Finally the hills are without eyes
They are tired of painting a dead man's face
Red with their own blood
-Bye Bye Beautiful

.

The night was cold, but her skin burned with so much intensity steam danced around her arms whenever they came in contact with a breeze from the outside. The rest of the room was a warped prison, electrified with her nightmares as she tossed and turned in her bed, gasping, choking, and struggling with the images that were fueling her erratic heart. A thin layer of sweat kept her skin damp and her bangs stuck to the side of her face.

The nightmare broke and her body lunged forward. Silence was broken by her screams, and then the pounding feet and shaking infrastructure of her antique townhouse. Before she knew where she was, or what had happened, strong arms were wrapped around her, anchoring her in reality and reminding her.

"Sasori!" she breathed, feeling light headed. She still had a fever, but it would pass within the hour. "I'm sorry for waking you," she said.

"That's three nights in a row," he whispered into her hair, brushing the side of her face with the back of his hand. "We're getting worried, Sakura. It's never been this bad before."

Through hazy eyes, Sakura turned in her bed to look across the room and at the doorway. Deidara leaned against the molding, looking as moody as ever with bangs draped across half his face and eyes narrowed in annoyance. He looked up at her and winced before having to look away. It was enough for her though, she could see how she had worried him. Her poor blond artists didn't do well with situations he couldn't control or help. It didn't usually bother him unless it had something to do with Sakura, though. The rest of the world could burn and he wouldn't care. Sakura gets a paper cut and it is a national emergency.

Sakura smiled, hoping to set him at ease. "I apologize for disturbing you two. That was not my intention, I assure you. It will not happen again. Tonight I was able to see to the end of the vision." She stopped to look down at her hand, flexing it once more before letting it fall to her lap. It was paler than it usually was, and that was saying something, since she was already so white from intense periods of indoor living.

"Are you certain this was a vision and not just another nightmare?" Sasori asked, his voice just as calm, and smooth as it was the first time she ever spoke with him.

She chuckled lightly, letting her head fall against his chest, not minding the proximity between the two of them. "If only that were all it was. But, I should know the difference between a simple nightmare and a vision by now. I've been interrupting them for so many years now."

"Is there something for us to do, Sakura hime?" Deidara asked, stepping into the room, but not approaching any closer. The subtle glare he aimed at the red head was not lost on Sakura, who knew good and well how things were between the two friends.

"Thank you, Deidara, but it isn't anything too drastic. I don't you two doing anything more than what you are already occupied with. Just make sure the shop is clean for tomorrow…or today, I should say. It's morning already," she mused, glancing towards the window.

"Hime?" Sasori asked, addressing her as princess, the same way Deidara had earlier. It was how they usually addressed her, after all. A silly little nickname she had grown used to over the years.

Sakura pulled away from Sasori and moved to the center of her bed before pulling the sheets up around her slender and, lightly covered body. The sweat from before made the silk cami stick closer to her body than either male was used to seeing on their princess. (Sakura wasn't one to dress as a 'hussy,' as she called them.) She yawned behind the back of her hand before sliding back into place between her pillows.

"Our shop is going to have a visitor tomorrow. He's bringing me another curse to feed on. Make sure you don't stop him when he shows up on our doorstep."

.

NIGHMARISH

.

Sasori tucked another quilt under her chin and around her milk white shoulders before turning and following Deidara out. He closed the door behind him only partway so he could see the antique, brass bed and another corner of her room. When he turned around again, Deidara hadn't moved, but was standing in the same spot with his arms crossed over his chest and his jaw set hard in agitation.

"You heard what she said," he huffed, pushing past and descending the narrow staircase that turned directions halfway down. Both his room and Deidara's were on another level while the shop Sakura ran was on the ground floor.

"You said there was nothing to worry about!" the blond all but hissed, following with agitation. "You told me everything was under control but she just said another curse was coming for her. You know what that means."

"Yes," Sasori bit out, stopping on the stairs so suddenly his crimson colored locks swayed past his face and hit his jaw. "I know good and well what another cursed being means for Sakura as well as the two of us. Don't think I haven't forgotten what happened to myself after Sakura removed my curse."

Deidara tightened his fists but held them back. He felt angry and violent at an hour he usually slept through, but he knew Sasori wasn't the person to be venting on. What Deidara feared Sasori feared just as much, if not more.

"What should we do about it?"

Sasori blinked and sighed deeply, inhaling the musk that clung to the Victorian wallpaper that decorated ever room of the house in one form or another. "What can we do? Kill the individual before he reaches our himi? Nothing would give me such pleasure, but that is not her will. Even if it means having to compete with one more for her affections, we must to as she wishes."

Deidara looked away, remembering good and well what it felt like after his own curse had been taken from him. Sakura was a curse eater, one of the lasts on the earth, in fact. A cursed being herself, she was given the power to break or 'eat' curses from others, freeing those who had been enslaved prior.

For Deidara he had been damned to a purgatory where flames always surrounded me, blinding him, but never harmed him more than a few licks. That was how he lived for thirty-five years before a cut in the wall of flames let his hime in. She knelt down beside him and swallowed his pain and suffering, taking the fires into her own body, taking the curse away from him. His punishment for all those killings had been taken away from him and he was free…in a way.

Since that day, he had never been free of Sakura herself. She had left him at first, gone back to her little Victorian shop and let him be. But she was on his mind and in his heart the entire time thereafter. Nothing tasted good and music sounded like gravel rolling in his ears. The world lost color and he thought he had gone mad when he saw her in anything pink or white. He no longer burned, but his heart was shredded and pierced. He sought her out once more and begged to stay with her. Of course, Sasori was there at the time, voicing his strong disapproval, but once Sakura heard how she had caused so much torment in someone she meant to save, she allowed him to stay. The condition Deidara suffered from was something she called the silver thread affair.

"I can see a silver thread between me and certain people, sometimes. It is always after I take their curses away from them." She looked down and seemed almost ashamed. "It is my punishment for taking what I shouldn't. You are tied to me by this thread, just like Sasori and the others are. It isn't usually as bad where you can't live apart from me…most move on, but if you are more at peace here, then please feel free to stay as long as you want."

Men who had their curses eaten by Sakura almost always fell in love with her, or got this thread attached to them. So far, they had all managed to move on, and some had even recovered to the point of marrying others, but for Sasori and Deidara, their threads were scars they wore proudly. They loved loving Sakura, and often shared a strong dislike for others who also shared affections for her.

If another guest was coming with a curse for Sakura to eat, then that probably meant another rival for her affection. That was the last thing either of them wanted.

"Maybe it won't be so bad," Deidara mused, more to himself that Sasori. "Maybe he won't have one of those curses…"

The red head rolled his eyes and huffed, turning to descend the rest of the staircase and head for his room. "If he was able to give Sakura nightmares like those for three days straight then his curse is probably larger than either of ours."

"So we're just going to sit around and do nothing about it?" Deidara hissed, blue eyes blazing.

"No…" Sasori stopped outside the door to his room and looked back up at the stairs where Deidara still stood. "I'm going to sleep while I still can. I managed to survive with you, I'm confident Sakura won't be won over by this new threat, and as long as her heart isn't given to another man, I am well with the world."

With that said the red head disappeared into his room, shutting the door behind him. The hallway and the stairwell both settled back into silence, leaving Deidara with no one but himself. Huffing, he descended the rest of the stairs and headed for his own room and his own bed. Sasori was right. So long as Sakura didn't fall in love with this new guy, everything would be okay.

"Dear God, I pray against that."

.

Hours later, after the sun was already suspended in the skies and over the rooftops, Sakura stirred in her bed. A glance towards the curtain and she knew she had slept in later than she had planned to. That vision last night had taken more out of her than she thought it would.

Pushing back the covers she dragged her legs over the side of the bed and let her feet touch the wood floor. It was cold.

