Tobi doesn't feel comfortable when kuniochi-san stares at him," said the man, pressing a hand over the hole. Wait, what?
"How can you tell I'm staring?" she blurted out before she could stop herself. Oh. Whoops. "You son of a bitch," she added lamely. Medic side be damned.
He tilted his head curiously. "I can hear it, kunoichi."
Oh. Wow. How can his hearing be so good if he's that old? Wait. Wait wait wait. First person? She swallowed the sudden lump in her throat away.
His shoulders shook, as if in laughter. "You're a bit bright, aren't you, kunoichi?"
"Son of a whore."
"I've heard that one before. Did you know that I can hear when you talk to Tobi? You swear quite a lot—but you shouldn't do that to him. He's actually a good boy."
"What the fuck do you want with me? And I'll swear as much as I damn well please, thank you."
This got a chuckle from him, and a shiver from her. "So uncouth. The women in my day were much more polite—"
"What the fuck do you want with me?" she asked again, pointing a glowing finger at his eye.
He grabbed her wrist, and continued to talk as he calmly bent her hand backwards.
"—but you, kunoichi," he said over the snap-crackle-pop of her bones and tendons, "are much more feisty. It's refreshing."
She gasped in pain, and began to heal her hand as he released it.
"You're the Hokage's apprentice. And you were…engaged, if I go by that charming ring around your neck, to Orochimaru's bastard experi—"
"You can just shut up now. The hand's hard to heal, and if you say anything about Tsunade-sama or Te—Tenzo, then I will honestly put a senbon so deep into your frontal lobe that everything you say will literally come out of your ass." God don't cry don't cry oh God don't cry right now.
"Can you do that?"
"Don't you dare think I can't."
She stared at her hand, watching bones recede back into skin. Ulna, radial nerve oh my god owww.
"What do you want with me?" she said tiredly, wiping the blood away on her legs. "Why am I still alive?"
He was smiling. Sakura could tell, even if he was wearing that stupid swirling mask.
"Not me. Like I said, Tobi is a good boy. So I'd stay on his good side if I were you, kunoichi."
Then, with a swift kick to her freshly-healed ribs, he knocked her down to the ground. The last thing she saw was him crouching down to her, large hands on skinny knees.
"Because me, kunoichi? I'm his bad side," he whispered to her, like he was the granddaddy of all clichés. Then his fist hit her temple, and she knew no more.
And that was how Sakura ended up here, a day later, squabbling with the world's most dangerous ninja over eating her supper and wondering about split personalities. She had woken up that second time to a masked man who fussed over her, acted like a kicked puppy most of the time, and had the worrying tendency of becoming a psychopathic ancient missing-nin when frustrated.
"You will take me to Konoha, kunoichi."
"And why the hell would I do that?"
"You want to see your friends again, don't you?"
"What do you care?"
"You'll just try to kill the whole god damn village, you son of a whore."
There had been a chuckle. "Like I did to your lover?"
She had about killed him then, but a squirming, shrieking Tobi within her chakra-enhanced hands crying out, "Sakura-san! Sakura-san! Please stop—hgrrk—you're really hurting Tobi!" made her drop him, and then he sat and gasped out weird, sobbing coughs while she stared at her shaking hands. Then she (quite calmly) punched a tree into splinters, taking one of the longer shards and sticking it between her clenched teeth ala Gemna.
The old oak was bitter in her mouth, and some Tenzo-fied part of her whispered about tannins and leather and rings in trees. He had once told her that looking at looking at Konoha, you could roughly tell how old it was by looking at the different styles of architecture radiating out from the Hokage's Tower.
"Like a tree," he had whispered to her, arms slipping around her waist slyly. She had raised an eyebrow, because he was her captain and while yes, it was true that they did have some chemistry, this was still an awfully bold move for him. She told him so and he had laughed, and then (even more boldly) lifted one of her hands, pressed it to his lips and told her that he intended to court her.
