Effloresco Secundus

Chapter 11: Apparition


Sakura woke to the sound of dogs barking with her head pounding like someone was hammering away on the inside of her skull. She opened her eyes in a squint and peered around through her lashes, remaining as still and straight as a marble pillar until she noticed Naruto's presence in the room. Then Sasuke's, leaning back on the footboard of the bed she was lying in. Three dogs, Kakashi's summons, were lying on the floor and gazing up at her. Had they meant to wake her, or did they bark because they'd sensed that she was about to wake?

"You gave them quite the scare, little bird," said a man's voice, and she turned her head towards the shinobi seated in a chair next to the headboard. It took her several moments to place where she'd seen him before, until the senbon he was chewing on triggered the memory of the man who'd handed them the note informing them of Kakashi's absence that one time.

"Mmm," Sakura murmured, mostly to acknowledge that he'd spoken. She thought she could probably get up and move, but the thought of climbing out of bed wasn't nearly as appealing as staying beneath the warming covers. She glanced about the room again, noting the small-highly placed windows and the wooden... everything. Walls, floor, door.

"You thirsty?" He gave her another look as Sakura pushed herself into a half-sitting position, stretching out her arms and rolling her shoulders. She must have slept for a long time to feel so stiff.

"I could drink," she agreed carefully after a moment's thought. "If I can have your name."

He snorted. "Like having my name would protect you from being poisoned?"

"I didn't expect to be poisoned," said Sakura, irritation drawing her brows together. The nonchalant tone made her itch to glare at him.

"Caution saves lives, you know."

"You're sitting in a room with my teammates and three of Kakashi's summons, all of whom are unbothered by your presence. We've met before inside Konoha, and I recognize your hair from behind one of the ANBU masks. There's a difference between reasonable caution and paranoia." Sakura breathed out in a sharp sigh, rubbing the bridge of her nose.

"Hm. Definitely not concussed, probably not brain-damaged. Name five people you know?"

It had been a test, Sakura realized and tried not to look as stupid as she felt. She should have seen that. "Naruto, Sasuke, Kakashi, Sayuri, Shikamaru." Somewhere in the back of her mind she wondered why they'd let her sleep if they thought she might possible have some form of brain damage.

"Never met the last two, so I'll have to take your word for them being real and not figments of your imagination." The senbon clacked between his teeth as he spoke, voice thoughtful and unhurried.

"Your name?" said Sakura, ignoring the pointed end to that comment. He handed her a glass of water and smiled wryly.

"Shiranui Genma, at your service." He grinned when she gave her name in return, and Sakura kept herself from reacting by busying herself with her glass of water. He had a brilliant, eye-catching grin. "Your teammates haven't left the room since they brought you in."

"Maybe they don't trust you," said Sakura lightly, though that might actually be the case, as prone to hovering as they could be.

"I'm just as trustworthy as Kakashi," said the shinobi with patently faked offense in his voice.

Sakura raised her brows. "Exactly."

The door rattled as if on cue, opening to reveal a bandaged and much cleaner-looking Kakashi. He eyed the room quickly before his gaze settled on her. "Good evening, my cute little genin!"

"It's evening?" Sakura asked, trying to catch sight of the sky through a small window in the wall opposite the bed. How long had she been unconscious?

"Almost. You've been out for several hours," Kakashi confirmed, before tilting his head towards Shiranui. "How is her cognition?"

The other shinobi shrugged. "Doesn't seem to be anything wrong with her."

Kakashi nodded, then slouched himself into a seat at her bedside. The mattress dipped under his weight and Sakura moved to accommodate him, a little unnerved by how closely he was watching her. "We couldn't wake you up, and neither of the two idiots knew if you'd taken a hit to the head."

"We're not idiots," Naruto muttered, yawning widely before seeming to realize that he was actually awake and that something was happening in the room.

"I agree halfway. I'm not an idiot." Sasuke turned to look at her from the foot end of the bed. "You wouldn't wake up," he said and though it was phrased like a neutral statement, Sakura imagined she heard an accusation somewhere in that bland tone.