"Where are my slippers…" she mumbled, only half awake. She grabbed for the copper gold robe hanging alongside her bed and fitted it over her body. Running a hand through her hair she glanced across the room and found her slippers. Stepping into them, she felt ready enough for a cup of tea, and maybe a muffin before getting dressed for work.

It was still cold in the morning, but nothing compared to last night. The sun had done a fine job of warming up her home with a soft, honey colored glow that kept the chill at bay. It was early autumn, after all, so she should expect a bit of nip every now and then.

Brushing her bangs out of her face, Sakura entered the kitchen and made a bee line for her copper kettle. Filling that with water she set it on the stove and found something out of her tea jar to try for the morning. Lemon orange spice would be appropriate, she though. A moment later she was pouring the steaming liquid into a tea cup and letting it soak the spices of her tea bag.

"Up already?" Sasori asked from the doorway. When she glanced over at him she noticed his frame was lacking its normal appeal. He leaned against the doorway as if exhausted himself.

"You look terrible," Sakura breathed, lifting the rim of her cup to her lips once for a sip before placing it down on the table. "What happened to you last night?"

He shrugged, avoiding eye contact. "I couldn't sleep."

"You are a reanimated marionette, you don't sleep, Sasori… ever." She took his face in her hands and guided it to meet her own. "What's troubling you now?"

He blinked, then leaned in closer to her hand. "…You shouldn't be having such awful nightmares."

She lifted a delicate, pink brow. "This never bothered you before. I have visions, I see customers, I devour curses… that's how it is, and that's how it has always been. What is upsetting you this time?"

He grabbed her hand and removed it from his face, but kept it in his own hand, close to his chest all the same where she could feel his mechanical heartbeat and the life it gave him thanks to her. "The magnitude of your torment has me worried. The last, and only time I have seen something quite as bad as this, was right before you went to find Deidara. His curse was so great it nearly pulled you apart and then he ends up sticking to you like glue. I liked it when it was just you and me, there was no need for change."

Sakura sighed and pulled her hand out of his hold, then returned to her morning drink, taking a seat by the window. "You know I can't stop consuming curses just because I want to. I don't do this for fun, I do this because I have to."

"You're not compelled," he said, taking a seat across the table. "You may…live forever just as you are. You could go an eternity without eating curses and you wouldn't die, there is no contract or law that connects the sustenance of your life force with the nourishment of curses. You could turn them away if you wanted to."

Sakura dropped her gaze and tilted the edge of her teacup towards her lips. Between sips she answered. "It may not be magic, but I am compelled after all these lifetimes, to complete what I was made to do." She set the cup down. "You know I feel terrible about the threads that join you all to me, and you know I wish I could break them for you, but I have to keep working at this."

"No you don't, you're making a choice."

"Just as you are making a choice to stay with me," she fired back, cold and low over her tea, never looking him in the eye. "You don't have to stay with me, you could leave any time you wanted to and no such magic would pull you back. Kakashi did it, Zabuza, Haku, and Kimimaro all did it. Minato did it too, and heck, he has a kid now. In fact, everyone I've come across has been able to leave me except you and Deidara."

Sasori didn't say anything, but she saw his jaw clench tighter and tighter every time she mention another man's name. His possessive nation was not something she liked to tease, having seen first hand how vicious it could be.

She paused for a moment before sipping the last of her drink. "Don't worry I'm not going to chase you out or turn this into another sappy motivational speech you'll only ignore. I understand that you feel bound to me and I accept that. I feel bound as well, bound to my own calling. Devouring curses is what I was made for, and I can't run from it any more than you or Deidara can run from me."

"Sakura…"

"Maybe you should see about the groceries later today," she interrupted, turning to look outside through the lacy, white curtains. "It'll be something to keep you mind on while I work. I wont be long, don't worry."

He looked up at her through his bangs, watching her without blinking as she crossed the room to the sink where she rinsed out her empty mug. She didn't return eye contact, but she knew all the same, that he was following her. She knew he wouldn't look away, now or forever, and that was wholly and completely her fault.

"If you take Deidara with you then you can get enough for two weeks," she said while drying the inside of her mug with a dishrag. There were no stains inside the mug but she kept scrubbing till it began to squeak. When that happened she put it down and turned towards the doorway. "I'm going to get dressed."

He caught her from behind and pulled her into his chest, wrapping his arms around her torso and burying his head in the crook between her head and shoulder. She felt him inhale and relax into her. A butterfly kiss, and then another graced her skin, sending tingles down to her fingertips.

"You're mad at me," he whispered into her hair.

"Oh stop acting like a child, Sasori. I'm no more upset than I was when I entered the kitchen, but that can change if you don't let me go sometime soon."

"Tell me I'm forgiven."

"Get off me Sasori, I have to get dressed," she sighed, pulling out of his arms and heading back up the stairs.

A backwards glance told her he wasn't following her, but that didn't mean he wasn't still trailing her with his eyes, through his messy bangs. She paused on the stairs and looked up, only to see Deidara at the top looking down. He glanced at her expression and then looked over the railing at Sasori. The mood darkened just a bit, but not obviously.

Deidara and Sasori were at a point where they didn't try to kill each other on sight, so that meant they were practically friends. Still, they acted up whenever Sakura was concerned.

Ignoring the tension, Sakura passed up Deidara and turned towards her room, but not before calling over her shoulder. "We're almost out of tea. Make sure you both look for some when you go out, later."

Whatever happened after she closed the door to her room she didn't know, nor did she care. They both knew better than to damage her house and she trusted them enough to know it was in their best interest to behave as civilized as possible when under her roof.

Disrobing, Sakura stepped into the shower and washed away her weariness along with the bed hair and morning blues she felt sagging her down. Once out she set to work on her hair, combing and drying it before dressing at all. A low geisha bun let the rest of her bangs frame her face in an off center manner than kept the appearance interesting. A simple copper yukata with koi fish on the side completed her costume for the day. She liked to play in character when customers showed up.

Deidara usually helped her with her more elaborate outfits and was often the one to do her make up, but she decided against asking for his help with anything, seeing as how Sasori was troubled enough with the way things were. It was an inconvenience to her, but she decided not to enflame any of his emotions. She remembered well enough the first and only time Sasori had lost himself in anger. It was rare to see him out of control with anything, but it was during a more unstable period of his life. Deidara still had a scar, if she remembered correctly.

A clock on the nightstand began to chime, signaling the new hour. Something in her stomach dropped and Sakura staggered. Heat flushed beneath her skin and she felt the familiar pull of an approaching curse.

"So strong," she murmured aloud, heading for the parlor where she took guests. By the time she reached the ground floor, she knew that she was alone in the house. It seemed Deidara and Sasori had taken her advice and gone out to the store, leaving her alone for when her guest would arrive.

Having experienced the process numerous times, Sakura settled into an armchair and picked up a picture book to entertain her time with. It was hours later before anything happened.

A sound.

She straightened up, hearing the floorboards groan under weight. The only warped floorboards in her house were in the hallway. She turned and saw him standing there, leaning against the Parlor's entrance, and breathing heavily.

"Izuna Uchiha," she breathed, raising to her full height.

The hesitant pull in her gut was familiar as she approached him, knowing what was going to have to happen next. He sagged down a bit against the railing, but froze once her hand touch his face.

In an instant she saw the core of his being and all the memories that shaped him into being who he was. It ripped into her and jammed itself deep into the cracks it created, tearing her apart. Her breath was sucked out of her and her knees hit the floor, partly from shock. It was so terrible and painful it burned the insiders of her worse than any vision or nightmare from the night. It was an old curse, and old powerful curse that extended out of many to many.

'Out of many…to many.'

She saw dead bodies of family members, and she knew they were the ones who were unable to survive the curse; a dozen lifeless mounds strewn across the field in between still standing figures. She could see all in sickening detail. They were all in so much pain, but only Izuna had the strength to travel so many miles to her parlor.

She looked down at his face, and saw him staring back up at her with crimson red eyes that glistened like liquid fire.

