TH: A new fic. I have a few chapters of this written already, as usual. I'm not sure how long it'll end up being. I'm doing something a little new; I'm writing with prompts. The chapters will be similar in length to the ones in my other fic "In a Life".
I feel I should warn you all; I'm starting my PhD program very soon (yes, I am that old), and i don't know how much free time I'll have to write. So updates may be few and far between. I really hope not, though. Writing is my preferred method of stress-relief; if I don't have time for it I might become very unhappy.
Also, I'm not going to bother with a beta. Because I am just that lazy. So please forgive any typos. I usually catch most of them myself, but I'm flying without a safety net this time.
Anyway. Please review.
Sakura guided the brush over the smooth stone, careful not to smudge the existing lines of ink that already spread across the floor, swirling around this last deliberate line. Finished, she lifted the brush, careful of drips, and sat up, allowing herself a small smile. Her body ached from kneeling on the stone floor for the last several hours, and her weary eyes burned, but she also felt great. This was the most complicated seal she'd been able to map out to date, and she was feeling the flush of accomplishment.
Up until she had observed Tsunade using them in some of her more complicated medical treatments, Sakura had believed seals to be mostly concerned with storage—putting one thing inside another, containing things. She had also believed sealing to be an art that required powerful chakra stores. She had been wrong on both counts. It wasn't so much the need for power that made Fuuinjutsu difficult. It was the combination of having enough chakra to activate the seal and having the control to make sure the seal array wasn't shattered by excess chakra or fumbled by lack of sufficient chakra. Sealing was a subtle art. Although Sakura didn't have the chakra levels of most of her Teammates, she was equipped well enough to do most medical seals. Direct healing seals, seals for diagnosis, seals for poison analysis, for antidote synthesis… As a dedicated med-nin, Sakura had immediately seized upon the chance and began learning Fuuinjutsu. Anything to help her patients. Anything to keep her precious people alive. Anything to banish the ghosts of past failures.
War was upon them, which meant that medical jutsu were going to soon be in high demand. Already they were counting the lives lost to Akatsuki and Madara. Hopefully, the seal Sakura had been spending the last three weeks painstakingly painting onto the floor would help decrease those numbers. She was banking on it, really. She had high hopes for this seal, which had been developed into a multi-use jutsu—meaning she wouldn't have to repaint the whole thing after every patient.
Sakura stood and stepped back from her finished seal and cracked her back and neck with a series of small pops. She sighed and propped her hands on her hips, surveying the array. It was large, almost completely covering the floor of the room, which had been scraped bare of all furnishings to allow such practices. This particular medical seal was designed to detect and burn out foreign materials from a patient's body. One of the problems with poisonings was that the victim could die before the exact type of poison was identified. Although this seal was very costly in terms of chakra, much more so than any other type of poison-treatment, it made up for that downfall by saving lives that might otherwise be lost because of the lag between diagnosis and treatment.
Even if Sakura might not have the chakra necessary to power some of the more advanced seals—like the one that bound the Kyuubi inside Naruto, or the one that Akatsuki used to extract Bijuu from Jinchuuriki—she was easily skilled enough in the other sorts to merit the title of Sealing Master. She could make sturdy storage scrolls, and regularly supplied herself and her friends with Exploding Tags. She knew advanced theories, and could draw out seals for others to use—Naruto had the chakra stores to power all of the most costly seals. Even if he still had poor control, if he worked with someone with precise control, if that person acted as a conduit to check the flow of Naruto's chakra into the seal, he could activate the advanced seals Sakura drew out for him.
She could also, even if she had never admitted it to anyone, apply counter-seals to completely contain the effects of pre-existing ones… ones like Orochimaru's Curse Seal. She could also supplement pre-existing seals to strengthen them… like keeping the Kyuubi tightly sealed and unable to influence Naruto.
:I might not have been able to help then, but I won't be caught helpless again!:
Chin proudly lifted, Sakura scanned her completed seal and gave a pleased nod before turning on her heel and marching out to find her shishou.
