Thanks to everyone who left encouraging reviews! I'm fond of this story, but it tends to get polarizing responses so it tends to get sent to the back of the update list lol. I'm also so far out of both of these fandoms that it makes it difficult to remember what's supposed to be happening, hence the very AU ness of it all.

And for the people who severely dislike Sakura's characterization, thanks for actually reading this far! This happens to me often actually, where I really like a story but conclusively disagree or dislike the main character's characterization, or just have strong opinions on how they should handle situations and the actual story just isn't meeting my expectations. Feel free to air out your irritation to me, but honestly the most cathartic and rewarding thing to do is write your own story. Literally ALL of my stories exist because I was reading a fic and got so frustrated I had to write my own.

Sakura had always been the kind of person who found change favorable.

Ever since the time she clocked Ino in the face and decided to cut off all her hair, Sakura had decided that she really liked change. Change was necessary; change was the antithesis to stagnation; change was what made a good shinobi into a brilliant shinobi. It was the single most reason that the council heads were finally putting their heads together about nominating Naruto for Hokage. Naruto was a lot of things, resilient, honest, determined—and capable of a) admitting a plan was going wrong and b) making up a new one.

At any rate, strength in the face of vicissitude was more or less a trait of all great leaders, but she could see why the people of Middle Earth might have some difficulty accepting it. Their parochial views were expected.

To her great lack of surprise, Aragorn took it all in stride. King Theoden might take a while, but hopefully he'd come around. Legolas appeared grim, but he had always been pragmatic and logical. His silence was one of thoughtfulness, not stubbornness. Everyone else though was up to debate.

Still, regardless of the fact she considered herself always prepared for anything, even Sakura was a bit surprised to find the sun blocked out for one brief second, a gust of wind following in its wake.

This is how Sakura had expected everything to go down: the beacons would be lit, Rohan would begrudgingly come to Gondor's aid, Mordor and the free peoples of Middle Earth would have their inevitable clash. If they were lucky, at some point in that interim Frodo and Sam would manage to destroy the ring. If they were not lucky, then assuming they fended off Sauron's push against Minas Tirith they would have to push a counter offensive into Mordor to assist them. This theory was more or less shared by everyone in the Fellowship.

It was now also completely blown out of the water, because the ring was apparently already destroyed, leaving Sakura—and everyone else—at a loss as to how to move forward.

Sakura looked up to the staggering sight of an enormous bird, banking in circles with the wind. A shadow fell over her as its enormous berth blocked out the sun. It cawed twice, with a voice to match its size, causing the inhabitants of Rohan to peer their heads out of their windows and crowd in the streets with curiosity.

Sakura dodged through the accumulating crowds to meet it at the footsteps of the palace, unsurprised to see the familiar figure of her Hyuuga captain in the apex of its gargantuan wings. The fact that the bird was Neji's was not one that shocked her, but what did make her pause was the sheer size of it. Neji had a lot of aves in his arsenal, some as small as hummingbirds, as fierce as hawks, or as intelligent as ravens (his summoning contract was technically with sparrows, but she had yet to actually see him summon one of those). Still, the inaccurately named Suzume was a rare sight to see; the giant condor was the Gamabunta equivalent to Neji's summon pact, only ever used in dire circumstances.

But why would Neji need to use it? Neji was the kind of ninja who only ever showed off a technique when strictly necessary. The reason for it became clear when she came closer, spotting a familiar mop of orange hair over the bird's colossal shoulder.

"Sam?" She exclaimed in surprise.

The hobbit looked up at his name, looking terrible. He looked like… well, like he'd spent the last few weeks wandering through purgatory. Considering what she knew of Mordor, that probably wasn't an unfair assessment.

But the utter misery in his eyes was cause for concern.

There were tears in his wide, sorrow-filled eyes. "Sakura…" He said, voice uneven and hoarse. "Sakura please… you have to help him."

Neji didn't wait for the bird to properly settle itself, already ducking down to grab something and vaulting off the side. That something ended up being Frodo… and he looked worse for wear.

"Oh hell," Sakura cursed, her eyes widening at the sight.

The boy was as pale as death. With a critical eye she surmised it wouldn't be all that long until he was well and dead and halfway to rigor mortis. The pallor could only mean severe bloodloss, and from his form she could see the obvious effects of malnutrition; dry skin, obvious weight and hair loss. The sclera of his half-lidded eyes suggested jaundice.

