They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.

Sakura had stared out at the sky for hours now, lingering over the edge of the cliff and teetering with every breeze. Her retinas burned from the sun, but Sakura welcomed it. It gave her an excuse for the tears that dampened her cheeks. The welcoming wind seemed to whirl around her even stronger now, coaxing her closer to the edge. It was as if it wanted her to jump; or, perhaps, she wished it did. When her eyes closed, she didn't realize it. When she reopened them, she saw the landscape beneath her much clearer. It was a pretty valley with winding trees and patches of colored flowers dotting around the emerald forestry. It was a beautiful sight, for it to be her final one.

Pink wisps of hair waved about Sakura's face, clinging to her cheeks where saltwater dried. Perhaps it was in this moment of dazed, bitter isolation that Sakura thought the wind whispered to her. "Jump, jump," it said. Maybe it was only her own mind trying to justify what she was about to do. After all, it was easier when someone else was telling you to do it. It was harder to make the decision all on your own. Though, Sakura had pictured this scenario in her head countless times. Late at night, when all she could cling to was her pillow to keep herself from punching her own walls with rage.

Wasn't this what they asked of her? Wasn't this what everyone wanted? To be rid of the burden that Sakura made herself to be?

With a glance over her shoulder, Sakura's lips curled into a sarcastic smile. What exactly was it that she hoped to see? Was she afraid someone would be there to try and stop her? Was she hoping for that the whole trek up here? She turned back around and lifted her chin, peering down over the abyss she was about to toss herself into. It was a decent enough death, she supposed. It would be over quick, no one would find her and have to worry about her body; her filthy, soiled fucking body.

A breath hitched in Sakura's chest and nearly choked her. Here she came, and here she ended it. She no longer had a safe place in her village, and no longer did she have a safe place in any of her peers. Who would offer protection to someone unable to fight for themselves? That assistance was for helpless civilians. Not someone who should have learned how to protect herself long ago, even from everything meant to keep her safe.

The tip of her shoe neared the edge and sent a rock careening down, tumbling past the wall of the cliff. Sakura watched it a moment, amused with the flailing stone. She, of course, would not roll down. No, she was going to fall through the air, peaceful in the moments before she hit the ground. She wanted it to knock away the memories of this place. Closing her eyes, Sakura began to allow her body to go lax. For a split moment, she felt a spike of adrenaline stab through her chest and push through her veins. The wind swayed her body and her brain sent alarms ricocheting through her nerves, ordering her to step back and escape falling.

It was far too late.

Sakura was weightless in that moment. She tipped over the edge of the cliff and seemed to hang in the air for a second, paused in time and enjoying the freedom of no gravity. It was when she began to fall did time come hurtling back into place.

Wind whipped around Sakura now, no longer the soothing caress of before. She didn't dare to open her eyes for fear they would blow out of her skull. This was not peaceful, it was not fast. Sakura's heart was in her throat and her brain was in the past, where she was still standing on the ledge, trying to convince herself not to jump. She was hanging in purgatory even as she rocketed towards the earth. Sakura could only think of every moment of her life that led to this; every reason she should not have done this.

She had all the time in the world to feel regret. Death was not fast, and it was not a relief.

A sudden, roaring sound came rushing into Sakura's ears. She realized that, somewhere along the way, she became deaf by the sound of her racing heart. Now, she heard the roaring wind around her as it was cut through by the sound of giant wings flapping. When a smooth, cool surface touched Sakura's skin, she felt a scream build in her chest, thinking that this was her body colliding with the ground. When her heart beat in the next second, no shattering of her bones followed it. The wind still whipped around her, but she was no longer free-falling through the air. She was resting on something solid.

Fingernails digging into the smoothness beneath her, Sakura hesitated in opening her eyes. The ground wasn't rushing towards her, instead she was rising above the landscape. She was sitting atop the body of a pure white and winged creature. She couldn't breathe, but all she could do was wait for her lungs to fall back into her before she could take another breath.

"That was quite a stunt, yeah. But, I have to say that I prefer flying this way." A masculine, slightly perturbed voice mingled with the furious wind. Sakura's natural reflexes weren't erased during her fall, nor were they capped by being miles above the ground. Beneath her, her hands clenched and her head jerked up to face the voice. Despite her hostile reaction, she was not met with any retaliation.

Blue. Blue, blue eyes. Sakura's lungs, while having returned to her, burned with her next breath. She knew blue eyes like this, once. Or at least, she thought she had. She was still reeling from the knowledge that most of what she knew wasn't real at all. She was just a stupid, hopeful little girl, just as her family told her.