Tsunade was easily located, being who she was. Sakura went to the Hokage's office, nodded cordially to the guards flanking the doors, and entered with a perfunctory knock. The Godaime Hokage was bent over some personnel reports and didn't look up as she said: "Well, what is it, Sakura?"
"I finished the seal, shishou."
"What seal? Wait. You finished the seal?" Tsunade's head lifted as what Sakura had said actually registered. Sakura nodded, and her mentor smiled.
"Well done. I'll check it when I have a moment… but I don't expect I'll find anything wrong, will I?" Though Sakura was classed as a Seal Master, there were protocols to follow with medical seals like this. Seals were checked over, no matter what the level of the one drawing it.
"Shishou, could I request—" Sakura was cut off by an explosion. The glass in the windows of Tsunade's office sang with the vibrations as the floor under their feet shook.
Tsunade was standing immediately, demanding of the ANBU who suddenly materialized in the room: "What the hell was that?"
"There's been an attack on the east wall," reported one.
"Who and how many?" Tsunade snapped, going to the windows that faced the east. The orange and red the sunset painted the Village with did nothing to hid the glow of uncontrolled fires at the wall, not to mention the black pillars of smoke.
The ANBU who had spoken had her head tilted to the side, as if she was listening to something none of the rest of them could hear. "There are… There is only one…"
"One?" Tsunade repeated, surprised. Then her face twisted with realization. "Madara."
Sakura's breath caught. There would only be one reason why he would be here, attacking Konoha.
"Naruto!" she gasped, and she was running out of the office too fast for Tsunade to stop.
The pink-haired kunoichi used shunshin to speed her steps, and bounded swiftly toward the breech point in the wall. There was no question in her mind that, if she went to where the danger was the greatest, she would find Naruto, sooner or later. The blond Jinchuuriki would undoubtedly head there himself, driven by his conviction of protecting Konoha and his own precious people.
She arrived on the scene to find several Konoha ninja—ANBU, Jounin, and Chuunin alike—motionless on the ground, and several more engaged in a pitched battle with the single, black-robed, orange-masked figure that dominated the battlefield. She went to the nearest motionless body and checked for vital signs… and then moved on to the next one… and again.
The third body showed some weak signs of continued life, so Sakura pulled on her healing chakra to try to stuff the Chuunin's entrails back into his body and seal up the jagged wounds covering him. It was while she was working on him that Naruto made his appearance.
"Madara!" The shout cut across the sounds of battle and the crackle of flames. Sakura risked a quick glance up, and her lips creased in a grim, tight smile at the sight of Naruto facing down the ancient Uchiha.
Her 'brother's' feet were spread and firmly planted, arms crossed over his chest, solemn determination blazing in his face. His red, flame-trimmed cloak fluttered and belled in the wind the nearby raging fires had created. His eyes were ringed with orange, the pupil constricted to a rectangular shape. Sage mode, then. And if the stories of Uchiha Madara were to be believed, Naruto would need the increased power the art provided.
Sakura set her jaw, thought :Beat the bastard down, Naruto!: and returned her attention to her patient. Adrenaline sharpened her senses so that she couldn't really miss the words that were exchanged over her head.
"Uzumaki Naruto. Considerate of you to save me the trouble of searching you out." Madara dropped the body of the last of the Konoha ninja he'd been toying with to the ground, and turned his face toward Naruto.
"I could say the same to you," Naruto's voice was carefully controlled, but with the easy of familiarity and practice, Sakura could detect the strain of emotion in his words.
Madara made a careless gesture. "I would have brought Sasuke, but… Well, there wasn't enough left of him to identify, let alone reanimate."
Sakura froze in the middle of sealing up the Chuunin's gut. Naruto's posture went rigid. Madara continued, his voice smug and malicious: "Of course, I'm not even sure you would have wanted to see him again, after what he did… who he killed…"
"Shut up," Naruto grated. "Bastard. You used him! It's your fault… I won't ever forgive you… and I won't let you escape this time. Let's finish this!"
