Key to My Heart
Prompt for Sasu/Saku month—Locked Up.
Co-written by Kaze and Kiba and Sakura's Unicorn.
Summary: Middle-aged men should never be matchmakers.
Green eyes flashed as the cell door swung shut with a clang.
"Behave yourself now, Haruno-san."
Sakura scoffed and rolled her eyes at the dark-haired man with the silver wings at his temples. She held out her hands to her jailer. "At least take these off." She nodded at the chakra cuffs chaffing her wrists.
He shook his head. "That's not happening, young lady." The older Uchiha smirked and Sakura frowned. "Not until you sober up. You caused quite a stir tonight."
"I'm not that drunk," she sulked.
They all look alike, don't they? her Inner mused. Arrogant Uchiha…dark and handsome. Even the mature ones.
Sakura squashed her Inner back into the small recesses of her mind.
"You know, Uchiha-san, chakra-blocking cuffs only obstruct ninety-eight point five percent of chakra. For someone with my level of chakra manipulation, these are useless. I was merely being polite." She pressed her finger against the cell bar and pushed. The bar creaked, bending slightly before she stopped.
"Haruno-san! Do I need to use my Sharingan on you?"
Sakura stuck out her tongue and sat on the lonely cot with a huff.
"If I wanted to break out, you couldn't stop me. I'm here because I allowed you to bring me here," she grumbled under her breath, lying down to face the wall. "You old fart."
Konoha Military Police Department's holding facility was practically an onsen inn. It was brightly lit, clean as a whistle, and even smelled good. On the other hand, the penitentiary, which housed long-term or difficult inmates, was more like Naruto's apartment—filthy, crawling with vermin, and stinking of mildew. Tonight, it was Sasuke's duty to patrol the dank corridors of the latter.
Following in his father's footsteps on the police force was not all tense chases, heated battles, and thoughtful investigating like he'd imagined it would be. Sasuke found it similar to the mindless drudgery of D-rank missions.
Does that make me a genin-level cop? he wondered as he walked past dozens of empty cells. Don't even know why I have to do this. There's nobody here! The newly-formed Shinobi Alliance, struck by Tsunade-sama and the five nations, effectively reduced crime to almost nil. There's nothing for me to do. Not the most exciting time to decide to become an officer. He sighed and shuffled down to the lowest level of the prison.
Why is it always so dark down here? He suppressed a shudder—he was a shinobi, a cop, and an Uchiha—he would not show fear. Despite that bracing thought, Sasuke ignited his Sharingan just to be sure there was nothing lurking in the shadowy cells.
The soft plink of dripping water accompanied his echoing footsteps. His breathing was loud and quick, his head flicking from one side to the other. The staircase on the other side of the ward glowed with a soft, yellow light, like a welcoming beacon, and Sasuke's pace picked up to reach it.
Sasuke gasped, drowning in adrenaline as his heart hammered against his ribcage.
"I got you! I got you good, Sasuke-kun!"
He recognized the high-pitched gloating and belly-laugh coming from the cell to his left.
"Admit it. I scared you." She stepped closer to the bars and he could tell from her loopy grin and glazed eyes that she was drunk.
Harrumphing, he said, "Yeah, right. What're you doing here? You know I could have you arrested for—"
"Too late. Your uncle beat you to it. I've already been incarcerated by the Uchiha No-Fun Dictator Force for disorderly conduct. I'm in for two days."
"You're drunk." She turned away from him. "You are, Sakura. And I'm sure you made another scene."
Pouting, she mumbled, "If that bitch, Karin, hadn't started…"
He sighed and unlocked her cell, sitting beside her on the filthy cot. "I don't know how many different ways I can say it. I don't like her. I never touched her. I don't even want to be fifty-feet near her. No matter what she says, Sakura, I don't want her. At. All."
"So, you hate her?"
"I don't even notice that she exists except when you fight with her."
"But…do you hate her?"
Knowing that she was just fishing for reassurance, Sasuke said, "Yes. I hate her. Now, will you stop—"
Squealing loudly, Sakura slid onto his lap and pushed him down on the cot. "I love you, Sasuke-kun!"