"I don't know what happened," Sakura said and hoped it didn't sound like a lie. She knew very well why she'd passed out- or at least she had a very good guess. Strong accidental magic, the kind she'd never had as Hermione, could jar a child into unconsciousness. There was also the fact that her magic had forced itself out of her psyche to manifest in the physical world, cracking the solid ground of her mindscape in the process. That might explain why she felt like her headache was just barely shy of a migraine.

"Could have been the stress of the situation," Kakashi said musingly, and Sakura threw him an aggrieved look. He couldn't seriously be suggesting that she'd swooned from hysteria, could he? She wasn't some harlequin damsel! Kakashi gave her an amused look. "Or maybe not. I did a cursory exam, but couldn't find any obvious injuries that would cause you to lose consciousness. Then again, I'm not a medic."

"My head feels like it's being split apart," Sakura said pleasantly between gritted teeth, "If that could perhaps help you work out what might be wrong." It wasn't like they'd ever guess that she'd manifested magic by that symptom, and maybe they had some painkillers lying around.

"Heh. I like this one," said Shiranui, the senbon in his mouth tipping back and forth when he grinned.

"You're in pain?" Naruto asked, ignoring that comment, immediately getting to his feet. He then looked confused, like the instinct to act had come before any idea of what exactly he should do.

"I have painkillers in my pouch," said Sasuke, quickly reaching out of her view below the edge of the bed and digging around there for something. Sakura tried not to look too embarrassed at the attention. She'd just thought that the boys were prone to hovering, and here was further proof of that. In full view of their teacher and an ANBU operative, no less.

"Only the mildest kind," said Kakashi. "She needs to be examined by a medic before she can safely consume any stronger medication." That was reasonable, but Sakura still had to smother a glare she wanted to direct his way. Her headache wouldn't abate with this world's version of an aspirin.

As Sasuke passed her the painkillers, Naruto began trying to get her up to date on what had happened after she'd passed out. "So Zabuza was all 'I won't be carried around like a child, grr' and then Kakashi-sensei knocked him out and then we ran all the way here-"

"-where is 'here'?" Sakura asked, swallowing the pills dry. The act of tilting her head back made her head pound harder, and she rubbed her skull with a grimace.

Naruto barely paused, "- oh, it's an outpost or something, and anyway there are some other Konoha shinobi here, and they sent for a medic for you that still hasn't arrived, and then Kakashi and this ANBU guy," here he pointed at Shiranui, "- went to have some 'strategy meeting' that we weren't invited to, even though we fought too! Oh, and also Haku's body is here somewhere." He looked thoughtful, then nodded, apparently finished with the recitation of events.

"Don't the academy teach kids how to make proper reports anymore?" said Kakashi, sighing.

"I wasn't making a report, I was just telling Sakura about what's been going on." Naruto huffed at their teacher, who just drooped a little more where he sat.

"The civilians have been lodged in another room in this outpost," said Sasuke, reminding Sakura of their mission. He paused for a moment. "Only Shima and one of the servants made it."

'Well, crap.' There wasn't much to say about that, so Sakura just nodded acknowledgment. She was inappropriately thankful that she hadn't taken the time to get to know any of them before the fight. It was a small, guilty thought she quickly smothered.

"They shouldn't have tried to 'help' Kakashi fight," said Shiranui, looking up at the ceiling.

"If I was a civilian, I'd totally have jumped into the fight too!" said Naruto indignantly. "They were brave!"

Shiranui flicked a glance his way. "And now they're dead." Naruto glowered at the man at that blunt remark, but surprisingly remained silent.

"Maa, Genma, there's no need to be so harsh," said Kakashi, slowly rubbing under the eye that was once again covered by a headband. Shiranui nodded amiably and settled back into his chair.

Sakura, distracted by Kakashi's movement, scrutinized the jounin. "How is your eye?"

"You should be worrying about yourself," said Kakashi with a crinkling of his visible eye.

"That's not an answer." Sakura narrowed her eyes at him.

"It's fine, brat," Kakashi said, adopting a put-upon expression Sakura didn't think she deserved to have directed at her. But with a brief moment of exasperation, she accepted that she probably wasn't going to get a more comprehensive answer than that out of him.

"Is our cover broken?" she asked instead; a more productive line of questioning.