Predictably, Tenzo panicked when she stiffened and quickly added in that, well, of course he would ask her father and take all those proper routes, and he'd already looked up the rules and now that she was a jounin it was totally legal and um if she didn't want to then he'd just back off and they wouldn't speak of this aga—and Sakura had smiled at him and said that he didn't have to ask her father.
Sakura lifted her head when Tobi had stopped coughing, his hands gripping the ground as if he were about to fall into the sky from the force of his exhalations.
She tried not to look at him and instead focused on the oak in her mouth, letting the bitter taste wash over her tongue and past the lump in her throat. It didn't relax her at all, but she could at least pretend that she was Genma right now—cool, calm, collected, and in charge. Or she could pretend she was Kakashi and tie a handkerchief around her lower face, so at least she wouldn't be the only one wearing a mask. Or Naruto. When it came to masks, his was the best—a sunny smile, a thumbs-up, and a promise.
Gods. She and Tenzo hadn't been expected back in the village for another week. No one would come looking for her, and by the time they did, Sakura suspected that it would be too late. Someone would die here, and it would probably be her. She wasn't strong enough to take him on by herself—sure, she was trained by Tsunade, but this was son-of-a-whoring Uchiha Madara here. Naruto would probably be able to beat him, and if you added the full force of Konoha's shinobi…
But she needed a way to warn them, if she was going to be so monumentally stupid as to take Madara's command seriously. Katsuyu? He'd notice. And she couldn't call down the bugs like the Aburame clan. Nor could she send a deer like the Nara clan. And a kage bunshin would take half of her chakra away, plus duh he'd notice.
Not for the first time did Sakura find herself wishing for Ino's Shintenshin. Mind controlling abilities would have been so. Damn. Useful. Super strength had its…well, its strength, and her genjutsu skills were fantastically above par. Not enough, though, to even match with an Uchiha.
Also not for the first time did Sakura find herself wishing that she had one of those handy secret jutsu or a bloodline limit. Damn no-name clan with a fucking target as a crest. She wanted to punch whoever thought that up right in the face, really. Tenzo hadn't had a clan name—he had muttered something about 'Senju' when she had asked, but hadn't elaborated. He hadn't really had a family except for the various teams that he had been on over his career, so meeting Sakura's parents had been an adventure for him, to say the least.
"I swear that your dad has the scariest glare I've ever seen," he had whispered to her after they had eaten a somewhat tense supper. "And I know scary glares, Sakura."
She looked at Tobi, who was done kneeling on the ground behind her. Now he was standing in front of her, one hand on the back of his neck in a familiar, sheepish gesture.
"What is it, Tobi?"
He pointed at her hands, clenched around the ring at her collarbone.
"Your hands are shaking, Sakura-san."
She looked down and belatedly released her hands. So they are, she mused. Stuffing them in her pockets and unconsciously imitating her sensei's slouch, she tried to smile at Tobi, her eyebrow twitching as he scuttled backwards nervously, thoughts of foxes trapped in wooden cages running through her mind.
"Tobi, how'd you like to go to Konoha?"
He seemed to brighten at the idea, and Sakura had felt just a little bit sick.
The oak was quite bitter, anyways.
Now that supper was finished, it was time for bed.
Simpler said than done, Sakura thought morosely. Tobi/Madara (well, mostly Tobi) was really like a smarmy, insecure teenage boy sometimes—when he wasn't too intimidated by her, he was downright sassy when he felt like it. And one of those times happened to be now, much to her distress.
"Ne, Sakura-san, you're ugly when you frown too much! Really ugly—and you'll get wrinkly and gross and your hands are glowing oh crap—" and then he scampered up a tree which she in turn punched down. This happened a good 90% of the time she was around him, actually. If someone had been tracking them by air then they would have been able to see an odd, meandering trail of smashed trees.
"TOBI," Sakura shouted, tired and chakra-less, "I'M GOING TO SLEEP." She shouldn't have been surprised when Tobi popped out of the ground in front of her (showering her with clods of earth and a few unfortunate worms), but this was a habit of his that was somewhat hard to get used to.