His hands automatically slid up her thighs to clutch her hips. "Sakura, you have to—" She swallowed his words with a deep kiss. "I'm on duty. We can't—" She bit his earlobe, moaning softly as she ground against him. "We…can't…" Sakura's hand ran through his hair, gently yanking his head back as she nibbled her way down his neck. All sense of duty was blown away in the wake of her sensual lips. His hand slipped up her shirt to cup her breast.
Both jumped. Sasuke's hand clutched Sakura hard, causing her to shudder involuntarily and moan. Cursing under his breath, he realized who stood outside the door and knew there was only one person worse who could have found them.
"Otouto." Sasuke knew the scene they presented—their hair in disarray, panting and pawing at each other. "Not a very romantic place for a date."
"Hn," Sasuke growled, standing up and depositing a half-drunk, giggling Sakura on the cot.
"Konbanwa, Uchiha-san." The pink-cheeked girl pulled her shirt straight. "Your timing is—"
"Impeccable," Itachi interrupted. "Sasuke, otousan is right behind me."
Sasuke stood at attention, running a hand through his hair as he tucked in his uniform, but he was unable to hide the deep red flush from his skin. Otousan will do worse than D-rank missions! He'll have me work the worst shifts imaginable for fooling around during work. Especially here in the penitentiary!
"Hurry up and let me out, niisan."
"Niisan!" Sasuke's eyes widened when he saw the devilish gleam in his brother's eyes.
"I seem to have misplaced my keys." He smiled wickedly. "Besides, it's too late." He turned to greet the man walking down the corridor with a slight bow of his head. "Otousan."
"Oh, crap," Sakura hissed.
Another old fart. The worst of them all! Just when it was getting interesting, too, her Inner grumbled and pouted.
Sasuke's father stood there, wearing the same stern expression he always seemed to when she was around. She hid behind Sasuke, taking hold of his shirttail and peeking. Fugaku's frown deepened when he turned to his son, his aura dark and angry.
With a rattling of keys, the door to Sakura's cell swung open. "Get out."
Her head snapped up. He means me? For a brief moment, Sakura rejoiced.
We were wrong about that old fart, huh? He's not such a bad guy, her Inner said with a smile. He might be a touch upset, but he's letting us go, right?
She'd barely taken half a step forward when red eyes locked with hers. "Not you."
Sasuke reached behind him and squeezed her hand briefly before marching out of the cell. Sakura wanted to grab him, to protect them both, but he strode right past his father and down the hall, his chin high.
"I'll deal with you later," Fugaku promised as he turned the key.
Sakura pressed herself against the bars, straining to catch a last glimpse of Sasuke.
"He'll be fine."
She startled. She'd forgotten his brother was still there.
"Oh! I…Sasuke-kun is…" She mumbled, "Are you sure, Uchiha-san?"
"My name is Itachi. My father is Uchiha-san," he said, sneering in the direction of the stairs. "Come here. Give me your hands."
Hesitantly, Sakura slipped her bound wrists through the bars, her Inner shouting warnings and misgivings.
Itachi laid a finger on her chakra cuffs and they popped off. "Keep them near. When my father comes back, click them into place. They won't drain your energy anymore." He smirked knowingly. "Not that chakra cuffs are a problem for you, Haruno-san."
"Why do you keep doing this, Sakura? This is the third time this month you've visited the penitentiary."
"Sasuke works so much. I never get to see—"
He shook his head.
"I'm a lousy drunk. I'm sure your father's explained that to you."
He shook his head again and Sakura's anger flared.
"I'm a shitty, no-clan lowlife who doesn't deserve to even look at your brother, much less marry him! That's why I'm here, Itachi-san." She flopped onto the cot, rolling over to face the wall.
"You know about the omiai."
Hearing the word said out loud made it real. Hot tears burned down her cheeks.
"What chance do I have against the Fourth Hokage's niece? Karin's got Konoha royalty behind her. My father…he-he's not even a shinobi," she hiccupped, wiping her eyes with the heel of her hand.
"My brother is the worst kind of Uchiha, deliberately defying clan edicts."
Sakura's forehead scrunched in confusion. Sasuke-kun looks up to his big brother so much. Why is Itachi talking about him like that? Rolling over, she saw a gentle grin on his face.