Sakura's lips thinned further as she took the unmoving bundle from Neji's arms.

She looked down at Frodo. The sight was, well… he looked worse for wear, but still in one piece, except—Sakura blinked once, twice, and then her gaze narrowed at the Hyuuga.

"It was necessary." Neji said stiffly, to her unasked question.

Her expression twisted into a deep scowl as she looked back down at the boy, missing appendage and all. "We'll see about that." She swore, pivoting around smartly.

The Fellowship stood behind her, expressions ranging from concern to criticality. It appeared they assumed the worse.

"Is that Frodo?" Aragorn asked immediately.

"Yes." Sakura replied, terse with urgency. "Look, can you get the crowd to move out of the way? I need someone to fetch my pack from my room. And have someone prepare a bed. Right now."

Aragorn turned to the guards, gesturing promptly. They followed her orders, ushering the curious crowds away and calling for the palace maids to set up a bed. Sasuke nodded wordlessly to her in regards to her medicine bag, disappearing in a whirl of smoke as he used a Shunshin to grab it for her.

"What happened to him?" Legolas asked quickly, following her up the stairs. His eyes widened when he caught sight of him. "What—what happened to his hand?"

Sakura thought that should be obvious. "It was severed."

"Yes, clearly," Legolas choked out. "But how?"

"That's a great question, isn't it Neji?" Sakura called loudly, without turning around.

To an untrained eye the situation might seem dire and confusing, but to Sakura the answer was obvious. From the professional cut it was clear that Neji had cut his hand off, although Sakura had yet to discern why he had done so. It was necessary, he had said. Sakura was just thrilled to hear what he considered a necessity.

By the time Sakura had gotten him to a bed—a makeshift cot, really, set up in one of the drawing rooms adjacent to the throne hall because at this point there was really nowhere else to put one—Legolas had already relayed the information to Aragorn and Gimli, both of whom looked horrified.

She didn't bother to wait and figure out what was going on with the commotion outside, her attention focused on her patient. Sakura set him down on the bed. Sasuke was already there waiting with her backpack, and she wasted no time grabbing one of her larger sealing scrolls, and unraveling it to release the equipment inside.

She didn't look up until she'd loaded a syringe with a stimulant, rolled up Frodo's sleeve and shoved it into his shoulder, and even then it was only because Gimli had made a strangled noise at the sight.

Sakura spared him a glance, noting with irritation that there were at least half a dozen people in here. If this was her operating room, she would have kicked them out by now—but unfortunately this was a war planning room in the palace of Rohan, in Middle Earth, and was the last thing from a standard operating room.

"Close that door, would you?" She gestured to it with a cock of her head, dropping the syringe and taking a kunai to Frodo's shirt to rip it clean open. "And everyone, clear out." Sasuke was quick to usher the horrified Hobbits, guards, and maids out the door.

"Not you three," she amended to the three non-hobbit members of the Fellowship, before Aragorn could protest. "You can stay—but don't get in my way. Sasuke, get me Neji."

Sasuke knew better than to question her in the middle of a medical procedure, turning around and wordlessly disappearing behind the door.

With all that out of the way, Sakura observed the boy with a clerical eye. Near death was an understatement. Even without the inevitable blood loss from a severed limb, the malnutrition would have been enough. The blood loss was only severely exacerbating the problem.

She took his undamaged arm and threaded an IV through his elbow, checking his pulse. The drugs appeared to be doing their job, stimulating his respiratory system and cardiac system. Hopefully without causing him to go into cardiac arrest at the same time.

After that was taken care of she quickly unraveled the bandage job over his severed appendage.

It was a standard black-ops patch job, exactly what she'd expect from Neji. It was enough to stem the blood flow to a degree, but not enough to be sufficient. He probably went into shock soon after, which was fortunate because she doubted Neji had any morphine on him.

The ninja in question opened the door, striding into the room with the air of someone who was not about to admit wrong. Sakura scowled at him.

"Do you have his hand, or do I need to regrow it?"

"Regrow it." Neji confirmed.

Great. Just great.