"You're tired, Sakura-san?"
"Yes, tired of dealing with you."
"Awww…" Tobi pouted. "We didn't even travel very far today. Are you on your period, Sakura-san?"
Oh my god, Sakura thought. Oh. My. God. Her stomach clenched in anger.
"No, Tobi, I am not." She stomped over to the meager campfire and kicked it out, ignoring Tobi's whine as the small clearing was pitched into darkness. "Shut up."
"Kunoichi," said a voice, tense and low. Sakura couldn't help the shivers that rolled up her back, but kept her voice even.
"Shut up, please."
Madara just laughed, and Sakura shut her eyes tight.
Sakura's back was against his chest as they sat together on her roof. She pressed back into him, relishing the warmth. All that she could see of him were his long, long legs and his covered arms, which were gently wrapped around her belly.
"This is a dream, you know," he said, his voice rumbling behind her. Sakura twisted in his grip and pressed an ear to his chest. "I'm still dead."
She looked up to him; he was smiling, soft as leaves, down to her. He wasn't wearing his face guard.
"I know," she said, touching the cool metal on her cheeks. "I don't care. And don't you dare tell me something stupid like 'you'll have to get over it someday' or some bullshit like that, either. You're my dream, so you're going to do what I want you to do."
He nodded, his face serious. "I wasn't going to tell you that, but sure. Whatever you want me to do."
"Tell me about trees."
"Whatever I tell you, you'll already know. I'm your dream—I only know as much as you do."
Sakura glared at him, until his serious façade branched into a wide smile. "Calm down, Sakura." One of his hands wandered up to her collarbone and fingered the ring that rested there. "What are you going to do about Madara?"
She sighed. "I have a plan. It just counts on someone being as observant as I think he is."
"A he? Is there something I should know about, Sakura?"
"I know you're only joking, but really shut up. That's not funny." Her voice shook.
He ducked his chin into the crook of her shoulder, a large hand caressing her stomach. "I'm sorry."
"Damn right you are," she sniffed, reaching an arm up to loop around the back of his neck and forcing his head to stay bowed. "I don't want to wake up, Tenzo." She could feel his stuttered breathing on her neck. "Please."
He kissed the juncture between her shoulder and neck, and obliged her.
"Deciduous trees go into hibernation as the length of day decreases—but first they change colors, Sakura. First the leaves lose their chlorophyll, which generally enables leaves to absorb every wavelength of light except for the green. This leaves beta-carotene—and chlorophyll-b and other pigments, I suppose, but I like beta-carotene—anyways, beta-carotene, which reflects a lovely red-orange…"
Sakura woke up to find the metal of the faceguard sticking to her skin, which was clammy with sweat. For a moment, she swore that she could feel Tenzo's lips murmuring against her neck.
No, wait. Wait.
She heard the soft breathing of somebody beside her, the light snuffles of snoring breaking her calm mindset. An arm was carelessly thrown about her midsection, and a leg was firmly pressed against her backside.
A he? Is there something I should know about, Sakura?
Sakura quickly disengaged herself from the tangled mass of limbs that was Tobi. At least, she thought it was Tobi. Whoever it was, she had awoken him.
"Sakura-san?" he asked, his voice gravelly with sleep. "Are you okay? I hope I didn't make you too angry yest—"
He was interrupted with a kick to the chest.
"Madara," Sakura growled. "Get out here right fucking now." Tobi was curled into a ball on the forest floor, clutching at his ribs. She could spy the wet sheen of blood against black—had she put chakra into that kick? She couldn't have replenished her chakra stores over night…
Oh, Tobi was talking. Well, wheezing, really.
"S-s-Sakura-san, p-please, he s-s-says he won't c-c-come outtttttt owwwwwwwwwww," he grated out, stretching the e's and s' as only the near-mortally wounded can. Tobi tried to say more, but gave up in lieu of clutching his chest and shuddering every now and then.