"Please," was all he whispered, before the nightmarish blackness ripped up the rest of her vision and sucked her back into the darkness of her new curse.

.

"How long was she out when she had to save me?" Deidara whined, loudly enough for the whole house to hear as he paced back and forth.

Sitting across from his was the weary stranger, and on the other side of the room Sasori sat next to the couch where they had laid Sakura. No one looked very happy with anything, but Deidara was the only one moving.

"Stop pacing, you'll only make yourself dizzy," the red head commented, never looking up from the couch.

Deidara stopped, but only in front of the Uchiha stranger. Izuna looked up, seemingly non pulsed but Deidara's simmered down glare.

"If you try any more I'm afraid you might burn holes in my guest," Sakura sighed, stirring at long last. The whole room seemed the snap into order as Deidara stepped away and Sasori stood.

The pale, green-eyed girl opened her eyes and sat up, taking care as to not appear too stiff. She looked to her two housemates before turning her attention to Izuna.

"I apologize for my behavior. I don't usually pass out while working with my guests, but then again, most of my guests don't try to carry more than one curse to me."

Izuna looked down, as if ashamed, before meeting her eyes again. "I'm sorry for deceiving you. But no one else in my family was strong enough to leave the compound. I couldn't leave without trying to help them in some way. They are my family…they're all I have left."

Sakura said nothing for a while, but stood on her own to close the lace curtains partway. "Sasori, Deidara, I would like to be alone to work. I'll call you when I'm finished."

Without comment, both males turned and left, leaving behind only Sakura and Izuna. Once the door closed she returned to her couch.

"The origin of this curse is quite old, but so many of you were able to survive this long. Being centuries old, would you mind telling me the origin of this trouble?"

He blinked once, slightly confused. "I thought you could tell where a curse came form once you ate it. You took mine so you should know how my family fell to it."

Sakura struck a match and set the end of a long cigarette stick on fire, birthing a soft tendril of smoke at the tip. "Of course I know how you got it, but that is different from the why. A whole town cursed your family to the slowly eating death. It wasn't enough for them to slaughter all of you; a whole assembly was amassed to make sure you suffered for an eternity."

She stood and glided through the smoke the kneel in front of him, taking his face into her free hand. "You're quite beautiful for a man, and I know your brother is as well as the few who are still alive. You were all quite enchanting to look at. Was it a jilted woman?" Her hand traced the frame of his face up to his eye socket. "But why would they put a thousand years in those eyes of yours?"

She felt him shuddered a bit against her touch and she recognized the reaction before pulling away. "My apologies."

"No, you were not incorrect. It started with women…but my family consisted of men who had skill in warfare and such. We came from the orient and settled among the colonists. Natives who came to plunder our lands were dealt with swiftly, but the villagers were frightened of us and our abilities. Before long, one of my cousins became engaged with a female who wanted to marry him. The mixing of races was one taboo, but the settlers knew we were different from them, and forbid the union. He was so upset he went into town and did shameful things we would never have allowed. He was killed in a haste to stop the bloodshed, but the rest of my family was not so fortunate."

Sakura leaned back into the couch, staring up at the ceiling as she finished the story out loud. "She was much loved by the townspeople…and much missed. They were angry and they wanted vengeance, so a group of witches were amassed to harness their anger and seal you away in a never-ending nightmare. Your bodies do not rot, but time passes all the same. It must have been terrible."

"But it's gone…." He breathed, letting his hands trace that pattern she had paved across his face. "I can see and breath as I once could…we heard the rumors form the dark things that slither in the night, but I never imagined I would ever be so free again. Free to see…"

Sakura removed the stick from her lips and exhaled deeply. "One of the reasons you were not sucked deeper into the curse was because you were blind when it was cast, am I right?"

He looked up and smiled. "You were the first thing I saw in over a hundred years. I'll never be able to thank you enough."

"But you're still going to ask me to remove the curses from you brother and family, am I correct?" Another large cloud of smoke curled off her lips.

She watched as he looked away, then back at her, resolving himself. He stood up from his seat and then sunk to his knees before pressing his head to the floor in a deep bow. "Please, I beg of you. Whatever I have it is yours to take. I'll do whatever you ask of me for as long as I live, but please, but family suffers so much more than myself. They don't deserve this, not this. Please…I beg you!"

Her cigarette was exhausted so she smothered it into an ashtray before standing. "Raise your head Uchiha, it's unseemly for a man of your station to bow so easily." When he didn't move she sighed combed through her side bangs. "I will help you, so please stand up. You are making me uneasy."

He looked up and made a movement that could have meant anything, but Sakura stepped back, putting more distance between the two of them in case he tried to hug her. For some reason that was what she suspected of him. He noticed her withdraw and straightened himself, still smiling in spit of himself.

"Thank you. This means the world and more to us. We'll never be able to repay you, but ask anything of us and it is yours."

Sakura walked over to an end table where one of the house phones sat. She picked up the receiver and cradled it against her shoulder. "I'll need to get some reaserch material from a friend before I do anything. Please go out and see Sasori, he's the red head, about a room. We have plenty of spares so that shouldn't be a problem." She then looked down at the phone and spun the dial seven times for different numbers. On the third ring she glanced up and was pleased to see her guest was gone. With any luck, not silver string would connect either of them.

"Hyuga's office, how may I direct your call," a young woman chirped.
"Patch me through to Neji, please."

There was a baffled pause. "Um, Mr. Hyuga can't be bothered right now, he told me he was busy. If you leave your name I can tell him you called."

"That won't be necessary. He'll make time for me. Tell him this is Sakura Haruno. He will pick up."

"One moment please." Sakura imagined the secretary rolling her eyes in disbelief, thinking that her boss had too many woman calling for him when all he needed was his lovely, devoted secretary. Neji was handsome enough to have most girls falling head over heels in love with him. Only problem with that was the fact that his love was tied up in a silver string, and it led directly back to Sakura.

"Sakura," he breath, coming onto the line in a breathless tone. "What a delight to receive a call from you. How are you?"

"A bit busy for pleasantries, I'm afraid. I need some help."

"You know you need only ask and it is yours."

She smiled, feeling bittersweet about his feelings. 'They aren't really his,' she kept telling herself. "Thank you for that. Your cousin woks with records, doesn't she? There is a name I would like her to look up for me. If you could bring anything you find to my shop I would be eternally grateful."

"I get to visit you in person, what a rare treat. I thought you didn't like seeing those you've liberated outside of work," he teased, smiling through the phone.

She looked to the curtains and then glanced back at the door Izuna had just slipped out of. "It's bad business, but I need someone I can trust to deliver, and there are few more trust worth than yourself."

"I'm honored, hime. Than about that name…?"

.

I was two days later when Sakura emerged from her study, dressed and ready to depart. Her decision came without warning, but the males of her household were eager and willing to comply with her wishes, no matter how last minute they may be.

She had Sasori go out and bring the motorcar around while Deidara got up to fetch Izuna out of the garden. She would need him to lead her to where his family was being kept, but after that her boys were to take him to Haku and Zabuza and not ask any more questions. Her home was to be empty and avoided till she returned, and they were all unsure of when that would be.

Sakura stood outside and waited on the sidewalk, hands folded gracefully over her stomach as the wool coat flapped about her knees. Her hair was pilled up and tucked under her 1930's style cloche hat. It was pulled down low, over her eyes, so Deidara had a hard time reading her expression, but she seemed tired to him, if anything.

"Hime?" he called.

She blinked once then looked up to him. A weak smile was all he received in response. "Get the door for me?" she finally asked as Sasori came around the corner.

As she requested, he got the door for her and followed her into the back seat bench. Izuna looked like he wanted to join them but Deidara pointed to the front passenger's seat and glared. That was all the warning Izuna needed to get the message.

Sasori glanced up from his position behind the wheel, but didn't offer any protest when the Uchiha slid in next to him. He did however, glance in the back seat via the rear view window to see if his Hime had anything to say to him.