"No, Shima was already out of it when the fight started and apparently the other civilian has been persuaded not to tell on us," Sasuke said and threw Kakashi a flat stare. Sakura wondered how exactly the servant had been persuaded, but decided to try not to leap to the most unfavorable conclusions. Konoha shinobi didn't immediately jump to torture when they wanted something- they were known for that. It was probably why Zabuza had made that comment about 'pissing maple syrup and giving out free hugs'.

"Do we know why Zabuza was sent to kill Shima?" Sakura asked, apropos the subject of interrogation techniques to gain information.

"We have spoken with him, yes," Kakashi said pleasantly. "How much of what he told us is true remains questionable, but we do have some idea of what his mission perimeters were."

Both Sasuke and Naruto were listening intently, so Sakura assumed that they hadn't heard this yet.

"It seems like he was hired by one of Shima's rivals in the same trade," Shiranui said, taking up the thread and clicking the senbon thoughtfully against his teeth.

"The dangers of the porcelain trade," said Naruto with a musing note in his voice, and Sakura smothered an untimely laugh. Really, people getting killed over porcelain. How ridiculous.

From Sasuke's expression, his thoughts mimicked hers. Rather than comment on it, he said, "What's our next step?"

Kakashi stretched, folding out his legs and crossing them at the ankles. "First, Sakura will be examined by a medic. If given the all-clear, we're going to escort Shima back to Konoha, with our covers intact."

"And with open ANBU escort," said Shiranui with a smile. Kakashi nodded.

"Okay. So where is that medic?" Naruto said like he was expecting Kakashi to immediately produce the medic in question for him. Kakashi rolled his eyes and Sakura assumed Naruto had asked that question many times before.

"It's taking too long," said Sasuke with a scowl. "Konoha isn't this many hours away."

Shiranui snorted. "Who said we're collecting the medic from Konoha?"

He and Kakashi exchanged a glance. "We contacted the closest outpost, which is farther away from this outpost than Konoha is." No explanation for why they would do so seemed to be forthcoming, so Sakura tried to settle comfortably into the pillows and ignore the pounding in her head.

She stayed awake only because Kakashi would prod her with a sharp finger whenever she started to doze off. Naruto and Sasuke were both writing down preliminary reports on Haku's fight per Kakashi's order, and the sound of their quiet bickering was comforting. Kakashi himself was, when not poking her, conversing quickly with Shiranui in sign language.

There was a rapping on the door and without waiting for a response, the person on the other side stepped into the room. "I heard you were in need of a medic?"

Kakashi unfolded from his slumped position on the bed, and Naruto immediately took his place next to Sakura. "It's been a long time," the jounin said as a greeting, and the woman nodded. Something in her movement and her carriage looked crisp, and Sakura thought she might have suspected what branch of the shinobi corps this woman belonged to even if she hadn't known.

"Is this my patient? I must get back soon, so I don't have time to dally." She put the clothed pig she'd held in her arms on the ground, and it immediately scurried off under the bed. Kakashi hummed agreement and Sakura met the medic's eyes. She was plain, brown-haired and sharp-eyed and every inch of her gave off an impression of consummate professionalism. Sakura relaxed back into her pillows.

"Hello, child." That rankled a bit, but Sakura nodded in response and withheld a grimace. Briskly, the woman continued, "My name is Shizune. I hope you won't mind my examining you?"

It wasn't like she had a choice, so Sakura nodded again and watched with avid interest as Shizune's hands glowed with cold green chakra. It felt more like gas than anything else against her skin, but it seeped into her flesh in a way that reminded her more of the killing kind of green light. Sakura kept an instinctual shudder at bay and averted her eyes, feeling gooseflesh crawl up her arms.

"No inflammation of the meninges, no intracranial hemorrhaging... some dilation of the blood vessels, but... are you seeing auras? Does your face hurt? Can you see perfectly out of both eyes?"

Sakura gestured no, no and yes without taking her attention off Naruto, who was looking increasingly worried for her. Sakura had to admit that the medical jargon didn't leave her totally at ease either, but she had read enough about medical techniques in this world to understand some of what Shizune was muttering.