She busied herself with disinfecting the area, before grabbing another sealing scroll and placing Frodo's mangled limb on top of the parchment. That should stabilize the area and act as a grounding component for her chakra. Contrary to whatever the citizens of the hidden nations believed, just because she could regrow limbs didn't mean it was easy.

"Are you going to explain this to me?" She asked sarcastically, as she began to channel chakra into his arm. "Or would you like me to guess?"

Neji stood silently for a moment, tilting his head as if in thought.

"As you know I disposed of Gollum when his usefulness expired," Neji began in preamble after another beat of collecting himself. "I took it upon myself to guide the Hobbits through Mordor, already having familiarized myself in detail with the terrain."

"Disposed?" Gimli repeated in shock. Aragorn shushed him quickly.

Sakura's attention was diverted towards her surgery—bone growth was tedious, but straightforward enough—but she made an impatient noise for him to continue.

"Despite knowing the most efficient route to take there were unavoidable delays; the only real option was through the plateau, with no cover, traversed constantly by Orcs, Uruk-Hai and other minions." He cleared his throat. "However, we were able to make it into the heart of Mount Doom without Sauron's awareness whatsoever."

The Fellowship sucked in a collective breath.

Even Sakura had to hand it to him; that was no easy feat. Stealthy bastard Neji may be, but guiding two exhausted hobbits through a hostile terrain with no cover and without detection was still cause for acclamation.

"And then?" Sakura pressed.

"And then we came to a dilemma." Neji answered, drily. "The two Hobbits argued as they stood inside the mountain. The ring had possessed Frodo enough to change the boy's mind. He didn't want to give it up."

Sakura sighed. Of course. That damned ring. Just because her chakra gave her a certain amount of immunity to it didn't mean she was completely outside of its reach. This was why, despite the fact that both she and Neji acknowledged the ring as an inadequate source of power, they both refused to actually touch it. Just the chance of the ring managing to possess them was catastrophic.

"He dismissed Sam, who was attempting to change his mind. At that point, we were already running out of time. Despite not knowing what it is, Sauron is capable of sensing Genjutsu, if given enough time. It was a blessing enough that we had crossed the Plateau and arrived at Mount Doom to begin with."

Alright, the situation was pretty grim, Sakura acknowledged silently. Neji was a genius in Genjutsu. If even he couldn't fool Sauron completely then there was real reason to fear him. Maybe the whole cutting off the hand thing had been warranted.

"At that point he had put the ring on and turned invisible," Neji continued. "Although I am not entirely sure why he had thought that would be enough to hide him from my sight."

Well yes that should be obvious, but it's not as if Frodo knew of Neji's Byakugan.

Aragorn sucked in a breath. "He alerted Sauron to your presence." The King realized in dismay.

"Yes." Neji nodded inscrutably. "I was unaware of the exact capacity of the ring's connection to Sauron, but I had assumed it would have some sort of effect like that. That, and his rage could be felt from every corner of Mordor when he realized where we were."

The Fellowship grew pale. "And the ring?" Legolas pressed. "What of the ring?"

"The ring is destroyed." Neji stated with great finality. Oddly enough, despite the overwhelming relief palpable in the room, no one looked even remotely content.

"Thank Valor for that." Aragorn sighed. "But I assume there is more to this tale than just this."

"Well, you can imagine Sauron was not pleased." Neji intoned, flatly. "He turned all the forces of Mordor upon us. At that point, it was either leave then and there or face the full force of his army. I took action. Frodo was not going to cooperate, and quite frankly I did not have the time or patience to reason with him."

"Hence the lack of hand." Sakura filled in dryly.

Neji nodded. "After that my Kage Bunshin used the last of its reserves to summon Suzume." It must have been an incredibly strong Bunshin to manage to summon the 'boss' of Neji's contract. "Fortunately I have multiple Kage Bunshin henge'd as birds in rotation around Mordor, so I was able to meet them once they had successfully escaped."

"So you're a clone." Sakura noted, her breathing a bit labored as she reconstructed the complex mapping or arteries and nerves wrapped around the bone. "Where's the real you?"

"Dealing with the complex fallout in Minas Tirith." The clone answered promptly. "Obviously this new turn of events will come with its own reprecussions."

"And Naruto and Gandalf?"

"Attempting—mostly in vain—to get the Steward to see reason. His son is a better advocate, but even he has been unsuccessful."