"Who are you?" Well, that wasn't necessarily the first thing Sakura wanted out of her mouth, but it was all she could manage to come up with. Her voice was raspy and almost swallowed by the wind, but it didn't seem to give the stranger any trouble. Sakura ripped her attention away from the color of his visible eye to assess the rest of him. The man's long hair was blond and he had some of it tied back, out of his face. There was a strange metal contraption attached to his left eye. Was that a scope of sorts? A scope. This rattled Sakura with recognition. "Deidara," she spoke his name like she was revealing it to him, not herself.

Deidara smiled a lazy grin. "At least you've saved me the trouble of introductions, Haruno." Sakura glanced down again when the clay bird rose past the cliff. She had intended this, had she not? To fall into the jaws of death? In its own twisted and mocking way, perhaps this was just the way things worked out. "Don't think about jumping off this, yeah. I'd be much more inclined to knock you out after that, once I caught you."

Sakura didn't respond to the dry statement. She wasn't stupid, she knew better than to attempt her jump again. If he had managed to catch her once, what would stop him a second time? "Why did you, the first time?" A dozen questions burned Sakura's tongue, but she chose the one that seemed the most vital. This was on the outskirts of Konoha, barely touching the village. Had Deidara come to infiltrate, or had he come seeking information, and found himself lucky in capturing a stray ninja?

Was she even a kunoichi of Konoha anymore?

"We have plenty of time for talking later, I'd say. For now, I doubt you're in a place to hold a conversation, yeah." Sakura's jaw clenched. Deidara hadn't spoken callously, but the implications were all there. For god's sake, he had just witnessed her throw herself off a cliff. The ways he could use this against her, to try and break her down and pry her secrets about her home out of her, they were all pulsing in Sakura's mind.

Just as Sakura opened her mouth again, the command she was going to will forward quelled. Her gaze fell from Deidara and to the distanced cliff. A single figure stood there, near where Sakura had stood moments before, watching. She knew he could see her; much better than she could see him, too, for all that his face burned into her memory. Her mouth closed and her teeth caught her cheek, biting on the inside of it until she tasted blood. The figure didn't move, but she already knew. News would reach Konoha by nightfall that she was with an S-ranked member of the Akatsuki.

It couldn't be truthfully said that they had kidnapped her when she had, quite literally, fallen into their grasp. Nor was she fighting particularly hard to climb back out. To Konoha's eyes, Sakura was committing treason, no matter her loyalties and won battles for them.

Deidara's eyes darted to the side, following Sakura's line of sight down to where the wayward man stood. His lips curled with disdain. "Uchiha."

Sakura lifted her chin and watched as the glint of Sasuke's red eyes caught the sunlight. Her hands relaxed, lowered. Her posture no longer teetered on the edge between sitting or foolishly trying to attack her captor. She relaxed and she watched. Konoha would know, but they wouldn't come. They would mark her as a traitor or as dead, either one brushed her from her village's hands. She was expendable, she was a pawn that fought for her home just like the other child soldiers did. When another line could replace Sakura at any moment, no one would deem her a loss. No one batted an eye at losing a useless, young medic to the claws of an enemy.

Deidara glanced back at Sakura when he noticed her sitting back, her eyes focused on the shrinking cliff. Where his anticipation that the girl was going to call out for her teammate had been, he felt a growing sense of dread. Deidara brushed his suspicions away. He had an important matter to take care of in ensuring the Uchiha did not dare try and follow. It didn't appear he would, but Deidara wouldn't allow for risks. In his palm he held a small clay creation, one that he tossed into the air. It soared down to the cliff within the blink of an eye, just reaching the circle of land before a flash of light encased it.

Deidara watched it explode, shattering the cliff around it. Just like with all Uchiha, he was sure the youngest one had pulled a cheap trick to escape it. As long as he was no longer on the edge watching them, then Deidara wouldn't bother with him. He turned back to face the Haruno girl, who had yet to move, but on her face she wore an expression even Deidara wasn't prepared to see.

A soft, chilling smile.

It didn't seem to suit her gentle facial features, nor did it match with her eyes, but Deidara had no comment on it. He had some questions of his own for this girl, though many were ones that she could never answer, he was sure. He had watched her, on that cliff. Ages had passed as she stood, statuesque and glistening. She was no longer the awkward young teenager he had first met a few years back, with her shaking fist and furious green eyes. Now, she was an adult, with steady hands and a cold gaze. She was a warrior, and he had to treat her as one.

