Chapter 1: The Arrival
The desert is endless.
It's silent and scorching and blinding when the sun hits the sand just right. The loneliness that comes from the infinite expanse of gold and blue eats at her from the inside. She has to waste ridiculous amounts of chakra just to heal the blisters on her reddened skin, the only fabric she can spare wrapped around her head.
Her arms and stomach are bare and she burns for hours before the freezing cold of the night has her shaking. She can't afford to be sick, so she wastes the chakra and she carries on.
She draws water from the air around her with a suiton jutsu she feels is tattooed on her hands from how often she does the seals. The desert is nothing like Suna, no oasis, no shadow to rest in after days of walking. She's beyond exhaustion, in that special hell where nothing feels real anymore, but she keeps walking.
The weight on her back is nothing now, weeks of shouldering it and refusing to even consider leaving it behind. It's all she has left, in the end.
The desert is cruel to her, until it isn't. Suddenly, there is a path curling around her ankles, appearing from the burning sand. It's more dust than an actual road, but it's straight and it heads west, where she was told to go.
It's still a long way before she finds the first traces of civilisation. Her nose is bleeding steadily, but her arms are supporting the weight on her back so she lets it run down her chin until it stains the chest bandages. She finds soon enough that it won't matter how bloody she is.
The first traces of civilisation are a ghost town, buildings destroyed and houses turned to rubble. She walks through it questioning if the desert drove her mad, until she reaches the end of the village and finds the corpses.
She walks by and she doesn't look because it reminds her of the bodies plaguing her nights. She simply notices their dark skin and white hair, like Kumo nin and yet so different, a desert people that remind her of Baki. She carries on, until she finds another abandoned village, another pile of corpses. And then another. And another.
By the end of the day, she's still as exhausted as she was when she left the desert, but now she questions if crossing it was a good idea in the first place. This country is at war, and war she knows too well.
She sleeps in a small house at the outskirts of the fourth village, empty and silent but smelling of sandal wood and spices. Her nightmares are coloured with white hair and taste like Suna food. She wakes up gasping, feeling dead inside, so she shoulders her burden again and keeps walking.
Barukh sees the woman coming from a mile away.
His good eyes make him a watcher, tasked with warning his people if the military is spotted coming their way. They've already gone through Kanda and razed everything there, the deep south of Ishval now turned to smoke and dust. Only Gunja and Daliha are left, and the latter is being slowly invaded.
Barukh has lived all his life in Dîmônāh, a large town in the south of Gunja. All he's ever known is the library he works in, the smiles of his older sister and the love of Ishvala. Then the war came and now his eyes aren't reading books anymore.
Instead he sees a woman, pale skin burned under the sun, slowed down by whatever is on her back. She looks nothing like his brothers and sisters, and nothing like the devils from the heart of Amestris.
He was raised with the love of Ishvala and taught to love in return and share everything he can. So Barukh comes down from the roof of the town hall and calls for his older sister. She's the leader and easy enough to find, now that everyone is on guard and waiting to hear his voice.
“Are they here, brother?” is what she says, face like stone and hands shaking.
“The dogs are far away, but there is a woman coming.”
Gal breathes once, her hand brushing her forehead in thanks. “Who is she? Amestrian?”
“I don't know, sister, but she is tired. She looks like she walked through the desert.”
Gal looks at him in surprise, before sympathy battles the expression on her face. She nods. “Then bring her to me. We will help her.”
Barukh smiles gratefully, squeezing Gal's hand before turning around. He runs through the streets, grabbing Ilan by the arm as he goes by.
“What is it, Barukh? Are they here?” he asks, like Gal did, like they all will as long as the war is at their door.
“We're welcoming a traveller, I need your help.”
Ilan looks delighted, just like Barukh knew he would be. No one loves as bright as Ilan does, because that man just has too much to give. No one feels more welcomed than when Ilan smiles for them, simply happy to meet someone new.
They reach the woman easily, now that she's so close to Dîmônāh. Barukh blushes slightly when he sees how little she's dressed. It's nothing like a desire to be seen, however, because she covered her head like one should in the desert, and her cotton pants and leather boots are practical.
As they get closer, it's easy to understand why she's showing so much skin. The big shape hanging from her back is covered in fabric, strips of clothing and blankets shielding it from the sun.
The woman has Xingan eyes and Barukh never would have thought that hooded lids and gold skin would make him feel so safe. Anything is better than yellow hair and blue eyes. She's tall, taller than the both of them and neither are viewed as small in Dîmônāh.
She looks at them warily when they stop in front of her, her knees bending slightly in a fighter's stance. Her shoulders are broad and muscles show through the skin of her arms and stomach. If the little Barukh knows about Xing is true, he wouldn't be surprised to be faced with a warrior. Crossing the desert alone is a feat on its own.
“Welcome, sister. I am Barukh, and this is Ilan. Would you give us your name?”
The woman frowns, then speaks a few words of Xingan that Barukh can't catch. Her face falls when she's met with silence. She sighs, her shoulders bowing, defeated and tired.
Those sentences being the absolute best he can do, because they are hammered into every child's head who might one day trade with Xingan merchants. It's enough to make him feel better when she smiles at him, relieved.
He's already lost, like he knew he would be, but he's pretty sure she just said 'we' and he can't see anyone-
That can't be.
Crossing the desert alone is risking your life. Crossing it while carrying someone on your back is a good way to join Ishvala sooner than you should. But now that he's really looking, that big shape on her back could be a body.
He can't remember how to invite her to follow him, so he simply smiles and gestures briefly. She thanks him (he thinks) and they move toward the village. Neither Ilan nor him offer to help her. It feels wrong to do so when she suffered so much on her own already.
She doesn't seem bothered by the looks from the people they walk by. Barukh realizes she didn't answer with her name and he's certain he asked her. He leads her to the town hall, Ilan chatting happily even though she can't understand. She's smiling, so Ilan isn't discouraged.
Gal is waiting for them by the front door. She gives the woman an appraising look, and by the curve of her eyebrows Barukh is sure his sister noticed what the Xingan is carrying.
She has a better grasp of the language than he does, but she's probably the only one in town and if the woman only speaks Xingan, she will have to learn Ishvalan. Unless she doesn't plan to stay; Xingan aren't hunted like prey in Amestris.
“Nihao. Wo jiao Gal,” she gestures around her, “zhe shi Dîmônāh. Barukh shi wo didi. Ni hui shuo Ishvalan ma?”
The woman shakes her head. “Bu hui. Wo hui shuo hanyu he riyu.”
After that, Barukh is definitively lost, but given what his sister points to, he assumes she's offering the woman a place to rest. She nods gratefully. Crossing the desert has left her in poor shape.
“Did she say who she is?” Ilan asks him as they follow behind Gal and the woman.
“I don't think so. She said she only speaks Xingan and another language I don't know about.”
“Maybe she's Nameless.”
Barukh sends a sharp look to his friend. “Don't talk like that. She's not Ishvalan, she doesn't know how important names are. She might simply not trust us.”
Ilan shrugs and they get inside Hava's inn. It hasn't been used as such since the war started, no one daring travelling between towns and villages, but Hava is hard working and dedicated. She will have a bed for the woman.
They're welcomed by her first son who leads them to a large room with three beds in them. He explains quietly to Gal that the other rooms are prepared to house injured, just in case.
Barukh could swear the woman is on the verge of crying when she kneels in front of the last bed, the only one neither against the door nor the window, and gently slides her burden onto the covers. The fabrics slip and uncover a strikingly beautiful face, Xingan in shape but with a grace Barukh has rarely witnessed.
The man is breathing but he doesn't open his eyes. Barukh wonders how long he's been unconscious that she had to carry him through a desert, then the south of Ishval. She's brushing his cheek, her back bowed and muscles shivering from exhaustion. That woman might not be Ishvalan, but the love she has for the man is worthy of every prayer he's muttered in his life.
She rises again but her step falters and Ilan reaches for her, stabilizing her. She breathes slowly, before patting his arm and standing on her own. With a grimace, she unties the scarf around her head and a river of pink hair flows down her back. Barukh tries not to stare, and fails miserably.
She bows low, her arms against her sides, saying something even Gal doesn't seem to understand. Then she points at herself, before pointing at the man.
“Sakura,” she says. “Sasuke.”
Gal smiles, the kind that Barukh cherishes. “Welcome to Ishval, Sakura.”
Sakura is not like them.
She is smart, smarter than anyone Barukh has ever met. In two weeks, she speaks Ishvalan good enough to communicate whatever she needs to. Her accent is terrible and she insulted his mother twice by messing up words, but Ishvalan is a complicated language and two weeks is a very short time to speak it as well as she does.
After a long sleep, her first thought had been to make herself useful. It had taken them ten minutes to witness the terrifying strength she possesses. Gal sent her to the workers who are building a wall around Dîmônāh. It might not do much when the military comes, but it should slow them enough to allow some to escape.
She works every day, from sunrise to noon, then she goes back to the inn to take care of the man. In the two weeks she's been in Dîmônāh, he has never woken up. Barukh doesn't know what illness is afflicting him, but he prays Ishvala to see him open his eyes. The frantic look Sakura gets whenever he twitches pains Barukh. Hope is a dangerous thing around here.
Sakura might not be like them, but she fits so well in their community. It's difficult to imagine a day without seeing her carrying stones that should be too big, or smiling at the children.
In the evening, Sakura sits in the town hall, where the candles are lit and allow her to see what she's doing. She's carrying rolls of paper and a brush and she writes for hours. She fills sheet after sheet with words they can't read and maps they don't understand. She doesn't explain what she's writing and they don't ask. Ishvalan are not the prying type.
When two weeks turn into three and she has taken to training the men in hand-to-hand combat, Gal gets a strange look in her eyes. Barukh lets his sister think, knowing she makes good decisions and trusting her to do so. Instead, he spends time at the man's side, Sasuke, and listens to Sakura singing him songs in that strange language that sounds nothing like Xingan.
Rani, Ilan's sister, gifts Sakura with a red and black scarf to wrap around her head. Sakura listens carefully as Rani explains how to gather the hair and tie it with the fabric, and how to knot the rest at the back of the neck. Pink hair hidden under Ishvalan fabric, skin tanning slowly, Sakura looks like she belongs.
Two months pass since she appeared in Dîmônāh, and Sasuke is still sleeping. Gal doesn't stare as Sakura like she used to. She gathers the elders and the priests in the town hall, in the morning while Sakura is working on lining the outskirts of the town with traps.
“I propose that we offer Sakura to become Ishvalan,” Gal says, daring to speak such an uncommon idea, and yet surprising no one.
It takes fifteen minutes for everyone to agree.
They take her aside in the afternoon, when Barukh assures them she's not with Sasuke but not writing her scrolls either.
“Would you do us the honour of joining our community?” Shani asks, her wrinkles shifting when she smiles softly at the woman who made a home of Dîmônāh.
“Ishvala loves freely, and we love you too,” Gal adds. Sakura looks between them, and at the two other men. Her bow, this time, is so low her scarf almost falls from her head.
“Your offer is happy for me,” she says, tripping on the vowels. “I will very like to be from the village but I can't love Ishvala.”
Barukh tries not to let through how disappointed he is. He has met non-believers, hurtful people who scorn in the face of God, and though he wishes them well, he doesn't understand them. He had hoped that Sakura would not be one of those. But she continues:
“I have my Ishvala, from yester— from before.”
She slips her hand in her tunic, white, rough linen from the fields of Gunja. What she takes out is small, but she shows it to them without hesitation.