"The beacon remains unlit." Aragorn concluded gravely.

"That can be rectified easily enough." Neji returned. "With or without the Steward's cooperation. My actual self is dealing with the matter at the moment, now that Frodo and Sam have safely made it to Rohan."

With that, he spared a glance to Sakura.

"I still think cutting off his hand was excessive." She remarked, tartly. "But I understand why you had to do it."

"Excessive?" Neji repeated, sounding offended. "Time was of the essence. And at any rate, his lack of appendage was a temporary situation."

"Yes, but did you tell him that?"

"At that point he was not in any state of mind to hear it."

Poor Frodo, Sakura thought, disparaging. He'd be scarred for life at this point.

"At any rate, they are alive and relatively unharmed." Neji continued, with a trickle of annoyance. "As far as I am concerned, the operation was a success."

You would say that, Sakura scoffed silently.

"Success?" Gimli repeated, balking. "His bloody arm is cut off!"

"His hand, actually."

"Temporary injuries not withstanding, I concur." Legolas interrupted, forever the diplomat mediator. "Sakura can regrow the hand; no lasting damage has occurred. To be frank, the situation in Minas Tirith concerns me more."

"I agree." Aragorn added. "The fallout from this will be immense."

"Immense would be an understatement." Neji replied, snorting as he crossed his arms, leaning against the wall. "Sauron is furious. Worse, he has become unpredictable. Up until now he had assumed he had the upper hand. Accurately conjecturing his next steps will be difficult."

Sakura listened with half an ear, moving on to his tendons as sweat beaded against her brow. Even with chakra, creating something out of nothing—and especially something as complex as the human anatomy—required a great deal of effort and energy. Frodo was exceptionally lucky she was even here to do it, otherwise he'd have to learn to live without it.

"We must leave for Minas Tirith immediately." Aragorn said, expression taciturn. "The realm of men cannot be fractured like this. If Sauron intends to exact his revenge we must present a united front."

"That would be the wisest course of action. But Aragorn cannot go." Sasuke spoke up, surprising everyone with his presence as he emerged from the shadows.

Aragorn reared back, shocked.

"And why is that?" Legolas returned, brow furrowed.

"Gandalf told you to head to the river; look for the black ships." Sasuke tilted his head. "I assume he did not mean for those words to be taken lightly."

Aragorn said nothing, digesting this thoughtfully. Legolas frowned, turning to his friend with a worried look. "He speaks the truth—Gandalf does not speak prophecy without great reason. There must be something there that only you can do."

Aragorn let out a breath of frustration. "Yes, but what of the situation in Minas Tirith? I am needed there as well."

He was the King, after all. Only the King of Men would be able to unify them.

The room fell into silence, as the Fellowship and the shinobi searched for a solution. Sakura paused for a second to wipe the sweat off her brow, sucking in a greedy lungful of air. The muscles and tendons had regenerated nicely—all that was left was the skin.

"Sakura. You go."

Sakura startled, turning with wide eyes to Neji, who returned her gaze austerely.

"…What?" She said, blankly.

"Why Sakura?" Legolas challenged, voicing the surprise of everyone in the room.

Neji waved him off. "Trust me on this. Sakura will be the best choice." He replied decisively, if not vaguely. "We can travel to the White City tonight and be there by tomorrow morning."

This was met with an equal amount of surprise, and incredulity. The trek to Minas Tirith was one of days, not hours.

"At this point, Sauron already knows of my birds." Neji pointed out. "There's little point in hiding my summoning ability any longer."

He had a fair point. Using the big bird boss would drastically cut down travel time to Minas Tirith.

Legolas looked pensive. "But he'll be expecting that, will he not?"

"Between myself and Sasuke, aerial support will not be an issue." Neji countered.

For her part, Sakura did not know what to think.

The plan was as sound and strategic as she would expect of Neji. Aragorn would need to attend to Gandalf's plan personally; the situation in Minas Tirith would be solved easier with his presence, but it was not unsalvageable without him. Between Neji's collection of birds, and Sasuke's hunting hawks, they would be well protected in the skies. And that was to say nothing of their own personal skills; Neji's Byakugan gave them superior sight regardless of weather, and Sasuke's raikiri worked especially well in the clouds.