Sakura looked at the man lying on the ground. Then she turned away and walked into the forest, punching down a few trees in her rage.
When she came back five minutes later, he was still wheezing on the cool earth—his wheezing was quite a bit slower yes, and a hell of a lot fainter, but it was still there. Sakura knelt down to Tobi and stuck her face in his.
"Madara, I know you're listening. Don't ever touch me again. Tobi, that goes for you too."
Tobi's breath whistled past her cheeks—or it would have, if he hadn't been wearing a mask. At most, there was a muffled wssssssssth-ssssth-wssssssssth-ssssth that echoed dully against the orange wood. Could wood have beta-carotene in it? She couldn't remember.
"Have we reached an agreement?"
Tobi's fingers twitched, and Sakura took that as a yes. So she none-too-gently pushed him onto his back, straddled his chest, and began feeling around his ribcage with her over-abundant chakra stores.
Oh, wow. She had broken his sternum. Sakura began to talk, in order to distract herself from the fact that she was healing the man (or at least the body) that had killed her teammate and her fiancée.
"Kicked you right in the damn xiphisternum, huh? I was teaching some trainees CPR once—got to use Naruto as a dummy, which was pretty cool, because he could keep healing when they broke his ribs, only we doped him up on a shitton of painkillers first. Well, for proper CPR, you generally end up breaking the ribs because all of your upper body weight goes into the thrusts. But anyways, there was this one idiot who couldn't locate the xiphoid process to save his life, so finally Naruto…"
She talked for a good half-hour, slowly weaving the sternum and diaphragm back together. As she was finishing up, Tobi began to hiccup.
"Your diaphragm is getting used to being healed," she told him, easily lifting him and carrying him to where the fire had burned last night. He didn't make a noise, aside from his hiccups.
Thank god, Sakura thought. She felt guilty, and then guilty about feeling guilty.
"Kunoichi," said a low voice.
Oh, damn it.
"In my day—hic—women were much tamer."
"Frontal lobe, Madara."
"I wasn't done—hic—speaking, kunoichi. Now, as I was saying, the women were tamer, yes. But the men were more chivalrous."
Sakura was silent, and only thought of Tenzo freaking out when her father had glared at the shinobi from across the table.
"I…I apolo—hic—apologize, kunoichi."
Sakura stood then.
"You wouldn't know chivalry if you saw it dancing naked in front of you—oh, wait, you can't see now, can you? Get up. You're healed because unlike you, Tobi is a—for the most part, at least—a good kid. He wants to go to Konoha, and it's not like you can do anything serious without your Sharingan."
"So you're sending an innocent to his death?" he said, standing up as well. He had the familiar slouch of the 'I'm-injured-but-I'd-rather-not-show-it' person, AKA Kakashi.
"I'm sending Uchiha Madara to the executioner's block," Sakura said, walking east. He followed behind her, but quickly caught up. "Innocents have died in war before."
"Your lover wasn't an innocent."
"And he wasn't k-killed in a war, either. He was slaughtered by a senile maniac who doesn't deserve to be alive."
"Why did you heal me, then? Tobi's not a good enough answer. Something in you wants me alive."
Sakura didn't have an answer, but could only think of Naruto's raging red eyes and burning touch. She thought of sneaking in to see Kakuzu's corpse late at night, and nearly vomiting after seeing the damage done.
Vomiting after thinking of how much pain he had to have gone through.
"You're weak, kunoichi. I thought you had been strong, but here you are—grabbing onto the nearest thing you can, trying to forge a connection because you so recently lost your lover. Pathetic."
Then he laughed at her. "I lost my Sharingan to you?"
She walked away from him, going deeper into the forest and punching down trees as she went.
That night, after Tobi's mannerisms had slowly crept back into his body, Tobi apologized.