The medic sat back with a small frown twisting her thin lips. "Have you taken any chakra enhancers today?"

"I took a food pill when I realized I was about to pass out." She tried to erase all the embarrassment from her voice, recognizing that while she knew the explanation for why she'd passed out, to everyone else she'd basically fainted for no apparent reason.

Shizune's eyes narrowed. "You have had the Academy lecture on artificial enhancement and the possible consequences of overuse on the developing brain?"

"Yes, and that lecture is the reason I only use food pills in emergency situations." There was something deeply annoying about being told off as though she were a child, even more than being greeted as one had been.

"What grade?"

"I only use 0.4's," said Sakura and tried to keep the irritation out of her voice. Shizune raised a brow.

"That's too low a grade for you," she said, considering, and failed to notice Sakura's surprise. "But taking only one pill means your current headache isn't caused by chakra bloating, at least." Shizune was rubbing a finger against her lip as she spoke, her other hand still passing over Sakura's scalp and casting green light in the corner of her eye. Whatever the medic was doing muffled the pain to a more bearable level and Sakura felt a tightness in her forehead she hadn't even been aware of, lighten.

"Could be a common, but unusually severe, tension headache," Shizune said finally, sitting back and looking over at Kakashi. "There's nothing here that would make sleeping dangerous. No injuries at all, from what I can see."

"That's good to hear," said Kakashi, nodding. Even though she'd assumed that no injury would be found, Sakura found herself a bit relieved at that proclamation.

"Or maybe you're just not that good at your job?" said Naruto, narrowing his eyes at the medic. Sasuke punched him in the shoulder, a long-suffering look on his face.

"This woman is one of the world's most competent medics," said Kakashi lightly, a thin strand of warning in his voice. Naruto settled deeper into the mattress by Sakura's side, frowning and looking away. Sakura patted his arm a little.

"You have a loyal friend there," said Shizune with a snort, looking at Sakura. Before she could nod agreement or form any other kind of response, the medic turned to look at Kakashi again. "I need to speak to you outside."

"That wasn't very exciting," said Naruto when the two had exited the room, turning towards Sakura. "But I'm really glad you're not hurt. I think you should rest more."

"Idiot, how would she be able to sleep with you in the room? You lack the ability to stay quiet for more than half a minute." Sasuke smirked at Naruto's subsequent expression, and Sakura settled back to watch the two of them go at it.

A few minutes into their bickering she let her eyes slip shut, and from behind closed eyelids watched as her mindscape gradually came into being. She only descended deep enough to get an overview of what she'd done to herself with her lethal burst of accidental magic, and tried not to fear what she saw.

The place she'd crouched at to feel the magic below the stone floor now resembled the mouth of a volcano. It was obviously the epicenter of the destruction- and there was destruction enough to make her ordered library resemble Hogwarts after the school's final battle. Cracks in the stone, shelves flipped over and books scattered across the floor. And all of it in a widening circle around the yawning opening that cracked the ground open. What had been closest to that hole had been torn apart most savagely, while the destruction to the library's outer edges was minimal.

Sakura set about cleaning up, thinking her way through the library and watching as the shelves reset and the books took their places. She worked in a wide circle around the edges of her mindscape, slowly moving inward towards the jaws of stone that spilled the light of magic into the library.

She tried not to think about the tint of that magic, the streaks of darkness shooting through what had before only been comforting light, like veins just under the thin, pale skin of her wrist.

There was a song, an old lullaby by Beedle the Bard, that called to her now. She couldn't remember the whole thing, but the final paragraph was clear in her memory: Don't let the tooth of darkness bite, don't let it wind you through the night, don't let it carry you away, for when it comes, it comes to stay...'

She looked away from the light, distracting herself, and followed a particularly big crack in the stone floor that wound its way from the center of the destruction and disappeared under a door in one of her library's walls. Small flowers grew out of that particular wall, cracking the stone the way dandelions cracked asphalt, with petals sometimes falling to the ground and over the shelves nearby.

Sakura usually avoided looking at that door, so it wasn't much of a distraction. The door was an ornate, frilly thing that she would have hated even if it hadn't been a representation of a crime she hadn't meant to commit. The door was small, lacking a handle but otherwise unremarkable in shape. Painted bright pink. About the size of the average six-year-old.