She traced a hand down the newly pinking skin of Frodo's hand. It was almost identical to his other one; any inconsistencies would filter out in time, as his body adjusted to the new hand and grew new skin and capillaries organically.

"It's a good plan." She observed at length, finally looking up from her work. "We can all meet up in Minas Tirith, then."

Her words seemed to seal the deal, as no one protested the idea. Legolas looked like he had a few words to say, but it appeared he did not intend to voice them at this time. Yeah, Sakura could imagine why he would be none too pleased with this plan. An attack was all but inevitable… but Sakura had not promised to stay completely out of the situation. She had promised to stay safe, and to stay away from the front lines once war broke out. There was probably no safer place for her to be than with Sasuke and Neji. Hopefully she could convince him of this.

"I suppose the matter is settled then." Aragorn surmised with a great capitulation. "We leave tonight."




Naruto hadn't known what to expect of Minas Tirith, but his own unmitigated rage was not one of them.

If Gandalf and Neji hadn't been there to restrain him, he probably would have done more than give that stupid Steward a black eye.

He scowled deeply, closing his eyes as he stretched his arms behind his head. "How can you even stand that guy?" He groused, to his companion on the stairs.

Neji had hauled him out of the throne room and off to some deserted stairwell, a narrow, winding precipice of stone that overlooked the vast city tiers below. The Hyuuga was as inexpressive as usual, staring out into the dark storm clouds across the plateau.

"He has his uses," Neji replied eventually.

So he was easy to manipulate. Naruto could see that.

"He's a fucking moron." Naruto replied, incredulous. "How the hell can he sit there and grieve over the death of a son who isn't actually dead?"

"He is blinded by fear, his own inadequacies, and a diminishing sense of worth." Neji answered with an astounding amount of calm, as if picking apart people's intimate flaws was as easy to see as the clothing on their backs. "He wants a reason to throw himself a pity party; it's easier to let him."

The worst part was Pippin actually believed Boromir was dead. Naruto had to cut him off before he could stupidly swear himself to something he couldn't handle. He had seen the body himself; there was a damn stasis seal on his chest. He was practically just sleeping beauty waiting for his true love's kiss from Sakura to wake him up. Naruto would take the thing off himself if he knew how to do it. Unfortunately only his prince charming could do that. Naruto spared a quiet snicker at the thought of a Sakura with cropped hair dressed up in regal princely attire, gallivanting on a white steed. Actually, she'd probably make one hell of a good-looking prince.

When he'd got the message from his summons that Neji needed him he'd pulled his Hirashin no Jutsu. He had expected it to be some kind of epic war scene awaiting him. Instead it was just a frazzled Neji explaining that Frodo had destroyed the ring, and Sauron was either going to lose his shit and exert his rage over the four corners of Middle Earth, or he would withdraw upon himself and regroup his efforts.

Since the former hadn't happened yet, Naruto assumed Sauron must be in his little bat cave somewhere, licking his wounds, ready to exact his revenge. And that was one hell of a blessing, because the kingdom of men had yet to get their shit together and with a moron like Denethor at the forefront it was no wonder everything was a mess. Wars took time, effort, and a hell of a lot of coordination. Naruto knew that from experience. But most of all wars required great leadership, something severely lacking at the moment. Gandalf seemed unwilling to take up the post, despite having all the capabilities required for the job. But he was most likely waiting for Aragorn to take the helm, something Naruto can understand. Aragorn was the rightful King of Men, someone perfect for the job, and someone Naruto had come to greatly respect.

But Gandalf had been very explicit with his orders; Aragorn must make for the river. It was imperative that he came to Gondor by boat, for some reason or another. Naruto had learned to just trust Gandalf with these sort of things.

At any rate, Aragorn would not be coming to the rescue any time soon, Gondor was a mess, and Boromir was a pretty princess that was about to be six feet under if his own father had anything to say about it. And his prince better hurry the fuck up.

On that note; "Sakura said yes, right?" Naruto prodded, whiny. "She's coming? And Sasuke? Please tell me they're on their way. I need them before I go insane."

"Stop being so melodramatic." Neji snapped, not in the least bit empathetic. "And yes, my clone should be escorting them tonight."

Well, there was a relief.