"Izuna will give you the directions, Sasori. From what he first told me, and based on how long it took him to get here, it should only be a two-hour drive. Once we arrive, you will drop me off and then leave for Zabuza's Speakeasy. It will be safer for all of you there than at my home." Sakura looked up into the mirror and saw the worry reflected in even Sasori's eyes. "I don't want to debate any of this now, please."

And so for the rest of the ride the car was quiet, with only an occasional conversation between Sasori and Izuna about direction when a fork or intersection came up. Sakura fell asleep towards the last half of the hour and awoke only when she felt the engine die. When she looked up, they were outside a graveyard. The Uchiha mausoleum was located at the very center, guarded by a number of traps that had decayed with time. Anything less had been dealt with when Izuna had escaped.

"This is where we part ways."

She stepped out of the car and closed the door behind her. Without looking back she crossed over the graves towards the large stone structure with the doors hanging open. She heard the engine purr back to life, but she didn't turn to see. A glance backwards could be a curse in it's self.

Sakura grabbed the stone doors and pushed the further apart, then crossed the threshold into darkness. There were stairs, but no light until the ring on her finger flickered a glow. A chunk of enchanted moon rock, it resonated with the bearer after being activated by one of the original vampyre who had come to earth from the moon. The Emperor had many such individuals in his service at one time.

At the base of the stairs the room branched off in seven directions. Marking in the earth told Sakura what direction Izuna had come from, so she decided to head in the direction of the next tunnel, but not before pulling out a ball of yarn and dropping it to the floor. It unwound its self and began to follow her.

Izuna told her of the five remaining Uchiha he had left behind. A family of dozens was widdled down to a handful of the youngest males. How pitiful.

Her musing stopped with her footsteps when the toe of a foot entered into the ring of line from her moonstone. She raised her hand and the rest of the body was illuminated. Sprawled lifeless, the man's face was tilted backwards so all she could see was his white neck and everything below it.

Without a clue to which relative she had found, Sakura reached out and touched the skin of his neck. Instead of the familiar sucking feeling she made when she ate curses, she felt sucked in and panicked. Before she could do anything, she was overpowered and pulling inside the curse.

Black.

Everything was black.

She raised her hand but no light came from her fingers. Glancing down she saw that her hand was naked or ornaments, and her clothing had been removed. The only thing protecting her modesty was a plum colored kimono she remembered from when she was still a growing girl in the palace. It was the kimono she wore whenever she traveled out of her body.

Looking around again she began to see bare branches….and trees. Then there were the voices. In the distance there was a glow, and she smelled smoke. A bonfire must be burning! Knowing the rules of reality were no longer present in the spirit world, Sakura made a beeline for the fire, and soon emerged upon a festival of goblins. Humanoid figures danced about in troll masks and veils, laughing and shouting in drunk delight.

"Priestess, priestess," the chanted, echoing one another. "Little princess, priestess, tell us our fate!"

Ignoring their jeering she weaved through them, already sure of what she needed to do. One of the masked men was an Uchiha. She needed to find him, touch him, bring him back to the real world and then the curse would be over.

"Tell me my future, you damn witch!" one of them cried, reaching for her face.

Sakura stepped back and reached into the fire, grabbing a flame as if it were a snake. When he stumbled towards her again she threw the slithering tendril of fire at his body and watched as he was devoured in long, moaning screams. None of the other dancers seemed to mind his death. A few even laughed.

"Where are you Uchiha?" Sakura shouted, trying to sound as commanding as she possibly could.

The voices all blurred into a white noise that faded away, leaving only one behind. "-So scared, Tobi is so scared of the people. Leave us alone! We didn't do anything wrong. Don't hurt us, Tobi is sorry for his brothers. Scary….so scary."

Sakura gasped and turned to see a small boy in an orange swirl mask. He was just a tiny little thing, he couldn't have been much older than eight. But the body she had found was that of a grown man, this little boy couldn't be the same person unless…

"Oh no," she whispered to herself, falling to her knees in front of the boy. "You were a boy when they cursed you. Your body grew but your mind…"

"Tobi doesn't understand."

She paused, glancing up at the boy from on the ground. "Tobi? I don't remember Izuna mentioning a Tobi, but he did say something about Obito. Is Tobi your nickname?"

The boy nodded. "But only Tobi calls Tobi, Tobi. Everyone else calls Tobi, Obito." He waited for this to sink in for her. "But you can call me Tobi. No one has talked to me in a very long time. Will you talk to me and play with me too?"

"If that's what you want."

He seemed to brighten up at her reply. "Will you really? Tobi is so happy, we've been alone for so long I though no one would ever say anything to Tobi again. You will talk to me, won't you?"

Her heart hurt, but she reached up and touched his masked face all the same. "Of course I will. Come here, your cousin is waiting."

Contact broke the curse, and she felt the foul hex detach from his mask and settle just beyond her lips. She took the curse into her and opened her eyes to find herself passed out on the chest of the boy called Tobi. He moaned underneath her and shivered, finally coming too after centuries of absence. Sakura pulled back and unclasped her coat. He accepted it without really understanding what it was and looked up.

"You are…"

"My name is Sakura. Your cousin Izuna contacted me and informed me of your position. I removed the curse from your body but you'll still be a bit disoriented for a while." Sakura touched his face and saw the scars running down the left side of his cheek, starting right above the eye and ending at his collarbone. Aside from his scars, though, he was surprisingly handsome with short, wavy hair that kept him boy-like in appearance. "Were you hurt here?"

He struggled to find the words, and she recognized an accent under his American English words. "I don't remember much before the dreams. There was fire…and fighting. The house burned down and people were screaming at us." His whole body shook as he grabbed the coat tighter around his body. "Tobi was so scared."

He seemed to be switching back and forth between proper English and third person references about himself. It would take time, but Sakura was confident she could help correct that later on.

"Tobi…" she said, and he looked up. "I have to go and help your family…the rest of your family. This tomb is dangerous as it is. You need to get out and wait for me at the edge of the graveyard-"

"You're leaving me!" Tobi gasped, launching forward and grabbing her arms. "You said you would stay. You said you would talk and play with Tobi!"

He was tearing up and shaking, obviously frightened of being alone again. That was understandable. Tobi would be different from the others who were freed from curses. He had grown up in the nightmare world, and in a sense, that had stunted his mental growth. She couldn't ask him to do things like Izuna or the others.

"I'm sorry," she cooed, touching his hands and running her fingers up and down his arms in a comforting sense. "I'm sorry for frightening you. I won't leave you alone if you don't want me to, but I still need to help the others."

"Don't leave me, Sakura," he whimpered, falling into her chest and wrapping his arms around her body. "Tobi doesn't want to be alone again."

She grabbed him and pulled him up with her, supporting a good deal of his weight when he stumbled into the unfamiliar motion. He hadn't used his real legs in almost two hundred years. "I won't leave you alone, but you need to come with me. If you don't want to be alone anymore you can follow me." She searched his eyes and saw that they were a musky brown color at last. The red had all drained out. "Will you come with me?"

He shifted his arms around her so he was still leaning on her and dipped his head into the crook between her neck and shoulder. His words were liked new leather, fine to the touch and seductive. "Tobi loves Sakura. Tobi will never leave Sakura."

Sakura looked down, watching her shoes as the two of them left the dead end hallway, his words of affection ringing in her ears. She prayed with all her heart that he didn't really mean that.

After finding their way back to the center of the underground tomb that split into seven directions. Izuna came from the first and Tobi from the second, so she set off down the third. Alone the way Tobi managed to grasp the concept of walking, but still clung to Sakura as if she were his lifeline. She probably was, considering hoe ragged his mental state was.

They both stopped when the dirt gave way to stone. She inhaled deeply and smelled salt and something else. Another step was all it took to find out what. "It's an underground lake…no, it's man made. The stonework here is unnatural. Let me go Tobi, I might have to swim out there."

"I can still follow Sakura, though? Can't I?"