"When Sasuke's genin team was assembled, my father pressured Sarutobi-sama, Iruka-sensei, and anyone who would hear him into putting the Hyuuga girl on his team. I suppose he hoped that they'd become friends, bond as teammates, and fall in love. Their union would merge the two most powerful dojutsu clans into one. But Sasuke got wind of it and said he'd become apprentice to Teyaki-ojisan and make senbei for the rest of his life if otousan didn't butt out." He smirked at the memory. "Part of otousan's plan worked out, though. He did become friends with his teammate, bond with her, and fall in love."
Her cheeks went red and a warm, bubbly feeling filled her chest.
"Sasuke is insolent, arrogant, and rebellious. He's never done as he's been told." Itachi laid a hand over Sakura's. "He'd sooner live in that cell forever with you than without you, imouto."
In the shadowy corridor of Konoha Penitentiary, Itachi was amazed to see the petite girl with the bright hair go through such a myriad of emotions. As they spoke, she went from love to anger, hope to depression before finally going back to perky and optimistic, all in the space of a few minutes.
She certainly wears her heart on her sleeve, this Sannin's apprentice, Itachi thought as he mulled over her dilemma. It's obvious she adores Sasuke. A feat in itself, as my little brother's personality is sometimes a bit…prickly.
But around this young woman, Itachi saw another side of him. Sasuke just looked at the pink-haired girl and the hard edge in his eyes softened. She brought out a tenderness that he previously showed only to their mother. In all other circumstances, Sasuke emulated their emotionless father to measure up to the impossibly strict standards Fugaku held them to as clan chief. But around their mother, Sasuke was never guarded.
The little spitfire in that cell may get on father's last nerve, but she's good for Sasuke, he thought. She supports him without letting him get too full of himself—all too easy for Uchiha clan members.
He smirked, remembering when she'd socked all three of the boys on her team because they stepped out of line in front of the Hokage. This girl could bring some much needed spirit to this stuffy clan. Plus, kaasan is fond of her.
Itachi just needed to figure out how to slip her past his father and his ludicrous list of perfect marriage prospects. Otousan knows nothing about making a compatible match beyond looking at prized bloodlines.
Having faced and escaped—much to Fugaku's disappointment—his own long line of insufferable women with either no personalities or rotten ones who were ready to do their duty, he now felt inclined to aid his brother. Otousan will see the advantages of Sakura as an Uchiha eventually.
Sakura's soft thank you brought him out of his reverie. Itachi looked at her gentle, green eyes and the seeds of a plan sprouted—he wasn't called the clan genius for nothing.
"Sakura, would you like me to make your excuses for not showing at work tomorrow?"
Itachi knew that Tsunade was a strict master—she was going to have stern words for Sakura, but he was sure she also sympathized with her student. Strong women tended to rub men like Fugaku the wrong way. No one knew that better than Konoha's first female Hokage.
"I'm scheduled to work in the lab in the morning. Please, if you would just stop by and tell them I'll make up the work on my day off. Arigato, Itachi-san." She bowed her head to him in appreciation and he poked her forehead, smirking at the wide-eyed look of surprise she gave him while rubbing her brow.
"Oyasuminasai, Sakura. Please enjoy the…accommodations." His lips twitched with a ghost of a smile when she laughed and waved goodbye to him. Nothing keeps her down for long. She's as headstrong as Sasuke.
Itachi entered the sterile wing of Konoha's Research and Development Facility, where the labs were situated. He nodded to the guard and knocked on the door of the sector where Sakura worked, her name one of three stenciled on the glass. Someone called for him to enter.
"Uchiha-san, this is a surprise." Shizune opened the door, quickly inviting him in. "Gomen, I'll have to keep working while we talk. I'm here alone and in the middle of running some hCG tests. If I delay adding the catalyst now, they could show a false positive. Then I'll have some very upset kunoichi on my hands."
He quirked an eyebrow at her, not understanding.
"Pregnancy tests, Uchiha-san. Human chorionic gonadotropin is a highly measurable hormone made by a growing fetus. Every kunoichi must submit to this test before being approved for a high-ranked mission." She shook her head, setting down a test tube. "But that's not what you're here for, is it?"
He shook his head. "No, yet still very interesting, Shizune-san. You enjoy working in the lab?"
"Hai." She waited expectantly.
"I've come to tell you that Haruno-san can't make it to work today. She asked me to inform you that she'll make up the time on her day off."