Naruto sighed, leaning back against the wall, propping one leg on the stair he was sitting on, letting the other sprawl out. Neji remained perched on the railing facing out into the glorious sunset, as still as stone.

"Aragorn also agreed to head west." He added.

"That's good, right?" He turned towards his companion.

"It's what Gandalf wanted." Neji said, shrugging.

Naruto sat up a bit straighter at the vague answer. "You don't sound too pleased about that. Do you think he should have come here instead?" That would probably clear up a lot of things.

"I don't claim to understand the breadth of Gandalf's wisdom, but I acknowledge that he is wise and fair." Neji was speaking in riddles again, Naruto noted with consternation. "And it's not my place to question him."

Naruto pulled a face at that, making a noncommittal noise. He knew they were just guests here and all, but it still grated on him to stay silent when the answer was so obvious. Recent events with Denethor being a stellar example. Neji was a lot better at this sort of stuff than he was. Naruto just wanted to help people. Even when he knew it wasn't his place to actually help. Still, just because he knew that didn't make it any less frustrating.

The blonde blew a raspberry, leaning back again with a defeated sigh.

Neji's eyes slid toward him. "I understand this is difficult for you." He said, his lips twitching as if fighting off a smile. "I wanted you here in case of an immediate retaliation by Sauron; it appears the caution was unnecessary."

"Oh, it's fine." Naruto shrugged. "I would have had to come here eventually one way or another."

"All the same, I know diplomacy is not your strong suit. Especially when the other party is…"

"A moron?" Naruto filled in cheekily.

"More or less." Neji agreed. "I heard how you handled King Theoden… try not to blow up anything with a Rasengan this time."

"He was being possessed!" Naruto retorted in his defense.

Neji snorted. "Explosions are not always the answer." Were Neji's sage words of advice.

Naruto scowled. "Well, whatever. It worked."

Neji didn't even bother to reply to that.

The Hyuuga rolled his neck, before hopping down from the ledge. He looked down at Naruto appraisingly. "It appears you've cooled your head." He concluded. "We should probably return to the others."

"Yeah, good point." Naruto agreed, rolling onto his feet. "I feel bad leaving Gandalf the only sole voice of reason like that."

Neji scoffed. "Considering the company he keeps, I'm sure he's used to that."




Sakura definitely had some damage control to do, but she had a patient to attend to first.

Frodo's hand looked more or less the same as it had been before Neji had summarily lopped it off. It would be tender for a while, and she would have to monitor him for circulation issues, but other than that it would be a full recovery. When Frodo had finally woken up, a few hours before Sakura was set to leave, he had been convinced he'd dreamt the whole thing. He vacillated between believing Mordor was a dream, to believing he was in a dream right now.

Sakura was a doctor, not a psychologist, so she had no idea how to handle it. Merry and Sam had come in to talk to him, after Sakura had made the executive decision that she was unfit for the job. They were just managing to coax him out of his shock when Neji walked in and forcefully rebooted his memories by his sheer presence alone. Frodo had taken one look at him, remembered everything and promptly gotten sick.

He was coming around now, everything settling in. First and foremost was utter relief; his journey was finally over. He had destroyed the ring. It was gone, forever. And with it went a part of Sauron's soul and powers.

She left him Sam's care, deciding it would be best to surround him with the love of his friends. The war was not over yet, but the Fellowship had agreed that Frodo had done more than enough, and deserved rest. He and Sam would be staying in Rohan when they left, and would not be joining in any further battles; Aragorn had tried to persuade Merry as well but the Hobbit had flat out refused, determined to fight. When the beacons lit, Merry would ride with Rohan.

But at this point Sakura had just about had enough of worrying over other people's problems; it was high time she started worrying about her own.

After a quick run to the kitchen to scarf down some dinner, Sakura found herself wandering about the palace in search of a certain elf. She forced herself to eat a ration bar too, if only to replenish her chakra stores. She still felt a little tired from the operation earlier, but she could feel herself regaining strength.

Once an hour had passed without even a glimpse of the elf, Sakura started to worry.

Was he angry? Upset? He had every right to be, Sakura pointed out to herself. She was putting herself in danger, and by extension, his two unborn children. Sakura slowed down, staring sightlessly down the hall, only a flickering candle holder on the wall to accompany her. Maybe she shouldn't seek him out right now. Especially if he didn't want to talk to her. Her stomach twisted at the thought. Was he really avoiding her? Did he not want to see her?