“This is Amaterasu of the sun,” she says, the words rolling out from her tongue with ease, “and Tsukuyomi of the moon”. She's holding a long piece of light wood, pierced with a hole and a string going through. There are drawing on them, the same that she uses to write on her scrolls.
“I have faith,” she smiles sadly. “The gods of my home, I love.”
Sakura presses the symbol to her forehead, her eyes closing to hide her tears. Gal puts a hand on her shoulder.
“If I can pray my gods but I can too be part of village, then I am happy to accept.”
Zeev takes a shaky step in her direction, his old age making his limbs unsteady. He gathers Sakura's hands in his and kisses them.
“Love your gods, child. Dîmônāh will have you as you are.”
The soldiers come two weeks later.
Barukh sees them coming from miles away, a dark shape moving relentlessly until he can almost spot the blue eyes burning in the shining sun.
He runs down the roof, jumping in the street and twisting his ankle in his hurry.
“Soldiers! They're here!” he yells, as he runs in the streets. Children start crying, and a woman screams. He barely sees his brothers and sisters storming inside their houses, taking up the weapons they've been amassing for days. His only thought is for Gal, for his precious sister who led them into this happy life for years.
“Gal! Gal, they're coming!”
She pales, a panicked sob breaking out of a her throat. “Please, Ishvala protect us.”
Barukh rushes her into his arms, hugging her as close as he can. “Ishvala protect us,” he repeats.
“The army comes?”
Barukh raises his head, finally noticing that Gal wasn't alone in the room. Sakura is standing close, stoned-face.
“They'll be here in an hour, at most.”
Sakura nods, her hands fisting by her sides.
“Blue clothes, gold hair, yes?” She doesn't wait for an answer, unwrapping the scarf around her head. Her long hair flows free and she starts braiding it close to the skull. The end of the braid reaches her back, slim and so tight it barely moves.
“You love Sasuke for me, brother, sister. I come back.”
Barukh understands what she's saying as she closes the door behind herself. “Sakura, don't!”
He's too late. As soon as he follows in the street, she has disappeared. He looks around, but he can't see her tall stature anywhere. It's not like he can yell for her either, because the town is in a frenzy, parents hiding their children, young men and women arming themselves.
Gal takes him by the hand and they go to the wall, joining the people who can fight. Finally, they catch a glimpse of pink hair, before Sakura literally vaults herself on top of the wall. Gal shouts at her to get down, but she doesn't listen and jumps on the other side.
They have no way of following her, because the gates are now sealed. Barukh climbs the ladder leading to the top, peaking above. Others have the same idea, after seeing Sakura, and they all look with dread as she marches in direction of the army.
She doesn't stop far from the wall, close enough that they can still see her when she puts her fits on her hips and starts waiting.
Barukh had underestimated the military. They're on Dîmônāh in fifteen minutes, rifles raised and pistols pointed straight at the wall. Sakura doesn't move, even when they start shooting at the few white-haired heads showing behind the wall. They're not aiming at her, but they're not making any effort to miss her either.
A couple of times, she has to jump out of the way to avoid a bullet, or twist in an unnaturally quick way. Barukh looks at her with dread, remembering her strength but knowing it doesn't mean surviving a bullet to the brain.
“Civilian, stand down! By law, this town is to be razed to the ground and we won't spare you if you interfere!”
Sakura doesn't so much as blink. Of course she doesn't, Barukh realizes, they never even thought of teaching her Amestrian. She has no idea what that man is saying.
“Ma'am, get out of the way!” a soldier cries out, looking frantically at his captain. His hand is shaking on the trigger of his gun.
“Sakura, run!” Rani shouts from her own ladder. The soldiers send a new wave of bullets and Rani falls back, eyes wide open. Her throat is spilling red. Ilan screams and runs to the body of his sister, dead before she touches the ground.
Sakura is looking at the wall with horrified eyes, offering her back to the soldiers. Ilan's cries of grief are loud enough to reach her and she turns back with an enraged shout.
Barukh grips Gal's hand, petrified in fear. Sakura punches the ground and the earth shatters, a cloud of dust and sand rising around her. The ground rumbles, an earthquake running up to the wall and almost making them fall off their ladder. The din coming from the dust is deafening.
A soldier flies from the cloud and crashes into the wall, piercing through and falling in the street. The sand is going down and they watch as Sakura butchers the ranks of Amestrian soldiers. Her fists are devastating, breaking men in half in just one punch. A woman shoots just behind her and Sakura disappears in the ground.
Barukh can't stop a surprised cry because she's just... gone. But then soldiers start dropping down, swallowed by the sand and the cracked earth. After a minute, Sakura emerges from the ground like a demon rising from its grave. Her hand wrap around a man's throat and she squeezes so hard the body detaches itself. She throws the severed head at a woman, before putting her fist through another soldier's chest.
She goes on, and on, until there is a clear circle around her. A small squad is running towards the wall, using the sheer number of soldiers to escape. Sakura turns towards them and her body flickers like a desert mirage, and she vanishes. She reappears in the middle of the squad and kills the three men in less than a minute. Then she goes back in the bulk of the ranks and continues her work of destruction.
The Ishvalan are silent around Barukh, staring without blinking at the chaos caused by the woman they welcomed as their own.
It doesn't take her an hour. At one point Sakura picks up one of the rifles abandoned on the ground and uses it as a spear, three times as devastating. When the weapon breaks, she goes back to her fists. When there is only a handful of soldiers left around her, she kicks the ground hard enough to have it open under her feet.
Both Sakura and the soldiers fall, disappearing from view. Gal presses her hands against her mouth, muttering a prayer to Ishvala. Silence falls on the deserted lands around Dîmônāh. Then Sakura emerges from the hole, covered in blood and sand. She does something, and the earth moves, closing over the breaks she made during her battle.
At last, she removes her linen tunic, anything but white now, and uses it to clean her face before wrapping it around her head. Then she comes back to the wall, slow but steady, and she climbs it without pausing for a second.
Once she's on top, Sakura looks around and sees Barukh and Gal. She takes the few steps leading to them, and lets herself fall until she's seating between them, legs hanging over the edge.
Seeing her up close hurts, green eyes the only soothing colour on her body now. She wraps her hand around the wooden pendant she never takes off and presses it on her forehead, closing her eyes and whispering a few words.
When she's done, she looks at Gal, then at Barukh. She offers her palm to him, who found her all those months ago, who was the first living Ishvalan she ever saw. He takes it without flinching, despite the drying blood on her knuckles.
“I am tired, brother,” she says with a strained smile.
“Come down, then,” he whispers.
She sighs and jumps, landing inside Dîmônāh without wavering. Barukh hurries down the ladder, stepping close to her.
“I'll carry you.”
“I can walk. I have no hurt.”
“I'll carry you, sister.”
Sakura looks at him for a long time, not turning even when Gal puts a hand in the small of her back.
“Okay,” she says finally. Barukh turns around and she climbs on his back. They walk in silence, no one saying anything to them as they go to Hava's inn. He drops her off on Sasuke's bed and she curls around the sleeping man who doesn't so much as breathes louder.
She looks him in the eyes and smiles softly, before closing her eyes.
Barukh leaves the inn and finds what seems to be the entire population of Dîmônāh waiting for him.
“She's resting,” he says, loud enough for most of them to hear.
“We will talk about everything later,” Gal states. “For now, we have a wall to fix and bodies to burn. We don't want coyotes to gather around here.”
People are nodding, already breaking off in groups.
“Shani, we need to count our dead and pay them the respect they deserve.”
“Only Rani,” the priest says, “and Ilan has already taken her to the hall of the dead.”
Gal draws a shaking breath, her hand coming to cover her eyes.
“Okay. Then I need you to do something for me.”
“Ask around. See who would agree to have Sakura live with them, or if we have a house to give her and Sasuke.”
She looks at the hole in the wall, the dead soldiers around, and thinks of the only person who died when the army normally destroys everything it passes through.
“It's the least we can do for her.”
Chapter 2: Edward Elric
yes I have zero self-control ok. so I'll just update whenever I feel like it.
Sakura sleeps for an entire day.
For a while, Barukh is terrified that she's afflicted by the same thing that keeps Sasuke unconscious, after all those months. He doesn't dare shake her, because Ishvala knows she needs the rest, but the panic is still clenching his heart until she wakes up at noon of the next day.
Hava has brought him black bread, tea and honey but he has barely touched it. She brought too much anyway, so he knows it was the innkeeper's way of asking Sakura to wake up.
When finally she opens her eyes, she's up in a second. Her shoulders are tense, and she's looking everywhere at once like she does when she's surprised or caught off guard. He sees her relax instantly when her eyes fall on Sasuke's sleeping form, then a smile brightening her face when she notices Barukh.
He's happy that seeing him is a good sign for her.
Barukh grins, grins like he hasn't in years, not since the beginning of the war.
“Yes, Sakura. The soldiers are all gone.”
It comes as no surprise that, when Gal asks to speak to Sakura alone, no one listens. The town hall is filled to the brim with relieved faces and watery red eyes. Gal lets them, because she was there at the wall, just like they were. She knows exactly what's going through their heads right now.
Sakura's hair is back under the black and red scarf and she's dressed in the same linen as them all. With her new tan, she blends in strikingly well. She stands straight, her hands behind her back, and it could not be clearer that she once was a trained warrior. Once, before she decided to protect a people that isn't even hers.
“Sakura,” Gal says with a smile, “you protected us against the military. You risked your life for us. I speak in Dîmônāh's name when I say, thank you. Thank you so much.”
“I did normal. Duty.” Sakura's face is serious, unwavering.
“Ishval isn't your duty. We are grateful.”
Sakura raises an eyebrow. “You said I am Dîmônāh now. I think dead soldiers is very much my duty.”
Barukh hides his smile behind a cough, looking at his sister's surprised face. Around him, people are laughing and grinning until— until one of them says Sakura's name, loud and clear enough for it to echo in the town hall. The name is said again, and again, each time with more voice behind it.
“I am soldier too,” Sakura says, and the voices stop. “I fight good, so I protect you. Dîmônāh is home.”
From Gal's side, Shani asks: “I thought Xing didn't have an army. That only clans had warriors.”
Sakura shakes her head. “I'm not Xingan. If you want, I explain. Long story.”
Gal looks around, at the dozens of people in the town hall all looking at Sakura like she was born with white hair and a name given by Ishvala.
“Anyone who wishes to stay can.”
In one collective thought, everyone sits down. Barukh focuses on Sakura as she sits down as well.
She starts to talk.
An hour later, a little girl brings her a piece of challah and a cup of milk. Sakura gratefully accepts it, before continuing.
When the sun sets, a few parents leave to put the youngest to bed, before coming back with a pot of stew and piles of ceramic bowls. Barukh takes a wooden spoon and a filled bowl, before sitting back. Sakura keeps going, sometimes taking a bite of the stew.
Well into the night, when they can all feel that she's nearing the end of her story, Sakura cracks. Her sobs are silent, puny sounds that shatters Barukh's heart. She finishes her tale in a broken Ishvalan barely understandable at times, words from her native tongue slipping through every sentence.
At last, she tells them of the winter in eastern Xing when Sasuke and her arrived, and the people who told her to find the Philosopher of the West. She tells them of the long weeks of travel through mountains and snow, until she finally reached the border at the beginning of spring. She crossed the desert without stopping until she reached the destroyed villages of the Kanda region. Her first stop in Gunja had been Dîmônāh.
“I write of my world because I fear to forget it,” Sakura finally whispers. “I draw the maps and the faces of home, and the prayers of temple. I hope maybe my gods hear me and they bring back us to Land of Fire.”