Sakura looked away.

When all the books and shelves were back in their places, she gazed down at the floor and finally admitted to herself that she didn't know how to mend the cracks her rage-fuelled burst of magic had caused. It wasn't like the hole in the floor was an actual hole in her mindscape, just an opening to another layer of her mind. 'Or more likely... a tear. A wound, maybe. Not just an opening.' That wasn't a pleasant thought.

Sakura had a feeling that tear revealed another part of her mind the same way stabbing a hole in your leg would 'reveal' another part of your body. It would also potentially make you bleed to death. That was an even less pleasant thought. But it wasn't like her mind would dribble out that hole the same way blood would dribble out of a physical wound. 'But what side-effects could it have...?'

"Sakura, c'mon, wake up!"

Disheartened, Sakura rose up out of the library to Naruto shaking her shoulder and shouting a few centimeters from her nose.

"She is awake, so shut up." Sasuke yanked Naruto back by his collar and turned to her. "How could you sleep with the idiot carrying on like that?"

"I wasn't really sleeping," Sakura said with a smothered yawn, trying to keep her discomfort from her expression. At least her headache was all but gone now. "Meditating."

"Who decides to start meditating in the middle of a conversation?" Naruto huffed.

"I wasn't in the middle of a conversation. You and Sasuke were." Sakura smothered another yawn, stalling for a few seconds to think. While the hole in her mindscape was an injury, it was also what had allowed her to use magic for the first time in a very long while. Sakura recognized the shimmering obsidian-like stripes in and around the edges of the hole. She'd know the taint of dark magic anywhere. Some things were dulled with time, but the instinctual recognition of darkness was too deeply ingrained to ever truly be forgotten.

Her rage had done that. Torn her mind, yes, but also opened a path to regaining her lost powers. A dark path. 'More than just the will to kill, the wish to do so,' Sakura thought, remembering the pulsing fury and how badly she'd wanted the teen who 'killed' Naruto dead. 'Calling it a burst of accidental magic isn't quite correct,' she thought further, shivering. 'Accidental magic doesn't have so much strong, clear intent behind it.'

She'd killed before, as Hermione, but never with dark magic. Because dark magic was dangerous to the caster in a way light magic wasn't. It was an infection, an addiction. Like cigarettes or alcohol, she'd thought as Hermione. Or depending on what kind of person you were, an even heavier drug. You tried it once, twice, three times and then one day, without even noticing it, you'd gone from a casual user to an addict. What once burned going down your throat no longer did.

"Sakura, stop zoning out!" Naruto flicked her shoulder and frowned when Sakura turned a wan smile in his direction. "You don't look so good. You really should rest more. I'll be really quiet, promise." He gave Sasuke a look, as if to preemptively keep their teammate from making some snide comment.

"No, I think I've had enough rest for now." She'd just end up in her mindscape again, staring down the hole and trying not to entertain the thought that the only thing that had allowed her access to her magic since she became Sakura was her wish to kill. Trying not to acknowledge musings of just how much she loved magic and just how lost she felt without it. Trying not to think that the darkness in her mind wasn't just a taint, but a tangible opportunity. The first such opportunity she'd had in all her time as Sakura.

"Where is Zabuza now?" she asked, pushing that thought aside with an uneasy feeling in her stomach.

Naruto shrugged. "Don't know. In some room here somewhere, with the other ANBU."

"What about Haku?" As she spoke, Sakura wondered if her burst of magic would have left a mark on him. Did it go straight through his skin and wrap around his heart? Or did it burn him all the way through?

"Like I said, somewhere here." Naruto huffed. "I hope they're going to give him a good funeral. I want to show Zabuza that he definitely wasn't a tool."

"Idiot, he had a bloodlimit. They'll take his body back to Konoha and dissect it." Sasuke's voice was flat, and Sakura wondered what he thought of that. Was he expecting to be dissected one day? By Konoha even, if he died in service? She wasn't sure if Konoha did that to its own shinobi, couldn't imagine the great clans agreeing to it. The Hyuga especially were known for their extreme cautiousness with the bodies of their members.