The air grew thinner as they rose higher into the sky. In a way, the dizziness that ensued from her smaller supply of air wasn't unpleasant. It was, however, tiring. Exhaustion washed over Sakura's bones. A fire-hose against a raging wildfire, now dousing the enraged flames. She dropped her forehead into one of her hands as if her head was too heavy to hold up any longer, and soon her body became too much as well. Sakura swayed a bit, but didn't tilt too far. Deidara's arm steadied her, acting as a guardrail and preventing her from toppling off the clay monster.

Deidara pursed his lips down at the girl that had all but collapsed. Her breathing was shallow and fast, but gradually returned to a slow and even rate. Earlier, Deidara hadn't appreciated getting assigned as a babysitter. But, after approaching Sakura earlier, he was glad it had not been anyone else. Shifting his position, Deidara moved so that Sakura was more secure, and he could still prepare for any unexpected surprises. Slender fingers tightened their grip on Deidara's arm when he began to sit back, rendering him unable to move it. He sighed, put off by the girl and what had transpired, but he resigned himself to stay still and remain where he was. It was a small price.

Looking outwards, he watched the sun beginning to sink over the horizon. Deidara shuddered as a shadow started to fall over the land. Pein would be satisfied that Deidara had retrieved the girl so fast and without drawing any unwanted fuss. Deidara, on the other hand, was anything but pleased.

He was an S-ranked missing nin. He was an assassin, a murderer, someone etched by the harsh hands of time. Death did not faze him, nor was this the first time Deidara had been a witness to suicide attempts; but to watch another want to take their own life? It never grew easy to stomach. How knocked down did a person have to be to throw themselves over the edge of the world?

Deidara wasn't sure it was an answer he wanted to know.


Sakura awoke to the world shaking itself apart. She bolted up, adrenaline filling her veins with her ingrained fighting reflex, but there was nothing to lash out at. The only things around her were empty miles of forest and the snow-white wings of the clay bird. "Easy," someone muttered. Sakura looked up, tilting her head to be able to look at Deidara. His proximity surprised her, and she sat back on her heels, capable of holding her balance despite the jostling landing. "You haven't fallen off yet, have you? I wouldn't let you start now, un."

Green eyes narrowed, lacking any flicker of trust towards Deidara. It didn't appear to offend him. If anything, he seemed to give her a small smirk before he stood up. The ease and grace Deidara used in standing and hopping off the bird, which had yet to cease motion completely, startled Sakura. It was starting to give Sakura a headache, though she was sure there were many factors adding to that. "Hurry up, yeah. Jump down."

"Don't rush me," Sakura snapped down in the vague direction she'd heard Deidara talk from. Her fingers left her temples and found purchase in the clay beneath her, shakily pushing herself up. She wobbled and, unable to walk, took Deidara's order quite literally. She hopped off the damned thing with her only hope being that she could land relatively right.

Her concerns for that were unnecessary, she never landed at all. Deidara caught (or rather, snatched) her out of the air before she could hit the ground on her unsteady legs. If it had been hard for Deidara to support her, he gave no outward sign about it. "You stand like a newborn fawn, yeah," the man stated with a hint of amusement. He abandoned his clay beast behind and began to walk ahead, Sakura still entrapped in his arms.

There was no appreciation had for Deidara's words. In fact, had Sakura been younger, she might've hit him for it. "You talk like a drunk teenager," she remarked on his speech habits in retaliation. Deidara exhaled a puff of a laugh, cutting his eye to the side to glance down at the girl. She had a mouth on her, in spite of her earlier vulnerability.

"You'd hate to see me actually drunk then, yeah?"

Sakura blinked, taken aback by the amicable and laid-back response. It didn't fool her, but it did prompt a pause. She'd seen Deidara in action. When his eyes glowed in crazed passion and his beautiful creations launched from his hands, a pretty death hidden in clay. "It might make you unintelligible, which would be a step up." Sakura's voice remained smooth and in beat, not failing to return the same jabs Deidara gave to her.

Deidara's lips broadened into a smirk. For someone who, all accounts considered, was technically a captive; Sakura did not behave like one. He shouldn't have had complaint with that, but it was hard not to take suspicion with it. Most captives screamed and kicked a lot, after all.

The cave entrance that Deidara had walked down seemed endless. Sakura's eyes were only just now beginning to adjust to the darkness when she felt them come to a stop. A rumbling, crunching sound roared through the cave with ferocity. Had she not been unable to, Sakura might have been inclined to retreat from such a noise.