Kneeling next to her, Gal takes Sakura's face in her hands and presses her forehead against the woman's. Her next words are veiled with sadness but fierce.
“You deserved none of that, sister. You will always be at home in Dîmônāh, but I'll pray for you to be heard.”
There is a murmured whisper of agreement going through the sited people and Barukh finds himself nodding as well. He doesn't want Sakura to go, but no one should be taken from their home like Sasuke and her were.
“Can you teach me?”
Barukh turns to look at the teen who just spoke. He's not very tall for his age, but his shoulders are broad and he has the marks of the warriors trained by the Ishvalan priests.
“Teach you what, brother?” Sakura asks.
“Your language. How you fight. Everything.”
“Why you want? No use in Amestris.” Her tone isn't bitter, but Barukh hears the grief anyway.
“Because if you teach us, it won't ever be forgotten. I can teach it to my friends, who can teach it to theirs. We can teach it to our children later, and they will teach it to their children as well. It'll live on through us.”
Sakura looks utterly gutted at the teen's words.
“Like you said, no one speaks it here. We can use it in the war, to communicate without the Amestrian knowing. Your language will never die as long as we use it.”
Sakura's hand scrambles for Gal's. Barukh's sister gives it to her without a thought. After hours of talking, Sakura breaks. She hides her face in Gal's neck and she cries without shame. Gal wraps her arms around Sakura and hugs her tight. Quietly, everyone clears the town hall.
Barukh rises as well, intent on leaving, but Gal's voice stops him. He turns to look at her, and she's gesturing impatiently for him to come. It becomes clear why as soon as he's close enough to hear what Sakura is saying. There is barely a word of Ishvalan in the litany she mutters against Gal's skin, through her ugly tears. Barukh and Gal's name, however, are perfectly recognizable.
As soon as he's sitting next to her, Sakura drags him close until he's pressed against her back.
“Don't l-leave me,” she sobs. “Never go.”
Neither of them move and Sakura only cries harder.
“Naru-” she gasps, “Sasuke. I n-need he wake up.”
“I'm sorry, sister.”
“He will wake up. I'm sure he can't wait to be here with you.”
She snorts through her tears. “Sasuke hates m-me. Will n-not remember anything. I walk through winter, he sleeps. Sasuke l-last memory is war. I—”
She's angry, but her sobs aren't quieting down and Barukh is worried that she's working herself into a panic attack.
“I take care of him all the m-months and he don't know! Not believe me because he hates m-me.”
Gal looks at Barukh over Sakura's head and she shakes her head with a panicked expression. Barukh bites his lip. Sakura is getting too worked up and her breathing is out of control.
“Sakura, you need to breathe.”
“Breathe, sister, come on.”
She's gasping, something terrible crawling up her throat and making it sound like she's dying. Gal pushes back a few strands of pink hair that have fallen from her head scarf.
Barukh jumps in surprise. Sakura whines against him, holding her breath and making it all the harder for air to get into her lungs. The girl running toward them is crying, but it's terror marking her features, not sadness.
“The soldiers are back!”
Barukh doesn't have time to react. He's pushed away with violence and tumbles back, Gal's surprised cry echoing his thoughts. Already, Sakura is leaving the town hall, the girl in tow. This time, he refuses to loose sight of her, so he runs until he catches up.
She's drying her tears, face set in stone, looking nothing like the panic attack she was fighting a second ago. Barukh isn't fooled, but he says nothing. What right does he have, when Sakura is going to save their life again?
Ilan stops them a few metres from the wall. He was in and out of the town hall while Sakura was telling her tale, spending what little time he has left with his sister's body. He looks exhausted, grief etched on his face like a parasite. Sakura doesn't meet his eyes, her guilt evident in the curve of her shoulders.
“One dead,” Ilan says. “One dead, in a whole village. Ishvala bless you, sister. May he help you save us this time again.”
She clasps his neck, nodding once. Then, with hands that stick to the stone, she climbs up the wall and disappear on the other side.
The Amestrian squadron doesn't last twenty minutes.
The third one, sent a day later, manages half an hour. The fourth one doesn't even reach the wall, taken by the traps she's been laying out since she arrived.
The military sends men to the slaughter every few days for a month before they finally stop. Barukh is unbelievably glad. Sakura is so tired she can't even undress herself before going to sleep. Hava has to help her get the clothes off of her bruised body. She took a stray bullet and she healed herself, with that strange glow that looks nothing like alchemy. But she said she's not strong enough to finish and the infection is gnawing at her insides.
Caught in a fever, she's not conscious enough to notice when the soldiers stop coming. Absalom is a good healer, but the infection has already set in and there isn't much he can do beside cleaning the wound every few hours. Gal worries and Barukh worries some more, and Sakura burns in her sleep.
She's still unconscious when Barukh spots a silhouette in the desert, a few miles away. He's taken back his spot on the roofs, even if the attacks have ceased. No one wants to risk it, especially now that Sakura can't fight. No one has died since Rani, all thanks to their sister from far away, and they want to keep it that way.
He's wary, tolerance ran thin by the days of watching Sakura fight a war that isn't hers. He goes with Hava's son, Hayim, because Ilan doesn't smile anymore. What they find, five minutes from their door, is a child.
He has blond hair, but it's golden, nothing like the people of Central, and his eyes are the colour of the desert. Oh, he looks strong, clad in black leather, an automail arm glistening in the sun. but he's a child nonetheless, fifteen at most.
“Hello. I am named Edward,” he says in careful Ishvalan, the kind spoken only in the temple by the priests. It's also the kind that used to be taught in Central's University, before the war.
“Well met, Edward. I'm Barukh, and this is Hayim. What can we do for you?”
The boy makes a face. “I'm sorry,” he replies in Amestrian, “I don't speak Ishvalan that much.”
“It is fine,” Barukh says, shifting to Amestrian as well.
“I was hoping I could talk to your warrior.”
Every ounce of good disposition Barukh had vanishes. Hayim tenses by his side, his hand going to the janbiya at his hip.
“What do you want with her?”
The boy reaches for his pocket. Hayim draws his blade and stands guard. Immediately, Edward shows his open hands, free of weapons. But in his left palm, there is a silver watch.
“I'm the Fullmetal Alchemist, I work for the military.”
“How would that, in any way, convince us to let you in?”
The boy sighs. “Look, not many of us are happy to fight this war. It has been going on for three years, and we're tired. We want to go home. I didn't become an alchemist to have children's blood on my hands.”
“You should have thought of that before becoming a soldier, dog,” Hayim spits.
“Fair,” Edward shrugs. “Here's the thing. We can't compete against her. No matter how many people we send against you, she wins, every single time. It's thinning our ranks, and we're loosing ground at the border. Aerugo is fighting dirty, now.”
He shifts, putting back the watch in his pocket. Barukh doesn't understand how someone that young can be a State Alchemist. It's beyond him.
“The Führer is sending me to try and broker peace with the warrior. How is that, for a convincing reason?”
Barukh can't believe what he's hearing. Hayim is whispering thanks to Ishvala and Barukh looks at the kid, at the bags under his eyes and the scar on his jaw, and he can't believe it. They found Sakura months ago and made the decision to bring her into their lives. And now that decision is going to end the war.
“Follow me, Fullmetal Alchemist. I will take you to our leader.”
Gal doesn't believe it either. In fact, she laughs in the kid's face until he pulls out a document from his back pocket, with the Führer's signature on it.
“If you're still not convinced, I can ring Lieutenant-Colonel Mustang. I'm in his team, he picked me to come here.”
“Why you?” Gal asks.
“I grew up in Resembool. Half of the kids in my school were Ishvalan. My mom was half-and-half,” he shrugs. “I never wanted that war.”
They used to trade with Resembool, the closest town connected to the rails. It was their only way of getting goods from Central.
“What are the terms offered by your Führer?”
Edward shakes his head. “I'm not negotiating with you. I was sent to speak to the warrior.”
“She's not the leader here.”
“And I respect that, but it's not my decision to make. They want me to negotiate with her, and no one else.”
Barukh feels the desperation knotting his stomach. They can't tell him Sakura is sick, that would open the way to more attacks. But they can't afford to let that opportunity pass either.
“She's not available,” Gal says, firm despite the tension in her shoulders.
“Not even to sign the peace?”
“She's not available.”
Edward's eyes narrow. “She's hurt, isn't she?”
“She's not. We sent her to help in Zevoyim.”
“We've been monitoring Dîmônāh for days, no one has been out. The warrior is hurt.”
Gal's face falls, defeated. Barukh curses the child, curses the Hero of Ishval, curses the Führer who declared the war. They will never have peace.
“I won't tell anyone.”
Barukh looks at the kid, baffled. “I won't tell anyone. I told you we're just as tired as you are. Lead me to her, and I'll heal her.”
“You're not setting foot near her,” Barukh growls.
“What other options do you have?”
Discretely, Gal shakes her head. Barukh pushes back the anguished cry in his throat. This feels like such a betrayal.
“Follow me,” his sister says in a small voice.
The boy must understand what this is costing them because he doesn't say anything, simply falls quietly into steps with Gal. Hayim eyes them when they enter the inn, where Sakura is resting. They're building her a house now, not far away from Barukh and Gal's, but she's far better in the inn at the moment.
“Fuck she's tall!” is the first thing Edward says when he sees her. Absalom rises from his seat at her bedside, ready to step in to help his patient.
“He's with us,” Gal reassures him.
“What's the matter with her?”
It's Absalom who answers. “Infection, from a bullet wound.”
“Oh, thanks fuck. I'm shit at closing wounds, Al's way better than I.”
Without stopping, he steps next to her bad, claps his hands and puts them on her stomach, where the bandages are. There is a flash of light and Barukh doesn't realize he's shouted until Gal pulls him back.
“Alright, we're all done.”
“What do you mean, you can't—”
Gal's gasp of surprise is followed by Sakura's delighted laugh.
“Absalom, brother, you look like people punch you in face!”
Edward's nose scrunches up, probably at the use of Ishvalan, but Barukh isn't about to compromise Sakura's fun for him.
“I feel good,” Sakura says with a bit of wonder in her voice. “You cure infection?”
“The child did.”
Sakura turns around, finally noticing the blond prodigy who healed her in seconds. She frowns, suspicious.
“You smell like death,” she says. “And like raz-el-hanout. It is confusing.”
“I'm sorry, I don't speak Ishvalan very good,” he replies in their language.
“Good, me neither,” she says, winking at Barukh who rolls his eyes. “Why you here, child? You soldier?”
Edward looks at Gal. “Uh, how do you say State Alchemist in Ishvalan?”
Gal doesn't even bother to hide her sneer. “He's a dog of war,” she says to Sakura.
“Ah, alchemist for army. Boy, what your rank?”
He stares in surprise. “Nothing about my age? How I'm too little?”
Sakura gives him a flat look, before turning to Barukh. “He is kidding? What his size has to do with it?”
Barukh smiles. “He's barely fifteen, Sakura.”
She still looks like she doesn't understand where the problem is.
“He's a child,” Gal insists. “Children don't join the military.”
The woman scoffs. “Fifteen is no child. I was taichō at fifteen.”
“Don't know word, is like leader of group of soldiers.”
“You were captain at fifteen? What the fuck?”
Sakura looks at the boy with a raised eyebrow. “When you can join military here?”
“Sixteen minimum, I'm an exception 'cause State Alchemists aren't really soldiers,” Edward replies in Amestrian, and Barukh translates.
“Ridiculous. We join ranks at six.”