Sakura removed her hat and pulled up her skirt before stepping into the water. "For now you may. I promised I wouldn't leave you. It looks like I won't have to swim, though. This water doesn't get any deeper than ankle height."

Sloshing onward, she soon found a mound of risen earth that had another handsome youth spread out in sleep. His hair was short and wet, curling slightly in a god like arrangement around his face. Well developed cheekbones and slightly parted lips make him look even more unearthly. He was wearing a white button front shirt and brown pants. His shirt was ripped up, exposing a bare chest that rose and fell with every breath.

"Shisui!" Tobi exclaimed. "Big brother…what's Shisui doing here?"

Sakura lowered herself down into a sitting position next to the still cursed Uchiha. She took his face in hand and turned it towards herself. Two horrifying crimson colored eyes stared back. Black dots in the iris kept spinning round and round like a windmill.

"He's cursed, I'm going to help him." She turned to Tobi and grabbed his hand. He blushed and looked back towards her. "Tobi, watch my body in case I pass out. This might take more effort than I'm used to. Will you help me?"

"Tobi would do anything for Sakura."

She smiled, still feeling a bit sick about the attachment she had forced on him. "Thank you."

And with that she touched Shisui and mentally reached out for the curse. A great plunge took over her body and she felt her spirit fall into something thick. She choked and bubbled danced beyond her lips.

'I'm underwater then,' she thought to herself, thankful for the marrow's gift she had received many years back in Ireland. Even if she was only mentally under the water, her mind might still be tricked into collapsing her lungs, as was the case with a dream invader she had to clean up after one time.

Kicking off, she spread her arms and began to swim, her kimono weighing her down only slightly. It wasn't long before she found him, tangled up in some seaweed that kept him pinned to the bottom of the lake where he was dammed to forever repeat the pain of drowning. As if sensing her, he looked up and she watched as his red eyes widened. Bubbled erupted from his mouth and he gurgled something out.

Not knowing what he was saying she swam closer, only to be struck from behind by something long and scaly. A twisty water snake danced in and out of the sea weeds before coming around to strike her again. Sakura felt her skin peel off in lawyers as of sandpaper had been rubbed against her.

Righting herself she put her hands together and went through the seals, preparing for the next time it came around. Fire wouldn't work underwater, and that was the best thing to get rid of nightmare spirits, but the next best thing was combustion. Like in the engine of a motorcar, she let that power erupt from her hands and rip clean through the snake's neck, severing it.

Tired, she kicked forward and swam through the blood to the young Shisui who stared up at her in wonder. Without a word, she touched him and pulled out the curse.

Coming out of the curse was like coming up for air, but instead of coughing out water, blood coated Sakura's throat. Groaning she wiped that away and turned her face into the ground as Shisui came to.

"Shisui!" Tobi cried.

"Where…?" the older man blinked, looking around. "Obito, is that you? Shi-what happened to you? I didn't know they got to the house too."

"What do you mean?" Tobi asked.

"You two were in different places when the curses were cast," Sakura interrupted, dabbing her face with the edge of a lace hankie. "The curses were all individually cast anyway."

"You!" Shisui gasped, sitting up straighter and then leaning forward. "You were the one under the lake…the snake, you killed it and then I woke up. What did you do?"

"I ate your curse. That's what I did and that was what Izuna asked me to do." She swallowed the fluid in her throat and ran a hand through the strands of hair that had fallen out of place. "I still have several more of your relatives to contact, so I'm not anywhere near finished."

"How could you do something like that. A curse cast like that…" Shisui breathed, staring at Sakura as if mesmerized. He probably was.

"For me that's nothing much. I eat curses…that is my fate, nothing more to it." She pulled herself together and stood. "Are you coming Tobi? I still have work to do."

Shisui watched his younger brother stand with this new woman and take arm and wrap it around his own. He seemed so close to her. Something hurt in his chest, seeing them like that.

"Wait! What about me?" he asked, standing and stumbling. His body was new and sore but that wasn't the only pain or discomfort he was in. She turned towards him and the weight of her eyes was a physical force.

"You're coming with us, apparently. I can't leave Tobi yet, but I have work. When I finish with the last of you I'll need all of you out. You understand that?"

The image of her drifting through blood, hair floating free in that weightless way just wouldn't leave his mind. She was terrifying and angelic at the same time. "Yes, I understand."

"Good." She turned and began walking through the water back towards the entrance and he jogged to catch up with her.

Slowing down and matching her pace he kept staring at her. "Sakura, you said your name was?" When she nodded he went on. "Where did you come from?"

"No where you would know about. You've been here for close to two hundred years. The world above you is not one you are familiar with. Countries have been both broken and born in your absence. The old world is now the most advanced and forward leading in more than one sense." She turned to look at Shisui. "America, that's what we call most of it. But I come from the United States…Massachusetts to be more specific."

"You don't look British," he breathed.

"Neither do you. You came a long way for some petty land, I'd say," she laughed. "What would your emperor say to that if he were still around?"

"You were wearing clothing from our country. Is that where you were…before this land, the Massachusetts?" The word was awkward on his lips and fell oddly on her ears, but that was expected. Not many could go from Japanese to American English so easily.

Sakura stopped when she found herself at the fork at the base of the stone stairs. She turned easily enough and turned down one tunnel where the dust was still undisturbed. "I was born in Venice, but my father knew a man who traveled to the East and chased after him…missing the land called 'Cathay' and ending up in Japan where I was raised the rest of my days."

"So, why are you here, helping us? No, how did you get to Massachusetts in the first place?"

"You ask too many questions," she said, looking back at him with a raised eyebrow.

He smirked, rakishly, feeling the familiar feeling he always experienced when he flirted with an extremely good-looking lady. In his opinion, Sakura was the most exquisite of all the woman he had ever seen, so his belly was plenty excited with butterflies when she looked at him.

It was crazy, but all of a sudden, he felt alive again, and wanted to do things he did before the curse and the nightmares. He wanted to ride a horse through town, he wanted to play ball with his brothers and cousins, he wanted to flirt with the ladies-no, that didn't make him feel any good. Just Sakura, he just wanted to flirt with Sakura. That felt better, but not completely right. He wanted to do more than just flirt with her. He wanted to kiss her and hold her and have her under his chin as he whispered sweet words into the night. He wanted to lay down next to her and let the Egyptian cotton swallow them both. It was be a pure sweet heaven with her in his arms.

He stopped clutching his chest as the heat swept through his body and brought color to his face. That was new.

"Stop here and wait for me," Sakura said, all of a sudden, touching Tobi.

"What is it?" the child like Uchiha asked.

"A nasty curse. This one has grown outside of the nightmare. You two might be hurt. I want you to stay behind and run if you hear me scream."

Scream? "What the hell are you saying? You want us to stay back because it's dangerous? Sorry, but that doesn't make any sense!" Shisui said, stepping closer to her.

"Good for you. Keep watch over your brother and I'll be back in half an hour at the most. Or better yet, go up the stairs and leave this place. I'll be up soon enough."

"We can't just leave you," Shisui hissed, feeling his panic raising.

Sakura looked over his shoulder. "You care about your brother, don't you? He's still suffering from the curse…after effects if you will. I can't take care of him and free the rest of your family if they are going to be this dangerous. You need to help him as well as me." He tightened the skin around his eyes, not liking what he was hearing. She touched his arm and he felt lightning strike him where she touched. "Please. Help me."

"You're wicked," he breathed, deflating. "I just met you but I can't leave you. But, I can't say no to you either."

"I'm really sorry about that too."

He chuckled, reaching out to take his brother in hand. "I'm not. Come on Obito, I'm going to play with you upstairs and then Sakura can join us."

She watched them leave, Tobi protesting slightly and complaining, but eventually complying only because it was his brother leading him away from Sakura. Hopefully he wouldn't look at her the way his older brother did once he gained some maturity. Maybe it would be better for all of them if she dropped off the face of the earth for a few years to give them some distance. It would be harder to cultivate an attachment to something you couldn't see or speak to.