But then again, if Sasuke died there was no clan to be outraged on his behalf.

"They can't do that! He should get a funeral!" Naruto's brow furrowed, his face like a developing thunderstorm, and then deflated. "I know that's what villages do to each other's shinobi, but since I told Zabuza that Haku wasn't a tool..."

"So they should, what? Bury him in a patch of dirt somewhere, and hope nobody else realizes what a treasure his body really is? Cremate him according to Konoha tradition, like he was one of us?" Sasuke was scowling, but his eyes were distant.

"They should treat him like a person."

Back in her old world they'd always made sure to cremate bodies, friend or foe, but that had mostly been to keep them out of the necromancers' hands rather than due to pure decency. Inferi had become a real problem after Voldemort's fall, but the bodies of cremated people couldn't be resurrected from their ashes.

"Just petition the Hokage for his body when the Research Department is through fiddling with it, then." They all turned towards Shiranui, who raised an eyebrow with a crooked smile. Sakura had almost forgotten his presence in the room.

Naruto's head swiveled towards the older ninja. "We can do that?"

"It's your kill," said Shiranui with a shrug. "And when a body is no longer needed by the research department, whoever brought it in can request its withdrawal. It's not always granted, but you can try. Though why you would bother, I don't understand. Didn't the ladyboy almost kill you?"

"His name was Haku!" Naruto glared at the man, completely ignoring the question.

Before he could start shouting for real, Kakashi returned. He looked completely relaxed, and Sakura wondered if Shizune had healed his eye or just given him good news.

"Alright, settle down." The jounin ruffled Naruto's hair in passing as he slouched into the room. "Since Sakura is well, we're going to start packing up here."

"She hasn't rested enough-" said Naruto, waving a hand in her direction.

"That wasn't an invitation to argue, Naruto. We leave in an hour." Kakashi's voice was as casual as his body language, but Naruto still quieted. There was something about Kakashi when he adopted that jounin-commander voice, a kind of aura that was difficult to ignore.

"I feel a bit better now," said Sakura, and it was only barely a lie. Her headache had almost completely eased, and now only felt like someone was lightly scraping the inside of her forehead and temples rather than chewing on her brain.

Kakashi's eye crinkled. "You see? Start packing!" It was a command, despite the jounin's light tone.

-.-.-.-

Their teacher stuck his head in 45 minutes later, when the room was once again spotless, and the team once more dressed in civilian gear. Sakura hadn't realized just how much of their stuff her teammates had spread around while she was unconscious. They must have been stuck in the room from the moment they arrived at the outpost. Willingly or not, Sakura wasn't sure.

"All done? Good." Kakashi guided them out of the room and walked them briskly through an empty corridor. At the end was the purple-haired ANBU, face bared and leaning against a wall with a scroll in hand. Where Haku's body was contained, Sakura was sure. She wasn't sure what to make of the ANBU's unmasking. 'Weren't ANBU identities supposed to be closely guarded secrets?'

"Yuugao." Kakashi nodded as he was handed the scroll. "Any problems?"

"No, sir. The dose he was given is enough to keep him conscious and on his feet, but allows no more than that." She had a clipped voice, biting off every word with a snap as she spoke.

Kakashi hummed. "Genma?"

"With him now, sir."

They continued, passing through two more sets of doors before they encountered Shiranui. Zabuza was standing next to him, stripped of all weapons and the clothes they'd last seen him in. 'He looks... naked,' was Sakura's first thought, though the missing-nin was wearing a set of shirt and pants that covered much more of his skin than his old outfit had. Maybe it was the feeling of vulnerability that hung about him now, or the way he tilted back and forth on his feet, like the floor was moving underneath him. Zabuza turned his head jerkily in their direction, squinting, and Sakura watched the mouth guard covering the lower half of his face move.

"He is to be treated as enemy hors de combat, in accordance with the Fire-Water-Wind Treaty of 1392," Kakashi said casually over his shoulder, and they all nodded with various degrees of hesitancy.

'Definitely drugged,' Sakura thought, as she carefully skirted around their prisoner, keeping an eye on where Shiranui's hand was closed around his elbow. 'Why not place him in a scroll as well?' She looked up with the question on her lips, blinked twice when her gaze caught on something moving behind Zabuza- and then accidentally and immediately let out a garbled sound at the sight of Haku looking over his master's shoulder.