“You're kidding me.”
“Sakura, is that true?”
“Of course is true. Six is school for fighting, twelve is start killing.”
The silence is heavy after her last words. Edward looks at her like she grew a second head and Barukh can't fault him. It explains a lot of things about the story she told them a fortnight ago. Her team's reactions seemed a bit off at times. No wonder if they were twelve.
“Well, not answer why you are here.”
“I came with an offer of peace from the Führer.”
Sakura frowns, looking at Gal. “Why tell me?”
“They want to sign it with you, not us.”
“So disrespectful,” she hisses. “You are leader, not me.”
“I tried telling him that.”
Sakura huffs but sits down cross-legged next to Sasuke, one hand resting on his ankle like she's making sure he's still here.
“Show me paper.”
Edward hands it over. She barely looks at it before groaning.
“Useless if they give me paper in language I don't speak.”
The child blushes. Gal takes the paper Sakura is giving her and reads it aloud.
“Surrender of all Ishvalan leaders, forbidden belief in Ishvala, mandatory military service for half of the children—”
Sakura's voice is hard and her face is murderous.
Edward jumps, standing at attention. “You go tell your Führer we want nothing of his peace.”
“This not peace, is slavery! He is afraid of my strength but he asks for too much. Better proposal, or I follow you to camp and I kill everyone.”
She rises, almost twice his size, her broad shoulders casting a shadow over him.
“I follow you to camp,” she snarls, “and I kill everyone.”
Edward snatches the proposal from Gal's hand and disappears by the window. Barukh sees him run off in direction of the wall, before turning back to look at Sakura. She's cursing in her language, arms crossed on chest.
“We will have better deal, don't worry. They too scared of me. Pussies.”
Gal's face is red, and Sakura laughs.
“Is all Absalom's fault. He teaches me bad words.”
“I would never!”
Sakura slides an arm around the man's shoulders.
“Don't lie, brother! I hear you when you think I sleep.”
Absalom looks disgruntled. “That infection was getting on my nerves.”
“Now I am hungry. Barukh, you take me out? The kid smelled like raz-el-hanout, now I want food.”
“You also said he smelled like death, sister.”
“What I can say? Death makes me hungry.”
Gal looks absolutely scandalized. Barukh offers Sakura his arm, and she limps out of the door by his side.
Chapter 3: The military camp
ha, look at that. another update. someone stop me please.
When Barukh gets ready, that morning, to climb on top of the roofs as is his habit now, Gal stops him with a hand on his back.
“Why don't you go to the library today, brother?” She's smiling softly and it reminds him of better days, filled with laughter and their mother's cooking.
“Really?” he asks quietly, looking into her red eyes.
He grins, overjoyed, and plants a kiss on her forehead.
“Ishvala bless you, sister!”
“Yes, yes. Now, go.”
Barukh laughs, delighted. He runs out of their house and waves at Sakura, who's on her porch eating a babka. She smiles back, her eyebrows raised in question. He doesn't stop, though, because the library is calling for him and he hasn't set foot in it in months. His key has stayed in his pocket and he takes it out with an excited giggle. Barukh feels like a child all over again.
The door creaks when it opens, the little bell ringing gently. He takes a second to take in the shelves, the dusty smell and the orange lights. Then he goes inside, quietly, barely daring walking on the wooden planks of the floor. Barukh lights the incense behind the desk and the rich smell of spices rises in the air.
He jumps a little when the bell rings, surprising him. It's Sakura, waving quickly hello.
“Gal tell me I can find you here.”
“I like to read,” he says in her language, enjoying her excited laugh and the surprise on her face. He's been practising with the children who she teaches every day.
“Ah, I'm sorry, that's too much for me,” he snorts in laughter.
“I say you are sweet.”
Barukh blushes and busies himself behind the counter. Sakura leans on it and points at the incense.
“What you call this?”
“Incense. It's plants and oils—”
He looks up at the tone of her voice. It's not one she uses often, but whenever she's reminded of her home, her eyes turn dark and her voice sad.
“Would you like some?” he asks quietly.
“Is fine, you don't worry.”
She doesn't look him in the eyes. Barukh puts his hand on her shoulder.
“What are you not telling me?”
“Incense. It's special.”
Her hand brushes the pendant around her neck. She's watching the street from the windows of the library.
“I burn it to pray, before. Is important. The smoke takes the prayer to the gods.”
“Than it's all the more reasons to give you some, sister.”
She shakes her head, turning to finally meet his eyes.
“I can't. There is no jinja here.”
Sakura sighs. “Not have one here. Is small place in house or big building. Big family, how do you say, clans, they have special one for them. You go to pray. Water, wind, earth and wood.”
At Barukh's confused face, she lets out a bitter laugh.
“Sakura, it obviously is. Do you mean a temple? Like we have for Ishvala.”
“No, is different. Intimate.”
He's thinking fast. “Can we build one for you?”
She blinks, startled. Barukh tries to visualize a map of Dîmônāh in his head. They wouldn't have room for a big building, but he doesn't see why they couldn't allow some space for her faith.
“There is land after Ahuva's house. Would it be big enough?”
Her eyes go wide. “No! Too big! Jinja is small!”
“You said it could be a big building.”
She shakes her head. “For country, yes! But city's is, maybe, big like cabin. Village has small one because everyone has jinja in the house.”
“Alright, then can we build one in yours?”
It's not finished, so there is still time to add to it if needed. They would need to get more details on what it's supposed to look like, but it seems feasible to Barukh.
“But... is not Ishvala. I can't pray my gods in the house of Ishvala.”
Barukh stares, something cold curling in his chest. “Who told you that?”
“No one need to told me. I see how priests look at my gods,” she points at her pendant. “You welcome me here, I don't pray inside Dîmônāh. I go outside.”
He breathes, trying to come to term with what she's telling him.
“You've been going out of Dîmônāh for seven months to pray, because you thought you'd offend us by doing it here?”
“Seem like good idea.” She's stubbornly not looking at him, her posture aggressive now like she expects to be scolded. That woman who could kill him with her toes, who towers over him a good ten centimetres. Who saved them countless times.
“Sakura, we are building you a jinja and you will pray your gods inside those walls or I won't give my name to Ishvala when I die.”
“No! Bad! You need to speak your name!”
He sends her back the same stubborn look. “Then let us build you your temple. And I'll speak to Gal about the priests.”
Sakura turns around with a snort, leaving the library without looking back. Barukh sighs heavily and slumps against the counter. He'll sort the books for now. When he's done, he'll go to Gal. He can't believe what he just heard.
“Did you know Sakura hasn't been praying inside the village because she was afraid of what we would say?” he tells Gal later, when they're eating lunch.
“I'm sorry, what?”
“She came to the library this morning, and apparently her people use incense to pray. I tried to tell her she could take some but she said she can only burn it in a special place. She also said the priests were disapproving of her beliefs, so she has taken to going outside the wall.”
Gal opens her mouth and closes it, blinking repeatedly like it would help her understand what she's hearing.
“I thought she felt welcomed here,” Barukh sighs, resting his chin on his palm.
“I thought that too...”
“I told her we would build her the place inside her home, but she didn't seem to be very happy. I think she's assuming we're just indulging her, or something.”
Gal gives him a serious look. “Then I believe we have failed her, brother.”
They don't have much time to think about it after that, because Edward comes back. They haven't heard from him in the week since he's come for the first time, but Sakura said she wasn't worried. It takes a long time to go from superior to superior until you can get the approval of the higher ups. She would know.
It's still baffling to look at her and imagine a twelve-year-old learning to kill. And horrifying, too. She's too tall, too strong, too kind for that image of a bloody child covered in dirt and grime.
Then he looks at the Fullmetal Alchemist, fifteen and fighting a civil war, and suddenly it's not as baffling as it used to be. At least their child soldier ended up helping Ishvalan instead of killing them.
“So, here is the revised proposition from the Führer,” Edward says, handing Gal the papers.
Sakura is sitting in a chair next to their leader, sharpening a knife. It's a blatant intimidation tactic and it's almost working, if Edward's tense shoulders are anything to go by.
“Mandatory military service of six months, secularism in public places and institutions, taxes paid to East City and—” Gal stops, looks at the woman by her side, “and enlistment of the Ishvalan Rebellion warrior into the State's military.”
Judging by Edward's grimace, he wasn't aware of what's in the papers. Barukh doesn't know what to think, and Sakura's face is blank. She keeps sharpening her knife, not looking up when she speaks.
“Is okay for you, leader?”
“Well, it's not— I mean, it's correct, but...”
“Then sign it.”
“Sakura, I can't do that, you'll have to—“
“Sign it, sister,” she says, putting the knife back in her pouch. She crosses her arms and waits until Gal has written down her name at the bottom of the page.
“Now you bring back paper to your leader, child, and I come with you.”
“What do you mean you're coming with me?”
Sakura gets up, brushing her linen briefs.
“I need person to translate for me and I don't risk my brother and sister going out. You watch Sasuke for me, please.”
“Sakura, that's not a very good idea,” Barukh says, quieting immediately when she levels him with an incredibly unimpressed look.
“My ideas are always good ideas. Now we have peace to make, chop chop bitches!”
Barukh watches the woman leave the room, blinking owlishly because did they just sign the peace with Amestris?
“I swear to Ishvala I'm going to find whoever is teaching her to speak because this is getting ridiculous.”
Meanwhile his sister has her priorities in order. Right.
Ed is not happy.
He'll admit, begrudgingly, that he isn't the type to be easily happy. However, he is, under no circumstances, willing to categorize this situation as happiness-inducing. He spent days running around trying to get the approval of everyone involved in the making of this peace. And though he's relieved that the Ishvalan signed it, he did not run around like a rabbit just to have everyone die because he brought the warrior back with him.
His hand is shaking around the treaty. Ed's been fighting this fucking war for far too long, and he wants to go back to the green fields of Resembool, to Winry's laughter and Granny's stares. Al didn't deserve to grow up on a battlefield. Neither did Ed, for that matter, but he feels like he's paying his due for enlisting at the eve of the civil war.
At least, he met Mustang. He has no idea if he even would have survived had Mustang not been his superior officer. Had it not been for Hughes and Hawkeye and Armstrong.
Camp is a three-hour walk from the Ishvalan town, a risk considering the sheer destruction the warrior is capable of causing. But she's never been outside of Dîmônāh, not on any of their records, so they took the risk. It paid off, in the end.
They're spotted from a distance, and he hears the cries of alarm spreading through the barricade. The warrior tenses next to him. Ed tries not to let show how much it's disturbing him. He's one hell of a fighter, but that woman? She's something else. Taking out platoons is just an entire new level.
Here it comes.
“What is it?”
“Is that— is she—”
“Yes, this is the Ishvalan Rebellion warrior. Yes, I know what I'm doing. Now let us through, we have to see the Lieutenant-Colonel.”
Incredible what a few golden decorations on his metaphorical shoulder can do (like he'd ever wear that wretched uniform). They let them in, and Ed leads the warrior to Mustang's tent.
Armstrong is guarding the entrance, looking defeated like he always does nowadays. His overly large frame blocks the path and though he relaxes when he spots Ed, he crosses his arms as soon as he recognizes who's walking with him. The warrior turns to him, an eyebrow raised.
“Your leader is in the tent, yes?”
“He is,” Ed replies, ignoring Armstrong's wince at the use of Ishvalan.
“Oy! You move or what?” she yells, fists on her hips.
“Uh, the Major doesn't speak Ishvalan.”