Sakura took a few more steps and began to smell the acid and stench of twisted flesh. She added more power into her moonstone and it glowed brighter, showing off the angles of a hideous monsters with spikes down the back and hand like wings folded awkwardly. It turned towards Sakura and snarled, red eyes snarling against black skin.

"You're the young one named Sasuke."

It roared in response. "That was easy enough to guess. Quiet down and let me touch you so I can have your curse. Yours should be easy enough to attain."

Feathers like knives stuck the earth all around her and she had to move to avoid being impaled. She spoke ancient words and several feathers burst into flames and died before reaching her.

More fires danced beyond her fingertips and she fed it with darker words from the land of the rising sun. The flames were white and blue with red tails, blazing hotly all around her. A flick of her wrist grew the fire into a tail like whip that curled and cracked the air.

"You are nothing to be frightened of Sasuke, stand down!" she commanded.

He just ran at her, head down, horns outstretched. Of course it wasn't going to be easy. She pivoted on her heel and let him pass her by just a hair before his back was hit with the tail of her whip. He reared to avoid it and took to the cave walls like some spider of the night.

"Don't fight me Sasuke. I'm not here to hurt you."

He roared in disbelief and sent more feathers her way. They burned easily enough. His red eyes spun like mad, hating the color of her flames even more.

"I'm here for your curse, young man. Don't misunderstand. I won't hurt you or your family unless you want me to."

This time he attacked with a speed she hadn't seen before and felt the shape of his claws as they took a sliver of flesh from her body.

"Fuzaken na!" she screamed, slipping to the tongue of her old people.

Sasuke stopped.

"You recognize that, don't you?"

After Italian, and before English, trapped between the two her mind traveled back to those days in the country of the rising sun. The emperor in the old Kingdome, all but forgotten to the history books…the ways of the palace removed from everything as the feudal lords ran the world they saw. The emperor ran the world they didn't see.

"Yamero yo!" she commanded, and just as she wanted, he stopped. He was listening now too. "Watashi wa anata o kizutsukeru tsumori wa nai." I'm not going to hurt you.

Her eyes reinforced what her words were saying. The flaming whip became smoke and the darkness grew. She beckoned with her hand and he drew closer, if only a little.

"Kicchi ni irasshai." Come here.

He was right there beyond her hand, so she reached out the final stretch of distance and touch his head. The curse was like a covering over him, hissing and peeling off his skin before being swallowed into the palm of her hand. And with it she saw his memories.

"He was a young youth when they came over, but he had grown up in Japan and had not wanted to leave it behind. That was understandable, but he retained his bitterness for the change stronger than anything else. He hated the towns people…he hated the white men and the Europeans. He wanted to go home and warned the others about how their ways would never be accepted. When the curs came, he fought it. He was taunt and prepared against it, that was why the curse couldn't get into his mind. He had been fighting it all this time.

He hissed and the last of the curse broke free of his body. Without the weight he collapsed against her. He was younger than Shisui and Izuna, but like Tobi, he had grown during his time trapped in the nightmare. Still, his hair framed his face nicely while lifting off his neck in the back. The red light in his eyes was gone, leaving tired, navy blue eyes that stared back up at her. Aside from the sweat, his face and skin remained flawless and smooth, like that of a doll's. He looked Japanese.

"Anata no namae wa?" he gasped.

"My name is Sakura," she answered, helping him up onto his feet. "I'm here in response to Izuna's summons. Your…cousins I believe, are already waiting outside. Izuna, Shisui, and Obito."

"My brother," Sasuke gasped, falling into the new language with grace. "Is he alive? Is he safe? He was outside when they came and I was running back to the house but I didn't make it. Where is he?"

Sakura shifted him off her and took a step back to hide the gash in her side. "What's your brother's name?"

"Itachi."

"He might still be down the other tunnel. There are two other Uchiha males who have survived. Everyone else has…died. I'm sorry."

Sasuke's eyes went wide. "Everyone? Mom and dad? My aunts and uncles? How…it shouldn't have killed us."

"Not right away, but you've been cursed for close to two hundred years. They couldn't hold on that long and their spirits gave out. I'm sorry."

Sasuke held his face and cursed into his hand, shaking just a bit as it all sunk in. He woke up from a nightmare he had been warning his family about only to find his family all dead. Sakura didn't blame him if it took him a little longer to adjust. That was a whole lot to wake up to.

Sasuke cursed again, and again into his hand, his voice growing louder and louder till he snapped and hit the floor, shouting out curses in his mother language. He said it was his fault, he blamed himself, he wished death to so many people, and he finished with hating himself for not being stronger.

Her nature urged her to help people like Sasuke who suffered unjustly, but if she did that, the chances of him developing a silver thread increased. She didn't want him attached to her at all, no matter what her nature urged her to do.

Once he settled down she spoke. "You should join the others outside. They'll be glad to see you. Once I find your brother I'll send him up after you."

He looked away and rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand, sniffling. "Thank you…and I'm sorry for hurting you. You were only trying to help."

Sakura didn't say anything but turned back and began limping down the hallway towards the main room with all the tunnels. Sasuke raced to catch up with her, but he couldn't bring himself to walk beside her. She probably didn't think highly of him after what he did and how he broke down in front of her like a child. She hadn't mentioned what Izuna had done to convince her to risk her life and limb in freeing them, but he guessed she was regretting whatever she had agreed to. What was worth the effort to help them, and did they have it?

"Sasuke."

He looked up, flushed in the face a bit when he heard her call him name, saying it the way it was supposed to be said. American accents ruined it, but she said it like it was in her nature. Maybe it was. She carried herself like a geisha and spoke the language. Everything about her was fluid and graceful, just like his country.

"Yes?"

"Your family is waiting upstairs," she pointed to the base of the stone steps before turning away and heading down another tunnel.

"Wait!" he exclaimed before he knew what he was doing. She stopped and turned back to look at him all the same. "Your name and…you can speak my language. How? Will you please tell me at least?"

"Japan was my home for a time. It was beautiful, but I can't say anything positive for my company there." She smiled. "It shouldn't be too cold outside at this time of the day. I'll try and finish up as soon as possible."

And with that she turned and walked away, into the darkness, leaving Sasuke alone to make the trip back up to the surface. He pushed through the stone doors and into the light, only to hiss and recoil at the pain it thrust into his eyes. Too much darkness and then all of a sudden there was light, blinding and painful.

"Sasuke! Shoot, come over here kid in the shade. Your eyes should adjust in time. Ours did, anyway," said Shisui. "You look better than expected. How are you feeling?"

"Sick and confused."

"I don't blame you kid. You look sick and we're all sort of lost."

Sasuke coughed when he felt someone collide with his side. "Tobi is happy to see Sasuke kun!"

"Yeah, it's nice to see you too, Obito." Sasuke settled into a stone seat and sighed deeply. "Is Izuna here?"

"Not right now, but we found coats, a letter and some food out here waiting for us. Someone should be here soon to pick us up and take us to a place where he is. I think she wrote it."

Sasuke's ears twitched at the sound and change in his cousin's pitch. "Her? You mean Sakura, I think."

"Yeah, Sakura."

The way Shisui said it made something burn and clench deep in Sasuke's gut. His cousin was a flirting harlot of a man who liked the smiles of too many different ladies. He kept his cool around queens and beauties worth of epics, but the change in his voice was way too obvious for a woman he had just met.

"Why is she helping us? Izuna asked her, she said, but he had to have promised her something. Why would she risk her life for strangers?" The feeling of his curse being sucked away came into his mind. "She's putting herself in danger and removing curses isn't something just anyone can do."

Shisui shrugging, running a hand through his hair. "She's older than she looks, I know that much. She came from Italy and grew up in Japan for many years. The art of magic she practices takes years to master, but she looks so young, no older than you in fact."

"What does that mean?"

"Immortal, maybe."