"Tobi's sorry, Sakura-san,"he said, gesturing with his hands and some roasted rabbit on a stick. "Just…Tobi was tired, and you were a nice pillow."
Sakura nodded absently. Then she handily switched the topic. "Tobi, how do you and Madara control your body? Is it your body?"
Tobi stopped waving his hands around and rested them on his knees like a schoolchild about to be reprimanded. "Well…"
"Tobi can't remember, Sakura-san. And…um…can we just not talk about it please?"
She looked at him. He was fiddling with the gloves on his hands, the rabbit forgotten. His slouch was more pronounced than usual, and she could see his head trembling.
"Sure, Tobi. What would you like to talk about?"
Later, she dreamed again.
"Well, that was nice," was the first thing that Tenzo had said to her. "Kick him in the chest, heal him—did you ever do that to me?"
"If you don't shut the fuck up, Tenzo, I swear I will slap you," she had replied. He pressed her back to his chest—same position as last time—and ran a hand over her stomach.
"I'm only three days dead. Do you think my body's been found yet?"
"They won't expect us back for another four days."
"Ah. Found by animals then. That's a pity—never did like the little woodland critters."
Sakura had tried to laugh at his poor attempt at humor, but ended up sobbing into his chest instead. He held her close to him, lying back until she was fully on top of him.
She had always felt so, so small when he did that, and she inched up his torso until her cheek was next to his.
"How am I going to do this without you?" she had whispered, curling into a ball.
Sakura hadn't been able to see his face, but she could imagine him looking at her with serious, brown eyes.
"I don't know," he had rumbled out. He broke into a weak smile when her head whipped up in shock. "Dream, Sakura. If I'm answering like this, then you really don't know."
"But you'll figure it out. And I'm not lying to you. But you're lying on me."
A few beats, then, "I would have divorced you for that pun."
He had only smiled at her, then reached up to hold her face between his large hands.
"I love you."
"I love you too."
Tobi woke her up this time, shaking her from a distance—wait, was that a branch he was poking her with?
When she growled and crushed the branch, he had cowered behind a tree, which she promptly punched down.
Back to normal, then, she thought as Tobi scurried to another tree. She enjoyed punching down trees. It was therapeutic. Or at least as normal as you can get, in this situation.
In fact, that was exactly how it continued for the next few days—Madara didn't surface at all, and Tobi slowly grew comfortable with her again. And by comfortable, of course, she meant impudent as all hell.
"What, Tobi?" She was busy trying to draw a mental map in her mind—six days out, she and Tenzo would be expected back in Konoha tomorrow. They had two days of travel left.
She hoped, against all hope, that someone had gotten her message, as erratic as it was. One day's worth of warning wasn't good enough, not for Madara.
Please, please, please be just as nosy as I know you are, Sakura thought.
Then Tobi was calling to her again. "Sakura-san! How does squirrel sound tonight?"
"Whatever, Tobi. Now get down from there."
A cold chill swept through her, and she thought of a grinning Tenzo and hospitals and the warmth of Konoha. Tenzo had always wanted kids. He had considered quitting ANBU and taking on a genin squad.
"For practice," he had said. "Just in case," he had said.
She punched down the tree that Tobi was in with a bit more passion than usual—with her abnormal excess of chakra, the tree literally exploded.
Ohfu—was all that she had time to think as the shards flew in all directions, her arms flying up to protect her face. But instead of feeling the wood burying into her flesh, she felt herself being easily lifted and then dropped back to her feet.
Sakura brought her arms down. She was behind a different tree, and Tobi was standing beside her, splinters, hands on his hips. He still had the squirrel in his hand.
"Kunoichi, control yourself."
Madara paused, and looked down at the squirrel that he happened to be holding. Then he visibly shook.
"S-s-Sakura-san? Was I…"
That's new, Sakura thought. "Were you what, Tobi?"
"…Never mind. Squirrel for supper, right?"
Sakura looked at him until he began to squirm under her gaze. His shoulders slumped in relief when she nodded.