The woman walks up to Armstrong, ignoring Ed's protests, and grabs him by the collar. Ed feels the blood draining out of his face, already picturing the warrior getting mad at the Major for not letting her pass and taking it out on the poor soldiers of the camp. His breath is taken away when she lifts him up from the ground with just her one hand, before putting him down next to Ed. Then she uses the newly freed entrance to duck inside the tent.
Armstrong is looking at the empty space with a baffled expression, more feelings on his face than he has shown since the beginning of the war. Ed blinks stupidly until he realizes Mustang is alone with her inside and he rushes to follow.
There's no bloodshed waiting for him inside, but that's because the warrior is being showered in pictures of Hughes' fiancée and doesn't know what to do with the man in front of her. Mustang is using the distraction to get his gloves on, wary and ready for a fight.
“She's with me, Lieutenant,” Ed says as soon as he gets in sight of the bastard.
Mustang sends him a withering look. “What were you thinking, bringing her in here?”
“I was thinking that she didn't give me a choice. Do you realize just how strong she is?” Ed points to the outside. “She lifted Armstrong off the ground with one hand! And you want me to fight that? No, thanks!”
Mustang pales slightly, suddenly a lot less sure about throwing Hughes at her.
“Child, you tell the man I don't know of the lady. He not should- is not good idea talk to soldiers from other side. I kill him almost.”
“Uh, Hughes, you might want to take a step back, you're annoying the warrior,” Ed says carefully.”
“But I wasn't finished showing her how beautiful my Gracia is!”
“Maes, please. Let's get this over with. What can we do for you?” he asks the woman.
“She doesn't speak Amestrian.”
As if understanding, she crosses her arms and raises an eyebrow at Mustang's incredulous face.
“Right. Ishvalan, then.”
“I don't speak tongue of butchers,” she sneers.
“It's fine, miss. I know Ishvalan,” Mustang says, looking as miserable as Ed feels.
She snorts. “Is no miss. I am— how you called that. Captain. Wait, no. Taichō was before. Child, help.”
“I have a name, you know,” Ed grumbles in Amestrian. “She's military, Mustang. I don't know shit about ranks and you speak Ishvalan better than I do, so you help her figure it out.”
“I thought Xing didn't have a military,” Hughes muses.
“Yeah, you wanna ask her that?”
Mustang frowns. “Edward, be nice.”
Ed rolls his eyes. He walks up to the table and pours himself some water while Mustang speaks to the warrior.
“Major Elric tells me you joined the army but you don't know the name of your rank. Is that correct?”
“Accent is shit, but you speak good,” she says, almost impressed. “Yes, correct.”
“Tell me of your responsibilities, then.”
“Uh. I lead squad, give orders. Chief of doctors too. My teacher is Führer.”
Mustang pulls a weird face, like he doesn't know what to do with that information. Neither does Ed, for that matter, but he isn't in charge of this shit show so he's okay minding his business in the corner.
“How— how many people is that, roughly?”
She mutters under her breath, counting in another language. “I think platoon is— kuso, sanzyutu ha kiraida!”
She looks at her fingers some more. Ed can empathize. Ishvalan numbers are an absolute pain.
“Two, uh, hundreds? Yes. Platoon is two hundreds.”
“Roy, that's at least Major General,” Hughes says quietly. “This is way above our heads.”
“Let me worry about that,” he replies in kind. Then, in Ishvalan. “You are of higher ranks than I am. Do you want to find someone closer to discuss terms with?”
“No, you are good. The child tell me I need to become soldier for peace.”
The Lieutenant cringes. “Yes, the Führer—“
“Where I sign?”
Ed looks away from his glass, staring at the warrior whose face is completely serious. Mustang still has his mouth open, frowning slightly like he's not sure about what he just heard. Even Hughes is cautious.
“You really have no problem with joining the military?”
She shakes her head. “You not understand. This is war. You are monsters, kill my people. I need to join for you stop killing my people? I join. Is really simple.” One hand comes up to scratch at her head scarf, but her eyes don't leave Mustang for a second. “You make no mistake. I hate you all. You kill sweet Rani. You destroy Ishval.”
Then she leans forward, towering over Mustang. He doesn't take a step back, but his hands are shaking. “I join your fucking military. I play nice. But no mistake me. I will destroy you from inside. And the day I am close to your leaders? I swear on shinigami I kill them all.”
She licks her lips, her eyes wide and face frozen as she watches Mustang flinch.
“Now, Lieutenant-Colonel. Where I sign?”
Ed escorts her out of the camp once all the paperwork is done. She'll be a full member of the military as soon as Amestrian troops are out of Ishval. But Mustang didn't climb the ranks by being a fool. He has no proof of her threats and the Führer wouldn't see it like that. The risk of the woman making good on her word is worth it if they gain an asset like her.
So he escorts her out and he keeps his distance. Ed understands why she's angry. He knows fully well that he's on the wrong side of that war. He only wishes it hadn't come to this; and in the meantime, he'll keep Al away from her, just in case. She might take one look at the armour and decide he deserves to die. That's not something he can allow to happen.
She waves at him once they reach the edge of the camp and her smile is nothing like the manic grin she had when she signed the contract while staring straight into the Lieutenant's eyes. He doesn't wave back, but she doesn't seem to mind. Instead, Ed watches her leave and wonders what kind of hell they just signed up for.
Barukh went back to the roofs as soon as Sakura left. Gal didn't comment on it, but he had felt her approving eyes on his back as he climbed on top of the town hall. Ilan had joined him a short time after, bringing shoko besakit and some biscuits.
It feels just like their childhood spent running after salamanders and napping on the roofs of Dîmônāh. They don't talk about Rani, because it's too soon and the last thing Barukh wants is for her spirit to get stuck here if they speak her name before it reaches Ishvala. They will, one day, when it hurts a little less and they can remember her the right way.
Instead, they talk about Sakura's house, and Sasuke who sleeps in the inn, eight months into their stay in Dîmônāh. How still and silent he is, how sometimes they think he's dead.
“Gal told me about the prayers,” Ilan says, sipping on his drink. “I asked Arieh about the gods and he's written down everything Sakura told them about it.”
“That kid is fascinated by her, isn't he?”
Ilan smiles. “He really is. I think it makes her happy.”
“Good. So have you figured out what we should do?”
“A small room should be enough. We're placing it at the back of the house.”
Barukh nods. They just have to convince her that no one is bothered by her faith. If it takes some repeating, that's just how it is.
“Are you building a separate room for Sasuke?”
Ilan offers him a new biscuit. Barukh munches on it while watching the horizon. “Yes, but we'll put two beds in her room. You've noticed how she sleeps better if she's lying with him? I certainly won't be the one to take that away from her.”
“I hope he wakes up soon. I'd like to meet him.”
Ilan makes a face. “I don't know. Have you heard how she speaks of him? It's like she doesn't know if she's allowed to love him. He sounds like an estranged brother in her stories. And he left her.”
Barukh sighs, reminded of her desperation at the thought that Sasuke might hate her. That's a strange kind of love, one that he isn't sure he can wish upon that strong and kind woman.
“Barukh! Look, she's here!”
He jumps on his feet at Ilan's excited voice. He can see her running in their direction, waving at them from afar.
“Come, brother! Let's meet her at the gates,” Ilan laughs, sliding down the roof.
Barukh follows with a grin, jogging behind Ilan until they reach the wall. Just in time. Sakura finds them at the gates a second later, dusty and a bit red on the nose from the desert's sun.
Ilan embraces her quickly, before leaning away with a smile. “Welcome back, sister.”
“I'm happy they not use I'm gone to attack. You wait for me?”
Ilan smirks and points at Barukh with his thumb. “He insisted.”
Sakura turns to look at him and Barukh shies away, a blush creeping on his cheeks. She laughs and pulls him into a hug.
“Thank you, brother,” she whispers against his hair.
“I'm glad you're home.”
She presses closer, her arms tightening around him.
“It's beautiful home I come back to.”
Barukh closes his eyes and smiles.
They receive word of Amestris' retreat a few days after the peace is signed.
Ishval has suffered many losses. Kanda is mostly a pile of smoking rubble and the two largest cities of Daliha have fallen. Gunja is the only region left untouched. It's still a million times better than what would have happened if they hadn't signed. Aerugo keeps providing them with weapons and support, to build defences in case the peace doesn't last.
As for Sakura, she might not be patrolling like she used to do, but she still keeps an eye on the wall and the horizon. The last thing they need is to be caught by surprise.
It does mean she's a bit restless, her days no longer filled with battles or self-assigned guard duty. Barukh can sympathise. He no longer has to stand on the roofs and going back to the library full time doesn't feel the same way it used to, before the war. She's a bit lost, they all are, except that now they have to find her something to do.
They have no idea what the military will ask of her, so it can't be anything permanent. She told them that the contract she signed implied she would be stationed in Dîmônāh, which is something they all take great happiness from. So while they wait for news from the military, Sakura goes to school and teaches. Her class becomes an extra that the vast majority of children is taking.
Every day, she explains her language, how it's pronounced and how they can make it theirs to use as a mean to communicate, safe from enemies. Old man Sagi helped her draw a big map of her world, now pinned to the wall of the classroom. When Barukh gets out of the library for lunch, he hears children playing shinobi and speaking in quiet voices in the broken language they're being taught.
He can't help but smile when he catches himself swearing in her tongue after he lets a book fall.
Ilan shows him the house, later, with an excited expression he hasn't sported since Rani died. It looks exactly the other houses around, which was done purposefully in hopes it would make her feel like she truly belongs with them. The only difference resides in the slight resizing of the living room in order to accommodate a small room, barely wide enough to fit two people. Barukh puts down a handful of incense near the wall, with a quiet hope in his heart.
The rain season starts as Barukh finds Sakura after a day of work, leaving the school. They're truly at peace with Amestris now, no military camp left in Ishvalan territory. He offers her arm when she playfully tells him she's getting old, and she jabs him in the ribs.
“You following me, brother?” she asks when he doesn't turn after the market and instead goes with her to Hava's inn.
“I'm coming to make sure you pack everything.”
Barukh grins, his red eyes glinting in the setting sun.
“We might have been lying about building a house for Abraham's son.”
“Barukh, you joking, yes?”
His smile softens. “We made you a home. It's done now. Would you like to move in?”
She stares at him, her mouth half-open, not so much surprised as she looks heartbroken. Once again, he's struck with how much he hurts for her, and the home she lost. How alone she must have felt, all those months in the Xingan winter, then in the desert. How glad he is that she found Dîmônāh.
“I go take Sasuke, you take my stuff?”
“What are we waiting for?”
She laughs and runs inside, Barukh on her heels.
Sasuke is sleeping, looking exactly like he did a year ago when she laid him down on the bed for the first time. Gently, she slides him on her back, putting his arms around her neck and gripping his thighs.
She doesn't have much. It only takes him a few minutes to gather all her clothes and the few scrolls laying around, before they leave the inn behind. Everyone knows where they're going, and the streets are filled with smiling, excited faces. A few children join them, running around Sakura and bombarding her with clumsy sentences in her language.
The door is already open when they reach the house, and Ilan is here with some pastries. Sakura sends him a grateful nod, before going in. Barukh stays far behind her once he notices that she's speaking softly to Sasuke. His heart clenches painfully at the man's stiffness. She disappears inside the bedroom, and just like Ilan predicted, she puts Sasuke on the bed next to hers.
Then all three of them are eating lopsided zlabia in her kitchen and Barukh smells the incense he brought coming out of the praying room. He feels whole.
The military sends a letter a few days after Sakura moves into her new house.