The though of growing old why she stayed young and mesmerizing beautiful made his stomach burn with a jealous, possessive jolt. He didn't want to grow old while she remained a-

"Can you see now, Sasuke?" Obito asked, cutting the boy's thoughts short.

"Ugh, yeah. I can now, thanks for asking."

Sasuke opened his eyes wider and looked over at Shisui who gazed thoughtfully across the graveyard at the mausoleum entrance they had all come from. The entrance Sakura was still on the other side of.

Sasuke huffed in annoyance. He hadn't known this woman more than an hour and already he was falling apart.

Great.

.

Sakura looked around, but saw nothing but the same thing for as far as she could see; black trees, naked of any leaves, curved in odd angles and sporting crows. She turned around and hoped to see something new, but there was no luck for her. Red skies and naked trees stretched on forever.

"Where are you Uchiha," she whispered to the wind, hoping that if she called to him she would find him somehow. There was a certain power to a name that had been proven when she found Tobi that time out of all the other dancers. "Where are you hiding?"

She took another step, but this one hurt. She hissed and looked down at her side where blood oozed and skin dangled in shredded bits. It was small, and it would heal on its own with time, but it still hurt at the moment. Sakura put pressure on it and bit back the pain that brought.

A bit more blood oozed out and plopped to the floor. But the blood didn't stay there, it ran sideways into the trees as if pulled by something. Never one to question the ways of nightmares, Sakura followed her blood, matching its pace with her own. The closer it got to whatever it was heading towards the faster it seemed to slither. It was even beginning to jump of the ground and hover in mid air before returning to the earth faster than before.

Her size seized on her and nearly halted her steps, but Sakura kept going, following the blood that was falling past her fingertips and out of her side. It was only a little further. She could already see the crosses through the trees. A few more steps and she stopped at the base and looked up.

He was pale with long, silk like hair draped over his shoulders. A gash in his side showed off the dry inner workings of his body, his eyes fluttering lightly with the last shred of life that was forever dammed to repeat itself for as long as the curse remained.

Sakura looked down at her blood and saw it rise into the air to slip into his body, restoring a bit more life. He seemed to perk up with the smallest drop.

"So that's your game," Sakura sighed, drawing closer. The more blood he had the more strength he would have. All she needed to do was share that blood with him.

She pressed against her side in a way that wasn't meant to be helpful and screamed. Liquid gushed out at a greater pace and flew straight towards his side, forgetting gravity. Stars danced behind her vision, but Sakura stayed standing. No, those weren't stars, but memeories….

She saw Itachi Uchiha standing alone among the trees, his hair free and long, dancing with the breezes. He stood over a killed deer and then removed the arrow. All on his own, he carried the animal back to his family's home and began to skin it. He did everything himself and truly enjoyed the work. Sakura could feel the pleasure he got from not the actual task, but of being useful to his family. He loved them a great deal, especially…

"Sasuke."

So this was the great older brother who his little brother was so worried about. That was good, at least. She pressed harder against her side and more blood fell, more than she thought she had. The memories came next.

He was riding with Sasuke and then dismounting in a small town of crude structures from the time before America was America. The colonists greeted him warmly enough, but the men stared after him with suspicion. Only the ladies seemed any accepting. He found his cousin Shisui flirting with a dairymaid and calmly interjected himself in a way that made it clear he didn't want his cousin flirting around so casually.

"What's the harm in it, it's not like I'm any serious," Shisui sighed.

"You may know that, but what is she to think?" Itachi said. "Please be conscious of the ladies and their feelings. They are not as strong against their hearts as you would like to believe."

Another memory, he was dancing with the men in a crude tavern dance. He had been forced into it, but he preformed well enough to usher cheers and praise from the sidelines where his family members sat. He looked embarrassed and Sakura thought that was cute.

He was alone, holding fabric that was very obviously from Japan. Sasuke was asleep in the house only a little ways off and he was thinking of returning home, just the two of them. He really cared for his little brother.

With one last gasp, she poured out blood and then collapsed at the base of the cross, heaving in pain from the loss. She felt dry and cold. This wouldn't kill her, it couldn't, but that didn't mean she couldn't suffer from it. She suffered far greater than any human should. There was a point where the pain should kill out of mercy. She received no mercy.

"Sakura," someone breathed from behind her, taking hold of her shoulders. She was turned over and pulled up into someone's arms. The trees were gone and she was back in the cave. A new curse now rested inside of her, replacing the blood almost.

"Can you stand?" Itachi asked, still holding her in his arms.

"No," she breathed, just barely able to say that much.

He shifted her in his arm and then stood, carrying her. "I saw some of your memories. I know what you are doing and why…I think."

She looked up at him and saw that his eyes were now as black as his hair. He felt her gaze and looked back down at her. He ventured a smile but she didn't return the gesture.

"I know why you don't want to get close to anyone you help, but you don't have to worry about that with me. I won't cause you discomfort." When she didn't reply he went on. "Thank you for saving my brother and cousins. I know you don't think of it as a great deal, but it means a universe of difference to us."

"I've heard that before," she whispered, still tired.

He looked down at her and furrowed his brow. "You don't look to be in any condition to help Madara."

"One more won't kill me," she replied, feeling familiar with the man she had seen so much of during the blood transfusion. "You should know that."

"But you are still in pain."

She chuckled into his chest. "What a white knight you've turned out to be. I thought you didn't like Europeans. You hated us just as much as your brother, you just hid it better."

"I didn't hate, I was only…weary." She touched a strand of hair that had fallen over his shoulder and he smiled at the feeling. "Besides, you are Venetian by blood, and I like you well enough."

"That is your fault, not mine." She tugged a bit harder on his strand of silk like hair and she could feel his smile.

"I'll gladly accept the consequences."

She sighed, letting go of the strand and turning her head away. "I think I can walk now. Leave me at the round room and go upstairs to join your brother. Izuna shall hear from me soon enough to know what I want of payment."

Itachi stiffened a little. No one else would have noticed since everything about him was so soft and subtle. But being in his arms, and having lived half his life with him, Sakura knew well enough when his emotions changed. Out of all the Uchiha boys she had met so far, Itachi seemed the best at keeping his emotions in check. "What is it?"

Sakura couldn't help but smile like an old fox when she heard the note of concern in his voice. "I'm still thinking it over, but I have a good idea. Here we are, let me down now."

He stopped, but he didn't lower her from his arms. "I know you don't like accepting help from others, but I could carry you further. I could help."

She pushed against his chest, getting a feel of how hard and well sculpted it was. His dream body may have been frail, but he was still as fit as the day he was taken into the curse. Sakura pushed harder and almost fell, but he lowered himself so she wouldn't fall to the floor.

"Itachi, for claiming to know me so well, you persist in the most fruitless arguments. Let me be and go to your beloved brother and family."

He let her go and she struggled to her feet, standing as tall as she could manage with her dry wound.

"I feel like you are my family now. How can I leave you just like that?"

Sakura smiled and tilted her head to one side, feeling light and a little too loose. "Oh, Itachi," she sighed like a tired mother who was used to seeing her child act out in the same way all the time. "If I were your family you wouldn't be thinking of my lips as much as you do."

She tapped his lips and turned down the second to next tunnel. "Take care of them till I return, won't you?"

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"It's my fault this happened to my family. I led them here." Fire flared up all around him from the torches in the wall. Sick to his stomach Madara sank into his throne of skulls and bones. "I am to blame…."

Something flickered in the back of his mind and he turned to the mirrors on the walls…the ones that showed him the suffering of his family members. Many years ago, there had been dozens. Now only a handful remained free from the shattering that came with death.

Obito's mirror had gone black. That had never happened before. When someone died their mirror fell away and burst into a million shards. A mirror going black was unheard of. He looked to the others and noticed nothing out of the ordinary. Itachi, Sasuke, Shisui, Izuna…wait, Izuna's mirror was black too! When had that happened?

Madara stared into the other mirrors with a greater determination now. Something was happening, and while he may be powerless to stop it, he still wanted to know what was going on.