He had the characteristic silvery glow of a spirit, the same kind that Sir Nicholas and the other Hogwarts ghosts had had. 'Bloody hell.' There was a numb, stunned feeling spreading like mist in her head, chasing away the last of her headache.

"He seems uninjured," said Naruto, looking at her with a worried but encouraging expression, like he thought Zabuza's state was what she'd reacted to. Sakura hoped she didn't look like all the blood had drained out of her head, because that's what she felt had just happened. "They must have healed him."

"He's been given some drug," said Sasuke quietly as Kakashi spoke with Shiranui. Sakura tore her eyes from the specter gazing at Zabuza's face with a frown, and nodded faintly in agreement. If Haku was really here – but how could he be? Only magical people could remain as ghosts, and there were no magical people in this world -

"Sakura-chan, are you okay? You look kind of pale." Naruto put a warm, calloused palm over her forehead and frowned. "And you're cold."

"Just a bit dizzy for a moment," Sakura said and tried to make sure the smile she directed his way looked unbothered.

"You should have been allowed to rest more." Sasuke frowned at Kakashi's back and then turned dark, evaluating eyes on her. In the corner of her eyes, Sakura noticed the silvery ghost move to stand in front of Zabuza instead, looking into his eyes. Kakashi was gesturing with one hand, and his fingers went through the ghost every time he moved.

"I'm fine. Stop hovering, you two." Sakura breathed out and smiled more genuinely, because suddenly, unexpectedly there was a moment of pure joy in her. Only a person with active magic could see ghosts, which meant she was again completely, thoroughly magical. Even squibs could see ghosts, so it didn't take much active magic for that ability to manifest, but it was something. The tear in her mind didn't only enable killing magic, but at least also passive magic. The kind of magic that meant her mind-core was alive even when not in immediate use.

'That doesn't explain why Haku, a muggle, would manifest as a ghost after death. Unless he wasn't a muggle?' But if that was the case, why hadn't he used magic during their battle? Sakura's mind spun a tapestry of potential implications.

Kakashi waved them on again, Zabuza being herded in front of them, flanked by the two ANBU. Sakura caught a glimpse of his wrists, bound with the same chakra-enhanced wooden rings that Mitarashi had clamped around O-Hisa's wrists before. Haku was glaring down at them, his see-through hands clenched. Spurts of silvery blood came from the wound in his throat where the ghost version of Sasuke's kunai cut into the jugular, spraying Yuugao with fine specks of blood.

They reached they outpost's exit, and Sakura took a quick look at the surroundings. Trees, and absolutely nothing else. They must be in the middle of a forest. 'Hidden in leaves, indeed.'

Shima and Ginzou's surviving servant were standing by one of the largest trees together, glancing around like they expected to be attacked at a moment's notice. The servant looked especially anxious, twisting bandaged hands together and hunching his shoulders, eyes darting between the trees and up at the foliage. It wasn't really paranoia if people were out to get you, though.

"Finally," said Shima, lips in a thin line. He looked Kakashi up and down, like he wasn't sure what to make of him now, and then continued, "Your guards have my gratitude for intervening on all our behalf."

He didn't look particularly grateful to Sakura, but she was too distracted to be annoyed at his attitude. Kakashi smoothed the man's ego with apologies for the delay, and Sakura watched as the servant scuttled away from the jounin like he was carrying some infectious disease, and then jumped away from Zabuza when the captured shinobi turned hazy eyes his way.

As they began their walk back to Konoha again, Sakura tried not to look too obviously at the floating ghost in their mist, lest someone wonder why she was staring into thin air.


A/N: So what did you think of the character interactions in this chapter? Sakura's trip to her mindscape? The appearance of ghost!Haku? Tell me!

On the current year: in this story, we're currently in the early 1400's (which has nothing whatsoever to do with RL 1400's).

(To those who are waiting for a new chapter of Changeling, I apologize. I just have so much flow for this story right now that Changeling has taken a bit of a backseat.) And as always, thanks to Against-the-Current for her awesomeness!