"If you ever even think about calling me 'Mom' again, I will tear open your chest cavity, put your god damned lungs into a vise and keep you alive the entire god damned time. Got it?"
She gave him one of her best fake smiles. "I'm glad." There were black ants crawling on the tree behind Tobi, winding slowly around the trunk. "How about that squirrel?"
He nodded quickly, and hurried to the next clearing to make a fire and hopefully not burn the meat this time. Sakura, however, stayed by the tree, looking closely at the ants.
Then she pressed one, and it squished wetly beneath her finger.
She looked at the black spot, but was too tired to grin.
That night, she dreamed.
"This isn't a dream, Forehead."
Scratch that, then. That night, she talked with a woman who invaded her mind.
"We got your message."
Ino shrugged. They were standing on nothing—just white space all around. "Sai—well, me too, I'll admit—we were curious, and tried to fly to where you two said you were going to be. When we got there, he found Yamato—no, Tenzo, sorry—"
"Thanks. Anyways, he found Tenzo's body."
Her friend stepped towards her, and lifted the ring that was on Sakura's neck.
"I never knew…I had guessed, yeah—you two liked one another, but…God, Sakura. How long? Who knew?"
"Two years. Tsunade. Maybe Kakashi, but he never said anything about it."
"And you two kept it hidden?"
Sakura was silent. Ino shook her head and put her hands on Sakura's cheeks, leaning her face forward until their foreheads were touching. "I'm so sorry."
"Not your fault."
"Shut up. I should have known."
Sakura's throat and eyes burned as Ino grabbed her, hugging her fiercely.
"No, no…wait," Sakura gasped out.
"What?" Ino said. "It's fine, we got your message. Naruto's ready to fight. Everyone is, although Tsunade-sama's worried about the Sharingan…"
"No, it's not that. I took care of that. He's still fast—no, it's not that at all. He's got two personalities, Ino."
"We know that, too."
"No, you don't. I think Tobi—the Tobi personality, sorry—I think he's afraid of Madara. I think he wants to be independent from Madara."
"What are you getting at, Sakura?"
Sakura was silent again.
"No. Way. You can't be serious."
"Your dad, Ino…I'm sure he could figure out a way to completely separate the two of them."
Ino's arms tightened around her. "Sakura, you're under way too much stress to be saying stuff like this. You can relax now. We're ready to fight him. Just get him the rest of the way to Konoha, and we'll take care of the rest."
Sakura pulled away, ignoring the hurt look on her friend's face. "No. Stop it, Ino."
"Sakura, you're not thinking right. This man killed your fiancée."
"No, Madara did. Tobi…Tobi may be a smart-ass, but he's innocent in all of this."
Ino opened her mouth to reply, but stopped when she saw the tears running down Sakura's face.
"Please, Ino. I just…I just want something good to come out of all of this."
The woman shook her head. "Forehead…you're impossible."
Sakura laughed brokenly as the tears slipped under the faceguard.
After Ino left her, she dreamed. Finally.
"Is it safe to come out?" Tenzo asked. "Ino-san…well, she's always been a bit exuberant. What would she have done if she saw me?"
"Probably flipped out. Did I ever tell you about my first chunnin exam?"
"Nope. Sit here and tell me," he said, patting a grassy hill that flowed out from under his hand. "Dreams are so cool. Look at that."
It was pretty cool, she had to give him that. They were on the hill behind Hokage Mountain, and they could see all of Konoha from there—the sun was setting, and the districts downtown were beginning to set out their lanterns. Sakura sat between his legs, telling him about Ino's vicious mental ass-kicking, compliments of Inner Sakura. After she was done, she leaned against him and ran her hands up and down his legs while he played with her hair.
"Hey, I can see the house we're buying from here," Tenzo said suddenly, pointing to a house near the Academy.
"You mean the house we were buying. You're dead."
"Well, at least you're not in denial. You should still buy the house—any money I had is going to you, plus ANBU's stipend for family members is substantial. You're set for life, in all honesty."