Then it happened.

In Shisui's mirror, a half hour later, he saw something new enter the picture. Whatever it was it killed the large snake and swam towards his nephew. It touched him, and then the mirror went black.

"What was that?" he asked aloud, feeling exhilarated by the fear and hope crashing into him at once.

A half hour later something came into Sasuke's mirror and removed the black curse from his body. It was pink and brown, dressed oddly and slightly…feminine. It was a woman!

"Kami sama," he breathed.

It looked like she was helping his relatives and if the impossible was really possible, then she was lifting their curses. She was helping them, saving them!

Something flickered in Itachi's and he saw her more clearly. She was pressing a hand to her side where Sasuke had hurt her…she was pouring out her own blood for Itachi to take and free him from his prison. She was putting herself through so much to take them out of their hells. There was hope at long last! God had sent an angel!

"Don't get your hopes up too high, bastard."

Madara turned to see the dark robed figure zigzag down the steps the led up to the inner chamber. The inner chamber was a place Madara could have never visited, as his curse bound him to one room only. But he knew enough about it to know that someone powerful resided in that room, for he sent powerful demons out all the time to do his bidding.

"Orochimaru, what a fun surprise to see you here? You want to check up on your little pet? She's looking a bit pale it you ask me."

"If it was it my power," Orochimaru hissed, sounding more and more like a snake. "I would have your head on a platter, brat."

Madara put on his best smile. "But it isn't," Madara chuckled. "I'm too old and powerful for you to kill me, even with this curse. You forget so easily how your precious master likes to collect us old clan leaders for his china cabinet. Odd old man, isn't he?"

"Such disrespect! You will be taught manners!" Orochimaru lifted his hand to uncoil his snakes, but froze, in mid motion. Madara made a face and waved at the older man, confused.

Orochimaru fell over, dead. A knife stuck out of his back, buried in deep. Madara stepped back, shocked, but recovered quickly enough to laugh out loud. He glanced over at the doorway and stopped.

The pink haired woman stood with her hands limp at her side. Her clothing has been discarded along the way, leaving her only in her slip and stockings. A holster for knives dangled from her one hand, but she dropped that when she saw him stare at her.

"I'm not late, am I?" she asked, smiling slyly and tilting her head to one side.

"No, at least not unfashionably," he replied, still a bit breathless at the sight of her.

The mirrors had shown her in such a fuzzy fashion. In the flesh she was so much lovelier, no matter how dirtied her body had become from the fights. She held herself like royalty and carried her body across the room with the grace of an angle. She reached down and pulled her knife out of Orochimaru's back. 'An avenging angle,' Madara mentally added.

"You've seen enough of me, no doubt. The emperor likes to keep his favorite pets in places where they can see the world. It makes him feel closer to them," she said, cleaning the blade between her fingers.

"The emperor?" Madara stroked his naked chin and smiled rakishly, watching her closely. "So that was the big man upstairs. He's probably not too pleased with you so let's flea while we have the chance, neh?"

He reached for her hand but she caught his first and lifted it to her lips. Kissing his fingers she stared up at him through her lashes and over his knuckles. He went red in the face and felt her smile through her eyes. She liked playing with him.

"Appropriate for the greater flirt, I should think," she said as if reading his mind. "You taught Shisui, didn't you?"

"He also gets his good looks from me," Madara replied, grabbing her and pulling her close. He crashed her body against his and let them mold against one another. She was a perfect fit and he loved the way she felt, but more importantly, he loved the way she made him feel. "I've never met anyone like you before. You're much prettier in person, I must say."

"You two are related, aren't you," she chuckled reaching up to take his face in her hands. She lifted her face closer and nestled it right below one ear. Her voice was a breath that rocked his whole body and heated his belly. "The door is open for you to leave."

"O-oh?" he couldn't look away.

"Go to your family and keep them safe. I still have business here."

"You should come with me. I've been here forever, I can wait a little longer more for you, I think."

She smiled then pulled away, "Go now or you really will be trapped for eternity. I promise to see to your needs in due time, but not now."

"When we've only just met?"

"Madara," she said his name in a warning tone, but he wanted her moaning it into his chest and whispering it into his ear under the stars. He could see it all and it brought him enough joy to make up for a lifetime of suffering.

"I'll wait for you with my family. You are going to come back to us."

She shook her head. "And we only just met."

He laughed and ran backwards towards the door she had emerged from. "It's a promise!"

Sakura watched him go and then turned for the staircase. It seemed to take forever to scale those steps, and then at the same time, it took no time at all. She was at the doors in an instant, pushing against them and entering the inner chamber.

Silks and fine cloth hung from the ceilings, and bowls of gold burned sweet smelling perfumes and incense. It was majestic and expansive, reaching up to the heaven in a hidden pocket of space and time.

Looking like a depressed child, he lounged in his thrown chair, staring off into the distance. He turned towards the entrance when he heard footsteps but jerked upright and gaped at who he saw.

"Hime!" he cried in disbelief. His titian hair and mesmerizing, gray ringed eyes took her all in like a starving child took in food, or a thirsty man took in water. That was what she was to him, without any curses, before any shops, in the time before all other times. "You've come back to me," he breathed, stepping down from his throne. "My hime has came back for me. You knew I couldn't come for you, so you came to me."

Sakura sighed and opened her arms, feeling the weary weight of her decision. "Only for a moment, my lord. Only for a moment."

.

ONE MONTH LATER

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Sakura washed her hands again, scrubbing the skin until it was red under the faucet. She would have kept scrubbing down to the bone, too, if Sasori hadn't come up behind her and taken both her hands into one of his.

"You can't become any more clean, my hime," he breathed into her ear, kissing the shell of it.

His other arm wrapped around her and pressed her back against his chest. They were molded against one another and she felt so good under his shoulders, hips tilted in the right way, neck arched to the side and eyes half closed. He kissed her shoulder and then her neck, and then her jaw. When she didn't respond in the normal, pushing away manner, he stilled.

"Is something wrong, Sakura?"

She shook her head and pulled away, drying her hands on a cloth hanging off the counter. "I'm fine, just tired."

He followed her to the window seat. "We can still kick them out. I would have Deidara help me."

She laughed, running her hand though her bangs as she stared out the window. Sasuke was on the sidewalk with Shisui and his brother Itachi. The rest were off somewhere else, doing whatever the pleased.

"That's not it, Sasori. I'm sure I'll be fine," she said.

Sasuke caught her eye and blushed a deep pink. Timidly he waved a bit in her direction, refusing to raise his hand up very high. Shisui caught what he was doing and put his cousin in a choke hold, screaming about something. Itachi turned around to look at her too and he smiled, calm and soft.

"Yes," Sakura breathed, closing her eyes. "I think I'll be just fine. A new customer is just on the way."

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FIN

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AN:/ This is an entry into Storm's awesome oneshot contest for Halloween. I've been in a huge slump and her motivation (temptation) was what gave me the power to finish this little story of mine. It took me much longer than I thought it would, but I somehow managed to get it done in time. I honestly don't know how, so don't ask me. It's rough because I haven't yet revised any of it, (I really never do) but I'll come back and do that later once I have the time. Too many things are biting me in the butt right now.

In other news...this was an original idea I had that I adapted to the Naruto fandom at the last minute. I might one day go back and rework it with original characters and put it on my Wattpad account (Where I am most of the time now,) but that is a big if. I'm playing with too much over there. Tarrot Cafe was a huge inspiration and if you have never read the manga, go do so now. It keeps you guessing and engaged all the way through.

As for everything else I am working on at ...I dont' know. I honestly don't know. I want to finish them, but the love isn't there anymore. I'm writing more out of obligation than joy anymore. I hate the Naruto series and that just kills everything for me. I don't want to write about it, but I love the characters I've created too much. Yes, that's right, not the characters he has created, but the ones I have altered and made for my fanfiction stories. So, where that leaves me is anyone's guess. We'll see.

~Vesper chan

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