"If you insist," Madara replied in a drawl. And then Sakura was bent over her patient, trying to protect the tender, newly formed skin she'd just nurtured into growth on his abdomen from the howling, debris-laden wind that Naruto and Madara kicked up with the fury of their combat.
The Chuunin would survive until someone could drag him to the hospital, so Sakura cut off her healing chakra, slung the insensate body over her shoulder, and shunshin'd to the very edge of the battlefield to tuck him into a safe corner. Although, 'safe' was a relative term. With Uchiha Madara nearby, there was still a high chance that the Chuunin could be killed by collateral damage.
:But,: Sakura thought, pulling on her fighter's gloves, :he is no longer my immediate concern.:
She stalked with a measured pace back to where Madara and Naruto were still trading blows and jutsu, and watched them a moment with narrowed eyes, picking up the rhythm of their fight. Damned if she was going to just let Naruto fight this alone! At the first opportune moment, she stomped the ground, sending fissures spidering out from her and throwing up chunks of dirt and rock. A particularly fine rock was thrust into the air by the force of her blow, and then promptly spin-kicked in the general direction of Madara's face.
He dodged, of course, but in doing so he broke off a particularly vicious attack on Naruto. Both of the men's attentions shifted to her. Naruto looked both worried and angry—probably at how she had drawn Madara's ire. Madara's expression was more difficult to decipher, what with the mask. But Sakura was willing to put money on his feeling annoyed. Most likely the sort of annoyed that one might feel right before swatting a fly that had dared bite them.
But Sakura was more of a tiger than a fly, and she had a brain as well as teeth and claws. Madara couldn't catch her in a genjutsu easily; she'd had too much practice fighting the Sharingan to fall for its more common tricks. So instead he tried to use one of his Mangekyo abilities. The vortex around his eye was visible as a swirling distortion. A few loose, light pieces of debris were sucked into the jutsu, and Sakura could feel it tugging at her clothes.
She leapt backwards, putting space between her and Madara, and took a small scroll from the storage bandolier she'd taken to wearing across her chest. Unfurling the scroll with an easy flick of her wrist, she swiftly activated the seal inked onto it. A small black pinprick of a hole opened in front of the seal, and a distortion similar to that surrounding Madara's eye appeared. The air caught between the two—Madara's teleportation jutsu and Sakura's vacuum seal—screamed as both forces tore at it.
Were this a one-on-one battle between Sakura and Madara, there would be no contest of who would win. Madara was more powerful, and had more advantages to his side than Sakura had. She might make it difficult for him, but Madara would be the undisputed winner. So it was a good thing that she wasn't trying to take him on all by herself.
Naruto barreled in from the side, Rasengan spinning rapidly in one hand. Madara broke away and flashed out of the blond's path. Dirt flew as Naruto punched his jutsu into the ground where Madara had just been.
The Uchiha was probably smirking, if the tilt of his head and the superior pose of his body was any clue.
:So glad we amuse him,: she thought, fury warming her veins. Aloud, she growled: "Naruto."
He nodded once, and abruptly five of his clones burst from their hiding spots, scattered across the battlefield. They charged Madara, and the Uchiha spun to meet the first. The kage bunshin took a swing at him, but Madara caught its wrist, stopping the blow before it could land. Madara's other hand rammed into the clone's chest, and burst through its back in an explosion of gore. The bunshin gasped once before popping in a puff of smoke. The real Naruto and the remaining clones didn't so much as flinch as the experiences from the destroyed clone were transferred to them. But in short order, the other kage bunshin were destroyed as well, leaving only one Naruto standing on the rubble.
Sakura's head whipped around at the shout and she grimaced at the sight of a squad of Konoha ninja running forward. They were probably back-up, but in this fight they were more likely to just get killed as minor annoyances by Madara. She flung a hand out to them. "No, stay back!"