It's short, to the point, and absolutely nothing like they might have expected. First of all, they actually hired someone to translate it into Ishvalan, which allows it to be read directly by Sakura, instead of going through Gal or Barukh. But then she reads the content out loud to the siblings, and they all have to take a moment to process it.
Because they're making Sakura into what basically amounts to a military ambassador to Ishval. In other words, she's paid to do absolutely nothing but send a report if Ishvalan have grievance with the government, just like every other Amestrian region. She's a glorified, high-ranking liaison with paid leave and offers of a live-in PA and a car with chauffeur.
(which brings about another uncomfortable conversation when they have to explain to Sakura what a car is)
Barukh laughs at her offended face that they would even consider offering something as insulting as a personal assistant. Sakura refuses every single benefit coming with the position and stores the blue uniform in her closet without even opening the package.
Instead, she keeps teaching at the school, then she trains the teenagers and every adult who has a bit of time. When she's not teaching, she spends her days in Barukh's library, reading about Ishval and trying to improve her speech. Every two days she spends in a corner of the library, still writing down the story of her world and of her people.
Barukh can't imagine himself in her shoes, tasked with keeping the memories of an entire world no one but her knows. He dreads the mere idea of penning centuries of history, of writing the prayers to Ishvala, of tracing family trees for everyone he knows. She has a formidable memory, and it's a painful curse.
Sometimes, when he has a few hours free, he reads what he can from her scrolls. It's all in her language, which he's painfully slowly learning. It's good practice, if anything, but it breaks his heart to learn about all those people he'll never get to see, and imagine Sakura living and laughing with them. It only takes one look at Sasuke's peaceful face to realize just how much was lost when she left.
He watches her, discreetly, when she thinks she's alone. He can't help himself, because he feels for her. He might not dare make himself known, but he likes to think that she must unconsciously feel his presence and draw some measure of comfort from it.
She puts Sasuke on her back and she climbs on top of her roof. She has an umbrella with her, a necessity in the rain season, and she puts it over their two forms after she's laid down Sasuke's head on her lap. And then she talks, for hours sometimes, and he might only catch a few words of her native tongue, but he knows she's telling him about Ishval and the people of Dîmônāh.
It only takes a few minutes each time for her to unravel the fabric around her head and let her long pink hair loose. He doesn't know if it's a cultural thing, or simply bad memories she refuses to talk about, that makes her hide it that way. But then the sun is setting and she slowly falls silent and her hair moves in the wind and he can't look away.
One day, she doesn't take the umbrella with her and she lets the rain soak them through, until it plasters her hair on Sasuke's cheeks and he has to look away. It's not rain on her cheeks when she kisses the sleeping man's cheek.
She doesn't do it as much as she did during the war, but she still presses her wooden pendant to her forehead. Barukh's read about her faith in her scrolls, about Kotoamatsukami and Fūjin and Hachiman. He knows who she calls when she burns the incense in what he now knows to be a shrine. It doesn't stop the empathy from turning into pity when he catches her sad eyes one time too many after she carries Sasuke back inside the house.
Barukh lets his own hair grow over his ears until it goes past his shoulders, and he takes to braiding it. He likes how the white draws pattern on his tanned skin and the looks it gets him from the women. He's aware of his broad frame and soft features, and the kindness of his smile. He tries to convince his heart it's for that reason he's braiding his hair like Sakura did when she used to leave for battle on the other side of the wall.
Gal is upset.
He's known his sister since the first memory he can recall, a sunny day in the desert looking for scorpions. The slightest twitch of her eyebrow is enough to make him pay attention, and Gal... Gal is upset.
He corners her after a town meeting, when everyone has left and it's only the two of them going back to their house.
“What are you hiding, sister?”
She's heavy-eyed, tired and older than he remembers. “I can't keep anything from you, can I, Barukh?”
“Please, tell me. Share you burdens.”
Gal sighs. “I've received word from Yabneh. It's sending people to Dîmônāh because the city can't grow enough food for them. The military burned and salted the ground around their wall.”
“Far more than we can house,” she lets out through gritted teeth. “I don't want to refuse them, but how can I agree to let them in if it threatens my own people? We could all starve if we don't manage this right.”
Barukh bites his lip, unsure of how to reassure his sister. He has no lost love for leadership and he's forever grateful that Gal has taken the position after their mother died. Still, in that moment, he wishes he was a little more versed in decisions of that calibre. Then he might be able to help her and alleviate her worry.
He knows what he's about to say is risky. It's enough to make him look away when he explains his idea.
“Technically, we're an Amestrian region. We're entitled to governmental help and funds. We could ask—”
“Gal, think about it!”
She sends him a furious look. “I said no! We'll find another way.”
“Aright,” he says softly, kissing her forehead. He gives her a smile that she ignores, so he leaves and tries not to think too much about what he just said.
“And Absalom trip on the kunai and he swear like butcher so much Arieh look like he will cry!”
Barukh laughs loudly, picturing the scene perfectly. “Don't tell me Arieh did start to cry.”
“Almost! Absalom so furious he is purple!”
“Ishvala, that man is going to die on us one day, if he keeps abusing his poor heart that way.”
Sakura chuckles, gathering some vegetables on her piece of bread. She has a scary appetite that always bring a smile to the old women's faces whenever they see her. It's not so strange when you consider her height and how much energy she needs for that strength of hers.
“It does me happy Arieh learn from me. Reminds me of my shishō.”
“I'm sorry, Sakura. I wish things were different.”
She sighs. “I wish too, but I love the life here. Happy I found you, not Amestris.”
“Believe me, I'm glad too. If only because we would have lost the war in a heartbeat if you had been on the other side.”
“No.” Her face is dead serious. “Other side find me first, I kill them still. I never agree to murder children.”
“I'm still glad, sister.”
Her smile is sweet and his happiness tastes even sweeter. So he simply takes another bite of bread and laughs some more when she tells him about Absalom's fury. The sun above Dîmônāh doesn't burn as much when you have someone to enjoy it with.
“You see how Absalom watch Gal?”
Barukh makes a face. He definitely has.
“Is problem to you?”
“It's not—” Barukh sighs. “I want her to be happy. If Absalom does, then fine. But I don't have to like the fact that she'll give her attention to another man.”
Sakura raises an eyebrow. “Jealousy?”
“Maybe a bit. And protectiveness. It's only the two of us, no family left.”
“I think is different for us. Many not have any family so we want to find new family with other people. My team, no one has zero family. Orphans, five of us.”
“So you're not protective so much as you want to create closeness.”
“Yes. Nothing to protect, you know?”
“Except each other.” Barukh nods in the direction of Sakura's house. “I've seen how you are with him, how you speak of the others. You might not have a family, but you have a team. I believe you mean the same thing when you call them that.”
Sakura turns towards her house, her eyes unfocused.
“Maybe you right,” she says softly. “My brothers.”
“Your brothers,” Barukh agrees.
“Them I miss so much.”
He takes her hand and tries to pass on as much comfort as possible from the gesture. “He'll wake up, sister.”
In the end, Gal accepts forty refugees from Yabneh.
The men and women coming from the west of Ishval bring their hopes and smiles with them, and so much gratitude for signing the peace that it makes even Barukh uncomfortable. They all want to meet the warrior, the woman who saved them all. They're all impressed by her height and her strong arms, and even more intimidated by her kindness.
They settle in easily, though they have to sleep in the town hall while they build what will be their houses. It's so many more hands to cultivate the fields outside of Dîmônāh, now that the rain is here and they can finally grow more food.
Barukh doesn't have much time to get to know them, and he admits to some measure of uncertainty. He doesn't like what he doesn't know well and for now, he sticks to Ilan and Gal like glue. He knows he has to break the habit, and try to make friends with the newcomers.
It's Sakura, unknowingly, who help him get over his reluctance to meet the refugees. She welcomed without a word the new children in her class, but their number is starting to be a little much for her to handle, especially because they're not used to the way she speaks. When her lack of vocabulary isn't the problem, it's the Dîmônāh accent on top of it that confuses the new children the most.
So she drags him to class when he has some free time and has him explain what she can't to the kids. He's starting to get the hang of her language and he can even translate sometimes, but mostly he's here to put in simpler terms what she has issues explaining. Spending so much time with the children forces Barukh to meet their parents, which makes him more familiar with them.
Then he finds Ilan kissing a lean man who Barukh would swear isn't from Dîmônāh. That settles it. If even Ilan, with his grief and his new distrust, can find some measure of comfort in the arrival of the refugees, then he'll have to do the same. He has never backed down from a challenge with Ilan since they were born and he's not going to start now.
So he aggressively (Sakura's words, not his) befriends two brothers raising together the eldest's children. Maor is a thin man, but his brother is a behemoth of a man who reminds him of Sakura with the gentle giant look. Despite that, Maor is the one with tattoos, and a scholar on top of that. Barukh and him get along like a house on fire. Shai is more the warrior type, though he's unbelievably kind with his brother's children.
“You say your warrior comes from Xing?” Maor asks him one day.
“Yes, she crossed the desert last year.” He doesn't say more, not sure about what Sakura wants him to reveal or not.
“I need to speak to her about alkahestry! Do you know if she has any skills in it?”
Barukh swallows hard, uncomfortable. “You'll need to ask her that”
“Oh, I will! Tell Shai I went to see her, please?”
Barukh nods, watching the man run like Amestris is on his heels. He knows the strange looks Maor gets for his love of alchemy and alkahestry. Though he'd never think of using it, his interest doesn't fair well with the priests who give him mild looks of distrust whenever he goes to the temple.
“Have you seen Maor?”
Barukh looks up at Shai's voice. “He went after Sakura. Your brother is dedicated.”
“I know,” Shai sighs. “He drowned himself in his studies when the soldiers killed Ziva. I think, for a while, he was considering— well, you know. But he had Aviva and Raz to think about, so he didn't go there.”
“I'm glad. Amestris has destroyed enough lives as it is and he would no longer have been welcomed if he had done it.”
Shai nods pensively. Barukh gestures to the pillow next to him, inviting the man to join him.
Sakura is taking a day off from everything and she's wandering around Dîmônāh with Ilan and his lover. The man is a healer, but he knows more about herbs than Absalom does and that had greatly interested her. Meanwhile, he has agreed to stay in her house, to alleviate her worries.
He's on the porch, sitting cross-legged on the embroiled carpet, and enjoying a good book. He doesn't mind the company, though, and Shai is a quiet man. The rain has stopped for the day, which means cool air and a white sky making everything look washed out. Barukh loves that kind of weather. Rain season has always been his favourite anyway.
He hands a spare book to Shai, enjoying the man's quietly pleased face. He's about to get back into his own story when he hears a shout.
Years of war have taught them all the same thing. Shai and him are on their feet in a second, and Barukh wraps his hand around his cutlass.
They don't even have to look for the source of the scream.
The front door explodes in millions of splinters. Barukh stares at the face of a man he never thought he'd see awake, stares into spinning red eyes and realizes in a split-second that he has to act fast.
Those eyes are screaming for blood.
“Sasuke! My name is Barukh. I am friend with Sakura.” He chokes on the hardest words, but it's enough to get Sasuke's attention.
“Where is she? Where am I?”
“Here is Dîmônāh. Sakura not...” He swears in Ishvalan, cursing his laziness in learning the foreign language. Now he has no idea how to explain to the man that Sakura won't be back in a long time.
“Please, no leave.”