"Why would I buy the house if I'll be the only one in it?"
His arms tightened around her stomach, but he didn't answer.
"In the end, you're an amalgamation of my memories of you, along with a heaping dose of my subconscious. Technically, I shouldn't listen to you at all."
"Just," Tenzo began, and then sighed. "Just trust me on this, please? As your ever-faithful memory-subconscious hybrid. Mostly the subconscious part, though."
"That's reassuring," she said, and twisted in his arms. "Tell me about trees, Tenzo."
"What, about how to punch them down? Well, firstly, don't put too much chakra—"
Sakura thumped his shoulder weakly. "Freak accident."
"I'm sure. Well, if you're going to punch them down, make sure there's a reason. Good job on that, by the way. I think you've set a precedent in the books, so far as sending discreet messages goes."
"Mhmm." Then Tenzo reached down to her and kissed her softly, sweetly—a carbon copy of their first kiss. At least her memory served her well.
They were quiet for a while, him dropping open-mouthed kisses along her collarbone. She shuddered up into him, reaching her arms around his chest.
He pulled her to him tightly, like when he had had missions where there was a significantly higher chance that he would die.
"Are you?" She didn't expect an answer, and she didn't get one.
A warm hand brushed across her stomach.
"Get up, kunoichi."
She lifted her head wearily, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. "Why? I was having a great dream, asshat. Where's Tobi?"
Sakura jerked to her feet, swaying slightly while the blood rushed from her head. Chakra rushed unbidden to her fists, but a pair of blue-clad arms quickly grabbed her around the waist and carried her away from Madara.
She couldn't help herself. "T-Tenzo?" Then she realized that a) she was stupid, and b) the hands attached to the arms were wearing gloves. Tenzo had never worn gloves, and she was still being affected by the dream.
"Sakura." A face loomed into view, turning her around. Kakashi was standing with his hands clamped all-too-tightly to her shoulders. Ah. He had been Tenzo's friend too.
He must have seen her eyes lose focus, because he said her name once more, sternly—like she was his errant, boy-crazy genin again.
"Ino's going to take you to the village. I want you to go to the hospital, get yourself checked out, and go to Tenzo's—wait, no don't. Go to your parents' house." He tried to prod her towards Konoha, but she stood resolutely in the grass. Behind him, Sakura could see Naruto snarling at Madara, with the rest of the Rookie Nine circling them. Tsunade was speaking to Madara, obviously in the middle of some proclamation about how he'd die a horrible death, and all that sort of stuff.
"Sakura, I need you to go," Kakashi urged again, prodding more insistently. Sakura attached herself to the ground with chakra, ignoring Kakashi's shoves.
Ino was walking towards her, a look of concern on her face.
"Forehead, come on. I want to get you to the hospital, okay?"
Forehead. My dad's coming out here. He thinks there's a way that we can separate the two of them. I've talked it over with Naruto. Tsunade and Kakashi don't know. We'll do it for you.
Sakura saw Hinata glancing towards the ring on her neck, and watched as one by one, the Rookie Nine stole peeks at her, and strengthened their resolve.
We'll all do it for you.
Ino was staring at her intently, face tight with the effort of speaking directly into Sakura's mind. Then she offered Sakura a pale hand.
Sakura stared at the hand, and released the chakra holding her to the earth. Ino smiled softly.
Sakura took her hand.
While they were running back to Konoha—one of Naruto's summons was giving them a ride—they passed two ANBU squads, who were each sprinting towards the direction of the battle. The captain of the second squad stopped, and looked at Sakura.
"Haruno Sakura, correct?"
Ino frowned. "What do you want with her? I'm trying to get her to a hospital here!"
The ANBU Captain shrugged. "Just wanted to tell her that her man was my captain. Best I ever had, really. My condolences to her."
Then the dark-haired captain and his squad ran towards the battle behind the two women, which was growing increasingly louder. Ino's face, comparatively, was growing increasingly worried. Sakura was white as a sheet, and her eyes were losing focus.