Perhaps they didn't hear. Perhaps they ignored her. Perhaps they simply couldn't stop themselves in time. Whatever the reason, the newcomers charged forward, and met their deaths. Madara sucked two into his vortex, nailed one with a spray of senbon in the throat, plunged a kunai into the heart of a fourth, and snapped the neck of the last.
He moved so quickly, Sakura gaped at how five of her comrades seemed to have all died at once. Naruto shouted and charged, but Madara was expecting it, and dodged easily. He batted Naruto to the ground, and then his hands fluttered quickly through some seals. "Doton: Gekidou no jutsu!"
He slammed his hand onto the ground.
And everything exploded. Or, more correctly, the ground suddenly shook under them, shivering and buckling. Buildings collapsed, powerlines fell and sparked, and an entire district of Konoha was flattened in moments. Sakura, protected by virtue of the fact that she knew how to navigate broken and breaking ground (although she was usually the one causing the upheaval, with her super-strength), stared in horror at the shattered buildings. How many people had Madara just killed? And he hadn't even broken a sweat.
Naruto had escaped the jutsu with a swift bound, straight into the air. He landed like a cat, gracefully and poised, and slowly his head turned to take in the destruction.
"You all kept warning Sasuke that his lust for revenge would tear him apart. And what do you know, it actually did," Madara commented blithely, as if what he was saying was of no concern to him. But Sakura knew that every word he spoke was pointed, a verbal knife meant to draw Naruto's blood. They stung her, too, making her hands clench into tight fists. "Well, metaphorically, anyway. The thing that did the actual tearing was the Nibi."
Madara tilted his head to fix Naruto with a steady stare. The Uchiha's volume lowered, as if divulging a secret. "You know, Sasuke-kun nearly begged for me to give him the Nibi. He wanted its power so badly. It's a pity that the Bakeneko broke free and killed him."
There was a pause and then Naruto let loose a furious shriek. Sakura blanched at how the noise edged on inhuman. :No! The Kyuubi…:
Naruto may have recently been gaining more control over the Fox, but given half a chance, Madara would wrest control of the Bijuu from Naruto, and turn the Kyuubi on both its Jinchuuriki and Konoha. That was the power of the Mangekyo Sharingan.
Madara's attention seemed entirely taken up with Naruto, and Sakura was more sure than ever that he was laughing behind his mask. He lifted his arms, as if to say 'come get me.' Naruto obliged, a cowl of malevolent red chakra growing over him, forming into three tails behind him.
Sakura cursed. Naruto's greatest strength, his compassion, was also his greatest weakness. Madara would play on Naruto's emotions to get the Jinchuuriki into his clutches. :Damn it!:
She pulled out a handful of kunai and hurled them toward Madara with unerring accuracy. But the Uchiha merely used his strange, powerful ability, and the weapons phased right through him without any effect. Moreover, Madara caught the last one and sent it back at her faster than she could follow.
She couldn't help the sharp noise of pain she made as the kunai bit deep into her shoulder. The steel blade grated against the bone, but miraculously missed her axillary artery and vein. She hissed and ripped the kunai from her body, and passed a green-glowing hand over the wound, healing it enough to be functional.
Naruto was not unaware of her injury, and he let out another roar, this time even less human. Another tail started to leak out. Sakura straightened, eyes widening. :No!:
She pulled out a blank scroll, along with a brush and inkpot. She had to do something, either to Madara, or to Naruto, to stop what looked like a disaster in the making.
Naruto, on all fours and completely covered by red chakra, shrieked and leaped at Madara. Madara lifted his hands in front of him, and they began to glow. With increasing desperation, Sakura made a seal as fast as possible. She didn't even notice what kind it was; she just drew whichever one came to mind first. She didn't have time to deliberate.
"NARUTOOOO!" She threw herself between the two shinobi, and activated the seal.
Naruto's Kyuubi chakra, Sakura's seal chakra, and Madara's chakra collided…
Sakura was aware of an abrupt and eerie silence, a pocket of complete stillness, and then everything blazed white and a roaring rose in her ears…
And then there was nothing.