The rose-haired ninja sighed, picking her pace up again. Her footsteps led her to her own room, devoid of roommates. Naruto was waiting for her in the White City; who knew where Sasuke was. Off brooding somewhere, moody without Naruto here to entertain him.

Yet, she was not entirely alone. She was never really alone these days, now was she?

Sakura collapsed onto her bed, staring up blankly at the ceiling.

"For the record, I am not sorry about everything else, but I am kind of sorry about this." She threw a hand over her stomach. She couldn't tell if the feeling in her gut was anxiousness, a stomachache from eating too fast, or two twins rolling around. She felt a bit silly, talking aloud like this. Obviously they couldn't hear her. But Sakura wasn't exactly doing this just for the two little elves inside her; mostly it was for herself. "In all honesty, I don't think anything is going to happen to me, but if there's one thing this mission taught me it's that you never know what's going to happen."

She paused, frowning.

"This was supposed to be a regular escort mission, you know." She continued, quietly.

After a beat, she snorted to herself. "But I guess it was stupid of me to make assumptions. I should really know better, considering what happened on my first escort mission."

A bitter smile made it's way onto her face at the thought of their fateful mission to Wave. How ironic that the next escort mission the three of them did as a team would be just as much of a catastrophe as their first. Maybe Team Seven was just destined to have escort missions gone awry. This shit never happened with Yamato. Escort missions were, almost unfailingly, boring and uneventful.

Not this one though.

"I knew from the start that I shouldn't have taken this mission, escort mission or no. I guess a part of me recognized the opportunity and didn't want to pass it up—maybe somewhere in my subconscious I wanted to come back. Come back and, you know, see your other genetic donor. For what reason though, your guess is as good as mine. What did I think would come out of meeting him again?"

Certainly not some catastrophic mission to save Middle Earth.

Sakura sighed, rubbing her stomach absently.

Maybe there had been a small part of her who knew the outcome all along. She had toyed with the idea of having her child back in Konoha, but in hindsight that dream was farfetched and unrealistic. She could have never handled raising a child. Maybe a part of her had recognized the opportunity to reconcile with Legolas, and leave the child here.

Maybe she had been planning on abandoning them all along.

"Anyway, I guess I'm just telling you guys not to worry." She ended, after a long moment of silence.

There was another beat, before she added; "I'll protect you."

It was the least she could do. She might not have wanted this, but she knew she would always protect them nonetheless.

This was how Legolas found her, not even five minutes later, staring sightlessly at the ceiling, listless and maudlin.

"Sakura," he called as he entered, brow creased with concern. "How are you feeling?"

She tilted her head towards him, nebulous expression clearing into a small smile. Ah, the million ryo question. "Fine."

As usual, Legolas did not look convinced. "The procedure earlier looked… demanding."

"It is." Sakura answered diplomatically. Understatement of the year. "But I'm feeling better."

He sat down next to her. "That was quite the sight to see, I must say." He added. "I suppose I had thought Naruto's tales about his own hand were an exaggeration."

"Oh trust me, Naruto's tales usually are." She replied wryly. "This one just happened to have some truth to it."

Legolas met her smile with one of his own. Unfortunately it melted away quickly, and Sakura found her own good humor draining like water in her hands.

She looked away, hands resting against her stomach.

"I'm sorry." She said, feeling like it was long overdue.

He turned to her. "For what?" The elf asked, confused.

Sakura shrugged. For everything. For coming into his life like this and turning it all upside down. For making things harder. For not being the mate he deserved.

For leaving.

"I don't know." She said instead, shaking her head. "I'm just… sorry. About everything."

He looked down at her, expression very complicated, but impossible to discern.

"You'll leave with your companions, then."

"If Neji says I should go… I should probably go." She replied, evasively.

"He did not say what for, however." Legolas noted, pensive. "We also do not know when Sauron will turn his ire towards the White City."

"His plans have been set back." Sakura pointed out. "He's lost the ring, forever. He'll have to reevaluate his plans, and in the meantime, we should be consolidating forces and preparing for an offensive push of our own."

Legolas turned to her.

"Sakura," he said, slowly. "Should you really be…"

There was a moment where he trailed off, the room descending into an off beat of silence.