Shizune nodded, her face twisting distastefully. "I already know. Karin's been telling everyone who'll listen how Sakura was arrested." She sighed. "Rumors and gossip—not even our Sakura is above getting mixed up in them. I'm sure Tsunade-sama will be looking to have a word with your father." She frowned. "Two days in jail is hardly a fitting punishment for spilling a drink on someone. Quite harsh."
"Sakura's handling it well. Not to worry."
"Of course she is." She carefully added drops of the catalyst to the test tubes. "I have every confidence in her. But even false rumors can damage a young lady's reputation irreparably."
Itachi nodded, noticing that three of the tubes changed color while the fourth remained the same. "You're absolutely right, Shizune-san."
Shoveling in rice, Sasuke threw angry glances at his father, who hid behind the Konoha Times.
I'm only sitting at this table for kaasan.
"What's on your agenda today, Sasuke-kun?" Mikoto smiled at her son to ease the thick tension in the room. "You finally have a day off."
The newspaper crinkled sharply as Fugaku turned a page and shook it straight.
"But you'll be home later?"
"I don't think so."
"He has a meeting tonight at six-thirty. He'll be here."
Mikoto's face pinched with concern as Sasuke's eyes went flat and his chin jutted. "Like I was saying, don't hold dinner for me, kaasan. I may not be back until very late."
The newspaper slammed against the table, revealing a red-faced Fugaku. "You will be home before six-thirty, you will put on your best kimono, and you will participate in the meeting with the Fourth Hokage's niece."
Blood whooshed in Sasuke's ears as he stood up, towering over his seated father. "I will not."
Fugaku leapt to his feet. "You're not weaseling out of this like your brother, Sasuke. You're my son and you're an Uchiha. As your father and your clan leader, I command you to submit to this omiai!"
Sasuke's eyes narrowed at his father. "You call me son when it suits your needs, when you need to advance the Uchiha name. Well, it's time I learned your lesson, otousan. It's time I choose when to call you father and when to call you—"
Mikoto's hand against Sasuke's chest brought him back to reality, draining the chakra from his eyes. When did my Sharingan… Shamed that he'd let his temper get so out of control that he'd ignited his dojutsu against his own father, Sasuke took a step back, mumbling, "Gomen."
Fugaku's anger boiled as he stalked from the room without a word, the shoji trembling from the violence of his slam.
"Sasuke-kun, please come to the omiai…for my sake." She laid a hand on his arm. "You know you have the right to refuse any candidate."
"After I refuse every woman in the village, you think he'll have to consider Sakura?"
Sasuke's smirk was humorless, but Mikoto's was full of mystery.
"Stranger things have happened, Sasuke-kun."
"—and then the daimyo said, 'I wish I could marry you to my son, Karin-chan. You are the most beautiful and talented woman I've ever met. Why, if I were only twenty years younger…'
"Of course, I'd never marry him because he's a fat pig, but his son wasn't hard on the eyes." There was an uncomfortable pause. "Not as handsome as Sasuke-kun, though." Karin looped her arm through Sasuke's and pressed against him.
Mikoto frowned, worried that Sasuke would hurt himself if he rolled his eyes again. My poor son. This is the last place he wants to be…and the last person he wants to be with. Frankly, if this girl thinks she's going to worm her way into the Uchiha clan by wowing me with stories of the daimyo and Kage she's met, she's got another thought coming. She shuddered at the idea of spending a lifetime listening to this bragging.
"Itachi-kun, please escort Karin home. It's getting on and Minato-sama will worry."
"But kaasan, I thought maybe I could stay here, uh, in the Uchiha district since I'm going to be part of the family." Karin squeezed Sasuke's arm tighter.
"It doesn't work that way, dear."
"But Sasuke and I are leaving tomorrow on a mission together."
"Itachi will take you home."
"Sasuke-kun can do that, can't he?" She whined, rubbing her cheek against his shoulder.
Mikoto smiled tightly. "That would be improper, dear. Goodnight," she said, nodding to her eldest son who winked at his mother as he took the protesting girl's elbow and escorted her from the room. Sasuke turned to his father with a glare before rising and leaving in the other direction.
"That went well," Fugaku mused. "They certainly get along. I'm sure they'll create a powerful alliance."
Mikoto sighed and looked Fugaku in the eye.
"You bring that woman into this family and you'll be spending the most time with her because Sasuke certainly won't. They'll both end up miserable."