When the roar had receded, Sakura realized that Deidara had begun to walk again. Dim lights began to illuminate the previously pitch black line of Sakura's sight, making her squint to readjust her eyes once again. The longer they walked, the more Sakura was afraid this base was underground.

"So, you managed to do something right," a deep voice spoke. Sakura's muscles tensed beneath the sound of a new voice. It was a bored, tired drawl that seemed to barely have interest in talking at all.

"Is Leader-sama back yet, Hidan?" Deidara deadpanned, eyeing the older man who was leaning against the wall. If his blood-stained hands were any indication, Hidan had only just gotten back. Sakura's eyes zeroed in on the Jashinist as he nodded his head towards a corridor. His gaze dropped down to Sakura then, as if just thinking to acknowledge her. His lips curled into a sneer that sent the girl's heart careening off her ribcage. It was only just registering past the haze of her own emotions where she was, who she was with, how easy it would be for any of them to–

He could kill her by just raising a hand.

Remembering how to breathe became Sakura's top priority once Deidara had moved far enough away. Dim torches lit the corridors, casting an eerie glow across the ground and walls. Once the end of the corridor began to near, Deidara paused and set Sakura down on her own feet. Miraculously, she stayed upright. Though, walking was another trial altogether.

Deidara stepped forward to the door, and with a heavy hand he knocked three times. After a pause, the door creaked open, revealing the stone walls inside. A haunting air burst from the room when the door opened, chilling Sakura down to her bones with malicious cold. Deidara nudged Sakura forward without patience, coaxing her into the unwelcoming room. With her arms at her sides and her chin held high, the young woman walked, her footsteps echoing with an air of finality.

"Is this her, Deidara?" Sakura heard the slow, almost melodic voice, but she didn't see who was responsible for it. From behind her, she heard Deidara shift, presumably to bow his head.

"Yes, Leader-sama. As you asked, Haruno Sakura, Konoha's top medic ninja and former apprentice of the Sannin."

Sakura swallowed her voice before she allowed it to get her in trouble. Only silence would greet her questions, if not direct consequence. "I trust that you won't present a problem, Haruno." The same, disconcerting voice addressed her. She felt the innate need to straighten up, to tense her muscles. "You are an asset of the Akatsuki, now. Your medical skills are necessary for our successes, as is your knowledge of Konoha. Under our hand, you are a tool of the Akatsuki."

Sakura opened her mouth, but she could do nothing but close it a moment later. The answer was right in front of her, she knew. Konoha would not welcome her back, and her resistance here would be a futile and dangerous proposition. Her shoulders rolled back and she clicked her jaw to keep it from trembling. "I understand." Sakura knew her skills weren't as abundant, nor were they particularly honed, when compared to those of her teammates and sensei. But, she was a kunoichi all the same, and she'd be damned if she didn't live up to that title. If this was her honorable chance at death, she would accept.

Deidara cocked a fine brow at Sakura, but he didn't speak up, he stood back to observe her. She was rigid, no lack of fear present in the way she held herself, but she didn't crumble beneath it. Her voice rang with clarity in the reverberant room. He turned his gaze from her to the shadows before her, where he knew Pein sat, watching her with the same dubious, curious intent.

"Deidara, see to it she doesn't cause trouble." The silent warning of "keep an eye on her" was never voiced, but it was crystal clear. The blond nodded his head in respect once more before he straightened up, wrapped his fingers around Sakura's arm, and began to lead her away.

Once outside, Sakura tugged on her arm. "That won't be necessary," she told him, eyeing his hand around her bicep with contempt. Deidara shot her a sideways look, as if asking her if she was serious. "Does it look like I have anywhere to run to?" The walls were all hard stone. The corridors were all a maze and the miles of forest around them were all empty, likely infested with hidden dangers awaiting prey.

Deidara scoffed. "For a woman strong enough to shatter the earth? I won't put anything past you, yeah."

Strong?

Strong things did not break.


Fifth story in my journey to rewrite all of my bullshit fics. This is the first of my multichapters that I'm rewriting so it took a while, but I'm happy to have gotten it done. I can't quite remember, but I think this was the very first multichapter story I ever wrote. It's really cringe-worthy, but what else can be expected of a twelve-thirteen year old child? Hopefully I made it at least a little better. The grammar and punctuation have improved (though aren't perfect, as I'm no expert) so that can at least be a comfort, right?

I'm not nearly as into the Akatsuki as I was when I was younger, but they'll always have a special place and I did rekindle some affection for them while writing this first chapter. I remember a time I did nothing but read fanfiction of the Akatsuki X Sakura on my iPod. Good times man, good times.