Sasuke frowns and Barukh hopes, hopes that—
He doesn't have time to think about another sentence, because Sasuke is already gone. He's just as fast as Sakura was when she fought against Amestris. Barukh runs after him, never managing to catch up but at least not losing him. Sasuke looks less and less calm with every step he takes inside Dîmônāh. From what Sakura has told them about her home, Ishval looks nothing like it. Sasuke's confusion plays in Barukh's favour.
People are whispering and pointing at Sasuke, most of them recognizing the man Sakura brought with her. It's unnerving him. Barukh hopes it won't make him flee too soon. He needs to find a way to let Sakura know.
But suddenly, Sasuke freezes. Barukh stops in his tracks, Shai colliding with him in his haste to catch up.
The man squeezes his eyes, his knees flexing, on alert. A burst of wind raises the sand around them, blinding Barukh a brief moment. When the sand goes down, Sakura is standing in its place, her eyes wide and breathing wild.
Sasuke doesn't move, doesn't so much as breathe loud, but Sakura barrels into him with all her strength and he staggers back. Her arms wrap around him so hard it looks like she's trying to merge with him. She's speaking too fast for Barukh to catch, but Sasuke relaxes minutely and hugs her back with just as much force.
She says his name as she kisses his cheek, his nose, his eyelids. 'Sasuke, Sasuke', over and over, and it makes Barukh want to look away. It's not hurt in her voice, it's sheer anguish, like something is dying in her throat.
Sasuke slowly takes a step back, his hands hanging onto her forearms and he takes her in. His eyes go from her hidden hair to her white and red clothes, and the new scars on her skin from her battles against the military.
“Anata wa segatakai.”
Two words that Barukh doesn't understand. Two words that make Sakura blanch so fast she wavers. Her eyes are wild, looking at every corner of Sasuke's face.
She doesn't move when Sasuke kneels down in front of her and unties the cord around her pants. There's an offended gasp somewhere behind Barukh, and Shai is looking away, squirming. Barukh can't do the same. He's deeply uncomfortable, but he has a feeling that this is more than it looks like. Sakura isn't the type to let anyone undress her in public.
Sasuke removes the cord and pushes her pants down her legs. This time, Barukh is the one to gasp.
The man rises from the ground and helps Sakura step out of her breeches.
All Barukh can do is stare at the two automail legs glinting in the sun.
Sasuke yells something and Sakura yells back, standing tall in only her underwear and those damning legs. Sasuke steps closer but she's taller than him and when he makes to grab her shoulder, she punches him in the chest. He falls back and without thinking, Barukh catches him just in time.
Sakura seems to finally realize he's here, and her face drops some more. She quickly puts her pants back on while Sasuke takes a step back from Barukh.
“Brother,” she says, but doesn't continue.
“I told you he would wake up,” Barukh blurts out without thinking.
She looks at Sasuke, breathing and blinking and looking at her instead of lying in a bed. And she smiles.
“He's awake,” she laughs. “Sasuke! You're awake!”
He raises an eyebrow but doesn't protest when she takes his hand a second before wrapping him in a hug again. She laughs and she laughs and Barukh's grin is blinding.
“He's important, that man, isn't he?” Shai says quietly next to him.
Barukh looks at those two not-so-strangers, whispering things in each other's ears.
“In her world, no one is more important than him.”
Shai gives a firm nod. “Then I believe we have something to celebrate.”
Thanks a lot to yuuki for the japanese advice! If you have a tumblr or somewhere I can contact you for more information, please let me know ♥
and thanks to all of you for the amazing feedback, you are saying such sweet things to me and I love hearing your theories and how much you seem to like Barukh and the Ishval I created. You're awesome, please tell me more. Have you guessed who the brothers are? And now you know why Sakura is so tall.
Chapter 5: Before
This is a special chapter, which is why it's so short. We'll go back to the usual length in the next chapter.
Sakura doesn't think, she throws herself down. A fireball goes over her head, a breath away from her face. Her flack jacket is sticky with blood and dust and it itches on her bared skin.
Naruto is standing a few feet away from her, panting, his eyes fixated on Gamabunta's back. She can feel Katsuyu's presence in the back of her mind, their soothing chakra cooling her down. Manta, she hasn't seen since Sasuke sent him away.
She can't help herself, she looks for him. Now that's he's finally back, by their side like he's always been meant to... it's getting harder and harder to let him out of her sight. She knows Naruto is having just as hard a time as her. So she looks, and she finds him standing on her other side, the three of them an arrow pointed in Kaguya's direction.
“Alright, here's what we're going to do,” Naruto says once Gamabunta is out of sight. “That hag is busy fighting off the Alliance, so we'll take advantage of that.”
“They won't last long,” Sasuke says quietly.
“No,” Naruto says with a sharp breath, “they won't. Which is why we need to hurry.”
Sakura brushes the dried blood off of her face. “What do we do?”
“There's no point in sneaking up to her, she'll feel us coming. I'll send an army of clone the Alliance's way to keep her occupied and we'll strike from the sides.”
“Of course it is, teme. Now if you have a better idea, I'm listening.”
Sasuke stays silent. Sakura bites her lip, but she nods. It's the only plan they have and there isn't a minute to spare to think of another one. This one will have to do.
“Let's do this!”
Kaguya zeroes on them as soon as they get in range of her powers, but Naruto doesn't waste a second and sends hundreds of clones on her front. No matter how powerful she is, number is still enough to put a hindrance on her abilities. It's enough for them.
Naruto jumps over her and lands on her other side while Sasuke moves behind her. Sakura charges every drop of chakra she has into her fist, and with a prayer to the gods who have the decency to remain in the sky, she strikes.
Her punch never lands.
At the last second, Kaguya's head turns so quickly her features blur. Then Sakura is faced with white eyes looking straight at her.
She can't do anything against the surprised cry that escapes her. Kaguya's hand wraps around her throat. The goddess sends her flying and she crashes into Sasuke, the both of them rolling on the ground until they hit a boulder.
They jump on their feet as soon as the world stops spinning. Just in time to see Kaguya spread her arms wide open. Naruto is forming a giant rasengan, the blue light getting stronger and stronger, but Kaguya doesn't pay him any attention. Sakura's senses are screaming at her that something terribly wrong is going to happen.
The energy around them is shifting, a crawling sensation giving her goosebumps. There is something inside Kaguya, something pulsing and humming, whispering things into her mind and it's getting bigger.
A strong hand wraps around her biceps and she's suddenly pressed against Sasuke's chest. Violet light is spreading around them in what Sakura recognizes as Kanseitai Susanoo. She wants to protest the protection, but her resolve is weak faced with the overwhelming terror that Kaguya is making her feel.
Then it's like the goddess is lighting up from the inside. The angry feel of her chakra spreads over the land like scorching magma.
Sakura doesn't know if Susanoo is to thank, or if Kaguya meant it as some form of cruel vengeance for their arrogance in thinking they could beat her. But when the wave of corrosive chakra hits, Sasuke and her are spared just enough to see the world burn.
It's over in a matter of seconds. The earth atomized with the sheer power of the goddess. With agonizing screams, all their friends are consumed to the core until nothing is left of them, not even ground for their ashes to land on.
Sakura is choking up on disbelief, a numbness gnawing at her insides as the world around them is destroyed little by little. Her burning eyes fall on Naruto, coated in Kurama's chakra but screaming in pain nonetheless. She can't look away, not even when Kaguya's power eats at the orange chakra, then at Naruto's clothes, then at Naruto's skin.
Sasuke is crying behind her, his arms wrapped around her and Sakura is dying inside.
The earth crumbles, lit up with the white energy of Kaguya's chakra. Sakura stares into Naruto's blue eyes until the last of the energy has eaten them. Then, only then, does Kaguya turn around to face them.
And her chakra attacks Susanoo's armour.
Sasuke shouts in pain and falls on his knees.
Time seems to slow down. Air is escaping Sakura, paralysed in fear as Kaguya floats towards them. Nothing is left of the earth, of their friends, only the void staring back and mocking her panic.
She gasps when Sasuke's hand grabs her ankle. She manages to look away from the goddess and down. Blood is pouring out of Sasuke's eyes.
“Give me your chakra,” he growls, choking on grief and tears just like she is.
The kick of his voice is enough. She sends everything she has into her shin, where his palm connects with her skin. He sucks it up in a second, so she opens her Byakugō and the storm of her chakra crashes into Sasuke's system. He stumbles back, panting.
Then he's standing again and grabbing her face in his hands, his bloody eyes meeting hers. She takes a deep breath and everything is black.
She opens her eyes and everything is white.
Sakura jumps on her feet, looking everywhere and seeing nothing. Just white, white everywhere. If this is where she has to wait for reincarnation, she hopes it passes quickly.
It takes her a second, but she suddenly hears a faint breath behind her. She turns around and sees Sasuke, trying to get up. She runs up to him and offers him a hand. Once they're standing side by side, they take in the immensity of nothing around them.
Sakura flinches in surprise, both of them falling into a fighting stance. There is a figure facing them, indistinct and blurry and ugly in a way words can't describe.
She's shell-shocked and silent, shaking with barely swallowed grief, and the thing in front of them is smiling.
“Who are you?” Sasuke's voice is desaturated.
“I have many names, Uchiha Sasuke, last of your clan. I am the Universe, I am God. I am also the Truth. I am All and I am One, and I'm also both of you.” The thing makes a gesture to encompass the nothingness around them. “And this? This is the Gate.”
Its smile gets bigger and uglier.
“No one enters the Gate without my permission. Now, you'll have to pay the toll.”
Maybe it's the grief, maybe it's the shock, maybe it's the emptiness in her every cell. But when it asks for a toll, Sakura's mind takes on a single thought and holds on to it.
“I'll pay.” She punches her own chest with her fist. “Take me, I'll pay.”
“One for each of you, then.”
She blinks. Truth is getting up and is it just her or are its legs more opaque now?
“I trade fairly, Haruno Sakura. I will tell you everything.”
Her shin itches. She looks down. She screams.
Once again, Sakura wakes up. This time, she doesn't see anything and when she tries to breath, she chokes up on blood. Panic seizes her heart as she grasps for air. She rolls on her side and throws up clots and glairy blood.
Sakura can't think, her mind a mess of knowledge and memories trying to find a new place. She's seeing on repeat Naruto's eyes being consumed by Kaguya's chakra. She makes a wrong move and her nerve receptors flare up. Her shout is half-surprise and half-pain. She looks down in a move that feels like déjà vu. All colour drains from her face.
Her legs are gone. Only her upper thighs are left, not even half of it remaining. Her chakra is already working to seal the blood vessels and gaping pathways. Her hand fumbles for her pouch and she pops three soldier pills. The rush kicks her head back into gear.
She can see smoke from the edge of the forest where she woke up. The snow is cold enough that her missing limbs are numb. The walk should be short. Her eyes fall on the body laying by her side. A quick brush of chakra reveals burnt out chakra coils and several blood clots in his brain. The successive use of Susanoo and whatever he did to bring them here.
Xing, her mind tells her in Truth's voice. North. And then. I need to find an automail mechanic.
Two hundreds metres, at most. She can do it. She has to. Her chakra extends past the stumps until she can rise on it. She lifts Sasuke and puts him on her back, grunting at the excruciating pain pulsing in her thighs.
Naruto's eyes are staring and she can still hear her friends screaming as Kaguya destroyed the Earth.
She starts to walk.
When she offers, Barukh follows Sakura and Sasuke into their house.
Shai leaves to find his brother and tell Gal about the possible celebration they might be holding really soon. He sees the last look Shai sends them before leaving, the curiosity and the questions. Barukh hopes Gal will take it upon herself to explain to the refugees just who woke up and how important that is.