"I'm sure you can help smooth—"
"—and I'll be requesting my return to active duty from Tsunade-sama."
"Mikoto." Her husband frowned and she ignored him.
"The boys are grown men, you've said so yourself. I've already done my familial duty, shujin. If you insist on forcing our sons into marriages they don't want, you can do it alone." She stood from the table. "Now, it's a lovely night. I'm taking a walk. Don't wait up."
A shadow fell across the door, obscuring the names on the glass. Gloved fingers flashed and the lock gave way, the hinges squeaking slightly as a slim form slid through the tiny crack.
Melting into the dark corners of the lab, the shadow glided through rows of test tubes, beakers, and testing equipment. Two enormous, stainless-steel slabs guarded the prize the dusky shade sought. A bright light beamed across the lab for only a second as the refrigerator door was opened—it was silenced with a twist and darkness resumed its reign over the room.
The shadow reached into an invisible pocket in its pitch-black attire, retrieving a small, glass vial. With a quiet clink, one vial was replaced.
"Even false rumors can damage a young lady's reputation irreparably," the shadow murmured with a smirk as it closed the door on Uzumaki Karin's lab sample.
Sasuke's hands ached from fisting them so tightly, but he could think of no other way to contain his irritation.
"It'll be nice to get away from the village, won't it, Sasuke-kun?" Karin wound her fingers through his hair and he shrugged her hand away. "Just us. We could share a sleeping—"
"Not you! My first mission for this shit town and it's gotta be with Uchiha?" Suigetsu hefted his sword across his shoulders as he came to a stop in front of Sasuke and glared. "My luck sucks."
"Why are you here?!"
Karin's screech startled both men and Suigetsu seemed to notice her for the first time. "Me?! What're you doing here? And why are you holding onto him?!"
Her mouth opened and closed several times, but she appeared incapable of answering. The thought that she looked caught was just forming in Sasuke's head when the Hokage's office doors opened and they were ushered inside.
The hair on the back of Sakura's neck stood up and she sat on the cot. The only sounds in the dim prison wing were the scrape of rat claws as they roamed the halls in search of food scraps and the steady drip of water leaking from a pipe somewhere, but she knew she was no longer alone and the person nearing her cell held no fondness for her.
Ignoring her Inner's advice to bust out of this hole, she quietly snapped the chakra cuffs on her wrists and waited. Telltale crimson flashed before the tumblers turned in her cell door.
"You will never be welcome in my clan. Why do you persist in trailing behind my son in hopes of a proposal?"
Sakura flinched as if she'd been slapped. "Trailing?"
"You've followed my son around with puppy eyes since your Academy days."
A bright red flush crawled up Sakura's skin. While she'd come into her own through hard work and persistence, there was no denying she'd followed after Sasuke a good deal when they were younger. Old inadequacies suddenly crept up on her.
No! her Inner demanded. You are not worthless!
"Sasuke loves me and I love him." Sakura's spine stiffened and she looked him fearlessly in the eye. It came as no surprise when he captured her with his Sharingan. She was still in her cell, but instead of Fugaku debasing her, Sasuke's dark eyes now stared into her own.
"You little idiot," he hissed. "Just because you got lucky enough to be trained by a Sannin doesn't make you the same level as me." He grabbed her by the scruff of her neck roughly, yanking her head back. "Do I have to cut out your heart for you to realize that you're not worthy?"
Sakura felt the kunai slide in under her breast. The cold steel against her throbbing heart created a breathtaking ache.
He smirked wickedly, the triumphant look in his eyes lasting a mere second before a look of confusion crossed his face. Another Sakura—a huge, dark Sakura—grinned at him, her constricting hand already around his body. The fake Sasuke was thrown across the cell as Sakura was released from the Sharingan. Back in her actual cell, Sakura's clone dragged Fugaku into the ground until nothing but his head remained above the surface.
"Nobody breaks the Sharingan!" he bellowed, writhing against the capturing stone.
Sakura hadn't forgotten the lessons from Granny Chiyo, she only wished there'd been time to gain more wisdom from the old woman.
"Nothing is unbreakable. No one is infallible. And no clan is perfect either." Sakura snapped the chakra cuffs from her wrists, nodding to the man standing outside. "I'm not escaping, Sasuke-kun. I just need a new cell. This one's occupied."