"Traveling? Fighting? Participating?" Sakura tossed out, after he failed to finish. "I don't know. But Neji wouldn't have asked for me specifically unless there was something only I could do there." She shrugged. "I would assume it has something to do with Boromir."

Legolas' expression turned… complicated, at that. "Boromir?"

Sakura turned to him then, curious at his tone. She couldn't read the elf's tone, although to her ears he sounded rather cool. Maybe that was warranted though; Legolas and Boromir never really got along to begin with, and then the man went and betrayed them all and caused the enormous mess that led to their current situation. Still though, Legolas was never this frosty with anyone—he tended to be the amenable and diplomatic member of the Fellowship, so seeing him so reserved certainly gave Sakura pause.

"I put a stasis seal on him—a healing sleep, I guess you could say." She explained. "Only I can take the seal off. Neji already told me he safely made his way to Minas Tirith; at this point he should be fully healed."

Legolas looked away. "So he wants you to wake him up?"

"It sounds like the situation there could really use him awake and healthy—apparently his old man has gone round the bend, a bit." Or a lot.

Sakura watched the elf cautiously, trying to get a read on him. It was almost impossible though, which was surprising.

Meanwhile, Legolas would have thought his opinion on the matter to be incredibly transparent. He glanced back at the woman on the bed; maybe not. Sakura was awfully dense when it came to this sort of stuff—deciphering people's emotions, especially when in regards to herself. Legolas frowned. No, that wasn't entirely true. Sakura easily recognized when people thought she was attractive and used that to her advantage, so much so that it seemed almost second nature. She could manipulate and beguile men so fluidly she probably didn't even notice she was even doing it. More than likely she simply dismissed their feelings as trivial or shallow, and never thought any more on the matter.

At any rate, Legolas was not nearly as dismissive of other people's emotions and motivations as Sakura was—he knew for a fact Boromir was not just swayed over her pretty face.

But really though, was he in any position to be jealous?

His attention returned to the girl in question, blinking up at him in ignorance of his thoughts. Sakura didn't seem even remotely interested in pursuing any kind of romantic attachments—and that included any with him. He highly doubted she'd be interested in anything the man had to say.

"That seems reasonable enough," he commented at length, once he realized he hadn't actually replied. "And please, be careful."

Sakura smiled "Of course." She assured him. "Anyway, I'll see you soon enough, right? We won't be separated for long."

"Separation of any kind makes me uneasy." He admitted.

If Sakura was being honest, she felt something similar. Sure, it was temporary, but she could understand Legolas's anxiety; what if something happened to him while she wasn't there? Understandably that feeling must be magnified tenfold for the elf. And yet, he held himself together admirably well, facing current events with a quiet wisdom and bravery that Sakura had come to expect from him. In hindsight, this reprieve really hadn't been all that long, and yet the reality of it ending was still so surreal. Tonight she would fly to Minas Tirith, and Legolas would go with Aragorn and Gimli. Sakura wasn't surprised he hadn't asked to join her party; he knew just as well as she did that Aragorn would need him.

"Me too." She admitted as well, smiling slightly. "I guess I'll see you on the flip side then, huh?"

Legolas met her smile with one of his own, although his brow furrowed in confusion. "'Flip-side'"?

Sakura laughed. "It means, see you there."

"Oh, I see." He nodded. "Then yes, the 'flip-side' it is."

Sakura tried valiantly not to laugh at him. Maybe she should postpone teaching Legolas any other colloquial terms.

Sasuke rapped quietly on the other side of the door, startling them both. She wondered if he actually had sat on the other side and politely waited until an opportune time to interrupt them, or if he just had impeccably good timing. With Sasuke, it was hard to tell. "Are you ready?" His voice was muffled, but she could hear the faint string of impatience in his tone.

Her smile dimmed, as she turned back to Legolas. He didn't look any more prepared for her to leave than she was.

Before she could think better of it, she leaned closer to seal their lips together in a gentle kiss. "The flip side." She repeated. "That's a promise."

"A promise." He agreed.

She straightened up then and headed to open the door. Unsurprisingly Sasuke's expression was nothing short of exasperated at her dawdling. She turned back with another smile. "Don't keep me waiting too long!" She called over her shoulder, before following Sasuke out the door.