The pair is talking quietly a few steps in front of him. Though he catches a few words, it's not enough to understand what they're talking about. Neither seems to be angry and there are no harsh words, so that's at least an improvement.
Sakura leads them to what they had built as Sasuke's room. It looks nothing like a bedroom, now. There is a big table close to the ground, with a blanket coming out of all the sides. In a corner, there seems to be a board game, but Barukh doesn't recognize it so he assumes Sakura built it from scratch.
She kneels next to the table and Sasuke follows. Barukh blinks at the position, looking rather uncomfortable, but he sits cross-legged in front of them.
“Brother,” she says with a shaking voice, “I introduce you to Uchiha Sasuke of Konohagakure. He is leader of Uchiha clan. Also one of Legendary Sannin.”
“You're a Sannin too, aren't you?”
She nods. “Big title.” Then she turns to face Sasuke and says in her language: “This is Barukh of Dîmônāh. He took me in after I crossed the desert. They all welcomed me like I was their own. They welcomed us, Sasuke.”
Barukh doesn't understand enough to get all they're exchanging after that, but there is a new look of approval in Sasuke's eyes. Barukh relaxes, his shoulders dropping for the first time since Sasuke woke up.
“He learn Ishvalan quick, don't worry.”
“I'm not worried, sister. He just woke up, I'm not going to ask him to be able to understand Absalom when he's drunk.”
She laughs. “I want to show him Gal, is okay?”
“Of course, follow me. Though if you could tell him to look a little less like he wants to murder someone, I'd really appreciate that.”
She smirks and jabs Sasuke in the ribs, firing some rapid sentences that have him rolling his eyes. His face does relax though, so Barukh is willing to count it as a win.
This time, everyone is staring when they leave the house, now sure of the man's identity. Most of the children look ready to jump at them with questions and curiosity, but their parents are holding them back. The house is a few streets behind when Arieh shows his bravery by walking up to them.
“Hello, sister. Can I meet your friend?”
Sakura grins. “Yes! He's not much friendly, sorry. Big grumpy.”
Arieh puts a hand on his chest and gives a shallow bow. His voice is soft when he introduces himself, and Sakura translates quickly. Sasuke looks at the teenager, his head slightly tilted to the side, before saying something that Barukh doesn't catch. Whatever it is, Sakura gives him a deeply offended look before stepping on his toes.
“Excuse Sasuke, he is dumb as Mist nin. He says hello.”
The man snorts. “I don't say that.”
Barukh does a double take, feeling dizzy from hearing his own tongue from a mouth that has never spoken it before. Sakura crosses her arms, looking put out.
“Stupid sharingan cheater. I need months to speak and he just do this. Teme.”
They don't need to find Gal, because she finds them. She's leading the priests, Shai and Maor in tow, in a strange welcoming committee. The introductions are much more formal this time, especially when the priests notice the same wooden pendant around Sasuke's neck. He wraps a protective hand around it but Shani and Zeev only look peaceful and accepting.
Sasuke bows to Gal in the same way Sakura used to do so much, nearly a year ago now. Barukh is glad to see respect from a man Sakura loves so much.
“It is okay if I leave? I want to speak with Sasuke.”
“Of course, sister, go,” Gal says with a smile. “Enjoy your time together.”
She bows, a habit Sasuke's presence seems to have woken up, and both of them leave. They look nothing alike, hair and eyes so different, but there is something in the way they walk. A sort of grace, a sense of danger that sends shivers down Barukh's spine. He hasn't felt it so much since the war against Amestris, when Sakura fought for their lives every day.
They walk away, silent and deadly, and Barukh thanks Ishvala for sending them his way.
No one sees them for the rest of the day, and Sakura doesn't come to Gal's and his house for dinner like she usually does. The next morning, she doesn't go to the school either so the children practice on their own. Barukh knows they need time, but he misses her and the children all look painfully dejected.
Ultimately, he has to seek her out when three men in uniform show up at the gates.
He recognizes the child, with his golden hair and put out face. The man he has never seen before, but he only needs one look at his gloved hands to know that this is the Hero of Ishval. The third one is a bit hidden behind the others, his face twisted in a grin that makes Barukh deeply uncomfortable, and when he welcomes the three of them, he makes sure to never look that one in the eyes.
“We're here to speak to the Major General,” the dark-haired soldier says in a heavily accented Ishvalan.
“Follow me,” Ilan says, while nodding in Barukh's direction. He's tight-lipped and goes quickly to Sakura's house. He finds them in the small garden at the back. Sasuke is digging in the soil, chatting with Sakura as she fixes the broken back of a chair.
“Sister, the military is here for you. Do you want to meet them in the town hall so they don't get close to your home?”
She's on alert immediately, nodding fiercely at his offer. “Sasuke, you stay here,” she says in Ishvalan without thinking.
“Like hell,” he replies in kind. “I leave you not alone with fuckers.”
He's improving quickly, Barukh notices, and it gives him hope to see them conversing in his own tongue. Sakura is theirs, there's no questioning that, but Sasuke doesn't look the type to try and blend in.
“Fine, moron. You shut up, you don't kill no one. Come on.”
They leave the house side by side, looking like they're on their way to war. Somehow, Barukh doesn't have trouble believing that's what they're choosing to see in this meeting. He also has a feeling that they're more used to war than anything else in life, and perhaps that's their way of making a situation more comfortable. In any case, if it can protect them and protect the village in the process, he isn't going to complain. After all, Sakura might be a soldier of the military, but she is theirs first and foremost. The Amestrian better learn that soon.
“Major General,” Mustang salutes as soon as Sakura enters the town hall. “Thank you for meeting with us.” The other man sneers but doesn't comment. Barukh eyes him warily, and he sees Sasuke doing the same.
“What you want?” Sakura asks, eyebrow raised.
“The Führer wants to speak to you. He expects your presence in Central at the end of the week.”
Sakura crosses her arms. “You remember what I say? When I come to camp before?”
Barukh notes that Mustang is clenching his jaw, his eyes avoiding Sakura's. She never told them what was said at the camp, except for the bare minimum. Now, he's dying to ask.
“I remember, yes.”
“And chief-murderer want me still to come?”
“Watch how you speak of the Führer, girl,” the man speaks for the first time.
Sakura turns to look at him, her arms slowly lowering until they're at her sides. She walks up to the man, Sasuke following her without being prompted. She doesn't stop until her nose is brushing the man's forehead, a head shorter than her.
“You correct my wrongs, but I had impression Major General is very high rank. What rank you are, little man?”
“This is Major Kimblee, a State Alchemist,” Mustang introduces.
“You're four ranks above him,” Edward supplies with a smirk. Barukh snorts. That man is even disliked amongst his own people.
“Four ranks. I think you let me speak how I want of the monster you serve, dog.” Sasuke's hand brushes against her hip, and she takes a step back. “If he is sure, then I come.”
“I come too,” Sasuke adds with the confidence of man who never takes no for an answer. Sakura rolls her eyes but says nothing.
“Who are you?” Kimblee asks.
“No one you know,” Sasuke answers without looking at him, his attention on his nails.
Edward leans towards Mustang and whispers something. The man nods, looking pained while doing so.
“Pack your bags, we'll be waiting for you outside of the village.”
The man doesn't let Kimblee finish and drags him by the arm outside of the town hall. Edward follows with a wide grin, looking like he's having the time of his life. It makes Barukh smile, even if he can't help the uneasy feeling in his chest whenever Kimblee opens his mouth.
“So you're going, then?”
Sakura nods. “I said I kill their leader when I see him and stupid bastard invites me in his home. Of course I go.” Sasuke replies a quick sentence which leaves Sakura looking unsure for a second, before she shrugs and says something in turn. Barukh tries his best to understand, but he can only assume something about a fight.
“You just wake up, Sasuke! I don't take you with me,” Sakura finally says in Ishvalan.
“I'm fine. You check yourself.”
She looks away. “Still... please stay here?”
Sasuke's jaw is clenched and Barukh notices his tight fists when he raises his hands. His fingers uncurl slowly. Barukh wavers, unsure if he's about to hit her or do something harsh. But Sasuke gently cups Sakura's face with his hands, looking her straight in the eyes despite the couple centimetres she has on him.
“We are last. There is no one else, in the whole world, Haruno. No one. I never leave you out of my sight.”
Sakura stares. She stares a long time, and Sasuke remains silent, watching her like a hawk, his hands on her cheeks. Then, slowly, her own hand comes between the two of them. She raises it to Sasuke's face, then pokes his forehead with two fingers.
There are a lot of people to see them off, once they've reached the wall. Hava and her son have made sure they have food (“And not that tasteless, bland shit the dogs will feed you.”) and Barukh saw Ilan slip a dagger into Sasuke's backpack. He's leaning against the wall, slightly withdrawn. Shani and Zeev are giving their blessings to the two travellers, in the name of Ishvala and the people of Dîmônāh.
Barukh doesn't know what to think. He has a feeling that this is more than it seems. Sakura hasn't said a word to him since he came for them, and she's been talking a lot to Sasuke in their language. He knows it has something to do with whatever she told Mustang in the tent and he doesn't like it.
On top of that, everyone in Dîmônāh is acting like they're never coming back, and it's putting him on edge. It's like watching a storm coming from the desert, knowing it could be devastating, or miss the village by kilometre without damaging anything.
When Gal comes forward to say goodbye, touching her heart, then Sakura's in a blessing of her own, Barukh comes forward.
“I'm going with them,” he says to no one and everyone, his eyes dead-set on Sakura.
“Brother, don't be absurd,” Gal says with an indulging smile.
“I'm serious. They're not going alone.”
“I am not alone. I have bastard with me,” Sakura says while pointing at Sasuke, who snorts but doesn't raise to the bait.
“That's not what I'm talking about. Neither of you speak Amestrian and I wouldn't trust the dogs with my left shoe. You're not going alone.”
“Barukh, you're not a warrior. What use would you be to them?” Gal says, purposefully biting. In any other occasion, he would have admitted that she might be right. This is not one of those occasions.
“Will any of you try to stop me from coming?”
Sakura and Sasuke exchange a look. Sakura ends up shrugging and Sasuke rolls his eyes.
“He can come if he want. I'm sure Central can use more Ishvalan right now.”
“This is madness, brother,” Gal hisses.
“It might be. It might now. I'm risking this either way.”
“Fine! Go get yourself killed, for all I care!” Her eyes are misty, the lines on her face more present than ever, and he's reminded of how long she's been taking care of Dîmônāh and how much he owes her.
“Please don't be upset, sister. You know why I'm doing this.”
She's looking at her feet, arms crossed and a fist pressed against her mouth. “You're a moron and I hate you.” She sighs. “Go, Barukh. Who am I to stop you?”
He grabs her waist and draws her into a bone-crushing hug. She wraps her arms around him and he knows she won't allow herself to cry. Not in front of the Amestrian, and not in front of their brothers and sisters. How brave she is, his big sister.
“Come back to me, will you?”
“Ishvala protects me.”
“I know. Be careful, still.”
Barukh takes a step back and joins Sasuke and Sakura. The Amestrian are looking at them with unreadable looks, only the child displaying nostalgia openly.
“Are you ready?” Mustang asks in Amestrian.
Sakura's smile is cruel when she replies in her tongue. “Let's kill the Führer.”
Thank you for your patience and lovely comments! I hope you'll enjoy this chapter. I really like writing Sakura and Sasuke together again, it's a lot of fun. In next chapter, we'll finally see Al, Winry, Hawkeye and everyone else! I can't wait to share it with you.
In case you were curious, here is some fanart of Barukh and Gal!