"Aa. I'll be along in a few minutes to secure your cell, Sakura." Handing her the keys, Sasuke brushed his thumb along the back of her hand and gave her a smirk that melted her heart.
"Good thing my mission was cancelled, eh, otousan?"
Fugaku scoffed and looked away as his son crouched beside his head. Sasuke put a hand on his shoulder and released the Headhunter Jutsu.
"I'll never understand the way the Third set up teams. Of course, he would want to place a strong Uchiha with the Uzumaki boy." He brushed dirt from his uniform. "After all, the kyuubi needs to be watched closely and who better than one who wields the Sharingan? But then he placed a weak, no-name kunoichi into the mix when he could have placed a Hyuuga and made the team stronger than even the Sannin—a perfect team. What a waste." He shook his head. "That girl is useless. Haruno Sakura will never be more than deadweight."
"That deadweight just defeated you," Sasuke said, closing the cell door after they exited. "Otousan, when you married kaasan, was she just a prized bitch to you?"
Fugaku stiffened, his nostrils flared, and he sneered at his youngest son, grabbing his collar roughly. "Don't you ever speak about your mother like that!"
"Aa," Sasuke agreed, the words felt like slime coming from his mouth, but he had a point to make. "I would like the same consideration for the woman that I choose to be with." He stared levelly at his father, his eyes cool and serious. "I'm not asking for your approval—I don't need it. But I demand that you respect Sakura."
The Sharingan slowly receded from Fugaku's eyes and he let go of his son. Sasuke could read the reluctant acceptance in his father's slumped shoulders as they moved toward the stairs. After walking in silence for several minutes, Fugaku asked, "Why was your mission cancelled?"
Suigetsu ducked Karin's incoming fist, but she still managed to splatter half his watery head against the wall. "I may be mostly liquid," he rubbed his jaw, "but that still hurts, you know."
"I hope it kills you!" Karin threw a kick at his head.
"Now, now, let's settle down." Minato held his hands out in a placating gesture. "You should be sitting, Karin-chan. Certainly not fighting!"
Quick as lightning, Karin burst into tears and clung to her uncle's robe. "Minato-ojisan! I'm innocent, I swear!"
"Not that innocent," Suigetsu mumbled.
Karin dove at him, grabbing him around the throat and throttling him. "This is all your fault!" she screamed. "You said no one would know. You said it would be fun."
"Well, I wasn't wrong there, was I?" He smirked rakishly at the redhead. "It certainly was fun."
She froze, blushing. "Oh, Suigetsu!" She smothered him in wet kisses and he rolled her onto her back, her arms and legs wrapping around him.
"No! No!" Minato swatted at Suigetsu's back. "Get up! This is how you got into this mess." He flopped into a chair, defeated. "How will I ever marry you off now that you're pregnant?"
Sitting beside him, Suigetsu put an arm around Minato's shoulders. "Listen, ojisan, I got this. The Houzuki name might not mean the same as Uchiha here in Konoha, but in Kiri, I'm kind of a big deal." Karin sat next to him and he took her hand. "I'll take your niece back to the Mist and make an honest woman of her."
Minato smiled. "Karin-chan? Is this what you want?"
She nodded bashfully and Suigetsu whooped. "Let's get moving then! If I'm going to become the leader the Seven Swordsmen, we've got six more babies to make!"
Itachi landed lightly on the roof beside his mother. She nodded at him, her eyes the only things visible in her dark, concealing outfit. Dressed similarly, he flicked his chin toward the door to the penitentiary, indicating the two men emerging.
Reading his body language, Itachi detected a sense of failure in his father's slouched posture. Sasuke, however, walked with squared shoulders, chin high.
"It would seem things went well, kaasan."
"Sasuke-kun!" A figure appeared in a barred window high above the street, holding out something that jingled. "You forgot to lock me in!"
His little brother hung his head as his father snickered, clapping him on the back. Fugaku caught the keys that Sakura hurled down and handed them to Sasuke with words Itachi couldn't hear.
"Seems things went better than well, musuko. I'm so glad I switched that sample."
Itachi's head whipped around. "You switched?"
Mikoto's eyes went wide. "You mean, you switched, too?"
"Does that mean…"
"Karin was actually…"
"Seems things really do have a way of working themselves out, don't they, kaasan?"
Mother and son shared a chuckle as they took to the trees, racing each other home.