The last thing that before she blacked out was Ino, who was shouting her name.
Sakura was in a daze.
Sure, Naruto had come to visit her. So had Ino, and most of the Rookie Nine. Kakashi had even managed to drop in a couple times, although she only caught glimpses of him as she was waking up.
Naruto had sat and talked to her about the battle with Madara, and how no one (miracle of miracles) had died. He started to reenact the fight for her, but she simply lay in her bed, looking at the trees outside of the window.
Ino had told her about the Intel Department doing their best to put Tobi back together out of the shards of Madara's mind. It was slow going, however—maybe in a couple of years he'd come out of his comatose state, and who knew what would happen to him then.
Sai stopped by, once, and told her of Naruto's furious interrogation of Madara.
He had already been dying, Sai said. He had begun to die the second Sakura destroyed his Sharingan, so the battle was much easier than expected. Sai didn't know why he wanted to come to Konoha, and said that he'd leave the geezer's reasoning to himself.
But before all of these, Tsunade dropped by first. She had been sitting by Sakura's bedside, an unusually serious look upon her face.
"Have you had excess chakra lately, Sakura?"
Sakura replied to the affirmative, and it seemed as if Tsunade aged ten years before her eyes.
"Sakura…there's no way of putting this lightly."
After Tsunade dropped that bombshell, Sakura lay back on the hospital sheets, only half listening as Tsunade explained about strong chakra coils in parents leading to excess during gestation, or something like that.
She just…couldn't care, anymore.
"I tried to tell you," he said. She found herself in the normal position—backed up against his chest, his hands circled protectively around her stomach—and felt like either crying or hitting him.
She settled for both, in the form of a pointy elbow to his kidneys, and a strangled sob from her throat.
"Jackass," she murmured as he flinched behind her, bowing to his pain. "I hate you so much right now."
"Don't blame you. But did you have to punch me so hard?"
"Stop complaining. You're not the one who's got a kid to raise on her own."
"And you're not the one that's dead." She was silent, and he took this as a cue to carry on. "Arguing like this is pointless."
She took this as a cue to begin crying up a storm, and Tenzo sighed, pulling her onto his chest. Sakura curled into a small ball there, and cried for what felt like hours.
It could have been, really. Dreams are odd that way, you see. Anyways, a few hours later, Sakura felt a tapping on the face-guard.
"You'll be a great mother," Tenzo said, wide eyes brown and gentle. His hands eased their way onto her belly again.
"You would have made a great father, Tenzo. How will the kid grow up?"
"Like so many other ninja kids—missing one parent, and still having another that fights on in the memory of the one who's lost. You're not alone, Sakura."
She stared up at him, and he reached a finger down to brush some hair behind her ear. Then she thought of all the time that she had spent with this man, and found herself nodding.
"I'll try," Sakura said. Tenzo smiled.
They sat in silence for a while, taking in the view of sunset at the Hokage Mountain. Then he turned to her, and said:
"I do like what you did with those trees. Punching them down to spell out a message? That's insane."
"A huge 'UCHIHA MADARA THIS WAY' all across the Land of Fire? Maybe it'll be a new landmark. Either way we'll have to wait a hell of a long time for any new trees to show up."
Tenzo put down a hand and all around them, trees sprouted; Sakura gave a delighted laugh. Tenzo smiled down at her, and then kissed her on the lips, nice and hard, leaving her breathless. He smiled again.
"It'll grow back. Everything will always grow back."
The next day, Sakura left the hospital and bought the house.
guys I've been working on this story since November, holy sheeeeeeeeeit.
Tannins are very bitter, but are very useful. LOOK AN ANALOGY
also, structure-wise, it was entirely intentional that the climax was at the beginning. the rest of the ending was all pretty much the falling action. B-b-b-b-b-blaaaaaame Kafka.
rushed the ending, but I'll fix that later.